Friday, January 2, 2009

A Consideration of Ben Cole's Parthian Shot

Playing politics inside the church or its official organizations (like seminaries, conventions, or synods) is a lot like playing with fire; play with it enough and you will get burned. Ben Cole has found this out first-hand. I am sad that he is leaving the SBC, even though I have never met him and never even knew of his blog (which seems to have been removed), but am even more sad that he fought the fight he did.

In a recent article, Ben Cole spouted venom over Paige Patterson, his wife, and his associates. He also intoned that the SBC was a worse place on account of these individuals. He also implied that he has worn himself, and his welcome in the SBC, out over fighting these people. It was a fight that he could never win.

Let me put my cards on the table (a dangerous thing to do, I've found). I am not a fundamentalist, but I am not a "moderate" either. I would consider myself a conservative. I have been moving closer and closer to the SBC while Mr. Cole has been moving further and further away from it. The politics of the SBC don't draw me in, rather, they repulse me. I don't agree with all of the lifestyle statements of the SBC schools either (although I abide by them); that is, the ones that are enforced in spite of a void of biblical warrant for their enforcement. But the doctrines and the newfound commitment to those doctrines are sound. Ben Cole is leaving those, too.

Ben Cole said that the SBC is better off without him (maybe), and that he is better off without the SBC (doubtful). What a shame. He is leaving one of the few denominations left that is holding on to Scripture for dear life. And he has painted the whole convention to be a brood of vipers.

I do not know Paige Patterson personally, and I barely know the president of my own seminary, Dr. R Albert Mohler. I do not know what these men are like behind closed doors, and they have not invited me to find out. If these men are vipers for "taking over" the SBC, It is up to God and not men to deal with them. What I have seen of Dr. Mohler, though, is his commitment to Scripture and his desire to bolster the church in the face of all opposition. His vision and his passion are why I have come to Southern and why I have endured hardship after hardship to continue here. These men are only men, however, and are therefore sinners. I do not expect perfection from Dr. Mohler or Dr. Patterson. Instead, I expect commitment to growing in holiness from them and from myself.

It is at this point that I feel Mr. Cole has been found lacking. Again, I do not know the man, but I have read at least a snippet of his work. Something is decidedly wrong when one is reduced to libeling a president of a seminary and his wife. To call a woman "one part old lace and two parts arsenic", as he has done, is not giving a reasoned argument against a person's position. It is a personal attack that does not belong in public (or in private). I suspect that Mr. Cole is the product of the old guard moderates who once ran this institution along with several others, but even so, the kind of rhetoric he employed in his last letter has no place in an argument.

I am sure there are points at which Mr. Cole and I would find hearty agreement, but somewhere he allowed politics to trump Scripture and I am saddened to see it happen. I doubt he will ever see this note, but I would urge him to humble himself and seek the Lord, because he is not acting in a holy fashion.

He has allowed hatred and hurt to fuel a recalcitrance within him and has hardened himself against an entire convention made up of many people who love the Lord. Further, he is abandoning his post, his calling, and his commitment to specific doctrines because of his hardness and because of the actions of certain other men. That he has chosen the area of least resistance, rather than suffering for his faith (and men of faith are often especially persecuted by their brethren), should be a warning to him and to the rest of us that we must not go down the path of grumbling and complaining. Please believe that this is a hard lesson that I, myself, have been learning the last several years.

Mr. Cole I urge you to reconsider your present position. It is my hope that you will submit yourself to the judgment, the mercy, and the love of our Lord, even if it is not granted by other men. I also hope you will see that you have thrown the "baby" out with the bathwater, and that you will repent of that. I urge you to consider what you will lose if you leave.


Matt Privett said...

From what I understand Ben Cole used to be a Patterson protege, I believe when Patterson was president of SEBTS. Unfortunately the venom you have quoted has been par for the course from Mr. Cole for some time. There is much to disagree with Dr. Patterson about, but Cole and several others sharing his views have gone out of their way in recent years to so often attack the man (and his wife) and not the views.

Steven Douglas said...

Thanks for the clarification, Matt. It is such a shame that he felt this was the way to express himself.

Timothy L. Decker said...

Curious, Steven. What do you believe to be the tenets of fundamentalism and conservatism as it relates to theology. I ask b/c you say you are not a fundy but you are conservative. I just wondered what you meant by that.

Steven Douglas said...

Hey Tim,

Thanks for asking a great question. I am not sure I have a well-defined answer. I'll attempt one though. Partly this is a matter of playing the name game. Some view conservatives and Fundamentalists to be one and the same. This is especially true from the opposing side ("liberals"). Others, including myself see a difference. I will list what I perceive to be similarities and differences between the views.

1) Both cons. and fundies believe the Bible to be authoritative (separating them from liberals) and inerrant (separating them from most moderates).

2) Both cons. and fundies are interested in preserving Scripture and what they view to be its right application to life. They often differ, however, on what that looks like.

3)cons are solidly "Evangelical," whereas fundies generally are not. That is, the main difference (as I see it) between cons. and fundies is whether or not they will engage the surrounding, non-Christian or non-Evangelical culture. Fundies, therefore, may be members of the same denominations or, in some cases, even the same churches as cons. There may be interaction between fundies and cons., but almost never between fundies and liberals (unless the fundy is forcing himself to "evangelize." But even then that may be stretching the fundy moniker).

The fundy's desire to be sequestered from the rest of the world often leads to almost cultic or impractical views of the faith because there is little interaction with those of differing views. While the idea is to keep doctrine pure, it tends to result in a skewing of the doctrine over time.

I hope that running definition might be helpful. I have known people who have considered themselves fundamentalists even though they have been thoroughly Evangelical, but I think these have accepted the liberals' moniker, maybe even with a smack of pride. I am an Evangelical conservative because I am willing to examine scientific/archaeological evidence from skeptics and see if they have merit. Some have a measure of merit, often many are skewed by skepticism. I think that keeping the door open to dialogue and possible collaboration is important, though. I would sure love to hear your thoughts on it, Tim.

neofundamentalist23 said...

Now I see the backgound for your question to me. Have you heard of the term "neo-fundamentalist"? I think that is how I have heard your position described. I don't think that fundamentalists - at least the ones i know - are quite as cultish or clique-ish as the ones with whom you are familiar, however the issue of separation is very much at the center of the differences beetween our position and yours. However, be that as it may, I do appreciate your discourse. Have a great one!