Inerrancy, Pragmatism, and Why I am Voting for Mike Stone for President of the SBC
I have been asked this question numerous times over the last few months. Usually it is attached to another question like this, “Since Al Mohler shares your reformed theology, why aren’t you voting for him?” Here is my answer to the first question: I am voting for Mike Stone because he is the best man for the job. Period. He is a humble, honest, courageous pastor. He bears the burden of shepherding a local church and so has the immediate accountability of that week-by-week responsibility (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). He also has the ultimate responsibility of one day standing before God to give an account for his efforts (Hebrews 13:17). Furthermore, he understands the challenges facing us today and is unafraid to address them directly in order to encourage biblical fidelity throughout the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Since my days as a seminary student I have been concerned for the health of the SBC. In 1981 I wrote a letter to the Baptist Standard protesting the Dallas Baptist Association’s Director of Missions’ (as they were called in those days) proposal to have Southern Baptist churches include a “reverter clause” into their legal documents granting the local association all of the assets of a church if the church ever ceases to be Southern Baptist. That struck me as pure pragmatism and a violation of local church autonomy, which is a cherished Baptist principle.
So is regenerate church membership, which I have also contended for over the last three decades. Church rolls that are filled with people who give no signs of being born again have been a constant in my life in the SBC. Today we have around 14 million members in our 47,000 churches. On any given Sunday no more than one-third to one-half even care enough to show up for a worship service. Sherlock Holmes himself couldn’t find the other half to two-thirds. Why is that? Again, the answer is pragmatism. Southern Baptists have learned how to sign doctrinal statements and theoretically affirm inerrancy while reverting to the ways of the world when it comes to “getting things done.”
Once I got clear on the issues (thank you, Drs. Tom Nettles and the late Huber Drumwright), I became an avid supporter of the conservative resurgence (CR) within the SBC in the 1980s and 1990s. As our seminaries and agencies began to be led by unashamed inerrantists, I rejoiced, even though most of those inerrantists strongly disagreed with my own reformed understanding of salvation. The intramural debates (that at times became more caustic than constructive) that followed in the wake of the CR demonstrated that inerrantist Southern Baptists had some significant disagreements. Often—too often—we allowed those differences to obscure the essential beliefs that we held in common.
As reformed theology gained more and more acceptance in increasingly wider spheres of SBC life, I became increasingly encouraged. Al Mohler, an admitted Calvinist, became the leading voice on cultural issues in the SBC from his post as President of Southern Seminary. Danny Akin, his protégé, took the helm of Southeastern Seminary. Though he has clearly said he is not a Calvinist, he has recognized the legitimacy of Calvinistic soteriology. Then Russell Moore, (also a protégé of Mohler) was appointed the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He was a Calvinist before he wasn’t, but through his theological mutations he seemed always at least to respect the doctrines of grace.
Those three men are among the most prominent SBC leaders over the last decade. I could add other names of key SBC leaders who rose to positions of influence and who were and/or are reformed or “reformedish.” Suffice it to say that by the time the second decade of the 21st century was in full-swing, I was filled with wonder and praise to God for what I believed to be the healthiest days of the SBC in my lifetime. Little did I know what was lurking beneath the surface.
What was lurking? To answer that is to answer why I am not voting for Al Mohler. Underneath the faddish Calvinism that ran through the SBC and broader evangelical world in the early 21st century is the same old pragmatism that has guided most Southern Baptist leaders and many churches since the middle of the last century. In other words, the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” movement has proven to be comprised of many who are no less pragmatic than the non-reformed forebears who led the inerrancy efforts.
It seems that pragmatism—that whatever works is right, good, and true—is no respecter of soteriological convictions. When Western culture was less antagonistic to Christianity, as it was at the turn of the 21stcentury, pragmatic inerrantists could carry on with their theoretical commitments without much difficulty. That is, the lack of deep, costly, bedrock convictions rooted in God’s Word was not readily exposed. Cultural Christianity provided something of a buffer for their superficiality. Sure, their churches were still filled with unconverted members, but no one was seducing them to believe that the measure of a woman’s worth is a man, or vice versa. Nor were they likely to be convinced that sin and righteousness could be measured in terms of “whiteness” and “blackness.” Cultural winds simply were not blowing very strongly in those directions.
During that time I, for one—though I believe that I am far from alone in this—simply trusted our leaders when they trumpeted their doctrinal convictions for all to hear. I was particularly hopeful since many of those leaders were reformed or at least reformed friendly. They were unhesitatingly signing the Baptist Faith and Message, Abstract of Principles, Danvers Statement, and Nashville Statement. I knew these men. I loved them. I trusted them. So, I didn’t pay much attention to cultural changes. In retrospect, I should have.
But as the outer bands of the post-modern and Critical Theory Category 5 hurricane began to move in, it became increasingly obvious that those known, loved, and trusted leaders were not going to stand firm in the evil day. Indeed, some of them welcomed the coming tempest as a needed cleansing from the SBC’s wicked yet indelible racism, misogyny, and heteronormativity.
A few of my friends recognized what was going on long before I did but I was slow to see it. Only after many conversations and much reading, listening, meditation, and prayer did I begin to get my mind around what was happening. Slowly, I began to realize that the leaders I had counted on for years (both within and without the SBC) were failing to do their jobs.
In 2017-18 as I got my mind around the seriousness of the rise of what I started calling a new religion, I reached out to several leaders whom I had trusted for years, including Al Mohler & Danny Akin. I pled with them to get involved in addressing the issues of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality (CRT/I)—not merely in an academic way from a 30,000 foot view, but practically, at ground level where our church members live. Each time I was rebuffed.
After that, with the blessing of my fellow elders and church, I started entering more publicly and directly into the fray. In 2018 I wrote several articles and helped with the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. In 2019 Founders Ministries hosted four conferences exposing the new pagan religion and addressing the issues related to Critical Social Justice:
- Do Justice—Love Kindness—Walk Humbly
- The Gospel and Justice
- Mature Manhood in an Immature Age
- The Law and the Gospel
Along with these and despite much pressure to prevent it, we released a documentary that has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of churches, called By What Standard? God’s World…God’s Rules, which explains the godless ideologies of CRT/I and demonstrates how they are infiltrating the evangelical world, including the SBC. In addition to all this we produced hundreds of articles, podcasts, and interviews trying to educate God’s people on the rise of the new religion. My Associate Pastor, Jared Longshore, and I even wrote a book about it called Strong and Courageous.
In the process, what I learned over the period from 2017-2021, is that not only were the leaders that I and others had counted on for years to address and refute threats to evangelical churches not doing so in the face of the new religion, many of them were complicit in what was happening. This has been documented many times over the last few years but for a concise summary of the failure of many current SBC leaders, see Mark DeVine’s excellent article, “Has the Un-Wokening of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Evangelical Industrial Complex Begun in Earnest?”
Here is the bottom line: The SBC is in a mess because pastors like me have failed in our duty as shepherds of the churches we have been called to serve and protect. We must repent deeply and sincerely for not being alert sooner to the dangers to God’s people. Part of our failure—at least mine—involves putting too much confidence in the leaders of the SBC and counting on them to sound any alarms in the face of real threats. I am willing to own my own responsibility for this mess (and have repented for it), but it is equally true that our SBC leaders have been derelict in their duties to lead. A case in point is the passage of the disastrous Resolution 9 in the 2019 at annual SBC meeting. SBC leaders—including seminary presidents—were in the room, silently watching the proceedings.
The result of our collective failure of leadership is that we now see the inroads and impact of the new religion in the SBC. Its evangelists have very effectively discipled many in our churches. Those disciples, who consider themselves “woke,” zealously promote the law of the new religion, better known as the tenets of CRT/I.
I believe we need new leaders across the board in the SBC. We do not need to be led by anyone who has been complicit in allowing the new religion into our ranks in any way. We especially do not need to be led by anyone who welcomes its tenets while thinking that that doing so is virtuous. What we need is a godly pastor who will stand firm against the rising paganism and call on all Southern Baptists to unite in not only affirming the inerrancy of Scripture but also in actually following the dictates of God’s Word regardless of cost or consequences.
Mike Stone is that man.