On The GCR Declaration, Part 3

Lord willing, over the next few days I will be blogging through the GCR Declaration in anticipation of next week’s SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. This is the third article in what I hope will be a series. As you read, please remember that while Between the Time is a group blog that includes a number of Southeastern Seminary professors, these articles (and every article I write) represent my own personal opinions. I speak only for myself, so please avoid imputing my views to any of my fellow contributors unless they have publicly spoken/written about these matters and you can cite their agreement. The comments are open, but because of the large volume of blogging I will be engaging in this week you will understand if I choose not to interact with many comments.

Article IV: A Commitment to Biblical Inerrancy and Sufficiency

I mentioned in a previous post that the GCR is, in my opinion, the logical next-step following the success of the Conservative Resurgence. This particular article, perhaps better than any other article, does a fine job of making that explicit. While the Conservative Resurgence was surely about more than inerrancy, there is little doubt that the full truthfulness of Scripture was the key rallying point for Convention conservatives. It is evidence of God’s grace that biblical inerrancy is, once again, a central affirmation of those who would draw a paycheck from our churches to serve as missionaries, teach in our seminaries, or work in our other denominational parachurch ministries.

Ditto on the GCR Declaration’s affirmation that the broader “Battle for the Bible” began just after creation and will continue until consummation. The Conservative Resurgence was just a single skirmish in one corner of the world, albeit one about which many of us care quite a bit!

As for biblical sufficiency, I think most Southern Baptists would agree in principle that, “It is not enough to believe that the Bible is inerrant; we must also be willing to submit to all of its teachings, even if that means we must relinquish our own preferences or human traditions”. The key is that we enjoy increasing unity as we seek to determine which of our practices might be “our own preferences or human traditions” (see below). I think this will be a tension point in our cooperation, but I don’t think it has to be a denominational “WMD” if we stay focused on Christ’s lordship and obeying the greatest commandments. Join me in praying that God will give wisdom to each of us, to all of our churches, and to every parachurch ministry within our denominational family.

Article V: A Commitment to a Healthy Confessional Center

I’ll probably camp out here for awhile. If you’ve been listening to podcast interviews with Johnny Hunt or reading the various print interviews with President Hunt or Danny Akin, you hopefully already know what this article does not mean. I am glad that they have made it clear that this document is not a rehashing of the argument from a couple years back that the BF&M is a “maximal” statement of faith and that no denominational parachurch ministry can articulate further parameters. While the BF&M 2000 is the document around which we choose to cooperate as Southern Baptists (and in many state conventions), every seminary or board should have the right to adopt entity-specific guidelines because each of them has a unique history, faces unique challenges, and embraces unique emphases.

I realize that some readers will take umbrage with this position because of the way they feel about specific guidelines (i.e. the IMB baptism and PPL guidelines, the SWBTS prohibition against women teaching Hebrew, or the use of the Abstract of Principles at SBTS and SEBTS). Now I think it is totally appropriate to debate the merits of a given entity’s guidelines, but I also think it is crucial to preserve the right of denominational parachurch ministries to adopt such guidelines. Remember that almost all Southern Baptists agree that our confession of faith is not an infallible creed but is a living document that is subject to revision as contexts change and new issues arise. It would be a tad awkward for us to claim that the BF&M says all that needs to be said, but then turn around in 15 or 20 years and revised it again (which you can bet will happen-it has happened once a generation thus far).

I like it that the GCR Declaration notes, “Like the best of confessions, the BF&M 2000 speaks most clearly to those doctrines wherein we enjoy greatest agreement and speaks more generally concerning areas where some differing opinions exist.” Simply put, the sections on ecclesiology are more specific than the sections on some of the finer points of soteriology for a reason (we are uniformly Baptist, but not uniformly Calvinist, Arminian, Amyraldian, Calminian, or “biblicist”). I would simply add that the BF&M also is silent on a number of matters wherein our churches are characterized by considerable differences of opinion.

To me the most important part of this article, at least in terms of our future cooperation, is the third paragraph. It is here that we find mention of the oft-debated “theological triage” terminology, a practice that I am convinced almost all of us affirm in principle. I don’t think most of us are debating whether or not we ought to practice such triage, but rather which doctrines fit into which categories (primary, secondary, tertiary). Is one’s position on the number of elders/pastors in each church secondary or tertiary? What about one’s views of election and the extent of the atonement? Are female deacons ever appropriate? Can women teach mixed Sunday School classes and/or choose to work outside the home? What about some practices traditionally associated with Pentecostal, Charismatic, and/or Third Wave Christians? Must one be properly baptized to participate in communion (this one’s particular tricky because the BF&M says one thing–and I agree with what it says–but many [most?] of our churches practice something different)? Where do styles and methods and cultural preferences and strategies fit in? Each of these is a live debate, and the list could go on.

I agree with the GCR Document that the BF&M will help guide us in these debates, but remember, as I mentioned in the last paragraph, the BF&M is ambiguous or even silent on some issues, including most of those mentioned in the previous paragraph. So even more than the BF&M, we will need wisdom and grace from on high as we interpret our inerrant and sufficient Bibles under the lordship of Jesus Christ for the sake of the gospel and the health of our churches and parachurch ministries. To the degree that we do this, I think we will be doing theological triage with biblical integrity and Christian charity.

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  3Comments

  1. Bart Barber   •  

    Once upon a time; long, long ago; I criticized the Great Commission Resurgence for being birthed out of a desire to end the Conservative Resurgence early. I was delighted to see the GCR document prove me wrong on that point. That’s right: I was wrong.

    Again, I still have reservations and misgivings about the GCR document. Really, just two. The first is that reorganization is tangential to the revival that we need in order to experience a resurgence in our pursuit of the Great Commission. The second is that I believe that this movement will result in an attempt to consolidate NAMB and IMB. The chairman of NAMB’s board, just at the moment when I was prepared to consider that I might be wrong about that one, went on Baptist Press and set my concerns in that regard into concrete.

    I know that you are doing this in segments, and I’m content to await your own timing, but I would like to hear your specific sentiments regarding the potential of an IMB-NAMB merger. Do you concur with me that this specific proposal will be advanced forcefully from some people during the GCR process? Do you support such a merger? If so, why?

  2. Nathan Finn   •     Author

    Bart,

    Thanks for your comment. I will begin by saying that I will address my thoughts on Article IX in my last post, which Lord willing will be published Friday. I share a reservation of my own in that post which I think is similar (though not necessarily identical) to your first misgiving.

    As to your second misgiving, since I do not address the merger question in that final post I will share some brief thoughts here.

    First, I do concur with you that there will be some who strongly argue for a merger. I say this because I heard that idea discussed informally for two or three years before the GCR proper was on the radar or Tim Patterson’s comments to that effect. (You’ve probably heard some of this chatter at some point as well.) If a taskforce is approved then I suspect the merger idea will at least be discussed, even if it does not prevail.

    As to my own thoughts, I am conflicted. My late father-in-law worked for NAMB in the adult volunteer mobilization department and for a couple of years was the number 2 guy with disaster relief. I am certainly not anti-NAMB, though I think they have some serious issues (though as you know this has been the case with every manifestation of our home board for almost the entirety of its existence, even the Tichenor “golden era”).

    I do not think a merger is necessarily the best answer, but neither do I oppose the idea. I go back and forth on the whole thing. I do know this: because of duplication NAMB only does a couple of things that could not be done by either IMB, state conventions, and LifeWay. *If* a merger happened (and again, I’m not sure it’s best–just open), then I could envision a scenario similar to the following:

    1. Evangelism strategies/programs are either localized through state conventions or coordinated through LifeWay

    2. NA church-planting is handled entirely (at the extra-church level, of course) by state conventions and/or associations (though I can see where NA church-planting among unreached people groups living in NA would also be coordinated with the single mission board, for resource and networking reasons)

    3. Disaster relief is handled entirely by state conventions and/or associations

    4. General outreach intiatives (think crossover, partnerships with evangelists, etc.) is coordinated through the single mission board

    5. Collegiate ministry is handled entirely by state conventions or, in places where state conventions don’t have the resources, the single mission board

    One assignment currently tasked to NAMB that admittedly seems like an odd fit anywhere else (besides local churches, in a perfect world) is the endorsement of chaplains. Not sure how a merger would handle this one. I suppose that the single mission board makes the most sense.

    Anyway, I think a merger could definitely happen and could *possibly* be the way forward. But a merger could also not happen and maybe should not happen. I remain very much open to persuasion either way.

    My two cents, for what it’s worth.

    NAF

  3. Bart Barber   •  

    Nathan,

    Thanks for contributing your $.02.

    My great misgiving with regard to the numbered schema that you articulated above lies with #2. Most of our state conventions, in my opinion, are financially shackled by their commitments to in-state institutions. The relocation of domestic church planting to the state conventions (I’m thinking specifically here with regard to the tremendous need in pioneer areas) will provide an enormous justification for diverting yet more money to the state level (“what was going to NAMB before, we now need here in order to pursue NAMB’s former job description”), and yet I’m dubious about how much of that money will actually make it to places like New England and the West Coast.

    I hold out the hope for North American missions as a separate entity not because of what it has been, but because of what I envision that it could be. We need something along the lines of the Manhattan Project by which Southern Baptists determine to plant Southern Baptist churches (and a whole bunch of them) in the Northeast and on the West Coast in this century.

    The guys at Hudson Baptist Association will tell you that you are statistically as likely to meet a born-again believer in Beijing as you are in Albany.

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