Next week, the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention will be held in Anaheim, California. Among other business items, the SBC will elect a president after Ed Litton announced that he would not pursue a second year in office which was likely precipitated by the plagiarism scandal that hit the news immediately after he was elected last summer.
The SBC could not be at a higher crisis moment and perhaps never has been in its entire history. Not only has the SBC received poor publicity regarding the plagiarism debacle, but now with the release of the bombshell investigative report by Guidepost on sexual misconduct, sin, and assault—the SBC is at a serious crossroads moment.
The presidential decision next week is crucial to the future of the Convention as a whole. There are three candidates at this point who are set to be nominated for the presidency—Bart Barber, Tom Ascol, and Robin Hadaway. Yet, the opposing candidates are looking at the situation from two very different vantage points. Either the SBC is generally healthy and stands in need of good solid leadership or the SBC is in a state of serious decline and stands in need of reformation. That’s the basic difference between Bart Barber and Tom Ascol.
Why is this such an important issue? Why do I care since I’m no longer a pastor within the Southern Baptist Convention? As president of G3 Ministries, our network of churches is made up of both independent and dually affiliated churches—some of which are still within the SBC. However, my concerns are deeper than that. Allow me to explain.
The SBC Matters
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest protestant denomination in the United States of America. The SBC is compiled of 47,000 Baptist churches who work together for missions and Christian education. The SBC operates six main seminaries where pastors and missionaries are educated and trained for ministry. Regardless of your opinion on the overall health of the SBC, needless to say, the vast size of the SBC matters in relationship to broader evangelicalism.
If the SBC tanks, Christ is still seated upon his throne. Jesus does not need the SBC in order to accomplish his mission to preach the gospel to the nations and save every last one of his people around the world. In the hands of good men the SBC can be a wonderful resource for carrying out the Great Commission in partnership with local churches. However, in the hands of compromising men, the SBC can pollute local churches and hinder the work of missions around the globe. This is already happening and is one of the reasons why our local church exited the SBC back in December.
The first conservative resurgence was fought over the issue of biblical inerrancy and the conservatives were victorious. It was a long battle that was profitable in many ways since it reclaimed the SBC seminaries from liberal theology and the professors who were teaching in contradiction of Scripture. Today, we are witnessing the need for a second conservative resurgence that is focused on a more broad set of issues than biblical inerrancy. In the end, regardless of what way the SBC turns from this crisis moment, the SBC matters and the ripple effects of the decision next week will be felt around the world.
The Sufficiency of Scripture Matters
If you asked pastors who are concerned about the direction of the SBC to summarize the problems of the SBC in a succinct category, many would not know where to begin. Some would cite critical race theory (CRT) or intersectionality. Others might toss around broad categories such as social justice or liberalism. If you summarize the various controversies at play within the SBC, and there are many of them, they can all be brought back to one main category—sufficiency of Scripture.
In attempt to maintain a big tent approach to the SBC, the Convention has moved away from a commitment to biblical sufficiency and has remained committed to pragmatism for decades. This has weakened the SBC in may ways, not the least of which includes opening the gates to the social justice movement in attempt to be culturally acceptable in the sight of Big Eva (broader evangelicalism).
If the SBC viewed the Bible as wholly sufficient, the SBC would never need a resolution that embraces CRT/I as analytical tools for gospel ministry (Resolution 9). At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of the problems that the SBC faces today can be connected to a deficient view of the Bible. Does the Bible address the roles of men and women in the church? Do we need a new softer definition of complementarianism? Is the Bible capable of addressing ethnic prejudice? Can the Scriptures provide answers to the challenges of wokeism? Is the Bible sufficient to teach how local churches and denominations should respond to sexual misconduct and crimes against women and children or does the SBC need a gay affirming LGBTQA+ organization like Guidepost? If the SBC is a dumpster fire, the last thing it needs is more garbage to be heaped into the flames to provide more fuel. It needs to be extinguished and the best way forward is to fully embrace the sufficiency of God’s Word.
Many of the concerned pastors who are planning their exit or who have already exited the SBC may have various levels of concerns that have brought them to this point. However, on nearly every single list will be the concerns regarding failed leadership. Some pastors and local churches claim that there is a need for more transparency while others insist that those who are entrusted with leadership positions should be men of character and holiness. Furthermore, almost everyone agrees that the caliber of leadership necessary to lead the SBC at this juncture is one who is prepared to lead in a crisis moment. John MacArthur has written the following:
True leadership is tested and proved in crises. The real leader is the one who can handle the stress. He is the one who can solve the problems, bear the burdens, find the solutions, and win the victories when everyone else is merely flustered, confounded, and perplexed. 1John MacArthur, The Book on Leadership, (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2004), 45.
Allow me to address the men and women in the middle. For the most part, those who are on the far left side of the equation regarding the divide in the SBC have made up their mind already. However, as men and women in the middle on these issues, you have some real concerns, but you still have connections to those on the other side of the ideological divide. Your group has decreased in size significantly since 2018 when a spotlight was turned on and the issues became more than a private discussion in a small room. Yet, you may look to the conservatives as harsh, exaggerated, and misguided. As you view your calling to ministry, you are tired of all of the fighting and division, and you’re ready to work hard for missions without all of the controversy. Have you paused to consider how matters such as CRT/I and egalitarianism have inched their way back into the mainstream conversation for consideration within the SBC in the last 4-5 years? How do you think this has happened? Do you think that continuing down the same pathway with the same leadership will solve these problems?
I’m no longer a pastor within the SBC, but I urge those of you who are within the SBC to take this moment seriously. Spend the money necessary to travel to California to cast your vote. You might not have another opportunity like what will happen next week. Don’t sit on the sideline to see what might happen. Put in the hard work and time to make your voice heard. See yourself as part of the solution.
If I were a pastor or member of an SBC church, I would make my way to California to vote for leaders who have conviction to change the direction of the SBC for the glory of God. Men like Tom Ascol as president of the SBC, Voddie Baucham as president of the pastors’ conference, and my friend Javier Chavez for recording secretary will lead with conviction, love, and most importantly—for the glory of God.
If Tom Ascol is not elected as president, I predict that there will likely be a mass exodus from the SBC like none in recent history. If Tom Ascol is elected as the president of the SBC next week, it will begin a very long road of reformation that will likely span the next 20-25 years. If you’re committed to staying in the SBC and working for such reformation, cast your vote for proven leadership who is very much committed to leading with conviction, transparency, love, truth, and grace.
What happens in California next week really does matter. Let us pray for the will of God to be done.
|John MacArthur, The Book on Leadership, (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2004), 45.