Lines Are Being Drawn in the SBC’s Battle for the Credibility of the Bible

To put it mildly, these are strange days in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Here’s what I mean:

I grew up after the Conservatives were fighting the Liberals in a battle for Scripture’s authority.

I came of age when the Traditionalists were fighting the Calvinists in a battle for Scripture’s sufficiency.

Now I’m watching a whole new battle take shape – the battle for the Bible’s credibility.

This morning I read what I believe is a significant development in this war for the Bible’s credibility in a Twitter exchange (Twitter being our best current approximation of the Areopagus) launched by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Malcolm Yarnell which won the support of Beth Moore (she of Lifeway Teaching Resources fame).  Here’s the first salvo:

Beth’s enthusiastic support:

There are some other lesser known players but the tweets from Yarnell and Moore represent the bulk of a development that I think will, in sufficient time, show itself to be a quiet yet substantial point of differentiation among the camps battling over the Bible’s credibility.

Notice what is happening and how it will affect you (if you are involved or even care about the Southern Baptist Convention).  Yarnell, Moore, and their emerging neo-egalitarian cohort are insisting on choices and leveraging their institutional and popular influence to force the issue.  Here’s what is at stake

1. You are going to have to choose between – on one side – an a priori commitment to Scripture  reflected in what Christians have always believed about male and female gender roles (until the last 15 minutes or so, anyway) and – on the other side – being seen as a compassionate person.

This is happening because the neo-egals are employing scare tactics – “You don’t want to be seen endorsing slavery do you?!?” – to manipulate good-hearted people to their side.  No decent person wants to endorse slavery and, if Yarnell and company can successfully equate slavery with the standard Christian understanding of gender roles, those decent people are going to be under tremendous pressure to break with Scripture in order to maintain their good name. Actually, it is more likely that break isn’t what will be asked of those who feel pushed by this guilt-by-association move. Redefine Scripture’s teaching, away from the plain meaning of the text, is probably what will be expected.

[This is a bit of a sidebar but it illustrates the use of scare tactics in this contest so well: note that Marty Duren replies in the thread with an association between the Danvers Statement and the Salem Witch Trials (note: Duren really did that, in public and all) and he wasn’t met with awkward coughs and attempts to pretend like they didn’t hear the question.  Optics, indeed.]

2. You’re going to have to choose between the existing dictionary and their new one through this question: Are we going to define “Complementarianism” as complementarianism or something else (say, “hard complementarianism”) and are we going to define “Egalitarianism” as egalitarianism or something else (say, “soft complementarianism”).

See what Yarnell does in that initial tweet.  One, he misrepresents complementarianism (more on that later) but he also associates the term with a younger Trinitarian controversy that is related but ultimately separate from the complementarian position.  One does not have to embrace the eternal submission of the Son to be a complementarian (most complementarians in history had no access to that debate at all) but Yarnell’s framing assumes you do.  This is Yarnell’s unique attempt to redefine complementarianism.

Beth Moore’s attempt, a bit older than Yarnell’s, is to attach scare-prefixes to complementarianism, re-branding plain ol’ complementarianism as hyper-complementarianism (because who wants to be accused of being hyper anything?):

I think the neo-egalitarians will eventually standardize the ideas of hard complementarianism and soft complementarianism (because who wants to be seen as a hard person?) in their quest to first muddy the waters (see: Yarnell and Moore’s tweets above) before eventually redefining both complementarianism and egalitarianism.  You can see an early example of this phenomenon on SBC Voices here.

3. You’re going to have to choose between being thankful that the Southern Baptist Convention was won back to a confessional commitment to the final authority of Scripture and remaining in the good public graces of prominent Southern Baptists.

Let me remind you of Beth Moore’s replies above:

Take note of the phrases “swung the SBC hard to the extreme right”, “hyper fundamentalism”, and – so we don’t miss it – “CR” (standing for what is popularly known as the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention.

For those readers who have been paying attention to the SBC over the last decade or more – how long ago would Moore’s describing the Conservative Resurgence in this negative light have been seen as shocking and ridiculous?

5 years ago?

3?

2?

But here we are in the brave new SBC world where saying things like:

…all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.”

and

[Husbands have] the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

will be seen as evidence of “hard” turns to “the extreme right” and bemoaned as toxic products of that awful, awful CR if the emerging neo-egalitarians win the day. Again, please note: no one reading history objectively will deny that some of the people involved in the Conservative Resurgence did awful things. However, that is not what Beth Moore is addressing here. She’s casting the ideas – really, deeply Biblical commitments – that were re-instituted during the Conservative Resurgence in a starkly negative light.

So future historians mark the date down and screen shot the tweets.  At 1:40 PM on Nov 3, 2019 from Benbrook, TX one Malcolm Yarnell, professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary drew a hard (!!!) line in the battle for the credibility of the Bible.  As of this writing we don’t know where this will lead but we are watching closely.

———————————————–

P.S. I mentioned above that Yarnell misrepresented Complementarianism and I don’t want that left unnoted, even as the note isn’t germane to the central point of this post.

We have clear and (at this point) historic definitions of Complementarianism.  Yarnell, as a scholar knows this.  His nonsense about “the male by nature has ‘authority over the female'” and Moore’s “woman has no calling outside the home” are empty caricatures designed to obfuscate, stuff strawmen, and villainize.  Pay attention to this tactic because more is coming in the days ahead where we sort out whether or not the Bible carries any credibility.

Published by Jeff Wright

Jeff Wright lives in Middle Tennessee where he pastors Midway Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter at @wrightjeff and hear him on The Pop Culture Coram Deo Podcast.

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