Affinities, Alliances & Agendas in the SBC: Part 1

Affinity:

1.  a natural liking for or attraction to a person, thing, idea, etc.; 2.  a person, thing, idea, etc., for which such a natural liking or attraction is felt.; 3.  relationship by marriage or by ties other than those of blood ( distinguished from consanguinity).; 4.  inherent likeness or agreement; close resemblance or connection. (Dictionary.com)

In the title for this post, I was tempted to use the word “Identity” in place of “Affinity.”  It would have conveyed almost the same thoughts, but some — perhaps many — would have gotten hung up on that one little word and not been able to understand what it is that I am trying to say.  I don’t mind the word “identity.”  In fact, I’ve been accused by some of being a Baptist Identity kind of guy.  On Jared Moore’s list of BI guys that he has interacted with, I was #2, only behind the esteemed Peter Lumpkins.  Really, Jared?  What do I have to do to displace Peter as the #1 BI guy?  (By the way, even though we have never met, I have an affinity for Jared and think he writes an excellent blog — check it out here — even if we have been known to spar from time to time).

I find it humorous that anyone would consider me a Baptist Identity guy (not that there’s anything wrong with that), not because I find my brothers in the BI movement humorous (although some can wield satire with the best of them).  I find it humorous because those who label me as part of the Baptist Identity movement (if you can call it that) fail to grasp that my association with these folk did not arise because I somehow “saw the light” and started agreeing with everything that BI stands for.  On the contrary, I have become friends with many within the BI movement because we have an affinity for one another based not on a general Baptist Identity but, on our common identity as cooperating Southern Baptists.

Before the GCR, I found myself in (mostly) silent opposition to the guys over at SBC Today and Peter over at SBC Tomorrow.  Sad to say, but I had not yet discovered SBC Voices.  I did not comment, but merely lurked.  I had not even started my own blog yet.  Apart from an introductory post when I launched From Law to Grace, my very first substantial blog posts were about the Ergun Caner/Liberty University kerfuffle (here, here, and here).  They were a direct ( and rather pointed) response to Tim Rogers’ (and others’) defense of Dr. Caner.  Go figure.

In time, I began interacting with a wide range of bloggers and blog readers — from Peter Lumpkins to Tim Rogers, from CB Scott (my “cuz”) to Bob Cleveland, from Lydia to SelahV (Hariette), from Dave Miller to Rick Patrick, from Big Daddy Weave to Stephen Fox and from Jared Moore to Mark Lamprecht.  While I may not agree with all of these folks all of the time, I consider each to be friends and brothers and sisters-in-Christ, even though I have never met any of them in person, except Peter.  I met him at a secret, smoke-filled meeting in Phoenix that I willed myself to attend even though I was holed-up in my hotel room, sick as a dog.  That’s the kind of pull that Peter has 🙂  I guess I wasn’t supposed to reveal that people actually meet privately before, during, and after SBC Annual Meetings to talk about vision, goals and strategy for reforms within the SBC.  Apologies to Dr. Patterson and Judge Pressler.  My bad.

Truth be told, I would have identified myself much more with the Reformed/Calvinist brethren (I am one, even if inconsistent in my practice) within the SBC prior to what came to be known as the Great Commission Resurgence.  Looking back, my journey began to take a turn at the 2006 SBC Annual Meeting in Greensboro.  It was there that I first heard of Dr. Frank Page.  Based largely on the passionate nominating speech delivered by (the late) Forrest Pollock (“you can’t spell SBC without a C and a P”) — and in opposition to the miniscule mega-church CP giving of one of the candidates — I, along with a majority of messengers, elected the non-establishment candidate, defeating Ronnie Floyd and Jerry Sutton in a three-way race on the first ballot.  At that same meeting, I sided with the Reformed/Calvinist wing in voting against the Alcohol-use Resolution, obviously putting me on the opposite side of that issue from Peter Lumpkins and others.

Since the Orlando Convention in June 2010, when the GCR was pushed through with much browbeating and parliamentary shenanigans passed by a majority of messengers, I have been a part of what might be described as the loyal opposition within the SBC.  How did I end up here?  Why can I now seem to get along with those who I had heretofore opposed and, no longer mesh with those who I had once been much more comfortable?  The same question could be asked of certain non-Calvinist mega-church pastors and certain well-known Reformed/Calvinist Southern Baptists, both of whom were not previously known for their joint cooperative efforts.

The answer to those questions lies in a word — AFFINITY.  I have found that I have much more in common and a much stronger connection with those whose primary identity is Southern Baptist (of course, that is after Christian, which should be presumed unless and until evidence to the contrary proves otherwise).  For example, my affinity would look something like (L to R):

Southern Baptist — New Mexico Baptist — Conservative Evangelical — Calvinist — Baptist

Based on the concept of affinity, my natural liking will be toward those who I have more in common with and who identify more closely with me.  That should not be hard to understand.  For example, many churches have discontinued traditional, age-graded adult Sunday School and instead implemented Bible studies based on affinity groups.  This is not only happening within individual churches, but it is happening within groups of churches.  When I served in Virginia, the Baptist General Association of Virginia admitted a few churches from Georgia into the BGAV.  At first I thought this was strange, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.  Those Georgia churches, who would most likely be considered moderate Baptists, would have had a stronger affinity for some of the more moderate churches (and the Convention as a whole) in Virginia than for their fellow churches in the more conservative Georgia Baptist Convention.  Affinity, not geography, was what ultimately drew these Georgia churches to cooperative ministry with their Virginia brethren.

And ultimately, it will be affinity which will either draw Southern Baptists closer together or which will drive us further apart.  What we are witnessing today is the slow death of the Southern Baptist Convention, not primarily because of politics (although politics is heavily involved), but rather because of the diminishing affinity that we have as Southern Baptists for one another coupled with the increasing affinity that we see demonstrated for groups that do not primarily identify as Southern Baptists.  It’s one thing to love one another.  After all, we are commanded by our Lord to do just that.  It’s something different to like one another.  Affinity cannot be commanded or coerced, especially when it comes to voluntary cooperation.  However, the more that we like one another, the easier it is to cooperate together (and trust each other) for the sake of missions and ministry.  The less we like each other, the harder it becomes to stay connected in cooperative partnerships.

As we begin to understand how and why some of the SBC’s establishment leaders seem to identify more strongly with, and be attracted to, certain non-Southern Baptist groups, we will perhaps begin to grasp why new alliances and reform agendas have been created in the last five years.  Check back on Friday for an exploration of some of those alliances and agendas that are at play within the SBC and what that might mean for the future cooperative efforts of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

 

16 comments for “Affinities, Alliances & Agendas in the SBC: Part 1

  1. Daniel
    February 15, 2012 at 7:05 AM

    Great post. Glad to see you posting regularly again.

    • February 15, 2012 at 8:11 AM

      Daniel,

      Thanks. I’m glad that I’m posting regularly again, too! December and January were tough months, which is why I took some time off. Now that I am refreshed, I look forward to adding my voice to the mix of issues within the SBC and our culture at large. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment. Hope you have a great day and God bless,

      Howell

  2. February 15, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Brother Howell,

    Great to see you back on a consistent basis writing even though you are inconsistent in your theology. 🙂

    I would like to point to your position of where you would identify yourself to ask, and even point out, a need for consideration. You position yourself as; Southern Baptist — New Mexico Baptist — Conservative Evangelical — Calvinist — Baptist…I would suggest you re-think that position as Baptist. Yes, Southern Baptist is where we all begin, but I believe you will find that you have as much more affinity with Aaron Weaver (Baptist) that you would with a T.D.Jakes (Conservative Evangelical). Thus, on the affinity scale, would you not agree that “Baptist” would fall between “New Mexico Baptist” and “Conservative Evangelical”? At the least, it would fall before “Calvinist” would it not?

    Blessings,
    Tim

    • February 15, 2012 at 11:17 AM

      Bro. Tim,

      I’m glad to be back on a more consistent basis 🙂 Funny you should mention T.D. Jakes. My Student Pastor and I just finished a long conversation this morning about T.D. Jakes and his speaking at the recent Code Orange Revival at Elevation Church, which is in your neck of the woods. More specifically, Stephen Furtick’s introduction of Jakes. In describing myself, I specifically used the word “Conservative” in front of Evangelical. I would not describe Jakes as a Conservative Evangelical. He maybe “Evangelical,” which only proves that Evangelicalism is not what is used to be or should be. I would most assuredly have more in common with Aaron than T.D. Jakes. I don’t know that “Baptist” would fall before Calvinist, in this sense. Most Calvinists tend to be more conservative in their theology. There are many Baptists — outside of the SBC — which would be more moderate/liberal in their overall theology, not just limited to their soteriology, with which I would disagree. That’s probably why I listed “Baptist” last in that order. However, on any given day, the latter ones could just as easlily be reversed. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day and God bless,

      Howell

  3. February 15, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    Howell, I knew you’d come around. ha ha selahV

    • February 15, 2012 at 1:40 PM

      Hariette,

      After seeing your comment on Peter’s blog, I knew it was only a matter of time before you would show up here to tweak me 🙂 Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  4. Ron
    February 15, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    Howell,
    I give your article a “Triple AAA” rating. I read every word and will read it again before departing to Sleepy Town this evening. I would pay cash money for a preview of Part II on Thursday 🙂

    Can’t wait until Friday!

    Blessings!

    • February 15, 2012 at 3:47 PM

      Ron,

      Thanks for the “AAA” rating! Your offer is tempting. However, as most of Friday’s post is still in my head and will probably not be written until late Thursday, I won’t be able to accommodate your request 🙂 Needless to say, specific groups will be mentioned, along with some of the key players. I hope that it proves to be interesting and informative. Of course, you have already shed light on some of the key alliances that have grown stronger in recent years. Might be a mention or two of at least one Southern Baptist affinity group and one non-Baptist affinity group, particularly in their relationships with at least one seminary and one missions agency of the SBC, respectively. How’s that for whetting your appetite? 😉 Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  5. Lydia
    February 15, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    I can totally relate to this post and find myself in pretty much the same place. I have big disagreements with the BI folks but also with the New Calvinist wing. However, you hit the nail on the when you said this:

    “Why can I now seem to get along with those who I had heretofore opposed and, no longer mesh with those who I had once been much more comfortable? The same question could be asked of certain non-Calvinist mega-church pastors and certain well-known Reformed/Calvinist Southern Baptists, both of whom were not previously known for their joint cooperative efforts.”

    I think the answer when it comes to the SBC mega church (seeker types, too) and the Calvinists is much less about doctrine than simple power politics. Personally, I do not think it is about Calvinism as much as it is just the issue to rally the troops….esp the young troops. But there is also another ingredient that I saw quite a bit in my corporate training days: The leaders are yelling, wait for me! I am the leader!

    And they are running to get in front of the YRR guys (Driscoll especially BEFORE the last year) etc. They see the train moving on and realize they need to be seen as driving it. They don’t want to miss out on what is seen as a sweeping movement.

    But let’s face it. It is hard to cooperate with folks who think you do NOT want to see the nations rejoice for Christ. Or who think you just are not smart enough to see that Reformed/New Calvinism is truth. It is asking a lot to ignore those sentiments but that is exactly what we are being asked to do.

    I fully expect to see some sort of “alliance” in the future which is more official with SGM and Acts 29 and other Reformers. I think it is about numbers and power. And that is why one can agree with 3pts and be considered a “Calvinist” now.

    Sometimes I feel like a woman without a country. I just do not fit snugly with either group. Therefore I content myself with looking at each issue and topic alone without the preconceived notions of a “side”. I am quite comfortable with that.

    I think our biggest problem, that is an overarching principle, with all of this is the issue of Christian celebrity and authoritarianism. I think it all goes back to that in some way or another. Power politics. And some are just very good at it.

    • February 15, 2012 at 7:41 PM

      “I think our biggest problem, that is an overarching principle, with all of this is the issue of Christian celebrity and authoritarianism. I think it all goes back to that in some way or another. Power politics. And some are just very good at it.”

      Lydia,

      You have really nailed it with that statement. There is no question that hardball politics is as work in the Convention. Perhaps it has always been this way, but with the advent of blogs and other news outlets not controlled by the Convention (i.e., ABP), it is much harder to hide the political nature of things. Unfortunately, this still does not mean that it is easy to see the backstory of the alliances — theological, methodological, ecclesiological, and political) that have formed in the last few years. I’ll share my observations and how I have connected the dots. Others may disagree with my conclusions, but there is an element of mega-church authoritarianism + Reformed ecclesiology (i.e., elders and more limited congregational polity) which seems to be at play in some of the alliances and agendas. If you don’t mind, I think I will borrow your thoughts (even if not your exact words) for my post on Friday. Thanks for your good word. God bless,

      Howell

  6. Job
    February 16, 2012 at 9:57 PM

    Pastor Howell:

    The “affinity” of which you speak is a product of a culture that – while still existing – no longer predominates in any area of the country, and is in rapid decline. The “new guard” believes that if the fortunes of the SBC is dependent on that culture or any product of it, then the SBC will decline with it. This “new guard” purports to have the solution. Maybe they don’t, maybe they need to be more forthright and transparent about their intentions and methods. But if the position of the SBC traditionalists is “everything is fine, everything is OK, and any issues that we have are the fault of the new guys trying to change everything” then is that the right approach? It relies on simply having faith that everything will be fine if traditions are maintained. More to the point, it requires being ultimately OK with the decline so long as the traditions are adhered to, especially if there is a scapegoat on whom the decline can be attributed to. On the former, I do not believe that the New Testament ever promised us a growing, vibrant traditional SBC. On the latter, accepting decline in order to maintain tradition would be tolerable if the decline was small. (Note that I said that the tradition on which this affinity is based, not the gospel. Anything and everything should be sacrificed for the sake of the gospel). But if the decline is as significant as the new guard believes it will be, as significant as the decline in American traditional culture and values, then what does it say concerning the people that are OK with the decline, especially if they have someone or something to blame for it?

    That is why this issue isn’t REALLY about Calvinism. It just so happens that for a number of reasons, the YRR movement appeals to a segment that feels estranged from the traditional SBC, or from larger traditional evangelical Christianity. In a few years the YRR and their heroes are going to become part of “the establishment” and the same issues will exist. I say this because the narcissistic postmodern contemporary culture is not conducive to Biblical Christianity, and trying to create a church model that is based on or attempts to accommodate that culture is flawed. For folks in that culture, their deity is themselves, and their high priestess is Lady Gaga. They’ll play around with vulgar-tongued “pastors” in skinny jeans for awhile, but eventually they’ll go back to seeking their own indulgence. But even that gets us back to the real issue: the new guard thinks that they have the solution to the problem but they really don’t. The traditionalists aren’t ready to concede the existence of any problem beyond the presence of the new guard. So long as this situation remains, no matter which side “wins”, the SBC still loses. The cause of Jesus Christ will not, of course. But unless the finger pointing and scapegoating ends and the real problem – the toxic American culture – is interacted with, the SBC that serves the cause of Christ will be greatly diminished in size, resources and cohesion.

    The real conversation should be “what should be the SBC of the future in a culture that is totally different from and antagonistic to the one that shaped the SBC of the past.” If the answer is “the same SBC that it has always been” of the traditional/majority so-called Baptist Identity, then the result will be decline/marginalization. If the answer will be the new guard’s quick fix of accommodating the culture, then the result will be decline/marginalization AND quite possibly veering into liberalism or some other form of apostasy. While mere decline is certainly preferable to decline and apostasy, isn’t there a third, better path available?

    • February 16, 2012 at 10:13 PM

      Job,

      Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate your thoughts on this issue. You make much sense when it comes to how the SBC of the future (not the past) interacts with an increasingly changing culture that wants nothing to do with “traditional” Chrisitianity, much less the Gospel. As one who identifies as a Southern Baptist, there is no question that we can continue to “do church” the same way that we have always done it, whether at the local church level or the national Convention level. We must change how we communicate and interact with an increasingly pagan culture while never abandoning the Biblical Gospel message and salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. Some traditionalists do not want to acknowledge any problems with how we do ministry which is why 70-80% of SB churches are plateaued or declining. At the same time, you have more contemporary churches and pastors who want to so identify with culture that they build beds on top of the church so they can talk about sex for 24 hours.

      In the end, I agree that this is not really about Calvinism, even though there are many younger pastors who identify more with Calvinism and Reformed organizations/networks than they do with the SBC. There are also mega-church pastors (both Calvinist and non-Calvinist) who seem to have a circuit all their own. Membership in this circuit is not so much based on doctrine or denominational affiliation (see T.D. Jakes and the Elephant Room 2) as it is on celebrity. I’m really not sure what the third way would look like other than to say it would involved cooperation for the sake of the Gospel, not only helping existing churches fulfill the Great Commission, but also planting new churches to do the same. The sad part of the so-called Great Commission Resurgence is that the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists would have agreed on about 70-80% of the changes that were proposed. Unfortunately, those in positions of leadership wanted all 100% at one time, thus causing disunity and mistrust to develop. That’s where we are now with our affinities, alliances, and agendas. More on that in the morning. Thanks again for your contribution to the discussion. God bless,

      Howell

  7. Job
    February 17, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    Pastor Howell:

    Thank you for your kind response. For some reason, dialogue goes much better for me here than it does at SBC Today, SBC Voices or on Peter Lumpkins’ site, where it usually ends in a disaster that I created!

    “even though there are many younger pastors who identify more with Calvinism and Reformed organizations/networks than they do with the SBC.”

    Hmmm … I think that it is more true to say that there are many younger pastors and simply leave it at that. SBC Today, Peter Lumpkins and other outfits have done an excellent job of using Brad Whitt and a few others to create this false “young traditional dedicated to the SBC non-Calvinist” versus “young contemporary Calvinist who is more Acts 29 than SBC” dichotomy that does not actually exist. The truth is that there are tons of young non-Calvinists that are very contemporary and consider themselves more broadly evangelical than SBC. For example: Rick Warren has his own church planting enterprise that dwarfs Acts 29. The purpose-driven church planters and the other similar non-Calvinists that are every bit as estranged from the traditional SBC culture and are seeking to form their own evangelical culture as a result go unmentioned because it is in the interests of some to focus only on the YRR. That is what I mean when I mentioned that some would rather chase bogeymen than solve the real problem.

    Even the mega-church thing is a manifestation of the cultural problem. Why do folks spend 30 minutes driving past hundreds of good smaller churches to be in a megachurch, especially if it is a multi-site church where the “pastor” is a video projection (and certainly will be a hologram when the technology permits)? Because they are looking for an entertainment experience, not a worship one. They want the same thing from attending church that they get from visits to the mall, movie theater, sporting events, psychiatrist’s chair, and watching Oprah all rolled up in one.

    I have read your other post, and I do not truly disagree with it. I would just like to point out that the megachurch lobby would not be successful without the decline in the traditional SBC. As a matter of fact, a lot of the traditionalists have fallen in line behind the megachurch leaders precisely because of it in the hopes that the megachurch leaders have the solutions, and even if they don’t then at least trying is preferable to doing nothing. That line of thinking isn’t merely being influenced by celebrity. Put it this way: if you were looking to plant a church right now, who would you partner with? Unless your home church has the resources to sponsor you, if you are non-Calvinist likely Rick Warren, if you are Calvinist likely Acts 29.

    I admit: I do not have the solutions. I am not a pastor, theologian, sociologist, scholar etc. I will say one thing: if current political and societal trends continue (and by the way, I believe that the GOP is as bad as the Democrats, I know that you disagree but it is my opinion) the solution may be imposed on us. For instance, it is one thing to be despised by mainstream society because of adhering to a Biblical position on homosexuality, which is the case (or almost) right now. It is quite another to lose your tax-exempt status because of it. Will there be any megachurches left in that case? (Or will megachurches be the only churches able to survive?) I just don’t see the solutions being discussed.

    Thank you.

    • February 17, 2012 at 1:06 PM

      Job,

      Thanks for the great spirit of dialogue that comes through with your posts. I can’t speak for other sites, but I try my best to be as gracious and non-adversarial as possible (not that others are not doing the same) to those who take the time to read and actually comment. If I didn’t have readers — even those who disagree with me — then I would be wasting my time in writing. That being said, there’s not much to quibble with you on in your response. I do think that there are many (what that number is I don’t know) younger pastors coming out of our seminaries who do identify more with Acts 29 than they do with their local Baptist Association or State Convention.

      Of course, as you rightly point out, the younger pastors not identifying with traditional SBC structures are not limited to the Reformed brethren. There are perhaps just as many young, restless, and seeker/purpose driven type pastors who identify more with a Rick Warren or Andy Stanley or (oh brother) Ed Young, Jr. Your observations about celebrity, mega-churches and the theater/entertainment mentality is spot on and could be (probably will be) the subject of its own post. I may have to borrow some of your thoughts on that from this comment 🙂 I appreciate you taking the time to interact with me on this. Hope you have a great weekend and God bless,

      Howell

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