January 16, 2021

Southern Baptist Identity: A conversation (2)

stetzersm.jpgI am continuing my conversation with Frank “Centuri0n” Turk concerning Ed Stetzer’s presentation of Missionalism and Baptist Identity. Here are Frank’s first, second and third questions. My first question is below, and now here’s the second.

Franks says: As a kind of back atcha from your Q2, and also from your Q1 answer, you seem to want to discount the influence of people the leaders of the Convention would plainly and quickly label as “outside of orthodoxy” when that is frankly one of the the key objections SBC folks have about the “missional” movement. You have been personally quick to repudiate guys like Tony Jones, Mclaren, and others because, in your view, they don’t really represent the “missional” view because they are theological kooks.

The problem for the conventional SBCer is that these tares seem to be mixed with the wheat to the degree that you can’t find any wheat. Let’s say I conceded to you that part of the problem there is a failure on the part of the conventional-types to identify all wheat as wheat — that is, there is Durum wheat, and Club Wheat, and Einkorn Wheat, and Emmer Wheat, and Spelt Wheat — and just because we’re used to having one kind of wheat doesn’t mean the others aren’t wheat. But in that, when there’s a real problem on the counter-cultural side of the matter — that is, some have gone so far to emulate the culture that they aren’t offering anything different than the culture — isn’t the criticism of this kind of so-called missiology a legitimate concern for the ambassadors of Christ? Shouldn’t the SBC seek to serve in an informed way here and abide by (if not provide) some kind of doctrinal standard which those with whom it wants to partner ought to agree (if not conform)?

If not, why not?

My answer: I’m glad to continue this conversation.

You have been personally quick to repudiate guys like Tony Jones, Mclaren, and others because, in your view, they don’t really represent the “missional” view because they are theological kooks.

Each one of the men you mention is a different case, and my reservations about identifying with them vary. I wouldn’t hesitate to read a Mclaren book, but when our state convention decided to un-invite him to a state evangelism conference, I completely understood and was supportive. He’s smart and insightful, but his answers to serious questions don’t impress me as being any different, on the whole, from the mainline liberal answers of 50 years ago.

But it’s important to say, as Stetzer does, that smart, insightful people aren’t always inside our total box of orthodoxy, and we should remember there’s a difference between aligning with men like Mclaren officially and reading their book for insight or hearing them out and analyzing their point of view. The GBA blogs simply go to ridiculous lengths in ignoring these kinds of distinctions. We need to engage with the ideas of some of these people WITHOUT aligning with them, and we can do that.

It should be said that a lot of “solid Calvinists” have nothing to say about missions other than to post pictures of William Carey. I could, but won’t, name major reformed pastors who almost exclusively write on the subject of doctrinal discernment, and almost nothing on church planting or missional methodology. Their “method” is to announce theology, and to act as if they don’t have methodological or cultural issues in their own setting. I would suggest that every effective missionary sending agency knows that theology must be put into some kind of church planting expression, and that expression needs to be thought through for effectiveness. I would also suggest that constant discernment-orienting preaching can’t be the front end of new church planting. Perhaps some “solid conservatives” ought to consider that younger SBC pastors don’t see drawing lines between themselves and other Christians as the primary thrust of doing Great Commission church planting in their culture. Yes, it has a place, but a never ending recitation of who differs from us is not the way to build a church. Again, I mention Tim Keller and ask you to note the difference between Keller and many other mainstream reformed leaders.

That some people whom we wouldn’t fund, partner with or bring to our churches have something worth hearing to say on methodology and cultural influence is the phenomenon you are describing. I believe Stetzer is right to say we have a good confession, and we should let it work in guiding us through what we might learn from ANY source: emerging, Calvinistic, Arminian, revivalistic, fundamentalist and so on.

Yes, let’s critique ALL missiology. But not from the standpoint that some of us have it all right, all the time. Stetzer says that the default position that innovation is bad is unacceptable. Amen. That’s not a critique. That’s having your head somewhere with a very bad view.

(I find it interesting, by the way, that the current SBC is literally a museum of what was the accepted culture of corporate America in the 1950’s through the 1970’s. While some SBC leaders are pointing out the cultural compromises of emerging churches, the SBC sold thousands of churches a corporate model that was uncritiqued and unquestioned. Irony anyone?)

To use an example that is in the news, Journey Church in St. Louis has a theology pub because it’s good missional methodology to go onto the turf of the ones you want to reach and go beyond the barrier rather than insist the unbeliever always come to your church building. There are reasonable issues in this situation to discuss regarding alcohol abuse , but clearly it is NOT the business of the SBC at any level to tell Journey church their methodology IF that methodology doesn’t violate a clear tenet of confessional theology. And it’s wrong to tie church planting funds into that same kind of methodology laundering.

Shouldn’t the SBC seek to serve in an informed way here and abide by (if not provide) some kind of doctrinal standard which those with whom it wants to partner ought to agree (if not conform)?

Interesting sentence. The SBC, as the national convention entity, should do little because it can do little. The local association, with its closer relationship to the local church, should do more. Hear me clearly: The doctrinal standard should be unmistakable and mutually accepted. But then, why don’t we TRUST one another, support one another and learn from one another?

When I hear SBC brethren talk about “standardizing” methods and even worship music, I wonder (factiously) why we don’t just elect a pope and some cardinals, appoint a congregation for conformity, and become a hierarchy? The essence of SBC cooperation is to take our hard fought, shared theology and SERVE one another so that some of us can do what all of us will never do.

[BTW….this is a real live issue for me. Our school gets about 5% of its funds from the Kentucky Baptist CP. We use methods most churches won’t use. I am not interested in the SBC or anyone else going beyond our confessional ties- which we greatly value- and telling me I can’t have Noel Heikkinen preach to our students because he’s kinda sorta missional emerging or isn’t SBC. We’ve been part of the KBC for almost all of our 108 years. Trust us, until there are confessional or ethical reasons not to. But don’t tell me what kind of music to use.]


  1. I am working on an article on emerging and Southern Baptists and yes, I think I do see what you mean by irony at some of the stuff the SBC has been able to swallow or put up with in the seeker churches. I believe that the main explanation is that Sothern Baptists have a very strong desire to see growth.

    This could be a hopeful sign. Insofar as some of the doctrine loving emerging types demonstrate effectiveness in church growth, especially in urban settings where Southern Baptists have been weak, it could be hard for the SBC to resist learning from them and welcoming them over time if they want to be part of the SBC. I certainly hope this is what happens. I find many students at MBTS where I teach interested in the emerging movement. And some key older established SBC types are fascinated with what Keller is doing.

  2. steve yates says

    not to be annoying (which, sadly, i find it sometimes when i hear about controversy after controversy happening within the sbc leadership), but what ARE our “confessional ties”? it seems we can’t decide on what even that means, and the controversy develops when we can’t decide on anyting.

    current state of the sbc:

    Our confession (BF&M 2000) says _________ (insert passage here) so some people take it to mean ___________ (insert any less than 1950’s conservative position here ) and we take it to mean __________ (conservative resurgence position here). We’re in power, so we step on you instead of talking about things.

    it’s frustrating, because I see the positions of both sides, but I don’t undertsand why we won’t allow even SOME hint at diversity.

    for glory…

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