Mohler and Patterson: A Debate or Discussion?

Quite a buzz has been generated about the prospect of Drs. Patterson and Mohler debating Calvinism at the 2006 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Greensboro, NC. Anytime you find a topic being discussed on both the Puritan Board and the Fightin’ Fundamentalist Forum, you can be pretty sure that there is widespread interest.

Some are already upset because of what they are certain will or will not happen at this event. Others have speculated on whether or not there will even be such an “event.” And, of course, the question of exactly what to call it has come up. According to a comment left on this blog a few days ago, Dr. Patterson has adamantly denied that there will be a debate about Calvinism, though he did go on to confirm plans for a “forthright discussion” between Dr. Mohler and him on the subject.

Debate or “forthright discussion?” I don’t think it matters that much. The great hope that I have for this planned event is that it will provide a context for Southern Baptists pastors and others actually to think about and talk about theology. Some have taken the announcement as an opportunity to start rallying support for “our side” in hopes that, by a means of a debate, we might defeat “their side.” This strikes me as theological pugilism and I think it is wrongheaded and misses the real point–SOUTHERN BAPTISTS ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO HAVE A THEOLOGICAL CONVERSATION ON A NATIONAL PLATFORM!

I, for one, greatly appreciate Drs. Patterson and Mohler for their willingness to participate in this. As the blogosphere has already demonstrated, they are both going to be subjected to much scorn, ridicule and mischaracterization for doing so before either one of them utters the first “forthright” word in the “discussion.”

Let’s take this for what it is–a tremendous opportunity for Southern Baptists (and others) to see the legitimacy and importance of engaing in theological discussions beyond inerrancy. And let’s not be disillusioned by what it is not and never could be–a theological showdown that will end all doctrinal disagreements and/or “prove” once and for all time that one view is right and the other is wrong.

Reformation will come through a recovery of not only the authority of God’s Word but also of its teachings. Anytime a forum is provided to consider publicly those important but neglected and often-caricatured teachings of God’s sovereignty in salvation, truth-lovers should rejoice.

Rather than setting odds, predicting victory or castigating the men involved, what we should be doing is expressing our gratitude to those who have been willing to put historic Southern Baptist theology on the agenda of the SBC Pastors’ Conference. As I mentioned previously, twenty years ago this kind of event could not even have been imagined.