Broad Brush

Too often we find it too easy to criticism and condemn others with a “broad brush”. Much like a house painter with a roller on a long stick, we paint our “enemies” from a distance coloring them with our “expert” judgments of their actions. Once again the dark side of Baptist life has come to the forefront as James A. Smith Jr. of the Florida Baptist Witness made the bold and hurtful assertion that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is “no longer truly Christian, let alone Baptist”. His pronouncement was made response to the Baptist Press reports of presentations made by Presbyterian John Killinger, executive minister and theologian in residence at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City.

It is without dispute that Killinger’s presentations were out of step with the theology and Christology of rank and file Baptist, including CBF Baptists. As you might expect Daniel Vestal, executive director of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship took exception to Smith’s declaration at the CBF was “no longer truly Christian, let alone Baptist”. He confessed he was deeply grieved by the statements made by Killinger, and that the made a mistake to invite him to speak. He said in James White’s article in the Religious Herald on his response:

“The only confession of the [early] Christian church was ‘Jesus is Lord,'” he said. “To make that confession cost many people their lives because of its radical claim. To say and believe that Jesus is Lord was to say and believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God. It was a clear affirmation of the deity of Jesus. And the Incarnation of God in the man Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

“And so for somebody in one of our workshops to question the Incarnation is simply very painful for me,” Vestal continued. “I have known John Killinger to be a popular Presbyterian preacher. He was a professor at Samford University. … But we had no idea that his views on Christ were what he declared in this breakout session. His perspective is deeply troubling to me.”

In fairness to Vestal and our CBF brothers and sisters we need to be careful when we make blatant accusations and seek to color someone as being “no longer truly Christian”. Granted many of the values and practices of CBF churches may be out of step with many “conservative” Baptist churches, but this does not remove them from the family of God. I too take exception with many of the statements made by Killinger, not to mention his ridicule and attacks on Rev. Jerry Falwell that I thought were totally inappropriate for a Christian gathering, but to paint the CBF to be in lock step with the views of Killinger is deceptive and unfair. We will never paint the masterpiece God called us to produce using a roller and broad brush; we must learn to paint with the accuracy and skill of Michelangelo.

We must remember what Jesus taught in Luke 6 when He said:

37″Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

 39 He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.

 41″Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The robes of a judge are weighty for us to don. Condemnation often comes back to haunt us in a darkness hours. Forgive fits all seasons and every relationship. We would be wise to remember that the “measure we use” WILL BE “measured to you”. Who among us has not made a mistake in judgment or placed someone in a position of prominence only to regret that decision greatly. Jesus warns us to stop playing the “part” or “role” of judges like hypocrites until we have dealt with the deep issues in our own lives. The question that haunts me is “why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” The simple answer is it is easier to criticize and condemn others than to work on our own issues and problems. If we take a good look in the mirror we all have plenty to keep us busy. Too many of us have “2×4” vision rather than “20×20” vision when it comes to trying to help others with their problems. Is it any wonder that when the “blind are leading the blind” we fall into the pit!




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11 responses to “Broad Brush

  1. David,

    Thank you for being so gentle and wise. Your comments seem so much like the words Jesus would offer when His disciples disputed over who was the greatest. Bless you and your ministry of cooperation and grace. May your works and words be followed by many of us.

  2. I have never been to a CBF meeting, but I do know many of the people in leadership, including Dan Vestal. Dan’s father raised him well, and with a conservative theological bent. I join you in decrying the kind of things Smith said. They were out of line and unchristian in and of themselves.

  3. Lee

    It was wrong of James Smith to characterize the whole of CBF simply because John Killinger was invited to lead breakout sessions at their general assembly. Many individuals in churches connected to CBF have been vocally critical of the decision to invite Killinger to lead breakout sessions at the general assembly, along with Vestal.

    Killinger’s Christology is not the only thing about him that I would think CBF leadership would find troubling about his doctrinal position. I’ve read two of his books, The Changing Shape of Our Salvation and Ten Things I Learned Wrong From a Conservative Church. I can’t see how having him do breakout sessions at the CBF general assembly would have been of benefit to their constituency in any way. Aside from broadly hinting that Christ’s divine nature is an idea that springs from human intellect, he denies the veracity of John 14:6, departs from the Biblical teaching of salvation by grace through faith in Christ and gives more credence to electronic communication and globalization as influences in faith and doctrine than the Holy Spirit and scripture. Considering that these views were written in several books, published, and currently available, it is difficult to believe that CBF’s leadership was unaware of his doctrinal position when he was invited to do the breakout sessions.

    Smith’s assertions notwithstanding, would you invite someone who held Killinger’s theological views to speak to your congregation?

  4. KGray

    Smith specifically said:

    “To be clear, I’m not saying that all — or, perhaps, even most — persons and churches involved with the CBF are not true Christians or even true Baptists. I’m confident that many CBFers are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Some are uninformed or ill-informed about the willingness of the organization to coddle and promote heretics, while others fail to understand the gravity of such coddling and promotion, even while rejecting such heresy.”

    But — after asserting that CBF has a history of adoctrinal convention offerings — Smith uses broad brush: “Still, there is no other reasonable, alternative evaluation of an organization that regularly permits, encourages, advocates, entertains, condones, sponsors, and coddles heretics of the likes of John Killinger. At some point, one has to conclude the organization can no longer be considered meaningfully Christian.”

    Where angels fear to tread, etc.

    So what does one discern from CBF inviting someone like Killinger to present at the convention? I assume he was paid, and he got to promote his books there. This is a man who questions central doctrines of Christianity — Biblical authority and reliability, salvation by grace, Jesus as the only Savior (that’s one of the 10 things from his conservative church upbringing that he had to “unlearn”), Jesus as God incarnate. He says doctrine is “a thing of the past religiously.” I sure hope CBF does not agree.

  5. Jeanie Miley

    Thank you for this fair and generous response to the issue of Dr. Killinger’s workshop. As a CBF workshop leader for the past 11 years, I am acutely aware of how participants can take a comment out of context, misunderstand a principle and form their own opinions. People can use what is said to promote a position or a prejudice and skew material for their own purposes and agenda. Sometimes, the intention of a critic is to intimidate and silence, and it is important to differentiate between those critics and those who have an honest disagreement with material.

    We educators must always live with the tension of examining our own motivations to discern whether we are trying to educate or indoctrinate, inform or influence, and sometimes much is lost between the transmission of the material and the receiving of it. Often what is said falls into the black hole of the listener’s fears and cannot be heard because of an instictive defensiveness.

    Always, the intention of the teacher is crucial. It is not in hearing the same things over and over that I really learn anything, but in hearing something new that I grow in understanding. It is often in hearing that with which I do not and cannot agree that I come to a more fully developed sense of my own beliefs, convictions and principles.
    Perhaps it is more dangerous to be deprived of hearing another point of view — and certainly to deprive OTHERS of hearing another point of view — than it is to hear something that may be shocking or challenging to one’s own understanding.

    It is very dangerous to decide that I’ve heard everything there is to hear on a topic or that I know the final word on what is ultimately only God’s to know. We always live in the land of “seeing through a glass darkly”, and the minute we forget that and become so certain that we are absolutely right, we become dangerous to ourselves and to others. We Baptists may be surprised to discover how generous God is to…..another point of view.

    Thank you for your generosity and good common sense.

    Jeanie Miley

  6. Ellis Orozco


    Very well said …


  7. Charles D.

    Dr. Lowrie,
    I surely do appreciate the way you say things. I have dear friends in the CBF (in Florida) that were no doubt hurt by Mr. Smith’s harsh opinion.

    However, because you blog in order to hear additional thoughts of people, I have some (unanswerable) follow-up questions regarding the brush that was not used by Dr. Vestal when it needed to be (in my opinion).

    Baptist Press (BP-David Roach) wrote an initial news report from the meeting soon after Killinger spoke on June 19th!!!

    Mr. Smith of BP published a follow-on Opinion piece on June 25th!!! His harsh opinion provided the subject of your blog.

    *IF* Dr. Vestal had responded on June 20th to Killinger’s statements and/or the first BP article, I do not think Mr. Smith of BP could have even begun to write such harsh comments in an opinion piece.

    For what purpose did Killinger mention the presence of Baptist Press during the workshop?

    If BP had not published the initial report, would I have ever heard about Killinger’s comments?

    What did I do personally or collectively to denounce Killinger’s comments? Did I even need to? Is this doctrine THAT important?

    Do I think Dr. Vestal would have ever publicly denounced Killinger and offered an apology if the Opinion piece by BP had not been published?

    Why did it take Dr. Vestal ***THREE WEEKS*** (June 19th to July 10th) to decide to publicly denounce Killinger’s comments and apologize for the incident ?

    There are lessons that I need to learn in this latest CBF vs BP flap.
    Broad brushing is definitely one of the lessons, but I don’t struggle with that one as much as I do with indecisiveness in leadership and the problems the unsaid word in leadership can have, especially when it relates to matters of defending the faith.

    If I were in CBF leadership, I would (*TRY TO*):
    1) Set-up better vetting procedures AND/OR
    2) State up front that a specific break-out session is to consider *BOTH* sides of a controversial topic (like Dr. Killinger’s) by establishing a dialogue for academic purposes.
    3) In the event that there is not a dialogue and merely a “loose cannon” incident, I would put out a statement much like Dr. Verstal’s – except it would be prepared and released as soon as possible after the offensive words are spoken – not three weeks later.

    At least that’s what I’d try to do.
    (However, I do understand that leadership is seldom easy and that situations like this are seldom as simple as they appear in hind-sight!)

    Thanks for always writing compelling articles of faith and living!
    Charles D.

  8. Dear Charles,

    Thank you so much for your perspective. I think you are right on many of your reports. I suspect Dr. Vestal has had a few sleepless nights thinking through how this happened and what he could have done different. There is not doubt that when you make a mistake in judgment it is much better to step up and confess your failure and acknowledge your wrong. Hiding in the shadows only festers the problems and rarely brings about the healthy solutions.

    Anyone who leads makes mistakes that must be acknowledged. The issue is not will you make mistakes or errors in judgment. The key question is how do you respond when you know you messed up. Character is often revealed in those moments.

    Thank you for challenging us to look even deeper at this situation and to learn from it.

    David Lowrie

  9. KGray

    I have read Ms. Miley’s comments and similar sentiments and wonder, what do they mean? Much of what is said about skewing, distortion, fear, defensiveness, silencing, etc., doesn’t seem to be in play here. People simply publicized what Rev. Killinger actually said at his breakout session, which is also what he writes in his books. It’s gotten a lot of play because, well, it’s kind of shocking for Baptists. People wonder why CBF would invite this teaching into their annual conference.

    Now it sounds very much like CBF invited Rev. Killinger with full knowledge of his views, valuing the very shock and newness of his teachings. Alternatively it sounds like CBF felt a duty to invite someone shocking in order to be non-conservative “we are free” Baptists.

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  11. Dennis Lovin

    John Killinger is just being John Killinger. And thank God for that! “The church flies forward on the wings of the heretics.”

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