October 20, 2020

Who Let The Theologians In Here? (The SBC, that is.)

theologf.jpgUPDATE: I have revised and updated several parts of this essay, to make a few things more clear….and probably less palatable.

Russell Moore, Southern Baptist scholar and writer at Touchstone’s Mere Comments blog, dashed off this line a few days ago:

The stakes have been raised in the last twenty-four hours as the SBC’s most prominent theologian, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., has joined the fray.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the changes in the Southern Baptist Convention during my lifetime, and it should generate some blog posts. Here’s the question: What is the impact of the growing numbers of influential “theologians” now attempting to shape the direction of the SBC?

I will spare you the summary of Baptist polity, but here are the highlights. Every SBC church is autonomous. Cooperation is voluntary. Confessionalism is, even with an increased emphasis in the conservative-controlled years, still a “back burner” issue for the vast majority of Baptists, who never hear or see the “Baptist Faith and Message Statement” used in the churches more than a couple of times a year.

Seminaries, agencies and other denominational entities are funded through state conventions and the national Cooperative Program. There is no “denominational head” beyond the “President” elected every year by the messengers at the entirely voluntary convention. Whatever the convention cooks up is usually passed, and agencies have to pay attention to such things, but churches do whatever they please, and routinely pay little attention to denominational directions. So there is no place that theologians have authority in the SBC. In fact, there isn’t much formal authority in the SBC, and depending on your point of view, that may be a good- or not so good- thing.

There is nothing quite as predictable and Southern Baptist as calls for more revivals, witnessing and Baptisms. There is nothing less Southern Baptist than the idea of a permanent stable of theologians telling pastors what they need to do. Theologians were always on the outskirts of denominational life. They wrote books and talked among themselves. They might even appear in a denominational paper or at some high profile convention event, but they were from the borderlands. Interesting, smart and rare.

It’s important to remember that Southern Baptists don’t require anything for ordination except a passable conversion testimony and a church that wants you to preach. What percentage of Southern Baptist pastors are college graduates in theology or related areas? What percentage are seminary graduates? It’s a minority. Southern Baptists also don’t have the “presbytery” supervising the doctrinal stands of ministers or a “church court” hauling people up on charges. No, in Baptist life, if your local association doesn’t like the fact that you have a woman leading music, they can vote you out, but you’d really have to do something outrageous to get kicked out of the state or national convention. I mean, think big…..bigger…..we’re still not there.

I bring all this up because it’s now fairly apparent that we have a “theologian class” in the SBC, and they are pretty busy doing more than writing defenses of Baptism. They seem to be wiring their own place in the power grid of the denomination, and have garnered considerable clout with the advent of Mohler as a national voice for conservative evangelicals. These new theologians are increasingly handing down theological and practical dogma from the standpoint of those who know what Southern Baptists must believe and do. They are playing a role in convention life that is growing in importance and influence. They are leading the SBC into the culture war, and into a focus on theological issues more than missional issues.

I am not denying the existence of influential Baptist theologians in the past. Southern Baptists have an impressive and diverse array of writing and teaching theologians, going all the way back to Dagg, Broadus and Boyce, and continuing today with Dale Moody, Millard Erikson and Carl Henry. I’m aware of our rich- and troubled- theological heritage. It’s not the same as our Presbyterian friends, and there is a reason.

The fact is that Southern Baptists have been a preacher led denomination. Pastor-theologians, but no one would mistake Bailey Smith for a real theologian. Think B.H. Carroll. W.A. Criswell. Hershel Hobbs. Adrian Rogers. These are the kinds of men who have shaped Southern Baptist life. These were men whose lack of theological polish was part of their leadership appeal. They sounded and smelled like Bible preachers, first and foremost.

Am I wrong to say that for the majority of the life of the SBC, the theologians always took a back seat to the preacher, the evangelist and the missionary? Am I wrong that the seminary professor never really had the kind of influence that would matter much in a typical First Baptist Church in Texas? Or in Middle of the Creek Baptist Church in Tennessee? Or among a group of Baptist laymen on their way to a mission project?

To be truthful, the SBC, as I have experienced it, has always been suspicious of theology, and the conservative resurgence, while certainly sparking renewed interest in theology, has not changed the basic Southern Baptist church, pastor or church member. He or She is not looking for or listening to theologians. They are listening to Rick Warren and Beth Moore. They want to win souls, support missions and start churches. Where do theologians fit in? They are supposed to support the missionary and evangelistic work of the churches. To the extent that a theologian can get “down and dirty” in the concerns of ordinary Baptists, then he may be heard and admired.

So here’s my two cents, and that may be over-priced.

The growing “theologian class” in the SBC has very few places to go. They must make their own mischief. Once the seminaries and colleges are in conservative hands, then we can expect the theological battles to move “in-house.” Watch for more doctrinal contention about matters less than crucial to the mission of church. Watch for “theological renewal” to take on more and more the cast of predictable “theological battles” between various teams in evangelicalism. Watch for the conservative resurgence to increasingly sound like a lot of young preacher boys arguing about Calvinism. (Around Louisville, it already does. With a liberal Presbyterian Seminary across the road, it’s SBTS that is turning out preachers of TULIP.)

Watch for one strange turn. The new SBC theologians are culture warriors. They want to “engage” the culture, but what they mean is to assert conservative Christianity in the cultural battleground issues. These issues motivate many pastors and churches because they are “red meat” issues. Backed up by Dobson and the new evangelical media, the theological class is writing less about Baptist views of the church and more about fundamentalist views of the culture war.

Many of these theologians work hard to function as pundits of political and social concerns. These theologians will lead the church full speed into the culture wars….with little interest in how this will affect the overall mission of the church. And there is no denying that it is difficult to fight the culture war on one hand, and be focused on missional vision at the same time. Theology and mission are interwoven, but the negative, “fighting mode” vision of the culture warriors grows churches by bringing in the like-minded: White, suburban, Republican families.

It’s the theologians who are saying “responsible” Southern Baptists must leave the public schools. That’s an interesting development from the standpoint of missions. Is there a matching emphasis on the way on starting cheap, urban, non-evangelical-ghetto schools as a way of doing missions? I am afraid the culture-war theology of the new SBC theolgians doesn’t yet answer some of the complex questions that their “war time mindset” will raise for the church.

Watch the theologians attempt to move the focus of Southern Baptists to issues such as creationism, the role of women, courtship, marriage and motherhood, homeschooling, cultural persecution of evangelicals, media, ecumenism and politics. (Note how theological concerns pushed the SBC to a confessional position on women in ministry, and also precipitated withdrawal from the BWA. Public schools will be the next issue on the docket, then opposition to Hillary, then young earth creationism.)

Expect the theological class to take a chilly attitude toward the non-traditional, missional conversation going on in the emerging church and among innovative church planters and pastors. Watch for more emphasis on theological issues like nuances of the doctrine of justification, and less on how to start churches among postmoderns. Watch for theologians to be hauled into battle as surrogates in tensions about worship, leadership development and missional thinking.

There are many potentially good developments from a higher profile for theologians in the SBC. I believe we need thousands of “pastor-theologians,” and we need good theologians teaching and writing to support the denomination in its best work. I am not attempting to be alarmist or stubbornly negative. I do believe, however, that the growing influence of a “theologian class” in the SBC will have an effect on the denomination for the future.

Next, I’d like to ask “Just what is a theologian anyway?”


  1. Seeing how I am not SBC, many I shouldn’t rant on this one… but then again opening my mouth where I shouldn’t has always been a strong point, and I gotta stick to my strengths (other argument: Ranting is my spiritual gift…) 8)
    When did the desire to know God and to help others know Him turn the corner and become a self professed dictatorship of small matters? Perhaps that is harsh, but I remember vividly when I used to want to be known as a theologian. Now, I am almost scared that if someone labels me as such I am going to have to play a part in cloistering the church away from the wicked world. I do believe that we need to think clearly and correctly about many issues that face us as a church, however shouldn’t our thinking be sparked from Who God is and What God does instead of personal convictions derived from fear and some elitist mentality? I don’t mean to get under anyones skin, and I apologize if I have overstepped my boundaries or hurt anyones feelings… I just hate to see any part of the church bound up and made ineffective by mans thinking, especial when mans thoughts try to get passed off as Gods thoughts.

  2. Very perceptive, Michael.

  3. What a breath of fresh air. I’ve been around the net reading about some of the different theological arguments going on. After reading your artical I felt like it cleaned out my heart from all the garbage. We can’t ignore theology but as you said I don’t think it should be on the forefront. I am always awed by how the Church has continued to exist all these years despite man’s darkened mind and heart. Somewhere below the misunderstandings, arguments and our
    attempts to disect God, He holds our heart and points us back to Jesus Christ.

    I remember a statement by CS Lewis where he says that right after he has successfully defended Christianity is when Christ is least real to him. I think it is a good point to remember if we end up having to deal with theological issues.

    Hey, maybe a theologian is some who is attempting to disect God 🙂

  4. “Just what is a theologian anyway?”

    It is supposed to be one who studies (the ‘ology’ part) God (theos). Which technically could be anyone interested in knowing more about Him. However, while studying theology is fascinating and even helpful sometimes, it can never take the place of relationship. I wouldn’t say that in trying to develop a deeper relationship with my husband, Frank, that I have benefited much from my ‘studies’ (Frank-ology? spouse-ology?) Honestly, I am not trying to get ‘cute’ here. I really desire to know as much about Him as I can–but I desire more to simply know Him.

  5. On one level, theology is scholarship, but on a deeper level, it’s the application of our rational powers to God’s Revelation. When approached rightly, theology glorifies God, just as worship does. Theology is necessary, but like anything God’s People do, it can become dry and lifeless when those doing it lose sight of their first love.

    Note that the greatest theologians have also generally been bishops: lifetimes spent grappling with God in prayer and sacrament, and feeding and caring for the sheep through preaching and spiritual fatherhood. Those are the sorts of theologians that impress me. Lay academics in ivory towers with big ideas generally don’t.

  6. Michael, I hope and pray you are wrong but know you are probably right. Most of the academic types I know are not concerned with the social and culture wars. This is what surprises me about Mohler. His blog archives are full of culture commentary. If this is the direction for the academics I pray God will have mercy on us for putting our priorities in the wrong place.

  7. Michael, seriously… how is this any different than an SBC theologian saying, “Look for the Emergent movement to drift off into rampant heresy. Look for its leaders to fall into immorality. Look for it to move away from issues of mission and into liberal social-gospel constructions of theology.”

    Let’s believe the best, man. What’s the point of prophesying the irrelevance of a movement (SBC theologians) that is currently doing much good? Your predictions certainly COULD come true, but it seems to me that your tone is pretty negative and critical in a way that you would not appreciate if it were directed against you!

    I’d rather be a voice of hope.

  8. My tone is negative and critical? Sorry….is critical a bad word? Just curious. Where am I mean and nasty in this post? It’s just an observation and some predictions. Don’t I say its probably “overpriced?” Don’t I say there will be positives? What do I have to do to lose the “tone?”

    aaron: The current theologion class is LEADING the charge into the culture war, and are part of the reason the conservative “resurgence” hasn’t resulted in much evangelism.

  9. Where did I prophesy irrelevance? Don’t I say just the opposite?

  10. Michael,

    I recently graduated from Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. As recently as two years ago. Now, I am a pastor in a little city in Lousiana, barely 2 miles from the Bayou and the mighty Mississippi. Cajuns and french cooking are the order of the day.

    Let me say that I think that you have seriously underestimated the value of the “conservative resurgence.” If you take Southeastern as a test sample, then I think that you find it has grown by leaps and bounds, that the Bible is being taught faithfully as true, and that missions work has increased a hundredfold. I am normally content to sit in the shadows and enjoy the dialouge, but that comment about the resurgence not leading to much evangelism is total garbage.

    I realize that the grand ole SBC has her problems. And I know that we would do just as well as a denomination to lose a million members this year as well as have a million folks be saved. I am appalled at the often shallow tactics that we use for evangelism and “growth” just as you seem to be.

    But, and I must be frank, to go and judge the wonderful, godly theologians that molded my thirst for God and His Word by Al Mohler alone makes my blood run hot. I think of the hours that these men labored to teach me “theology”. I remember the tears of exhortation, and I remember their earnest prayers on my behalf. I remember being rooted and grounded in the faith. At Southeastern, that is about as radical a change as you will find in any institution over the last 20 years, I guarantee you that.

    Furthermore, I remember friend after friend leaving to do missionary work for 2 years or more in “closed” countries. Essentially, my good friends risked their lives to carry the gospel to North Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia. They did so because they learned of the power of God to save in their classes with theologians.

    I could go on and on. But let me tell you, what you see Al Mohler doing is not what is going on in each Seminary. While Dr. Mohler labors for engagment in society, others are laboring quietly to instill a thirst for God in the next generations leaders. If you see a change in the “young” SBC, who do you think that they learned it from? From culture? If you see them walking more faithfully to the Word of God, do you think that they got it from blogs? Give me a break.

    I am not defending the hype that usually happens at the SBC conventions, don’t misunderstand me. If you want to jump on that, then hit it with both feet. If you want to argue that the SBC’s theme ought to have been, “Teach the 16.4 million theology so that they can be disciples!” Instead of a million more converts, I agree. But to level the accusation that those devout men (who are now belittled for being “theologians”) are somehow ineffective, I just cannot tell you how wrong you are.

    I think your comments are misguided, and I will end with that. I am grieved at what I read here. The godly theologians of the SBC are not ineffective; they are the SBC’s hope.

  11. One little comment on my comment. I was in no way trying to be negative of Dr. Mohler. Look at the staff that he has assembled of magnificent theologians at Southern Seminary. They free him up to do the things that he does. They are outstanding as well. Seems to me that he has been up to more than just politics.

  12. I never said you were mean or nasty… just negative and critical. You yourself said, “I am not attempting to be alarmist or stubbornly negative.” I just think your attempt failed! 🙂

    I’d rather believe the best and hope that this resurgence of the ‘theologian class’ in the SBC leads to more things like what Brad reports.

  13. I want to apologize for my earlier comments… while they are my gut reaction to culture wars and dogmatic lines, they are not my feeling towards people. We are all struggling to understand the culture(s) we find ourselves in, and while I might not agree with tactics, I have to acknowledge that as Christians and Humans we have to make the best choices we feel led to based off how we interact with God.

    IMonk, thank you for your honest views and concerns voiced in this post. You have done a God honoring job of vocalizing with out condemning, pointing to both good and bad on the issue. Continue to think with God, and share with us. Your Christian Humanist perspective is something I need to hear.

    Brad Williams, you have reminded me more than ever of the persons behind the “faceless church of America” that I am quick to rally against.

    Again, I apologize for words spoken (typed) in haste and with out Grace. May God continue to teach us Love as we seek to interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ and the world around us.

  14. I agree that SEBTS is booming. I salute them.

    The SBC is not, and will not, in my one opinion, under the current leadership direction. And the ascendency of the theologians has a part in that.

    I will write more later.

  15. You speak boldly, sir, and I salute you. I’d be mighty interested to hear what folks like Steve McCoy think of this piece. And it’d be nice if Mohler came down off the pedestal and engaged this sort of thought.

  16. iMonk,

    Okay then, just who are these “theologians” that you are talking about? Who are these people leading us astray teaching “young preacher boys” about Calvinism (heaven forbid) and plaguing us with in-fighting about trivial things that don’t matter?

    Your predictions are just aggravating. Anyone can compose such a list, and then play like they do not mean any harm by saying, “Oh, this is just my two cents.” Well, I will give you back some change with that investment how about:

    Look for the BHT to continue to spiral down the path of pomo relativism. Look for the iMonk to grow more and more negative towards the SBC as they are more vocal theologically against N.T. Wright’s new perspective. Look for the BHT to continue hooting from the shadows at SBC leadership when they address such unimportant things as church polity, the role of the laity, and the BWA having real theological problems. Irritating, isn’t it?

    Let’s look at your concerns for a minute. Hmmm…”nuances of justification”, boy, I am surprised that the theologians might want to talk about that one now. Public schools next on the docket? Wow, that’s only come up already at the last two conventions and amongst the Presbyterians. It must be an across the board wave of the trivial sweeping our conservative denominations. Further, are you trying to say that “young preacher boys” arguing about Calvinism is some sort of indication of ill health? You have sounded a lot like that yourself, if I may point out.

    I wonder, if theologians aren’t supposed to be pointing out things about family, church, education of children, the doctrines of grace, justification, what exactly do you think they ought to be doing? Figuring out how to plant churches amongst pomos? I thought that part we had figured out. Or do we have to have creative theologians point out how to preach the gospel again because somehow, the pomos aren’t getting it the old fashioned way. Maybe the missions folks should just grow a goatee and get a tatoo of a fish and then act like knowing much of anything is an epistemological impossiblity. Then the pomos will get it. Oh yeah, bleached hair might help.

    As a 30 year old ex-pomo with a degree in English Lit. from a real school (The University of Alabama, which is THE school, Roll Tide), I can tell you that uncompromising stand by some Christians on their ability to know God without doubt was the most effective apologetic I ever received.

    Okay, I know that this was a little rantish. I am not sure how this pushed my buttons so well, but it did. I just think that you are still criticizing the wrong folks, and I wonder at your motives. It’s easy to shoot down some of the goofy stuff that happens in the SBC, but this attack on theologians seems different, and I can’t help but think that it is linked with your ideas of Christian Humanism. You seem to be trying to make SBC “theologians” look like bufoons at worst, and to marginalize them at best. If you think that’s going to hide N.T. Wright’s justfication quibble and the SBC theological response, that’s dead wrong.

  17. There is a church here in Louisville that is generally considered the “seminary church”. The preaching pastor is a professor at Southern Seminary, as are the music minister and most of the elders. The church has a large number of seminary students as members. These are the SBC theological types, so the church is rich in conservative, Baptist, Calvinistic theology.

    It is truly a city on a hill in a very liberal part of town. The church is active in evangelism and has sent out a large number of missionaries to places including Papua New Guinea, Cameroon, Brazil, and Russia. It is a diverse community that has a number of internationals with different skin colors. As far as my experience goes, no church has had things as much together as this one.

    I attribute the health of this congregation to strong theology, which is the foundation of everything else it does. Without disparaging the legitimate aspects of the evangelical pietism that has long been part of the SBC, we need to face that fact that in many ways, that particular brand of pietism is immature and in need of greater theological depth (not unlike the depth that the early Baptists had).

    Right now I live in the world of SBC theologians. Let me tell you that what I see is a deep love for Christ and his Kingdom and a real concern for people. In answer to your question “Who let the theologians in here?”, I would say that God did.

  18. As a fellow alumnus of the University, let me say that Brad is sort of right, sort of wrong. One point that is worth considering is that the Mohler view on culture is shared by magazines like Touchstone and First Things, neither of which are very fundamentalist, Russ Moore’s involvement notwithstanding.

    To agree with the iMonk, though, the SBC does seem a bit confused, to put it mildly. Case in point: The flagship seminary of the convention is churning out Calvinists left and right, while Calvin himself is still persona non grata in most SBC corners. Go figure.

  19. Aaron: I served at a Lousiville “seminary” church that grew from 100 members to 300+ under one very non-conservative pastor, Paul Duke. Seminary churches are hardly a case in point.

    But who is here to argue about whether conservative churches are growing? Not me. Many are….while church attendance in America drops like a stone and half of SBC churches are in a decline.

    If a person thinks the conservative resurgence has done what it promised at the local church level, I salute you. My point is that the local church level isn’t much different than its ever been, and I am in better position than most of you to say that. I’ve served in the SBC for more than 30 years in local churches, associations, convention work, and now I am in a state convention supported ministry that pays me to speak to churches and associations. I am in dozens of association meetings every year and meet hundreds of pastors every year. Dozens and dozens of churches come to our campus each year.

    The SBC is in need of a missional revolution. THe focus on theology is enough.

    Aaron, would you not say you aspire to be one of the new Calvinistic theologians in the SBC?

  20. H Dawson says

    I’ll tell you where the theologians of the SBC should go: they should become members of the International Mission Board’s Board of Trustees.

    Currently, the IMB’s Board of Trustees has ruled that anyone who was baptized in a church that teaches baptismal regeneration must be rebaptized. They have said that it really doesn’t matter whether the person actually believed in baptismal regeneration or not – if the church taught it, then the baptism was illegitimate.

    This just illustrates the ad-hoc, reactionary way that the Board of Trustees determines the theology of the IMB and its missionaries. I should also point out that most Reformed missionary applicants are “coached” in how to interview with the IMB, lest they reveal themselves as affirming a nuance of Calvinism not taught in the Baptist Faith and Message. IMB consultants can be quite hostile to Reformed doctrine.

    Of course, what are we to expect when the only requirement for a member of the Board of Trustees is to be chosen by a state convention? These people wield considerable power in the IMB, and I wish they were more doctrinally informed. How’s that for a practical place for SBC theologians?

  21. That particular view of Baptism has been tearing up Ky churches my entire life. Our local SBC church refuses all kinds of OBI staff as members if they won’t get rebaptized.

    Ready for what they call it? “Alien Immersion.”

    I am not making this up.

  22. H Dawson says

    By the way, the figure for declining churches in the SBC is somewhere between 70-90 percent, depending on how you define “declining.” That’s from the mouth of the president of the largest SBC seminary.

    IMonk, will you please join the Board of Trustees at the IMB? 🙂

  23. I tend to believe we have bout half in outright decline, about 40% flat and about 10% growing. We split tons of churches every year, about half of our new starts are churches within 5. Pastoral firings/bloody leavings are huge. Leadership problems are incredible.

    The SBC desperately needs to embrace a plurality of elders in any situation where possible. The single pastor/CEO/dictator/evangelist/counselor/angel/St.Francis and Rick Warren clone model isn’t working.

    McCoy is right: We’ve had the theological thing. Now we need the vision thing. The SBC at its best was cooperating churches majoring on mission. The theological focus of the last 20-25 years has some value….but its not going to carry the mission. It may clarify the Gospel…but most of the guys with a clarified Gospel want to go back to Bob Jones/JErry Falwell style Christianity.

    You can be theologically conservative and grow missionally, but the SBC leadership doesn’t have a clue. They apparently think that debating Jesse Jackson and Brian McLaren on tv will grow churches.

    We need a sure and certain message and we need pastor-theologians. We don’t need theological battles to take center stage, and we don’t need the culture war to occupy our energy and vision.

    I grew up in churches where a wet/dry election was the most important, emotional issue in the church. The SBC is ready wired for diversion down cul de sacs if leaders are on the wrong track.

    This post is just one insignificant persons view. Maybe I am a little right or a lot wrong. We shall see. Or my children will.

  24. H Dawson says

    Well, you are right, I should have broadened the definition to “stagnant or declining.”

    IMonk, if that is truly your vision for the SBC, then I cannot reiterate enough how much you (and those of like mind) are needed on the IMB’s Board of Trustees. This group determines what kind of people will be missionaries and what kind of people will develop missions strategy for the SBC. I can’t think of another outlet for someone like yourself that would produce more change in our denomination.

  25. My first comment was just a little quip without much thought but as I read the other comments I began to think. Where does the bad taste come from? Not from individual theologians (thanks for your post Brad) But it comes from a general perception. A sense that something is wrong. My tenative thought is that maybe we recognize that we have started a descent into theological anarchy. The blogs emphasize this and exaserbate the problem. We hear I’m a calvinist, I’m a Neo Calvinist, I’m a Weselyian, I’m a Christian Humanist. Where will it end? Eventually it won’t be I’m a … It will be I’m the… with each of us isolated within our own little view of God and wondering how we got here. Isn’t this the danger we see in the theological discussions? Maybe the problem is not with theologians, or even with culture wars but a fear that in the midst of all the controversy we are loosing sight of God. Actually, thinking about it maybe the SBC’s response is appropriate. It seems to me that the only antidote to anarchy is authority. Take your pick of evils and keep praying “God save us!.”

  26. I’ve always been struck by the irony of Christian conservative (particulary SBC) engagment with the world. If we withdraw from culture (i.e., let the Devil take it) then we are “fundamentalists.” If we give in to the culture then we are accomadationists. But if we oppose the culture we are “culture warriors.” What approach could we take that would be acceptable?

    I do, however, think that IMonk makes some good points. I also think some of the points are rather confusing (if the intellectual class is taking the helm then why will it lead to young earth creationism?). But at least he takes the issue seriously, which is refreshing.

    I have to say, though, that I’m baffled by this focus on the po-mo/emerging church. I think it has less to do with filling an actual need among non-believers than it does with giving Christians something fresh and interesting to discuss (after a few hundred years, debating TULIP gets kinda old). You might bump into some actual po-mo types in the college towns but in the vast cultural wasteland of America its simply not an issue. Most SBC’ers will ignore it because it will never even come up on their missional radar.

  27. Joe…

    Thanks for stopping in.

    I will freely admit to paranoia regarding young earth creationism (YEC). I work at a Christian school where it is constantly an issue.

    I can’t explain it, but there is absolutely a relationship between the various current culture war areas and YEC. The focus on the teaching of evolution in the Public Schools is a major part of the culture warriors appeal to abandon the public schools. I know many SBC theologians who support all these things.

    I think that YEC is about to become a badge for really being an inerrantist (or a Biblicist, as it may be called by then), and it will be interesting to watch those who aren’t YECers- like Mohler, so I’m told- deal with this.

    Lutherans are certainly theologians, and being a YEC is a confessional requirement in the LCMS seminaries.

  28. Michael: What about Intelligent Design?

  29. Joe C writes, “I’ve always been struck by the irony of Christian conservative (particulary SBC) engagment with the world. If we withdraw from culture (i.e., let the Devil take it) then we are “fundamentalists.” If we give in to the culture then we are accomadationists. But if we oppose the culture we are “culture warriors.” What approach could we take that would be acceptable?”

    The problem is not the ideas behind these strategies (i.e. not engaging the age’s evils as much as possible; knowing the good in the culture and being able to engage it; and working to correct present societal evils), but extreme overemphasis on one over the others. “Withdraw from culture” becomes “we won’t talk with anyone who talks to someone who talks to someone who does/believes bad things…” “Engaging culture” becomes “swallowing whatever cultural fad/fashion comes down the pike”. “Contending for righteousness” becomes “putting pressure on polticians to filibuster for judges with the right (i.e. our) legal philosophy”. In any of these extremes, the Gospel and the call of “being in the world but not of it” get obscured at best.

  30. Can’t stay and read all the comments right now, but… I keep seeing this term “emerging/emergent church” popping up all over the IM’s essays and his readers’ commentaries. Could someone please tell me what it means, or point me to a link that will explain it? I’d be much obliged!

  31. Jay…sorry….I have to leave you to find out on your own. Somewhere between Brian Mclaren and Mark Driscoll lies the great white whale…EMERGENT!

    Matt: Touche’.

    But look at the LCMS. It is YOUNG EARTH creationism. And I beleive that the supporters of ID, while they are substantial in the theological class, are not derailing the move to affirm Ken Hamm’s version of Genesis 1, but actually contributing to it (inadvertently.)

    Remember that the SBC once rejected its own commentary on Genesis because of ideas about Gen 1-3 that seem pretty tame today. The YEC lobby in the SBC is big.

    I am NOT saying the theologian class is a bunch of YEC. Absolutely not. I agree they are more in the ID group. But where this will come out will be a stronger interest in making the BFM explicit on the issue, and I am afraid (and that is the right word) that the YECs will prevail once the fight is on.

    I probably went overboard on that one. I may edit it 🙂

  32. Michael: a well-made point. I support private schools (for various reasons), but I cringe everytime I hear the YEC crowd do their thing.

  33. IMonk — I probably went overboard on that one. I may edit it 🙂

    Hmm…on second thought, maybe you didn’t. The stance of our Luthern brethern completely slipped my mind. I’m not sure how they reconcile their views with modern science (or even if they care too). But I think the SBC’ers will likely take a different route because they want to be taken as Serious Intellectuals. I also think that someone (though maybe not a Baptist) will finally step in and explain that inerrancy does not require a belief in YEC.

  34. “Aaron, would you not say you aspire to be one of the new Calvinistic theologians in the SBC?”

    I don’t know that I would put it that way. That makes it sound elitist. For one thing, Calvinistic theology in the SBC is not really “new”, but is rather a return to our heritage. As far as my personal aspirations go, I have thought about this a lot lately. I’m sure there is a part of me that wants to make a name for myself, to be a prominent leader that everyone admires and reads. But I think I have been able to suppress that sinful motive a good bit, especially lately. My aspiration is this: to raise a family and to serve the church in whatever way God calls me. Whether that involves teaching at a seminary and publishing books or pastoring a small rural church, so be it. Either way, I’m going to be a Calvinistic theologian.

    I long for reformation in the church and in my own denomination, and I believe that a recovery of historic Baptist theology would go a long way in that process. That’s because I think that historic Baptist theology is much closer to Scripture than modern evangelical pietism, the same kind of pietism that you have been known to ridicule over and over and over and over again on this website.

    So I am excited about the fact that it looks like Reformed theology is making its way back into Baptist life. I’m glad that people are thinking about big questions, wrestling with Scriptural teaching, and bowing before the sovereignty of God. I don’t see this as a political competition but as a matter of truth. I realize that “Reformed” and “Calvinist” are terms that leave a bad taste in your mouth now, perhaps because some people carrying those labels have been jerks. But that has not been my experience. I live in a world of Reformed theology, and I have never known so many people who have known and loved God so deeply. That’s what I want for the churches of the SBC. I’m not pushing a political agenda, and I certainly allow for freedom to disagree within the bounds of orthodoxy. But I can’t help but think that recovering the doctrines of grace can only be a good thing.

  35. Benji Ramsaur says


    O.K., I admit you have stumped me. If someone was reading your article here and did not know that you claim to be a Calvinist, then they might conclude that you are simply an “anti-Calvinist” and that is why you came from the angle you did.

    Are you basically arguing that we need pastor-theologians and not theological eggheads (i.e., people who know alot about theology and can often study and talk about theology in order to avoid practicing some aspects of their faith)?

    Are you also arguing that, while theological debate on secondary points can be good, it should not cause us to lose sight of the big picture of what we are to be about (a let’s not lose sight of the forest for the trees argument)?

  36. First of all, I’m not a Calvinist. (You must not have visited here lately 😉

    I am really just speculating on how the larger role of these conservative theological types is going to influence the SBC. This is a denomination made what it is by cooperation for missions. Not theology or culture conflicts. This is going to change with the influence of the new crop of theologian/culture warriors.

    I’m just speculating a bit out in the open.

  37. Benji Ramsaur says


    Well, I guess you are right. I must not have been reading what you have put up lately. I was going off of your “Why Calvin is Cool” article when you said “I still know that I could lose my job over being a Calvinist”.

    I think that your article can be explained by your distaste for Calvinism because Calvinism emphasizes theology first (from which missions flow) whereas you seem to want to emphasize missions first.

    I think the Calvinists simply follow the approach of Paul in, at the least, many of his letters where he basically lays down doctrine first and application second.

    It was after Paul laid down the doctrine in Ephesians that he said to maintain unity (Eph. 4:3). So, it was not missions, for Paul, that should keep Christians unified, but doctrine.

    It is not true that theologians have always taken a back seat in the denomination for most of its history. Are we not living with the unbelievable influence of E.Y. Mullins in taking the denomination away from Calvinism to where it is mainly now–cake and ice cream theology [I can choose Christ (free-will) but I cannot unchoose Christ after I have chosen Him (once saved/always saved)]? Are not the pastor-teachers, evangelists, and missionaries still influenced today by what he did?

    Also, before Mullins did not Boice have a huge impact on Southern Baptist life for Calvinism?

    It seems as if you may be trying to make missions stand on its own as a unifier of the denomination. However, I would contend that missions should not stand on its own, but should flow from good theology.

  38. Benji Ramsaur says


    Let me hasten to say this too.

    I am not saying that Christians have to agree on every point of theology before they can work together.

  39. Michael,
    I don’t know if you listened to the Younger Leaders Summit at the SBC that was posted on Steve McCoy’s site, but you should. A lot of what you are saying is what the Younger Leaders are saying, but many of them are reformed, missional, incarnational, and ready to take on the culture by means of preaching the gospel, rather than by condemning it. I would say that they are not theologians but missiologists. They are looking to integrate their theology with mission. Look at a guy like Joe Thorn (www.joethorn.net). I disagree, however that the establishment now is going to push courtship, creationism, and marriage issues. Though they may bring them up, I doubt they will try to push anyone toward their views. I spoke to Aaron on the phone tonight about a lot of this stuff. I think I am irritated with you for posting this now because many of us left the Younger Leaders Summit or the whole convention thinking the SBC was headed in the right direction — away from much of what you are lamenting. Now you are telling folks how bad it is. Please go listen to Younger Leaders thing on the Emerging SBC Leaders Blog and then post what you think about it. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

  40. I’m sorry you are irritated at me.

    Clearly, I am not talking about the younger leaders.

    Clearly, the Younger Leaders like Joe and the other “emerging” SBC types are not Mohler-style culture warriors. They are modeling and asserting a Biblical engagement with culture, which I have affirmed for years on this web site. Where are the GOP politics and the Justice Sundays in those churches? Not going to find them.

    Clearly, the “theological class” that I refer to in this post has absolutely nothing what so ever to do with the guys at the Younger Leaders Summit. I am surprised you would read this and assume I was talking about the same thing.

    I must be the world’s worst writer. You came away with exactly the opposite impression than I intended. Sorry.

  41. Either that or D.R. is the world’s worst reader.

  42. When you used the term “theology class” I dont think you qualified it enough. When I think of those theologians who are trying to influence the SBC I see it as those coming out of the seminaries now who are like Aaron. Your comment above about Aaron aspiring to “be one of the new Calvinistic theologians in the SBC” seemed to indicate to me that your view included both young and old. As I spoke to Aaron on the phone he seemed to acknowledge that my understanding of your inclusiveness of all groups of the SBC was legitimate. That is why I wrote what I wrote. If that is not what you meant, then I apologize once again for misunderstanding you.

  43. Would Aaron identify with Joe Thorn and the emergent guys in the SBC? And I wasn’t calling him out. I just read Aaron enough to know he is another person who sees the SBC as Calvinistic, and judges all things by that view. THAT is a new thing in the SBC, and it is going to have an effect.

  44. aaron arledge says

    D.R. is talking about me he talked to on the phone not the other Aaron. I do not view the SBC as Calvinist. I think your last comment was directed at the other Aaron or either i have said some things i did not mean. I might just need to start putting both my first and last name on comments so i do not get confused with the other Aaron.

  45. Ahhh….very very sorry. When I see a captial “A” I think Aaron S. My fault.

  46. Yeah, I could see that problem coming. I saw that the other Aaron signed his named as “aaron”, so I figured I would try to sign my name as “Aaron”, but that obviously wasn’t enough to avoid confusion. From now on, I will be known as “Aaron O.”, the guy at Southern Seminary.

    I don’t think Aaron S. has commented on this thread.

  47. Benji Ramsaur says


    When you said “I just read Aaron enough to know he is another person who sees the SBC as Calvinistic, and judges all things by that view. THAT is a new thing in the SBC, and it is going to have an effect” were you saying that there are people who view the SBC as actually a Calvinistic denomination today or are you saying that they view things from their own Calvinistic lense? If the latter, then it is certainly not new because there have been plenty of Southern Baptists who viewed things from their Calvinistic lense before the 1920’s.

  48. Benji: the fact that there are people who think the SBC is full of Calvinists is proof that the current theological class has their own very UNIQUE view of the SBC.

    I’ve been in the Founders Movement since 1988. I know the3 whole story know Calvinism in the current and past SBC.

    The SBC is overwhelmingly revivalistic Arminians. The Calvinistic presence in a few seminaries is having an effect. But are there even a thousand churches who are Calvinist in this denonmination?

    The dream of a Calvinistic SBC is a seminary students cup of coffee. The SBC is revivalistic Arminianism. Its Rick Warren. Its Jerry Falwell. Mohler and friends have a place at the table, and I am very very glad they do. But the SBC is Texas revivalism and will be for the next century.

  49. Benji Ramsaur says


    I guess I just find it somewhat amazing that there are people who think that the current SBC is full of Calvinists. I guess that could be possible for many who have not grown up in an SBC church, but then go to Southern or Midwestern seminary and then think (because of the Calvinistic presence at those two seminaries)that that must be the way it is in the broader denomination. But have you personally talked to a number of guys who think that the SBC is full of Calvinists? My personal view is that the denomination is still overwhelming revivalistic, but that the Calvinist influence is growing (although still small).

  50. UGADawg47 says

    As a recent alum of MBTS(2002) I can tell you MBTS is not a haven for TULIP lovers. When I started there in 1998 there was more of a Calvinistic bent (both from the faculty and students), but when I left it was dwindling. Even when I started it wasn’t the majority position (even though the President at the time was a Calvinist). The best I can describe it is mostly 3 or 4 point Calvinists (with some more and some less and some not really caring), Historic Premillenial (with some Dispys and some Amills), and almost all inerrantist (only one exception I know of among the faculty).

    For those who don’t know MBTS is Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.