I Don’t Care What James McGrath Thinks, About Me or What it Means to be a Baptist
Much less what his views are concerning homosexuality, the Baptist faith, soul competence (which he CLEARLY doesn’t understand at all). He’s entitled to his opinion, as are one and all. What’s striking is that he shows such utter lack of understanding of the very point on which he wishes to crucify me. His supposition that ‘soul freedom’ (a phrase never used in Baptist documents- instead one finds ‘soul competency’ except among the Anabaptists, and even there they don’t mean what McGrath means) means that Baptists can do bloody well what they please in spite of Scripture or tradition is not only wrong, it’s blind. He writes that ‘soul freedom’ is…
… the right and duty of individual believers, and communities of believers, to follow the dictates of their consciences, without compulsion from authoritarian structures.
Soul competency has NOTHING to do with Baptists deciding to pick and choose what they wish to pick and choose and to abandon what they personally find distasteful, or to following the ‘dictates of their consciences’! Nein! Not even remotely. Soul competency, instead, concerns soteriology; soul competency is the accountability of each person before God in terms of the salvation of their soul. I cannot be saved for you, you cannot be saved for me. Each of us is singularly responsible to turn to God for our salvation. We are competent to do that, and only that.
In his most popular work, The Axioms of Religion (1908), Mullins addressed the issue of freedom and authority by reinterpreting Baptist history. Having vilified the Landmarkists, with their high ecclesiology, as ‘a Roman Catholic party among the Baptists’, he now adopted their language of ‘Baptist distinctives’, redefining these in terms of modern individualism. Ranging between four and seven in number, these axioms included divine sovereignty over individuals, equal rights of access to God for all souls, equal privileges in the church, responsible and free morality, a free church in a free state, and a mild form of the Social Gospel. All of the axioms were encapsulated in a new term, ‘soul competency’, by which Mullins meant a pre-regeneration capacity in humans to deal directly with God apart from any human mediation.*
James is awfully, awfully good at Gnostic scriptures and early Christianity. Awfully good at it. But he’s awful at historical theology. Not just awful, but dreadful at it.
Finally, as I have said previously, and in the post which James dislikes, if people wish to violate Scripture they’re free to do so all they wish- but they cannot at the same time declare themselves something they are not. Baptists don’t believe, and don’t believe McGrath when he tries to suggest that they do, that anyone anywhere can call themselves whatever they like just because they imagine themselves free to do so. The truth, the facts, aren’t subject to your wish to bend them to your own inclinations.
Marry all the gay folk you want to. Just don’t call yourself a Baptist when you do it.
* T. Larsen, Biographical dictionary of evangelicals (p. 459). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.