Several readers have asked me to offer an opinion on my five observations about younger Southern Baptists. It is difficult to speak objectively about younger Southern Baptists, since I fit this category myself. I’m a millennial, and if there’s anything that characterizes our generation, it’s that we like to talk about ourselves. (Selfie!) But because people have asked me to weigh in on each of these observations, here’s my take.
1. Younger Southern Baptists have chastened expectations regarding political engagement.
The strength of the younger generation’s chastened expectations is that we will see ourselves (rightly) as a people in exile, in foreign territory, seeking to bear witness to Christ in a culture that grows increasingly hostile to Christian truth and morality. The weakness is that we could give in to a quietist impulse that robs us of our prophetic identity.
I worry about young ’gospel-centered’ folks who tend to dismiss most political engagement as a distraction. “We need to change hearts, not laws,” they say. Put me on record saying we need to change both. You don’t wait for the pimp to change his heart before you outlaw his exploitative occupation. You don’t wait for the abortion doctor to change his heart before you protect the unborn. You don’t wait for the racist to change his heart before you outlaw discrimination. No, we work for justice because the gospel we preach is not only about personal salvation but also about Christ’s lordship over the world.
Activism and Quietism can both be counterfeit gospels (as I’ve written about here). You don’t address the one by fleeing into the arms of the other.
2. Younger Southern Baptists tend to be Reformed-ish.
I don’t think the Reformed influence is cause for celebration or despair. Why? Because, like I pointed out in the previous post, many younger guys are comfortable with the Reformed label without being truly Reformed. For this reason, I don’t see the Convention as solidifying around Calvinist or Traditionalist soteriology anytime soon.
If I could snap my fingers and belong to a Convention where everyone holds to my own soteriological views (a Criswell / Mullins / Ericksonian type), I wouldn’t do it. Trusting in God’s sovereignty means that God can use our stumbling attempts at doing theology for the overall good of his church. God can use our theological disputes as the means by which He keeps us centered on the gospel and passionate about missions, provided our theologizing is directed toward mission and doesn’t become an end in itself.
Case in point: my five-point Calvinist brothers believe that their system best safeguards the penal substitutionary nature of the atonement. My Traditionalist brothers believe that their system best safeguards the free offer of the gospel. The Southern Baptist Convention has always held tightly to both of these truths. Good conversations on these matters might be the means by which God protects us from a Hyper-Calvinism that leads to a hardened, evangelistic apathy and from an Inclusivism that leads to a softened, evangelistic apathy.
3. Younger Southern Baptists tend to be theologically conservative without holding to certain cultural distinctives.
I won’t spend much time here because I already expressed in the previous post that I do not agree with many of my counterparts on alcohol. A generation ago, teetotalism was assumed as the faithful position. When I talk with older Southern Baptists about this issue, they see it as self-evident: Christian leaders do not drink. Younger Southern Baptists tend to see the issue as a legalistic throwback to another time. The reason I choose not to drink is missiological and contextual. (More on that, perhaps, in another post.)
4. Younger Southern Baptists are all over the spectrum when it comes to eschatology.
I am less concerned about church members’ various end times scenarios, and I am more concerned that Christians are buying into false eschatologies offered by the world. The Enlightenment idea of progress is a powerful myth that allows Christianity to retain its shell while it is steadily emptied of its substance. The Sexual Revolution is another eschatology that dominates the culture today (“The light came on in the 1960’s and we are now implementing sexual freedom in the world!”).
Are our churches sufficiently prepared to see through false eschatologies and counter them with the biblical vision of Christ’s ultimate return and reign? Or do we sing songs to Jesus in a private sphere and live according to the world’s vision of history, without taking into consideration the cosmic renewal that Christ accomplished and will bring to fulfillment? That is a question that haunts me.
5. Younger Southern Baptists are focused more on local church ministry and less on Convention meetings.
The good aspect of younger Southern Baptist disengagement is that it could lead us to reconsider the pastoral benefits of our meetings and plan them accordingly. Unfortunately, unless younger Southern Baptists engage, those changes will never happen.
Our generation is suspicious toward institutions and authority. Because of this, we tend to overlook the power inherent in institutional structures. Andy Crouch’s Playing God and James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World would go a long way in helping rectify this lack of institutional loyalty. Caring about the Convention is an act of stewardship. I hope younger Southern Baptists will see our partnership as worthy of investment.