Magic Always Comes with a Price: The Conservative Resurgence and Calvinism

I’ll need to know where to go to forfeit my man card once I reveal this confession.  Last winter my wife introduced me to a new series on ABC called Once Upon a Time.  I don’t merely endure this show.  I actually look forward to it coming on and my wife and I have made it a Sunday evening tradition.  Fellas, as soon as your laughter and disdain dies down a little try to stomach this video:

I would have liked to have gotten a little better quality video without editing but this was the best that I could find.  The main thing for you to take away from this is what Rumpelstiltskin about magic.  “Magic always comes with a price”.  In each case the person desiring to use “magic” gets what they want for a season but inevitably pays a price much steeper than they desired to pay.

My Experience with the CR

In the late 70’s and early 80’s the Southern Baptist Convention found itself embroiled in a controversy between liberals and conservatives.  By mentioning the Conservative Resurgence (CR) I just opened up a big emotional can of worms for everyone that lived through it.  Opinions abound on every side.

Personally, I did not live through it.  Well, I technically did live through some of the CR but I was more concerned with greater things like controlling bowel movements and making sure that I got to watch ALF.  In others words I was but a wee lad that new about as much concerning SBC life as Al Mohler knows about the KC Royals starting lineup.

However, for one of my classes I read through A Hill On Which To Die and write a review.  Not only did I read through that book but there were various others with snippets about the CR that I needed to know for my class on Baptist History.  All of this to say that I know about the CR only from a distance and what I have read as an interested historical observer.  I didn’t have front row seats.

Yet I do remain a beneficiary of the Conservative Resurgence.  I am very conservative in theology and I thank God for the conservative resurgence. I am ecstatic that I can attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and know that it is a bastion for truth and is dedicated to the glory of God. One could not have said that for many years prior to the Conservative Resurgence.  So I remain indebted to the CR.  Yet I’m not sure it wasn’t without it’s price…

“Magic” Comes with a Price

What happened in the CR is that a majority of the SBC were not liberals.  Yet, they were being increasingly led by liberals.  The seminaries were churning out students and staffed by those far more liberal than most SBC churches were comfortable with.  Yet, the Cooperative Program dollars that each church sent into the SBC was being used—it seemed—to further the cause of liberalism.

In the Conservative Resurgence a group of people gathered together to “take back the Convention”.  By mastering the political structure of the SBC these leaders discovered how to slowly but surely elect conservatives to outweigh liberals on every vital board.  They came to realize that the Convention President held the key that would eventually trickle down to a conservative leaning Board of Trustees for all entities that would then elect conservative seminary presidents (like Albert Mohler) as well as literature, missions, and seminary professors.

For the next several years a battle within the SBC for control and power was lived out at every annual convention.  Again, I am thankful in many regards for this battle.  I am happy that a powerful liberal minority did not win the day (especially given the trajectory of some of those now outside the Convention).  I am glad that the conservatives won the battle.  Yet, I am left to wonder what was the cost of the battle.  You don’t engage in war without having a few battle wounds.

The Calvinism Question

As I somewhat reluctantly scan through the recent articles and discussions about the place of Calvinism within the SBC I cannot help but hear some of same verbiage that took place in the CR.  It appears—at least to me—that one of the battle wounds coming from the CR is that conservatives have become jaded and some seem to have one eye open for any that might again try to take over the convention.  In part that is good and I am thankful for this.

Yet, Calvinism is not liberalism.  There is no need for a Calvinist “takeover” or “taking back the convention” from Calvinists because we are largely on the exact same team.  Calvinists and Non-Calvinists happily linked arms to fight against liberalism.  And now we seem to be fighting one another.

It appears to me that the “magic” that was used was a firm understanding of how to “have power” within the SBC.  And now it seems that some are weary that Calvinists might be using this “magic” to wrest control of the SBC.  I cannot help but wonder if there is not a movement similar to what took place at the Cafe du Monde to put in place a plan to take back the convention from any Calvinistic leaders.

Could there be a Calvinistic Conspiracy to gain control of the SBC.  I assume so.  But it could also be possible that the resurgence of Reformed theology is not some sinister plot to take back the SBC.  In fact I think by the somewhat ecumenical nature of the movement such a thing could be easily disproven.  Together for the Gospel may benefit the SBC but at the end of the day it has little do with it politically.  The same thing goes for the The Gospel Coalition and John Piper.

I guess it is possible that some within the SBC are using Piper, TGC, T4G, and Acts 29 as pawns in their scheme of SBC world dominance.  But Piper, TGC, Acts 29 and many within T4G seem to have little concern about the SBC.  Can I be really honest with you for a second?  As a young pastor within the SBC I have to confess that when I dream about things very seldom is it the expansion of of the SBC.  My dreams are centered around the gospel.  I love the SBC.  I believe it is a wonderfully useful tool for missions and for the most part a great fellowship of mostly like-minded believers.  But I, and many of those like me, have very little concern about controlling the SBC.  We just want to see the gospel thrive.

My point in all of this is to say that just as magic comes with a price so did the CR.  And one of those things is looking at one another with an heir of suspicion as well as a real or perceived battle to see who is pulling the magical strings that were unlocked by the CR.

It is my prayer that our greatest concern is not of what stripe the leaders in the SBC are when it comes to Calvinism or whatever, but that our greatest concern is whether or not we as a whole are promoting the gospel, exalting the name of Jesus, and taking His powerful gospel to the ends of the earth.  Are we discipling people within our local churches to love Jesus more and to live our lives in such a way as to express the greatness of His worth?  If those “pulling the strings” in the SBC are doing these things then I don’t care if they have pictures of John Calvin above their bed-frame or Adrian Rogers.

I fear that we may have bought some magic that carries a price a little steeper than we wanted to pay.  Thankfully, my fear is overcome by the truth that Christ is greater and deeper.  He can unite what others divide.  May He heal not only the SBC but also continue to use her to further His kingdom.

Comments

  1. says

    What happened in the CR is that a majority of the SBC were not liberals. Yet, they were being increasingly led by liberals. The seminaries were churning out students and staffed by those far more liberal than most SBC churches were comfortable with. Yet, the Cooperative Program dollars that each church sent into the SBC was being used—it seemed—to further the cause of liberalism.

    In the Conservative Resurgence a group of people gathered together to “take back the Convention”. By mastering the political structure of the SBC these leaders discovered how to slowly but surely elect conservatives to outweigh liberals on every vital board. They came to realize that the Convention President held the key that would eventually trickle down to a conservative leaning Board of Trustees for all entities that would then elect conservative seminary presidents (like Albert Mohler) as well as literature, missions, and seminary professors.

    For the next several years a battle within the SBC for control and power was lived out at every annual convention. Again, I am thankful in many regards for this battle. I am happy that a powerful liberal minority did not win the day (especially given the trajectory of some of those now outside the Convention). I am glad that the conservatives won the battle. Yet, I am left to wonder what was the cost of the battle. You don’t engage in war without having a few battle wounds.

    Very perceptive indeed. Very Perceptive.

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    • Max says

      I lived through the battle for inerrancy as well, Dr. Hadley … I received a purple heart in that one! I have watched the pendulum swing from liberal … to conservative … to 500 years too far.

      The Bible doesn’t speak too fondly of magic, nor the teachings and traditions of men.

  2. says

    Along with discussion about the article I’m also hoping that a few others admit to having watched and enjoyed Once Upon a Time.

  3. Christiane says

    That film-clip is very Grimm.

    People getting what they want at a price.
    But the ‘price’ may be far more than they anticipated or signed up for, if they are ‘short-sighted’ . . . that is a part of the message in Grimm’s fairy tales, yes.

    Does it always come down to getting what you want at the cost of someone else’s suffering?

    At what point do we lose control over ‘what happens’ as a result of what we do? Depends on our motivations.
    If they are good ones in sync with the will of God, good will come.
    If they are selfish ones, satan can take the ball and run with it, and we lose control over the collateral damage of getting our way.

    That collateral damage ?
    who suffers?
    did they ‘deserve’ to suffer in that way?
    are we responsible?

    We need to have caution about what we wish for . . . especially if we have signed on to seek the will of God instead of our own.

  4. says

    I was a witness to the CR and the battles with liberalism (not really the right word for the Moderates in some cases) from the beginning. I was converted 12-7-57, call to preach in the Spring of 58, licensed, 9-7-58, and in my second year of college )’59-60 and Spring of ’61) was introduced to the higher critical approach to scripture by a psychology professor (who was a grad. of Southern and working on his Ph.D. in Psychology at Wash. U.) at St. Louis Baptist College. I attended the SBC in its meeting in St. Louis (either in ’59 or in ’61. Can’t remember which & don’t have an Annual to look it up right now)(in that St. Louis meeting, unbeknownst to me, they pulled Dr. James Bulman (Th.D., Southern), a pastor from NC from the platform for protesting such teachings in the seminary. In the Spring of ’61 i was working in Mo. State Welfare, and a ministerial student who had a 1.5 years at MBTS told me I was ignorant for believing in the Virgin Birth, a like opinion of my state knowledge was also supplied in ’65 in central Mo. by a pastor who was a grad. of MBTS and who agreed with the fellow cited above. In ’63, I attended the SBC in KC to vote to save the Convention from liberalism. I rented a room through the housing bureau of the convention and shared it with a preacher from New. Mexico, a Brother Hardy (i think that was his name) who had been sent to convention on the Santa Fe Chief passenger train to save it from liberalism. He was an interesting Westerner, having won one of the members of the old Doolin gang of outlaws, when he lived in Oklahoma. I also sat in the office of the Executive Sect. of the Mo. Bapt. Convention, and heard him tell my ordaining pastor (who was preaching a revival for me at the time), “Ernest, they are trying to kill me. They know I have a heart problem and they are calling me up at all hours of the day and night in the hopes of driving me into a retirement or a heart attack.” Dr. harding had led a meeting about the situation at Midwestern Seminary and Ralph Elliott’s book, The Message of Genesis. Later, conservatives would turn on the executive sect. due to his investing his money with convention funds int order to get a better return. Then I attended SEBTS from ’72-’76, where I learned the higher critical apporach as it was taught in “the most liberal seminary” in the convention, a phrase I heard in Mo. years before I ever came to NC, a phrase I heard from the President of the Board of Trustees himself as he spoke at my baccalaureate for the M.Div., Rev. Dr. R. Haynes Rivers, pastor of the FBC of Union, SC. Dr. Rivers told about some woman coming up to him at the SBC and saying something about the matter and using that exact expression, something he did not appreciate. He also was not happy either with the seminary’s reputation or with its use of the Higher Critical Method. There is more, but, time does not permit such coverage. Suffice it to say for now that some of us have lived through the whole thing and have come to see the evil on both sides. It is not to say conservatives were wrong, and the moderates were right; it is to say that one needs to be very careful in changing the course of such a large institution as the SBC, due to its size and numbers and importance to the lives of so many. But if you think we played hard ball, you have no conception of what the Missouri Synod Lutherans did or were like in their controversy over the same issue before the SBC got started. And the basic original theology of our institutions was Sovereign Grace, or calvinism for those who have to use the term, but it was of a kind that wanted to win people to that persuasion with the truth, with facts, not by compulsion by men. My brother-in-law always enjoyed telling me about taking Ephesians under Dr. Curtis Vaughan at SWBTS and how he invited the students to try and change his views on Unconditional Election and Predestination. he said, “I should warn you before we begin. Better men than you have tried and have not succeeded.” By brother-in-law who was not persuaded said he thoroughly enjoyed the give and take. That is what the Sovereign Grace position was meant to be like…it is what I want it to continue to be and to be like, a aim to persuade with reasoning from Holy Scripture and no force or evil treatment. God forbid! We are suppose to be Christians. Let us act like it.

  5. cb scott says

    “Those were the days my friend
    We thought they’d never end
    We’d sing and dance forever and a day
    We’d live the life we choose
    We’d fight and never lose
    For we were young and sure to have our way.
    La la la la…
    Those were the days, oh yes those were the days.”

  6. John Wylie says

    I absolutely love the CR. It was one of the greatest feats in modern evangelicalism. Getting the liberals out was absolutely necessary. But the Calvinists on the other hand are not the same as the liberal. In fact, the Calvinists help the Convention retain its conservatism. Having said this, I do not believe that the CR is to blame for this current issue. Due to our form of government, Baptists are inclined toward fighting. They were this way long before the CR.

    • says

      John,

      I don’t think the reality of fighting can be blamed on the CR. Nor would I even want to put the brunt of the difficulties at its feet. However, I do believe that there might be a “way” of fighting that comes from the CR.

      • John Wylie says

        Mike,

        I agree with you there. No doubt it was during the CR that the victory through politics method was perfected in SBC life.

  7. Nate says

    “Can I be really honest with you for a second? As a young pastor within the SBC I have to confess that when I dream about things very seldom is it the expansion of of the SBC. My dreams are centered around the gospel. I love the SBC. I believe it is a wonderfully useful tool for missions and for the most part a great fellowship of mostly like-minded believers. But I, and many of those like me, have very little concern about controlling the SBC. We just want to see the gospel thrive.”

    As an older man I have just got to say that this kind of attitude is selfish and naive. You already stated that you benefited from the CR by being able to attend seminary under conservative teaching, allowing you to be prepared for ministry, and yet now you do not care about the reigns that are being handed off to your generation?

    TGC, T4G, Piper, and Acts 29 are not the gospel either, and you are right, they don’t care about the SBC, but your generation should. Those who fought for the CR and the millions of laypeople that have prayed, tithed, and sacrificed for the SBC in order to proprogate the gospel through missions, through the training of young seminarians (like you) all believed that controlling the SBC was a means by which the gospel would go forth throughout the world in greater ways than before.

    Mike, I’m assuming you are a conservative, evangelical, Southern Baptist preacher, but you are behaving like a spoiled child that hasn’t fully appreciated his parents sacrifices. What will the generation or two after you have if you are unwilling to fight to control the SBC and continue what was handed to you. The Baby Boomer generation was greedy, self-serving, and never appreciated the Greatest Generation. Oh, they lived under the freedom that their fathers and grandfathers fought and died to give them, but they turned around and led future generations away from the ideals of what they had been given.

    The generation right after the CR has already withheld their giving to the Cooperative Program (something those who fought in the CR didn’t even do) if they don’t get their way in the sandbox, and now you speak as if your generation shouldn’t even care about where SBC ends up…

    Shame on you!

    • says

      Nate,

      I appreciate your boldness here. Thanks.

      While it is not outside the realm of capability for me to act like a spoiled brat, I’m not sure this charge is fair here. I’m not saying that I don’t care about the SBC. Nor did I say that TGC, T4G, Piper, Acts 29, etc. “do not care about the SBC”. I said they have little concern for the SBC. That may not have been quite the best way to word that–I should have been more careful in how I worded that.

      My point is that I care more about the gospel than I do the SBC. The SBC is a partnership of like minded people and churches to do the greater thing of spreading the gospel. If the SBC turns inward and becomes about the expansion or maintenance of the SBC more so than the gospel (and yes there can be a difference) then I’m sorry but my affections are elsewhere. Will I stay and fight for the faithfulness of the SBC? Absolutely. But at the end of the day my biggest passion is the gospel and not the SBC.

      It can perhaps be similar to me saying that I love Jesus more than my wife. That doesn’t diminish my love for her. It is great. But my love for Christ triumphs my love for my wife. 99% of the time those don’t have to be in conflict. But in that 1% then Jesus wins and not my wife.

      Does that make sense?

  8. Nate says

    Mike, I think that clarifies a little bit, but your words “I have little concern about controlling the SBC” are still disturbing. I understand your analogy with your wife, but you would not say, “I have little concern about loving my wife, I just want to love Jesus with all my heart.” My point is that it is a both/and, not an either/or, which is what your rhetoric sounded like. If that is not the case, I stand corrected.

    Just to clarify. I think your generation’s (not necessarily yours in particular) infatuation with TGC, T4G, Piper and Acts 29 is detrimental to the SBC. I blame much of this on those in current leadership (in the SBC) who seem to side more with the aforementioned organizations than their own convention.

    I will restate that if your generation does not take firm control of the SBC and continue its Conservative Resergence (for the gospel) then your children and children’s children may not have SBTS or other seminaries that they can go be prepared at, and the IMB (which by any measure is an astounding achievement for the gospel) may cease to exist.

    Just look at the US and its headlong departure from the Greatest Generation’s America as an example of what can happen in a lifetime.

    • says

      Nate,

      I’ll be happy to admit that saying “little concern” was not the best word use. “Less concern” or something like that would have been better. Thanks for pointing that out.

      While I think hero worship can be a problem with any generation and ours is not immune to this I think by and large what you see is that what draws us to men like Piper, Chandler, etc. is their radical commitment and love for Christ. Same thing that draws us to the Puritans. And I don’t think that is bad for the SBC. If you look at history in the times when the gospel thrived the most (and even in the later part of the Great Awakening, Baptists) it was when people were more concerned about the evangel than they were what stripe it came in. I see an upsurge of this and I think it’s why people are drawn to Piper. God uses Him to invigorate our love for Jesus.

      I think in part we might be talking around each other. When I say that I have little concern for the SBC what I am intending to say is that I could care less about power within the SBC for the sake of power within the SBC. I do care about the SBC and that we promote the gospel and proclaim the glories of Christ to the nations. If that’s what it means by “controlling the SBC” and continuing the CR then I’m all for it.

      • Nate says

        Fair Enough on your last paragraph…

        We’ll agree to disagree about the celebrity pastor “worship” with your generation. I see it as imminently detrimentral to the SBC. That is not to say that I am claiming the men you mentioned aren’t believers or evangelicals.

        Blessings!

  9. says

    What is difficult for most people to understand is that theology and ministry afford open doors to the functioning of pathologies that are still very much present within our personalities after we are truly converted. Such problems can be observed in the Apostles who were having a fuss the very night in which Jesus was betrayed over the issue of who would be chief in our Lord’ Kingdom. They simply did not get it that they were to be the chief of servants. They were thinking in terms of setting on thrones and being waited on by flunkies and functionaries. It is no easy matter to adopt a servant mentality, especially when you like to win, when winning seems to be the name of the game. Our victory over the Moderates was not one of our finest of moments. There has never been any discussions of theological mediation or trained theological mediators to work out differences, and the reason might well be the pride of triumphalism. It is sort of like the issue of eschatological victories which Southern Baptists have handled the best until lately, allowing for at least three views, pre, post, and a millenialism. If what I discovered about the nature of biblical ideas is true (and I say if in recognition of the fact that I am human and fallible), then there is a way for the groups to come together on the basis of what the Bible has to say about doctrines, that the truths are set up in a way to create a tension in a believer’s mind in order to make him or her balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic. In short, it produces a mature believer who is God’s advertisement in this world. There is also the practical nature of the seemingly opposite teachings, truths that are designed to do the very opposite of what one expects or thinks, paradoxes that work in apparent contradictions of what one would normally expect.

    Fellows, we are facing the most challenging period in world history, one in which the future of our people is going to demand the extensive and supreme use of their minds in order to create jobs for themselves that will provide meaning, income, and purpose, if Southern Baptists are to survive. This means, at the very least, that we must mind the fact of the world of Intellectualism, and we are encouraged to do it be the fact that at one time the Christian Faith people were the leaders of Western Civilization. We need a whole host of thinkers to deal with the evolutionary delusion that is daily becoming more and more dominant in our lives, a delusion that justifies the slaughter of babies in the womb (hiding the reality that someone might have started the mess in order to get rid of the excess population in the world), justifies sex between humans and animals, puts animals before humans, thinks it right to get rid of those who do not fit the profile of what some ivory tower individuals have decided would be best for the future. We have a enough confronting us as believers to hold us together as the threat of so-called liberalism did in the past 60 years. We also have the need to develop a Great Commission interest that is focused on winning the whole earth beginning in this generation and continuing for a 1000 generations and reaching thousands and thousands of worlds, should mankind expand to the stars of the universe. These are possibilities even within the so-called calvinism or Sovereign Grace camp as it is in the Traditionalist camp. We have a common responsibility that ought to allow each of us the freedom to think, act, give and take and accomplish for the glory of God.