This quest is relatively new. For most of history, this was settled by birth. Since the Enlightenment and the modern age, questions of identity in a pluralistic society are before us. In terms of theology, the break comes at the Reformation.
“Here I stand.” the beginning point of modern theological individualism. Luther’s use of 1st person singular pronoun was a decisive break with history, and we are changed. Catholics saw this as the unraveling of Christianity. They call it the Protestant Revolt. Catholics predicted it would result in anarchy, and see this a fulfilled (30k Christian denominations and sects in the world today). Once the unity of the King and the faith were broken, some saw this as the end of the faith. Led to mutual anathemas of Protestants and Catholics – which stand to this day. As the outworking of the logic of the reformation came to pass, people could choose what they want to be.
Peter Berger – Heretical Imperative. In the older day, one did not choose identity, one was born into it. Now, we choose everything. We must take responsibility for our identity.
You cannot be born a Southern Baptist, but in a sense, with cradle rolls, we use to do so. It was a tribal identification. The tribal identity often preceded the actual identity. This is no longer common.
Increasingly, “nones” are raised with no tribal religious identity
In history in America, Baptist identity was seen as a competition between us and other denominations. Extreme competition.
Shift took place in the early 20th Century and the rise of theological liberalism. Something larger was taking place – subversion of biblical authority. The denominations were not divided against each other, but between orthodox believers and the heterodox in each denomination.
Southern Baptists were “at ease in Zion” because our Bible Belt location kept us protected from much of the heat of the battle. We did adopt doctrinal statements as a protection. Previously, doctrinal statements were held by the associations. Then, in 1925 we adopted the BF&M.
Still in 1925 there was a lack of clarity about how confessional we were going to be. Look at BF&M of 1925, 1963, and 2000 and you can see the theological direction of America and the SBC.
As liberalism spread, mainline denominations said they had to liberalize theology and abandon confessionalism to keep their cultural relevance. The opposite has happened. They lost their cultural grasped and their gospel relevance.
Many stayed in mainline denominations and attempted renewal movements which have failed miserably.
The United Methodist church allowed churches outside the USA to join. Those churches are conservative and keep the UMC from being what it wants to be.
Evangelicalism sought to avoid the isolationism of fundamentalists and sought to engage culture. We are not liberal or fundy, but evangelical. Evangelical identity often became more important than denominational identity.
It was only in the 1970s that Southern Baptists began to see the “Battle for the Bible” taking place. Lindsell’s book.
Two rival visions. The “liberal vision” – seek the culturally acceptable and respectable trajectory of the mainline Protestant denominations. Look more like the culture.
NOTE- in early 1970s the SBC adopted an essentially pro-choice, pro-abortion resolution.
Leaders felt the denomination needed to be more respectable, mor emainstream.
The rival identity claimed continuity with the founding convictions of the SBC, but also acknowledged new issues that were not on the table in the previous days. Inerrancy was the epistemological issue that was at the core.
One said said Inerrancy is the core of who were, the other side said that this was precisely what must be left behind1
NOTE: Inerrancy was never a stand-alone issue. Other issues were real. Abortion became a huge issue as a secondary issue.
The conservative group, for the first time, defined itself as evangelical and saw itself as a part of that movement. Suddenly, Southern Baptists engaged in ETS and other larger evangelical world organizations.
Baptist Moment – We are best situated to deal with issues of modernity. Cultural and nominal Christianity are disappearing. Today, evangelicals are increasingly looking to Southern Baptists.
- Regenerate church membership.
- Believers baptism.
This is the future.
1. Will Southern Baptists embrace an identity that is more theological than it is tribal?
2. Will today’s general maintain the courage to stand for Christ in conflict and confrontation with culture?
3. Will Southern Baptists find a healthy balance between evangelical cooperation and Baptist identity?
4. Will Southern Baptists maintain the courage to both speak truth and live truth?
5. Will SBs embrace the historical traditions of Baptist life without apology?
6. Will SBs preserve the essential gains of the conservative recovery of the last quarter of the 20th Century?
7. Will SBs be comprehensively confessional not just anecdotally confessional.
8. Will new generations of SBs be eagerly and authentically Southern Baptist?
9. Will SBs produce a generation of pastor/theologians for our churches?
10. When Jesus comes, will he find faith in the SBC?