Another new Baptist network has formed, purporting to represent the grassroots majority of Baptists who have been disenfranchised somehow (since all our meetings allow open voting) that is going to lead us away from a drift into “woke” theology and liberalism. The networks have formed – some made a big splash and others barely a ripple – and generally faded away. What will happen to the “Conservative Baptist Network” announced today is yet to be seen.
The network is a little nebulous at this point, still revealing itself, its structure and leadership, its purposes and tactics. Who knows whether they will be a positive influence or another bomb-throwing splinter group? We can hope for the former but history tells us the latter is all too likely. Their stated concerns are:
- Dr. Kelly mentioned his concern about Calvinism, but we do not know if anti-Calvinism will drive this group as it did C316. Some anti-Cals and Calvinists have coalesced on other issues and laid down their hostilities against each other. They claim this will not be a soteriology-driven group, but Dr. Kelly brought it up.
- Their chief concern is their perception of a drift toward liberalism in the SBC. They see current trends as a threat to inerrancy and to our commitment to the Bible.
- They have concerns about political issues – the question of Mike Pence’s speech is mentioned but politics seems to be a driving force. Many have questioned the SBC’s identification with the GOP and others are concerned by that.
- They are upset about so-called “woke theology.” That is a broad and ill-defined term. It seems to mean someone who is pressing an issue I don’t care as much about. No one is called “woke” for fighting abortion, but those who put too high a priority on racism, or sexual abuse, or other social issues, are labeled as “woke” and it is assumed that they have taken a step away from inerrancy and the sufficiency of Scripture.
I would make the following observations about the Conservative Baptist Network. If anyone had any doubts – no, I will not be joining!
1. Organizing a network is a valid Baptist activity.
There’s nothing wrong with like-minded people banding together with other like-minded people. You Baptist history buffs can correct me, but I believe that associations with strict geographic boundaries is a later innovation. Earlier associations were formed on theological grounds. I am not a fan of the splintering in the SBC, of all of these conferences with defined points of view that meet to celebrate themselves and cast aspersions on other points of view. I am not sure the conference circuit is a healthy thing in the American church. But church networks (though they weren’t always called that) are not inappropriate in any way.
There are always dangers in these networks. They can become inward and exclusive, and come to believe that they are sole protectors of the gospel. We have seen that all too often. But a group forming to promote their views in a democratic SBC is fully appropriate.
2. Traditionalist-types have needed an organized voice for a while.
Everyone I have seen publicly identified with the CBN so far was part of the Traditionalist group of the past. For a number of reasons I see no need to enumerate, they imploded. It is my impression that this is a reformulation of that group.
I believe that a positively-stated non-Calvinist voice in the SBC is needed. I hope that this network, if they represent the Traditionalist wing of the SBC, will do so with kindness, honesty, and incisive theological depth. If the Conservative Network represents that wing of the SBC well, it is a productive thing. Their homepage denies they represent any particular soteriology, but everyone who has been identified so far seems to share that position. Time will tell.
3. Grassroots? Really?
It is de rigueur to call any Baptist group or network that is organized “grassroots” – just as it is in American politics. The elite are bad and the grassroots are good. But this is a group of powerful (so far) Traditionalists who don’t like the direction of the SBC. Brad Jerkovich. Chuck Kelly. Mike Spradlin. These are men of power and influence.
Any Baptist has the right to organize and seek to influence the convention, but calling this group “grassroots” strains credulity. They are a group of powerful SBC leaders trying to reassert power, having seen the SBC shift away from their views.
4. A Rose by Any Other Name!
I have had this argument often over the years, disliking many of the names groups have taken. Some non-Calvinist groups and conferences put John 3:16 in their name as if Calvinists didn’t believe that “God so loved the world.” I think the “Founders” is an inaccurate name because it implies that all the Founders of the SBC were Calvinist. Some were, but many weren’t. It is my impression that the SBC was more Calvinist then than it is now, but it has never been ALL Calvinist. To lay claim to all the Founders is just not accurate. It was the same reason I always resisted the name “Traditionalist.” Our traditions are so varied no single soteriological view can lay claim to it.
I do not like names that are:
- pejorative – if your name implies something negative and ungodly about those not in your group, get a better name.
- exclusionary – if your name somehow implies that your group is the only true Christian group or only true Baptist group – do better. We have always been diverse in many ways.
- make false claims – if your name implies things that simply are not true, get a true name.
This is certainly a Conservative Baptist Network, but it is pejorative – implying that others are not conservative. It is exclusionary, and I believe it makes false claims. I don’t like the name.
5. The Empire Strikes Back
Here is where I stray into well-grounded conjecture. I always get in trouble doing this, because my opinions are based on conversations I’ve had that I cannot share. So, when you tell me I’m wrong, I cannot tell you why I believe this is true. I can only state what I believe to be the case.
The SBC has been a stronghold of GOP sentiment for decades, and then the Trump phenomenon happened in 2016. Many of us said we did not think his character warranted a Christian’s vote. The rhetoric got heated on all sides (I would like to reword some of my posts and comments, in hindsight, not for content, but for tone). The SBC was divided.
After the election, another sea-change took place, when JD Greear was elected as SBC President. He is an inerrantist whose church sends more missionaries to the field than any other church. He is a great example of a young Southern Baptist, but he takes a different approach to a number of issues. He did a number of things that offended the powerful elite in the SBC. He did not support Trump and the GOP. He stood up for victims of sexual predation and named names of churches that did not handle that well, offending the “good old boy” network. There is nothing liberal about JD, but he is a big change CULTURALLY from the old-school Baptists that have run the convention for decades.
They are striking back. They aimed heavy artillery at Dr. Moore who had opposed Donald Trump when he was a candidate. They have labeled JD a liberal – a false accusation. They have resisted many of his efforts at fighting sexual abuse because of the risk of exposure and bad press. His noble attempts at presenting a diverse slate of trustee nominations has been questioned and criticized.
We are seeing what I call “The Empire Strikes Back.” In a number of ways (I may say more about this later), the old-school power elite is upset that their hegemony is being eroded and they are seeking to restore that power.
This is my view of the SBC right now. JD and other young leaders began to change the culture and that made the old-school culture warrior-types very nervous. Much of what is going on today isn’t about inerrancy or theology, but about politics and about protecting a culture and a way of life.
6. Falsehoods never honor Christ.
We tend to “fight fire with fire” and adopt our methods from the political world. We must not. Spreading lies is never a means to serve God. In the last couple of days, SEBTS has had to defend itself from false stories spread by Todd Starnes on his radio show. It served his agenda, but it did not honor the Savior to spread a false story.
The CBN is off to a bad start on this. They are insinuating that those who differ from them politically also differ theologically. They are demanding cultural acquiescence in addition to theological uniformity. I hope we never depart from the basic principles of the BF&M – I am committed to them. But when we make support of the GOP a theological imperative and call people who question that “liberal” we have jumped the shark.
The biggest mistake of the CR (I lived through it – my first convention was 1979) was painting conservatives who did not bow to the political movement of the CR as liberals. There were many conservative men who were ostracized and treated badly because they didn’t like the tactics of the CR (which were often excessive). I believed in the CR and remained committed even when words or actions made me uncomfortable, but we lost good men and women who were with us theologically because they would not kowtow politically.
It seems to me some are doing the same now with Trumpism. If you are not part of the Trump train, you are a liberal. That isn’t right.
Here is my plea: STOP calling people who love Jesus, honor the word of God, and preach the gospel, liberal. STOP insinuating that they don’t preach the gospel. Accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ with different approaches and stop acting as if these differences were fundamental. They are not.
7. Politics are NOT fundamental
I expressed my views forcefully in 2015-2016. I do not regret what I said, but I sometimes regret how I stated it – more in comments and discussions than in my articles. If I ever made it seem that someone who disagreed with me politically was theologically suspect or outside the gates of the kingdom, I erred. I believe there is a danger when we become too loyal to a political party, but there are reasonable positions on various sides of most political issues.
No one should have their loyalty to Christ questioned because of political choices. I can say that your choice isn’t one I would make, but to say that you are unfaithful to Christ because you voted differently than I did is not biblical.
Do we really want to define our convention by its loyalty to the GOP?
If the Conservative Baptist Network simply advocates for a certain wing of the convention, and does so with Godly honesty and integrity, it will be a positive influence on the SBC. I hope that is what happens.
Permit me to close with a very direct statement. Many of us are suspicious of this network because of its rhetoric. But the fact that a group of Baptists mobilized to influence the convention is good and right. That is how it works – even if we disagree with them. But we can hope they will seek to influence the convention while walking in the fruit of the Spirit not the works of the flesh.
Same for you and me!