When Karl Barth's classic commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Romans was first published in 1919, a biblical monograph which effectively delivered Old Liberalism its first mortal blow, one German reviewer described Barth's neo-orthodox innovation revealed in his Romans exposition as falling "like a bombshell on the playground of the theologians" >>>
And, while one cannot place Adam Harwood's modest theological reflection at SBC Today on such a profoundly global ecclesial scale as was Barth, the Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at Truett-McConnell College just dropped a theological bombshell on the playground of Southern Baptist academia nonetheless. Or, for that matter, on the entire Southern Baptist Convention.
In his recent piece entitled, "The ETS, the AP, and the BF&M",1 the young scholar not only challenges the exegetical conclusions on original sin presented at the ETS by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, Dr. Thomas Schreiner, but also raised the question as to whether the classic Reformed view of original sin inherited from Adam as imputed sinful guilt2 is consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message's confessional language on original sin,3 language Harwood insists explicitly states that while fallen human beings universally inherit a corrupt sinful nature and environment inclined toward sin and thus "become transgressors and are under condemnation" only after they become "capable of moral action,"4 the Baptist Faith and Message affirms absolutely nothing about the classic Reformed imputed sinful guilt doctrine indicative both of Schreiner and apparently the AP's theological perspective (check out Harwood's helpful chart comparing and contrasting the BFM2000 with the AP).
Harwood cautiously but respectfully concludes:
I am not asking two seminaries (Southern and Southeastern) to abandon the Abstract of Principles, an historical Baptist document. But are there differences in the documents (see above)? If all six SBC seminaries train pastors and leaders for all 40,000+ SBC congregations, then should the professors teach according to the statement of faith that has been affirmed by our convention of churches (the BFM 2000) or according to a statement which has not been affirmed by our convention of churches (the Abstract of Principles)?... The covenantal view of inherited guilt/condemnation is a point at which I see a contradiction between the two statements... .
Tom Schreiner’s ETS presentation causes me to wonder if some seminary professors at Southern and Southeastern Seminaries are in an impossible situation when they address our inheritance from Adam. If they affirm inherited guilt, then their view is consistent with the Abstract of Principles but inconsistent with the BFM 2000. If they affirm a view of inherited sinful nature, then the reverse is true and they have taught a view which is inconsistent with the AP but consistent with the BFM. (italics original)
Dr. Harwood raises an important question for Southern Baptists and cites what reasonably could be one of the most fertile breeding grounds indicating the loss of our Southern Baptist identity today. While every church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention remains autonomous concerning the confession she embraces, an ecclesial autonomy few Baptists among us would dare contest, for us to continue embracing varying theological visions at the cooperate infrastructural level--and if Harwood is correct, contradictory theological visions at the cooperate infrastructural level-- can only spawn an eventual denominational meltdown.
Dr. Harwood should be commended not only for his courteous and respectful challenge to Professor Schreiner and the AP's apparent affirmation on original sin as imputed Adamic guilt rather than inherited sinful nature --all the while humbly and cautiously drawing only tenative conclusions until scholarly engagement might shed new light on his present thoughts--but Harwood should be commended as well for his undeniable courage as a young scholar to openly speak his own mind about SBC issues in the public square. After all, should he ever sense called to training and equipping pastors, missionaries, and church planters at the graduate level, even raising this provocative question surely decreases his potential academic career among our presently available seminaries by a discouraging one-third.
2Schreiner's view based on his exegetical conclusions gleaned particularly from Romans 5:12-19 and apparently consistent with and indicated by Southern seminary's The Abstract of Principles (AP). The AP is employed by two of our six seminaries as a foundational theological document to which every faculty member must personally pledge to teach "in accordance with and not contrary to" its tenets--Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
3please note that no edition of the BF&M mentions "original sin" per se but only describes what the post-Edenic human progeny universally inherits from Adam and Eve's colossal rebellion. The theological short-hand for this fallen human sinful state is original sin
4presumably indicative of what many call the "age of accountability"
5Dr. Harwood is no stranger to this debate. He not only wrote his PhD dissertation on this subject, but he also authored a book explaining in detail his understanding of the biblical doctrine of original sin--The Spiritual Condition of Infants: A Biblical-Historical Survey and Systematic Proposal