Third Generation Conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention, Part 1

steve-mckGuest Blog by Steven A. McKinion
He is the Associate Professor of Theology and Patristic Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught Theology, Church History, Hermeneutics, and Historcial Theology classes at Southeastern Seminary. Dr. McKinion’s area of specialization is Patristic Theology. He holds the following degrees: B.A., Mississippi College; M.A., University of Mobile; Ph.D., King’s College, University of Aberdeen. He has been a professor at SEBTS since ’98.

There are two types of under 40’s in the Southern Baptist Convention.  Some look, sound, dress, preach, and act like the first generation of conservatives (those who led the Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s).  These SBs hope one day to pastor a megachurch and preach at the SBC Pastor’s Conference.  They love Jesus, love the Bible, and love the SBC, in that order.

Their SBC “cousins” (descendants of the same “grandparents”) don’t wear suits and ties, rarely say “Aaaaaamen” when someone is preaching, don’t shout “hello?” after making a good point in a sermon, and could not care any less about getting an invite to preach at another church.  They love Jesus, love the Bible, love missions, and love the work of the SBC, in that order.  They don’t look or sound like their cousins, and they don’t aspire to the same roles.

I want to comment on the latter of these under 40s.  I’ll leave it to others to judge their commitment to Jesus, the Bible, and the SBC, as I want to focus on identifying them and their antecedents.

I am an older younger Southern Baptist.  When the conservative resurgence began in 1979, I was 8 years old and more worried about All Stars baseball practice than Southern Baptist politics.  I grew up in rather conservative (socially, politically, and theologically) Southern Baptist churches.  I was baptized into one.  I learned to be a self-righteous hypocrite in one.  I perfected my hypocrisy in yet another.  But I digress.

When the Peace Committee was meeting in the mid-80s, I was more interested in high school baseball, girls, and big hair bands than in Southern Baptist politics.  I continued to feign religious devotion on Sundays while devoting myself to more worldly interests at other times.

I am the fruit of the Southern Baptist conservative resurgence.  The foundation of my faith was laid in churches where the gospel was preached and, sometimes, practiced.  I bought the message of the inerrancy of Scripture and the sufficiency of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  After a period of detoxing from hypocrisy and self-righteousness I rushed headlong into authentic Christian faith, as I had learned it from the generation before me.  Without the great work of those first generation conservatives, I would not be where I am, in many ways.  I am grateful to these men, and see them as heroes.  I love Jesus because of first generation conservatives.

I now teach at a Southern Baptist seminary.  In 1998, when I completed my PhD and became a professor I was 27 years old.  Most of my students were my age or older.  Many of them had walked a similar road as I had.  They were the first generation of post-Resurgence Southern Baptists, as I was.  We shared a commitment to the cause of the resurgence; namely, the inerrancy, sufficiency and reliability of the Scriptures.

Now, I teach another generation of seminarians.  Most of these students, sadly, know little of the CR.  They are like children who don’t know their grandparents but are nonetheless who they are because of the legacy their forebears left.  They can’t name the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention much less the dozens since 1979.  In fact, they don’t really care.  They have taken seriously the admonition not to look to men but to look to Jesus.

My students today are similar to their “grandparents” in many ways.  They preach the gospel, hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, believe in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, are complementarian, have high moral standards, and are committed to the work of the ministry.

But there is also a great gulf between these generations.  The older generation fought a good fight for good reasons.  They made mistakes (don’t we all) but were devoted to seeing our denomination not abandon the Bible and its gospel, but rather work to fulfill the Great Commission.  They deserve, and have, the appreciation of those who followed them.

Their “children” took the ball and ran with it.  Rather than “camp meetings” with Southern Gospel music they held youth rallies with Christians’ best attempt at rap and rock.  They removed the organ from worship services and replaced it with a keyboard.  They sang songs not found in the Baptist Hymnal.  They preached the Bible instead of just talking about it.  They told people that Christianity was a relationship not a religion.  They did just what their own Southern Baptist “parents” taught them to do.

Then, something strange happened: young people embraced the movement and its message.

So why the gulf?  What are the differences?  In a brief series of articles I want to posit some distinctives of the third generation of conservatives (under 40’s – of which I am one), draw some implications from these distinctives, then offer some possible justifications for why one should consider these missional, gospel-centered Southern Baptist conservatives to be the heirs of the CR.

The heirs to the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC are those young men and women who are gospel-centered, missional, and convictional Great Commission-Conservatives.  They are the third generation of committed conservatives in the SBC and are identified by four distinctives:

Theological Distinctive: third-generation conservatives understand the Gospel to be robust, encompassing ALL of life under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ.  A limited view of the Gospel in which church people obtain a “get out of hell free” card by saying some prayer seems Gnostic, at best, to these young people.  They have come to adopt a holistic perspective in which Jesus is Lord, not just of the believer’s eternal state, but of all His creation.  For that reason, the younger conservative desires obedience to the only Law for the Christian: Love God and love neighbor.  While for many this robust Gospel has led them to a more or less Reformed soteriology (and all that accompanies it), their trending this way is due to a rejection of man-centered revivalism and not due to a convictional association with Dort.  Not all of these younger conservatives are Reformed per se, but they do practice and preach a robust Gospel of the Lordship of Jesus over every area of their lives.

Cultural Distinctive: third-generation conservatives have emerged from both an ecclesiastical culture and an American culture where authenticity is paramount.  Many of these younger Baptists heard from the first and second generation conservatives that the “church” was rife with hypocrisy.  As youth these Baptists saw deacons who were racists and WMU leaders who were gossips.  In response to the proper exhortation of their leaders, these younger Baptists rejected hypocrisy in favor of authentic Christianity.  They have little interest in becoming a pastor in a traditional church, which they associate with self-righteous hypocrisy.  Churches, and church leaders, who place more emphasis on whether a man wears a tie in a pulpit (or even has a “sacred desk”) have no appeal to the third generation.  The Book is sacred to them, not a piece of furniture.  Simplicity stems from autheniticity in their minds.  They are not attracted to churches whose programs designed to make people “functional” outnumber the people trying to run them.  They do not care whether they are asked to preach at the Pastor’s Conference or at so-and-so’s church.  In my experience, these younger conservatives do not have disdain for the “prominent” preachers, they just don’t care to become one of them.

Biblical Distinctive: third-generation conservatives listened to, and believed, the former generation’s call to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.  When they were told that “Jesus and the Bible” were enough, they believed it, and now act on that confession.  For these Baptists, the Bible is not a handbook for better living or a sourcebook for the end times.  It is, instead, the Word of God, in which and through which God speaks to human beings, revealing Himself and His great plan in Jesus Christ.  They go to the Bible to “increase in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10).  This commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture explains why they care more about what a preacher says than what he wears or how he says it.  The men to whom they listen are less orators than expositors.  Men like Mark Driscoll, Danny Akin, Johnny Hunt, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, Andy Davis and David Platt (and many others) simply open the text, explain it to listeners, then send them on their way to live it.  The “pathos” of Cicero and Augustine has little appeal to third-generation conservatives.  They are molded more in the image of John Chrysostom than Augustine of Hippo when it comes to their preaching (see my book, Life and Practice in the Early Church for a fuller explanation).  If the Bible is sufficient, they reason, then it should be studied, learned, and lived.

Intellectual Distinctive: third-generation conservatives like to read.  They learned this from the first generation of conservatives who encouraged them to expand their intellectual boundaries, ask questions, read critically, and become more intellectually-grounded than their “enemies” (whoever that is).  This generation has learned to read, and read critically.  They do not accept explanations like, “it’s correct because it is Baptist.”  They are capable of seeing the diversity among Baptists regarding Calvinism, for example, and are capable of therefore living together in missional peace with whom they disagree.  They are also able to discern what the fundamentals of the faith and association are, and act accordingly.  Charges of “ecumenism” will not stick, because third-generation conservatives have rejected theological liberalism, neo-orthodoxy, and strict separationism.

Third generation Conservatives should not be classified by clothes (short sleeves v. suits) or preaching style (emotional v. intellectual), but by the distinctives a robust understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a culture of authentic simplicity, a commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, and an insatiable desire to learn Christ and His way of Life through biblical and theological inquiry.

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79 thoughts on “Third Generation Conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention, Part 1

  1. BOOM! Outstanding, my younger colleague and now suite mate (and fellow snake lover if not as devoted as your older colleague). This is must reading for all the generations, those older than mine, those like me, and yours. And in fact, my son and daughter’s as well. I cannot wait to read the next installment.

  2. Well said Dr. McKinnon:
    As a 43 year old 00 graduate of SEBTS, with a testimony much like yours (my conversion happened at 30)am I a 2d or 3d generation Conservative. Having attended SEBTS from 96-00 after the campus had finished the BIG CHANGE, and conservatism was basking in the glow of success, I can look at those men and feel a lot of admiration and respect, but as I began to say during my last year of SEBTS, “Dr.____ and those guys do not fathom what they have played a part in releasing when they taught us The Bible was the inerrant and perfect Word of God.
    In Christ Alone,

  3. First time visitor to your blog. I’ll definitely be back. This is great stuff and I’ll be pointing a lot of folks towards this post. Thanks for sharing what so many young adults, including myself, experience in our relationship with the SBC and with the many other leaders within it.

  4. As a 28-year-old Southern Baptist, I’d want to give this article to people to help them understand me and my perspective on ministry. Excellent insight. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  5. I am, at 49, part of the second generation. I was in seminary in the early days of the Conservative Resurgence. I would say my generation matters less than the one that is coming after us. But we do have more than a little influence, and it is up to my generation to use that influence to welcome and include those in the 3rd, which is something I am giving my life to do.

  6. Excellent! A personal relationship with Jesus should change the way we think, the way we interact with everyone, and should never draw attention to ourselves. Amen to the death of religious ambition.

  7. I’m a generational anomaly. I’m 43 but fit squarely into the third generation. Becoming a Christian at 30 precluded my involvement or knowledge of anything SBC-centric prior to 1995. Good stuff.

  8. Your description clearly articulates the exact sentiments of my son-in-law and daughter who are 29 and 28. He is a PhD student who simply desires to love and serve Jesus with a strong emphasis on living out the pracitcal applications of the Scriptures in the world.
    We, who are of the first and second generation SBC CR, need to take heed,listen and engage these third generation folks! Blessings!

  9. As the son to first generation, brother to third generation, and just attached at 41 to the second generation, I believe that you have clearly pointed to a deep need for the time. It is my job to help bridge the distance from the first to the third generation. This article, and I’m sure the next, will help facilitate this great and essential task.



  10. Very good article. I’m 31 and wasn’t saved until 21. I’ve attended The College at Southeastern and now am pursing a Master’s Degree at SEBTS. I’ve bought into what you’ve stated so clearly. What I like about the generation I’m in (and the ones coming up still) is that there is a focus on being gospel drive. It’s why I love Dr. Akin and what’s taking place on campus. Thanks for the post. May we strive for the gospel!

  11. Dr. McKinion

    I have just recently started following Baptist21 and am yet again encouraged and enlightened. Being a 25 year old Southern Baptist myself, I (like everyone else here, it seems) feel that you have verbalized my own thoughts and feelings for me quite well. I am somewhat of an oddity, not having been raised in a Southern Baptist context, but have now been a member of SBC churches for several years and am currently working to shape the fourth generation as a Youth Pastor. Kudos to you, sir, on an excellent article.

    Grace and peace,
    Carson Rogers

  12. On target. I am looking forward to further articles. Interested in the third generation’s view of culture. How do they view Baptists’ somewhat schizophrenic cultural captivity and rejection of culture? How do they define and live out “in the world but not of the world”? Seems to me to be why they are often misunderstood.

  13. I read this article due to it being put on Facebook. I myself am not a southern baptist and am trying to understand the biblical authority for a southern baptist convention. Can anyone shed some light on this?

  14. Very thought provoking. It sounds a bit like you’re seeing the relationship between 1st and 3rd generations as similar to that between Zwingli and his anabaptist students. I’m just a very few years older than Dr. Reid and know many 1st and 2nd genners who do not have self-aggrandizing ambitions or a truncated view of lordship–they too are more Grebel than Zwingli. I’m not so sure that the contrasts you’ve drawn re authenticity, commitment to Christ, expostion, and so on are fair to our fathers. Perhaps the divide runs more centrally through all generations. I look forward to reading more.

  15. Now this is good stuff! Thank you for articulating my thoughts on these issues. As a student at SEBTS during the end of the Patersonian Era (1999-2002), I greatly admire the work, commitment, and sacrifice of the Gen1 CR leaders. However, I could never quite fathom why a great number of students at Southeastern aspired to be Patterson clones. (I am not in any way trying to be disrespectful, though I’m sure it will read as such.) Again, to be clear, without the work of Patterson, et al., I doubt that I would be ministering in the wilds of Wyoming. However, Paige Patterson I am not and do not aspire to be.

    As a 35 year old pastor, I wish to say, “thanks.” Please continue to influence your students with the same clarity and passion as articulated in this post. Thank you, too, to Dr. Reid and your passion for a Great Commission Resurgence.

    Clay Alexander – Pastor, Wright, Wyoming

  16. Thanks for the great article. I have met many of the third generation and am encouraged by their passion for a kingdom agenda.

  17. Great word! I grew up under and served on staff under 1st generation pastor’s, all Godly men with great ministries. I knew I was different and you have put into words my feelings for years! This is a great read for all.

  18. Interesting insights. I am a 43 year old church planter in Arizona. Having served in churches in the midwest most of my life – I think the cultrual divid between these generations is huge. However, it is the solo scriptura mantra of the 1st and 2nd generation that has enabled the 3rd generation to peel away the veneer and discover a more authintic faith.

    Good work.

  19. Very good insight. I hate to say I must be a 2nd. gen. person at 41, because I feel and think more like a 3rd gen. guy. I really appreciate the work that has been accomplished by the 1st gen., but really have no desire to walk the same paths that many in my gen. and the previous gen. view as success in ministry. In fact, many in my gen. gave up trying to attain that type of success in ministry when it became evident they would not be allowed to serve unless they were in lockstep with the 1st gen, not just in theology but in ministry methods.
    Hopefully, I can help the next gen people run after what God has called us to, His Glory, not our own.

  20. Thanks for some clarification. My hubby & I would be considered 2nd generation, work directly in Southern Bap life and have adult children now trying to relate to us their perpectives of all this.

  21. Many of us who entered the SBC after the CR and are still finding our fit among the brethren, find ourselves somewhere in the generational gap with a solid idea of where we need to head but are not sure it will happen… From one who is training 3rd gen preachers, thanks for the insightful article. I will pass it along to my colleagues.

  22. I am over 50, but came to the SBC only 10 years ago. With this new movement of young preachers I feel I am right where God wants me. I have been Pastoring a new start, or a restart, and I feel what you are describing is a very real Revival of the Holy Spirit. We may lose some numbers, but it will all shake out.

  23. SAD generalizations on the generation that got us to be conservative again and put their lives on the line since 1979. Now we see the glorification and adulation of a generation that finds it more important to talk about dress, alcohol, ‘funny’ diversions from the norm and an attitude to be different and appear different simply because they don’t want to be viewed as ‘another Baptist pastor’. It appears like out and out rebellion to the men that got them here, refuse to consult with them and make fun of their convictions at any opportunity.
    The words ‘conservative and inerrancy’ used to mean something and was an ending point. Today ‘conservative and inerrancy’ mean something different and are a beginning point for discussion(s)…NOT a clear point of understanding.
    Passing it off simply as a ‘generational difference’ is deceptive and wrong. It is a ‘spiritual difference’ of significance that will be seen as a widening gulf in the coming days.

  24. Casey, it does sound like there is a spiritual difference – in a good way. The rigid legalism that sometimes (and unnecessarily) went with inerrancy and conservatism seems to be on the way out. Doesn’t sound like McKinion said this generation wants to go out and have a beer but that the radical message of the gospel is influencing their ministry, their lives, and their approach to living life in the body of Christ. Deacon selection, for example, will likely be less focused on who serves on the most committees and is most dedicated to being at church every Sunday and Wednesday night and more about being a good husband and father along with the other character traits described in Timothy and Titus. It might also look like having a church calendar which refuses to put programs in the way of missional living. The church is most on mission when it is scattered – not when it is gathered. Some churches have so many programs that they don’t have time for building real relationships with lost people. Success might be less about “what’cha runnin?” and more about “how well is the body functioning; is it healthy?”

    Anyhow, McKinion’s article hits the nail on the head. If you think the article hints at a decline in overall spiritual health you have either 1) misunderstood him or 2) substituted some traditional Baptist legalism as proxies for authentic Christian living that permeates all of life.

  25. This is my first visit. Wow! I recently challenged my facebook readers and those whom I have come in contact with to evaluate their religious status after I discovered there were several people proclaiming to be Christian by default. Christianity (the title) to some folk is all they know so they proclaim to be something they know little or nothing about. I pray that we Christians never give up and that we continue to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ pure and uncut. “The sheep shall reflect their Shepherd.”

  26. I remember coming to Christ in the Jesus Movement in 1970. Oh, I was only 11 and my Dad would not let me be a hippie. But I saw God radicallly change some young adults, and that helped me to see my need of a Savior. Years later I learned that most SBC churches did not respond to the youth, their music, and their passion for the gospel the way mine did. The differences got in the way of the hunger. I have often wondered what the trajectory of my life would have looked like had I not seen the movement of God that I saw.
    I am and all the younger ministers I hang out with are inerrantists. And grateful for the CR. And excited about the gospel. This is about much more than taking off a tie or listening to different music. It is not about one speaker they hear on a podcast. It is a serious call to take the gospel and the Word very seriously, but not to take ourselves or our preferences too seriously.
    Certainly there are some who want to jettison hymns and heritage, live on the edge more than center their lives on Christ, and who seem not to willing to sing or speak about a bloody cross. But none of the young men I am around, and they are legion, would fit that camp. These are not “bohemians,” as I have heard them called in a derogatory manner; they are thoughtful, expositional, hungry followers of Jesus. And yet they still need to be mentored and guided. The question is, who will do that? I will for one.

  27. Well written!

    I’m an “M” on the “foreign field” and can’t find any points to disagree with. You seem to speak well in your observations of many young people you run accross — and your own thoughts!

    I also wonder where exactly is the age divide… It may be that 2nd and 3rd generation are not so much “age” defined, but fit the description you have made. One reason most M’s love the mission field is because we get to be authentic — live our deep inerrant, conservative, evangelical beliefs — but strip away cultural baggage and political battles that are out of place when you live in another country.

    By the way — Many Americans have to realize there are so many cultures/subcultures in America — that when harsh “political” or “doctrinal” statements are made that are based on cultural assumptions — they totally miss the mindset and issues (that you have well described) of most “younger” Southern Baptists. I am concerned there is a “political divide” that is unnecessary. That one side is saying, “My hand is on the table.” and the other side is saying, “The table is under your hand!!!” (A quote from an M I was once debating with.)

    I am wholeheartedly committed to “my” Convention, our incredible “IMB” and sharing the Gospel as reflected in the perfect Word and the person of Christ. But I mourn when Southern Baptists fight over almost irrelevant American cultural issues of ‘who is a true conservative’. The Gospel is rather simple when stripped of cultural forms and many of us just want to live it — and help others have the wonderful joy and freedom we have found in Christ.

    “Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

    “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anyhing bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:39-41)

    Let all the “generations” praise the work Jesus does in our lives through His Spirit — and God’s perfect Word!

    (And see 1 Kings 8:57-61 as a passionate cry of what should be in the heart of every generation).

  28. Nathan,

    Yes, I’m asking about having a “governing” organization. When I read the New Testament we find plenty of examples where the individual churches had elders, deacons, and gave of their means directly to the individual for support. I don’t read of any example of having a governing organization to make decisions that would be passed down to individual congregations. That is where I am confused. Thanks!

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