Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Setting the Record Straight

I hate to engage in self-justification.  But D.R. Randle has told so many falsehoods about me that I have to set the record straight. Believe whom you will.

  • On abortion.  I find this to be one of the most difficult moral problems of contemporary society and have always done so. For that reason, I will admit that I have changed my mind on this issue several times in my life. When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, I, like most U.S. Protestant Christians of the time (including such ultra-conservative voices as Norman Geisler, W.A. Criswell, Carl F. H. Henry, and others), agreed with the general thrust of the decision. Along with the Southern Baptist Convention, which passed 3 resolutions in the ’70s supporting the legality and morality of abortion in some crises situations, I believed that abortions were often the lesser of evils.  In 1983, when I became a pacifist and left the U.S. military as a conscientious objector, I naturally opposed abortion as a form of violence.  During my studies in seminary, I read pro and con arguments and changed viewpoint at least 3 times.  However, as consistantly as I know how, since the early ’90s I have embraced a pro-life position that focuses more on eliminating the causes/reasons why most abortions are sought than tries to erect more legal barriers to abortion.  This has seemed to me to be a wiser course for two reasons:  1)Even if all abortions are outlawed, if reasons they are sought remain, we simply create an underground abortion industry–which I have been told was thriving in the years prior to Roe.  I don’t want to just “look tough” on this issue, but actually be effective in reducing the numbers of abortions to as close to zero as humanly possible.  As I have said repeatedly on this blog, we have several examples of countries with liberal abortion laws (the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland) with much lower abortion rates than countries with very restrictive abortion laws (the Republic of Ireland, Italy, Brazil).  2) While biological life begins at conception, there is no agreement as to when human personhood begins and, absent a consensus on this issue, I think the state’s interest in protecting gestating human life will come into conflict with the need to protect religious liberty.
  • D.R. Randle and others often write as if I were a fan of Bill Clinton’s. This is not true. I was a very harsh critic of his policies–though usually from a different direction than his rightwing detractors.
  • I am repeatedly charged with being an “inclusivist” soteriologically.  In fact, what I WANT to be is a believer in a Christocentric form of universal salvation, such as has been ably defended by others here, here, and here.  Alas, like Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann, I have only been able to assert such a view as a hope, not a dogmatic view.  I am definitely NOT a religious pluralist and plan on writing a post soon defending evangelism and mission–without cultural imperialism.  If universalism is wrong, then I am an annihilationist (it follows from body-soul holism, which is clearly biblical).  Does God save anyone who does not affirm Christ as Lord in this life? I leave that to God. Evangelism should be practiced not from fear of hell, but because salvation begins in this life and we really do have Good News in Christ to share.
  • It follows from the above that I have NOT said that D.R. Randle is unsaved–in the sense of having some kind of crystal ball about his eternal destiny.  I said that I do not believe that so-called Christians who support war, militarism, and the death penalty have been converted to the gospel. I am issuing a call to repentance, not proclaiming anyone’s eternal destiny. I try not to usurp God’s prerogatives.
  • It has been said that I differ from the majority of global evangelicals on the atonement. Well, I don’t know. I have seen no polls on this. There has never been any “official” view of the atonement accepted by all Christians.  What is called “penal substitution” does not begin to develop until St. Anselm’s satisfaction theory in the 12th C. and doesn’t take on anything close to the modern evangelical view until after Calvin and Grotius.  I hold to a form of the classic or “Christus Victor” view of the atonement–much older and held to by most, if not all, of the Council of Nicea and of Constantinople.  I most definitely reject the Abelardian “moral influence” atonement view and its modern, liberal, variants.  I hold to an objective atonement: The cross/resurrection event accomplished something in space-time, not just in the attitudes of the disciples.  In the sense that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, the sense of “Christ in our place,” I certainly DO affirm a “substitutionary” dimension to the atonement.  I have preached “Christ crucified” in evangelical churches all over the States and in some other nations and no evangelical lynch mob has come for me. I think I would be judged orthodox by most global evangelicals on this matter–but I invite dialogue.
  • I have been charged with being in a minority regarding my support for women in ministry.  Again, I have seen no polls, but my impression is that, outside D.R. Randle and the Southern Baptist Convention, the acceptance of women as equally qualified and permitted to all ecclesial offices is gaining ground rapidly. I am a Baptist and have met ordained Baptist women now from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Indonesia, Morrocco, France, the U.K., Canada, Cuba, Liberia, Bulgaria, Russia, Australia, Japan, and South Africa.  The majorities of these women would undoubtedly be counted as “Evangelical.” Maybe I was ahead of the curve?
  • On “homosexuality.” Here, D.R. Randle tells the truth. My support for the full and equal inclusion of GLBT persons in the church is certainly a minority view among Evangelicals around the world. It was not a view I came to embrace lightly, either–and Randle knows that I do not embrace it out of disdain for biblical authority (though he disagrees with my interpretation of the Scriptures on this matter). Again, however, I think the minority view I hold is a growing one.
  • There is a difference between the places where I dissent from global Evangelical majorities and the places that Randle and those for whom he speaks dissents:  There is no biblical text directly on abortion. There are only a handful of texts related to same-sex issues.  Though the cross is central to the New Testament, no atonement theory is mentioned or expounded.  On the other hand, the places where Randle dissents from the global Evangelical majority are places where much of U.S. evangelicalism has fundamentally misread Scripture–places which are not peripheral to the gospel message, but near its very heart.

August 15, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Here, Here!! Good apologia for the gospel.

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | August 15, 2007

  2. Nice Post! I see our theological differences as very minor and mostly about things which cannot be known (what happens after we die, the specific nature of God, etc.). It seems to me that those things have little effect on actual faith (following Jesus). On all things tangible, in application of scriptural truths, and in political views we seem to be in agreement. I appreciate your blog and your consistent well written critic against the values of Empire.

    Religious moderates and progressives have often run from criticism instead of making bold statements as you have done here. It is important that more Christian leaders speak up on these issues. It is healthy for people to see how we struggle through issues like abortion before making our views public. You’ve done a great job of expressing that struggle and making your point clear.

    Comment by Mike L. | August 15, 2007

  3. Michael,

    First of all it is a heavy thing to call me a liar and to do so in a full post. I think we could have dealt with this either through email (and you have mine) or at least through the comment section of my post. I must say that I have lost some respect for you in doing such. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I feel it appropriate since you attacked my character and in the process did to me what you accuse me of doing to you.

    So, let me publically answer your objections. First, remember that you have been incorrect regarding my views on at least two occassions, both of which have not been nuances, but vast differences. And both times I felt I respectfully corrected you, in the course of ongoing comments. Speaking falsehoods and simply being wrong are two different things and I in no way have intentionally tried to lie about your views. I may hold that your views lead to certain conclusions that you are unwilling to recognize, but I HAVE CERTAINLY NEVER INTENTIONALLY TRIED TO MISREPRESENT YOUR VIEWS OR LIE ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE SAID. I hope that is perfectly clear.

    1. I understand your position on abortion, but I wholeheartely believe that it is inconsistent. I don’t think you can simultaneously oppose stricter abortion laws and work toward fewer abortions. Maybe I am wrong, but didn’t you oppose legislation ending partial-birth abortion (a procedure that is heinously inhumane and completely unneccessary in 99% of all cases)? If so, to me that is an example of the contradiction in your position. And I believe you have clearly stated in the past that you believe that women SHOULD have the right to an abortion, even if you oppose them doing so. Again, that seems to me to be a contradiction. Now, while I disagree with your position, I don’t think that my view that you contradict yourself is an intentional lie on my part. I simply believe that you are talking out of both sides of your mouth. And by the way, those men you mentioned earlier admitted they were wrong and repented of their belief, as did the SBC in later resolutions (which amounted, I believe, to only about 7 years after Roe v. Wade).

    2. I have NEVER tried to insinuate that you are a Bill Clinton fan. In fact, I don’t know another time when I have brought up Bill Clinton except in the previous post. Maybe you can point me to another one. But in the last post, my only allusion to the man was to note that he (a Democrat) passed legislation to repair welfare. What I am sick of hearing is how conservative Christians don’t care about the poor because we believe entitlements need to be overhauled. I have seen first-hand the need for this. I have stories of people who really do fleece the system and I think it keeps people in poverty, rather than helps them to get back on their feet and become productive. My bringing up of Clinton is a support that Republicans and conservative Christians are not alone in realizing serious problems with welfare and entitlements, not to try to link you to them man. That was really a stretch to read my statements in that way.

    3. Your explanation of your position fits perfectly with every definition I have ever read of inclusivism. Now, you might not define inclusivism like that, but most scholars I have read do so. Inclusivism itself is not a term that is often used by those who hold to such a position and those men you mention probably wouldn’t call themselves such, but as I understand it, that is the best way to describe their position. Either way, I am not trying to misrepresent or falsely accuse you by calling you an inclusivist. I really don’t understand why you don’t wholeheartedly accept the term. In discussions with other moderate to liberal bloggers like Big Daddy Weave, they have had not problem in being labeled as such and use the exact same description of their position as you do. I was not trying to offend you in doing so, but rather to define your position and then to contrast it with 1) the Biblical view and 2) the historic view, both of which I believe reflect exclusivism as opposed to your position.

    4. Michael, it’s really hard to avoid the implication in your comment about me. You rail against me and then say clearly “I think that anyone who … supports violence such as the death penalty is either not truly converted or converted to something else than the gospel–no matter how many creeds they quote.” You know I support the death penalty and then you say this. Either you must say you are wrong here or that you stand by your statement. There is no other conclusion that I can make. Your belief is that anyone who supports this view must be unsaved. I support this view, therefore, in your opinion I must be unsaved. And if you didn’t want to say that, why did you make that statement. What use did it have in our discussion other that to demean me and give an opinion of me? Come on man, I have thick enough skin to handle that kind of junk, but don’t insult my intelligence by acting like I jumped to a ridiculous conclusion here.

    5. I obviously don’t have time, nor the energy to engage you in a debate on this, so I will simply say I disagree with your conclusion about the history of substitutionary atonement. But again, I disagree with you – I am not trying to lie about what you believe. I actually knew what position you held to from some other discussions we have had and from a previous post I believe you either wrote or commented on. Regardless, it is a false conclusion to say that was intentionally trying to speak falsely by saying you don’t hold to the historic view of the atonement. I don’t think you do. Sorry, man, but that isn’t a lie – it’s a difference of opinion. That’s another huge leap.

    6. I should have said, “women as senior pastors” instead of saying women in ministry here. Still, I believe when you take into account the Anglican church in Africa and the Evangelical Church in China, as well as the majority of Evangelicals in the US (the SBC is not alone here, there’s the PCA, a good portion of the UMC, the Nazarenes, some PCUSA churches, OPC churches, RPC churches, Calvary Churches, the (conservative) Church of Christ, the Regular Baptists, the General Baptists, Independant Fundamental Baptists, the Evangelical Free Church, and numerous non-demoninational churches that hold this view as well). I think in this regard you are in the minority. That’s hard to prove or disprove and I admit that, but historically I am correct. Women as pastors came quite a few years after the Reformation. So, again, no false accusations here, but definately a difference of opinion.

    7. I am glad you finally say I am right on something. And I have never said you embrace it out of distain for Biblical authority, but I do think you are completely wrong and historically out of touch with the Church. And yes, I do disagree with your Biblical interpretation, despite the fact that you have never dealt with the major text – Romans 1 in your blog, though you have said you would.

    8. Finally, the Didache is clear on abortion. That is a very early document and we have absolutely no text that dissents from it in the early Church Fathers or in the pre-Reformation, Reformation, and post-Reformation writings. Abortion, like homosexuality, while common in Rome, was all but wiped out of the Roman empire when Christianity became the official religion. That speaks volumes about the two practices and what early Christians believed about them.

    To me, your positions are fundamentally contradictory to the Gospel, and I realize you believe the same about mine. But I do think you have just as misunderstood of a view about my positions as you think I have of yours. I don’t neglect the poor, but I disagree with your methods of dealing with them (which to me leads to Socialism and not to their self-actualization and eventual benefit to the overall society). I don’t rape the environment. In fact, I recycle, use CFLs, and support the use of alternative fuels. Most of my Evangelical friends do the same. But I refuse to bow down to a enviro-lobby that does not take into account the real reason why we need to conserve and take care of the environment – the future wellbeing of mankind.

    So, while I think you have falsely accused me and my Evangelical brethren of all sorts of heinous things, I don’t want to be angry with you. I want to pray for you. I don’t want to try to embarrass you or accuse you publically Michael, but I do want you to listen and actually consider the possibility that you may be wrong about me and my methods of dealing with problems and my interpretation of Scripture might actually be correct. But in any case, I want to discuss issues and debate topics, not attack each other’s character. I have tried hard not to do that, but I realize that I get angry at times, and for that I apologize. I am sorry if I come across sarcastic or rude, often that is not my intent, and even when it is I apologize. I post comments on your blog, not to anger you, but to offer a different perspective and sometimes to defend myself and others against what I believe are unfair and wrongheaded attacks. If you no longer want me to comment I won’t, but I cannot continue to feel like everytime I write something I should be prepared to have my character assaulted. If that is your way of running me off, then just tell me I am no longer welcome and I will depart. My hope is that after reading this, you, and your fellow commenters will see that I, and my fellow Evangelicals, are not idiots, or pagans, or haters of Christ, but rather people who are seeking Christ, however imperfectly and trying to navigate His Word through His Spirit.

    Comment by D.R Randle | August 15, 2007

  4. D.R Randle,

    You’ve completely missed Michael’s point in #4 above. You equate conversion with salvation which is part of your privatized anti-gospel, but conversion is not at all the same as salvation. He is saying you are not converted to the gospel – a conclusion I wholeheartedly agree with on the basis of what you have written here. However, as to the status of your salvation that is both impossible to know and not up to him, but up to Christ. You might be offended that he called you unconverted, but quit conflating that with salvation.

    Comment by Aric Clark | August 15, 2007

  5. Dr. David P. Gushee is my friend and sometime writing partner. (Many people can make this claim. Dave writes all the time and often with friends.) He and I had some of the same teachers and both consider Glen Stassen a mentor. Dave is also one of D.R. Randle’s former teachers at Union University in Dayton, TN before his recent appointment to Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. (McAfee is related most closely to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a centrist denomination with both evangelical and mainline connections.) Dave used to work for Evangelicals for Social Action and is the founder of Evangelicals for Human Rights–an anti-torture campaign. He and I are working with the Constitution Project on its anti-death penalty campaign. No one doubts Dave’s evangelical credentials.
    I mention this because Dave is finishing a book on U.S. evangelicalism in which he charts out 3 theological & political categories of U.S. Evangelicals: The Evangelical Right (which gets the most media attention and has had the most political power–but now seems desperate as that power seems to be slipping away), the Evangelical Center, and the Evangelical Left. Dave identifies most closely with the Evangelical Center and places me in the Evangelical Left. I appreciate this refusal to let the Right define and hog the term “Evangelical,” as D.R. Randle does when he says “me and my Evangelical brethren” excommunicating me from the title, so to speak.
    Another strength of Dave’s mapping (I hope the book will be out soon) is that he sees strengths and weaknesses in all 3 sections of the U.S. Evangelical spectrum. Dave has many disagreements with the Right and some disagreements with the Left (e.g.–although he agrees that my approach to abortion is a “pro-life” strategy, he also argues for a larger role in restrictive legislation and has little patience with those who are firmly pro-choice), but Dave loses his temper much less often than I do. He’s better at finding common ground–which may be why he doesn’t blog. 🙂
    On the issue of capital punishment, Dave and I are both principled abolitionists. Dave notes that this is the normative position among the Evangelical Left in the U.S.–exceptions are few. On the other hand, supporting capital punishment is almost an article of faith among the Evangelical Right (so, most of Texas’ evangelicals must be of the Right variety–see previous post). Every once and awhile there are important exceptions (e.g., from his prison conversion until the Oklahoma City bombing, Charles Colson was a dp abolitionist), but death penalty support is considered a matter of course.
    But the Evangelical Center is conflicted and moveable on this issue. Few are principled abolitionists, but many favor a moratorium on executions because they are troubled about the many miscarriages of justice, the racial disparities, and other problems.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 15, 2007

  6. Aric,

    So, let me ask you, “Can you be saved without being converted?” And if so, please give me the Biblical passages you take this theological position from.

    Comment by D.R Randle | August 15, 2007

  7. Yes you can be save without being converted. No I will not play your proof-texting game. Read Lumen Gentium, from Vatican II for one of the most conservative contemporary statements about what salvation outside the church means.

    Comment by Aric Clark | August 15, 2007

  8. Sorry Aric, I am not a Catholic and do not accept Catholic teaching. I am a Baptist, and thus my only authority is the Scriptures. If you don’t want to talk about Scripture and all a serious exegetical discussion is to you is a bunch of proof-texting, then we have nothing further to discuss. Since that is clearly all I have to stand on, just as the early Christians, the Reformers, and the historic Baptists believed.

    So I do not understand a man who will not discuss the Scriptures, but instead defers to Catholic teaching. Still, because of my belief in the authority of Scriptures I cannot end this discussion without claiming that my belief is based upon the following Scriptures, upon which I stand with the historic brethren: Romans 10 (especially v. 9-15), as well as John 3:16-18, John 8:24, John 16:8-9, Acts 16:31 (a clear salvific formula used often in the early Church), 1 Corinthians 1:21, and Galatians 3:22. I could go on, but I will stop with those. Hopefully, examining those texts will keep you busy through the weekend, since I cannot continue to comment at this speed and do all that I have to complete before the end of this week.

    Comment by D.R Randle | August 16, 2007

  9. Michael,

    What books/articles would you recommend in order to get an introductory look at a view like yours regarding peace and the Gospel? Your belief that people who “support war, militarism, and the death penalty” have not “been converted to the gospel” is intriguing to me. I understand the distinction you are making, but I want to understand your perspective at greater depth. Any thoughts?

    Thanks for clarifying your beliefs, even if understanding remains elusive to some.

    Grace and peace,


    Comment by Emily Hunter McGowin | August 16, 2007

  10. Wow, Emily, the bibliography you are asking for is quite long. I’ll try to work on that and post something here this weekend. You’ve asked a very important question. In the meantime, if you click the “peace links” page on my blog and/or browse some of the other blogs in the Christian Peace Bloggers blog-ring, you should get some good info.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 16, 2007

  11. (A sidebar note, since I most definitely don’t want to get pulled into the wrangle that’s going on.)

    On universalism and annihilationism: William Stringfellow always made a distinction between immortality and resurrection. Immortality, personal continuation after physical death, is what most Christians focus on. But what’s important and central to the Gospel is resurrection: rebirth in Christ. We may or may not continue personally after death, says Stringfellow. (He appears, actually, to have doubted it, and I must admit that I do too.) But we are called to resurrection.

    Comment by Maiden | August 18, 2007

  12. DR Randle,

    I am loathe to wade into a conversation going nowhere, and certainly have no interest in puzzling out whether or not one may actually be “saved” (by which, I suppose, we mean here something like “going to heaven”) without being “converted” (by which, again I am supposing, we mean here something like “accepting the authority of the Gospel and comforming to it”). In your discussion with both Aric and Michael, however, it simply does not matter whether or not one can actually be “saved” without being “converted,” as you are arguing a point of etiquette rather than theology.

    What I mean by that it this: As I understand the dispute, you were called by Michael to “convert,” in some form. You took that to mean that he was questioning your salvation. He has since explained to you that he is not questioning your salvation, and has provided, fromt he context of his own beliefs, some compelling reason why he is not questioning your salvation. As such, on this point, you have not been insulted in the way that you have taken yourself to be insulted. Everything that follows is simply a refusal to persue even the most basic form of reconciliation.

    Comment by Sandalstraps | August 18, 2007

  13. Sandlestraps,

    What I find most interesting is that both you and Aric assume that such a discussion between Michael and I has taken place in a vacuum, apart from the knowledge of each other’s views. Despite some verbal gamesmanship on the part of Michael to duck the label of inclusivist and to assert that I misinterpreted him, he has not yet suggested that either yours or Aric’s reading of his words is correct. Furthermore, Michael knows plainly how I understand the word “convert” and how I apply it to salvation. He is not ignorant of my views in that regard. Michael is much more careful with his words and much smarter than you give him credit for. The statement was plainly made to be provocative. And if that isn’t enough, maybe you should go back and re-read exactly what he wrote. Here it is:

    And, yes, I think that anyone who restricts aid to the poor to private handouts (or liberal welfare policies in place of real justice), rapes or ignores the environment, and supports violence such as the death penalty is either not truly converted or converted to something else than the gospel–no matter how many creeds they quote. Not all who say to Jesus “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Reign of God.

    Michael at the end makes allusion to Matthew 7:21, in which Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” That entire passage refers to who will “go to heaven.” So if Michael’s whole point to was to differentiate between my conversion and salvation or, as you said, “accepting the authority of the Gospel…” and “going to heaven” why did he make an allusion to a text that clearly emphasizes the “going to heaven” part?

    And finally, Michael is not a universalist and I understand that clearly. In his theology, I do not have an excuse like the man on the island who does not know the Gospel or the Muslim who never hears. I should know better and thus my rebellion or lack of conversion (in his estimation) is wilfull. Thus, for a non-universalist, I am unrepentant and thus non-conversion should mean that I am destined for, at the least, annihilation, unless, of course, I repent.

    And as for your statement, “Everything that follows is simply a refusal to persue even the most basic form of reconciliation”, I say, 1) it doesn’t apply, and 2) who exactly in your scenario is refusing to reconcile? I don’t remember ever directly calling anyone a liar publically and with only scant evidence.

    Comment by D.R Randle | August 19, 2007

  14. […] a few disconnected quotes from ’round the web, via Michael Westmorland-White at the Levellers: I have been charged with being in a minority regarding my support for women in ministry. Again, I […]

    Pingback by Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Guys and Gals and ‘Nuff Faith | August 23, 2007

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