Baptists are in a winter of discontentment. Isolation, alienation and division appear everywhere.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is reportedly feeling isolated and alienated from many in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over the issue of Calvinism.
So much so that he has recently invited Truett Theological Seminary professor Roger Olson to speak on March 26 on his book, “Against Calvinism.”
That’s a big step considering the animosity that Patterson has held against Baylor University in general and Truett in particular.
Some SBC state convention executive directors are feeling threatened by SBC agency heads, who see state conventions as unnecessary, a duplication of services.
They are said to be anxious about the direction of the new head of the International Mission Board, David Platt, who is both a Calvinist and wants to bypass the SBC’s traditional method of funding.
On the “moderate” side of the ledger, Olson has called on Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) supporters who are really theological liberals to start calling themselves what they really are – “liberals.”
For Olson, a liberal is one who makes culture or postmodern culture the “ruling authority” for what is essential to Christianity and reduces Christian doctrine to opinion.
Perhaps behind Olson’s critique is concern about aggressive advocacy of some CBF activists to make the organization embrace the “welcoming and affirming” perspective.
Beginning with the CBF conference on human sexuality through a series of columns by one with an official CBF title, a hard push has been underway to realign CBF from its mainstream position to one more aligned with liberal culture.
On a parallel track, the New Baptist Covenant has largely fizzled since the first highly successful gathering in 2008, which drew thousands of Baptists, and the subsequent successful regional meetings in 2009.
The most recent gathering in January 2015 reportedly drew only 75 attendees with little media attention and almost no follow-up chatter.
The meeting’s leftward leaning program and a change in organizational leadership have been blamed for the lack of interest.
The SBC, CBF and NBC are not the only Baptist bodies with discontentment and division.
After Sam Tolbert was elected president of the National Baptist Convention of America International Inc., defeated president Stephen Thurston withdrew from NBCA.
After a divisive vote over a congregation’s decision to ordain a church member who is gay, the Richmond Baptist Association lost 15 churches and financial support from other churches.
Meanwhile, across the country, the Madison Baptist Association in Huntsville, Alabama, withdrew fellowship from the CBF-aligned Weatherly Heights Baptist Church, after the church preformed a same-sex marriage.
Few would have foreseen 25 years ago when moderates split from the SBC that conservative Southern Baptists would be dividing over Calvinism and moderate Southern Baptists would be dividing over gay marriage.
One might be tempted to conclude that alienation and division are at the core of the Baptist way. Baptists do split apart over theology, praxis – and personality.
At the same time, Baptists do manage to collaborate in some remarkable ways, especially when they major on warmhearted piety, Jesus’ teachings and vibrant, hands-on mission efforts.
One of the best examples of collaboration is the Baptist World Alliance, the largest global Baptist body with its national, ethnic, economic, cultural, historical and theological diversity.
The BWA identifies itself as “a fellowship of 231 conventions and unions in 121 countries and territories comprising 42 million members in 177,000 churches.”
Its priorities are:
â— Promoting worship, fellowship and unity
â— Nurturing the passion for mission and evangelism
â— Responding to human need through relief and sustainable community development
â— Defending human rights and justice
â— Promoting relevant theological reflection
As a member of several BWA commissions and a regular attendee at the annual meetings, I can attest to the warmhearted piety of the gatherings, the centrality of Jesus’ teachings and an energetic commitment to missions.
If you’ve never been to a BWA meeting, consider attending the BWA World Congress to be held in Durban, South Africa, on July 22-26.
Thousands of Baptists from around the world will gather for celebration, worship and workshops.
A first-time visitor will be impressed by the Baptist diversity of the work, witness, challenges and opportunities. Some of the most inspiring stories of collaboration are the stories of Baptists outside the United States.
If you can’t attend, visit EthicsDaily.com for updates about the event.
Observing Baptist collaboration is a wonderful antidote to the constant drumbeat of division found in the United States.
Perhaps Durban will be a warm home in the winter of Baptist discontentment.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.