Thursday, June 14, 2012

Serious Theology & Southern Baptists

Well, dear reader, here's a bit of controversy for you.  There's been a little dust-up in Southern Baptist life about a document produced, signed, and distributed in the past few weeks about the traditional understanding of salvation from the Baptist perspective.  I've held off commenting because, quite frankly, I thought it would go away.  Alas.

I won't bother with the historical question marks that are hanging over this document, but let me point out one theological issue.  Here is Article II:

We affirm that, because of the fall of Adam, every person inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin and that every person who is capable of moral action will sin. Each person’s sin alone brings the wrath of a holy God, broken fellowship with Him, ever-worsening selfishness and destructiveness, death, and condemnation to an eternity in hell.
We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.
Some have described the authors and signers of this document as semi-Pelagian.  It's close, if not over that line.  But more important than the label, I think it misses the biblical point of our brokenness.

Ephesians 2 teaches that we are dead in our sin and positionally children of wrath (see 2.3).  Loved by God?  Absolutely.  But we, from the get-go, are sinners by nature and choice.  So our "free will" is not really free at all and is indeed incapacitated by sin and has rendered us "guilty before [we] have personally sinned."  By saying "personally sinned," I'm assuming they mean doing something that I know to be wrong.  But here's the issue:  an 18-month old does not do what mom says to do:  guilty.  A 3-year old looks at dad and keeps doing what she is doing:  guilty.  Why do small children act this way?  Because they are sinners by nature and choice.

The question comes around (and it's why, I think, that this seemingly careless paragraph is in this document), so what then does God do with those who are not capable of understanding the Gospel?  What assurance do we have that if a kid dies at 3 that God will receive her if she's guilty?  The old Baptist language for that is the age of accountability.  And my answer is still the same:  God is perfectly just and unbelievably merciful and exercises both with great wisdom.  In the case of kids, I certainly believe that those who are incapable of understanding the Gospel (what Jonathan Edwards called the natural inability, in contrast with the moral inability to respond to God) receive bucket loads of mercy.  Adults with mental incapacities do too.  

We sin because we're sinners.  We are not born spiritually alive and then die when we volitionally sin.  We're born spiritually dead to God and God makes us alive in Christ.  We don't help ourselves in this scenario - God has to breathe life into us.  No corpse grabs the paddles and shocks his own heart.  Dead people are incapable of such things.  Spiritually, God regenerates us through the Holy Spirit and calls us through the Gospel.  Our faith and repentance, in response, are steps following God's initiative toward us.

It's heavy theology on a Thursday, but it's important stuff.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

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