Ready for Reformation? Pt. 5

In chapter 6 Nettles argues for the recovery of a proper understanding of law and gospel. He underscores the importance of this issue by stating that, “Misperceptions and misapplications of this issue within the pale of the conservative movement of Southern Baptists could eventually be more crippling to the recovery of biblical Christianity than the active opposition of the moderate movement” (75). That observation is a alarming as it is accurate.

Had Nettles been focused more broadly than the SBC in his book he could have easily quoted John Newton who said that, “Ignorance of the nature and design of the law is at the bottom of most religious mistakes.” Or he could have cited John Bunyan who said, “The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Saviour.”

The Baptists Nettles does quote show that a proper understanding of law and gospel has been a part of our rich Southern Baptist heritage–a part which has largely been forgotten in our day. The sad consequences of that loss are apparent in the antinomianism, legalism and moralism that mark much of contemporary Baptist life.

After demonstrating the abject failure of liberal Baptists to maintain the connection between law and gospel, Nettles show how a similiar failure lives on in conservative SBC circles.

More definitive inconsitencies on law and gospel still unsettle conservative Southern Baptists. Pastoral concerns over issues of justification, sanctification, assurance, and church discipline have direct connections with a healthy grasp of the conceptual relations between law and gospel. Some strategies of outreach and paradigms of church growth have pushed aside law-gospel relationship for one that appears more immediately relevant. The minister’s task, so it is assumed, is to present biblical principles as giving a sound foundation for day-to-day happiness and healthy relationships. Pressures of contemporary life, issues of personal insecurity and self-esteem, financial insolvency, perplexity in rearing children, marital unity, pleasing personal relationships and unresolved emotional conflict often dominate the sermonic menu of many evangelical and Baptist churches.

Though cloaked within an evangelical ethos and an ostensible commitment to biblical inerrancy and an undergirding motive of evangelism, the basic substance of biblical content, in such cases, goes little beyond the man-centered optimistic liberal message of the early twentieth century (73, emphasis added).

The quote from Harry Emerson Fosdick that follows in the book illustrates the point with frightening clarity.

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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