Alan Jacobs Talks to *The Atlantic* About Thinking, Conspiracy Theories, and the Nashville Statement (among other things)

ThinkIn case you haven’t seen it yet, here is a taste of Alan Jacobs’s recent interview with Emma Green of The Atlantic.  The topic is Jacobs’s new book How to Think:

Green: Some people look at our fractured media environment—where groups don’t even share facts to argue over—and see nefarious forces at work, like the Russians manipulating Facebook or consistent left-wing media bias.

You argue something different: that individual behavior makes it impossible to have a conversation across ideological divides. How do you reconcile your view with these kinds of structural analyses of the vast forces that pull America apart?

Jacobs: Conspiracy theories tend to arise when you can’t think of any rational explanation for people believing or acting in a certain way. The more absurd you think your political or moral or spiritual opponents’ views are, the more likely you are to look for some explanation other than the simplest one, which is that they believe it’s true.

Green: So what’s the boundary? How do you decide which ideas, people, and ideologies should be considered morally unacceptable

Jacobs: I’m probably going to regret this later on, but I’ll give you an example from the Christian world. A group of conservative evangelicals recently posted this Nashville statement about sexuality and transgenderism, as they call it. That was like a line in the sand. The idea is that now it’s time for you to decide: Are you with us, or are you against us?

Almost at the same time, I read something by a young lesbian woman who had recently been married, who was essentially saying to her friends, “If you attend churches where gay and lesbian Christians are not completely welcomed and affirmed, you’re not really an ally. So you need to decide: Are you on our side, or not on our side?”

I’m looking at that and thinking, “So, where is the space where Christians who find this complicated or difficult can talk?”

When people are drawing lines, saying, “I have settled this issue, and I want to be with other people who have settled this issue,” I think there can be really, really bad consequences. That’s saying, “I’m not interested in having that conversation anymore.” Sometimes, being a grown-up is realizing that there are issues you’d rather not talk about that you’re going to have to talk about.\

Read the entire interview here.

Southern Seminary Adopts the Nashville Statement

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If you want to teach at Southern Seminary, you just may have to sign the Nashville Statement.  The Board of Trustees recently voted to make it part of the school’s “confessional documents.”  Here is a taste of Andrew J.W. Smith’s piece at the seminary website:

The Nashville Statement is a document that affirms biblical teaching about gender and sexuality and seeks to clarify Christian beliefs on some of the most pressing cultural issues. It was published earlier this year by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and signed by evangelical leaders across the United States, including each Southern Baptist seminary president. That Southern Seminary adopted it, according to Mohler, is a matter of responsibility.

“Southern Seminary takes its confessional responsibility with great significance,” Mohler said in an interview immediately following the Board’s public session Monday evening. “Years ago, our Board of Trustees recognized the need of adopting certain statements that clarify and establish the meaning our longstanding confessional documents: the Abstract of Principles, adopted in 1859, and the Baptist Faith and Message, as revised in 2000.”

Like the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” and the “Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” — both previously adopted by the board — The Nashville Statement is a “timely addition” to that list of official documents, according to Mohler. Faculty members at Southern Seminary and Boyce College agree to sign and teach according to the Abstract of Principles and the revision of the Baptist Faith and Message. The Nashville Statement was adopted to help interpret those two binding statements and specify the seminary’s conviction on matters not directly addressed in the central confessions of the institution, Mohler said.

Mohler emphasized The Nashville Statement does not reflect new thinking. Instead, he said, it affirms historic Christian teaching about human sexuality.

Read the entire piece here.

I am sure that all the Southern Seminary faculty already affirm the beliefs set forth in the Nashville Statement.  But it unclear whether or not faculty will be required to sign it.  See our coverage here.

The New Fundamentalism

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Eric Johnson, an endowed professor of pastoral care at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, came to a gathering organized to celebrate the release of his 716-page InterVarsity Press book on “soul care” and used the occasion to announce his early retirement from the seminary.  Some say seminary president Albert Mohler fired his endowed professor because Johnson believes that the findings of modern psychology can be used by Christians in counseling and other forms of psychotherapy.

One of Johnson’s strongest critics is a Heath Lambert, an advocate of something called “biblical counseling.”  Lambert is the president of an organization called the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.  He believes that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is a “sufficient and an authoritative guide to counseling.”  He also rejects the use of drugs to treat depression and anxiety.

Lambert’s view of Johnson’s work is summed-up in this video.  He spends close to twenty minutes criticizing Johnson. Lambert calls Johnson’s work, among other things, a “total and utter mockery of God’s word.”

Now here’s the kicker:  Lambert also teaches counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I don’t fully understand everything Lambert is talking about in this video, but I am struck by the language he uses to describe one of his colleagues.  First, there is the potential awkwardness of it all.  I have never been to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I am assuming that it is a tight-knit community.  I assume that every now and then Lambert would have to pass Johnson in the hallway and attend a meeting where they are in the same room together. Second, I think it is safe to assume that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a tight-knit Christian community.  I have heard of faculty at large research universities saying nasty things in public about other faculty at the same university, but for some reason I thought faculty at an evangelical theological seminary might be held to a higher standard. All faculty disagree, but few do so in such a harsh and public way.

I am not a theologian or a Christian counselor, but I did take a few courses on these subjects in college and divinity school.  I remember learning about something called “nouthetic counseling.”  It was an approach, popularized by the Christian counselor Jay Adams through his 1970 book Competent to Counsel, that argued psychology and psychiatry were secular ideas that were radically opposed to the teachings of the Bible and thus could not be used in the practice of Christian counseling.  In other words, only the Bible could be used to help people overcome mental illness.  I think this view is akin to what Lambert and his organization call “biblical counseling.”  (Warren Throckmorton, are you out there?  I hope I am getting this right!)

During my education in evangelical institutions, my professors rejected nouthetic or biblical counseling.  My wife, who holds a masters degree in Christian counseling from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, was taught to integrate faith with psychology in her work. Frankly, I thought this whole debate over the use of psychology in Christian counseling was over a long time ago,  I guess I was wrong.

According to Bob Allen’s reporting at Baptist News Global, Mohler appears to support Lambert. In 2005, he moved the seminary toward a biblical counseling approach.  At that time Mohler wrote, “In this psycho-therapeutic age, it is really important that we think as Christians…that we employ authentically Christian thinking, biblical thinking, to human life, and that we do this in a way that, without apology, confronts and critiques the wisdom of the age and seeks the wisdom that can come only from God and God’s word.”

According to Allen’s article, it is unclear what role Mohler or Lambert played in Johnson leaving Southern Seminary, but hundreds of Johnson defenders signed a petition protesting his sudden departure  The signers believe that Mohler and Lambert had something to do with it.

I also wonder if something larger is going on here. Mohler and Lambert both signed the Nashville Statement on human sexuality.  (I did not see Johnson’s name on the statement, but I could have missed it).  This statement has been criticized by conservative evangelicals less for its content and more for its strident tone. Writing at Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed, an evangelical pastor chided the statement for its failure to portray “God-generated, Christ-displayed, and Bible-defined love.” McKnight himself argued that the statement did not reflect the pastoral heart of Jesus. It is hard not to see connections between Johnson’s new book on “soul care,” his departure from the seminary, and the criticisms of the Nashville Statement.

The folks at Southern and other conservative institutions in the Southern Baptist Convention have been pretty dogmatic of late.  They have been drawing lines in the sand and suggesting that anyone who crosses these lines should no longer be considered orthodox Christians.  If you want more evidence of this, go back and read my posts about Mohler back in September 2015 when Pope Francis visited the United States.  I realize that Mohler and the Catholic Church do not see eye-to-eye on most things, but I was struck by the fact that he made very little, if any, attempt to find common ground.

In this video, Mohler is drawing the line on biblical inerrancy.  And here he leads a panel on the subject with John MacArthur and others. One of the panelists–I think it’s Mark Dever (also a signer of the Nashville Statement)–suggests that it is Satan who occasionally draws the church away from inerrancy.  Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical school in Pasadena, California, also takes some hits on this issue.

Recently, one of these Southern Baptist defenders of the faith even compared himself to John the Baptist. (It reminded me of that time when Billy Sunday compared himself to John the Baptist or when J. Frank Norris once preached: “I tell you the spirit we need in this compromising, milk-and-cider, neither-hot-nor-cold–you want to know the kind of spirit we need?  We need the spirit of old John the Baptist when he told that Sanhedrin, ‘You are a generation of snakes.'”).

Would Mohler, Lambert (who, by the way, holds a Ph.D in counseling from Southern Seminary), and others academics in the Southern Baptist Convention say that the Christian counselor forfeits the right to be called an orthodox Christian when he starts drawing from the insights of modern psychology ?  I hope not, but I am not sure.

Whatever the case, the academic wing of the Southern Baptist Convention seems to believe that they are living in a moment when Christianity is under attack and must be defended. As Matthew Lee Anderson wrote in response to a colleague who pressured him to sign the Nashville Statement, “the urgency of the hour demands it.” Anderson added: “the impulse to close ranks and reassert evangelicalism’s identity publicly and the eagerness to indulge in the rhetorical excess of the statement’s importance have the same roots in the despair that governs our politics.”

Lambert’s video attacking Johnson, the apparent firing of Johnson, the tone and spirit of the Nashville Statement, Mohler’s attacks on Francis, and the use of inerrancy as a means of dividing evangelicals (I am sure I could find other examples as well) leads me to wonder if we are seeing a new manifestation of Protestant fundamentalism.  (I am sure some believe that this happened a long time ago in SBC circles). I have seen this kind of thing before.  I started my career writing about it.  Fundamentalists believe that the culture is under attack and orthodox doctrine is in jeopardy from outside forces.  They call their followers to circle the wagons, draw lines in the sand, and close ranks. Who is on the Lord’s side?  Who will be the true defenders of the faith in the sea of cultural, intellectual, and social change?  Who will take a stand?

Perhaps this is the kind of thing the church needs right now.  I am not convinced of it, but maybe I am wrong.  I do, however, find it ironic that many of the same Southern Baptists who seem to be adamant about drawing clear and decisive boundaries also seem to value the legacy of the so-called “neo-evangelicals” of the mid-20th century. the men who tried to bring conservative Protestantism out of its fundamentalist past.  They name their schools and centers after Billy Graham and Carl F.H. Henry and they admire  John Harold Ockenga, one of the founders of the National Association of Evangelicals. They adhere to the conservative theology of these giants of modern American evangelicalism, but do not seem to exemplify the irenic spirit of these men when they speak into public life.  Instead, they sound more like J. Gresham Machen, Curtis Lee Laws, Frank Norris, and William Bell Riley.

I don’t know Eric Johnson, but I hope he lands on his feet.

Another Conservative Critique of the Nashville Statement

Gaylord

I don’t know much about Matthew Lee Anderson apart from a few things I read every now and then in which he is defending traditional marriage.  I was thus was surprised to learn that he refused to sign the Nashville Statement on human sexuality.

Yesterday he published a critical piece on the Nashville Statement titled “Evangelical’s ‘Flight 93’ Moment: Reflections on the Nashville Statement.”  The piece is useful because it has a lot of links to articles and posts written by defenders and critics of the Statement.  It is good to have these links all in one place.

I was disappointed, however, that Anderson ignored Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz‘s critique of the Nashville Statement at The Pietist Schoolman.  It is the best evangelical critique of the Statement that I have read.

Anderson and Gerhz seem to be in agreement that the Nashville Statement reflects what we (and now many others) have been calling “The Age of Trump.”

Here is a taste:

The Nashville Statement is the Flight 93 statement. It is striking how similar its defenses have been to arguments that evangelicals should vote for Trump. The sense of crisis the preamble announces is so pervasive that it justifies not just any statement, but this one. Anything else makes the perfect the enemy of the good. One signer told me Article 10 alone should impel me to sign, because the urgency of the hour demands it. ‘Choose ye this day’, the statement announces, and voting third party is clearly a waste. The impulse to close ranks and reassert evangelicalism’s identity publicly and the eagerness to indulge in the rhetorical excess of the statement’s importance have the same roots in the despair that governs our politics. Those Nashville pastorswere right to detect an elusive commonality between evangelical support for Trump and the dynamics surrounding this statement, even if the vast majority of its signers were strong and faithful critics of Trump’s campaign.

Only time will tell, but I fear the Nashville Statement will be no more a win for conservative evangelicals than the election of Donald Trump. While it has exposed the silliness of progressive foes, it has also galvanized them and dangerously inflated our confidence in our own rightness and strength. The statement draws some of the right boundaries, but in the wrong way. And at least one boundary ought not to be drawn, or needs to be clarified. It comes to many right conclusions, but reflects principles and ideas that have born bad fruit within evangelicalism.

Read the entire piece here.

A Signer of the Nasvhille Statement Says that He and His Fellow Signers are Like Modern Day John the Baptists

Read Owen Strachan’s piece here.  (Try to move beyond the part, if you can, where he implies that those who did not sign The Nashville Statement are allowing paganism to creep into the church).

A taste:

The stance just taken by CBMW and the ERLC, in partnership with warm-hearted, Christ-loving evangelicals across the denominational spectrum, reminds me of another controversial public stance. Two millennia ago, John the Baptist came preaching Christ. His message was the Messiah; his call was to holiness. As John preached, he somehow gained the ear of Herod, a political leader. John had access to Herod, and he had the priceless opportunity to tell him of his need for spiritual salvation. Surely John spoke of these things.

But that was not all he said to Herod.

John the Baptist rebuked Herod for divorcing his wife and marrying his half-brother’s spouse, Herodias. Matthew’s Gospel gives a succinct record of John’s words to Herod: “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4). We have no extended prologue, no longer record of how the conversation went. Scholar R.T. France notes that John’s comments came in the context of “public denunciation” (France, Matthew, 555). It appears that this happened repeatedly; John did not merely warn Herod once but “kept on telling” him that he was sinning, and thus in danger of spending eternity in hell.

If our goal as Christians in a fallen world is to gain access to unbelievers and do all we can to keep it, let us be bracingly honest: John the Baptist did a poor job of it. He angered the governor, got sent to prison where he was chained to a wall, and occasioned his own beheading. Church history suggests that this was not enough for Herodias: she stabbed his tongue with her hairpin.

Here is the point for our considerations: It was not the announcement of the Messiah that ended John’s short life. It was the clear declaration of sexual ethics that sent him into eternity. It is a biblical curiosity, rarely preached on, but hugely important for us today in a similarly pagan context: The forerunner of Christ died because he called a wicked governor, a public figure, to repent.

We learn an invaluable truth through John’s martyrdom (he is after all the first martyr, killed even before Christ, showing us just how much of a forerunner he was).

Strachan suggests:

  1. John the Baptist was killed because he defended traditional sexual ethics.
  2. He and his fellow signers are like modern day John the Baptists, calling people to repent.
  3. The Nashville Statement will bring more people, not less, to Christianity.  Strachan concludes:  “The Nashville Statement does not represent a nuking of existing bridges to Christ. Calling sin sinful and urging the wayward to repent and trust Christ is not problematic for Christian witness. It is Christian witness. There is no witness without it. There is no love without it. There is no hope without it. Out of such a biblical conviction, let us build friendships with unbelievers wherever we can. Let us never stop emulating John the Baptist — let us tell the truth to them, the whole truth.”  Strachan looks like a pretty young guy.  I wish him well winning more young people to Christianity by pulling out the Nashville Statement while he is evangelizing.

I will let my readers chew on this one for a while.

More from the Pietist Schoolman on the Nashville Statement

Gaylord

Last week I called the Nashville Statement a “disaster.”  Even if one affirms the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, this statement seems unusually divisive.  (I thought Al Mohler’s defense of the Nashville Statement in this weekend’s Washington Post took a less strident tone).  Over at Facebook I compared the Nashville Statement to other attempts by conservative evangelicals to define who is an evangelical and who is not.  I am thinking here of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Evangelical Affirmations meeting of 1989.  I was an observer at the latter meeting while I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and I saw fierce debates over whether or not an affirmation of biblical inerrancy was a marker of evangelical identity.  I also watched an attempt to keep John Stott from the evangelical fold because he believed in annihilationism.  Many of the signers of the Nashville Statement were also in the Arnold T. Olson Chapel in Deerfield, Illinois on that Spring day in 1989.

Last week at the Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gerhz described the Nashville Statement as “theology for the age of Trump.”  I affirmed his decision to describe the statement in this way.  Many people who signed the statement or who were sympathetic to the signers, took offense to this.  They argued that a significant number of signers did not vote for Trump in 2016.  Fair enough.  But as Gerhz’s recent post suggests, such a response misses his point.  Here is a taste of that post:

It’s clear that the title of the post (“The Nashville Statement: Theology for the Age of Trump”) has been a stumbling block for some. Lamentably but understandably, they don’t necessarily want to read two thousand words’ worth of my musings. Incorrectly but understandably, they read the title and nothing else, assuming that I’ll simply dismiss the signers as Trump apologists, or John Fea’s “court evangelicals.”

I did try to head this off in the post. While noting that one prominent signer is Trump supporter James Dobson, I added that the list also includes Trump critics like Moore and Piper. (In retrospect, I should have added Burk to that list.). But if I wanted to bring more light than heat to the discussion, I should have stated that point even more forcefully before trying to place the Nashville Statement in the context of an “Age of Trump.”

So let me try to sum it up this way:

The Nashville Statement is meant to stand up against “the spirit of our age” on matters of sexuality and gender. But the way it is written actually evokes the angry, merciless, divisive discourse of our age — whose problems don’t start or stop with Donald Trump, but certainly are exemplified by him.

Bart thinks that some of us critics of the statement raised “mincing and squeamish complaints” about it. Recognizing that I am naturally averse to confrontation and conflict and perhaps too quick to cry “Peace, peace,” I nonetheless stand by my conviction that Christians should always write as winsomely and irenically as possible. Even when it’s absolutely essential to draw a doctrinal “line in the sand,” it should be with the intention of persuading people to join us on our side of that boundary, not of keeping them separated.

So no, the signers are not all Trump backers. (I don’t think most have made their politics clear, either way.) But in their attempt to present an evangelical witness in the year of our Lord 2017, I think it would have behooved the authors of the Nashville Statement — like any of us writing for a public that is inevitably bigger than the intended audience — to have gone out of their way to communicate in as un-Trump-like a manner as possible.

Read the entire post here.

335 Union University Alums Protest Administrators and Faculty Signing the Nashville Statement

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The Jackson (TN) Sun reports:

Four names from Union University were on the list of signatures on the Nashville Statement from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on Monday, and a group of university alumni were unhappy that representatives from their alma mater chose to be associated with it.

The Nashville Statement is a list of 14 statements affirming biblical teaching on issues pertaining to gender and sexuality, according to the council. A number of evangelical leaders from across the country signed their name to the statement in agreement, including Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention president Steve Gaines and nationally known evangelist John Piper.

Union University, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, was represented on the list as well as its president Samuel “Dub” Oliver, dean of School of Theology and Missions Nathan Finn, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy C. Ben Mitchell and associate professor of political science Hunter Baker.

Since its release on Tuesday, the Nashville Statement has drawn both praise and condemnation from across the country. Some of those who support it appreciate it’s clarity. Some of those who oppose it think its harmful toward LGBT people. In Nashville, many in the city, including Mayor Megan Barry, take issue with the statements moniker and say it doesn’t represent the city’s inclusive views. The statement was named after Nashville because a draft of it was finalized last week in Nashville.  

“I was disappointed when I read the statement and saw Union’s name attached to it,” said Caraline Rickard, who graduated from Union in 2012. “I was disappointed because the message had a harshness to it that isn’t consistent with the message we’ve heard from most evangelical leaders.

“The statements were consistent with the point of view of Union as an institution, but the Union I knew as a student delivered that point of view in a loving and kind way, and not hateful like this seemed.”

Rickard drafted an open letter opposing the names from Union on the list from Union alumni, and 355 alumni or former students have attached their names to it.

Union issued a statement on the issue this week.

“The Nashville Statement provides biblical clarity and compassion about these issues in a time when it is needed most,” Oliver said in the statement. “At Union, we always want to speak the truth in love.

Read the rest here.   It should be noted that Union University was one of a handful of Christian institutions of higher education that left the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities over this issue in August 2015.

The Nashville Statement is a Disaster

 

Gaylord

It is a disaster for all the reasons Chris Gehrz makes clear in his post today at The Pietist Schoolman.  (I should add the title of this post is mine). The so-called “Nashville Statement” is indeed “theology for the Age of Trump.”

I don’t really have much to add to Gerhz’s post.  I encourage you to read it.

Here is a taste:

So for those of you in that middle… Even if you admire at least some of its signers and affirm at least part of what it says on sexuality and gender identity, here’s why I think you should be bothered by the Nashville Statement:

While it claims to hold out a steadfast Christian witness against “[t]he secular spirit of our age,” it mostly succeeds in exemplifying theology for the Age of Trump.

I don’t just mean that releasing such a statement in the middle of an unprecedented national disaster — and in place of a much more urgently needed evangelical statement on white supremacy — exhibits what journalist Jonathan Merritt called “Trump-level tone-deafness.”

Nor that the authors have chosen to condemn “transgenderism” just days after Pres. Trump began to implement a ban on transgender persons serving in the military, only feeding the perception that whatever daylight separates Trumpism and evangelicalism is vanishing. (After all, that ban was reportedly discussed with Trump’s much-maligned evangelical advisers before he first tweeted his intentions last month.)

The Nashville Statement strikes me as theology for the Age of Trump because it’s being thrust into social media for little purpose other than to energize allies and troll enemies — distracting our attention from more pressing problems in order to demonize minorities whose existence causes anxiety among the many in the majority.

It’s not truth written in love of people who share innate human desires for love, self-worth, and identity, bearers of God’s image who know their own shortcomings far more acutely than what others presume to judge in them from afar.

It’s red meat tossed to the hungry members of a passionate, but small base. (Indeed, passionate because it’s small – and shrinking.) Part 2 of CBMW head Denny Burk’s follow-up blog post makes it sound like the Nashville Statement could conceivably stand in line with the historic creeds of the church universal. But this document is as un-catholic as you can get, speaking for a mostly-male, mostly-white slice of mostly-Reformed evangelical Protestantism in one country. Even then one of the co-founders of The Gospel Coalition didn’t even sign it. As far as I can tell, the only evangelical college presidents to endorse it represent schools that have quit the CCCU or never belonged to it. For no good reason, the document includes an article (#7) that excludes celibate gay Christians who might otherwise have been supportive. And there seems to be no representation of the African, Asian, and Latin American churches where theologically conservative Protestantism is actually growing fastest — nor of the Roman Catholic church, which only represents the majority of all Christians on the planet.

Read the entire post here.

One more thought:  I defend the right of the framers and signers of the Nashville Statement to release this statement and to hold the views on human sexuality they express.  And as much as I agree with everything Chris Gehrz wrote in his post, I hope that we might be able to work toward what John Inazu calls a “confident pluralism” on these matters.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the Nashville Statement gets us any closer to this kind of pluralism.