The SBC: I have some thoughts

As Southern Baptists head to Nashville, I have some observations from the doorway

I grew up Southern Baptist. I got baptized in the First Baptist Church in Jackson, LA. I have spent some time in a Southern Baptist Seminary. I have a lot of Southern Baptist friends. I am now in the Presbyterian Church in America, but my wife still wants our kids dunked one day.

The SBC still feels like home — often more than the PCA does. Both denominations have been struggling of late on how to balance racial reconciliation with the gospel. The allure of critical theory has seeped in. Wokeness, in some churches, has spread. We in the PCA have the pastors out spreading the gospel of reparations. I know some people who will pack up and change churches the moment the issue is raised because they’re convinced of their own righteousness on the matter and that the issue harkens to creeping liberalism. I dissent from that view.

The SBC is meeting in their annual gathering coming up in Nashville. I follow a lot of SBC pastors on social media. A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to follow more pastors and theologians than politicians. It worked well for a few years.

Now, the politicians are more civil in their discourse than the pastors.

A group within the SBC has decided to organize politically in response to some perceived liberalism creeping in. I have a lot of friends in the group and some who are on the outside and share the concerns. But, from my vantage point, it seems they’ve decided every fight is a matter of orthodoxy and anyone who stands in their way can be smeared — it’s just politics after all.

Another group within the SBC seems to have responded almost in kind and are increasingly vocal about racial reconciliation and a host of other social justice issues. In countering those pushing hard against critical theory and perceived liberalism, they seem to have gone off to other extremes.

Both sides share something in common — defining themselves in opposition to the other instead of defining themselves in support of the gospel. The actually have something else in common too — they treat the others as if they are political enemies, not just opponents and neither has shame for doing so, just rationale and justification.

The SBC, unlike the PCA and other denominations, is a loose affiliation. I am alarmed by Russell Moore’s letter about the goings on in the SBC. I know and like Russ. I think there should be some inquiry into his concerns. At the same time, I do not know Auggie Botto, the attorney for the SBC Executive Council, but in reading his latest I don’t think he should be dismissed out of hand and attacks as some are attacking him. What some want of the SBC in terms of handling allegations of sexual crimes is a more centralized system in a denomination that is very decentralized. Botto expressed that concern and it seems it was appropriate, given his role, to do so.

That to me strikes me as what a lot of the current commotion in the SBC is about — the degree of central control. The really hardcore conservatives want central control of doctrine and loose control of congregations — no women and no wokes, but let the churches sort out their deviants alone. Those headed into woke territory seem to want central control of congregations and loose control of doctrine — a central committee to investigate churches, but female pastors should be determined locally.

It does seem to me the SBC is going to have to find some balance on this issue. The denomination should neither be forced to gather with heretics nor with child molestors.

I write all of this from the vantage point of not being in the denomination but close enough to it to keep up with it. My whole family is in SBC congregations save for me and my immediate family.

If I could offer a word of advice to all parties concerned — Twitter is not reality and the squabbling on Twitter would probably not be done in person. Like so many partisans on the right, I fear for a harmed witness by the pastors who engage on Twitter as if every issue is a life and death struggle and everyone not fully committed to similarly held positions is de facto a heretic. I lament that many of the most conservative members are now as steeped in political intrigue as the liberals in the SBC were in the 80’s plotting to end the denominational embrace of inerrancy. I lament the seeming partisan impulse to identify fidelity of faith with a vote for Trump. I lament also the embrace by some of critical theory and a break down of complementarianism.

Godly men might should spend less energy debating pastoral and church affairs on a platform created by the demons bored and in need of a hobby after leaving the drowned pigs.

Also, for everyone else, remember Twitter is not reality and the squabbling of old men and young on the platform does not reflect a vibrant, healthy, charitable denomination of people who run toward danger as others, sometimes even governments, flee.

Finally, if I could weigh in on one more small matter — I don’t know whether Al Mohler might or might not get the nod to be the next SBC President. I’d support him. But I do know the amount of younger Christians who listen to his podcast is incredible. I get asked more often by young Christians if I know Tim Keller and Al Mohler than if I know anyone else, including people like President Trump. Across denominations, Mohler must be one of the most influential Christian podcasters in America impacting young men and women. I have been fascinated watching people on both sides of the divide in the SBC hurl invective in his direction and he seems most regularly to have the only feet consistently planted on the gospel message standing athwart history pointing to the cross. And each critic clings to some measure of being able to forgive him for doing something they don’t like in culture or politics. It is rarely a theological criticism, which is telling.