Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Patterson, Burleson and the CR: Answering a Thoughtful Question

Ron West asked a long and thoughtful question on my last post. Instead of answering it with a lengthy comment, I will respond with a new post. If you are interested in this, you might begin by reading both my previous post and Ron’s question (comment 11). I am going to answer his questions directly. I invite Ron and others to respond – hopefully in the same spirit Ron has exhibited.

First, Ron, thank you for the opportunity to dialogue. I know that you and I have some completely different perspectives on some of the CR issues, but the way you asked questions and responded to what I wrote deserved a response.

I will be as direct as I can be and brutally honest in answer to your question. I suspect that I will have no friends left among those who read this post.

Perspectives on the CR

As to the CR, it is probable that we will never agree on the facts of the CR. History can almost always be interpreted multiple ways. I look at the fall of the Berlin wall and think, “Ronald Reagan was amazing.” Liberals credit Gorbachev or other factors. It’s the nature of historical debate. I would offer the following perspectives.

1) The main difference between us, I think, is that I believe there was a real theological drift in the 70's, and you do not. Therefore, I believe the CR was necessary. You do not. Would you agree?

I went to a Baptist college and seminary. I saw the leftward drift firsthand. The Hebrew prof at my college said that Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed were just “different flags under which God flies his name.” When my school pushed him out, he went to teach at Midwestern. Belief in the substitutionary death of Christ, the existence of Satan, the supernatural nature of the Bible – all these were not just denied, they were ridiculed. I remember one of my profs leaning over my desk shouting at me, “You mean you actually believe that?” (So much for the vaunted “academic freedom.”) He went on to be a leader in founding of moderate seminaries as the CR progressed. My preaching prof at SWBTS’s doctoral thesis was written against the doctrine of inerrancy.

I lived it. I saw liberalism firsthand. I cannot speak for Paige Patterson, but for me, the CR was about doctrine. I did not want what I learned in my Baptist education to continue to spread.

2) I think that moderates have done a fair amount of historical revisionism looking back at the CR.

The “myth of the mean fundamentalists” is a great example. The rhetoric of the moderates, their political acumen, was no different than the conservatives. The only difference is that there were more of us, so they spent the next 20 years painting themselves as the victims of the conspiracy of the power-hungry mean-spirited fundamentalists. I see that as a myth.

Another myth was that Russell Dilday was a conservative. I went to school during his tenure. He was advocating something called “limited inerrancy.” What on earth is that. The Bible is either errant or inerrant. How can there be any such thing as a limited inerrancy? He was not a classic liberal in the general theological world, but he was hardly a conservative either.

3) The biggest flaw I saw in the CR was the tendency to judge people’s theology on the basis of how they voted in the CR. On this one, you and I agree totally.

I think there were three general groups of people. First, there were conservative Southern Baptists who supported the CR. Second there were liberals and true moderates who were undermining the doctrines we have held dear. One conservative leader estimated that at only 5% or less of the denomination. The third group was made up of biblical conservatives who would not support the CR but sided with the moderates politically.

My quarrel with the CR was that we should have reached out to the Winfred Moores, the Dan Vestals, the Richard Jacksons and made a place for them. They were conservative men who for one reason or another did not join the conservative cause. Many in the CR called their THEOLOGY into question because of their denominational POLITICS. I thought that was wrong (and said so then).

You mentioned Dr. Cauthen and Keith Parks. Dr. Cauthen was pretty much out of the way before the CR. Dr. Parks was in charge during the CR. Without saying too much, my father was heavily involved in the FMB at the end of the Parks era. Dr. Parks’ problems with the board were not so much theological as they were practical. It was a power-struggle.

However, he would be a good example of the kind of man I am talking about. Conservative, but politically-aligned moderate.

On the other hand, it is natural for the leaders of the CR to be a little reluctant to work with men like Dilday and Parks and others who said harsh, belittling things about the CR and engaged in what I consider to be character-assassination of its leaders. Should they have been more gracious when they came to power? Yes. But was it natural for them to want leaders in boards and agencies that were supportive of the cause? Yes.

So, on that point, I think we are in complete agreement, except that I would see the problem as two-sided, not just one-sided.

4) God uses flawed people to do his work. If it were not so, his work would never get done. I do not say that Adrian Rogers was perfect. Or Paige Patterson. In fact, I am sure they had their flaws.

I have a theory about megachurch pastors. You can’t be a successful megachurch pastor without some kind of ego, or self-confidence, or messianic complex or whatever. Those men are driven, self-confident, CEO-types. From what heard and read, so were the moderate men I mentioned above.

Throughout the Bible, God used flawed men to do his work and I think that is what he did with the CR. Our denomination needed theological reformation and God accomplished that using men who were there. Not perfect men. Sinful, flawed men.

But, see #2 above. The idea of the godly, innocent, couldn’t-care-less-about power moderate leaders is a myth, in my understanding. They acted to protect their power and crush the CR.

5) All of us need to learn that in Kingdom work, the means is as important as the end.

I said that often at conventions (never publicly, I was a young, nobody, Virginia pastor). I wish that the CR leaders had checked their tongues and been as careful about their means as they were of their ends.

6) The CR got off track when we won. I think that since 1995 or so, Paige Patterson has had an overall detrimental effect on the SBC. I do not like his campaign to rid the SBC of Dr. Rankin or his promotion of what I consider to be extreme doctrines such as Malcolm Yarnell advocates.

7) I view the GCR being advocated now by Danny Akin and others largely associated with the SEBTS to be the corrective, restoring the noble purposes of the CR. Dr. Patterson and some powerful leaders may have gotten off-track, but the GCR is putting us back where we need to be. Too little, too late? I hope and pray not.

Regarding Wade Burleson

It can hardly be argued, Ron, that Wade has not drifted to the left in terms of convention politics. He was a firebrand political conservative at one point. He now spends every blogging moment he has trashing (well, er...defending us against the evil of) SWBTS, Paige Patterson, and anyone else in power in the SBC.

Has he drifted in terms of theology? I don’t know. I would guess there would have been a day when the author of “The Shack” would not have been given his pulpit. I don’t really know Wade’s theology. Wade has spoken of his own evolution on certain issues. I think there is ample evidence to assert that theological shift has occurred.

Here’s the plain fact, Ron. I don’t care. You are thankful for him and see hope in the SBC because of him. I would, of course, disagree. Wade has made himself meaningless in the SBC debate. Outside of the few people who comment anonymously on his blog, I know of no one who really respects him or takes him seriously. He has made himself popular among the remnants of the moderate movement, in the CBF, and among those who feel disenfranchised by the CR.

For a long time, I supported him. I defended him. I wrote letters to John Floyd and Tom Hatley asking that they reverse their policies and their persecution of Wade. But I came to the point where I could no longer support him. I will not give my reasons on a public blog, but suffice it to say I do not believe he has either noble motives nor means in what he is doing.

I tried debating with him on his site. But the champion of “dissent” does not really foster open debate. He questions the spiritual motives and character of those who disagree with him. His gallery of anonymous hit-bloggers attacks anyone who disagrees with Wade. I honestly tried to engage on his site, but reasonable discussion is impossible on that site, if you disagree with Wade.
So, I just disengaged. I do not comment there and deleted his blog from my Google reader. It is amazing how much more enjoyable blogging is when you just leave “Grace and Truth to You” behind. By the way, I did the same thing with the anti-Wade BI sites. I see no difference between the moral quality of what Wade is doing and what they do. Its all the same blogging mud-slinging to me. And blogging is so much more fun when you just ignore both sides in that nonsense.

Is he conservative? I do not know and really don’t care anymore. I am trying to move into a Wade-free blogging world. I only gave this response because you asked about previous comments I had made.

Honestly, there was a time two years ago when Wade was a key figure. Had he chosen a different course and tactic, I think he could have substantially and positively impacted the SBC. But now, I think he is essentially irrelevant to any discussion of the future of the SBC.

Again, Ron, thank you for your questions and comments. I look forward to an honest dialogue with you. I have been as brutally honest as I could be. I encourage you to do the same. I will enjoy the dialogue.

I would love to meet you. I think you and I would probably agree on far more things than we disagree on.


Wade Burleson said...

You wrote: Outside of the few people who comment anonymously on his blog, I know of no one who really respects him or takes him seriously. Gee whiz, Dave.

Obviously you haven't met my wife.

Grin :)

Dave Miller said...

After being critical of you above, I probably don't want to meet her.

Dave Miller said...

Seriously, Wade, I grieve because I think you had a real chance to make positive change in the SBC a couple of years back, and took an unwise course.

I wish you had chosen differently.

Wade Burleson said...

Sorry, Dave, I posted and then saw you had another comment. Allow me to respond to your first and then your second comment before I go off to Wednesday night Bible study.

You wrote: After being critical of you above, I probably don't want to meet her.
Nah, we both learned a long time ago to never take things personally. You would love her. She's a jewel.

You wrote: Seriously, Wade, I grieve because I think you had a real chance to make positive change in the SBC a couple of years back, and took an unwise course. I wish you had chosen differently.Just a difference of opinion here Dave! Others, like Ron, would disagree. I think what we all must be careful about is excoriating people who do things, say things or see things differently.

Have a great evening.


Dave Miller said...

"I think what we all must be careful about is excoriating people who do things, say things or see things differently."

I would fully agree with that. I love to discuss things, even strong differences, on blogs.

That's why I stopped visiting your site - because reasoned dissent from your opinions did not seem to be acceptable on that site.

Frankly, I would love to interact with you on a lot of issues, and found it disappointing that such is not encouraged on your site.

Dave Miller said...

I hope that Ron will wade by and weigh in on this. However, I will be out of pocket. After services, I am headed to the hospital for some tests and won't be available till tomorrow sometimes.

Dave Miller said...


This is not going to become like Wade's site, with anonymous pot-shots being taken at anyone who disagrees with Wade. If you will identify yourself, I will gladly respond to your comments.

Dave Miller said...

My comments about Wade were in response to the question that Ron asked.

If Wade wants to substantively discuss the issues raised here, I would welcome that.

I stopped visiting his site because I grew tired of anonymous sniping.

I stated my views clearly. If someone wants to discuss the point either of Ron's question or my response, fine. But anonymous sniping will not be permitted on this site.

Dave Miller said...

Just for the record, here is what I said regarding Mr. Burleson.

1) That he has clearly shifted left politically.

2) That there is some indication of leftward shifts in theology (evidenced by opening his pulpit to someone who denies most of the major doctrines of our faith) but that I do not have enough evidence to state that for sure.

3) That it is impossible to engage in reasoned dissent on Wade's site because of the tendency to question motives and the chorus of anonymous hit-bloggers who hound and harrass anyone who does not agree with Wade.

4) That I believe that Wade's crusade has isolated so many folks like myself who once supported his cause that I think he has become irrelevant to anything related to the SBC. His support, what there is of it, comes from people outside the SBC mainstream.

I will point out that the bulk of the post was focused on the CR, not on Wade.

Wayne Smith said...


I started out Blogging when the IMB Trustees passed the changes that Brother Wade fought against. I was on the same page as Wade at that time. Wade’s Blog has going downhill since that time because of all the Anonymous Comment or as C B Scott CALLS THEM WILD GEESE.

Dave, I have always found you Posts and Comments to be fair and balanced on all subjects for discussion and I Hold you high on my list of favorite Bloggers, for what it’s worth.

Most of the attack’s against you and others come from the Wild Geese that flock to Wade Blog. Why Wade would allow these people even though some use names like Robert Masters and are still Hiding behind a name is beyond me. When asked by email Wade still defends these Anonymous Bloggers.


Dave Miller said...

Anonymous. Identify yourself, deal substantively with what I have said, and you comment will stand. I have no problem with someone disagreeing with me, or with someone criticizing me. My blogging history will serve as evidence for that.

However, I consider anonymous sniping to be both cowardly and ungodly. Wade can bless that on his site. I will not here. So,say what you want about me and what I have asserted here. If you identify yourself, I promise your insults will stay up.

But your anonymous sniping will not.

Dr. James Willingham said...

The mean Fundamentalist is no myth. Just get cross-wise of one them, and you will find that they can be as savage as any old worldling. This is no to say there are no good Fundamentalists. There are, and the good ones can be some of the best people on earth. Biblical orthodoxy is not easily or quickly learned as it goes hand-in-hand with biblical orthopraxy. Let I Cors. 13 be your guiding light in disagreements. Stand with the truth as Love does (I Cors.13:6), but also let love cover a multitude of sins against yourself even as our Lord did. No one said it would be easy, but one's conscience will rest easy - if the resentments are not kept.