MBC, Acts 29, and ‘Cultural Liberalism’

The issue of alcohol and the redefinition of conservatism has been a hot topic in the SBC for the past three years, but perhaps the consequences of such a controversy are not greater evidenced than in the Missouri Baptist Convention.  Under the direction of Roger Moran, fundamentalists have continued the fight against what they are now calling “cultural liberalism” and more specifically churches they find to espouse it. 

The churches in the MBC which Moran and Co. have found unworthy of convention support and affiliation are primarily those within the Acts 29 Network.  Since April of last year, I (along with several other bloggers) have followed the agenda to disassociate these churches from the SBC, and in December it was announced that they were being de-funded when MBC reneged on their commitments as a tribute to their continued battlecry against “cultural liberalism.”  For background to this controversy, check out:

* Acts 29 and the MBC [April 28, 2007]
* When I Am Ashamed to be a Southern Baptist [December 11, 2007)
* Let’s Talk About Accountability–Let’s Talk About You and Me [December 15, 2007]
* A More ‘Conventional’ Way of Supporting MBC Church Plants [December 16, 2007]
* Update on the Acts 29 Churches and the Missouri Baptist Convention [January 11, 2008]

Last Tuesday (May 13), the battlecry was again trumpeted at a state-wide meeting held by Moran and others to deal with a myriad of issues, not the least of which included, in their words:

NAMB-sponsored events featuring Acts 29 and Emerging church leaders as well as the recent hiring of David McAlpin (one of the 11 SOC leaders who helped the Journey in St. Louis plant an Acts 29 church in St. Charles that also had a bar-room ministry in a micro-brewery.  McAlpin’s son is an intern at the Journey).   

This is also about the downloading of “cultural liberalism” into MBC/SBC churches. 

Not only that, but Moran has included my friend Micah Fries as a topic of discussion.  Moran writes:

The pastor that spoke against the alcohol resolution at the 2007 MBC annual meeting has been named to the SBC Committee on Committees which names the SBC Nominating Committee.  This pastor, Micah Fries, is strongly supportive of Acts 29.  (SOC spokesman David Sheppard served on this committee last year.) 

For the record, I am not directly affiliated to the Acts 29 Network, and I am an abstentionist.  However, what is really troubling is that my fellow Southern Baptists are making their stance on alcohol a litmus test for conservatism and more consequently a dividing line for financial support of church plants.  It is not a matter of theological liberalism or rejecting the Baptist Faith & Message (2000); rather, it is the repackaging of fundamentalism in the quest to root out what they have called “cultural liberalism.”

Back in April 2007, the theology committee which was formed to address the “cultural compromise” they believe exists in Acts 29 churches came away with seven theological conclusions.  Incidentally enough, not one of their conclusions where inherently theological in spite of their commentary which states:

“We are living in a day and age where we need doctrinal precision and we need to be definitive in what we believe,” he said. “The day of presuming what everybody believes—that’s ambiguous. I believe most people do not thrive well in ambiguity. We thrive well with parameters such as the Baptist Faith & Message (2000), and any clarification that can be made of a statement like that.”

While I applaud their desire for doctrinal precision and working within the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), they have failed over the past year in both these areas.  Instead of doctrinal clarity, we are hearing the loose and vague language of “cultural liberalism” that encompasses a battle that goes well beyond our confessional statement.  Indeed, it could be argued that the term “cultural liberalism” is an exercise in “etymological liberalism,” for its meaning will be determined by the reader/respondant rather than any historical consensus.  In sum, “cultural liberalism” is becoming the catch-all term, ambiguous no doubt, to serve as fighting words in the conservative political bandwagon under the direction of Mr. Moran.   

Indeed, “cultural liberalism” according to fundamentalists is a view of culture that is anything other than what they consider to be right in their own cultural rulebook.  As I began to think about this new banner and slogan, I wonder what they would have thought about Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well.  She was not only a woman, but she was a Samaritan!  At least two cultural rules were broken in one day.  What about Jesus celebrating the wedding at Cana where he turned water into the “best” wine?  What about Jesus healing on the Sabbath?  Or embracing lepers when he should have simply called out, “Unclean”?  Or having dinner with “tax collectors and sinners”?  Or welcoming prostitutes to wash his feet?  Jesus, having broken the fundamentalist cultural rulebook in his day would have certainly disqualified him from cooperation among some Southern Baptists.

But what about Paul who said that be “became all things to all men” so that he might win the more?  What about Paul having Timothy to be circumcised because he would be seeking to win the Jews (Acts 16:3), and Titus was not circumcised because he would be seeking to win the Gentiles (Gal. 2:3)?  Paul apparently had decisions made among himself and his companions based on those whom he was attempting to reach.  Have these men embraced the “cultural liberalism” that the MBC are so adamantly against?  I suppose that Paul, Timothy, and Titus were liberals in their day–at least that’s what the Judaizers had convinced Peter in Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14).  Even the most committed leaders, including Peter and Barnabas, can be led astray by an encroaching fundamentalism that needs to be confronted with a gospel-centered focus and hermeneutic for life.   So what Southern Baptists are facing in 2008 is not something Paul didn’t deal with in A.D. 48. 

You might ask, then, “Why am I addressing this matter, if indeed I don’t fit the new category of being a ‘cultural liberal”?  I address it because the future of the SBC depends on a commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture and a focus on the gospel.  Moran and Co. and continued to promote a vision that detracts from both, and as a result, has contributed to the outsourcing of some the most gifted and godliest young men to serve our churches.  According to arbitrary, man-made rules, anybody can come out looking like a cultural liberal, including Jesus.  But at the same time, according to Scripture many of us can come out looking the very religious people Jesus called white-washed tombs.  If we as Southern Baptist are going to envision a future where the churches are healthy, the mission is strong, and the name of Jesus Christ glorified in our lives, then we must get over ourselves and get on with the “high calling” of God which is in Christ Jesus.  To this end, I pray, we give ourselves, in spite of whatever attempts to cast aside our confidence and concentration on the gospel which must define our lives and our ministries.   

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18 Comments on “MBC, Acts 29, and ‘Cultural Liberalism’”


  1. […] Blogger Timmy Brister recently spoke into the crazy situation happening among Baptists in Missouri.  Read his thoughts about “cultural liberalism” here. […]

  2. John Inman Says:

    Did Moran steal “cultural liberalism” from Driscoll or did he come up with it independently?

  3. Brent Hobbs Says:

    As a young, conservative SBC pastor, I can say that if anything disheartens me about our convention it is the kind of silliness described in this post. Timmy, thanks for keeping everyone informed.

    To SBC leaders: If you want to continue to lose ‘young leaders,’ continue to allow this kind of thing to go on unchallenged.

  4. Camel Rider Says:

    Thanks to Timmy for the post and Brent for the comment. I totally agree with both of you. What really bothers me is that they’re going outside of scripture with policies and actions on non-essentials and then labeling any that disagrees , even with other scripture in hand, as liberals.

    And we wonder why the SBC in in decline and God is increasingly using other countries than the US to finish the task…

  5. Wayne Roberts Says:

    I think it would be interesting to see what the early SBC fathers had to say about about this subject. The arguements today are usually reflections of personal experience rather than Biblical exposition, or even the historical SBC view (unless your SBC history only goes back about 50 years).


  6. The same arguments against “cultural liberalism” are used by Amish. Duh. If one doesn’t trust the sufficiency of Scripture and the Gospel to guide the Christian conscience, then the line will always be drawn a little farther back from where I currently am, but I’ll resent anyone who draws the line a little farther ahead of me. If a drop of alcohol can lead into sin, surely a drop of sweet tea could too.

  7. Micah Fries Says:

    Timmy-

    You are right to be frustrated. I’m pretty frustrated myself. The good news, however, is that it appears that in Missouri at least, Moran’s influence has crumbled and may be close to gone. The meeting that you referenced above drew less than 1/3 of the crowd that Moran anticipated. In addition, I heard today some more news about the reduction of his influence in possibly the most significant move yet. I’ve been very frustrated, certainly, but I’m encouraged today as well. The MBC, which at times has seemed much like a lost cause, may have hope yet.

    Blessings!


  8. Micah,

    Thanks for the update. I don’t know what it’s like being the talking point of a state-wide meeting, but apparently Moran sees you as a threat to his agenda. I’m just glad that, as you stated, that agenda has a nearing expiration date. Be encouraged, brother, and continue to serve Christ and His people with fervency and faithfulness.


  9. John,

    I am not sure. Anyone’s guess I suppose.

    Brent,

    You’re welcome.

    Camel,

    Yes. Sad indeed.

    Wayne,

    In the words of Boyce, he would say that it is not “germane” to the interests of the SBC. 🙂

    Darby,

    When we pick and choose the cultural preferences we want to make law, we find ourselves creating a circle of orthodoxy big enough for just one person.

  10. Micah Fries Says:

    Timmy-

    Will you be in Indy?


  11. Micah,

    Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend. I am moving all week this week (tomorrow to Louisville, Thursday and Friday to FL). Once I get there, my reception, so they say, will be a “baptism by fire.” 🙂

    I will, however, be at the National Founders Conference which will be on church planting and revitalization. It would be great if you could come. It is one of the most affordable conferences out there.

    In the meantime, I will be getting situated, hopefully finalizing plans on a house, and working hard on sermon prep and teaching stuff (on evangelism and missional living).

  12. Micah Fries Says:

    Timmy-

    Although I’d really enjoy coming (Dr. Whitney was one of my favorite professors in seminary and Ed Stetzer is a stud), I’m not going to be able to. After the SBC I’m heading to North Carolina for my little brother’s wedding and then on the way home we’re stopping in Pigeon Forge for a few days of family vacation. Being gone for 2 weeks in June is all I can possibly give for that month. Hopefully we can hook up soon, though.

    Blessings
    Micah


  13. Micah,

    I see. Yes, let’s try to meet up sometime soon (at least this year!). BTW, have you thought about attending the A29 Bootcamp in St. Louis later this year?

  14. Micah Fries Says:

    Timmy-

    I would love to be in St. Louis at the bootcamp but we’re hosting our own conference that week. We’re hosting the Go Conference with Bob Roberts and Jerry Rankin.


  15. Micah,

    If you get to go into Gatlinburg, be sure you check the nooks and crannies, they are gold mines of good eating. There’s an “authentic” Italian restaurant run by a Turkish family (yes, I know what some of you guys are about to say) that is just…spectacular. And on the street in front of it is a fantastic pancake house. It’s next to a hotel called Creekside in the back end of town. Of course, being in Pigeon Forge, you can get fantastic pancakes pretty much at every red light…

    😀

  16. Mark Warnock Says:

    This is no surprise, but Roger Moran has a poor reputation around our area. For the record I don’t know the man, but my friends in Missouri tell me that the campaign or movement or whatever seems to be driven just by him.

    Certainly my generation (and those younger) are tired of this kind of old school Pharisaism.

    And Tim: Best to you in the move to Florida. Very excited for you.


  17. Timmy; I just wanted to say about this post: AMEN!!!!!!

    1) The Journey is off the meet racks theologically and missiologically (that means, “off the hook,” which means “good” in a good way)

    2) Darrin Patrick is one of the most godly people I’ve ever run accross.

    3) Acts 29 seems to be thriving where traditional churches are declining; they may be the future of SBC life.

    4) There’s no stopping a movement like we are seeing in the theologically conservative Emerging types like Driscoll and Darrin Patrick. It’s power goes beyond a denomination.

    Thanks for your thoughts here, and for being so humble and gracious, and avoiding legalism even though you yourself do not use alcohol in any way.


  18. […] MBC, Acts 29, and ‘Cultural Liberalism’ by Tim Brister (another post) […]


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