Recent events in the SBC cause me to feel like I am riding blindfolded on a roller-coaster. I know more drops and sharp turns are coming but I do not know when or where. If you have been even mildly aware of American evangelicalism the last few months, you have at least some idea of what I am talking about. If not, then you can get partially (and I should emphasize that word) up to speed by reading the following articles.
- This Christianity Today article on the resignation of the SBC Executive Director
- This news release from Southwestern Seminary
- This Washington Post article about Southwestern’s trustees’ actions this week
- This Rod Dreher article on the debacle, including a horrible “attempt at satire” by the leader (edit: now former leader) of the Connect316 and sbctoday.com organizations.
I am led to believe that there is more to come. Influential voices from both within and without the convention have signaled that the dismissal of Paige Patterson from the Southwestern Seminary presidency is only the first step of many that need to be taken to clean up the SBC. That there is much in the SBC that needs to be changed, is a point beyond dispute to my mind. But the end games for some appear to include everything from the full acceptance of women pastors, partial acceptance of the LBGTQ+ agenda, and reparations by the descendants of slaveholders to the descendants of slaves.
My fear is that forces currently at work will harness good causes—like the respect and protection of women and the rejection of racism—in order to use them to advance the above-mentioned agendas. The way that I see it, the main reason that Southern Baptists are vulnerable at just this point stems from a failure to submit practically to the full authority and sufficiency of Scripture. This is ironic—a tragic irony, to be sure—given the recent history of the “battle for the Bible” in the SBC. Inerrancy won the day and the “conservative resurgence” has been heralded ever since as an unprecedented work of God to rescue the SBC from following mainline denominations into apostasy.
Yet, for people who fought to see the full authority of Scripture affirmed, Southern Baptists are too-often indifferent about living under its authority. See the stories linked above…and the ones yet to break.
Southern Baptists of various stripes, all of whom are avowed inerrantists (including not a few who are reformed or at least reformedish in theology), have had a failure of nerve to assert and defend what the Scripture teaches about receiving accusations, making judgments, stewardship of authority in home and church, repentance, forgiveness, slavery, and handling offense, to name but a few of the pressing matters that have been publicly debated in recent months. What is worse is that some of the leading inerrantists and reformed types appear to be driving the train in this failure.
I fear for the SBC—not, however, with the dread of one who views it as God’s “last and only hope.” God could relegate the SBC to the ash heap of denominational history and His kingdom would not skip a beat. Rather, I fear because I regard the convention as something like a bell-cow in the American evangelical world. Perhaps a more apt metaphor would be a canary in a coal mine. We are in desperate need of a prophetic voice that recognizes the toxic fumes that swirl around us and is willing unashamedly to declare God’s Word on these issues in the face of growing confusion and anger. Pray that such a voice will emerge and will do so quickly.
We are not without good reasons to be hopeful, however. As Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). We do not lose heart…as we look at unseen, unchanging realities.
Christ will build His church and the Lord will fulfill all of His purposes. So, as much as things are changing all around us as we experience the judgment of God, we must remember that the most important realities have not changed at all. They remain fixed, unmoved and secure. “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his.’” That fact is filled with comfort. But it stands connected to this admonition: “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). I take that to mean that with eyes wide open we must see the need, be filled with hope in the Lord, and actively fulfill our duty to represent Christ by pursuing holy lives—lives lived under the practical authority of His Word.
The late evangelist, Vance Havner, used to say of Southern Baptists, “we may be many, but we are not much.” His words have never been more fitting than today. Now more than ever we need to confess our pride and sinfulness before the Lord. We must repent of our self-deceit in assuming that because we affirm the inerrancy of His Word we have therefore lived under its authority. We must repent and pray for forgiveness and grace and courage to say what the Word says, regardless of the cost or consequences.
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:1-2).