The Conservative Resurgence, Calvinism, and Plurality of Elders

By Nathan Akin

Southern Baptists were given a great gift in the Conservative Resurgence (CR) as we reaffirmed our commitment to Sola Scriptura. We were taught in the Resurgence an absolute commitment to the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of the Scriptures. We are indebted to men like Patterson, Pressler, Criswell, Rogers, Vines, and many more for this work. This work is a grace gift to us younger SBC’ers, one that we dare not miss. There are many observable benefits of the CR. One of the most apparent is that there are 6 SBC Seminaries that affirm the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Scriptures.

I believe the CR has directly led to trends and current debates in Baptist life that some may view as curses and others as blessings. However, I see these trends and debates as the outworking of treating the Word of God as inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative. I would like to bring up three of these, though I believe there are others. The architects of the CR may or may not necessarily love all of these trends, but I believe these are directly linked to these leaders passing on a confidence that the Scriptures are sufficient! I believe we should be thankful for these current trends and debates when viewed through the lens of the debates we might be having had the CR never taken place.

  • The Surge in Reformed Theology in the SBC – Perhaps this is the current conversation that brings the most heat. I believe a surge in Reformed Theology can be directly linked to the CR. Calvinism was not being debated in our seminaries or churches prior to the CR the way it is now. This should be viewed as a healthy development. Not only can this be a legitimate interpretation of the Scriptures, but this position has also been held by many of our forefathers and foremothers whom we love, admire, and respect (Lottie Moon, SBTS founders, and more). Many in the young reformed camp would point to this absolute commitment to the sufficiency of the Scriptures (reading through Romans, Ephesians, etc) as the reason that they began to embrace the doctrines of grace. I believe we should see this as a healthy discussion (though at times the more extreme voices on each side are very unhelpful, and I wish they didn’t have access to computers!) since it is healthier to be debating the finer points of soteriology than the exclusivity of the gospel.
    • Note: I just want to add a side note about the young reformed group in the SBC. I believe if there was humble, open dialogue on both sides, then they would find that they have much more in common than they think. I think many of these young reformed have been heavily influenced by the CR in that they are committed not only to reformed theology, but also Expository Preaching, an absolute commitment to Penal Substitution that permeates their preaching, and to the primacy of the church. This is observable in their preaching through books of the Bible and their commitment to Regenerate Church Membership. So, though they tend to be different than their Fathers in things like casual dress and contemporary worship (which they see as a sufficiency issue because the Bible doesn’t address dress or musical worship style), there is much similarity in what they hold as most central.

  • A Commitment to Plurality of Elders – Another hotly debated issue is whether or not there should be a plurality of elders in a local church, or whether “elder” is even a good term to use synonymously with pastor. I believe this surge in the SBC can also be directly linked to the CR. I am confused by some of the heat in this debate. I think any fair reading of the text would yield a plurality of Elders in an autonomous, local church as one viable option. Though many SBC churches do not employ this leadership structure (nor use the name Elder), it is a viable option in the NT.  In addition, the heat over the use of the term “Elder” is troubling because it is by far the preferred word used by Paul and the apostles. Further, some even levy an accusation that churches/men that use this terminology or have plurality are “Presbyterian.” This sort of rhetoric and name-calling does not help the church leadership conversation, demonstrates a lack of understanding, and misses the prevalence of the term to represent leadership in the NT. It is quite possible to have a plurality of Elders leading the body, while at the same time having congregational responsibility (I pastor/elder in such a church). I believe the increasing amount of churches using this terminology and polity in Baptist life can be directly linked to the CR. Many of those employing plurality and using the term elder for their pastors would point to the Scriptures repeated use of the term as the reason why they employ the term and polity. I think this is also a healthy conversation. It is better to ask these questions about vocabulary and polity rather than whether or not to ordain homosexuals as Pastor/Elder/Overseer.
  • ChristCentered Preaching: Should we preach Christ from every text, especially in the OT? This is a good question to explore, and it is a preferred debate to the ones other denominations have. I am glad we are discussing whether Jonah was a type of Christ rather than if there ever was a prophet named Jonah and if a big fish ever swallowed him. (Note: There will be a panel on this topic at this year’s SBC)

So, I am very thankful for the CR. It has led to a confidence in the Scriptures. And it has led to the SBC having “debates” and conversations that are different than sister denominations. Instead of an unhealthy sign, I believe we should see these conversations as a sign of health. Though I get tired of our fighting over Calvinism (usually from the extremes on both ends), I do believe we are having healthy conversations and I would not trade our discussions for others. However, I do hope we can move forward with all of these topics as family not sniping at one another over them since all of these issues can be legitimate outcomes of a belief in the sufficiency of the Scriptures. I am thankful for this commitment to the Scriptures that has been passed down to us. This commitment has taught us to search out what these Scriptures say about things like church order, life, salvation, God, and many other things. And I am thankful for the men of the CR who led us to this confidence in the Word. They have certainly impacted the church I serve, which is why we often speak at Imago Dei of being a people seeking to stand “under” the authority of the Word.  

The B21 Panel (Danny Akin, Matt Carter, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, and David Platt) will discuss topics like this Tuesday, June 11 at this year’s SBC in Houston – Register today (Lunch and Free Books Provided)