Recent decisions made by the leadership of the Executive Committee (EC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are causing many to ask what is going on with the EC and if this is the moment to call for the accountability of its leadership. These events include: 1) The EC “Report” at the 2009 SBC, 2) “Stories” in Baptist Press (BP), 3) the forced resignation of Clark Logan, 4) the EC’s opposition to the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR), and 5) the preservation of the status quo.
1. The EC “Report”
Dr. Chapman, the President of the EC, gave his annual report at the Convention on June 23rd in Louisville. You can read it online in its entirety. The report seemed to be more like a rant (that attacked almost every theological position) than an actual report of the EC’s doings. Dr. Chapman’s main point was that we do not need to concern ourselves with doctrine as much as we concern ourselves with mission, even as he appeared to concern himself with attacking (and mischaracterizing) doctrine.
Dr. Chapman stated that while controversy over Baptist identity raged among theologians in the states, Lottie Moon was boarding a boat to China in order to reach people. He continued, “The church did not—upon receiving the Spirit of God (at Pentecost)—write a theology text…or engage in idle arguments about the extent of the atonement or the nature of election.” This is simply NOT TRUE. The apostles wrote the Bible upon receiving the Spirit. Paul was on mission planting churches and writing the authoritative, inerrant words of the Bible at the same time. That is why Dr. Akin consistently says “Great theologians will be great missionaries like Paul, and great missionaries will of necessity be great theologians.” To divorce mission and theology leads to compromise and ultimately to syncretism. We cannot divorce mission and theology (see the article by Stetzer). The SBC historically has NOT separated them. We just celebrated the 150th year of SBTS, an institution with a confession of faith (The Abstract of Principles) that theologically trains ministers to advance the Gospel. The purpose of the SBC from its inception has been “the propagation of the Gospel,” but at the same time that we adopted a mechanism for more efficient cooperation in mission (the CP) we also adopted a confession of faith (the BFM). This call to “major on mission and minor on theology” sounds familiar. It was the rallying cry of the moderates during the Conservative Resurgence. This rallying point is what destroyed our seminaries and many of our churches that are even now devoid of biblical teaching in the pulpit and full of biblical illiteracy in the pew. This rally cry threatened to destroy our mission as well! Before we can share the Gospel we must know what the Gospel is.
When Dr. Chapman did delve into theology in his address, specifically on the issue of Calvinism, he mischaracterized the position. He said that there is in the Convention “a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation without a faith response on the part of man.” Yet, Calvinism does NOT teach that men can be saved apart from repentance and faith. A tweet during the address from @drmoore says that he “has never met a single human being, let alone a Southern Baptist, who believes ‘sovereignty alone’ saves apart from faith.” This errant theological statement led Dr. Akin at the b21 panel later that morning to apologize to Calvinists, calling it a “horrible misrepresentation of your position.”
2. The BP “Stories”
BP seems to be in danger, at times, of becoming an opinionated blog rather than a news reporting service. There have been recent articles that either one seem to misunderstand the current trends of ministry or two do not do thorough research in reporting a “story.” BP, under the leadership of the EC, seems to have a political agenda. Here are a couple of quick examples.
First, BP is asserting that “everything is fine in the SBC.” It seems like the reason we should feel this way according to BP articles is that we are reaching as many southern Whites as we always have. Will Hall, in a recent series, took up the issue of decline in membership, baptisms, younger leaders, etc. in the SBC. He says the decline is not about outdated methodologies or a generation gap but rather “demographic changes in our country.” Our numbers are declining because of a declining birthrate among Whites and the suburbanization of America (80% living in major urban centers). He believes all that is needed is a slight “shift” in strategy. We need to plant churches in urban centers (though many Southern Baptist leaders have called for this for several years now, and this seems to be part of the call of the GCR). So, Hall concludes that we are “not necessarily” a denomination in decline. He even implies that we are growing and “thriving.” In this article he says, “if we are to continue to grow,” and in a recent interview with Christianity Today he says we are thriving. The fact that we are in decline is a matter of math, not opinion (see research).
Hall is calling for a minor course correction not wholesale changes. The remedy is not updating outdated methodologies but rather that “we abandoned some enduring principles of proven methodologies about how to plant and grow churches and reach the lost.” What are these proven strategies? Sunday School and Training Union! He says that Training Union “was an effective method of intentionally teaching our beliefs while also developing loyalty to Southern Baptist causes.” So, in order to address the supposed decline in the SBC we need to plant churches in urban centers that do Training Union? This seems a little naïve.
Second, BP has launched an all out assault on Mark Driscoll. The latest article deals with how Bott radio interrupted a show on its airwaves in which Driscoll was a guest. The interview was on the “Family Life” program hosted by Dennis Rainey, a very reputable program. The article implies that Driscoll said something in order to make the radio station interrupt the broadcast. However, nothing in the interview itself caused the cancellation. Rather the cancellation had to do with previous things the station had “heard” about Driscoll. Bott interrupted the show mainly because of Driscoll’s comments when preaching on the Song of Solomon in Scotland (Nov. 18, 2007). What was absolutely irresponsible on the part of Bott and BP is they do not show due diligence in researching the matter. The greatest disgust for Driscoll came over the comments about oral sex that he made in Edinburgh almost 2 years ago. Bott says, “I’ve seen what he said at that church in Scotland and as far as I know he’s never addressed it in any repentant way…” Then BP rehashes all of the same material from this earlier “story.” The fact is that Driscoll was lovingly confronted by an older pastor on this issue that led to Driscoll repenting and pulling the audio off of their website. Neither Bott nor BP mentions this.
This is part of a pattern which led Between the Times to publicly criticize BP for its coverage of the pastor. Increasingly, Southern Baptists are seeing BP as a biased and agenda driven source, and that does not bode well for the SBC’s confidence in the EC.
What makes it look like BP has an agenda in this matter is that it waited a month from when this “incident” happened on May 18th to report it on June 17th right before the annual meeting (for another example of BP’s agenda see the next point in Part 2).
Part 2 of this piece will deal with the remaining points of the outline.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary recently held a panel discussion on the topic of the Generational Divide in the SBC. The panel consisted of Danny Akin, JD Greear, David Nelson, and Nathan Finn. This panel discussion covers some very important topics. This panel discussion may be seen as quite controversial, but it is a must view.
Some of the topics included:
Some of the questions posed:
1. How can young SBC’ers pursue holiness, while abstaining from alcohol, but at the same time not being legalists?
2. Why should young SBC’ers stay in the SBC, especially when it is frustrating to plant churches because of the red tape at the state and with NAMB, and there is less with an organization like Acts29?
3. What can young Calvinists in the SBC do when so many are being passed over by local churches because of their Calvinism, should they really commit to the SBC if they do not feel a part of the family?
4. What does the bible really say about homosexuality and how do we respond in a pastoral way?
5. What do you think is the heart of the issue of this intergenerational challenge, who are the stakeholders and what is at stake?
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) originally started, among a variety of factors both positive and negative, to “propagate the Gospel.” We began as a denomination of churches working together to spread the gospel without violating the autonomy of each local church. We eventually, through various developments, began cooperating to send missionaries, plant churches, train ministers, and engage in many other causes. Baptist 21 believes that this original intention should be the vision for the SBC in the 21st century, and we fear that it is in danger. Our vision for the SBC is the greater cooperation of biblically and theologically grounded churches to fulfill the Great Commission. That’s it. This means churches cooperating together (at different levels) to train ministers to plant churches and win people to Jesus locally, nationally, and internationally.
This post is the beginning of a series for Baptist 21 that will seek to explain how the SBC might be able to multiply cooperation and increase effectiveness in the 21st century. This series will focus on what we have learned from our past that will propel this vision. We will focus on the dangers in the present that threaten the vision, and we will conclude by charting a course for the future that could make the vision a reality. The goal is a multitude of theologically grounded, healthy local churches fulfilling the Great Commission in cooperation with one another.
Our fear is that this picture is in danger presently in the SBC. There are several trends within the convention that are causing many to question the direction of the convention and its future effectiveness. There are certainly positive trends such as sending out more missionaries and seeing more students enrolled in our seminaries than ever before. But there are also negative trends.
Where do these trends stem from? There are a variety of factors that threaten the SBC.
Despite these challenges Baptist 21 is hopeful that the SBC will thrive in its mission in the 21st century and beyond. This is possible if the various entities and groups, but mainly the local churches and their leadership, embrace a common vision for the future. Baptist 21 would like to lay out what that vision of the future might look like, and what we need to include for our mission to be viable in the 21st century.
Part 2 of this introduction will give the outline for the rest of this series…The title of this series, while capturing the essence of the series, is an homage to our Southern Baptist heritage. E.Y. Mullins’ delievered a talk at the 1923 Southern Baptist Convention that bears the same title. We are grateful for our heritage and those that have passed down the gospel to us.
The final part of the interview with the LifeWay trio deals with issues of the Emerging Church, Calvinism, challenges for the SBC in the 21st Century, and parting advice for young ministers. The ideas shared by Dr.’s Rainer, Stetzer, and Waggoner are thought provoking and pertinent for young SBC ministers.
Some Quotes from their Interview, part 3:
On the Emerging Church:
Stetzer: Evangelicals are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the theological direction of Emergent. We are seeing a reordering of the Emergent Church movement and will see changes over the coming months…
We need to avoid making broad sweeping generalizations, which cause young leaders to leave or we will drive out another generation. I want biblically faithful BFM affirming emerging churches, traditional churches and contemporary churches on mission together, and stop bombing each other and find ways to work together as the body of Christ.
Rainer: There have been a lot of shrill voices on both sides of the Calvinism debate. There are extreme forms of Calvinism that are anti-evangelism and anti-missions, but this is not the norm… We are spending a lot of energy focusing on areas that I do not think are very constructive. I wish we could get about the business of getting all of our collective energy and resources together to be the evangelistic Great Commission missional denomination that we can be.
Stetzer: I cannot get excited about any theological system without real world ministry leading to conversions and church plants. Theology should be measured by its fruit. I am not worried about evangelistic, church planting Calvinism. I am worried about Calvinism that does not reach lost people. That kind of Calvinism will end up dividing our convention because we are passionate about missions and evangelism.
On the future of the SBC:
Stetzer: I think the challenge will be that we do not know how to cooperate when we don’t look alike. The collapse of the methodological consensus will cause us to cooperate not on a paradigm of ministry but on a common confession and a common mission…If current trends continue, the SBC will be smaller, leaner and more focused on God’s global mission.
Waggoner: In our current fragmentation, there are a few things that will hold us together even if our churches look different. These issues are maintaining commitment to Authority of God’s Word and maintaining a commitment to the Great Commission. We can remain cohesive and can continue to cooperate together. Diversity is here permanently in terms of how we look and how we structure our ministries. We will never look as monolithic as we once did. The question is can we maintain unity on the core doctrinal convictions; this will determine what we look like in the future.
Rainer: Words that Louis Drummond said to me, “Stay godly.” We must be the kind of men that have spiritual leadership at the core of who we are. Nothing else matters if that is not set in stone first. If we focus on the spiritual disciplines we would see a lot of the things that seem important are not important, and we would get the focus that we need.
Waggoner: Have a passionate devotion to God and be faithful in your heart and motives for what you do. And then truly love others; invest in their lives and care for them. You must be in the Word and be engaged with people.
It is our hope that you will give a hearing to these men and that the ideas they express will help us all think through how to be Baptist in the 21st century. We hope that through interviews and ideas with men like this, you will join with us in thinking through how we can:
“continue to cooperate together in the cause of the Gospel. We believe the Gospel is relevant to every man and woman in every culture, as it calls all to repentance of sin and faith in Jesus. Our goal is to bring the gospel to bear on contemporary issues in the church and the world. This will mean engaging culture, using culture, rebuking culture and redeeming culture… Believing that Jesus is the only way to the Father (Jn 14:6), we pray that everything that is done here would ultimately be useful for the exalting of King Jesus so that He might gather all the peoples of the earth into His body, the Church.” (From Baptist21 Purpose Statement)
Make sure to check out:
Part 1: dealing with issues of denominating, young leaders, and church planting
Part 2: which gives advice for church planters and speaks to future books that will be influential
Check out past interviews at the Baptist21 Podcast
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