Bill Harrell has served as Pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia, for over 30 years. He also is active in the Augusta Baptist Association, Georgia Baptist Convention, and SBC, including having serving as the Vice-President of the Georgia Baptist Convention and as Chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.
In the short span of time of about five years, those of us who are observers of activities within the Southern Baptist Convention have witnessed not only changes but mega-shifts in our convention. It would take a large volume for someone to treat all the various subjects at hand but I want to address just a few that are very subtle in some ways but very overt in others.
Most of our Southern Baptist people are just tending to the business of the Kingdom in their part of the world unaware of the forces that are in play and what those forces are trying to achieve and indeed are achieving with much success.
Two things have come to our attention in recent days that bear watching. First, our agency for missions within the US, NAMB, has been using some of the Cooperative Program funds to help establish “Acts 29” churches. These churches must, by their own charter, be organized as five-point-Calvinist churches. There are those who have it as their goal to change the SBC into a Reformed convention more akin to a Presbyterian church that a Baptist church. I cannot, in these few words, get into a broad examination of what is going on, but any informed member of the SBC understands that this is happening.
The driving force behind the Acts 29 churches has been Mark Driscoll; and I do not need to elucidate how controversial he is. He has become, to the younger people, somewhat of a folk hero who they are willing to follow no matter what he says or does. Chapter 10 of his recent book, Real Marriage, is nothing but pornography. It encourages people to think that it normal to do sexually what the Bible condemns. Yet, it is Southern Baptist people who suddenly seem willing to accept the things that the people of our convention rejected outright as sinful until recently. In recent days the leadership of Acts 29 has shifted to someone else, at least in the public eye. Driscoll is the founder of this emergent church, Calvinistic organization; and many believe he will still be the “behind the scenes” leader. Being the founder, he is not going to “ride off into the sunset” too easily or too far.
Let me suggest why the younger generation finds it so easy to accept the kind of things Driscoll mentions in his book. This is the generation that was raised on the internet and all that it offers including pornography. I believe that this young generation is willing to accept and actually applaud the activities that are suggested as acceptable sex in chapter 10 of Driscoll’s book. I believe that many, though certainly not all of the younger generation that is currently pushing for such radical changes in the SBC are not alarmed by the content of chapter 10 because they have been exposed all of their lives, through the internet, to the grossest of pornographic videos and images. Many have exposed themselves to this internet trash and it has imprinted their minds. They think it is okay to do such because they have been dealing with it for years. They are part of the video generation who had the ability to go to their rooms at night and spend hours looking at pornography while their parents thought they were asleep. So, no wonder they don’t blink an eye at what Driscoll refers to in chapter 10. In fact, they wonder why we old “fuddy-duddies” are so worked up about it all. Only people who are accustomed to consuming pornography would gravitate toward such filth and endorse it. Some have noted what a good book he has written, especially in the first chapters. One must realize that it was the same mind that wrote those chapters as the one that wrote chapter 10 and encouraged people to do such things even to the point of providing web sites to help people know where to find aids that would heighten the sexual experience. Because human nature is what it is, things will get worse before they get better. How far will such people as Driscoll have to go before we become convicted and turn away in disgust? We are far removed from the purity that was expected of the New Testament Christians.
The people of the SBC in annual meetings have made it clear that they want nothing to do with Driscoll or Acts 29, yet some of our leaders continue to thumb their noses at what they know has been said on the issue at the convention. They don’t care what we think because these leaders of this new wave of thought are convinced that they are in control so they will do as they wish no matter what we think.
NAMB has been helping to start churches in the St. Louis area that are Acts 29 affiliated. The leaders at NAMB were confronted several months ago about this and we were assured that they were not funding Acts 29 churches with SBC monies. This all died down for a few months, and now we find that they have continued to do this. I don’t know about other people in the SBC, but I do not plan to fund such activity. I also believe that if the masses of the SBC people were to find out what is going on they would not fund it either. The real problem is that those good people are not informed about the current direction of the SBC. They trust their leaders and agencies never realizing that such is happening. The very people they trust are relying on them to continue to give because that is what they have always done and, at the same time, they are going in directions the good people of the SBC would never go.
There is a growing emphasis on church planting and missions. Let me offer a suggestion as to why. The young Calvinists, who are being turned out in numbers from Southern and Southeastern in particular, are finding it difficult to get a job in a Southern Baptist church because 90+ % of our churches reject five point Calvinism. The leaders of these seminaries know they cannot tell a young person that “we are going to educate you in Calvinism, but we want you to know that it will be difficult for you to get a job in a Southern Baptist church when you graduate.” Now suppose they told them that. How long do you think they would attract students in number? So, they are pushing church planting and missions to give these people an outlet for ministry opportunities. They can’t afford to warn the young student about the reality of job hunting in the SBC as a five point Calvinist. They just make them a part of their little group, which I describe as an “intellectual, spiritual groupie thing.” They have their gurus who they follow almost unquestionably. The same is true of those attached to the Acts 29 group. As churches get more familiar with the situation, they are starting to ask directly if a candidate is sympathetic to or is a part of the Acts 29 network. When the average Southern Baptist church finds out that they are connected to or sympathetic to Acts 29, they turn from them and seek another candidate. So, this new emphasis on church planting is being largely driven by the fact that five-point-Calvinist students and Acts 29 adherents need a place to go preach and minister because churches do not want their theology (in the case of the Calvinists) or their organization (in the case of the Acts 29 group).
These church starts in the St. Louis area are very revealing and bear watching. Lifeway, which is in the process of being changed into a Reformed agency, has just released a series of Sunday School lessons on the gospel of which all authors are Calvinists except maybe one person. Now, let me ask a question: With 90+% of the SBC people rejecting Calvinism, how did our educational agency happen to product a Sunday School series on the gospel that is authored almost exclusively by Calvinists? I think it was by design. It was intentional and done because, as stated previously, they think they are in control of the convention enough at this point that they can do as they please.
I believe that it has always been a dream of the President of Southern Seminary to use that institution of higher learning as the home base for making the SBC a Reformed convention. Even Christianity Today saw this. When Al Mohler arrived at Southern in 1993, he began firing the liberals who did not hold to inerrancy. We all watched and said, “Praise God, Brother Al is getting rid of those liberals.” We just didn’t notice that as he fired the liberals, he replaced them with inerrantists who happened to be Calvinists. Some were not even Baptist; they were Presbyterian. The Southern Baptist people were so overjoyed at the way Southern was being brought back into the inerrancy camp that we were totally unaware of the direction in which it was being taken. Now we see. Southern and now Southeastern are both turning out numbers of the young, restless Calvinists with Southern having been doing it for years. We have a large number of them seeking to pastor our churches. Many churches that are not Calvinistic in their theology have been ruptured by these young preachers who accept a call to a church but fail to tell them that they are five point Calvinists. The church is usually split and damaged before they find out the truth. One will be loudly condemned for stating this truth but as my Grandmother used to say . . . ”the proof is in the pudding.”
While I believe that there has been a long term plan to take the convention to the Reformed position, I also think that the number of our agency heads and leadership positions held by Calvinists or those sympathetic to that theological model prove the point. Where did Thom Rainer come from? Southern Seminary. Where did Ed Stetzer make his trek to Lifeway from? Southern. Where did Trevin Wax, a new writer and editor for Lifeway get his Masters degree? Southern. Where did Kevil Ezell come from? He was Al Mohler and Danny Akin’s pastor in Louisville. Where did Clark Logan, now at NAMB come from? Did you guess Southern? You are right. Even Danny Akin went to Southeastern from Southern. A “family tree” kind of graph, showing where the current leadership of some of our most influential agencies came from and who has been involved in their hiring, might be very interesting.
All of this points to why Lifeway would be so bold as to issue a Sunday School series on the gospel authored primarily by Calvinists. Dr. Mohler, along with The Founders group and others know that it would take five lifetimes to take the SBC back to a Reformed position church by church but he is also smart enough to know that it could be accomplished in only a couple of decades through the educational system: Lifeway. The good people of the SBC are not theologians. They simply trust their agencies and are unaware of the plan. They could be manipulated into the Reformed tradition through the educational process and never know what hit them. Also, less blood will be shed this way.
In connection with this, let me point out another thing that bears watching. With this gospel Sunday School series, they are subtly trying to change the definition of the word “gospel.” Even now, when those who hold to Reformed doctrine refer to preaching the “gospel,” they are meaning that one is preaching Calvinism. When one of the Calvinists says “preach the gospel brother,” he is really saying “preach that Reformed doctrine brother.” NonCalvinists are saying “preach the whosoever will gospel brother.” There is a vast difference. And, I believe that the goal is to re-educate the people of the SBC to understand that Reformed doctrine is the “gospel” and that the “gospel” is Reformed doctrine. Once that is accepted by the people after a couple of decades, the leaders of the Reformed resurgence can say, “we have done it; the SBC is now a Reformed convention.” And, they will have used the same basic approach to accomplish their goal as they use in the local churches: slow indoctrination that “sneaks up on the blind side.”
Let me pose this question: “Why, in the midst of all the other things that are transpiring that would totally transform the SBC, do we have this effort to change the name of our convention?” Let me offer this assessment. The effort is to “rebrand” the SBC. Call it something else and change the image of the convention in the minds of the people. At the same time the goal is to insert Calvinism as the identifiable theological bent of the convention. It would be easier to do it that way since the name “SBC” would not easily carry the designation as a Reformed convention. Rebrand it; rename it; insert Calvinism; educate the people that this is where the new convention is theologically. It would be much easier to call a newly named convention a Reformed convention than it would be to identify the SBC as a Reformed group. I realize that not all the people on the name change committee are Calvinists and had no concept of this. But, I believe others did. Those who are not Calvinists probably went along with the “nickname” approach because that is far better than totally changing the name, in their view.
Such name changing and rebranding was tried in 1995-96 when a committee studied changing some things so that we “could operate in a smoother way and more effectively reach the world for Jesus.” This committee renamed the Home Mission Board, NAMB. They renamed the Foreign Mission Board, the IMB. They eliminated some minor agencies. They thought that rebranding and renaming some of our key agencies would make things work better. Worked real well didn’t it? The whole process was a waste of time and money and at least one of the people involved with that process is involved in the current one. So, now they have come up with the brilliant idea of a “nickname”, Great Commission Baptists. Those who want to use this new moniker can do so in place of the Southern Baptist Convention name. This is only going to produce confusion in the eyes of those very people we want to reach. Now, some will have to say ”we are a GCB church”. Then comes the question: “I thought you were Southern Baptist.” “Well we are, but we are choosing to use Great Commission Baptists as our identifying name.” Now one would say, “so, there are two conventions?” “Well no, there is one but it now has two accepted names.” Is it just me or do others think that this is creating confusion? Let me tell you what I think will happen. I think that the GCB will become the “Calvinistic arm” of the SBC. The perception of the young, restless Calvinists is that their heroes are the ones behind this renaming approach, and they will run to be a part of whatever Brother So-and-so helped form and endorses. Soon it will be obvious that this “division” of the SBC is the Calvinistic “arm” of the SBC. Money will flow there in order to support whatever their leaders “suggest” is a good thing to support. So we will wind up with the CBF on one side, the SBC in the middle and the GCB (Calvinistic arm) on the other side. They will do the same as the CBF has done and stay in our convention and churches. More fracturing and confusion will be the result.
When people look at the different facets of the current happenings in the SBC, they can begin to get an idea of what is actually taking place and where it is all headed. Of course, this assumes that they have enough background. If current trends continue we will not recognize the SBC in a very few years. Which begs the question: “Is there NOTHING right about the SBC?” Is everything wrong and in need of radical surgery? I think not! These people are doing with the convention what many of them have done in churches: radically change the makeup of the church while making those who might oppose them out to be one who really doesn’t desire to be obedient to God or fulfill the great commission.
Things are changing in our Southern Baptist Zion and they are not for the good. If things continue on the present course, I predict that in only a few years we will not have thirty-five state and pioneer conventions but about twenty-five. Some will cease to operate. Some will combine with a more stable convention in order to survive. Additionally, I predict that the Executive Committee will cease to be the entity that has guided us so well in the past because fewer conventions will reduce the number of committee members. As it grows smaller someone will ask: “why have an Executive Committee? It is now much smaller and we don’t need to waste that mission money on having a meeting since we have the internet with the ability for each person to stay home and participate in a video conference.” There will be a movement to let the officers of the committee meet about twice a year, set up a video meeting and hold an Executive Committee meeting in such a manner. Next will come the bright idea . . . “Since we don’t have all those people meeting twice a year and since so much has changed, why don’t we sell the Baptist Building? We could take that money and start some more churches and send some more missionaries.” I mean, who in the world could be against such good things?
One might say I am being an alarmist, but I believe that the fragmentation of the SBC is already taking place and it will proceed in that direction until we are no longer the monolithic spiritual body that has influence in the nation and world. We will be like any other denominational body. We will not be the leader among denominations as we have been, but we will be classed with those that the world doesn’t care if they exist or not because they are no threat to the sinful directions of society.
I know that what I have said will be decried as harsh, but we are dealing with harsh realities in the SBC. If things follow a normal course, it will be the young theologues who have little or no experience who will be the harshest in their criticism of my thoughts. They are still “wet behind the ears” and don’t have the experience or background to say very much at all. In general they have no respect for those who have had a ministry of forty or more years. I really don’t care who says what. My observations are built on the foundation of sixteen years on the Executive Committee and thirty eight years of pastoring Southern Baptist churches.
The things I have mentioned are some of the things that bear watching. Time will prove if I am right or not. I think I am.