Well, it's official! Young leaders and the emerging church have finally made it onto the "radar screen" of the Southern Baptist Convention (if you consider Baptist Press the radar screen). But where did these guys come from in the first place?
Opinions abound concerning the origin of the latest generation of Southern Baptist pastors and the views they bring to the denominational table. New Testament scholar D.A. Carson suggests that emerging leaders have their genesis in a combination of cultural savvy and protest. Some young leaders themselves think their ilk began with a desire to find the "historical church."
Missiologist Ed Stetzer however, suggests a totally different kind of fountainhead from which emerging leaders may have come, and his views make a lot of sense. Dr. Stetzer states that young leaders' questioning of tradition and establishement is no less than the result of the conservative resurgence within the convention, which brought our agencies, seminaries, and many local churches "back to the Bible."
While Stetzer admits that "there are a few bad [theological] apples out there," he also suggests that "it would be rather odd for them to stick around in a denomination known for its serious commitment to theology, evangelism, preaching, etc." In other words, while post-liberal hermaneutics and the re-writing of the meaning of atonement are prominent aspects in many corridors of the emerging church movement, these heretical concepts are largely rejected by young Southern Baptists.
Conservative young leaders, however, have other concerns as they relate to denominational life. And these concerns relate to many traditions and practices that they feel are "extra-biblical." Stetzer again contends that Southern Baptists "spent more than two decades telling young leaders that we must take the Bible seriously. Should we be surprised that they do? When younger leaders question some long-held traditions, we should not be surprised--they are the result of the theological resurgence."
If Stetzer is correct, there must be a few Southern Baptists scratching their heads and wondering if they have created a monster! I wonder if by the time of Leipzig, Staupitz felt the same way about Luther?
As Martin Luther's confessor in the Augustinian order, Johann von Staupitz is credited by the reformer as the one who germiniated his doctrine. This germination began of course, during Luther's early struggles with his own faith, followed by Staupiz's encouragement for Luther to go back to the Word of God, where He would find "Christ Himself." Luther followed the advice of his spiritual father, and the eventual result was the Protestant Reformation.
But not everyone was happy with the results of Luther's challenge to take the church "back to the Bible." Finally ordered to appear at Leipzig in July 1519, Luther, accompanied by his longtime colleague Professor Carlstadt, stood to face John Eck, the famed Catholic debater who was called the "hammer of the heretics." Eck came to this debate with one goal: to force Luther into a corner and prove he was a heretic. But while Eck was considered the "technical" winner of the debate, the authorities to which these two men appealed could not have been any more different. Eck argued on the basis of papal authority and church tradition. Luther countered from Scripture, and forcefully contended that popes and councils were to be tested by Scripture, because none are above Scripture. From this came the Reformation cry of authority, sola scriptura!
Fast forward 486 years, and we have a similar (though not at all identical) issue before us. While Southern Baptists would never make the same objective claims made by Eck, it must be admitted that sometimes in practice, tradition is held to be at least equal to the Bible. Young leaders, like Luther, aren't interested in dividing the house. But they are interested in challenging a few of our traditions, and asking for Biblical grounds for a few things, among them:
1. Where is the Biblical basis for saying that only ordained ministers can administer Baptism and the Lord's Supper?
2. Where is the Biblical basis upon which we call for a "tee-total" approach to alcohol consumption, but say little or nothing about the problem of gluttony that is so present in our churches, and not a few pulpits?
3. Where is the Biblical basis for stating that anyone who doesn't issue a formal "altar call" at the end of a sermon is not evangelistic?
4. Where is the Biblical basis for stating that the Great Commission can't be accomplished without the Cooperative Program?
5. Where is the Biblical basis for claiming that God has placed His unconditional approval upon the Republican Party?
6. Where is the Biblical basis for stating that "church" always looks the same in every context?
7. Where is the Biblical basis for shackleing the universal church rite of Baptism to membership in local bodies?
These are just a few of the questions I have heard. And they aren't being asked with the intent of proving their side of an argument. Most of the young leaders I speak with have a sincere desire to know the truth. But they will not accept something as true simply because it comes from Nashville. Like Luther, they simply want to be taken to Scripture.
But this requires that all of us go back to Scripture! And in the process, we may discover that some of what we considered "Biblical" is in fact only grounded in tradition.
To be committed to sola scriptura (Scripture alone is our authority), Southern Baptists must also be committed to the concept of semper reformanda (Always Reforming). If indeed Scripture is our sole authority for faith and practice; if indeed we are "a people of the book," then we must be equally committed to the continual task of reforming ourselves, and our practice, so that we are always sure to have our commitment to Scripture alone. I believe Dr. Stetzer is correct: The conservative resurgence has borne us these young leaders. They are radically committed to Scriptural truth, and to Scriptural truth alone!
My own hope is that articles like those appearing in Baptist Press last week will result in fruitful conversations between our esteeemed present denominational leaders, and the potential leaders of the future. Jimmy Draper has already exhibited a wonderful openness by starting his own conversation with emerging leaders, and this year's SBC would be a great opportunity to begin more such conversations.
So what would this mean for the future? What if young leaders are in fact, allowed a prominent place at the table. What will the SBC look like in, say, 50 years? More on this next week!