Conflict erupted within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) between conservative and moderate sides during the 192os over the Modernist Controversy, but matters were calmed down with the adoption of the Baptist Faith & Message in 1925. During the 1960s, the two sides were again in conflict, and a newer version of the Baptist Faith & Message was adopted in 1963 to bring appeasement. An undercurrent of discontent existed within the convention, however, throughout the 1960s and 70s. It finally boiled over in 1979 when the conservatives elected Adrian Rogers as the group’s president. Up until that point, moderates were strongly entrenched in the power structure of the denomination. The conservatives argued at that point that they simply wanted a “place at the table” to be able to labor together on equal footing with their moderate counterparts. Attempts were made during the height of the conflict to establish harmony, such as the foundation of a Peace Committee in 1985 and the drafting of the “Glorietta Statement” in 1986. Such efforts were to no avail. Conservatives won victory over victory throughout the 1980s and 1990s, enabling them to wrest control from the moderates. With no place left at the table, moderates departed and established their own denominational structure. One might be tempted to think that the conservatives, in complete control of the convention, would press forward with renewed vigor and determined focus in missions and evangelism. Instead, it is mired down again with controversy and infighting.
Speaking very generally, conservatives are now largely split in two camps, the “Baptist Identity/Traditionalists”, and the “Great Commission Resurgence” (GCR) group. In short, the Baptist Identity/Traditionalists assert that Southern Baptists must remain generally insular in their mission and focus; and assert that Calvinists are attempting to take over the convention and are disloyal to the Baptist cause. The CGR, on the other hand, consists of Calvinists and non-Calvinists who are ready to join hands with non-Baptists for the cause of Christ Jesus and the advance of His Kingdom. The non-Calvinists within this camp are sympathetic to Calvinism though they do not hold to Reformed theology. As during the ”Conservative Resurgence,” there have been attempts at reconciliation, namely the Patterson-Mohler Dialogue (2006), the Building Bridges Conference (2007), and the establishment of a Calvinism Advisory Committee. The Calvinism Advisory Committee just released the statement, “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension“.
One of the signatories, Dr. Steve Lemke, Provost and Director for the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, rightly noted, “For Christians to work together cooperatively requires broad doctrinal agreement, although not agreement in every point of detail.” In regard to the ”Truth” document, he remarked, “This statement underlies the broad areas of doctrine upon which the overwhelming majority of us as Southern Baptists agree. It outlines the basis on which we can continue working together cooperatively and constructively for the cause of Christ.” While I very much concur with Dr. Lemke’s sentiment, I don’t believe Southern Baptists will continue working together cooperatively or constructively. Just this past week, in the same state in which Dr. Lemke serves, Joe Aguillard, President of Louisiana College, declared that Calvinism is at the root of all the problems being experienced by the institution.
Two investigations of misconduct involving Aguillard were launched by whistleblower complaints. One of the complaints alleged the president improperly diverted nearly $60,000 donated by the Cason Foundation for use by the institution’s Caskey School of Divinity. The Casons have since cut off funding from the foundation, and accused Aguillard of misleading trustees about the Cason Foundation’s commitments to Louisiana College. Jay Adkins, one of the trustees, lamented about much that has transpired under the president’s leadership. Adkins stated:
I’m embarrassed over the needless loss of three godly men from our faculty. One of which was voted teacher of the year (whose recognition was conspicuously dropped from a chapel service). I’m embarrassed that out of 41 SACS accredited institutions of higher education in the state of Louisiana, our school — the Christian school — is one of only three either on warning status or probation. I’m embarrassed that we have had five Vice Presidents of Academic Affairs during the current president’s tenure. I’m embarrassed that we have dismissed a report from outside investigative counsel who actually interviewed persons involved in certain allegations and yet accepted a report from an internal committee that interviewed no one. I’m embarrassed that we have lost Dr. Chuck Quarles, a godly and humble man whose scholarship is impeccable and whose love for missions and God’s messengers is second to none. I’m embarrassed that we clap and celebrate a 10 million dollar pledge while smugly dismissing the gracious gift of what might have been over 60 million dollars for the Caskey School of Divinity. I’m embarrassed that we have spent so much money on legal fees and unrealized grandiose schemes while our campus facilities are in disrepair. I’m embarrassed that our state Executive Director has had an inordinate amount of influence over our proceedings. LC is the only one of the 43 Baptist colleges (connected to a state Baptist Convention) whose by-laws in effect make the Executive Director’s position a permanent voting board member.
With the state Executive Director wielding such power, and standing behind the embattled institutional president, the institution has blocked websites critical of the administration, put students under investigation for “making disparaging comments” about the college and administration, and denied press coverage to a recent emergency trustee meeting. The Baptist Message, the newspaper for Louisiana Baptists, was once an independent organization. In 2005, it was moved under the control of the Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC). Incidentally, Kelly Boggs, managing editor of the newspaper, is also the Director of the LBC Office of Public Affairs. In a recent editorial, Boggs overlooked criticisms coming from non-Calvinists aimed at Louisiana College, and instead focused on Calvinism as the problem issue. If the honchos within the Louisiana Baptist Convention are determined to fight against the convention’s Calvinists, despite the “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension” statement, can there be peace? I don’t believe so, especially given the history of the SBC. It is a contentious convention and will remain so unless there is a very dramatic shift in its landscape.
So, why write about all this? Because the world is watching. To the Southern Baptist Calvinists who remain, I ask…
How is God being glorified through this dispute? How is this impacting evangelism in a positive way? Do you want to spend the remainder of your days, however long, contending for a denominational structure or for the kingdom of God (they are not the same)? When fundamentalists such as Aguillard and Jack Graham embrace non-Trinitarians while denouncing Calvinists, why continue the infighting? Why sign essentially meaningless documents? Why not figure out how the controversy may be ended as amicably as possible and go your separate way?
Here is the bottom line — if you are confessional and affirm the doctrines of grace, then why not join a denomination where there is actual peace and authentic theological agreement?