I’ve always been fascinated by the Baptist bogeyman. Bogeymen are not real dangers, but ones we use to scare one another, often distracting us from real danger. There are real challenges in our churches and the convention-theological and otherwise-but bogeymen distract us from the real issues.
Purpose Driven was the first bogeyman I remember in Southern Baptist life. Instead of focusing on real dangers facing our denomination, some Southern Baptists started preaching against wearing Hawaiian shirts and sitting on stools (from the annual meeting and Pastors’ Conference, no less).
But now, Rick Warren has just spoken at the Anabaptist Conference at Southwestern Seminary. And, I think that’s great. I just wish we had not spent over a decade making Purpose Driven the bogeyman and a generation of Purpose Driven churches feel unwelcome in and disconnected with the SBC. (If you don’t think that is the case, look around and see how many contemporary churches are actively involved in Convention life.)
These contemporary church bogeymen were not denying the Bible-the SBC ones believed in the Conservative Resurgence and wanted to live it out in their contemporary churches. But, after hearing that they were the new bogeymen, they are not around that much today.
Five years ago, the bogeyman was “emerging.” Ironically, there was never much that “emerged” in the SBC, though you would not know that by some of the loudest voices. Turns out, I found out, I was emergent-yep, Brian McLaren and me, according to one critic. Yet, the Emergent wing of the emerging church was about three pastors in SBC life. As I explained in Baptist Press, most SBC pastors just wanted to preach the gospel in emerging culture. Those SBC pastors soon distanced themselves from those moving out of orthodoxy. Yet, some in the Convention started swinging a big bat at a little gnat and drove out another generation of people who simply wanted to reach what was called, at that time, a postmodern culture.
Now, the new bogeyman is Calvinism. Critics are labeling people as Calvinists and Calvinist “sympathizers” (yes, they are using that scare word). Yet, most SBC Calvinists (about 10 percent of pastors and 30 percent of recent seminary graduates) affirm the current Baptist Faith and Message, want to reach people for Christ, and desire to cooperate together in SBC life.
So, in a decade, the bogeyman has gone from Purpose Driven, to emerging, to Calvinism. And, although it is much bigger than me, I’ve been labeled a bogeyman in each era. First, they said I was Purpose Driven, then I was emerging, and now I am a Calvinist. Ironically, I haven’t changed much.
My mother used to instruct me not to go out after dark because the bogeyman would get me. In truth, there were serious dangers outside after dark, but the bogeyman was not one of them. Bogeymen are exaggerated dangers to scare people-and that is what some are doing in SBC life, just as they have in the past.
In the same way, there are real issues here to address. The Conservative Resurgence was over matters that were crucial. And even in the aforementioned bogeymen, there have been very real challenges at every turn. Ten years ago (and in every decade), some churches that called themselves “Purpose Driven” pursued relevance more than they pursued righteousness. Five years ago, some bad theology “emerged” (and because of such, many quit using that term). And, today, there are some militant Calvinists so driven by Calvinism, they can’t cooperate and don’t need to be in the Convention. I call them “nostalgic Calvinists,” pining away for the past more than engaging and cooperating in the present.
I described such Calvinists five years ago in an interview with the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Seminary:
I do see many self-identified Calvinists who are constantly discussing the 18th century as the golden age of theology and praxis in Baptist life. So, I don’t want them to get over Calvinism, but it would be nice if they got into the Third Millennium. At times, I am convinced some “nostalgic Calvinists” have forgotten our mandate is to see men and women brought into the kingdom, not into Geneva.
I am concerned about some of the trends in SBC Calvinism and think we need more conversation (and less insinuation) about the topic. It’s easier to talk about bogeymen.
Some want to divide us-yet I believe that most SBC pastors want us to be united and on mission. They want to build on the Conservative Resurgence to see a Great Commission focus.
I am a Baptist-a Southern Baptist at that. I’ve written or contributed to over a dozen books that point churches to be more effectively engaged in missions and evangelism-the focus of my ministry for over two decades. And, I hoped and prayed that Baptists would be more concerned about reaching the lost than labeling one another.
The Southern Baptist Convention can and must include Purpose Driven pastors, pastors who used to call themselves emerging, and Calvinist pastors, when they choose to affirm our BFM confession and engage in mission cooperation. But the drums of war are sounding again, and Calvinists are the newest bogeymen.
We don’t need another SBC purge-we’ve already preached out a big part of a generation of contemporary churches. Now, we have to decide if we want to do the same to the Calvinist ones who want to cooperate.
As I said at this blog a few years ago:
The Baptist Faith and Message is our confessional consensus. Formulated and approved by the convention, it should fix the boundary for churches and entities that call themselves Southern Baptist. Those who would want to impose their own more narrow parameters of cooperation place others in the unenviable position, to use a football metaphor, of having the goalposts moved while the field goal attempt is in flight. If indeed we have a consensus, and we do, let that be the center point of our working together.
Preaching against bogeymen gets the big amen at some meetings and in some publications, but we should take notice– those meetings are getting older and smaller every year.
Ed Stetzer, VP of LifeWay Christian Resources