Summary of Dockery Interview and a Few Reflections

Tim Brister —  January 27, 2007 — 9 Comments

In case you missed it, be sure to go over and read the special announcement I made on my last post.  Please make it a point to join us in a two-hour live discussion with Dr. Dockery.

Here’s the interview in all of its parts:

Introduction and Biographical Summary 
Part 1: Opening Statements, Union University, and Gospel Unity
Part 2: Baptist Identity Conference, Theological Education, and Environment and Global Warming
Part 3: SBC Controversy and Cooperation   
Part 4: Resolutions, The Cooperative Program, and Calvinism in the SBC 
Part 5: Blogs, Worship, and a Concluding Word
Special Announcement: Monday Night with Dr. Dockery

My Post-Interview Reflections

Well, where do I begin?  After 20 questions and a 6,500+ word interview, it is hard to give a succinct summary of all the various issues addressed.  I suppose it would be appropriate to begin by responding to some of the perceived disappointment in the interview.

When I was preparing the questions for Dr. Dockery, I wanted to cover the issues that have been brought up over the past couple of years.  Questions of controversy as well as cooperation, about essentials and non-essentials, about the good, bad, and ugly aspects of the SBC were all addressed.  I have never held an interview before, and to be frank, I do not know what questions are politically correct to ask.  I think part of the perpetuity of the problems in the SBC is precisely because we have been avoiding the hard questions.  Yet, it is important to affirm as the interviewer that there was not a single question I asked that Dr. Dockery did not answer.  He was not selective in his answers nor did he shirk away.  He may not have answered the questions as you and I have liked, but when you are a President of a university and hold numerous positions on influential boards, committees, etc., you cannot shoot from the hip like bloggers with little accountability. 

Secondly, I think Dr. Dockery’s philosophy of question answering is consistent with his philosophy of life.  He is going to be clear and full of conviction over the essential matters of our faith and message, and he chooses to refrain from giving a dogmatic answer on non-essentials.  Even in the process of being descriptive by giving his opinion on a non-essential matter, because of his statesmanship and leadership in the SBC, every description would in turn become prescription–something Dr. Dockery is careful to avoid.  Therefore, I can totally understand his circumlocutory answers on the issues that would be divisive or contrary to his stated purpose to bring unity and consensus for a renewed Baptist identity.  We would do well to learn that we do not have to speak our mind on all issues, especially on the one’s that simply don’t matter.  Not only are there hills not worthy to die on, there are also not worthy of speaking about. 

Having said that, I want to provide a few quotes from the interview which I believe reveal Dr. Dockery’s heart and purpose as a leader in the SBC.  I have parenthetically noted what part of the interview you can find them.

“I believe this consensus must be grounded in our shared commitment to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Part One)

“We know that Particular Baptists, General Baptists, Landmarkists, and revivalists have had different points of emphasis, but I trust we can find commonality and shared identity in the essence of the Gospel.” (Part One)

“This year’s conference is significant because we believe it can help advance the conversations from that initial conference. It can address key issues that we face regarding the role of associations and state conventions, the importance of the cooperative program, and how we move from years of controversy to renewed commitments of cooperation.”  (Part Two)

“My concern is not for uniformity, but for a historically and theologically informed consensus that can bring renewal and unity to Baptist life. . . . We need to recognize that unity is a lofty biblical ideal expressed in the prayer of Jesus (John 17) and the teachings of Paul (Ephesians 4:1-6). I believe that inherent in a historically informed understanding of our Baptist heritage is the need for some flexibility and variety lest we place straightjackets around one another. We would do well to affirm the general principle:  ‘in essentials Unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.’” (Part Three)

“There is a need for theological triage where we are reminded afresh of those things which are primary in our Baptist heritage. I once heard someone say that in essentials, faith and truth are primary and we may not appeal to love or grace as an excuse to deny any essential aspect of Christian teaching. Yet, in non-essential matters love is primary, and we may not appeal to personal conviction or zeal as an excuse for failure to exercise grace or demonstrate love. Faith instructs our conscience. Love respects the conscience of others. Faith shapes our freedom; love and a concern for others limits its exercise.” (Part Three)

“Baptist need to cultivate a holistic orthodoxy, based on a high view of Scripture and congruent with the Trinitarian and Christological consensus of the early church. Only in this way will we avoid the dangers of fundamentalist reductionism on the one hand and liberal revisionism on the other. I would suggest that our shared Baptist work cannot move forward without confessional convictions or confessional boundaries. This, however, as I mentioned earlier, does not mean we should expect or demand uniformity of belief or conviction on secondary matters.” (Part Three)

“Such historically grounded confessions (conciliar creeds and Baptist confessions) can help us think rightly about faith and how we relate to one another in love within our convention, pointing out for us the important differences between primary and secondary issues in Christian doctrine and practice.” (Part Three)

“It would help us to learn to respect those with whom we might have disagreements. In doing so I pray that we can move beyond confusion and controversy to a new consensus focused around the Gospel. This Gospel centered consensus, I trust, will help us develop a renewed appreciation for developing a theologically, historically, and biblically informed identity of what it means to be a Southern Baptist.” (Part Four)

Do you see his heart here?   Clearly, his passion is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  His goal is to bring consensus among Southern Baptists from all stripes for a renewed understanding of what it means to be Southern Baptist–through a “theologically, historically, and biblically informed identity.”  In this interview, there were essential matters addressed, to which Dr. Dockery gave clear and direct answers.  For instance, he addressed open theism, postmodernism, universalism, soteriological pluralism, mushy anti-intellectualism, fundamentalist reductionism, and liberal revisionism.  On these issues he stressed unity.  On the other hand, there were non-essential matters addressed, to which Dr. Dockery did not give juicy quotes or provocative statements.  For instance, he basically ducked the entire question on the alcohol resolution.  He also sought to bring balance and appreciation to the Reformed and non-Reformed aspects of our Convention.  In these instances, he stressed liberty.  As you look at the entire interview, you will find charity in all things.  I especially appreciate the words of encouragement to the younger generation of Southern Baptists who are jumping ship because they see the iceberg coming.  His humble, compassionate appeal is refreshing and uplifting to those of us who have been written off as “dissenters.”

Now, I would be amiss to say that I agreed with Dr. Dockery on everything he said (who agrees on everything by the way?).  For instance, Dr. Dockery said,

“The fact that Dr. Ascol’s motion was not presented by the committee does not mean that Baptists are not committed to a regenerate church membership. I would go so far as to say that it has been and must continue to be one of our key distinctives. “

Tom’s resolution was submitted in due process and simply was not accepted.  I do think that it is indicative to our current leadership in the SBC and their failure to address the more significant matters of our Convention.  There is overwhelming data to reveal that as Jim Eliff puts it, we largely an unregenerate denomination and have dropped the ball on integrity in church membership.  Since Greensboro, the major distinctive of regenerate church membership is diminished and now the new distinctive of Southern Baptists is whether you are an abstentionist or not (as we have come to see in the Florida Baptist Convention where you have to hold to their position of abstentionist to cooperate or serve in leadership positions).  It is at this point where Dr. Dockery’s goal (any my goal as well) is threatened.  We are not looking for consensus over non-essential matters such as alcohol, but the gospel.  The issue here is not alcohol but the Baptist belief of the sufficiency of Scripture as well as future cooperation among those with whom we differ on non-essential matters.  To have men like Dr. Jerry Vines say that differing on non-essential matters such as alcohol shows that we are on “the road to apostasy” reveals just how badly we need new leadership with a new vision for the future.

In conclusion, let me share a little historical tidbit for perspective on the day in which we live.  Towards the end of the 19th century, emerging fundamentalism was sweeping America.  Jonathan and Charles Blanchard, both conservative and radical, fostered a fundamentalist outlook whereby nonessential matters were elevated to essential matters which comprised their identity and served as a litmus test for cooperation.  In light of such controversy, a man by the name of Dwight Lyman Moody came on the scene and quickly became known as the principal progenitor of fundamentalism.  However, there was one “fundamental” trait missing from Moody, namely that he was not a man of controversy.  He made it his ministerial goal to focus only on winning souls, and whatever did not pass that pragmatic test he opted out.  Now, there were serious issues and implications which arose from Moody’s anti-theological, retreat-oriented approach to issues of his day, but there is something to say about a man who made it his focus to win people to Christ and focus on the gospel.  Moody was a man for his time, and in the same sense I believe Dr. Dockery is a man for our time.  Here you have a man who is competent to address the essentials of our faith and do so with great intellectual acumen as well as great evangelistic fervor.  He also has incredible knowledge of our baptist history, tradition, and identity and knows the importance of retaining the doctrinal and ecclesial distinctives which have made us Southern Baptists.  Dr. Dockery is not a man of controversy.  He is a man with a gospel-centered focus who seeks a consensus which promotes cooperation.  Such consensus cooperation is founded in Scripture and supported through our historical confessions of faith.   

As we continue to work together for the glory of God, advancing God’s kingdom, and building His Church, I pray that the SBC finds more leaders who are not fighters but builders, not fundamentalists but evangelists, not carrying their own agenda, but the agenda of God and His Great Commission.  Personally, I thank God for such providence that He would give us a man like Dr. Dockery to renew our commitment to the gospel and revive our hopes for a better future. 

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9 responses to Summary of Dockery Interview and a Few Reflections

  1. Brother, let me say that you are a true blogging innovator!What a great series. I would love to see Dr. Dockery as SBC president some day.

    Regards,

    Les

  2. Les,

    Yeah, a lot of people want him to be president, but as Dr. Dockery said, his heart is at UU, and I don’t blame him for that. God is doing some great things there, and I don’t see him running any time in the near future.

    BTW, glad you’re back in the blogosphere. :) Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Timmy

    The interview was great! and your reflections were convicting, considering that I have often been frustrated by some SBC leaders’ dancing around questions–a topic one of my friends and I return to often. And for the most part, we (frustrated as we might be) come to the same conclusion as you have, namely that men in positions such as Dr. Dockery’s have to focus on the essentials so as not to bring disdain on their positions.

    Although I have a question i would like to hear your opinion on. Do you think the various divisions in the SBC are being rightly addressed when the non-essentials are not confronted head on by the Southern Baptist higher-ups? It seems like in not directly addressing the issues that unity is neither encouraged nor discouraged. But should we as Christians not always labor to unabashedly encourage unity? And if we are going to do so, should not the various issues be directly addressed?

    It just seems to me that if we say “in the non-essentials liberty,” and then gloss over the actual issues, then whatever the issues is will continue to cause division with in the convention–and on a greater scale within the universal body of Christ. In other words, should we not only say “in essentials Unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity,” but also follow that statement up by dealing with the particular issue at hand—whether it be an issue of legalism (such as the alcohol resolution etc…), or and issue of antinomianism?

    (Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Augustine and Dockery fan, and think that if the Church would apply that quote She would save herself allot of hurt. I only think that in order for the quote to be applied, then the issues have to be addressed. And if there is anyone qualified to address the issue, it is men such as Dr. Dockery who are spiritual giants and heroes to all of us.

    I also do not want to come across as though I am seeking to undermine Dr. Dockery or his position as President at Union. I have a deep respect for his work, and know that he is much wiser than I.)

    Soli Deo Gloria
    Mark

  4. Mark,

    Thanks, and I appreciate your concerns. Going back to Moody, one of the serious failures of his leadership style is that he glossed over the issues of his day and adopted the retreat-oriented approach. I think Dockery differs very much on this matter.

    If the issues have not been addressed, I believe they will be in the future. It is important to note just when and how they are addressed. Furthermore, as Dr. Dockery told me, Paul was all about fighting the good fight, and part of that involves know when, where, and how to fight.

    Overall, I think the tone and rhetoric is changing in the SBC. With a more positive, optimistic, and constructive tone, I think the issues can be fairly and adequately addressed. We cannot afford, however, to have a rosy-eyed optimism that is naive to our current situation. In the same sense, we also cannot afford to have an unprincipled dissention or carry a disposition where one is unnecessary pessimistic. It remains to be seen what the SBC will do with the private prayer languages (PPL), the emerging church movement, and even Calvinism. From many of the higher-ups, there seems to be a conspiracy of silence while with some bloggers, more has been said than needs to be said. In any case, I hope this interview would serve to remind us that the fight we have before us (as was before Paul) was over the gospel of Jesus Christ and the essentials of our faith.

  5. Good word. Thanks for your work. I have profitted from it in many ways!

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