David Dockery: Reflections on the Southern Baptist Convention Since 1979

Dr. David Dockery is speaking on the topic “A Call for Renewal, Consensus, and Cooperation: Reflections on the SBC Since 1979.”

1. The Southern Baptist Convention: An Introduction
The importance of understanding our identity.

2. Southern Baptist History: An Overview, 1845-1979

The SBC came together in 1845 in Augusta GA. We trace our roots to two groups of Baptist in the South: Charleston tradition and Sandy Creek tradition (both “so-called”). The Charleston is the more reformed, formal strand and the Sandy Creek more revivalistic. Another key influence upon our Baptist identity was the rise of Landmarkism in the 19th century. Largely avoiding the Fundamentalist/Modernist debate in the 20th century, although SBC leaders always sided with Fundamentalism when faced with the clear choice. The 20th Century saw the demise of Calvinism, decline of Postmillenialism, etc. coupled with the rise of revivalism, etc. The shift in hermeneutics was from the emphasis on divine sovereignty by Broadus, Boyce and Manly to personal experience as an authority by Mullins, Connors and others. From 1925 to 1854 the SBC could be characterized by the growth of denominational organization and efficiency. In 1925 the Cooperative Program was developed. The Executive Committee was formed giving the “grass roots” the perception of a “hierarchical” sense that it had not had before. The Convention grew with the “Million More in ’54” campaign. Emphasis on program advancement, entering the 20th century as an efficiently and pragmatically run business. As we grew the leadership became embarrassed by both the revivalistic and Calvinistic origins of Baptists. With the emphasis on “freedom”, “priesthood of the believer”, “soul competency”, etc.

3. The SBC Since 1979: Paradigmatic Changes

An unexpected change took place in 1979 with the election of Adrian Rogers as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Conservatives wanted to influence the Convention with the views of Biblical authority of the 19th century. Since 1979 conservative Presidents were elected in the SBC. Tom Nettles and Russ Bush published their Baptists and the Bible (by Moody, not Broadman). Broadman has since republished it. More discussion on the history of books on Biblical inerrancy (pro and con) is given by Dr. Dockery. Changes in SBC life . . . The publication of New American Commentary.

4. Fragmentation in the SBC: Beyond Moderates and Conservatives

More complicated than just liberals and conservatives. The Moderates were a diverse group and so were the Conservatives. Conservatives: Fundamentalists, Revivalists, Non-Calvinists, Orthodox Evangelicals, Calvinists, Contemporary church practitioners, Culture Warriors. All of these groups were need to unite together and provide a Conservative influence. Now that the Conservative Resurgance is complete, there is a need to re-establish the identity of Southern Baptist to point toward a hopeful future. All “conservatives” have identities outside of the Convention.

5. The Breakdown of the Cultural and Programmatic Concensus: Where We Found Ourselves at the End of the 20th Century

  • Multiple Bible translations
  • Impact of parachurch groups
  • Diversity of music
  • Varied worship patterns
  • “Heroes”/”Models” outside of SBC Life

By and large, we don’t know our heritage, our theological identity anymore.

6. Toward Concensus and Cooperation: Primary and Secondary Matters

We must practice 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test all things. Hold to what is good.” Don’t hold onto tradition for tradition’s sake. Hold on to what is good. We must establish a new consensus lest we drift apart.

7. A Proposal of Renewal for the 21st Century SBC: Guidance and Hope

We must learn and appreciate our Baptist history and heritage.
We must have boundaries in order to have an identity.

We cannot focus on the center alone and ignore the circumference, for the one effects the other. We must define the boundaries, but not demand uniformity. We must build a consensus on the gospel. We must be commited to the authority of the Bible, but that is not enough. There must also be a recognition of confessions. We must clearly affirm the importance of worship, regenerate church membership, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We must be connected with the best of the past. We have considerable diversity historically, but we recognize certain key commitments which must be in place for unity to exist. There must be a unity that calls for humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance with one another in love, with a renewed commitment to racial reconciliation, without a denial of the gospel.

Without the Conservative Resurgance we would have lost the gospel, untethered to Scripture. We must not forget there are secondary and tertiary issues. We must unite together on first order issues like the exclusivity of the gospel that is found in Jesus Christ and in Him alone.

We must move from controversy and confusion to a new consensus and renewed commitment to cooperation. We must make a commitment to missions and evangelism and the gospel which is behind it. We need not only an orthodoxy, but also an orthopraxy.

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