Incredible

In the comments to this previous post, about the Rev. Al Mohler — mullah/president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the Real Live Preacher reminds us of Mohler's notorious takeover of that school and purging of its faculty:

He fired men who were so beyond him in scholarship that he really shouldn't be mentioned in their circles. He set himself up as king there and ran the institution into the ground. Southern used to be the scholarly center of Southern Baptist life. A decade later no serious scholar would step foot in the place.

I had several friends, all devout Baptists and eminently qualified scholars, who were unceremoniously fired during Mohler's cultural revolution in Louisville. That event is what led me to say that Mohler's real goal seems to be to become the SBC's first pope.

RLP continues:

About every five years he [Mohler] makes a completely asinine statement of one kind or another and puts himself in the news for about fifteen minutes.

Witness one of his wonderful theological revelations from the past when he decided that the historic Baptist principle of "Soul Competency" and "The Priesthood of Every Believer" was a mistake from the very beginning. The priesthood of every believer has been a centerpiece of Baptist thought since 1601. It may be the most important gift that Baptists bring to the greater Christian community. Of course, it doesn't jibe with the fundamentalist agenda because it takes away their ability to control from the top.

Precisely. This core belief of "soul competency" or "soul freedom" — individual freedom of conscience — is an essential part of what it means to be a Baptist. It is also why Baptists do not recite the historic Christian creeds. We're anti-creedal.

I personally believe wholeheartedly in the content of both the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed (I'm even a fan of Apollo Creed.) Yet I do not believe in creeds per se. Your soul freedom trumps my ability to judge or exclude you for failing to subscribe to any given theological formula.

Most evangelical churches and institutions in America are temperamentally and culturally Baptist. They tend to believe in (adult) believers' baptism, to be non-hierarchical (structurally, if not interpersonally) and congregational — relating to other churches in a way that closely mirrors Baptist polity ("Baptist polity" being pretty much an oxymoron).

American evangelicalism also inherited from the Baptists their suspicion of creeds. But something strange happened to this anti-creedal stance in the evangelical churches. The great traditional creeds are not recited there, but it is no longer true that these churches and organizations do not have creeds — they've just written their own.

The "statement of faith" has replaced the creeds in most evangelical churches, and these statements are enforced with a dogmatism rivaling that of Athanasius.

One problem with these statements is their inelegance and ugliness. Compare either of the creeds above with the prosaic statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals or that of the evangelical relief and development agency World Vision. (To World Vision's credit, they consider the Apostle's Creed an acceptable substitute for their SoF.)

Those two examples at least have the virtue of imitating the brevity of the classic creeds. The NAE statement is only 180 words long and World Vision's is 182. These are a bit longer than the pithy Apostle's Creed (117 words), and a bit shorter than the Nicene Creed (229 words). Many of the evangelical statements of faith are much, much longer.

Which brings us back to Southern Baptist Seminary and its grand inquisitor Al Mohler. The creed they have written for themselves, called an "Abstract of Principles," is 1,236 words long — more than 10 times as long as the Apostle's Creed.

Can we please stop calling them "Baptists" now?

  • carla

    I used to ask these questions on a different blog, but it’s been shut down, so I’m asking you: When I read the NAE thing, and I see that the Bible is supposed to be “the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God,” I’m deeply confused, given the many translations and human interpolations the thing we call the Bible has gone through. There are and have been many versions, and whole books have been left out, is my understanding. Did God ordain that, too? Is the King James version the Word of God? Are other versions not? I’m really not trying to nitpick, just to understand, and you seem quite knowledgeable about this stuff.
    I also find it fascinating that the Baptists are being taken over by someone who is sort of the antithesis to the historical roots of your religion, and the other fundamentalists with whom I was blogging/emailing had issues similar to the ones you raise.

  • laiq

    The existence of a large number of different translations and interpretations does not reflect badly on the source material, rather the opposite. Look at Sun Tzu’s Art of War; arguably the greatest manual of military tactics in existence, it has been repeatedly translated and even more frequently commentated. The huge effort that has been put into understanding the material is a testament to the value and the complexity of the work, and so it is with the Bible.
    Whether or not these second-generation works inherit the spiritual significance of the source material is questionable. A Bible’s physical properties are no different from any other book; it can be copied, modified, burned, thrown into orbit. If a translator or commentator, however, asks God to bless his work, I believe he would bestow the inspiration that was originally given to those who first put the words down. That inspiration, however, might not produce a word-perfect copy or a commentary that everyone agrees with; God speaks in different ways to different people.
    The Bible is not the powerful and mystical artifact some make it out to be, but it contains the best explanation of our faith that we have. In once sense it is not all we believe it to be, in another it’s importance cannot be overstated.

  • http://peat.blogs.com/peat/2004/07/evangelical_civ.html Peat

    EVANGELICAL CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY

    On June 21, 2004, the National Association of Evangelicals publicly released the draft copy of “For the Health of the Nation: A Call to Civic Engagement.” The draft is being reviewed by “one-hundred denominational executives, seminary presidents, a…

  • cjmr

    Interestingly enough, it really just looks like the NEA replaced the first sentence in the Apostle’s Creed “We believe in the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth” with the “the Bible is infallible” bit and did a poor transliteration of the rest of the Creed. And, of course, you can’t have the word catholic in there, although that is what “spritual unity of believers” means…

  • carla

    Okay, let me try again: I am not claiming that the different translations, etc., affect the inherent worth of the material. (I’m an atheist, so i really don’t have a dog in this fight at all, if you want to know.) I’m asking how one knows which is the correct/infallable translation or version. Which books get included, which don’t; what language you use; etc. I also recognize that even a single translation wouldn’t prohibit differing interpretations. (The Koran avoids at least some of these issues by avoiding translation, for example, but there are many and varied interpretations of Islam.)
    I find that interpretability to be one of the more interesting facets of human beings and the ways we are (and are not) able to communicate, and I don’t understand how to square that fundamental aspect of humanness–the possibility of different but all good-faith interpretations–with the infallibility thing and the inerrancy of Scripture thing. What do the members of those faiths say/believe?

  • cjmr’s husband

    A couple favorite bumper stickers sightings:
    “If it ain’t King James, it ain’t the Bible”
    “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me”
    (the second one was back in the days when they were trying to make English the US’s Official Language; I can only hope that they were trying to be funny)

  • Rahaeli

    The new location of the Abstract of Principles, in case anyone is coming along from the post made today:

    http://www.sbts.edu/about/truth/abstract/


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