Theological Study Group: A Good Idea for Southern Baptists

Theological Study Group:
A Good Idea for Southern Baptists

Tom Ascol

Dr. Ed Young, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, has recently appointed a task force consisting of 9 study groups, or committees, whose stated purpose is “to review where we as Southern Baptists have been, where we are, and where we are going. “These committees are to bring back reports which will help the SBC “plan, pray, and dream toward the future.” Dr. Jimmy Draper is the overall chairman.

Of particular interest to the readers of the Founders Journal is the Theological Study Group which has Drs. Timothy George and Roy Honeycutt as co-chairmen. This committee’s job description is filled with encouraging insights into the vital role of doctrine in the renewal of personal, church and denominational life.

They will perform their task, we are told, with a firm commitment to biblical inerrancy and a desire to see the SBC move beyond the recent denominational controversy into a “new consensus rooted in theological substance and doctrinal fidelity.” Further, the committee has expressed a desire “to foster a renewed evangelical confessionalism that is rooted in the historic orthodoxy of the early church, the Reformation, the Great Awakenings, and the distinctive principles of Southern Baptists.”

To all of this we give a hearty, “Amen!” The other committee members are: William Bell, J. Walter Carpenter, Jr., Mark Coppenger, Stephen Corts, Carl F. H. Henry, Herschel Hobbs, Richard Land, Albert Mohler, Jr., and William Tolar.

This study group deserves our prayerful support as they undertake this most important work for the convention.

Following is the complete text of the theological study committee’s job description as issued by the Executive Committee of the SBC:

In every generation, the people of God face the decision for faith or for unbelief. Always anew opportunities for obedience and growth open up, opposite which there are just as many occasions for disobedience, for stagnation, for retreat. Precisely such a challenge now confronts the people of God called Southern Baptists.

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, we face unprecedented opportunities for missionary outreach and the enormous challenge of bearing a faithful witness to a culture in decline, of being salt and light in a society which seems to have lost its moral compass. Nor dare we neglect our God-given duty to pass on to the rising generation the fundamentals of the Christian faith and a lively sense of our Baptist heritage. In order to meet these goals, we seek to move beyond the denominational conflict of recent years toward a new consensus rooted in theological substance and doctrinal fidelity. We pray that our efforts will lead to healing an reconciliation throughout the Southern Baptist Convention and, God willing, to a renewed commitment to our founding purpose of “eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort, for the propagation of the gospel.”

The sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Bible. God’s Word revealed in written form. The purpose of this Theological Study Group is to examine those Biblical truths which are most surely held among us and, on this basis, to reaffirm our common commitment to Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures, and the evangelical heritage of the Christian church. We shall seek to develop and to articulate theological directions and parameters for our common mission as Southern Baptists. The work of this study group may result in a statement of convictions as well as specific recommendations which shall be passed along to the task force convened by the President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

We undertake this task with gratitude for those whose labors have come before us. Over the past generation Southern Baptists have consistently declared their confidence in the total truthfulness of the Bible and the great principles of historic Christian orthodoxy. The Theological Study Group accepts as foundational to its work the Baptist Faith and Message statement of 1983 and the SBC Peace Committee Report of 1987, especially the theological findings of the latter. We also affirm the Chicago Statements on Biblical Inerrancy (1978,1982) which serve as a guideline for writers of the New American Commentary now being published by Broadman Press. These documents are not infallible artifacts of revelation nor do they exhaust the infinite riches of divine truth. However, they are trust-worthy guides in setting forth a high view of Scripture and in providing a framework for the renewal of “the faith once delivered.”

The work of the Theological Study Group will focus on those evangelical essentials and Baptist distinctives which form the core of our unity and mission as a people of God. We affirm without reservation the priesthood of all believers, the autonomy of the local congregation, and the historic Baptist commitment to religious liberty. We also recognize legitimate diversity among Southern Baptists on many matters of secondary importance. We desire neither to propose a creedal statement nor to draft a new confession of faith.

At the same time we shall not hesitate to reject the kind of doctrinal minimalism and theological revision which, if left unchecked, would compromise our commitment to the gospel itself. Baptist means faith as well as freedom: Christian liberty should not become license for the masking of unbelief.

We desire to foster a renewed evangelical confessionalism that is rooted in the historic orthodoxy of the early church, the Reformation, the Great Awakenings, and the distinctive principles of Southern Baptists. Only such a robust theological foundation, grounded in exegetically sound and hermeneutically faithful interpretations and proclamations of Holy Scripture, can meet the challenges of the new century and a rapidly changing global context.

While the emphasis of our work must be on the complete truthfulness and divine authority of Holy Scripture, other important areas must also be addressed. These include the Trinity, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the witness of the church, global missions and world evangelization. We must reaffirm our commitment to these great doctrinal principles because they are beset, in various ways, by subtle compromise, blatant concession, and malign neglect.

We pray for true revival and genuine reconciliation within our beloved denomination and trust that our efforts will contribute to these goals. We are convinced, however, that the awakening that must come can only begin where there is an atmosphere of hospitality to the truth. This in turn will be reflected in a renewal in a greater burden for the lost, a wider missionary vision, and the equipping of God’s people in the discipling of all the nations in fulfillment of the Great Commission. Thus, we sense an urgency in the task before us and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its fulfillment, earnestly seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of all God’s people.