Recent decisions made by the leadership of the Executive Committee (EC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are causing many to ask what is going on with the EC and if this is the moment to call for the accountability of its leadership. These events include: 1) The EC “Report” at the 2009 SBC, 2) “Stories” in Baptist Press (BP), 3) the forced resignation of Clark Logan, 4) the EC’s opposition to the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR), and 5) the preservation of the status quo.
1. The EC “Report”
Dr. Chapman, the President of the EC, gave his annual report at the Convention on June 23rd in Louisville. You can read it online in its entirety. The report seemed to be more like a rant (that attacked almost every theological position) than an actual report of the EC’s doings. Dr. Chapman’s main point was that we do not need to concern ourselves with doctrine as much as we concern ourselves with mission, even as he appeared to concern himself with attacking (and mischaracterizing) doctrine.
Dr. Chapman stated that while controversy over Baptist identity raged among theologians in the states, Lottie Moon was boarding a boat to China in order to reach people. He continued, “The church did not—upon receiving the Spirit of God (at Pentecost)—write a theology text…or engage in idle arguments about the extent of the atonement or the nature of election.” This is simply NOT TRUE. The apostles wrote the Bible upon receiving the Spirit. Paul was on mission planting churches and writing the authoritative, inerrant words of the Bible at the same time. That is why Dr. Akin consistently says “Great theologians will be great missionaries like Paul, and great missionaries will of necessity be great theologians.” To divorce mission and theology leads to compromise and ultimately to syncretism. We cannot divorce mission and theology (see the article by Stetzer). The SBC historically has NOT separated them. We just celebrated the 150th year of SBTS, an institution with a confession of faith (The Abstract of Principles) that theologically trains ministers to advance the Gospel. The purpose of the SBC from its inception has been “the propagation of the Gospel,” but at the same time that we adopted a mechanism for more efficient cooperation in mission (the CP) we also adopted a confession of faith (the BFM). This call to “major on mission and minor on theology” sounds familiar. It was the rallying cry of the moderates during the Conservative Resurgence. This rallying point is what destroyed our seminaries and many of our churches that are even now devoid of biblical teaching in the pulpit and full of biblical illiteracy in the pew. This rally cry threatened to destroy our mission as well! Before we can share the Gospel we must know what the Gospel is.
When Dr. Chapman did delve into theology in his address, specifically on the issue of Calvinism, he mischaracterized the position. He said that there is in the Convention “a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation without a faith response on the part of man.” Yet, Calvinism does NOT teach that men can be saved apart from repentance and faith. A tweet during the address from @drmoore says that he “has never met a single human being, let alone a Southern Baptist, who believes ‘sovereignty alone’ saves apart from faith.” This errant theological statement led Dr. Akin at the b21 panel later that morning to apologize to Calvinists, calling it a “horrible misrepresentation of your position.”
2. The BP “Stories”
BP seems to be in danger, at times, of becoming an opinionated blog rather than a news reporting service. There have been recent articles that either one seem to misunderstand the current trends of ministry or two do not do thorough research in reporting a “story.” BP, under the leadership of the EC, seems to have a political agenda. Here are a couple of quick examples.
First, BP is asserting that “everything is fine in the SBC.” It seems like the reason we should feel this way according to BP articles is that we are reaching as many southern Whites as we always have. Will Hall, in a recent series, took up the issue of decline in membership, baptisms, younger leaders, etc. in the SBC. He says the decline is not about outdated methodologies or a generation gap but rather “demographic changes in our country.” Our numbers are declining because of a declining birthrate among Whites and the suburbanization of America (80% living in major urban centers). He believes all that is needed is a slight “shift” in strategy. We need to plant churches in urban centers (though many Southern Baptist leaders have called for this for several years now, and this seems to be part of the call of the GCR). So, Hall concludes that we are “not necessarily” a denomination in decline. He even implies that we are growing and “thriving.” In this article he says, “if we are to continue to grow,” and in a recent interview with Christianity Today he says we are thriving. The fact that we are in decline is a matter of math, not opinion (see research).
Hall is calling for a minor course correction not wholesale changes. The remedy is not updating outdated methodologies but rather that “we abandoned some enduring principles of proven methodologies about how to plant and grow churches and reach the lost.” What are these proven strategies? Sunday School and Training Union! He says that Training Union “was an effective method of intentionally teaching our beliefs while also developing loyalty to Southern Baptist causes.” So, in order to address the supposed decline in the SBC we need to plant churches in urban centers that do Training Union? This seems a little naïve.
Second, BP has launched an all out assault on Mark Driscoll. The latest article deals with how Bott radio interrupted a show on its airwaves in which Driscoll was a guest. The interview was on the “Family Life” program hosted by Dennis Rainey, a very reputable program. The article implies that Driscoll said something in order to make the radio station interrupt the broadcast. However, nothing in the interview itself caused the cancellation. Rather the cancellation had to do with previous things the station had “heard” about Driscoll. Bott interrupted the show mainly because of Driscoll’s comments when preaching on the Song of Solomon in Scotland (Nov. 18, 2007). What was absolutely irresponsible on the part of Bott and BP is they do not show due diligence in researching the matter. The greatest disgust for Driscoll came over the comments about oral sex that he made in Edinburgh almost 2 years ago. Bott says, “I’ve seen what he said at that church in Scotland and as far as I know he’s never addressed it in any repentant way…” Then BP rehashes all of the same material from this earlier “story.” The fact is that Driscoll was lovingly confronted by an older pastor on this issue that led to Driscoll repenting and pulling the audio off of their website. Neither Bott nor BP mentions this.
This is part of a pattern which led Between the Times to publicly criticize BP for its coverage of the pastor. Increasingly, Southern Baptists are seeing BP as a biased and agenda driven source, and that does not bode well for the SBC’s confidence in the EC.
What makes it look like BP has an agenda in this matter is that it waited a month from when this “incident” happened on May 18th to report it on June 17th right before the annual meeting (for another example of BP’s agenda see the next point in Part 2).
Part 2 of this piece will deal with the remaining points of the outline.