Letter to the editor of ‘The Christian Index’ by Marty King

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Editorial not worthy of editor or Index

Dear Gerald,

As a former Georgia Baptist, I appreciate you and your service as Index editor. But, your Feb. 10 editorial was not your best. The level of research, organization, and writing are simply not up to what Georgia Baptists have come to expect. Let me share with you three concerns.

1. The editorial seems intent on fear-mongering, and is poorly sourced and organized.

Although you admit in the article that “many great preachers and theologians have embraced Calvinism through the years,” you imply readers should be afraid of Calvinists, as evidenced by the ominous, bold print used for every reference to Calvinism and Reformed theology. Even the title sounds ominous.

There are only vague references to supporting evidence of many of the claims, and others are just wrong. For instance, you say Trevin Wax, the managing editor of our new Bible study The Gospel Project “admits he has been influenced by Reformed pastors and authors” and then you list seven names. Trevin has never said that, however, Trevin did interview someone on his blog once who said that list of people had influenced HIM – not Trevin.

Furthermore, what do Calvinism, a marriage book, and the possible SBC name change have to do with each other? It appears you are simply throwing everything controversial into one article to enflame.

2. LifeWay’s new curriculum called The Gospel Project has no agenda other than responding to a need churches have expressed for a long time – more in-depth Bible studies. Period. Your column repeats as fact baseless charges made by a few anti-Calvinist bloggers. You over-emphasized the role of the initial advisory group which only met one time, a year ago, to talk about general principles of an in-depth curriculum. You didn’t even ask to read the sample lessons for yourself or interview the editor or any of the writers.

Please read the sample lessons at GospelProject.com. You will see there is no agenda other than to help users encounter Christ in the text. LifeWay will not bring any doctrinal system to the text other than the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

3. I believe the most irresponsible part of the column was your charge that LifeWay president Dr. Thom Rainer “seems to have led the SBC literature-producing agency to become more Reformed.” That is not true, Gerald. You did not cite any LifeWay materials that are teaching Reformed theology, and fail to offer any reason Dr. Rainer would have for doing that since it is well known he is not a Calvinist. Dr. Rainer writes on evangelism and outreach, not Calvinism.

Dr. Rainer has written, “I put my integrity on the line and promise there is no Calvinistic agenda implied or explicit in our curriculum.”

My prayer is that, upon reflection, you will retract these untrue accusations and help instill well-deserved confidence in LifeWay’s resources.

Marty King

Director, LifeWay Communications

———-

P.s. The above letter was provided with permission to republish. I have also responded more fully to Gerald Harris in the following two parts.
1) The Calvinists: a Reply to Gerald Harris Part I
2) The Calvinists: a Reply to Gerald Harris Part II
A pdf. version is also available in one file: The Calvinists: a Reply to Gerald Harris

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tagged as , , , , , , , , , in Arminianism,calvinism,Church Issues,Culture,relativism,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Howell Scott February 24, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Mark,

Hope you had a great birthday! As I did not see a link to Marty King’s letter to the editor, I am assuming, based on your headline, that this was a real letter that was sent to Gerald Harris by Marty King, Director of Corporate Communications for Lifeway Christian Resources, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention. Without rehashing the content of Harris’ original opinion piece (which we probably read differently anyway), I continue to find it perplexing that so-called communications experts are adding fuel to the fire with their missives. In the BP piece, King, in so many words, already called Harris and The Christian Index liars. Now, another letter to the editor by King, who I would believe has the authority from Thom Rainer to send this letter, which continues to ratchet up the rhetoric (although he at least didn’t accuse Harris of McCarthyism, unlike his NAMB counterpart).

That this is not being handled through off-the-record, back door channels, indicates that the battle is on. For whatever reason, the criticism of The Gospel Project (not the content necessarily, but the way that it came about) is illiciting a fierce response from Lifeway and others. I, for one, am looking forward to using The Gospel Project in our children’s, student, and adult ministries this Fall. My preview of the literature has not sent up any red flags of Calvinism run amok, but I can understand the legitimate questions that have been raised about the development of this new Bible study curriculum.

Simply from a communications standpoint, if for nothing else, the public response by Lifeway and other SBC leaders will only raise more questions. If Harris and The Christian Index are wackadoodle conspiracy theorists chasing after imaginary Calvinist bogeymen, then let them. It will come to nothing and they will look foolish. But, from the reaction, it does seem that Harris has struck a nerve. Sometimes the best form of communication is to say nothing. Not sure that King has figured that out yet. Thanks and God bless,

Howell

2 Mark February 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Howell,

My birthday was very busy as tonight will be, thanks! As noted in my p.s., this is the real letter which was given to me by someone from LifeWay.

I find it ironic that you seem to place blame on how the response was made rather than the content of what is being responded to and why a response was deemed necessary. While you speak of rhetoric and such I would merely point you back to Harris’ original letter. Besides, The Christian Index just posted SBC agency responses to Harris’ piece, but you must be a subscriber (I am) to access them. So the Index themselves are promoting the responses.

I’m glad you are finding The Gospel Project as potentially helpful. Some are unfairly looking for demons where there are none. Classic liberal scare tactics, if you ask me.

The responses may raise more questions, but why? Maybe because Harris’ put forward so many illogical points to make Calvinism look bad? Did you see how much I wrote just to try to untanble Harris’ article? I think you are focusing on the wrong front. Instead of questioning the responses, question what is being responded to.

I continue to be amazed at the lack of critical thinking the pops up in this whole discussion. Some days it makes me want to quit pursuing the M.Div. I simply can’t understand if some of the statements are made out of ignorance or on purpose to try and scare people by using false comparisons, etc.

For example, a Georgia pastor wrote the following words in part of his letter to the Index.

I am concerned that by focusing the minds of our seminary students on Reformed Theology instead of focusing on the Great Commission…

Really? Focusing on Reformed Theology? Instead of the Great Commission? Is Reformed Theology in opposition to the Great Commission? Is this the kind of teaching going on in SBC churches? If so, why in the world are people blaming Calvinism for some of our problems? What an unfair and unchristian comment to make.

3 Howell Scott February 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Mark,

I perhaps wasn’t as clear in my communication as I needed to be. I’m not trying to argue the “blame game” between the original Harris article and the responses. As I said before, we will view both Harris’ article and these types of responses through different lens. That being said, I think that Lifeway and others, through the BP public relations office and other means, are free to respond however they see fit. However, I simply think, from a p.r. standpoint, the responses are not going to be helpful.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that most of what Gerald Harris wrote was not worthy of the editor of the Index or the Index itself. That you were given permission to reprint the letter (sorry I didn’t see your note before) in this public forum suggests to me that there is a behind-the-scenes battle going on with Gerald Harris and the Christian Index. Whether this battle spills over to the GBC (not to be confused with the GCB) is unknown at this point. I am perhaps reading too much into this, but if Gerald Harris was “a friend” (Dr. Akin’s words) and someone who has heretofore been well-respected, I find it curious that a very public counter-attack has been launched. This may mean that private communications (which should have happened) did not change Harris’ mind and that Lifeway and others felt they had no other choice but to rebuke Harris and The Christian Index in a very public and aggressive way. I simply think, long-term, that this will be a mistake and will be counter-productive, but I could be wrong. Thanks and God bless,

Howell

4 Frank Gantz February 24, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Howell, if somebody makes his accusations public, don’t you think it is wise to respond publicly? Public silence might tend to give credence to the claims.

I want to say this delicately, but it seems a bit ironic to publicly critique a response for being public. I don’t want to be offensive, so please don’t take it that way. Just asking.

5 Jimmy February 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm

This article was not Harris’ first trip to the swamp of innunendo.

6 Howell Scott February 24, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Frank,

No offense taken. As to your question, I would say the answer depends. I’m not sure it is ALWAYS wise to respond publicly. In some cases, a public response might be warranted. In others, silence might be the best response. If one is going to respond publicly, particularly within a Christian context, I’m not sure it is wise to publicly call the well-respected editor of the largest Baptist State paper a liar who spreads false information. If someone were to do that to our well-respected Baptist New Mexican editor, that would not go over well with most New Mexico Baptists, especially if the aggressive response was from someone outside the state. That might even get us fired up when we otherwise would have let the whole conflict die down. Others are free to disagree with my take.

I do find this whole story interesting on so many levels. It would appear that there is a battle going on behind the scenes. We are getting public glimpses through Harris’ original article and the subsequent responses, including King’s. I do not know Gerald Harris, but I would imagine that he is not viewed by most Georgia Baptists as some kind of conspiracy theorist wackadoodle (but I could be wrong). If I had to guess, I would say that Harris speaks for many Georgia Baptists. Strictly from a public relations and a political strategy, I would not continue the public attack on Harris, but that’s just me. Thanks and God bless,

Howell

7 Joshua February 24, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Howell,

Why is King’s and others’ responses to Harris a “public attack?” Must every response be labeled an “attack?” Is civil discourse and disagreement no longer peaceable and godly behavior?

8 Howell Scott February 24, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Joshua,

The term I used was “counter-attack,” as in a verbal counter-measure that one would use in the war of words (and ideas) that is obviously taking place (not a literal attack). But, so as not to have anyone stumble on one word of my comments so that he or she cannot engage with my arguments, let me re-phrase it. Perhaps I should have used the phrase “strongly worded rebuttal” in place of “counter-attack.” Now, with that clarification, if you would like to dialogue with me on the substance of my previous comments — as Mark and Frank have — I would be more than happy to. Thanks and God bless,

Howell

9 Bill Mac February 24, 2012 at 8:18 pm

If elements of Harris’ article are false, then they are false, and need to be corrected publicly. I see no value in privately correcting public falsehoods (even if those falsehoods are not deliberate). Furthermore, Harris makes public accusations (against Rainer for example). Public accusations require a public response.

That Harris represents GA baptists is irrelevant. That Harris has been, heretofore, well respected is irrelevant. What is relevant is the content of the editorial, which it appears has some demonstrably false information.

Lifeway didn’t start this fire, Harris did. Maybe adding fuel to it is the right thing to do. It takes a good hot fire to purify. It will be interesting to see what remains when the fire has done its work.

10 D.R. Randle February 24, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Howell,

Do you see any difference in someone saying, “Your reporting was inaccurate and here’s the real story” and saying, “you are a liar”? It seems to me that what Marty King was doing was saying directly and forthrightly “you have made incorrect assumptions” and even pointed him to evidence which reveals the things he wrote to be true. That is vastly different than calling someone a liar and leaving it at that. I simply don’t think your characterizations of what King said here are fair.

As you have acknowledged you are indeed reading this through your own lens, but my hope is that you would take a step back and consider how a private response to a public, influential article might indeed be more problematic in the future than a public response made now. We all know the truth of this when it comes to Church matters. When serious public events occurring within the life of Church members are treated with dismissal often gossip, division, and in-fighting result. You, yourself, have spoken of the need for openness and forthrightness in the SBC. It seems, however, when it comes to confronting false accusations, you would rather opt for privacy and use of “off-the-record, back door channels.” That just seems contradictory to me and, in the end, much more potentially disastrous.

11 Stephen February 24, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Howell, your latest response is the epitome of post-modern complete absurdity of intent. There was not just “one word of [your] comments” that are being misunderstood. Of Lifeway and their various leadership/spokesmen, you have used the following phrases in this very thread:

“adding fuel to the fire with their missives”

“ratchet up the rhetoric”

“indicates that the battle is on”

“a fierce response”

“suggests to me that there is a behind-the-scenes battle”

“I find it curious that a very public counter-attack has been launched”

“rebuke Harris and The Christian Index in a very public and aggressive way”

These are wartime phrases, in my opinion an attempt to paint Lifeway in an extremely negative light while posting Harris as an innocent victim, warning readers not to arouse the public opinion of GBCers who may or may not be in favor of the GP or other parts of Lifeway. Call that good or bad (ok I’m saying it’s mostly bad) but don’t play it off like you were not being clear before with your own rhetoric.

12 Joshua February 24, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Howell,

Your last sentence reads, “Strictly from a public relations and a political strategy, I would not continue the public attack on Harris, but that’s just me.” This is the “public attack” I was quoting.

Thanks for responding, I genuinely appreciate it. I agree with you that the word “rebuttal” would be more helpful to the discussion than the phrase “public attack.”

13 Howell Scott February 24, 2012 at 10:47 pm

D.R.,

Thanks for the dialogue and your perspective on this matter. I did read King’s (and Mike Ebert’s charges of McCarthyism) initial response in BP, posted within 24 hours of Harris’ article, as fairly a fairly strong rebuttal that did rachet up the rhetoric. Let me clear up something that I may have caused you to misunderstand. I don’t believe that there should be a private response to a public article that contains flagrant falsehoods. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Harris’ article was, at best factually inaccurate (something that we can all be unknowingly guity of from time to time) and, at worst, was libelous (a knowing, malicious misrepresentation or falsehood). Harris is no second rate blogger or some no body. He is a long-time Georgia pastor and the (up to that point) well-respected editor of one of the SBC’s most influential Baptist State newspapers. I assume that he has relationships with other influential leaders within the SBC world, including Danny Akin who called him a “friend.” Let’s further assume that, in a Christian context, those who were offended by what they believed were inaccuracies or falsehoods (i.e., lies) published in an opinion piece in The Christian Index, would have tried to contact Mr. Harris to let him know that they were so offended and that he needed to apologize, both privately AND publicly, for publishing a piece filled with inuendos and outright falsehoods.

Assuming that Mr. Harris made a grave error in judgment, surely Christian leaders would give him a time to repent, ask for forgiveness, and publicly apologize for what he had written? Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do? For all we know, these private conversations took place, although there was precious little time between the BP response article and Harris’ original article for him to issue any kind of PUBLIC retraction.

The BP article is posted, with King’s and Ebert’s initial comments and now the letter from King to Harris that was provided to Mark, with permission for him to reproduce it. Harris may indeed publicly apologize and retract parts or all of his previous opinion piece, but he has not as of yet. The question is “why?” Perhaps he doesn’t believe that he has anything to apologize for. I’m not a GA Baptist, so I do not have a pulse of what is happening on the ground there, but Harris’ article was not published in a vacuum. There appears to be a behind the scenes struggle going on in Georgia as to which direction GA will go with the GCR/NAMB issues and the nickname proposal. The reality is, that if Georgia does not sign on to what’s being proposed at the National level, then there will be major problems, including major funding problems for NAMB’s new church plants. If Harris apologizes and, particularly if he steps down as editor of The Christian Index, we will have a clue as to who won the power struggle. That’s just my observations from a NM Baptist, based on what we know and what we can likely assume. Thanks for your response and questions.

Stephen,

My oldest son is named Stephen — I like the name. You are entirely correct that I used wartime phrases. It was not my intent to paint Lifeway in a negative light. I do think that their responses (along with NAMB’s) have indeed ratcheted up the rhetoric rather quickly (w/i 24 hours via BP). That may or may not have been right thing to do in the end, but, IMO, I think it will prove to be counterproductive. I certainly could be wrong about that, but see my response to D.R. to understand why I believe there is more going on in this struggle. Also, I didn’t realize that we were no longer able to use wartime language in debate. I didn’t get the email 😉

Joshua,

Sorry I missed the “public attack” in my previous comment. If I was going to use the word, should have at least put it in quotes, but probably better to have used a different word.

Thanks and God bless,

Howell

14 Stephen February 24, 2012 at 11:49 pm

“Also, I didn’t realize that we were no longer able to use wartime language in debate. I didn’t get the email 😉 ”

Thanks for the follow-up. Though there are still matters to discuss, I think it is safe to say that there are those who do not think the public responses to Harris have been appropriate and there are those that do. You put yourself more into the former category, especially regarding the early responses. Now that much has been laid out, what do you say of the content of Marty King’s now public letter, that: Calvinism per se is regarded by few as a dangerous theology, that the Gospel Project nor Thom Rainer push Calvinism in any way; yet Harris’ piece makes ad hominem and association attacks on certain YRR leaders that (in the argument of Marty King) logically should not relate to Lifeway’s endeavors at all?

15 Howell Scott February 25, 2012 at 12:40 am

Stephen,

I appreciate the constructive dialogue. Let me try to answer your question regarding the content of both Harris’ original article and King’s letter produced here by Mark. I’ll address each of King’s three points, starting with his last one first:

3. Rainer Leading Lifeway In a More Reformed Direction: Having re-read Harris’ OP, I would agree that the charge that Dr. Rainer is leading Lifeway in a more Reformed direction is the most egregious, irresponsible, and obviously unsubstantiated claim that Harris made. If Dr. Rainer says there is no Calvinistic “agenda,” then he should be taken at his word. At the very least, Harris should offer a private and public apology for this charge.

2. The Gospel Project: Let me repeat again that I am looking foward to the release of The Gospel Project and that we plan to start using the materials in our children’s, student, and adult Bible study (we still call it Sunday School, but it works well for us). Even if The Gospel Project was billed as an overt Reformed curriculum, we would use it. I am an inconsistent Calvinist in practice, but I (along with my student pastor) find The Gospel Project’s design and materials very appealing.

I do believe that Harris overstated the case when he wrote that he would be surprised if it (The Gospel Project) “were not marked by an unmistakable Reformed theology.” I’ve looked at the examples online and did not detect “an unmistakable Reformed theology.” That being said, I think it is fairly reasonable to assume (although I’m aware of what that can make those who do so 🙂 ) that a writer’s own theological beliefs will inform how he writes a particular lesson. That’s not a bad thing, but I think it is a reality. I don’t think that Lifeway set out to develop an explicitly Reformed curriculum, but when most of the advisory board and/or contributors have Reformed leanings of some type (whether you asked them directly or already knew it), it might have been helpful for Lifeway — given the volatility of the Calvinism issue in the SBC — to have anticipated some of the questions and gotten out ahead of it. Of course, hindsight’s 20-20.

1. I think King’s first point is actually his weakest. I would agree that Harris’ piece seems like a shotgun approach. There are at least 5 or 6 different issues or topics that could be the basis for as many individual posts. I don’t know how many words Harris’ post was, but it does seem on the long side. As to King’s taking Harris to task for bolding the words “Calvinist”, “Calvinism,” and “Reformed” and for using the title that he did and that this was itself “ominous,” is a rather weak point. I’m not sure that I would have even mentioned this were I King, because this does not bolster his case.

That’s kind of how I see both Harris’ original OP and King’s response. I still maintain that there is more than meets the eye with this whole kerfuffle. We may find out in due time. Hope that helps give you a better idea of where I’m coming from. Thanks and God bless,

Howell

16 Mark February 25, 2012 at 2:07 am

Howell,

What if I told you that a GA pastor immediately sent a private correspondence to Harris and Harris admitted he was wrong? Would you expect Harris to say so publicly? And if he said nothing publicly?

17 Fred Johnson February 25, 2012 at 7:17 am

A few observations about this.

Mr. Scott characterizes Mr. Lamprecht’s post as a letter “now public.” The fact is that Mr. King’s letter was already on the Christian Index website and most likely in the print addition. Mr. Lamprecht did not make it public. It was already public.

Mr. Scott also considers that Mr. Harris may not have time to have publicly repented before BP ran its story with responses. This is not accurate. The Christian Index online edition could easily have run such an apology immediately. The fact is, even with two weeks time, still no apology or retraction has been forthcoming.

Last, Mr. Scott considers Mr. Harris criticism of Thom Rainer’s motives to be the biggest problem with the original opinion piece. Lest he forget, Harris, in an obvious but unattributed lifting of content from Peter Lumpkins, played the “SBC domain purchase, name change speculation” game. This was as erroneous as the rest of his speculation, yet no apology was made for that, either.

18 Howell Scott February 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Mark,

I am not trying to be difficult, but let me ask you for a clarification. Did Harris admit he was “wrong” in what he wrote (i.e., he was factually inaccurate) or did he admit that he was “wrong” in writing what he did (i.e., he didn’t admit that what he wrote was factually inaccurate, but he was “wrong” in the sense that what he published was unwise and could be viewed — rightly so — as incendiary)? I know I have published blog posts, that in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have, not because they were factually wrong, but because the tone or rhetoric I used was unwise.

I will say that if Harris admits privately that he was factually in error and/or stated something in his article that was not supported by the facts, then he should issue a public clarification and/or retraction. We all make mistakes, particularly those who publish in papers or on blogs (see Peter’s retraction on his NAMB gag rule article as an example). I think we all need to be willing to admit when we have made mistakes (even if these were unintentional) and to issue a public apology if our mistakes were made in public in the first place.

Fred,

I appreciate publishing Mark publishing King’s letter for those of us who may not have otherwise known about it because we do not subscribe to The Christian Index. In that sense, it was made more widely available (i.e., public) to those of us who are not Georgia Baptists.

Of course an apology or retraction could have been posted on the website. Maybe 24 hours was a sufficient amount of time for Harris to have realized his mistakes and corrected them. Then again, maybe it wasn’t. As he has yet to issue any kind of clarification, retraction, or apology, may mean (notwithstanding Mark’s comment) that he doesn’t think he has anything to apologize for. It may also mean that there is a struggle going on within the state of Georgia over some of these issues.

Lastly, you can only have one “most” irresponsible statement. You cannot have more than one “most.” It doesn’t work that way. After re-reading Harris’ article and, in response to a question that Stephen asked me, I agreed with King that Harris’ charge against Dr. Rainer was the MOST irresponsible and egregious. At the very least, I believe that Mr. Harris needs to issue an apology and/or retraction.

As to the question of domain names, I myself would be curious as to when certain names, particularly “Great Commission Baptists,” were registered and by whom. I’m sure that information is public and can be easily verified. Unless Peter’s original story on that (which Harris seemed to use) has been demonstrated to be false (and I don’t know that it has), then this is a question that would be worthwhile to pursue. I’m under no illusions that the answer will change anyone’s mind, but it would be good information to have. Thanks and God bless,

Howell

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