The Three Amigos of the Borderland?: Al Mohler, Stan Norman, and Roger Olson

I've been preaching through the book of Romans on Sunday nights and have come to chapter 14. In light of my bible reading and Roger Moran's recent crusade, my thoughts have turned to Christian cooperation. Paul was working really hard in Romans 14 to keep Christians from acting like Baptists. My question now is, "can Baptists act like Christians?"

When I read Romans 14 I immediately think of Al Mohler's theological triage theory. Perry McCall reminded me not long ago that Stan Norman, our old professor at NOBTS, presented the same type of system in one of his passionate lectures. I am now a student at Truett Seminary/Baylor University. I've had the pleasure of being around Roger Olson. His teaching includes the categories of dogma, doctrine, and belief. Yep - the triage. This beautiful consistency has me thinking about the possibility of genuine cooperation within the Baptist community. What would it take to foster genuine missional cooperation between a diverse group of Baptist Christians? My proposal is a DMZ along the border of doctrine and belief - a kind of forth category. Let me explain.

Al Mohler is a very conservative Baptist that takes a reformed position on the doctrines of grace. Stan Norman is very similar. They both are complimentarians when it comes to gender and are supporters of the resurgence/takeover. Roger Olson is a progressive evangelical Baptist. He was raised Pentecostal and even taught at Oral Roberts Univeristy for a brief season. He is an active member of Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, TX. This church is pastored by Julie Pennington-Russel. Dr. Olson is an Arminian. Dr. Olson is a Yankee (but a nice one). These guys are different. These guys are the same.

I don't know Al Mohler. I have only been in the same room with him once. 1000 other people were in that room. I was a student of both Stan Norman and Roger Olson. I do know them. I can attest to their differences. I don't think they would attend the same church. I can also attest to their deep sameness. Each man gives every indication that he has a passionate love for Christ and His church. They share a common commitment to Baptist identity and the Baptist missionary ethos. They are both brilliant and love students. They are the same when it really counts. Can they share a denomination? I think they can.

The SBC is in a raging mess right now because an angry junta wants to treat every theological issue as a fight for dogma - first order concerns. If we create a DMZ between doctrine and belief we can expand our cooperation without grinding theological integrity to dust. Stan Norman and Roger Olson can dwell in the same Baptist denomination if the missional ethos allows some doctines to define local congregations but not denominational cooperation. There are a host of issues that divide us that could and should be placed in this borderland. Norman and Olson agree on the categories. We can agree that many issues fall between them. Only disagreements on, doctrines approaching dogma, should keep us for partnering for the mission of God.

What do you think?

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Romans 14:10 (ESV)


Perry McCall said...

At the risk of getting off track, I want to ask you a question as one who is a student of Olson. Is it true that he is an annihilationist? I have heard that he is but I have not read enough of his writing to know.

I am definitely with you on the spirit of this post. However, I think that we eventually run into a problem when we start pooling our money together for Church planting work. I can intellectually conceive of being in fellowship with someone as a fellow believer and even a fellow baptist but not being able to partner with them in Church planting efforts. I have not had to work it out in a real life setting so I can only think of it hypothetically. But a non-essential issue is not always unimportant. We have a biblical record concerning male/female pastoral leadership. That record is interpreted by bible believing Christians differently. Both are not right. The issue isn't essential to salvation but it is essential to the purity of the local Church. The living out of a wrong interpretation of scripture is still sin. Praise God for His grace!! That goes for both sides. I hold to the complementary position. I hold it with conviction out of submission. I don't want to limit the role of elder to male only but I feel compelled to by scripture. If I am wrong on this issue, then I believe my actions in promoting this position would be sinful because it would be a violation of scripture. Praise God for his grace!!

So, my point isn't about which side is right. My point is that secondary issues are not necessarily without consequence. Sin separates us from God and Jesus has brought reconciliation to us through his substitutionary atonement (see, the difficulties of partnering continue). But our daily walk is also at stake. Therefore, when I begin to evaluate my ability to partner with someone who has a different position than me on doctrinal matters I am asking myself if these differences will affect a persons relationship with God? The best we can do is establish our own convictions and allow others to have their convictions too. But planting a Church together with someone with significant differences can be challenging. I most certainly do not assert that I have all the right answers or even know all of the right questions. But I have no intentions of violating my biblical convictions and I would not want someone else to violate his convictions. This is why I am fearful about our future as Southern Baptist. We have some significant numbers of people who hold to doctrinal differences which can't be dismissed as equally valid options. I think we can do a lot of ministry together. But the rub comes in when you start talking about planting Churches together.

Again, I don't know the way forward but I am definitely in favor of working hard to try and find that way forward.

Matt Snowden said...


I don't have alot of time to comment now but I do want to throw a quote pr two from Jesse Mercer into the discussion.

"I have yet to learn that unity on belief in any system of faith, is essential for Christian fellowship."


"Because a brother does not put our accent upon every syllable of doctrine, shall we at once thrust him aside as a heretic, a heathen man and a publican? Let us rather act the part of Aquila and Priscilla, and take the brother to our firesides and to our bosoms, and with Christian fidelity and love expound th him the way of God more perfectly."

More later if I don't have a baby today!

Gary Snowden said...


I really appreciate your stance on the need to cooperate for the sake of the Kingdom, rather than majoring on the minors.

Perry McCall said...

I hope that you do not have time to read this for a couple of days!! We are praying for guys.

I think that we are probably going to need some new categories in which to view our relationships.

I think that we must first be able to distinguish personal fellowship versus Church fellowship. I am not referring to Church membership. I am thinking more about Church association.

I know that our system (SBC) doesn't really allow for this one but here it is anyway. I think that we must find a way to have fellowship but not necessarily partnership. Again, I have the challenges posed by actually planting Churches together when significant doctrinal issues exist.

I think both of your quotes are excellent for the discussion. Mercer speaks of unity within a "system" of doctrine not being necessary. I agree. A position on the rapture or tribulation should not bring division. However, A denial of the bodily return of Christ should. We are living in an exciting yet crazy time for the Church. We are not going to be able to address our fellowships with easy little resolutions or documents.

The second quote points out a greater challenge for us in our era. I imagine many Christian leaders today would find this statement of Mercer arrogant and offensive. I happen to agree with him on this issue. We must not be quick and ready to "battle" with those who are in error. We must be willing to embrace them in relationship and teach them the right way. the problem is that many want to deny that there is a right way. Also, we have many who will not entertain the idea that they might need to change their "right" way. Again, interpretations of the bible that are in contradiction with one another can not both be correct. They all are not essentials to the gospel but they are not all unimportant. When we teach the Church, (as leaders) we are either teaching true doctrine, false doctrine, or opinion doctrine that is irrelevant.

so, maybe we need to go back to the society model:) Actually, I am kinda serious on that note. It was not the Northamptonshire Association that sent Carey to India. It was the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel amongst the Heathen. (OK, The Baptist Missionary Society. But all who care got my point:) The complaint would be the we can do "more" together. What this really means is that we can be "bigger" together. I think it is possible for for two churches to be able to have fellowship together who have some significant but non-essential differences. However, they begin to have problems when they get closer to doing Church together (i.e. actually starting one together or sending a missionary out for pioneer missions). So, if we return to the original model for associations (long before State and National conventions or existed) and separated our mission work into societies or separate agencies we could have much more harmony. Could sacrificing our status as the largest for a greater witness of harmony be doing "more" together than we are doing right now?

Matt Snowden said...

aarg - still waitin' fer da baby!

Thanks for your comments.


I am really intrigued by your "society" idea. I have been reading a good bit of Baptist history in the past few months. I know you are spend a good bit of time with this so I could use your help.

Where can I find some good reading on direct church to church partnerships?

How might your societ model work?


Perry McCall said...

That is kinda the problem. I probably should have been a little clearer about what I mean concerning looking to the society model. Churches typically didn't join societies. Individuals made up societies. I am just thinking out loud. I am trying to think of how I could more intentionally fellowship with at a Church level with another Church that holds to a significantly different position on an important yet non-gospel issue.

For the record, I am not that disgrunteled with our current system. I have some frustrations and I definitely think we need to make some changes. The changes we need are big. We are looking at future that has a significantly smaller denominational structure. that will not be easy. My biggest problem isn't with any positions that have been expressed per say but with the authoritarian actions of some of our leaders.

Matt Snowden said...


We are at Baptist Hospital. Our son Steven Wesley Snowden has just been put to bed. God is so kind.

Also - I think a smaller denominational structure would actually be a great thing. I think we should abolish NAMB and let the state conventions pull that load. We would be left with a Mission Board to carry out international work and possibly help coordinate work in the US through the state conventions. I also question the work of associations. Most of the ones I know of need real change. I think the best one in Mississippi is the Lauderdale Association in Meridian. Wayne Edwards has established a model worth learning from. At the very least associations need to get much, much leaner.

Just some tired thoughts. Keep us in your prayers.

Perry McCall said...

Congratulations!! I trust that Steven and Merrideth are doing well but our prayers and praises are with you.

How great is our God!!

Matt Snowden said...


Matt Snowden said...


I should have responded to that question. I lost it in the shuffle. Thanks

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