To All Students in SBC Seminaries,
I am a Southern Baptist pastor and I ask you to indulge me for a moment.
My wife and I were converted our first Sunday in an SBC church in Carbondale, IL and were baptized together at an SBC church in Denver, CO. We have been members of several different SBC churches: a couple with less than 100 in attendance, a couple with over 1,000 in attendance, and one with over 10,000 in attendance every weekend. We have never been a member of a non-SBC church since our conversion.
I have a Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY with some of those hours earned at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. In the SBC churches I've belonged to I've served in volunteer capacity in evangelistic ministry and started prayer meetings at two different churches. I've served as an intern with collegiate ministry in a large church, as an associate pastor of discipleship at a church plant, as a missionary to international students at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky (through Baptist Student Unions), and now as the pastor of a church in Woodstock, IL. I've taught a 4-5 year old children's Sunday School class, youth groups, college students, and adult Sunday School classes. I've preached and taught at churches on the topic of missions and reaching international students in the U.S and I preached a revival. I've been to a couple of SBC Annual Meetings (Indy and Nashville) and preached at my local association's annual meeting. I've been to Ridgecrest, NC for an IMB Missions Week and my wife and I were considering on going overseas to a Muslim country until our oldest son was diagnosed with autism.
I've shaken the hand of Jerry Rankin, heard O.S. Hawkins respond to "How are you?" by saying "I'm blessed," and have an autographed autobiography of Jimmy Draper. I've heard Roy Fish tell a class on evangelism to "Put THAT in your Calvinistic pipe and smoke it." I've peed next to Danny Akin while he told me stories about the ethics class he took under Paige Patterson. I've had Ken Hemphill (cowboy boots and all) and his wife Paula in our Fort Worth townhouse for brownies and ice cream. I've had many conversations with Al Mohler, including one about an episode of Prairie Home Companion.
I say this to say that I've lived and breathed SBC for more almost a decade, and I have never been so frustrated with who WE are.
I believe this is a crucial time for our convention that will determine whether we will ever have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim 3:7) and a real impact on our culture (Mt 28:18-20, Acts 17:6). And I believe the most crucial group of SBC'rs right now are not those in power, nor those serving on trustee boards or important committees. The most important group of SBC'rs right now are our seminary students. Those who have the chance to get this Titanic steered clear of disaster.
I ask you as a seminary student to consider the greatest poison in our convention, fundamentalism/legalism. If you don't like me, or think that my use of "fundamentalism" or "legalism" is misguided, please think about what's been happening. The IMB policy issues and the continued push for alcohol abstinence by SBTS leadership and Jack Graham (to name two) are symptoms of a convention concerned with power, control, and extra-biblical rules and righteousness. We are structuring ourselves to avoid "sinners" rather than eating and drinking with them (Lk 7:34-35, Mt 9:9-13). We are looking less like Jesus and more like Pharisees with every decision and direction.
This is a crucial time for seminary students to open their Bibles and see what Jesus and Paul and Moses and David say about the important theological and cultural issues of our day. We need to read about the Pharisees while looking in the mirror. We need to see holiness not only as list of "don'ts," but as "do's." Instead of just feeding from our leaders we need to search the Scriptures like Bereans (Acts 17:11). Listen and learn, but do so with great discernment. I believe as John Piper does that legalism is a far greater danger than drunkenness. That principle is crucial for our convention right now far beyond alcohol.
Our seminaries are creating a new generation that mirrors the ones in power. Oh sure, they'll let you sing more choruses and new hymns. But as one who has been in seminary and sucked at the breast of SBC values and who has now gained some distance and insight through a couple of years of teaching and preaching through books of the Bible, I believe that we must have a breakout generation of young leaders who will take the best the SBC has (heritage, mission, etc) and let God reform us into something much better.
We need to be better evangelists who aren't looking to repackage for the Gospel but rather looking to better understand and live the Gospel. I think we need to remember that we are to truly be in culture, not looking down on it, and not avoiding it. I think we need to remember that working for justice is a biblical idea, not a liberal one. I think we need a resurgence of love for and creation of art as reflecting the imago dei. I think we need better seminaries that aren't just telling us what we should think, but rather are teaching us how to think through Scripture and know The Spirit. I think we need an ethic based on biblical boundaries and biblical liberties. As Derek Webb has sung, it's much easier to follow a new law rather than be sanctified through learning to live out our freedoms and liberties.
I ask you my brothers and sisters in Christ to consider whether now is the time that we need to break the mold so that our next generation of churches won't merely reflect an older SBC culture. We need to be His people today, in this age, to this culture with an eternal Gospel that never changes. Culture war thinking won't get us there. Extra-biblical rules won't get us there. It's going to take a generation of God-seekers who infiltrate the culture with the love of Christ and fight spiritual battles rather than tongue-lashing those who need redemption.
I would love to dialogue with you here about this, and please pass this on to your seminary friends as well. I won't be popular with many people because of this letter, but I feel like it's necessary for my conscience and for our convention.
Grace and Peace.