Decline of State Baptist Papers

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Baptist Press released a story today documenting the decline of state Baptist papers. The story confirms what many have suspected for the last several years. Southern Baptists are not relying on “official news sources” for their information about denominational issues as much as they did in years past. The reality is that many subscription-based print media are facing a declining readership in the wake of the ubiquity of the internet. That, coupled with the fact that we are living a post-denominational world does not bode well for the future of state Baptist papers whose editors view their main purpose in terms of promoting a denominational agenda.

Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist and executive director of the Association of State Baptist Papers made this astute observation:

State Baptist papers are still searching for the reason they exist.

Why do state Baptist papers exist? What purpose do they serve and what will be their purpose five years from now?

One hundred years ago Baptist papers did not have this kind of identity crisis. J. B. Gambrell, the great early 2oth century Texas Baptist statesman, served as editor of the Baptist Standard in the latter years of his life. He was never uncertain about the responsibilities of his paper. When Crozier Seminary started succumbing to modernism Gambrell wrote that it had become a “hotbed of radical destructive heresy.” After he received criticism for expressing himself so plainly on this question, Gambrell defended his actions by explaining his perspective on the “duty of the Baptist press” in a 1913 editorial. He wrote:

Of course, the press should be duly cautious, but it should be duly loyal and courageous, too. If the press will speak out our schools can be and will be saved from the influences which have blighted religion in some parts of the world as the boll weevil have blasted the cotton fields of the South where they have gone. The denominational press can save our churches from what drove Spurgeon from the larger Baptist fellowship of England. The Baptist press can save unity of the Baptists of America by faithfulness. That the attacks on the integrity of the scriptures and on the belief of Baptists will result in divisions is as certain as predestination. It is not a pleasant work Baptist papers are called to, but it is unspeakably important.

Caution, loyalty and courage. Combining these qualities in the right proportion is a challenge that any denominational news organization faces. That is true not only for the “official” sources of Baptist news, but also for the increasingly popular blogs that offer commentary on Baptist life. When the Scriptures or Baptist principles are under attack–either wittingly or unwittingly–then those who are genuinely loyal to the Baptist cause must cautiously yet courageously expose and resist those attacks.

As Gambrell noted, that is not a pleasant task, but it is vitally important.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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