Georgia report calls Godsey doctrinal views 'heretical'

by Herb Hollinger & Keith Hinson, posted Monday, September 08, 1997 (21 years ago)

ATLANTA (BP)--A special Georgia Baptist committee commissioned to look at the doctrinal views of Mercer University President R. Kirby Godsey has concluded his views "deviate significantly from historic Baptist doctrine and are, in fact, considered heretical."

The "Price Committee," so called because it is chaired by Nelson Price, pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church, Marietta, Ga., will present its report to the Georgia Baptist Convention's executive committee Sept. 9. The Price Committee was created in December 1996 in response to the continued concern of members of the executive committee about Godsey's book "When We Talk About God ... Let's Be Honest," according to the Sept. 4 issue of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the state convention.

The executive committee named seven pastors to the study committee which included Frank Cox, president of the state convention, Oscar Cope, chairman of the executive committee, and J. Robert White, state executive director.

Characterizing Godsey as a "word craftsman" in his responses to the committee's probes, the report said, "Unfortunately ... he has masterfully doublespoken in many instances." His responses, the report said, also contain numerous affirmations which most evangelical Christian can embrace.

"A careful reading of both the questions and his responses will reveal they are often long convoluted statements unrelated to the questions. On occasion these are attractive comments, but they leave the question unaddressed. This further confuses the issue," the report said.

In summary, the report found the three sources Godsey provided -- his book, an interview and his written responses -- "to be often inconsistent."

Among the references most disturbing, the report said, were passages dealing with the authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, salvation and universalism.

"The committee's opinion is that Dr. Godsey's book and his written answers to these questions dramatically deviate from orthodoxy. That being true, it is our opinion that it is punctuated with heresy. At best the book is written in a reckless fashion so that it misrepresents the truth. The answers provided by Dr. Godsey represent a more cautious and more conservative response than the committee heard in the interview or read in the book. It is the committee's opinion that Dr. Godsey has thus failed his spiritual fiduciary responsibility as leader of Georgia Baptists' largest institution," the report concludes.

The publication last year of Godsey's book generated enormous controversy in Georgia and in Baptist circles outside the state. It is unclear what the state executive committee will do when it meets Sept. 9 to consider the findings in the report but Mercer University trustees already have voted publicly to support the embattled president.

In its report to the Georgia Baptist Convention's executive committee, the special committee drew from three sources: various parts of Godsey's book, an interview with him and his written responses to questions submitted by the committee.

Not long after the book's release, Godsey was censured by an executive committee resolution -- later affirmed by the annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention -- claiming he "has departed significantly from Baptist doctrine" and asking him to reconsider his views.

After months of controversy, the Price Committee was appointed to submit theological questions to Godsey for his comments.

In his reply to the committee, Godsey affirmed "the trustworthiness and reliability of Scripture" but warned of problems with the concept of inerrancy.

"The dangers of this doctrine seem to far outweigh its advantages," Godsey declared.

Alluding to cautions from inerrantist theologian J.I. Packer, Godsey warned a belief in inerrancy can lead to adopting a "view of Scripture that obscures its humanity," becoming preoccupied with "peripheral details" rather than Christ and basing "trust in the Bible on proof of its truth rather than on divine testimony to it." According to Godsey, "If one stumbles into (these) pitfalls, ... one has fallen into a modern-day heresy."

The Price Committee suggested the rejection of inerrancy is intellectually problematic: "There are certainly far more problems in believing in the errancy of Scripture. ... To wit, if the Bible is errant, then you either have to say that God inspired error, or not all of the Bible is inspired, or the Bible is inspired in spots."

Regarding the identity of Christ, the committee asked Godsey to justify a statement from his book that "Jesus is not God."

Godsey indicated they were taking the sentence out of context, which he said "distorts and misinterprets" his meaning.

"Jesus is God incarnate, but my statement that Jesus is not God is meant to convey that Jesus' presence in history does not exhaust the reality of God," Godsey wrote. "God also comes to us as Father and Holy Spirit. ... I make clear in the same passage that Jesus is God with us in flesh and blood. We cannot resolve the mystery of the incarnation."

In response, the committee quoted several passages of Scripture, such as Colossians 2:9, "In him (Christ) dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily," and Romans 9:5, "Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God."

"No amount of context justifies the statement, 'Jesus is not God,'" the committee observed.

Regarding substitutionary atonement -- that Christ died on the cross where he bore the iniquity of sinners and took their place -- Godsey wrote to the committee, "I regard it to be an inadequate and incomplete view of the atonement. ... We are saved, not by the death of Jesus alone, but by Jesus' life, death, and resurrection."

Among the biblical examples Godsey cited to bolster his point was the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19, where Jesus declares, "Today salvation has come to this house." "This salvation comes before the cross," Godsey wrote. "This power to forgive sins is present in the person of Jesus even before his death. Just as there is no salvation in the death of Christ apart from his life, there is no salvation in his death apart from his resurrection."

Committee members responded that Godsey's views deny "the objectivity of the cross making its meaning subjective." They took issue with a sentence from Godsey's book that "Jesus did not come to pay off the heavy penalties for our sin."

Such a view "denies the centrality of the cross and the redemptive work of Christ," the committee responded. They said Godsey's view is contradicted by several biblical passages such as 1 Corinthians 1:18, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

In another area of disagreement, over whether anyone can be saved after physical death, the committee quoted a passage from Godsey's book that seems to endorse universal redemption, the idea that all people may eventually enter heaven -- even those who have first gone to hell but later accept God's grace.

Godsey responded the passage from his book was simply describing one of three alternatives believed by various Christians in church history.

Regarding his own belief, Godsey wrote, "The Scripture declares that there are no boundaries, including death, which can restrict God. ... We should not too quickly limit the power of God."

Godsey pointed to what he called "historical examples from the ministry of Jesus which indicate the possibility of coming to faith in Christ after death." In an example from Mark 5, Godsey cited the story of Jesus raising from death the daughter of Jairus. "We must assume this child had the opportunity to place her faith in Jesus even after she had experienced death and was raised to life again."

The committee differed: "The miracles he refers to ... do not illustrate a second chance after death. They illustrate the power of Jesus over death, as John makes very plain in his gospel when he calls every miracle Jesus did 'a sign.'"

In all, Godsey offered responses to more than 30 questions or statements from the Price Committee.

Besides Price, other committee members include: Georgia Baptist Convention president Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro First Baptist Church, Lawrenceville; GBC executive director J. Robert White; GBC executive committee chairman Oscar Cope, pastor, First Baptist Church, Fairburn; John Connell, pastor, First Baptist Church, Brunswick; William Harrell, pastor, Abilene Baptist Church, Martinez; Ben Haygood, pastor, Vineville Baptist Church, Macon; James Merritt, pastor, First Baptist Church, Snellville; Timothy McCoy, pastor, Ingleside Baptist Church, Macon; and Frank Page, pastor, Warren Baptist Church, Augusta.

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