This past summer I was in Richmond, Virginia for the July IMB trustee meeting. I wrote of a little sidetrip my wife and I took while in Richmond in a blog entitled Punching Holes in the Darkness.
In that post I discussed meeting the Pastor of FBC Richmond, Dr. Jim Flamming. I had never met Dr. Flamming before. In fact, I had never even heard of him. I recounted the encounter this way:
"When I was in Richmond this week I stopped by the First Baptist Church to tour the facilities and take a gander at the famous bell in the courtyard. I am a civil war buff, and the tour given Rachelle and me by the gracious Senior Pastor's secretary was very enjoyable. At the conclusion of our walk around the church we ran into Dr. Peter James Flamming, the Senior Pastor of FBC Richmond for the past quarter century. Dr. Flamming gave me a book that contains twelve messages he preached at FBC Richmond. The first message was a very enjoyable read entitled "Punching Holes in the Darkness."
Without going into detail regarding the message, the theme revolved around "the beautiful feet of those who share good news" from the book of Isaiah. Dr. Flamming's challenge to his congregation was that they be people who make it a priority to share good news, and in so doing, punch a hole in the darkness around them.">
The post said a few more things, but the extent of my comments regarding Dr. Flamming were those in the above two paragraphs.
A Charge of Liberalism
Several weeks later I learned that a few people had called an acquaintance of mine and chided him for being associated with Wade Burleson, a friend of liberals. My acquaintance then read the "Punching Holes" post, and he himself made the judgment that I was sympathetic with liberals because I wrote about meeting Dr. Flamming.
Besides the fact I continue to be bumfuzzled how the post above could be considered an endorsement of Dr. Flammning's theology, which of course it is not since I did not even know what Flamming's theological beliefs were, I did ask specifically why he was accused of "liberalism." Again, though I did not know Dr. Flamming personally, I knew that he was the pastor of the church where several IMB staffers are members.
In answer to my question I was told, verbatim, "Dr. Flamming denies the virgin birth of Christ."
Further, I was informed that since I wrote on my blog that I went to visit Flamming's church, that my acquaintance was having to distance himself from me, because it was said, "Wade Burleson must be a closet liberal myself." I laughed out loud when I heard that, until I realized the person telling me was serious. I was considered liberal because of a very brief, one time visit, with a man who allegedly denies belief in the virgin birth of Christ.
I then told my friend who was telling me this, "If Dr. Flamming denies the virgin birth of Christ, then he should be considered liberal theologically. But that does not stop me from being nice and civil to him, does it? Further, until I talk to him personally, I will reserve any personal judgment regarding his beliefs."
My Phone Call to Dr. Flamming
On Wednesday, September 20th, 2006, I called Dr. Flamming. Dr. Flamming was not in the office, but just a couple of hours later he called me.
I explained to him the situation and that I was calling to ask him a question.
I asked, "Dr. Flamming, do you deny the virgin birth of Jesus Christ?"
Dr. Flamming, in his deep baritone voice said, "Wade, I am glad you called me to clear this up. People don't usually do that."
He continued, "What you heard about my beliefs is a bald-faced lie. I believe in the virgin birth of Christ. I tried to track down where that rumor began, and what I have come up with is an interview with me decades ago where I was asked, 'Do you have to believe in the virgin birth to be saved?' I said 'no' and then quoted Romans 10:9, If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
I then told the reporter that I personally could not see how you could explain the uniqueness of the person of Christ without the virgin birth, and that I personally believed in the virgin birth, but it was not a necessary doctrine for salvation. Some people seem to have taken just the first portion of what I said, twisted it around, and the rumor that I deny the virgin birth has followed me for over 35 years.
I have tried to bury the rumor. I've preached series on the virgin birth of Christ. I have proclaimed to anyone who will listen to me that I believe in the virgin birth of Christ. But it seems that some just want to cast aspersions my way rather than discover the truth."
I asked Dr. Flamming for permission to post our conversation on the blog, and he said, yes, with just one caveat. He wanted me to explain how strongly he believed in the virgin birth.
I reiterate that I do not know Dr. Flamming, and I am not attempting to defend him or his ministry. The only reason I called him was to ask him about the virgin birth --- the one doctrine I was explicitly told he denied. Is it as surprising to you, as it is me, that he called that allegation "an outright lie?"
I have learned through this experience that until people stop misrepresenting other people, and find it in their hearts to dialogue, rather than cast aspersions, there will never be any peace in the Southern Baptist Convention. I also learned you can't believe everything you hear --- or read.
The CBF has begun their own denomination. They have their own seminary. They have their own missionaries. They have their own way of doing business. Nobody desires the CBF back into the SBC, and nobody in the CBF wants back in the SBC.
That's old news.
It seems, however, that the tactics of a few have not changed. I believe that it is time for all of us in the SBC to stop casting aspersions and actually talk with one another and not at one another.
I pray we get there.
In His Grace,