In the last month a friend of mine at church has sent me some interesting stories provided by the Associated Baptist Press. Both have to do with statements made by faculty and administration of the once-great Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, KY. Before getting to the statements, some background: Back in the early-to-mid 20th century the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was what one might call a “big tent.” That is, a wide range of perspectives were tolerated and even encouraged. But from the 1960′s until the early 1990′s the conservative side, through an array of interesting political maneuvers, took over the Convention and its seminaries, including SBTS, its flagship academic institution. Moderate and liberal faculty members were nicely — or perhaps not so nicely — asked to leave. (Yes, there are liberal Baptists and liberal Baptist churches. Although the stereotype Baptist is someone like Jerry Falwell, Baptists — taken as a whole — are a cantankerous and unruly bunch and can’t be easily pigeonholed.) So SBTS is now a bastion of ultra-conservative politics and bizarre theology. As you will see.
STRANGE BAPTIST STATEMENT 1.
ARE YOUR BOYS TOO THOUGHTFUL AND INTROSPECTIVE? BLAME IT ON BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX
I love The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. I have read it to my children many times. The story is about a gentle-hearted bull — Ferdinand — who refuses to “butt his head and stick his horns around” like all the other young bulls. But his refusal is not made in protest and he is not trying to make a point. Instead, Ferdinand is simply a kind and sensitive bull who simply prefers to sit under the cork tree and “smell the flowers just quietly.” And his mother, who is a cow, lets him.
I’m thinking that The Story of Ferdinand would not be among the books valued by Randy Stinson, dean of the School of Church Ministries at SBTS. Why? Because it is his opinion that we are too gentle with our boys, and that
We are raising our young boys to be way too soft, way too careful, as if the ultimate prize in our parenting of boys is to get them to 18 years old and say they never got hurt, nothing bad ever happened. They never experienced pain. They never experienced disappointment. They have just had a wonderfully smooth life. What you’ve done, you have handicapped that boy for the rest of his life. He will be a weak, soft, ineffective man.
Now I make a point of teaching my children to take calculated risks. I let them go a little further afield than I would if safety was my first concern. I think the culture at large emphasizes safety over adventure. And kids get hurt; that’s what happens.
But Stinson goes further, saying that the gospel has become feminized to the point that it is not of interest to men. Whatever. I for one am not disinterested (what must this say about me?). Anyway, what is of most interest to us here at psnt.net is Stinson’s theorizing about the origin of this “feminization.” The ABP article says that
Stinson said one problem facing churches today is a “feminization” of the gospel that began early in Christianity with a “bridal mysticism” that applied poetry about the relationship between man and woman in the Song of Solomon as a metaphor for the church’s relationship with Christ.
So, what is the problem here? That the Song of Solomon is about sex and nothing else? Just like Genesis 3 is about about apple trees and talking snakes and nothing else? Is it the mysticism thing? Is it simply the idea that any metaphorical reading of the Bible is wrong? Is it the Catholics’ fault? And how exactly does this centuries-old bridal mysticism connect with the “feminization” of the church today? Does Stinson have something against Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Bernard of Clairvaux? I mean, besides the fact that they were “Catholics”? (My favorite professor at Candler likes to refer to pre-Reformation Christianity as “our common tradition”; during this time there certainly was no “Catholic Church.”) I just can’t figure out how Stinson connects Homilies on the Song of Songs with today’s “soft” young men. As I like to say, the mind boggles.
STRANGE BAPTIST STATEMENT 2.
FAITHFUL CHRISTIANS MUST REJECT SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE
As the president of SBTS, Albert Mohler is a real big-time Southern Baptist. In a denomination where there is no church hierarchy, many people look to him for leadership, for guidance, and even for what to believe. Time.com has called him the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.” Hm. Lately he has made some really crazy statements about evolution. Among them:
Was it true that, as Paul argues [in Romans 8], when sin came, death came? Well just keep in mind that if the Earth is indeed old, and we infer that it is old because of the scientific data, the scientific data is [sic.] also there to claim that long before the emergence of Adam — if indeed there is the recognition of a historical Adam — and certainly long before there was the possibility of Adam’s sin, there were all the effects of sin that are biblically attributed to the fall and not to anything before the fall. And we’re not only talking about death, we’re talking about death by the millions and billions.
The theory of evolution is incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures.
We need to recognize that disaster ensues when the book of nature or general revelation is used in some way to trump Scripture and special revelation.
Mohler argued for the “exegetical and theological necessity” of affirming the universe is no more than several thousand years old and was created in six 24-hour days as recorded in Genesis.
That a Baptist believes these things does not surprise me; Baptists have as many views on evolution as there are Baptists. But coming as they are from such a prominent Baptist leader, such direct and downright silly statements are embarrassing, hurtful, and unnecessarily divisive.
It hurts for a couple of reasons. First, because in the eyes of most people, all Baptists are the same. There is little appreciation for the extreme range of views held by Baptists, although both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Phelps are (were) Baptists. So when Mohler, a high-profile representative of the world’s largest Baptist organization, makes such statements, this point is further lost. Second, by taking such extreme views, Mohler is guilty of atheist-making. I mean, if he were a true expression of Christianity, I’d be an atheist too. And who would blame me (besides Mohler)? Third, and most important, it discredits and twists the very gospel he claims to protect (as if it needed protecting). Let’s just admit it: A young earth, literal six-day creation, a literal Adam and Eve, a literal snake, etc., are not exactly central tenets of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
You know, we Baptists used to have leaders and theologians we could be proud of. And to some degree we still do. But the Baptist leaders who are making the news — as Baptists — have lost their heads. They have made it clear — to everyone — that they do not know church history and that they have rejected basic scientific knowledge. And when the heads lose their heads, well, we all lose. Not just the Southern Baptists, either; all of us. Including you, including me, including Jesus himself.