The Baptist Bogeyman

I’ve always been fascinated by the Baptist bogeyman. Bogeymen are not real dangers, but ones we use to scare one another, often distracting us from real danger. There are real challenges in our churches and the convention-theological and otherwise-but bogeymen distract us from the real issues.

Purpose Driven was the first bogeyman I remember in Southern Baptist life. Instead of focusing on real dangers facing our denomination, some Southern Baptists started preaching against wearing Hawaiian shirts and sitting on stools (from the annual meeting and Pastors’ Conference, no less).

But now, Rick Warren has just spoken at the Anabaptist Conference at Southwestern Seminary. And, I think that’s great. I just wish we had not spent over a decade making Purpose Driven the bogeyman and a generation of Purpose Driven churches feel unwelcome in and disconnected with the SBC. (If you don’t think that is the case, look around and see how many contemporary churches are actively involved in Convention life.)

These contemporary church bogeymen were not denying the Bible-the SBC ones believed in the Conservative Resurgence and wanted to live it out in their contemporary churches. But, after hearing that they were the new bogeymen, they are not around that much today.

Five years ago, the bogeyman was “emerging.” Ironically, there was never much that “emerged” in the SBC, though you would not know that by some of the loudest voices. Turns out, I found out, I was emergent-yep, Brian McLaren and me, according to one critic. Yet, the Emergent wing of the emerging church was about three pastors in SBC life. As I explained in Baptist Press, most SBC pastors just wanted to preach the gospel in emerging culture. Those SBC pastors soon distanced themselves from those moving out of orthodoxy. Yet, some in the Convention started swinging a big bat at a little gnat and drove out another generation of people who simply wanted to reach what was called, at that time, a postmodern culture.

Now, the new bogeyman is Calvinism. Critics are labeling people as Calvinists and Calvinist “sympathizers” (yes, they are using that scare word). Yet, most SBC Calvinists (about 10 percent of pastors and 30 percent of recent seminary graduates) affirm the current Baptist Faith and Message, want to reach people for Christ, and desire to cooperate together in SBC life.

So, in a decade, the bogeyman has gone from Purpose Driven, to emerging, to Calvinism. And, although it is much bigger than me, I’ve been labeled a bogeyman in each era. First, they said I was Purpose Driven, then I was emerging, and now I am a Calvinist. Ironically, I haven’t changed much.

My mother used to instruct me not to go out after dark because the bogeyman would get me. In truth, there were serious dangers outside after dark, but the bogeyman was not one of them. Bogeymen are exaggerated dangers to scare people-and that is what some are doing in SBC life, just as they have in the past.

In the same way, there are real issues here to address. The Conservative Resurgence was over matters that were crucial. And even in the aforementioned bogeymen, there have been very real challenges at every turn. Ten years ago (and in every decade), some churches that called themselves “Purpose Driven” pursued relevance more than they pursued righteousness. Five years ago, some bad theology “emerged” (and because of such, many quit using that term). And, today, there are some militant Calvinists so driven by Calvinism, they can’t cooperate and don’t need to be in the Convention. I call them “nostalgic Calvinists,” pining away for the past more than engaging and cooperating in the present.

I described such Calvinists five years ago in an interview with the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Seminary:

I do see many self-identified Calvinists who are constantly discussing the 18th century as the golden age of theology and praxis in Baptist life. So, I don’t want them to get over Calvinism, but it would be nice if they got into the Third Millennium. At times, I am convinced some “nostalgic Calvinists” have forgotten our mandate is to see men and women brought into the kingdom, not into Geneva.

I am concerned about some of the trends in SBC Calvinism and think we need more conversation (and less insinuation) about the topic. It’s easier to talk about bogeymen.

Some want to divide us-yet I believe that most SBC pastors want us to be united and on mission. They want to build on the Conservative Resurgence to see a Great Commission focus.

I am a Baptist-a Southern Baptist at that. I’ve written or contributed to over a dozen books that point churches to be more effectively engaged in missions and evangelism-the focus of my ministry for over two decades. And, I hoped and prayed that Baptists would be more concerned about reaching the lost than labeling one another.

The Southern Baptist Convention can and must include Purpose Driven pastors, pastors who used to call themselves emerging, and Calvinist pastors, when they choose to affirm our BFM confession and engage in mission cooperation. But the drums of war are sounding again, and Calvinists are the newest bogeymen.

We don’t need another SBC purge-we’ve already preached out a big part of a generation of contemporary churches. Now, we have to decide if we want to do the same to the Calvinist ones who want to cooperate.

As I said at this blog a few years ago:

The Baptist Faith and Message is our confessional consensus. Formulated and approved by the convention, it should fix the boundary for churches and entities that call themselves Southern Baptist. Those who would want to impose their own more narrow parameters of cooperation place others in the unenviable position, to use a football metaphor, of having the goalposts moved while the field goal attempt is in flight. If indeed we have a consensus, and we do, let that be the center point of our working together.

Preaching against bogeymen gets the big amen at some meetings and in some publications, but we should take notice– those meetings are getting older and smaller every year.

Ed Stetzer, VP of LifeWay Christian Resources

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  1. Mark Bordeaux   •  

    Another “Amen”!

    There was a time when our convention faced a crisis of belief and of real substance – the reliability and integrity of Scripture. In spite of what some said, it was not a politically motivated movement or a “straw man” for preachers to “swing” at on Sundays. We had to decide if we truly believed the Book and if we would continue to support those who didn’t. Thankfully, Southern Baptists settled that issue and there should be no doubt where we stand.

    When someone denies the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, salvation by grace alone through faith alone – the essentials – then we have a serious problem. We must address the matter.

    Today, we should be able to use the same criteria that God uses to call someone His “child” to call someone our “brother.” And if my brother is seeking to further God’s Kingdom by obeying the Great Commandment and Great Commission He has my love, respect, and prayers. Thank God for our planters who are making such a difference in lostness in their areas!

    Rather than the “bogey men” of non-essential beliefs, rumors, and presuppositions, we should be deeply concerned about how many of our congregations are actually providing a relevant witness to their communities as opposed to protecting man-made tradition with “stained-glass” barriers. I think some Baptists would be shocked to realize that we are surrounded with people who have no patience for our man-made religious games and simply want to know God in real life.

    God help us to be real, relevant, and redemptive – for His glory!

    Thanks Ed!

  2. Jeff C.   •  

    Thanks for the enlightening article, Dr. Stetzer. Not being SB myself, I definitely feel like I’m on the outside looking in regarding issues going on in SBC life. I can relate somewhat, however, as I am a Calvinist and a continuationist, which was quite an unpopular combination in charismatic circles until only very recently. It’s difficult to make room for new things in our traditions, no matter what tradition we come from. I’ve been on the side pushing for change many times and I’ve also found myself on the side resisting change on other issues. Whether I was correct in my stances at any given time (sometimes I was right and sometimes I wasn’t), a problem I found was that I was rarely ever humble. That was something God has had to realign in me (He hasn’t finished yet either). Genuine humility makes it so much easier to enter into healthy dialogue with a spirit of charity. Thank you for issuing a call to humility in the discussion of differences, a truth that needs to be embraced by all of us evangelicals and not just those in the SBC.

  3. volfan007   •  

    I have a feeling the “Conspiracy nutcases crying boogeymen” may the thing we hear a lot at the SBC….if not from the platform, then in the halls and restaurants….in an attempt to make light of anyone, who’s not going along with the agenda of the leaders, and the movers and shakers of the SBC….

    I hope not, but I can see that happening. Just go and take a look at Ed Stetzer’s post on boogeymen….then especially read the comment thread….especially notice that a few even call for the “cryers of boogeymen” to be put out of the SBC… I read the comment thread, I could almost hear some snickering as they talked about anyone who opposed some of the extreme emerging Church things….and aggressive Calvinism….and the radical church growth extremes…and anything else that the leaders like, which others see as concerning….

    This may very well be the way of trying to shut up any opposition to the agenda’s of the day….just call them “Conspiratists” which equals nuts….just say that they’re “shouting boogeyman.” Oh well, I guess we’ll see…


    PS. It’s funny to me that some of the very ones, who are condemning the “boogeymen” alerters, do cry the same thing, often….their boogeymen are just birds with different colors.

  4. volfan007   •  

    I also posted this comment on SBC Voices…since both topics are about the same thing….


    PS. I dont hate anyone. I love everybody. I’m not a Baptist Boogeyman. lol. I’m not trying to be mean and divisive. Just sharing my own, personal thoughts…..

  5. Paul Horne   •  

    This was a nicely written piece. I am personally a member of a PCA church which is a Calvinist denomination. I have considered the SBC as a possible shift but felt looked down upon because of my reformed beliefs before this new boogeyman title was pronounced. I have gotten my BS in Religion from LU and looking for work as a pastor to some degree and have felt unsure about applying to SBC churches because of my views. I hope that I will be able to find some that may be more open and less judgmental.


  6. Stephen   •  

    I don’t know, given that the SBC is a fairly ‘open’ denomination (the requirements are very broad for churches to be admitted into the convention, and even more so for individual pastors on church staffs), I don’t think we should be so quick as some seem to rejoice here on shunning all contrary and negative talk. I think that with PD and Emergents you are attempting to say, “Just because some church down the road looks similar to something else, doesn’t mean it’s actually a bad church,” but in that you therefore admit that a “bad church” does exist, at least theoretically. And if I can take the example of Emergent, I would say it’s fairly clear that with McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity” and Bell’s “Love Wins” that the trendline there was into heresy. Perhaps no big name SBC pastor fell for their song, but I don’t think we can claim that average Reverend Smith may not be enticed, and for that I am glad that we have people discussing the errors of both ancient and modern theological systems and methodologies.

    That’s not to say I agree at all with some of the anti-Calvinist rhetoric going around (or some of the anti-anti-Calvinist, for that matter), so with the narrow intent of your post that we treat legitimate, historically orthodox brothers as brothers, then I completely agree. Just thought there might be a little endnote to your post that was missing.

  7. Michelle   •  

    With all due respect, people like Brian McLaren and Rick Warren ARE dangerous because they are leading their congregations/followers into false doctrine.

    In the last year or so, Rick Warren has had a known Word Faith (prosperity gospel) preacher, Robert Morris, preach at Saddleback and has also recommended Contemplative Prayer from his web site, just to name two relatively well publicized incidents.

    Brian McLaren has been known to question the truth of Christianity and suggest that our long standing biblical understanding of Christianity is wrong, is a proponent of gender equivalent scriptures, and, last year, came out in support of Universalist Rob Bell.

    Pastors who speak out against these two (and others like them) have genuine and biblically correct concerns that go far beyond Hawaiian shirts, sitting on stools, and a man’s desire to reach the post-modern world. A huge chunk of the New Testament emphasizes the importance and urgency of dealing with false doctrine and getting it out of the church. Now we’re deriding those who stand against false doctrine as chasing “bogeymen”?

    The leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention is sorely behind the times when it comes to doing its research on the people it chooses to tout, as reflected by things like choosing Rick Warren to speak at the Convention, the ERLC co-sponsoring Rick Perry’s “The Response” prayer meeting last summer (the main sponsors of which were leaders in the International House of Prayer, a heretical New Apostolic Reformation/Contemplative Prayer organization), and the fact that LifeWay refuses to remove materials by Modalist/Word Faith preacher T.D. Jakes from its inventory.

    We are past the time when we can simply assume that anyone who claims to be a Christian actually IS one and automatically accept them under the auspices of biblical truth. There are far too many wolves in shepherds’ clothing out there. These aren’t bogeymen. These are real dangers.

  8. Bill   •  

    Thank you Michelle!

    Your comment was right on target. It is just a shame that you will now be viewed as a “boogeyman” by Ed and his followers.

  9. Tom   •  

    There is a reason to be wary of a pastor or church staff choice. In my life i have seen countless local churches wrecked by “stealth agents”, usually pastors with a divergent doctrine. These staff members then feel out those who may share or convert to their doctrine, begin freezing out mainline Baptist members, then giving the church members a choice of “do it my way or there is the door” That is a direct quote from a pastor who recently destroyed a local church here.
    I have seen the fad doctrines come and go since the 60’s- charismatic, boomer, liberal, hardshell independent and now Calvinism.
    The effects on the local congregations have been the same- discord, confusion, church splits and heartaches.
    To the writers who say they cannot get hired by a mainline SBC church because of reformed theology i say -good. You need to be in a church or denomination that matches your theology. Frankly i am a evangelical southern baptist, i have no ill will toward Calvinists but neither i nor my church wish to become reformed.
    SBC churches should stay SBC churches unless the congregation feels led otherwise. SBC churches are not Presbyterian, nor Pentecostal nor one man rule independent churches. One of the factors of the loss of churches in the SBC is the lack of examination of the doctrine of potential pastors. It is a measure of dishonesty to coopt a SBC church, change its doctrine then let it drop out of the SBC or become noncooperating. If that makes me a bogeyman searcher then so be it.

  10. Scott H   •  

    I believe that many of these movements come into existence because the prevailing Christianity of each age has weaknesses and God helps the churches to reconnect with Him by allowing these movements to show us our weaknesses. Back in the 1980’s & 1990’s there was too much tradition worship rather than Christ worship in the church, so I believe God worked through the Purpose Driven movement to show the church that it isn’t automatically Christian because it’s traditional (though some took this too far, of course). Then as the late 90’s and early 00’s approached, there was too much right brain, analytical, pasionless worship in our churches, so the emerging movement helped to reconnect Christianity with artistic, heartfelt worship (though, once again, some took this too far). Now, we are seeing how their has been too light an emphasis on God’s sovereingty and solid doctrine in our churches, so the reformed movement is helping us reconnect with God’s sovereingty and solid doctrine (though, as usual, some are going too far).

    The interesting thing is how while Purpose Driven corrected one problem, the problem it didn’t correct was addressed by the Emergings, and the problem they didn’t correct, is being addressed by the Reformed. The next movement will help address the weaknesses the Reformed movement is not correcting.

    We should be learning from these movements instead of seeking to demonize the leaders of these movements (and bad stuff said about them is not automatically true just because a famous pastor, the nearby pastor, a professor, a blogger, or your plumber who reads blogs said it was). John 17 still applies to us.

  11. Trinity   •  

    So, you are comfortable saying that you are a Purpose-Driven, Emerging, Calvinitic Baptist? Indeed, that shall ruffle the feathers quite some time to come. Nevermind 10 years ago, 5 years ago, etc.

  12. Chuck F.   •  

    So…would Charles Haddon Spurgeon be OK in the SBC today?

  13. Charles Sorrels   •  

    Dear Friends of Calvanism,
    Charles Spurgeon believed there was no doctrine of Theology more glorifying to God in salvation than Calvinism. He was correct.
    The I’m Ok, You’re Ok, the Purpose Driven road to relevancy with “modern” man, and the straw image of Calvanism discussed discussed above have one thing in common, a disregard for the issued of God’s glory.
    We who know the doctrines of Grace, glory in the Sovereignty of God and are comforted in the security that salvation is all of Grace.
    We know that the finished work of Christ is the dramatic view of God regarding the total need of man to be saved entirely by the work of Christ upon the cross.
    We will not pontificate in worldly wisdom to compromise the Amazing Grace that
    Calvanism teaches so foundationally sound and correct.
    We will not please men with the heresy of Armenianism.
    We know the power of God to save men in every age by the power of the Gospel preached.
    It takes salvation to appreciate the doctrines of Grace, and to grow in Grace to teach those glorious truths in the face of Armenian heresy.
    For those who point to those who dishonor sound doctrine, they miss the point. Let man be found a liar, but God is true.
    Rejoice, and be patient, and in the doctrines that adorn the glory of God grow in humility unto God in intimacy with God through Grace alone.
    In Christ,

    Charles Dale Sorrels

  14. Charles Sorrels   •  

    Beware when all manner of men speak so well of you.
    The bandwagon of folks you found in almost every post giving you a “way to go, Ed”, reminds me of the overwhelming vote against sound doctrine in England that broke the heart of Charles Spurgeon, and led to the demise of Baptist in England.
    Congratulations on pleasing many, but what good is wood, hay and stubble, but to be burned?
    We don’t have to forsake sound doctrine to be relevant to man, we must teach sound doctrine to be glorifying to God.
    Give me a call, we should visit, according to John 13:34-35.
    Of all things, don’t attach “bogeyman” to sound doctrine. Please.
    In the Grace that glorifies the Savior’s finished work to save,

    Charles Dale Sorrels
    fb Charles Sorrels
    Graduate of OSU (OK) 70
    of EHS 66
    SB missionary to Youngstown, Ohio at Austintown Baptist Church, Youngstown 71
    Licensed to preach by First Baptist of El Reno 65, under Pastor Chalon Meadow
    Youth Pastor of West Tenth Baptist 70, under Pastor R P Thompson (Rick Thompson was in our youth group)
    Beloved by God the Father, solely by Grace.
    Now reside in Colorado Springs, Colo

    PS Where is BJ Carol and other founders of American Southern Baptist when we need to appreciate them? And where is regard for Matthew Henry? And what does Galatians and John 6, and John 17 have to say about this discussion on the Glory of the Gospel that is the power of God to save?

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  16. Michael Edwards   •  

    I’m thankful for people who post their entire resumes in their signature line on a blog, and consistently misspell Calvinism in a response to an article about Calvinism. Nothing says “I get it” more than that.

  17. Trinity   •  

    Michelle, you’re right on! The teaching of Brian MacLaren and Rick Warren in any setting presents a real problem and not a bogeyman. For Ed to not recognize their false doctrine and to equate the doctrines of Grace with them, only hurts, rather than helps put forth the true teaching of Spurgeon and Edwards.

  18. Barry Bishop   •  

    Wise and well-said words. You put into words what I’ve been feeling for some time in the SBC but could not articulate. You also surprised me because I don’t usually agree with you =o) Blessings, brother.

  19. archie walker   •  


    Being both a researcher and a pragmatist, I’m sure you measured the impact of a “bogeyman” post to know it would go over well. Yet, I think in the long run Michelle’s well-thought out response will resonate better because it is more accurate. Ever heard of Os Guiness’ book, The God of Relevance? It just might be relevant.

  20. Morris Brooks   •  

    To use an old phrase, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

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  22. Greg Duke   •  

    Your final line is brilliant. (the rest of the article is good, too). As one of the “young pastors” of the SBC, I am simply tired of trying to keep the old horse alive. It’s time for the old horse to reproduce.

  23. Jeff Wright   •  

    Greg, I would love for you to elaborate on what you meant by your statement on young pastors keeping the old horse alive.

    I say that because, as a young pastor myself, I get so weary of pastors in my age bracket acting like we are God’s gift to the SBC. I benefit greatly from the gains made by the previous generation(s) and am offended when, in disagreeing with those who have gone before, we do so disagreeably.

    I’m not saying that is what you meant to convey but as some one primed by what I wrote above I think there is room for that interpretation. I’d like to read a clarification that shows me how dumb I was to be inclined to jump to a wrong conclusion.

    If you don’t have time/interest I understand but thought I would put the request in just in case.

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  29. Hawaiian shirts   •  

    Thank you for the post. Very informative, keep up with the good work!

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