The next in Wayne Grudem’s list of eight questions we should ask when trying to determine “for what doctrinal and ethical matters should Christian organizations draw new boundaries” is:
7. Motivations of Advocates: Does it seem that the advocates of this teaching hold it because of a fundamental refusal to be subject to the authority of God’s Word, rather than because of sincerely-held differences of interpretation based on accepted hermeneutical standards?
In his explanation of this criterion, Grudem asks some rather pointed questions…
With regard to some specific type of false teaching, after some interaction with one of its responsible advocates (not just with a fringe follower of the teaching who may be ill-informed or unsanctified, or even an unbeliever, but with a responsible advocate) we might ask ourselves, for example, “Deep down inside, is he (or she) just embarrassed by the offense of the cross?” Or we might ask, “Deep down inside, is he embarrassed by the exclusive claims of Christ to be the only way to God?” “Is he driven by a desire to be accepted or approved by liberal scholars?” “Is he craving for attention, for praise, and for being called ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’?” “Is his case built again and again on hermeneutical novelties, special pleading, and methods of interpretation that we could not adopt elsewhere?”
In order to answer these questions in regard to the advocates of “private prayer language” and so-called “alien immersion,” we must first identify, as Grudem points out, their “responsible advocates.”
In the case of “PPL,” there has been an attempt by some to discredit its “advocates” by branding them as “Charismatics” or “Pentecostals.” While undeniably, true “Charismatics” and “Pentecostals” are, almost always, “advocates” of “PPL,” the great majority of the “advocates” for freedom to practice “PPL” within the SBC, or, more specifically, for IMB missionary candidates, are neither “Charismatics” nor “Pentecostals.” Not meaning to imply that “Charismatics” or “Pentecostals” are necessarily “irresponsible advocates” of their positions, but due to the aforementioned reason, I don’t believe we should include “Charismatics” or “Pentecostals” when discussing “responsible advocates” of the freedom to practice “PPL” within Southern Baptist circles.
I think we could include in our list of “responsible advocates” such people as Jerry Rankin, Ken Hemphill (see here), and no doubt, many other SBC leaders who have not yet chosen to be vocal about their convictions on this particular issue. I believe it is self-evident that people of this caliber are neither “embarrassed by the offense of the cross” or by “the exclusive claims of Christ to be the only way to God,” nor “driven by a desire to be accepted or approved by liberal scholars,” “craving for attention, for praise, and for being called ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’,” nor is their case “built again and again on hermeneutical novelties, special pleading, and methods of interpretation that we could not adopt elsewhere.” Regarding these men, very few would dare to even suggest such a thing.
Although perhaps not quite so much in the mainstream of Southern Baptist life or directly involved in the current discussion, I believe there is good reason to include in the list of “responsible advocates” of freedom to practice “PPL” within the SBC such theologians as D. A. Carson and Grudem himself. Hardly anyone within the SBC who is a knowledgeable student of theology would be so bold as to say that these men base their theological positions, which leave room for the legitimate practice of “PPL,” on “hermeneutical novelties.”
I believe we could also include in our list of “responsible advocates” people such as Wade Burleson, Dwight McKissic, and a number of other Southern Baptist bloggers. Although I believe it would be a mistake to wed the validity of the argument in favor of freedom to practice “PPL” with the motivations and character of these individuals, it would be disingenuous to deny that, in the eyes of many, the cause in favor of repealing the new polices at the IMB has come to be coupled with their written support of it.
Of course, when talking about a category as general as “bloggers,” there is room for just about anything under the sun. Some “bloggers,” by way of their on-line behavior, are not worthy to be called “responsible advocates” of anything. However, in the case of the two gentlemen mentioned above, as well as many others I choose not to specify by name here, I think it is hard, despite the efforts of some, to make the accusation of the possible wrong motivations that Grudem mentions here “stick.”
Regarding the issue of “alien immersion,” though the list of “responsible advocates” may not be an exact carbon-copy of the list of the advocates of freedom to practice “PPL,” I believe it is just as difficult, if not even more so, to build the case that those arguing against the new policy are motivated by “a fundamental refusal to be subject to the authority of God’s Word.”
Let’s be honest with one another. With the possible exception of a small minority of those involved in this discussion, I believe we all, on both sides of these questions, want to see Jesus glorified, the Word of God honored, and lost souls among the people groups of the world won to Christ and led to become growing disciples. We may have some sincere differences regarding our interpretation of some biblical texts and minor points of doctrine, or about methodology and ministry style. But, at the core, we all want the same thing, and, for that reason, we should stop impugning each others’ motives.
I am not saying there is no such thing as a “liberal” or that there are never those who may be motivated to compromise on doctrine for less than honorable motives. But, I am firmly convinced that such is not the case for the great majority of people involved in the current discussion. And, even if it might happen be the case of a scattered few, that should not invalidate the position of those who are doing the best they can to be honest and responsible in their handling of the Word of God, and convey their heart-felt convictions regarding these issues to others.