August 5, 2007

Agree with me, and then we can talk

John Pierce has an excellent column in the August issue of Baptists Today. It is entitled "Agree with me, and then we can talk" and deals with a recent comment by Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Here are a couple of highlights:
Regarding the issue of cooperation, Richards told the San Antonio Express-News: "The SBTC stands ready to dialogue with any group willing to affirm our faith statement."

For those who don't fully grasp the fundamentalism mindset - much less understand its arrogant and destructive impact on Baptist life, the Christian church and the larger world - this is exhibit one.

... One, we alone have found the truth - fully and doubt-free.

Two, we have spelled out all that truth in a nice little creed that only we can adjust when a dissenter or two comes along and needs to be tossed out.

Three, if you have any questions about or disagreement with our fine document or how we choose to defend it, then clearly you are not a person who embraces biblical truth. (We will gladly use other names to discredit you if you persist.)

Four, therefore we will only work with - heck, we will only talk with - those who fully embrace our version of truth. Got it?

Fundamentalism has no room for diverse opinions. In fact, there are only two possible ways of interpreting biblical revelation. Mine - which is always right - or any other - which is always wrong.

... By its very nature of suspicion and fear, fundamentalism will always lead to no other destination than isolation. To stay alive, it must be continually fueled by a sense of self-righteousness that pushes aside any person and any thought that might suggest another valid viewpoint.

... Limiting dialogue to only those in full agreement does nothing more than reinforce one's prejudices, solidify blind spots and create absolutely no room for growth. But, then, if you already know it all, what's the big deal?
Amen! Pierce accurately captured the problem with this perspective. When we only talk with and, more importantly, listen to those with whom we already agree we are only setting ourselves up for disaster.

6 comments:

  1. I take exception to Jim Richards' comment, “The SBTC stands ready to dialogue with any group willing to affirm our faith statement.”

    This is not really dialogue...it's monologue; another form of groupthink.

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  2. Chuck7:18 PM

    Pierce leaves me somewhere. Just how many versions of truth are there?

    And, I wonder when Jim Richards last characterized Pierce's comments as Pierce characterizes Richards'? When did someone last tell Pierce he had a "fragile faith?"

    (Insert your blog title here for Mr. Pierce)

    When the BGCT forsook the 2000 BF&M, instead affirming the 1963 again, did it not lift up the 1963 document and put down the other? Was that not rigid and unbending?

    The focus of Baptist cooperation needs to be on the clear message of salvation in Christ, and Him alone. It's Jimmy Carter's and others' unclear and/or non-exclusive view of that truth that limits Southern Baptists' involvement.

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  3. Great editorial!

    re Chuck's comment: I think Pierce might have said it better if he had said "brittle" instead of "fragile" faith.

    Let's consider what happened when it was first discovered, through scientific inquiry, that the earth is spherical rather than flat. Religious leaders of the day had a "rigid and unbending" world-view that insisted it was flat. Scientists were arrested for heresy because the religious leaders of the day could not bend their understanding of the world to accommodate newly-discovered facts that conflicted with what they were sure they knew as "the truth". Those religious leaders had a faith that was strong enough (not fragile) to insist that the scientists must be wrong, but too brittle to consider any other possibility. Their faith was misplaced because it relied on the "infallibility" of their beliefs, rather than the infallibility of God. In other words, it was faith in their religious doctrine, not faith in God, that drove their beliefs.

    Like Pierce said, this only leads to isolation. Where would religion be today if it's leaders had never found the flexibility to accommodate the concept of a spherical earth? Would any rational, intelligent person adhere to such a religion today?

    Our doctrines can never be any more infallible than our limited understanding of God. Which is preferable -- faith that depends on the infallibility of it's doctrine for it's strength, or faith in God's infallibility that is strong and flexible enough to survive challenges to it's doctrine?

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  4. Stan,

    Your remarks seem eloquent and thoughtful.

    However, when you compare and equate Jim Richards and "fundamentalists" to "the religious leaders of the day" who "could not bend their understanding of the world to accommodate newly-discovered facts that conflicted with what they were sure they knew as 'the truth'", this question begs to be asked:

    What "newly-discovered fact" has there ever been which affects or demands the accommodation of "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 1:3)?

    Let's not confuse selectivity in who Baptists choose to cooperate with with weakness or inflexibility to survive challenges to doctrine.

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  5. Hi Chuck, and thank you for your thoughtful response to my earlier comment.

    It was never my intention to compare or equate Jim Richards or "fundamentalists" with anything at all. I merely used the "flat-earth" example to illustrate that brittle insistence on the infallibility of doctrinal beliefs can lead to isolation. How isolated are flat-earth believers today?

    To answer your question: I believe it is doctrine, not faith, which may need to accommodate new information. For example, many Christians believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old, based on a literal interpretation of the Bible (when I was a child, I was given tracts at Sunday School which insisted that dinosaurs never existed and carbon-dating was completely unreliable because these things did not fit accepted doctrine concerning the age of the earth). Whether it's age-of-the-earth, existence of dinosaurs, existence of extraterrestrial life forms, etc., would proof (as conclusive as the sphericity of the earth) of any of these things require the accommodation of faith in God, or would it require the accommodation of accepted doctrine? I can have complete faith in God whether or not any of these things are true (including spherical earth), but I might have to adjust my doctrinal beliefs in order to accommodate any of them.

    My point was that we, as humans, are incapable of fully understanding God, and therefore, none of us can hold a valid claim to infallible doctrine. I'm saying "Let's not confuse faith in God with the affirmation of our doctrines (or 'faith statements')".

    I don't have a horse in this race: I don't know the details of the doctrinal conflict between the different Baptist groups. But I think it's a mistake to refuse dialog with any group that is not "willing to affirm our faith statement", because it implies that we consider "our faith statement" to be infallible, and anything in conflict to be necessarily wrong. If one cannot even consider concepts in conflict with our doctrines and refuses to even hear them, then that implies that our faith depends upon the infallibility of our doctrines, and I believe that faith is misplaced.

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  6. Chuck1:31 PM

    Stan,

    Thanks for your elaboration.

    I think you might agree with me that some "statements of faith" address only major doctrines which are not impacted by scientific discovery.

    This is the case in the moderate/conservative strain that the SBTC/BGCT has experienced with the Baptist Faith & Message, where Ephesians 5 and the nature and authority of Scripture are the main matters.

    Now, it seems, the exclusivity of Christ to save may be a point of contention, if not caution, for the SBC/SBTC to consider in cooperation with BWA-related groups.

    Thus, there is more than rigid inflexibility on every doctrine held that is contributing to the SBC's selectivity in partnerships.

    The New Baptist Covenant proponents, for example, would need to address the pluralistic theology questions surrounding President Carter and others associated with its leadership in order for me, a Southern Baptist, to positively support or participate as an authentic Baptist witness and new prophetic Baptist voice in America.

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