The Caner Controversy and the SBC

I remember taking a class at a Southern Baptist school. Not all of us taking the class were Southern Baptists. The professor had assigned a book written about the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention. One of the students pointed out the self-serving nature of the book. The book focused more on the future of the SBC than anything else. The authors were concerned that the future of the SBC does not look very bright. A non-SBC student asked, “Why doesn’t anyone in the book just say, ‘If the preservation and proclamation of the gospel means the SBC must die, then so be it!’?” It wasn’t a bad question.

The SBC is full of problems. I need not recite them here. The glory of Christ Jesus is infinitely more important than the ‘glory’ of the SBC. In that sense, I could care less about the SBC, just as I could care less about the OPC, PCA, and our other denominations. In another sense, the SBC seems to be doing some important work, despite its glaring flaws.

According to some, one of these glaring flaws is the manner in which the SBC has dealt (or to be more accurate, has not dealt) with one Ergun Caner. If you are not familiar with the Caner controversy, see this article or this video. At some point while Caner served as president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, the type of evidence linked to above started to turn up. When it did, Liberty looked into the matter, and to make a long story short, Caner is no longer at Liberty. He went to Arlington Baptist College. Most recently, Caner was hired as president of Brewton-Parker College.

Despite the overwhelming amount of information above, Caner has never, to my knowledge, responded to it. Whether innocent or guilty, one would think Caner would publish some sort of response to clarify the reasons for apparent discrepancies in his testimony and his no longer being at Liberty. If the accusations against Caner are true, they are cause for great concern. A small portion of the blogosphere has persistently brought this fact to light. Many are calling upon the SBC to act, but there may be some problems with this approach. I list them below.

1. The SBC is not an individual.

It seems obvious, but the SBC is not an individual. Moreover, the SBC is far from monolithic. (Perhaps that’s why the SBC does have so many problems?) The organizations and churches and people within the SBC vary concerning doctrine and practice. They vary in their opinions about Caner as well. When people call upon the “SBC” to act, it’s not clear what entities or individuals within the SBC they mean, which leads to my next point.

2. Many in the SBC have acted.

Many in the SBC have acted. Two notable examples are Gene Clyatt, Jr. and Jason Smathers. Clyatt is a teaching elder at Parkside Baptist Church and, from the looks of it, has busied himself concerning Caner for quite some time. Smathers is pastor of Golden Shores Community Baptist Church and was apparently sued by Caner for his involvement in the Caner controversy. Parkside and Golden Shores are both in the SBC, which means that Clyatt and Smathers are as well. Most likely, the bulk of their church memberships agree with them concerning the Caner controversy, though I do not know that for sure. Countless others within the SBC have also addressed the controversy, and some have paid a cost for doing so.

3. Some in the SBC may have good reason for not acting.

Some in the SBC may have good reason for not acting. The stronger critics of Caner seem to think, at times, that everyone should be every bit as zealous as they are about calling Caner to repentance. For them, this apparently means creating social media accounts in order to mock and obsess over the man. Some of them act as though the fate of the kingdom itself is contingent on the Caner controversy. Setting aside the workable excuses of time constraints and ignorance, some in the SBC may not want to address the Caner controversy out of political concern. I know what you are thinking. Truth is more important. I agree. So let’s strive to be known for preaching the truth, not our criticism of Caner. They are not necessarily at odds with one another. I know. But you must admit that some people are known due to their criticism of Caner, rather than their preaching and staunch defense of the gospel. Interestingly enough, it is politically advantageous  for some of Caner’s critics to point out that it is politically disadvantageous for others to address the controversy. Are political moves always wrong? I don’t think so. Shocking as it may be, not every hill is a hill worth dying on.

Take Albert Mohler, Jr., for example. Apparently some in the “Reformed community” have a problem with Mohler, whom they would consider one of their own, not addressing the Caner controversy. From what I have heard from students at his seminary, there are some professors, and perhaps Mohler himself, who have addressed the controversy on a more private level, but not publicly. Even if that is not true, Mohler likely has much bigger and more pressing concerns in his limited amount of time than pursuing the Caner controversy, but it’s fair to say that he addresses many other issues that don’t seem so pertinent as the Caner situation. One could try to argue that the Caner issue is not a gospel issue, although it certainly seems to have some bearing on the integrity of the gospel. But let’s set all of these possible excuses aside. Recognizing that this is all rather speculative, could Mohler be justified in acting out of sheer political concern? I think so. Several people with whom I have spoken have shared with me that Mohler has signed some sort of documents at his seminary that prevent him from speaking out against Caner, a former trustee (this is ‘news to me,’ as they say). Then there’s the negative social backlash of going after someone within the SBC. Here’s my proposal. It may be that Mohler believes it is more politically advantageous to let other people comment on the Caner controversy than for him to do so and risk his job, his seminary, and the future of the Reformed community in the SBC. I realize this still sickens some of the bloggers and pastors of much smaller churches out there, but that may be why they remain bloggers and pastors of small churches instead of one of the greatest reformers of our time at the helm of a major (now) conservative Christian seminary. Sometimes it’s not your sound doctrine that makes you an outcast, it’s your personality. Just sayin’.

4. Individuals within the SBC are relatively powerless.

Individuals within the SBC are not in the types of positions to make immediate changes in the SBC. Right, I just finished saying that Mohler is quite powerful. But look at the power he has over the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Look at the power he has to immediately effect wide-ranging change within the SBC. Oh wait. He has virtually no power in those areas. And if he doesn’t, so much the more for the pastors of small, independent churches within the SBC. Liberty went so far as to remove Caner from his position at their seminary. That did not prevent Caner from going on to teach at Arlington, and now reside and preside at BPC. Sometimes those who are not well-acquainted with the workings of the SBC do not realize how very independent its various churches and institutions actually are. Which brings me to my final point.

5. Caner is not so closely associated with the SBC at large.

Caner is not as Southern Baptist as many of his critics make him out to be. For example, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, where Caner once served, has no direct connection with the SBC. The SBC does not fund LBTS nor does it elect any trustees. Liberty University, the undergraduate school, is in partnership with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, but that is the extent of their relationship. Arlington Baptist College is not related in any way to the SBC. Finally, Brewton-Parker College is affiliated with the Baptist Convention of the State of Georgia, which, again, is not directly connected to the SBC and receives no funding or elected trustees from it. From this vantage point, BPC and those associated with it in Georgia are the ones most responsible, at this time, for dealing with the controversy, not some nebulous concept of “the SBC.”

The Caner controversy is as much a problem for Christians as it is for the SBC. I do not intend to discourage the work of those involved in this controversy, and there are many in the SBC who should be addressing the Caner issue as they can. I am certainly no apologist for the SBC. However, if the emphasis of this controversy is shifted onto the SBC, those calling for repentance will only hurt their case. We must remember to distinguish between obligatory and supererogatory duties, to be every bit as critical of ourselves as we are of Caner (or anyone else), to resist the temptation to make one’s stand on this issue a mark of orthodoxy, and to hold the proper parties responsible.

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Capsized Canoes and Christ’s Commands

‘Transformationalism’ seems a bit of a loaded term. ‘Two Kingdoms’ seems a bit incoherent. Nevertheless, arguments against ‘transformationalism’ from those of the ‘2k’ position seem a bit weak.

One ‘argument’ 2kers use against transformationalism is to point out that the world is like a sinking ship. Trying to ‘redeem’ anything in this world is like polishing brass on that sinking ship. Dispensationalists also use this rhetoric. 2 Peter 3.5-7 appears to support the illustration:

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Obviously, the antediluvian world is similar to the world we live in now in many significant ways.  Genesis 2.10-14 appears to support this contention:

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

Moses assumes the audience he writes to after the flood is familiar with the rivers Tigris and Euphrates which existed before the flood. It would seem that at least two of the rivers of the world were left even after the flood. And if some geographic features survived the flood, and if the world shall perish in a similar geographical way in the future, then one might expect that at least some geographical features might remain after God destroys the world by fire. The observation is not limited to the Genesis text either, for all assume the world that was flooded is the very same world we live in today, changed though it was through flood, and changed though it will be by fire.

Of course, Noah and his family were saved from destruction. They went on living. They existed both before and after the flood. God will also destroy the ungodly in the future while saving His own through grace. So in the destruction and renewal of the world through flood and through fire, we observe great discontinuity and great continuity. And that leads to my next point.

The illustration begs the question. Supposing some form of postmillenial eschatological view is correct, the world is not a sinking ship at all. Many transformationalists are also postmillenialists. For them, the sinking ship analogy just doesn’t hold water. I imagine the same can be said for those onboard any eschatological view that affords some sort of continuity between the world before and after destruction by fire. And what eschatological view doesn’t?

We know our bodies will be destroyed. Will they will be raised again? Read 1 Corinthians 15. If the world is a sinking ship, how much more the body? None of us have ever experienced the destruction of the world. We have witnessed the destruction of the human body.

Theologian B.B. Warfield believed the individual believer is a microcosm of the world. Without knowing much about Warfield and his theology, I would take this to mean that just as believers are ‘sanctified’ (in the abstract systematic sense) and thus become ‘better’ in terms of Christ-likeness, so also the world becomes progressively ‘better’ in terms of the expansion of the kingdom of God and the beneficial implications of that expansion. Thus argued Warfield the postmillenialist. But let’s run his thinking in reverse.

Let’s say that the world is not getting progressively better. So, postmillenialism is out (and indeed, should be out of initial clashes between so-called transformationalists and 2kers, since one can in theory hold to other eschatological views and still be a transformationalist, and, if I am not mistaken, vice versa). The world is not getting progressively better, and is a sinking ship. Our work here on this planet will ultimately be destroyed. The new heavens and new earth will replace the old. The 2ker tells us this is a good reason to stop with the ‘redeeming x‘ garbage.

But is it? To take Warfield’s thought in reverse, do we really want to say that the process of becoming more like Christ Jesus with faith working through love is actually for naught? There are certainly times when we do not feel as though we as individual Christians are getting any better. In fact, if we were honest with ourselves, we often despair that we might be getting worse. We are like capsized canoes. We are going down (quite literally). We will die. Our bodies will rot. Our souls remain sinful to the last. The new glorified self – body and soul – will replace the old. Is this a reason to stop with individual transformation through the gospel? Is all of our work for nothing?

Of course not. I wrote that the illustration of polishing brass begs the question. And it does. It assumes that polishing brass does not count for much, if anything. That’s simply not true. We need not become postmillenialists to agree. We merely need to be Christians. Not only is the individual Christian transformed through the gospel, but he must be transformed through the gospel. It is Christ’s command, and he works toward obedience to that command, whether the brass is tarnished or burnished. So also for the transformation of the world through the preaching of the gospel.

Mathis is Mistaken

David Mathis is a bit off in his criticism of those criticizing the firing of Phil Robertson from the Duck Dynasty show. Mathis believes A&E is profiting from the controversy. They are getting free advertising. So we should not talk about it.

Even if his suspicions were true, what difference do they make to the ethics of addressing this controversy?

None.

So much for that argument.

Referring to Duck Dynasty, Mathis mentions that “this show is scripted.” He piously opines, “this is not the reality worth fighting for.” Okay? What does the show being scripted have to do with sticking up for the biblical and historical view of Christian ethics pertaining to homosexuality? I will answer that question for him. Nothing. It has nothing to do with the issue.

Mathis goes on to write, “The network never owed us this show, never owed us how many times they haven’t censored the name of Jesus from Phil’s end-of-episode prayers, and never deserved that we get this upset and in the meantime litter the Internet with their name and boost their profile.” And who is saying that the network ever owed us any of these things? Mathis is like way off in left field here. He is also obsessed with how much A&E might be making off this controversy, which, as I noted above, is irrelevant to the opinion of Mathis that Christians should just shut up and take it when a high profile celebrity gets fired for simply stating the biblical and historical view of Christian ethics pertaining to homosexuality.

Mathis wisely writes, “Wisdom isn’t picking a fight whenever we can, but picking the right fight.” He unwisely fails to follow his own advice, picking a fight with those whom he thinks are picking a fight when really the fight was brought to us. Where’s the wisdom in that? Mathis is simply begging the question in favor of his view that defending the biblical and historical view of Christian ethics pertaining to homosexuality is unwise by piously quoting passages of Scripture that fail to establish his point.

Frankly, I am not even sure that Mathis understands what has actually taken place. He insists, over and over again, that this is not the time to speak up in defense of the biblical and historical view of Christian ethics pertaining to homosexuality. But he continues to frame the discussion in terms of the silliness of a show and the profit of a television network. He makes a comment about how the Great Commission is not about television programs. Thanks. Totally helpful. But not really. And it has nothing to do with defending the biblical and historical view of Christian ethics pertaining to homosexuality.

Note, by the way, his arrogance in stating that the show is marginalizing Christians as “backwater.” Perhaps Mathis has been with Desiring God for too long. Perhaps he has lost touch with reality. I happen to know at least one local congregation who would have his head for implying something so offensive about believers in the South. It’s not that I am defending Phil Robertson as a Christian. Rather, I am pointing out just how unloving the comment Mathis has made might come across to those who are undeniably Christians and happen to live in the South.

Mathis misses the point entirely. He should have taken his own advice and not spoken to the controversy. We really did not need him breaking his silence to tell other Christians to shut up.