The Generation Gap in the SBC: Interactions with Nathan Finn and The Baptist Press Article on Mark Driscoll (Pt. 1)

258168079_c29fcb9650_bNathan Finn’s recent post entitled “The Southern Baptist Generation Gap,” deals with the issue of the lack of younger Southern Baptist messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It is very clear there is a lack of participation in pastors who are under the age 40. This is one of the reasons we started Baptist21. We love the Southern Baptist heritage and the Southern Baptist distinctives. We believe the SBC has issues, as any group of sinful human beings does. We believe that the SBC is quite possibly the best, and perhaps the largest, organized attempt by a multitude of churches to reach the world for Christ. We believe, with some reform, the SBC could be more effective and successful than it already is. We are grateful for the cooperative program and the opportunities it allows: Theological Education, Pastoral Training, Church Planting, and World Missions. We believe that together we are more effective than apart. We believe the SBC is worth fighting for because when we fight for the Convention, we are fighting for a host of people who are serving Jesus Christ in fields across the world that are ripe for a harvest.

This post is intended to interact with Nathan Finn’s article, continuing the conversation on why there is a generation gap, proposing possible remedies for the gap, and casting a vision of what could come from closing the gap.

Why is there a Generation Gap?

We must answer the question “Why don’t younger pastors attend the Convention?” This list contains Nathan Finn’s reasons as well as some we have added, and we acknowledge that it is not exhaustive.

  • Some still support the convention but cannot afford the trip
  • Some still support the convention but trust the leadership to handle business in their place
  • Some still support the convention but spend extra time away on the mission field. This means that time constraints limit annual meeting involvement
  • Some just do not care to come
  • Some only support the convention because their church has historically done so. They themselves do not see attendance at the annual meeting as necessary
  • Some see the annual meeting as boring, and the annual pastor’s conference does not appeal to them
  • Some do not feel valued or validated by the older generation. They desire positions and opportunities for younger pastors and are frustrated that this is not happening.
  • Some were raised in churches where the pastor did not create a compelling vision for involvement in the SBC.
  • Some are disenfranchised, rightly or wrongly, by petty arguments, overly political ambitions, and traditional, non-gospel centered issues

While many of these should be discussed, and at some point we hope to address them, at this time we will only deal briefly with two.

I. Some are disenfranchised, rightly or wrongly, by petty arguments, overly political ambitions, and traditional, non-gospel centered issues.

We must recognize up front that any group of people cooperating together for a common purpose and goal will have a political dimension. The question will be whether our political dimension will be petty and ungodly or gospel-centered and godly. Finn writes:

I often wonder what role “fighting” plays in our generation gap. How many over-40 conservatives disengaged once there were no longer many moderates to fight? How many over-40 conservatives pulled out because they were tired of fighting moderates? How many over-40 conservatives quit attending because, once the real moderates were mostly gone, some Southern Baptists started inventing some new “moderates” so they could still have someone to fight? And since more than a few of our present squabbles are at least to some degree generational battles, here is the money question: how many under-40 conservatives never became involved because they suspect that many of the over-40 conservatives don’t really want their involvement (though their CP dollars are of course welcome)?

We believe that Finn’s perception of the “under-40 conservatives” never getting involved because the “over-40’s” do not really want their involvement is partly true. There seems to be a growing division in our denomination. One side says, “the younger, postmodern generation is tainted with a fluid view of sin, therefore we mustn’t let them challenge, nor effect change in our denomination”, while the other side says, “our world is constantly changing and the way we go about changing culture and reaching people for Christ must be willing to change and adapt to be effective in our world.” Whether the younger generation perceives this rightly or wrongly, the perception is there and if many of the older generation want an SBC for their great-grandchildren, they must be the ones to reach out. We, as younger men, must also challenge younger men not to evidence so much immaturity and haughtiness as if we have all the answers. We need older men, and older men could benefit from younger men as well. This is part of the beauty of cooperation. Nevertheless, there seems to be a rift developing between these two sides, and we are now seeing young pastors who look at their ministries and say “I don’t have to deal with the pettiness, political ambitions, and traditionalism that is not gospel-centered to change the world for Christ.” Why should they waste their time in a denomination that in some circles reject them because of the way they do ministry, the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, and the people that influence them?

Case in Point: Baptist Press on Mark Driscoll

The recent article by Baptist Press on Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle is an ironically timely illustration of this trend. Mark Driscoll’s track record over the last 10 years is staggering: 8,000 attend his church, 7 campuses, hundreds of churches planted through Acts 29 (with a 100% success rate), etc. Driscoll’s heart to reach as many people as possible for the glory of King Jesus is clear. What is also clear is the influence he has on millions of believers and especially young seminarians.

Some in our denomination believe that God is doing great things through Driscoll and that connecting with such a leader is beneficial for those training for ministry, young pastors, and even for current leaders in the denomination. Others have distanced themselves from him because of past occurrences of sin that, for some reason in their minds, can never be forgiven and still stain his current biblical, theological views. Not only have they distanced themselves from Driscoll, some have attacked his Acts29 network (like Missouri), and others have been critical of those who have allowed him to be involved in our SBC entities.

The article in the Baptist Press criticized Driscoll in an inaccurate and unfair way, and it gives an illustration of why some in the younger generations disengage. These kinds of things only aid their decisions to leave. Bombing raids on Gospel-centered brothers (who are not the enemy) turn many of them off. Baptist Press and others continue to castigate a man who has repented of past sins, and we as redeemed sinners must believe that the Cross takes care of sin. We should value repentance, not ignore it. We also continue to berate a man who preaches more gospel-centered sermons in a week than most pastors (including much of the SBC) preach in a year. We acknowledge that Driscoll is by no means perfect, nor is he always accurate. Some of what he does and says is edgy, radical, and stirs up controversy, but most of the time his approaches are not unbiblical. We in no way intend for this to be an endorsement of all things Driscoll, but we do believe he is doing valuable gospel work and he is not the one we need to launch our grenades on. We think that Dr. Alvin Reid’s Twitter comment says it well, “listen to his podcasts from SEBTS and decide for yourself if he’s friend or foe.”

This BP article gives a direct picture of what some in our denomination want to convey to those who may be influenced by men like Mark Driscoll. It seems that they are sending the signal “if this is you and your influenced by him, then change or stay out.” We at Bapist21, along with several “older-40” pastors and leaders in our denomination highly disagree with this inaccurate portrait of Mark Driscoll and ask that you stay in our denomination and let your voice be heard. We desire to affect change in our denomination and the world by remaining focused on what matters: “Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The reason we are willing to learn from someone like Driscoll is because we believe he shares this common vision with us and we hope you do as well.

Some Interactions with Quotes in the Baptist Press Article:

We are not even going to address the journalistic nature of this article, though others have. We turn to their thoughts.

This graphic, found on Driscoll’s blog, warns that the material is not suitable for minor readers. However, there is no warning that such topics should be discussed only within the confines of marriage.”

It is wrong-headed to say that these topics should only be discussed in the confines of marriage; they must also be discussed with those that are moving toward marriage. That would include most of the congregation, though language should be tempered as appropriate for different ages. We need to be honest about these issues because this is what the younger generations (and everyone in the world) are talking about. If we can discuss these things anywhere it should be a church setting. Some people in your churches will not have parents to cover some of these issues and the church should recapture its authoritative role in instructing its people, not peers or a Google search.

Schleuter also castigated Driscoll for linking the blog to a website,, which features articles on how a Christian wife can turn herself into a dominatrix, the glories of an-l and or-l sex, and the use of sex toys.”

We wish that Baptist Press had felt it necessary to post the disclaimer that Driscoll does with his link to this site.

At a time when American young people are hit in the face with graphic sexuality in every facet of our culture, the church should be a safe haven where the sacredness and privacy of the act of marriage is respected by pastors,” Schleuter said in a press release. “Those with sexual issues need to receive private counseling — not sex seminars in a church auditorium.”

We would argue that Pastor Driscoll respects sexual issues more than many do, he at the least wants to help guide his congregation to a biblical view of sex. He never espouses premarital sex of any kind. He is intensely biblical in his view on sex and Schleuter is partially right, the church should be the safe place to discuss sex, which is what he was doing.

For generations, Christian pastors have managed to convey the Scripture’s teachings on fornication, adultery and the beauty of sexuality within marriage without sullying and cheapening it” Schleuter added.”

This is the most ironic quote of the article. Is this why the church’s record on sexual issues like premarital sex and divorce is in lock step with the culture? The divorce rate inside of our own churches is extremely high, which shows there is a lack of accurate preaching on the subject of sex and marriage. This is one of the reasons we are grateful that pastors are beginning to cover tough topics; this should have always been the case.

He (Driscoll) has simultaneously embraced the spirit of the age when it comes to his treatment of sex. In the process, he is pornifying the church and only adding to the moral squalor of our culture.”

Driscoll is engaging the spirit of this age, not embracing it. He is trying to help in an area that has spun out of control in our culture and in most of our churches. He is trying to redeem a gift from God. The Church is absolutely the place to do this.

If you will listen to Driscoll and read his books you will see a man that has a keen eye for the culture and how to address it biblically. It is our hope that we will figure out who the true enemies are. If we will not, as another blogger said to me, we will “continue to hear the splash of young seminarians jumping overboard.” We fear that this article is indicative of why the generation gap continues to grow.

N.A. and R.P.

Part II of this blog will be added tomorrow

Other Responses to the Baptist Press Article:

Alvin Reid

Ed Stetzer

Southeastern Seminary

Timmy Brister