December 5, 2020

The Empty Shelf in the Southern Baptist Bookstore

empty_shelves.jpgI’m very interested in what current SBTS and other SBC seminary students have to say about your future in the SBC. Will you stay if Calvinism becomes a divisive, “lose your job” issue in the SBC? Would you prefer a Driscoll, Piper or Mahaney Network (T4G) to the current SBC?

I’m a post-evangelical, and that applies to the SBC. But some of what I want to keep is stuff my tradition has in its attic! To be post-evangelical differs from being emerging in the sense that I want to keep my Baptist polity, historical (not current) view of the sacraments, cooperative missions vision and emphasis on missions.

Don’t stand too close to me in public. I’m going to blog your conversation. Yes, I’m that kind of writer.

After the Louisville Institute sabbatical orientation, I stopped at a few bookstores, including the large Lifeway Bookstore on the campus of my alma mater (’84), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I’ve been visiting the SBTS bookstore since the late 1970’s. I’ve watched it change through the years as SBTS and evangelicals themselves have changed. Today’s Southern Seminary Bookstore is a cornucopia of Calvinism, reflecting a seminary that is leading the Calvinistic resurgence in the SBC. If you are a lifelong Southern Baptist who would have ever found it difficult to believe that pastors in your convention would buy bobbleheads of Martin Luther, busts of John Calvin or framed prints of various infant-baptizing, state-church sponsoring reformers, I have news for you: It’s big business. There may be a head of Lottie Moon in there somewhere, but the business of little statues and pictures is almost entirely a presentation of Luther, Calvin and the Puritan-influenced reformers. (Apologies to your Roman Catholic friends can be sent directly to the IM post office.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a catholic Christian and I benefit from the gifting of the Holy Spirit to the church as a whole. But I was brought up in Landmark Baptist dispensational fundamentalism, and part of me is still a little rattled to see just how far the Calvinist resurgence has come in the SBC. I applaud its good fruit and pray for more, especially in the health and theology of churches. God bless The Founders, 9 Marks and their work. I also have many questions and concerns about what will happen in the SBC in the immediate future as thousands of Calvinist students make their way into a very evangelical, revivalistic, Arminian-leaning denomination.

Back to my evesdropping. I was standing at the “New Releases/Popular Authors” section. “Popular authors” these days include SBC Calvinists like Mark Dever and Al Mohler, alongside non-SBCers such as John Piper, John Macarthur and C.J. Mahaney.

Regular, Nashville published, fully Cooperative, SBC saved, trained and ordained authors? Not many. In fact, there were very, very few. A relatively empty shelf of significant influences and books, so to speak.

The subjects of my evedropping efforts were two students discussing Redeemer Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller’s new apologetics book. Keller, the rising star of the PCA and of conservative evangelicalism in general, has written the kind of book Southern Baptists have largely failed to write or promote in the last fifty years. Apologetics is just one area where the shelf of Southern Baptists is largely empty.

I don’t doubt that some Southern Baptist writers have written apologetic materials in the past, but for whatever reason, these materials passed quickly into oblivion, exerting little influence over the denomination that produced them. They are just one category of writing, thinking, teaching and publishing that find Southern Baptists largely awol. Aside from books on church growth, evangelism and the “popular” level of devotional literature, Southern Baptists have shown little interest in making major contributions to the evangelical conversation, including areas that it would seem SBCers would have taken up their pens and addressed.

It’s no surprise that Beth Moore and Rick Warren are the first two Southern Baptist writers you’ll see in most bookstores. It’s no surprise that Presbyterians are writing and publishing the books that SBC ministers in training are reading for their theology. It’s a sad fact that a younger Southern Baptist in the process of spiritual and ministerial formation would have to dig deep to find resources from his/her own tradition, even on areas as prominent as the Lord’s Supper. (Some of these areas have been addressed recently, usually by SBC Calvinist authors.)

One of the young men next to me was dressed for his trip that night to hear the band “Thrice.” When his friend hadn’t heard of the band and asked for some characterization, the young concert-goer struggled. I wanted to jump in with the right answer: Thrice is a rock band that Mark Driscoll likes and frequently mentions. Mark Driscoll, and his Mars Hill Church, joins John Piper in exerting maximum influence among young SBCers. This is a good thing from every angle except the question of the SBC’s own view of the emerging church. As is usual for the current SBC, the occasional Ed Stetzer is a voice crying in the wilderness of answering the queries of younger, missional SBCers.

These two young men quite likely represent a new Southern Baptist generation who are almost entirely formed by people outside of the SBC, it’s theology, it’s polity, it’s history and it’s cooperative mission. Their loyalty to and understanding of the SBC is quite likely marginal. They are a generation I believe will not fit well in the typical SBC church- Kevin Hash, you’re my exception :-)- and will quite likely find it easy to leave the SBC at the local and national level.

Depending on how you feel about the SBC and its future, that can be good or not-so-good news. Whatever you think, it has major implications, especially for the immediate future, as the SBC is going to polarize into camps with very different formative experiences and influences; very different leading personalities, reading lists, model churches and agendas.

I’m hearing thunder. I think there’s going to be a storm.

Before I go, let me say that the Southern Baptist dearth of formative resources is a serious problem. Try to deepen your devotional life using resources written in the SBC. Try to learn church history or understand Baptist history in its Anabaptist stream. Try to find serious reflection on the pastorate. The shelf is strangely, even embarassingly, empty, and it’s not surprising that younger, intellectually curious Southern Baptists are going to denominations and influences far outside of the Baptist family and the Baptist “ethos” to find formative, helpful resources.

And as I go out the door….does Lifeway, Broadman and the SBC’s publishing arms need to look at this issue more seriously? I know Beth Moore sells, but is it a good thing that there seems to be a bias against publishing serious Southern Baptist work? Is there really such a dearth of good writing in the SBC that our young people MUST be formed by non-Southern Baptists in their journeys?


  1. Michael,

    The fact that young SBCer’s are looking outside the Convention for formation is a good thing. It gets us out of our denominational neighborhood, deepens our appreciation of the wider Church, and helps us avoid the tunnel-vision of the “SBC is God’s greatest gift to Christianity” attitude that sometimes rears its ugly head among life-long Southern Baptists.

    What we are seeing at Southern is a return to the roots of the institution (and Southern’s roots happen to be soteriologically Reformed). Because the shelves of current Southern Baptist thinkers are often empty, students are reaching back into Baptist history and reading the theologians from 100-150 years ago. That is driving the Calvinistic resurgence. It’s a quest for meaningful identity.

    We will be a better convention if the young Southern Baptists stick it out with the Convention, incorporate the insights from the people of God outside the Convention, and yet remain true to the roots of Baptist identity.

    I pray that the shelves will not be empty for long.

  2. Your optimism as a current SBC student is a needed contribution, but you are also a staff member of an SBC church. I’m an SBTS alum and an employee of a SBC Institution.

    Frankly, I’m disturbed and quite pessimistic.

    How is cooperative missions going to survive in the future? It seems to me that you can get by with this “back to the roots” thing until you start eliminating the public invitation or preaching Dort. Then there is going to be trouble.

    When there is trouble at the national level- and there will be- where will the younger SBCers go? I can’t believe most will stay. I think many will leave and start ACTS 29/Sovereign Grace style churches.

    I am happy that SBTS is a much better school than in the past. But there are real reasons to believe that those who feel the SBC will ever be Calvinist friendly are in for a surprise in the short term at least. (Next 20 years)

    How are we going to retain Baptist distinctives if our formation as pastors, etc is handed over to Presbys and Puritans? Can we even teach our history honestly in that atmosphere? Why am I not correct to fear we will lose the basis of cooperation and our Baptist understanding of baptism and the LS?

    Let me also say that I am praying fro Dr. Mohler’s full recovery, but his attempt to become SBC President is another example of a serious departure from the classic SBC understanding of the relationships of institutions and the convention.

  3. The fact that I’m both an SBC student and a minister in an SBC church (far from the Seminary) gives me an insight into both worlds – the Seminary side and the ministry side. There are definitely reasons for pessimism, but I continue to be optimistic about the Convention.

    The majority of Southern Seminary students are not 5-point Calvinists. (Keep in mind the extension centers.) Louisville is not cranking out rabid Calvinists. Perhaps there are some who fit that category (not necessarily due to the school – many students are Reformed before every going to the school), but I do not believe it is the majority. The majority of students may indeed be friendly to the Calvinist resurgence, and like myself, agree with some aspects of reform (church discipline, integrity in membership, avoiding manipulative altar calls, etc.). But we are not all Calvinists seeking to push Calvinism on our churches.

    Some students are overly excited about Calvinism and they tend to give the rest of us a bad name. The faculty too is more balanced than people realize.

    Many young SBC-ers like myself are excited about the Cooperative Program. We look forward to helping shape the Convention in the future. The extremes (strong anti-Calvinist and those who would Calvinize everything about the SBC) will make noise, but these groups will be taken less seriously. A middle way will come through. This is the SBC, after all.

  4. I can relate to the lack of material about encouraging spiritual growth in the Southern Baptist area. I noticed the lack about 10-12 years ago.

  5. I’m not now and will never be a seminary student. But the only thing I’ve been as a Christian is “Southern Baptist”. That’s more accident than anything else. I’ve always had an interest in history, especially ancient history. I was also accustomed in my journey of spiritual exploration in various faiths to finding and absorbing teachings on the practice of the faith.

    Now, after fifteen years as a “Southern Baptist”, I find your thoughts an interesting reflection. I look at the books I’ve read and enjoyed (and considered podcasts I’ve absorbed). I only now noticed that a lot of those from whom I’ve learned are Anglican (whether American Episcopal, English, or Irish). There’s a number of Roman Catholic and Orthodox influences. I’ve enjoyed the story telling and image weaving ability of Max Lucado, but he’s Church of Christ. The only Anabaptist on my shelf is Scot McKnight, but he’s not SBC.

    Of course, I’ve explored, but am far away from Calvin and that branch of the Reformed perspective. Nor do I find the branch of the Reformed perspective named after Arminius much more helpful. The Reformed perspective based in Luther is somewhat more interesting and useful, but since I lean toward C.S. Lewis (Anglican), the Roman Catholics, the Anabaptists, and the Orthodox on the whole ‘total depravity’ thing (probably more Orthodox than the others), I never can get very far into any of the three main Reformed perspectives and their derivative streams.

    I also have studied the history of the faith quite a bit. That helps me see just how recent and unhistorical many of the current SBC beliefs and practices actually are. I wouldn’t say I feel much obligation toward or loyalty to the SBC at all. If our largish suburban congregation is any guide, I would say that’s true of half to two-thirds of the congregation. A minority are deeply loyal to the SBC, have grown up Southern Baptist in Southern Baptist families, and plan to die Southern Baptist. But most come and go pretty easily with relatively little denominational loyalty or interest. Most are not particularly “Reformed”, though, in the sense of any of the three main streams of Reformed thought (Luther, Calvin, and Arminius).

  6. Interesting. That helps explain my frustration. I joined a SBC church within the last year. I’m an academic librarian who is strongly drawn to reading and studying. I’ve been wondering where the SBC books are — historic or modern. My background is Lutheran, and I deeply appreciate their rich tradition of thoughtful writings.

  7. I have been shaped by Reformed theology. A graduate of Westminster Seminary. It has not espcaped me that in the history of reformed churches, a movement cannot be created that lasts byond three generations. Both in England and the US Calvinistical movements died very soon after beginning. It is such a common happening that it should make one wary. I am not only shaped by reformed theology, I believe it. Sort of. I intellectually feel its rationally compelling grip. But its atmosphere suffocates. I speak as one who has studied at the center of the reformed tradition. I have very seldom experienced as much aridity as I did among the reformed churches. The interesting thing is that still guys like Sproul and Piper feed me in a way I do not find elsewhere. I just wouldn’t want to go to their churches. I feel positive about the rise of Calvinism at Southern, but I am feel sorry for the churches these men will go out to. It isn’t going to be pretty. Calvinism always shoots itself in the foot. I have suspicions why, but enough said.

  8. Michael, you are exactly right that the SBC as we know it will fragment into many factions. Actually, that began in the 1970s with what has been renamed as the “conservative resurgence.” Then the dividing line was biblical inerrancy, now it’s Calvinism. Those is power will continue to drawn in the nets until all that are left are those exactly like them.

    I noticed many years ago that entire sections of books in Lifeway stores were missing or so thin that volumes occupied only a small space on the shelf for “theology,” for instance. Why are there no great Baptist thinkers/writers now? Seminary professors and leading pastors formerly provided books that were well-received, if not totally agreed with. Now, compliance is a bigger issue than competence.

    I’m reading Millenial Makeover now, a book just published about how Millenials (born 1982-2003) will remake politics and culture in even greater, more constructive ways than the Baby Boomers. With that remaking the vestiges of top-down, power-driven institutions will atrophy, which will include many denominations as we know them now. This is not a bad thing. In the meantime, the emerging conversation has captured the imagination of the Millenials (and their fellow-travellers). Don’t look for the SBC to produce new writers, or become a part of the conversation that is moving beyond it. I am with you on the post-evangelical perspective, as we have been defined more by methods than meaning. Maybe that needs to die. — Chuck

  9. Last sentence in the first paragraph should read —
    “Those in power will continue to draw in the nets until all that are left are those exactly like them.”
    Sorry, fingers went crazy. – Chuck

  10. I am a life long SBCer. My father is a Air Force chaplin sponsored by them, and I’m a current student a Midwestern (graduating in May). With all that though I am a member of what some would call an emerging church. I am probably in the minority when it comes to who influences me. Many of my classmates that are “emerging-friendly” have leanings toward the Driscoll side of the spectrum. While they may not be 5-pointers they really like the emphasis on doctrine. For me on the other hand I’m more willing to listen to guys like Olson, Pinnock, Grenz, Volf, etc. Due to that reality, I have some interesting discussions with some of my classmates.

    As far as those interested in church planting, many that I know are wanting to go outside of the SBC (including a replant of a church that a faculty member is a part of). Some are willing to accept money from the state conventions (although Missouri has been pretty up front about who they will and won’t support), but they don’t really desire to be affliated with the larger SBC. It seems to me that the way forward is to be willing to partner with other organizations, and not be so concerned about the name SBC.

  11. Rob:

    I believe the SBC is more than a “name” when it comes to church planting. Cooperative program mission funding is an ongoing miracle compared to what other denominations and groups go through. The current conservative regime has succeeded in associating the SBC with all sorts of negative things, and has left many young people seeing no difference between Acts 29 and the CP. The Cooperative Program is a vastly superior method of funding mission work, and I am afraid it may not survive.

    BTW, it’s also made affordable seminary possible for thousands of young people. If the CP goes, the seminaries will empty out because of cost.

  12. I forgot to add my side. I don’t think I would mind going back to a Southern Baptist Church someday, but it would have to be vastly different then the ones I grew up in. Whether or not the larger convention is heavily Calvinistic wouldn’t bother me as much as how it is expressed locally. I think that’s the challenge for the SBC in the coming years. Will the SBC (at the state level mostly) allow church planters to express the Gospel locally? Will they be allowed to network with other organizations even when the other organizations don’t EXACTLY line up with everything the SBC believes? The answer to those questions seem very important to me. Missouri for example has already answered those questions. But I see church planters on the Kansas-Nebraska side having much more freedom.

  13. IMonk:

    I think I would agree with the idea that the CP has been and still is doing great things. That includes, like you said, sponsoring my education. But I can’t help but ask if it’s so great (which I agree) why is it fighting for survival? I don’t ask that in a negative way. I’m just curious what you think.

    As for Acts 29 and CP being viewed equally negative…I don’t see that in my area. I think most of the students that know anything about Acts 29 view it as far superior to CP. That’s probably has a lot to do with the leaders (i.e. Driscoll and Patrick).

  14. Well if younger leaders view Acts 29 type funding is better than Cooperative program funding, then it’s a lost cause. Cooperative Program funded missionaries don’t have to raise their own funds, and all SBC churches have a stake in their ministry. It’s why we have the largest missionary force in the world.

  15. I’m SBTS and local church staff. You’ve made some good observations, the influences are leading to a much more blended tradition.

    Baptist History is still required for the M.Div and the Cooperative Program seminar is mandatory for all degrees. Dr. Moore leads a class to the convention every summer – I’ve heard this is excellent. Beyond that their is little emphasis on “Baptist Identity.”

    I think most students want to learn from the best writers and don’t think about their denominational background. The downside is we often take faculty or peer recommendations as the sole determiner of a books worth.

    The other side of this exchange is all the influence SBC seminaries are having on the larger evangelical community.

  16. ghetto mama says

    Okay, for starters, do you mind if I get a little apple-polishing out of the way right up front?

    It’s like this: I’ve been reading your blog for a a couple of months now – and it’s such an incredible relief to *finally* find someone who actually gets it. And you’re not just some disillusioned, jaded, angry guy with something to prove. You’re obviously an intelligent, well-read, Christ-following, godly man who doesn’t just rely on his own understanding but trusts in God and Scripture. And – added bonus – YOU GET IT!

    I just really don’t know anyone (in real life)who gets it. And you put yourself out there everyday. You seem to handle the accusers (I decided not to use the first word that came to mind) so well – with real confidence. No tiara-cracking drama. Amazing. I admire that.

    I just want to say THANK YOU for putting yourself out there. I am personally thankful for the benefit of your blog and your insight and your knowledge and years of experience. And – oh, did I already say this – you get it!

    What a relief to know I’m not just a jaded soul wondering around with some mixed-up thoughts that mean nothing. My thoughts and reflections about the church are not so wandering and meandering after all. What a surprise to find I’m not the heathen my church friends thought I was. Yea!

    So I really do want to say thanks. Really.

    So, all that said – I really want to understand the things you are talking about, but some of it is beyond my understanding. How far back will you roll your eyes if I ask some questions you’ve probably answered 93 times?

    If you can even give me a link or point me in the right direction, I’d appreciate it. I did do some searches, but I found so much info that it was hard to pin down what I was looking for.


    What exactly is the Reformed Church? I have a general idea, but can you help me pin down the basics?

    What is the Acts 29 Church? What is the Sovereign Grace Church? What are the basics? What makes them different from other churches?


  17. ghetto mama says

    Well, put a dunce hat on me and stick me in the corner. I just noticed that my own comment, when posted, has a link to Acts 29. I obviously overlooked that in the post. Ignore that part of the question. Sorry.

  18. Time will tell if I will fit into a typical SBC church. This is from someone who just got back from a three day conference on Church Discipline.
    I think that will get me fired more quickly and make me more unwelcome associationally, than calvinism ever would.

    It’s nice to know someone is thinking of me. :

  19. Reformed = Basically the reformation as it came from Calvin and the Puritans. It’s American Presbyterianism in the main, with a few mutts and strays in tow.

    Acts 29 is a church planting Network started by Mark Driscoll. I’m sure it Googles. Lots of young conservative reformed leaning church planters in it.

    Sovereign Grace Ministries will also google. Charismatic Calvinists. Started and led by C.J. Mahaney.

  20. Here’s irony:

    Even as Reformed factions within the SBC are remaking America’s largest Protestant denomination, the remnants of Reformed thought around the world are being remade by Pentecostals. Where Reformed churches once sent enormous numbers of missionaries to foreign lands from about 1830-1930, today the bulk of missionary work across the globe is being done by Pentecostals, with very little Reformed presence at all. South America, Africa, and Asia are increasingly Pentecostal, in some spots exclusively so.

    I would suspect that in about thirty or forty years time the SBC will have seen the twilight of their dalliance with old-line Reformed theology and will be pushing toward Pentecostalism.

    Don’t believe me? Consider that charismatic Sovereign Grace churches are the hottest of the hot Reformed churches. Even as the SBC is struggling between the Calvinist and old-line Anabaptist factions, so Sovereign Grace churches will split the Reformed movement into two pieces, charismatic and non-charismatic. With the momentum being with the Sovereign Grace churches, the direction will be charismatic and the look of the Reformed movement will increasing be Pentecostal in flavor.

    Bet on it.

  21. Bror Erickson says

    Don’t be bothered by a Luther bobble head, at your seminary.
    Us Lutherans have long been acustomed to the fact that the people most enthusiastic about erecting luther Statues, buying a Luther Protrait, or Bobble head, are the least likely to read or listen to Luther.
    For instance, when the reformed took over Wittenburg, the Luther statue was erected there by them as a sort of Calvinist victory flag.

  22. Uncle Mikey says

    I am not surprise that your findings in the Southern bookstore is such even at my alma mater at California Baptist lacks in content of strong theological material outside of some good commentaries and etc. What derails my want to be involve with the SBC is the lack of interst in disciplship and spiritual transformation within its memebers.
    The SBC seems to care more about the cooperative funds and keeping a calvinistic thoughts alive and pressing in the minds of their younger pastors and missionaries. I do not discount the importance of such doctrine, but what is the point if we fail to grow disciples that imitate their Lord and only know good doctrine?
    I feel a working knowledge of thoughts from the whole bodyh of Christ is benifical in growing in the truth of who God is. Whether or not those thoughts actually are biblically sound. My plight is not whether or not we become too open to many thoughts it is that we become too sold on tradtion rather that we are open to other thoughts. Which in might drive us closer to God and His truth.

  23. Chris Stiles says

    Just to add to Dan Edelen’s comment above – the picture over here in the UK is similiar. The more extreme ends of Pentecostalism is growing the fastest.

    The only church movement with any sort of Reformed bent that’s growing over here is .. (NFI) New Frontiers, a Sovereign Grace like movement. Reformed CofE churches tend to lose members to NFI churches, while reformed Baptist churches are starting to join NFI while remaining members of the Baptist Union. This years NFI leaders conference will feature a certain Mark Driscoll as the main speaker ..

  24. I guess I am one of those younger SBC folks….studying not in the Reformed tradition, but in the holiness family of thought.

    Anyway….Clap Clap Clap. Great thoughts.

  25. Michael,

    The bias in the SBC isn’t against publishing “serious Southern Baptist work.” To put it bluntly, you’re right that there isn’t much serious work on Baptist history, theology or polity in the Southern Baptist tradition that isn’t Calvinist, and the reason is because the ones who have done and are doing serious work on those issues were figuratively excommunicated in the conservative takeover that began to hit the tipping point in SBC seminaries right when (and after) you were at Southern.

    The serious work on Baptist issues are being done by moderate Baptists, who are being published by university presses at Baylor, Mercer, and other publishing houses like Smyth and Helwys and Judson Press. That’s where the serious Baptist history (e.g., Torbet, and more recently Leonard), polity and theological works (e.g., McBeth, and dare I say McClendon, to satisfy your Anabaptist tastes?) are to be found.

    Those books (and I mean, at the least, a majority of them) aren’t sold at SBC seminaries anymore because they are viewed as the “tainted” production of “liberals.” Sad, but true. The SBC began to lose the history and identity that you wish how it had, when it chose two decades ago to value dogmatic doctrinal conservatism over compromise and unity as it pertained specifically to the Cooperative Program.

    You’re right about Calvinism. It will continue to take over and it will further the divide the SBC–something the “old guard” who captained the takeover (i.e., Paige Patterson and Adrian Rodgers) never imagined would ever happen, because they were still firmly in the seat of power (and beating the issue of biblical inerrancy like a dead horse) when people like Al Mohler and Mark Dever were salivating over Calvin (and, more importantly Dortian Calvinism, and the Westminster Confession), Hooker (or Owen, take your pick), and Edwards, while in the midst of finishing up their M.Div. and doctoral theses.

  26. Michael,

    In your browsing of the SBTS Lifeway bookshelves, did you find any of Don Whitney’s books? He’s one SBC pastor/teacher/writer who, I think, has attempted to answer for the lack of formative resources. If I’m not mistaken, he’s now at SBTS.

  27. Don Whitney is a blessed exception to my observation. I’ve written an entire post about him that I’ll try to find later.

  28. Random comments from someone who mostly agrees with this article:

    — LifeWay sucks. Sorry Ed Stetser, but LifeWay is frankly pointed at and engaged in calling itself an authority and catering to the the lowest common denomination, uh, denominator. However, Southern Baptists swear by it.

    — The SBC is a frankly-illiterate denomination, SBTS and the other good seminaries notwithstanding. Let me explain what I mean by that. I know a church whose pastor is preaching through the whole Bible, book by book, a-la-Dever, in order to demonstrate the unity and beauty of Scripture and outline its central point, which is Jesus Christ. And the “sunday school” is supporting that effort by reading, at a slower pace, the whole Bible, book by book, to underscore the high points and build a unified picture of the Bible for Adults. That church has people in it who are complaining that the teachers of that church have abandoned “bible interpretation” because they don’t really do word studies anymore. Think about that one.

    — I think it’s hilarious that in a denomination that claims to reject female eldership, Beth Moore outsells everyone else. And I think it is also telling that LifeWay will not publish charismatic books (unless Blackaby writes one), but it will publish books of instruction from the Bible by any woman when she could not be a pastor or even a Sunday School superintendant in most SBC churches.

    — LifeWay needs to find out why Crossway can publish more, better books on the daily application of the faith via a theological foundation than they can and will. They need to find out why Crossway will publish Kent Hughes’ book on faithfulness in ministry when LifeWay sells marketing books.

    — Because this is true most of all: LifeWay/Broadman publishes a ridiculous volume of stuff. They have an enormous catalog. iMonk’s criticism that, sadly, the theology section is almost empty, and what’s there isn’t much worth reading, (again, exceptions noted [Thom Rainer]) is a disgrace.

    And I had a criticism for iMonk (because, you know …), but I’m so geeked up now I forgot what it was. Something about something. Pheh.

  29. I’m a 26-year-old, a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Houston’s campus), and have attended and served in SBC churches all my life – until a year ago. I’m currently serving as Worship Pastor in a conservative Independent Bible Church. I’m also theologically Reformed.

    One note that I’ll make about young SBC’ers and your emphasis on Baptist history is that Baptist history has never been made an issue at all in the SBC churches I’ve attended (in Massachusetts, Kansas, and Texas) for two and a half decades. My father is an SBC minister, as was his father before him. Yet I consider myself largely ignorant of Baptist history. I received my bachelor’s degree from Howard Payne University, but was allowed to substitute another church history course for Baptist history. The course is approaching in my M.Div. studies, but my point is this: I’m not sure SBC churches have really made much effort to educate their members about their history and heritage. Sort of sad, I think, but my perception, nonetheless.

    I have much respect for the SBC, and am glad to still be tied to the denomination by being educated in one of its seminaries (even if I’m not currently a member of an SBC church). But your post very much describes me. Most of my significant theological influences are outside the SBC stream. In fact, aside from Al Mohler and Mark Dever (on the obviously Reformed side of the SBC), I don’t think I’ve read any very substantial contributions from SBC’ers. There are some worthy offerings available at the academic level (mostly from SBTS profs), but for the average SBC church member, it’s quite easy to drift into general unawareness of Southern Baptist history and doctrine.

    Not sure what that adds to the conversation, if any, but I thought I’d share my perspective.

  30. Some of this just reflects what is going on in Christianity as a whole. Denominational ties are becoming less and less important. With churches like Saddleback and Willowcreek becoming one phase of the new way. Another phase is conservative churches across denominational and somewhat strange theological boundries (i.e. The Anglo-Catholic and conservative reformed Anglicans are working together against a very liberal ECUSA) are working together. Many churches see bigger fish to fry compared to the differences between Anglican and Baptist or Presbyterian and Lutheran.

    So I see it more and more common for ministers and/or churches to be stepping out of just their denomination and into an Evangelical culture at large. And even beyond Evangelicalism into a “Conservative Christian” culture. Many Gen Xers, like myself, are fed up with much of the denominational bickering and the fact that conservative Christians seem to fight more than work together.

    I do not see myself as tied to the SBC per se. I could see myself happy in more than one other denomination. Actually in many ways I am unhappy with the SBC (reading the church fathers does that to you)but like a very popular and brillant professor (who happens to be Baptist) I will probably stay because that is where God dropped me. And it is better for me to stay and reform the SBC than to leave and have less impact somewhere else. I am not saying that I am such a great guy but some of my views are different than a typical SBCer but would be very typical of other denominations. So I can influence the SBC but not so much the other denomination. Although I am thinking about joining another denomination where I would be very different. But I regress.

  31. “LifeWay sucks.”

    First pretty much all Christian bookstores suck. So on that end it is just one more crappy Christian bookstore. Just like most Christian music and Christian radio stations suck. And I live in a city in which one of the most popular, if not the most popular, christian music station is.

    Second Lifeway publishing does suck. No argument here at all. But I read mostly Patristic stuff. And as Dr. Bingham has said If you think you are studying Patristics at an Evangelical institution, then think again. So I do not expect much from Lifeway.

    Third Lifeway’s Sunday school material is pretty good compared to others. I am not thrilled by much SS material. Lifeway though gives me some things that are useful. I have been in churches that have used others and have not opened them after a quick glance.

    Overall I think your assestment is correct. But it is not just a problem with Lifeway and the SBC but with all of Evangelicalism.

  32. I decided to post my reply on my own blog and simply link to the reasons I think the SBC simply needs to have a meaningful Theology if it expects to produce Theologians.

  33. FWIW, Donald Whitney is published by NavPress & Moody. Think about that.

  34. Jimmy Hedrick says

    I am a 53 year old SBC pastor who is leading a courtship between two local independent SB churches. Yes it may be that God would have a reformed and a non-reformed local church become one in a midwestern state near you. God does work against the denominational dispensational grains.I too am tired of the bitterness of the old school fundamentalist/pietist SBC leadership who could not control the theological wave of Biblical sufficiency that rose out of their control and is therefore creating many obstacles for the young and gifted in our midst. I have heard and seen so many power/play episodes in church-denominational life that I could write a novel on Church Depravity. Maybe Lifeway would publish it under Mitford historical theological fiction. Anyway I just wanted yall to know that God is alive and His Son is (re)building His church in unprecedented sovereign Holy Spirit ways. Let’s all keep praying for and loving on one another. Micheal do post evangelicals like yourself still give the hug of fellowship to evangelicals who have not even gotten to the post(as in horse Ky horse race yet) Someday on a future pilgrimage to Louisville to see my fam I want to drive down the holler and see where the 21st century Thomas Merton of that old Landmark/dispensational /SBC culture sways in the Spirit.

  35. Could part of the reason that Southern Baptists are having a hard time doing theology is because they are not taught theology to the appropriate depth?

    Years ago, while I was church hunting (again), I spent a semester taking systematic theology at a seminary (not Baptist, but the type escapes me now.) I compared the text to an older one that I had bought. The newer one was much shallower in almost every way.

  36. A couple of days late and a dollar short, but here’s my two-cents’ worth:

    Boyce, Broadus, Carey, Andrew Fuller, and in the modern day Nettles and their ilk…there’s no dearth of Baptist writers, methinks; just a general unwillingness to republish, teach, or study the older guys’ stuff? ‘Tis a shame.

    I’m not a Southern Baptist, but I am a baptized believer in a credobaptist church. The impression I get from someone who recently visited SBTS is that the students there are not arid “Truly Reformed” how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin types, but evangelical and zealous for the Lord. They’ll be a blessing to whichever churches call them.

  37. Your insights are interesting.
    Publishing is consumer driven, period.
    The average southern baptist church goer only cares about what how to become a Christian, how to become more like Christ, how to simply share the Gospel, and how to glorify God with there mind, body, soul, & spirit. The common southern baptist will delegate apologetics to the prophets, priests, and atheist killers in our seminaries, websites, and weekly interdenominational coffee clutches.
    Honestly, most folks are grappling with “in the world, but not of the world”. They are not concerned with the intellectual discourse.
    Autonomy wins the day. If some preacher brings some intellectual bent to the pulpit that doesn’t jive with the culture of that church, one of two things happen:
    1)They drive the pastor off.
    2)They bedrock of the church leaves and the church is in left in shambles.

    I leave you all to your ruminations.
    I on the other hand must get back to recovering from minister burnout.

  38. Dr. James Willingham says

    Sir: You are quite right. A storm is coming and the present Calvinism (the best term is Sovereign Grace as there were people in England, e.g., dying for predestination in the first 17 yrs. of the 1500s & Calvin was even converted until 1525-29 or so it is said)could be the ground swell of a coming tsunami/hurricane, that is, THE THIRD GREAT AWAKENING. Sovereign grace came to North Carolina in 1755 when two ministers from the Phila. Assn. persuaded some General Baptists to become Regular Baptists (that means the General Baptists gave up General Atonement and accepted Particular Redemption – Christ died only for the elect) & 46 years later (1801) the very same group baptized 872 converts. Also arriving in 1755 were Shubal Stearn, Daniel Marshall, & John Gano, all committed Sovereign Grace Believers. In 1801 on of the Sandy Creek churches had 500 professions of faith on one Sunday Morning. A GREAT AWAKENING REQUIRES A SOVEREIGN GOD WHO DECREES SUCH EVENT & WHO THEN IMPLEMENTS IT BY MANIFESTING HIMSELF IN CONJUNCTION WITH HIS TRUTH PREACHED. Every doctrine of the TULIP outline, along with Predestination and Reprobation are intense, compelling invitations to trust the Lord Jesus Christ & be saved. SUCH TEACHINGS ARE THE MOST LIBERAL & RADICAL OF ALL DOCTRINES, MOVING BELIEVERS IN THEM TO LIVE GODLY CHRISTIAN LIVES OUT OF NO OTHER MOTIVE THAN GRATITUDE TO GOD FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF TRYING TO DO IT.
    My ordaining pastor would tell people from the pulpit that he was a supralapsarian, a hyper-calvinist. He was also a soul winner (he preached a revival at on rural church in Georgia & had 100 conversions), pastored a number of a leading churches, including the FBC of Hialeah, Fla., was the founder & first president of the American Race Track Chaplaincy, had many preach boys in the ministry, and was the legally required preacher for Dr.R.G. Lee’s funeral. D. Lee had five preachers for his funeral, but Dr. Ernest R. Campbell use to laugh & say, “I was the only one that was legal.” Why? Because Dr. Lee put it in his last will & testament that Dr. Ernest Ray Campbell was to preach it.
    Nothing is like it seems. AFTER ALL, LUTHER RICE, THE FATHER OF SOUTHERN BAPTIST MISSIONS, STATED THAT PREDESTINATION IS IN TH BIBLE AND YOU HAD BETTER PREACH IT. He also chaired the committee that drew up the Sandy Creek Confession of 1816 which states that man is utterly impotent of his own free will & ability to save himself. On that committee was Basil Manley, Sr., who would suggest the founding of Southern Seminary, baptize the mother of JP Boyce, lay his hand on Boyce’s head when the latter was but a child & say he would be a preacher. Manley would serve as the first president of the board of trustees, his son would draw up the abstract of principles (which is surely linked in its sovereign grace views to Sandy Creek’s Confession as well as the Philadelphia Confession of 1742.
    More could be said about how liberal & radical the whole thing, but the truth is hard to swallow in one lump. It often has to be spoon fed, a bit at a time. STILL IT IS THE ONLY TRULY INTENSELY EVANGELISTIC & MISSIONARY THEOLOGY THAT IS ALSO TRULY BIBLICAL. That it should produce such liberty, politically, etc., is a dream beyond imagination. AS THE OLD SAYING GOES. “You ain’t seen nutin yet.”

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