By the team you read this, Fred Luter, Jr. may have already been elected as President of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Most Southern Baptists have prayed for years that we as a convention would atone for our regrettable past in the slave debate and both privately and publicly initiate racial reconciliation on a grand scale. Our prayers have been surely answered as we await and celebrate the presidency of Luter, a descendant of slaves. I’m also proud to say that Criswell College, the school at which I work and study, recently bestowed the honorable Doctor of Divinity on him. With our continued excellence in missionary work both home and abroad, the SBC has much to be proud of. The question is, will this landmark election really matter? Will we move forward, or continue to get in our own way?
On this very blog, a guest author made the claim that the Acts 29 Network was a dangerous alliance for Southern Baptists to consider. He likened the “Acts 29 invasion” to a “terrorist attack.” He has a right to his opinion and the post was great fodder for blog debate, but posts like that are exactly what are hurting – not helping – our convention. This post is in no way about the Acts 29 Network (of which I gladly dually align), but Acts 29 is not the problem. The reason that my generation of pastors are flocking to the Acts 29 Network is not because of Calvinism or rock star preachers (not the majority, anyway); they are flocking to Acts 29 because they see two things: a focus on Scripture and a focus on evangelism. I’d submit that Calvinism is a by-product, not the cause. This generation wants to be a part of something world-changing, as Thom Rainer has excellently noted. While the SBC fights amongst itself, young Southern Baptists are looking for a brotherhood focused on the gospel. This insistence upon the gospel has brought about a generation that is dying to join Father-honoring, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered pastors and churches on mission for Jesus.
As this 2012 annual meeting approached, I began to get excited (for the first time in a few years) about the direction of the convention. The backbiting seemed to be subsiding and we were all supposed to be focusing on the Great Commission Resurgence. What’s more, we were heralding to the watching world that our longstanding history of racial tension was on the precipice of eradication. But, as if we don’t know any better, we shot ourselves in the foot again with the unveiling of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” at SBC Today. Why this statement was drafted is beyond me. Why this statement was released right before the convention bothers me tremendously. I’m not nearly as unsettled by the anti-Calvinist jargon from its authors – I’m not a 42-pointer or anything – as I am about the message of division that it promotes. With all due respect that I can possibly offer to the great men who signed this statement, how in the world does this help the SBC? Can we not approve the Faith and Message and settle there?
Brothers and sisters, our convention’s future hinges upon unity. We are all one in Christ, for the gospel is the power to save both the Jew and Greek, Arminian and Calvinist, Baptist and Pentecostal, Republican and Democrat. Even if you disagree with everything in this post, please affirm that Christ should always be our focus. My generation truly gets that. Let us rectify our past without continuing to battle over things of much less severity. If we travel down this road for another fifty years, we will slowly but surely fade away and our impact in missions will fade with us. This will hurt the lost people of the world much more than it will ever hurt us.
May we major on the majors and minor on the minors. May we spend less time planning conferences, writing books, adopting documents, and more time collaborating in culture renewal. May we have healthy conversations about theology, but not insult one another. May we see that if even two brothers have anger in their hearts toward one another, it’s of eternal consequence.
May we exalt Christ and his gospel of first importance, laying aside all weight for the sake of the salvation of the lost.
*For a good perspective, check out this balanced post by my friend Steve Bezner, a non-TULIP-sniffer.