Recently, I put up a piece linking to the 9Marks Conference hosted by the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, especially profiling the address on Romans 9 by Thabiti Anyabwile, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Grand Cayman Islands and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition, and comparing his perspective with another perspective on Romans 9 by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s professor of theology, Malcolm Yarnell.
Anyabwile’s latest blog-post hardly displays the careful presentation he demonstrated at the 9Marks conference. Instead, we’re distracted from his concluding exhortation to make Scripture central in revelational authority. He writes in "Does Calvinism Create Tensions in Churches?":
At the end of the day, Southern Baptists and local church leaders had better be sure that the alarmists and the activists on either side are denied the loudest voice in these discussions. We need to hear the Bible, believe the Bible, preach the Bible, and live the Bible.
A great admonition to be sure, but Anyabwile’s knee-jerk reaction to a story in The Economist entitled “The New Calvins: Tensions inside one of America’s most successful churches,” spoiled his final line. In criticizing the story which occasioned his response, Anyabwile falls overboard drowning in the very criticism he levels against The Economist. His chief complaint is, the article is not “well-informed theologically” and, therefore, “misrepresents the issues” and ends up being nothing more than “journalistic foolishness.”
I read the article the day it came out and mentally noted some inaccuracies—interestingly some of the same inaccuracies Anyabwile expresses. Yet, the article has, on the whole captured a problem in Southern Baptist life, a problem even Anyabwile apparently recognizes.
Even so, Anyabwile makes some incredulous statements himself in his reaction to the article that, when weighed in a judicious balance, may force his response as much—or even moreso—to "misrepresent the issues," consequently making his view appear just as foolish as he claims for The Economist article.
First, Anyabwile complains “The article labels Dr. Albert Mohler “the denomination’s best-known Calvinist.” I'm wondering who it would be who seriously disputes this? Well, Anyabwile disputes it. Hence, when he disputed it, I honestly thought he was going to correct not only my personal misperception, but also the collective conventional wisdom on display in the SBC. Again, I’m thinking, “If not Al Mohler,who please tell?!”
Here is Anyabwile’s response:
“The article labels Dr. Albert Mohler “the denomination’s best-known Calvinist.” That, too, is misleading. Among Southern Baptist Calvinist, “the denomination’s best-known Calvinist” is the apostle Paul (if you’ll pardon the anachronism).”
Albeit he correctly labels such an anachronism, Anyabwile nonetheless leaves the full impression that this is precisely the case. So, Anyabwile criticizes The Economist for not being “well-informed theologically” and, therefore, “misrepresent[ing] the issues,” while his own irresponsible statement concerning the best known Calvinist is both historically absurd and theologically hackneyed.
Perhaps a more alarming point is, when statements like this are uttered, written, or read—”Paul was a Calvinist”—it is an immediate call to arms, a cue to draw one’s sword for ideological battle, an effect precisely the opposite from what Anyabwile wishes to advance. Why? Simple. The obvious implication is, if one is not a Calvinist Christian, one cannot be a biblical Christian. That is, not if we hold with classic, inspirational inerrancy expressed well by Warfield, “Whatever Scripture says, God says.” If this is so, then whatever Paul says, God says. Therefore, since Paul was a Calvinist, it follows if one desires to embrace what God says, one must also be a Calvinist.
While Calvinistic advocates like Anyabwile appear forever to suffer blindness at this juncture, from my standpoint, statements like “Paul was a Calvinist” may be the clearest expression of theological arrogance--not to mention spiritual snobbery—one can imagine, and stands in some ways as justification why Calvinists so often get tagged as genuine theological prigs.
On the heels of this not-so-well-informed theological fray, Anyabwile offers up another cause to scratch one’s head. He writes:
“But more to the point, the article doesn’t even mention Dr. Mohler’s effort, along with Arminian leaders like Dr. Paige Patterson, a key leader in the conservative resurgence and President of “the denomination’s flagship Arminian seminary”” (quotation marks original)
I’d be surprised if Dr. Patterson knew he was one of many “Arminian leaders” in the SBC. I would be even more surprised if he knew he was presiding over Southern Baptists’ “flagship Arminian seminary.” Anyabwile had “the denomination’s flagship Arminian seminary” in quotation marks, which appears to indicate he was countering the article’s notation (which is not the case, by the way). Even so, why would Anyabwile identify Southwestern as Southern Baptists’ "flagship Arminian seminary"? Is this not creating the very tension Anyabwile insists he desires to avoid? If Anyabwile can name a single Southwestern professor who is a self-confessing Arminian, I’ll consider my point hardly well-taken. I remain relatively confident he cannot.
To even make things more difficult in accepting Anyabwile’s call for lesser tension, however, note his spiritual citizenship in a theological community which views Arminianism as a seriously flawed theological position if not outright heresy. Aware of such, he nonetheless dubs Southwestern seminary as little more than an Arminian hatchery.
In light of this, I wonder if tensions ease between Calvinists and non-Calvinists in the SBC when statements like Anyabwile's are made? I wonder if we would be better off were we to embrace Anyabwile’s model? I wonder if this qualifies in Anyabwile’s thinking as theologically well-informed in contrast to what he judges to be in The Economist “not well-informed theologically”? What do you think?
for my part...
I’m afraid Thabiti Anyabwile drained his own pond on this one.
With that, I am…