EDITOR’S NOTE: Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has authored two articles on the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message which appear on the seminary’s Web site. One article references a lesson in BCE’s Real Baptists curriculum. Bob Setzer, author of the lesson, has written an open letter to Hemphill. The letter appears below. Setzer’s lesson, “Meeting Jesus,” is available without charge on BCE’s Web site at http://www.baptists4ethics.com/rb_samp.htm
February 8, 2001
Dr. Kenneth S. Hemphill, President
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
P. O Box 22000
Ft. Worth, Texas 76122-0418
Dear Dr. Hemphill:
Your web article, “Is the 2000 Confession Guilty of Bibliolatry?,” misrepresents my writings.
I do not know if your portrayal of my lesson, “Meeting Jesus,” in Real Baptists: Spotlighting Changes in the Baptist Faith and Message, was a deliberate distortion or careless scholarship. Either way, it was wrong.
Fair-minded readers may read my lesson at baptists4ethics.com and compare it with your summation. Readers may download this lesson for free and see for themselves if you accurately convey the spirit and substance of my writing.
The thrust of the lesson argued that at its heart, the Christian faith is a dynamic, unfolding process of knowing, loving, and following Jesus. Can this Jesus be divorced from Scripture? Absolutely not! Nothing I said suggested otherwise. Quite to the contrary, the lesson was steeped in Scripture, as I trust my life and ministry ever shall be.
My quarrel is not with the Bible as the only sufficient rule for faith and practice. My quarrel is with those who place creedal formulations between the believer and the Scripture.
I’m an old-fashioned Baptist. I still believe that an earnest Christian with an open mind and heart, sitting before an open Bible, can expect to encounter the living God. And that Jesus is known most fully, not in creedal distillations of his “truth,” but in faithfully following him in keeping with the New Testament witness, and in the fellowship of the church.
If I understand your position correctly, you fear such an approach is fraught with peril. An ordinary believer before an open Bible–without benefit of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, I presume–might wind up following the Jesus of the Mormons or the Jesus of the New Age Movement. Ironically, such groups propagate the same error as creedal Baptists. They introduce an authoritative guide to the Scriptures–the Book of Mormon or some New Age philosophy–as the definitive guide for interpreting Scripture. In the process, the Bible’s vital witness to the living Christ is muted beneath stifling layers of esoteric teaching and tradition. Jesus tangled constantly with the Pharisees–the guardians of religious truth in his day–over this point: “You make void the word of God through your tradition you have handed on” (Mark 7:13).
I agree with you that “Without biblical revelation as our norm, we have no sure message to give to the Hindu, the Mormon, or the New Ager all who may claim an experience with Jesus.” Let us agree then that the biblical revelation is the norm for our life together, and not a Mormon, New Age, or even Baptist distillation of it.
Conscientious Baptists can and do disagree about the proper role of confessions and creeds in the life of the church. I welcome a passionate debate on the subject. I only ask that you and I–and others with us–accurately portray those with whom we disagree. After all, we are members of the same family: sinners saved by grace, brothers of the Son of Man, and fellow pilgrims on the road with Jesus.
Since the seminary web site affords no opportunity for a public response to your comments about me and your article is being used to debate matters of organizational affiliation in Texas, I have resorted to this open letter. However, I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you personally if you wish to call.
Bob Setzer, Jr.
Bob Setzer is pastor of First Baptist Church, Macon, Ga., and serves on BCE’s board of directors.