Update: especially note footnote #2 since I failed to account for a third public response from Marty King in the critique below
In light of Al Mohler's recent encouragement to Southern Baptist editors to "cover Calvinism," I find it interesting that when Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index, placed his view in print, he was side-swiped by other entity-heads and leaders for describing an "encroaching Calvinism" >>>
Several leaders including Al Mohler, Danny Akin, Mike Ebert, and Marty King were quoted in reaction to the editorial. And, some of the quotes were less than sober. In fact, both Mike Ebert (NAMB) and Marty King (Lifeway), virtually accused the Georgia editor of blatant falsehoods. Ebert said Harris' article was "long on suspicion and innuendo but short on facts" indicating the only legitimate approach in raising questions about Calvinism involved biblical matters alone--"If one wants to write a column stating his opposition to Calvinism and back it up with Scripture, that is a legitimate approach." Apparently for Ebert, no conversation or concern about a theological issue is fodder for editors in their own column unless it is a Bible study. In conclusion, Ebert suggested Harris' article "evokes the McCarthyism of the 1950's" because it employed "unsubstantiated accusations and unfounded fears."
Marty King, corporate communications director for LifeWay, displayed more boldness than any of the others in his criticism. Baptist Press (BP) reported King deeply regretted that Georgia's paper published “false accusations without offering any evidence of their truthfulness... It appears he simply repeated rumors, gossip and conspiracy theories" from surfing the net.
We also note a) BP failed to publish Harris' article. Why it chose to allow criticisms against Harris without readers having access to Harris' article remains unfortunate. The Christian Index is subscription-based media. Hence, unless readers pay, they cannot access; b) nor did BP compile response(s) from Harris nor another convention leader or editor who perhaps agreed with Harris. Instead, BP allowed Harris to appear as if no one in the entire convention possessed similar reservations about the "encroachment of Calvinism." But BP would not have had to look far for similar concerns about the contention Calvinism apparently causes in the SBC. The office right above BP would have sufficed (link to Dr. Page's concerns). Question: does reporting like this reflect our desire for BP?
Marty King and Lifeway respond to Harris
Even reflecting worse on BP, The Christian Index allowed space for rebuttal to Harris' editorial in its latest edition so Georgia readers could access other views than Harris. Both Ebert and King (among others) had published responses. However, I'd like to focus on Lifeway's Marty King since his piece stands as the most provocative response to Harris.1
First, King lobs a lit Molotov cocktail at Harris right from the start by accusing Harris of writing "false accusations" with no evidence of their truthfulness, while repeating rumors, gossip and conspiracy theories from which Harris had apparently milked the Internet. Is this the way a Lifeway public communications expert responds to criticism? Basically calling a tenured, seasoned journalist a propagator of lies? What is more, King offered no corrections to Harris' piece.Nothing. He didn't challenge the factual basis of a single assertion Harris made.2 Instead he accused Harris of false accusations, rumors, and entertaining conspiracy theory without bothering with any evidence to substantiate his accusations. If Harris' opinion was based on incorrect factual premises, why didn't King point out the obvious flaws? King ends up griping against Harris for an identical procedure he managed to accomplish himself!
Second, King complains that Harris made no effort to ask LifeWay about his concerns and didn’t even ask for samples of the new curriculum which are available at GospelProject.com. I'm confused as to why King supposes it's a problem that Harris didn't ask for samples since he implied in the very same statement no reason exists to ask for samples. Why? Well, King says it--samples of the new curriculum are available online. Why would Harris need to inquire about what was already available?
Furthermore, King unreasonably casts devious aspersions upon Harris by implying he wasn't interested in knowing about the curriculum. Instead, Harris just wanted to repeat rumor and gossip. Perhaps Dr. Rainer needs to explain why his communications expert is so quick to condemn a reputable Southern Baptist journalist. I'm afraid it's not Gerald Harris who's done a disservice to The Christian Index readers, Lifeway, and Southern Baptists. Rather it's the unacceptable mud-slinging of Lifeway's own Marty King who's more appropriately the candidate for this award.
Third, King seems to rely heavily on Ed Stetzer's blog post which BP reprinted entitled, "The SBC: changing names is good; changing actions is better." First, while Stetzer cited Calvinism as the new bogeyman, one may rightly ask--so what? Did King check for evidence Stetzer cited for his conjecture about Calvinism being a bogeyman? If so, he surely noticed Stetzer offered no evidence for his assertion. It's only Stetzer's observation. For Harris, Calvinism encroaches upon us and therefore alarming. That's Harris' observation. Why King allows Stetzer his observation without criticism but describes Harris' editorial observation as based on rumor, gossip and conspiracy theories only King can explain.
More disconcerting is King's implication that it's older Southern Baptists' fault that younger men jumped ship. Let me be clear: King either needs to produce empirical evidence for this horrible accusation or retract it. I dare say "older" Southern Baptists are still the life-blood of Bible study curriculum published at Lifeway. And, for King to insult the older generation of Southern Baptists, without the least bit of proof, for draining the pond of all the young trout remains reprehensible.
Finally, King both denied that The Gospel Project is marked by Reformed theology and indicated eight of the 11 advisory council members for it are Southern Baptist. Additionally, "LifeWay did not ask them if they were Calvinists," King insisted.
First, here is what Harris wrote:
It would be surprising if The Gospel Project, a Sunday School curriculum for all ages that LifeWay will soon be rolling out, were not marked by an unmistakable Reformed theology... President Thom Rainer seems to have led the SBC literature-producing agency to become more and more Reformed in its theological content (embolden original)
As his primary reasoning, Harris noted that those involved in the development process for the new curriculum were virtually all Calvinists (I researched the advisory council, the editors, and the writers for The Gospel Project and offered my own conclusion here). For Lifeway to ignore the complications of having such a theologically lop-sided approach to "deeper" Bible study and then express shock there'd be a problem is patently absurd. In light of Frank Page revealing only recently Calvinism's contention in the SBC, for Lifeway to develop a curriculum exclusively by Calvinists looks to me irresponsible to the core. And, making things even worse, King implicates those who raise questions about what they view as "encroaching Calvinism"of chasing imaginary "bogeymen."
Add to the above, Al Mohler recently telling Southern Baptist editors that not only is Calvinism controversial in the SBC, but exhorting editors to write about it. If Mohler is correct, then why would Lifeway develop a Bible study curriculum composed almost exclusively by Calvinists? Is it reasonable to expect--given the contentious atmosphere over Calvinism--their decision would go without challenge? We think not.
With that, I am...
2I based this critique upon The Christian Index section entitled "SBC agencies respond to Index article" as well as The Baptist Press article. However, a commenter led me to investigate yet another response from both King and Ebert in a section entitled "Open comments from NAMB and Lifeway to Index readers" I intend to respond to Ebert in another section, perhaps an update