With reference to our present Southern Baptist denominational controversy, there has been more than enough talk of “wackadoodles” and “bogeymen.” I am not interested in characterizing pejoratively those who disagree with me by calling them names. I now reject the notion that the existence of a full-scale Southern Baptist takeover or “quiet revolution” is in any way a conspiratorial idea, a stretch or a lark. It is not a conspiracy. It is a reality.
My earlier post simply asked the question, “Are we being reformed?” In developing my article, I wasted far too many words disclaiming conspiracy theories, a tactic which only fueled the marginalizing fires of those who claimed there were no such secret plans and agendas. However, to my surprise, those on both sides of the controversy took exception not with the existence of an agenda, which they all clearly admitted, but merely with the idea that the agenda was a secret.
Those favoring the Great Commission Resurgence will never admit that messengers approving the formation of the Task Force had in mind only the improvement of our Great Commission efforts and not the total restructuring of our denomination. We can fairly assume that when Al Mohler proposed the formation of this Task Force he knew the general direction in which he would lead these individuals. If only a historical record existed that would allow us to examine the early briefings of the Task Force so we could understand the influences that led to their decisions. In the same way, one can easily accept that the Presidential Name Change Task Force was formed–apart from convention approval–with the foregone conclusion that a name change would be recommended.
All of this points to the existence of reform–not potential reform, not a conspiracy, not some wackadoodle’s theory, but a true political reform movement designed to remake the Southern Baptist Convention according to the pattern of the plan’s designer. Where there is reform, there must be a reformer. So the real question is not “Are we being reformed?” but “Who is reforming us?”
Before answering that question, let me briefly address two crucial aspects of the whole secrecy concept before leaving it behind forever. First, I contend that this SBC controversy is still largely a “secret” among the majority of the 16 million laypeople who fill our churches, teach our Sunday Schools, support our missionaries and buy our Lifeway Bibles and books. During the Conservative Resurgence, these laypeople “got in on it” and attended conventions which changed the course of the SBC. This time, we apparently have not bothered to invite them, perhaps because the controversy itself is so frustratingly difficult to simplify. Second, I contend that the “secret” plan or agenda must have been discussed prior to the Louisville convention, at least to some degree. In other words, before the reform effort went public, someone planned it. Thus, it was really only a hidden agenda at some point in history before it was launched, although it remains hidden to many if not most Southern Baptists.
By all accounts, the “private plan” for the Conservative Resurgence grew out of a meeting between Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler held in, of all places, the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. Over coffee and beignets, the idea was launched that led to our convention being preserved in its doctrinal soundness. Do we not deserve to know clearly the roots of our current reform movement?
Two primary theories deserve consideration. Howell Scott argues persuasively that the source of the GCR reform movement may be found in an alliance between traditional megachurch pastors and younger (often Calvinist) Southern Baptists. I wonder what could possibly unite such different factions of convention life? For one thing, neither group particularly appreciates seeing their Cooperative Program gifts scrutinized on a percentage basis. For another, they both appear to desire for our denomination’s infrastructure to shift our focus from a wide variety of ministries to an “Acts 29” style church planting network.
While Scott’s view is convincing, Ron Hale also shared with me a resource he points to as the Calvinist blueprint for this entire reformation. It is entitled “A Quiet Revolution: A Chronicle of Beginnings of Reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention” by Ernest C. Reisinger & D. Matthew Allen. It is a publication of Founders Ministries, the leading Calvinist organization in Southern Baptist life. You may read the book online here: http://founders.org/library/quiet/. (Special thanks to Peter Lumpkins for the link.)
Below is a mind blowing quote from chapter two, identifying non-Calvinist conservatism as “virtually indistinguishable” from theological liberalism, in that both feature “unstable” and “confused” doctrinal content. Quotes like this one make me wonder if the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Sure, we joined forces to defeat liberalism, much as America joined forces with Russia to defeat the Nazis. But how can two theological camps co-exist, united as everyone would like to believe by the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, if one of them considers the other to be “confused,” “unstable” and “indistinguishable from liberalism?”
What is interesting is that both liberal/moderate Baptists and (for lack of a better phrase) conservative, non-Calvinistic Baptists reflect that theological confusion. For all their differences (which we do not minimize), the two perspectives are alike in that their theologies are inherently unstable. Liberalism runs by nature to an intellectual abandonment of the doctrinal content of the faith. A conservative, non-Calvinistic system runs by nature to a practical ignoring of the doctrinal content of the faith. In the end, there is no difference. Perhaps we will see that, another generation or two down the line, conservative, non-Calvinistic Baptist theology will end up being virtually indistinguishable from liberal theology.
Who can argue that the title of this book does not read like a blueprint for reforming the convention? Perhaps both Howell Scott and Ron Hale are correct in tracing the two converging streams leading us to the present reality. As we seek to identify our reformers, we might easily be forgiven for choosing as our prime suspects a group of people referring to themselves as “Reformed.” If they are the reformed ones, and the SBC is largely not reformed, then who else could possibly be reforming us?