“Battle for the Minds” Documentary

Finally, the documentary we watched multiple times at SBTS “Battle for the Minds” has been made available online. Though it leans left (all the conservatives are in black/white while the progressives are in color), it illustrates why the conservative resurgence in the SBC and SBTS was vital.

HT: Denny Burk

“Mere Calvinism” by Jim Orrick: A Review

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First, a Calvinist believes that God always does whatever he pleases. Second, a Calvinist believes that God initiates, sustains, and completes the salvation of everyone who gets saved. (14)

 

By far the most controversial issue I deal with in pastoral ministry is Reformed theology. This is both a positive and a negative. The negative side regards debates over predestination, the extent of the atonement, etc. which are often ugly, needlessly divisive, and often distract us from the real mission at hand. On the other hand conservative evangelicals largely were not debating these issues two or three decades ago because at the time, we were having to defend the authority of Scripture and the exclusivity of the gospel.

With that said, I continue to explore the issue. I am firm in my own convictions but open to the views different than my own. One new release that has peaked my interest is Mere Calvinism by Jim Orrick of Boyce College.

Most works that explore Reformed theology from a favorable or unfavorable perspective are typically either academic, thus somewhat cold and distant for the average reader, or hostile in tone. Dr. Orrick’s volume is none of these. Orrick offers an honest and unapologetic defense of Calvinism that is both pastoral and winsome.

It is important to make this clear from the beginning. Those who are already 5-point Calvinists will love virtually everything about this book. Yet those who find disagreement with the professor will at least give him a fair hearing even when he comes down strongly for his positions.

This is the real strength of the book. Dr. Orrick writes with academic precision but with the heart of a pastor who wants to win the reader over but more than that he wants the reader, even his detractors, to see the beauty and practical importance of Reformed theology.

Regarding his defense of Calvinism, I would recommend picking up the book yourself. Those familiar with the debates will find familiar territory here. Orrick’s use of illustrations to explain his argument is unique and a blessed addition (his use of a sponge to describe total depravity was particularly helpful). His clarifying between true Calvinism and false Calvinism (“they don’t believe in missions”) is much needed especially if the debate is to bear any real fruit moving forward.

In the end, for those serious about engaging these issues, Orrick has offered one of the best books I have come across. For those sympathetic to Orrick’s conclusions, this is an invaluable tool for your positions. For those who disagree with him, at the very least, take his arguments seriously. It is good for fellow believers to debate, but let us debate understanding what it is we actually disagree on.

 

This book was provided by P & R Publishing for the purpose of this review.

 

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"A History of SBTS" by William Mueller: A Review

Let the history, when written, tell only of the toils and trials and sacrifices, and wisdom and purdence and foresight, and prayers and tears and faith, of the people of God to whom the institution will have owed its existence and its possibilites of blessing. (vii)

-James P. Boyce

I had a professor in seminary once comment that most biographies and historical books fall into one of two categories: hagiography or critical analysis. To err on either side does not make a book worthless. But it is important to be aware of the bias of the author going into the book. The facts of history are what they are, but they must be interpreted and presented . And in there lies much of the bias.

Consider the 1959 book A History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary by William A Mueller. The book was published on the century anniversary of my alma mater, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have read most of the sesquicentennial history of SBTS by Gregory Willis published in 2009 simple entitled Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009. The two books tell the same history (at least regarding the first one hundred years) yet they read like two different stories.

I was alerted to this a number of years ago in conversation with an older minister who graduated from SBTS prior to the conservative resurgence at Southern. He was bitter about the latter volume and criticized it for rewriting history. That comment has remained with me ever since. Therefore, I picked up Mueller’s history recently to investigate how the original history was written and the liberal bias is overwhelming.

Southern Seminary opened its doors in 1859 in Greenville, South Carolina. Due to the Civil War, it temporarily closed its doors and eventually moved to Louisville, KY where it remains today. Its founding faculty are key to understanding the history and legacy of the school. This is both the strength and the weakness of Mueller’s volume. All four men, James P. Boyce, John Broadus, William Williams, and Basil Manily, Jr., were ardent Calvinists who defended orthodoxy vigorously while promoting academic excellence.

In Mueller’s history, we are given that portrait with extra paint. Throughout the story, especially regarding the founding faculty, the author struggles to make the first four faculty members to be more liberal than what they actually were. It is important to note that throughout the book, the comments are slight, yet the agenda is clear.

Prior to establishing SBTS, Dr. Boyce insisted the school be founded on a confessional document as a means of protecting it from heterodoxy. This document, written by Basil Manly, Jr., is known as the Abstract of Principles and is still in force today. Regarding this confession, Mueller notes, “The Abstract of Principles is still in force. Dr. W. O. Carver has suggested that if it were composed today, certain changes might be made in this instrument . . .” (31-32) Though he would go on to largely praise the document, it is comments like this that liter the text.

His survey of Boyce, which dominates a chapter and a quarter, has consistent liberalization of the record. Regarding his systematic theology textbook, the author writes, “one will understand the vigor and persuasiveness of his position despite its evident methodological limitations.” (58) He then notes “Boyce’s high regard for textual criticism” and his “insight into the peculiar problematic of interpreting the Scriptures.” (58)

Or consider the following comment:

Whatever may have been the limitations of James P. Boyce’s theological outlook, one fact seems clear: his thinking had not yet been eroded by the impact either of liberal or romanticizing tendencies of his age. Dr. Boyce’s theology still had some of the “intellectual defenses of historic Puritanism” which, according to Dr. Hudson, had been dismantled by the work of men like Horace Bushnell, Mark Hopkins, an other neoromantic evangelicals. (61)

The author lays his cards on the table here. He places Bushnell ahead of Boyce. That is problematic as Bushnell was a heterodox liberal.*

Regarding John Broadus, the second president of the seminary, the author highlights his commentary on Matthew. Mueller almost seems surprised that Broadus would interact with some of the chronological challenges of the Gospels. The author unnecessarily walks the reader through a number of these and explores what Broadus had to say on each of them.

Likewise, Mueller highlights Broadus’ apparent hesitation to interpret “righteousness” in the Gospels in the Pauline sense. He writes:

It is highly illuminating to observe how Dr. Broadus was careful not to read Pauline ideas back into the Synoptic Gospels. At least four passages in the Gospels dealing with the idea of righteousness . . . come under Broadus’ critical review. In all these passages he rightly held that the idea of imputed righteousness, so evident in Paul’s writings, is absent. (73)

For those familiar with liberal theology, this is a crucial distinction.

Likewise, he informs the reader that “Dr. Broadus came to the conclusion that the Lord’s Prayer need not be considered original.” (74) Even more striking is when he asserts, “Dr. Broadus firmly yet modestly stated the case for Jesus the Christ, Son of man and Son of God. The language he employed was chaste and simple.” (75) What an odd way to report Broadus’ orthodoxy. He was not an orthodox Baptist full of doubt. He was an ardent defender of the faith!

Finally, consider the following:

But – and this is a most significant point – Broadus also made it clear that while the Word of God is true, “it does not follow that our interpretations are infallible.” Dr. Broadus affirmed himself to be an advocate of progressive orthodoxy. (81)

No he wasn’t. The writer wants us to associate Broadus with the word “progressive.”

This same pattern is followed regarding the biography of Manly. For example, he is described as being “solid though often overly cautious conservative without, however, ever being bereft of his critical faculties.” (87-88) So conservative believers refuse to use their mind?

This is the pattern throughout the book. Mueller inserts his liberal bias even if it requires him forcing it. Regarding the Crawford Toy controversy, his sympathy to the fired faculty is evident. He emphasizes the boards hesitancy in accepting his resignation and Boyce’s famous meeting with him afterward. Throughout the narrative, however, Mueller describes his theology in shocking ways. For example, while discussing the biography of Manly, Toy’s theology is described as being “advanced.” (96)

Overall, I appreciated Mueller’s approach to writing the story of the first one hundred years of Southern, but am disappointed by the clear bias of its writer. Having considered Mueller’s history of Southern, I disagree with the man I met a number of years ago. The story had to be rewritten and updated and I would recommend Willis’ volume. The liberal hijacking of Southern Seminary is its saddest chapter. Unfortantely, this book was written as those days were just beginning.

 

*Later, Mueller favorably references Friedrich Schleiermacher. See page 85.

"James Petigru Boyce: Selected Writings" by Timothy George: A Review

For those who like to study great men of God who were great preachers and leaders,  highly recommend James Petigru Boyce: Selected Writings, by Timothy George.

First, George offers some biographical information about Boyce. Boyce is most known for being the founder and first president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. George’s biography on this great man is an excellent synopsis and summary of his life. In it, George covers many of the important events and people in Boyce’s life.
The second part of the book is Boyce’s faculty address he gave in 1856 called “Three Changes in Theological Institutions.” This is a great read, and sums up Boyce’s vision for Southern Seminary. It was these 3 premises that Southern was founded on.

One of changes he suggests in this address is the need for a confession of faith. When Boyce began SBTS, he wrote out such a document called “The Abstract of Principles.” It is essentially an orthodox confession with additional statements that reflections his Calvinism.

This document is still in use today at Southern. Every professor that teaches at Southern, Boyce argued, was to sign and agree to the things written in the Abstract of Principles. Why? For fear that liberalism and heresy would be taught to those preparing to become minsters of the gospel.

This confession of faith is important. I believe that it is one of the reasons that Southern was able to become conservative again. Dr. Albert Mohler, the current President at Southern, led the charge on making Southern a conservative institution, the way Boyce would want it. One of the things Dr. Mohler had to do was simply hire professors that agreed to this profession of faith. Those who disagreed with it, were not to be hired.

The last part of the book is a selection of sermons he preached. My favorite would probably be the Christmas children’s sermon. Though short, I loved how he handled and applied the text, and how he encouraged the children and the congregation with clear Biblical truth.

The way Boyce preached was quit different than the way it is done now. It is obvious that times have changed. But in every sermon, even those who are living 150 years after the fact, can still understand and apply what Boyce had to say. It is a great reminder that though cultures and times may change, Scripture and it’s many truths do not!

Here is a sample from one of his sermons entitled, “Christ Receiving and Eating With Sinners”:

Do you believe in Jesus, my hearers? Has He spoken here the truth concerning Himself? Is it, can it be, true that Jesus thus yearns over each one here? That He thus earnestly desires the salvation of each soul?

Too long have you lingered in the ways of sin and folly. Too long have you stood and trembled and doubted what might be His feelings toward you.

Hearken today to the message of His yearning love by which he would win you.

It tells you of sinners waited for, longed for with deep desire.

It tells you of the yearnings of your Jehovah Savior who cannot afford to lose you. It tells you of His earnest seeking, by which He would take you wounded and sore and unable to return and bear you back upon His shoulders to the fold.

Can you resist these pleadings? Can you reject such love? Can you disappoint such earnest longings and desires?

Will you to welcome to your heart your blessed Lord, your glorious Savior, who thus seeks you that he may regain His wandering sheep, His lost treasure, His prodigal child, that He may once more number you among His own.

Suffer this day the word of exhortation. Would that I could utter such words as would make you hesitate no longer.

Where shall I find them? Isaiah 55:1, “Ho, every one that thristeth, come ye to the waters, and he that hat no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

How Can Christ Be Omniscient & Not Know the Timing of His Return?: Wellum’s Take

One common criticism of Jesus’ deity regards his apparent ignorance of the parousia. In Matthew 24:36, Jesus states:

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

Being that God is omniscient, how can Jesus be both divine and yet seemingly unaware of the timing of his own return? In his chapter on the Synoptics in the book The Deity of Christ (edited by Drs. Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson) Dr. Stephen Wellum shows that this text underscores his deity. He writes:

Now it is within this context that we need to think carefully about Jesus’ famous confessed ignorance, or lack of knowledge of the parousia, which many argue count against viewing him as God the Son. . . . Throughout the history of the church, beginning with the Arian controversy, this text has been used to undercut the deity of Christ since surely if Jesus were God he would have known this information. Certainly, this text deserves a detailed discussion, more than is possible here, but it is crucial to point out that it does not provide grounds to undercut the deity of Christ. Rather, it is better understood in terms of the unique Father-Son relationship as discussed above, as well as the nature of the incarnation during the state of humiliation as Jesus acts as the obedient Son in order to accomplish our salvation. But with that said, even Jesus’ admission of ignorance instead of leading us to deny his deity actually underscores his unique self-identity as the Son. How so? as noted above, the very use of the title “son” speaks of his unique filial relation to the Father. in addition, the context of this statement is centered in Jesus peaking of his coming in divine judgment, something which only god can do. Moreover, as Reymond rightly observes, the fact that the phrase “not even the Son” comes after the reference to angels, proves that Jesus views himself in a category all by himself – grater than any human or angel. In biblical thought, this carries with it an unmistakable divine claim. Thus, instead of undercutting Jesus’ claim to deity, this text underscores it, albeit in ways that unpack the unique Father-Son relationship.

For more:
How Can Christ Be Omniscient & Not Know the Timing of His Return?: Paul Enns Weighs In
How Can Christ Be Omniscient & Not Know the Timing of His Return?