Dave Miller cannot escape Calvinism no matter how hard he tries. He notes that less than 48 hours of deciding to steer clear of the subject he found himself posting about the recently formed advisory team on Calvinism. We are stuck.
I do know what Dave is talking about. Like many who visit SBC Voices and follow the comment threads it is hard not to notice that the dividing lines over Calvinism flare up no matter what the theme of a given post may be. Recently Dave asked if he could re-post one of my pieces in an attempt to change the subject. He wanted, needed, a break. After more than 170 comments, Dave got his wish. There were two comments that could have sent the thread into the never-ending debate over Calvinis, but commenters refrained.
I believe we are stuck. If you have ever been stuck, you know how terrible is the feeling.
My first pastorate was in a small community in southwest Oklahoma. Farming and ranching dominates the landscape, still. I am sure someone could have produced a YouTube video, City Boy Meets Country Life. We enjoyed ourselves. I volunteered for things that were normal for those growing up around farms and ranches, sometimes not knowing exactly for what it was I signed up.
John had 80 acres in what he referred to as the sand hills. I always wanted to drive a tractor. And, since pastors only work 1.5 days a week, I found myself dragging a plow behind a John Deere over 80 acres. Then it happened. I got stuck. No cell phone. What to do? I had never stuck a tractor to the rear axle in sand before. I forgot to mention how hot it can be in southwest Oklahoma in the sand hills.
I needed someone more experienced. Someone with the know-how and skill to get un-stuck. There was no time to be proud. A B.A. and an M.Div. offered little help. Even all the experiences as the son of an engineer did not provide hope or help.
We Southern Baptists may be stuck. And, my worry is that we keep doing the same thing to get un-stuck. We ask each other how to fix it. We organize task forces, committees, and advisory teams. Our way of thinking seems to be, “We got ourselves into this, we’ll just have to get ourselves out.” I know the feeling. I live the sentiment. We should assume responsibility. We should work to better solutions. But, what if we either keep getting stuck, or we produce a plan that in a short time exposes that our real problem was not what we think it was. How devastating will that be?
I read the Baptist Press piece. I have sat in a class with Dr. Dockery back in his Criswell College days. He is bright and congenial. Save the way he responded to the death of his one time friend, Stan Grenz, I have little to quibble with about someone of Dockery’s standing in the SBC. It looks as though he helped Frank Page put together a good advisory team. There are a few omissions I find surprising, but I am leaving both room and time that others will be added as the story indicates.
But, I do wonder if this team is not set up for failure. Not because they are incapable. Not because they are not good people. But, I wonder if we have really identified the problem.
While I am sure some would consider it scandalous, but why not invite someone like Seth Godin to listen to how this group describes the problem. Yes, I know, you may be right. The matter is theological – though I am not sure that it is – I will acknowledge that this is one problem we think we can address. That is, if it is a theological problem. But, Frank Page noted he was not looking to undo the BF&M 2000 but instead he was looking for a practical road map forward where those who have differing theological visions may cooperate. So, it is not a theological problem. But, the advisory team is comprised of people from differing sides of the current theological divide.
Today, Seth Godin posted, Stuck? I do not have permission to re-post all of his words here. But, this excerpt caught my eye,
It might not be because you can’t find the right answer.
It’s almost certainly because you’re asking the wrong question.
The more aggressively you redefine the problem, the more likely it is you’re going to solve it.
You really should go and read the final paragraph. It would take you less than one minute to click over and back. I will wait.
What did you think? I really do not think there is a solution to the divide between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists in the SBC. Like it or not it wall always be couched in those terms. What is more, the nature of Baptists beholden to an Enlightenment epistemology, neither side will ever admit they are wrong, could be wrong, might be wrong. It is not in our Baptist DNA. We are certain. Just ask us. This is the stuff of civil wars. Two sides declaring God is on theirs. Put on your coats. What if the reason we are stuck is not what we think it is?
Enter Peter Block. If you are part of this advisory team, as if you would be reading this blog/website, I would respectfully ask you to pick up a copy of Community: The Structure of Belonging. I am no expert on Block. But, I have used this as a text book a couple of times to talk about healthy community in the context of church life. My friend Mark Riddle introduced me to Peter Block a number of years ago in his consulting work with churches and youth ministries.
If you will allow the analogy for a second, imagine the SBC as a large community. We like convention and association, but try this thought experiment. The SBC is a great big community, a diverse one to be sure. Here are the division titles in Block’s chapter, The Stuck Community – Marketing Fear and Fault, Ramping Up Laws and Oversight, Romanticizing Leadership, Marginalizing Possibility, and Devaluing Associational Life.
I cannot help but think of illustrations for each of these in Southern Baptists Life. What would be some of your illustrations?
What if Godin were right as applied to the current malaise in the SBC? What if the description provided by Block actually fit our situation? Why not invite Godin and Block to help us think through how we are stuck and what we might do going forward. Yes, Block points to possibilities to be un-Stuck. He just uses more words than Godin.
I, for one, do hope that someone in this group will challenge the idea that our problem is theological. I know that Frank Page is looking for a practical solution but if the comment thread at Voices is any indication, it will be very hard to convince all parties the matter is not theological. We may need to venture outside our own community to see if another pair, or pairs, of eyes, will provide a lens through which we may see what at present may be unable to see because of our proximity, the dog we have in the fight, and our overall unwillingness to be wrong.
Who would you recommend as outside eyes? And, I would disqualify anyone readily identified as either Calvinist or Non-Calvinisst. Sorry, I just do not think that is our problem.
Oh, and yes, we did get the tractor un-stuck. I believe if we get to the root of our problem we may too.
8 comments on “Maybe We Are Stuck or, Godin, Block, and the SBC”
I will give you my take from the perspective of a counselor and chaplain. I think this is some wise counsel in your blog post. While I think this debate may have begun as a theological debate, it has evolved into a communication issue. When it becomes a matter of getting stuck in communication, neither party can see their blind spots. Thus, a third party who is as neutral as possible is a reasonable solution. Mediation and compromise can be more easily achieved when the mediator has nothing to gain and does not have an emotional tie to the issue. I know the SBC wants to solve it from within, but I don’t know if that is possible since emotions are so high.
Once again, good thoughts.
Interesting observation. I can see how the central issue, whatever it may be revealed to be is exacerbated by a lack of communication. What do you see as the best illustration of the lack of communication? Do you see communication itself as the issue?
I think the best illustration of the lack of communication is the level of distrust. Just from reading the blogs, there seems to be high level of distrust. It seems neither side takes the other at face value. There are explanations of what the other means and those explanations seem to never be satisfactory. Both sides give endless quotations of scholars and confessions and Scripture and nothing seems to satisfy the other. Motives are questioned of leaders, phrases are parsed endlessly, and soon issues are replaced by personal attacks.
It also seems that the comments on the posts rather than the post itself, become the highlight. Then commentors are going back and forth and pretty soon whatever was meant by the post has completely been passed over.
I do think communication itself is the issue. But it’s not a matter of more, but better and perhaps the way to do that is through a neutral party. I know that in my pastoral and counselor experience the intentional interim pastoral program begun by the Lutheran church was a good model for how to mediate church struggles. Peacemakers Ministry, although Trads would not sign off on that with Peacemakers Reformed bent, is good. Maybe a Methodist voice, maybe just a different voice who can look at things objectively. Maybe President Luter can rise up in this time and provide some guidance.
I just know that when I sit down before two people and try to counsel them, that I have to remember that the people are not the problem but the problem is the problem. They are, as you said, stuck. In order to get them unstuck, I have to step back as far as I can to see it and offer a good way forward.
There is so much to say, but I will leave it at that. Thanks for your time and your blog and your interaction. If you want to talk in more detail, I believe my email is there, but if not you can reach me at email@example.com.
CH Matthew B. Woodside
I really like your description. After about thirty years of counseling in pastoral, staff, or volunteer settings, I can see how your reference to communication may be more than astute observation. I particularly like this,
I just know when I sit down before two people and try to counsel them, that I have to remember that the people are not the problem but the problem is the problem.
My only observation would be that when the problem becomes internalized to such a severe degree, the person(s) involved have so embraced the problem it is part of their self-identification. At that point, there is greater work to be done than calling attention to whatever problem has been so identified.
Thank you for your thoughtful, reflective interactions. Maybe someone involved will read your comments and give it great consideration.
Todd, thanks for your post and this is going to be quite the interesting talk even more so over the next year. You mentioned in your article the problem might not be theological. I think you are right if I read that correctly. I think the problem is we need our leaders to be men and admit that the issue is that it is about POWER! Recently, a state missionary I love and respect from one of our 50 states (trying to be ambiguous here) told me that the issue regarding any issue in our convention was that is was rooted in power. Usually theology is not the concern but it is about who has the most control. This is a side-effect of the conservative resurgence that has become a part of our institutional DNA. So I believe our leaders need to be honest about it and realize that while they fight over theology, power, or whatever the case may be the average pastor in the pulpit is having to spend more time than needed addressing these issues than the Great Commission. The average pastor is not able to reach out to those less fortunate with the hope of the Gospel through community means. We need some leaders who are not trying to make a name for themselves, but make the name of Christ great.
Concerning your point about getting someone from the outside to help; I think that is a great idea! After all each year at the SBC Convention our parliamentarian is from another denomination and for objective reasons. I think your suggestion is a fair and diplomatic one, which would allow us to achieve the same unbiased results we seek at the convention. So in short finding someone who is not in the convention for power or for their name might help us move beyond the power of politics so that Jesus name can be great above all else!
Power is exactly right. And that goes in line with my point about communication. Whoever has the power can control the flow of information. It’s true in couples counseling and it’s true in arguments. Your point about having an non SBC parlimentarian moderate the SBC is spot on. Moderators by nature need to be neutral. Maybe some good additions to the panel would be some non SBC guys with differing theological and church polity views who can give a broader spectrum.
I have seen SBC names thrown around, so if you wanted to step outside SBC life and get some input from the larger evangelical world: John MacArthur, Chuck Swindoll, Erwin Lutzer, Alistair Begg.
I know people within the SBC might object and assert that outsiders don’t get it . . but it could be that outsiders may actually see the forest and not just the trees.
This will not be popular, but I am thinking we may need to look outside the Evangelical world. Before I get immediately dismissed, if the matter is not theological but systemic communication/power issues, a truly better choice might be someone more qualified to identify such. If they happen to be Evangelical, find. But, I would not mark that as a requirement. Even more, I may want to shy away from a very high-profile populist Christian figure.
I believe it was Mark Noll who suggested that Baptists have a long history of schism. He too considers it a matter of DNA.
You may well be right that the central issue is power. That a denominational figure would choose power to describe the problem may be telling. What was his or her suggested corrective?