I’ve read with dismay several editorials by Index Editor Dr. Gerald Harris over recent months. I hesitate to speak up because I know that he is held in high regard by so many. I know that there are many who agree with his assessments of the SBC. In fairness, I merely wish to point out some points of difference.
Expressing concern for victims in a #MeToo culture
I’ve read many one-sided pieces about Dr. Paige Patterson in the Index. I graduated from SEBTS under Dr. Patterson and am fully convinced of his ability as a scholar. However, the trustees at SWBTS delineated their case against him and the messengers at the SBC were adamant in supporting the trustees.
I was a childhood victim of sexual abuse. While I am fully aware of Dr. Patterson’s contributions to conservative theology, does it follow that we have no responsibility to contribute now to a culture that holds abusers and their abettors accountable and protects victims with equal conviction? Continuously labeling this a “conspiracy” unfairly discredits the victims and the individuals and entities that have stood with them.
Social Justice and the Social Gospel
I am fully convinced that servanthood is the new cultural influence currency and the old biblical mandate. We are in what many people consider an ex-Christian society. Consequently, we must often earn the right to be heard.
Regarding social justice, maybe we should read the Minor Prophets again and hear God’s heart for the poor and marginalized. If it is un-Christian for a person to care about social justice, someone neglected to tell the prophet Micah (6:8). Is compassion inconsistent with the Gospel? Not according to Matthew 9:35ff, James 2:16, or 1 John 3:17. I’ve also read Steve Sjogren’s Conspiracy of Kindness and am convinced that servant evangelism is thoroughly biblical.
It’s relatively easy to avoid having acts of kindness degenerate into a social gospel. Merely ask, “May I share with you why we’re doing this?” I’ve never had anyone say no, especially after sweating in their yard or on their roof for a week.
Is the SBC becoming liberal?
Not that I can tell. The people I meet at seminary luncheons, discussion groups, new pastors, and those who are leading our seminaries and agencies are doctrinally sound and fully committed to historic, biblical fundamentals. I am writing out of concern that by representing our national movement as tracking toward liberalism the wrong impression is being conveyed to Index readers.
It is possible to be culturally engaged and theologically sound. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Are we guilty of misplaced passion?
In the first century Romans could not conceive of a kingdom that did not consist of temporal power, so Christianity was illegal. Now it often seems that it is Christians who can’t conceive of a kingdom that does not consist of temporal power.
Many younger adults have a different sensibility about mixing faith and politics. It may be that they see the importance of being pro-life and socially conservative, but they also know that partisanship can send mixed messages about our ultimate loyalty. On a practical level, around 80 minutes was granted to politicians on the platform at the Annual Meeting in Dallas while messengers were turned away from microphones and didn’t get to speak to critical convention concerns.
Personally, I didn’t fly to Dallas to hear a stump speech I wouldn’t watch on TV at home.
Were the former days better than these?
Not according to Solomon (Ecclesiastes 7:10) or LifeWay. The SBC has been plateaued in baptisms since 1950 and began to decline over the last ten years. This data is measured against our own membership, not U.S. population growth.
Should this grieve us? Absolutely! But representing it as the result of some recent theological departure from orthodoxy doesn’t match the data.
It is easy to pull together all the polar discussions that are occurring in the SBC and present them as grave, valid threats to our collective future. But as an SBC pastor for more than 15 years and an associational leader for more than nine years, I am not alarmed about the direction we’re headed. Like all large denominations we have problems, but I am not convinced the sky is falling.
Finally, because The Index is now completely funded by the Cooperative Program, it is my hope that in the future it will represent its constituency with more balance. I can’t imagine that I’m the only reader who struggles with these matters.