Nathan Finn’s recent post entitled “The Southern Baptist Generation Gap,” deals with the issue of the lack of younger Southern Baptist messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It is very clear there is a lack of participation in pastors who are under the age 40. This is one of the reasons we started Baptist21. We love the Southern Baptist heritage and the Southern Baptist distinctives. We believe the SBC has issues, as any group of sinful human beings does. We believe that the SBC is quite possibly the best, and perhaps the largest, organized attempt by a multitude of churches to reach the world for Christ. We believe, with some reform, the SBC could be more effective and successful than it already is. We are grateful for the cooperative program and the opportunities it allows: Theological Education, Pastoral Training, Church Planting, and World Missions. We believe that together we are more effective than apart. We believe the SBC is worth fighting for because when we fight for the Convention, we are fighting for a host of people who are serving Jesus Christ in fields across the world that are ripe for a harvest.
This post is intended to interact with Nathan Finn’s article, continuing the conversation on why there is a generation gap, proposing possible remedies for the gap, and casting a vision of what could come from closing the gap.
Why is there a Generation Gap?
We must answer the question “Why don’t younger pastors attend the Convention?” This list contains Nathan Finn’s reasons as well as some we have added, and we acknowledge that it is not exhaustive.
While many of these should be discussed, and at some point we hope to address them, at this time we will only deal briefly with two.
I. Some are disenfranchised, rightly or wrongly, by petty arguments, overly political ambitions, and traditional, non-gospel centered issues.
We must recognize up front that any group of people cooperating together for a common purpose and goal will have a political dimension. The question will be whether our political dimension will be petty and ungodly or gospel-centered and godly. Finn writes:
“I often wonder what role “fighting” plays in our generation gap. How many over-40 conservatives disengaged once there were no longer many moderates to fight? How many over-40 conservatives pulled out because they were tired of fighting moderates? How many over-40 conservatives quit attending because, once the real moderates were mostly gone, some Southern Baptists started inventing some new “moderates” so they could still have someone to fight? And since more than a few of our present squabbles are at least to some degree generational battles, here is the money question: how many under-40 conservatives never became involved because they suspect that many of the over-40 conservatives don’t really want their involvement (though their CP dollars are of course welcome)?”
We believe that Finn’s perception of the “under-40 conservatives” never getting involved because the “over-40’s” do not really want their involvement is partly true. There seems to be a growing division in our denomination. One side says, “the younger, postmodern generation is tainted with a fluid view of sin, therefore we mustn’t let them challenge, nor effect change in our denomination”, while the other side says, “our world is constantly changing and the way we go about changing culture and reaching people for Christ must be willing to change and adapt to be effective in our world.” Whether the younger generation perceives this rightly or wrongly, the perception is there and if many of the older generation want an SBC for their great-grandchildren, they must be the ones to reach out. We, as younger men, must also challenge younger men not to evidence so much immaturity and haughtiness as if we have all the answers. We need older men, and older men could benefit from younger men as well. This is part of the beauty of cooperation. Nevertheless, there seems to be a rift developing between these two sides, and we are now seeing young pastors who look at their ministries and say “I don’t have to deal with the pettiness, political ambitions, and traditionalism that is not gospel-centered to change the world for Christ.” Why should they waste their time in a denomination that in some circles reject them because of the way they do ministry, the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, and the people that influence them?
Case in Point: Baptist Press on Mark Driscoll
The recent article by Baptist Press on Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle is an ironically timely illustration of this trend. Mark Driscoll’s track record over the last 10 years is staggering: 8,000 attend his church, 7 campuses, hundreds of churches planted through Acts 29 (with a 100% success rate), etc. Driscoll’s heart to reach as many people as possible for the glory of King Jesus is clear. What is also clear is the influence he has on millions of believers and especially young seminarians.
Some in our denomination believe that God is doing great things through Driscoll and that connecting with such a leader is beneficial for those training for ministry, young pastors, and even for current leaders in the denomination. Others have distanced themselves from him because of past occurrences of sin that, for some reason in their minds, can never be forgiven and still stain his current biblical, theological views. Not only have they distanced themselves from Driscoll, some have attacked his Acts29 network (like Missouri), and others have been critical of those who have allowed him to be involved in our SBC entities.
The article in the Baptist Press criticized Driscoll in an inaccurate and unfair way, and it gives an illustration of why some in the younger generations disengage. These kinds of things only aid their decisions to leave. Bombing raids on Gospel-centered brothers (who are not the enemy) turn many of them off. Baptist Press and others continue to castigate a man who has repented of past sins, and we as redeemed sinners must believe that the Cross takes care of sin. We should value repentance, not ignore it. We also continue to berate a man who preaches more gospel-centered sermons in a week than most pastors (including much of the SBC) preach in a year. We acknowledge that Driscoll is by no means perfect, nor is he always accurate. Some of what he does and says is edgy, radical, and stirs up controversy, but most of the time his approaches are not unbiblical. We in no way intend for this to be an endorsement of all things Driscoll, but we do believe he is doing valuable gospel work and he is not the one we need to launch our grenades on. We think that Dr. Alvin Reid’s Twitter comment says it well, “listen to his podcasts from SEBTS and decide for yourself if he’s friend or foe.”
This BP article gives a direct picture of what some in our denomination want to convey to those who may be influenced by men like Mark Driscoll. It seems that they are sending the signal “if this is you and your influenced by him, then change or stay out.” We at Bapist21, along with several “older-40” pastors and leaders in our denomination highly disagree with this inaccurate portrait of Mark Driscoll and ask that you stay in our denomination and let your voice be heard. We desire to affect change in our denomination and the world by remaining focused on what matters: “Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The reason we are willing to learn from someone like Driscoll is because we believe he shares this common vision with us and we hope you do as well.
Some Interactions with Quotes in the Baptist Press Article:
We are not even going to address the journalistic nature of this article, though others have. We turn to their thoughts.
“This graphic, found on Driscoll’s blog, warns that the material is not suitable for minor readers. However, there is no warning that such topics should be discussed only within the confines of marriage.”
It is wrong-headed to say that these topics should only be discussed in the confines of marriage; they must also be discussed with those that are moving toward marriage. That would include most of the congregation, though language should be tempered as appropriate for different ages. We need to be honest about these issues because this is what the younger generations (and everyone in the world) are talking about. If we can discuss these things anywhere it should be a church setting. Some people in your churches will not have parents to cover some of these issues and the church should recapture its authoritative role in instructing its people, not peers or a Google search.
“Schleuter also castigated Driscoll for linking the blog to a website, christiannymphos.org, which features articles on how a Christian wife can turn herself into a dominatrix, the glories of an-l and or-l sex, and the use of sex toys.”
We wish that Baptist Press had felt it necessary to post the disclaimer that Driscoll does with his link to this site.
“At a time when American young people are hit in the face with graphic sexuality in every facet of our culture, the church should be a safe haven where the sacredness and privacy of the act of marriage is respected by pastors,” Schleuter said in a press release. “Those with sexual issues need to receive private counseling — not sex seminars in a church auditorium.”
We would argue that Pastor Driscoll respects sexual issues more than many do, he at the least wants to help guide his congregation to a biblical view of sex. He never espouses premarital sex of any kind. He is intensely biblical in his view on sex and Schleuter is partially right, the church should be the safe place to discuss sex, which is what he was doing.
“For generations, Christian pastors have managed to convey the Scripture’s teachings on fornication, adultery and the beauty of sexuality within marriage without sullying and cheapening it” Schleuter added.”
This is the most ironic quote of the article. Is this why the church’s record on sexual issues like premarital sex and divorce is in lock step with the culture? The divorce rate inside of our own churches is extremely high, which shows there is a lack of accurate preaching on the subject of sex and marriage. This is one of the reasons we are grateful that pastors are beginning to cover tough topics; this should have always been the case.
“He (Driscoll) has simultaneously embraced the spirit of the age when it comes to his treatment of sex. In the process, he is pornifying the church and only adding to the moral squalor of our culture.”
Driscoll is engaging the spirit of this age, not embracing it. He is trying to help in an area that has spun out of control in our culture and in most of our churches. He is trying to redeem a gift from God. The Church is absolutely the place to do this.
If you will listen to Driscoll and read his books you will see a man that has a keen eye for the culture and how to address it biblically. It is our hope that we will figure out who the true enemies are. If we will not, as another blogger said to me, we will “continue to hear the splash of young seminarians jumping overboard.” We fear that this article is indicative of why the generation gap continues to grow.
N.A. and R.P.
Part II of this blog will be added tomorrow
Other Responses to the Baptist Press Article:
February 6-7, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary will be hosting its annual 20/20 conference. This year’s conference is entitled “The Gospel Comes to Life.” The highlighted speakers for this event are Mark Driscoll, C.J. Mahaney, and Danny Akin. Here are some highlights from last year’s 20/20 to give you a feel for the impact of this event.
A description of this year’s event from the website:
The Gospel is powerful and relevant for absolutely everything we think or do. Its relevance is not limited to the four walls of a church building, but extends to every square inch of the fabric of human existence, to every dimension of human culture, and to every intellectual and social endeavor of mankind.
It is relevant not only to our private devotions, but to our college classes and our future vocations. It matters not only during Sunday morning worship, but also during coffee shop conversations, movie viewings, and political conversations. Come and see how everything we do and think matters to God and how, when we discover this, the gospel really comes to life.
Also, on Feburary 16 Southeastern will be hosting a one day “Great Commission Resurgence” conference.
This will be an evangelism conference that will feature speakers such as: David Platt, Danny Akin, Robert Smith, Bruce Ashford, Chuck Lawless, and Ed Stetzer. Music will be led by Jeff Capps. This also should be an exciting event, and I personally and am looking forward to hearing David Platt and Robert Smith preach in person.
Both of these events fit heavily into the Baptist21 purpose:
“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 the Purpose Statement).
It is our hope that you will make it to these events and learn from these men about bringing the gospel to bear on every dimension of life and how we as baptist in the 21st century can seek a Great Commission Resurgence.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has announced that effective January 1 Bruce Riley Ashford will be the new dean of the College at Southeastern, the undergraduate program at Southeastern Seminary. Dr. Ashford has been serving as director of the Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern since 2005. He teaches courses in theology, philosophy, and missions. Dr. Ashford is an active member at the thriving Summit Church in Durham. He is a gifted communicator and speaks at churches and in other venues all over our Convention. In addition, Dr. Ashford blogs at Between the Times with four of his SEBTS colleagues (David Nelson, Ken Keathley, Nathan Finn, and Danny Akin). He has been a vocal proponent of a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) in the SBC in his teaching, speaking, and blogging. He is a rising leader in our Convention and a man who exemplifies the wedding of piety, doctrine, and practice.
Baptist21 posted a blog entitled “Men and Women of Whom the World is Not Worthy, A Better Resurrection, and Am I an Obstacle to the Nations Hearing the Gospel?” that addressed a sermon he delivered in Southeastern’s Chapel on missions to begin the new academic year. He is an avid proponent of missions and church planting and renewal, as well as a student favorite on campus. In addition, he has posted a wonderful ten-part series on Theologically driven Missiology. We here at Baptist 21 wish to say congratulations to Dr. Ashford and are excited about Dr. Ashford’s new post.
Dr. Bruce Ashford delivered a powerful sermon from Hebrews 11 in the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Chapel on August 20th. My hope with this post is to hit the highlights of his message, point people to the audio because it is a must-listen, and intersperse some of my thoughts throughout as I meditate upon the themes of his message. Dr. Ashford began with a testimony of a sleepless night from his seminary days. The map of the 10/40 window and the thought that “I could take the gospel to them,” haunted him. The idea that nearly 2 billion people could walk for days without encountering a Bible, a Christian or a Church preoccupied him. Therefore, he asked himself the question: “Have I surrendered to the ministry, or now that I once surrendered to it am I trying to regain control of it?” This question, stated by Ashford in his message, is a major question that has lodged in my mind since hearing him speak. He says that at the time of this move of the Spirit in his life he was speaking at hundreds of youth events and churches a year. He said that this preaching had become an idol to him. This is a word for every minister of the gospel. Every minister should ask himself the question, “Are the ambitions of my heart blinding me to another service that God has called me to?” He says that ministry is an easy place to hide the idols of hearts because “we take the selfish ambitions we have before conversion and we baptize them, clothing them in Christian garb.” Is this keeping you or me from doing something that God has for us?
Dr. Ashford moved to the Hebrews passage to speak about ministry, and about where a life of a faith can take you. His constant refrain throughout this section of the message was another important question that I took away, “Have you surrendered to the path God is calling you to?” He focused on three major elements in the passage. First, sometimes God sees fit to bless men and women of faith with visible victories. Hebrews 11:30-35a: “By Faith the people crossed the Red Sea… the walls of Jericho feel down… who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.” If these are the events of your life, Dr. Ashford says to praise God; this is the act of a gracious Lord.
Second, Ashford states that, “Sometimes God sees fit to issue suffering for men and women of faith.” Hebrews 11:35b-38: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword… of whom the World was not worthy.” Dr. Ashford said of these, “This is something like the opposite of the health and wealth prosperity gospel.” If I may add my thoughts, the sad state of the “Prosperity Gospel” is a different post for a different day, but it is important to see that God is not calling us all to visible victories – - even for those that are giants of faith, these verses deal a crushing blow to that heretical teaching. Dr. Ashford mentioned what suffering does for the believer. First, suffering produces growth in the servant of God. Second, suffering demonstrates the greatness of Christ to a watching world. This is true because saying, “blessed be the Lord” when you have a nice, middle class American life looks easy to the watching world. The suffering that our brothers and sisters in arms around the world are facing is producing rapid growth in the number of disciples of our Lord. Why is this so? This is how it has always been. The famous quote assigned to Tertullian, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church,” captures this thought. The on-looking world sees true faith and the power of God in a man like Polycarp, who while facing the edge of the sword, unless he says that Christ is not God, instead says, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and he never did me any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior.” This is faith; this is a visible demonstration that there is something different to hold on to in the life of true believer. The on-looking world sees something completely different in a man who at the edge of the sword refuses to say “Allāhu Akbar” and instead in the midst of persecution says, “blessed be the Lord.” The watching world sees true transformation here, that is true faith and it is manifested more clearly many times through suffering.
Finally, on the suffering of a servant of God Ashford points out, sometimes we do not see the whole picture of suffering. Again, if I can expound on this idea, the blessing is that God has not remained distant from this suffering, but has become a part of it through the crucifixion of His Son. The problem of pain and evil is always a tough subject for us, but we must point people to the one who not only enables His servants to endure, but also became the solution to the problem by “bearing in His own body” the sins of the world. Dr. John Lennox who was recently with us at SEBTS says this is the only answer (that of God becoming part of the solution) on the market that begins to answer the theodicy problem. Ashford ends here with another question, which I have rephrased as follows: “Does Christ have the preeminence in my life?” Am I willing to be a Hebrews 11 type of man whatever that means? Dr. Ashford says often times our lives, as ministers, will be a mixture of both visible signs of victory and times of suffering. Or more poignantly, we may ask, “Am I willing to die like those at the end of the chapter 11 if that is what God sees fit for my life?”
Ashford’s final point is that both groups provide a testimony to Christ. Hebrews 11:39-40 states, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
Ashford then moved to discuss the final question, a question that he had asked himself during his seminary days: “Am I an obstacle to the nations hearing the Gospel?” There are 2 billion with little or no gospel witness, with so many in our seminaries, why is it the case that most stay? He pointed out, that humanly speaking, in the year 2008 it has never been easier in the history of the world for the gospel to reach the ends of the earth than it is right now. It is especially easy for those in the SBC (to take the Gospel to the nations) as we have the opportunity of working through the IMB. He said that it does little good to expound about inerrancy if it makes no change in our hearts. He pleads that we all (beginning with himself) pray that God will break our own grips on our lives. He reiterates that not all are called to full-time overseas mission work, however more are probably called than go. More are probably called to tough, uncomfortable areas here in North America than go. It is time for us to be men and women of faith. My father, Danny Akin, often says the question is not “Should I go?” Instead, we should be asking “Why Should I stay?” One of the major things that we hope to do with this site is to point to the beauty of cooperating for the sake of the Gospel. The IMB is one of the main resources to that end. Never before has travel and technology allowed for us to so easily access the ends of the earth than right now. Dr. Ashford closes with an appeal to contemplate very seriously spending 1/40th of your life overseas, a two-year stint. But maybe, just maybe, he says some of us should go ahead and take our caskets with us overseas and prepare for a life served in a foreign context. And maybe, just maybe, the life that is lived with that kind of faith will be worthy of the label used to describe the saints in Hebrews chapter 11—they were those “of whom the World was not worthy.”
This message is a must hear, it can be downloaded here.
Also, check out Dr. Akin’s convocation sermon from 2 Timothy 1:8-12 entitled “The Pattern of Paul’s Missionary Life Revealed in the Ministry of David Brainerd for the Furtherance of the Gospel Among the Nations” and Dr. O.S. Hawkins’ sermon from Acts 9:31 entitled “Walking in the Fear of the Lord.”
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