Is the Southern Baptist Convention drifting toward liberal theology? Is it already there? Or is theological liberalism merely the bogeyman of discernment blogger Baptists?
We should grant that the list of potential problems with any theology extends well beyond the particular threat of theological liberalism. For example, the prosperity gospel is an affront to biblical fidelity. But then, so are various other philosophical and sociological ideologies that are not categorized as theological liberalism proper, either because they do not engage in the same errors as liberalism, or because they are only loosely associated with liberalism in popular thought. Concerns about theological error and missions drift in the SBC need not be limited to the narrow confines of liberal theology.
It follows that the language or label of “liberal” drift, or “liberal” theology, or “liberal” professors, and so on and so forth is not always the most helpful language or label to use. Often, the worry with a particular theology is about some other theological error that isn’t liberalism proper, even though it may be loosely associated with such. Before you respond, “Sure, but that just sounds like something a liberal would say in order to avoid that label,” let me explain that the label is too easily dismissed by way of an appeal to the affirmation of inerrancy, or penal substitutionary atonement, or the physical resurrection of Christ. Liberal theology – the likes of which we saw prior to the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC – denied these tenets.
Now, Southern Baptists seem to think their theology is safe so long as they affirm the aforementioned tenets. People too easily assume that – since they are not currently engaging in the same errors as theological liberals of yesteryear – they cannot possibly be on the path to theological liberalism, even if they are. For similar reasons, the language and label of a “second” or “new” Conservative Resurgence is not necessarily the most helpful language or label that can be used at this point in time.
Southern Baptists can be mistaken or inarticulate about the type of theological problem they see in the SBC while being correct in seeing a problem. For example, some Southern Baptists view Critical Theory and egalitarian interpretation and practice in the SBC as theological liberalism, or liberal drift, or as being associated with liberal theology. Are Critical Theory and egalitarianism properly categorized as theological liberalism? Are they milestones on the way to that position? Or are they simply associated with theological liberalism by way of implication?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. The point is that you can’t call concerns about Critical Theory and egalitarian interpretation and practice in the SBC “bogeymen” if you are actively promoting them. You may disagree that those are bad things, or that they’re bad enough to break fellowship over, but you can’t think they’re pretend concerns, no matter their relation to liberal theology proper.