On its surface, the contest for Southern Baptist Convention president appears to be about passing the baton. Steve Gaines is 58. He is the pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in metro Memphis, an old-school megachurch whose pulpit Adrian Rogers commanded for more than three decades. From that post, Rogers helped engineer the conservative resurgence in the SBC. Gaines, likewise, is committed to conservative theology in the Rogers mould, a traditionalist on evangelism, the need for personal commitment to Christ in salvation, and the commonly held Baptist soteriology of the past century. Gaines is a product of Southwestern Seminary whose president, Paige Patterson, was a chief engineer in the conservative resurgence, and who at 73 is a leading example of altar-call style, personal commitment evangelism.
J. D. Greear, at 42, represents the new wave. His, too, is a megachurch, built in his 14 years as pastor. The Summit Church is contemporary. Its attenders are younger than the average Southern Baptist congregation, and their theology learned from Greear is more reformed. Greear speaks to the crowd identified in Collin Hansen’s book of the same title as “young, restless, and reformed.” He is often a headliner at events for younger Southern Baptists. Greear holds two degrees, both from Southeastern Seminary.
Yes, this election may appear to be about the passing of boomers and the ascendance of Gen-X and Millennials to top leadership in the convention. But more important, it’s about theology and the breadth of the SBC tent. The denomination took a decided step to the right when Patterson, Rogers, and the leaders of the 1970’s and 80’s planted a firm stake for biblical inerrancy and social conservatism. But the convention has continued inching right as a generation of pastors inspired by Southern Seminary president Al Mohler and other reform theologians assumes leadership. The outcome of this election will say whether people in the pews are moving with them.
Messengers will elect a new Southern Baptist Convention president at the SBC Annual Meeting June14-15 in St. Louis, MO.
Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.