Preserving Civility and Piety within the BGC

Ron Saari

March 29, 1999

Dear Fellow BGC Pastor,


This letter reflects our apprehension regarding the “exhaustive foreknowledge” resolution. In February, our churches received in the mail a packet of materials prepared by a group of “concerned Pastors” about a resolution for the annual meeting in June of 1999 in Florida. We as pastors and church leaders are apprehensive about the tone and intent of the action these “concerned Pastors” are taking. Please let us share our perspective with you. Their effort is to encourage the conference to pass a resolution on the “exhaustive foreknowledge” of God and use the resolution as a tool through which all other theological debates are filtered. First, we are troubled that their strategy is an attempt to amend the Affirmation of Faith through a resolution format rather than through the defined amendment process contained in the BGC Constitution. Clearly “exhaustive foreknowledge” is not found in the Affirmation and needs to be dealt with as an amendment.

Second, we are alarmed that this attempt to modify the 1951 Affirmation of Faith through a resolution will redefine a consensus core of beliefs that have held together a denomination and its educational institutions in ways that include persons from the Reformed, Arminian and Evangelical Pietist traditions. It moves the “Affirmation” towards a dangerous “creedalism” that is an anathema to our Baptist heritage.

Third, we are disheartened that a representative group of these Pastors chose not to honor the BGC leadership team’s request by letter (twelve of our district Executive Ministers, the President of the BGC, the executive Vice Presidents and the Chairman of the Board of Overseers) to withdraw the proposed resolution and to engage in a two year theological discussion about the foreknowledge of God issue and its importance. By their action of pressing ahead on this issue and ignoring the counsel of the leadership team they have politicized this issue. (see enclosed letter) Some could accuse us of the same tactic. However, we believe a dissenting viewpoint needs to be given an equal hearing.

Fourth, we are disappointed that these Pastors found unacceptable a report of theologians organized by the President of Bethel who investigated Dr. Boyd’s theological positions and unanimously found them to be within the spectrum of evangelical belief.

Fifth, we are troubled that some of the Pastors have misrepresented Dr. Boyd based solely on his belief of an Open View of the Future (through circulated theological articles) and have failed to acknowledge his ardent defense of Scripture, the trinity, the deity of Christ, salvation by faith, etc., which he expounds in class, in the pulpit in his BGC church, and on secular campuses throughout the Twin Cities. We have included a summary of Dr. Boyd’s position on the Open View of the Future.

Sixth, we believe this resolution, as proposed, raises as many or more questions than it seeks to clarify. Does “exhaustive foreknowledge” mean one has to believe in an extreme Calvinistic view of predestination? Is it helpful to propose a resolution clarifying the 1951 framer’s intention using an argument from silence? Does this new “hermeneutic” determine how one interprets the other sections of the Affirmation? Does a commitment to a specific interpretation of “exhaustive foreknowledge” have additional implications for issues like prayer, missions and theologies of evangelism?

Finally, the current Affirmation of Faith has allowed persons from diverse evangelical theological positions to respect one another and join together in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We fear that some of the framers of the resolution have articulated commitments that could lead to the pulling apart of this coalition. For example, some believe that God’s exhaustive foreknowledge must necessitate one’s belief in God’s predestinarian will (John Piper, “Comments on Trinity and Process”). Some hold that the evangelical Arminian tradition itself is suspect. For example, “Arminians think dangerous things and are on the brink of heresy frequently.” (John Piper in the 1998 Piper/Boyd foreknowledge debate).

We believe, therefore, that a resolution like this needs to be challenged. It has the potential to divide the Conference and unnecessarily divert us from our primary responsibility of building God’s kingdom. We want to maintain and strengthen our commitments to Pietism, evangelism and civility and not jeopardize them. Throughout the history of the BGC four Pietist themes have had the highest priority: 1) redemption through the shed blood of Jesus Christ; 2) a Bible-centered faith; 3) a desire for holy living; and 4) a commitment to evangelism. Pietists are known for their commitment to the irenic spirit and a prayer-filled life. Our prayer in this dialogue is Eph. 4:3; “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

If you are of a similar mind and heart and want to be part of an effort to either defeat this resolution and/or support the recommendation of the leadership team, please let us hear from you. Our organizing committee needs your input and support. If you respond we want to 1) list you as a supporting leader with your permission; 2) seek your input on issues to address; and 3) encourage you to participate with us in the development of a strategy for the annual meeting in Florida. It is our intent to conduct our analysis of the resolution issues in a spirit of civility and to proclaim as important preserving the Conference’s Baptist pietistic historical tradition. We have enclosed background material for the discussion of the “resolution.”

Thank you for considering our perspectives. We believe the stakes are high and look forward to your input and discussion.

Joyfully a Servant,

Ron Saari

Central Baptist Church

420 N. Roy

St. Paul, MN 55105

Ph: 651-646-2751

Fax: 651-646-0372

E-Mail: central at centralbaptistchurch dot com

Produced by the Communications Department, Baptist General Conference.

Please address comments or questions to GMBGCSTD at aol dot com

Ron Saari

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

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