Humpty Dumpty Theology [edited]

This seems to be an appropriate designation for those doctrinal speculations that have more in common with nursery rhymes and fairy tales than with Scripture. Humpty Dumpty, you may recall, is an anthropomorphized egg given to the world by Mother Goose. It was Lewis Carroll, however, that showed Humpty to be a preacher after the order of many modern ministers.

We learn this in Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass during a conversation on sematics between the egg and Alice.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”

You must admit, isn’t that eggsactly what some preachers do with biblical words? For a recent example read Nelson Price’s article in the November 23, 2006 Christian Index. The title gives away the content: “Evangelical Calvinism is an oxymoron.” Even if one overlooks his blatant misrepresentations of Calvinism as a theological construct, it is hard to ignore the Humpty Dumptical redefinition of words taken straight from the text of Scripture.

Consider Price’s explanation of election:

Election is clearly taught in Scripture. It is the definition given it that confuses persons.

Most Baptists believe in election when defined as God, having the sovereign right to do so, gave man a free will to choose his or her eternal destiny depending of his or her faith in Christ.

Yes, and most Baptists can run 100 yards in 6 seconds when a yard is defined as 3 centimeters. Price engages in similar Humpty Dumpty theology when he defines predestination and explains foreknowledge. For those who want to be further instructed in this vein Price gives his personal website, where he similarly treats elders, church discipline and “Calvinism and Non-Calvinism.”

In his treatment of Calvinism and Non-Calvinism, Price demonstrates that he really does not know what he is talking about. I mean no disrespect, but this is demonstrably true. He opposes the TULIP acrostic with what he calls a “response” in the form of the ROSES acrostic, which, he says, “REPRESENT[S] THE POSITION HELD BY NON-CALVINISTS.” Perhaps he never read the Lifeway publication entitled, Amazing Grace, written by Timothy George. That is unfortunate because it is in that book that George offers the ROSES acrostic, not as a non-Calvinist response to the TULIP, but as a restatement and less offensive way to declare eseentially the same thing! George has long referred to himself as a “Reformed Baptist” and has served on the editorial board of the Founders Journal. [EDIT: Nelson Price has changed this article on his website after having the erroneous use depiction of the ROSES acrostic pointed out to him. As a result, he has stuck with the acrostic but radically reinterpreted Timothy George’s original meaning that was assigned to each point–once again illustrating the whole point of the title of this post.]

I genuinely want to see Southern Baptists engaging in theological dialogues. But if Humpty Dumpty’s laws of language continue to dominate certain sectors of the denominational landscape, that will be hard to do.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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