Day: June 19, 2007
The full response…
Today, Associated Baptist Press has run a story entitled, “Baptist bloggers calling it quits, turning to other methods, ministry.” While I would not suggest that we’re “calling it quits,” as will be revealed very soon, I certainly appreciate ABP’s willingness to profile the shift we are anticipating. Below are my full responses to the questions sent by ABP Editor, Greg Warner:
1. Are you abandoning your efforts to reform and pry open the SBC? Are you leaving out of despair or because you won?
I am abandoning no effort to which I have committed myself for the sake of reforming and refocusing the Southern Baptist Convention. All reforming efforts of any enduring influence have seasons of greater and lesser intensity. I believe that the single greatest obstacle to a reforming agenda in the Southern Baptist Convention is the provincial fundamentalism of Paige Patterson and his loyalists. They have misapplied the separatist tradition, misinterpreted our Baptist identity, misdirected our resurgent energies, misunderstood the cooperative purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention, and misconstrued the reforming agenda nurtured by many young theologians and pastors. I am not leaving the SBC. I am making a strategic and prayerful decision to channel my energies toward more constructive proposals. Quite frankly, it is a sad sight to watch great men lose touch with reality. I think our convention has seen enough for a while. Should Paige Patterson continue to find the necessity to attack Dwight McKissic, intimidate Jerry Rankin, threaten Morris Chapman, undermine Thom Rainer, or provoke others to do so, I will retrieve my sword with greater intensity than before. I am not beating my sword into a plowshare just yet. I’m merely setting it down to do some needed digging.
2. Are you shifting to other methods? Other reformers?
I am shifting to new methods. I am aware that many of my generation will continue to live in a surreal world where the convention moves through prayer meetings alone. I am a realist. My realism, however, informs me that no agenda for reform will succeed if bridges are burned at every turn. I have become a polarizing figure, and I knew that was an unavoidable consequence of raising the concerns that I have in the manner that I chose. The Southern Baptist Convention will not have to live with Paige Patterson much longer, and when he is gone his loyalists will lose some of the passion for his excessive methods and divisive causes that range far beyond the issue of inerrancy. Knowing that the hour fast approaches when younger generations will arise to lead, it is important for me to try to build consensus, mutual respect, and confessional clarity amid our minor theological differences.
3. Is it because of the lack of change or the level of opposition that you are eschewing politics?
If by eschewing politics, you mean that I am going to retract from all behind-the-scenes efforts to push for reform, then I’m eschewing nothing. I believe that substantive changes have occurred. I believe many more are coming. Politics scare people. The faint of heart are not able to stomach the frequency and necessity of political savvy in a convention of our size and influence. I am, without a doubt, a political creature. I know how to get things done inside the system of denominational politics. I think it would be a poor stewardship of my awareness and skill to retract entirely. However, knowing that many of my contemporaries live in a docetic world where the spiritual and political are incompatible, I have an obligation before God to accommodate their concern for the ultimate aim of recentering this convention and its ministries on the Gospel and not our idiosyncratic doctrinal eccentricities.
4. Does the movement have momentum of its own or will it shrivel up now?
Any movement that honors the Lord will have momentum. I believe that there is incredible momentum for swinging this convention back toward the center of conservatism rather than follow a few leaders into their headlong rush for independent fundamentalism. We are increasingly diverse in our ministry methods and interests. That diversity has an opportunity for incredible strength, if Southern Baptists will avoid the gravitational pull of ecclesiological narcissism and cultural isolationism that is reflected in the efforts of Patterson and others. I believe that a denominational detente is at hand as younger generations awaken to the reality that we have many, many years of service together in Kingdom causes. We will not want to wait for a few funerals before we learn to serve alongside one another — both passionately and peaceably — to achieve those common objectives of missions and evangelism that we share.
5. Was this move planned before the convention? Did it have anything to do with the establishment spin on the BFM motion? Did you win or lose that battle?
My decision 18 months ago was to use every opportunity before the San Antonio convention to expose some of the nonsense, strife, and poor stewardship that Paige Patterson has brought to the Southern Baptist Convention. I have, to date, only scratched the surface. I knew that his influence in the convention must be neutralized if any reforming agenda was to occur. A dissent movement only has legs for a little while if its uniting passion is opposition to a personality. I believe that the time has come to articulate a prospective and constructive agenda for Southern Baptist renewal. Paige Patterson will be increasingly irrelevant to that conversation, though he himself will be the last to realize it.
I feel like the BFM statement was a win for the convention. If nothing else, it exposed the disdain that some convention leaders have for any effort by the convention messengers to influence the institutions they support with Cooperative Program dollars. The Baptist Faith and Message is an instrument whereby the convention holds our entity presidents accountable, as much as a tool whereby we expect them to hold entity employees accountable. I think most of the churches get that point, even if a few seminary presidents seem to miss it.
The BFM statement, more than anything else, will set the agenda for the next year’s discussion in Southern Baptist life. Even if the motion had failed — which it did not — it has refocused our convention on the things we hold in common rather than the things upon which we disagree. I honestly do not understand Paige Patterson’s and Al Mohler’s resistance here. It seems that they don’t really like how the baby they birthed has grown into adolescence. Both men were instrumental in drafting the confession, and yet we are now discovering that they do not really want it to carry the force they designed it to carry. The level of their rhetoric at the convention about this issue mirrored the fear of Dr. Frankenstein when he saw that his monster actually lived. I think they are truly afraid that having pulled all the stops to get the statement adopted, they now will be hoisted with their own petards, or called to account by the convention for disregarding our confessional parameters. Neither seminary presidents, nor convention trustees are vested with the authority to determine the course of confessional identity or ministry philosophy for the Southern Baptist Convention.
Again, I feel that the convention wins in this issue. I predict, however, that Patterson and others will try to keep this convention focused on charismatic theology, which divides us. As long as the convention can divide on issues of doctrinal insignificance, denominational elites can continue to exert unchecked power over the direction of the convention. If consensus is found among the churches, however, then those who push our convention toward any extreme will be rejected.
Danny Akin has said it very well: He will fight with all his might any agenda that will take the Southern Baptist Convention’s focus away from the Great Commission. I share his resolve, and will fight tooth and claw any person who introduces revisionist accounts of Baptist history or eccentric programmes for Baptist theology.
Truly, the BFM2000 is the only point around which we can all rally. I find it interesting that there are some leaders who don’t want us finding that consensus with any serious commitment. I believe the convention churches, however, will find that consensus with or without them.
6. What about your book?
My book is nearly complete. I do not have a date in mind for publication, but I have been contacted by a few publishers who are very interested. No one person has seen any complete chapter, though some have seen excerpts. What began as a biographical study of Paige Patterson grew into an autobiographical narrative of my own observations and impressions about religion gone awry. I guess you could say that I’m going for the jugular.
Incidentally, SBCOutpost is not going away. Neither is Art Rogers, Marty Duren, Dwight McKissic, Wade Burleson, nor others. The nature of our conversation is about to change, but our goals remain the same: to see the Southern Baptist Convention recentered within the parameters of cooperation that have defined Southern Baptists around doctrinal consensus and missionary zeal.