I eagerly attended my first SBC Meeting in Houston in 2013. It was the closest it had ever been to me and the church had the money to help me. I signed up for every breakout and meeting I could find, and I sat through much of the business sessions and reports. I wanted to soak it all in. I finally got to see and listen to in person many of the names and faces I had only seen from a distance over the years.
At one breakout, I don’t remember which one, Danny Akin, president of SEBTS referred to himself as a “child” of the Conservative Resurgence. By this, I took him to mean that he had been around the for CR, but wasn’t mature enough to play a major role in it like others. It got me thinking, if Dr. Akin is a child of the CR, then that makes me a grandchild of it, at best.
Anyone who has studied genealogy knows that the further you get away from the source, the muddier the relationships get. There are cousins twice removed and families who split up or remarry. You might find people that you are related to in some way, but you don’t feel like you have much in common with them. When you study Baptist history you get much of the same thing, people who have common ancestors but feel like they are worlds apart otherwise.
Much of the conflict we face today can be framed in an understanding of who are the proper heirs of the CR. Who are the theological grandchildren of those who fought for the inerrancy of God’s word and against encroaching liberalism? Is it the conservatives who took over the SBC institutions and produced like-minded disciples, or is it the other conservatives who also took over SBC institutions and produced like-minded disciples? They are both conservatives, you notice, but to put it in today’s terms it comes down to this: Are the Calvinists or Traditionalists the heirs of the CR?
Historically speaking, both can lay claim to it. Paige Patterson was one of the chief architects of the CR with Judge Pressler, and since then has continued to be faithful to God’s word and to the SBC. Al Mohler was a young man during the main battles of the CR, but was entrusted with the flagship institution of the SBC and returned it to its conservative moorings. Many other current SBC leaders served under him, like Dr. Allen, Dr. Akin, Dr. Moore, and Dr. Rainer.
Traditionalists believe their claim as rightful heirs of the CR goes back to the fact that many that they would claim as traditionalists were principal figures in it. Adrian Rogers, Patterson, Jimmy Draper, Jerry Vines, Bailey Smith, John Bisagno, Ed Young, and others are all claimed under the banner of traditionalism. Who better to shape and control the future of the SBC than the theological descendants of those who fought for its soul?
Calvinists might feel that their claims to the SBC and the CR go back further than that, pointing to SBC founders like Boyce, Broadus, Manly, and Dagg. Who better to shape and control the future of the SBC than the spiritual heirs of the ones who founded it?
It’s my contention that both groups are proper heirs to the CR.
The battle to take the Bible as inspired by God, without error, and inspired by God has led some to fully examine the tenets of their soteriology and led them to a reformed understanding of salvation. We should not question their commitment to the Bible and their desire to take it’s claims seriously. The majority of these desire for the SBC to continue to take God’s word as inerrant and have worked and sacrificed over the past 20-30 years to do so.
On the same hand, others who sought to take the Bible seriously, without error, and inspired by God were led to embrace an understanding of salvation that puts the emphasis on man’s choice. We should not question their commitment to the Bible and their desire to take it’s claims seriously. The majority of these desire for the SBC to continue to take God’s word as inerrant and have worked and sacrificed over the past 20-30 years to do so.
Who are the proper heirs of the CR? Anyone who takes God’s word seriously, and who works to put God’s word over man’s opinion. Finding the proper heirs to the CR has less to do with our understanding of salvation, and more to do with our willingness to stand against the sweeping tide of liberalism that continues to beat at the doors of the SBC. Both Calvinists and Traditionalists are willing to make that stand. The belief that the Bible is God’s word is the true legacy of the CR, not a particular interpretation of salvation. Both of these groups must unite for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the SBC, and take the truth that men and women fought for a generation ago out into the world. A convention that has compromised on God’s word will fail, no matter what it’s understanding of how salvation works is.
The SBC is in little danger of being crushed by outside liberal forces. Those who battled in the CR worked hard to ensure that the SBC stood on the foundation of the inerrant word of God. The SBC is in danger of being crushed from the inside out, of being torn apart by internal forces. Conservative Southern Baptist’s united around the Bible a generation ago and stood firm. Now those who are the children, grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren of those faithful servants of God must unite on the importance of the Gospel being taken to all the nations.
Luke is pastor at FBC Tishomingo, OK for the last 7 years. He has written for Facts and Trends, LifeWay Pastors, and writes at lukeaholmes.com. Find him at @lukeholmes and @sbchistory.