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!