Third Generation Conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention (part 3): Misconceptions


steve-mck-300x225Guest Blog by Steven A. McKinion
He is the Associate Professor of Theology and Patristic Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has taught Theology, Church History, Hermeneutics, and Historcial Theology classes at Southeastern Seminary. Dr. McKinion’s area of specialization is Patristic Theology. He holds the following degrees: B.A., Mississippi College; M.A., University of Mobile; Ph.D., King’s College, University of Aberdeen.


Part one of this series is available here, part two is available here.

Second generation conservatives who have been addressing the trend of many 3gens to question the value of the bureaucracy of the SBC recognize that these 3gens are not asking for a seat at the SBC table, they are instead just leaving the room when they hear those around the table disrespect them, belittle them, or, even worse, talk about their own positions, power, or prominence.  These 3gens think they have too much to do in their own churches to spend their time trying to earn some “right to have their voice heard” in the SBC.

Seeing the many current 2gen leaders are interested in keeping 3gen Southern Baptists within the SBC, I would like to identify four misconceptions about these 3gen Conservatives:

3gens want to run the SBC. It is a myth that 3gens simply want to run the convention. Such a misconception is the result of not only a misreading of what 3gens are saying, but a complete misunderstanding of the importance, or lack thereof, of the SBC in the weekly ministries of these leaders.  While many younger SB pastors want to have titles in their state conventions or be invited to speak in revival meetings at other churches, the 3gens that I have been writing about could not care less about having a role in the SBC.  Obviously, there are exceptions, but the 3gens I teach and hear from are not looking for positions or influence within the convention.  In fact, the reason why so many 2gens have begun to take notice is because these younger pastors do NOT want a place at the SBC table.  They don’t want to be trustees, revival speakers, or have meaningless titles in the state conventions.  Instead, they are wondering what in the world their state conventions do that is of Great Commission value.  The reason they are partnering with church planting groups like Acts 29, is because its networked churches actually succeed.  The model of church planting, including on-going cooperation and partnership, works better to start biblical and Baptist churches than other models, including many of those within the SBC.  Because many 3gens think the SBC bureaucracy is bloated, it is foolish to think they would want to run it.   I think one cause for this misconception is that those who either already have power in the convention or the 3gens who want one day to have “earned” that power, fail to realize that not every one thinks SBC power is valuable.  Such myopic thinking about the value of what one possesses often can lead one to project ones own ambitions to others.

3gens want their voice heard by SBC leaders. It is believed by some that younger SBs want a seat around the SB table where they can have input.  This is a misconception, much like the former myth, that is based in the false belief that 3gens want their voice to be heard.  They not only are not looking for a seat at the table, they are not even interested in being in the boardroom.  Again, there are obvious exceptions, but the younger SBs who are the interest of 2gen leaders are not looking for a hearing.  In their minds, the discussions in the SBC boardroom are about how to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic, quite useless.  They do not have an interest of determining who the next president of the SBC will be, or what friends can be appointed to trustee positions, or how they can be invited to speak at another church.  In the minds of 3gens, they want to be busy in their own churches rather than trying to control other churches.  Now, whether their assessment of what 1gen leaders are doing is itself a misconception is another topic, and an important one.  But to think that under 40 SBs are simply looking to have influence in the convention is a grave misunderstanding of what these 3gens are saying.  Such a misunderstanding is often rooted in an arrogance regarding the positions one already possesses rather than any evidence that someone else is aspiring to that position.

3gens don’t love the SBC. What is the SBC?  Technically, it is a brief business meeting once a year.  Churches who pool their financial resources to support agencies, boards, and commissions (the IMB, NAMB, six seminaries, the ERLC, etc.) are allowed to send messengers (not delegates) to this business meeting for the purpose of appointing trustees to operate those agencies on behalf of the churches.  But the SBC is more broadly the associative relationship of those churches that goes beyond fiduciary cooperation to a share set of beliefs, values, and distinctives.   The SBC is a massive network of missional churches.

In my experience, the younger generation loves the mission of the SBC.  The beliefs, values, and distinctives of the network of churches are shared among the various generations, including the 3gens.  But at the same time, they question whether the bureaucracy of the convention is accomplishing its intended objective, which is to be a cooperative missionary effort.  The 3gens I have observed love the seminary where they were educated and love the IMB and perhaps NAMB, but outside of those agencies they appear ambivalent.  They may be mistaken to be ambivalent, but their love for the work of the convention should not be hidden by their lack support for all of the boards.

3gens don’t respect the CR or 1gen leaders. From observation it is more accurate to say that many 3gens do not know the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence.  There may be practical reasons for this (e.g. Danny Akin and Johnny Hunt are on iTunes for free, while other sermons must be purchased), but it is also the case that many 3gens believe, perhaps mistakenly, that 1gen leaders do not value them as partners in the work of the convention.  3gens do not think their “forefathers” are not wise, they simply do not know them.

What complicates the matter vis-à-vis the relationship between some increasingly prominent 3gens and the SBC is the lack of direct influence by 1st generation leaders on 3gens.  In part two of the series, I enumerated some ways I think the CR continues to influence younger SBs, but that influence has been indirect, mediated through leaders such as Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin, and James Merritt.  There are exceptions; for example J.D. Greear’s PhD work was supervised by Paige Patterson.  By and large, though, 3gens have sermons from Platt, Akin, Hunt, and Driscoll on their iPods, and not sermons from Vines, Patterson, and Rogers.

I don’t know all the reasons for this lack of exposure.  Perhaps the second-generation influencers have been quicker to take advantage of newer media such as podcasting and social media.  Many younger SBs, and their pastors, do not subscribe to tape ministries, but to podcasts.  They rarely listen to over-the-air radio, and almost never to Christian radio.  If they hear a John MacArthur sermon, it is because they downloaded it.  John Piper was one of the first of their influencers to leave the expensive medium of radio for the relatively inexpensive one of the internet.

Perhaps 3gens have deliberately rejected the direct influence of 1st generation leaders for cultural reasons.  They reject suits and ties as mandatory dress, and think the first generation places too much emphasis on certain apparel (fairly or not).  They don’t think mandatory abstinence from beverage alcohol is fundamental to cooperation, and think the prior generation makes too much of this.  From my experience, these leaders do not imbibe, but they also don’t think prohibition of such beverages is necessary.  But cultural differences seem, in the end, to be of little consequence to the lack of direct influence of 1gens on 3gens.  Culture seems to be a red-herring.

Regardless of the lack of direct interaction, in the end, the third generation is very much like the first generation.  Theologically they are conservative inerrantists.  They are committed to practicing Baptist distinctives, both broadly and more narrowly conceived.   They preach the Gospel with fervor.  They call sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus.  They hate sin, but love sinners.  They preach and practice missions at home and abroad.  In all these ways, and more, they are the legitimate heirs of resurgence leaders.

So have the third generation conservatives who are enthusiastically supportive of the Great Commission Resurgence leaders such as Hunt and Akin rejected the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence, either consciously or unconsciously?  I think they have not.  Rather, they are the fruit of the CR.  While 3gens may be a generation that knows not Patterson and Pressler, they are nonetheless the legacy of those great leaders.  Some under 40’s will attend conferences where the speakers are predominately 1gen leaders.  Other under 40’s will prefer conferences where 2gen leaders are the speakers.  But both groups of younger SBs are the fruit of the CR.

Henry Chapin (for one generation) and Ugly Kid Joe (for another) recorded a popular song entitled, Cat’s in the Cradle, about a man whose busy-ness keeps him from time with his son.  The failure of this man to be a good father comes back to haunt him later when his grown son is not interested in time with his elderly father.

An assessment of the breakdown in the relationship between 1gen and 3gen SBs would be fascinating, and is, I think, important, though beyond my scope here.  But the lack of knowledge of 1gen leaders should not be read as a rejection of these men or the resurgence for which they fought.  My paternal grandmother died a few years before my birth.  I have no knowledge of her, obviously.  But my lack of familiarity with her does not mean I disdain her.  I do not invoke her name in conversation, but the older I get the more I become aware of her influence in my own life through my father.  He doesn’t tell me to exhibit the positive characteristics from my grandmother’s life, I simply do so because he has influenced me.  I never knew my grandmother, but her influence persists.  Many 3gens have never met or even heard some 1gen leaders, but the influence of the CR persists in and through the ministries of 2gen leaders like Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin, and Thom Rainer (and many others).  Although the legacies of certain men may not remain, the legacy of the CR certainly does.

Within the current call for a Great Commission Resurgence lives the legacy of the Conservative Resurgence.  Young Southern Baptists who desire to see men, women, and young people around the world hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, become disciples of Jesus, and then grow to be disciple-making disciples are acting consistently with the ultimate aims of the CR.  Even more importantly, the call of the GCR to organize the ministries of the SBC and her cooperating state conventions around the mission of the Gospel is at the heart of the call of conservative SBs who desired a renewal of the Convention for the sake of the Convention’s mission, not the Convention’s structure.

Comments 0

  1. Great post. I was looking forward to this third part. I couldn’t agree more that my generation of SBC leaders are influenced by the CR even if they don’t know it. Good point. I (and others in my generation) would do well to study the men and issues from the CR. Thanks B21 for this post and all that you do!

  2. Steven,
    I have enjoyed this series.

    Interestingly you mark the generational shift at under 40. This may be problematic at some points as all taxonomies tend to be. What you describe is more ethos. I read Paul Burleson’s blog and am immediately struck by a 1st gen with 3rd gen sensibilities. For others born in the liminal space between 1gen/2gen or 2gen/3gen, there is even a greater sense of disconnect. Where do we fit? So, some of us prefer to self-identify as 3gen while others may self-select as a 2gen.

    But, I think you offer some helpful ways to describe our current context.

  3. Todd,
    Your observation is an important one, and helps make my point. Actually, I am NOT arguing for a generational shift. Instead, I am positing that conservative SBs who are under 40 are the heirs of the CR by means of the 2nd generation influencers they have followed. That over-40 SBs resonate with my description of 3gens doesn’t mean they are in the 3rd generation of conservatives; it instead means 3gens are more like those who have already gone before them. Of course, a recent convert, who is a conservative SB is in the third generation regardless of age.

    It would be appropriate (using my taxonomy) to argue that there is an ethos that transcends generations within the conservative movement. But, one cannot select which generation they are in. Just because I may be more like my grandfather than my cousin is, I cannot then claim to be in the same generation as my father or grandfather. I am still a third generation. Within the SBC I grew up under the influence of a pastor who was in the first generation of pastors during and after the CR. Although I am under 40, I cannot claim to be in either the first or third generations. I am a second generation conservative. But the current under 40 SBs are the third generation of pastors FOLLOWING the beginning of the CR. A 60 year old may very well be more like the 3gens than the 1gen leaders, but if he was a pastor or adult SB during the 80s, HE IS STILL in the first generation.

    “Third Generation” does not refer to those who have a particular mindset, but those who are under-40 conservatives. Some within this 3rd generation exhibit the characteristics I have described because of the influence of 2nd generation leaders.

    All: Thanks for commenting. Your thoughts help continue the discussion.

  4. I think your “Cat’s in the Cradle” comment/observation was very telling: most of my friends are either not interested in having a dialogue with the older generation or are biding their time until the older generation passes from power in the convention.

    Question: how can we bridge the divide across cultural and generational lines so as to “pass on the torch” of the SBC? Should we? Did we before (i.e. 1st gen. to 2nd gen.)?

  5. Steven,

    Let me take another stab at my point. Before doing so, I reiterate my appreciation for your perceptive observations.

    In 1979 I was sophomore/junior in high school. By 1989 I was beginning my first full-time pastorate. By 1999 I was in my third full time pastorate and had been so for five years. In 2009 I am finishing my 15th year as pastor of my third church (began in that third decade of the progression).

    In 1979-1986 my perceptions of the CR were chiefly shaped by what you refer to as a 1Gen but would really by age have been pre-CR. Long live Dr. Criswell. Preach the literal Bible. The liberals are at the gates. We will lose this denomination if we do not act. Run out the skunks. Premillenialism on the move.

    1986-1994 my perceptions of the CR were shaped by the hidden secrets of many CR leaders. Ethical decisions based on pragmatic rather than theological grounds. Bigger is better. My mentor at the time would be what you refer to as a 2gen influenced himself by a rural country pastor that by age would have been pre-CR but by persuasion a 1Gen.

    1995-2009 my perception of the CR is continually shaped by life outside the SBC. Not that I am outside the SBC. Rather, that colloquial expressions of a “Southern” faith really don’t comport with a mobile, nomadic population. Our concerns with certain hegemonic positions are not shared like they once were. Add into the mix the exposure of fissures among the once believed solidly formed CR (1gen) and 2gen leaders. Now I am influenced by what you refer to as 3gen. That is, in the sense of a collaborative understanding of the way the world works under the rule and reign of God we move not in homage to any gen. The result is the same kind of ethos you describe but without the mediation of any generational interpreter.

    At my age, over 40, it makes no sense for me to self-identify where philosophicalyl and convictionally I cannot reside. If someone intends to pigeon-hole people it would be better to do so allow self-descriptive options embracing the sensibilities you describe rather than a rather rigidly forced taxonomy.

    You self-identify by persuasion as a 2gen but by age “following” the CR as a 3gen. Frankly, that does not make sense. Age does not define philosophy, ethos any more than it does the acceptance or disdain for unhealthy pragmatic evangelistic strategies where we offer giveaways. Your position is more than the referential age you give it. And, the generational divide is not so simply drawn as you have prefigured.

    All that to say, again, I agree with you. I just don’t see the playing out of these division in the same manner you do. And in the spirit of a true 3gen that is fine. We belong together more for what we find sacred and hold dear than the ways we draw down the linear lines to where we have come.

    I appreciate your time and interest to engage the subject, offer some observations and share them with us.


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  7. I’m so glad you are being heard on these issues… your great comment below is an unintended consequence, a regrettable one that can I believe easily turned around.

    “…these 3gens are not asking for a seat at the SBC table, they are instead just leaving the room when they hear those around the table disrespect them, belittle them, or, even worse, talk about their own positions, power, or prominence. These 3gens think they have too much to do in their own churches to spend their time trying to earn some “right to have their voice heard” in the SBC.”

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  9. Steve, great post. I think you are right on target. (Also, why are you giving all of your love to B21? We at BtT want you to think about us sometime. Please write for us. Please like us.)

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