Click HERE for Part One.
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. Part Two addresses reform attempts five through eight.
5. Funding Methods
The budgeting efforts and missionary targets discussed in the previous two sections have to do with how we spend the money. This section addresses how we raise it. Two primary approaches exist—the societal method and the cooperative method. The former has been used with limited success by the rest of Christendom while the latter has been used almost exclusively by Southern Baptists to establish the greatest evangelical missionary sending body in world history. Inexplicably, we are doing everything we can to transition from our extremely successful approach so as to imitate the less successful approach that everyone else has been using.
When it comes to fixing the decline in Cooperative Program giving, there has been no end to the hand-wringing, the arm-twisting and the finger-pointing. Dollars and percentages have been needlessly set in opposition to one another. New marketing approaches will never be savvy enough to communicate this one inescapable truth: the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention works extremely well at funding all our ministries if and only if the percentage of undesignated giving by each local church averages approximately ten percent. Instead of restoring roughly ten percent CP giving, we are reforming in favor of the societal approach—an initiative that represents the foolish deconstruction of our single greatest asset.
6. Cultural Engagement
For many years, Southern Baptists have been known for standing boldly against the rising tide of liberalism and political correctness sweeping America. Today, our approach sounds more like CNN than FOX. It starts at the top, with our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, whose communitarianism reveals a clear shift from conservative to centrist approaches, and whose co-belligerence tactics welcome as partners those with whom we do not share a Christian worldview. In today’s SBC, we invite LGBT activists to dialogue in our conferences[i] and partner with secular humanist organizations to promote freedom of expression.[ii]
What is the harm in such associations? The harm is in sounding a very unclear trumpet regarding our principles—confusing society concerning exactly where we stand. This is how we get headlines like Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback from Politics, Culture Wars[iii] and Not a Retreat From the Culture Wars, But a Recalibration.[iv] Southern Baptists might be forgiven for asking, “Why, in the midst of America’s complete social and moral collapse, are our leaders debating between a pullback, a retreat and a recalibration—when what is so clearly demanded by the times in which we live is a massive and unhesitant charge forward?”
Further evidence of confusion is found in the comment stream of an atheist website on which a Southern Baptist leader promoted freedom of expression: “This is the first time I have seen a theist embrace the secular movement.”[v] Do Southern Baptists really wish to be seen “embracing” the secular movement? I realize it is popular now to invoke a peculiar interpretation of Paul’s “become all things” missional approach to reach out to the lost. However, we must not forget this same Paul stood so strongly against the beliefs of his day that he was routinely beaten and run out of town. Today’s SBC would not be run out of a gay bar. We also witness to the lost when we prophetically denounce their wicked ways. It may not play as well on CNN but it carries the virtue of being seldom misunderstood.
Most Southern Baptists probably assume that when a vacancy occurs at one of our denominational entities, the positions are filled (a) by Southern Baptist applicants, and (b) by leaders who represent, in a fairly proportional manner, the wide variety of theological views generally embraced by the majority of Southern Baptists. Unfortunately, both assumptions are false.
With regard to the former assumption, non-SBC workers today fill many of our vacancies. For example, at the ERLC, three of the first five hires by President Russell Moore (Dan Darling, Trillia Newbell and Joe Carter) were not Southern Baptists on the date of their hire. Consider also the many non-Southern Baptist discipleship leaders and conference speakers employed by LifeWay at youth events like FUGE. This past year, it was discovered that one Vice President of our North American Mission Board was actively attending a non-Southern Baptist Church, serving in a very public role. He has since resigned. No longer listed as an employee, he now receives his paycheck as an outside consultant paid by NAMB.
Regarding the latter assumption, consider for a moment the last four SBC entity Presidents hired. Kevin Ezell at the North American Mission Board is Al Mohler’s former Pastor. Russell Moore at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is Al Mohler’s former Dean. Jason Allen at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is Al Mohler’s former Executive Assistant. David Platt at the International Mission Board—like Moore, Allen and Mohler—has been very active in The Gospel Coalition, a Calvinist only parachurch organization.
Clearly, new SBC leaders today are not being drawn from a broad cross section of our general membership. Instead, recent leadership vacancies have been filled with a certain kind of Southern Baptist. Those hailing from other regions, embracing other viewpoints and claiming other mentors simply need not bother to apply.
Prior to the reforms of the past decade, when Southern Baptists spoke of ministry partners, we usually meant our fellow Southern Baptist churches and entities at the association, state and national levels. To plant a mission church, for example, one might have support from a sponsoring mother church, a local association, a state convention and the North American Mission Board—Southern Baptist partners all.
Today the typical “Southern Baptist” church plant employs a far more diverse sponsorship portfolio—including many partners who are not even Southern Baptist at all. Such partners may include organizations such as the Acts 29 Network, PLNTD, the North American Church Planting Foundation and many others, all of which affirm Calvinist only doctrinal parameters far more narrow than the views affirmed by all Southern Baptists in the Baptist Faith and Message.
To clarify, these reformed groups do not exclude other Southern Baptists by lying outside the BFM, like the suburb of a major city. Rather, they exclude other Southern Baptists by lying inside the BFM, like the kind of “city within a city” one might find in a major metropolis. Even within the BFM, they remain exclusive.
Other church planting partners outside Southern Baptist circles include ethnic denominations such as the National Baptist Convention with which many church plants establish a “joint affiliation.” What is the result of these church-planting partnerships with outside groups? On the plus side, they offer money to advance the Kingdom—although such an advance may be restricted to those promoting Calvinistic doctrines. On the minus side, these partnerships can be structured unevenly, rendering Southern Baptists as limited partners without a controlling interest in “our” plants—an arrangement that only serves to weaken SBC loyalty.
[i] Allen, Bob. “Emotions Mixed for Pro-Gay ERLC Conference Attendees.” Baptistnews.com. October 30, 2014.
[ii] Allen, Bob. “Southern Baptist Leader Endorses Secularist Campaign.” Baptistnews.com. May 29, 2015.
[iii] King, Jr., Neil. “Evangelical Leader Preaches Pullback from Politics, Culture Wars.” Wall Street Journal. October 21, 2013.
[iv] Galloway, Jim. “Not a Retreat from the Culture Wars but a Recalibration.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution. October 26, 2013.
[v] G_Crotty. [Comment to blogpost] “Danny Akin—Openly Secular.” Richarddawkins.net. June 3, 2015, 10:31 a.m.