When I was growing up I was taught, by my father, a very important life lesson that has stuck with me to this day. We were in a quandary before leaving for school one morning because my oldest brother’s shinny new belt buckle could not be found. You see we were wrestling advocates and we would get new belt buckles and wrestle for them. My brother had purchased one and we wrestled for it but I could not win it from him. However, when he was not looking I was able to seize upon the opportunity of seeing that it was mis-placed from him. We just finished placing plastic on the windows to keep the cold wind out for the winter and I punctured a hole in the plastic and dropped the buckle between the plastic and screen with the thought I would get it later after everyone stopped searching. Well, it was getting late and the school bus was coming and daddy informed us no one was going anyplace until the buckle was found. I was never accused of stealing the buckle, but I protested loudly and with great passion that I did not take it. After some time of being interrogated by my daddy I broke and confessed I had taken it and where I placed it. After the punishment period was over (Daddy placed me in time-out. He said; “you sit there until I can get the leather strap”.) I spoke to daddy about the incident. I asked how he knew I was the one who took the buckle? He responded that I insisted too passionately that I was not the one who took it and my protesting told him that I did not want him investigating me. While I announced I was not the one, I was announcing loudly that I did it.
It is much the same whenever one sees a statement like; “When this is done with respect for each other and devotion to God’s Word, such engagements can be tremendously profitable”. Whenever I see a statement concerning a desire to interact with something with which one disagrees I immediately become suspicious that a negative ad hominen argument in on the horizon. My suspicions are brought to reality in the review of Whosoever Will found in the latest Founders Journal. The entire journal is dedicated to covering the scholarly critique of Calvinism and I want to cover briefly three reasons for my suspicions becoming reality.
My first concern is Tom Ascol’s defense in the introduction of the issue. Ascol entitles his introduction as “Theological Debate Within the Family” which certainly reminds us that we are debating this within the family and as such we should give the benefit of the doubt to our family members. In this it means extending more grace than might normally be the case. So, in a book review we should, within our family, allow for enough room to respond in order to accurately present a cogent response when the review is less than positive. In Dr. Ken Keathley’s brief response to Dr. Tom Nettles “extended critique” of Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach we see no extra grace extended. Dr. Keathley is given only about twelve hundred words in which to reply.
Second, we see something of a back door slam against Dr.s Allen and Lemke. The review of their chapters respectively come from two Ph.D. students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. There is nothing wrong with Ph.D. students responding to various scholars and their articles. But when it is “within the family” should we not extend a level of courtesy for a noted scholar to review another noted scholar? Should a student’s critique of articles written by the Dean of Provost of a major theological seminary be published with the “atta boy” pat on the back given by the Founders ministry? In their critique of the individual chapters, the Ph.D. students began violating the principle that Ascol presented in the introduction; “Love requires that we not simply label the contributors to Whosoever Will “Arminian” when they plainly reject that characterization.” Ph.D. student Barrett uses for his subtitle, “A Response to Steve Lemke’s Arminian Objections.” The very subtitle calls into question the characterization that Dr. Lemke has openly stated–he is not an Arminian. As a matter of fact Dr. Lemke contributed to a White Paper titled “Neither Calvinist nor Arminian, but Baptist.” In this White Paper the authors effectively respond to Dr. Roger Olson. It seems the Ph.D. student must have overlooked this response. One other concern presented in this entire Founders Journal issue. When was the last time that the good folk over at Founders used Dr. Roger Olson as a source of truth? This issue of the Journal relies heavily on his position that certain scholar members of our SBC family are Arminian, even when these scholars have said they are not. What happened to extending love within a family?
The other back door slam comes from another Ph.D. student . In Dr. David Allen’s chapter; “The Atonement: Limited or Universal”, Allen took the position that John Bunyan did not affirm the point of Calvinism known as “Limited Atonement.” In the introduction of the Journal, Ascol states that “Ben Rogers exposes some of the historical inaccuracies” concerning Dr. Allen’s chapter. When one reads this Ph.D. student’s critique one finds he acknowledges that Dr. Allen is not the only one to express that John Bunyan did not adhere to the doctrine of “Limited Atonement.” Quite a large leap, especially for someone “in the family” to accuse Dr. Allen of being historically inaccurate. It gives the appearance that Dr. Allen is cooking up this stuff hunkered down in a dark corner deep within the confines of his voluminous library. Dr. Allen is a scholar par excellence and when he documents something one can certainly find that he has done his historical research. Also, the other scholar mentioned by the Ph.D. student that John Bunyan does not affirm the historical position of Limited Atonement makes the same claim concerning John Piper.
The third concern, for me, raises the level from critique to critic. It also reveals the biased approach of Founders Journal. Dr. Tom J. Nettles provides a very informative ten page review of the entire book Whosoever Will. Dr. Nettles paints with a broad brush in this critique. For example, in his review of Dr. Richard Land’s discussion on election Nettles says; “An Arminian believes that election based on God’s knowledge of the various responses of every individual…” Notice that Nettles has now assigned the station of Arminianism to those who hold to other positions, such as Molinism or a traditional Baptist view. Not only that, but certain Calvinists, like D.A. Carson ascribe to middle knowledge (Page 50) and thus would affirm the statement that Nettles ascribes to only Arminians. Thus, as Nettles begins his critique one observes the broadness of the brush he seems to be painting. But the icing on the cake that reveals the biased approach is found in Nettles’ closing statement. He says; “Though they have resisted this, the writers should accept the judgment that they defend a classically Arminian, or openness, position.”(Bold emphasis mine) This statement begs a question that needs answering. What is an “openness position”? The only thing I can find on “openness” when it comes to theology is “Openness Theology”. One specific article that defines “Openness Theology” is here. In this article, found in the Western Reformed Journal, Eric Lasch presents a clear critique of Open Theology. Thus, it is easily deduced that Dr. Little, according to Nettles, is defending Open Theology along with all who contributed to Whosoever Will. I mean, really, does anyone believe that Dr. Paige Patterson defends “open theism”? Let’s face it, call Dr. Patterson what you would like, but the charge of open theist is not something anyone anyplace would charge. However, it is more alarming that such a charge is coming from a Professor of Historical Theology in a sister SBC seminary. Do we have people in the pews of the SBC that believe we have professors that are Open Theist? But, Nettles is not just referencing sitting professors, but a seminary president who has openly and publicly opposed open theism. As I remember it was Dr. Patterson that led the charge in the Evangelical Theological Society to get Open Theist evangelicals ousted. Second, what happened to the “family” motif that Ascol opened this issue of Founders Journal? It seems very evident to this writer that the Introduction was merely words with no meaning. If the words had meaning then neither the article subtitle charging Arminianism nor the charge of defending Openness Theology would have made it through the editorial review.
I openly call on the Founders Ministry to either re-write these articles or remove them all together. This issue is not about disagreeing as much as it is about smacking down an opposing view by assassinating someone’s character. As family we will disagree all along, but when a disagreement becomes an outlandish charge and one that could lead to heresy, something needs to be spoken. I also call on Dr. Mohler to call into account Dr. Nettles for his public charge against a sitting president and professors from sister seminaries. To place a charge of open theism against someone is very serious especially when it comes from colleagues. However, what makes it even more serious is that it comes from within our ranks. Thus, to open a publication by calling attention to a family motif and then presenting what Founders Ministry classifies as “scholarly” is nothing more than a veiled critical attack of wolves on family members wrapped in the sheep clothing of a critique.