Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Baptist Faith and Message

Many years ago I was given a copy of the Baptist Faith and Message (1963) which I read so that I could become more familiar with what it meant to be a Baptist. When I became a Christian in the mid-90's I found myself as a "Baptist" by virtue of the fact that a Baptist church was the only church I had ever attended, but since then I have not found any compelling reason to depart from my Baptist background (though gosh it has been tempting at times). Recently I have been wondering, if I ever moved to the States (no plans to though) which Baptist group would I belong to? In Australia we don't have this problem as there are only really two options. First, the Baptist Union of Australia who range from solid evangelical to charismatic to mild-liberal. And then there's the Independent Baptists, KJV only, no-alcohol, anti-charismatic, and anti-lot's of other stuff too. America certainly has a lot more "Baptist" options. One denomination that intrigued was the Baptist General Convention of Texas. In particular they have on their website a comparison between the 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) which I thought was riveting. I knew "of" the 2000 BFM ratified by the Southern Baptist Convention but didn't know its significance apart from making complentarianism a matter of doctrinal discipline. As far as I can tell the most significant change is that whereas the 1963 BFM stated that Baptist Faith and Practice is grounded in "Jesus Christ whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures" the 2000 BFM declares that, "Our living faith is established upon eternal truths". That entails a switch from "Jesus Christ" to "eternal truths" as the foundations of faith and fellowship.

Let me make it clear that I'm not an SBC member and I'm not someone who makes a hobby out of knocking the SBC since I have many SBC friends. Perhaps there is a reason for the 2000 BFM change anchored in the Moderates vs. Conservative battles of the 1980s which I am not privvy too - I welcome correction. But for the life of me I just do not understand how you can make anything other than Jesus Christ the centre of Christian theology and Christian faith. I don't know whether "eternal truths" means Scripture, Doctrine, or Confession, but either way if you make anything other than Jesus Christ the establishing principle for faith I think you've got problems. I have often rolled my eyes at liberal who say that Evangelicals believe in: "God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Holy Bible". But at moments like these I think they might actually be onto something.

I have been present on ocassions where someone has asserted that Jesus Christ is the centre of faith and practice and the same person has been lampooned as being purely "Barthian" [note: no offence to Alan Bandy and one of his recent posts, I have other people in mind]. To that I say: (1) So what? Barth isn't the boogey-man that many Evangelicals make him out to be (and let me say also, I'm definitely not Barthian). (2) Let's not commit the genetic fallacy of confusing the truthfulness of a certain view with its origin. Truth is truth wherever you find it, whether that's on the lips of Karl Barth or Satan himself and I'm convinced that these two are not strictly identical. (3) Analogy does not mean genealogy. Just because I espouse a christocentric view does not mean I get it from Barth. I think simply reading the NT is enough to indicate that Jesus is the central theme of the NT.

I rather like Michael Pahl's statement that:

"The foundation of our faith and of the Church is Jesus Christ, not Scripture; the ultimate revelation of God is Jesus Christ, not Scripture; the written Word of God (inspired Scripture) is a witness, along with the Spirit and the Church, to the spoken Word of God (the gospel of Jesus Christ) and the living Word of God (Jesus Christ himself), and it is in Him, not Scripture, that all the facets of salvation find their source. All this is Scripture's own self-testimony, the testimony of the Church historic and universal, and the testimony of my own experience in concert with other believers."

Interested parties should read Andreas Kostenberger's response "Jesus and the Bible" to Dan Wallace's piece "My Take on Inerrancy".

Please note, I'm not trying to knock the SBC. But I think it is worth having a solid and frank discussion about the place of Bibliology in Theology and its relation to Christology. Although this might be an intra-Baptist dispute, I imagine that the topic is of interest to others as well. Let me ask everyone: What is more central, Jesus Christ or Scripture, or is this a false dichotomy? And why do you think so? I'd like to hear from those in the SBC, non-SBC Baptist's, and other interested parties.


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post, Michael. SBC has always emphasized the centrality of the Bible without undermining the supremacy of Jesus Christ and his role as God's Final Revelation. Nonetheless as a member of the sbc church, I (sometimes) feel that we, as a denomination put more emphasis on the Bible than the person and work of Christ. At any rate, it is clearly expressed in the NT that Scripture points to Christ and was written as a witness to him.

I will be glad to hear what other sbc members have to say on this particular issue.

Anonymous said...

Let me ask everyone: What is more central, Jesus Christ or Scripture, or is this a false dichotomy? And why do you think”

I hesitate to submit an answer for two reasons: (1) I'm afraid somebody will misread me (2) I never thought thoroughly about the pertinent topic.
Having said that, the puzzling question is: how does one know about Christ? Doesn't the knowledge about Christ come solely from Scripture? Most assuredly yes. Doesn't that make the Bible more central than Christ, himself? I am afraid not. Why?
Well, let's reason :( 1) we know about Christ in/through the Bible (2) only in the Bible God chose to reveal his Son to the world. In addition, both Old and New testaments point particularly to one figure, Jesus Christ, himself. If Scripture itself was written in account of One particularly person, mainly Jesus Christ, the God-Man; at least, it seems plausible that Christ is more central than the witness itself.

By contending for a Christological centrality, I am not belittling the doctrine of divine inspiration of the Bible (or its authority & efficacy).

tony siew said...

Hi Celucien,

I would argue that knowledge of Christ does not come solely through Scripture. It by the Spirit or to whom the Father chooses to reveal that Christ is known (1 Cor 12:3) and certain individuals have encountered Christ without reference to the Bible.
The real question is whether we can continue to know Christ in a meaningful way without the Bible? The answer is no! Those who have met Christ through direct encounters invariably hold a very high view of Scripture because the Spirit witnesses or testifies to their spirits that the Bible is the very words of God (Calvin).

Michael Pahl said...

Hey, thanks for the quote. Now I know I'm not completely crazy, or if I am at least I have some good company! :-)

Wayne Leman said...

Christ is ontologically more central than the Bible, but this has nothing to do with the authority of the Bible. If we had no Bible, Christ would still have lived, died, and come back to life. If there were no Christ, our Bible would have no authority since it would simply be a product of the Church (a position which some people claim, anyway, but I cannot).

Scripture is our clearest way today we have of knowing about Christ, but I agree with another commenter that we also have other ways of affirming truth about him, including a few extrabiblical comments about him in historical writings soon after his time, and the witness of those who spent time with him, their witness preserved through the centuries in the witness of the Church.

Personally, I think it is wrong to pit Christ vs. Scripture, but it is even more wrong, IMO, to place more faith in Scripture than in Christ himself. I come from a conservative background where we come perilously close to that at times. And some statements in the questioning of Dan Wallace's comments seem to me to approach that dangerous line as well.

Worship of the Bible, no matter how sincerely for purposes of defending "God's Word", is idolatry, just as much as any other form of idolatry.

J. B. Hood said...


In high school my sister went to one of the most powerful SBC churches in Texas; my girlfriend attended a more moderate "Texas Baptist" church. Tough stuff all that. I'd have to say that SBC reaction to liberalization was correct in most of its impulses (in my view) but (in my view) far from helpful in some of its applications and implications.

I'm not a Baptist, so there's a good bit I can't comment on (polity; 'soul competency'; etc) which I reckon to have some significant bearing on the issues in question.

CJW said...

Mike, your description of the variety in the Baptist Union leaves out rabid fundamentalists.

Jim Hamilton said...


I think this was prompted by people who rejected things that Paul says, such as, "I don't permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man," in favor of the supposed "spirit of Jesus." Since Jesus was nice to women, these people drew the conclusion that he would have been glad to have women teach men and exercise authority over them, so they pitted Jesus against Paul and rejected Paul's words in favor of their impression of what Jesus would have done.

Add a little higher criticism in with such a method, and you can almost make Jesus be whatever you want him to be, without reference to what the Bible says. Jesus winds up looking and sounding a lot like a moderate to liberal North American Academic.

My suspicion is that this is the kind of thing the framers of the BF&M 2000 were trying to address,


Grosey's Messages said...

Yes jim I would agree with you there. I think the issue was propositional revelation versus subjective "revelation", whatever "the spirit of Christ in me " might indicate to be true (for me).
G'day Mike from one of your first pastors.