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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rev. John Killinger Responds

Back in June, the Rev. John Killinger caused quite a ruckus with his remarks during the THREE workshops which he led at the annual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

I won't rehash that here. But here is the column by SBC Baptist Press reporter David Roach titled "CBF Presenter Questions Christ's Deity"

A week after Roach's column, James Smith wrote an op-ed for Baptist Press which concluded that "there can be no doubt the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is now un-Christian and un-Baptist."

Three weeks after the original Baptist Press story, Daniel Vestal, Executive-Director of the CBF, responded to Killinger's remarks and James Smith's ridiculous column in this article with the Associated Baptist Press. According to ABP reporter Jim White, Vestal "denounced the theology Killinger expressed" and "regretted allowing Killinger to challenge such christological views at a CBF event." Referring to James Smith's op-ed, Vestal was quoted as saying "for some editors to write and insinuate that we are not Christians is very painful for me."

Shortly after Killinger's remarks were made public Keith Noren, a Baptist layman from Alabama, e-mailed Rev. John Killinger and asked: "Do you in fact 'deny the deity of Christ?'"

A few days ago Killinger responded to Noren's e-mail and gave him permission to post it online.

Here is Killinger's response:
Dear Keith,

Sorry to be slow in responding. We were in Canada for several days and since returning to NY I've been swamped with engagements and assignments.

I'm amazed at the hullaballoo over what I did or didn't say and did or didn't mean at the CBF conference in Memphis. The curious thing is that I have not been asked a single time, except for your e-mail, either at the conference or since returning to NY, what I said or what the context of anything I said actually was. It's almost amusing to see all the church politicians scrambling to score points or defend their goal posts. And it's a bit dismaying to me to see that the people at the top of the CBF ladder are just as touchy about defending their orthodoxy as the old SBC leaders were. I thought CBF stood for Christianity Beyond Fraudulence or something like that.

Without intending any comparison of myself to Jesus, I can imagine that the leaders of the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees scrambled in similar fashion over things Jesus was saying or reported to be saying in Jerusalem.

I'd like to see a full text of what I did actually say at the conference so I could respond more accurately. For some reason, the CBF chose not to post my remarks on the web site. Nor did they post those of my son Eric, who was doing a couple of breakouts on ministers' emotional and spiritual health. I think a lot of the ones who were in my group should have been in his.

As well as I can recall, though, my remarks were in the context of answering a question about biblical literalism and how most Christians have now grown up enough to understand that the Jesus of the synoptic Gospels is different (humbler, less divine, certainly not transcendent) from the Jesus of the Gospel of John, who is clearly pre-existent, omniscient, and transcendent. While I didn't agree with all the decisions of the Jesus Seminar, I applauded the intent of their work, which was to get back as nearly as possible to what were the original teachings of Jesus and what were the additions of the early church for either bureaucratic or propaganda purposes. I myself am committed to knowing and understanding all I can about who the real Jesus was and what he intended for his followers, as opposed to who the church's press-release Jesus became. I happen in my elder years to believe that's very important, and I shall continue to press forward in that direction.

One of the things I've noticed across the years is that many people who crow the loudest about other people's heresies and misdeeds are not themselves very convincing proof that God is love and that his self-proclaimed children are unmistakably chips off the old block.

Thanks for caring and for writing.

God's best, John
BDW: Note that Killinger never actually answered Noren's direct question. I think it's safe to read between the lines.



Blogger Cat's Dad said...

Killinger sounds flippant, arrogant, and skeptical.

I wonder what's he's really like.

7:36 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

I agree.

Killinger's own words through the reports and this response make him look like one arrogant, elitist dude.

The guy sounds like the politician who doesn't want to make a comment without first seeing a transcript. Oddly enough, the transcript he wants to see is the transcript of what HE actually said.

8:11 PM

Blogger Glenn Jonas said...

I only attended one of Killinger's sessions. Did not hear the comment in question. But, I believe he made the most ridiculous comments in the session I attended where he argued (or tried to argue) that the Gospel of Mark was originally a Gnostic Gospel. I think he showed his arroagance and ignorance of the field of NT Studies in that session quite well.

7:50 AM

Anonymous Karen G said...

Quotes from Rev. Killinger's breakout session are all around the blogosphere. Google it, and compare to what he says here.

3:34 PM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I am not writing to defend Killinger. I do write to protest the CBF's failure to post his comments. They did this to me in 2000. I was INVITED specifically to come and give a workshop on the death penalty. I asked beforehand if they knew that I am a dp abolitionist and have written against it as well as worked to abolish it. They said, "fine." I understood that this was to encourage discussion. I tried to present the case FOR capital punishment fairly before giving my objections.

Discussion was lively, but not rude. I thought it was a success. But, then the CBF refused to make my talks available on tape (as all other workshops were) and I was told that I would not be invited back.

This is why I am glad my church is not CBF, but is Alliance of Baptists. I don't find the CBF to be ENOUGH of an improvement on the SBC in terms of liberty of conscience.

Again, Killinger's remarks may have been outrageous. But why assume that such is bad for laity to hear and engage?

9:58 AM

Blogger Alan Paul said...

That pretty much answered it for me - even if he didn't answer the question directly. First off, he took shots at others all along the way (which speaks to his arrogance and his inability to take criticism). And then he said he supported the Jesus Seminar. Anyone who supports the Jesus Seminar in any way whatsoever need to turn in the Christian membership card - they no longer belong.

11:20 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...


Sounds like someone at CBF messed up in your case. Personally, I don't think that one decision (most likely made by a non-executive employee) not to put such talks on tape is reason to stop supporting an organization. I doubt you were the last anti-death penalty person to present a workshop at the CBF. Though, I'm not sure why they would not make your talks available. I'm sure that other presents, maybe David Gushee, has led a comprehensive discussion of capital punishment in recent years that was made available via tape...

I have no problem listening to Killinger on a panel. I think the problem was that whoever was in charge of bringing in the workshop presenters decided to put Killinger front-and-center by asking him to lead THREE workshops, more than anyone else. Another issue was that he claimed during one of the sessions that a large number of CBF pastors agreed with his views on salvation/divinity. Despite those views, his session on Falwell was low - he accused Falwell have having someone killed. Killinger sunk to Falwell's level with that tall tale (Falwell's video that accused Clinton of being a murderer).

CBF may have some flaws. But, at the end of the day, CBF is just an organization which local churches support missions and other ministries. I don't see what major improvements there are to be made on the freedom front.

2:05 PM

Anonymous karen g said...

OK, I don't get it at all.

This is a theologian, invited to present theology at a Baptist annual convention.

His view, in his books, speeches and presentations, severely questions or dismisses first-tier, central, core issues of Christianity: the Bible's reliability, Jesus as transcendent God incarnate, salvation through Him alone.

Forget his personality. Why was this theology invited to CBF? (Some say it was a mistake, others praise it as stimulating, others here say "no harm no foul"). Why is everyone supposed to be cool with it?

3:32 PM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

BDW, Clearly someone screwed up in giving Killinger such prominence and clearly he seems arrogant and presumptious. And he may well be a heretic. But the CBF response (screening future speakers, etc.) seems to me to fit a pattern of never wanting any controversy at their meetings and, as Bruce Prescott mentioned on his blog, an unfortunate preoccupation with appearing orthodox to Southern Baptists instead of refusing to care what the SBC thinks.

This fits my experience with the CBF--more than just my one experience as a presenter on capital punishment, too. Take the way that the decision to forbid gay or lesbian Christians from serving as CBF missionaries was made. (I am not talking about the content of the decision, but the process.) It was pushed through with very little study and almost no input from anyone but the central leadership. When the decision was voted on by the CBF as a whole, only 10 minutes was allowed for discussion and only 5 minutes was given over for dissent. It was PUSHED through.

So, I do not see this vaunted freedom of conscience in this missions delivery system. I see an attempt to create something like the pre-1979 SBC and a fear of controversy or widespread consideration of controversial ideas by laity. Someone like Killinger, who represents much of what is out in the world, could have been used creatively to spark healthy discussion and growth--whatever his own intentions. Instead, the reaction was fear--fear of financial loss by laity and churches and fear of being branded heretical, unchristian, etc. by the leadership of the SBC--who are going to think that NO MATTER WHAT!

Things like this are handled better by Baptist bodies (e.g., the American Baptist Churches, USA, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, etc.) who are not obsessed with the opinions of the SBC. The SBC is still the center of gravity for the CBF. (Of course, the SBC has an unhealthy obsession with the CBF, too. They don't waste time with what goes on at an ABC Bienniel or an Alliance of Baptists convocation, but report and distort every CBF meeting.)

12:40 AM

Anonymous karen g said...

I'm not in CBF at all, I'm just following this with interest.

How would CBF creatively use someone like Rev. Killinger at their annual convention to spark healthy discussion and growth? I am trying to see the possibilities but wondered what you were thinking there.

3:58 PM

Anonymous Lee said...

Not exactly a straight answer, is it?

I don't think he gets it.

1:23 PM

Blogger gnosticgnu said...

I actually had Killinger as a professor at Samford in the early 90's. I didn't find him flippant or arrogant. As to his response to the letter, it may seem evasive to some, but I don't see what benefit a more direct response would have provided, other than to give those predisposed to twist his comments more material to work with.

9:42 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are Christians so eager to tear each other apart? "Elitist" "Arrogant" "Flippant" Are these really community building words? Come on people, let's not spend so much time parsing each other's words. Let's get about the business of loving this world in the name of Christ.

By the way, I know John Killinger, and it does not surprise me that he did not jump to answer a question that, no matter what he said, would be torn apart.

12:46 AM


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