In the summer of 2008, B&H Academic published an excellent book by David Dockery titled Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Proposal. There is much to commend about this book, but one thing I especially appreciate is how Dockery demonstrates that conservative Southern Baptists are not monolithic. This is an idea that Dockery has advanced for years in a variety of forums, and one I’ve emphasized in my own teaching, conference speaking, and writing. We are quite diverse, which in a democratic denomination is to be expected, though it often leads to tensions in our efforts to cooperate with one other.
Dockery argues that there are at least seven different subgroups among conservative Southern Baptists, with both internal variety within those subgroups and periodic overlap between subgroups. I have reproduced his list below from page 11 of Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal:
- Orthodox Evangelicals
- Contemporary church practitioners
- Culture Warriors
I think Dockery does a fine job of pointing out some of the key stakeholders in the SBC. The point he was trying to make with his list is this: if the SBC is to have a viable future, each of these groups must commit to a basic theological consensus around which they can all cooperate for the sake of renewal, despite honest differences in many secondary and tertiary matters. The remainder of Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal is devoted to suggesting a consensus that would, Lord willing, result in renewal. I highly recommend you read the book.
I deeply resonate with Dockery’s vision for the future of the SBC. In many ways, it complements the vision articulated by Great Commission Resurgence advocates over the past three years (at least this GCR advocate). But I confess I’m afraid that this vision is imperiled right now because some SBC conservatives aren’t getting along very well with each other. Some don’t seem to want consensus.
The debate over the GCR, especially the Task Force’s interim report, has magnified some of the differences among various conservatives. In particular, there is considerable tension between those who primarily identify with the state conventions (a subgroup I would add to Dockery’s list) and those who identify more with the “national” SBC. Some remarkably mean things have been said by those on both side. Much of the invective has been spewed in private forums and through personal communication (which, naturally, almost never remains private). Others have made public accusations about their fellow Southern Baptists in blogs or even traditional media like Baptist Press.
Social media like Twitter and Facebook sometimes exacerbate the tensions. I have read some pretty nasty comments-by folks on both sides-over the past few weeks. This is not counting the rude (and often sophomoric) comments by those wannabe prophets who take the “a pox on both your houses” approach to the whole debate. I cannot help but think that there are some Southern Baptists, including some relatively well-known ones, who will one day grow up a bit and regret the foolish things they’ve said on Twitter and/or Facebook.
We have some real differences of opinions, to be sure. There are some folks out there who want us to do very little besides urban church planting. There are also some who think we don’t need to streamline much of anything, and perhaps add even more layers of bureaucracy. There are some who almost exclusively talk about engaging unreached people groups, and others who question the entire strategy of focusing on unreached people groups. There are some who fear the Task Force is really a political movement that is mostly concerned with getting some of their own members in the vacant agency presidencies. Others complain that state convention leaders only care about perpetuating the present status quo at all costs. There are some Southern Baptists who clearly don’t care a great deal for the Cooperative Program, others who come close to arguing the CP = cooperation, and others who aren’t sure what they think about it. This is just scratching the surface of some of the opinions I’ve heard with my own ears or read with my own eyes.
I think every Southern Baptist who cares strongly one way or other about the Great Commission Resurgence needs to step back and take a deep breath. Despite our differing opinions, we are all on the same team. We all care about the health of our denomination. We all care about reaching the lost, both here and abroad. We all care about defending and commending sound doctrine, including traditional Baptist distinctives. We all want Southern Baptists to be characterized by thousands upon thousands of healthy local churches that are marked by gospel faithfulness and gospel urgency. We all say we love the Lord Jesus Christ above all things and we all claim a desire to follow his lordship in all things. So why do we sound so much like the world as we debate the relative merits and pitfalls of the GCR?
I can’t remember where I first read it, but I’ve seen some bloggers argue that we will not have a Great Commission Resurgence without a Great Commandment Resurgence. Ronnie Floyd said something very similar in the Task Force’s interim report. No matter what you may think about the relative merits of the interim report’s suggestions, surely we can all agree that we need to do a better job of cultivating Christian love among the brethren in the midst of denominational debate.
Southern Baptists must stop questioning each other’s motives and assuming the worst about those with whom we differ. We must stop painting the “other side” in a bad light, be it through intemperate language or through faulty assumptions. We must stop trying to score points with “our side” by dropping snarky sound bites that elicit “amens” and “attaboys” from those who already agree with us. We must honor God in our words and actions, even as we carry on a real debate about important issues that affect the future health of our denomination.
There’s an old hymn that says “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” What do our words and deeds communicate about our love for one another and our love for Christ? I think this is a crucial question at this time in SBC history. It is my hope and prayer that every engaged Southern Baptist, whether they are for the GCR or against it, will guard their tongues and check their actions in the coming months before Orlando. Southern Baptists are a family, and we must love one another in the midst of this important family discussion. To do anything less would bring shame upon the name of Christ, regardless of who “wins” the Great GCR Debate of 2010.