A recent post by Timmy Brister (see here) has been critiqued (see here and here) as attempting to place a non-existent wedge between so-called "Baptist Identity" and "Great Commission Resurgence" ideas in the SBC. I do not regularly follow Mr. Brister's blog, so I only discovered his post after seeing the controversy. Although I agree that Brister is attempting to separate that which belongs together, I actually want to commend something that I read in his post.
Brister said: "…the heroes of my generation are, in large part, found outside the SBC rather than those inside the SBC."
I believe that Brister is absolutely correct with regard to the circles in which he travels. From the context, I conclude that both Brister and I are in agreement that this situation spells trouble for the future relationship between those he has in mind and the SBC. The part where we differ, I imagine, is that Brister takes this situation as indicative of problems with the SBC, while I take it as indicative of problems with him and his cohort at least as much as it highlights problems in our convention.
What I find most refreshing, encouraging, and honest about Brister's sentiment is the contrast between his statement and the autohagiography that Dr. Steve McKinion recently posted (see here) extolling the walking-on-water virtues of the "third generation" of descendants of the Conservative Resurgence. See the contrast in these two statements:
McKinion: [The third generation, in apparent contrast to all their predecessors in the SBC,] have taken seriously the admonition not to look to men but to look to Jesus.
And again, Brister's statement
…the heroes of my generation are, in large part, found outside the SBC rather than those inside the SBC
Brister is right and McKinion is wrong.
To be fair, McKinion did later list a group of men to whom these third-generation people are listening, but apparently he sees their relationship with Piper as far different from their "grandparents'" relationship with Rogers or Vines or Criswell. The essay genuinely reads as though McKinion has discovered an entire generation of pastors who are entirely free from avarice, ambition, eisegesis, and an undue affection for hairspray. In them the hopes and dreams of the radical reformation are finally realized—a pure, direct connection with the teachings of Jesus.
I think that I can see the color of McKinion's glasses from all the way over here in Texas. His essay would have been much stronger had he been able to see weaknesses in this generation about which he is so enthusiastic. When we can't see our own weaknesses, we have no hope of growing.
I teach people from the same generation as McKinion. They're good people. They have strengths (passion, idealism, love for the Lord). They have faults (I've encountered some who aren't bothered by a little Modalism here and there, who think that penal-substitution makes too much of a meanie out of God, etc.). Do these strengths and weaknesses really belong to generations, per se? Most of the strengths of the new generation, if they aren't apparent to Dr. McKinion in his observation of our 40-to-80-year-old pastors today, might possibly have been more evident in those same pastors back when they were in seminary, don't you think? Perhaps some of the exciting things that Dr. McKinion and I see in seminary students today are not so much a facet of which generation they are in, but are part-and-parcel of being a seminary student just starting out in ministry? Dr. McKinion and I have not been teaching long enough to have seen generation-after-generation come through the classroom, so we have the disadvantage of not having lived long enough to make sound comparisons from our own experiences.
Brister's observation, on the other hand, is undeniably accurate. Prone just as much to hero-worship as their predecessors, a generation of Southern Baptists is upcoming whose heroes are not Southern Baptists—perhaps not Baptists of any stripe. As a historian (a.k.a. knower of past Baptist secrets), I know that the Baptist "heroes" of a century ago were no better qualified for heroism than are our leaders today. They were real men and women with real faults. Furthermore, because I really do believe in the depraving effects of the Fall, I presume that the men listed by McKinion and intimated by Brister are also walking about on feet of clay too often unseen by their throngs of admirers. In other words, there is nothing to prevent this generation from having Southern Baptist heroes, but they have chosen to admire people outside our convention. This is our zeitgeist.
Mark my words: This is a big deal. The implications of these facts for the future of our convention are as yet unseen.