The Excluded Middle, the Ignored Edge, and The Battle for the Empire in the SBC

The Ring of Fire just gave us a tectonic shift punishing Japan with a devastating 8.9 magnitude earthquake. Tsunami waves washed over acres of land, destroying property and killing people. There will no doubt be someone with an Internet connection firing up the keyboard to announce that Japan suffered judgement for ancestor worship, or some social ill. (Paragraph 7) Quickly the suffering and pain will be marginalized as the train wreck of such wretched projections make the rounds on the Interwebs.

Meanwhile, the SBC is stirred again. What is new. Not much. Bill J. Leonard’s “prophetic” prediction for the SBC seems more and more likely despite all attempts to avoid the icebergs. Tucked away in his 1991 book, God’s Last and Only Hope, is the conjecture the Southern Baptist Convention will splinter. Because he was considered on the “wrong side,” his prognostication has largely been ignored.

Andrew Jones (a.k.a. tallskinnykiwi) recently weighed in on the Rob Bell kerfuffle. As I was pointed to the recent stir in the SBC blogosphere, where young pastors are urged to say what high profile pastors think, I could not help but think of a paragraph from Jones’ piece,

There is a power struggle going on that ventures beyond doctrinal categories and theological correctness. It’s a battle for the empire! And if you don’t understand that, you wont appreciate the intensity of the Reformed backlash. Or why John Piper broke Lausanne etiquette by veering from his script to add “eternal suffering” to his Ephesians talk in Cape Town last year. I was there. I heard the murmurrings.

You guessed it. It is the sentence in bold that came to mind. “It’s a battle for the empire!” And, in the fray between those who are young, restless, and reformed in the SBC and those who are young, Southern Baptist, and irrelevant. Sounds like a queue for DeYoung and Kluck of the “why we’re not and should be” fame. This group is a much larger group when you take into account the “traditionalists” that often feel as though they are losing the convention. The real losers are those in the excluded middle and the ignored edge.

Whitt writes admirably of his growing sense the SBC is really no longer about cooperation understood in the sense of his heritage as a Southern Baptist pastor’s son. (Albeit interesting that in his melancholic piece he notes he has served at nearly every strata of the SBC. Too many have not and do not appear dejected by it all. Still trying to find him “irrelevant” with such a resume.)

Ed Stetzer responds framing the discussion as something of a “hardly one “Pastor’s Conference” does a shift make. Like maggots to dead meat, the defenders of those two sides offer anecdotal illustrations as to why their side is right and the other side is wrong. And, the battle for the empire goes on.

Typing from my mother’s basement in my housecoat – some of you will remember the disingenuous caricature from Greensboro – I admire those who now type unabashedly from their church offices and seminary offices, or as it were entity offices. Spare me the technicalities that you too have donned your housecoat and are hiding in some clandestine hideout typing away your diatribes. Some of us who found it uncomfortable under the bus as others of our contemporaries were angling for a seat at the proverbial table. These new up and comers now write to the applauds of the power now apparently gaining traction in the SBC.

And for what. Winning the empire. But, alas, the Kingdom of God is about subverting and overthrowing the empires we make. So, I feel for Whitt. I am amused at Stetzer. (Amused in the sense that he would take time out of holding hands in a genuine way with Christian tribes from West to East to weigh in on such a mess.) Maybe Stetzer is attempting what no one has been able to do since well before the CR, Conservative Resurgence for you non-insiders, point to something bigger than “my” vision, my “wish dream.”

Bonhoeffer learned in community that his expectations must die or the community to which he desired to belong would become no community at all. Were our leaders as valiant to demonstrate this on a public, national scale, our churches would have something worthy to point to when disagreements arise within local congregations. As it is, all we can do is hope they are not reading.

Yes, the excluded middle would be represented by those quietly toiling, hand to the plow, having little interest in SBC celebrity culture and hoping to remain unstained by the glitter of the platform. I am thinking of a friend like David Phillips. As long as he was building up another’s kingdom he was quite the popular guy. For many things he was a dependable “go to” guy. His small church runs into difficulty and must reduce their CP giving and he gets overlooked. Rather than a denomination serving his struggling church, he was included so long as his church was able to give. He may well now more fit the ignored edge. Yes, it is this excluded middle that for some time has thought the battle for the empire not worth fighting, but instead have held out hope that the way of Jesus in their town might win the day when people who give themselves to follow Jesus actually look like him.

And, the ignored edge. You rightly guessed it – that is where I prefer. I am a Southern Baptist but rather than just say I am a Christian first and then fight for my Baptist heritage like it were my life’s blood, I really believe in the victory of God in Jesus, the Christ. I really believe that is the Kingdom we should pursue and for which we should keep our hand to the plow. I really believe we should live out the character of Jesus in all we do. I really believe there is no place for a pragmatic, utilitarian ethic when it comes to the hard work of living out the life of Jesus in our own lives as he would were he us.

One final thought, that is for this rant that is now too long. Many in the SBC have found David Platt’s Radical to be quite compelling, if not disturbing. I wonder why it is we cannot hear the same from Shane Claiborne. I realize he shares a different politic, but he follows the same Jesus. Maybe the real reason is we need someone in a large church, not wearing homemade clothes and dreads to get to our ears. So be it. But, let’s stop parading around battling for our vision of an empire that in the end does not merit the energy and live in those radical ways whether you prefer Armani to an untucked shirt, or you prefer a goatee to a clean shaven face.

After all, to quote Jones,

There is a power struggle going on that ventures beyond doctrinal categories and theological correctness.


About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.