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 SBC – TGC 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.
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.
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.