As I mentioned before Fisher Humphreys’s 1994 book The Way We Were: How Southern Baptist Theology has Changed and What it Means to Us All is an attempt on Humphreys’s part to situate the conservative-moderate conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention as a conflict between a majority tradition of mainstream Baptists and one of the SBC’s minority traditions. To do this he needs to establish what is historically uniquely Baptist and what isn’t.
Humphreys spends a chapter locating Baptists as Protestants, sort of. Which I guess he has to do; Baptists are only sort-of Protestants: they were dissenters from Anglicanism, not Roman Catholicism, and identified themselves as Baptists about 1608, two or three generations too late for the Reformation. Still, Humphreys identifies five beliefs Baptists share with historical Protestants:
- The Church must always seek to be reformed.
- The Bible alone is the written Word of God
- Justification is by grace through faith alone
- All believers are secure in their salvation
- All believers are priests of God
I’m going to mostly focus on the last item here because it was the distinctive the moderates wielded against the conservatives in the Eighties and apparently still do. The term took on its specific modern Baptist meaning around 1908, where theologian E. Y. Mullins elaborated it into the concept of “soul competency,” meaning that each individual must stand before God himself or herself, rather than being constituted under some religious or political federal head. From it is derived the Baptist distinctive of “a free church in a free country,” meaning they do not support established churches, etc.
By the Eighties the moderates within the SBC were also citing this as support for the ordination of women (the priesthood of the believer being interpreted as having no regard for gender) and for academic freedom in seminaries, including various interpretations of Scripture using the historical-critical method. The conservatives, of course, interpreted this point more narrowly, or as subordinate to various plain readings of Scripture, or whatever. In the accounts I have read of the controversy in the SBC, the two sides rarely actually engage with the others’ points, but instead just restate their own in ever-increasing intensity, usually wrapped in metaphors and accusations.
I don’t know that there’s an obvious way out of this problem: after a few years of discussion the controversy in the SBC became more a political fight than a theological disagreement, with more attention paid to numbers than to ideas.
Still, I am given to wonder if at least part of this question isn’t still with us, when we ask whether every Christian has the right and responsibility to learn and interpret Scripture himself, or whether he has an obligation to pick an existing tradition and stick with it. Or, similarly, whether academic theology matters, or practical theology, or so-called folk theology.
Several weeks ago one of the voices on The White Horse Inn, and I believe it was host Michael Horton, suggested that there are some evangelical authors whose books appear in the Christian Living section of the bookstore and/or have a DDC number near 248.4 [link] who are using pen names between Meyer and Osteen.
Since Horton didn’t mention anyone by name I am tempted to believe he was just repeating idle vicious gossip, but I would prefer to be wrong. So I will pay a whole dollar to the first person to spot and verify one of these authors, limit ten total. To claim please send me evidence that some author is using a pen name and has a book with a DDC of 248.*. I will also consider evidence of a pen name and a snapshot of a book in the appropriate section of a chain bookstore, subject to some kind of field check.
As even the most casual reader of this blog is well aware I am a graduate of Liberty University. I first became aware of Johnnie Moore during the Ergun Caner episode, where Moore was responsible for press relations as a University spokesman during the period of time that it was becoming clear that Caner had misrepresented his personal story as a convert to Christianity from a Muslim background [e.g. link]. That’s probably the most polite way I can put what happened and Moore’s role in the controversy. A less gracious way to put it would be to say that Caner lied, Liberty prevaricated, and Moore was on occasion the public face of that prevarication.
So let’s just take it as read that I connected the dots here between Moore’s involvement in the Caner situation and the title of his new book.
Moore is the campus pastor at Liberty. It’s a difficult job to be a campus pastor anywhere and not many people do it well. This is Moore’s first full academic year in the position; he replaces Dwayne Carson, who left in the spring to be an assistant pastor at a church in Ohio. I honestly couldn’t tell you who the campus pastor was during my time as an undergraduate there in the late Eighties; he might have been Gary Aldridge; I’m not sure. I worked most Sundays and rarely attended church on campus, and we had so many guest speakers at church and at chapel it would have been difficult for anyone to have engaged in real pulpit ministry in the position at the time. I’m hoping that in the interim there have been changes, etc.
I have to admit that I’ve got pretty modest expectations for Moore’s book. Here’s the bio from his Amazon page [link]:
Johnnie Moore is a twenty-something Christian who is also the vice president and campus pastor of Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian university (with more than 70,000 students). He is a popular speaker, a professor of religion, a communication advisor to educators, preachers, and politicians. He is on the board of trustees of World Help, leads North America’s largest weekly gathering of Christian young people (10,000 students) and has led hundreds of students on humanitarian and missionary excursions to more than 20 nations.
Turns out Moore is 28. If he graduated college at 22 that means he’s been in the workforce for 6 years; it looks like he’s spent most of that time communicating, advising, and speaking. Perhaps he’s been on some sort of arduous spiritual journey that doesn’t show up in the blurb above; perhaps he’s wise beyond his years; perhaps God has singled him out for some sort of special purpose I can’t imagine. All these things are possible; I might humbly suggest they’re all unlikely.
Regardless, the book is currently reasonably priced as a Kindle e-book at only $2.51. At that price I’m willing to give it a try.
I’ve been so busy with so many things lately I’ve only had time for recreational reading when I’m actually on an airplane, and then mostly just during the parts of the flight that are unsafe for electronics and not too bumpy. I’ve been trying to catch up on the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly in the period 1975-1990 or so, during what is sometimes called the Conservative Resurgence. I’m a couple of volumes into James Hefley’s six-volume The Truth in Crisis, which is a mix of straight reporting and argument for the conservative position, and I’ve found myself returning to Fisher Humphreys’s 1994 book The Way We Were, which deals more with the ideas behind the moderate position.
I’m picking “conservative” and “moderate” here after Hefley’s use of the terms, without necessarily agreeing that this is the right way to describe the conflict. Humphreys’s description of the conflict is cleaner; Hefley gives more of the nuance. “Conservative” and “moderate” are probably better terms for describing the ideological conflict; they’re not as helpful in describing the politics.
Humphrey lays out the conflict in historical terms as a sort of sea change: the Convention has always had a set of majority traditions and a set of minority traditions, and in the present conflict that balance is changing somehow. This descriptive formulation has with it a near-twin prescriptive formulation that goes something like this: “these traditions are Baptist; those traditions are not,” and for Humphreys the change in balance among various traditions is a betrayal of Baptist heritage.
He lays out the groups of traditions by first locating the Baptists in the context of Christian historical belief: as Christian, as Protestant, as uniquely Baptist, and as revivalist. It’s important to note that Humphreys is making a distinction between the latter two; I am inclined to see this as the imprint in Humphreys’s analysis of a demographic reality that loomed large in the political fight, namely that the conservative churches typically had lots of baptisms while the moderate churches typically had relatively few. But that’s another topic for another day.
Here’s Humphreys’s list of beliefs Baptists share with all Christians:
- There is one God
- God created the world
- The world is a fallen world
- God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- The Father sent His Son into the world
- Jesus lived, preached, taught, loved, died, and rose again, to save the world
- The Father and the Son poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church
- The Spirit guides and empowers the Church on its world mission
- The Church preaches the Gospel and observes the ordinances of Christ
- God will complete His work in the future
- The Bible tells us this wonderful story
Humphreys appeals to the Baptist Faith and Message and The Baptist Hymnal as evidence that Southern Baptists believe these things; he doesn’t really have a reference to say that they are shared by all Christians, but I’m willing to give him a pass on that. I don’t know how I would go about proving “all Christians” believe almost any particular thing; the believers define the belief and vice versa and it’s a matter of choice whether we situate one or the other as fundamental. Beyond that I have to say that there are specific beliefs or practices that may from one perspective define a particular believer as either a heterodox Christian or an apostate, and between the two there are often distinctions but not differences.
It’s a helpful list, though, and there’s not much I can disagree with here. He appeals to 2 Corinthians 5 for his use of the word “world” in point 6 and doesn’t elaborate; point 7 has one of the shortest discussions, and he ignores any questions of whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father or the Father and the Son; he says “ordinances” instead of “sacraments” in point 9; he explicitly defers the question of inerrancy in point 11. I think given the nature of the discussion this is a pretty helpful list. For those of us who grew up without creeds and confessions (a point Humphreys returns to later) it is sometimes helpful to try to write down a list like this.
Next Humphreys situates the Southern Baptist Convention as a Protestant denomination, and again he’s more focused on beliefs rather than history. But that’s another topic for another post.
I finally finished reading Trey Smith’s book Thieves: One Dirty TV Pastor and the Man Who Robbed Him and I wanted to sort of tie up a bunch of loose ends.
After the safe heist Smith ends up stealing (mostly from department stores) to fund his drug habit. He gets run out of a national park in Texas near the Mexican border, gets busted robbing cars in Taos, spends some time in jail right here in Santa Fe, is in and out of a Christian drug-rehab center called Crossroads in Albuquerque, and many stops later finds himself in Colorado Springs, where by the end of the book he’s more or less clean and sober and spending time in the company of Ken Scott and Bob Enyart.
I had never heard of either of these latter two men before, but it turns out they have made their reputation as fairly hardcore anti-abortion protestors of a particular stripe. In particular, they’ve been arrested for protesting at Focus on the Family because James Dobson endorsed John McCain, even though McCain is soft on right to life issues [link]. The abortion angle doesn’t make it into Smith’s book for some reason; he just describes meeting Scott in jail after Scott was arrested for picketing a church.
This isn’t an especially good book; it isn’t an especially satisfying book. Smith hints in a couple of points in the book that he’s a Christian (while e.g. Mike Murdock’s son Jason is not), but it isn’t clear when this happens. At the end of the book he appears to have joined Enyart’s community, but it isn’t clear what that means. Jesus, as they say, does not appear to figure prominently in Smith’s conversion story.
The Murdock angle doesn’t really get resolved either; evidently Murdock went on his program and talked about the missing safe, but details of that event are missing. And parts of the Murdock story (Does he ever give his insurance company a detailed list of what he claims was stolen? What happens to the criminal investigation? Etc.) are mentioned and then abandoned.
Most of the second half of the book deals with Smith’s drug use and the pattern it sets for his life. It makes for unpleasant reading, and given our druthers we’d spare our worst enemy that. We wish Smith well in his attempts to stay clean and sober, and we hope with time and practice his writing will improve.
It has been brought to my attention that Gabe Lyons, co-author of unChristian, is a graduate of my undergraduate alma mater, Liberty University.
I don’t think I’d ever heard of him until a couple of days ago, when sources very close to me asked me what I thought of him.
Unlike home-schooling guru Susan Wise Bauer, whose time at Liberty seems to have missed her resume but made something of an impression on me.
As a point of entry into Fisher Humphreys’s 1994 book The Way We Were: How Southern Baptist Theology has Changed and What it Means to Us All it is important to note two things:
- He’s in the group that lost out during the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention in the Eighties; there are several of these groups, and they overlap, but based on my reading I think it might be fairest to refer to him as a “progressive,” meaning that he favors the ordination of women, critical biblical studies, academic freedom in seminaries, and ecumenicism.
- He considers the early English Baptists, the original dissenters from the Anglican Church with their believers baptism and their local government of churches, to be normative and later Baptists, including but not limited to Landmarkists and Fundamentalists, to be deviant.
It might fairly and humbly be asked why Humphreys would stake out this particular territory to defend, especially the second point, and at least one other blogger (Greg Gibert at 9Marks [link]) has asked pretty much this question. In his case he asks why it would matter that John Smyth and Thomas Helwys were anti-Calvinist (his term).
I guess I’d have to put these two points together the way I have here and ask why someone who believes seminaries should be havens of academic freedom and Baptist churches not places where the opinions of the English Baptists could be disregarded. Of course, I haven’t read them, so I can’t say what their opinions would be regarding the ordination of women and inerrancy.
I spent last week in upstate New York on business, staying in a middling chain hotel where the cable offering included only major network affiliates and a cable-company-produced news channel. The cable company which shall remain nameless offered only EWTN and TBN as religious channels, and I lost all of Sunday to travel, so I had almost no chance to catch any off-brand Christian television on this trip.
I did however catch a couple of TV preachers in the cheap time slots: 3AM, 4AM, 5AM on a weekday on the sort of minor-league cable offerings, opposite the workout videos and the debt-into-wealth real estate/investing programs. In particular, I managed to catch Peter Popoff and Mike Murdock. I had no idea Peter Popoff was still a going concern. I really thought he got out of the business after James Randi exposed him in the late Eighties [link]. He’s still around, though, and his hair is shall we say unnaturally black and immobile.
Mike Murdock of Wisdom Center fame [link] was winding down a half-hour when I caught him, and he was doing a by-the-numbers seed-faith bit. The basic bit is to suggest that if you give a small amount of money to the Man of God then God will give you a large amount of money, provided you have faith. I’ve rarely seen it done as close to the formula as Murdock was doing it; apart from referring to the amount I’m supposed to give him as a “seed” it was as free of pretense and metaphor as I’ve ever seen it. The other distinguishing characteristic was that Murdock was asking for a thousand dollars.
Even in these days of market volatility and sub rosa inflation a thousand dollars is a lot of money; that’s about three and a half weeks’ gross pay at the current minimum wage. I don’t personally have a thousand dollars just lying around. How about you?
Murdock was going further in pressing for money than I’ve ever seen: he actually leaned in toward the camera and said that even if you’re facing bankruptcy and having trouble paying your credit card bill you should still call his toll-free number and give him a thousand dollars. Operators are standing by and all that.
So I went to Google and did a little research and stumbled onto the new book by Trey Smith, Thieves: One Dirty TV Pastor and the Man Who Robbed Him [link]. It’s overpriced at $9.99, but I bought it anyway.
I’m about halfway through it; it moves pretty quickly, it needs editing, and it tells a pretty unpleasant tale. There’s rough language and scenes that are appropriate for a rock-and-roll memoir (I’m thinking Hammer of the Gods here, but only because I’m years out of date regarding the genre) but will offend anyone who reads a steady diet of say Karen Kingsbury. It portrays Murdock as a thief (hence the plural in the title) who exploits employees, women, viewers, family, just about anybody. And it portrays his son Jason Murdock as a hard-partying drug-using Gen X atheist.
He goes into detail about Murdock’s greed, adultery, etc. No drinking or drug use so far, and just the occasional passage referring to inexplicable personality quirks. I’m tempted to measure the portrayal of Murdock against the portrayal of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in various accounts in the Eighties; I’d argue that the accounts are commensurate, but Murdock comes off as thoroughly and intentionally evil, where the Bakkers came off as more bewildered and overwhelmed.
I can’t say I recommend this book; it’s too poorly written and the material, while germane to the story, is presented in a way that to my ear sounds calculated as much to titillate as to inform. Still, it stands apart from a lot of TV-preacher exposes in that there’s no political angle and the author does at least suggest that there’s a moral standard that he (the narrator) and Murdock fall short of. So I’d recommend elements of it against say Rob Boston’s book on Pat Robertson.
As careful long-time readers of this blog know, I come from a fundamentalist background, and attended several churches that formed as splits off Southern Baptist churches in the Fifties and Sixties in central Virginia, just prior to the conservative resurgence within the SBC. Not all of my family made the jump; some of them had made the jump from the United Methodist Church to the SBC twenty or thirty years earlier, and were disinclined to leave churches where the extended family had become fairly deeply entrenched, where they were serving as deacons and Sunday School teachers, and where they had already purchased plots in the church cemetery. So as a result part of my family watched the SBC gyrations of the last thirty years from inside the SBC, while others watched from outside.
Regardless, we were on balance in agreement with the conservatives within the SBC; we believed that they had a higher regard for Scripture than the old guard they were replacing, and we expected that all sorts of evil would be avoided by the SBC’s move to the right. In particular, I think we assumed that the creeping secularism and liberalism we saw in other similar churches (read: the United Methodist Church) would be avoided if we conservatives took back the SBC.
I suppose in retrospect that we were right to a degree. I don’t know how I would measure something like that. I can say with some confidence that if I visit a local SBC church today it bears a closer resemblance to the independent Baptist churches I grew up in than does say a local UMC church, in both good ways and bad. On the other hand, the path the SBC has taken in the last thirty years has had its own difficulties, only some of which it would have encountered had it stayed the course in the Seventies. For example, I suspect the SBC would still have become richer and more suburban and some of its churches would still be megachurches if the conservatives hadn’t taken over.
Fisher Humphreys was one of the losers in the SBC internecine conflict; he is a self-avowed progressive, and he lost his position at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary during a purge of liberals. I’m not sure when; details are sketchy.
His 1994 book The Way We Were: How Southern Baptist Theology has Changed and What it Means to Us All [link] is an attempt to put some of the disagreement between the two sides (the conservatives or fundamentalists on one side; everyone else on the other) in some sort of a historical theological context. If I understand him correctly he is making the argument that there is, always has been, and always will be, a mainstream of Baptist-ness within the SBC, and an assortment of minority views and voices that are not part of that mainstream, and the fundamentalists are not in the historical mainstream of the SBC. Along the way he more or less lays out the case of the Mainstream Baptists [link, link].
I have been carrying this book around with me for more than a month, trying to decide whether to blog about it and if so what angle to take. I think it is helpful to go back and read the perspectives of people like Humphreys who were both part of the history and who bothered to put pen to paper talking about it later. I have to admit I am mostly accustomed to hearing his views represented from a fundamentalist perspective, and I thought it was helpful to hear what he and people like him think of the changes in the SBC, even if at times I can’t figure how what he’s saying corresponds to what I thought were the issues at the time.
Long-time Denver Broncos placekicker Jason Elam has written a novel; here’s the summary:
Air Force 2d Lt. Riley Covington is given grace to play NFL football instead of serving out his military time, but he opts to return to active duty after a horrific stadium bombing. Hakeem Qasim is an Iraqi groomed for terrorism by tragic events in his childhood. The lives of both the squeaky-clean Christian Riley and the radical Muslim Hakeem intersect in a way that readers will see coming early in the novel.
Originally published in 2008, this book is currently available at a reasonable price at Amazon as a Kindle e-book [link]. Even at this price I will probably not be reading this book. There are just too many things about it that make me want to cry, etc.