Last week I attended what many consider to be a historic meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. A few people have asked me, and I emphasize, only a few, where I am on the convention? For what its worth, this is where I am on where we are:
On the election of Fred Luter as President of the SBC.
Much has been made of the election of Fred Luter as President of the SBC and rightfully so. He is our convention’s first African American President. No matter what he does, this is what he will forever be. This is significant given that a catalyst for the formation of the SBC was the issue of slavery. Because men who owned slaves would not be considered for appointment as missionaries, the SBC was formed. The convention was designated “Southern” in geography and cultural ideology. Any decent Baptist history book will tell you this story.
The first anything is certainly a milestone moment. Dr. Luter’s election was something special of which I will always be grateful to have been a part. I promise you, years from now I will tell people, “I was there.” So with my following comments I don’t want to minimize the moment, nor do I want to minimize the pain, sin, and stupidity many have experienced in the struggle for civil rights in America. Even though I thought it was important history, I did not think it was important to vote for Dr. Luter because he was a black man. The media portrayed this moment as if finally the slow Southern redneck pastors of the SBC entered the age of reason, electricity, and indoor plumbing. There may be some warrant for this criticism, but the media is certainly not without prejudice and sin. Will the NY Times continue to cover the ideas and accomplishments of a conservative, godly, moral black man who preaches the gospel? Will the media heads tell the story of his church? Or, will the coverage end with the color of his skin? If Dr. Luter accomplishes great things we will see it in SBC Life but not the NY Times. If he even breathes against homosexual marriage we will hear about it everywhere. If he falls, we will hear about it before he hits the floor.
Fred Luter is the first black SBC President, but there is more. If there should be anyone who would wonder, let’s ask Condoleezza Rice how black conservatives are treated by the media – even when they are first.
The primary reason I voted for Dr. Luter is because he is a man of God. I also voted for him because for the last 10 years all the SBC has discussed is church planting. It is time that we talk church revitalization, particularly in the metro areas. We now have an SBC head who understands what this means. I voted for Dr. Luter because I want to see more of our funding go to help churches that are trying to transition instead of trying to take root. Hopefully Dr. Luter will bring more of this conversation to the table.
On changing the name of the SBC.
Last week the messengers of the SBC voted to allow the churches to refer to themselves as “Great Commission Baptists” rather than “Southern Baptists.” A moment of levity came to the floor when an elderly, articulate man came to the microphone and pointed out that we are debating and voting to do what we can already do. SBC churches are autonomous bodies. If you want to call yourself Last Baptist, A Hopeless Congregation – you can. If you want to align yourself with the SBC, CBF, and the NBC/USA, you can. Right, wrong, or indifferent you can, and because churches are local, autonomous bodies, some do. If you want to call yourself North Point Community Church and make barely to no mention of your affiliation with the SBC, you can. If you want to offer stories that leave us scratching our heads as you indicate that you hold a vague position on homosexuality, marriage, and the definition of adultery – apparently you can do that too! It seems that the SBC is not the only evolving name in our circles, the name Stanley is undergoing its own metamorphosis as well.
Do we need to change the name of the SBC? I think so. There are both historical and missional reasons I think this would be a healthy move. I am sure last week’s vote was a baby step toward that ultimate end, but I found it somewhat humorous the way the whole thing was communicated. Now we have official permission to say we are something else; if we want to. But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. We essentially went to a ballot vote to do nothing. I suspect this issue did not end at the ’12 convention. ’13 will be the sequel.
On the Calvinist invasion of the SBC.
Twenty-five years ago Southern Baptists were debating the inerrancy of Scripture. The rhetoric was liberal, moderate, and conservative. Now we are debating the sovereignty of God in salvation. The rhetoric is Calvinists and the rest of us. I find this to be a strangely, ironic, affirming moment for where we are as a convention. I agree with Dr. Al Mohler who states,
First, we should pause to reflect that, thanks to the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, we are not debating the inerrancy of the Bible. That matter is settled among us. We are privileged to be having a debate among those who affirm the total truthfulness and authority of the Bible. Otherwise, we would surely be debating the issues that have consumed the more liberal denominations, such as same-sex marriage, the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the ministry, and feminine God-language.
At least we are not debating out in left field, but at the same time I think it is odd that we are debating the way God saves a soul. Really?! I do understand the finer points of this concern and how it expresses itself in the local church. Ultimately the debate over Calvinism leads us to resolutions on the sinner’s prayer – of which there was at this past convention. I understand that when we don’t get salvation right we preach it wrong and it misleads people. I’m not saying we shouldn’t think about these things. Yet, too much debate makes us crazy. At the convention we not only voted on what we can call ourselves, but we also voted on what we can pray and be saved. Again, really?! I find this debate laughable, mournful, and prideful.
I find it laughable because there are some amongst us who are selling Calvinism as the “new threat” to the SBC. Certain pastors and denominational leaders are causing undue fear amongst our laymen as they insinuate that Calvinism is to 2012 what moderates and liberals were to 1985 – wolves in sheep’s clothing. If you must have a label, I am a theologically conservative, inerrantist, not quite 5 point Calvinist, totally non-Arminian, ESV using, Georgia Bulldog rooting, Southern Baptist preacher who does not enjoy shaving but does so only because I just don’t look right with facial hair. Though I am finally a seminary graduate, at one point in my life I was a seminary drop out. I was a student at THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1995, and then I was not. While I was there, I lived in Manly hall. The name had nothing to do with the testosterone levels of the males in the dorm, but Manly Hall is a building full of tiny, closet sized rooms that memorializes Basil Manly Jr., an icon in Southern Baptist life. All I would ask my buddies who would seek to sell us on the idea that Calvinism is new to the SBC, please do some historical reading on Mr. Manly. Mr. Calvin has long danced in our convention.
I find it mournful because this debate is killing the sheep. While we wax theological, our layman are being slaughtered. For a doctrine that is supposed to restore our trust in the sovereignty of God, the way we have gone about this has caused our laymen to doubt that God has chosen them. Even worse, we are preaching and debating about Calvinism in such a way that those who are listening are left with no assurance of their salvation. If it is God who sovereignly saves – how were we so free get salvation so wrong?
We once celebrated the fact that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave. Now we celebrate His atoning sacrifice less because we are left only to wonder, for whom? My friends – wherever we fall on the theological spectrum, this we must fix – quickly – or we will return back to the stringent, academic, scholastic, dark ages that followed the Reformation.
I find it prideful because we are trying to do something no Biblical writer tried to do – portray that He understands the mind and manner of God. Have we not forgotten that at the end of the Bible’s greatest theological treatise on salvation – (Romans 1 – 11), and on the heels of the treatise’s most difficult moment (Romans 11), that Paul does not rise up in pride and say, “I told you so.” No, Paul does what the soul that finally “gets it” will do after contemplating the manner of God’s salvation. He does not debate it, he admits his humility and celebrates the salvation of God (Rom. 11:33-36). If our convention is to be “Great Commission” in more than name, we must talk less about the debate and humble ourselves and celebrate in awe of what God has done.
I believe there is not only room in our convention for the Calvinists and for the rest of us – I believe we need them both to keep us humble and honest about what we don’t know. Let’s be in awe of God.
On Baptist 21
If you have made it this far in reading my post, you are either very bored today or you are my dear friend. I can assure you of this, my wife will be long gone before she makes it this far down the page. Thank you for showing me some love!
My understanding was that Baptist 21 was to become a platform that would give “another crowd” of mostly younger and promising Baptists a voice in the convention. The whole thing was very post-modern in that we struggled against “the man” who seemed to be leaders we appreciated, but leaders who were not listening. These men were to be applauded in that they had led our convention back “to the right”, but at the end of the day they were all mega-church, tie wearing, bureaucratic, organizational, establishment, traditionalists. These men were perceived to be legends, but not very practical for the future of a convention entering a new cultural paradigm. The SBC is a convention in decline that needs a radical, missional overhaul. Baptist 21 initially succeeded in becoming a forum for another voice.
Ironically though, I believe where we are with Baptist 21 is exactly where we were before Baptist 21 – it is just that now we wear blue jeans instead of black suits. If the establishment was traditional, mega-church, suit and tie pastors – all Baptist 21 is, is non-traditional, mega-church, PoMo church planting types, in sandals with book deals. Don’t get me wrong, I love Platt, J.D., Chandler, Stetzer, etc. . . . I read their books. Apparently its all we have to buy. I read their blogs. A friend of mine at the convention said of Stetzer, “The man doesn’t have an unpublished thought.” Touché Dave! I think these men have greatly helped us, but does Baptist 21 mean that there are only 21 of us worth listening to? If I attended every conference and forum that comes as an ad to my office I would be little more than a David Platt groupie. David is a great man of God, but aren’t there at least a few others who can preach? Are there not more than 21, perhaps 22, 25 or 30 righteous others on the earth? Maybe not?
On The Gospel Project
I love the idea of The Gospel Project. What I find most interesting is that The Gospel Project is the one point in our convention at which all of our ideology, rhetoric, and every point I have raised in my long, circuitous blog post, converges. It is what is right with us. It is what is wrong with us. Some would trash it because they think it nothing more than Calvinistic propaganda without giving it any serious consideration; surely we are better than this. At the same time those involved in The Project – it is the 21! And even though they do not want The Project to be labeled as the Calvinist’s SS/Lifeway curriculum – I find all the writers/consultants/etc. to be nothing more than the 21, who I believe to be all godly and well meaning, but also blatantly Calvinistic. If we are not to believe The Project is Calvinism in SS clothing, may I make a suggestion – how about asking someone to make a contribution to it who is not sold on all 5 points of Tulip. You can’t just tell us its not Calvin’s SS quarterlies – you must also do something directional to prove it so. How about a Rose? How about a writer or consultant who is 3 point or 4 point something, but not all the way 5? How about inviting Baptist #22 to contribute.
This is where I am.