Continuing from where we left off in SBC cooperation and controversy, we pick up with questions regarding resolutions, the Cooperative Program, and Calvinism in the SBC.
Brister: One of the most talked about moments during last year’s annual Convention meeting was the voting on resolutions. As you know, the 58th resolution on alcohol was passed, and many Southern Baptists expressed a differing opinion on the matter. On the other hand, Tom Ascol’s resolution on “Integrity in Church Membership” didn’t even make it to the floor for a vote. First, do you believe a person must hold to the abstentionist in order to serve in any capacity in our Convention? Second, were these events indicative of the future of the SBC, or do you believe there is hope of recovering the Baptist distinctive of regenerate church membership?
Dockery: I am not sure that these two things are necessarily related. Having served on the SBC resolutions committee, I can tell you that it is not an easy task. The number of resolutions considered that can’t be addressed are many. On top of that, the committee often has its own matters that it wants to formulate. The fact that Dr. Ascol’s motion was not presented by the committee does not mean that Baptists are not committed to a regenerate church membership. I would go so far as to say that it has been and must continue to be one of our key distinctives. That being said we have to ask hard questions about church discipline, “inactive” and “non-residential” church members, and the practice of baptizing children before they are old enough to read. These are complex questions that are often easier to deal with in theory than in practice, but the hallmark belief of a regenerate church membership must remain a priority for Baptists.
The alcohol issue has been discussed enough, I believe, over the past few months. I think it is enough to say that Baptists, at least throughout the 20th century in the South, were, without hesitation or reservation, abstentionist. That position, as normally articulated, has both biblical reference and a long accepted tradition across the SBC. I doubt if that tradition will be modified in coming years.
Brister: What do you foresee as being the greatest threats or dangers to the future of the SBC?
Dockery: Dangers exist on the right and the left. The Apostle Paul challenged wrong-headed thinking on the “right” in the book of Galatians. He challenged wrong-headed thinking on the “left” in other places, particularly Colossians and the Pastorals. The SBC is not in any danger at this time of falling into liberal revisionism. Southern Baptists, as a whole, still, however, tend to have an uncritical acceptance of culture, which can cause a variety of challenges. Postmodernism, secularism, relativistic pluralism – all of these are serious challenges to the churches.
We must also be aware of the danger of a mushy anti-intellectualism, misunderstandings of the church, and a kind of fundamentalist reductionism. Our biggest challenges could well come from internal fragmentation. We need to pray that the virtues identified by the Apostle Paul in Eph. 4:1-2; Phil. 2:1-4; Rom. 12:9-21; and Gal. 5:22-23 will become characteristic of Southern Baptists, who can be a bit cantankerous at times. We face huge ethical challenges, particularly dealing with societal pressures on things like sexuality. We must pray that God will give us great wisdom and great boldness. Our confidence cannot rest in ourselves, but in Christ and His Holy Word.
The Cooperative Program
Brister: Some have said that the year 2006 was the year of the Cooperative Program. More money was given to the CP than ever before, and it is clear that at Greensboro, the definitive issue, both in messages given and the messengers who voted, was a renewed emphasis on the Cooperative Program. In light of this reality, there is a growing trend of churches who are seeking to do missions on their own, fueling the majority of their mission budget to their own enterprises. First, do you have any comments on the renewed commitment to the Cooperative Program? Second, what advice would you give to pastors or church leaders who are wrestling with how to best invest the Great Commission?
Dockery: I am thankful for the Cooperative Program. This ingenious program came into being in 1925, under the guidance of Union University graduate M. E. Dodd. The Cooperative Program has been a unifying factor for the convention. It has helped build some of the finest seminaries, colleges, and mission programs in the history of Christianity. People need to be re-educated about the importance of the Cooperative Program and help their churches understand the good that it has done before reverting back to some “semi-societal” model. The duplication of effort that comes when churches attempt to carry out their own mission programs does not seem to me to be as wise or effective as the Cooperative Program. Baptist churches, however, are autonomous. They can and should seek to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, through Holy Scripture, in the way that they deem to be most faithful. My fear is that many discount the importance and strengths of the Cooperative Program before they really understand how it works and how God has blessed the SBC through this means. I believe a strong commitment to the Cooperative Program can help ensure a strong SBC in coming years.
Calvinism in the SBC
Brister: Over the past two years, we have come to see many leaders in the SBC come out against Calvinism in the SBC. From megachurch pastors such as Jack Graham, Bobby Welch, Dick Lincoln, Frank Page, and Johnny Hunt to scholarly papers by Steve Lemke and Malcolm Yarnell to SBC political leaders such as Nelson Price, Lonnie Wilkey, and Bill Harrell—the charges of hyper-Calvinism and killing churches are being made to diminish the influence of Calvinism in the SBC. In spite of this, Calvinism continues to be on the rise. The first Together for the Gospel Conference (distinctively Reformed) was not only filled to capacity but thousands had to be turned away. Founders Ministries is amassing a large-scale network of ministers who believe in the need for church reform, doctrinal fidelity, and ecclesiological integrity. Christianity Today recently came out with an ever popular piece entitled “The Young, Restless and Reformed,” highlighting the resurgence of Reformed theology. Finally, thousands of young men and women are graduating from colleges and seminaries seeking to serve our Convention in the ministry and mission field who are Calvinists. The warning has been sounded from numerous leaders in the SBC that Calvinists are either not wanted in local churches or they are not permitted to seek reform. Dr. Frank Page, the current president of the SBC, recognized this “problem” and believes that the Southern Baptist churches are headed for “tumultuous days” in the future. As a Convention, how do you believe we can address the differences we have, whether Calvinist or non-Calvinist, and work together to cooperate for the sake of the gospel, reaching the lost for Christ? Should there be a formal forum or meeting to settle the matter and call an end to the mischaracterizations and rhetoric so that we build a better future for the SBC?
Dockery: I don’t think I would encourage a forum. I do think we should recognize that Calvinists and non-Calvinists have been a part of the SBC since 1845. When I was at Southern Seminary as a faculty member and administrator I developed a great admiration for the Boyce, Manly, Broadus tradition. That tradition was consistently Calvinistic. A person who was a hero and mentor of mine was H. H. Hobbs, who advanced the “arminianizing” of the SBC throughout the second half of the 20th century. I was able to spend a lengthy amount of time with him shortly before his death in the fall of 1995. I served on the staff at First Baptist Dallas when W. A. Criswell was still going strong. Dr. Criswell was a moderate Calvinist – or better, an Amyraldian. Amyraldianism probably represents the largest sector of American Evangelicalism and is well represented across the SBC. I think we can respect and learn from the various traditions that have shaped our convention.
Recognizing that H. H. Hobbs, Paige Patterson, and Adrian Rogers, all of whom are definitely not Calvinists, have or have had vital leadership roles in the SBC, we can say that Southern Baptists have included a strong non-Calvinist emphasis. But we can also look at what is sometimes called the “Charleston tradition” and see the influence of Richard Furman, Basil Manly, Sr., and others who shaped Baptists in the South in the 19th Century. All of these believed in a consistent Calvinism just like Charles Spurgeon and William Carey in England.
I think we must recognize that hyper-Calvinism has never been accepted as part of Southern Baptist life and today we should reject all forms of hyper-Calvinism. The same can be said for Pelagianism. It should be dismissed as well as consistent Arminianism and its teaching regarding apostacy. And, of course, all forms of Universalism are out of bounds.
By recognizing that there is a place and has been a place for Calvinism, I am not under any circumstances suggesting that there should be a Calvinistic agenda in Baptist life. I do not think the Southern Baptist Convention should be a Calvinistic convention. That being said, I think if we understand our history rightly, we will recognize that there has been a place for Calvinists to live out their Baptist expression, which has been the case since the days of W. B. Johnson, the first president of the SBC. I suggest that we reject any agenda that seeks to convert the Southern Baptist Convention to Calvinism and also that we ask those who say that Calvinism is not Baptist to take a fresh look at our history. It would help us to learn to respect those with whom we might have disagreements. In doing so I pray that we can move beyond confusion and controversy to a new consensus focused around the Gospel. This Gospel centered consensus, I trust, will help us develop a renewed appreciation for developing a theologically, historically, and biblically informed identity of what it means to be a Southern Baptist. We must do so because the programmatic and cultural identity of what it means, or has generally meant, to be a Southern Baptist since the 1950s has now basically disappeared.
[Part 5 tomorrow: blogging, worship, and a concluding word]