Friday, January 15, 2010

Al Mohler And Tony Cartledge: Heresy And Heroism

In a recent Blog post Al Mohler critiques an article by Tony Cartledge on Crawford H. Toy and famous Baptist missionary Lottie Moon. Dr. Mohler's Blog post is entitled "Heresy is Not Heroic — Is Crawford Howell Toy a Baptist Hero?" Of course to Dr. Mohler the answer is no because "doctrinal purity" is more important than whether someone lives a Christ-like life or not so there is no surprise there.

All Baptists admire Lottie Moon---it is ingrained within our upbringing from when we are younger sending money to Lottie Moon mission offerings. However most do not know the story of Crawford Howell Toy who was engaged to Lottie Moon. However because Toy championed biblical criticism over the absurd belief in biblical inerrancy. It has been rumored that he and Lottie Moon broke their engagement off because of his "theologically liberal" beliefs.

Indeed Crawford Toy is a Baptist hero of faith because of his commitment to intellectually living out his faith in the same way that Lottie Moon lived out hers on the mission field. Despite the fact that Toy later became a Unitarian, he should be celebrated for his contributions to Baptist life because he was not afraid to stand upon the traditional Baptist principles of soul competency, liberty of conscious and the right to dissent---despite the pressures of the "status quo."

Anyways here are some of the more critical parts of Dr. Mohler's post:
The most troubling section of Cartledge’s article has little to do with Lottie Moon, however. After stating his admiration for Lottie Moon’s “willingness to suffer deprivation because of her devotion to Christ and to missions,” Cartledge then states, “Increasingly, I have also come to admire Crawford Toy, who was no less devoted to Christ, and was willing to suffer rejection by Southern Baptists rather than surrender to the narrow-minded demand that he forgo scholarship and limit his teaching to popularly accepted notions.”

The admiration of liberal Baptists for Crawford Howell Toy should be a matter of both amazement and genuine concern. It is also a telling indication of how many of those identified as “moderates” in the Southern Baptist Convention controversy actually view the Bible. To celebrate Toy is to celebrate his beliefs about the Bible. Those beliefs were not heroic.

Neither is biblical inerrancy and elevating the bible as an idol heroic.

As later became clear, Toy drank deeply from the wells of theological liberalism and Biblical criticism during his years in Germany.

In his inaugural address as a professor at Southern Seminary, Toy argued that the Bible has both a human and a divine element. As his theological pilgrimage revealed, Toy would use this hermeneutical distinction in order to argue that the Bible contains nothing but truth in its divine element, even as its human element shows all the marks of human fallibility. The human element contains both errors and myths, but the Bible’s “religious thought is independent of this outward form.”

Because the bible indeed contains elements of "Mythic Truths" as well as downright absurdities that are in error---however, the bible is divinely inspired despite being the product of fallible human hands. After-all, it was sinful humans who did the actual writing and compiling of the bible.


Nevertheless, Toy’s theological trajectory did indeed take him not only out of the Southern Baptist fellowship, but out of the Christian faith altogether. During his time at Harvard, Toy eventually became a Unitarian — a faith that denies the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. He also accepted an evolutionary understanding of religion which accepted religion as a purely natural phenomenon.

In other words, Toy became what Christians throughout all the centuries of church history and in all the major traditions of the Christian Church would rightly identify as a heretic. He abandoned faith in the deity of Christ and abandoned the Christian faith. Yet, moderates in the SBC controversy often celebrated Crawford Toy as a hero and as a theological martyr for academic scholarship. Tony Cartledge continues this tradition by expressing his admiration for Crawford Toy, going so far as to claim that he “was no less devoted to Christ” than Lottie Moon. “There’s more than one way to be a hero,” Cartledge concluded.

I can only hope that Tony Cartledge either does not understand or does not mean what he writes in this article. To declare Crawford Toy and Lottie Moon to be equally devoted to Christ defies both common sense and theological sanity.

Idolatry of the bible is theological insanity.

As Old Testament scholar Paul House, now of the Beeson Divinity School, has argued, the roots of Toy’s later heresies were found in the presuppositions of his hermeneutic as he set forth his thought in his inaugural address at Southern Seminary. House does not question Toy’s personal integrity, noting his honesty in presenting his own beliefs. Toy himself recognized that his beliefs changed even during the years he taught at Southern Seminary. The key issue is that Toy’s understanding of the Bible left him completely vulnerable to every heresy and doctrinal aberration. Broadus rightly warned Toy of this danger at the time of his resignation.

Fundamentalism is a heresy and doctrinal aberration.

We should grieve the example of Crawford Howell Toy and learn from it, even as we are inspired by the courageous and Gospel-centered witness of Lottie Moon. The story of Crawford Howell Toy contains a cautionary message for every Christian teacher, seminary, church, and denomination. The elevation of Crawford Toy to the status of a hero alongside one of Christianity’s most famous Gospel missionaries is both tragic and scandalous. Heresy is not heroic.

Fundamentalism is what's not heroic.

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