Fear the Pagitt – What Role for the Scriptures?

scriptures4We Southern Baptists know how to make an issue out of the Scriptures. Al Mohler recently tweeted he was sitting in the Cafe du Monde in the French Quarter listening to Paige Patterson describe the historic conversation between he and Judge Pressler. Said conversation eventually led to the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. For those in Southern Baptist life to not know of this turn in the denomination would result in the same question the two disciples asked Jesus on the road to Emmaus? Something like, “Where have you been, have you not heard?”

For 30 years the key to vetting a pastor or staff person has related to one’s view of the Scriptures. A “high view” of the Scriptures meant one asserted the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures. Fail to mention your position regarding the Scriptures and you were suspect. Neglect using the approved code words and your invitation to speak on any stage would be revoked. The dark side to the whole affair had little to do with what was said as what was done. I still hear Judge Pressler’s words ringing in my ears when I suggested no need for retribution against a rival Baptist group, “But you don’t know what they have done to us!”

There you go. In a nutshell the problem. Rather than argue the proper public position on the authority and inspiration of Scripture, the matter is really what role the Scriptures play in one’s life. If our ethics do not comport with our words then our words become vacuous. You may recall from my previous Fear the Jones post, this is precisely why some of us employed the infamous St. Francis non-quote. Our actions matter for they validate our words. Again, that sure seems to be Jesus’ insistence. “Turn the other cheek.” Peter, we don’t retaliate by taking a man’s ear off his head.

I listened to Doug quite a few years ago in Minneapolis. He presented during a conference I attended there. His question – “What is the Gospel?” For a good bit Doug laid out his contentions that the Gospel had become mired in a Constantinian framework wherein the Gospel seemed more about power and control than freedom and peace. Now you may have heard Doug and even read one of his books. It may be you think he presses too hard on the Constantinian trappings of the Gospel. Well enough. But, when I opened up the gospels and began reading that Jesus preached the “gospel of God,” I understood the need to get the Gospel right. Who could argue we should evaluate what we mean when we refer to the “Gospel.” After all, is it not “who” rather than “what?”

This brings us to the new “missional” – “Gospel-centered.” And with its overuse and varied nuances it will as soon be the new “junk drawer.” I mean no disrespect for I really think we should be Gospel centered. We just have a way of taking rich descriptions and turning them into the next hope-filled “movement” thereby killing its breadth and depth.

Back to Doug. I am not as adept to integrate “string theory” into my understanding of the way the world works in the narrative of God’s story as Doug. But, I confess when our church gathers for worship, we do not practice the reading of the Scriptures in the same way Solomon’s Porch does. We follow the Revised Common Lectionary for our program of preaching. In doing so we read from several passages each week. Doug and those who “follow God in the way of Jesus” at Solomon’s Porch gather and read chapters of Scriptures for their worship gatherings. Instead of tagging a few verses together to fashion a catchy series for four or six weeks, they listen to the story develop in its context. Preaching verse by verse, how about listening chapter by chapter? Try reading chapters in most Baptist churches in one sitting and you would need one of those five-hour energy drinks to revive the crowd.

When Doug, Tony and Brian have mentioned they have a higher view of Scripture than inerrancy and infallibility, I suspect this is what they have in mind. Quibble all you want over inspirational methodologies. Get mired down in the textual apparatus of textual criticism. As for us – we are going to read the rich story of God and listen to the Spirit as we interpret our lives in the context of that great story. Fear that.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

11 comments on “Fear the Pagitt – What Role for the Scriptures?

  1. It has been almost five years since the younger leaders board at Lifeway and you’re still singin’ the same sad refrain. Too bad.

    1. Hello Travis,
      And you have not disappointed by ignoring the content of the post and went straight for a disengaged criticism. If you are inclined to string the posts together (Fear …), you may be able to see something of a different response to the immediate dismissal of folks with whom we may disagree – anyone “emerging” or “Emergent.” But, that would require reading more of my sad slingin’. Til then.

    2. And Travis, Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Happy Thanksgiving to you as well. Just relivin’ the boards “one more time.” :>) BTW, I read the content- it looks really familiar, though I aim not to disappoint.

    1. I am not making reference to the Lifeway boards. Not sure if you have paid attention to the fear mongering over the emerging church movement or not. But, if you have then you may find the reflection on our patterns of behavior toward others with whom we disagree to be patently familiar. And, at that point maybe there is similarity. However, since we Southern Baptists have a penchant to be entirely dismissive and unable to find any point at which we could learn from someone else, the recent trend to flame anyone whose theology does not comport with our own begs for a more charitable response. That does not mean wholesale capitulation. It does mean however that what matters in our holiness is how we treat people.

      I read Mohler’s tweet and could not help but recall my own conversation at the table with Dr. Patterson and the Judge. Whether or not you are willing or able to see the common thread I do may be more to the point. I could have used another illustration but when I read the tweet and the comment about the CR then it seemed a reasonable connection to make. For example, I could have referred to Dr. Reid’s recent comments about the state of affairs at SWBTS the years he attended. I too attended SWBTS and in part because throughout the SBC at the time, the “only” conservative seminary was SWBTS. Now we are re-writing history as though what was alleged at SBTS was also the case at SWBTS. History tells a different story. Unless of course you get someone to tell a different story.

      Just to assure you, I have moved on from the Lifeway board days. My series, which I hope to add to, stem from a good bit of research for which I was asked to do. I would point you to Ed Stetzer’s paper delivered at NOBTS on the subject. Ed has been able to point to the value of the critique offered by those in the emerging church and at the same time evaluate the theology and practice of the same. I do not agree completely with Ed’s conclusions but find him a charitable voice pointing us to a way of dialogue rather than shoot first and ask questions later. Now that reminds me of the Lifeway boards.

  3. Todd, we disagree on the hard-core emergent guys like Pagitt because they are wrong on the starting block before the race even begins. That is primarily due to thier view of scripture. I think evangelicals can even learn from lost people for that matter, but it doesn’t mean thier theology is right. Some of the criticisms from the EC may be correct, but to “understand” Pagitt’s view of the gospel is another thing altogether.

    Now, the reason I commented at all was because of the anniversary coming up. (There probably would not have been the firestorm of debate in the past five years if that platform had not been initiatiated by Jimmy Draper, in my opinion). I knew your views had not changed. It is not my practice to merely shoot someone down because they hold opposing views. That was not what I intended in my tone, though it may have been conveyed on the screen. It was indeed the comments toward the SBC on which I was focusing. ( I think I have followed your thoughts toward the development of the emergent church, btw).

    You have also brought SWBTS. You see things differently from other students and some who taught there at the time. SWBTS was considered “conservative” beacuse the other institutions were so liberal. It was the better of the choices. That didn’t mean it was a school that totally embraced conservative theology. Have you not heard the experiences of Tom Nettles or Tom Ascol? I could name others, but no matter.

    1. Travis, we have disagreed before. Thing is my contention is how we disagree. When we charge someone’s theology is in error we assume absolute certainty about our own. I can be as dogmatic as the next guy. My aim is to charitably listen. So, when Doug contends the manner in which we have come to the Scriptures we have and the Constantinian influences that seem present I listen but am not as convinced as he. However, he raises for me grand questions as to the philosophical underpinnings I have attached my theological assertions to – and this is undeniable. We like to think we do theology in a vacuum. None of us read the Scripture free from some philosophical, cultural, even theological pre-suppositions. For example, in your response, it is not possible for anyone’s theology to be right if they do not agree with your position on the Scripture. Your selected theory of inspiration and authority dictate the language you use and the ability to listen to others charitably. (That is not a shot at Travis. Here read the “you” as anyone.)

      I am not sure what anniversary you refer to. The Lifeway boards? There are any number of things that have changed for me over the last five years. You would find it hard to believe but I would consider myself very sympathetic to the Reformed tradition. But, not in the sense some choose to limit that vision to. I have not read Belcher’s new book, but I find him attempting to find a way forward taking into account the criticisms of Evangelicalism on the one hand and the criticisms of “Emergent/emerging” on the other from a Reformed Presbyterian posture. People matter. And, whether I agree with them down the line does not matter. In the post under consideration I sought to point out the rhetorical reference to a high view of Scripture and the practice of a high view of Scripture. Surely you cannot find support, broadly that is, where Evangelicals – yeah even Baptists give more than a cursory nod to the Scriptures. If we are a people of the book, why so little read and shared in corporate worship? And, to follow on, you likely have heard many sermons in your day from those “conservative voices” where we stand and condemn those who read the Scripture and then depart from never to return themselves engaging in the same practice they just condemn. I recently experienced this in an odd context.

      As to SWBTS. I have read Tom Nettles and have a great appreciation for Tom Ascol. Considering their experiences and others to whom you intimate I simply contend the word liberal to be a word without meaning. If you have grappled with a liberal in its wider context then you may understand my point. Liberal is as relative as conservative. Not sure what years Tom and Tom were at SWBTS. I will contend I did not encounter what you refer to as a “not as liberal as others does not make them not liberal” kind of thing. Left of someone like the late Jerry Falwell does not automatically make someone a liberal – even if some would like it to be so. And, the phrase “conservative theology” is amorphous. Conservative Baptist theology? Conservative Methodist Theology? Conservative Presbyterian Theology? Travis I had a liberal in my undergrad work. A great person but distant from my own moorings. I never encountered anyone at SWBTS even close.

  4. Todd, my long response was lost. I’ll have to respond another time. Yes, I was referring to the Younger Leader Boards- where it all began. Later.

  5. Paul says:


    I guess you knew the wonder twin would have to activate eventually.

    Let me just provide an example of the kind of thing I think Todd is alluding to. I’ve found it quite common among those in the church who were shaped on the preaching of men like Criswell, Rogers, Stanley, Vines, et. al. to very forcefully proclaim their adherence to the Scriptures and who expect nothing less from their pastor than a like commitment, yet who think nothing of saying things like the following (things I’ve personally heard from folks like this. And by the way, I’ve heard them from multiple people over the course of a number of years.):

    “There’s no sense in following Jesus’ teaching about [insert your favorite here] because we all know that it doesn’t work in real life.”

    “People don’t want to come talk to you about their issue because they’re concerned that you’ll just quote Scripture to them [said as if that were a bad thing], and they just want you to listen to common sense.”

    “We don’t want a pastor who preaches that the gospel calls you to live like Jesus because we all know that’s impossible. We just want a preacher who preaches that the gospel keeps people out of hell.”

    “The preacher’s sermons sound too much like a theology lesson. We wish he’d just get back to preaching.”

    Of course, they then rush off to listen to Love Worth Finding on the radio.

    I could go on, but I think you probably get the idea. I’m sure you also get the point, but let me say it just to be redundant: what good does it do to argue and fight for an inerrant Bible when the only part that you really believe is useful is John 3:16? On the other hand, what does it say when you find someone who doesn’t want to die on the hill of inerrancy yet who believes the best thing humanity could do is to believe the gospel and live what the Scriptures teach?

  6. bruce robertson says:

    It looks like I came in late to this discussion but thought I’d add something anyway.

    I read an article from the Next-Wave e-zine. This is a quote from the article.

    “Everybody seemed to have an invisible checklist for deciding if you were â??inâ? or â??outâ? of the church club. Having held some â??doctrinesâ? that didnâ??t always garner the popular voteâ?¦I know what itâ??s like to be voted off the island. Still, when youâ??re trained to only recognize your â??brandâ? of valid belief systems itâ??s hard to put down the measuring stick.”

    I especially appreciate the last line: “When you’re trained to only recognize your ‘brand’ of valid belief systems it’s hard to put down the measuring stick.”

    I wonder if this is true for a majority of SBC’ers, they can’t put down the measuring stick. Which is quite sad really as there is so much to learn and be stretched/challenged by those you don’t always agree with.

    This mindset also points to the fact that although, the SBC may be the largest protestant denomination in the US. Former SBCers come in a close 2nd.

    1. Bruce,
      Your last line is priceless. Now this would be a study worth pursuing.

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