10 Reflections on the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention

I realize I’m just one voice (and I make no claims to be a significant one), but here are some of my reflections on the Southern Baptist Convention just concluded this week in Dallas: 

  1. We’re a hurting but hopeful denomination. We have painfully dealt with a lot of stuff over the past several months, and this SBC reflected that reality. At the same time, though, I still see life in those who love this denomination and want to see it strengthened. I see hope in older folks who want to leave a positive legacy and younger folks who want to make a genuine difference. 
  2. We’re a denomination that needs to grieve sin more. We must deal with the realities of sin among us, but nobody has reason to celebrate when sin is confronted and addressed. Sin and fallenness—evident within each of us—should make us weep more than it seemingly does. 
  3. We may not always like our system, but it somehow keeps us moving. I’ve always been amazed that thousands of people can gather once a year, vote on things, elect a president, elect trustees, pass resolutions, etc.—and somehow get stuff done. The system can always be improved, but it still works.  
  4. We’re Baptists—and Baptists express their opinions. That heritage almost automatically means that we’ll have disagreements. In fact, sometimes we will strongly disagree, and we have to work continually to treat each other as brothers and sisters in disagreement. 
  5. We cannot respond to the few who act sinfully with our own sinful anger. Frankly, I speak to myself here. In a crowd of 9,000+ dealing with issues wrapped up in emotion and personalities, it’s not surprising that some would react to issues and votes in sinful ways. I must remember, though, that the few don’t represent the many.  
  6. We can still rally around missions. Regardless of how many important discussions we had during the day, the International Mission Board commissioning service on Tuesday night reminded us of who we are. In our mutual work, local churches of all sizes will now send 79 new missionaries to the ends of the earth—and people who will never hear about our Convention votes will hear about Jesus. 
  7. We need to take seriously the evangelism and discipleship task force reports. I fear we increasingly equate everything with evangelism, and thus never really address our lack of evangelistic fire and corresponding declines in baptisms. At the same time, we risk doing discipleship that leads only to a passion for knowledge – not a passion for Jesus that compels us to evangelize. We must deal with (a) our tendency to allow other things to distract us from Jesus and the gospel, and (b) our bent toward discussing theology among ourselves more than telling others about the good news. 
  8. We must pledge our prayerful support to J.D. Greear. J.D. is a friend, and I have great respect for him—but my point here is as much about his position as it is the person. We have elected him to lead us for the next year. If we elect him but don’t pray for him, we will be irresponsible Southern Baptists.
  9. We must continue to work at facilitating conversations between generations. Conversations are happening, but I’m not convinced they’re always strategic and intentional. J.D. and others from all generations have an opportunity to lead us in this direction.  
  10. We must pray regularly for our Convention. Many of us have been praying as we’ve faced difficult, public issues, but we would be wrong to stop praying now. We’re a denomination of fallen people who make up fallen churches, and that simple fact means we need to pray for each other. In fact, I invite you to join me in praying intentionally for the SBC at least weekly. 

Just my thoughts….  

17 Comments

  • Bill Gohmert says:

    Thank you so much for expressing truths we need to hear. I hope we can grow through them all for His glory. Blessings to you always Dr. Lawless!

  • Steven says:

    If a person is Southern Baptist for theological reasons then why not change the name? Good theology has nothing to do with geographical location.

    My guess is that people like tradition too much and are not interested in being flexible. You would think the leadership of SBC are reading and practicing the same Bible and therefore act united.

    I do pray it gets better, I was once a hopeful member but then I realized there are good churches with good doctrine outside SBC world. Even my fellow compatriots are starting to utilize other mission sending agencies other than IMB. It was once my dream to work for the IMB but noticed it was losing its lusters

    I pray that it gets better

  • David Turner says:

    Thanks Dr. Lawless. Each year I am amazed at what is accomplished through people who choose to cooperate in prayer, missions, evangelism, training, and giving. It’s a great God moment for me and I am grateful.

  • Josh Hunt says:

    Thanks for your comments. I didn’t attend and like to know what is going on.

  • Ken says:

    In my opinion, there’s one huge sin among Southern Baptists that is still widely practiced, but largely unrecognized. It has always been with us, but the internet has only made it worse. I addressed it in my own blog. Here’s the link: https://www.worshambaptistchurch.org/thoughts-from-pastor-ken/may-31st-2018

  • William Ozment says:

    Dr .Chuck thank you for your comments. They are profound and Biblically insightful. I am currently enrolled in the Go Certificate program at SEBTS . I will be taking your class, Introduction to Great Commission Studies next. I prayerfully look forward to studying God’s Word with you .

  • Robert Gillchrest says:

    One other thought – it seems that the current SBC leaders are moving the pendulum back in the other direction; not so much to the far right, but recognition that women need to be heeded and allowed to expand their ministry wings more than previous leaders would allow. Even Prince Al, who cleaned house at SBTS when he was elected president, seems to be moderating himself a bit. And everyone has stopped saying, “He’s one of us” in nominating speeches. Dallas ’85 was pivotal, maybe Dallas ’18 will also be pivotal.

  • John Pritchett says:

    Have we done away with ‘hell’? Addressing sin is great but do we ever address the consequences? Thanks for your comments.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      It’s fair to say that I haven’t recently heard much preaching about hell, but my findings are only anecdotal. Thanks, John. 

  • Michelle says:

    These are some insightful thoughts, Dr. Lawless. But one of my greatest concerns for our denomination and the church body as a whole is the continual divisiveness between the Calvinists and Traditionalists that does not seem to be abating any time soon. This comment could quickly turn into a book, but I’m sure you’re already aware of it.

    What concerns me most is that Traditionalists and Calvinists use to be able to worship together in the same church, serve at the same seminaries, and share the gospel together while making every effort to keep the unity of spirit through the bond of peace.

    Now I visit church websites and it is a requirement to agree with the calvinists’s doctrine of grace in order to become a member. The same is true for many SBC seminaries. I go to websites of well-known church leaders who are espousing hate and denouncing Traditionalists as heretics. I have also seen some hatefulness from the Traditionalist camp.

    Never has there been a greater time in church history where more unity has been needed. Though it is understandable and most often necessary for a line to be drawn in the sand between conservative and liberal theology, (thus already dividing our churches) the fact that so many are now becoming divided over a Soteriology where the counterbalance of scriptures is there to support either perspective, has truly grieved me and others within the church.

    The fact that most of our denomination is being taken over by Calvinist leaders is also troubling due to the mere fact that they have little room or respect for Traditionalists.

    Though I am still working out the nuances of a Soteriology that doesn’t diminish God’s glory or holiness, and continue to enjoy many reformed pastors’ sermons, the hard line stance of Calvinism that is being pushed from many pulpits is driving conservative believers away that still do not call good evil and evil good.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Michelle. 

    • Steve says:

      Michelle, I hope you won’t mind some gentle and friendly pushback. I agree that some Calvinists are pretty can be pretty rough, and the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement has sometimes established itself in unhelpful ways. Some of these zealous people have sadly denied the very grace they say they are upholding. Grace is, after all, unmerited favor!

      But can we also call “Traditionalists” Arminians, and can we admit that Arminians those who have historically rejected the “doctrines of grace”? Admittedly, I have limited experience, so I can’t know how it has gone down in every church, but I have experienced in several SBC, EFCA, and Converge (BGC), and Charismatic/Pentecostal churches, an incredible amount of anger and vitriol against reformed theology.

      In my current church, we have decided not to concentrate on the matter, we have Arminians and Calvinists worshiping together. Our senior pastor is a “Pietist” and is sort of a middle of the roader with questions, and I am Reformed – with all the answers! (Ha ha, Just kidding!) We get along and rib each other a little bit in fun. We preach somewhat differently, and I think I might teach things a differently if I were leading adult discipleship classes, but I am glad to not have a knock-down, drag-out fight on our hands. I hope it stays that way.

      The problem in our church, however, is that in keeping the peace (peace is good and biblical!) We have also turned a blind eye to a lot of sin and unfaithfulness, and screwy, feeling-based doctrine in our congregation (Can we agree this is a gigantic problem?). If we tackle that (and I think we should) there is a very real risk of opening up that can of worms (which is why we haven’t).

      These are tough, messy, and relational matters and each congregation needs to tackle them as they can, hopefully with love, grace, and no small amount of humor, while recognizing the seriousness of both our theological and practical commitments.

      So here’s a Reformed guy reaching out to offer love and grace and hope for a common clinging to Scripture as we try to figure these things out together.

      • Michelle says:

        Thank you, Steve. Anyone with a true heart to preserve the unity of spirit while working through messy issues has my ear! I’m not certain this is the correct forum for discussing the nuances of both the Calvinists/Traditionalists, since this is Dr. Lawless’s blog, I am still working through my own understanding of biblical Soteriology and as one who is still reformed, but not a Calvinist, am currently reading Dr, Leighton Flower’s book, The Potter’s Promise. His blog is Soteriology 101, and he explains why true Traditionalists are not Armenians or semi-Pelagians. I only bring this up because of your question, “But can we also call “Traditionalists” Arminians?”

        It is such a lengthy, deep subject that I’m still wrestling through, that I dare not use up too much of Dr. Lawless’s comment section on it. But I know the guys at Soteriology 101 are glad to discuss it over there and it has given me a lot to think about.

  • Lonnie W. Brooks says:

    I appreciate your comments after the convention Dr. Lawless. I find myself sick of hearing of division, sick of hearing people criticize one leader or seminary over another, sick of people taking sides instead of looking to Jesus. This junk has no place in the kingdom of God. We must pray for our denomination, its leaders and our churches.

  • Steve says:

    Hi Dr. Lawless,

    One thing that has been getting to me through all of this media coverage is that many SBC professors, pastors, and dare I say “political leaders” have started calling the SBC a denomination, rather than a convention. When I went through SBTS, I had it drilled into my head that this is not a denomination, it is a convention of voluntary independent churches cooperating together. Maybe that is a helpful approach to this.

    If we hold onto politics loosely, and Jesus more tightly in our independent, congregational churches, gathering where we can cooperate and support each other, but not to make big, sweeping, statements and policies that affect us all, we would be able to weather these events more ably and point to areas of health more readily.

    People can say we are using “denomination” like a convenient shorthand so others know we are together, but we are THINKING like a denomination – a presbytery or bishopric – and not the independent congregational model we say we affirm.

    I am not rattled by many of these SBC storms, as much as I am in areas of unfaithfulness and unbelief in my own church. Are these problems happening in my congregation, or in yours, or in our brother’s down the road? That’s where I believe our attention and energy should go. I want to end even a hint of racism in my church. I want to end even a hint of abuse and lack of protection for women in my church (and also false accusations). I want our churches and our city to become a different land and extension of Jesus’ kingdom. And I need to remove the log from my own eye before I start picking at someone else’s.

    I do agree we need to pray about these things, and I want our seminaries and churches healthy too. I just think our self-identification and therefore lament should not be as broad as we seem to be making it. I am not going to grieve for the SBC yet, I am going to grieve the sins of which I and my congregation are guilty.

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