Rock, Paper, Scissors – Thoughts on Sectarian Theology

Now let’s see, paper covers rock, scissors cut paper and rock smashes scissors. We recently watched the Big Brother’s version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” I know, I know. Reality TV is not really real. Watching the interpersonal relationships is quite intriguing – especially when you throw in a half million dollar game. What we are willing to let go of to win. After all it is about winning.

Late Monday evening I received an alert to new Lifeway Research regarding opinions about the Bible among Southern Baptist pastors and church members. The article portrays a sharp disconnection between the views held between these two groups,

Research from two new studies indicates a disconnect between Southern Baptist pastorsâ?? view of Scripture and those of the people in their pews.

We Southern Baptists trumpet our view of the Bible as the one item that wins all “Rock, Paper, Scissors” debates. It is the trump card in Spades. It is the “little bird card” in the game of Rook. Engage in a discussion and the conversation turns on our agreement on words to describe the Bible – inerrant, infallible, truth without any mixture of error, and on we could go.

Eventually we gather and divide around the “right” view of the Scriptures. We Southern Baptists are right about everything, just ask us. If you don’t ask, we will tell you anyway. And, if there is any hint one might claim to be Southern Baptist but does not play by the prevailing language game then someone will truly question your Baptist Identity. It would be one thing if this were acute to Southern Baptists. But it is not.

I have a friend in the PCA. You want to get something going just raise the specter of N.T. Wright on justification. Choose a side in the Auburn Avenue – Federal Vision affair and keyboards will light up like the Beijing Olympics pyrotechnic show. Pit these two conservative groups together and we can “walk together in agreement” until it comes to baptism. The we pull out the “rock, paper, scissors.”

For some these different interpretation clearly identify the malady in the church. For others it could be solved, “If they just believed the Bible.” Peter Rollins (How [Not] to Speak of God) suggests these differences are a matter of interpretation and express the lack of our ability to completely name and define the nature of God and what it means to be his people and their accompanying expressions. Before you quit reading, Rollins does not consider talk about God an impossibility. He is concerned we bring God down when in our language games we pull out our “rock, paper, scissors” game. There is much to learn from the truth refracted through the diamond of the event of God and our experience of the God who reveals himself in Jesus.

Sectarian theology often trades the larger story of the work of God for my located story embedded in the history of our particular forebears. This move is akin to the charge Stanley Hauerwas (A Better Hope) makes asserting the Church in America traded the story of God for a support role in buttressing the project of the developing democratic republic. We may only rise above hyphenated theology, God-talk, when we follow the narrative of Scripture excised from the narrative of “God and Country.” This is not anti-American, it is pro-God. That is, it is about returning to the view we live in God’s story rather than fit God into our story.

It is at this point where I return to the Lifeway research piece. We can battle those in the pews all day long. We can overwhelm them with our theologizing and well-crafted arguments. The problem may lie in how we fought our battle. It may be those in the pews simply reflect what we has been portrayed to them. Talk of an inerrant, infallible Bible followed by pragmatic tactics to win the war of Scriptural fidelity may have left them, and some of us not surveyed, thinking we are all talk.

David reviewed Scot McKnight‘s new book, The Blue Parakeet. (I am still hoping for my review copy.) The one compelling thing we video chatted on Skype about was Scot‘s provocative turn on the issue of authority. Standing red-faced and sweaty shouting how we find the authority of Scripture our only source of truth for life and faith is nothing but grandstanding when our lives reflect a different authority – our egos, our personal sensibilities, and our pet doctrines. It seems Scot is compelled by the habit of Jesus to let the authority of his life give weight to his words and not the other way around. if we continue to follow around our words with no consistent expression, we can rest assured that others will eventually see we simply engage in a game of “rock, paper, scissors.” And, since there is really nothing to be won in a war of words, people will leave us to our games with barely a return glance.

How about we follow up our recent research, albeit subjective (as if nothing else is), with a question or two as to what speaks louder. The fact that we can say for the world to hear what we believe about the Scriptures, or that our lives reflect the event, activity of God at work in re-creating our character and our actions so that our lives provide a better apologetic for faith than our continued submission to philosophy and reason as a means to “win.”

At the end of the day, this post may well be similar to the one Ed Stetzer just put up. Who knows. What do you think?

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.

6 comments on “Rock, Paper, Scissors – Thoughts on Sectarian Theology

  1. This is a home frickin’ run! Great job and a great summary of our discussion yesterday.

  2. Greg Alford says:


    When the convention passed their latest resolution condemning the drinking of a glass of wine at your daughters weddingâ?¦ quickly followed by many in the current SBC Leadership writing article after article defending this unbiblical resolution by stating â??We know the Bible does not forbid the drinking of wine, BUT ____ (insert any number of reasons)â?¦ One need not be a prophet to see that the SBC may pay lip service to the words â??Inerrancy of the Bibleâ?, but they really do not believe in the Sufficiency of the Bible at all.

    And until you accept the Sufficiency (thatâ??s code for Authority) of the Bible, then saying it is Inerrant is really meaningless.

    Grace Always,

  3. Todd Littleton says:


    You note one among many. You may want to take a look at the Wade Burleson’s post today for another illustration. As for sufficiency of the Scriptures – yes, it should be the trump in the conversation.

  4. Camel Rider says:

    I’ve ventured over to some of the BI blogs and basically in order to believe in the inerrancy of scripture you have to be Baptist Identity guys. I really get tired of the discrpancies I hear….some passages are meant to be taken word for word but others…about alcohol, tongues etc… Jesus meant something different than He said. My question is “Why can’t we admit that some of our practices and beliefs are based more on our preferences and cultural opinions? But the BI guys won’t admit that….they put it all on scripture….even when it isn’t there. Mean while the world laughs…and looks for hope, peace and redemption somewhere else.
    Camel Rider

  5. I echo what David Phillips has said Todd. A Home Run.

    Mean while the world laughsâ?¦and looks for hope, peace and redemption somewhere else

    That is the price that is being paid for this kind of thinking Camel. That can be shown in the numbers, which are dropping steadily. I just don’t want to pay that price, and for the very reasons you mentioned in your comment. Good thoughts.

  6. Todd Littleton says:

    Camel Rider,

    You raise an interesting prospect, one I believe spawned a great deal of philosophical debate resulting in certain critiques of fundamentalism. Even more, I think our ever increasing pronouncements on what makes one a true Baptist, and Southern Baptist, are meaningless when our penchant for doctrinal exactness eclipses the transforming work of the Good News effected by the Triune God in ways that defy our descriptions.


    I do not want to get in a numbers debate. Let me just note, I do not think we get to gate-keep by keeping numbers. I distinctly recall Jesus illustrating the point by turning the notion upside down that those who talk alot about being in may find themselves outside the pale of the Kingdom.

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