Is the question really about being “Young, Southern Baptist… and Irrelevant?

02 Mar

I recently read Brad Whitt’s first person article in the in the March 3, 2011 edition of Baptist Courier and found it necessary to make some attempt to respond to his thoughts.

I too am young, Southern Baptist and perhaps as irrelevant as anyone in our convention can be. I pastor a small church and have only served in small churches. I cannot boast of over a hundred members being baptized in one year nor proclaim a massive resume of denominational achievements and positions. I am not a particularly good preacher, nor am I the son of a preacher. EVEN SO, I am a Southern Baptist boy, born in the faith but more importantly at the age of 13 by conviction was regenerated to become a member of a local Southern Baptist church. By calling, I am but a local under-shepherd charged with the task of pastoring the flock that is among me (1 Peter 5:1-5). I too pursued my education at Southeastern because I believe in the verse that drives that institution to use God’s Word to present every man equipped (2 Tim. 3:17).

Testimonies are not in question, theological convictions are one matter of concern. Should we have animosity toward those within our denomination who have more reformed convictions than we might share? The answer lies not in inflammatory language about reformed thinkers, but in a careful look at our historically tenuous union for the work of gospel. The convention that was formed in 1845 in the south as well as its predecessor bound together Baptists of all stripes theologically, including some who were Reformed or Particular Baptists, around core theological tenants which enabled them to be on mission together. Reform teachings first found expression in this country in the Philadelphia Confession of Faith 1749. This Confession became the key document of South Carolina’s first Association in Charleston by 1767. Reformed teaching has neither been denied nor affirmed by the SBC in recent days in order to allow for broad cooperation among those who agree in the essentials. Even so, some of our greatest SBC leaders including Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines have had no problem in proclaiming as biblical rather reformed teachings like the total depravity of mankind (Romans 3:23), the purpose of God to save sinners unconditionally in spite of their works (Eph. 2:8-10), and the perseverance of those who are believers as believers until their natural death (1 Cor. 1:4-9; Philippians 2:12-13). An appropriate test for cooperation that seemingly has existed since New Testament day has been that of Ephesians 4:1-7. There unity is maintained without divergence on the essential things while grace is expressed as a personal freedom of the Spirit in the non-essentials. Such essentials have been stated so well by the Reformation leaders stating that “salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone as revealed in the Scriptures alone”.

Southern Baptist methodology is also in question. Do concerns about wearing a coat and tie, having a dynamic choir special and having a public invitation define or parody the real concern of those who are “young, restless, and reformed?” My experience of both those who claim that moniker and those who are “young, Southern Baptist, and … irrelevant” is to see God’s people become a biblically literate, Jesus loving, gospel-centered people. Even so there are dangerous lines that are developing amid all circles including the “young, restless, and reformed”. The missional church movement’s focus can seem to jettison traditions which do not facilitate a radically mission oriented church. Those desiring to spark a relative church movement place relevance to culture as important as faithfulness to the biblical text. We all should be concerned about such movements for relevancy or radical Christian living. Even so, these issues are not unique to the “young, restless, and reformed.” In any case, these issues are second or third order practical issues of style which should not be elevated to first order problems which could hamper cooperation.

Perhaps the key issue in Southern Baptist life currently is the admonition towards and proud declaration of sacrificial giving to the Cooperative Program. Can those who theologically agree with the SBC but give relatively little to the CP still have voice and sway in the convention? I am afraid that if our answer alienates those “young, restless, and reformed” or “young, Southern Baptist and… irrelevant” from supporting our Southern Baptist cooperative mission efforts our celebration will be short lived. Biblical Southern Baptist convictions outlined in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, a document with which any Reform minded believer as well as Baptists of other convictions could maintain agreement, must guide our cooperation. As far as the CP is concerned no doubt it is the best means any denomination has ever formulated to the end of preaching the gospel to the nations, however it is a means to an end. This much we must never forget as we lovingly encourage all our Baptist brothers by common convictions about Jesus to join arms with us in supporting this means to preaching His Good News. Even so, as a means to an end, the CP may need to be examined, evaluated and adjusted to better reflect our common convictions, but that means both the “young, restless, and reformed” and the “young, Southern Baptist and… irrelevant must have a seat at the discussion table.

Finally and very simply, does reform theology and methodology exist somewhere out of the bounds of what the Bible clearly teaches and what the Savior intends? Can Southern Baptist be Particular? To answer these questions negatively is destructive, divisive, and derisive. It is a claim cannot be maintained. Southern Baptists, like the Bereans of Acts 17:11 are a people of the book who should avoid general denunciations of theological and methodological systems, coming instead with an open Bible to show the merits or faults with any doctrine or practice from Scripture. Reform thinking and practice may be different, but Baptists have defended the claim of local church autonomy. From one church to the next we do not share the exact same methodology and the programs the convention develops come merely as a suggestion for use to the churches of the convention. Baptists do however demand that all we do be firmly grounded in the Scripture – the sufficient source for all our faith and practice.

In light of this conversation, then one conclusion seems apparent. Southern Baptist have an well conceived definition of who we are, a confession known as the Baptist Faith and Message. Its silence on Reform Theology and other doctrinal systems should inform us to be silent ourselves as we seek to cooperate with all those who can freely affirm this confession. Further, since our SBC and SCBC organizing documents stipulate nothing more than small contribution to the CP, we must affirm that a good Southern Baptist is confessional with no limitation on his ability to cooperate or voice his opinion due to his CP contribution. Cooperative ministry must be driven by our theological agreement whatever the cost so that we can glorify Christ by winning the lost where ever they reside.

Perhaps there is one final statement to discuss. In fact, can we agree with the statement which says, “There is no limit to what Southern Baptists could accomplish for the kingdom if we didn’t care who received the credit?” Inasmuch as believers attempt to fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations in the biblical way by preaching the gospel (Romans 10:14-17), does it matter who gets the credit or how we choose to go about it? My answer is yes, whether the laborers are “young, reformed and restless” or “young, Southern Baptist, and irrelevant” it is vital to remember that it is Jesus who is Lord of the harvest. (Matthew 9:37-38).


Posted by on March 2, 2011 in Ministry of the Word


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13 responses to “Is the question really about being “Young, Southern Baptist… and Irrelevant?

  1. pastorsro

    March 2, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    If you would like to read Whitt’s article go to

  2. JC Groves

    March 3, 2011 at 7:50 am

    “There is no limit to what Southern Baptists could accomplish for the kingdom if we didn’t care who received the credit?” Great quote! Thanks for not deleting my comment…Pastor Whitt seems to delete comments made on his blog that do not “agree” with him.

    • pastorsro

      March 3, 2011 at 9:42 am


      Thanks for reading the post and noting my response to Dr. Whitt’s quote. I checked this morning and Dr. Whitt did retain my comment alerting him to my response to his article in the Courier. Perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he does not always delete contrary content. He could have a vigorous Spam filter, or he may try to personally contact those who have contrary opinions with answers to thier issues (I know I have done that before – see my post Not So Civil Unions), or people with contrary opinions may seldom read and respond to his blog. If he has deleted comments from you in the past, I think the biblical thing to do is to trust he had honorable intentions until you are proven wrong. After all in 1 Samuel 16 the Lord reminds Samuel that man looks on the outside but God looks at the heart. Thus we can’t know the heart as men, only God knows the intentions of a man’s heart. Thus let us allow God to judge the intentions of the heart and let us as Ephesians 4:31-32 says put off all forms of malice and put on kind, tender, and forgiving hearts.

  3. Marc Daniels

    March 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Pastor Steven,

    Thank you for this response! I found it to be fair, even and gracious. i hope others will as well. The issue should not be about reformed versus non-reformed, it should be about cooperatively working together in love to show the world that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35). However,I do understand Pastor Whitt’s problem with the speakers at the Pastor’s conference and have to wonder if there isn’t some merit of truth to his objections on that front.

  4. Dr. Tim Walker

    March 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Pastor Steven,

    After reading your article, I wanted to submit to you what I wrote in response to Dr. WHitt’s blog.

    “Dr. Whitt,

    I wanted to take a few moments to reply to your recent blog. I have taken the time to settle my thoughts down and to write a discussion to you on this matter.

    I grew up in a minister’s home, matter of fact I attended church 9 months prior to being born even. Church is the only thing I have ever known. I grew up in the Bible belt of the south. I grew up in Greenville, SC, attended a Christian school, attended a Christian college and then finished my degree and later earned my masters and my doctoral degree.

    I know the matter in which you discuss, concerning the fact of having the symbolism of the “old fashioned” preaching. But can I ask what chapter and verse you took this from? When I was in seminary, just like you, many of our professors told us to always have chapter and verse to back up anything you preach and say is gospel. Otherwise it is a preference just as the Pharisees and Sadducee’s were doing in Bible times.

    I preach with a coat and tie on every Sunday morning. But does this matter really to the non-born again believer? The sportscasters wear suits and ties, does this in any way make them in any way Christians?

    Jesus was clear that we are to be set apart from the world. But I ask you again, your preference has gotten in your way of seeing the forest for the trees. What is our goal of the church? Is it to be a stiff rigid do as we always have done church ministry? I do not believe that there is any scriptural basis on the fact that we need to have certain songs sung, a stool, a pulpit or a coat and tie. Those are preferences of a man, not of God.

    We as SBC pastors have begun to attack other pastors and ministries because they no longer do as I do or they don’t align with my camp. I hate to inform you or any other pastor out there, but the fact of it is, I am not the General in charge in this army! God is!

    I believe, if we ever want to see a true revival hit our country, we must, I repeat we must stop the bickering and mud slinging and chastening of other pastors because they do not align with my preference.

    God Bless!

    Dr. Tim Walker”

  5. Marc Daniels

    March 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    It would be interesting to me to know if the convention has had similar speakers from outside the SBC at past SBC Pastor’s Conferences. If so, your point would be right on target and Dr. Whitt’s objections would seem to be just coming from the fact that these speakers are not his “heroes” but the “heroes” of those he theologically disagrees with. If not, than his comments would truly carry much weight, as the conference would be obviously moving into territory it hasn’t tread upon before. Do you happen to know the answer?

    • pastorsro

      March 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm

      I think that you can find a brief listing of speakers for former years at the SBC Tapes Archive page.

  6. Marc Daniels

    March 3, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks Steven,

    Well there you go, it turns out that this year’s speakers are not a stretch for the SBC any more than speakers of past years. I see that Tony Evans and Chuck Colson have both been speakers in the past. If anyone is upset about the current crop of speakers not being SBC, they should have also been upset four and five years ago when those men spoke.

  7. Roger Upton

    March 28, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I, too, responded to Dr. Whitt’s Baptist Courier article. Though edited for brevity, my response was published. Thanks for your well-written response here!

    Just a quick question: Because he threw down the gauntlet, so to speak, do you believe Dr. Whitt should now answer his critics, particularly because of the position he holds in the SCBC?

    • pastorsro

      March 29, 2011 at 7:48 pm

      I would hope that Dr. Whitt has been speaking with some who criticized him in order to understand their thinking and position better. I am not sure that a public response would be very helpful, or biblical unless he were to issue an apology in which he tries to reconcile with those who were hurt from such broad mis-characterization as Matthew 5:24-25 encourages.

      • Roger Upton

        March 30, 2011 at 11:31 pm

        Somehow I doubt that’ll happen, as Dr. Whitt most likely feels he has just cause to be angry. After all, who do these guys think they are coming into the SBC and not wearing suits and sitting while preaching?

      • pastorsro

        April 4, 2011 at 10:18 am

        I agree with Dr. Whitt in large part that we have just cause for concern over the state of affairs in our Convention. Even though I do not agree with his conclusions, the reality of the push for relevancy and cultural Christian consumerism within our churches is one that has some very dangerous implications for the gospel. While I do not want to be a “stumbling block” towards the lost hearing the gospel, I do not think that I have to dress up the gospel to be something any more attractive than it already is. I would hope this sentiment is one you, I, and Dr. Whitt can share with many others in our Convention.

  8. Kelly Keith Dunn

    June 14, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    I am late in this conservation, but I am compelled to respond. I have been disillusioned with the SBC ever since the ’85 Convention in Dallas – The Dallas paper dubbed it “Shoot Out at Big D” I could not help but notice various, sundry buttons and badges of this group or that faction. My heart sank to say the least… I too am irrelevant because I have served only Bi-Vocational churches except the one full-time church that Bar-B-Ques my family and I. Yes, I am a Reformed BAPTIST. I too was saved in a SBC church just after I got out of the military. I too answered a Call and was Licensed and Ordained at an SBC church, I too was educated at a SBC seminary. At this point in the midst of the this awful debate I am close to sending my credentials back! God help the SBC! My question is this – Does SCRIPTURE matter? It does to me.


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