Covering the right of Southern Baptists

must go rightHow often do you read that the Southern Baptist Convention is to the left of a theological debate? For many, that fact alone is the story's lead. Such is the situation when a reporter must cover a theological/academic spat at a religiously fundamental institutions. Directly two hours east of where I live is Cedarville University, a private nonprofit Baptist institution in Cedarville, Ohio, made up of about 3,000 students. The university is in the middle of academic turmoil due to the firing of two tenured Bible professors over what seems to be a stymied theological debate that breaks down on the issue of Biblical inerrancy.

The Dayton Daily News is doing a good job covering the controversy in terms of quantity but as you can see below, the language and terms used to describe the conflict is pretty messy:

Observers say Cedarville is caught up in a debate within evangelical Christianity over whether or not it can know for certain that scriptures in the Bible are true. Fundamentalists take a historical view of the Bible's truth and apply its statements literally, for example holding firm to the book of Genesis explanation of the Earth's creation, that God created Earth in six days.

But less literal followers, known as the Emergent Church, put the Bible into the context of the modern world, deconstructing and reconstructing Christianity with other faiths to arrive at an assurance the Bible is true.

For nonevangelical Christians, the difference might appear minor. But to fundamentalists, even questioning the truth of the Bible is blasphemous and rattles its core belief system.

Cedarville historically has been fundamentalist, or orthodox, since becoming a Baptist institution in 1953. At issue is whether professors in the university's Bible department were promoting beliefs of the emerging church movement, creating a split among faculty that could not be resolved.

It should be clear that this debate within evangelical Christianity over Biblical inerrancy is not exactly new. In many ways, it is all a matter of degree and has been going on for quite some time.

In this sense, the article is quite accurate that this debate is occurring with evangelical Christianity. However, I am not sure the two sides are the literalists and the Emergent Church movement.

The emergent church would probably be better described as part of a group that does not necessarily believe in an inerrant scripture as traditionally defined, but it does not represent the entire theological point of view.

In addition, the debate does not appear minor to all non-evangelical Christians. Perhaps the debate seems trivial to non-Christians, but conjecturing that there are Christians out there who don't care that much about how the Bible is interpreted would be like saying law students don't have an opinion on how the constitution should be interpreted just because they don't plan on becoming constitutional law professors.

If you are a member of the Orthodox Church, you have to chuckle at how the article describes Cedarville as historically "fundamentalist, or orthodox" as if the two terms were interchangeable. In addition, if you are familiar with the Baptist church, this paragraph will make you do a double take:

In addition, in June 2006, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches severed ties with Cedarville because of its unofficial relationship with Southern Baptists, who the association condemns for its inclusiveness of other faiths, according to Christianity Today, a magazine for evangelical Christians. The State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, began endorsing the school in 2002 to Ohio southern Baptists. Cedarville had been associated with GARBC since its Baptist founding in 1953.

Covering theological debates is never easy for one who is not reasonably familiar with them. Perhaps this is a good reason to have reporters in the newsroom who are familiar with the issues. That's not to say that only reporters with theological backgrounds can cover these stories, rather, it would be helpful for newsroom diversity to have this type of viewpoint represented.

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