I am really no one of extreme importance when it comes to Southern Baptist life. In that regard this post may be useless. I am a graduate of Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Liberty Theological Seminary. I have been in Southern Baptist church settings all of my life. As a pastor I have served four churches, all Southern Baptist, and the fourth I currently serve as Lead Pastor and have for the last 7 years. We give a lot of money to the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program, gladly, to further missions globally.
I consider myself a trained exegete with a conservative interpretation of the Scriptures. I have a handle on the culture and the context of the Scriptures because of unique and extensive study opportunities and field experiences in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. I don’t consider myself an expert but I’m not a novice either as it pertains to the Scriptures, applying the gospel, and pastoral leadership.
These last 5 years I have experienced angst while trying to partner and serve within my denomination. The angst is internal, never imposed by anyone else, stemming from what I observe among some who are considered heroic leaders within my own tribe. The tension is not doctrinal, exactly. It is more a “guilt by association” tension. Most recently the recorded words of my seminary’s President, Dr. Paige Patterson, concerning his counsel of women who are experiencing spousal abuse, and the subsequent comments of explanation have once again brought me to a place of stomach churning thought and prayer. Figures who are either Southern Baptist or generally esteemed by Southern Baptists like Pastor Robert Jeffress, Judge Roy Moore, Judge Paul Pressler, Jerry Falwell Jr. and now Dr. Patterson, all people I have admired from a distance in the past, now are becoming my greatest stumbling blocks, and I think, not just mine. “How is this a stumbling block,” you might ask? Or, you might think, “Maybe you (Brian) are believing things about these leaders that aren’t true because of “Fake News” or “liberal spin.” Maybe.
For me it plays like this. If a Baptist church is concerned about the Kingdom, then locally it must overcome really jacked up perceptions in the market place, community, and within certain groups of people in order to even have the opportunity to influence and share the best news given to humanity, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Globally it’s worse. Don’t get me wrong. God never changes because the culture changes. The Bible is true in every culture and in every generation. The gospel itself is a stumbling block to many. We should, however, be men and women who understand the times, exegete the culture, and serve as ambassadors of King Jesus, consistently applying the gospel even in these very relevant and often controversial subject areas of our day like:
Abuse of women.
Abuse of any kind, period.
If the perceived application of the gospel by the afore mentioned leaders toward the relevant subjects above, either in word or deed, is “Southern Baptist” then I don’t want it. But I don’t think it is. I think they have missed the mark as of late, each in their own particular category, or maybe it has just come to light as of late.
Other Southern Baptist leaders though, like Dr. Russell Moore, Ed Stetzer, H.B. Charles, Matt Chandler, Dr. David Platt, Danny Akin, Thom Rainer, Bruce Ashford, and many lesser known but influential Southern Baptist pastors and leaders seem to be applying the gospel with precision as we navigate a rapidly changing, globally shrinking, context. They seem to be ambassadors for Jesus, representing his views, and applying them to our current context.
It is my belief that there is more good and Godly at the grassroots level and among many SBC leaders than we will ever read on twitter or see publicized in any way, but we are experiencing a refining moment. Though I’m not a prominent voice in the SBC and this article will seem more like a “pop rock” than a stick of dynamite, we can’t sit idly by and do nothing. I am drawn to prayer in the angst which I believe is tension between Kingdom and convention. I am also drawn to action. We have to call out the misapplication of the gospel in instances like these especially among prominent voices and leaders in our tribe. With greater influence comes greater responsibility. Words matter. As Southern Baptists, we have to work to influence or remove leaders that are not representing King Jesus well in the arenas where proper gospel application is needed most. We must be Kingdom people before convention people and in the end that will be the best for the Southern Baptist Convention.