Reviving the SBC

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Decatur Baptist.jpgOne of the guilty pleasures I discovered during my turn in the South was following the Southern Baptist Convention, that huge grumpy quasi-denomination that once bestrode the region like a colossus. It’s fallen on hardish times of late, what with baptisms down and membership aging. To gin up institutional revival, SBC president Johnny Hunt last month released a Great Commission Resurgence Declaration (GCRD), which comprised:

1) A Commitment to Christ’s Lordship; 2) A Commitment to
Gospel-Centeredness; 3) A Commitment to the Great Commandments; 4) A
Commitment to Biblical Inerrancy and Sufficiency; 5) A Commitment to a
Healthy Confessional Center; 6) A Commitment to Biblically Healthy
Churches; 7) A Commitment to Sound Biblical Preaching; 8) A Commitment
to a Methodological Diversity that is Biblically Informed; 9) A
Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure; and 10) A
Commitment to Distinctively Christian Families.

Looks like pretty unobjectionable stuff for Southern Baptists, doesn’t it? Not so fast. The poison pill is number 9, which turns out to entail permitting individual churches to serve the greater SBC weal by giving directly to institutions they choose to support–not, as traditionally, via the Cooperative Program where state conventions and the Executive Committee get their cut. As a result, the Declaration drew the bitter opposition of the guys who run the state conventions and the head of the Executive Committee.

Being an SBC thing, however, the debate managed to get enmeshed in an ongoing theological war over the influence of resurgent Calvinism in the SBC. In his speech to the Convention meeting in Louisville yesterday, Executive Committee president Morris Chapman tied the GCRD to the Calvinists–who, he suggested, were to blame for the denomination’s declining fortunes. The GCRD passed anyway, the with result that a report on changes to be made will be presented to the Convention next year in Orlando. Oklahoma pastor/blogger Wade Burleson held his nose and voted for it because he’s a big-tent guy.

Speaking of big tents, the Convention did manage to disfellowship Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, which made so bold as to publish pictures of same-sex couples in its membership directory. On the other hand, it has thus far avoided severing its ties with First Baptist Church, Decatur (Ga.), which had the temerity to call a woman pastor a few years ago–not that it’s easy to find Julie Pennington-Russell on the church’s website. Ah, Decatur Baptist, down the street from my old home, on whose hallowed softball team I used to play! (Glad the SBC never got wind of that.)