Friday, May 15, 2009

Sweatting Bullets

Yesterday, in a conversation around the church, someone raised the historical fact that when Christian denominations and associations devolve into apostasy, it's never because apostates secretly gained a majority. Rather, it's because, when faithful believers exposed the apostasy and attempted to combat it, far too many people who believed all the right things refused to expel it. It happened in the Northern Baptist Convention. It happened in the Northern Presbyterian Church, and for decades (until 1979) it was the ethos that held sway in the Southern Baptist Convention.

It was with that conversation fresh in my mind that I began listening to Danny Sweatt's talk. Fortunately for the FBF, Sweatt is not an apostate (unless my wild speculation about open theism is correct, that is). But I think the principle holds. Too often, good men in a network of relationships refuse to publicly expose, repudiate, and eradicate grievous error in their midst—error that strikes at the heart of what they profess to hold in common. And when those otherwise good men abdicate their obligation to protect what they profess to treasure, they should not expect to to possess credibility as leaders. They have no right to expect followers. They are not leaders.

Kevin Bauder is a leader. He is one of a very few among perceived fundamentalist leaders who deserves credibility because he not only defines what he treasures, but exposes and pillories what threatens it.

I suspect that by now everyone has seen Kevin Bauder's systematic and succinct dismantling of Danny Sweatt's screed. It's being discussed pretty much everywhere we've grown accustomed to finding meaningful conversations in the fundamentalist blogosphere, and perhaps some where we haven't.

Too often fundamentalist "leaders" have named names of the conservative evangelicals with whom they disagree on one point or another. Sometimes those matters are significant, and sometimes they're quite peripheral. Seldom, at least to my awareness, have those same fundamentalist leaders named names of offenders, like Sweatt, within their own camp. Let's not pretend Sweatt's preposterous ramblings are unique among fundamentalist conferences or churches or camps or chapels. I wonder if this issue is simply more of a hot-button than most.

The specificity of Bauder's critique is refreshing. It's refreshing in part because it's new. Offenses like Sweatt's are not. So if I have the smallest quibble with Bauder's essay, it's his suggestion, "We did not create the problem." Last I knew, Bauder wasn't in the FBF. He didn't create the problem. But I'm not sure "we" is the best word choice.

FBF leaders, among other leaders, certainly have created this problem. Those who select these speakers are directly to blame, but so are those who've participated in the FBF while pleasantly tolerating this sort of thing. Does anyone seriously think that the sort of exegesis and argumentation Sweatt put on display was an aberration for him? Does anyone want to suggest that fundamentalists have a good track record of elevating only faithful expositors to the most prominent pulpits and platforms? In many [chirp, chirp]

I'm not suggesting that my generation and the ones coming after me will not, or even have not, created our own problems. We have, and we will. We must be repentant and reforming—always. I'm also not suggesting that there is no place for staying in a flawed association and working towards incremental reform. As a member of an SBC church that's engaged in incremental reform (and in a quite public fashion), I pray that the strategy succeeds in all sorts of associations, not only my own.

One might well wonder whether fundamentalist leaders have been as transparent and critical in their public assessment of their own associations as various conservative evangelical leaders have been concerning theirs. Today was a great step forward. May there be many more. We need them.


Paul said...

FYI--Your link to Bauders article sends me to what he wrote in April 2007.

Sweatt's words absolutely demanded a response and I am glad to hear Dr. Bauder spoke up. I look forward to reading it.

Ben said...

Paul, thanks for the heads up. Apologies for the bad link. I shouldn't have trusted the source without checking. Fixed now.

Chris said...

This is not an aberration for Pastor Sweatt. He is and has been a known quantity among the FBF. The only difference here is that he ranted in a more public venue than he is normally confined to.

Kelli Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Ben. I hadn't read this when I asked for your thoughts on the Bauder essay.