The following blog is published in full with the permission of Trevin Wax. Trevin authors a very fine blog entitled “Kingdom People.” It is worth taking a look at. The following blog was released today and is a great word of warning for the SBC, including us at Baptist21. We have asked his permission to post this because we think it fits so well with our purpose and hopes/concerns for the future of the SBC. We would love to hear your thoughts on this piece, especially areas you think the devil seeks to make us ineffective. Also, how can we be on our guard against him?
Here is “Screwtape on the Southern Baptist Convention” from Kingdom People:
My dearest Wormwood,
Though it gives me no pleasure to do so, I must tip my hat to you for the wonderful developments you have initiated in regards to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Surely you need no reminder of the perilous situation we were facing in the not-too-distant past. I had nearly come to the conclusion that all hope was lost. But alas, you surprise me, dear nephew! You have done it again. (It is obvious that I have taught you well.) I do hope you will keep up the bad work.
Still, there is much work to be done.
Remember that arrogance and pride is your greatest inroad into the Convention.
Due to your negligence (I will say no more… you were younger and inexperienced at the time), we lost the battle over the Enemy’s book some years ago. I worried that the entire Convention would be lost. For years, I feared an unprecedented advance of the Enemy’s mission to seek out those in our own territory. With the institutions reclaiming their fidelity to the Book… well… it seemed our cause was lost.
But you were right to comfort me during those days of anxiety. Yes, you were right to focus your efforts on perpetuating the arrogant attitude that comes easily for some who pursue higher education. You must continue to foster a sense of disdain among the seminary students and professors towards the people in the pews and their uneducated pastors.
It is no secret that because of your blundering, we lost the liberal theologians who looked down their noses on the “know-nothings” in the local churches. There is nothing we can do about that yet (though I have some ideas).
But we can still use the seminaries to our advantage. Promote the points of Calvinism or the methods of Revivalism or the principles of Church Growth… whatever you decide to focus on, it matters little to me. Just make sure that whatever theology or methodology you use, the next generation looks down on their uneducated and unenlightened parishioners. Use arrogance to keep the Enemy from doing his work.
And by all means, make sure that the pastors and church leaders are more in love with their techniques, methods, theology or their name and fame than they are with the Enemy or the people under his care.
Related to this, I encourage you to increase the foment between the generations. The bigger the generation gap, the better. Stir up the young people to gossip about the old leaders as legalistic and out-of-touch. Cause the older leaders to resent the young people as libertine and disrespectful.
I must congratulate you on the excellent job you have done in using the internet to our advantage. From the websites devoted to shaming and scorning the mega-church pastors to the blogsites that keep young and old alike distracted with secondary issues… your work here has been amazing. Keep stirring the pot, Wormwood.
At the local church level, I am convinced that the more you blind the people to their hypocrisy, the better off we will be in the long run. Make sure their temperaments run towards judgmentalism and not repentance. You can do this by keeping them focused on the sins of the increasingly decadent culture (by the way, aren’t the new developments delightful?). As long as the Baptists focus on the actions of those in our territory, they are less apt to repent of the actions of those in their pews and pulpits.
I am upset that you have not yet eased the consciences of those up in arms regarding the recent trends of baptism. Surely you can thwart their attempts to refocus on that cursed Commission.
You are foolish to celebrate the public nature of their decline! As long as their numbers are shrinking, they know something is wrong. Wormwood, you must cause their numbers to grow again. Just make sure effective discipleship is not the way it happens.
You can get their numbers up by attracting people from other churches and denominations who already agree with their critique of society. That way, they can begin growing again numerically as their influence continues to shrink. Stroke their ego so that they feel superior to the other denominations.
It might be good for you to add a touch of nostalgia to the situation. You will recall the work I have done in the past in this regard. I like to distract these wretches from the future the Enemy has planned for them. Let them focus on some other ”glory”.
For some, you can work the SBC model of the 1950’s-1970’s. Let them remember fondly the heyday of the SBC institutions and cultural Christianity.
For others, you can work the Revival eras of the ”Great Awakenings.” Take them back to the methods of the sawdust trail and the revival meetings.
For others, take them back to the Reformation. Have them envision a Puritan paradise.
Whatever you do, make sure they do not look ahead to the new heavens and earth that the Enemy has in store for them. Such hope might cause them to be bolder in their missions and evangelism. If you can distract them with the false “golden ages” (and not the Age to Come), you will be doing well.
By all means, keep them busy. I hear that some are harping about prayer. Shut them up quickly. Discourage them. Help them to see prayer as a needless exercise that does not deliver results.
Of course, the most important work you can do is keep them from the gospel. I shudder to think of its power. It has proved to be unstoppable in so many cases that I hate to even mention it. You must keep them from reflecting on the gospel, proclaiming the gospel, and living according to the gospel.
The fact that we lost the battle over the Book almost caused me to lose hope. But we still have a chance. The gospel and the cursed Commission are the tools the Enemy has used against us all these years. You will do well to make sure that these Baptists focus on everything else.
I fear what lies in store for us. The Enemy will not give up on these people. So neither should we.
Your affectionate Uncle…
We think that the following audio and video resources are worth checking out.
The opening video is to the recent debate aired on Nightline entitled, “Does Satan Exist?“, check out the rest of the video at the Nightline Website. The rest of the sermons, lectures, and interviews come from the Acts29 Boot Camp in Raleigh, the 20/20 Collegiate Conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminar, Southeastern’s Chapel, and random Sunday sermons.
Nightline Debate on the Existence of Satan
ACTS29 Boot Camp- Raleigh, NC 2009
SEBTS 20/20 Conference- The Gospel Comes to Life
A dear friend gave me a fascinating article recently written by Dr. Carl Trueman, professor of Church History and Historical Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary. In his article, “A Revolutionary Balancing Act” Dr. Trueman’s major concern is what he calls “the crisis in systematic theology.” Trueman’s thesis is that the growing interest in Biblical Theology is swinging the pendulum too far away from Systematic Theology. Though written in 2002, Dr. Trueman’s words are important for Southern Baptists today-particularly us young seminarians who have been heavily influenced by a Christocentric hermeneutic and a Canonical/Grand-Narrative Theology. Below are a few key quotes and some brief interaction with the article. Also, see Graeme Goldsworthy’s response to Trueman’s article here.
“My question, however, is: have the revolutionaries become the new establishment, and are we therefore missing out on issues of crucial importance through turning the valid insights of biblical theological preaching into ideologies which exclude other, necessary emphases? I raise the question because it seems to me as I mix with students in the USA and the UK that many of them have a good grasp of biblical theology. They understand the Bible contains a narrative, that this narrative culminates in Christ, and that this imposes certain demands upon the way they exegete any given passage. The problem is…that the triumph of biblical theology has been so complete in some quarters that we now need to realize that this new establishment might itself be generating problems of its own.”
I’m confident that some Biblical-Theology fanatics are already on the defensive toward any subsequent comments. It’s important to note, however, that earlier in the article Trueman acknowledged his appreciation for and welcoming of the biblical-theological/redemptive historical movement from Moore College and others. So, as he says, “the rest of this article should be read in that light.”
The problems that Trueman sees being generated from the biblical theology movement are:
1. “…the problem of mediocrity. It is one thing for a master of biblical theology to preach it week after week; quite another for a less talented follower so to do. We all know the old joke about the Christian fundamentalist who, when asked what was grey, furry, and lived in a tree, responded that ‘It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer to every question is ‘Jesus”. One of the problems I have with a relentless diet of biblical theological sermons from less talented preachers is their boring mediocrity: contrived contortions of passages which are engaged in to produce the answer ‘Jesus’ every week. It doesn’t matter what the text is; the sermon is always the same.”
This section alone is worth the entire article. Strong words from Dr. Trueman, but, I think, worthy of our consideration. His clear concern is that because this type of preaching focuses so much on the macro (i.e. the grand narrative) it tends to miss the micro (the particular doctrines that buttress the big story). His comment that ‘no matter what the text, the sermon is always the same’ is curious. In one sense, every sermon should be the same insofar as it points people to Jesus and His gospel. But, Trueman is right that if not careful preachers with a biblical-theological bent will slip into boring mediocrity preaching every text the same.
2. “…the triumph of the biblical theological method in theology and preaching has come at the very high price of a neglect of the theological tradition.”
Trueman goes on to argue that the “economics of the history of salvation” have historically always been balanced by careful reflection on the ontological aspects of God “which undergirded the whole of the church’s life and history.” In other words, Trueman appreciates that biblical theology helps to explain the big picture of God’s mission and the grand story of the Bible, but fears that too much attention to the story kicks the legs out from under hundreds of years of careful, systematic doctrinal reflection of the church. As a dear friend said to me concerning this issue, “If we focus only on what God does, we miss who God is.”
3. “My greatest concern with the biblical theology movement is that it places such an overwhelming emphasis upon the economy of salvation that it neglects these ontological aspects of theology. In doing so, it will, I believe, prove ultimately self-defeating: a divine economy without a divine ontology is unstable and will collapse.”
This is largely a restating of the first two points, but with a more stark contrast between economy and ontology. Trueman raises his voice a bit toward the end of the article in favor of a return to systematic theology, though his argument is not for either/or, but for both/and. Of course, his writing is not without bias as a professor of historical theology and church history, but his concern is fair and well stated.
It is important to be balanced in our theology. It is important to be balanced in our preaching. We should spend time fine-tuning our understanding of both God’s ontology and God’s economy and make certain that we regularly consult the great minds of the past. And we should guard against boring mediocrity while simultaneously proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus upon every occasion behind the sacred desk. Here is a final quote from Dr. Trueman:
“The biblical theological revolutionaries have become the new establishment, it [is] time for those of us rebels who think that the Bible raises more than just redemptive-historical questions, and that the creedal tradition of the church gives important insights on this, to raise our voices in dissent, to highlight the very real dangers of making this insight into an ideology and to do our best to bring the pendulum back a little.”
A Brief Look at the Mark:
Throughout history, people have longed to believe in an idea or story that makes sense of the world. The reason they long for this is that deep in their hearts they understand there is something that makes sense of reality. The beauty of the Christian faith is we have that overarching story; we have the metanarrative in the redemptive story of the Bible. A healthy church will be able to engage its people with this metanarrative. This is a call to understand theology and doctrine that comes from seeking the whole counsel of God’s Word. Pastor Dever points out that this comes mainly through understanding the character of God and how He deals with us. Dever gives five words that help us understand more fully God and what he is doing in the world through the revelation provided in The Metanarrative.
It is vital to understand that he is a God who creates. Next, he is a God who is holy. Our members and non-believers alike must see that we cannot be in relationship with God because of our immorality. Thirdly, he is a faithful God who keeps his covenant promises. Dever points out that this creates a conundrum of how God can be both forgiving based on his promises and at the same time be a holy God that must punish sin. In a proper biblical theology, we realize that this conundrum is solved in the person of His Son. He both shows His covenant love in the provision of a sacrifice and He demonstrates His wrath against sin in the crushing of that sacrifice. Next, He is a God of love. Finally, and perhaps most important, He is a sovereign God. Dever points out that this is a practical biblical theology. We can rest in a God who is in control of every aspect of this universe and our lives. So related closely with the preaching of the word we must possess sound Doctrine. This sound doctrine is gathered by reading the whole of Scripture. Even in these five words you get a grasp for the economy of God’s Salvation: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.
Practical Ways to Implement this Mark into Your Church:
Jonathan Akin has been very helpful with this section. First, there are several books that can help the pastor preach and the bible study teachers teach in a way that focuses on biblical theology. These books include: Goldsworthy’s “According to Plan”, “Gospel and Kingdom”, Clowney’s “Unfolding Mystery”, or Vaughan Roberts’ “God’s Big Picture.” Second, Pastors should listen to preachers who are biblical theologians. Men like Tim Keller, Russell Moore, and Andy Davis do a wonderful job of weaving biblical theology in their preaching. Third, Pastors and disciplers should teach those that they mentor to read the scripture in light of the big picture of Scripture and in light of the overarching doctrines that define who we are as followers of Christ. The discipler must seek to show the one he mentors how to have a biblical worldview shaped by biblical theology and how to filter all of life’s decisions through this grid. Next, even at a young age begin teaching the children the stories of the bible but always do so focusing on the overarching structure of the Scriptures and the center of ever story, Jesus Christ. A great resource for this is a book by a woman from Tim Keller’s church entitled “The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.” Finally, the pastor must constantly set the context of their sermons in the scope of redemption history. An example could be setting marriage sermons in context of the overarching story.
It might look something like this:
“Why are there marriage problems? The difficulty in marriage is as old as the Garden of Eden. The fall in the Garden explains all marital conflicts. However, the picture of marriage throughout the Scriptures is a picture of the Gospel, Christ and His Bride, and will end in the marriage supper of the lamb. Marriage continually tells the overarching story and it paints the picture of the Gospel.”
Marriage sermons placed in this context teach the Storyline of the bible. The same can be true of any sermon. We must continually engage this metanarrative that makes sense of the world.
This is part of a series of blogs written when this Tennessean article came out several months ago and due to the transition of our site, they were delayed in release. It has been so long that now the Stetzer article is no longer available at the Tennessean. It may be available atEdStetzer.com but I was unable to find it. The two Stetzer articles that I will interact with are titled, “How to Stem the SBC Decline” and “The End of the Beginning.” You will find his quotes shaded. Part one and two of this series are available.
The SBC I care about is in decline. Yes, it’s part demographics (i.e., we’re historically rural and such regions are in numeric decline) and ultimately changes have to be made at a local church level. But many believe there are issues the convention can acknowledge and address to help turn around the decline. Denying the facts won’t help; nor will a theological left turn, but there are things that need to change to reverse the decline. When the news came out, some in the SBC stuck their heads a bit deeper in sand, saying, “We’re doing just fine, thank you!” They believe trying harder without change is best. Besides, they say, the SBC is not shrinking as fast as liberal denominations – which seems to me like bragging that our sunset is brighter than theirs.
Most of what I would propose for the future of the SBC Stetzer does for me. Stetzer is right on, in my humble opinion, the changes to stem the decline must come at the local church level. This is a challenge to pastors as they shape their congregation and to congregations as they follow to be on mission with God. The local body carries the authority of Christ’s promise of power; this is where the change and health most matter. It is certainly true that denying potential slide and certain need for re-evaluation for the future is misguided. It is also very true that a theological turn is absolutely not what we need or what the world needs. I will address more of that in a bit. We must want to be a vibrant denomination not for the sake of the SBC but for the sake of the lost and the glory of God. If he chooses someone else, so be it.
First and most importantly, the SBC must refocus on the gospel. The convention has become big, bureaucratic and distracted by so many things – from politics to boycotts to programs.
This is a great point; the gospel must define our local churches and our convention. All our thoughts, critiques, and plans must move through a grid of being gospel centered. This includes, whether or not we think through issues of contextualization and differing methodology, or even if we believe continuing in our traditions is the most gospel faithful. Either way we must ask, “is our current methodology, etc., gospel centered?”
Second, the SBC must address the continued loss of leaders… ethnic leadership remains mostly absent after decades of ethnic change in America. Yet, such change will require an openness to other approaches to church and ministry from different cultures and generations. The departure by the future leaders of our convention has led to fewer church plants, missionaries, and energetic pastors to lead our faltering churches.
The need for greater ethnic diversity and leadership is a call that must be heeded. The call for openness to other approaches is the real point and fits some of our purpose for Baptist21. Though we would not fully embrace all forms of church or even implement some of these methods in churches we might potentially lead, there are places for conversation and ideas. We must be humble as we seek to cooperate together for a cause greater than who does church right. The final sentence there is the key, let’s not limit the number of those that would go to the mission field or plant a church because they like music that’s a little louder or wear a different “Sunday best”.
I think there needs to be some caution in the context of leadership (as direction setters?) for the younger generation. I think that there is biblical warrant and practical wisdom in allowing older, wiser, proven men to have the leadership positions. On the other hand, though these younger men may not necessarily need leadership posts, their opinions and methods should be listened to and at the least not criticized as long as they do not violate scripture.
Finally, infighting must not define the SBC. If the focus of every SBC meeting is a new controversy to be debated, new parameters to be narrowed, and new issues to be fought, the trend toward decline will only accelerate…
This sentiment is a growing one, especially among those of the younger generations. It is not to say that there are not “some hills worth dying on”, but the “mounds” we choose to die on cause many to just shake their heads in disbelief. We at baptist21 think it is important to set the parameters of cooperation, but once those parameters are set it is time to put the weapons down and not die on that hill. We would affirm that the BFM2000 and our historic Baptist distinctives set the parameters of cooperation and within those bounds it is time to link arms and get on mission. If we do not we will continue to be labeled as “angry fundamentalist.”
The Conservative Resurgence failed to produce a Great Commission Resurgence. It restored our denomination’s value of Scripture but application is often absent, at least in the area of evangelism (The final three quotes are from a blog on EdStetzer.com entitled “The End of the Beginning”, but many of themes from the Tennessean Piece are found here).
The Conservative Resurgence has not been a failure, but if it fails to produce Great Commission work, it is certainly defective. One of the reasons I believe it has been successful is that I do not believe we would even be having these discussions as Southern Baptists if it were not for the work of the Resurgence and men like Paige Patterson. This Great Commission Resurgence should be the natural outflow of the Conservative Resurgence and there are hopeful signs that that is where we are headed. Let’s hope those that so loudly trumpeted and led the Conservative Resurgence will get whole-heartedly behind this new call for resurgence as well. Stetzer will address this in the next comment.
Now is the moment for us to hone our vision and take on a bigger battle-we must battle to build upon our Conservative Resurgence and make it a Great Commission Resurgence. If we don’t, why did we bother with the Conservative Resurgence in the first place?
If this renewal of doctrine is not turned into a renewal of mission then we are not being stewards of the time we have been given. The connection of the Conservative Resurgence and revival of missional fervor should go hand in hand. We now submit to the authority of the Word and now we must follow the greatest of commissions, the gospel to the ends of the earth. These two resurgences do not stand in opposition, one flows naturally out of the other. Ultimately, Stetzer cannot be more correct, if this fails to result in a Great Commission Resurgence we do not really believe in the authority of the Word, for we will not be following the call of our King.
Stetzer closes the older article with the call to again return to the gospel as the driving force for renewal. Here is what he said, ”The temptation will be that the news of the day will result in a new denominational obsession to fix the problem with a new plan. It won’t work. Instead we must refocus on the Divine Obsession (Luke 15), the obsession with lost people.” I think Stetzer closes the thought of this post well. We will always decline if we are not rooted in gospel fidelity. We must get the gospel right, but right understanding of the gospel propels us on mission. This will look different in different contexts and cultures; we must be willing to explore these different methods while being full of gospel fidelity. This will lead to renewed churches, better church plants, and to more effective overseas missions. But this represents the best of what we have been historically and hopefully what we will be in the future. This is nothing new; we are Baptists, after all.
Switch to our mobile site