Recently, I was accused of “treason” in an online comment by an employee of a Cooperative Program-supported college in Georgia. My crime? I’m general editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum that quotes Wesleyans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians. Apparently, in this person’s mind, quoting people from other denominations is sufficient evidence to deem one a traitor (according to Webster, a traitor is “one who commits treason”).
Now, to be sure, this is certainly not the first time that I have been criticized. And I don’t feel that it is necessary to respond to every statement of disagreement or expression of disdain that is sent in my direction. But in this case, both the use of strong language with the word “treason” as well as the charge itself seemed to warrant comment. When we start to say that looking outside our own convention walls as we learn is disloyal and should not be done, we are only hurting ourselves. Banning non-Baptist books to “protect” lay people does not bode well for our future.
This kind of Southern Baptist isolationism and elitism does not serve the mission of the churches of our convention, and it certainly does not serve the kingdom of God well. Pastors and leaders in our convention have always benefited from books and commentaries written by Biblical scholars from other traditions. We glean insight from people throughout church history, and we can learn biblical truths from people in other denominations.
A great example of this kind of respect of others and humility to learn from others comes from Southern Baptist statesman, and a hero for Southern Baptists, Dr. Paige Patterson. Recently B&H Publishing Group published his long-awaited commentary on Revelation for the New American Commentary series (and I mean long-awaited).
As I have perused this magnificent offering, I noticed he interacts with scholars from across the denominational spectrum– sometimes citing them to make his point. These quotations do not make me question his motives. They don’t make me think he is less than Southern Baptist in his affiliations or convictions. In fact, they provide evidence of how thorough his work was to write such a helpful commentary.
Dr. Patterson is certainly not a “traitor” to the SBC. Instead, I believe this kind of work makes him a better Southern Baptist. Dr. Patterson is willing to glean truth– wherever it is found– and to interact with the Body of Christ at large in a way that strengthens and bolsters his (and, ultimately, our) Baptist convictions.
Some might say that this example is different, as it refers to an commentary where such interaction is expected and appropriate. After all, pastors and scholars need to be aware and exposed to the thoughts of others. A few might think that a different standard should be applied to a bible study curriculum.
First of all, let’s be clear. When The Gospel Project does quote a non-SBC thinker, it is a quote that builds up universal Christian doctrine and biblical truth, not one that undermines our distinctives. But we need to address something that I believe is even more important. At LifeWay, we believe that we do not need to treat laypeople like children. We believe that it’s important to educate our people theologically, and we are grateful for the insights of Christian believers that can point us to the truth. We are not afraid to use them, and we do not condescend toward laypeople as if they can’t handle them.
The Gospel Project starts with theology and goes deep– and we think that laypeople can handle it. Actually, based on the response, we think they are handling (and loving) the depth.
Even with respect to the NAC series, we target not only ministers but also “Bible students” of all kinds, and work to make it helpful for all who want to study and expound the Scripture. Lots of laypeople are buying and interacting with Dr. Patterson’s, and all the other, New American Commentaries.
It is sad that a vocal minority from a few Baptist institutions advocate for a view that can lead to denominational isolationism and elitism. I, for one, am thankful that it’s not treasonous to listen and learn from Wesleyans (like Charles Wesley, whose hymns are in the Baptist hymnal) or Anglicans (like J. I. Packer, who helped us see the importance of inerrancy), or Presbyterians (like D. James Kennedy, who inspired some of our own evangelistic strategies).
The good news is that most Southern Baptists know better– most but, apparently, not all. But, that’s part of being in a family. We don’t all have to agree, though perhaps accusing others of denominational treason is not the best way to be in a family together. We just disagree about what laypeople can and should handle. That’s OK.
People like Paige Patterson, and others who have benefited from the wisdom and faith of non-Southern Baptists, are not traitors to the SBC if they quote non-Southern Baptists. To even insinuate such quotes are disloyal shows an elitist or sectarian spirit that is just not helpful. Thankfully, I believe most Southern Baptists already know that.
If you have not yet read Dr. Patterson’s new commentary in the NAC series—order it now, read its fine scholarship, and read some quotes from people who are not Southern Baptist. You can order it here. It has great reviews on Amazon and makes s strong case for a pre-tribulational, pre-millennial view, while still treating other views with clarity and fairness.
Also, if you’d like to join in with the hundreds of thousands of “traitors” learning weekly through the Gospel Project, written in accordance to the Baptist Faith and Message, and occasionally quoting from well-known Presbyterians, Wesleyans, and Anglicans when they give additional insights in accordance with that faith statement, you can find out more about the Gospel Project here.