Grading A Decade of Reform School | Part One

August 11, 2015

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

Over the past decade, Southern Baptists have witnessed major efforts to reform our denomination in at least the ten specific areas addressed in this essay. One might ask why 2006 was chosen as the starting point in dating these reforms. This was the year, at the SBC in Greensboro, when Southern Baptists decided that anemic Cooperative Program giving by some leading churches was an issue that absolutely needed to be addressed. This was the year when Paige Patterson and Al Mohler engaged in the most cordial debate in the history of theology over the issue of Calvinism. This was the year when Southern Baptists held a twenty-minute conversation on the convention floor in which some messengers actually spoke in favor of the moderate use of beverage alcohol. This was the year when the name Mark Driscoll, virtually unknown to most Southern Baptists at the time, came up frequently in the form of warnings against the danger of his growing influence.

Since this time, Southern Baptist reforms have taken place, mostly at the national level, occurring with such subtlety that they have been largely undetected by the people in the pews. These failing reforms offer motion without progress—like a car stuck in the mud and spinning its wheels. These reforms simply have not gained much traction at the hometown church on the corner of First and Main. They have proven to be popular only among denominational leadership elites.

Southern Baptist leaders have promoted a new culture during this reform decade. We have been like a workplace under new management with employees standing around the water cooler trying to figure things out. It is as if an outside consulting firm has been hired—Driscoll, Mahaney and MacDonald—and we have been told to follow their strategies, implement their practices, read their memos and listen to their lectures. We have been told that we have a lot to learn from these experts. Mounting evidence now exists to irrefutably dispute such a claim.

Southern Baptists looked around ten years ago and said, “Everybody else is doing better than we are. Let’s copy them.” Ten years later, we have the perspective to say, “They did not have all the answers at all. We had a few of them ourselves.” Like insecure junior high students, we should never have made all the adjustments in our identity merely to fit in with the cool kids. It always turns out that the cool kids aren’t so cool after all. We should get back to doing what we were doing all along. We do not need to be reformed. We need to be restored. This is the voice of reason, experience and maturity. The reform decade has been a miserable failure. Listed below are ten reform measures from 2006-2015 that have missed the mark.

 1. Salvation Doctrine
To its credit, Calvinistic theology has sharpened our focus on doctrine, delivered us from feel good sermons and challenged a lack of meaningful church discipline. But Southern Baptists are never going to embrace Calvinism as our majority view. We are the people of Billy Graham and not John Piper. Our pulpits are not open to the preaching of Calvinism in sufficient numbers to accommodate the growing rate of Calvinistic seminary graduates being produced at Southern and Southeastern.

I rarely meet anyone who wishes to drive all Calvinism from the Southern Baptist Convention. Many people, however, join me in my desire to see Calvinism taught and promoted in a measure equal to its general embrace in the SBC as a whole. It boils down to this: our entities should only be as Calvinistic as our churches.

 2. Name
In 2012 there was initial euphoria when the possibility of an optional descriptor for the Southern Baptist Convention was narrowly approved by a 53% to 46% vote. Earlier, the tweet from Dr. Albert Mohler had been: “Let the word go forth: THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary proudly is a Great Commission Baptists institution.”[1] Since Southern Baptists support six seminaries, hitting the word “THE” in all caps, reminiscent of college football player introductions, seemed less than humble at the time. But if this is pride, I would hate to see shame, for since the name was approved, no major entity or church in the entire convention, including Southern Seminary, has opted to use the alternate descriptor.

When last I checked, one could count on a single hand the number of churches using the new term, although I am told that one Southern Baptist did update her religious affiliation status on Facebook to Great Commission Baptists—a victory which pretty much says it all. The truth of the matter is that most Southern Baptists were not begging for a name change in the first place. It was never really popular.

Why does this matter? It shows how easily our denominational decision making process can advance a certain agenda, regardless of whether or not it enjoys any real popular support. If leaders can accomplish a name change that nobody really wants, then what else can they accomplish that nobody really wants either? Exactly how does one put the brakes on unpopular leadership ideas in the Southern Baptist Convention? Are our decisions being made behind the scenes with rubber stamp trustees? Are our various levels of accountability nothing more than a mirage?

3. Budgeting
Although it was packaged with a great deal of rhetoric and flourish concerning the Great Commission, the gist of the GCR proposals passed at the convention in 2010 (by a committee that sealed its records for fifteen years) was an effort to reshuffle our financial priorities away from the so-called “bloated bureaucracies”[2] of state conventions and in favor of the work being done through our North American and International Mission Boards. While most states have made some modifications in a genuine effort to be team players in this initiative, one is hard pressed to declare that Southern Baptists are experiencing a genuine Great Commission Resurgence.

Many of our churches truly do appreciate the work of Southern Baptists at all three of our historic levels of cooperation—association, state and national. While the tactic of squeezing a little more money from our state conventions can boast of a few mild successes, it has generally failed to produce a dramatic increase in funds, since the source of these funds, the local church, has not changed its giving habits. Slicing the same amount of pie in slightly different proportions is hardly worthy of the lofty title “resurgence,” which may explain why few speak of a GCR anymore.

 4. Missionary Targets
For generations, Southern Baptists have sought to establish a presence in every nation on earth willing to accept missionaries—and even a few that are unwilling.

But today there are some nations being categorized as essentially “reached” with the gospel once they have crossed the two percent threshold. Then, as missionaries on these fields retire, they are not replaced in a manner that would continue our efforts in fulfilling the harvest mandate. Instead, the new missionaries are being assigned to unreached people groups whose level of being reached with the gospel is below the two percent threshold, in an effort to fulfill the frontier mandate.

It is fair to say many seasoned missiologists have questioned the legitimacy of this two percent threshold for establishing that a people group has become essentially reached. Notably, Dr. Robin Dale Hadaway of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has proposed a far more reasonable budget allocation approach: 40% Unreached, 40% Harvest, 15% Education and 5% Administration.[3] When it comes to reaching individual souls, and not merely notching additional people groups, one wonders if Southern Baptists are not leaving a little meat on the bones as we pull our missionaries out of areas only just beginning to flourish in the Lord.

 

[1] Mohler, Albert. “Let the word go forth: THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary proudly is a Great Commission Baptists institution.” 20 February 2012, 6:38 p.m. Tweet
[2] Akin, Danny. “Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence.” Chapel Address at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, April 16, 2009.
[3] Hadaway, Robin Dale. “A Course Correction in Missions: Rethinking the Two Percent Threshold.” Southwestern Journal of Theology, Volume 57, Number 1, Fall 2014, p. 28.

 

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Lydia

The whole point was to keep the pew peons in the dark concerning the strategic move toward the Calvinization of the SBC. The tactics focused on building the brand through the takeover of the entities, indoctrinating masses of young men and forging partnerships with the likes of Mahaney annd Driscoll/Acts 29.

As Rick Warren used to say, success breeds success.

If some of those leaders had been totally honest from the beginning, this would not have worked. But my question is if we now know this, why would we trust talk of “unity” from such types who would so such underhanded things in the first place? And when is the GCR lockbox going to be opened?

    Rick Patrick

    Lydia,

    As one who has never been fond of secrets, that GCR lockbox has bothered me for years. We have now served FIVE YEARS of our sentence. Is that not long enough for any personnel matters or confidential discussions to have become moot? Can we not free the GCR lockbox and let the information out early for good behavior?

      Scott Shaver

      Rick:

      I’m of the opinion that you’ll not get that thing unlocked one minute before midnight on the 10th year of the seal.

      It’s a Pandora’s Box.

    Max

    It should be clear to all by now that there is one file in the GCR lockbox labeled “Compromise.” In the mysterious sealed box, I envision the details written by a few SBC elite enabling a return to the theology of the founders … whether the majority accept such belief and practice or not. I doubt that the chained box is a time capsule containing Adrian Rogers’ Bible marker, a hand-written draft of E.Y. Mullin’s 1925 BFM, or pictures of Paige Patterson’s African safaris! Perhaps it contains the nuts and bolts of the theological drift and ecclesiologial shift we are seeing today. Or perhaps it is the arcane 8th seal of Revelation intended to be unveiled at the end of the age by a new generation of SBC leaders at a future annual meeting. Whatever … it’s the stuff of secret societies, rather than an organization supposed to be representing Christ … documents should never be sealed in the free-church.

      Scott Shaver

      I don’t see this a “free-church” scenario Max. Not any more.

      This is an autocratic baptist denomination and its institutions off their theological and historical rails.

      Totally different breed of cat.

    norm

    Lydia:
    The SBC’s Peace Committee tapes also were sealed for 10 years. When that time was fulfilled, the tapes revealed tasteless jokes and racism from some of the members. Whereas I am not sure why the GCR guys wanted to seal their records for 15 years (when most of them will be retired and beyond any effective redress), but I am quite sure as to why men prefer darkness. About that there is no doubt. — Norm

      Scott Shaver

      Records were sealed for the same reason people like to keep their dark secrets hidden.

      What was revealed later as actual content demonstrates the accuracy of the hypothesis.

Andy

Interesting post, Rick. I’m looking forward to the rest! I’ll comment on the first 2 points.

1. “Our pulpits are not open to the preaching of Calvinism in sufficient numbers to accommodate the growing rate of Calvinistic seminary graduates being produced at Southern and Southeastern.” –> I would LOVE to hear from a pro-calvinism SBCer who has a good solution to this problem. On the one hand, I hope & believe that some of these pastors will simply find a church that is not calvinistic, NOR stridently anti-calvinistic, and will do just fine if they are honest and caring about their people…even if they have parishioners who disagree with them about some things. On the other hand, It may be that many of these men will be adrift, not able to find a good fit in a church for a while, and will end up in a non-ministry profession…but of course this happens to around half of them anyway. On my third hand (I’m gifted), it is likely that afters seminary, some of them will likely mellow on their calvinism, and perhaps abandon it altogether…However, I hope they do this out of sincere desire to be faithful to scripture and to God’s truth…RATHER than doing it out of a desire to be accepted by a non-calvinistic crowd…and I hope that no traditionalist would ever cheer on a young man who changed his doctrine for those reasons…just as we should not cheer those who acccept reformed beliefs just to fit in with the cool YRR crowd.

2. Name change: Totally agree…that was one of the silliest things SBC has ever done. I bet the mojority of SBCers had never even heard the word “moniker” used in a sentance before this happened…I’d say it was a failure of the committee that was assigned to study the issue: “Do we need to change our name? yes, but not really, so let’s have 2 names!” ..that is not good leadership…even if you though a name change was necessary.

Lydia

“Name change: Totally agree…that was one of the silliest things SBC has ever done. I bet the mojority of SBCers had never even heard the word “moniker” used in a sentance before this happened…I’d say it was a failure of the committee that was assigned to study the issue: “Do we need to change our name? yes, but not really, so let’s have 2 names!” ..that is not good leadership…even if you though a name change was necessary.”

Just as the “s” had to be added to the BFM’s Priesthood of believer in 2000 for a more long term reason than what was explained at the time, I think the name change was about something similar. In one way, it was a sort of trail balloon to see if it could be passed. Another was throwing an important bone to the more….uh…. Reformed/YRR/Acts 29 types who found the word “Baptist” distasteful. Some seem to forget how influential Driscoll was back then with SBC leaders and he was making fun of the word “Baptist” for a long time.

When the vote passed, Mohler sent out a message saying SBTS would now be the Great Commission Seminary. I have passed by it at least weekly since then and the new name is no where to be found. So what happened? I at least thought those so in favor of it and worked to win the vote would at least use it.

You know, sometimes a big deal is made of such things just to prove to oneself their gravitas. Of course, this happened before a large portion of the celebrity T$G /YRR/Acts 29 wing imploded with scandals.

Donald Morgan

Nice post. Just a few thoughts:
As our Catholic brethren have learned, if one wishes to effect monumental change, start in the seminaries. Planting and fertilizing ideologies into the minds of future leaders.
As you pointed out so well, following trendy ideas has never been a hallmark of the Southern Baptists.
And finally, I thought the Southern Baptist Churches have historically been autonomous? Are we placing too much control in the association?

    Andy

    Donald,

    SBC churches ARE still autonomous. The things Rick speaks of are mostly about INFLUENCE, rather than coerced CONTROL. So yes, any SBC church can ignore most or all of what happens at regional, state, or national levels. They can decide how much to cooperate and donate toward various endeavors, and can choose to not impliment any sbc initiative that comes out. BUT, over time, if a majority of sbc seminary grads are taught in a way that church disagrees with, they will either be looking outside the sbc for their next pastor, or perhaps withdrawing completely…which they are still free to do.

    Despite what Scott says, I believe we are still a “free church”, historically speaking, since any church may do whatever they please, give as much or little as they please, and are free to dis-associate if they please. The denomination does not determine who a church calls as pastor, does not own the building, does not even mandate BF&M subscription.

      Scott Shaver

      Andy:

      If you want to lump denominations and individual local churches into the same group, allow me to ask you this.

      How long do you think a “Free Church” tradition within a denomination whose educational institutions (i.e. seminaries) and young “reformed” pastors coming out those seminaries buck against that “tradition”? Generations die off.

        Scott Shaver

        Andy: please excuse my typo.

        How long you think a Free Church tradition will endure within a denomination whose seminaries and young reformed pastors are bucking against the “tradition”? Generations die off.

        The subtle change in wording from “priesthood of the believer” to “priesthood of believers (collective)” ought to be a red flag.

          Andy

          1. Historically, “Free-church” simply means a church that is not controlled by the state.

          2. Even if we extend that to mean a church that is not controlled by it’s denomination, SBC still fits, and it will untill individual churches and/or pastors voluntarily give up that freedom to larger organizations. The fact that my church cannot control what SBTS teaches does not mean SBTS controls us in any real sense…it means neither controls the other, though some of our money goes to support them, and some of their students find their way to our church. If you are concerned that over time, a church that has SBTS trained pastors will all of the sudden say, “Let’s transfer ownership of our building and lands to the state convention, and let’s give them total control over who becomes the next pastor here, and let’s legally bind ourselves to impliment every SBC initiative that comes out…” I don’t think we are anywhere near that. If, on the other hand, you are concerned that young pastors will be influenced by their seminary professors, and by prominent pastors they hear and read on the internet…then you’re right, they will be, but that’s unavoidable.

            Scott Shaver

            Thanks Andy:

            Which goes to the heart of the point Rick Patrick and others have been making…..”Money”

            No taxation without representation.

Stuart

The shift to a UPG focus using the 2% threshold began in earnest in the IMB in the mid-90s . In the larger evangelical world it’s older even than that. It’s problematic on several levels and deserves a hearty discussion. But it really has absolutely nothing to do with any of the other shifts that have happened in the SBC since 2006. Nothing.

    Scott Shaver

    In the context of the totality of Christian history, I’m not so sure that the idea of perpetual and continually evolving “reform” of The Church is a good thing.

    I think that’s part of the reason for the waning of high-calvinism’s influence early on in the history of the SBC.

    The splintering, confusion, animosity and sectarian divisions over hundreds and several thousands of years appear to produce something very different than what might be described as “unity of spirit” among believers. All these subsequent divisions and schisms since the magisterial and protestant/radical reformations have been based more on the testimony and writings of theologians than on the import and spirit-enlightened context of Scripture. We can add human agendas of power, control, money and influence into the mix.

    Our brothers and sisters and sisters in the Catholic church refer to this behavior as “Byzantine”.

    I’m not so sure they’re incorrect.

    Rick Patrick

    Stuart,

    Perhaps you are right and the strong emphasis upon reaching GROUPS (Frontier Mandate) over against SOULS (Harvest Mandate) has absolutely nothing to do with our recent theological shift.

    However, I think a case can be made that today’s popular eschatological views tie the coming of our Lord to the spread of the gospel not just to all the individual PEOPLE in the world, but to all the PEOPLE GROUPS in the world. Thus, the Great Commission task has come to be viewed as reaching “certain precise, particular, individuals out of all the groups,” whereas in earlier years it was perceived as reaching “as many people as we possibly can, regardless of their people group affiliation, wherever on earth they are found,” with a much more general, as opposed to particular, emphasis.

    To me, at first blush, that sounds like some pretty heavy theological underpinnings. Are we going to approach the spread of the gospel in a broad, open and general manner or in a more narrow, limited and particular manner?

      Scott Shaver

      Rick:

      I may be wrong but in answer to the question you posed about “broad open manner or narrow, limited and particular manner”, It’s probably going to depend on whether the powers that be want to evangelize…or indoctrinate while calling it evangelism.

      William T. McVay - Auburn, AL

      Rick, I appreciate your questioning the proper evangelistic target. Clearly, the two targets – what I would term “somewhat reached” and “hardly reached” – compete for IMB resources. A responsive population can be appealing to maximize the number saved, but is that the only concern?

      I think the primary motivation toward unreached people groups is found in Revelation 5:9, 7:9-10, where the fruit of the church’s evangelism is men (and women!) bought with the blood of Christ in every people group. If believing men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation without exception are to be saved, surely we ought to have that scope in mind in every generation of evangelists.

      What about the “somewhat reached” groups? They have a body of believers to train for the work of ministry and elders to do the training. Spiritual multiplication through training disciples is the key strategy and local evangelists the primary means. I believe our main job is to pray for the Lord to send workers into His harvest (Num. 27:16-18, Matt 9:36-38) and focus our own international work in new groups (Romans 15:20).

      Stuart

      Rick,
      I really don’t see how your reply to me is a response to what I wrote. Of course it represented a major shift. It represented a major shift across all evangelical missiology. It started LONG before 2006 (the point of your post) and had ZERO to do with any reformation movement within the SBC. As I stated, theologically, a uniquely people-group focused missiology is problematic, but for reasons completely unrelated to Calvinism or eschatology.

        Stuart

        Help me understand your second paragraph in your response, please. SPECIFICALLY, what popular eschatological views tie the coming of the Lord to people groups and not just to people? Who are the leading proponents of that position? Where can I read more about that position? What role have they played in the SBC since 2006? One of the most vocal critics of “people-groups only” missiology is both a Calvinist and preterist. I’m just failing to see the connections your trying to make. I get that you want to include something about the IMB in your larger meta-narrative, especially now that Platt is the president of the IMB. But if you’re determined to hold fast to this particular point event though you’re so terribly off-base in your conclusion, you’re ultimately undermining the larger point you’re trying to make in the two articles,instead of supporting it.

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