I am writing in response to Brad Whitt’s article “Young, Southern Baptist and irrelevant?” which was recently published in The Baptist Banner (vol. 24, no.6, pp. 5-8). He laments over what seems to be a self-perceived irrelevance brought on by a minority that he describes as “outsiders from within” (p. 8; code, I think, for Calvinists). This minority of men in the SBC has appropriated the Convention microphone and is taking its cues from not a few prominent non-traditional, non-SBC pastors. The bottom line is that these me are hurting the Convention, and if he, and others like him, could just get that microphone back, then the SBC would once again “grow and thrive” (p. 8).
Now, to retrieve this microphone, and to substantiate his relevance in the SBC, Whitt lays the down the gauntlet in his opening statements. He writes that he is “just a pastor’s son who grew up with a love for [his] denomination – a Southern Baptist boy by birth and by conviction” (p. 5). Furthermore, he has earned three degrees from three separate schools, two of which are supported directly by the Cooperative Program (p. 5). He concludes that he has never wanted to be anything other than a Southern Baptist; over against those whom he somehow knows are secret Presbyterians at heart (p. 5).
Whitt continues to support his right to command an audience. Over against the intruding minority, he still wears a “coat and tie,” includes choir specials in his church’s worship, and maintains the public invitation. Moreover, one church for which he served baptized more than 100 people “just last year.” He grew up with Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines, has served on a number of local, state, and national committees, and has participated in church planting work in a number of states. And, if I am reading Whitt correctly, he has been the pastor of a 100 years old church for the past nine years (I am confused; if he has been at this church for nine years, then why mention the baptisms of another church as part of his list of credentials?).
Now, if a listing of accomplishments is what gives credence to one’s voice in the SBC, then I must be honest and say that I may be unqualified to even respond to Whitt. I am not the son of an SBC pastor and did not grow up with a love for the denomination, and much less for Christ. When, I came to the Lord in my early twenties, I joined a Southern Baptist church, though admittedly more out of Baptist convictions than SBC convictions. On second thought, this fact just might grant me a small voice in the SBC. That is, although the Southern Baptists where considered anathema among the Independent Baptists of my childhood, I still threw in my lot with them and endured a bit of scorn for doing so. “Blessed are those persecuted for the sake of the SBC!”
As for my education, I received my B.A. from Florida Baptist Theological College, and my M.Div. and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Perhaps my voice is more relevant than I first supposed, since I hold degrees from schools that are most definitely supported by the Cooperative Program, and since two of my degrees are from the flagship seminary of the SBC.
When I preach, I wear a coat and tie, and I stand behind a pulpit (except for the time when I hurt my back and had to sit on a stool). We have a choir, and I too give invitations (in the sermon and at the end of the sermon).
To my disadvantage, perhaps, is the fact that I have never served on any associational committees. Furthermore, I have only been two years a pastor. I have no experience in church planting, nor have I led in any significant building programs. However, I should digress lest I become one, who is so “bold to class and compare [myself] with some of those who commend themselves.” It seems that when we measure ourselves with ourselves and compare ourselves with ourselves, we “are without understanding” (2 Cor 10:12). I might find myself taking “pride in appearance and not in heart” (2 Cor 5:12).
When I read Whitt’s article, a number of concerns arose in my mind. He says that he “grew up with a love for [his] denomination” (p. 5). How about a love for Jesus? We can only assume that he agrees with this. He says that he is a Southern Baptist “by birth and by conviction.” How about a Christian by new birth and by conviction? Again, we can only assume his agreement. He claims to be in the majority among the SBC (p. 6). I would ask, “In the majority of what?” Of those truly serious about Jesus? Of those who are truly taking the gospel into the world? Of what majority does he speak? We don’t know; he doesn’t say. All we know is that he is in the majority (which necessarily means that he is right) and that he desperately wants to see the minority diminished.
Whitt also decries that he is considered a “dinosaur” in our current denominational world (p. 6). That is, he is not one of the “hip and up-and-coming” among the Convention (one would be hard pressed to agree with this after reading his personal bio on the web). But, I would assert that is the so-called outsiders within the SBC, who are the real dinosaurs. They are the ones trying to return to the pre-historic days of their first love, by laying again the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense that the gospel presents. They are the ones trying to return to the outmoded days when men offered little comfort to those who name the name of Christ, but whose behaviors lack a continuance in the Lord’s word (John 8:31-32). More than building statistics, they are the ones concerned that those under their charge will not come to the end of the age, saying ‘Lord, open up to us!’ only to hear Jesus’ words “Depart from me all you evildoers” (Luke 13:23-28). These outsiders are the ones trying to return to the by-gone days where the following words “If the Southern Baptist Convention is to grow and thrive . . . It will take a greater emphasis from me, and others like me, on cooperation for the sake of the gospel if we are to succeed” will no longer enter the minds of those in the Convention (p. 8; emphasis mine). Rather, the increase of Christ will be kwy answer to the growing and thriving of the SBC.
Whitt goes on to divide the camps (p. 6). He is of Paul (i.e., Rogers and Vines), while the minority are of John Piper, C. J. Mahaney, and R. C. Sproul (funny he did not mention Al Mohler). Is he not carnal? Is Christ divided? I wonder if Whitt would ostracize J. P. Boyce or John Broadus if they were living today.
Whitt, however, may not be carnal, providing he is warning God’s flock against modern day false prophets, ravenous wolves, who are peddling a false gospel. If this is the case, is he prepared to call these men accursed (Gal 1:8-9) and biblically demonstrate his reasoning for such a charge? If he is not, then perhaps he is revealing the sins of his own heart? I have to be honest, after I read this article the first thought that came to my mind, the first one, was that this man sounds more like the Paul’s opponents in 2 Corinthians than he does the apostle. This is a dangerous place to be.
Whitt, it seems, has also set himself up as the gold standard for all Southern Baptist thought and practice. That is, if he and the context in which he serves have nothing in common with these outsiders (p. 7), then logically the outsiders must be wrong. It has never dawned on me that one’s ministerial context determines the relevance or orthodoxy of any biblical doctrine. I have always been convinced of the “SBC doctrine” of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. It seems apparent that Whitt is frustrated that these outsiders, who are clearly not walking according to the old standard, are still gaining relevant traction within the SBC. I wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, that his context is out of sync with the Scriptures, and therefore with the men he opposes. We can’t really know because he offers no Scriptural basis of any kind to support the integrity of the majority opinion.
As he closes, Whitt, almost in a pouting rant, makes a startling statement. He writes, “I’m not irrelevant. The opposite it true” (p. 8). Yet, Whitt is, indeed, most irrelevant (as is Piper and Rogers, and myself). Who among us has first given to God anything that it might paid back to him again (Rom 11:35)? Who among us can exclude himself from that number that God himself regards “as less than nothing and meaningless” (Isa 40:17)? It is God, who has chosen (if we allow him; I thought I would take some of the edge off of the word “chosen”) the weak and ignoble to confound the strong and the wise, i.e., the relevant (1 Cor 1:26-29). I believe that if the apostle Paul had read Whitt’s article, he would respond as he did to the Corinthians. “You are already filled, you have already become rich (you have served the SBC well), you have become kings without us (i.e., you have the microphone). . . . For I think that God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death. . . . We are fools for Christ sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor . . . we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things” (1 Cor 4:8-13).
As I read Whitt’s article, I cannot help but think that his words drip with arrogance, self-pity, self-promotion, and jealousy. He wants to be relevant; and he declares as much. Personally, I would let someone else say this about me. He charges, without argumentation, that the outsiders resent who Southern Baptist’s are and how they do things (p. 8). Yet, it is he, who shows a deep seated resentment and disrespect. Although, I do not know for certain the motives of his heart, I cannot help but think that Whitt’s problem is not theological, but rather stems from the fact that old SBC network of yester year is no longer working in his favor. It seems to me that he thinks the SBC has been shanghaied by intruders for their own spurious purposes, leaving him sitting irrelevant and pouting on the side of the Southern Baptist road. If I am wrong on any account, then I have to say that he has a funny way of conveying the opposite notions. If I were Whitt, who is young, Southern Baptist, and self-important, I would beware, lest he finds himself kicking against the goads. Oh, and one more thing. If his article is the shot heard across the Southern Baptist Convention, I am left to think that it might be a dud.