Contrary to popular belief, the road less traveled is not always the wisest one to take. Sometimes, the less traveled road has fewer people on it for a very good reason.
Since 1979, there have been two clear paths for Southern Baptists to trod — the Conservative one and the Moderate one. While the roads may have appeared to be closer together 30 years ago (and that is debatable), the passage of time has revealed just how far apart these two roads truly are in 2010. During the last three decades, there have been few who have changed roads during the journey. Those who have made the switch almost always veer off the conservative road to stumble upon the moderate theological one. Such is the case with my former Christian Ethics Professor at Southern Seminary, David Gushee.
Around 1995 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, my wife and I took Dr. Gushee’s Christian Ethics class. We can only speak from our own experience, but neither of us ever heard Dr. Gushee say anything that could have been construed as anything other than theologically conservative. Dr. Gushee was (and I assume still is) a kind and thoughtful Christian educator who loves the Lord and loves his students.
I do not presume to know how Dr. Gushee has arrived at the place where he is on his spiritual pilgrimage, but his writings today reflect the view of a different kind of Baptist. Certainly different from what he taught in his Ethics classes at Southern. Perhaps different from what he taught at Union University, serving under Dr. David Dockery, my former Theology Professor at Southern. I do not begrudge Dr. Gushee or anyone else from choosing to follow the moderate Baptist road, but we need to understand where this road leads, both doctrinally and practically.
In a recent article, What Kind of Baptist Are You?, published by Associated Baptist Press, Dr. Gushee writes positively of a recent ordination service at his church in Georgia — First Baptist Decatur. Describing the service as a “classic ordination” and “very traditional,” Dr. Gushee certainly gives new meaning to those words. To believe that an officiating female pastor, two female associate pastors, and a female candidate, taking part in one ordination service, represents classic and traditional in Baptist life serves to illustrate the divergent roads that we have indeed been traveling on since the Conservative Resurgence began.
On both roads, Scripture is claimed as authoritative, although how Biblical authority is defined tends to be very different, depending on the road you are on. While I disagree with Dr. Gushee’s egalitarian view of women in ministry, I do not believe that this issue is one of heresy.
However, far too often, it seems, the moderate road leads to more and more dangerous, and in some cases, heretical views. First, women pastors. Next, a struggle over practicing homosexuals as members of the church. Then, mission professors at Baptist theology schools teaching that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
Two roads diverged in 1979. Most took the tried and true path of conservative, Biblical theology. A few took a moderate path. What a difference the right road makes!