A Hard Look In the Mirror

I begin this post by stating my thankfulness and committment to the SBC. I praise God for leading me to such a theologically sound college/seminary (SEBTS) so shorthly after saving me. Today, I am still committed to and supportive of the efforts of the SBC. However, I am more committed to the gospel and it seems that maybe a lack of the gospel has led to what is a very difficult look in the mirror for our convention. You can read the report in its entirety here on Ed Stetzer's blog, but the long and short of the report is the fact that for the first time in "forever" the SBC is in a statistical decline. Ed lists several reasons for this decline, but the most important I think is the "loss" of the gospel in our churches and it is only a recovery of the gospel that will turn the trend around. Soft preaching not only leads to hard people, but it looks like it leads to a hard convention as well.

Nathan Finn, professor at SEBTS, gives a thoughtful, stinging, but spot-on analysis of the report and what it means for the SBC. You can read all of it here, but I want to share two excerpts to whet your appetite:

Some have suggested that Southern Baptists have not lost the gospel. Normally what they mean is that their church has not lost the gospel, which may or may not be true. I suspect that most of our pastors really believe the gospel. Unfortunately, many of them don’t preach it. Sometimes they actually preach sub-Christian sermons that are really just baptized versions of moralism, New Age spirituality, or especially self-help platitudes. I have heard gospel-less sermons in chapel services at all of our seminaries, either live or online. I have heard gospel-less sermons at our pastor’s conferences and evangelism conferences, either live or through other media. I have heard gospel-less sermons in our churches. And yes, I have heard many of them at the SBC annual meeting itself. Maybe these men are just taking it for granted that their audiences already understand the gospel and so they don’t have to articulate it. Maybe. But I know this much: a sermon that does not include the gospel is not a Christian sermon, no matter who preaches it. Some will object that they must be preaching the gospel because their church is growing. And that’s what scares me the most. If you are one of those guys out there who think Southern Baptists as a rule are cool on the gospel (and I know you’re out there because you gripe at me every time I raise this issue), you will likely make lots of friends in the SBC for defending our gospel street cred. But you will also be complicit in our decline.

His conclusion:

So does the SBC have a future. It depends upon what you mean by “future.” I suspect the name will be used by some Baptists until Christ comes back. I also think the people called Southern Baptists will always have denominational entities that they financially support. So in one sense, I remain confident that Southern Baptists are here to stay. But if by “future” one means a vital existence in God’s economy, I have my doubts. Collectively, I fear we are too insular, too sectarian, too pugnacious, too “Southern”, too reactionary, too pragmatic, and for sure too proud to have any real future. I hope I’m wrong. I pray that I am not the very things I accuse the convention of embodying, though I suspect I am at times. I hope the SBC does have a future, mostly because we had a great–though imperfect–past. I love who we were. I struggle with who we are. I am very fearful of who we will become. But I know that God does not need us and that His purposes will go forward even if we are left behind. Perhaps if enough of us admitted that–publicly–in a resolution–that included the word repentance–and was more than words–God may still have much
good for us yet.

We must pray for God to change the direction of our churches--to raise up men who will lead churches with preaching that is God-centered and motivated by the gospel in all it does and that God will raise up believers who are members of those churches to those same aspirations: God-centered and gospel-motivated.

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