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Seminary magazine addresses issues involving Baptist Faith and Message

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Those who reject confessions of faith such as the newly revised Baptist Faith and Message stand apart from mainstream Southern Baptists and also threaten the denomination’s doctrinal integrity, R. Albert Mohler Jr. argues in the November 2000 issue of The Southern Seminary Magazine.

“The Southern Baptist Convention’s overwhelming endorsement of the proposals put forth by the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee is a clear sign of doctrinal solidarity and consensus,” Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes in the seminary publication. “Those who reject the Baptist Faith and Message demonstrate how far they now stand from the denomination’s mainstream.”

Mohler is one of several scholars who contributed to the magazine, which deals with confessionalism and the Baptist Faith and Message. In seeking to answer critics of the new BFM, the magazine tackles such questions as:

— Have Baptists placed the Bible over Jesus?

— Are Baptists now worshiping the Bible?

— Have confessions of faith been an integral part of Baptist history?

— Should seminaries be held accountable for what they teach?

— Does theology matter in the practice of evangelism?

More than half of the magazine deals with the new BFM and the issue of confessionalism. The magazine — which can be obtained without charge from the seminary or read on-line at the seminary’s www.sbts.edu Internet site — opens with Mohler’s defense of doctrinal accountability.

“Nothing is more dangerous than a theological seminary that is not held accountable,” he writes. “The decay and decline of mainline Protestantism is largely due to the influence of liberal seminaries that undermined the faith of future ministers. Such schools produced generations of preachers and ministers that looked to the gospel with hostility and rejected the historic Christian faith as out of date and out of style.”

The magazine includes excerpts from Mohler’s first convocation address, delivered in August 1993. In the sermon, titled “Don’t just do something, stand there!” Mohler shows the importance of the Abstract of Principles in the history of Southern Seminary. In use since 1859, the Abstract of Principles is Southern’s founding confession of faith.

In an article titled, “Baptists, the Bible and confessions,” church history professor Gregory Wills argues for the necessity of statements of faith.

“Those who are excluded from service because of their refusal to subscribe to a summary of Scripture truth retain their freedom also,” he writes. “The churches and conventions do not seek to impose their beliefs on them. They do not seek to coerce them or injure them in their person, property or free movement. Persons ought to be free in human society to believe error; the churches are free to refuse to elect such persons to teach and preach the gospel.”

Two prominent Southern Baptists, Jack Graham and Daniel Akin, join together to survey the new BFM. Graham is pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas; Akin is dean of Southern Seminary’s school of theology.

“… some Baptists have not accurately grasped what is affirmed in the revision, and so it is a helpful exercise to focus on the changes, and to take notice of exactly what was and what was not adopted,” they write. “We are convinced that when the facts are clearly made plain, Southern Baptists across the nation and around the world will give their hearty affirmation.”

Thom Rainer, dean of the seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, writes on the need of theology in evangelism in “Why theology matters for the Great Commission task.”

“When we do not accept the full authority of God’s Word, when we do not believe the Scriptures to be inerrant, our evangelistic efforts have no authority,” he writes. “The Bible becomes what is most convenient for us.”

Finally, doctor of philosophy candidate Russell Moore asks the question, “Have Baptists made the Bible into an idol?” in his article titled, “For the Bible tells me so: Have Baptists replaced Jesus with a book?” Moore carefully traces the history of the BFM in Southern Baptist life and the debate about it since its passage in Orlando, Fla., in June.

Moore argues that the sentence, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ,” was inserted into the 1963 BFM because seminary professors were misinterpreting Old Testament passages.

“Indeed, much of the conservative criticism of the pre-resurgence SBC was fueled by a belief that the moderates did not interpret the Bible by the criterion of Jesus Christ,” he writes. “Against those who contended that Jonah was a parabolic figure, for example, conservatives noted that Jesus mentions Jonah as an historical figure (Luke 11:29-32).”

But abuse of the “criterion” language led to a change in the statement of beliefs, Moore writes. The “criterion” sentence was removed and replaced with, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.”

Moore cites several critics of the new language. One is Ronald Sisk of Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, who was quoted in The Courier-Journal (Louisville) newspaper as saying, “Not all Scripture rises to the full level of Christ.” For example, Sisk pointed to passages in the Old Testament and to teachings by Paul. Sisk recently led his church virtually to break its ties with the SBC.

“This is precisely why Southern Baptists found it advisable to clear up the wording of the confession of faith,” Moore writes. “The biblical canon, not a vaguely defined concept of ‘Jesus,’ has always been the definite authority for Baptists.”

Moore says another critic of the new BFM was Bob Setzer of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-funded Baptist Center for Ethics. Moore quotes Setzer as being critical of Southern Baptists for their emphasis on “right ideas about Jesus: he was born of a virgin, died a substitutionary death for the sins of the world and will return on a cloud to rescue the redeemed.”

“Setzer says that Jesus never made believing such things a condition of discipleship,” Moore writes. Instead, Setzer says that Jesus called for a “simple creed, consisting of two words only: ‘Follow me.'”

Moore says such arguments can be responded to by simply asking “Follow who? The Jesus of the Bible made it rather clear that knowing Christ, not merely following an ethical example, is what saves (Matt 7:21-23). Indeed, almost every New Testament epistle was written to correct false experiences with ‘Jesus’ by presenting the apostolic testimony to the true Lord Jesus Christ.”

In his “President’s Journal,” Mohler states that seminary professors are required to teach “in accordance with and not contrary to” the Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message.

“Furthermore, we expect our professors to hold these convictions as personal beliefs and commitments, not merely as contractual obligations for teaching,” he writes. “This model of robust confessionalism is a critical dimension of our accountability to the churches. … We do not force anyone to accept the confession of faith, but those who accept employment here do so under these terms.”

Moore notes there will always be debate among Southern Baptists, but that the debate should not be over the integrity of Scripture.

“The BF&M 2000 does not mean that Southern Baptists will march in doctrinal lockstep,” Moore writes. “There will always be coffee shop debates over the timing of the Rapture or the use of drums in worship. But, as long as there is a common submission to biblical authority, there will not be a debate over whether the lost need to hear of Christ or whether two men should be married to each other in a Baptist church.”
Articles referenced in this story will be available soon at www.baptist2baptist.net. (BP) photo of The Southern Seminary Magazine posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org.

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  • Michael Foust