Monday, June 4, 2012

Magic Always Comes with a Price: The Conservative Resurgence and Calvinism

I’ll need to know where to go to forfeit my man card once I reveal this confession.  Last winter my wife introduced me to a new series on ABC called Once Upon a Time.  I don’t merely endure this show.  I actually look forward to it coming on and my wife and I have made it a Sunday evening tradition.  Fellas, as soon as your laughter and disdain dies down a little try to stomach this video:

I would have liked to have gotten a little better quality video without editing but this was the best that I could find.  The main thing for you to take away from this is what Rumpelstiltskin about magic.  “Magic always comes with a price”.  In each case the person desiring to use “magic” gets what they want for a season but inevitably pays a price much steeper than they desired to pay. 

My Experience with the CR

In the late 70’s and early 80’s the Southern Baptist Convention found itself embroiled in a controversy between liberals and conservatives.  By mentioning the Conservative Resurgence (CR) I just opened up a big emotional can of worms for everyone that lived through it.  Opinions abound on every side. 

Personally, I did not live through it.  Well, I technically did live through some of the CR but I was more concerned with greater things like controlling bowel movements and making sure that I got to watch ALF.  In others words I was but a wee lad that new about as much concerning SBC life as Al Mohler knows about the KC Royals starting lineup. 

However, for one of my classes I read through A Hill On Which To Die and write a review.  Not only did I read through that book but there were various others with snippets about the CR that I needed to know for my class on Baptist History.  All of this to say that I know about the CR only from a distance and what I have read as an interested historical observer.  I didn’t have front row seats. 

Yet I do remain a beneficiary of the Conservative Resurgence.  I am very conservative in theology and I thank God for the conservative resurgence. I am ecstatic that I can attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and know that it is a bastion for truth and is dedicated to the glory of God. One could not have said that for many years prior to the Conservative Resurgence.  So I remain indebted to the CR.  Yet I’m not sure it wasn’t without it’s price…

“Magic” Comes with a Price

What happened in the CR is that a majority of the SBC were not liberals.  Yet, they were being increasingly led by liberals.  The seminaries were churning out students and staffed by those far more liberal than most SBC churches were comfortable with.  Yet, the Cooperative Program dollars that each church sent into the SBC was being used—it seemed—to further the cause of liberalism. 

In the Conservative Resurgence a group of people gathered together to “take back the Convention”.  By mastering the political structure of the SBC these leaders discovered how to slowly but surely elect conservatives to outweigh liberals on every vital board.  They came to realize that the Convention President held the key that would eventually trickle down to a conservative leaning Board of Trustees for all entities that would then elect conservative seminary presidents (like Albert Mohler) as well as literature, missions, and seminary professors. 

For the next several years a battle within the SBC for control and power was lived out at every annual convention.  Again, I am thankful in many regards for this battle.  I am happy that a powerful liberal minority did not win the day (especially given the trajectory of some of those now outside the Convention).  I am glad that the conservatives won the battle.  Yet, I am left to wonder what was the cost of the battle.  You don’t engage in war without having a few battle wounds.

The Calvinism Question

As I somewhat reluctantly scan through the recent articles and discussions about the place of Calvinism within the SBC I cannot help but hear some of same verbiage that took place in the CR.  It appears—at least to me—that one of the battle wounds coming from the CR is that conservatives have become jaded and some seem to have one eye open for any that might again try to take over the convention.  In part that is good and I am thankful for this. 

Yet, Calvinism is not liberalism.  There is no need for a Calvinist “takeover” or “taking back the convention” from Calvinists because we are largely on the exact same team.  Calvinists and Non-Calvinists happily linked arms to fight against liberalism.  And now we seem to be fighting one another.

It appears to me that the “magic” that was used was a firm understanding of how to “have power” within the SBC.  And now it seems that some are weary that Calvinists might be using this “magic” to wrest control of the SBC.  I cannot help but wonder if there is not a movement similar to what took place at the Cafe du Monde to put in place a plan to take back the convention from any Calvinistic leaders. 

Could there be a Calvinistic Conspiracy to gain control of the SBC.  I assume so.  But it could also be possible that the resurgence of Reformed theology is not some sinister plot to take back the SBC.  In fact I think by the somewhat ecumenical nature of the movement such a thing could be easily disproven.  Together for the Gospel may benefit the SBC but at the end of the day it has little do with it politically.  The same thing goes for the The Gospel Coalition and John Piper. 

I guess it is possible that some within the SBC are using Piper, TGC, T4G, and Acts 29 as pawns in their scheme of SBC world dominance.  But Piper, TGC, Acts 29 and many within T4G seem to have little concern about the SBC.  Can I be really honest with you for a second?  As a young pastor within the SBC I have to confess that when I dream about things very seldom is it the expansion of of the SBC.  My dreams are centered around the gospel.  I love the SBC.  I believe it is a wonderfully useful tool for missions and for the most part a great fellowship of mostly like-minded believers.  But I, and many of those like me, have very little concern about controlling the SBC.  We just want to see the gospel thrive. 

My point in all of this is to say that just as magic comes with a price so did the CR.  And one of those things is looking at one another with an heir of suspicion as well as a real or perceived battle to see who is pulling the magical strings that were unlocked by the CR. 

It is my prayer that our greatest concern is not of what stripe the leaders in the SBC are when it comes to Calvinism or whatever, but that our greatest concern is whether or not we as a whole are promoting the gospel, exalting the name of Jesus, and taking His powerful gospel to the ends of the earth.  Are we discipling people within our local churches to love Jesus more and to live our live sin such a way as to express the greatness of His worth?  If those “pulling the strings” in the SBC are doing these things then I don’t care if they have pictures of John Calvin above their bed-frame or Adrian Rogers. 

I fear that we may have bought some magic that carries a price a little steeper than we wanted to pay.  Thankfully, my fear is overcome by the truth that Christ is greater and deeper.  He can unite what others divide.  May He heal not only the SBC but also continue to use her to further His kingdom. 


  1. the seventies and eighties were a harsh time in the SBC as a young man I remember my parents having to make the harsh decision to let me attend Royal Ambassadors led by a all too conservative representative of the SBC or to have me go with my schoolmates to the Calvinist Cadet Corps led by a more liberal and diverse staff. Eventually these programs were moved to different nights from each other and I was able for a year to attend both. The experience was crucial in my development of the understanding of the truth about liberalism and conservative Christian thinking. The harsh reality is that with the liberal view in those times the curriculum was more stressed in making the scripture relevant to real life situations whereas the conservative was more on transforming ones reality to scripture. Both were beneficial, but neither could be considered 100% effective in church growth. Each reached a target, yet neither had a sure enough scope to get the bulls-eye. I believe as developing Christians are searching they need a little of both conservative and liberal, they need what is in the personal comfort zone as well as that which is removed. Challenge and answer are a sure way to keep interested and intrigued minds engaged. A true discourse between the sacred and the secular upon the battlefront of life and the plains of eternity.

  2. "Can I be really honest with you for a second? As a young pastor within the SBC I have to confess that when I dream about things very seldom is it the expansion of of the SBC. My dreams are centered around the gospel. I love the SBC. I believe it is a wonderfully useful tool for missions and for the most part a great fellowship of mostly like-minded believers. But I, and many of those like me, have very little concern about controlling the SBC. We just want to see the gospel thrive."

    Amen! And thank you for your honesty.

  3. Here's a question I've wondered - were the people who were ousted from the SBC in those olden days (I say that humorously), were they classical liberals, or just moderates?

    For example, Egalitarianism is not classical liberalism. And even a denial of inerrancy is not classical liberalism.

    Tom 1st

    So I'm just wondering if the term 'liberal' was chosen because, especially in the South, it has such pejorative connotations, OR if the people ousted really were classical liberals...people who denied the divinity of Christ or God's revelation within creation.

    Honest question. I wondered that as a student at HLG when these discussions came up. I guess I found no real consistent use of the term and I later learned that many who were labelled 'liberal' were not, in fact, liberal at all. Though they were admittedly Egalitarian, for example.

    1. Yeah, I think the term liberal is a pretty muddy term. I think you did have a trajectory and some outright denying certain things that would put them in the classical liberal camp. And then you had others that weren't quite there but were more moderate and maybe with what was perceived (rightly or wrongly) as a liberal trajectory.

      But you are certainly correct that in certain quarters if you want to use a pejorative term you use "liberal".

      Though I'm by and large conservative there were several things about the CR (at least that I have read) that would have turned my stomach had I been an active pastor in the 80s.

    2. Agreed. I think you're right.

  4. Sorry, not sure what happened there, but my 'signature' got posted in the middle of the comment. Oops.

    Tom 1st

    1. It's b/c you're a liberal. My liberal tracker caught you. LOL. Total joke.



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