…”We are going downhill at breakneck speed.”
That line appeared in the first of the Downgrade articles that appeared in Charles Spurgeon’s ‘Sword and the Trowel’ magazine, which led to the greatest controversy of Spurgeon’s calling and according to some, led to his early death. Under the name ‘The Downgrade,’ Spurgeon’s magazine published several articles that outlined the theological decline among Baptists in England during his day. The theory, as his friend Robert Schindler put it, is that after a time of spiritual revival, a natural course of doctrinal apathy sets in that waters down the Gospel and creates an environment of theological shallowness.
My friends, we are witnessing this first hand in the Southern Baptist Convention. Like Spurgeon, those who call attention to this Downgrade are castigated as self-righteous or divisive, but call attention to it we must. If after the article recently published by the Alabama Baptist (written by Bob Terry) doesn’t illustrate that the SBC is coming unglued, nothing will. Terry’s opinion piece is not only off-track, it’s apostate (I do not use that word loosely or promiscuously). No doubt, some will urge for understanding, unity and liberty on the issue. For the Christian, this must not be granted. Terry’s view point is heretical (once again, I do not use that word loosely or promiscuously). If Alabama Baptists and Southern Baptists in general cannot boldly, quickly, and aggressively denounce Terry’s position on the Atonement of Christ, I’m afraid all is lost.
In the article,Terry addressed a newsworthy scandal this week regarding the famously liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) removing “In Christ Alone” from their new hymn book because the authors refused to allow the words, “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied” to be changed to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The love of God was magnified.” In short, Terry agreed with the PCUSA for the very same reasons.
Printed in a major news source, in defense of the PCUSA move to cut the song, one Presbyterian pastor said “That lyric comes close to saying that God killed Jesus,” he said. “The cross is not an instrument of God’s wrath.”
My friends, this is removal of the Gospel. This is a departure from orthodoxy. This is an exodus from Christianity. I suppose the PCUSA hasn’t read Isaiah 53 – or any number of the other passages that clearly teach that Jesus was killed because it was God’s plan (Acts 2:23). This is a gross and blatant denial of penal substitutionary atonement.
One would expect this from a denomination that has removed a prohibition against ordaining the ‘sexually unchaste’ or homosexual from their Book of Order and regularly lobby for abortion rights. Clearly, a denomination that denies the very existence of sin will deny a God of wrath, and will therefore deny that Christ died to quench God’s wrath. But would someone like to explain why a major Southern Baptist state convention newspaper has printed an article in support of the PCUSA and (even more disturbing) a denial of the propitiation of Christ?
In the Alabama Baptist article, Terry said “…there remains a question about whether God was an angry God at Golgotha whose wrath had to be appeased by the suffering of the innocent Jesus.”
Careless phrasing aside, among whom does there remain a question about whether God’s wrath was poured out on Christ to satisfy his holy justice? The last time I checked, this was not a question among Southern Baptists or anyone else in the orthodox Christian world. This is not a question among Calvinists or Arminians, charismatics or cessationists. Christians have always agreed that the testimony of Scripture is that the cross was God’s means to satisfy his wrath on sin while saving sinners. In short, this is news to every orthodox Christian who has ever lived, as to whether or not God’s wrath was poured out on Christ as a payment for sin.
Terry continued, “Sometimes Christians carelessly make God out to be some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm Him down. It is the ultimate “good cop/bad cop” routine where God is against us but Jesus is for us.”
To paraphrase the holy truths of Scripture in this way is blasphemous, to say the least. Instead of “a holy God,” Terry says “an ogre.” Instead of “satisfy his righteous judgment,” Terry says “calm Him down.” This is the way that an atheist or skeptic would paraphrase the glory of the cross – not a professing Christian let alone a Baptist preacher. This is revolting.
Only a man without sufficient knowledge to be saved could stereotype God’s sending of Christ to redeem believers as “good cop/bad cop.” Did Christ not explicitly articulate that he came to do his father’s will? Where on Earth (or hell) is this supposed characterization of Christ as a good guy and God the Father as the bad guy to be found in the Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement? This is bizarre. This is blasphemous.
Terry says, “Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath.”
Yes, like every theology held by pretty much every denomination or subset of the true Christian Church in the last two thousand years. That’s the understatement of the century.
Unbelievably, Terry continues, “That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase “the wrath of God was satisfied” even though I love the song “In Christ Alone.”
Terry plainly does not understand the Bible. Terry does not understand why Jesus died for him. I’m not sure how Terry could be saved from the wrath of God if he doesn’t trust that Christ died to absorb the wrath of God on his behalf. Later, he will claim that he merely “chooses to focus on the love of God” on the cross and not the wrath of God. But his outright refusal to sing, “the wrath of God was satisfied” seems to be an outright rejection of the concept, not a re-prioritized focus.
So why did Jesus die on the cross, if not to take the punishment due to sin and sinners? Terry denies orthodoxy and makes up his own strange theology:
As I understand Scripture, Jesus opened a new window through which people could see what God is like.
What? What does that mean? Is this some kind of Christus Exemplar soteriology? Did Jesus die so we could see what God was like? Why did it take the crucifixion if it wasn’t for people to see God’s righteous judgment upon sin and His grace to believers? Terry doesn’t proceed to explain his own theology, having already denied penal substitutionary atonement, but on the surface it seems to be Twilight Zone type stuff. Terry does go on to say that the ‘cross brings reconciliation,’ but apparently not because Christ appeased God’s wrath. One wonders on what other ground we’re brought to God if not because his wrath has be satisfied.
Terry ends his article by writing, “But God is not the enemy. He is our seeking Friend (Luke 15). That is why I prefer to focus on His love evidenced at Calvary rather than on His wrath.”
The heart that is set on flesh is at enmity with God (Romans 8:7) and those who are friends with the world are enemies of God (James 4:4). But Terry’s god doesn’t have enemies. Terry’s god has wrath (which he acknowledges) but wasn’t poured out on Christ on behalf of sinners, and so one must wonder where this mystical reconciliation comes from and what God is doing with all the wrath that he’s stored up without the cross to propitiate. So Terry prefers to focus on God’s love and not his wrath on Calvary, as though these are two conflicting aspects of his holy nature and that “God shows his love for us in this, while we were yet still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.”
That someone may adopt a strange soteriology outside the 2000 year-old bounds of orthodoxy isn’t altogether rare. Heretics have always come on gone. But there are a few questions that have to permeate this discussion.
1. How does someone this far outside the bounds of Christian doctrine become the editor and president of the Alabama Baptist newspaper?
2. How does someone this far outside the bounds of Christian doctrine earn a doctorate degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary? It’s possible that Terry wasn’t a heretic then, but at what point did he leave Christian orthodoxy and why on Earth has nobody in Alabama noticed (or not stopped his employment or called for his repentance)?
3. What will be the response of Southern Baptists toward this startling display of Biblical ignorance? Denny Burk boldly rebuked the PCUSA for dropping this hymn. I want to see somebody in the SBC (literally, somebody – anybody) rebuke Terry and the Alabama Baptist newspaper for this vast departure from Christianity. If we can call out liberal Presbyterians, the only reason we wouldn’t be able to call out Terry would have to be cowardice. If we can judge those on the outside, certainly we should be able to judge those claiming to be on the inside. Somebody in the SBC besides bloggers (preferably someone drawing a denomination paycheck) should step forward, on the record, and call this what it is.
4. Will the SBC grassroots be able to recognize this for what it is? Does the SBC want an opportunity to cooperate and work together? Mohler and Patterson should both agree this is heresy. Even folks like Peter Lumpkins and Bob Hadley should be able to call this heresy (although I wouldn’t count on it). If not, I’m afraid all is really lost after all.
5. Who will be the first person to speak out and beg that we get over our theological differences and cooperate together on behalf of the Great Commission? NO! NO! We cannot cooperate with this. This is not Gospel, neither is it Christianity. There is no level upon which we can cooperate with this. This has to be castigated, defeated, marginalized, rebuked; it cannot be cooperated with.
Finally, if anyone says that use of the words ‘heresy,’ ‘apostate,’ or ‘blasphemous’ are too strong, that could perhaps illustrate the theological Downgrade in the SBC more than anything else. If we attempt to mediate and make peace with this, if we are unable to call this heresy, then we don’t know what heresy is.
My friends, we must pray for the SBC that God will save us from this theological slide. We are moving down hill at breakneck speed.