Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Bill Clinton

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton has been busy promoting his latest book entitled "Giving" and has appeared on several talk shows including Oprah and David Letterman. The book has a purpose to enlighten the reader on how "each of us can change the world." I have not read the book, but from what I have gathered from his discussions, the content centers around people who are giving of themselves to make a difference in other people's lives. The former president has come across very passionate and sincere about his book and it sounds as though the theme is a noble one. Of course, we learned this lesson years ago when Gene Wilder portraying Willie Wonka gently sang the tune "you want to change the world? There's nothing to it."

Two quick comments from what I have heard from Clinton:

1. During his conversation with David Letterman, Clinton described the opportunity he had to travel to Africa as part of his giving and it seems he has sincerely made a difference. But, as he was describing the breath taking views of another country and culture, he remarked on how humbling it was to be standing where the first homosapien walked out of the sea unto dry land some 150,000 years ago. Apparently, scientists have somehow traced where they believe human life first began. I was no longer thinking about his book, but I was now pondering the New Baptist Covenant. Bill Clinton, along with Jimmy Carter, are two of the "ring leaders" for the New Baptist Covenant that is continuing to grow in recognition. Although I understand that 2nd tier doctrines are not something that the New Covenant folks want to get hung up over, and rightfully so, I just have a hard time with this. To have a lead spokesperson for the New Baptist Covenant speak in front of millions of viewers on national television and all but undermine the doctrine of creation is not acceptable. God as creator is the foundation of everything else. This is not 2nd Tier!

2. My second concern, and I hope to be proven wrong here and I welcome comments to my erroneous conclusions (assuming they are erroneous) is that Bill Clinton's book might as well have been called "The Mission of the New Baptist Covenant." I have been reading commentaries written by distinguished faculty concerning Luke 4, the center of the New Covenant's formation, and it has primarily centered around injustice. Redemption has been mentioned, more by some than others, but without question in the shadow to world justice. From what I have seen, perhaps the New Baptist mentality (not all of course, but as a whole) would say this, "so long as he is determined to make a difference in people's lives, we are not so concerned with his view of creation, etc." Listen, we Baptists are lazy, and even worse, unconcerned about the impoverished, poor, and oppressed. Yes, we have much to improve on here and much to repent for. But any effort in the name of God that places an emphasis on anything before the salvation of people through Jesus Christ and sacrifices the important, historical doctrines of God for an effort to "get along" is a failed effort.

There is still much to learn and witness concerning the New Baptist Covenant. I have some friends and some mentors who are completely on board, so I know there are good, God-fearing people who will be a strong asset to the meeting. For me, the jury is still out.


Anonymous rexwilder said...

Doesn't the first point have to do with how literally you view "creation?" I feel fairly certain that Clinton would agree that God created the world, people, etc., but that it happened in conjunction with more scientific principles than in 144 hours. I don't see how that "undermines" the doctrine of creation unless you think creation means only the literal interpretation.

September 06, 2007 6:30 PM  
Anonymous Paul, in Bethel Park said...

Keeping with the true knowledge that nothing is impossible for God, the Old Testament is very clear.

It seems that "scientific principles" are being given more creedence than Scripture and, for that, Mr Clinton's statement on creation is nothing short of heresy.

September 06, 2007 7:50 PM  
Blogger The Beast said...

To walk out of the sea on the land in Africa is clearly a denial of divine creation, no matter how you care to interpret. Besides, why emphasize the "scientific principles" without any mention of God's creative act, especially when commenting on the majestic, awe-inspiring nature of his visit? Again, this is all in context of his being a central key figure in a new movement in Baptist life that is just a few short months away. The two don't mix.

September 06, 2007 8:31 PM  
Blogger Kelly Klages said...

"But any effort in the name of God that places an emphasis on anything before the salvation of people through Jesus Christ and sacrifices the important, historical doctrines of God for an effort to 'get along' is a failed effort."


This post reminds me of precisely why the Christian Church throughout the ages has utilized creeds and other unifying confessions of faith.

I'm not sure I understand the difference between "2nd tier" doctrine and any other type. There's true doctrine, false doctrine, and things that don't fall into the category of "doctrine." Paul, for example, never really says, "Make sure you stick with pure doctrine on the really important stuff, but if you want to skimp on the little things that don't matter so much, just go with the flow." All doctrine is to direct us back to Christ, therefore all false teaching is to be avoided because it can become an undermining of the gospel.

September 07, 2007 1:31 AM  
Blogger The Beast said...


Thanks for the comments! I hope things are well for you.

To label a doctrine as "2nd Tier" (sometimes referred to as "Third Order) is not to minimize its importance, but is a way to help us categorize specific beliefs that are not "of enough weight" to prevent fellowship in the same church. For example, if someone were to deny the Trinity or Creation, they would not be eligible for church membership because those are 1st Tier essential doctrines, but if they hold to a Pre-Trib view of Eschatology instead of a Post-Trib, that is not a reason to prevent fellowship.

To read a far more helpful explanation of this concept, click the link below. It differs slightly from how I have used it, but the concept is the same.


September 07, 2007 9:43 AM  
Blogger Mike Ruffin said...

Philip, my brother, I know that you are a fine athlete, what with being a world-class tennis player at that fine university you attended, but, with all due respect, you made quite a leap in this post. I mean, to get from Clinton's remark about the first homo sapien emerging from the ocean to worrying about what's behind the NBC in such seamless fashion--wow! Congratulations on your agility.

Now, having had my fun, let me say that you raise some valid points. Let me try to address some of them, as one of your mentors who does support the NBC.

First, let's talk about Bill Clinton. I am on record as saying that I personally wish he was not involved in the NBC. My reasons for that are as follows: (1) I suspect that he is, unlike President Carter, a "marginal" Baptist, by which I mean that I'm not sure how much the Baptist stuff really means to him. (2) His record of personal immorality makes it hard for many people of faith to take him seriously. (3) His wife is running for president and anything he does and says right now is going to be seen in light of that fact and is going to be seen as part of an effort to get her elected. I say all of that to say that I do not defend Clinton's involvement in the NBC. He has as much right to be there as anyone, given that he is a Baptist, but I wish he was not involved in a public way. Having said that, I would add that I don't think he is a major shaper of what's going on there. That role falls to Carter and to Mercer President Underwood, I suspect.

Now, as for what Clinton said about humans crawling up out of the muck. I must first say that I have neither read the book (your post is the first I heard about it) not heard any of his interviews about it. This whole science vs. religion thing is leading us down some very difficult and potentially harmful roads. Clinton's statement is, of course, a gross oversimplification of what science actually teaches, but we make the same kind of overly simplistic statements about what the Bible teaches. It is interesting that what he said expresses a kind of awe in the face of the scientific view of creation, an awe that some might say should be reserved for God.

Still, I wonder how far you really want to push the science vs. religion thing. Does accepting a scientific view of creation necessarily undercut a belief that God is the Creator? Some would say so. In my reading of Dawkins, I have become convinced that he is a scientific fundamentalist, a term that he would not accept. But he basically says that you can't have it both ways--you have to choose science or religion. Are you agreeing with Dawkins? It seems to me that you are if you are saying that unless I reject evolutionary theory out of hand I am rejecting the role of God in creation. Does the Bible intend to present a scientific account of creation? How would it? Why would it? After all, Genesis was written in a pre-scientific culture. I believe with all my heart that God created the heavens and the earth and all that lies therein. That is the focus of my wonder and awe. As scientists fill in more and more of the details, my awe is enhanced. I think it is unfortunate that some Christians say that if I am to be a Christian, I must reject science and that some scientists say that if I am to be a rational modern person, I must reject my faith. I believe that I can be a rational thinker who is imbued with radical faith. I further think that when we stand before God one day he will express amazement that we chose to live any other way.

Now, let me say a little bit about the Christian approach to life and particularly about the emphases of the NBC. I do suspect that your statement that "Bill Clinton's book might as well have been called 'The Mission of the New Baptist Covenant'" may be erroneous; it is probably at least hyperbolic (again, I, like you, have not read the book). But if the review at http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/ny-bkbook5357898sep04,0,5913242.story is accurate at all, what he talks about in the book is the effort that many ordinary people around the world are doing to try to help make the world a better place. He talks about the efforts that he has been involved in since he left the White House. Now, are these some of the same kinds of things that the NBC is going to promote and encourage? Probably--if such efforts are good ways to set people free, to give a cup of cold water, to alleviate human suffering, and to promote peace and reconciliation in the world. Can such efforts be undertaken without preaching salvation through Jesus Christ? Yes. Will that be the case with the NBC? I don't think so, but obviously, we'll have to wait and see.

My point is this: the good news of Jesus Christ is holistic. We should preach, teach, minister, and do all that we do so that people will come to know the grace of God that saves for all eternity and that brings about wholeness of life in the here and now. (By the way, while I don't understand it, some of what I am reading in science may well have much to teach us about we think about time and eternity--the divide between the two may not be as substantial as we sometimes think.) I am constantly haunted by Jesus' reminders to the "religious" folks of his day--those who lived pure lives and who held to really orthodox positions on all the primary and tertiary doctrines--that how one treated one's fellow people was the true test of one's religion. Now, what Jesus actually said may or may not be irrelevant (yes, I read all your posts, even if I don't comment), but such is what the gospels report he said.

Here's the thing: Baptist life as represented by the Baptists who get most of the press (fundamentalists, radical SBC leadership) is becoming more and more fragmented. It was inevitable. The "Baptist bloggers" like Wade Burleson and Ben Cole have it right: the SBC is becoming more and more narrow in its theology and more and more creedal in its approaches and risks becoming a large but fairly irrelevant island in the human universe. What the NBC wants to do, as I understand it, is to help Baptists unite around our core gospel and to get busy doing ministry that will help the hurting and proclaim the whole gospel. It is true, I suspect, that the NBC will not be about theological litmus tests; it will be about uniting around Christ and his mission.

Philip, I don't really know what the NBC will be like. We'll find out come January. I hope you'll go and see for yourself.

Blessings to you, brother.

September 07, 2007 11:49 AM  
Blogger The Beast said...


I was hoping you would comment, so thanks for your thoughtful reply. I wish we had more time to properly discuss all that is on our minds. Here are my quick thoughts concerning your comments.

1. Although I appreciate the reminder that I was once actually in shape and could walk up stairs without losing my breath, the leap in this case was not so great. The reason I think that is because my wife, who was also watching Letterman, had the same reaction. My point is not that Clinton's views are descriptive of the entire NBC's message, but regardless of the underlying truths about an organization, your leadership is what many, if not most, will look to for that particular organization's beliefs and views.

2. My point about creation was not to engage the science vs. religion debate. But here is the key to this issue - Any Christian who is serious about their faith, and that would hopefully include a spokesperson for a new Christian organization, who also holds to a evolutionary theory of God's creation never emphasizes the scientific aspect of the creation account. In other words, that is typically a view held in order to harmonize science and the Bible, which is fine I suppose, but no sincere Christian should, nor have I ever heard one, make the evolution process their prima facie description with zero mention of God's purposes.

3. I just can't agree that the majority of the happenings, especially missions related, in the SBC are becoming an irrelevant island. The SBC still is a missions centered convention with millions of dollars being used for spreading the Gospel. I do agree that there are some who are damaging to the integrity of the SBC, (just as there will be some who are damaging to the NBC) but I have no hang-ups whatsoever about being a confessional people who clearly outline and know who we are and what we believe. Keeping our hearts tender against the heresy of Legalism is one thing, but keeping a "close eye on the doctrine" as Paul tells Timothy remains a vital part of Christian ministry.

4. Finally, your comments on the Holistic approach to ministry are helpful and I agree, just so long as any Christian gathering, whether it be the SBC or NBC, places the call to social justice underneath the umbrella of universal redemption to all who believe.

Thanks again for taking the time to write your thoughts. Your views on the NBC are very important to me, and I hope I have been able to cause some consideration on your end as well. I do plan on being at the gathering, so let's make sure we get together and catch up. I look forward to that.

September 07, 2007 12:59 PM  
Blogger Mike Ruffin said...


Well said! I particularly appreciate your clarification (that's really not the right word, since I think that's what you said in your post, but these words clarified it for me, anyway) about science and religion. I agree: a Christian should mention God and mention God first in the context of discussing creation. Whatever the details are, God did it, praise God.

This was fun. I'll look forward to seeing you in Atlanta. I need to come to Louisville sometime, but I don't see it happening in the forseeable future.


September 07, 2007 1:15 PM  
Anonymous Paul, in Bethel Park said...

Every time the Scripture vs. Science debate comes up, I keep reminding myself that science is developed by men and Scripture is the true Word of God...

We must be careful not to find ways to change church doctrine just to keep pace with the majority. If that's the case, good thing the 12 apostles weren't counting heads before they began spreading the Gospel...

September 07, 2007 6:34 PM  
Blogger Kelly Klages said...

Thanks for the Al Mohler link. Though I know where he's going, I'm not sure that I see eye-to-eye with all he has to say. The early church, with its heavy persecution, would surely have been considered to be in a state of "theological crisis," both internally and as far as culture was concerned, yet Paul seems to have much more to impress upon them in his letters besides the barest of essentials. Of course, there is that doctrine that is central and core, of "first importance." But all other doctrine touches it. We don't really believe in "doctrines" but in the doctrine of the apostles. Fragment one thing, and it disrupts the others.

And certainly, there are true believers in all Gospel-proclaiming churches. However, I have seen numerous Christians absolutely refusing to discuss what are called "second and third tier doctrines" because it's simply difficult to do, and after all, aren't only first tier doctrines worth worrying about? Why stress ourselves out and admit to the unbelieving world that we're not as in-agreement as we'd like to be? Gospel reductionism and its effects, including theological illiteracy, have become a major problem.

This article also seems to think that all Christians can be in agreement as to which doctrines are of highest importance. Mohler can relegate baptism to second-tier because he doesn't believe baptism does anything. For other Christians, the meaning of baptism is intimately connected with justification by grace alone. The council of Nicea, certainly felt that belief in "one baptism for the remission of sins" was worth putting in their creed. Likewise, you'd think the Reformers would have rallied united behind justification by grace through faith over and against Rome, but because of critical differences in the understanding of the Lord's Supper, their divide became deep. Theological crisis didn't prevent them from taking a great deal of time to deal with an issue which was to them a major reflection of the Gospel.

What Mohler's saying is that it's possible to be considered a Christian as long as you hold the first tier doctrines. Of course! But I think the image of tiers is inaccurate; I believe doctrine is more interconnected than that.

September 07, 2007 7:00 PM  
Blogger The Beast said...


Thanks for following up. I have re-read the article and my feeling is that you are missing the ultimate point of the tier idea. Al Mohler would be one of the last people of theological thought to suggest that any teaching of Scripture is "less important" than another or that they are not interconnected. The point is not to water down anything, but rather to find those lines of fellowship, a notion that Paul certainly alludes to in Scripture.

And your point about Baptism confirms Mohler's argument. His point about 2nd tier doctrines are those items which would cause Christians to organize ourselves differently. The fact that you are a Lutheran and I am a Baptist reflects this reality. I am assuming you do not doubt my relationship with God because I do not hold to your view of Baptism, just as I do not doubt yours. Yet, this issue is important enough for both of us that we worship in different denominations. I agree with your concept that we are perhaps not willing enough to discuss the 2nd tier issues, but that is certainly a problem with us and our people, not a justification to make everything 1st tier.

And by the way, I have yet to meet anyone who agrees with everything Al Mohler has to say.

September 07, 2007 8:38 PM  
Blogger Kelly Klages said...

I don't want to make everything "first tier" because I believe the tier concept is overall a bad metaphor for doctrine to begin with. I can't help but think that Christian doctrine is more organic than the building block rankings he makes of them in his article. As you say, it makes people not want to get "hung up over 2nd tier stuff." This ends up making serious issues simplistic to the point of easiness to ignore. You were right to be concerned about the creation issue. Start giving different facets of doctrine different ranks according to which need our attention and which can wait for a more opportune time when there is less "theological crisis" in the world, and we will never get around to those other teachings-- teachings which are so critical to our ultimate view of justification, the person of Christ, and how a person is saved.

I think we're probably not quite in major disagreement here. I do hope that all Baptists maintain as much zeal in their theological distinctives as they do in their inspiring ministry to the less fortunate. It would be terrible for doctrine and missions to be seen as at each other's throats, but they often viewed that way in many denominational circles. It's a shame, because sound doctrine ends up being the first thing to go in the name of "not being so narrow in outlook" and "reaching more people." This is how most church liberalism starts.

September 12, 2007 12:35 AM  
Blogger Bennett Willis said...

Somewhat humorously, Mr. Clinton missed both the science and religon. He managed to annoy everyone.

Bennett Willis

September 20, 2007 10:39 PM  

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