What Are the Most Pressing Issues Facing the Southern Baptist Convention?

According to our header, SBC Witness is about “encouraging Southern Baptist cooperation and faithfulness.” The contributors to this blog believe these two things to be virtues that ought to be cultivated among the people called Baptist. If I may combine the two, one could argue that the reason we are a convention of autonomous churches rather than Independent Baptists is because we believe in the value of “faithful cooperation.”

Faithful cooperation is increasingly difficult to maintain in the SBC. While the convention enjoyed substantial theological unity in the mid-19th century, that was already beginning to change in the decades after the Civil War. The Landmark controversies, the decline of doctrinaire Calvinism, the rise of theological liberalism and later neo-orthodoxy, the hardening of fundamentalism, the bureaucratization of the convention, the Civil Rights movement, the ecumenical movement, the neo-evangelical movement, the gender revolution, rise of the New Religious Right, the charismatic movement, The Controversy, post-denominationalism, the seeker-sensitive movement, the emerging church movements, the so-called Reformed Resurgence, resurgent Landmarkism, Catholic Baptists, revivalism in all its forms–each of these movements, for better or worse and to varying degrees, has contributed to the diversity among contemporary Southern Baptists. And that diversity has often led to intra-denominational conflict.

So here we are in 2008. The SBC is a divided house, and that’s without even counting churches that for any number of reasons dually align with both Southern Baptists and moderate Baptist, African-American Baptist, Reformed Baptist, or missional groups. In recent years we have fought about more things than I care to think about. There have been statements and counter-statements, blogs and counter-blogs, conferences and counter-conferences, candidates and counter-candidates. The differences in the style and even theology of different SBC public personalities is at times pronounced. Some glory in all this diversity. Some fear we are too diverse. Others pronounce a pox on both houses. And for all our conservative resurging, moderate purging, Republican voting, and program promoting, we remain considerably more divided than most folks will publicly admit.

I am curious: what do you think is the most pressing issue facing the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008? What is that one thing that most precludes us from faithful cooperation? What is our biggest problem? Share your thoughts with us by dropping a comment. I am genuinely curious as to what “normal” Southern Baptists think are the greatest threats to the ongoing viability, let alone vitality, of the convention.

Before you comment, please do a couple of things. First, think before you post. Second, try to stick to the one most pressing issue–two issues at most. Third, remember that whatever you say is being read by a couple dozen other people, mostly the contributors and their wives, so try to be kind and Christ-like. Fourth, do not attack any personalities. Finally, if any of you dialog with each other in the comments, do so respectfully. We want this to be a place for mature Christian reflection, so we will not hesitate to delete nasty comments.

44 Responses to “What Are the Most Pressing Issues Facing the Southern Baptist Convention?”

  1. The most pressing issue facing the SBC in 2008 is the gospel.

    The one thing that precludes cooperation is (unfortunately) the gospel.

    Ergo, the biggest problem is also the biggest issue is also the leading cause for precluding cooperation, namely the gospel.

    Now I know that may sound really simplistic, but we as Baptists have a way of complicating things and stressing peripherals and wandering from the center.

    But more specifically, how the gospel relates to the way we evangelize, the way we preach, the way we structure our churches, the way we do mission work, why and with whom we cooperate, and on and on. Affinity-based cooperation that transcends denominational structures are growing because of the emphasis on the gospel, while the SBC is divided and disillusioned by controversy and “Baptist battles.”

    If we are going to see a “Great Commission Resurgence” as Dr. Akin puts it, we must recover the gospel and its primacy in everything we do. It is the power of God unto salvation, and it ought to be the hub of the SBC wheel that moves us forward in this new century.

    And the thing I fear the most is how easy it is to tip our hats to a sentimental appreciation of the gospel in a comment like this but not be willing to pay the price to go anywhere beyond that.

    I mean,

    I could talk about the $280+ million dollars fleeced each year in the SBC bureaucracy from the CP;

    I could talk about the megachurches that have more “inactive members” than the entire population of most cities in the heartland;

    I could talk about the arbitrary lines of “true convservatism” being promulgated around nonessentialism;

    I could mention the fact that Southern Baptists are no different from the world in matters of divorce, materialism, infidelity, etc.;

    I could provide for you 22+ pages of documentation of a conspiratorial, systematic assault on Reformed theology in the SBC over the past two decades (and needs to be updated still);

    I could talk about the extremely small percentage of churches who participate in denominational life (as will be seen the the number of messengers this year in Indy compared to the 42,000 churches that make us SBC);

    I could talk about the Southern Baptist blogs that annoy me because they would rather go tit-for-tat about lawsuits and denominational politics while won’t write a thing about the great need for our churches and pulpits needing to return to faithfulness to Christ;

    I could continue this thread of one problem after another, but the truth is, we are more interested in this list than the first thing I said about the gospel–and therein lies the heart of the problem.

    I love the SBC, but Iove the gospel more. There’s nothing I long to see in my lifetime than we present ourselves as a convention of churches before God in all humility and honesty that desires to take the mission and message of Christ seriously, leaving all else behind for the sake of His name. My hope is found nowhere else than this, and despite all the flaws, faults, and failures, I am ever hopeful because I believe the gospel will change and transform an undeserving sinner like me to live as a dying man with an everlasting message.

  2. You’re curious about the thoughts of “normal” SBCers and that may well preclude me- I’m more on the “abnormal” side sometimes! The greatest need, I think, for the sbc currently is a greater commitment to the great commission- reaching and teaching people. The second is like unto it- a genuine revival among God’s people that results in love, holiness and passion for God and a lost world.
    I’m far more optimistic about the potential of the sbc than many. I do recognize that there are many divisions.
    Timmy, may I suggest that “fleeced” and “assault” are stronger words than necessary to express your thoughts above? Doug Munton

  3. To add to the previous two posters, I would use one word: “Focus.” The Gospel and the great commission are essentially intertwined. I think most of the problems we have as a convention are because we have let distractions take away from our focus which should be, in my opinion, Jesus.

  4. I agree with the previous posts, but would add that it is to determine what will be the compromises we can make without compromising the essentials. As the idea of “essential” expands it leads to increasing conflict on the nature of what is essential. I am a Calvinist, but I can live with a non-Calvinist view of the gospel that remains an advocate for justification by grace through faith in Christ alone without having to agree on the decrees of God. I believe in missions, but what happens when not giving a formal invitation is viewed as non-missions and anti-evangelism? The attacks in public forums and the looming threat of expanding the view of “essential” provoke reactions which are often diverted into where we do not agree rather than where we do. It seems that there are many who will not be content until the idea of “essentials” are their “essentials.” For example “Building Bridges …” with varying viewpoints provokes “John 3:16” with a uniform presentation from those who have already gone public with their hostility. I am not sure there is a solution — I am sure I don’t see one.

  5. While I make no claims to be a “normal” Southern Baptist, I will offer my thoughts:

    I think the biggest problem facing the SBC (at least in terms of precluding “faithful cooperation”) is pride and/or theological arrogance (man, those fingers pointing back at me are frightening). That is to say, the vast majority of us feel like we’ve really got a handle on the gospel and what it means to have gospel-centric ministry. In fact we’re so sure of our varied positions that we can’t imagine working along side someone of a different theological stripe. I suppose this is tangential to what Timmy said. We’re so focused on our differences that we’ve neglected to focus on the thing that unifies us.

  6. Nathan-

    While I do not disagree with Timmy, Doug or Charlie, I’m not sure I fully agree either.

    I have no problem, for instance, agreeing that the loss of the gospel is killing us. I can’t tell you how many times I sat in preaching class in seminary and had to listen to the professor, at the conclusion of another student sermon, remind the student that repentance must be included for the gospel to be preached. We seem to have traded genuine gospel delivery for something far different. The sad thing is that most of us don’t even realize it.

    Knowing that, however, doesn’t make us work or not work as a denomination. That makes us fail as churches who are responsible for delivering the gospel. The denomination isn’t charged with the delivery of the gospel; the churches in the SBC are charged with delivering the gospel. As such the denomination doesn’t need to recover the gospel, our churches do.

    Now, that may seem to be simply semantics, but I don’t think it is. If you ask me what our churches need more than anything, I would argue the gospel. However, if you want to know what I think our denomination needs more than anything, I am convinced it is twofold. First is an irenic spirit and second is a commitment to cooperation.

    The denomination will always, out of necessity, be broader in the theological sense, than many if not all of her individual churches. We are rapidly moving, however, to exclude anyone who does not fit what we deem to be appropriate in their application of theology and methodology. This isn’t to exclude the necessity of theology, but rather to note that we have a statement (i.e. the BF&M 2000) and we should be able to stand together under that statement and cooperate together, and live in peace with each other, as we partner to take the gospel to the world.

    Until we come together, renewed in our commitment to cooperation, we will continue to lose our effectiveness and find ourselves mired in instability, not to mention irrelevance.

  7. Micah has brought up a valid point. Assuming that the churches are gospel-centered then the Convention as a whole would need to have irenic cooperation. Now, how does that happen? :-)

  8. Mr. Munton,

    Strong. Yes, but justifiably so.


    I agree, but on what grounds will be find “a commitment for cooperation?” I don’t want to sound facetious, but I know we are not to cooperate for the sake of cooperation, so if we are to do this togetherness thing, on what grounds are we to do it? My answer would be that if we do not have a gospel consensus and rally point around the center of our Christian identity, then I do not believe cooperation will be possible in the future.

    The reason many are leaving the SBC is because of folks telling them that the gospel they believe, preach, and confess is not welcome here. I think that’s kind of the reason for Building Bridges (and the counter of John 3:16). There are folks in the SBC who want to define themselves by what they are NOT, exercising polemics every chance they can. Not the kind of irenic spirit you are talking about here.

    An illustration of things gone awry is when we are more concerned about the purity of 1st century drinking water than the purity of 21st century churches. Gospel absence case in point.

    And as you know, the results are devastating.

  9. Nathan,

    My opinion:

    I think the biggest problem is the failure of the CR to inspire the “normal” SB’s in the pews to be engaged in SBC life in part because things were not kept simple [i.e. Missions based on a fully true Bible] and persuasive, but became complex/peripheral and heavy handed.



  10. I agree for the most part about what has been said so far. However, (and this may just be adding to Nathan’s list), I do think that underlying what is increasingly seeming to be an inability to cooperate is the fact that many ‘normal SBCers’ would rather simply accept what some of the ‘big guns’ in the SBC say, instead of thinking biblically through these issues themselves. Please do not hear me saying that I believe SBC church members cannot think for themselves; that is NOT what I’m saying. What I am saying is that unfortunately, many of the older, established big names in our convention are not as strongly for cooperation under the gospel as they might claim.
    I know that we are not supposed to say anything about personalities, and so I will leave off names, but since Timmy brought up the John 3:16 conference I think it’s fair game. Let me say first that I respect and even admire all the men speaking at that conference. However, at least one of them has come out repeatedly and said that Calvinism is one of the five evils or dangers that will destroy the SBC. Now, since this man is a popular leader in our convention, many of our laypeople read his books, see that, and think that it cannot possibly be a good thing to have a Calvinist pastor. They read the misguided representations of Calvinism put out and then accept them as fact, simply because men that we trust and admire are writing it. It’s sort of like everyone believing Satan’s name is Lucifer just because Scofield put it in his reference Bible in Isaiah 14. The Scofield Reference Bible said it; that Bible is popular and trusted; therefore Satan’s name must be Lucifer. A popular SBC leader says Calvinism will destroy the SBC; that leader is a trusted pastor; therefore Calvinism must be dangerous.
    This is what I mean when I say that people are not thinking for themselves. It is not that they are not capable of it, but that they are not willing to do it. They would rather accept what someone else, whom they trust, says as fact. Of course there are many who DO think for themselves and it is mostly in these that we see the spirit of cooperation. But the fact is that there are many ingrained attitudes and beliefs coming from laymen who listened to the popular preachers that simply are not biblical nor cooperative in any sense of the word. (I have only mentioned Calvinism, but there are of course many others).
    To say that the gospel is the number one issue is absolutely correct, but how are we to unite under it when there are those who refuse to unite with a growing number of people who understand that gospel in a way that is mischaracterized as ‘dangerous’? It is for this reason that I think a renewal in theological, doctrinal thinking that LEADS TO a re-emphasis upon the gospel is what we need the most in our churches.

  11. Matthew,

    While I personally would not call them laymen, I do believe there are SB’s like you describe.

    However, let me say this. I have been a part of three SB churches in the Neuse Association–I grew up in one, worked in another, and now pastor a third.

    All of these churches are small SB churches [which, if I’m not mistaken, make up the majority of SB churches].

    Aside from Charles Stanley, I think I could go up to each of these congregations and rattle off the names that are scheduled to speak at the John 3:16 conference and then ask them “Could you tell me something about ANY of these people?” and I think the vast majority of them would not know anything.

    I do not think there is any one SB figure [at the John 3:16 conference or not] that has the ear of the masses.

    David Jeremiah might come the closest, but I doubt if most even know he is SB. In fact, I’m not all the way sure myself.



  12. Right on Matthew.

    What you said reminds me of what I call “The Momma Boucher Complex”. For those of you who confess to having watched The Water Boy know what I am talking about.
    “That Vicky Valencourt, she’s the devil!”, so says momma. “That Coach Kline, he’s the devil!”, so says momma.
    “That foosball, that’s the devil!”, so says momma.

    The time comes, however, when young Bobby thinks for his own and realizes that everything is not as momma says they are, and when that realization comes, everything changes. We have a lot of Momma Bouchers in the SBC, calling lots of things liberal, the devil, anti-missionary, etc., and as long as the Bobby’s of the SBC live under the rule and roost of momma, they will not know any different.

    If in one corner critical thinking is suppressed, in the other corner it is filtered through SBC political calculation (not so much whether it is right and true, but how will this affect me and my future in the SBC?).

    There are many leaders who swing a big stick, no doubt. But I would argue that when these oaks leave the SBC forest, there will not be many trees planted to replace them. The lack of succession, loss of Baptist identity and loyalty, and the reality of a post-denominational world do not comport well with the agendas that have an eminent expiration date. Perhaps that is will we are seeing such measures taking place today. They are not opening the hand but clinching the fist–holding on to what they fear they will lose.

  13. A common theme I am hearing is that there is a disconnect between SBC leadership (whoever that is) and local churches and/or individual Southern Baptists. I would agree. I have some thoughts about that, but I think I will save that for a post.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Timmy about the biggest problem, but I also very much like the comments about the difference between problems with SBC churches (gospel) and the convention proper. Good insights.

    Thanks for mostly avoiding criticism of individuals. Several of you mention the John 3:16 Conference. Let me say loud and clear that our biggest problem is not our disagreements about Calvinism or any other hot-button issue. I think our disagreements, or at least the manner in which many disagree, is more a symptom of our problems rather than the problems themselves.

    Other comments?


  14. Nathan,

    Funny you should say that, because I was talking with Collin (Hansen) last night about this, and he said the same thing (as an outsider). He does not see Calvinism as the problem per say, but a symptom of the greater problem, which he believes to be the unbridled pragmatism in our convention ruling the day (which he quotes from Mohler in his book).

    I think more fundamentally, the issue is how we handle Scripture (in exposition and exegesis). For instance, no Calvinist I know will ignore John 3:16. But non Calvinists cannot reconcile John 3:16 with the rest of the book of John, and that is a huge issue.

    Secondly, Calvinists often talk about the doctrines of grace because it is an exposition of the gospel. Non-Calvinists, I believe with good intentions, talk about numbers more than substance (IMO). I think some of this comes down to what we consider “success” or a “successful” ministry.

    Thirdly, non-Calvinists seem to be developing a new form of fundamentalism and separatistic approach. Arguing holiness by dress code (a la Joshua Convergence) or abstinence as essential to our faith, there are hard, uncompromising stances on peripheral issues which cut against the vision of uniting around the center. On the other hand, Calvinists are more evangelical than separatistic, thus often getting the charge of being more Presbyterian than Baptist.

    So anyway, I think the approach to Scripture, to church, to culture, etc., all factor in to the equation. The issue of election or the atonement get all the attention because they are sexy doctrines that tickle our fancies.

  15. Timmy,

    I think your broad generalization of non-Calvinists and the conclusions that they are coming to is just that…a generalization. I’d be interested in knowing how you come to those conclusions. I think that making these hard-line distinctions between Calvinists and non-Calvinists do not help the convention cooperate.

  16. Dr. Finn and Timmy,
    I agree with your assessment that Calvinism is not the main issue, nor even a real issue among thinking SBC men and women. The only reason I brought up the John 3:16 Conference is because one of the men hosting the conference and one of the one’s speaking have been very vocal about their feelings about Calvinism and it’s alleged danger to the SBC. It is for this reason, Benji, that I would have to disagree with you, because those two men especially are held in high regards by most SBC lay people. My post was not intended to convey that I believe debates about Calvinism or Calvinism itself are the main issue; the unfortunate mischaracterizations of it that are coming up more and more are more like the fever symptom that manifests itself because of an underlying virus or disease.
    I in no way meant to imply that exegetical issues on either side of the Calvinism debate were the issue, or arguments about that exegesis. My point is that many in the SBC local churches would rather listen to a few big names (that sat under Adrian Rogers and therefore think they are enabled to ‘lead the Convention’) than think for themselves and do the research and exegetical work. This is mainly seen in debates about Calvinism, but we see it in issues as varying as the Bible’s position on alchohol to the nature of the anointing in preaching. Men and women throughout the SBC (and throughout America!) would rather listen to a person whom they deem an expert than work through their beliefs.
    Please forgive me if I came across in a way that suggested Calvinism or the stance you take on Calvinism is the issue. That is not what I intended.
    Also, the above mention of Adrian Rogers is in now way meant to be disrespectful. Adrian Rogers was a great preacher, leader, and man of God. It just seems that there are a few men in the Convention today that think that since they were counseled/mentored by him that they should automatically follow in having the kind of respect/leadership position that he had. It’s almost like some of these men want an SBC papacy (watch out Emerson, you’re getting too frisky!). I’ll quit with that one.

  17. Charlie,

    I agree with you that some of my observations are generalizations, but in general, generalizations are not always bad.

    I think it is important that, if we are going to cooperate, that we have an honest starting point. If the convention is going to cooperate, it is fair enough to at least point out where our differences or disagreements lay, and then go from there. Cooperation does not necessitate homogeneity.

    I personally don’t want to “Calvinize” the SBC, but neither do I want Calvinists to be misrepresented or mischaracterized. I think the problem is that we cannot discuss our differences and come together around our core identity without going polemical. A little distanciation and willingness to listen will go a long way (and I say that for Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike).

    As far as my conclusions on some of the matters aforementioned, I am thinking about writing along those lines in the future, but I think Nathan has summed up much of what I would ever say (and said it much better) in his excellent series, “What Ails Us” (or something like that).

  18. Timmy,

    I think the greatest problem facing the SBC in the future is the loss of young SBCers. Having spent several years at SEBTS and now in the local church, for the most part the younger generation has little concern for denominational life in general. I admit they (I am included) want to see a “gospel resurgence” but have little faith in the top-heavy, personality driven, good-ol-boy system in the convention to accomplish this task.

  19. I basically agree with Timmy’s first post.

    Some major problems may be that we’re full of ourselves and our institutions and bureaucracy.

    The biggest cause and major problem of the above is the Gospel. The simple presentation of repent and believe must be recovered. If we believe in sola fide then let’s preach it. This encompasses faithful preaching all of Scripture too.

    Briefly and in no specific order.

    Gospel – see above.

    Discipleship – teaching to apply the Gospel to our lives, teaching the Bible in this process.

    Baptism/Church membership – a thorough teaching and understanding before joining.

    Accountability/community – open and honest family like love and communication.

    Spiritual growth – stop focusing so much on numerical growth.

    A continuation to point to the Gospel in all of this as we grow. I think with the above as a starting point that the Lord will add to use numerically as He sees fit.

    Those are my brief thoughts.


  20. Hello folks,
    As a Baptist layman, may I offer my thoughts? My church is in the second tier, a declining tier, of a major metropolitan area. It was built by the “Builder” generation and once had over 400 in average attendance. Most outreach back then was successful. The problem not seen at the time was that it was fairly simple to reach others when you had interests in common. As the Builders have died out, the neighborhood has lost is homogeneity. We now struggle to have 80-90 and our building upkeep absorbs most of our resources. I agree that the Gospel is the biggest need, but how do you present it to a variety of interests and life situations? How do you reach the nice lesbian couple who live across the street from our church? How do you reach a single mom on welfare with a live-in boyfriend who abuses her? To add to the problem, we struggle to keep the building together. Ironically, those we are trying to reach are in the same situation. They don’t know how to relate to each other and with minimum wage jobs they struggle to make ends meet. Most live day to day in homes that are wearing out. Some of our church members have given up and have moved to mega churches. We have reached a few in the neighborhood, but new Christians sometimes have trouble seeing how the Gospel helps them when the creditors are wanting the rent payment. The result is that many give up on God. The SBC is a “bottom up” and not a “top down” denomination- the individual churches are what keeps it going. Many of these churches are in the same condition as my church. Such things as Calvinism and SBC leadership issues lack significance for my church and our neighborhood. Please don’t suggest asking the local association for help because it is undergoing its own power struggle. Even in better times it offered little help because its people don’t know what to do with this type of problem. We appear to be a castaway church in a castaway neighborhood. If churches like ours disappear, all of the power struggles at the top (local or SBC) will no longer matter because the SBC will also disappear. To sum up my rambling, the major issue is Gospel related- how do we relate it to a lost person struggling to live? The Gospel gives us hope, but how do we reach the hopeless around us?

  21. Nathan asked, “What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008? What is that one thing that most precludes us from faithful cooperation? What is our biggest problem?”

    Perhaps the problem is our readiness to say “Jesus is Lord” without really meaning “Lord.”

  22. Malcolm,

    Question for clarification: Are you referencing Christians who are not following the commands of Christ as they ought, or are you referencing individuals who make some profession of faith but might be false professors because they do not understand what it really means to be saved? For the record, I think both are problems in the SBC (and probably other Christian groups as well), I am just not sure which you mean (or if you mean something else).

    A thought, if you mean the former: I would love to see a recovery of the centrality of discipleship among Southern Baptists. Not another program, though programs could be aids in the effort. But a widespread, grassroots movement that understands that the call to Christ is a call to lived faith: public profession in baptism, committed church membership, cultivation of the spiritual disciplines, passionate commission to evangelism and missions, Christ-centered parenting, serving those in need, etc.


  23. Nathan,
    Your statement about a grassroots movement is what I tried to get at in my rambling comment from yesterday (it is currently awaiting moderation). We need to start at the bottom, so to speak. In the first century, Jesus left the Jewish leadership to squabble among themselves- He instead worked with those around Him. Ironically, the only time the scribes and Pharisees worked together was to fight Jesus. Jesus worked with all varieties of people. A few weeks ago, the Sunday School lesson was on the woman at the well. Her situation fits the 21st century- a Samaritan with five divorces and currently living with a guy. Jesus sought her out, which was a bad career choice for a rabbi. He worked one on one, and the first thing she did was to seek out others to tell them about the Messiah. He did the same with Zaccheus, Nicodemus and possibly Joseph of Arimethea (OK, no Bible reference on that!). What I’d like to see is more encouragment and guidance from the top as to how to accomplish this and reach out to all, rich or poor, good or bad. Frankly, I would be overjoyed if an SBC (or CBF) top dog would show up at our church and offer to help sort out what to do. What if the SBC started a practicum (through the NAMB maybe) to help guide us in what to do and how to do it? Or, do I dare ask, is the real issue that no one knows what to do and therefore can’t do anything about it?

  24. We cannot be the judge of the noumenal (the reality of a person’s regeneration), but only of the phenomenal (the external evidence of regeneratiion). Extensive evidence of a lackadaisical attitude toward believers-only baptism, lack of church discipline, and a lackluster concern to mirror Christian communion indicate a phenomological crisis in Lordship, at the least.

  25. Thanks Malcolm.

    Any other takers, or have we exhausted this one?


  26. I just freed up some comments that were lost in moderation. Sorry about that.

  27. Not having read this entire comment stream, I apologize if this has already been said .

    I think the biggest issue facing us in SBC life is our pride.

  28. Richard Stephens,

    It is probably true that no “top dog” knows exactly what to suggest in your church situation. However, our Lord is able to glorify himself through any church in any situation. May I suggest a threefold response:

    (1) Grab ahold of heaven through prayer. I will pray with you that God will open your church’s eyes to His wisdom as your church gathers to hear from Him.

    (2) Make sure that you and every member faithfully speak the Word of God in the church gathering and in the neighborhood. The Word has power that we do not have and God accomplishes His will by His Word. Your neighbors need God’s Word most of all. Make that your primary goal.

    (3) Get ready for God to act, but perhaps not in the way any human being (even a “top dog”) assumes.

    In Christ,

  29. Richard,

    I would agree with Malcolm–your church does not need help from any prominent Southern Baptist leader or guru. Your church needs to be faithful to preach the Word, share the Word, pray for the lives of those who hear the Word, and as a church exhibit lives that are being transformed by the Word. I am sure there are some programs that can aid you in that, but I would be wary of anyone–“top dog” (or DAWG as we say in Georgia) or otherwise who offers something that does not ultimately go back to the types of things Malcolm suggests.

    That said, I know our commenters are not typically top dogs (besides Malcolm, Charlie Wallace, and maybe Jed Coppenger–maybe), but if anyone out there is laboring in a church similar to Richard’s, please offer any insight you may have. Thanks.


  30. I agree with Charlie Wallace’s one word answer “focus”.
    As an example I want to suggest that the recently released “Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change” By the big dogs (dawgs) is a total departure from the focus we need. It was unnecessary and divisive. I don’t personally care what anyone believes about climate change but I take exception to anyone pretending to represent me on the issue.
    The real Biblical answer is in Genesis 8:21-22. where it tells us in certain terms that God is in control and not man.
    It seems unethical and immoral for a group to go outside of their authority and make such a declaration that seem to be speaking for Baptists.
    Are the big dogs out of touch? I think so.

  31. Richard,

    As another SBC layperson who is no top dog nor top dawg, I’d like to suggest talking to churches that have had to go through what you are struggling with. The first one that comes to mind is Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis. Although now very large and famous (also not SBC), their staff is very accessible and I’m sure they would embrace you and possibly do more than you would ever dream of in coming alongside of you. A friend of mine traveled to MN to visit the church and ended up at John Piper’s house having lunch one Sunday afternoon.

    Go to their website, find a contact and give them a call. Also, if you haven’t done so, visit the website of the ministry founded by Pastor John Piper at http://www.desiringGod.org.

  32. Thanks folks! I really appreciate your insight. This is the type of discussion we need. Constructive Gospel-focused action at the local church (and church member) level is an urgent need.

  33. Actually Nathan, Lifeway just did a survey among several kids on a playground in Nashville and found that Jed Coppenger is not a “top dog”. Sadly, they also found that he is considered to be the most pressing issue facing SBCers today…

  34. Richard,

    There really is no formula for a people and a pastor to be ignited with love for the lost. I think your church needs (if it doesn’t already) a pastor that will go beating down doors looking for lost people in his immediate community and beyond.

    Also, a church needs to be willing to throw away any kind of tradition or sacred cow that may keep the radically unchurched (such as lesbians across the street, etc) away.

    It also needs to preach the Word, take a hard stance on sin, but at the same time LOVE those that sin and reach out to them and teach them how to be conformed into the image of Christ, their savior.

    No program will do it – but the love of Christ manifested in hearts of believers taken to a hurting world will do wonders.

  35. […] related to this podcast, which is a post by Nathan Finn over at SBC Witness, entitled “What Are the Most Pressing Issues Facing the Southern Baptist Convention?” (I commented five times over there […]

  36. Nathan, Thanks for prodding my brain with such a thought-provoking question. I came by way of links from SBCVoices. If I may offer my thoughts:

    The most pressing issue facing the SBC in 2008 is starvation. We are starving for Jesus and we are feeding ourselves junk-food to meet the needs of our body. As our body gets weaker and weaker from lack of Nutrients, it begins to draw from the vital organs. We hunger after Righteousness and feed on our own desires. We hunger after Perfection and feed on ideals. We hunger after Holiness and feed on mediocrity. We hunger after Jesus and feed on each other. We hunger after Peace and feed on purpose. We hunger after Satisfaction and feed on ourselves. Jesus is the answer, the only answer for our starvation. The outside world can’t feed us. We cannot feed each other. Jesus and He alone can must meet our needs and we must dine at His table on our knees.

    May God give us Grace as we seek His face.

  37. Nathan,

    Great question.

    As one who has spent much of the last several years, re-working his theology, for better or worse (some of my friends will definitely say for the worse:)). I see the problem just like my old friend Charlie sees it. We aren’t focused. Christ, the incarnate One, ought to be first, middle, and last in all our discussions. Instead, it is something like…well, I will avoid any particular issue that has taken Christ’s rightful place in our minds, as that will merely contribute to the problem at hand. Honestly, I am starting to see myself more and more in the minority at SEBTS as to my theological persuasion (just so I won’t seem like I’m ducking…I’m a Molinist…just call me a Littleite if you like). While I have strong convictions about my beliefs, I realize that those of the Calvinist persuasion do as well. The reality is that both I and they have Christ at the center of gospel (we just get there different ways). As St. Paul (did I just call him a saint???) said, if Christ isn’t who he said he was, then we are the most pitiable of all people (I know…that was rough paraphrase of I Corinthians 15). It just seems to me that the Church of the Living God ought to be one (just like Christ said in John 17), and that means realizing when differences really matter.

  38. […] “What are the most pressing issues facing the Southern Baptist Convention?“ […]

  39. […] Pressing Issues Facing the Southern Baptist Convention?: Dr. Nathan Finn recently wrote about the pressing issues facing Southern Baptists. Nathan writes, “The SBC is a divided house, and that’s without even counting churches that […]

  40. I grew up Southern Baptist and, when visiting family, attend Southern Baptist churches. The most pressing issue facing Southern Baptists is the poor music. We don’t necessarily need quality music programs as much as we need programs of quality music. I have been to SBC churches where the preaching was good, but the music was awful. Jazzed up renditions of good music, people trying to imitate their favorite secular musician, soundtrack volume excessively high and sloppy clothing are a few of the problems. The real problem, however, is that most Southern Baptists don’t see a problem. Good preaching cannot exist in tension with poor music. One of the two will change, and it probably will not be the music.

  41. […] 22, 2008 by theexpositor Addressing the question “What are the most pressing issues facing the Southern Baptist Convention?“, Timmy Brister offers an incredibly insightful response. Here is an excerpt, read the entire […]

  42. I disagree with the assumption of this post. The greatest problem facing the SBC is the same as that of the PCA, United Methodists, Lutherans, etc. That would be the sanctification of the individual believers. I am a 46 y/o who teaches mostly 30 y/o in sunday school. I have never been part of a SBC church that did not proclaim the Gospel boldly (six churches in Miss. and Va.) and have been given the opportunity to serve in medical missions through my home church in Vicksburg, MS as well as via Miss. Baptist, IMB, and NAMB for volunteer mission efforts, always to proclaim the Gospel to the sick and suffering wherever God sends us. I have the blessing of working with denominational workers at the state, local, and international levels including our IMB and NAMB missionaries. There are great strengths and weaknesses of the SBC as with any denominational group including your local church. However, I am led to place my focus on my area of calling and those under my teaching and service. I am thankful for the powerful work God is doing through faithful SBCers around the world just as He is doing with other believers of other denominations. As long as God is using His people to accomplish Kingdom work, Satan will attack and cause division. If each of us would as Believers commit to our individual sanctification and the mentoring of our brothers and sisters in the faith (SBC or not), these issues would be moot. By definition, any SBC church not holding to Paul’s admonition of Romans 1:16 is no church at all. Thanks for your comments and let’s keep our focus on Christ rather than man.

  43. Let me give a little different perspective. I am far removed from the doctrinal fights in some sectors of the denomination. I have little interaction with or patience with denominalists in general.
    The problem in the SBC is pride. We think we (whoever the we is) have the answer and the problem is “them:” We are not at the foot of the cross begging God for his help. Our churches repel the younger brothers that flocked to be with Jesus. Our debates are the debates of the Pharisees and the Saducees. Our hearts are not broken, we are not desperate for the saving and sustaining power of Jesus. We are too sure, too confident to humble ourselves. We have not said yes to the call of Christ before we hear the cost. Our faith is not abandonment to his cause and his life but is rather a cultural and intellectual norm that disgusts the world and bores our kids.

  44. […] Tom Ascol’s question Have we lost the Gospel? from last year, Nathan Finn’s post on the most pressing issues in the SBC and my recent observations that a form of Pelagianism may be a serious issue. The point […]

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