The arguments that are made—when they are allowed to be made—are theologically vacuous. Add to that the two previously mentioned concerns—rejecting theological precision and the chance to talk about CRT—and it does not bode well. If we cannot ground our convention in biblical doctrine, and if we replace such exegetical theology with pragmatic decision-making and post-modernism lived experience, we will have nothing to stop us from following the errors of our well-intentioned-but-ultimately-liberal predecessors. Unless we return to a willingness to engage matters theologically, we will be left to follow the most charismatic leaders in the room.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. – 2 Corinthians 10:5–6
It has been six years since I attended a Southern Baptist Convention, and seven since I wrote about it. But re-reading my reflections on the 2014 convention, I can only begin to describe the difference between those comparatively halcyon conventions and this one. While some reports may focus on the unifying leadership, the conventional conservatism, or the most diverse convention stage to date, as a pastor and theologian I find a host of reasons for concern. These concerns swirl around the refusal to engage theology for the sake of the gospel and the church. To be brief (and Baptist), let me make three points.
Three Reasons for Conventional Concern
First, the unwillingness clarify the language of Resolution 1 evidences an aversion to the task of doing theology.
In the first resolution, which calls Southern Baptists to pursue unity and maintain our public witness, two calls were made to amend the resolution. Both of these recommendations centered on the need for greater theological precision when it comes to the way theology intersects with unity and cooperation. The statement at issue reads: “RESOLVED, That we will not permit personal, social, theological, or political interests to supersede the urgency of evangelism and distract us from the task of the gospel’s advancement through the whole world.” And the two recommendations sought to add clarity to the word “theological.”
In one recommendation, the word “secondary” was proffered, suggesting that theological issues of a secondary nature should not divide us, but theological issues of a primary nature should (e.g., the deity of Christ or salvation by grace alone through faith alone). In the other recommendation, the language of charity was used, suggesting that when non-primary doctrines are at issue, we should offer charity, not divisiveness.
Though it was not stated explicitly, both of these recommendations stand on the theological triage that Albert Mohler has called for and that Gavin Ortlund has written on. (I have also put forward my take on this matter; see here, here, and here). In other words, these suggestions were not esoteric and technical; they were and are basic for Christian maturity. They are also essential for protecting faithful disciples from legalism (by making all doctrines first-tier) and liberalism (by making all doctrines third-tier). In short, these recommendations would have easily improved this resolution.
Yet, from the committee on resolutions and from a vote on the floor of the convention, these amendments were struck down convincingly. Even more, the spirit in the room seemed exasperated by the need to clarify this resolution. And that spirit was evidenced in the overwhelming vote against the amendment. Sadly, this exasperation and vote offered insight into the place of doctrinal precision in the SBC. Though we cannot determine everything from a single vote, or a single resolution, the overwhelming sense is that Baptist unity is more important than careful theology.
Thankfully, men like Athanasius, Martin Luther, and J. Gresham Machen did not feel that way about theology. Theology is necessary for rightly uniting God’s people and dividing God’s sheep from the world’s goats. Unless we recover a theological vision for our unity, it will not be long before we are uniting where we need to divide and dividing where we need to unite. In this way, the refusal to improve the language of Resolution 1 evidences an aversion to doing theological triage, an aversion that threatens to undermine the clear preaching of the gospel in days to come.