Sunday, June 3, 2007

I Agree with Bill Underwood

North America does need a true Baptist witness, as does the world. Through the Conservative Resurgence, the Southern Baptist Convention has been poised to be that witness. Rescued from becoming yet another decadent ecclesial weathervane dancing to the winds of liberal mainline academia, The Southern Baptist Convention has asserted its faithfulness to the inerrant word of God, the doctrinal seedbed from which numerous Baptist sprouts were nurtured as the seventeenth century unfolded. But Baptists are not the only plants in that garden—not the only ones who claim biblical inerrancy. To be Baptist is to have concluded some things about what the Bible says. Let us not pretend that biblical interpretation is unimportant vis-à-vis the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The movie Crimson Tide pits Gene Hackman (Captain Frank Ramsey) against Denzel Washington (Lt. Commander Ron Hunter) in an epic contest with the detonation of nuclear weapons at stake. Command of a nuclear missile submarine changes hands three times during the course of the movie, with nuclear armageddon a trigger-pull away more than once. Throughout the movie, Hackman and Washington remain in complete agreement about who has the ultimate authority to order the release of nuclear weapons—only the President of the United States (i.e. "National Command Authority") possesses such authority. The difference between the two came down to a discrepancy over what the President had actually ordered: Not whose message was authoritative, but what had the authoritative message said? Sometimes my writing is clumsy and imprecise. Sometimes people struggle to discern what, really, I am trying to say. Communication can be a frustrating goal to achieve, due to our limitations in expressing ourselves. I believe better of the Bible. I trust that God writes better than Bart does. And, contrary to the assumptions of pragmatism and postmodernism, I believe that it is no more important to know the content of messages about the release of nuclear weapons than it is to know the content of messages about the relationship of people with God. If I were blown up by a nuclear weapon tomorrow, the event would be but a footnote to a life that will stretch eternally in Heaven. If, however, I were lost and lived to the ripe old age of 150 to die peacefully in my sleep, my great fortune in earthly longevity would constitute merely a footnote to an agony that would stretch eternally in Hell. The gospel is the focus of the New Testament. I believe that it is crticially important to proclaim the gospel clearly—thus my strong objection to the teachings of President Carter. The other things in the Bible are important, too. If they were not, God would not have bothered to provide them to us. Not only are they important, they are important for the sake of the gospel. For example, it is not necessary to know or even agree with the biblical qualifications for elders and deacons in order to be saved. But churches that, for example, call greedy swindlers as pastors are going to be less effective in the long run in carrying the gospel to the world than are churches that call godly men as qualified in the Bible. I believe that every element of biblical ethics, every element of biblical ecclesiology, every element of biblical pneumatology, every element of biblical doxology—every element of instruction for New Testament churches and believers—is a potential asset for the effective proclamation of the gospel. Ultimately, it is all about the gospel. Baptist churches share the gospel better when they are genuinely committed to Baptist belief. Recently, at a SENT conference for the SBTC, I presented a breakout session entitled "Baptist Identity as Missional Asset." My point was simply that the various elements of Baptist identity echo some of the same thoughts as those presented through the recent buzzword "missional." Healthy Baptist churches are naturally missional. Being Baptist is not something to run away from if you wish to be missional; it is something to be embraced and cultivated. So yes, Dr. Underwood, we do need a true Baptist witness in the world, for the very sake of the gospel. Evangelical porridge is a poor price to receive for the Baptist heritage, as is the liberal philosophy of man. Let us pray that such a witness endures somehow in the Southern Baptist Convention.

16 comments:

CB Scott said...

Bart,

I agree with everything you have said here. Everything. Period.

I would like for you to make one thing very plain before anyone makes it an issue. I think I know what you mean by the following statement, but for the sake of anyone misunderstanding, please speak to what you mean by:

"Baptist churches share the gospel better when they are genuinely committed to Baptist belief."

I (cb) believe Baptist belief is as close to the Scripture as any "belief" (doctrine, theology,etc.) known among men.

Do you agree that this is what you mean by the above statement?

cb

joerstewart said...

This put clearly why what some call tertiary issues are at the heart at what it means to be Baptist.

Bart Barber said...

CB,

Absolutely, I agree.

If I did not believe Baptist tenets to be scriptural, I should be under obligation to be something else.

Debbie said...

I too agree with you Bart and I hope what CB wrote is what you mean by that statement.

Joe: I disagree and would challenge the fact that this is not what is historically a Baptist. You cannot throw autonomy out the window. It's been who we are for a very long time.

peter lumpkins said...

Joe,

I am not sure about you, but it seems strange to me that, somehow our sister Debbie seems to equate drawing distinctions between those issues you mention as "tertiary" vs. those that are "the heart" of being Baptist and denying distinctions exist.

She writes: "You cannot throw autonomy out the window."

I am quite sure she does not hold "autonomy" to mean one may believe anything one darn well desires and still remain Baptist, does she?

Grace, Joe. With that, I am...

Peter

CB Scott said...

Bart,

Thank you. We may cross swords on some things from time to time.

On this we shall stand together and as far as I am concerned, the Devil can take the hindmost parts with the rest of it.

cb

Rebecca Illingworth said...

Many evidently believe autonomy gives license to believe whatever one "darn well desires". That would explain some of this mess in our denomination. However, my old time retired baptist preacher dad (who still teaches a baptist distinctives class, by the way) taught me that the autonomy rests with the local church. Autonomy is one thing, soul competency is another.

Bart Barber said...

Becky,

Keep making great comments like that one, and people will eventually begin to spell your name correctly. :-)

joerstewart said...

Debbie:
I guess what you are saying is you autonomously decide what is primary and what is tertiary.

Let me quote the erudite Bart Barber from Arkansas:
I believe that every element of biblical ethics, every element of biblical ecclesiology, every element of biblical pneumatology, every element of biblical doxology—every element of instruction for New Testament churches and believers—is a potential asset for the effective proclamation of the gospel."

Peter and I will say amen,
With that I am,
Out of here

Luke said...

I guess I'm a little late for the party since this is already Monday but being late has never really been an excuse for me not having something to say.

Perhaps all this discussion about tertiary, secondary and primary is just a result of confusion. For clarification, the part ABOVE the footnotes/study-helps in the Bible is Primary and, the footnotes and below are...well...anything other than Primary. Though a mans interpretation may be orthodox, it does not make his interpretation Primary either. The Scripture alone reserves that right for itself.

But I am still really confused on one thing. If some Scripture is "less important"/tertiary than other Scripture, who ultimately gets to decide? Sounds more like the Piccadilly to me.

Luke

OKpreacher said...

Bart,

I find your article very insightful, but I don't see any proof that it is true. Surely everyone can agree that since 1979, the Southern Baptist Convention has shared a Baptist gospel. The problem is baptisms and salvations are at a 25 year low. If we are becoming more "baptist" and that is what is needed for the world to be saved, then why are baptisms going down?

I have some suggestions. First, God isn't a baptist God. God is God and He wears no labels. God isn't concerned about growing the SBC, but growing His Kingdom. I believe the reason for the drop in baptisms is we care more about protecting and growing our denomination or our individual churches than God's Kingdom. Blackaby has said it well, "We need to see what God is doing and join Him."

Please don't think that I'm saying that being baptist isn't important because I'm not. We are called to be Christ-like not baptist-like. Therefore, baptisms are down not because our beliefs are wrong, but our practice is wrong. Our practice is wrong because our focus is wrong. Our focus must be on following Christ and giving a true Christian witness to the world. As Baptists focus on this, God will bless us.

OKpreacher

Bart Barber said...

OK Preacher,

I use Baptist as a set of ideological convictions, not as a set of denominational alignments.

For example, regenerate church membership is a key element of being Baptist. No, dear friend, we have not been faithful of late to the Baptist pattern. That, I believe, is precisely a cause of our lack of gospel effectiveness.

OKpreacher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
OKpreacher said...

I appreciate your clarification. In your response you have said that there is a lack of baptist pattern and that is the reason for the low baptism numbers that we currently have. In 1979, the baptism numbers were much bigger than they are now. Would you say that the denomination was much more in accord with the baptist pattern then than now. Surely you wouldn't say that the Conservative Resurgence has had a negative effect on the denomination and how it lines up with the Baptist pattern or maybe you are saying that the conservative resurgence was a failure to bring about a change in the convention. Either way, I see no proof for the thinking, "Follow the baptist pattern = more people baptized."

Maybe the problem is in how we define "baptist pattern". I believe being baptists isn't just about ideolical convictions but how we practice our faith in relationship to God and others. I am Southern Baptist because of our stance on the Bible, but I am also a Southern Baptist because of how we do missions. I am a Southern Baptists because of how we do social ministries. I am a Southern Baptist because we have a cooperative program. I am a Southern Baptist because of our former evangelistic passion.

I believe the reason for a low numbers is we have focused on ideology without practice. We need to give equal focus to what Southern Baptist do and what Southern Baptist believe.

I would put my stance as this Baptist beliefs + Baptist practice = growth in baptisms.

Bart Barber said...

OK Preacher,

From what you have commented so far, I do not see that we disagree. Perhaps I can further clarify a misunderstanding.

I am not saying that Baptistness is the only ingredient for evangelistic effectiveness. I'm merely asserting that Baptistness is no impediment to evangelistic zeal, missionality, etc., and is even an aid to such.

For your engine to work, you need, fuel, air, and a spark. A good spark is an important component. For me to preach the virtues of a good non-fouled spark plug is not the same thing as denigrating the importance of fuel. If you take care of your spark plugs, you'll get better mileage. But, the very best spark plugs in the world will not propel a car with an empty gas tank.

Likewise, Baptist churches share the gospel more effectively the more committed to the Baptist distinctives they are. However, no matter how Baptist a church is, if it does not faithfully proclaim the gospel to the lost, it cannot be evangelistically effective.

So I don't think we really disagree, do we?

OKpreacher said...

Bart,

I probably was misunderstanding your statement. It just feels like all Southern Baptists are talking about right now is the "spark pugs" instead of realizing we have an empty "fuel tank." Maybe I just need to go and get a lube job.:)