December 4, 2020

Smelling Calvinism On My Breath: How The SBC Looks From Under The Table

Every so often, I daydream about what I would say if I had to defend myself as having been a member of or sympathetic with that nefarious group known as “The Southern Baptist Founder’s Movement.” The Founder’s Movement is a group of self-conscious, non-apologetic Calvinists who want nothing more than to return the SBC to its roots in Reformation theology and to see the fruits of Reformation in the denomination. Of all the Calvinists in the world, they are my favorites, and while I have dropped the label “Calvinist” from my own theological resume out of deference to those who wouldn’t let my dog share a bowl with their dog, I still dearly love those Founders and what they are all about, mostly because I still hope for better days for the SBC.

If I were called before the trustees of my school or a panel of Kentucky Baptist deacons concerned about my association with such questionable characters, I know exactly what I would say. “My dabbling in Calvinism is, gentlemen, entirely the fault of the current condition of the Southern Baptist Convention, and frankly, reformed theology is the only way that I can cope.” (Actually, I have a much better answer, but that for another day.) In other words, I have Calvinism on my breath because the SBC has driven me to drink, so to speak.

I know that many Internet Monk readers can mistakenly think that I have no love for my Southern Baptist family, and I want to clarify that immediately and fully. I am a product of Southern Baptist people, churches, schools and culture. What I am is almost entirely a matter of the incubator of Southern Baptist evangelicalism as I have experienced it in Kentucky Baptist churches. Yes, God has led me away from the kind of narrow SBC fundamentalism that dominates in those churches. Yes, theologically, I cannot completely identify or sympathize with a great deal of what is common in SBC life. But I serve at a school that is thoroughly Southern Baptist. I represent our school before Southern Baptist audiences. I read and follow Southern Baptist life as “one of them.” My discomfort and disengagement has not been divorce, and never will be. Give me my Piper, my Spurgeon and my Capon under the pew, but when I am let loose to worship without my children, I’ll be dreaming of a reformation-flavored, liturgy-friendly, Founders church with Fred Malone preaching and a Lottie Moon offering at Christmas.

It is in this context that I want to report my own version of the dynamics in Southern Baptist life, drawn from what I am seeing among the Southern Baptists who surround me. Where do I see and experience the SBC? In several ways:

• I read the requisite blogs and web sites.

• I read our state denominational paper, the once serious, now ruined Western Recorder. I also read Baptist Press, which frequently reminds me that journalism is, of all the professions, the least susceptible to actual standards.

• I am surrounded by Southern Baptists from all over Kentucky and the South here in the school where I serve.

• I speak in Southern Baptist Churches and Associational gatherings around Kentucky.

• I listen to a lot of Southern Baptist Preaching.

• I know a few people who know a few people.

It is in this context that I can speak plainly: the current state of things Southern Baptist will continue to drive me to drink deeply from the wells of reformation theology. Founder’s movement guys….keep saving me a seat. I won’t be there every year and I’ll never perfectly fit in at anyone’s “My Calvinism Can Beat Up Your Calvinism” contest, but I want to have a seat on the back row somewhere.

What will continue to drive me to hope Mark Dever is the next President of the SBC?

Southern Baptists are now on the verge of a kind theological-identity anarchy; a loss of any meaningful coherence. Driven by forces both inside and outside of Southern Baptist Life, the SBC is firmly in the grips of a combination of fundamentalism, politicization and hyper-pragmatism that are vanquishing its already tenuous hold on its own theological heritage. With little actual confessional loyalty to anchor it in the winds of the pragmatic storm swirling in evangelicalism and in its own house, the SBC is becoming a denomination whose identity exists only tentatively in a vortex of competing influences.

Foremost among those influences is the traditional fundamentalism that took over the denomination in 1979 and solidified its hold throughout the 80’s. These are the “Texas Evangelist” SBCers. The big Amens at the pastor’s conference. The suits and hairstyles from another culture. These are the men for whom Bailey Smith’s mean-SBCism and Adrian Roger’s eloquent fundamentalism and Jerry Falwell’s jolly warriorism are all comfortable ways to be Southern Baptist.

This controlling majority inherited a denomination with a complex landscape of values: Cooperation with minimal accountability; leadership in the world Baptist movement; Seminary educations; pride in denominational structure; loyalty to Southern Baptist produced products; a strong sense of the superiority of Southern Baptists to all other denominations; denomninational statistics as indicators of health; a preference for Southern Baptist “wisdom” in church planting and missions.

These “resurgent conservatives” came, primarily, from the fundamentalist, reactionary wing of the SBC, and they lived uneasily with many of these values. Some they kept. Others they rejected. Some were transformed. Once the moderates were defeated and the denominational loyalists replaced or reeducated, actually leading the denomination has proven a difficult assignment. This team works best with an enemy in view. Liberals are scarce in the SBC today. Increasingly, the new enemy is the SBC’s own dwindling ability to baptize new converts and grow its churches. Apathy and lethargy in the SBC is the enemy, but can the Texas Evangelists see past their own nose to the real reason the traditional SBC is headed downward?

One could say many things about this controlling elite in the SBC. They are portrayed as everything from political Machiavellians to saviors who rescued a denomination from liberalism. They are, by turns, tearfully sensitive and brutishly cruel. They have been the epitome of ever negative stereotype about Southern Baptists, and they have started more ethnic churches than any generation of Southern Baptists before them. They have been dumb enough to go after the Masons and savvy enough to revolutionize their international missions approach.

I would never claim to understand this group. I long ago quit buying their claim to be united around “inerrancy,” since the one thing I can say for certain is that they are theologically impossible to map and utterly incoherent on anything theological. (See Jack Graham’s recent attack on Calvinism for an idea of the inability of the Texas Evangelists to grapple with historic theological questions.) At this point, “whatever works” is all the theology needed. Their theology is whatever builds bigger churches and more baptisms. In other words, they have become the servants of whatever theology justifies their methodologies of evangelism and church growth. To this date, that theology is best described as “Gone With The Wind.”

The most visible competition for influence in the SBC seems to come from the SBC’s new Culture Warrior class.

This second influence in the SBC is, in many ways, a group somewhat opposite of the Texas Evangelists. They are the Culture Warriors. Unlike the SBC’s previous somewhat limited interests in cultural issues, this group is highly politicized and at the beck and call of the National Republican agenda. Baptist Press, previously an outlet for the promotion of denominational news almost exclusively, now covers political and cultural issues like a national conservative newspaper. Culture Warriors are highly visible in conservative media and confidently pronounce the “Biblical” view on every cultural issue imaginable.

The Culture Warriors are not pragmatic in the same way as the Texas evangelists, preferring their pragmatism to be political in nature. They are more educated and more interested in a consistent application of their understanding of the Christian worldview to all of society. They are not as focused solely on evangelism as the current SBC leadership. They value systematic theology and are generally positive toward some level of confessionalism, particularly as it supports cultural reformation. Some of the Culture Warriors can be found among SBC Calvinists. In fact, it is among the intellectual camraderie of the evangelically conservative reformed community that many of these Culture Warriors receive their greatest ovations. The Texas evangelists are fully supportive of the Culture Warriors’ leadership against gay marriage, but too many forays into efforts like “Justice Sunday” – where nominations of conservatives to the Supreme Court were played as virtually essential to the survival of Christianity in America- and the Texas Evangelists are likely to begin sounding more like REAL Southern Baptist fundamentalists of old, losing interest in the culture war somewhere around the latest referendum on gambling. Find the Culture Warriors on stage with Roman Catholics, and the Texas Evangelists will start a prayer chain.

The Culture Warriors have found the Baptist Faith and Message to be a useful area from which to operate, altering it several times to support their agenda. It was the Culture Warriors who forced the SBC to dismiss missionaries who did not want to sign a newly amended BFM that eliminated the option of supporting women pastors and required women to submit to their husbands. It was the Culture Warriors who informed the SBC that the Baptist World Alliance contained some obnoxious liberals who didn’t support the Republican party, and therefore Southern Baptists needed to abandon their leadership role in that organization. It was the Culture Warriors who are about to call for the SBC to order all its members to withdraw from the public schools in the name of Biblical necessity. I will predict that the same group will have Creationism explicitly addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message within five years.

All of this goes well beyond the Texas Evangelists’ concern for winning souls and growing bigger churches. The Texas Evangelists are the mule pulling the cart, and the Culture Warriors are a new mule pulling the same direction….some of the time. At other times, this mule has a mind of its own.

Another interesting development in the SBC is the attempt to manage the phenomenon of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church and Purpose Driven Life movement.

When the Seeker Sensitive movement originally began, the Texas Evangelists were not interested. The idea of marketing the church usually meant the elimination of revivals and revivalism. The Texas Evangelists are pragmatic, but they are still Southern Baptists. The first wave of seeker sensitivity made inroads with many denominational types, but the Texas Evangelists were not on board. It smelled like compromise. (I once heard Bill Hybels at an SBC pastor’s conference. The response was ambiguous, to say the least.)

Then along came Rick Warren. Warren is the son of an SBC church planter and was immediately a poster boy for evangelism and church growth in the SBC. Despite the fact that Warren’s methodology was uniquely his own, the SBC leadership never missed an opportunity to list Saddleback Church as a Southern Baptist Church growth success story. At one point, Warren and Falwell did a conference together, signaling that the old SBC and the “Warren Wave” were friends.

Of course, with the success of Purpose Driven Church and the mega-success of Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren became a networked, franchised, branded denomination all to himself. In a matter of months, thousands of churches were relating to Warren and the Purpose Driven “brand” in a way that left the SBC’s denominationalism out in the garage with your daddy’s Oldsmobile. Warren is now the evangelical Pope, presiding over a huge network of churches who look to him as the authority on preaching, evangelism and church growth. I have no doubt that Rick Warren will occupy a place in evangelicalism similar to Billy Graham, but that place will be substantiated through a more complex kind of ministry leadership than just crusade evangelism. It is a very real, personal influence that will come through media, books, technology and, above all, methodological pragmatism sold as a product.

At this point, it is a bit unclear to me exactly what has happened with Warren and the SBC. I do note two things. One: there is unmistakable growing tension between Warren and the SBC’s attempt to make him appear to be “one of us.” This was apparent in Warren’s recent fumbling of the question of his own relation to the SBC, his decision to take up a major missions effort in Africa on his own, and his statement that the SBC was wrong to leave the Baptist World Alliance.

Anyone who is a student of Warren knows that he has “new evangelical” written all over him. This is not John Macarthur’s golf buddy. While his story will get them on their feet at the pastor’s conference, when he starts quoting “The Message,” the place is going to get quiet. I suspect Warren is far from an SBC fundamentalist, and will soon be a lot farther than most SBC conservatives are comfortable with. Among reformed conservatives, Warren is already representative of anti-theological trends that are viewed as destructive to the health of the church. In my opinion, Warren shows signs of morphing into someone far more similar to Joel Osteen than to Billy Graham. Time will tell.

Which makes my second observation interesting: The SBC Culture Warriors have almost nothing to say about Warren, and many of them have little good to say about the Purpose Driven phenomenon in general. (The silence of one particular Culture Warrior SBC leader is particularly odd, as little else escapes his gaze and his opinions about much of what Warren is doing is plainly obvious from reading his overall opinions.) There is a sense among the Culture Warriors that Warren is a lightweight and that he is more interested in rebuilding Rawanda than in coming out against gay marriage or taking his orders from Jim Dobson like everyone else. Warren has the “new evangelical” aversion to making the church a highly political entity. He would not be very supportive of the SBC pastor who told his members to vote for Bush or leave. I cannot see him making it his business to promote the Culture Warrior agenda.

This is a chaotic scene, and one that has driven the SBC further into its typical revivalism and shallow decisionistic tactics. Go to a meeting of Southern Baptists and you will hear endless talk of President Bobby Welch’s quest for One Million Baptisms. Telling Southern Baptists at this point in their history to get one million baptisms is to create a free-for-all. Anything that works will be praised. If a local church finds a way to use Judgement House to get 500 decision cards signed, it will be trumpeted as a move of God; a “revival” (a word that SBCers can’t get enough of.) If it turns out that only 40 of those decisions ever show up for Baptism, it won’t cause any pause for reflection or evaluation. It will simply give us permission to have more manipulation and decisionistic tactics next time. Evangelism in the SBC today has all the characteristics of the shallow zeal of the salesman. The theological foundation for evangelism has eroded, and the current atmosphere has allowed pragmatism to take over the driver’s seat.

Recently I spoke at a Baptist meeting where a major league SBC leader was the main speaker. As it turned out, I spoke just before him. In my talk, I do a section on evangelism. I stress Biblical evangelism as outlined in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. People are lost. It is a spiritual condition, not correctable by anything but a change brought about by the Holy Spirit. We are called to preach Jesus, and then be the servants of the people we seek to reach. Then, God, who caused the light to shine in the darkness of Genesis 1:1, will cause the light of the Gospel to shine in their hearts; a light that illuminates Jesus Christ as the revelation of the Father and our savior. I say this is what we need to follow in evangelism: Believe in the lostness of people, preach Christ, love people and depend of God to open hearts to Jesus. Prayer. Human effort. A spiritual miracle.

When I finished, and the Baptist leader followed me, he was very, very gracious. But he also smelled Calvinism on my breath, and his talk explicitly and repeatedly stated that while God opened hearts, we must do all we can to “connect” people to Jesus. In fact, the theme of “connecting people to Jesus,” a phrase certainly fraught with Biblical problems, is the mantra in our state convention, and its appeal is that it tells us to do everything we can to get those decisions and we will have revival. Finney would approve.

The current atmosphere in the SBC is something like this: We have a denomination full of zeal without knowledge. The only knowledge that matters is either pragmatism in the service of baptisms and church growth, or the wisdom of the political realm brought into the church. The “Great Commission” may be serious business, but it has become the business of getting a million baptisms any way we can, no questions asked, or getting rid of gay marriage at the ballot box.

If this won’t drive you to hit that bottle of reformed theology, I don’t know what will.

Apparently I am not the only one in this mood. A new factor is now emerging on the horizon, a group I will call the “Younger Leaders.” These Younger Leaders are an eclectic bunch that cannot be easily characterized or described. Some are church planters and church starting missionaries impacted by Warren, Hybels and the entire seeker sensitive model. Many have identified their churches with the PDC network and other church growth oriented networks more than with the SBC. It is not at all unusual for them to eschew the name Baptist on their facilities. Others are quite traditionally Baptist, but are seeking ways to be more authentically useful to God in this culture.

Some of the Younger Leaders are impressed with the Emerging Church. Others are willing to learn from the emerging conversation. Many of them are impressed with Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller. While not all may be fans of Brian Mclaren’s postmodern theological project, they understand McLaren’s search for an authentic Christianity, and they take him seriously. They believe we are in a cultural shift that has rendered the more traditional SBC largely irrelevant in its methods and manner of doing church. They speak of evangelism in the vocabulary of the emerging church, calling themselves “missional.” They typically take culture seriously and have little resemblance to the old guard Texas Evangelist SBC. They dress better than Rick Warren.

Their churches are new and younger. Many want to start churches in order to avoid to painful- but often stupid- issues that divide many traditional congregations. They may not be as sensitive as previous Southern Baptists about cultural taboos like alcohol. They embrace the visual style of progressive culture, and I suspect that while they are pro-life, many are probably more Democratic-leaning on social issues and their political opinions are more tuned to issues of homelessness, hunger and AIDS than the Cultural Warriors.

The Younger Leaders are much less interested in the denominational life of the SBC than previous generations, partially by choice and partially by simply not entirely fitting into the current mix. They are networked to other churches, ministries and leaders via the internet. They feel the Texas Evangelists do not intend to take them seriously or to open doors of leadership to them. They appreciate the theological interests of the Culture Warriors, but are not interested in a politicized Church. While they may listen to Dobson, they are not likely to see his agenda as their responsibility. They know what Rick Warren is trying to do, and while they are not universally PDC in style, they are heavily influenced by much of Warren’s liberation from the old and enthusiasm for the new.

The Younger Leaders are a portent of an SBC with far less interest in the denomination, and far more interest in what other, similar churches are doing. They signal a disinterest in the traditional SBC, a new openness to other voices, and a more serious, Biblical approach to the church and what it is. The Younger Leaders are also pragmatists, in that they want to know what is working in churches like those they are starting or envision. They feel little loyalty to the SBC as a denomination if it does not see the current challenge to evangelicalism as a call to less Texas-style revivalism and a more intentional quest for missional thinking and acting. “Pragmatism,” for these Younger Leaders, is a questioning of assumptions and a remaking of the church as a missional support community using Biblical and cultural insights.

These Younger Leaders can be found throughout the SBC. Many are more theologically inclined than the Texas Evangelists, and there is an openness to Reformation theology among many of them. Many appreciate John Piper’s seriousness and theological depth. These Younger Leaders are doing some innovative and daring kinds of ministry, but much of it is outside the box of what is manufactured at denominational headquarters. Many pastors in traditional churches look at the Younger Leaders with envy. Pastoring the traditional SBC church is not what it once was, particularly with an aging denomination reflected in an aging- and less missionally inclined- congregation. The Younger Leaders, if their numbers grow large, could be a most hopeful development in the SBC. They are the best reason for the leadership of the Founder’s movement to consider how they are relating to these younger leaders. They may not look or sound like they are sympathetic with the concerns of the Founder’s movement, but I believe that would be a major mistake to assume.

In between these groups are millions of ordinary SBC church members, not particularly interested in much more than what the church is offering their kids, their family and their marriage. They will follow their pastors and lay leaders, trusting that the denomination is in good hands and all is well with America’s largest denomination.

Good things are happening in the SBC. The seminaries are full, with the Younger Leaders well represented. The Mission Boards of the SBC, especially the IMB, are outstanding. Would that Southern Baptists in America were as intentional and serious about the Gospel as our missionaries. Disaster ministry is a bright spot, as the SBC has led the way in mobilizing food resources during recent hurricanes. Ethnic churches are growing rapidly. There is much good, and much to be encouraged about.

So am I encouraged or discouraged? If things continue their trajectory, where will the denomination be? If God gives me 20 more years, I expect to see something like this:

I believe the Texas Evangelists will continue to rule the denomination, but it will no longer be a party celebrating their ascendency. Decline will begin in earnest in most SBC churches within two generations.
I believe that leadership will continue its tailspin into theological oblivion. One will not be able to dependably hear the Gospel in many SBC churches ( a point we have already reached.)

The theological weakness of this leadership will cause the SBC to begin to see serious losses and reversals of its traditionally strong numbers, with many younger SBCers moving to generic evangelical megachurches and thousands of small, older churches being unable to sustain pastors or even survive.
Only ethnic church growth and new church growth will be real church growth in the SBC.

Calvinism – and a refusal to be focused on numerical growth- will be blamed for much of the decline.

The Culture Warriors will ascend to positions of permanent power in the SBC.
They will become the vanguard of conservative evangelical political involvement, and will increasingly politicize churches and the denomination.
Loyalty to the Republican party and support of Culture War issues will define Southern Baptist Life.

The Culture Warriors will continue to change the face of the SBC, narrowing its traditional diversity by insisting on conformity within churches on issues that have always been non-essential or matters for individual churches to decide.

Rick Warren will become the head of a de facto denomination made up of millions of evangelicals, and a significant portion will be Southern Baptists, especially Younger Leaders.

This Purpose Driven Denomination will send missionaries and start new churches in unprecedented numbers. It will be openly criticized by some of the Culture Warriors.

Warren will distant himself from the SBC and will call for a kind of ecumenical evangelicalism that the conservative SBC leadership will reject. A cold tension will ensue. Eventually, Warren will disavow any relation to the SBC.

The Younger Leaders will become a significant voice of criticism in a declining SBC. The Younger Leaders who can navigate the atmosphere of fundamentalism and Culture War issues will find a place at the table of an SBC increasingly forced into recognition of the value of diversity.

If the Founder’s movement can become a significant part of the Younger Leaders movement, and if their churches, like Mark Dever’s church, can provide examples of genuine church growth, there may be a significant role for many SBC “Reformation” minded pastors and members in the post-Triumphalist SBC.

So, if you are looking for me, I’ll be down at the Theology Pub, looking for Capon’s bottle of 100 proof grace. I’ve always got an extra glass for anyone wanting a drink. The room may be a little dark, and I may have on a ball cap and sunglasses, but you are still welcome. I’m raising my glass to the day that Tom Ascol and Joe Thorn speak at the SBC pastor’s conference on “The Missional Church: A Continuing Reformation.”


  1. Wow, Michael. Very thorough and penetrating analysis. I am going to link to it at my blog and hopefully start a discussion about the current direction of the SBC.

    Yes, yes, Mark Dever for president!!! (of the SBC, that is)

  2. I’ve been in SBC churches all my life and frankly, I dont think it’s just the SBC. It seems to be a Southern Church problem in general.

    Oh but if the SBC would only return to its roots (of which they are in denial) or at least provide a tacit nod toward them in accepting those who wish to cling to those roots instead mocking them as heritics..

    Not to mention the whole ‘ruling deacons’ thing.. talk about extra-biblical… There is more biblical inconsistancy in the whole of the SBC’s current state of affairs (not necessarily the BFM, but the ‘practiced beliefs’ of most churches) than in a thousand lines of C++ code a bunch of monkeys have written.

    God forbid you try to show them biblical truth, I’d guess there’s less rage in a Salem Witch Hunt.

  3. Andrew Dobbs says

    My thoughts, then a funny story about my adolescent run-in with the SBC hierarchy.

    This post was a blessing in so many ways. I have been thinking and praying about all of this a lot lately, as a discussion I had with a friend about Calvinism had me looking to the Bible. I was raised in the SBC, then took a turn towards the nondenominational movement, then I was an atheist for a long time and emerged back into my faith through Methodism and then searching elsewhere too. I always thought Calvinism sounded wrong, but when I read my Bible it became clear that Calvin had simply restored our understanding of the faith back to its Scriptural roots.

    I have been wanting to find a Calvinist church that isn’t as staid as the Presbyterians or many of the other groups I have found. This Baptist Founders’ stuff seems very promising, and I found a church in my area that ascribes to these things. I will be visiting that congregation on Sunday.

    Funny story time. I grew up in the North Dallas suburbs and played football for sometime, as every respectable young man from Texas is expected to do. During the offseason a real nice guy named Josh (a fellow offensive lineman, though couple of years older than me) was assigned as my weightlifting partner. We didn’t know each other too well, but became friendly pretty quickly and after lifting one day we were headed back to the locker room. There he told me that his mom was headed to California for a Christian broadcaster conference, as she ran their chruch’s broadcast ministry.

    I asked him what church he went to, and he replied Prestonwood Baptist in Plano. This church is the biggest megachurch I’ve seen this side of Osteen’s thing down in Houston. I also knew that their pastor made something like $150,000 a year, which seemed excessive. It is important to pay pastors, but the idea of providing much more than one needs for a humble life has always caused me concern. So I said “Yeah, that church pays their pastor like $150,000 which I think is really uncool.”

    Josh came back “Well, my Dad is the pastor…”

    “The head pastor?” I asked.

    “Yeah, Jack Graham.”

    Not only was I embarrassed by questioning his dad’s salary (though nowadays I suppose I might not be), his Dad ended up being President of the SBC! So when you all criticize the SBC’s leadership online, remember that some of us have rebuked them right to their kids’ faces ;-).

  4. Michael,

    You should upgrade your server more often. This post was worth waiting for. I’m not in the SBC, but the Baptist General Conference, in fact at Piper’s church. A lot of young men and missionary’s from our congregation head off to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary now rather than to Bethel. There is clearly something going on there in the SBC and your overview captures it wonderfully. Yes I’m hopefull for the SBC as well as the BCG. I second the motion on Dever for pres… oh wait can I do that from over here in the General?

  5. Michael,

    Here’s to 100% proof grace!

    Does the SBC mean inerrancy a la B.B. Warfield or inerrancy a la The Reformers?

    I think we shall trace one of the roots of the problem in answering this question. What do you think?

    Historical dysjunction is a terrible thing!


  6. The SBC’s confession, THe Baptist Faith and Message, says the following about scripture:

    The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

    This statement is taken from the New Hampshire Confession and was probably influenced by the Princeton version of “inerrancy.”

    Since it is well known that I endorse the WCF I on scripture, but do not endorse the word “inerrancy” I probably should say no more, but I will say this: for years, conservatives and liberals endorsed the BFM because it had in it the following statement: The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ. That was removed in 2000, and I think it was a very, very bad mistake to do so.

  7. Yeah, Monk, you should have said no more…

    The problem with that statement is, what the heck does it mean? Get 50 people together in a room and ask them that question, and you will get 50 different answers. That’s not good for a confession of faith.

    Using foggy terminology just to secure the appearance of agreement is not the purpose of a confession of faith.

  8. So guys, if this is the future of the SBC, what’s an up and coming SBC-raised, SBC-schooled, and SBC-funded guy like me to do?

    ANSWER: Stick with it. I applaud you, iMonk, for not writing a blatant tyraid of the SBC (though I’ve been known to write those myself in the past). I guess it’s because, at the end of the day, the only way the SBC will recover is for people who DO read reformed doctrine, believe in missional churches and living, and refuse to worship at the convention’s feet to stay and become catalysts for change. Some of these folks:

    Steve McCoy, Ed Stetzer and the Younger Leaders

    Reggie O’Niel: works with SBC South Carolina, and is a HUGE advocate of a missional future for the cuhrch (read This Present Future, it’ll blow your mind)

    NAMB and the IMB: I’ve served with these guys,and their heart is Jesus. period. Not denominational muck. Jesus.

    Collegiate BCM/BSM/BSU’s around the country: It’s amazing how many college age kids are realizing that something isn’t right with our churches today – and they’re doing something about it.

    I haven’t checked out Founder’s as much as I’d like, but there’s hope. We SBCers have to remember that our denomination is fallible as much as any other, and that God really does love us (I know it’s hard to think that way with some of the things going on in Nashville) and wants to use us to reach the world. And that hope is all that’s keeping me sane (and in any denomination at all…)

    steve <><

  9. Oh, and I quote from the recent Younger Leaders Summit at the SBC in Nashville:

    “When are we going to get a president who is NOT already overextended as a megachurch leader, and who only stays in office 2 years?”

    Just a thought…

    steve <><

  10. For more thoughts along these lines, make sure to get Dr. Nettles’ forthcoming (November) book on pressing the Reformation all the way.

  11. Michael,

    Really interesting read with great observations and predictions. If things go along the path you outline (Culture Warriors ascending to power and Texas Evangelists running the show) I wonder if the Younger Leaders will stay at all. We already hear the chorus of “abandon ship” from some among both the YLs and the Founders Churches.

  12. I’d like to point out that 100 proof grace is only 50% grace. For monergism you’d need 200 proof grace but it would probably kill you if you drank it. You’re a good baptist though for not knowing too much about alcohol. Nobody get mad this is just a joke ok!

    Also, it was a painfully obvious circular argument in the BFM: All scripture is a testimony to Christ and Christ is the criterion for interpreting the bible. I think this tail-chasing was removed mainly for innerancy and to get the liberals though.

    I’m curious as to why you didn’t predict much about the Founders movement?

    Great post!

  13. Amen.

    I grew up SB and still have family in the SB mega-church here in Jax. You put into words some thoughts that I’ve had for a couple of years now. I blogged it and it’s getting discussion stirred up.

    Again, Michael, thanks.

  14. Whew…quite a commentary. It was extremely interesting to me, a Southern Baptist, to read. I just returned from the Southern Baptist Executive Committee–and what I saw there was all very good. Unfortunetely, I didn’t see a whole lot of discussion on calvinism, etc. I just saw the structure…and people on fire to spread the gospel. I heard a lot about New Orleans and International Missions.

    The one man that I met (and was on his radio show discussing blogging) was Albert Mohler. I know a lot of folks dislike some of his views, but from what I know, he’s a firm Calvinist (as am I). I love the founders, as does my pastor, and our church (Southern Baptist obviously). But I agree with you–we’re seeing a lot of decline in BIBLE PREACHING Southern Baptist churches in our nation. And what’s the problem? Perhaps its the “seeker-friendly” movement. The feel-good gospel.

    A return to preaching the gospel…the Word of God…is what we really need.

    “We have a denomination full of zeal without knowledge. The only knowledge that matters is either pragmatism in the service of baptisms and church growth, or the wisdom of the political realm brought into the church. The “Great Commission” may be serious business, but it has become the business of getting a million baptisms any way we can, no questions asked, or getting rid of gay marriage at the ballot box.”

    One thing leads to another–the Bible comes first. Then we’ll see REAL conversions. I think we need to preach the law with love.

    I hope I’ve understood this article correctly, and if I have, I’d really like to write some more about this…especially being a young Southern Baptist.

  15. Not being in the SBC, I am certainly not that in tune with all that is going on in the denomination, yet as an casual onlooker I coulnd’t help but concur with what has been written. What’s interesting to me is that what awareness I have about SBC has come almost exclusively through the blogosphere.

  16. Michael, I like your post and wonder with Joe at the future, whether younger leaders will stick around or not. I have been more optimistic about it before, but the culture warriors and revivalists are getting louder and louder.

  17. Micheal,

    As always, well written and perceptive. Could there be a warning in the offing for those who would consider the solution to be, “Preaching the Word”? Since the Culture Warriors and the Texas Evangelists conflated the written word with Jesus, The Word, we seem to find ourselves in an ongoing quest for the real Jesus in the SBC. Your comment mentioning the lost referent to Jesus in the updated BFM illustrates. We have mixed objects of the Scriptural metaphor to such a degree when the phrase, “Preach the Word”, is used it is less than clear.

    Blessings as always.


  18. You know, the more I thought about it, I see all three types (actually four)of groups as operational in my church, and each one is vying for direction of our church’s future. I’m pretty much put off by the culture warriors. Prior to my arrival here, our church gave the PDL thing a try. Hardly anything came of it. But a few still think our future is in that kind of thing. I find myself having a foot in both the young leaders (emergent-esque) and reformer (back to the basics) camps.

    As Steve, it can be challenging to see what happens. One group can appear somewhat dormant, but then some shift occurs and they suddenly become quite vocal.

  19. Your mention of a Lotte Moon offering at Christmas brought back a memory from my seventh year of life, many decades ago. I was one of five little girls wearing yellow crepe paper dresses and carrying candles held in fragile candle holders made of heavy paper. We were celebrating Lotte Moon. The fact that we were carrying fire and wearing paper may not have been alarming to some, but it was to me. As we moved up the four steps to the platform to stand as “light in dark China,” symbolizing Miss Moon, I wondered what she would have thought of us. We heard that Miss Moon was the “best man the Southern Baptists ever had in China.” I wondered if she would have thought that a compliment. We blew our candles out and walked down the same four steps and went to our own little missionary meeting. Afterward, oh my, what a covered dish supper we had! Southern Baptists—- You gotta love ’em.

  20. Michael,

    You made some interesting observations. I agree with most of them. I love being a Baptist and believe that it is the closest thing to New Testament Christianity. I am saddened to see what the pragmatists and revivalists are doing in our denmomination. So many shallow conversions. We must get back to proclaiming and teaching God’s Word by our words AND actions. The world sees very little love from the church today. (One exception to this statement would be the great disaster relief work the SBC is doing.)

    Let’s all pray for the direction of our denomination (SBC). We need to return to our biblical reformed roots while maintaining a fervent love for our fellow man and a desire to see him/her come to Christ.


  21. While I have heartily disagreed with a lot of what you have said in the past, I appreciate your honesty and your thorough-going observations on this post. I think your categories of Culture Warrior, Texas-Evangelist, and Younger Leader are fairly accurate and definately very telling of the power struggle in the SBC. I know you disagree vehemenently with much of Contemporary Calvinism (especially of the Baptistic brand), but I do appreciate your cogent and irenic evaluation of the Founder’s. I do hope that the Founders will be a rallying group in the SBC in the future. One thing that I believe you left out in your future expectations is where the seminaries will lead us in the future. Living in the shadow of SBTS and being a graduate of NOBTS, I feel confident that the academic vigor will return to the SBC (envigorated by Younger Leaders, many of whom are not of the clergical kind) and will bring a swift capsizing of the Texas Evangelists. If SBTS is any indication of the future of the SBC (especially in light of the fact that they are headed toward becoming the flagship once again as well as the largest of the SBC), this might signal a quicker swing toward the Founder’s perspective and possibly away from the Culture Warrior dangers. We can certainly hope.

    Thanks again for your post — you have won my readership back (not that you needed it or that you coveted it, but you did earn it by a meaningful, humble, and well written treatise on the state of the SBC). This is the kind of stuff we need more of from the iMonk – challenging, controversial, cogent, and encouraging.

  22. D.R.- I appreciate your gracious words. I hope that we can be friends, and I hope the fact that I am not 100% in anyone’s camp doesn’t hinder that friendship. Thanks again.

  23. This is the best description of the currect SBC that I have ever read. I really believe that if the young leaders stick around and really get involoved, there is a lot of hope for the future.

  24. Well-written, as always. Very insightful analysis of the state of affairs in the SBC. Almost makes me glad that I did not grow up Baptist.

  25. I’m not so sure I really want to be 100% in anyone’s camp, except Christ’s. I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 when Paul admonished that we all agree with one another, and reminds us that it is CHRIST who was crucified for us, not Paul, Cephas, Apollos (New Leaders, Reformists, SBCers, PDCers, Calvinists etc….)

    Maybe we, as logical, intricately simple human beings, just over-compicate matters, trying to exponentially explain & name our salvation instead of just living it.

  26. Monk…where does the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) fit in the picture? They are not fundies, but seem to share a common indifference to Reformed thrology or any other theological foundation–except pragmatism. They seem just as enamoured with PDL. We are currently doing a series on worship in my CBF church. It has great potential for reforming the worship patterns of the congregation as a whole–such as entering the sanctuary in silence (gasp) and introducing confessional responses. But it appears it’s in danger of ending up as a set of suggestions for personal devotion.

  27. Though I have a lot of theological affinity with many of my CBF friends, I see no optimistic prospects, for the following reasons:

    1. The CBF was born in anger, and its anger at fundamentalism has never been transformed into a positive vision that would appeal to anyone not angry at the SBC. This is a huge problem and I don’t see any solution. The CBF needs to honestly ask itself if there is any reason for its existence other than as a protest movement.

    2. Everything that is “positive” about the CBF is done better by other denominations. CBFers would all be better in the ABC, etc. It is ridiculous for the CBF to be developing schools and mission resources of their own.

    3. The issue of gays, gay ordination and gay marriage is going to rip the CBF apart. I’ve known that from the beginning when I was going to SOuthern Baptist Alliance and early CBF meetings.

    4. The CBF has some ethical issues in representing itself as a denomination. Many “CBF Chruches” are SBC churches with some CBF supporting members.

    I think the CBF will dwindle and eventually associate with another denomination.

  28. To Mr. Spencer,

    Thank you for preparing this wonderful article. I’m a Southern Baptist but not one person in my church votes Republican. This is because I live in Canada.

    I think the Texas evangelists should step outside their Bible-belt bubble. If they came to Ontario they would be humbled. Many people have no idea what a Baptist is, let alone a Southern Baptist. When I tell people that I am a Baptist they sometimes assume I am a member of an obscure cult.

    Perhaps if the Texas evangelists stayed for a few years they would focus less on mobilizing cultural warriors and more on shepherding their flocks. Gay marriage is already legal here, so they could redirect their energy to proclaiming the gospel of Christ.

    Thank you again for using the gifts of writing and analyzing the Lord has granted you to edify and encourage believers living around the world.

    Respectfully submitted,


  29. Michael,

    I thought this article was perceptive, and I found it well done. However, I wish you could have applied the same skills to your analysis of the CBF. I think you have a rather caricatured view of the CBF, and that it just does not reflect the reality of the organization or the faith of the people in it. It seems like you’ve become exactly like your critics and treated someone else exactly like they treat you. It’s ironic that you are doing to the CBF what you constantly lament being done to you. I’ll respond to your points with my own perspective. Hopefully, you’ll find it helpful.


    “1. The CBF was born in anger, and its anger at fundamentalism has never been transformed into a positive vision that would appeal to anyone not angry at the SBC.”

    –You’re part correct: there was a lot of anger when the CBF was formed. But the anger was mostly in response to the abuse that was doled out by the fundamentalists in power at the SBC. It was in response to the firings, the theological labeling, the accusations, the false charges, the forced retirements, the intimidations, the threats, etc., etc. At the same time, however, the movement was born out of necessity: large number of good Christians who wouldn’t go along with the fundamentalist line at the SBC had nowhere else to go. They were frozen out of denominational positions, and their voice wasn’t being listened to. They were excluded from participating in the seminaries, in leadership organizations, and in making decisions at the denominational level about where the money their churches were sending to the SBC was going. If you’re told that you don’t belong–and if you’re forcibly expelled in many cases–what else are you going to do?

    And how an organization started does not dictate what it becomes. Do we not believe Christ takes what was once wrong and turns it into something good? Read the CBF website. Read the sermons of the pastors on there. Look at the ministries that are happening. Read about the missionaries. And notice that you won’t find anything “angry” at the SBC anywhere. They’ve moved on–years ago. They are practicing the presence of Christ in the world.

    In other words, treat the CBF in the same way YOU always demand to be treated by your critics. You don’t demand that they agree, but you ask that they treat you fairly and listen to you. Why not give the CBF the same courtesy?


    “The CBF needs to honestly ask itself if there is any reason for its existence other than as a protest movement.”

    –For a protest movement, they sure don’t do a lot of protesting. Ever hear a CBF leader criticizing the SBC except in response to an SBC attack? If anything exists as a “protest movement,” it’s the SBC leadership that fostered the takeover. And again, what about the thousands of people and hundreds of churches that identify with the CBF more closely than any other denomination? Do they not have a right to work together, like Baptists have traditionally done?


    “2. Everything that is “positive” about the CBF is done better by other denominations. CBFers would all be better in the ABC, etc. It is ridiculous for the CBF to be developing schools and mission resources of their own.”

    –Really? EVERYTHING that is “positive” (why the scare quotes?) in the CBF is done better elsewhere? They’re inferior in EVERY respect? The ABC, which is about to split apart and has dwindling numbers, is superior to CBF in every way? That’s an absurd overstatement.

    It’s ridiculous to have schools? What if you don’t agree with what the SBC schools are teaching? What if you don’t buy the 2000 BF&M, which removed Christ as the criterion of scripture, that is enforced at SBC institutions? Do you simply not go to seminary, or just suck it up and betray your theological convictions to attend one? What about the churches that identify with the CBF? Should they not have seminaries to send their students to, and to receive ministers from? What’s ridiculous is the idea that hundreds of churches shouldn’t have this option. or be ridiculed for doing so.

    And the CBF isn’t “developing” schools. They partner with schools that were already formed. Schools like Duke Divinity School, Truett at Baylor, or Richmond. All they do is provide scholarship assistance, other funding, and network support for these schools, and these schools are producing excellent pastors, ministers, missionaries, social workers, etc. These schools have faculty that were probably some of your former profs at Southern. Good Christian men and women. Is everything they do ridiculous?

    I’m a graduate from one of the CBF affliated seminaries. I wouldn’t trade my experience there for anything. It changed my life and formed me to be like Christ more than anything else I have ever experienced. My ministry is richer and more true because of what I learned there. And that was ridiculous?

    And missions? So if you’re a Baptist who thinks the IMB is too fundamentalist and you don’t agree with the 2000 BF&M that the missionaries have to affirm, but you also think that the ABC is too liberal, are you stuck with no options? Why is it ridiculous to want to send missionaries that reflect your churches? Why is it ridiculous to send missionaries at all? Should we only have a just a few organizations and not develop any more? And what about the fact that the CBF intentionally sends missionaries to parts of the 10/40 window that the IMB overlooks? People are being reached that wouldn’t be reached otherwise. Is that ridiculous?


    “3. The issue of gays, gay ordination and gay marriage is going to rip the CBF apart. I’ve known that from the beginning when I was going to Southern Baptist Alliance and early CBF meetings.”

    –The CBF has issued clear stances on their view of homosexuality. There is a diversity of opinion on the issue in the CBF, and you’re right that there will likely be divisons over this issue in the future. But is that any different than the rifts that are going to divide the SBC in the future? In other words, is the presence of potential divisions in the future (which are just that–potential) totally invalidating of the CBF?

    If divisions over theological issues totally invalidated denominations, what would we have said to the early church struggling with the Trinity? To Augustine as the battled his various opponents? To the Reformers? To Karl Barth as he was writing the Barmen Declaration against the Nazis and the German Church? Do difficult issues that might divide a group make that group hopeless?

    In the end, your comments are idle speculation. They issue of gays in the CBF has no more potential to rip the group apart than the issue of Calvinism has the potential to rip the SBC apart. It might happen. But probably not. Until then, what you’ve known since the early days is just your own guess. Is THAT is supposed to be definitive in any way?


    “4. The CBF has some ethical issues in representing itself as a denomination. Many “CBF Chruches” are SBC churches with some CBF supporting members.”

    –It’s true that a lot of churches listed as contributing to the CBF have just a segment of members contributing. But there are also many, many CBF churches that are solely aligned with the denomination. And there are lots of churches that have half of the church giving one way, and half the other. How is that reality an “ethical” issue? If the CBF constantly paraded around how many churches it has in the denomination as a sign of its strength, then that would be different. But the CBF has intentionally steered away from such measurements. They simply list churches that contribute to CBF, in whatever form, as contributing churches. To be a “CBF church”, you simply have to contribute and participate in the life of the denomiantion and share basic core convictions with it (convictions which resemble the lose Baptist network of ages past, not the strict conformity of today). That’s how Baptists traditionally functioned, until Paige and the crew came along and set new standards.

    But are you trying to say that they’re aren’t many CBF churches, and that the whole thing is a sham? That it’s really just a few liberals and a few pockets of CBF people stuck in SBC churches? That this whole CBF thing is a sham? That’s absurd. There are several hundred graduates of CBF sponsored seminaries graduating each year. Where are they going? They seem to be finding churches to work in. The CBF has millions of dollars in its budget. Where is that coming from? Thousands of people attend its assembly meeting–what churches are they representing?

    If there’s an ethical issue, it’s bragging about being the largest denomination in the U.S. based on membership rolls–of which maybe 15-20% show up on any given Sunday? And the SBC is not guilty of that?


    In reality, Michael, you’ve bought into the SBC spin and have judged a group of people inaccurately because you haven’t bothered to listen to them. You have dismissed their prospects for the future with no real knowledge of their ministries. You have demeaned their efforts while those very efforts are making a difference for Christ in the world. You have declared your fellow Christians’ efforts to join together to further the cause of Christ hopeless. That just isn’t right.

    You have become exactly what lament in your critics, and you didn’t even blink before doing it.

  30. I am not an expert on the CBF and will not be saying anything else about the CBF on this thread. I will also not allow any further posting on the CBF on this thread. This discussion is about the SBC.

  31. Michael,

    First, this is not a post about CBF, so I hope you don’t delete it. This is about clearing up any misunderstading about my previous post and it’s tone.

    I re-read my post, and I just don’t see a trace of rudeness in it. Maybe it’s hard to read someone’s tone off of the internet. I assure you that it was not an angry tone in my head as I wrote it, and as I read it, it still does not read angry. I ask that you read it in the calm, slightly disappointed tone it was written in.

    Did I critique you? Sure. I disagree with your perceptions, because I think they’re inaccurate. But was I angry? No–just disappointed. But I was respectful but firm and, I think, quite fair. You offered opinions, and I countered with my own take. If I am not allowed to do that here, then I apologize. You’re free, of course, to disagree with anything I’ve said.

    And by “giving them courtesy”, I meant that you give someone a fair hearing and present them as they themselves want to be presented and then critique that. For example, if one were to critique something about you, it would be better for them to start by presenting your own perceptions of what YOU stand for, instead of critiquing the perceptions of you as described by someone likes James White. For someone like you who is constantly in the same boat and is often critiqued unfairly, I hope you might be able to see the distinction.

    Michael, I’m a regular IM reader. I read every post you write on here. I’ve defended you in comments and on other blogs. I just disagreed about your take, because I thought it was unfair and inaccurate, and I responded. I apologize for any offense taken; it was certainly not intended. I hope you can accept the critique in the firm but friendly way that it was offered.

  32. Keith, I am really glad you are an IM reader, and I’m pretty sure you will understand me when I say that while I stand by everything I said about the CBF, and say these things to CBF friends all the time…I am NOT an anti-CBF ranter, and I am not offering some hard-headed critique of the CBF. A poster asked my opinion, and I gave it, just like I do to my CBF friends all over Ky. You’ve now given the other side of the story, and that’s what these comments are all about. But your post contained personal comments that fell outside of the discussion of the CBF. That’s the difference.

    When I said there are “some” ethical issues, I meant exactly that. Some. When I said the CBF has a gay problem, I meant exactly that, and everyone associated with moderate/liberals knows that, too. When I said the CBF needs to get a positive vision that appeals to someone other that people angry at fundamentalism in the SBC, I meant exactly that, and if someone thinks that non SBC people want to visit a CBF church and hear constant critiques of the SBC, they are wrong. As to schools and mission boards, we simply disagree. I believe the proliferation of these resources- like the CBF seminary in Ky- is ridiculous. I’m all for the partnering efforts you mentioned, but the Baptist Seminary of Ky is an attempt to start a separate seminary to produce CBF friendly pastors to influence SBC churches toward the CBF. It’s as useless as the Bible schools conservatives started when they were on the outs and now want the SBC and state conventions to prop up.

    None of these comments were rude or discourteous.

    Back to the SBC discussion, please.

  33. iMONK:

    Mark Dever President of the SBC? Where do I sign up? He is tremendous!

    Your words are very well said. You write with the clarity, humor and precision that drips of the Puritans of old. Your analysis is spot on about the SBC. Pragmatism and politics do rule the day in the SBC; and the grid by which they seem to “test all things” is numbers… as opposed to doctrine (Titus 1:9). To quote and paraphrase Packer: “The [SBC] is three thousand miles wide and a half inch deep.”

    Patterson, Hunt, Rogers, Stanley, etc. all propagate an Arminian gospel that is anthropocentric rather than Christocentric. Sovereignty, in their glossary, demands man’s cooperation–when salvation is all of grace (Eph. 2:1-9).

    The SBC fears the Doctrines of Grace, for it will rob their biblical motivational speeches from the hollow button pushing of soliciting 1,000.000 baptisms and the Finneyesque appeal for souls. The Lord alone builds His church and our methods add nothing to the power of the gospel of God (Roms. 1:16f).

    Thank you again for this article; and may the Lord continue to honor your commitment to Christ and His truth.

    Grace and peace,

    Steve Camp

    AudienceONE Ministries

    2 Cor. 4:5-7

  34. Interesting blog…

    I am curious as to who some examples of each of the 4 categories are?

    Culture Warriors
    Texas Evangelists
    Young Leaders

  35. Just out of curiosity — how do you see the issue of chiliaism playing out in the future of the SBC? Theodore Spurgeon, after all, was a passionate post-mil Calvinist. How long will it take to purge the “left below” contingent?