Here’s what I mean. I’ll give you two examples from today.
Rod Martin today tweeted, “We all know that the leaders of the SBC would’ve kicked Spurgeon straight out of the convention. We all know that’s true because it’s the modern-day downgrade” in hashtag. Modern-day downgrade. That’s an accusation. You’re characterizing, I guess, everybody in leadership at the SBC by asserting their feelings about Charles Spurgeon and about his beliefs during the downgrade controversy in England. And you’re making those assertions with no evidence whatsoever.
So a second example would be, this is self-serving, but Tom Buck today tweeted and screenshotted something that Dave Miller said about denying booth space to Founders. Tom’s very effective at making accusations without making accusations, saying, “I wonder if Bart Barber agrees with his good friend, Dave Miller about this.” Again, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever. It’s just a guilt by association thing. That passes for reasonable conversation about our cooperative work.
Do I know every detail about how to bring everybody together? I don’t think I have the plan in place yet that solves all of that. The fruit of the Spirit and the work of Jesus in people’s hearts would go a long, long way. But a starting place would be to have an agreed-upon standard. Before you say everybody would kick out Spurgeon, or before you insinuate because Bart Barber has relationships with these, here’s what he would do.
A professor of mine in school, James Leo Garrett, always said, “You are not ready to debate anyone about anything until you can state their point of view so well that they say, ‘Yes, that’s what I believe.’ When you can do that, when you can state your opponent’s point of view in terms that they affirm, then you’re ready to start having dialogue or debate about it.” That’s a pretty high standard, but I think it’s a good one. Certainly, it’s better than no standard at all except, can I throw red meat out to people who already agree with me to get everybody worked up?
What does cooperation look like in that age of social media?
We have a statement of faith. Cooperation has to have boundaries. I’m not opposed to drawing lines. I’m not opposed to being on guard against liberal drift. But cooperation means being able to draw some lines and say, “That’s good enough,” and to allow some difference of opinion, without that.
There’s a myth afoot in the Southern Baptist Convention today that if vigilance is good, hyper-vigilance must be better. But that’s not true. Hyper-vigilance can be damaging.
So, to put in place, not just a standard of belief, but a standard for how to arrive at a standard of belief, the Baptist Faith and Message says what it says, because that’s what we could agree to, because that’s what the messengers of the convention would affirm.
If I were drawing up a statement of faith, just for me, it would be stricter than the Baptist Faith and Message because it would line up with just my beliefs, but cooperation means everybody looking and saying, “OK, I could say more by myself and my church may say more by ourselves, but this is what we could say together that we believe. It’s enough. It’s enough to give a solid theological underpinning for the work that we’re doing together, to commit to a statement of faith, to a way of operating, the Cooperative Program, is something that is the envy of everybody, except some Southern Baptists, about a way to fund this mission work that we’re doing.”
I think our polity as a convention is good. Apart from my bemoaning problems that we’re having and whatever else, I also keep trying to remind people, even though all of those problems are real. They are there. We are actually living in a golden age of Southern Baptist unity.
Far lesser problems in the 1800s would make us just split, split over whether to pay the preachers, split over the Gospel missions controversy, split over the Civil War, split with the hard shells and the Church of Christ denominations that broke off, split over populist agrarianism into kind of the landmark, what’s known today as the landmark Baptist conventions, the BMA, the ABA.