Baptist Identity Conference

Reflections on the Baptist Identity Conference

Haddon and I had a great time at the Baptist Identity Conference hosted by Union University last weekend. The audio for all the sessions (except Dr. Moore’s on T.T. Eaton) is now available for free and links are located in the schedule. As promised, I would like to post my reflections on the conference. My reflections are mainly in three different categories. These include my observations about the venue, the attendees, and the speakers.

First, Union University was a wonderful host for the conference. Dr. David Dockery and all the faculty and staff provided a magnificent venue for the conference. The meeting space was great (with tables for meals and laptops). The meals were delicious! The staff and students of the university were very helpful. Nothing about the physical settings for the conference could be improved. This conference was obviously well-planned and it seemingly went off without a hitch.

Second, the attendees appeared to me to be an eclectic mix of pastors, denominational employees, bloggers, and Union faculty and students. It was interesting to meet some of each during the conference. Since I am the “stereo-typical” shy and reclusive blogger I didn’t meet as many people as I would have liked. However, I did meet several people and got to see many more from a distance. Especially interesting to me was to watch the “famous bloggers” interact with each other and other attendees. They are an interesting lot! I did enjoy visiting again with friends like Jeff and Christie Wright, Robbie Sagers, Russell Moore, Scott and Pearl Lamb, Timmy Brister, Tom Ascol, Ed Stucky, Ray Van Neste, and Tim Ellsworth. It was also nice to meet Brad Hughes, Steve McCoy, Joe Thorn, Greg Thornbury, Ben Dockery, Joel Rainey, Bill Nettles, and Tom Walters. It was also good to speak briefly with David Dockery, Timothy George, and Thom Rainer.

One encouraging aspect of the conference was the many Union University students who attended the conference. They were both friendly when approached and attentive to the speakers. They even asked some great questions during the Q&A sessions. It is easy to see the impact that Dr. Dockery and Dr. Thornbury (along with the rest of Union’s faculty) upon the formation of the next generation.

Finally, the speakers and topics were well chosen. They were each excellently qualified spokesmen for the topics for which they spoke. I’m not sure which were chosen first, the topics or the speakers. But whichever was the case, a near perfect match was made for each.

One of the recurring themes in the conference was the recovery of Baptist distinctives. This was not surprising since this was a Baptist Identity Conference! But what was surprising was the identification of those distinctives clearly as a recovery of a proper administration of the ordinances, pursuit of a regenerate church membership, recovery of church discipline, and an emphasis on expository preaching. These are the very issues which many of us perceive to be an uphill battle in the SBC. To hear men in the leadership positions of the Convention express their convictions in these matters was refreshing, to say the least. I was grateful for the strong leadership in these areas by David Dockery, Russell Moore, Paige Patterson, and Jim Shaddix.

Another recurring theme from the conference was a call for humble repentance. This call was heard in the lectures by Frank Page, Thom Rainer, David Dockery, Ed Stetzer, and Timothy George. This was a quite a contrast from the usual SBC emphasis on new programs as the secret to success. While I don’t think I agreed with everything these men said, I do appreciate the fact that these men called for self-examination, humility toward God and man, and repentance.

In conclusion, let me address what I believe to be the lasting impact of this conference. In my opinion, there were two key contributions made by this conference. First, the opportunity for open and, for the most part, civil discussion of issues of high importance for Southern Baptists. This opportunity for dialogue has been severely lacking in the past and although the blogosphere has emerged as a means of dialogue between individuals, it cannot replace face-to-face opportunities for the exchange of meaningful issues. Dr. David Dockery and Union University should be commended for facilitating this discussion by all interested Southern Baptists.

Second, I believe that the topics of this conference can provide a helpful framework for the kinds of discussions we need to continue to have in the days ahead. Serious issues such as these require serious thinking and debate. At this conference we have seen a model of how such issues can be engaged in a amiable way, even with those with whom we disagree. If this conference raises the level of debate among Southern Baptists by providing helpful categories for debating the issues and a model of Christ-like humility for all of us to emulate, the legacy of this conference will be one of eternal significance for the millions of lost souls that could be reached with the gospel through our cooperation.

Timothy George: The Future of Baptist Identity in a Post-Denominational World

The final session of the day and of the conference is by Timothy George. His topic is the future of Baptist identity in a post-denominational world. He disclaims the title listed above, blaming it on the editors. Instead, his topic is titled “Is Jesus a Baptist?”

Dr. George begins with a word of personal testimony. After recounting his own journey in Baptist life, he affirms his appreciation for the Conservative Resurgance. But he is calling for us to move forward to face the challenges of the future without re-fighting the battles of the past.

Three strategies for the future:

1. Retrieval for the Sake of Renewal

Are Baptists a creedal people? Prior to the 20th Century, Baptists spoken very affirmatively of the idea of a creed. Baptists believed in the usefulness of “Confessions of Faith”. Baptists have never advocated “creedalism”. Baptists have always believed in religious liberty. Baptists have never exalted a creed to be above or on par with Biblical revelation. Baptists have never canonized any confession, but hold them all to be revisable in light of Biblical revelation.

Are Baptists Calvinists? Historically and empirically the answer is: “Some are and some aren’t.” He is not neutral. He was born an Arminian, as all are. He has come slowly to appreciate the doctrine of grace. But we no longer need to kill one another in our day. Let us banish the term “Calvinist” because it has become a new “N-word” to some today. To some a term of derision and others a badge of pride.

2. Particulary in the Service of Unity

We must maintain our particular distinctives in honesty in order that our unity on the essentials might be evident. Our observable love for one another will be a witness to a watching world. George is calling for an ecumenical unity.

By all means let us maintain and preserve our particular Baptist distinctives. But not that others might say how great Baptists are, but how great a Savior they have. That others might see our love for one another.

3. Humility in the Presence of the Holy

There is a fine line between a retrieval for the sake of renewal, and a Bapto-centricity. We must guard against becoming prideful in our Baptist identity. Beware lest we think of ourselves more highly than we should.

This concludes the conference schedule. I will be posting my reflections upon this conference in the near future. I will post information about the availability of audio and text of the sessions when I learn of those arrangements. Thanks for “tuning in”.

Ed Stetzer: Toward a Missional Convention

The first session today will be led by Ed Stetzer, author of Breaking the Missional Code. His topic is “Toward a Missional Convention.” He begins by confessing his belief that he does not belong at this conference. He is not a theologian on par with others who have spoken and his ministry is not one of controversy, but missiology and church planting.

He is reading his paper which will be released later.

The term “missional” is being used with increasing frequency. But are we a “missional” convention?

What is the origin of the term “missional”? First used in a dictionary of 1907.

The term is used more and more frequently among our agencies and institutions in the SBC. Many other groups are using the term as well. But no one has a monopoly on the term. It is not an ecumenical term, and should not be abandoned simply because it has been used by liberals. We must not abandon terms simply because they are misused by others. To do so would require us to abandon even biblical language since it is too used by others.

While the term “missional” might be new, the concept is not new. It is biblical. God sent His Son Jesus into this world and the Son has sent the church into the world.

We must penetrate our culture with the gospel. We must engage here in what we would expect our missionaries to do internationally. That which was once effective in reaching our communities is no longer. Our objective is to be the glory of God in a kingdom focus by the salvation of the lost.

We must find the balance between cultural relevance and biblical fidelity. To be Southern Baptist is to be united theologically and cooperatively, not methodologically. We must not seek to recover the methods of the past.

Missional churches must both contend for the faith and contextualize the message to the culture.

Our churches need to be biblically faithful, culturally relevant, and counter-cultural communities. If this happens, all churches will not look alike, which will make cooperation harder.

Much to digest here . . . I have never heard or read Stetzer before. I have his book on my reading list. Much of the last part of the session I did not take notes on, since I was listening intently. Listen to the audio, read the manuscript, or buy his book. Regardless of where you come down on this issue, it is an important one that must be acknowledged.

Jim Shaddix: The Future of the Traditional Church

Jim Shaddix is speaking tonight on “The Parable of the Young Baptist: Informed Speculation on the Future of the Traditional Church.” The choice is not simply one between the “contemporary” and “traditional”. Our children are not running from a lifeless form, but a lifeless Christianity.

The alternate venues (like “Emergent” and “Seeker Sensitive”, etc.) are not as nearly appealing to the unchurched as the marginally churched in our midst. Our young people are not opposed to hymns, but the heartless and lifeless ways we sing them. Young people will listen to the organ at a baseball game. They watch Jay Leno deliver his monologue in a suit and tie. Nobody writes him off as irrelevant. We don’t understand the real problem, so we focus on the externals that we can touch and see.

Future Hope . . . The traditional church will survive and thrive IF it understands that young people are leaving , not because of what we’re giving them, but because of what we’re not giving them. If we begin to understand this, young people may begin returning to the traditional church.

The traditional church understands that the culture is constantly changing and that no church can keep up. Many traditional churches have an honorable respect for the practice.

What will our young people find if they return to our churches? They will return to their roots if their roots are strong.

We need to discuss the questions of theology, doctrine, and expository preaching in Southern Baptist life!

The problem is not the traditional or contemporary church, but a failure to preach expositionally and train a generation in the Word of God. The traditional church will survive if we teach our people the Word of God.

Awesome application by Jim Shaddix! Buy the CD or download the MP3 when it comes available.

The traditional church will survive and thrive if and when it’s people have a change of heart about their God, His worship, and the people for which He died.

Greg Thornberry: The "Angry Young Men" of the SBC

This afternoon’s session will be led by Dr. Greg Thornberry. His topic is the “angry young men” of the SBC.

The background of the phrase: “angry young men”

In a conversation about “the bloggers.” Someone summarized: Well, they’re just a bunch of angry young men.

This raised a couple of questions:

  • Is it appropriate to use the in front of “bloggers” as in “the bloggers”?
  • Are these men really angry?

There is such a thing as a “righteous” anger (Nehemiah 5:6, Mark 3:5).

But usually anger is seen as “unprofitable” (Psalm 37:8; James 1:19-20)

So, Greg and his assistant began to read the blogs to see if there was evidence of “unprofitable”.

He posts several quotations from the comment sections of prominent blogs.

After posting several “angry” comments, Greg concludes that there is anger among some bloggers. But it should not be assumed to be true of all bloggers. Many are mistaking frustration as anger.

Bloggers have frustration, not anger, at:

  • The lack of respect for men in positions of authority in denominational life (Traditionalists)
  • The demise of revivalism, and the rise of Calvinism (Revivalists)
  • Misrepresentation of Calvinism as being anti-evangelistic (Calvinists)
  • Assumption that postmodern=relativism (Missional/Emergent)
  • Narrowness and cliquish agendas (Protest)

All feel: “I, and people like me, do not belong in the current SBC landscape.”

Thus, a different description would be appropriate instead of “Angry Young Men”.

  • There is a general malaise and disillusionment towards denominational life.
  • “What is a Baptist?” institutionally and theologically? Lack of clear answers spawns new networks.
  • Interest in other sources for encouragement for local ministry
  • Mood: “This is not what I signed up for.”

Expired: Baptist Programs
Tired: Baptist Battles
Wired: Baptist Basics (Back to the Bible, local churches, etc.)
These Baptist basics include:

  • Regenerate Church Membership
  • Rediscovery of Holiness and Ancient Forms of Discipleship
  • Awe and Wonder of the Bible
  • The Prophetic Voice of the Church

Hal Poe has said, “Every culture has a question that only the Gospel can answer. Listen for the question.” What is that question today?

We have grown accustomed to controversies. We don’t seem to be able to survive without fighting about something. Will conservatives turn on each other and devour one another?

But many of our struggles pale in comparison to the global struggles which the persecuted church around the world are facing. And these same issues are coming here soon.

Let us not too quickly abandon the Baptist ship! It may not be “good ship Lollipop”, but it’s the best vessel we have!

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.

Russell Moore: Learning from T. T. Eaton and 18th Century Baptist Tradition

This session led by Dr. Russell Moore was held in the chapel. Dr. Moore’s presentation on T.T. Eaton was well-prepared and delivered with his usual excellent abilities. There was no wireless internet available, but I took notes by hand and may post a summary later when opportunity presents itself. CDs will be available from this conference and perhaps many of the papers will also be available in print format online soon. If you’re interested in lessons on Baptist identity from an 18th century Calvinistic, evangelistic, landmark Baptist then this session will be a must read/hear. Many important lessons were applied to Baptists today from the life and work of T. T. Eaton.

More to come . . .

Paige Patterson: What 21st Century Southern Baptists Today Can Learn from 16th Century Anabaptists

The first speaker on the second day is Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is to present several lessons for today from the Anabaptists.

We can learn from the Anabaptists regardless of our views on Baptist origins (some believe that modern Baptists are heirs of the Anabaptist tradition, while others believe that today’s Baptists can trace their line through the English Separatists in the Reformed Tradition.

Dr. Patterson is obviously speaking from a well-prepared manuscript and is speaking rapidly. I assume that the complete manuscript will be made available at some point in the future. When it is available I will provide a link. For now, I will provide a simple overview of what I can pick up through listening (i.e., the main points).

  1. A Redeemed Disciplined Church – Contemporary Baptists who have bloated membership rolls and worldliness in their members lifestyles can learn from the practices of the Anabaptists. While the Anabaptists baptized with confidence those who professed faith in Christ, but with the understanding that baptism symbolizes the death of the old man and the resurrection of the new man. When baptized believers manifested a lifestyle contrary to the gospel, the “ban” was practiced and they were forbidden to partake of the Lord’s Table. Church discipline, while difficult, must be practiced to maintain the proper idea of the church.
  2. The Confession of Baptism – Those baptized have submitted themselves to the rule of Christ and to the authority of the church. Churches must once again emphasize the significance of baptism. It must be more closely associated with the profession of faith.
  3. The Authority of the Bible – For the Swiss Anabaptists, every farm was a school in which the Old and New Testaments were taught. For many Christians today experience is exalted above the Holy Scriptures as the authority. We need to recover the Anabaptist emphasis on the authority of Scripture.
  4. The Church Looks Different from the World – Church discipline was practiced to protect the purity of the church. The church was to function differently than the world. The church is to be made up only of Christ’s disciples.
  5. The Supper as a Fellowship Trust – While the Lord’s Supper was primarily seen as a memorial of Christ’s death, it was also an appropriate place to practice the “ban.” The Lord’s Supper is an important place to emphasize the fellowship of the Lord’s body. This concept needs to be recovered.
  6. Courage of Conviction – Anabaptists were willing to die for their convictions.

They believed in preaching the gospel to all, maintaining a pure church, practicing the Lord’s Supper, saw the Word of God as an authority, and practiced church discipline. Their courage was exemplified by their willingness to die for their convictions. May God grant a recovery of these principles of the 16th Century Anabaptists by 21st Century Southern Baptists.