Three Positive Points Regarding SBC 2012
I used to blog about the Southern Baptist Convention quite a bit. In recent years, I have tried to focus on practical issues of church life from a theologically driven focus. Nevertheless, given the significance of this past week, I’d like to jump into the SBC blog world again and attempt to contribute a few reflections and anticipations.
I am very glad that the election of Fred Luter as the first African American President of the SBC was not overshadowed by the theological controversies swirling around on the internet. The moment when we all stood in affirmation and celebration of his election was a powerful moment. I don’t know how anyone could have not been emotional gripped by providence and the present recognition of history being made. As I type this in my NOLA hotel room, my wife and I just returned from a tour of the city. One of the significant and recurring points the guide made was the slave quarters and how they lived in this city. Learning how prominent slavery was in the history of this city (and our country) makes me all the more appreciative of God’s work of repentance in the SBC.
Along with Luter as President, I am very encouraged by the election of Nathan Lino as First VP and Dave Miller as Second VP. Over the past four years, I have been a part of a “young leaders” meeting where, in 2008, I first met Nathan. He is an experienced church planter, whose church just celebrated their 10th anniversary. Nathan has a wonderful, gracious spirit and evangelical commitment to work together with Southern Baptists who may not agree with him on various theological issues but nevertheless are unified in the gospel and the Great Commission. Nathan and I have discussed this week how we can work together to forward a new narrative of healthy, robust discussion as brothers who see differently on various issues but have a transcendent love and determination to not allow the differences keep us from linking arms and hearts for reaching the lost, whether they are across the street or across the world. Hopefully, you will hear more about that in the future.
In 2006, SBC bloggers played a prominent role in the election of Frank Page as President of the SBC. No one thought he had a chance, and he won it on the first ballot. Similarly, very few people thought Dave Miller had a chance. Some were even saying he was not a “viable candidate.” Given that he is not from the South (he pastors in Iowa) and has relatively few “inside” connections, one would think he could not win. But not only did he win, but he received over 63% of the vote (40% on the first ballot). I don’t want to get into the matter where there was a referendum on Eric Hankins or the Traditionalist statement, but what it does signal to me is that the SBC blog world often presents a caricature of the SBC itself, and the messengers who spoke at the convention through their votes I think was a clear indication of that (in other words, don’t believe that simply because a blogger or group of bloggers write a lot about an issue or promote a candidate that it necessarily means they speak for the “majority” of Southern Baptists. This convention was case in point).
I am also very appreciate of the tone that was set by Southern Baptist leaders. Now I did not listen to all the messages of the Pastors Conference, but I did make a point to hear David Platt as I was told beforehand he was going to preach on biblical conversion. Platt’s message was very balanced and clear, not backing down on his concerns about the superficial ways a “sinners prayer” is used to lead to false conversions and false assurance (which he called deception) and the need for supernatural regeneration wrought by the sovereignty of the Spirit. Platt also recognized the need for humility, stating the mystery behind it all, and pointed us to the point of taking the gospel to the whole world rather than making our legacy about debating theology. David navigated the waters very well and I think honored the text of the Scriptures and spoke prophetically to the context of SBC life.
Similarly, I welcomed the words of Drs. Frank Page and outgoing president Bryant Wright on the debate about Calvinism in the SBC. Neither a Calvinist, both are not wanting to allow agendas to exist in the SBC that marginalize or seek to remove Calvinists from the SBC. They rebuked that kind of narrowing of the tent but also called for humility and transparency from the Reformed community. Both of these leaders struck a tone that I believe set the stage for a less-than-dramatic convention, which is a good thing.
On that note, Dr. Frank Page shared about his plans to form a committee comprised of leaders on both sides of the Calvinism debate to work together to address the key issues preventing the Convention from moving forward and working together for Great Commission Advance. At this point, we know little about how this will take place, who will be on it, or what the outcome might be, but I am hopeful and optimistic about the balanced, statesmanship of Dr. Page to steer that committee in a healthy, positive direction for the future.
There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the “majority” of the SBC. It has been said that the “Traditionalists” are the majority and the “New Calvinists” are the minority. There are several problems with this approach, not the least of which is most Southern Baptists don’t accept the criteria in the first place. In the SBC blog world, there is a high tolerance for wrangling, rancor, and loose rhetoric about Calvinism. I don’t think that is the case among most Southern Baptists. Rather, I would argue that the minority are those who are wanting to make Calvinism a dividing line, while the majority believe there is a meaningful way for us to work together despite our differences, to be united around the Great Commission. This is the New Majority. I am not saying Southern Baptists don’t care about theology or want to have the necessary theological conversations and even debates amongst one another. But what I am saying is that we can learn to do this with humility and in a manner that develops greater understanding and promotes greater unity as we happily share in the theological consensus that is the Baptist Faith and Message.
There’s much more that can be said about particular issues, such as the new LifeWay Research, the sinner’s prayer resolution, and the new descriptor of “Great Commission Baptists.” But the aforementioned points I think show a trajectory that is very encouraging and healthy for the future of the SBC. My hope is that more young(er) Southern Baptists will reconsider getting involved and participate in shaping the narrative around the preeminence and prosperity of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.