The Southern Baptist Convention will gather for their annual meeting this week. The headlines will likely stress points of contention, as they normally do. I’ve yet to encounter a media write-up of a denominational gathering that emphasizes an emerging spirit of unity and cooperation, a bold vision for mission and ministry, or an optimistic outlook for what the future might hold. These gatherings are framed a certain way by design.
It is helpful, however, to know what is going on.
Trevin Wax has written a summation of the issues as he sees them heading into this annual meeting. For the complete account of his opinion, click here. He cites three primary concerns, which I’m going to rephrase parenthetically:
- “Do Southern Baptist churches unite primarily around doctrinal consensus or missional cooperation?” (What is the basis of Southern Baptist unity?)
- “Should we engage secular sources of knowledge with a fundamentalist or an evangelical posture?” (What is the Southern Baptist criterion for knowledge, or what is a sound Southern Baptist epistemology?)
- “How politically aligned must Southern Baptists be in order to cooperate together?” (How should Southern Baptists vote?)
Denominations, including the Southern Baptist Church, have been in trouble as institutions for quite some time. Each denomination has its own reasons for decay, and its own narrative as to why they’ve experienced numerical decline. But the broader trend is that all institutions, religious and otherwise, are moving through a kind of crisis.
Trevin Wax ends his blog post by appealing for prayer for the Southern Baptist Church. I echo that appeal. No matter our denomination, we are all in need of divine help, and while it is presently en vogue to attack, critique, and tear down our institutions, that destructive impulse must be resisted. If our institutions are reduced to rubble, we will be poorer for it. Instead, we need renewal. We need to build. And if that is to happen, and happen well, we will not be able to do it on our own. We’ll need Providence, the guiding might of God’s hand.