This is going to be my last post on SBC issues for a while. There are several other matters which I have been looking at that I am really interested in talking about, and I hope you do as well. In any case, I suppose I should inform you that I am not going to San Antonio, and I will not be blogging on it. Last year, I provided comprehensive coverage of the week’s events, but this year I ironically am taking “History of the Baptists” class next week. However, I am thinking about making an open post where anyone can comment on the Convention and things they found worth talking about.
What I want to talk about in this post is what I am calling the “outsourcing of the SBC.” By this I mean that some of the best and brightest men and women in the SBC are leaving with no plans on coming back. Just yesterday, I received a phone call from a dear brother who, after reading of the recent events ongoing in the SBC, finally had enough and will not be planting an SBC church. Those be outsourced, including church planters, pastors, professors, and missionaries, are wanting to network together in gospel-centered ministry that is focused on the local church and does not carry all the excess baggage of denominational politics. Let me make a few points regarding this unfortunate phenomena.
First, let’s begin with the most recent events. In a matter of two weeks, we have seen Will Hall, the editor of Baptist Press censor an article from Baptist Press, which I should add, is owned by the Executive Committee. No public explanation is given and no answers are provided for the questions that are being raised on this issue. Hall just recently announced that Baptist Press has developed an “instant news blog” that is said to cover next week’s events. I should add that the blog does not allow comments, and there is no reason to think that you will hear exactly what the Executive Committee wants you to hear. For a broader and more balanced perspective, I encourage you to read the SBC blogs from all angles, both for and against the issues being presented (for instance, Wade Burleson and Bart Barber). Secondly, we have seen the deplorable events in Florida, where Baptist money is being used to spread a series by Dr. Vines’ entitled “Baptist Battles” with a strong anti-Calvinistic slant. Morever, executive employees of the Florida Baptist Convention have covertly been holding meetings to intimidate pastors and challenge the autonomy of the local churches. Finally, you might have read here at P&P about Dr. Connell’s agenda to remove all Calvinists from the SBC as well as do away with the Abstract of Principles. Is this the type of stuff the SBC is going to use to promote cooperation and renewed Baptist identity? Censorship? Propaganda? Intimidation?
Allow me to continue. Probably the biggest issue in the SBC is the huge generational gap between the younger and older Southern Baptists. The older Southern Baptists had heroes in their day that were Southern Baptists, like W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, Herschel Hobbs, and Homer Lindsay. There was a direct link between these two generations that linked them together and bonded them to trans-generational unity in mission and cooperation. However, as I look around and talk to my generation, that link is no longer there. The younger generation is not looking within the SBC to find its leaders, mentors, or heroes. Granted, there are a few here, such as Dr. David Dockery, who has the respect and admiration of many young Southern Baptists, Mark Dever, whose IX Marks Ministries is helping to shape the polity and practice of many young ministers, and Tom Ascol, who has invested much of his time and energy pouring himself into young men who are preparing to be pastor theologians. But by and large, instead of trans-generational unity in purpose and mission, there is now a huge generational gap which is ever widening both theologically and methodologically. I hear of men like John Piper, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and Tim Keller who are now the dominant shapers of both thought and practice. The more this gap perpetuates, the more you are going to see Southern Baptists desire to model their lives and ministries after these leaders (which is great thing BTW) and will have no motivation to hang around and when Baptists bicker over nonessential matters. They will form new associations, new networks, and new ways of cooperating to accomplish the work of God in their lives and in their churches. An example of this generation gap is evidenced when there 3,000+ of God-called ministers under the age of 40 at a Together for the Gospel Conference while mostly gray-haired men attending Southern Baptist conferences today.
You can also look on college campuses and find that the growing campus ministries include the likes of RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) and Campus Outreach, both distinctively Reformed. As they get away from their home church and explore new ways of doing church, new ways of thinking about God, you will find them taking ownership in their Christian lives by reading books and joining up with campus ministries that will challenge them in their relationship with God. What books do you think they are reading? Almost without exception, they will not be books by Southern Baptists.
You see, there are many and varied things that are attracting Southern Baptists, new and old alike, to find their identity and ministry elsewhere, and there is little reason to stay and hang around. When they read about the controversy of alcohol and the fact that you cannot attend a conference without being questioned about it, they are being pushed to the periphery. When they see the triumphalistic attitudes of those leading the Convention, they are quick to be removed from their shadow. When they are told that they have to jump to certain political and bureaucratic hoops to plant churches, go on the mission field, or pastor churches, they become weary of traditions of men. When other gospel-driven church planting networks are maligned by Executive Committee members, they prefer to be maligned with them.
I would be interested in seeing if LifeWay could to some research to find just how many of our seminarians who graduate from our SBC schools do not go back into SBC churches. Whatever the percentage is, should we blame them? Twenty-seven years after the Conservative Resurgence, conservatives are no longer fighting liberals but one another, the gospel is being lost, churches are in disorderly and dying, and ministers are either failing morally or cycling through churches like revolving doors. Cooperation is being restricted to a narrowed parameters beyond the Baptist Faith and Message, and young ministers are being instructed on how politically correct they must be in oder to minister in a SBC church (for instance, if you are a Calvinist, if you are open about it, they tell you are more interested in Calvinism than the Great Commission, but if are one but choose to just preach the Bible, then you are said to be deceptive and dishonest).
So what now? Is there a way to stop the outsourcing of the SBC, its future leaders, thinkers, practitioners, and pastors? I certainly hope so. Let me give three short and simple ways as a starting point that perhaps can begin this year, maybe this next week.
1. We must focus our attention building bridges in the SBC, and by that I mean working for gospel consensus, unity in essentials, and a general understanding of our Baptist identity. I look forward to the leadership of Drs. David Dockery and Timothy George in this much needed endeavor, and I pray that you consider joining them in their efforts in the SBC. May we see the day that we become known for our cooperation more than our controversies.
2. Not only must we work to build bridges, we must protect and defend those that still exist. Such bridges include our confessions, our understanding of theological triage, that not all matters are essential, and that different perspectives are not only permissible but welcomed. This includes cessationists and continuationists, Calvinists and Arminians, abstentionists and non-abstentionists, etc. Indeed, there should be healthy discussion and even debate over these issues (well, most of them), but at the end of the day it should not result in disavowing fellowship from them or cooperating with them because you disagree.
3. Now to the hardest part. Not only must we build bridges, protect those that exist, but we must also call out those who are burning bridges in the SBC, and no one is immune from this regardless of their respectability or legacy in the Convention. If a virtual landscape of the SBC could be seen on this post, I could show where the bombs are being dropped, the bridges are being torn, and casualties of tomorrow’s Southern Baptists are finding refuge in other sanctuaries free from the conflict. I could give you dozens and dozens of examples of where this is happening in the SBC all over the country, from Roger Moran in Missouri to John Sullivan in Florida to Nelson Price in Georgia to Ergun Caner in Virginia. But if we don’t call for a cease fire and have the courage to stand up to these tactics, then we are going to find the future of the SBC controlled by bridge-burners than bridge-builders. It is pointless to build new bridges when we can’t defend the ones that remain and hold to account those who have the agenda to burn them down. I appreciate men like Dr. Danny Akin and others who are seeing the need to do this.
With a doubt, the future ecclesiological landscape will be much different in the next couple of decades in the SBC than in the last twenty years. Just what makes the difference will be a manifestation of whether the phenomena of the current outsourcing of the SBC has stopped or been propped up by our actions today. God forbid that we get accustomed to the smell of smoke rather than the sweat of our brow. There’s a good work to do, and I pray there will be folks to hang around long enough to see that work get accomplished.