Like many others, when I first read Dr. Bob Terry’s August 8th editorial in the Alabama Baptist, I had serious concerns. After reading the article twice, I tweeted the following alongside a link to the article: “DOWNGRADE: Bob Terry, ed. of the AL Baptist, critiquing the biblical, historic Christian Gospel.” In the article, it appeared that Dr. Terry was distancing himself from the doctrine presented in the Gettys’ hymn “In Christ Alone.” The lyrics in question? “And on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” This idea is explicit in the New Testament: this is the essence of the word “propitiation,” and is explicitly linked to justification in Romans 5:9. To be sure, that God’s wrath against believers was satisfied at Calvary is at the very core of the Gospel of Christ. If God’s wrath against sinners is not satisfied at the cross, then we have an impotent theology of salvation.
Let me be clear: I maintain disagreement with Dr. Terry’s August 8th editorial. However, I don’t think that the editorial gives a comprehensive picture of his view of the atonement. For example, in his editorial from April 5, 2012, he wrote this:
“Jesus was no helpless sheep as the events celebrated at Easter time unfolded. Hebrews 7:27 makes plain that “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when He offered Himself.” Jesus was at one time both the Lamb being sacrificed — “He offered Himself” — and the High Priest offering the sacrifice of atonement. That is why the writer of Hebrews referred to Jesus as ‘the Great High Priest.’ The imagery is of Jesus entering God’s presence with the blood offering of the sacrificial lamb to be poured out on the altar” (emphasis mine)
Furthermore, Dr. Terry has clarified his original editorial a second time. Most recently, he has added this sentence: “If the meaning is that on Calvary God’s punishment for our sins was poured out on Jesus, then that is certainly biblical and something I would never question. That is my understanding of penal substitutionary atonement and is what I have written through the years.”
My primary concern, even after Dr. Terry clarified his recent editorial the first time, was that he did not hold that it was God who doled out the punishment of His wrath at Calvary. I believe that the quotes above alleviate those concerns. I have also since personally talked to Dr. Terry. On the phone, he expressed to me very clearly that “Jesus suffered God’s punishment for our sins.” I am thrilled to take Bob at his word on this. Do Dr. Terry and I articulate all the finer points of the Gospel in precisely the same ways? Not exactly, but I believe the differences do not lie on opposite sides of the fence of orthodoxy.
Based on this I want to list out a few points that I am taking away from Dr. Terry’s article and the backlash it received.
1. Think Before You Speak/Tweet/Publish/Preach
Words matter. I never would have expected, after sending out a tweet, to later receive a call from the editors of the Alabama Baptist. Furthermore, I doubt Dr. Terry would have ever expected the backlash he has received after writing this article. I have learned the lesson afresh that I should never Speak/Tweet/Publish/Preach anything that I am not willing to stand by. I underestimated the way that a tweet might be seen and read. (I was retweeted 7 times, which is 700 percent more than usual!)
I have learned another lesson here. Dr. Terry obviously does not want his views on the atonement to be judged outside the context of other writing he has done on the subject. I completely understand where he is coming from. I would never want to be judged solely on one sermon. However, we must all always be prepared to have one shot to present our views and beliefs. How I want to be judged is different than how I am judged. We must always be careful with the words that we say, especially when it comes to the precious doctrines of the Faith.
2. The Modern Age Gives Unique Advantages and Disadvantages For Christian Brotherhood
I have many friendships that have been bolstered through social media. However, social media provides a unique opportunity for dehumanization. We must be careful to remember that social media is not an ivory tower of ideas, but a network of real people. The internet breeds a sense of anonymity and distance that, in reality, is actually clear visibility and unprecedented nearness. We cannot forget that on the other side of the 1’s and 0’s is flesh and blood. A good pastor friend of mine recently tweeted, “Don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say in person.” Amen.
When a controversy springs up, we must remember that Christian brotherhood must be a defining characteristic of our discourse.
I still disagree with Bob’s editorial, but I regret not calling him before I commented. In fact, it is to my shame that I had to be contacted by the editors there instead of calling him first. Defense of the truth does not always have to have human casualties. I regret how I phrased that tweet. I do not think it is wrong to express concerns via social media before contacting a brother, but I do think my tone and language was too harsh to precede personal contact. I have personally apologized for this, and am thankful for Bob’s forgiveness.
3. Doctrine Matters to Alabama Baptists
The aftermath of this article is not all bad. In one sense I am very encouraged: it has become clear that Alabama Baptists take doctrine seriously. I am not fond of the rancor that has been involved in the process, but I am nonetheless encouraged to see that folks are passionate about doctrines that matter. We must be careful, however, to ensure that we are loving and firm in our approach to defending the Gospel.
4. Pray for Our State Leaders
I am praying for Dr. Terry as he seeks to make things right with Alabama Baptists. I have now personally heard his views on the atonement, and I look forward to seeing him clarify them publicly. I am praying that the people of our convention will be gracious after Dr. Terry clarifies what he meant by his original editorial.
I am further reminded to pray for all of our state denominational leaders. They are highly visible, and I pray that the Lord will bless them and keep them near to the cross of Christ!