There is currently a radical change in thought being propagated in the Church, which is destructive to the truth. It is the ever more popular idea, even within the SBC, that the truths in Scripture are so far beyond our understanding that no one can have any credible assurance that their view on any doctrinal Issue is the accurate and correct view. That removes the burden to present a Scriptural, well-reasoned argument in order to validate one’s view. One’s view is deemed valid merely because one holds it (or those on a signature list hold it with you), and validity has nothing any more to do with actually having systematically established the view as comparatively strong and reliable. Therefore, the tools of the Church for millennia—reasonable debate and systematic theology—are denigrated as divisive and flawed, and seeking theological truth through competitive comparison is discarded, replaced by the practice of seeking whatever theology one finds personally suitable to one’s taste. A demonstrably superior argument or system no longer has clout. Now, numbers of adherents to a particular view (no matter its weaknesses) have clout. Scriptural authority is being replaced by political power.
Is Scripture the source of truth for the believer? A few decades ago, that truth was attacked by those who taught that the Bible is unreliable. Truth could not be determined with certainty from such an unreliable text, and so the authority of Scripture was undermined. By God’s grace, the SBC fought off this attack in what was known as the Conservative Resurgence, and returned to a proper belief in the reliability and authority of Scripture. But now, the same old attack is coming back in a more subtle form. Rather than attacking the veracity of the text, it is a denial of the ability of believers to comprehend the intended meaning of the text with any certainty. Once again, it is claimed that truth cannot be determined with certainty—this time due to a supposedly incomprehensible text. It is the same old poison in a form that’s easier to swallow, since it allows one to fully affirm that Scripture is true and verbally inspired, while rendering it just as impotent to communicate truth as under the old.
This explains the current tendency to jump to being offended merely because one’s view is called “wrong.” Such an objection to being called “wrong” is grounded in the idea that there can be no valid basis for claiming that one view is closer to the truth than another. In short, the critique is offensive because (in their assumed worldview) certainty in such matters is unattainable, and without certainty any view is as valid as any other—and no one has the right to claim that their view is superior.
It wasn’t always this way with doctrinal disputes. Not only did the Church view the truth as attainable, but the unending pursuit of a better grasp of the truth was held as an obligation on all. The attitude that, “No one can know for sure anyway, so I’ll just settle for whatever position suits me best,” is “relatively” new. The old way was to diligently compare opposing views side by side, weighing their reasoning and their support from Scripture, to see which view was the most consistent, reasonable, and most Scriptural. Such diligent comparison was first by personal study and then by reasonable debate. But the end goal was always to pursue a better understanding of the truth.
Until now, Southern Baptists have let the truth define us according to Scripture, rather than attempting to define ourselves (and the “version” of the truth we hold) according to the political polling of a “proportional representation.” The way toward unity must include a reverence for the Biblical truths set out in the Baptist Faith and Message, and a desire to be identified with them—and not setting that aside to demand that the numbers of SBC leaders, speakers and teachers must proportionately reflect the various political groups within the convention. Theological differences are matters of scholarship, debate and persuasion. Political concerns are matters of numbers and representation. Scholarship can bring us closer together, as ignorance of the opposition abounds in our “in-house” controversies; but politics can rip us apart. True scholarship seeks the truth from above, by the aid of the Holy Spirit’s illumination; but politics is of the power of the flesh, and seeks to impose favored views from the ground up.
Let us hope that God in His grace will return us to a proper belief that the truths of Scripture are indeed comprehensible—and put the burden back onto would-be theological movements to establish their validity through the strength of a well-reasoned Scriptural argument. And further, let us hope that we once again are satisfied with the unity of a statement of faith that is the result of a proper assessment of those well-reasoned positions that make up this convention.
Ken Hamrick, 2013