Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A New Day in the SBC

Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School, speculates in the current issue of First Things that the SBC may be on the verge of a new day, a new vision, a historic shift under the leadership of Frank Page, the surprise of this summer's convention in Greensboro, N.C. According to George, Page owes his election to "an odd coalition of diverse subgroups within the Southern Baptist Convention," including: charismatics, neo-Calvinists (hey! that's me), the Woman's Missionary Union, Baptist bloggers (me again!), and younger moderates. All of these groups had concerns that made a candidate outside of the "college of cardinals" descended from the conservative resurgence of the 1970s very appealing.

But according to George, this coalition and the possibility of a brighter SBC future built on the theological gains of the conservative resurgence depend on the articulation of "a compelling vision of a believable future, one that is faithful to the verities of the Baptist heritage and also generous, winsome, and filled with grace." Great so far; who can argue with that.

What surprised me in the First Things article was George's next statement:
Perhaps this attitude is best seen in the most influential Southern Baptist in America today: Billy Graham, a 'prophet with honor' and America's chaplain for more than fifty years; Chuck Colson, evangelist, prison reformer, and cofounder of Evangelicals and Catholics Together; and Rick Warren, a pastor whose writings have touched millions of lives. In their commitment to Christ and the Bible, and their desire to share the gospel, these three represent the best of the Baptist vision today.

Hmmm.... Now I'm concerned.

Now, all these brothers are above my pay grade... so I want to speak humbly here. But if Graham, Colson, and Warren "represent the best of the Baptist vision today," we're in trouble.

Actually, I think the coalition that George points to is a coalition that would have a significant number of discontents whose very discontentedness owes much to the imperfections and failures of these men. One has probably introduced millions to a saving knowledge of Christ, while also promoting millions of shallow professions and an altar call system that in its worst form manipulates and has become an idol of sorts to many. All three have engaged in their own brand of ecumenical activity that obscures the gospel and important theological distinctives in the worst way (see Murray's Evangelicalism Divided, ECT, and Synagogue 3000). Two of the brothers seem to have fairly low views of the centrality of the local church. One brother's comments suggest he is an inclusivist, and another's "commitment to Christ and the Bible" (as George put it) is hardly discernible given his writings and recent speaking engagements.

Yeah, if this is our best future vision then this bright new day may be the light before the storm. George writes: "Each in his own way has wrapped his arms around the world and drawn it closer to the Father's heart." Praise God, and no doubt this is true for many, many people. But it's the prepositional phrase "in his own way" that seems to dilute the good reports with some problematic practices and ideas whose effects linger for generations. I want this bright new day that George speaks of, and pray it's coming on the wings of divine omnipotence. I just think we might want to think a bit more about who represents "the best of the Baptist vision." What do you think?


ajcarter said...

I am not a Southern Baptist, nor do I desire to play on the internet. Nevertheless, your concerns are on point. Graham, Colson, Warren, or even Stanley may be the most popular the SBC has to offer, but God forbid they are the "best of the Baptist vision" to this generation.

I'm thinking that the FBC of Grand Cayman may have something or someone to offer to this vision :-).

Anonymous said...

could you please define NEO-calvinist vis-a-vis a regular calvinist?