I do not often write about the SBC but some things still churn in the blogs I read over the recent Annual Meeting. In those events, I may ruminate for those interested in such a topic. Ed pointed to this article he wrote in 2003. I have brought it up to date some to consider our current context.
Some would prefer Ed Stetzer not be given a microphone. Witness the recent attempts to censure Ed at the SBC via McCarthyite Southern Baptists who confuse facts in order to tell their preferred story. The sermon Ed preached at this years Pastor’s Conference exhibited the same character and boldness witnessed by those of us who heard him in San Antoio in 2007. Thank you for standing on your conviction and speaking about impending realities in our Convention.
Few of us are infallible. In fact, none are. So, while some would consider me a fanboy of Ed Stetzer, only he really knows, I want to muse a bit critically on his recent piece in SBC Life, “Can We Do Missions Without Doing Doctrine?” The thesis runs along the lines that we can cooperate but not at the risk of losing doctrinal distinctives because that was tried before and failed. In the piece Ed points to the false dichotomy of either pursuing cooperative missions or emphasizing doctrinal dinstictives.
A couple of thoughts. First, in Ed’s article Edinburgh 1910 marks the beginning of the project to unite evangelically Protestant denominations around evangelism. The strength of the Southern Baptist Convention at about the same time, not to mention its size and prominence, was not parallel to other denominations. After all, the throes of economic difficulty kept many wondering if the SBC would survive until the launch of the CP in 1925. So, Southern Baptist participation in such an endeavor really has no significant history.
The trending from Edinburgh to New Delhi noted by Ed marked by 1928, 1938 and 1963 demonstrates underlying cultural issues influencing Protestant moves theologically. At least two of these dates sets the stage for an underlying fracture between liberal and converative expressions of Protestant groups. The Scopes Monkey Trial and the controversy surrounding the inclusion of “higher criticism” in the first SBC commentary series’ first volume on Genesis. In 1925 the SBC published its first “Baptist Faith and Message” and in 1963, it’s second version. Both in reaction to these cultural currents.
Little doubt we were, then as now, touting our position as better than “their” position. We are, after all, the protectorate of the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” We may have pristinated a faith once for all delivered to saints for our Southern culture, but in the end we have a Southern Christianity to show for it. Timmy Brister noted this on his blog today.
We came away from Louisville encouraged by the possibilities. And, we are a community of possibilities though we may have our problems. What we are trying to move to is a place of working from our possibilities rather than determining how to operate in reaction to our problems – we hope. I am glad Ed is pressing for just such a move.
My concern is the use of this particular history to to create the impression historical circumstances are similar and we may be on the verge of walking the same path and so let’s maintain a level of fear about this possibility. Fear is and has not proved to be the best long term motivator. In the words from the title of one of Ed’s books, we must be “compelled by love.” We love our brothers and sisters from other Christian denominations. And, we better love our neighbors who may not be Christian at all. If we fail to do either we should set aside the vote in Louisville and pronounce an end to the SBC.
Second, I suspect in as much as I thought the leader Ed referenced to have missed the boat, I wonder if it was a communcation failure. The thought that any leader given the occasion to speak on the platform of the SBC since the CR does not think doctrine is important is, well, a reach. And, I think everyone should know this. There is a great likelihood that in this post, as with others, I will not communicate as well as I think. I have little doubt my retro SBC Outpost piece left the impression with some that we who once wrote for the Outpost cannot be pleased. That is not true.
Time will tell if we can truly get along in the SBC, even after a report by the GCR Task Force. It is already apparent what some will consider first tier issues to be second for others and vice versa. Immediately this will test our resolve to work together within the confines of the general distinctives of the BFM (any version). Will we give the benefit of the doubt when rhetorical precision is at a premium. I mean, will we play so hard with our words that we find it hard to speak frankly out of fear of being misunderstood, even with we generate the missunderstanding with a poor choice of words? This is a test within before we ever figure out how to cooperate with other groups who do not subscribe to our “document.”
And, is it really helpful in these cooperative moves to sound the alarm that our (SBC)Â distinctives are the distinctives of the “faith once for all delivered to the saints?” Some remain Southern Baptist out of relationship rather than a willingness to battle for the jot and the tittle of the BFM. Some of these are younger pastors, but there are some who are not so young anymore that carry that same feeling. Can we not find a better way to suggest a confidence in our understanding of the Scriptures without insinuating that other Christian denominations have contended for “their subjective interpretation of the faith once for all delivered to the saints?” If Calvinists and Non-Calvinists in the SBC will walk together, this is a must.
This post is merely an engagement with Ed’s article. I remain confident in Ed’s commitment to finding the way between what he has described as a false dichotomy. I trust we all will work in that direction.