I have been reading and very much enjoying David Dockery’s new book Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Proposal. Dockery is a lifelong Southern Baptist who has a keen eye for the challenges that face the denomination. This is not a full review of the book, but I have read enough of it to recommend it to you (especially if you are a Southern Baptist).
My aim in this post is simply to highlight a passage that is particularly insightful. Dockery writes:
“The early years of Southern Baptist life were largely shaped by Basil Manly Sr., W. B. Johnson, and James P. Boyce. . . A new theological consensus emerged in the first half of the twentieth century around the modified Calvinism of E. Y. Mullins and W. T. Conner, accompanied by a new emphasis on programmatic pragmatism and revivalistic evangelism. . .
“The theological consensus became a pragmatic consensus by the 1950s. . . The programmatic and pragmatic outlook was central for growing a successful denomination in the post-World War II era. Orthodoxy was understood in terms of ‘doing the right program’ rather than articulating the right belief system. What resulted was not so much a heterodox people but an ‘a-theological’ generation.
“When controversies over the nature of Scripture entered the public arena in 1961, 1969, and 1979, the theological understanding necessary to examine and evaluate such issues was lacking.
“Most Southern Baptists today do not know who they are or what they believe” (pp. 61-62).
I think that the last line is particularly insightful. In many cases, Southern Baptists really don’t understand what it means to be a Baptist. They haven’t been taught what it means to have a “regenerate church membership” or to practice “church discipline,” even though both of these are essential marks of an ecclesiology that is faithful to the Bible.
That is why I am looking with great interest at the three resolutions on “integrity in church membership” that are before the resolutions committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (see my previous post here). I have read two of the three resolutions (Ascol’s and Barber’s), and both of them are calling for Baptists to return to a “regenerate church membership” and to “church discipline.” That meaningful membership and discipline has all but evaporated across the convention just goes to show that Dockery is right. Too many Southern Baptists simply don’t know what they believe.