This series has focused on the reflections of those that attended the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Those that have graciously given of their time to help us reflect on the SBC have been:
This final installment comes from b21’s own Scott Wilson. Baptist21 wanted to get the thoughts of a first time attendee to the Southern Baptist Convention and b21 Contributor Scott Wilson is fresh off his first attendance to an annual meeting.
From baptist21 Who We Are Page: Scott Wilson is the Minister to Students at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Scott has a BA in Music from Florida State University (Go Noles!) and a Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Scott is currently working on a PhD in Systematic Theology at Southeastern. Scott is twenty-nine years old. His wife’s name is Megan and they have one child, a baby boy named Silas, who was born on February 6th of this year.
Baptist21 Interview with Scott Wilson:
Give us your impressions of your first convention, what did you like? What did you dislike? What was interesting?
First, I was encouraged by the attendance, which was apparently greater than last year (even in a down economy) and younger than last year. While I’m sure having the convention in a seminary city helped bring some younger folks in, I also believe that young guys are motivated by the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) movement. It is something they believe in and want to be a part of. With that in mind, I don’t think I could have picked a better year to attend my first convention. You hear about the great convention meetings of the past when the battle for the Bible was raging (1979 onward) and you think, “I would have liked to have been there for that!” I believe that if Southern Baptists will rally around the Gospel, not just on paper, but in our churches and in our personal lives, we could look back on the conventions of 2009 and 2010 as being historic meetings in SBC history.
What did I not like? Well, from what I hear there are always goofy motions made at the convention and this year was no exception. (I just had to set my Pepsi down to type that sentence—just kidding. But seriously, do we really feel the need to pick a different corporation every year to boycott? Is that our best strategy to build up the Kingdom?) Also, it seems that many come to the convention with an agenda to tear down a particular person or a particular institution. While I’m sure they are convinced that they are pursuing the purity of the SBC, I do not think these motions are profitable to the convention. Also, they (those making the motions to tear down people and institutions) are often either very ignorant about their subject matter or are purposely misleading. I hope the former but I fear the latter. In a word, I do not like the politics that you see at the SBC. But you are going to have politics whenever you put 8,000+ sinful people in a room so it is to be expected.
What drew you to this year’s Convention as your first? Why should young Southern Baptists come to a 2-day business meeting? Why would you recommend (or not) to others to attend the Southern Baptist Convention?
I’ve been wanting to attend the convention for years just to see what it was like. This year I was particularly drawn to attend by the b21 panel event. I also was excited about hearing the particular guys who were on the slate to preach at the Pastor’s Conference (PC). Plus, a few of my closest friends were going and it was a good chance to hang out with those guys for a few days and talk about theology and the Office (two of our favorite things to talk about, although the first is just a smidge more important than the 2nd!).
There are many reasons why I would recommend anybody, young or old, to attend the convention meeting. First, I wouldn’t see it as a two-day business meeting. If you come for the Pastor’s Conference (PC), the two days prior to the convention, you will be challenged from God’s Word and it will be a spiritually encouraging time for you. Wouldn’t you pay to go to a conference and hear guys like David Platt, Francis Chan, J. D. Greear, and others? (Next year I am very confident based on the guys picking the speakers that the line-up will be tremendous for the PC once again). Plus, the two days of the convention itself also include some great messages along with the business stuff. While the motions and votes themselves might not be appealing I think we need to be mature enough to understand the gravity of what is being decided on in these meetings. These are not trivial matters—they effect the future of the convention of churches of which we are a part. Next year guys who love the Gospel will want to be there because I believe there will be some really important things being voted on. The GCR task force will be coming with motions on various subjects that will effect the future of the SBC and we will need guys there to vote who believe in the GCR and what we are trying to accomplish. Young people talk about wanting to have a voice and a “seat at the table.” How can we complain that we don’t have a voice if we don’t even show up to vote at important meetings?
Who did you enjoy at the Pastor’s Conference and what did you find helpful?
There is really a lot I could say here, but let me quickly mention a few items from three of my favorite sermons from the PC. First, J. D. Greear’s message on pharaseeism from Matt 23 was very convicting to me—it was pretty much like a pen being stuck in my eye-ball. His description of religious people was way too close to home for me; I need God to bring changes to my own heart. I want to be sure I love the Lord supremely and not my religion or the attention I get from others for being religious. Second, it has been said that David Platt’s message was one of the best ever given at an SBC meeting. I have only been to one PC so who am I to judge but I will tell you that I don’t know how you can listen to that message and not be pumped about missions and what God is doing in the world. I first heard David Platt at Student Life Camp in Florida three years ago and I have been listening to his podcast from the Church at Brook Hills ever since. As far as I’m concerned, the more people in the SBC who are listening to David Platt the better. He is a pastor who is Word-driven and Gospel-centered and his humility shines through whenever he speaks. Lastly, I was very challenged by Francis Chan’s message on his church’s attempts to model the church in Acts and live in community with one another. I think genuine fellowship and community is something that has been lacking in SBC churches (broadly speaking). It is something our postmodern culture longs for and the Emerging Church (while I don’t agree with much of what they are saying) has rightly reminded us of this. Francis Chan is saying some things that we need to listen to. Those who weren’t at the PC can probably get the CDs of those talks online from the SBC Tapes folks—they are all well worth listening to.
What are some major things you have reflected on post-convention?
Since I was pretty much a “Chatty-Cathy” on my first answers I’ll strive for brevity here. I’ve been reflecting on 3 major things since the convention: (1) These are important days for the SBC. I believe in the GCR movement and those leading it. I pray that our convention of churches will center everything around the Gospel at the church-level. If we do, what amazing things we could see God do in us in the days ahead. (2) My own life needs to become more Gospel-centered. I have too much religion and not enough Jesus, too much talk and not enough action. If I want to be used to the fullest extent to build up the Kingdom, there needs to be more of Christ and less of me in me (John 3:30). (3) How blessed I am to be a part of what God is doing in and through b21. It is so encouraging to me the number of guys who came out to our panel event at Sojourn during the SBC and the number who, though unable to come, have watched the video of the panel online. It seems that every day those of us who write for b21 are meeting guys who share our vision for the SBC and want to be a part of it. They are bothered by the same things that bother us and yet they are passionate about how God can use the SBC if we will choose to keep the main thing the main thing—bringing the Gospel of King Jesus to the nations!
Guest 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.
Second generation conservatives who have been addressing the trend of many 3gens to question the value of the bureaucracy of the SBC recognize that these 3gens are not asking for a seat at the SBC table, they are instead just leaving the room when they hear those around the table disrespect them, belittle them, or, even worse, talk about their own positions, power, or prominence. These 3gens think they have too much to do in their own churches to spend their time trying to earn some “right to have their voice heard” in the SBC.
Seeing the many current 2gen leaders are interested in keeping 3gen Southern Baptists within the SBC, I would like to identify four misconceptions about these 3gen Conservatives:
3gens want to run the SBC. It is a myth that 3gens simply want to run the convention. Such a misconception is the result of not only a misreading of what 3gens are saying, but a complete misunderstanding of the importance, or lack thereof, of the SBC in the weekly ministries of these leaders. While many younger SB pastors want to have titles in their state conventions or be invited to speak in revival meetings at other churches, the 3gens that I have been writing about could not care less about having a role in the SBC. Obviously, there are exceptions, but the 3gens I teach and hear from are not looking for positions or influence within the convention. In fact, the reason why so many 2gens have begun to take notice is because these younger pastors do NOT want a place at the SBC table. They don’t want to be trustees, revival speakers, or have meaningless titles in the state conventions. Instead, they are wondering what in the world their state conventions do that is of Great Commission value. The reason they are partnering with church planting groups like Acts 29, is because its networked churches actually succeed. The model of church planting, including on-going cooperation and partnership, works better to start biblical and Baptist churches than other models, including many of those within the SBC. Because many 3gens think the SBC bureaucracy is bloated, it is foolish to think they would want to run it. I think one cause for this misconception is that those who either already have power in the convention or the 3gens who want one day to have “earned” that power, fail to realize that not every one thinks SBC power is valuable. Such myopic thinking about the value of what one possesses often can lead one to project ones own ambitions to others.
3gens want their voice heard by SBC leaders. It is believed by some that younger SBs want a seat around the SB table where they can have input. This is a misconception, much like the former myth, that is based in the false belief that 3gens want their voice to be heard. They not only are not looking for a seat at the table, they are not even interested in being in the boardroom. Again, there are obvious exceptions, but the younger SBs who are the interest of 2gen leaders are not looking for a hearing. In their minds, the discussions in the SBC boardroom are about how to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic, quite useless. They do not have an interest of determining who the next president of the SBC will be, or what friends can be appointed to trustee positions, or how they can be invited to speak at another church. In the minds of 3gens, they want to be busy in their own churches rather than trying to control other churches. Now, whether their assessment of what 1gen leaders are doing is itself a misconception is another topic, and an important one. But to think that under 40 SBs are simply looking to have influence in the convention is a grave misunderstanding of what these 3gens are saying. Such a misunderstanding is often rooted in an arrogance regarding the positions one already possesses rather than any evidence that someone else is aspiring to that position.
3gens don’t love the SBC. What is the SBC? Technically, it is a brief business meeting once a year. Churches who pool their financial resources to support agencies, boards, and commissions (the IMB, NAMB, six seminaries, the ERLC, etc.) are allowed to send messengers (not delegates) to this business meeting for the purpose of appointing trustees to operate those agencies on behalf of the churches. But the SBC is more broadly the associative relationship of those churches that goes beyond fiduciary cooperation to a share set of beliefs, values, and distinctives. The SBC is a massive network of missional churches.
In my experience, the younger generation loves the mission of the SBC. The beliefs, values, and distinctives of the network of churches are shared among the various generations, including the 3gens. But at the same time, they question whether the bureaucracy of the convention is accomplishing its intended objective, which is to be a cooperative missionary effort. The 3gens I have observed love the seminary where they were educated and love the IMB and perhaps NAMB, but outside of those agencies they appear ambivalent. They may be mistaken to be ambivalent, but their love for the work of the convention should not be hidden by their lack support for all of the boards.
3gens don’t respect the CR or 1gen leaders. From observation it is more accurate to say that many 3gens do not know the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence. There may be practical reasons for this (e.g. Danny Akin and Johnny Hunt are on iTunes for free, while other sermons must be purchased), but it is also the case that many 3gens believe, perhaps mistakenly, that 1gen leaders do not value them as partners in the work of the convention. 3gens do not think their “forefathers” are not wise, they simply do not know them.
What complicates the matter vis-à-vis the relationship between some increasingly prominent 3gens and the SBC is the lack of direct influence by 1st generation leaders on 3gens. In part two of the series, I enumerated some ways I think the CR continues to influence younger SBs, but that influence has been indirect, mediated through leaders such as Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin, and James Merritt. There are exceptions; for example J.D. Greear’s PhD work was supervised by Paige Patterson. By and large, though, 3gens have sermons from Platt, Akin, Hunt, and Driscoll on their iPods, and not sermons from Vines, Patterson, and Rogers.
I don’t know all the reasons for this lack of exposure. Perhaps the second-generation influencers have been quicker to take advantage of newer media such as podcasting and social media. Many younger SBs, and their pastors, do not subscribe to tape ministries, but to podcasts. They rarely listen to over-the-air radio, and almost never to Christian radio. If they hear a John MacArthur sermon, it is because they downloaded it. John Piper was one of the first of their influencers to leave the expensive medium of radio for the relatively inexpensive one of the internet.
Perhaps 3gens have deliberately rejected the direct influence of 1st generation leaders for cultural reasons. They reject suits and ties as mandatory dress, and think the first generation places too much emphasis on certain apparel (fairly or not). They don’t think mandatory abstinence from beverage alcohol is fundamental to cooperation, and think the prior generation makes too much of this. From my experience, these leaders do not imbibe, but they also don’t think prohibition of such beverages is necessary. But cultural differences seem, in the end, to be of little consequence to the lack of direct influence of 1gens on 3gens. Culture seems to be a red-herring.
Regardless of the lack of direct interaction, in the end, the third generation is very much like the first generation. Theologically they are conservative inerrantists. They are committed to practicing Baptist distinctives, both broadly and more narrowly conceived. They preach the Gospel with fervor. They call sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus. They hate sin, but love sinners. They preach and practice missions at home and abroad. In all these ways, and more, they are the legitimate heirs of resurgence leaders.
So have the third generation conservatives who are enthusiastically supportive of the Great Commission Resurgence leaders such as Hunt and Akin rejected the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence, either consciously or unconsciously? I think they have not. Rather, they are the fruit of the CR. While 3gens may be a generation that knows not Patterson and Pressler, they are nonetheless the legacy of those great leaders. Some under 40′s will attend conferences where the speakers are predominately 1gen leaders. Other under 40′s will prefer conferences where 2gen leaders are the speakers. But both groups of younger SBs are the fruit of the CR.
Henry Chapin (for one generation) and Ugly Kid Joe (for another) recorded a popular song entitled, Cat’s in the Cradle, about a man whose busy-ness keeps him from time with his son. The failure of this man to be a good father comes back to haunt him later when his grown son is not interested in time with his elderly father.
An assessment of the breakdown in the relationship between 1gen and 3gen SBs would be fascinating, and is, I think, important, though beyond my scope here. But the lack of knowledge of 1gen leaders should not be read as a rejection of these men or the resurgence for which they fought. My paternal grandmother died a few years before my birth. I have no knowledge of her, obviously. But my lack of familiarity with her does not mean I disdain her. I do not invoke her name in conversation, but the older I get the more I become aware of her influence in my own life through my father. He doesn’t tell me to exhibit the positive characteristics from my grandmother’s life, I simply do so because he has influenced me. I never knew my grandmother, but her influence persists. Many 3gens have never met or even heard some 1gen leaders, but the influence of the CR persists in and through the ministries of 2gen leaders like Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin, and Thom Rainer (and many others). Although the legacies of certain men may not remain, the legacy of the CR certainly does.
Within the current call for a Great Commission Resurgence lives the legacy of the Conservative Resurgence. Young Southern Baptists who desire to see men, women, and young people around the world hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, become disciples of Jesus, and then grow to be disciple-making disciples are acting consistently with the ultimate aims of the CR. Even more importantly, the call of the GCR to organize the ministries of the SBC and her cooperating state conventions around the mission of the Gospel is at the heart of the call of conservative SBs who desired a renewal of the Convention for the sake of the Convention’s mission, not the Convention’s structure.
Recently, I had the privilege of writing an article for “Outlook,” The magazine of Southeastern Seminary. The topic given to me was “what Young Leaders were doing well and not so well in pursuing a Great Commission Resurgence?” That magazine is now available, check it out here, with articles about Muslims in Amsterdam, technology and Great Commission work, Convergent Church, and 20/20 conference that featured Mahaney, Driscoll, Akin, and Brown.
So with permission from the editor I make available my article here.
“Youth,” the adage goes, “is wasted on the young.” Perhaps this aphorism is true – it is at least partly true, in that young people tend to be long on energy and creativity and short on wisdom and patience. It might even be possible, in a general way, to apply this sort of thinking to young leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention.
To be sure, young leaders bring both positive and negatives to the table. Even a term like “young leader” often carries a great deal of baggage. The definitions of “young” and “leader” are certainly debatable. However, it is necessary to think through what younger evangelical and SBC leaders are doing right and what they may be doing wrong in the pursuit of a Missional Revolution. There are a number of strengths younger leaders can bring to a Great Commission Resurgence. I do not mean to insinuate that older leaders do not possess these traits as well. I am convinced we learned most of them from our Fathers in the Faith. This list also is in no way exhaustive, but I believe it gets to the heart of positive aspects younger leaders can bring to the table.
I. Energy and Creativity- It is hard to deny that many of the younger strain are very passionate and driven. The vitality of the young is certainly a strength. Younger leaders bring a fresh perspective and usually newer methods and ideas on how to reach the culture. They can certainly challenge an established crowd think through new and exciting methods, while helping to steer them from traditionalism (in the negative sense).
II. Theological Renewal- In many of the younger leaders I perceive a hunger for theological thinking and training. This seems to be spurred by the writings of men like John Piper, John MacArthur, and Mark Dever. Many younger leaders yearn to think deeply and think well. Many also want to discern what cultural traditions may have been handed down to us that are not biblical mandates. They seek to ask the question, “What does the Bible teach?” For most, a love for thinking and theology is attached to a passion for being faithful to the authority of Scripture.
III. A Missionaries’ Mindset- Many of the younger leaders employ what can be called a missionary mindset, in that they display great concern for the souls of the lost and use their energy to share the gospel. These young leaders are prepared to go to the tough places and initiate new ministries. Although, the word “missional” is not popular in some circles, many of the young leaders believe it simply means that you should possess a missionary mentality, regardless of the context in which you find yourself. There is much to be commended in this outlook. This mentality has captivated younger men; it is driving them to be church planters nationally in difficult places and it will lead them to be church planters internationally in unreached places. It is also exciting to see that there is no dichotomy for many of them between theology and mission. They are concerned both with mission and with theological/practical preparation for that mission. In my judgment, this flows right out of the Conservative Resurgence. Programs like the “2+2 program” display this, where those who hope to be in a cross-cultural mission setting see the need to be prepared for that context. This mentality is completely consonant with a Great Commission Resurgence and makes me excited to be on a seminary campus, like Southeastern.
IV. Expectancy- At times I and others have written and lamented the decline of younger men getting involved in SBC life; I think for good reason. However, it is difficult to understand that trend when you live on the Southeastern Campus. I am surrounded by men who are passionate to be church planters nationally and internationally, and many are committed, at least for now, to being part of the Southern Baptist Convention. If the SBC is infused over the next decade with hundreds of seminarians possessing a missional attitude and serving the tough places of America and the unreached places overseas, then it will be hard to be pessimistic about the future. The younger generation is driven by this expectancy of a Great Commission Resurgence and the spreading fame of Christ. In many ways, it casts a shadow over the negatives and declining membership in SBC life. Many in this generation carry a mindset similar to William Carey, a Baptist in a previous generation, “Expect great things, attempt great things.” I, for one, think great days lie ahead because of the brothers I meet on this campus every day.
However, there is also the possibility of a downside. Some major dangers for younger leaders cast doubts as to the effectiveness they will enjoy in the future. If these pitfalls are not overcome, the above positives will serve little benefit to the young leaders.
1. Pride and Ageism (The following section is borrowed heavily from Scott Wilson’s article at Baptist21entitled “Is there Ageism in the SBC?“) - Pride and Ageism go hand in hand. All men struggle with pride, but especially younger men. There is a tendency to buck authority and accountability, and thus the danger of being driven by fame. There is a temptation to view your new and fresh ideas as the only ways to “do” ministry, while casting a negative glance at the work of older pastors, men who have been serving faithfully for decades. I am afraid that we are in danger of being myopic, something some young leaders accuse of the older generation of. If we see our “way” of ministry as “the” way, then we risk placing our preferences and ministries on equal footing with scriptural authority, much like we sometimes claim of the traditional methods. We carry the danger of being “ageists”, seeing older ministers as irrelevant and bothersome. We must avoid our culture’s tendency to cast a negative eye on our elders; this is a place for us to be counter-cultural. I think Scott Wilson said it best when he said, “has our generation become so arrogant that we think we have nothing to learn from those who have been in ministry for forty years, while we have been in ministry for two? We have only just begun to suffer for Christ; they have much to teach us, if only we would humble ourselves long enough to listen. Young believers and young pastors need to seek out older mentors, realizing their need to learn and grow. ”
2. Follow through- A danger accompanying younger energy and creativity is a lack of reliability or work ethic. Once the freshness “wears” off, will the younger generation have “stick-to-itiveness” in their ministries, or will they walk away and fade away into obscurity?
3. Capitulation to Culture- In an attempt to be missional, the danger is that we will take on the irredeemable qualities of the ambient culture. In an attempt to be relevant to culture, there is a danger for the young leaders to surrender those biblical truths and spiritual formation that separate us as followers of Christ. Some sectors of the Emerging Church already evidence this capitulation. Some men who are labeled as “culturally relevant” and in touch with the postmodern ethos have abandoned orthodoxy. We also see this in some so-called “Younger Evangelical Leaders.” At times, because of pride, they play to an audience that they should not “play to” when it comes to social issues that have never been consonant with Scripture. Either that, or they seek to be so culturally relevant that they let precious truths of the faith slide. If we do capitulate to culture, we will not be “relevant” to culture. A Great Commission Resurgence is relevant because it gets to the deepest need of mankind. We must not become driven by cultural relevance. Instead, we must be compelled by the authority of Scripture and a hope to see the glory of Christ invade this world. Otherwise, we will cease to be “relevant”.
4. Isolationist Attitude- In some sectors of younger leaders there also seems to be an isolationist mentality that says, “I will go plant my own church and do my own thing.” They are suspicious of accountability, do not like the methods of others in a convention, and are unhappy with some other (often minor) aspects in a convention. This results in a number of them leaving. The exodus of young leaders from the convention is potentially damaging to a Great Commission Resurgence, and these younger leaders will not be as effective in pursuing a Great Commission Resurgence on their own as they thought. The younger generation needs to step up and be men; we do not need to abandon cooperation because some in a convention criticize us, do not invite us to speak, or because the convention has imperfections. Instead, we must realize that we will be stronger together and more effective through cooperation. A Great Commission Resurgence is not to be undertaken alone. We do not need to “stick our noses up” toward the very convention that paid for our education, in many cases delivered to us the gospel, and taught us to trust the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. Instead, we should be prepared to do the hard work of being involved and then let our voice be heard. This will not happen overnight. However, as a band of brothers who are like-minded, let’s stay, serve, and then speak. Instead of leaving, younger leaders should pursue the benefit of cooperation toward the end of a Great Commission Resurgence.
5. Neglect of the Spiritual Disciplines- Finally, I think many of these failures occur because we neglect spiritual formation. We are so indoctrinated with being on mission that we forget the immense importance of “the character” of the man on mission. It is not enough to be on mission and relevant to the culture if we are not grounded enough to recognize what is redeemable and what is irredeemable in the ambient culture. This takes a man of great discernment, and sadly, many of my younger generation cannot be categorized as possessing this discernment. We are younger and that simply means we still lack much of the wisdom and maturity of older brothers in Christ. If we are so concerned with culture that we neglect protecting our own souls, we will not be the missionaries we are called to be.
In the end, a Great Commission Resurgence, a Missional Revolution, whatever you want to label it, is the goal. It is the natural outgrowth of the Conservative Resurgence launched in 1979. The goal is the fame of Christ spread to the peoples of all nations. Younger leaders must seek to avoid the pitfalls that come from being young; we need to immerse ourselves in Scripture, its disciplines, and the counsel of older, godly brothers. We must continue to pursue a missionary mentality, understand the danger of a life lived apart from Christ, and we must not back down from being passionate about sharing the glories of Christ for the fame of Christ. What I am hoping for, especially among our Southern Baptist brethren, is a multitude of foot soldiers in a Great Commission Resurgence, an army set to war for the fame of Christ, even as we pray the prayer of the saints throughout the ages, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”
It is often times easy to take “swings” at the SBC and in many cases rightly so. A convention of imperfect churches will always be imperfect. Yes, we have many warts, and this causes many to focus attention on the blemishes. Sadly, those imperfections often blind us to the really good things that Southern Baptists are doing. Not only are these negatives leading to criticism, they are also leading many to question whether or not they should remain (or ever become in the first place) Southern Baptist. The logic is that “I have one life to live for Jesus, and I need to make the most of my time in ministering for him, so I’d rather go somewhere that is flourishing and less ‘politically embattled.’” This logic is not without wisdom. We do indeed have one life (a short one) to minister in the tasks assigned by the King. So, the question that we need to ask ourselves is, “Why am I a Southern Baptist (or why should I become a Southern Baptist)?”
Honestly, we became Southern Baptists by birth (not that we were members at birth!). Many generations of Akins have been Southern Baptist, and we were born into the home of a Southern Baptist minister. While this is NOT the main reason that we remain Southern Baptist, it should not be overlooked because it is significant. Obviously the answer to the posed question should never be, “I am Southern Baptist because my momma and daddy were.” BUT, the faithful lives and effective service of believing moms, dads, and grandparents should play a role. The younger generation is quick to dismiss tradition (and many times rightfully so!). But, there is a trail of blood, sweat, and tears of faithful men and women (including especially faithful, lay family members) that led up to where we are. In our past, men and women have taken great pains to get the Gospel to us. There were people faithfully witnessing, discipling, educating, raising families to know Jesus, etc. before we were born. They were trying to be “missional” in culture before we (or they) ever heard that word (not that there were not times of withdrawal and fundamentalist sectarianism). This is significant because we are connected to something. More than that we are connected to “someones,” a people! Why we are Southern Baptist now will be answered differently than the question, “How did you become a Southern Baptist?” But, the answer to the latter question drives the answer to the first. As far as we can trace it back, we became Southern Baptist because our Southern Baptist minister dad led us to faith in Jesus when we started asking questions about the Bible. We started asking questions about the Bible because we were attending a Southern Baptist church where a Southern Baptist Pastor, raised in a Southern Baptist Church by Southern Baptist parents and trained in a Southern Baptist school, preached the Gospel to us. We were at that church because our dad was reared by Southern Baptist parents who led him to Jesus, and our mom was reared and saved in a Baptist Children’s Home because of the faithful giving of Southern Baptist men and women. Before that, we had Southern Baptist grandparents who faithfully shared Jesus with their children because their Southern Baptist parents had done the same with them. That’s why we became Southern Baptist. Tradition may not be everything, but we have been saved by Jesus because we are connected with a people.
We remain committed Baptists because we think that Baptist distinctives above any other denomination’s theological distinctives, are the most biblically faithful. This is a conviction based on reading and studying the New Testament. We are strong advocates of Regenerate Church Membership, which John Hammett, a professor of theology at SEBTS (and others) calls “The” Baptist Mark of the Church. This mark then flows into all the others such as Believer’s Baptism, Congregational Government, Local Church Autonomy, and the Priesthood of the Believers. So we choose to be Baptist because we think Baptist distinctives are the most biblical (and we will point to this in our vision series).
But why do we choose to be Southern Baptist? Given that we believe Baptist distinctives most accurately reflect the New Testament Church we believe the following reasons warrant, with all of the imperfections of the SBC and need for reform, being Southern Baptist. Not only do we think being SBC is warranted, we believe it is the best place to cooperate together to do ALL that King Jesus commands in the world! So, “Why are we and why do we think you should be a part of the SBC?”
a second part to this blog will be posted in the coming days…
Jon and Nathan Akin
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.
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