Baptist Identity at 400

As many of our readers know, 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement. In honor of this historic year, Doug Baker of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina recently conducted a Koinonia Podcast on the topic “Baptist Identity at 400.” The panelists for the podcast include the following:

James Leo Garrett, Distinguished Professor of Theology Emeritus at Southwestern Seminary

David Dockery, President of Union University

Greg Wills, Professor of Church History and Director of the Center for the Study of the Southern Baptist Convention at Southern Seminary

Nathan Finn, Assistant Professor of Church History and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Seminary

You can read the press release here and access the podcast here.

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In related news, you may be aware that Doug Baker has recently been selected as the executive editor of the Baptist Messenger, the official paper for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. You can read the about that news here. We at BtT hate to see Doug leave our fair state, but we are thankful for the strategic ministry the Lord has opened up for him among Oklahoma Baptists. Many North Carolina Baptists have commented in recent days that Oklahoma’s gain is our loss, but since we don’t hold grudges, we wish Doug every blessing in Christ.

On the Dangers of Seminary (Pt. 4): The Danger of Becoming a Dork

Dork: [dor’k] noun. USA pejorative slang for a quirky or socially inept person, or one who is out of touch with contemporary trends. Often confused with “nerd” and “geek,” but does not imply the same intelligence level.

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In this series of posts, I am dealing with the perils of the unique and sometimes bizarre world of seminary education. Most of the dangers of which I speak are dangers to which I have succumbed at one point another during my times as a student, teacher, or administrator. This post is no exception, as my friends can attest (and would eagerly affirm).

I would like to point out that seminary students in particular find themselves confronted with the danger of becoming dorks. That’s right. Seminaries often attract and produce pencil-necked geeks. These are guys who have lost themselves in parsings and prophecy charts, but have little awareness of their surroundings, and sometimes little or no ability to make conversation with ordinary American citizens. “No,” you opine, “I’m not one of those guys.” Really? Well, here’s a quiz. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you are a certified dork-in-training.

1. Do you know all about Cyril of Alexander and Johannes von Staupitz but are blissfully unaware of the existence of Dwight Schrute?

2. Are you able to immediately find your copy of Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor amongst the 2,643 books in your library, but have no idea how to change the oil on your lawnmower?

3. Are you upset that I mentioned The Reformed Pastor in the last question because you thought I should have spotlighted Why I Am Not a Calvinist instead?

4. Do you wear a bowtie?

5. Do you have a moustache?

6. Do you own a searsucker suit?

7. Is your name David Nelson or Nathan Finn?

But there is another, and equally potent, way to become a big dork: try just a little too hard to be culturally savvy. In order to find an example of this path to dorkdom, I need to look no further than myself. For those of you who know me now, as a coat-and-tie-wearing pencil pusher (a dork of the first type), you might be surprised to know that this wasn’t always my style. Soon after becoming a “youth evangelist” in the mid-90s, I found myself needing to be a lot “cooler.” Before long, I could be found sporting wide-leg pants, fat belts, steel-toed boots, and enough faux-silver jewelry to make Scott Stapp blush. (If you don’t understand any of the ostensive referents in the previous sentence, I’d like to refer you back to the first category of ‘dork’ above.) I was workin’ it like Geoff Moore and the Distance. I fancied that I looked like the frontman of an indie rock band, or some other type of uber-cool cultural icon. But I didn’t. I looked like a Barney Fife double who had really bad luck on his latest trip to the Goodwill store. And I’m not alone. There are others. I’m thinking of any number of Seminary Bible jockeys who came to campus wearing penny loafers and golf shirts but who all of the sudden show up on campus complete with a pierced pre-frontal cortex, faux-hawk, slim jeans, and a little dust bunny on their chins.

So what is the point? The point is that we need to be in the world, but not of it. For some of us, we need to get our head out of our books each week long enough to be aware of our surroundings. We need to meet our neighbors and have conversations with them. We should make ourselves aware of the televisions shows, movies, and music that shape the hearts and minds of the people of this country. We should take a little bit of time to become acquainted with the major moral, social, and political debates of our time. If we don’t, we’ll be unaware of the language people speak and the culture they are consuming. Further, in a sense, we neglect our own humanity. To reject culture qua culture is to reject the God who made us to be cultural (artistic and scientific and social and political) beings. The danger is cultural anorexia.

For others of us, we should be careful lest we become uncritically like the broader culture. Underlying the television shows, music, and even the fashion trends in our country are producers, writers, and designers who do their work from within a particular worldview. If these shows, music, and trends are “the very air we breathe,” then it is likely that we are also influenced by the (nihilistic, relativistic, etc.) worldviews underlying them. If we do not consciously, carefully, and consistently keep watch over ourselves, we will find ourselves being consumed by the spirit of the age. We endanger our own humanity by not allowing Christ to conform us to His image. The danger is cultural gluttony.

Of course, seminary is not the only place where one faces the perils of cultural anorexia or gluttony. But it is a place that offers ample opportunity for the former, which I suppose is what drives some seminarians towards the latter. We seek to avoid the perils on either side by (1) as my former seminary professor put it, “allowing God’s Word to be the grid through which we filter the surrounding culture;” and (2) allowing others to provide correction when we err on one side or the other.

John 17:15: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.

Acts 17:22: “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens’….”wap

An Exercise in Bridge-Building

One of the more hotly debated issues in the contemporary SBC is Calvinism. Unfortunately, our intradenominational discussions about topics like predestination and the extent of the atonement have often generated as much heat as light. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike have been guilty of dealing with their fellow Southern Baptists in less than charitable ways. This does not reflect well on Southern Baptists. More important, it does not please our Lord Jesus Christ.

In November 2007, Southeastern Seminary co-hosted a conference titled Building Bridges with LifeWay Christian Resources and Founders Ministries. The speakers included both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. The purpose was to model a better way to engage in spirited, though Christ-like dialog about this important issue. You can listen to the presentations here, or you can read the proceedings from the conference in Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialog (B&H Academic, 2008).

Between the Times is attempting what might be called an “exercise in bridge-building.” Alvin Reid teaches evangelism at Southeastern Seminary. Alvin is not a Calvinist. Nathan Finn teaches church history at Southeastern. Nathan is a Calvinist. These two men are not just colleagues, but they are good friends who truly want to see Southern Baptists discuss this issue, but do so in a better way than has too often been the case.

Over the next several days, Between the Times will publish at least three more articles about the Calvinism debate in the Southern Baptist Convention. The first will be an open letter from Alvin to Calvinists in the SBC. The second will be an open letter from Nathan to non-Calvinists in the SBC. These letters reflect the content of some of the conversations these two brothers have had with each other off and on over the past two years. Both men speak candidly, but from a spirit of genuine love rather than malice or competition. Our prayer is that their letters will be received in the same spirit they have been written, for the glory of God and the good of the SBC.

Lord willing, the series will conclude with a jointly authored article suggesting some points of consensus among Southern Baptists who disagree about the five points of Calvinism. It is our hopes this series will help further the cause of a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC.