Within the Southern Baptist landscape right now, what issues do you see driving our mutual discussion? Is there an overarching issue that relates to all of the things abuzz in the Convention? If so, what is it?
The issues are much the same as they’ve been for generations. The things Christians disagree and argue about are fairly constant: the sovereignty of God and human responsibility, especially as it relates to evangelism and missions; the role of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts in particular; the role of women in ministry and leadership; eschatology, spontaneity vs. liturgy in worship, etc. These and a few other issues are almost always at the center of debate, not just among Baptists but across denominational lines.
The one thing these issues have in common is that none of them is central to the gospel itself. They are all, at best, secondary doctrines, or doctrines on which Christ-exalting, Bible-believing Christians can and often do disagree. Sadly, some question the evangelical credentials of anyone who might dare to differ with their view on Calvinism or whether miraculous gifts occur today or the timing of the rapture or the nature of the millennium.
But there is something else that is even more disturbing, and that is the angry and divisive dogmatism that is emerging over behavioral issues on which the Bible is either silent or leaves one’s decision in the realm of Christian freedom. Perhaps the greatest threat to unity and acceptance in the Church is the tendency to treat particular life-style and cultural preferences as though they were divine law. To be even more specific, it’s the tendency to constrict or reduce or narrow the boundaries of what is acceptable to God, either by demanding what the Bible doesn’t require or forbidding what the Bible clearly permits.
My experience has been that this is typically driven by one of three things: either an unjustified fear of being “spiritually contaminated” by too close contact with the surrounding culture, or an unbridled ambition to gain power over the lives of others, or a failure to believe and trust in the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ (or all three combined).
I’m concerned that in certain segments of the Convention there is a mindset reminiscent of the old “fundamentalism” that is characterized by isolationism, separatism, anti-intellectualism, cultural withdrawal, and a generally angry and judgmental attitude toward all those who dare to differ on these matters that quite simply don’t matter; at least they don’t matter nearly as much as whether or not you believe in the deity of Christ, his substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Whereas conservative evangelicalism has typically drawn the line on theological essentials, this more recent fundamentalism draws the line ever more narrowly on issues such as total abstinence vs. moderation in the use of alcohol, the degree of freedom and the role of affections in public worship, the legitimacy of so-called “private prayer language,” etc. Sadly, when one’s commitment to Christ and the authority of Scripture is judged on the basis of this latter group of issues, rather than the former, the situation is bleak indeed.
HT: Justin Taylor