Being a Southern Baptist who holds to Reformed theology is messy. I am connected to a denomination (more accurately, a convention) that is either largely unaware of or antagonistic toward this theological perspective. I don’t really talk about Reformed theology much outside a smallish group of friends, because my main objective in life is not to convert people to a Reformed perspective, but to see and reveal the glory of Christ. I find I can do that without mentioning Calvin, the TULIP or the Protestant Reformation. In some ways, in fact, I would consider myself (to take advantage of the parlance of our time) post-Reformed. By this I mean that Reformed theology is a part of my foundation, and I think in its categories, but it doesn’t define me or serve as the objective of my ministry or mission in the world. I find that this helps me move in broader circles and find more common ground with more believers (and unbelievers) which enables greater ministry. I can agree with an Arminian that Jesus is Lord, and we are able to enjoy genuine fellowship. I’m not sure this is the model of broader Southern Baptist life.
Many in SBC life are questioning the future of the convention as more people become aware of and embrace Reformed theology (and by Reformed theology, which can be a misnomer if imprecisely applied, I mainly mean the so called Doctrines of Grace). As I write this post, a conference is being held at Ridgecrest called the Building Bridges Conference, which is an attempt to encourage and facilitate congenial conversation among brothers and sisters who hold (sometimes with great passion) different theological views. Some are hopeful that this will be the beginning of something good. Some think it’s an exercise in clarifying the lines of battle. Either way, the issue of Reformed theology is coming to the fore in new ways which is going to cause discomfort (at least) or even division and schism within the convention. I hope that good things come from the Building Bridges conference. I would like to be there. In the end, however, I’m not sure that people aren’t already entrenched and are seeking to fortify their own positions.
This is only one issue that faces the Southern Baptist Convention these days. The battle over alcohol prohibition within denominational life rages on. The so called Emerging Church movement has many knickers in twists. Private prayer languages (code name for speaking in tongues…in private) is bubbling still. We have earned the nickname “Battling Baptists” and it seems we feel an obligation to continue to live up to it. It isn’t that the issues aren’t important ones (they are), but the way we go about dealing with them is, well, sometimes sinful.
Speaking of which…Is the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) on your radar? What about words like New Perspectives on Paul (NPP) and Federal Vision (FV)? It seems that trouble is brewing which could end up causing the PCA to go kaboom. This year the General Assembly of the PCA declared that the FV and NPP are bad juju. Those who embrace various forms of FV and NPP cried foul because the deck was stacked against them (and it was). Now the stage is set for enforcement of the findings of the Study Committe on FV/NPP and the battle is moving to a particular presbytery (the Louisiana Presybytery) and a particular pastor (Steve Wilkins) is being pursued for crimes against orthodoxy. (The ways in which this is all being done is complex and painful to watch. It is documented in various places [see below] if you’re inclined to chase down particulars.)
I’m not at all embarrassed to say that I embrace Reformed theology (although I am sometimes embarrassed by some who do). I find much in Federal Vision theology that is good and right (as my blogroll would suggest). I remain a Southern Baptist because, for now anyway, I feel a sense of obligation and loyalty to the denomination of my youth. I also remain hopeful that good things can come from authentic, robust discussion among brothers who are eager to follow the truth…wherever it goes. I continue to love the PCA because so much of my theological consciousness has been formed by men in the PCA and their heroes. However, the mutual defenestrations and subsequent descent into theological jackassery is, in some sense, a spiritual suicide bomb. We kill not only ourselves but make the faith we confess appear to be one of conflict and turmoil…in the bad way.
Building Bridges Conference (Audio available now)
Douglas Wilsonblogs about the current PCA SJC LAP FV AA flap