Ed Stetzer identifies some recent Baptist bogeymen. Dave Miller chimes in upset that Stetzer beat him to the post. Miller expands on Stetzer’s list of sinister adversaries. Miller forgives Stetzer for jumping Miller’s shark. Stetzer apologizes. All is well again in the (Southern) Baptist Blogosphere.
Well, maybe. Stetzer posts his (Southern) Baptist thoughts at Between the Times so as to maintain a wider audience at his personal site. It is an ironic existence no doubt. Ed builds rapport and relationships with a diverse group of conservative Christian denominations and individuals around the Country with the knowledge that some of his more conservative (Southern) Baptists will find this fodder for their own bogey needs.
Dave Miller moderates (SBC) Voices. And, I might add he does a good job. Managing (Southern) Baptist commenters is like herding cats. Dave is ever willing to post pieces he may not entirely agree with but is willing to allow space for more voices. On occasion he has risked reputation and posted a piece or two I have written (here and here).
Stetzer and Miller identify past and present bogeymen in (Southern) Baptist life. It seems we (Southern) Baptists just cannot help ourselves. Previously I noted that Mark Noll suggests that (Southern) Baptists would always face division along real or perceived lines. Maybe that is what struck me about these two posts.
These two (Southern) Baptist bloggers do more than state the obvious. They write in such a way to encourage the end of bogeymen in (Southern) Baptist life. But, long before Stetzer ascended the denominational ladder as President of Lifeway Research, some (Southern) Baptists were always willing to smell a skunk in (Southern) Baptist life. I am sure he has researched this.
I often wonder if the two dominant groups in (Southern) Baptist life, at the time, had learned to be good conversation partners and eschewed power, would they have found in one another the sort of ally that helps refine and reform. Instead, it seems in my experience in (Southern) Baptist educational contexts and vocational life we prefer rhetoric and retrenchment.
Winning will always mean bogeymen. Only until there is nothing to win will we avoid the necessary rhetorical device bogeymen play in (Southern) Baptist grammar. Scot McKnight posted an excerpt from Christopher Benson’s review of Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism. Benson describes, in his opinion, the distinction between “Evangelical” and “evangelical.” In the same way (Southern) Baptists battle(d) one another for the rights to “own” what is/was “really” (Southern) Baptist, conservative Christians suffer the same in the wider attempt to win the branding rights to Evangelical. Consequently there will always be bogeymen.
Benson makes a worthy point that may need to be considered in (Southern) Baptist life. In the same way he argues for a generic evangelicalism where diversity represents the long history of the term evangelical, maybe it is time to call for a generic baptist stream. Scandalous to be sure. Those who have won in their respective camps will suggest that those interested in a generic baptist vision go all the way and emasculate themselves. After all it is near blasphemous to suggest “baptist” has always been a much larger container than the winners are willing to admit.
Bogeymen become a tool to keep things “as is.” I dare suggest that even Ed and Dave have privately described their own bogeymen in various clandestine conversations. We all have. Few have avoided the appeal to the slippery slope. Rather than excoriate Stetzer and Miller for raising the issue, I think we should radicalize their call to end such tactics.
Maybe it is time we re-read the radical ways John, in 1 John, connects the way God loves us with the way we love others. In our more pietistic moments we wish to convince others and ourselves how much love we have for God. John seems to undercut the notion that God’s love is particularly aimed at our love for him as some ethereal human experience. Instead, John seems always to be pointing out the way our existential experience of the love of God becomes materially expressed in a radical love for others. Closeted pietism proves nothing. Zero. In fact, it is neither falsifiable nor verifiable on its own merit. The only real way our love for God is manifest is in our love for others.
The end of (Southern) Baptist bogeymen will come when our first move is the move of love for the other – even other (Southern) Baptists. Until then the (Southern) Baptist bogeyman will always be with us.