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Ebenezer — The Document

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

Acts 23:11

A sermon from the previous October on Acts continued to ring in my head. It was one of those room-spinning moments. Surely God didn’t want us to leave! I know now that He was holding our hand through the dark tunnel and, at times, yanking us through to the safe side. Just like a toddler who digs in his heels, we didn’t believe leaving would be best. Surely not! But like I learned way back when, God loves us and He carries us through to His best.

The rest of the semester was brutal. We had several painful meetings. It’s all too personal to describe here. I was just glad that it was over come Convocation.

But it wasn’t over at all.

Grant and I were called to a meeting the second week after school let out, this time in the Administration Building’s “holy of holies” with BJU’s first- and second-in-command, Stephen Jones and Gary Weier. Were we scared? You betcha.

The tone of the meeting was very, very cordial. I was asked to take down a blog post on an old, abandoned xanga blog. I agreed and did so immediately following the meeting. Now, I mentioned in this meeting that I had recently edited the post to remove a particular person‘s name. I had heard from Monica Raab about a phone call she’d received from Jim Berg. Jim had explained to Monica at length how frustrated he was with me. I had a range of emotions at that time — from anger to disgust to hurt to complete confusion to finally sheer pity (to be so obsessed with me!). I had an email all written to him to say that “a little bird told me that you were frustrated by this blog post. I don’t want to add to your busy load. I’ve removed your name. Take care!” But I never sent it. I just edited the post. I figured that it would only fan the flames.

With or without Jim Berg’s name explicitly listed, the blog post was too controversial to keep up, I was told. They were getting “several” letters about it. To their credit, they advised one letter-writer, Matt Walker, to go to me personally and discuss his concerns. He went to Grant (not me) and shied away pretty quickly from any actual discussion of the issues. I was now recognizing a recurring pattern of behavior in the culture: avoid controversy, avoid discussion, and avoid women.

The second thing on the agenda was presented as follows: “We still need to resolve this disagreement, so we’d like you to write a statement of your position.”

Grant turned very practical and asked pointed questions in follow-up emails. A statement on our position on what exactly? “Your position on sin.” Sin? Our position on sin?? What’s that mean? What’s that? You quote Romans 3 and maybe a couple of confessions, and you’re done, right? ::shrug::

Grant pressed for further clarification. “Your position on sin in the Christian life.” was the response. Ah. Gotcha. I had been clued in by another friend that those within that Chaferian view of sanctification believe that the standard “historical Protestant” (a euphemism for “Reformed”) position was “perfectionist.” Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. They were obviously trying to be vague enough, it seems, to uh . . . well, give us enough rope to hang ourselves.

What Stephen and Gary really wanted, whether they knew it or not (and what we actually presented) was our view of sanctification. So we took a step back and set our sites on writing more of a “big-picture” document.

How would any of you feel if put into that kind of a position? We all know our theology in an “under the fingernails” sort of way: it’s woven into the moments of our lives and lived out in daily practicality. How many of us are ready to present a theological document that will stand up to the scrutiny of trained seminarians? Grant and I had four years of Bible classes under our belt, hardly a comprehensive view of systematic theology. But what I do know about is rhetoric, and I know from my friends trained in both rhetoric and religion that a good hermeneutic in one looks an awful lot like a good hermeneutic in the other.

Since I still had a task to accomplish, I did what any good researcher would do: I collected good sources and started writing. Right at that moment and through His providential care, God sent a complete stranger — or rather a friend I hadn’t met yet — to help. Chuck Hervas, BJU Board Member, passed along a document that proved to be our chief resource. It was exactly what I was praying we’d find — a conservative, fundamental Baptist source. Anyway, I know Chuck has read here, and I just wanted to tell him again how thankful I am for him and his listening to the Spirit’s prompting.

I wrote a rough draft, and then Grant dug in. We went through the usual back-and-forth approach we take with our joint writing projects. Then we had some friends read the document. An M.Div from Westminster. A few BJ Seminary grads. Another theology Ph.D. Other well-informed friends. One said quite concisely: “It’s a good summary of the standard Evangelical view of sanctification.” Good!

So some time in early June, we submitted our position statement on the doctrine of soteriology.

And then we waited.

16 thoughts on “Ebenezer — The Document

  1. Your position statement is well-stated and exactly the sort of logical process I’m looking for to help go through these thoughts and study them on my own from Scripture.

    Thank you very much!

  2. I come from a slightly different perspective, but I’d much rather know people who know why they believe things, than know people who agree with whatever ______ says. I’d also rather know people with whom I don’t agree on every point – it certainly makes discussions much livelier!

  3. I’m comfortable with the Wesleyan view, Dan. I may not say it all like Wesley would, but I would say that it’s pretty robust and grace-focused. It’s the variations from either that position or the Reformed that lose something, I think.

    And I’ve talked with my Lutheran friends a little about this, and their perspective is not one that I’ve digested yet. Still chewing on it. 🙂

  4. I love this bit from Combs!!

    “Although a Christian can be called carnal, his whole spiritual life cannot be categorized as such; he cannot be put into the category of carnal Christian because there is no such category. Every single Christian can be called a carnal Christian because every single Christian is carnal to some degree, but there is no distinct category of carnal Christian.”

    I remember finishing a certain highly recommended book while I was in high school and feeling that an impossible weight had been thrown on my shoulders. If I was acting/feeling/desiring, I was sinning. If I was sitting/submitting/being passive, I was sinning. No matter what I did or didn’t do, somehow I was rebelling. There was no chance to ever get out of the “carnal Christian” category because there was no way that I could reach the point of perfect harmony with Chris in every thought, word, and deed. I ended up wondering why I should even bother trying. No matter what I did, someone could point a finger and disapprove.

    Thank God that He has approved us already!

  5. It seems to me that all this hinges on defining “total depravity.” IOW: From a proper view of child-rearing (nurturing, training, discipline) to understanding sanctification, it seems your journey is revolving around how total depravity is defined, and how the differences in popular definitions shape our understanding of and relationships with our children & fellow believers.

  6. I’ll buy that, Mel. And if you define it the way the people who coined the term define it (The reformers) and the way Paul defines it, it means that we are totally unable to save ourselves. Luther’s The Bondage of the Will and all that. And not the way it’s been defined in more recent Christian Evangelicalism which ironically enough mirrors the pagan Gnostic view of the material/corporeal.

    And that’s what I was talking about way back when too.

  7. When I first ran across your blog a few months ago, “the document” was one of the first things I read. I remember at the time being curious about its origin. I think that it was very wise to answer a vague question about sin in the lager context of sanctification.

    Btw, I think you and Grant displayed the patience of Job throughout this process.

  8. Hi, Camille. The way you were treated at, uhm, that Unusual Place, is terrible. Not sure if you’ve followed it at all, but it sounds a lot like the way the PCA has treated the Federal Vision guys. “Shut up or get out,” complete with feigned justice and stacked committees. No real engagement of the issue(s) at hand.

    Although not nearly as painful as your experience, I faced similar attitudes (as a student) when I joined the Reformed Episcopal Church as a Senior. I was told that while it was clear this denomination was clearly orthodox, they weren’t fundamenalists because they didn’t practice separation (as defined by the school). Therefore I had to choose: leave the school or leave the church. And it should be noted I was living at home at the time, and while my parents didn’t like the fact I’d become Reformed (much less Episcopal) they allowed me to do what I believed to be right.

    Anyhow, back to the topic at hand, vis-a-vis sin and the Christian (what we might call “sin after Baptism”). Gal 3 and Romans 6 (baptized into Christ) are helpful — especially coupled with the Nicene Creed (one baptism for the remission of sins).

  9. Frank, as a recent member of the PCA, I feel compelled to answer your comment about the Federal Vision. I cannot speak to how the issue has been handled among the presbyteries or church courts, but there is a gigantic difference between the Federal Vision and Camille’s document.

    The BJU powers that be admitted that there was nothing unorthodox about what Camille and Grant wrote. By contrast, many folks within (and without) the PCA contend that the Federal Vision is *not* orthodox and runs counter to the historic protestant doctrine of justification. Whether or nor you agree with the view that critique of the FV (I infer that you don’t), you must realize that there is a difference between people who seek to rid their denomination of something they view as an *unorthodox* view of justification, and those who seek to rid their school of what they themselves admit is an *orthodox* view of sanctification.

  10. I recall a certain church (a number of years ago) was told by the BJU flowerpowers, that their music had offended a student (unnamed) and that unless this church reformed it’s music (as to not offend more unmentioned students in the future?) it would not receive the pope’s blessing of allowing BJU student’s to attend Sunday/Wednesday evening services.

    Outcome: former BJU preacher and dito assistant said, “So be it!”

    Alas, the church has grown, some folks quit fellowshiping with BJ ( aka resigned staff positions) and became full time members of said local church.

    Moral of the story. If you send your kids to BJU to get a good quality education and part of that education is learning to stand alone, (after they get booted for nose pick’n things)…then know that God is still Good!,

    Remember students, education isn’t just reading what someone else has written or what old BJ I, II or III has said at one time or another….Rather education is in the living!

    Life will throw some nasty curve balls at you……..Wait for your pitch!

  11. Had a lot of those curve balls, but when the morning joy finally came, it was beautiful ! Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

  12. I’m curious as to why you were so scared to write your views on sanctification, citing your comparitively small education in theology. If you felt strongly enough to write a chapter discussing rhetoric concerning sanctification (and had a position to take on it), then why feel inadequate to the task of defending that position? To me that begs the question: Did you not fully understand your position before you wrote that chapter, or were you just not confident enough in asserting your own views? Sorry if that’s a false dichotomy, just curious. 🙂

    1. Huh?

      I’m a rhetorician. I can talk rhetoric. I’m not a theologian. What’s the confusion here?

      When your all-powerful president gives you an assignment — especially upon which your entire life as you know it rests — you get a little nervous.

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