My Day at SBTS

Yesterday, I was hosted for a day at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I learned some lingo, For instance, in SBC circles, the school is referred to either as “Southern Seminary,” “Southern,” or “The Southern Baptist Seminary.” Specifically, I was invited by the faculty of the International Center for Youth Ministry at Boyce College, and its director, Dave Adams.

As one might imagine, I had some trepidation going into this conversation, particularly having read the less-than-affirming blogs of the school’s president, Al Mohler, regarding Brian and Emergent.

However, I must say that rarely have I been received so hospitably, humbly, and generously. Dave, the rest of the Boyce faculty and Ph.D. students, and the school’s dean, Jimmy Scroggins, were everything that you’d want Christian brothers to be. (No, there were no sisters present.)

We talked non-stop from the 11am till 4pm. We found points of agreement and points of difference. For them, it was significant that I personally affirmed the historic, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ — in fact, when asked point-blank whether I could affirm it, my response was something like, “Not only do I affirm it, I consider it the pivot point in the entire history of the cosmos.”

But, we differed when it came to decisional evangelism, inerrancy, and the exclusivity of propitiation in understanding the atonement. I made it clear that I didn’t necessarily reject any of these positions, but that I consider none of them sufficient. We had a good little conversation about the Trinity, and I was able to explicate my ecclesiology a bit, explaining how it grows from my understanding of the perichorectic Trinity.

It was difficult at times parsing out whether I was speaking for myself or speaking for Emergent, but I guess that goes with the job. A good challenge came from Prof. Randy Smith at the end of the day: he said that if Emergent is primarily about theological tweaking, then he’s not interested, but if it’s about missional Christianity, then he’s very interested.

Before I went to the airport, I was taken into the president’s office, to meet Al. Actually, we walked through his ante-office and into his “real” office, where he was preparing for his daily radio program and a later appearance on Anderson Cooper 360 — he was weighing in on the no-church-on-Christmas controversy. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. It was somewhat awkward for me, as I imagine it was for him, too.

Who knows where all this will lead? I don’t, but I know that conversations such as this are only good.

  • ScottB

    Sounds fantastic. In relation to Prof. Smith’s thought that “if Emergent is primarily about theological tweaking, then he’s not interested, but if it’s about missional Christianity, then he’s very interested,” can you have one without the other? I’m not sure.

  • Steve

    Tony, thanks so much for retelling your day for us. For those of us who have graduated from SBTS and know the guys you were talking to (I preached a ‘revival’ with Scroggins and know Randy Smith), I’m pumped to finally see some good conversation happening. When Typepad decides to get their service back up today I will be linking to this post. Thanks bro.

  • SLIM

    the dude said, “that if Emergent is primarily about theological tweaking, then he’s not interested, but if it’s about missional Christianity, then he’s very interested.”of course he is not intersted because emergent doesn’t do, nor have they ever done, theology. They re-package theology and call it their own, but they do not really do theoloy. What they do, and they do it well, is liturgy – they’ve promoted a new way of doing church, but the theology stays the same…the liturgy changes but it is more of a cultural phenomon than anything else…it is just postmodern inculturation, not theology. They have no real scholars or theologians among the group, but rather a few arm chair theologians from silly seminaries, but nothing serious. I do, however, appreciate their liturgy or missional christinaity as the dude put it…keep on keepin on with the liturgical overwriting, and keep grounding in traditional theology of the east (orthodox) and west (RCC) and emergent will continue to do well and pull people from the evangelical protestants…

  • Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Sounds great, Tony. Whether speaking for yourself or for Emergent, I think you are the best person to be trusted with this tension.Peace,Jamie

  • Jeremy Porter

    Tony, you told me of this conversation with the guys at SBTS at the YS convention in Nashville. I have been praying for your time there ever since. Thanks for your commitment to conversation.It lightens my soul as a student at SBTS to know that such conversations are taking place.

  • Anonymous

    emergent is still boring, unoriginal and for 20/30 something white people…you have no theology, i’m sorry it’s a conversation…but by calling it a conversation and setting up 4 values you draw a circle in sand and set up paramenters…that is not conversation, i though emergent is a conversation…a conversation about what? God? Church? Christ? How is that conversation different than any other theological discussion?

  • mark

    thanks for the update tony

  • Anonymous

    Tony–I’m a bit surprised by your fifth paragraph. You say you ‘didn’t necessarily reject any of these positions’-including inerrancy. But on your blog you’ve said some very strongly negative things about inerrancy. And also, I’m not sure I know of anyone who believes in the ‘exclusivity of propitiation in the atonement.’ Everyone I know of who believes in penal substitution and propitiation also believes that Christ defeated the powers on the cross and accomplished many other things as well. Glad you had a cordial, non-obstreperous meeting!Tim Keller

  • Bruce

    does emergent belive in, or converse about, gay marriage?I know of this emergent church in new england that is all gay guys…but none of them are married

  • Anonymous

    tony believes what catholics belive, but he calls it “emergent” – like all the other’s out thereI think inerrancy is looney toons – only a nimrod would subscribe to that, that is precisley why Tony does not subsribe to it, because he is not a nimrod.

  • jon myers

    i’m glad to hear you behaved yourself down at “southern.” it’s been way too long since i’ve checked in on your blog. as for the whole theology/missional church dichotomy (or the theology/liturgy one too for our anonymous friend)…it seems to be a false dichotomy. to make a statement about church is to make a theological statement. to make a statement aobut liturgy is making a theological statement. i know we love to package our world into different boxes, but that isn’t reality. those dichotomies are false. but, i’m just a young theologian/practioner heading into one of those silly pseudo seminaries. peace tony

  • jeff

    if Emergent is primarily about theological tweaking, then he’s not interested, but if it’s about missional Christianity, then he’s very interested.yeah…

  • b frank n RobeFRe

    Tony,I think that’s fantastic!Now to get you a conversation at SWBTS(there is something afoot out there) and would like to hear your thoughts on their differences with SBTS. or maybe its too late and there is no dif.It will be interesting to read how Al cocks his brow now!

  • Tom

    Oh Tony you dont know how glad I am to see this. One of the things my wife and I had hoped for after the emergent conference in May was that Emergent Leadership would begin to converse with more fundamental groups. This is especially hopeful for me, serving in a Southern Baptist church, to see that there wasn’t a hostility towards you. Thanks again.

  • andrew jones

    good on ya tonyso glad it went well

  • Anonymous

    wow all I can say is wow

  • Alex F

    I’m also a PhD student at SBTS. There are a lot of us at Southern who are interested in the EC but have the kinds of theological concerns you guys talked about – with the addition of issues surrounding inclusivism vs particularism, and issues more rooted in epistemology. There are other, more minor issues also. Lately the EC has been a rather hot topic actually – both in and out of the classroom. That said – I don’t know of anyone that considers themselves to be a part of the EC.Bottom line is I’m really pleased to hear of the dialogue you all shared the other day. Hopefully we can respectfully seek to persuade each other where we differ theologically, each seeking to sharpen the other.

  • John Frye

    Tony,I, too, am glad it went well for you. I appreciate, too, your book THE SACRED WAY; I found it spiritually expansive and practical.

  • ScottyB

    Tony- I was encourage by your meeting with Scroggins and Smith. I am a fan of Southern(& Boyce) and the emerging church.I am from San Francisco and desire to see more unity in the Body of Christ and especially to see San Francisco flourish for Christ. I have met Mark Scandrete and am friends with other leaders in the Bay who went to the Emergent-SF in Sept i realize that doing church like the Fifties wont be as effective in cities like San Francisco (and increasingly in the rest of the world)I am excited about the openess in the emerging to church to missional christianity(a “go to” rather than “a come to our service” mindset).I see alot of outside the box thinking that is important.I also see alot of authenticity.However I do have some questions about some of the “tinkering with theology”. I can definitely tinker with my ecclesiology and I think that being a Berean about theology in general is fine. I’ve been noticing lately that modernism is somewhat two-dimensional and post- modernity seems to me to be more and more three dimensional. However I suppose I like a mix of both(this may not make sense to you and I think I am still in process).I guess I’ll give an example:I think about propositional truth being somewhat necessary when following the conventions of reading a book. Just like words are good in 2-D(or sentences are nice when they move from right to left in English). The imaginations and thoughts and feelings that I get from words on a page are better in 3-D Sometimes propostional truth can’t capture experiences.I say all this to say that I gave a fairly withering response to your comments about the exclusivity of propitiation in the atonement on my blog. I suppose it’s because guys like Mark Driscoll reassure me throught a mix of propositional truth and beauty that I can believe in absolute truth but never comprehend fully Jesus who is The Truth. I’m open to learning and being corrected.Scott Burness from San FranciscoPsalm 63You can read some of my comments here: http://valueofthekingdom.blogspot.com

  • Ecygtheow

    Tony: I’ve never commented on your blog or read any of your books before, but I love the missional thrust of Emergent, and consider myself to be a enthusiastic part of the conversation. I am a missions major at Boyce and am super encouraged to hear about the conversation you had with the Dean, Dr. Adams, et. al. May God truly make His church one, as He is one.-Paul Butterworthwww.xanga.com/warriorpoetjedi

  • Joel

    I’m glad to hear that the SBC may be open. That’s encouraging.

  • Stephen

    hi tony, Question regarding “the exclusivity of propitiation in understanding the atonement” – by this did those with whom you were speaking mean to imply that substitutionary atonement completely explains the death of Christ? Or something else? thanks.

  • Anonymous

    emergent is submerging really quicky… logo branding???… i can feel the heat in my forehead already.

  • ordi

    I’m a Boyce student, too, but I find two slightly different issues colliding here:Emerging Church and Emergent Church are not necessarily the same thing! People have used it interchangably throughout their comments… (for a summary of each, see Jason Carlson’s article) I am all for emerging churches, but by simply reading the Bible, the emergent church movement seems everything but God honoring :( if the Bible isn’t true, then Jesus’ death isn’t sufficient, either.. but then our entire faith is void! So what’s the point of evangelizing, if we tell the people that we don’t even know for sure that our sins are forgiven? and who determines WHAT is true in the Bible and what isn’t? Are we not trusting God to be able to keep His word free of errors? If we don’t trust God to have given us a completely true word, that’s calling God either NOT-omnipotent or even worse: a liar! :(it’s sad to see that not a single comment has been replied by tony.. a controversial topic as this one ought to be talked about.. is this not indeed what the EC is all about?

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