Monday, June 18, 2007

A Few Thoughts on the SBC

From my view point there seems to be four main camps in the SBC right now. Camp #1 is the Traditionalists--those that have been Southern Baptist and were a major part of the resurgence. Camp #2 is the New Traditionalists--those who have been Southern Baptist and were involved in the resurgence, but were not the movers and shakers; and those who have come on since the resurgence. Camp #3 is the Disenfranchised--This is made up of those who were against the resurgence and are still in the SBC, and those who are newer and are questioning the value of remaining in the SBC. Camp #4 is the Evangelical Southern Baptist--those who see value in the SBC, but are also connected and involved in the larger evangelical arena.

Camp #1 seems very interested on keeping the status quo it has achieved as a result of the resurgence. This group is starting to be defined more by what they are against than what they are for, which is the leading edge of fundamentalism. This usually leads to behavior based on fear.

Camp #2 seems very interested in keeping things Southern Baptist and keeping the tent large for the purpose of missions cooperation. They put a high value on local church autonomy and cooperation. However, when the tent gets too large it can start falling in on itself. This is potentially a problem in an age where individualism is valued over cooperation. In addition there is always the problem of having to accomodate for the sake of cooperation.

Camp #3 seems interested in doing their own thing. Those that were against the resurgence are mostly ignoring the goings on in the SBC and have their own niche within the SBC. Many of those who are new are resentful of being left out and disregarded. The remainder of the new group are feeling that the SBC has nothing to offer them. As a result many are looking to other groups to associate with like the Willow Creek Association, etc.

Camp #4 seems interested in getting the SBC to reevaluate itself in light of theology and church practice. They see value in the SBC in the areas of missions and seminary education, but also think the SBC should be doing some healthy self evaluation.

The struggle/battle, if you will, in the SBC right now is between camps one and two. Camp three doesn't care and will pursue doing its own thing. Camp four wants some changes made and is concerned with the health and future of the convention. There seem to be many things going on in the SBC right now and in my opinion we will see more tumultuous days ahead and the SBC will go through a shake out, a pruning if you will. In fact, I think that the pruning process has already started and is needful for us to bear more fruit.

We do need to reexamine ourselves, our values, our common ground, our procedures, our expectations, what holds us together, what defines us as Southern Baptists. There is too much disunity, and distrust for the SBC to continue on as it has been. As a result I think we will see a smaller, leaner, more focused, and therefore, more effective SBC. I believe that those who are involved in the denominational goings on know this is happening and that things will be brought to a head sooner than they think.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The State of Evangelicalism and Preaching

The post is titled this way because the two are inextricably linked for as preaching goes so goes the church. After attending conferences, reading blogs and books, and listening to CDs you see the lamentable shape the church of Christ is in. However, I am neither pessimistic or optimistic about the current or future condition of the church. Looking back at the history of Israel and the history of the church the true believers have never been in the majority or ever been a major minority.

Looking back to the early church, the time of the reformation, the time of the Puritans and the great awakening (which many consider the golden age of the church) you see that false teaching abounded, persecution was common and often severe, but the church, though small, was strong, vibrant, and influential. What stands out about the church during these times is the quality of its preaching/teaching. The early church of course had the apostles, Timothy, Apollos, Epaphras, Stephen, Phillip, and Barnabas, but then came along men like Augustine, Chrysostom, and Clement. Then we had the reformation with Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli (and John Hus, the John the Baptist to Luther). In the Puritan age there are almost too many to mention, but we see John Owen, John Flavel, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, and Cotton Mather. Throughout these times we had the well-known, the less-known, and the unknown who were faithfully proclaiming the word of truth, truthfully.

I see the same thing today. In the crumbling of evangelicalism here in our country I believe we are seeing the purging of the church that will reveal the true church. We have many outstanding preachers that are well-known such as John McArthur, John Piper, R. C. Sproul, and Albert Mohler. We have less-known such as Philip Ryken, Sinclair Ferguson, Stephen Lawless, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan, and then we have the host of unknown, many of whom are entering the blogosphere. Much like the previously mentioned times we live in an age of pervasive false teaching and attacks from both within and outside of the church, and in this I find a strange comfort as I see that there is nothing new under the sun. As evangelicalism crumbles we will see the true church that is led by faithful preachers from the well-known to the unknown holding their ground, holding their doctrine, proclaiming the grace of their God and the power of His Christ. Paul says in I Corinthians 11:19 "For there must also be factions (hairesis-a divergent opinion or belief, from which we get our word heresy) among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you." Really, we should thank God for what is going on in evangelicalism in our land as it will separate and make obvious those among us who hold to and proclaim the truth and those who do not. Those who do not hold to the truth will no longer be hidden among us as reefs in our love feast, but will be made manifest for who they are and there will be a separation, a parsing if you will, of both the true and the false, the sheep and the goats.

In Philip Ryken's series "City on a Hill" (available through the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) he talks about our time being a post-christian time. I believe he is right, but I also believe that our post-christian time is not any different than the pre-christian time of the early church. Small in number but large in faith, benign in the things of the world but bold in its confession, these men and women were those that turned the world upside down. I see in our present time well-known and lesser-known men who are standing firm for the pure truth of the word and proclaiming it as such, and I see many of us, the unknowns, who are in agreement with them, doing the same thing. While those who hold to the truth and the way of the truth are small in number compared to the whole of evangelicalism, God has always seemed pleased to work through small numbers to bring glory to Himself.