Union U conf: Danny Akin on the future of the Southern Baptist Convention

Communications Staff — October 8, 2009

JACKSON, Tenn.: Southern Baptists are clearly at a crossroads.

Recent significant events:

1. GCR task force approved by 95 percent margin.

2. Geoff Hammond’s resignation from NAMB.

3. Jerry Rankin announced his retirement this coming summer from the IMB.

4. Morris Chapman announced his retirement next September as president of the Executive Committee.

Akin said he is not optimistic, but he is hopeful about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Will we join hands in our great God or will we find ourselves sitting on the sideline watching? Will we have the wrong perspective? Will we focus on the temporal instead of the eternal? What must Southern Baptists do to have a viable future?

Southern Baptists have a hopeful future:

1. If we submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

This must be first. It must set the foundation for any future agenda for Southern Baptists. Submission to the Lordship of Jesus will lead to a commitment to reaching the nations with the Gospel. A lack of commitment to taking the Gospel to the nations is shameful.

2. If we maintain our commitment to the inerrant, infallible and sufficient Word of God.

We must not let the current generation of Southern Baptists forget the sacrifice of their forebears to uphold a commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture. But we must also continue to hold the precious theological ground we have gained.

3. If we will pursue a genuinely Word-based ministry that is theological in content and on fire in delivery.

I am encouraged by a ravenous desire and hunger for Word-based preaching. We need theological seminaries training men to be book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, phrase-by-phrase and word-by-word expository preaching. And we need preachers who are compelling and on fire in their delivery. Boring, non-affected preaching is sinful.

4. If we can unite around and affirm the BF&M 2000 as a healthy and sufficient guide for cooperation that avoids theological liberalism on one side and sectarianism on the other side.

Albert Mohler’s model of theological triage is excellent for helping us navigate theological waters. First order doctrines are those that are basic and essential to the Christian faith, such as justification by faith alone and the full deity and humanity of Christ.

Second order doctrines are essential to the ordering of church life, but that do not define the Gospel. Such doctrines make it difficult to work together in local congregations.

Third order doctrines may be debated, but people can agree to disagree and work together in local congregations. Some things are worth dividing over and some are not.

5. If we reflect the demographic of our nation and all nations.

Southern Baptists have had a racist past. This is to our shame. We have publicly repented of this, but there is still much work to be done. Southern Baptists remain a mostly middle class, mostly white and mostly declining denomination. The lack of urgency and concern in this area is mind-boggling and inexcusable.

6. If we have the courage to rethink our convention structure at every level, clarify our mission so that we maximize our resources and display a compelling vision for the future.

It takes almost nine Southern Baptist churches to produce one overseas missionary. North American church planting in the unreached parts of our nation is barely a trickle. The future of the SBC will depend upon the types of leaders we choose to follow.

We need aggressive and daring leaders who are willing to attempt great things for God and expect great things from God. Many Southern Baptists are trapped in a time warp. They are convinced that if we go back to the way things were, everything would be great. This is a denial and refusal to live in the world we find ourselves in. We must move ahead.

Additionally, we have built bureaucracies and little kingdoms that are the center of our affections. Some of us refuse to admit that we are even sick. Some say this is only dramatic rhetoric. Call it what you will. My concern is what God thinks about so much staying in church-saturated regions of America.

The SBC of 2010 will not look like the SBC at 2020 or 2030. We must consider some hard questions:

  • Is the name SBC really best for what we are and want to be in the future?
  • Do we have unnecessary overlap and reduplication in our convention? Yes.
  • Should we dismantle the Cooperative Program because it is dead, no longer effective and doesn’t work? No. We should be open to studying the CP, but it is still viable.
  • Are we technologically savvy and up to date? Doubtful.
  • Are we distracted by doing many good things, but not giving our full attention to the best things? No doubt.

Timothy George is right: the exchanging of one bureaucracy for another is not what we need.

7. If we raise up a generation of pastors who lead their churches as a missionary-equipping agency.

The headquarters of the SBC is the local church. Other agencies exist to assist these churches in fulfilling the Great Commission. The importance of the local church in this regard must be recaptured. Every church should be a church planting church and every church should be a Great Commission church. This must be a reality, not merely a slogan.

8. If we devote ourselves to a cooperation that is Gospel-centered and built on a theological core and methodological flexibility.

There are some things that are non-negotiable in worship services. But there are some areas of flexibility. This is self-evident by reading the New Testament. Style, methodology and liturgy will not unite Southern Baptists in the future. How we do things will be diverse and that is okay.

What we do must go through the purified waters of the Word of God. Nothing we do in worship should detract from a crucified and risen Savior. Therefore, different methods will have to be used in different contexts. A church in Montgomery, Ala., will look different from one in Portland, Ore. Churches may meet in different kinds of structures, wear different kinds of clothes and employ different types of Gospel-centered ministry structures.

If we seek to build a consensus around styles or methods we will continue to fracture and lose important ground. We must center on the advancement of the Gospel. Theology should drive our cooperation, not methodology.

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