Coalition Is Right

September 11, 2014

Dr. Rick Patrick | Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church of Sylacauga, AL

The concept of a coalition united around the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ is unassailable for a Great Commission Christian such as myself. In fact, I belong to just such a gospel coalition formed in 1845 and still going strong. It is known, of course, as the Southern Baptist Convention. Interestingly, this word coalition often has political connotations rather than religious ones. Millions of Southern Baptists do not realize there exists a certain coalition, with members inside and outside the SBC, united around a particular theological view and ministry philosophy. This organization is known as The Gospel Coalition.

The Gospel Coalition describes itself as “a broadly Reformed network of churches.” In plain English, they are Calvinists. Their confessional statement and leadership is thoroughly Calvinistic. Southern Baptists who affiliate with The Gospel Coalition comprise a group within a group, sharing certain traits with Southern Baptists like me, and other traits with Presbyterians and Charismatics whose views I disaffirm.

In 2012, Jesse Owen wrote an essay entitled Are We Really Together for the Gospel? He addresses both The Gospel Coalition and a similar organization known as Together for the Gospel. Owen points out that Southern Baptists who unite with these groups ecumenically are joining themselves to organizations that discriminate against and exclude traditional Southern Baptists like me:

On the one hand, Southern Baptists within TGC and T4G cross ecclesiological and denominational boundaries to unite with Presbyterians and Charismatics on issues of soteriology. Yet, on the other hand, they remain unwilling to cross soteriological boundaries to include the majority of their own denomination in these Gospel-centered movements. Interestingly, one could baptize infants, speak in tongues, receive new revelation, and practice Presbyterian church government, but be included if he affirms at least four points of Calvinism and complementarianism.

The following illustrates the denominational complexity introduced by the embrace of a soteriologically exclusive affiliation like TGC. Some Christians (Presbyterians, for example) are TGC but not SBC. Other Christians (like myself) are SBC but not TGC. And then there are those who find themselves affiliating jointly with both organizations. These SBCTGC Christians, though relatively small in number compared with the population of our entire denomination, nevertheless comprise a very politically powerful wing within our convention—a true coalition in every sense of the word.

Chart One

To illustrate the influence of the Joint Affiliation group, consider that over the past four years, Southern Baptists have elected new leaders in four out of our eleven entities:

2011                Kevin Ezell                 North American Mission Board
2012                Jason Allen                Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
2013                Russell Moore            Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
2014                David Platt                 International Mission Board

Two of the four, Russell Moore and David Platt, have been extremely active in The Gospel Coalition through their writing and speaking. They clearly identify theologically with TGC and its mission. In fact, on his first day in office, Russell Moore hired two individuals, namely Joe Carter and Dan Darling, to serve on the staff of a Southern Baptist institution, who were not even Southern Baptists at the time of their hire. They were, however, actively involved in The Gospel Coalition. Observers with any level of discernment at all are left to wonder which affiliation is truly most important today.

Jason Allen and Kevin Ezell have been less directly involved in The Gospel Coalition, although it is fair to conclude that they are enthusiastically supportive of its purposes. They both possess strong ties to Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Allen was formerly Mohler’s Executive Assistant and Ezell was formerly Mohler’s Pastor. Mohler has not only been very involved as a speaker at various TGC events, but he also serves on The Gospel Coalition Council.

Implications

What difference does it make that there is a highly organized, soteriologically exclusive, Calvinist wing within the Southern Baptist Convention whose members are being placed in entity leadership positions to the exclusion of all others? People involved in this Calvinist wing will be quick to tell you that it makes no difference at all, to stop being so divisive, to get back to work, and to accept their reassurance that there is absolutely nothing to see here. Against that notion, may I simply suggest the following:

1. The next few Southern Baptist entity hires, regardless of institutional vacancy, need to be persons who are (a) loyal to the Cooperative Program, and (b) doctrinally affiliated with traditional Southern Baptist soteriology. By using the term Traditionalism in contrast to Calvinism, I am referring to someone whose theology is described in the Traditional Statement—which accords with the Southern Baptist doctrine taught by Herschel Hobbs, preached by Adrian Rogers and practiced by millions of Southern Baptists.

2. Since there is already a theologically exclusive organization discriminating against Traditionalists on the Calvinist side of the equation, then in order to bring about denominational equilibrium, we must offer the same opportunity to embrace a theologically exclusive organization discriminating against Calvinists on the Traditionalist side of the equation. At Connect 316, we are just as “together for the gospel” as our Calvinist friends. However, our theological exclusivity operates in the opposite direction from theirs. Our goal in creating this avenue for Traditionalist affiliation and expression is the peace which will result from a denomination offering greater theological balance, transparency and representation for everyone.

 

TGC2

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

Clay Gilbreath

your suggestion #1 is valid: “The next few Southern Baptist entity hires, regardless of institutional vacancy, need to be…”
but my question is, what if the suggestion is ignored, as in the IMB hire? Wasn’t a suggestion like that on the table at the time of Dr. Platt’s selection? I just don’t see any consideration for the 316 side of things, and I don’t know what can be done at this point… do we Trads have a “conservative resurgence” in us?

    Rick Patrick

    Clay,
    I am glad to hear you are a Traditionalist. If you have not done so yet, let me invite you to sign up here and join hundreds of others: http://connect316.net/sign. I don’t know that we need another “conservative resurgence” per se. The Calvinists are indeed inerrantists. But I think you are right in that no one is considering the Traditionalist wing of our denomination. Many share your uncertainty regarding what can be done. Let me say that the first thing we absolutely must do is to *connect,* to find one another, to join with other like-minded individuals. Eventually, once we have gained a number of people who view convention life the same way we do, our denominational polity gives every one of us the right to speak and vote at the Southern Baptist Convention. It seems pretty clear that the only way to influence the SBC is to show up. Perhaps one day we will no longer be ignored.
    Blessings,
    Rick

Allen Rea

Go blue green! Excellent observations Rick. We shall not falter nor fail. Thank you for this boost of encouragement.

Ronnie W Rogers

Rick
Thank you for the clarity of this article. Your insights are quite helpful in this day in which we find ourselves.

Max

If Gospel = Calvinism (according to the reformed brethren), then Southern Baptists are no longer truly united as a coalition to spread that Gospel.

Darryl Hill

Well Rick, it sounds like you’ve identified the enemy. [shakes head] I’ve been reading your posts for a while now, and it’s the same thing again and again. Do you think the boards of these various institutions and organizations didn’t spend any time in prayer over these appointments? Were they rebelling against God in appointing these men? If not, wouldn’t it be wise to at least acknowledge that this is the way God is moving at this time in our convention? You may well find yourself kicking against the pricks here. You seem more interested in defending (or attacking) an ideology than propagating the Gospel. So, if I preach Christ crucified and people repent and believe, then does it matter that I believe it was a monergistic work of God or that it was a synergistic work of man and God? Will my belief change whether or not a person is saved? I can tell you this- the messages these men preach is Christ-centered and Gospel-centered and God is working here. You can deny that til your heart’s content, but it will not change that God is working in and through them. And calling for a mandated balance (by your definition) in appointees, rather than asking whatever entity to honestly and earnestly seek the face of God, would be wrong. Seek God. Appoint who He leads you to appoint. What more can we ask? “Oh, one more thing brothers and sisters, Rick Patrick wants a traditionalist appointed here and says it’s not fair that other groups have appointed Calvinists, so consider that also.” No, I don’t think so, and I thank God these entities haven’t tried to balance anything. Just seek the best candidate and God’s will.

    Rick Patrick

    Hi Darryl,

    Welcome to the site and thanks for engaging the discussion, although it is pejorative for you to assume I am calling The Gospel Coalition “the enemy.” (Those are your words and certainly not mine.) To be clear, I consider the Calvinistic wing in the SBC to be composed of my brothers in Christ, the same way I consider my Methodist and Presbyterian friends—and yes, I said Presbyterian. This does not mean that I believe the minority wing in any denomination is entitled to set the entire agenda or dominate all of the leadership posts, speaking engagements and ministry initiatives.

    Now, in answer to all of your leading questions, in order, “no,” “no,” “not necessarily,” “yes,” “no,” and “we can ask for greater representation among the many other godly candidates in our convention who also possess those same qualities but represent traditional Southern Baptist worldviews, theology and ministry philosophies.”

    Perhaps part of our disagreement is what I perceive to be your view, that there is *only one man* that could possibly lead each institution and be in the will of God. I prefer an understanding of God’s will that would be more permissive in allowing for the selection of any number of outstanding people. In a convention of 15 million Southern Baptists, in which an estimated 1.5 million are Five Point Calvinists, it simply does not seem representative of the denomination as a whole to choose a totally Calvinist slate of new leaders.

    In arguing for less discrimination against Traditionalists, I am not making any of the appeals your leading questions attempt to pin on me. The line of argumentation is not that anyone is “rebelling against God” or “prayerless” in any manner. The argument is that our convention’s leadership is becoming unbalanced theologically in its representation of our membership. I do believe it is God’s will for us to rectify this imbalance. In the future, I do believe that part of being in the will of God is to consider what furthering such instability in our convention might bring about.

    Blessings to you and your family. Although we disagree about the existence of Traditionalist discrimination in the SBC, we agree on many other matters, and can fellowship as brothers in spite of not always seeing eye to eye.

Andy Williams

Rick, While I can appreciate the way you feel, I don’t think your proposed solution is the answer.

Your diagram is innacurate if ALL of those in Connect316 are also Southern Baptists. To truly equate what the GC has, you would have to have broad involvement from Independent Baptist Churches, GARBC churches, Other Baptist groups, and perhaps other non-denominational churches that are baptistic and not calvinistic.

    Rick Patrick

    Andy,

    Thanks for engaging. You *may* feel the diagram is a bit more accurate once you realize that Connect 316 does indeed have involvement from individuals who are outside of the SBC. Granted, this involvement is not as broad as that of the non-SBC churches in The Gospel Coalition, but our board discussed at length last year, as we were drafting our founding documents, the topic of whether or not we would limit participation to those within the SBC. We decided to remain open to partnering with those outside our denomination.

    Oddly, to me at least, you are the second person today who has made the same assumption that we are only SBC. We never state that anywhere. I don’t think it really matters how many C316 people there are outside the SBC. (There are not many—just a few authors and speakers with whom we partner.) The primary point of my post was to discuss those *within* the SBC who are jointly affiliated with soteriologically exclusive ministry organizations. Those outside SBC life, whether Presbyterians in The Gospel Coalition or non-denominational church participants in Connect 316, have no voice or vote in our denomination. They have no standing, as it were, in determining how fairly our leadership represents the composition of SBC churches. In my thinking, they are not at all a consideration in the present discussion, except to say they lie outside our denomination and should not be appointed to a Southern Baptist office, whether they are non-SBC in TGC or non-SBC in C316.

    Blessings,
    Rick

      Andy Williams

      Thanks for the correction. I did make that incorrect assumption. IF so, then I would advise some re-wording of the Goals section (most notably, the “leadership principles”) of the Connect316 Website. It seems all the goals in this area apply only to the SBC, and churches relating to the CP and the annual profile. It seems a non-SBCer might have trouble finding anything there that they could adopt as “their” goals.

        Rick Patrick

        Thanks again for the suggestion. I think I understand where you are coming from a bit more now. It also allows me to state that our goals do not necessarily mirror those of The Gospel Coalition in terms of “bridging denominational walls.” We are clearly more SBC-centric than The Gospel Coalition, which is to say that those jointly affiliated with the SBC-C316 are much more likely to be committed to the principles and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention, and much less influenced by those members of our organization who lie outside the convention.

        Again, I do not believe C316 must be exactly like TGC in the depth of our interdenominational participation and goal setting in order for C316 to be exactly like TGC in our commitment to soteriological exclusivity. Basically, I am more or less saying, “Let’s just leave the non-Southern Baptists out of the discussion, for the most part, while still clarifying that we do, in fact, have some in C316 who are not SBC.”

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available