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FIRST-PERSON: R&E journal shows necessity of Southern Baptist reformation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–“By the time we reach the 21st century, the R&E will be a true Baptist journal — for the nation and beyond,” Roy Honeycutt, former president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary predicted in March 1996.

Well, the 21st century has arrived. In only five years, the Review & Expositor, an academic journal published by various moderate Baptist divinity schools, has published an extraordinarily offensive issue with four articles that promote values and theology that are manifestly outside the mainstream of Southern Baptist life.

Honeycutt’s statement (made when the R&E was taken without permission from Southern Seminary in 1996) demonstrates what’s at stake in the controversy that is now swirling around the publication of the most recent issue of the journal: Is this a “true Baptist journal”? It also illustrates what the Southern Baptist Convention controversy of the 1980s and 90s was all about and why the conservative resurgence was necessary.

The Dec. 6 Baptist Press stories describing the “Sexuality and the Church” issue (dated Spring 2001, although it was released just a few months ago) cannot fully demonstrate just how objectionable the content is. For those who may doubt the objectionable nature of the journal, let me suggest an exercise:

Order your own copy (P.O. Box 6681, Louisville, Ky. 40206-0681, (502) 327-8347, single copies are $9) or check out a copy from your local theological library. After you read it, the matter should be settled. In the unlikely event that you are not convinced, take the next step in the exercise and read it to your congregation — let’s say on a Wednesday night. (Pastors, carefully consider this step, if you want to keep your job.)

Start with the lead article, “Embodiment versus Dualism: A Theology of Sexuality from a Holistic Perspective.” I know it sounds very academic, but read to your congregation the author’s view that sex organs are sources of revelation about God. Don’t leave out the author’s call for a “more accurate model” of God illustrated by a hymn to “Mother God.” (This is the same hymn that was sung at the Baptist Women in Ministry meeting held this summer at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting in Atlanta.) There’s much more I dare not quote here.

Turn next to page 173 and read to your members “The Case for Sex Education in a Religious Context.” Sounds fairly harmless, but read on. See what folks think of “comprehensive” sex education in schools that includes promotion of both abstinence and contraception. Be sure to note the author’s definition of “sexually-positive attitudes” as “those which promote experiences that are non-coercive, non-exploitative, risk-free, and mutually-pleasurable” — sounds like Planned Parenthood’s agenda.

Or how about “The Church’s Response to Homosexuality: Biblical Models for the 21st Century.” The author writes, “The right (the good, the honest, the blessed, the ethical) answer [about homosexuality] is more difficult than one word, one article can propose.” Most Southern Baptists I know don’t find it difficult to know the right answer on this matter.

Finally, turn to page 263 and read the sermon, “Should Wives ‘Submit Graciously’? A Feminist Approach to Interpreting Ephesians 5:21-33” where the author offers a “feminist liberationist” revision of the passage. Some Baptists would find themselves agreeing with the author’s rejection of the Baptist Faith & Message’s statement on wifely submission, in spite of its clear grounding in Scripture. I wonder how many of them, however, are comfortable with her rejection of the apostle Paul’s authorship of Ephesians (see Eph. 1:1). Don’t miss her call for feminine and non-personal references to God or her citations from the feminist theologian who wrote the “Mother God” hymn.

I’m not suggesting the content of these articles — other than the lead one — is lurid. Instead, the material is just plain wrong. The R&E is certainly not my idea of a “true Baptist journal.”

I’m convinced that the vast, vast majority of SBC churches would be outraged over this journal and would want to know if they helped fund such an enterprise with their missions support.

Defenders of the R&E would be quick to reject my proposed exercise, noting that the journal is intended for scholars and pastors, not common, ordinary — mere — laypersons. Really? Aren’t these folks the same people who vigorously defend the principle of priesthood of all believers? Seminaries and theological journals that cannot withstand the priestly scrutiny of Baptist believers in the local church should not enjoy the financial support of those same Baptists.

And that’s what the SBC controversy was about — not sending missions dollars off to schools that undermine the faith and produce ministers who do not trust the Bible. I believe that apart from the SBC reformation of the 1980s and 90s — as difficult and messy as it was at times — the current issue of the R&E would be mainstream, standard fare for our seminaries today.

Perhaps you find that to be unlikely. Consider the following:

— The author of the lead article earned a doctor of philosophy degree from Southern Seminary in 1991. I’m told her R&E article has similarities to her doctoral dissertation.

— The author of the article on homosexuality was educated by Southern Baptists, served on the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for many years and now teaches at a school affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

— The author of the sermon on Ephesians 5 credits her views to the education she received in Baptist schools.

— Many of the faculty members and administrators of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other schools that produce R&E are products of SBC seminaries and taught at SBC schools. These were the SBC’s “best and brightest” according to moderates who opposed the SBC reformation that caused their departure from our seminaries.

— Three former SBC seminary presidents (Honeycutt-Southern; Russell Dilday-Southwestern; and Randall Lolley-Southeastern) continue to serve as “honorary editors” of the R&E. At the time R&E was taken over by the CBF and other schools in response to the conservative leadership of R. Albert Mohler Jr. at Southern Seminary, Dilday taught at the BGCT-related Truett Seminary and said, “The journal and the consortium that manages it will strengthen the new seminaries and schools that are training a new generation of Baptist ministers.”

What’s interesting to me about the reactions out of Texas and North Carolina (and the lack of reaction from the CBF) is that virtually all of the attention has been centered on the lead article. Why have they not condemned the values and theology promoted in the other articles? Do they not find those views to be too liberal? At least Truett has severed its R&E ties.

Southern Baptist churches that give their missions dollars through the SBC Cooperative Program can have confidence that they have not supported the publication of this objectionable journal. In contrast, churches that fund the CBF or state conventions sponsoring these schools must grapple with the fact that they have been (largely unwittingly) enablers of this kind of theological liberalism. This should alarm them and cause them to reevaluate their support immediately.
Smith is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal.

    About the Author

  • James A. Smith
  • James A. Smith, Sr.
  • Sr.