Thursday, February 19, 2009

What will we be in the SBC?

Competing visions for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention are coming to a showdown. While I do not pretend to know all of the ins and outs of the efforts to promote these visions and certainly not all of the nuanced versions of those that are in competition, I think a person would have to be rather disengaged or willfully unobservant not to recognize that, broadly speaking, there are 2 opposing agendas at work to shape what the SBC will become in the near future.

On the one hand are those who are energized by being identified as Baptist--particularly Southern Baptist--and want to make certain that this identity is not diluted in the future. They regularly praise the conservative resurgence and those who led it, often expressing themselves in ways that make it seem that any criticism of that movement and its leaders is, at best, disloyalty to the Baptist cause. This group is fearful that Southern Baptists will lose (or at least loosen their grip on) their Baptist distinctives by honoring and working with other Great Commission Christians.

This group takes the Word and the gospel seriously but finds their identity as Baptists closely bound up to such commitment, often to the extent that they question the spiritual health or even the salvation of other believers who are not baptistic. Much like what some Calvinists mean when they say, "Calvinism is the gospel," some in this group seem to believe that "being Baptist (or even Southern Baptist) is being Christian." Hence, they denigrate any kind of theological triage that recognizes the primacy of essentials over distinctives and charge their Baptist brothers who do make such distinctions as stepping on the slippery slope of evil ecumenism. Many in this group have identified themselves as those wanting to protect Baptist Identity (BI).

On the other hand are those who are energized by being Christ-followers and want to make certain that the Gospel is not diluted in the future SBC. They appreciate the conservative resurgence and its leaders but realize that the best of men are men at best and not above criticism. They also believe that if the conservative resurgence becomes an end unto itself and not a means to a greater end, then the whole movement will turn in on itself and will ultimately defeat the very purposes for which it was engaged. Many in this camp are calling for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) that focuses on the gospel and seeks to be zealous in spreading it around the world.

This group is unashamedly Baptist but they do not see that as a reason to dismiss other Christians who do not share their Baptist distinctives. They recognize that Baptist distinctives are powerless if they are not animated by Christian essentials. Some in this group do not hesitate to say that they find a greater basis for fellowship with gospel-centered non-Baptists than they do with Baptists who are weak on Christian essentials.

The BI vision for the future of the SBC has little or no room for cooperating with gospel-centered evangelicals who are "not us." For evidence of this see how they have recenty tried to chastise Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in general and Danny Akin, Alvin Reid and Nathan Finn in particular for their unwillingness to throw Mark Driscoll under the bus (here, here & here).

The BI vision seems at points more concerned with publicly advocating Baptist principles than actually living by them. Too often some in this camp give the impression that as long as one professes to believe Baptist distinctives it doesn't really matter if he practices them. For evidence of this simply check out the way that some (not all) of their most ardent spokesmen actually do church as opposed to what they say about church.

Anyone who does not measure up to the BI level of baptistness is judged suspect if not dangerous. If their vision of the future prevails in the SBC then I fear the denomination will go on in a triumphalistic spirit that continues to blind us to many of the real problems in our churches--problems that can only be solved by the gospel.

The GCR vision for the future of the SBC is one where unity is built on the essentials of the gospel while maintaining the distinctives of our Baptist convictions. It recognizes that there are different ways of being Christian Baptists and is not threatened by the diversity of those ways within our confessional commitments. This vision is willing appropriately to utilize the gifts that God has given to gospel-centered churches that are not Baptist and believes that Southern Baptists can do so beneficially and in ways that do not threaten their own convictions.

The GCR vision is not so concerned with appearing to be right as it is with living as those who have been rescued by the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. Advocates of this vision are not content with advocating Baptist principles but also want to see them implemented in local churches. Because of the gospel-centeredness of this view diversity is not feared but embraced as a God-given means of spiritual growth. This is the vision that believes bridge building is not only appropriate but essential for the future health of the SBC.

As I said, there are nuances to both visions and those who advocate them. I am sure that I have not adequately represented everyone in each camp. I do not see these two competing visions as a contest between the good guys and the bad guys. I do, however, believe that the future of the SBC will be largely shaped by one of these two visions.

As a reformed, Southern Baptist pastor, my feet are firmly planted in the GCR camp. I believe that it is time for Southern Baptists to come together on the basis of our commitment to the gospel. I believe that where this solid, authentic commitment exists, we can find ground for cooperation and fellowship that will enable us to serve the purposes of God better than if we hold each other at arm's length because of suspicion, fear or disdain.

I invite both my Calvnist and non-Calvinist brothers and sisters to join me in encouraging and working for this kind of future in the SBC. Let's work together to come to deeper understandings and applications of the gospel. We may disagree at points, but such disagreements, if handled with gospel grace, can work to strengthen our grasp of divine truth rather than to further divide us. That is my hope, and that is my prayer.

I also hope that my Baptist Identity brothers and sisters will see fit to join in the pursuit of this kind of vision. The concerns that some in this camp have rightly articulated can be served through a renewed emphasis on the Great Commission because the healthiest streams of our Baptist heritage have always been gospel-centered. We need not give up our distinctives to major on essentials. In fact, Baptists have never shined brighter than when they have majored on the gospel.

I really do believe that, despite our differences, Southern Baptists can work together if we can agree on the centrality and power of the gospel for all of life. I am convinced that a growing number of Southern Baptists believe this, too. Because of this, I anticipate better days ahead.

For excellent articles that touch on various issues related to all this, put the Between the Times blog on your rss feeder. More than any other SBC blog, the writers there understand the issues and address them well. Also read the Baptist21 blog [link fixed]. Younger SBC leaders contribute to it and bring helpful insights and perspectives to some of these matters.

Here are a few specific recent articles that I highly recommend:

Third Generation Conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention, Part 1 by Steven McKinion.
An Open Letter to My Calvinist Friends in the SBC by Alvin Reid (this is part of an exchange between Dr. Reid and Dr. Nathan Finn that will be posted in full on the Between the Times site).
EDIT: An Open Letter to My Non-Calvinist Friends in the SBC by Nathan Finn
I Have a Problem by Alvin Reid

38 comments:

Ken Silva said...

I really do believe that, despite our differences, Southern Baptists can work together if we can agree on the centrality and power of the gospel for all of life.

I am convinced that a growing number of Southern Baptists believe this, too. Because of this, I anticipate better days ahead.


Tom,

I am completely sincere when I say I hope you're right. Please know I have much respect for you and enjoyed what you had to say on the "Amazing Grace" DVD with Eric Holmberg.


I do have a few questions that I feel need to be considered. What can/should be done concerning those in the SBC e.g. Rick Warren who advance positions that are completely counter-Reformation with his open embrace of the apostate Roman Catholic Church as a Christian denomination?

And what about whole SBC State conventions e.g. Baptist State Convention of North Carolina who also openly embrace the spurious spirituality of Rome's Counter-Reformation?

I can assure you from three years of personal study that Warren's position, which is a repudiation of (at least) Sola Scriputra, and the corrupt spiritual pratices sanctioned by BSCNC are rapidly spreading within the SBC.

As it relates to working together for the Gospel, shouldn't we ask ourselves if God feels the Reformation is an essential for this largest Protestant denomination in the US? Rome still preaches the same non-gospel as when Luther stood hammer in hand.

Food for thought because in reality none of the above has anything to do with Calvinism per se.

Ivan said...

Thank you, Tom. Your assessment of the situation within the SBC gives me some hope. I pray that God will not only give us unity and reformation as a people, but revival. Let us join together with our gospel-centered brethren to take the message of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. Let us preach it and live it!

Gabaptist said...

I agree completely with what you have said. I grew up as a child of the resurgence, but see the protectionism of the present leadership as more political than theological. God bless men and women who follow the dictates of their conscience informed by the truths of God's word.

Les Puryear said...

Tom,

Well said, sir. I join you in the GCR.

Les

Chris Poe said...

Not a few Calvinists are wondering whether we are being thrown under the bus by Founders since our concerns about the cooperation with Driscoll are being dismissed with simplistic knee jerk reactions and in some cases, personal insults.

timmybrister.com said...

Food for thought because in reality none of the above has anything to do with Calvinism per se.

Ken,

No only does it not have to do with Calvinism, but it has nothing to do with the post. How about not turning a great article into an opportunity to ride your hobby horses (Rick Warren, RCC, contemplative spirituality)?

The day we are known more for the faithful proclamation of the gospel rather than the personal repudiation of others is the day when the very hopes and prayers of this article's author are realized.

Brent Hobbs said...

Tom, the Baptist Identity guys keep marginalizing themselves. The internet gives them a voice that's far bigger than their actual influence.

The BI movement is not something that needs to be fought, in my opinion. Leave it alone and it'll die on its own.

Dave Miller said...

I follow many of the BI blogs, and appreciate their commitment and passion. But I hope and pray that the BI vision does not catch hold and become the dominant view within the SBC.

I think that would be tragic.

Tom said...

Ken:

We have real problems in the SBC. Many of them are evident and pernicious. What I am advocating in no way suggests that they be overlooked. A radical devotion to the gospel will enable us honestly to assess our problems while engaging in strenuous efforts to live out the call of Christ. This is what I see the early church doing and it is the posture we need to recover in our day.

Tom said...

Chris,

Not sure I understand. What has Founders done to make you and other Calvinists wonder if you are being thrown under the bus?

Tom said...

Brent and Dave:

My understanding is that, like any other movement, the BI movement is not monolithic. I share many of their stated concerns while being very wary of some of their most ardent spokesmen. I really hope that those who see themselves as part of that group will buy into the vision of the GCR. With a gospel-centered focus, we can not only get along but strengthen one another in the process.

Luke said...

"The GCR vision for the future of the SBC is one where unity is built on the essentials of the gospel while maintaining the distinctives of our Baptist convictions."

Tom,

1. What are the essentials of the Gospel?(Calvinism/non-Calvinism)

2. What are the distinctives of our Baptist convictions?(BI/non-BI)

It seems to me that the struggle is really over who gets to answer those two questions and whose answers we agree to abide by. I've read on you blog quite frequently and may have missed where you have answered these questions specifically from your angle of view. If so, would you please direct me to them and if not, would you please answer them? Thanks.

Luke

Thy Peace said...

Here is the corrected link for Baptist|twentyone.

Thanks for explaining complex issues in fundamentals or principles.

Tom Bryant said...

Tom,
I appreciate your point very much. On both sides, we seemingly demonize anyone who doesn’t either agree with us or use the wording we want them to use.

But as one who would identify himself as a “BI” guy, there were points in which I think you painted with a pretty big brush.

“The BI vision seems at points more concerned with publicly advocating Baptist principles than actually living by them.”

“This group takes the Word and the gospel seriously but finds their identity as Baptists closely bound up to such commitment, often to the extent that they question the spiritual health or even the salvation of other believers who are not baptistic.”

I once read that the internet would be the end to thinking. That may yet happen, but unfortunately for every side in this debate, it has not led to a lowering of the tempers on either side. I think the internet has led many on my side to say things that we would never say face to face across a dinner table. Maybe the same is true for both sides.

downshoredrift said...

Great post, Tom, as far as laying out the direction that the SBC needs to be heading. I also find myself in the GCR camp, if indeed there is a camp to be found in. I find it encouraging that much of what the Reform group was advocating in Greensboro has now become center stage in SBC in just a scant 2-3 years.

I am a little more charitable to the BI guys than I used to be, I hope. I don't agree with them on many of the issues that they are advocating, for the most part, but I also respect their right to advocate those positions and be who they are, much as I respect the rights of Calvinists to do the same. In reality, the SBC is much more diverse than people want to admit and we have to find ways to work together.

If any positive thing could come out of all of this, it would be that we learn that Jesus' way to deal with opponents is really the best way. We are to love one another. We are to pray for one another, even those we consider enemies. Both sides are harmed when in their support of truth, they either push out everyone who doesn't agree with them completely, or, they attack viciously their opponents. It would be far better if we use our energies to try and understand one another and then discuss our differences in light of the Scriptures. We might not convince one another of our positions, but we will definitely increase our brotherhood as the things that we do agree upon rise to the surface.

The truth is, we already have unity in Christ. The only thing keeping us from living that out here on earth is us. May it never be.

Tom said...

You can get some of my thoughts on question #1 here. I have addressed the issue in various forums. Here is a recording of a message I gave a few years ago on "Have we lost the gospel" and here is a report of that talk.

Baptists share much in common with all orthodox evangelicals. We do have our distinctives, however, that shape us differently than other evangelicals. Among these are credobaptism, regenerate church membership, belief in a free church in a free state and the priesthood of all believers. Other groups hold to these as well, but we have been known for our ecclesiological convictions and I, for one, do not for a moment want to see such distinctives diminished.

Tom said...

Alan (downshoredrift):

Good words. You have consistently modeled the kind of spirit that we desperately need in the SBC. Thanks.

Thy Peace:

Thanks for correcting the link. I also fixed it in the article.

Tom said...

Tom:

Thanks. I do not want to be guilty of misrepresenting the BI viewpoint, I accept your critique of my broadbrusing as valid. I had in mind specific comments that have been made by a key representative of that view when I wrote those words, but I realize that my words do not accurately portray all who would align with the BI perspective.

I apologize for not being more precise or at least more careful in how I articulated my concern. Thanks again for calling me on it.

Luke said...

Thanks Tom. I am headed to read them now. And thanks for the links to Dr. Reid's site.

My questions I asked stem from my understanding of counting the cost before I start building the barn. It is not original with me obviously. I do find it necessary to find out though if the person who would have me build with them wants to use 2x4's or 2x6's. Just heads off problems before they arise.

Luke

Ken Silva said...

Tom,

"What I am advocating in no way suggests that [the problems] be overlooked."

O, I know you didn't, and fully respect you and what you said. My point was simply to highlight a couple of them which prayerfully will have to be resolved.

Timmy,

"How about not turning a great article into an opportunity to ride your hobby horses (Rick Warren, RCC, contemplative spirituality)?"

See above, those problems absolutely exist within the SBC. So let's not make this about me, k.

"The day we are known more for the faithful proclamation of the gospel..."

Precisely the problem: Since when does the Roman Catholic Church preach said Gospel? Answer: She doesn't? So it'd be a good idea to ask oneself, according to Scripture: Can one be "Christian" and preach another gospel?

Tom Bryant said...

Tom,
You are exactly right about some guys on this side broad brushing... but unfortunately, they are not nearly as quick to back up.

Thanks for the links to "between the times" I just read Nathan Finn's letter. And he's right about our tendencies concerning the Gospel presentation.

You guys almost persuade me to be a Calvinist. :-)

Rick Frueh said...

The horse is out of the barn and is not coming back. Those who can exist with others they disagree with will stay, the rest will not. If it is not of God, let it go.

Which in no way suggests that those who may leave are any closer to truth than those that stay. Serious interdenominational squabbles usually result in...uh...other denominations.

Morris Brooks said...

Tom,

I am not a BI guy, or close to it, but how far does the GCR go in its "cooperation"? I do think there is a problem with Big Tent ecumnenism for the sake of missions, when it is the gospel that is important.

For example, where do you think women pastors fall in the theoligical triage, and would you cooperate with them? To me, one's view of this would show how he views the gospel.

Morris

Tom said...

Morris:

I am not advocating a "big tent ecumenism" at all, nor is the GCR for that. The call for a GCR, as it has been articulated by Danny Akin, is directed to Southern Baptists--a convention of churches that has declared its views on women as pastors. I wholeheartedly agree with the BF&M statement about this.

Ed Franklin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

Ed:

I have no idea what in my post provoked your comment.

botwinick said...

Tom,

I think it may have been your comments about Driskoll.

Ed Franklin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

Ed:

There are a lot of false assumptions in your comment. Let me list a few of them:

1. That I have "lumped all 'anti-Driscoll' forces into the BI camp. You have read that into my words because I nowhere state or imply such.

2. That my reference to the attacks on SEBTS and Akin, Reid & Finn by one BI spokesman is somehow an endorsement of, or at least a condoning of all that Driscoll says or does. Again, you search in vain for actual words that say or imply this. Some of the language I have heard from Driscoll on sex is juvenile and sinful. That is not the point at all. The point is how the BI mouthpiece used the association of Akin and others at SEBTS with Driscoll as an occasion to discredit them.

3. That the issue is about Driscoll. It isn't. It is about a mentality that tends to be suspicious of the developing consensus over the gospel in the SBC.

With all due respect, Ed, I think you missed the point.

Sean said...

Maybe I'm out of the loop, and I do remember the Baptist Identity conference a few years ago, but who exactly are the "BI" guys. What are some prominent blogs, personalities, etc? Thanks for the help.

Bill0615 said...

Tom
I agree wholeheartedly with your vision and desire concerning a "Great Commission Resurgence." Thankfully so do a growing number of brethren across the SBC. Please know that my family and the church I serve greatly admire how you, your family and your church have faithfully praticed and applied (and continue to do so in ever-increasing and ever-intensifying ways) what you "preach" on this blog. I have no doubt that if the whole story could be told many of your critics would place their hand over their mouth. Keep hoisting the banner and calling us back to recover the gospel and recommit ourselves to take that same gospel to the neighborhoods and to the nations.
Bill A.

Wally said...

Ed Franklin

Some of us don’t necessarily agree with this type of preaching byPastor Mark Driscoll, but Jesus said, “Follow Me”.

Anyone Not Against Us Is for Us
Mark 9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, [6] and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

ED who are we to judge this Pastor Mark Driscoll?

Wally

Strong Tower said...

The theological components and hermeneutics of this genre disclose further revelations in the quest to discover the distinctive doctrinal identity of Baptists. Two understandings, or “traditions,” of Baptist distinctives have emerged within Baptist life, particularly within the Southern Baptist Convention. Both of these traditions have existed side by side throughout most of the twentieth-century. In recent years, however, the differences between the two have grown so great that they no longer appear able to coexist. These differences exist due to the manner in which the core distinctive shapes the development of theological identity. Works that affirm the primacy of biblical authority as the core distinctive develop and interpret the other distinctives in light of this organizing principle. This method reflects the Protestant Reformation tradition of sola scriptura. In fact, many of the authors of these writings believed that the Baptists and their distinctive theology were the logical outcome to the Reformation assumption of the preeminence of biblical authority. Those distinctive works that affirm the primacy of biblical authority can be categorized as “Reformation Baptist distinctives.”

Writings on Baptist distinctives that affirm religious experience as the core distinctive embrace the Enlightenment assumption of individual autonomy. This profound emphasis upon the individual is often expressed in terms of individual freedoms, individual rights, and individual morality. This strand of distinctives can be called “Enlightenment Baptist distinctives.”


Sean-

I am not sure this will help, but it might bring some clarity. The first group is the "founders" distinctive and follows that hermeneutic which was developed prior to the advent of E.Y. Mullins and H. H. Hobbs. The later group constitutes the current BI guys at SBCToday.

But there are some differences. "The Movement" as they call themselves, infers in much of its writings that it is the propriety of the SBC from the convention level to impose "cooperative" statutes which would force all SBC'ers into a single mold. This is a contradiction in terms. For even though Mullins and Hobbs actually represent a liberalism within the conservatism that charaterized the CR in the SBC, they emphasized, with some nuancing, both soul competency and religious liberty, upholding the ideals of local autonomy. From everything I can tell about the BI Movement, it actually destroys the neo-distinctives of Mullins and the classic distinctives of Southern Baptistism's founders. In short, the BI are not the baptist identity at all.

I copied the quote above from this article:
http://baptistcenter.com/StanNorman.pdf

Something that should be noted as is brought out by the paper; eventhough it is claimed by both camps that the Bible is the soul authority, Baptist distinctives actually subjugate the Bible to the hermenuetic of the tradition called Baptist. In recent days a return to classic hermenuetics has supplanted that. Reformed hermenuetics being what they are, the tendency is to rejoin the older position of the founders of the SBC which was 5-point Calvinist. In that is enough heat generated because even though the neo-Baptist distinctive guys of the SBCToday type want so much to return to the "historic" Baptist Identity, the distinctives that occupied the 19th Century SBC were grounded in the Doctrines of Grace, something the BI guys reject whole-cloth even while having in their fold certain token Calvinists.

Luke said...

Tom,

Thanks again for the links. Still chewin' on 'em. But I have another question in the meantime. In your paragraph referencing Driscoll, do you really think they(Peter to be specific) had a problem with him not being one of "us"(BI)? I read it more that the contention was about Driscoll's pulpit language and topics, which by the way I believe the sermon you linked would label as sensual. I am saying that I do not believe that Driscoll would be a good illustration of someone who is being opposed because he is not BI. I think the argument against him was on a totally different level.

Luke

Tom said...

Luke:

I don't think that the problem PL had is that MD is not "one of us" but that Akin and SEBTS had MD preach and are unwilling to castigate him and write him off for his sins and style of ministry.

Matt said...

Ed,
I would recommend you listen to Dr. Akin's chapel message this past Thursday and hear the language he uses. Should he also be rejected as vulgar and coarse? If not, why put MD in that camp and not Akin? Just b/c he's not in the SBC?

I think that may be part of Tom's point on the GCR...

-Matt

debt said...

I know for a fact that their are godly, older men coming along side Mark Driscoll and discipling him, holding him accountable. I, too, had questions about him, but when I am confronted with the fact that he is a brother in the sanctification process, I put my hand over my mouth and thank the Lord that He is patient with His children. We need not be so quick to condemn, but remember that others know more about Mark Driscoll than us and love those men enough to give them our trust. Ask the questions, if you must, but please do it graciously. The lack of it is one of the reasons people don't like to be identified somtimes as "Baptist". Thanks for letting a sister in Christ share in your discussion.

volfan007 said...

Dr. John McArthur has some wise words concerning 1 Corinthians 1:10 that may apply here. He says that this passage was about the unity of doctrine in the local assembly of Believers, not the spiritual unity of his universal Church.

He goes on to say,"Doctrinal unity, clearly and completely based on Scripture must be the foundation of all Church life. Both weak commitment to doctrine and commitment to disunity of doctrine will severely weaken a Church and destroy the true unity. In it's place, there can be only shallow sentimentalism or superficial harmony."

Wise words.