I’m very interested in what current SBTS and other SBC seminary students have to say about your future in the SBC. Will you stay if Calvinism becomes a divisive, “lose your job” issue in the SBC? Would you prefer a Driscoll, Piper or Mahaney Network (T4G) to the current SBC?
CLARIFICATION: I’m a post-evangelical, and that applies to the SBC. But some of what I want to keep is stuff my tradition has in its attic! To be post-evangelical differs from being emerging in the sense that I want to keep my Baptist polity, historical (not current) view of the sacraments, cooperative missions vision and emphasis on missions.
Don’t stand too close to me in public. I’m going to blog your conversation. Yes, I’m that kind of writer.
After the Louisville Institute sabbatical orientation, I stopped at a few bookstores, including the large Lifeway Bookstore on the campus of my alma mater (’84), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
I’ve been visiting the SBTS bookstore since the late 1970’s. I’ve watched it change through the years as SBTS and evangelicals themselves have changed. Today’s Southern Seminary Bookstore is a cornucopia of Calvinism, reflecting a seminary that is leading the Calvinistic resurgence in the SBC. If you are a lifelong Southern Baptist who would have ever found it difficult to believe that pastors in your convention would buy bobbleheads of Martin Luther, busts of John Calvin or framed prints of various infant-baptizing, state-church sponsoring reformers, I have news for you: It’s big business. There may be a head of Lottie Moon in there somewhere, but the business of little statues and pictures is almost entirely a presentation of Luther, Calvin and the Puritan-influenced reformers. (Apologies to your Roman Catholic friends can be sent directly to the IM post office.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a catholic Christian and I benefit from the gifting of the Holy Spirit to the church as a whole. But I was brought up in Landmark Baptist dispensational fundamentalism, and part of me is still a little rattled to see just how far the Calvinist resurgence has come in the SBC. I applaud its good fruit and pray for more, especially in the health and theology of churches. God bless The Founders, 9 Marks and their work. I also have many questions and concerns about what will happen in the SBC in the immediate future as thousands of Calvinist students make their way into a very evangelical, revivalistic, Arminian-leaning denomination.
Back to my evesdropping. I was standing at the “New Releases/Popular Authors” section. “Popular authors” these days include SBC Calvinists like Mark Dever and Al Mohler, alongside non-SBCers such as John Piper, John Macarthur and C.J. Mahaney.
Regular, Nashville published, fully Cooperative, SBC saved, trained and ordained authors? Not many. In fact, there were very, very few. A relatively empty shelf of significant influences and books, so to speak.
The subjects of my evedropping efforts were two students discussing Redeemer Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller’s new apologetics book. Keller, the rising star of the PCA and of conservative evangelicalism in general, has written the kind of book Southern Baptists have largely failed to write or promote in the last fifty years. Apologetics is just one area where the shelf of Southern Baptists is largely empty.
I don’t doubt that some Southern Baptist writers have written apologetic materials in the past, but for whatever reason, these materials passed quickly into oblivion, exerting little influence over the denomination that produced them. They are just one category of writing, thinking, teaching and publishing that find Southern Baptists largely awol. Aside from books on church growth, evangelism and the “popular” level of devotional literature, Southern Baptists have shown little interest in making major contributions to the evangelical conversation, including areas that it would seem SBCers would have taken up their pens and addressed.
It’s no surprise that Beth Moore and Rick Warren are the first two Southern Baptist writers you’ll see in most bookstores. It’s no surprise that Presbyterians are writing and publishing the books that SBC ministers in training are reading for their theology. It’s a sad fact that a younger Southern Baptist in the process of spiritual and ministerial formation would have to dig deep to find resources from his/her own tradition, even on areas as prominent as the Lord’s Supper. (Some of these areas have been addressed recently, usually by SBC Calvinist authors.)
One of the young men next to me was dressed for his trip that night to hear the band “Thrice.” When his friend hadn’t heard of the band and asked for some characterization, the young concert-goer struggled. I wanted to jump in with the right answer: Thrice is a rock band that Mark Driscoll likes and frequently mentions. Mark Driscoll, and his Mars Hill Church, joins John Piper in exerting maximum influence among young SBCers. This is a good thing from every angle except the question of the SBC’s own view of the emerging church. As is usual for the current SBC, the occasional Ed Stetzer is a voice crying in the wilderness of answering the queries of younger, missional SBCers.
These two young men quite likely represent a new Southern Baptist generation who are almost entirely formed by people outside of the SBC, it’s theology, it’s polity, it’s history and it’s cooperative mission. Their loyalty to and understanding of the SBC is quite likely marginal. They are a generation I believe will not fit well in the typical SBC church- Kevin Hash, you’re my exception :-)- and will quite likely find it easy to leave the SBC at the local and national level.
Depending on how you feel about the SBC and its future, that can be good or not-so-good news. Whatever you think, it has major implications, especially for the immediate future, as the SBC is going to polarize into camps with very different formative experiences and influences; very different leading personalities, reading lists, model churches and agendas.
I’m hearing thunder. I think there’s going to be a storm.
Before I go, let me say that the Southern Baptist dearth of formative resources is a serious problem. Try to deepen your devotional life using resources written in the SBC. Try to learn church history or understand Baptist history in its Anabaptist stream. Try to find serious reflection on the pastorate. The shelf is strangely, even embarassingly, empty, and it’s not surprising that younger, intellectually curious Southern Baptists are going to denominations and influences far outside of the Baptist family and the Baptist “ethos” to find formative, helpful resources.
And as I go out the door….does Lifeway, Broadman and the SBC’s publishing arms need to look at this issue more seriously? I know Beth Moore sells, but is it a good thing that there seems to be a bias against publishing serious Southern Baptist work? Is there really such a dearth of good writing in the SBC that our young people MUST be formed by non-Southern Baptists in their journeys?