Controversy at SWBTS and the SBC and Moving Forward

I haven’t updated this blog for a while, a combination of being busy and… watching too much basketball.  In any case, there’s a situation that I do want to briefly address, but I’ve held off due to the fact that I am a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and didn’t want my words to be twisted to target anyone else that has nothing to do with me voicing my opinion.  It’s probably a good time to state something obvious but often needed: What follows are my thoughts alone and nobody asked me to write them down.

The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was recently held in Dallas, and it occurred during a time of controversy.  One of the stalwarts of the Baptist faith, Dr. Paige Patterson, was supposed to preach at the meeting but removed himself due to first being pushed into early retirement and then being fired outright from being the president at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  If he didn’t remove himself, there was probably a good chance that they would have changed to someone else anyway.  From what I hear, it didn’t get prettier at the meeting because someone put up a motion to immediately remove the executive committee of the trustees for the school due to them firing Patterson while he was overseas in Germany.  The motion overwhelmingly failed (though evidently an internal report on the actions of SWBTS’ executive committee will be given next year), but it illustrated the fact that Patterson’s firing was polarizing, just as the man himself often was.

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Is God’s Freedom More of a Problem for a Libertarian or Compatibilist?

I was listening to a podcast recently which featured a friendly discussion between two philosophers: W. Paul Franks, a Wesleyan libertarian, and Guilluame Bignon, a compatibilist Calvinist.  They talked about several things, and it was a great example of intelligent, civil, and charitable debate between Christians.  Bignon even said that if all people get from the podcast is that they can see that a Calvinist like him can be good friends with a libertarian, it would be a success.  I think that’s a very mature attitude that is missing from a lot of Christians.  I just got his book where he defends Calvinistic determinism, and I hope I can find time soon to read through it.

Nonetheless, here I want to hone in on Bignon’s claim that God’s freedom is a clear counterexample to the libertarian’s argument that one must be able to do otherwise in order to be free (the principle of alternative possibilities, aka PAP) and morally responsible.  God is impeccable (he cannot sin), so this principle obviously does not apply to God, Bignon argued.  Franks holds to source incompatiblism, which either diminishes or even eliminates the need for PAP, but Bignon still argues that it still doesn’t make sense of God’s freedom.

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“Don’t Let Anyone Look Down On You Because You Are Young”… Unless Your Behavior is Immature and Arguments Are Bad

Over a month ago, there was another school shooting in Parkland, Florida at Stoneman Douglas High School.  The more this happens, the more Americans get tired of it, and we should.  These are terrible, and solutions need to be discussed that are careful, nuanced, and sober.  Unfortunately, that is normally not what happens, as I’ve written about before after mass shootings like this.  Usually, discussions turn into political mudslinging contests full of red herrings, strawmen, emotional appeals, and groundless accusations.  The mainstream media tends to ramp up controversy only to rile up the right wing media to throw hay-makers back.  Politicians do much of the same.  Unsurprisingly, precious little gets done despite there being real research on general gun violence and mass shootings.  It is not an easy problem to diagnose, so instead of thinking carefully, people jump to their preferred slogans and cry and shout.  Even calling for calm is a quick way to become a target of emotional insults because somehow you are not empathetic for trying to tell people to use their reason.

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When the Greatness of Sin Makes Us Doubt the Power of the Blood of Christ

I have been reading about the horrifying case of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, former doctor for Michigan State athletics as well as for USA Gymnastics.  It is astonishing, sad, and infuriating that he got away with it for decades, ruining so many lives and even leading to the loss of life as a couple of people committed suicide, partially as a result of his crimes.  This is a man who already was sentenced to 60 years in prison for having tens of thousands of images of child pornography and videos of him molesting kids.  Now, over one hundred victims have come forward to share their stories, making certain that even an elixir that doubled the average human life span would not allow him to ever leave prison.

He is a grotesquely evil man, and in many ways he is more dangerous than other traditional criminals because he is the kind who befriends people and gains their trust before abusing their beloved children.  The bitterness and anger that his victims unloaded on him the past few days to go along with the anger of the wider world is richly deserved.  Here is a piece of human garbage that one victim aptly called “a spawn of Satan.”  A coach who sent over 100 girls to Nassar for treatment, ignorant of what was happening, said to him out of guilt and anger, “Go to hell,” a sentiment that is probably shared by even those people who generally have a problem with the doctrine of hell.  If he were put in a room with every father of those girls to beat him in whatever way they chose, that would still be too light a sentence.

And yet, as Christians, we are to believe that if he were to put his faith in Christ, he would be saved and given eternal life.  At first glance, such a statement makes even Christians uncomfortable and downright enrages atheists.  Sam Harris finds such a belief to be utterly unjust and disgusting.  Harris has never made an argument that has impressed me, but I understand his emotional reaction here; it seems deeply unfair.  Sure, Jesus saves sinners, but come on: There’s a massive difference between a serial child sex abuser and someone who cheated on a test or has mild anger issues.

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A Primer on Calvinism

My primer on open theism has made me think that it’d be useful to write ones for other theological systems or topics, as I often receive questions about them as well.  A good one to do is Calvinism because it is so prevalent, yet many Christians (including a good number of self-proclaimed Calvinists) do not really understand it.  Now, this one is a bit more difficult to condense into one article because it is more of a full blown system than open theism, but I think it will help to stick to what can be considered “classical” Calvinism and largely ignore certain varieties such as “four-point” Calvinism (Amyraldism) and libertarian Calvinism.  Still, what follows will be heavily simplified, though I think it will still be largely accurate.

As usual, I’ll attempt to give a charitable portrayal of Calvinism despite being a pretty sharp critic of it (as readers of this blog know).  I’ll then give a brief critique, though I won’t say much and will just invite the reader to find other articles I’ve written on the topic.

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A Primer on Open Theism and a Brief Critique

Recently, I was asked by a college student to explain what open theism is, so I might as well make my answer into a blog post.

Open theism does not alarm me nearly as much other Christians who react like it’s some crazy heresy, but I do think it’s in error and I’ll explain why.  As always, I’ll aim to give a charitable portrayal of the view, though my explanation and critique will naturally have to be short if I don’t want this post to get too long.

Open Theism: What it is and Who Believes it

In a nutshell, open theism is the belief that the future is at least partly “open” even for God, such that he does not know with 100% detail what is going to happen.  This comes from the alleged incompatibility between these two ideas:

  1. Human beings have libertarian free will.
  2. God universally knows exactly what every free creature will do.

Libertarianism is the view that we have free will and that it’s ultimately incompatible with determinism.  Since open theists hold strongly to libertarianism, they think #2 should be dropped or amended.  The reason is that if an omniscient God, who cannot be wrong, knows ahead of time what people will do, then those facts about the future are “settled” and cannot be changed, thereby jeopardizing freedom.  Interestingly enough, most Calvinists, seemingly their mortal enemies, agree with them about this incompatibility but instead opt to drop #1, advocating for a theory of free will called compatibilism (free will and determinism are compatible).   In any case, examples of Christians who are open theists are pastor/philosopher Greg Boyd, philosopher William Hasker, and the late theologian Clark Pinnock.

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How Understanding Logic Can Lead to More Charitable Discussion

Another terrible mass shooting hit America recently, this time in the small town of Sutherland Springs, TX.  Devin Kelley attacked the town’s First Baptist Church on a Sunday morning and shot and killed 26 people, many of them children.  He was shot by a local man after the carnage and then fled in a truck, and he was pursued before he eventually crashed and killed himself.  The scene at the church was described as horrific, with blood everywhere and dead bodies littered on the floor.  The nation once again reacted in anger, sadness, horror, and confusion.

In that anger and confusion, we once again have seen people targeting their political enemies, something that never seems to fail to happen.  Many people have called for stricter gun laws, and if you disagree with them, they’ll react in disgust and basically accuse you of being an accomplice in such mass murder sprees.  We have to do something, they say, and if you don’t agree with their “something,” you’re automatically a bad person.  Others have championed the fact that Kelley was fought off by a citizen with a gun, possibly preventing further shootings elsewhere.  Such people argue that those who want strict gun laws are naive control-freaks who want to take away basic rights of self-defense and resistance against potential tyranny.

Such “discussion” gets tiresome pretty fast, especially when a tragedy like this weighs so heavily.  While it is understandable that people will get emotional over this (people should get emotional over this), emotion often makes for poor solutions and poor policy.  What is needed is sober-minded reason, and in actuality, if people have a firmer grasp on logic, it helps to have more charitable discussion.

Now what I mean by “charitable” does not mean that you can’t dish out firm or harsh criticism.  After all, I eviscerated Shaun King for his utterly stupid response to the Las Vegas shooting.  Still, I clearly argued why King’s article was built on worthless arguments as opposed to simply attributing all sorts of bad motives to him without evidence.  And that’s what’s needed: An evaluation of evidence and argument, not knee-jerk reactions to satisfy anger.  Thus, I mean “charity” to be the avoidance of attributing the worst motivations to your opponent (unless you have good reason to) but instead trying to understand what his argument is and answer it.  Such evaluation needs some basic understanding of logic.

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The Curious Case of Carl Lentz of Hillsong, NY

I often like listening to podcasts of various sorts when I eat (sports, politics, or theology), so I looked for one while eating lunch today.  I checked on what podcasts were available on the sports/culture website The Ringer because while I care little for their takes on pop culture and politics, they do have some good sports content, especially concerning the NBA.  Surprisingly, the newest podcast for The Ringer NBA Show featured Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong NY, and he talked with the website’s founder Bill Simmons about Lentz’s relationships with NBA players and other celebrities.  Simmons is a unique and entertaining (if often annoying) voice in the sports world, building his average guy brand as “The Sports Guy” first at ESPN, but he is far from a religious person.  In fact, he admitted that Lentz is the first pastor he’s ever had on his podcast.  This seems to be part of Lentz’s media tour for his new book, as he recently showed up on The View.

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The Magnitude of Evil and the Abundance of Grace: Oh God, Whom Will You Hear First?

In Gregory Boyd’s Satan and the Problem of Evil, he relays a story about a small Jewish girl named Zosia.  Zosia had pretty eyes, and some Nazi soldiers noticed.  Simply because they were bored, they decided to remove her eyes on the spot in front of her mother.  The author whom Boyd quotes describes the scene, stating that the cries of the girl, the screams of the mother, and the laughter of the Nazi soldiers mingled together and made their way to heaven.

The author asks poignantly: Oh God, whom will you hear first?

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“Do You Have Good Reason to be Angry?” If Not, Your Emotions Don’t Matter That Much

A while ago, I wrote a blog post giving a nuanced look at an unfortunate decision by some of the professors of our seminary to post an inside joke on Twitter… where, you know, everyone on earth can see it without understanding any context.  I criticized them for that, but at the same time, I also pointed out that ignoring context and loudly screaming “Racist!” was also foolish.  You can do both: Criticize the professors for doing something unwise but also understand the context of their picture and why it’s not racist.

Unsurprisingly, my article got some blow back (it also got a lot of support), though none of this blow back dealt with the main argument.  Instead, what got a lot of attention was a throw-away line in the article (again, in the context of actually criticizing these professors for posting that picture on the internet):

Given our hyper-sensitive culture these days, where even stating bare facts like “There’s a very high rate of single-motherhood in the black community” can draw accusations of racism, it was foolish to post that online.  That’s not to excuse our hyper-sensitive culture, but surely a joke like that is not worth the controversy and potential damage to the witness of the professors as well as that of the seminary.

Many people latched on to this line with great offense (though I’ll repeat, it had little to do with the main argument, and it was a comment about the culture as a whole which honestly shouldn’t be that controversial).  “How dare you call people hyper-sensitive!” “You can’t fault people for how they feel!” “You shouldn’t invalidate people’s emotions!” So on and so forth.  What is interesting is that virtually all of these comments came from Christians.

This honestly squares with my experience both from within and without the church when people’s emotions are criticized.  These days, when someone is told he is being too sensitive, that his anger is unjustified, that his jealousy is irrational, or that his hurt feelings have no bearing on the truth of a matter, the typical response from him and others around him is to have varying levels of anger and shock.  The implicit assumption is that emotions are always uncontrolled responses, always valid, and ultimately unassailable.

The problem with this line of thinking for Christians is rather simple: It is far from a biblical stance (not to mention counter-intuitive if you really think about it).  The fact of the matter is that the Bible implies that we are accountable for how we feel and that our emotions can very well be wrong.  Notice what I did not say; I did not say that how you act due to your emotions can be wrong, though that is of course true.  I said the very emotions you have can be wrong, sinful, selfish, or irrational if they are unreasonable and/or come from a wrong heart.  As unpopular and surprising as this is for many Christians (and especially non-Christians), this is what Scripture teaches.

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