I just read the soon to be notorious “exit strategy” post from Benjamin Cole on SBC Outpost. He lists a few final observations about the Southern Baptist Convention which were interesting to read.
I would like to have heard his thoughts on the changing nature of communications within the convention, largely due to blogs. It seems that our increasingly level access to information will chip away at some of the very issues which he’s been protesting.
Update: Since SBC Outpost is now closed, I’ve salvaged the text of Ben Cole’s “Exit Strategy” post from 12 July 2008. Posting it here is not an endorsement of Ben’s views, merely my attempt to preserve a piece of contemporary Baptist history.
Whether I have delayed this post out of an ever-increasing disinterest in all things Southern Baptist, or out of the sheer orneriness of forcing impatient readers to wait, or because there is some sense of sorrow and loss because of the things I must now write, I do not know.
The facts, however, are these: For four years, I have planned an exit from Southern Baptist life, beginning with my pursuit of a doctoral degree at Baylor University. That exit was forestalled because of one phonecall — received past midnight from Alabama pastor C.B. Scott — that urged me to fight the good fight stirring up on account of a famously recalcitrant mission board trustee and his opposition to exclusionary policies governing the appointment of international missionaries. Once I listened to C.B., who made me promise not to allow the Baptist brouhaha to distract me from my academic pursuits, I launched a counter-offensive that has become, to at least some degree, notorious.
The objective was simple. Neutralize the influence of fundamentalist, landmarkist, legalistic theologies that trace their most recent incarnation to Paige Patterson and his graciously submissive wife, Dorothy. Patterson is a politically shrewd and quasi-cannibalistic junkyard dog. His wife is one part old lace and two parts arsenic. An invitation to high tea with the pair can result in a trusteeship or a tombstone.
To oppose Paige Patterson’s fundamentalist agenda requires stamina of the sort that few men possess, especially pastors. The fact that most Southern Baptist pastors cannot extend their pastoral tenures beyond 18 months makes you immediately aware that the convention — which is comprised of pastors — does not have the intestinal fortitude to fight anything for very long.
It also requires what Kierkegaard referred to as the temporary suspension of the ethical. To stick a hog, you have to get in the mud. You have to be willing to expose, confront, accuse, and substantiate. You have to be willing to say publicly what most Southern Baptists in-the-know say privately. You have to stop whispering and start shouting.
I suppose that C.B. knew that my days in Southern Baptist life were short-lived. Unlike many of my contemporaries, I do not desire the pastoral office. I have served Southern Baptist churches because of gifting — both natural and spiritual — as well as a love of teaching. The churches where I have served will unanimously attest to both my teaching gifts and my pastoral deficiencies. I have evangelized because it was required of me. I have visited the sick and shut-ins because Holy Writ had thus enjoined me. I have blessed the baked beans, consecrated the babies, immersed the repentant, and interred the dead. At times there has been a sense that this work of mine was a holy calling. At others, I have felt something like a medicine man full of pious, rote incantations and mesmerizing magic.
What I do know — the thing that is truly in my belly — is politics. Not only in the practical art but in the abstract theory. As I have said on numerous occasions, the only difference between a Baptist pastor and a politician is in the intellectual honesty of the politician. He will announce unashamedly the nature of his craft. A Baptist pastor, on the other hand, must pretend as if he gets his every order straight from the Almighty.
A few weeks hence I will conclude a chapter of my life. I will resume the ecclesial retreat I commenced four years ago, assured that some of my goals in denominational life have been met while others remain a distant dream. I leave, however, with a few observations, reservations, and predictions about the Southern Baptist Convention and the personalities who have driven her to the precipice of irrelevance. To enumerate all of these would require more time than I am willing to commit, though I will offer a few.
1. The SBC will not look the same ten years from now. This is immediately obvious on the surface. Paige Patterson is not immortal, and the mongrel theologians he has sired through thirty years of doctrinal inbreeding will not be able to carry the movement he energized once his has received his eternal reward. Already the brightest of his protégés are distancing themselves from his ever-narrowing agenda. Already, Al Mohler’s influence is surpassing the Pattersons’. The climbing enrollment at Southern Seminary is perhaps the greatest example of Patterson’s diminished ability to raise up his denominational “green berets.” When Southwestern’s convention booths have had motorcycles and camouflage netting and other silly gimicks, Southern’s looks respectable, academic, and appealing. The students have noticed the difference, and have moved toward Louisville in increasing number.
2. My book, which is near completion, will not become required reading at any Southern Baptist seminary, but it will be read more thoroughly than most required texts. The working title, “A Hill on Which To Kill,” might not survive editorial oversight, and I will take the next several months to rework and reword a few sections myself.
3. The IMB policies regarding tongues and baptism will not be repealed by the trustees, but it won’t matter. They will be applied with the same consistency and intensity that Southern Baptist seminaries apply their policies that all students abstain from the consumption of alcoholic beverages. I have found humorous the numbers of Southwestern students alone that have met me off campus to discuss the controversy, or give me some tip, or ask some question over a pint of lager or other illegal libation. Like Nicodemus in the night, they have escaped the Pharisaical cloister to experience the freedom of the gospel. Were I to release their names — which I will not — the enrollment of the Fort Worth seminary might suffer an even greater downturn. That is, of course, if the president was consistent. Most of us know by now, however, that he is not.
4. Johnny Hunt will have as much success bringing “younger pastors” into the SBC as Andy Stanley has bringing “older pastors” to his Catalyst conference. The convention is experiencing an antetransjordanian cull, if you will. The generation that left Egypt will die off, indeed they must die off before something better can come to fruition.
5. The cry among many Southern Baptists for a less restrictive statement of faith is rooted in a hunger for a more apostolic Christianity. Look for new churches to adopt the ancient creeds as their confessional framework rather than those of late 20th century genesis.
When I landed in Indianapolis for the annual meeting this past June, I was overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia. For a decade and four I have attended the Southern Baptist Convention. I’ve mastered the convention polity. I’ve memorized the bylaws. I’ve drafted many more motions and resolutions than those reflected in the annual reports. It has been a fun learning experience, but I have determined that the SBC is better without me, and I without it.
I’ve experienced things that few men my age experience. I’ve received an education that seminary cannot provide. And through it all I’ve seen Baptists at their worst and their best. When a man reaches 30 years of age, he has choices to make. I have determined that I will not be among the many 50 year old pastors who look back on their lives and wish they’d taken a different course. Today, when young men and women tell me they feel “called” to the ministry, I grieve. And then I remember that most seminarians do not see what I’ve seen, hear what I’ve heard, or smell what I’ve smelled inside the rotten gut of denominational power.
Disenchanted? Perhaps. Disinterested? Almost. Disengaged? Absolutely.
And with this, I bid you adieu. No more blogging at SBCOutpost. No more resolutions or motions or messenger cards. No more vituperative indictments of bloated bureaucrats or zealous advocacy for denominational reform. A mind, they say, is a terrible thing to waste.
I will not waste mine any longer. At least I hope I won’t.