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New Liberalism and the Southern Baptist Convention: A Divisive Topic

This post is the first in a series addressing New Liberalism and the Southern Baptist Convention. “New Liberalism” is a catch-all term for what some see as a theological threat similar to the liberalism of the previous century. This series does not assume that New Liberalism is in the SBC, but is intended to more clearly delineate the concept of New Liberalism in relation to the SBC.

Concerns about theological liberalism in the Southern Baptist Convention are typically met with caution about unnecessary division in the SBC. The SBC survived decades of theological liberalism. Theological conservatives came out on top in what is known as the Conservative Resurgence. Some believe the beneficiaries of the CR would do well to enjoy the fruits of the CR rather than creating commotion where there need be none. But the beneficiaries of the CR would likewise do well not to listen to suggestions that we can now sit back on our haunches and wait while incremental cultural changes eat away at what we affirm about Christianity.

Unnecessary division hurts the conservative cause. Unnecessary division is impious and potentially harmful to our institutions and missionary efforts. This is very important to understand, and explains why, even when division is necessary, division is initially viewed as impious, harmful, and unnecessary.

But what should we do when division is necessary? What should we do when division already exists within our ranks? Attempting to paint over such division as though everything is peaceful and fine will not accomplish the salvation or the preservation of our institutions and missionary efforts. False unity is worse than open division.

Concerns about unnecessary divisiveness and improper tone are important to hear, but they do not outweigh the concern we should have for the overall direction of an SBC that is allowed to ‘progress’ unchecked. In principle, the SBC must never move unchecked in any direction. We should never beg the question with regard to the current theological health of the SBC, one way or the other.

All of this is simply to say something that should not be controversial. Whether particular claims of theological problems hold up to scrutiny, we cannot dismiss the principle that the people of the SBC are responsible to keep our theology in check. It is one thing to rationally dismiss an assertion that the SBC is actually facing the foe of creeping liberalism or mission drift on some particular front, and quite another to dismissively claim that no such foe could possibly exist.  Such an approach would ensure that the cumulative weight of unbiblical cultural ideologies continually tug at the seams of the SBC until, at last, it unravels.

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