THERE’S MORE TO CONSERVATISM THAN INERRANCY
Paige Patterson was instrumental in the so-called Conservative Resurgence in the SBC a generation ago. Along with Paul Pressler and a few other leaders, Patterson championed Biblical inerrancy and used the springboard of Adrian Rogers’ election to the SBC presidency to painfully but successfully begin eradicating the SBC of its non-inerrantists.
In reality, the Conservative Resurgence – more than anything – demonstrated that claims of inerrancy are not synonymous with Biblical conservatism. With the hardcore (and often unethical, deceitful, underhanded and plainly sinful) denominational warfare against the “liberals” behind them, the old guard rested in comfort knowing that they had won the Convention from the bad guys. In reality, while the classical liberals with conscience and fortitude resigned (or were fired) with integrity, many of the less-than-honest liberals simply signed on the dotted line of inerrancy and went underground. Social progressives like Russell Moore simply don’t rise to the very top of the SBC iconoclast without more than few liberal professors dripping their worldview into the caldron of his educational experience. Likewise, Paige Patterson’s tenure at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary demonstrates that it takes more than inerrancy to be a Biblical conservative.
Patterson, while holding to a few of the more frivolous eccentricities of fundamentalism, like a total prohibition against alcohol consumption among students, enrolls Muslims and enrolls Mormons at the SBC-subsidized seminary. Because the sacred calf of Patterson’s strand of fundamentalism is ‘soul-winning,’ these shockingly bizarre enrollments have been done in the name of evangelism and have received applause from the current generation of SBC messengers who grew up believing the Conservative Resurgence was a black-and-white, dragon-slaying conquest of good versus evil and Paige Patterson walked on water by the wonder working power of Scriptural inerrancy. And yet, the only world where enrolling Mormons and Muslims in an SBC seminary can be considered “conservative” is the bizarro land of Southern Baptist celebrity leadership.
Likewise, Patterson earns conservative credentials for his position against female preachers (and good on him), but doesn’t guard the pulpit against doctrines flatly at odds with Christian orthodoxy.
PATTERSON EMBRACES CAMPBELLISM
Patterson has routinely rejected traditional Southern Baptist positions on a whole host of issues, but most recently, has apparently rejected the conservative Southern Baptist position against the heresy of the Campbellites, and has chosen to have a prominent Campbellite celebrity soon speak at the seminary chapel. Simply put, Patterson would have been widely repudiated for this decision in the Southern Baptist Convention among our founders as a denominational liberal.
Preaching at SWBTS chapel on October 26 (2016) is Alan Robertson, a Campbellite preacher who is best known as the cleanly shaven Duck Dynasty brother. Like other Campbellites, Alan Robertson teaches that we are justified by baptism. In other words, he teaches that baptism saves. While the Robertson clan may be popular among a wide swath of American Christian culture and in conservative, flag-waving politics, his doctrine is fundamentally opposed to the Sola Fide-drenched Gospel of Christian orthodoxy, not to mention to Southern Baptist teaching. A conservative Southern Baptist female cannot preach at Southwestern (the author of this article is in full agreement, by the way), but a Campbellite preaching a false Gospel can. Patterson’s so-called “conservatism” is fundamentally schizophrenic.
TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN BAPTIST REJECTION OF CAMPBELLISM
The Southern Baptist Sunday School board produced anti-Campbellite material for many years in order to educate Southern Baptists on the danger of their unorthodox doctrine and false gospel. Southern Baptists and Campbellites had great antipathy from the time of Alexander Campbell until the 20th century Revivalist movement gutted the SBC (and most of the rest of evangelicalism) of doctrinal distinctives and theological depth. Baptists responded not only vitriolically to Campbellism because their teaching that Baptism saves, but because their ‘Restorationist Movement’ fanaticism caused many Baptists to go the way of Landmarkism in response. That a Campbellite would preach in a Southern Baptist seminary truly would have astounded the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention – and not only the founders, but the early twentieth century leaders as well.
The document above is a pdf from the SBC Sunday School Board in 1900 providing “one hundred reasons for not being a Campbellite.” But apparently, our forbears couldn’t have anticipated the appeal of reality television celebrity status that has so bewitched Paige Patterson.
Southern Baptist antipathy toward the Campbellites come from a few points of grave theological disagreement:
First, Campbellites were founded by Alexander Campbell. Campbell and his father absconded from the Baptist faith in 1834, soon founding the Campbellite religion. Their chiefest initial claim is that no denomination was correct and that the “institutional church” lacked the apostolic authority to baptize (similar to the apostasization of Roger Williams). The solution was to restore the true and apostolic church, the actual church of Jesus Christ that went back to Galilee (a number of sub-christian sects were founded during the “Restoration Movement” during this time period, including Mormonism).
Secondly, the Campbellites approved baptism done in the name of Jesus only, as opposed to the Triune formula used by Christian orthodoxy, leaving them open to charges of Sabellianism (the Robertson clan, for example, uses the Jesus-only formula).
Third and most egregiously, Campbellites taught that Baptism saved – and not merely saved in the wider sense of an exhaustive Ordo Salutis – but that Baptism in fact justified (Campbellites still teach this today). The theological difference between Baptists and the Campbellites are in fact far, far greater than Baptists and Lutherans (who believe in baptismal regeneration but keep in tact Sola Fide) or other paedobaptists.
Fourth, Campbellites taught that in order to be saved, one must be baptized by a Campbellite minister (they still teach this today) and that one must be a member of a Campbellite church to remain saved (most still teach this today).
Fifth, there were other less significant differences, like their forbidding musical instrumentation, that are not heretical but still are greatly annoying to Baptists.
Baptists hammered Campbellites with sermons, books, lectures, Sunday School materials and advertising propaganda that warned them to flee from their false doctrines and warned others to stay away from Campbellites. Heck, they even suggested that maybe Campbellites acted the way they did because they were inbred. But perhaps to sum it up best, here’s screenshots of an anti-Campbellite poem published by the SBC Sunday School Board.
While the truly-traditional Southern Baptists might have had a particularly polemical vibe that is off-putting to modern day practitioners of soft-Christianity, it’s nonetheless amazing that in a little over one hundred years an SBC seminary president would be having a Campbellite preach to seminary students. Is there a good reason? Perhaps Campbellites have changed their doctrinal stances or repented of their teachings? Have Southern Baptists changed their doctrinal position? Has believing that Baptism saves less heretical than it was a hundred years ago? Of course, the answer to all of these questions is no.
The only thing that changed is that Southern Baptists, post Conservative Resurgence, have been lulled to sleep with the fairy tale that the good guys won – and because of that, theological liberalism is far from us. In fact, some of those who led the Conservative Resurgence have demonstrated the willingness to compromise and nearly each and every important doctrine that we hold dear.
And unfortunately, Paige Patterson is willing to compromise on the very Gospel itself.
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