2009 LOVELOUD_FINAL 1 Christianity Today reported in their August issue that Mark Driscoll, well-known pastor of a mega-church in Seattle, created quite a stir at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) this year. The flash point was the “Great Commission Resurgence” (GCN), a group of Baptists who believe the convention needs to change if it is reach real non-Christians in the coming generation.

Most outsiders know that the SBC began a battle about the Bible some thirty years ago. That battle energized Baptists in a unique way. I am not impressed that it did them a lot of real good in the end. Conservative commentators say that this first battle was about the Bible. Some now believe that a new battle is growing in the SBC and this one is about the church. GCR says that by 2050 the SBC will lose half its members unless changes are made in the coming years. Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, says “Southern Baptist decline isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s a matter of math.” Southern Baptists are getting older and having fewer children. Second, they are mostly white while the nation is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic. Southern Baptists are growing, says Stetzer, by “methodological consensus.” I think he is right on target. Stetzer is a true friend to those who want to do serious evangelism but the old guard will likely never hear him. My guess is that Ed had a lot to do with Mark's being invited.

I grew up a Southern Baptist and understand this church culture fairly well, or so I think. While every congregation is legitimately autonomous 99% of the congregations have traditionally had a methodological core that could be counted on when you went from one church to the next. If you went to a Southern Baptist congregation you knew what to expect. This is no longer the case. Michael Spencer, known as the iMonk because of his great ministry online, said, “The idea of a tee totaling, suit-wearing, hymn-singing, chicken-eating, gospel-quartet version of the SBC is the Titanic.” Spencer is stating the obvious but many Southern Baptists do not seem to hear it. Like so many cultural Christians they seem tone deaf when it comes to understanding their own deafness. Will Hall, editor of the Baptist Press, says the SBC needs a minor course correction but no big changes. His comment seems to sum it up: “I hate to use these terms, but you can’t reach people if there isn’t a market.” Hall says the real problem is that Southern Baptist churches are still located in rural areas and their lack of evangelistic fervor is about location as much as anything else. I wonder where this man actually lives and doubt he has done any serious demographics at all. He surely has very little grasp of mission in the best sense of the word. But Hall is not alone. The president of the SBC’s executive committee, Morris Chapman, and the president of the North American Mission Board both have failed to take any serious interest in the GCR. Chapman even says that moving away from SBC methodology is dangerous. He calls it “cultural compromise.” Again, this would be utterly amazing if you came from somewhere else and heard about this debate for the first time. But for Southern Baptists this is the grist that will make for more conflict.

Mark D When I read that Driscoll spoke at the convention I was stunned. I think I know why he was invited but I could have easily predicted the response that he got would be very mixed. The “methodology” Baptists will never welcome Mark Driscoll. Instead, they will focus on his risqué language and his open acceptance of drinking alcohol, a taboo that older Southern Baptists will likely never drop until their generation dies off. Outsiders do not understand this stuff at all. For cultural Baptists drinking alcohol is akin to a blatant attack on the very life and soul of the SBC. This is serious stuff for these folks.

The convention so reacted to Mark Driscoll's preaching ministry that they passed five different resolutions aimed at him. I know Mark and my guess is that he got a certain pleasure from this political reaction since his goal is to help people grasp the missional nature of the church. He cares very little for the approval of conventions and conventionality. His passion is to reach people with the gospel. One of the motions against him asks that the SBC ban any future speaker who drinks and swears. What a delightful message that sends to the neediest of those among the younger generation.

The obvious fact here is easy to miss. Denominations, at least as we know them, are dying. Even the SBC is in the first throes of institutional death. For sure, the churches of the SBC will not all die. In fact, some will grow and prosper. But the denominational form we know as SBC will change or slowly die. The future for denominations, liberal and conservative, is very bleak. I am not alarmed by this at all. I think this could actually be the first wave of a new movement in mission that we have needed for several decades. Those groups that adjust will have a future and those that do not will march toward death decade-by-decade.

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Comments

  1. Tom August 12, 2009 at 6:10 am

    I’m not sure where you got your information, but Mark Driscoll did in fact not speak at this year’s convention, nor am I aware that he was even invited. I was at the convention the entire time.
    And, for the record, Southern Baptists are in no worse off shape than any other denomination in America. We are all trying to find our way in post-Christian America.

  2. Adam S August 12, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Your comments are a great example of the very reasons that I have distanced myself from the SBC. I have a great love for the ideals of the denomination (partnership to reach the world with the Gospel of Christ) but the reality drives me nuts (defund a church plant that would dare to have a bible study in a bar-ignoring the fact that the people in the bar actually need Christ more than people that will come to church).
    So I go to a church that has no denominational identification. I really do think that denominations are important. I think they allow churches to partner together for missions (local and worldwide) and there is real need for churches to have fellowship and accountability outside the local body. But I am way past the worthless fights that SBC wants to keep fighting.

  3. John H. Armstrong August 12, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Tom,
    You are absolutely correct about Mark NOT speaking at the SBC. I got the information from Christianity Today and assumed that he spoke since five motions were aimed at him speaking, etc. He DID NOT SPEAK this year. Thanks for telling readers that I was wrong about that.
    However, and this makes my post more interesting I think, the motions at the SBC were a part of the gathering and since he was not there that makes them all the more curious and revealing. I wonder what others think now that you have made this point so clear to us. A man who was not there was the center of a response/controversy that led CT to report this as they did.
    As for the SBC being no worse off than any other denomination I find that quite a response. This is, after all, the denomination that was always the model of growth to the rest of us. My SBC friends have said for years, “We are not in decline like the Methodists, Presbyterians, etc.” Now this is not true.
    I do not celebrate any of these facts. I mourn them to be truthful. The SBC was a great denomination, indeed a true American blessing. Now the internecine theological warfare and the postmodern condition have both conspired to impact it negatively. Sad, very sad. But a warning to us all.
    My prayer is that God will turn the SBC around. I simply believe fighting over women, Mark Driscoll, alcohol, cultural forms of worship and other related non-essentials will do nothing to help the SBC accomplish Christ’s mission in the next fifty years. I hope the GCR flourishes but I have my doubts given the “old guard” that defends the status quo in the SBC as I wrote about it. That was my primary point and you helped me see it even more clearly.

  4. Mark Rogers August 12, 2009 at 9:03 am

    There is another, and possibly even more important inaccuracy in your article, Dr. Armstrong. You say, “The convention so reacted to Mark Driscoll’s preaching ministry that they passed five different resolutions aimed at him.” The Convention did NOT “pass” any resolutions related to Driscoll. Five motions were made from the floor (during a time when individual messengers can come to the mic and propose whatever they want). All resolutions related to Driscoll were ruled out of order by the committee on resolutions or punted to an SBC Board to consider or ignore. None of the motions were discussed on the floor of the Convention, and in fact, these kinds of personal attacks were rebuked from the platform as unhelpful.
    This was the most encouraging SBC annual meeting in a long time. Part of what was so encouraging is that the convention chose to focus on the gospel, rather than these narrow personal attacks. Ninety-five percent (unprecedented unity) of those present voted to appoint a “Great Commission Task Force” to examine how the SBC can more effectively and faithfully fulfill the Great Commission. I hope that your readers will read the comments or read more elsewhere (or that you will post a correction) so that they do not believe something that is untrue about what is happening in the SBC.
    The SBC is a group that is trying to adjust for more effective mission. I think this is a time to be encouraged and to pray for the SBC and its 5,000+ missionaries.

  5. Tom August 12, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Yes, the notion that Driscoll’s absence still sparked such ridiculous motions (which, as Mark R. mentioned, were not even aknowledged) does signal a remnant of SBC you referred to in your post. But, contrary to popular opinion, I would argue that given the SBC’s size, the SBC is exactly opposite of the monolithic caricatures often ascribed to it. Every year, enough wing-nuts come out from behind their KJV’s and prophecy charts with just enough temerity to foster ridiculous motions like those hurled against Driscoll. As any level-headed SBCer would tell you, these individuals are on the radical fringe of the Right within the SBC.

  6. Josh R August 12, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    I think Driscoll is controversial because 30-40% of the baptists seminary students are coming out as Calvinists, and Driscoll is easier to demonize than John Piper and Tim Keller.
    There was a lot of misguided and off topic attacks on Calvinists in general, not just Driscoll in particular.

  7. will August 13, 2009 at 2:24 am

    I am an SBC pastor. I really think that it is the best affiliation to have as we do a lot of good in unity. That said, it is not about the SBC or any other denomination, it is about souls. Paperwork and conventions can simply steal valuable time and offer little concrete.

  8. Lou G. August 14, 2009 at 8:48 am

    I think Josh has hit the nail on the head. The real controversy in SBC is Calvinism vs. Arminianism, which in a sense brings up the “more obvious fact” that you may have missed.
    While it is true that mainline denominations, both liberal and conservative seem to be dying, it is equally important to note the explosion of the Calvinism (ref: Time Mag – May).
    The SBC earlier this year held a “John 3:16” convention to attack the five points of Calvinism (transcripts were posted on http://www.challies.com and reviews on Justin Taylor’s website).
    You and others seem to to promote a false dichotomy between “mission” and “orthodoxy.” It is not groups that simply “change” or “adjust” that will be effective, IMO, so much as it is those who do as Jude writes:
    17But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
    20But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. 21Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
    22Be merciful to those who doubt; 23snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
    24To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

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