As an SBC seminary president, I often feel like a cork bobbing in a Southern Baptist ocean. I am so much in and a part of this convention that it can be difficult to extract myself to observe and assess the denomination I serve. Yet, in recent days I have found myself doing just that.
For me, October marks one year as president of Midwestern Seminary. This anniversary has prompted me to reflect on the convention I am privileged to serve. In so doing, I have been reminded why Southern Baptists are a great people and why I feel so privileged to serve their churches.
The Right Convictions
First, Southern Baptists own the right convictions, and these convictions are deep and biblical. Southern Baptists believe in the total truthfulness of God’s Word and have adopted a confessional statement—the Baptist Faith & Message 2000—predicated on that conviction. The BF&M 2000 elucidates historic Christian orthodoxy as well as Baptist distinctives. While many Protestant denominations negotiate away their traditionally held beliefs, Southern Baptists have proven stubbornly committed to biblical fidelity.
Moreover, Southern Baptists stand strong on the great social issues of the day—even in the face of stiff cultural headwinds. This includes a vigorous defense of the unborn, traditional marriage, the nuclear family, and religious liberty. To advocate these principles in a Southern Baptist setting is like calling for lower taxation at a GOP rally. Your message will be well-received, not because of any political calculation, but because Southern Baptists’ convictions are settled in Scripture and resonate accordingly.
Not only are these convictions strongly held, they are also widely held. Recently, I exchanged friendly correspondence with a critic who operates from a more theologically moderate framework. To my interlocutor I wrote, “I mean no offense, but to paraphrase William F. Buckley, I’d rather entrust the spiritual formation of my children to 10 randomly-selected, church-attending Southern Baptists than 10 randomly-selected, pre-Mohler era Ph.D. graduates from Southern Seminary.”
To be sure, there are sound pre-Mohler era graduates from Southern Seminary, and one can certainly find unsound congregants in our churches. But, as a principle, I meant no hyperbole. I trust Southern Baptists because, in the main, we are a people of deep, biblical conviction.
The Right Mission
Second, Southern Baptists are a people committed to the right mission. Again, to paraphrase William F. Buckley, convictional Southern Baptists do not merely stand athwart history “yelling stop.” Rather, our convictions prompt us to look to the future and “yell go.” Our beliefs shape and invigorate a Great Commission mission—one that has marked our denomination since its founding in 1845.
The Great Commission work being done by Southern Baptists is truly remarkable. At the local, state, national, and international levels, the total number of Great Commission initiatives Southern Baptists have undertaken is beyond full quantification. This is good, right, and promising, but it is not new.
For nearly 170 years our common, Great Commission efforts have been Southern Baptists’ primary unifying force. Denominational sages did not make missions front and center as a pragmatic calculation in order to build and strengthen the convention. Rather, like a magnetic force, our collective Great Commission ambition has pulled us forward and pulled us together.
From a practical standpoint, the Cooperative Program has been—and is—our denomination’s secret sauce. The Cooperative Program is the envy of the Protestant world, and if we undermine it—whether by neglect or alternative initiative—we do so to our own peril and to the detriment of the Great Commission.
Over the past year, I have had hundreds of conversations with other SBC agency heads, state convention leaders, pastors, and laymen about how best to further the Great Commission. Thankfully, all of these conversations have been about how to best fulfill the Great Commission, not whether we should fulfill the Great Commission.
The SBC is not a perfect denomination, but it is a great one. Our greatness rests neither in our programs nor in our denominational machinery. Rather, it rests in our churches and with the congregants who comprise them because they hold the right convictions and are given to the right mission.
These firm convictions and the unyielding commitment to the Great Commission are the reasons why I am happily, wholeheartedly, and proudly Southern Baptist, and why I am grateful to lead a Southern Baptist seminary that exists for the Church—for these, Southern Baptist churches.topicsEducation, Leadership, Southern Baptist Convention