The Other Resurgence

Founders Journal 71 · Winter 2008 · pp. 1-3

The Other Resurgence

Tom Ascol

The Conservative Resurgence (CR) that marks its official beginning with the election of Adrian Rogers to the SBC presidency at the Houston convention in 1979 has resulted in Southern Baptist institutions and agencies being preserved (and in some cases, rescued) from the corrosive effects of neo-orthodoxy and liberalism. Today, all SBC denominational agencies are led by men who unashamedly affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. The professors in our seminaries have the same conviction.

This recovery has been theologically and spiritually beneficial for the convention. Churches can send students to our seminaries now without fear that they will hear professors either subtly or overtly undermining the authority of God’s Word. Churches can have greater confidence that money given for world missions through the Cooperative Program will support missionaries who unequivocally proclaim the exclusivity of Jesus Christ to the nations.

These are blessings from God that all Bible-believing evangelicals should celebrate. Great gains have been made over the last twenty-nine years in the SBC. Two observations about the CR, however, need to be acknowledged as we thank the Lord for all the good that has been done. Both require humble honesty, first as we remember how the CR took place and second, as we look at our current spiritual state today.

The CR did not happen without controversy–lots of controversy. At times expressions of outright hostility were flung back and forth among theological opponents. People’s lives were adversely affected. When “movement conservatives” gained the majority on the trustee boards of each of our institutions and agencies, changes were made, often resulting in the forced terminations of key employees. Seminaries became the sites of protests by students and faculty, articles were published decrying the “Fundamentalist takeover” of the convention.

It was not only theological moderates and liberals who were hurt by the changes that took place. Many genuine conservatives also found themselves without jobs or unwilling to work with fellow conservatives who appeared to be so controversial. Though most of the acrimony took place at the institutional level, churches were not completely spared. Members were sometimes divided out of loyalties to alma maters that appeared to be under attack. Other divisions occurred along the lines of which news service reports one trusted.

The point is simply this: the CR did not take place without controversy and disruption–much of it very painful. Anyone who reads church history should not be surprised by this because no reformation has ever occurred without controversy. Conservatives in the SBC should not forget this.

The second observation is more telling and more difficult for champions of the CR to acknowledge. Despite all the good that was accomplished in the CR, Southern Baptist churches are, on the whole, are no better off than they were before 1979. Now, it can be argued (as it has been) that our churches would be even worse today had the CR not occurred to stem the tide of liberalism. Probably that is true. However, the fact remains that, according to statistical analysis, SBC churches still have an overwhelmingly large percentage of members who give no signs of spiritual life.

At some point the question needs to be humbly yet forcefully asked, “What difference does it make if we have an inerrant Bible if we are not willing to believe what it teaches and do what it says?” It is at just this point where a second, more important “CR” holds great hope for the Southern Baptist Convention. Commonly referred to as the “Calvinist Resurgence,” this current movement shares one common ingredient with the first CR but has other significant dissimilarities.

Like the Conservative Resurgence, the Calvinist Resurgence is controversial. Some people are upset about it. Charges and counter-charges swirl around it. What is most interesting is that some of the most strident criticisms and accusations are coming from leaders and supporters of the first CR and are almost identical to the criticisms and accusations that were hurled against them by moderates and liberals over the past twenty-nine years. “Splitting churches,” “hurting missions and evangelism,” “distracting us from our main responsibilities,” “will destroy the convention,” etc. Sound familiar? It should to anyone over forty years old who has been involved in SBC life for the last two decades. Is it not strange that men who were willing to endure all kinds of controversy for the sake of the authority of Scripture now use the presence of controversy to demonize a movement that they fear and may not adequately understand?

Unlike the first CR, however, the current resurgence is not focused on denominational institutions and agencies. It is focused on autonomous local churches. God is raising up large numbers of pastors and church leaders who are not satisfied simply to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. They are serious about doing the Word. Not all of them are five-point Calvinists. But few if any of them are alarmed by the second CR, because they recognize that at the heart of this movement is not a desire to “Calvinize” the SBC, but to “Christianize” it. You read that correctly. The great problem with many churches in the Southern Baptist Convention is not that they are not Calvinistic enough, but that it is not Christian enough.

Either Christ is Lord of the church, or He is not. If He is, then local churches have no choice but to follow His clear teaching about how churches are to function. Historically, Baptists have been champions of this principle and have been the vanguard of advocating regenerate church membership and church discipline. The sad but incontrovertible fact is that most Southern Baptist churches give only lip service to these teachings of Christ, if they regard them at all.

That is why your next pastor should not only be an inerrantist, but a Calvinist, because if he is, then, as Tom Nettles points out in his article, several doctrinal and spiritual benefits will attend his ministry. It is also why we should rejoice over the rising generation of pastors and leaders–men like Christian George–who are unwilling simply to thump their Bibles but are deadly serious about believing and following it in their churches. They are not impressed by the trappings of biblical Christianity. They want the real deal, and are willing to pursue that reality and authenticity with joy and abandon.

Reformation is underway. Pray that the Lord will continue to stoke the smoldering embers and fan the flames that are beginning to burn brightly once again in our SBC Zion.