UPDATE: Please note our brother J.D. Hall has issued a public apology for his disparaging remarks concerning Truett-McConnell College and Adam Harwood, remarks which I critique in the post below. We thank our brother for his short but very straight-forward amends. May our Lord be pleased in all...
The 2013 John 3:16 Conference held at North Metro First Baptist Church proved every bit as successful as its precursor event held in 2008 at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, GA in offering a thoroughly biblical, exegetically-driven framework toward positing a viable, theologically rich alternative to the trendy neo-Calvinistic trajectory we find so often fully absorbed and unquestionably accepted in sub-cultural Christianity today. With Jerry Vines kicking off the meeting on Thursday evening asking and answering "For whose sins did Jesus die?" and Steve Gaines summing it up on Friday afternoon in asking and answering "Is the Sinner's Prayer Biblical?" perhaps we could hope for critics to end their rigorous but erroneous campaign to dump cold theological water down the backs of non-Calvinistic brother and sisters. Unfortunately, we must keep on wishing.
Allow me to offer two revealing examples.
First, is a tweet by J.D. Hall.
Hall is a Montana pastor who only until recently proudly wore the name Southern Baptist. At least that's the impression one gets when reading his blog-post entitled "Why I've Left the Convention." Hall's contributions in the comment thread on my site have not been few. Hall also has been an active advocate promoting the unilateral rhetoric on one side of the issue in the Louisiana College fiasco.
More importantly, Hall is presumably the founder (at least, main founder) of Reformation Montana, a small group of like-minded Reformed Baptists whose primary purpose appears to be propagating Reformed Theology among Baptists in the Northwest. The "Declaration" seems to presuppose specifically Southern Baptists roots--
"Just as our first Southern Baptist forbears widely accepted the Doctrines of Grace in such documents as The Abstract of Principles and yet led their fledgling denomination in unity and toward a more-evangelistic future, we desire to do the same. Even concerning those who hold man’s choice and assumed good nature as key to his own salvation, there is more that unifies us than separates us – and it’s around these similarities that we will continue to coalesce" (//link).
In addition, the "Declaration" lists among its specific functions as an organization a ministry specifically toward Southern Baptists. Article IV. Functions, Section 1 of the official "A Declaration of Reformation" reads:
"SECTION 1: SPONSORING FELLOWSHIP OPPORTUNITIES FOR LIKE-MINDED BAPTISTS BOTH DURING SOUTHERN BAPTIST EVENTS AND AT OTHER TIMES"
Of course, the first question which might come to mind concerns the undeniable irony of Reformation Montana's declaration statement describing its functional purpose of fellowship opportunities among Southern Baptists when one of its present board members and arguably the sole founder of Reformation Montana has just quit the convention as we noted above. Does Reformation Montana expect to receive a warm welcome from Southern Baptists when its most influential board member no longer counsels those who "leave his church" to "find a Southern Baptist Church (unless I research it first) – I’m not convinced the odds are that the Gospel is preached there" (//link; italics added)?
Perhaps more problematic is Reformation Montana's desire to continue fellow-shipping with and serving along side those Southern Baptists who are presumably not Reformed. "Even concerning those who hold man’s choice and assumed good nature as key to his own salvation, there is more that unifies us than separates us – and it’s around these similarities that we will continue to coalesce" (//link; italics added). Two quick comments.
First, one must ask again how Reformation Montana can seriously expect thinking Southern Baptists to ignore the insulting, slanderous implication that a church can rarely be found among us, if found at all, which preaches the gospel, a parting, insulting remark by J.D. Hall, one of Reformation Montana's most influential board members?
More significantly is Reformation Montana's apparent willingness to serve alongside any gospel fellowship which embraces either "man's choice" or "assumed good [human] nature" as key to his own salvation. Not only would I not fellowship with a church which believed such unbiblical drivel, I'd be the first one in line to protest if Southern Baptists desired fellowship with organizations which embraced it. The truth is, I don't think Reformation Montana would either (consider the list of charges Hall logged as reasons to withdraw from Southern Baptists).
Rather, the statement, in my view, is little more than a subtly insulting rhetorical remark against non-Reformed Southern Baptists--i.e. since we think human free will to be at least partially existent in fallen men and women, it follows we believe sinful creatures still have a "good nature" deserving in some way of salvation, and hence a key to our salvation.
J.D. Hall’s Tweet
Now to J.D. Hall's tweet concerning Dr. Adam Harwood and Truett-McConnell College (TMC) in Cleveland, GA. Here's what the leading board member of Reformation Montana had to say:
First, if Hall can refute Harwood's supposed statement by showing precisely where the Bible says "all sinned in Adam" we'd like to know the biblical passage. The closest to it is Romans 5:12, the strongest defenders of which a) admit Augustine botched the Greek (or rather ignored it); b) offer but a theological interpretation (i.e. Augustinian-Calvinistic presumptions about what the text must mean) of Romans 5:12, not a textual exegesis of Romans 5:12, to make their fledgling case. Second, to suggest TMC is "theologically raping students" goes well beyond the pale of acceptable literary criticism and borders on both slander and vulgarity. Whatever the college kids at TMC are learning, to suggest they are being "theologically raped" remains ugly, mean-spirited, misogynistic, and even devilish. Trevin Wax rightly replied to Hall's vindictive spew with a much deserved admonition:
Thus, if Reformation Montana expects to fulfill part of its purpose among Southern Baptists, then a definitive statement distancing itself from one of its most influential board member's slanderous, vindictive remarks about a Georgia Baptist college should be forthcoming. Perhaps it too no longer desires to affiliate with Southern Baptists, encouraging fellowship, support, and common goals, following the example of its chief board member, J.D. Hall. Granted. Then, Southern Baptists in the Northwest need to have this critical information before them. For my part, I can certainly say with little fear I'll be proved wrong that most Southern Baptists in Georgia do not take kindly to a Reformed organization in the Northwest (or any group or place for that matter!) slandering one of her schools as "theologically raping" our kids. Nor do I suspect more than a handful, if a handful at all, of rabid, vindictive people in the entire SBC would welcome such a malicious description about any of our schools and/or professors.
And, making things worse, if possible, we have some well-known Calvinists who apparently support Reformation Montana and the ministry of J.D. Hall. James White, Alpha and Omega Ministries, is scheduled to speak at The 2013 Reformation Montana Conference, May 16-18 held in Helena, Montana. Interested Southern Baptists who support White's apologetics' ministry might inquire as to White's position on TMC and query whether he also believes Georgia Baptists' college is "theologically raping" our young adults.
More disturbing is Phil Johnson's presence at the 2013 conference Reformation Montana sponsors. Johnson works closely with and for John MacArthur. MacArthur remains well-respected among Southern Baptists, even many Southern Baptists who, like myself, are not Calvinistically inclined as is he. We nonetheless read his books, benefit from his ministry, and count him an honorable, articulate spokesman for and within conservative evangelicalism today.
One wonders if either Phil Johnson or Dr. MacArthur knows of the provocative, hostile, and slanderous language Reformation Montana's most influential board member has leveled against arguably Georgia Baptists' most prosperous college campus, disparaging our institution as "theologically raping" our children. Supposing neither Johnson nor MacArthur knows, I encourage those Southern Baptists who also support John MacArthur's ministries and have truly benefited from his teaching through the years to make sure they are informed.
On the other hand, if both Drs. Johnson and MacArthur are informed as to J.D. Hall's insidious but despicable remarks implying our college and professors are "theologically raping" our students, and Johnson goes full speed ahead to speak at Reformation Montana's conference nonetheless, perhaps it will serve as a telltale sign exactly how the more amenable Calvinists really feel about Southern Baptists after all.
Part II examines the second example