Southern Baptists Need Leaders who Aren’t Embarrassed of the Book
We Baptists are people of the Book. But when it comes to matters of great concern in our cultural context, we too often are reticent to reference the Scriptures clearly. We have allowed our sensibilities to be shaped by the world rather than the Word. By failing to put on the full armor of God, we make ourselves weak, open to attack. It is time for Southern Baptists to nail our colors to the mast.
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000—our common statement of belief—says it well when it calls Scripture “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” We are told in 2 Timothy 3:17 that Scripture makes the man of God “complete, equipped for every good work.” Scripture always has the final word and remains a sufficient basis for living out a faithful Christian life. Being anchored to the truths revealed in Scripture means that we can be stable and confident in moments of cultural convulsion like we are facing now.
That’s why it is so befuddling to see many Christians—even many Baptists—acting as if we didn’t have Scripture to stand upon. While we may be happy to speak boldly about parts of Scripture that synch up with modern sensibilities, we whisper about parts of Scripture that upset our modern sensibilities. I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that many Baptists are reticent to use Scripture because we are embarrassed of it.
Consider a few recent examples:
Critical Theory: It’s Scripture, not secular theory, that teaches us the truth about human nature. All humans are made in the image of God, possessing intrinsic worth and dignity as well as individual moral agency (Gen.1:26-27). But we are all also fallen and sinful (Rom. 3:23). The most fundamental division among humanity, then, is not between classes or races, but between those who are who are in open rebellion to God, and those who have been reconciled to Him through Christ (Rom. 5:12, 1 Cor. 5:21). Critical Theory, and other pernicious postmodern ideologies, are inconsistent with these bedrock truths. Even worse, they destroy the unity that believers already have in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). Sadly, recent years have shown that the SBC seems unwilling to clearly condemn these corrosive teachings, even as school districts and some Christian colleges around the country find the courage to do so. Despite my best efforts, Convention leadership has generally opposed revisiting the disastrous Resolution 9 on Critical Race Theory, passed in 2019. But given the destructive capability of all critical theories, we cannot afford to equivocate. We must continue to press the issue through resolutions and motions to ensure that CRT, intersectionality, queer theory, etc., are clearly rejected by the SBC. These unbiblical worldviews must have no home in our pulpits, in our seminaries, or on the mission field.
God’s Design for Men and Women: Scripture could not be clearer about God’s design for men and women within the Church. The BFM is similarly clear: “The office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” And yet, we see some churches within our convention acting as functional egalitarians—all while still claiming to still hold to complementarianism. Rather than seeking to submit to God’s design in a comprehensive fashion, some church leaders seem more focused on how they can downplay scriptural teaching as much as possible without denying it outright. We need to push for greater clarity in the SBC regarding how the teachings of Scripture and the BFM must be practiced in the local church context.
LGBT Affirmation: We see similar trends in approaches to the LGBT related issues and the question of “same sex attraction” (SSA) in the church. Two successive SBC Presidents have preached the same sermon about how the Bible “whispers” about sexual sin when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Bible calls certain sexual sins “abominations” and makes clear that they are special proofs of God’s judgment on those who have rejected God (Rom. 1:18-32). We’ve seen misguided attempts to deny the fact that disordered desires are themselves sinful; all coming at a time when forces in our culture grow increasingly bold in their push for acceptance of sexual immorality of all kinds. This is not a time for flinching. Not when we see the likes of Disney pushing toxic transgender ideology on children, and even school teachers trying to influence them to make permanent, irreparable decisions. Our consciences must be formed by Scripture in these matters—both in how we speak to those in the world and those in the church. Love of our neighbors (and their children) requires that we speak out with a clear, loud, prophetic voice.
Abortion: Scripture is clear than the unborn baby is a human person. As such, we are grateful for the prospect that the unjust regime of Roe v. Wade is about to end. After its demise states will be tasked with implementing just legislation to protect the unborn, and the SBC will have a voice to help shape these new laws. Last summer, the SBC messengers spoke clearly by passing the strongest pro-life resolution in our history. In it we affirmed that biblical justice requires the equal protection of the unborn. That’s why it was so shocking to see, just last month, the ERLC put its name on a letter that helped to sink a bill in Louisiana that would have done just that. If we say that we believe an unborn baby is a human person deserving all the rights and protections of a born person, as we did as messengers in 2021, we cannot have rogue entities condemning laws that take that proposition seriously.
It’s Time for the SBC to be Culturally Uncompromising. I could go on. But those four examples are sufficient to show how the SBC, often at a leadership level, has a “biblical embarrassment” problem. We are embarrassed of the teachings of the Scripture. Brothers and sisters, it should not be this way. The word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword and will not return void. But if we muzzle ourselves out of a misplaced desire to placate the culture, how we can expect the Word to have that effect? The SBC doesn’t need the platform or entity leaders to act as PR professionals, trying to manage tough aspects of God’s word. Instead, we should all follow in the footsteps of the faithful pastors and members in the pews who aim to act in obedience as heralds of our King—boldly proclaiming His message to a dying world. And if elected as your next president, that’s exactly how I plan to lead.
Tom Ascol is the senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and President of Founders Ministries and the Institute of Public Theology. He is a candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention.