Upon arriving at the fourth section of Grudem’s article, For What Doctrinal and Ethical Matters Should Christian Organizations Draw New Boundaries?, we really get to the part where “the rubber meets the road.” The material that is relevant to the present situation in the SBC is so plentiful that, in order to “do it justice,” it looks like I am really going to have to “make good” on my “threat” to “park awhile” on my analysis of this article. If I were to comment here on all eight of the questions Grudem suggests as guidelines regarding over what matters a Christian organization should draw new boundaries, this post would be unwieldy in its length. Thus, I propose to comment one by one on each of the questions, beginning here with:
1. CERTAINTY: How Sure Are We That the Teaching Is Wrong?
From my perspective, this particular criterion weighs heavily against support of both of the new policies at the IMB.
Grudem asks: Have the advocates of this teaching been given a fair hearing? Has there been enough time to reflect on the matter carefully?
My answer is that, in good part due to the blogs during the past year, there have been many opportunities to point out the biblical argument in favor of PPL and a more open stance on baptism among a certain constitiuency, that had not been given before. At the same time, it is a shame that from certain platforms of denominational life, there has not been much of an effort to debate these matters on an “even playing field.” The impression is given by some that it is a “done deal”: “There is NO biblical support for PPL.” “Baptists have always recognized baptism as a ‘church ordinance,’ thus only ‘true churches’ (i.e. Baptist churches) have the authority to baptize,” etc., etc.
On various comments posted lately on various different blogs, the argument is being made that much time and effort is being unwisely dedicated to debating the doctrinal issues themselves: “Let’s just keep the main thing the main thing.” “If they’re ‘third tier’ issues anyway, what’s the big deal?” While I have a certain degree of sympathy for this point of view, I, at the same time, believe that, if there is a good case to be made for the particular issues at hand, and those who are best able to present this case remain silent, the points are ipso facto conceded to the other side. In Spanish, we have a saying: el que calla otorga (“he who remains silent concedes his point”). On the posts dealing with questions #3 and #5, the reasons for the importance of these issues will be discussed in more detail.
Grudem also asks: Is there a growing consensus among God’s people generally that this new teaching cannot be right?
I think that, if we are talking about “God’s people generally,” the answer is a definite ‘no’. As to PPL, in addition to the opinions of serious Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave theologians, such as Gordon Fee, Wayne Grudem, Jack Deere & Sam Storms, how can you summarily dismiss the well-reasoned opinions of devout conservative, evangelical, non-charismatic scholars of the stature of D.A. Carson, Vern Poythress, J.I. Packer, and even someone with a Baptist pedigree like Jack MacGorman, as well as a host of others?
As to the baptism issue, pretty much, by definition, all non-Baptist scholars, and many Baptists as well, would be at odds with the new policy.
But, then again, that is what I perceive to be a big part of the underlying issue at stake: To what point are we in the SBC going to defend our so-called “Baptist distinctives” as over against the opinions of conservative evangelical Christians at large?
When we get to question # 6 on the “purposes of the organization” (the organization being the SBC in this case), the question of “Baptist distinctives” will need to be dealt with more specifically. However, I am quite certain that, if the opinion of conservative evangelicalism in general is to be seriously taken into account, we are quite some distance from being “sure” that either the teaching of PPL, or the disposition to accept as valid the post-conversion immersions of churches that do not conform to strict Baptist standards, are “wrong.”