Southern Baptists in particular, evangelicals in a broader sense, and all Americans in the whole have become lovers of echo chambers in which every voice joins in perfect unison with our own to reinforce, without question, the ideas we share.
A lady came by the office to express how much she appreciated my ministry and how she had grown under it, but to inform me that God was leading her to another church in town. It was cordial and friendly, but something she said always stuck in my craw a little. “It is nice,” she said, “to hear my theology preached every Sunday.” I was not quite the Calvinist firebrand her new pastor is and she felt more comfortable hearing her theology affirmed week after week.
I am old enough to remember when the SBC Annual Meeting consisted of the Pastors’ Conference, the Annual Meeting, the Evangelists’ meeting on Wednesday afternoon for those who were not sightseeing, a WMU conference and a few seminary luncheons. Now you need an app to keep up with all the special event conferences that take place – many of them niche events for particular groups. There are other conferences throughout the year that draw like-minded folks together.
Southern Baptist pastors are spread out far and wide in Northwest Iowa and so we get together on Tuesday for lunch, when our schedules allow. A good friend who had to drive a fair distance to participate told me that he came from time to time but he was honest about it. “I’m more likely to invest in spending time with like-minded pastors.”
We have become the champions of the echo-chambers. We gather around us people who think like us and agree with us so that they will applaud our ideas. We become more convinced of the rightness of our truth because there are no voices around us who are allowed to speak a contrary thought or utter a contrary opinion.
I do not have a complete list of the names of those who gathered in Dallas to compose the “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel,” but I would wager my spleen (if I still had a spleen and if I were a betting man) that every single person in that gathering was already in agreement with the John MacArthur position before they gathered. There was no one there giving pushback or explaining the position that evangelicals in favor of biblical social justice have put forward. It was an echo chamber.
In the days after that was published, there were a couple of statements issued as counterproposals to the Dallas statement. I liked them because they expressed my views but they were rushed and were not generally comprehensive or compelling. Some of us discussed the idea of gathering a group of people who would craft a well-written and comprehensive statement on the Gospel and Social Justice that would answer the weaknesses of the Dallas statement.
But such a statement would simply be another product of an echo chamber.
Echo chambers enhance problems, they don’t solve them. The Calvinism conflict in the SBC will never be solved if Calvinists have conferences and talk about how great Calvinism is and how it is the answer to all the world’s problems and then non-Calvinists have conferences about the evils and dangers of Calvinists and talk about how Calvinists are conspiring to take over SBC entities, do away with missions, hamstring evangelism, and end the SBC as we have known it. The conflict will likely never be completely solved – it has been going on since the SBC was formed – but things will only improve as Calvinists and non-Calvinists talk TOGETHER and honestly and partner for the gospel as and stop quarantining one another.
In the same way, this social justice issue will not be solved by statements prepared in and released from echo chambers.
- I read the things people who oppose biblical social justice write and I think, “How can you possibly get that from what we are saying?”
- I realize that those who oppose social justice are often making similar claims, that they are being misunderstood.
As long as we are in our bunkers firing shots at one another from our protected cover this will never get solved.
I have a suggestion which I have not talked to ANYONE about, not even the person I think should moderate the event.
This has become a huge conflict in the SBC and I can’t help but think that a lot of this is because we are talking past each other instead of to each other. So, I propose we figure out a way to talk to each other.
1. We set up a conference inviting 10 of the most visible and vocal names in the SBC on the anti-Social Justice side and 10 of the most visible and vocal names on Social Justice side. They can choose what they want to be called as long as it isn’t pejorative or insulting to the other side. They would, unfortunately, have to pay their own way (unless a benefactor comes along). All details will have to be worked out.
2. We select a non-combatant to be the moderator of the conference. I have an idea for a person to host that, a well-known blogger who doesn’t blog much anymore but has a convention-wide reputation for wisdom and fairness. If a name is coming to your mind, I would guess 8 of 10 of you are thinking of the same person I am.
3. We develop a format to allow both sides to share their concerns and interact.
4. The group would work to produce a JOINT statement detailing areas of agreement and disagreement, areas of understanding and areas in which further work is needed. But the goal would be to get us all out of our echo chambers and into a productive discussion.
5. We would not stream the discussion or open it to the public. If it went well, the discussion could get heated at times. The goal is to have a free discussion not to host a pageant.
I have no idea if we could pull this off but I think it would be a lot more productive than sitting hunkered down in our echo chambers shooting at one another. I have no details – this is an idea without details at this point.
Now, tell me what an idiot I am.