Late Sunday night I posted The elephant is in OUR room: Shaking hands with Sabellius in the Southern Baptist Convention. I’d venture to say it is by far my most widely read and disseminated post in almost fifteen years of blogging, which isn’t saying much, except to say that people read it and commented on it. A couple of others sites picked it up and/or linked to it.
If you haven’t read it I encourage you to do so, but in a nutshell, the purpose of the article was to bring to attention the inclusion of CCM group Phillips, Craig and Dean (PCD) to the lineup of those speaking or performing at the Empower Conference, an evangelism conference sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC). They would be joining prominent Southern Baptists such as SBC President Fred Luter, ERLC President Russell Moore, former SBC President Johnny Hunt, and Lifeway’s Ed Stetzer. And it would not have been newsworthy were it not well known beforehand Phillips, Craig and Dean’s links to modalism.
Modalism is an ancient heresy which distorts the orthodox (and biblical) understanding of the Godhead. Christians believe in one true God who eternally exists in three Persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that they are co-equal and co-substantial, one in nature and essence. Modalism, also known as Sabellianism (Sabellius was the ancient proponent of this heresy), teaches there is one God who reveals or manifests in three distinct ways — Father, Son, and Spirit, but when He is the Father He is not the Son, and when He is the Son He is not the Spirit, and when He is the Spirit He is not the Father. Hence, God manifests Himself in different modes.
For almost 2000 years Christians have consistently taught and believed that to deny the orthodox understanding of the Trinity was to deny the orthodox understanding of God, and thus place oneself outside of the realm or orthodox Christianity and salvation itself, which is why it was alarming to me that PCD was included in that conference lineup, for up until then there had never been a public denial of modalism by the members of the group.
My issue was not with PCD, per se, but with the SBTC for inviting them to perform, and for the prominent Southern Baptists who were on the program with them. To allow such a thing would a travesty, in my opinion, a gigantic example of the theological downgrade I believe already exists in many respects in the SBC and greater evangelicalism.
Since my original post and it’s spread (not quite “viral,” but still) I was given new information in private conversations that has now been made public in a post, “Helping Heretics Come Home,” by Bart Barber, Chairman of the SBTC Executive Board, First Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, TX.
According to Barber, before PCD was placed on the conference program they were asked about their beliefs on the Trinity and asked to sign a statement disavowing modalism and affirming a right understanding of the Trinity, and they did just that. Allow me to quote Barber,
…before the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention ever booked PC&D to sing at this year’s Empower Evangelism Conference, the convention required from them precisely that: a clear, explicit statement of their position on the Trinity. They provided it gladly. I have it in hand with all three of their signatures in place at the bottom. In the text of the statement they say, “Phillips, Craig, & Dean fully acknowledge their past denominational affiliations and are grateful for their heritage; however, they reject the teaching of modalism, a.k.a. Sabellianism.” But they go further than that. They additionally say, “Although none of the members of PC&D are affiliated with any denomination, collectively, the ministry of Phillips, Craig, & Dean affirms the statement of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention—http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp.
Now I can say that there is no reason whatsoever to doubt the veracity of what Barber writes here, and I would say that even I had not seen with my own eyes a copy of the statement he is referring to. Indeed, with all three group members’ signatures, it says “they reject the teaching of modalism, a.k.a. Sabellianism” and everything else Barber quotes.
Barber raises three options of what Christians (and more to the point Southern Baptists who have been concerned about this) should do with this new information given that, while they did not explicit come out in their own words affirming the Trinity, they did repudiate modalism and affirm the Baptist Faith & Message (and I would add I understand them to be affirming what the BFM says about the Trinity). To quickly summarize his options (and please, read his entire post), we can a) determine they are lying, b) continue to hold them at arm’s length as potential heretics, or c) celebrate their conversion to Trinitarian Christianity.
What am I going to do? I’m going with option 3a for the moment: careful celebration.
I rejoice that by God’s grace Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean have put their names and signatures on a statement rejecting the heresy of modalism and affirming the Baptist Faith & Message (a document I can also affirm which is explicitly Trinitarian). I tend to be skeptical by nature, a trait that has served me well and badly over the course of my life, so I don’t want to ignore years worth of links to modalism. I do wish that these men would just come out and in their own words affirm the Trinity. It’s my continued hope that will happen.
One thing I’m resolved not to do is hold this against SBTC or those speaking at the conference. I’m not sure I would have sought out Phillips, Craig and Dean to perform at the conference in the first place, but in my opinion, since they have, they have done right by Southern Baptists in Texas and beyond by securing this statement and now, through Barber, making it public knowledge. It would have been better if this had been known all along, in my opinion, but this is where we are now.
So I celebrate this new information, but do so carefully. I’ll keep watching, as we all should. But let our thoughts, words, and actions in this and all matters be compelled by the love of Christ and seasoned with the grace and mercy He bestows upon those He saves. After all, as Barber puts it, we were heretics at one point.
And yet, His favorite song of all is the song of the redeemed.