Kentucky Baptist Presidential Race and Two Visions of the SBC

Two candidates have been announced for the upcoming presidential election of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) next month. Jerry Tooley is Director of Missions in the Daviess-McClean Baptist Association in the Owensboro area. He has been an outspoken critic of the doctrines of grace and of Southern Baptists who believe those doctrines. In fact, he has worked diligently to prevent at least one very loving, evangelistic, growing Southern Baptist church in Owensboro from becoming a member of the D-MBA because he does not like their commitment to the doctrines of grace.

Tooley announced that he was running for the KBC because he thinks that he is the man with enough “gumption” and “brass” to stand up “for what’s right and true” and to “stand up and say something for folks who are in the pew.” Further, Tooley makes it clear that in doing so he intends to stand against The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

You can listen to an excerpt of his campaign announcement here.

Kevin Smith is the other candidate that Kentucky Baptists have to consider for the office of president. He is teaching pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville and assistant professor of preaching at Southern Seminary.

Smith has stated that, if elected, he would like to be an encouragement to Kentucky Baptist pastors and Christian workers. The Western Recorder quotes him as saying:

I think Kentucky Baptists are blessed with a wonderful Mission Board staff and some enthusiastic directors of missions, and other pastors in our associations. If elected, I would like to spend my time encouraging pastors to make sure they have healthy relationships to strengthen them as they deal with the challenges of ministry….Specifically, I want to make sure they are aware of resources God has provided for them, in our Mission Board, our associations, and other pastors.

These two candidates represent two very different visions of Kentucky Baptist life and ministry: one that arises from a sense of antagonism toward Southern Seminary and what Tooley calls “high-falutin new stuff” that he thinks is opposed to the belief that “whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The other vision is rooted in a sense of brotherhood and a desire to serve Kentucky Baptists, without any sense of suspicion of or opposition to those who might not agree fully on every doctrinal point that Smith personally holds.

In this sense the approaches of Tooley and Smith to the upcoming KBC presidential election provide in microcosm an example of two very different visions and spirits that live in the broader Southern Baptist Convention. By God’s grace, the spirit of suspicion and antagonism seems to be diminishing while the spirit of brotherhood and cooperation seems to be growing. I, for one, am happy to see this trajectory and pray that it will continue among all Southern Baptists of goodwill. The challenges we face in our declining culture are too great and the time we have to meet them is too short not to stand together with all who are clear on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, we may disagree on some points in our understanding of exactly how that gospel works. But as we engage in fraternal debates on those issues, we cannot afford to let them divide us or distract us from the great work of proclaiming that gospel to a lost and dying world.