Archives For JD Greear

Our differences are theological and generational—and growing.

Wittenberg Doors

Nailing his 95 theses to it on October 31, 1517, disgruntled monk Martin Luther made the church door at Wittenberg a famous 16th-century landmark, and a modern-day tourist attraction.

Five hundred years after Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation with his publicly posted list of grievances against Catholic church leaders and practices, to say the movement made a lasting impact on Christians of all stripes is a gross understatement.

Southern Baptists have certainly been shaped by the doctrines of the Reformation, but the question of just how Reformed we are has created a growing divide in the denomination. As Christians worldwide celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, Southern Baptists continue to wrestle with how deeply we will be people of the Reformation in the next hundred years or two.

In his 2017 book on the Reformation, Alec Ryrie wrote that “like all great revolutions, it had created a new world.” And, like all revolutions, the Reformation has come with its own set of growing pains. Over 500 years, believers and non-believers have struggled with the tenets of the Reformers, leading to the formation of many Christian denominations, and differing strains even within those groups.

Baptists have roots in the Reformation, but often hold with varying degrees of conviction to the five points of doctrine most closely associated with Reformed theology, or Calvinism.

In the past decade, the debate over theology in the Southern Baptist Convention has found a new home: Blogs have given voice to proponents of Calvinism, and also to those who consider their soteriological views to be more traditionally Southern Baptist. The two streams hold separate meetings and conferences, but also gather annually at the Southern Baptist Convention, and have pledged to focus on the primary issues of evangelism and the Great Commission, rather than letting secondary issues divide them.

But exactly what that looks like is unclear, as is how the theological debate in the Convention will ultimately affect Southern Baptist churches. With baptisms trending downward, the questions of why and how and when we do evangelism, and what we say when we do it, have never felt more important.

As Alabama pastor Eric Hankins told the Illinois Baptist, “The controversy (over Reformed theology in the SBC) isn’t driven by pragmatic issues of working together. It’s driven by the growing realization that the two soteriological systems are incompatible.

“Should I want to share the gospel [along] with someone who thinks I have a deficient view of the nature of conversion? We’re going to have to articulate very specifically why we want to continue to work together when we believe very different things, or one side is going to have to make some adjustments in its doctrine.”

Judging from the proliferation of passionate theological arguments shared over the past decade, that’s unlikely.

Diagnosing the divides
“I am not a Calvinist,” Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines wrote in an e-mail exchange earlier this year. Yet Gaines, pastor of a Tennessee megachurch, leads a denomination that most admit is increasingly Calvinistic in its leadership, if not in its pews.

“Without question, Calvinism is increasing in the SBC. How will that affect the SBC in the years to come? I don’t know,” Gaines said in the e-mail interview with Kyle Gulledge, editor of the blog SBC Today.

“I am not a Calvinist. I believe God loves everybody the same, Jesus died for everybody the same, and that anyone can be saved….If someone hears the gospel and is not saved, it is because they chose to reject Christ, not because God chose not elect them to salvation,” Gaines said.

“Many Calvinists would have a problem with what I just said. Yet, I am convinced that what I just said represents the prevailing theological beliefs of the majority of Southern Baptist laypeople.”

Gaines’ words are echoed in the principles that bond Connect316, a group of Southern Baptist pastors and leaders who organized in 2013 around what they called a “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding of salvation theology. At the recent Connect316 meeting in Phoenix, Hankins pointed to the influence of Calvinism in the SBC over the past 25 years, noting, “It’s clear that traditionalists, even though we are the theological majority in the SBC, are the minority in terms of leadership and influence in the convention.”

Much of that influence emanates from SBC seminaries, including arguably the most influential Southern Baptist Calvinist, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Many credit him with facilitating the rise of Calvinism in the denomination. And two of his former staff at Southern are now leading SBC seminaries as well, Danny Akin, president of Southeastern, and Midwestern President Jason Allen.

Together, three of the six SBC seminaries have schooled a generation of pastors in the Reformed perspective. The question is whether any of the remaining three will shift their theological slant when new leadership takes office.

In 2006, Mohler sat down with another seminary president to publicly discuss the growing theological divide in the SBC. Paige Patterson, 74, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a non-Calvinist, was Mohler’s foil in two standing-room only sessions during the Pastors’ Conference in Greensboro,

Baptist Press’ reporting on the conversation between Mohler and Patterson emphasizes both men’s congeniality toward one another, despite their clear theological differences. “This is a conversation among close friends,” Mohler said. Each warned those who would agree with them against vilifying the other side.

“I would caution my non-Calvinist brethren against the conclusion that the doctrine of Calvin automatically means that a person will not and cannot be evangelistic,” Patterson said. “…One of the commands that the Lord gives is to take the gospel to the ends of earth. No Calvinist worthy of his stripe would thereby disobey a command of God.”

Mohler urged Calvinists to remember their first priority. “It is not healthy to have a person who will drive across the state to debate Calvinism but won’t even drive across the street to share the gospel.”

The seminary presidents pointed in 2006 to the key area of impact for today’s theological debate: evangelism.

Multiple views

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines (left) and other SBC leaders addressed several denominational issues, including theological differences, during a panel discussion at June’s annual meeting in Phoenix. With Gaines, panelists are (left to right) Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, ERLC President Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Texas pastor Matt Chandler, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Executive Director Kevin Smith, and moderator Jedediah Coppenger.

Competing views on salvation
The level of debate intensified in the years leading up to 2012. Just before the 2012 SBC annual meeting, a group of Southern Baptists released “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” Primarily authored by Hankins, the document lays out “traditional” Southern Baptist understanding on salvation, and calls out some “New Calvinists” for trying to establish their position as “the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.”

In its 10 articles, the statement addresses points of doctrine affirmed by traditionalists, and others they reject. For instance, on the election to salvation, the traditionalist statement says, “We affirm that, in reference to salvation, election speaks of God’s eternal, gracious, and certain plan in Christ to have a people who are his by repentance and faith.

“We deny that election means that, from eternity, God predestined certain people for salvation and others for condemnation.”

Mohler, responding to the statement, said it was time for the two sides to come together and talk. “May God save us from dividing into tribes, even as we gladly and eagerly talk with one another about the doctrines we cherish, and especially when we discuss the doctrines on which we may disagree.”

The traditionalist statement set the stage for a potentially contentious annual meeting in New Orleans, the very year that the Convention was set to take an historic step.

Trying to find common ground
“Calvin’s been around 500 years, and we have to debate this now?” SBC President Fred Luter winningly joked about the SBC theological debate on a visit to Illinois in 2013, nearly a year after he was elected the denomination’s first African American president. “Why do you guys want to do this on my watch?”

Luter’s good-natured handling of the debate surrounding theology was mostly mirrored at the New Orleans convention, as speakers from the podium urged unity despite differences. Messengers approved a resolution on the “sinner’s prayer,” affirming it as a biblical expression of repentance and faith. And that fall, SBC Executive Committee

President Frank Page appointed a Calvinism study committee to come to a consensus—of sorts—as to how Baptists could work together despite theological differences.

Prior to the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston in 2013, the Calvinism study committee released its report. In it, the group, which included Calvinists and non-Calvinists, wrote about what principles ought to govern theological conversation within the SBC, and detailed specific points of doctrine.

The report also included specific suggestions for Baptists operating within the theological tension, like how candidates for ministry positions (and the search committees interviewing them) ought to be “fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine.”

Mohler and Hankins had a public conversation about their experience on the study committee in the fall of 2013, modeling for seminarians at Mohler’s institution how to have a dialogue about areas of disagreement. When the conversation turned to evangelism, Mohler used the example of John Wesley and George Whitefield—leaders who had different soteriological views, but who shared the gospel the same way, he said.

“I think we can mislead not only others but ourselves in thinking that we have to have an absolutely common unified soteriology in order to tell people about Jesus because, if so, Southern Baptists would have had to stop doing common missions a very long time ago,” Mohler said.

Their conversation also touched on some of the more personal fallouts of the debate, with Hankins confessing that he as a traditionalist had been made to feel like his soteriology was deficient, or that he was dangerous.

Mohler countered that because they disagree, he does indeed find Hankins’ soteriological views deficient (to laughter from the audience), but not deficient enough to disallow missional cooperation.

“I would not want to be in cooperation with someone who’s soteriology I felt was deficient in a way that harmed the gospel and made common evangelism and missions impossible….If I felt that your soteriology was deficient in any way such as that, this isn’t the kind of conversation we’d be having.”

Castle at Wittenberg

Inside the castle at Wittenberg on a Reformation tour (right), Southern Seminary President Al Mohler preaches in the chapel where Luther regularly spoke.

Igniting evangelistic fire in both camps
The 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas could be the next time the theology debate is poised to make an impact on Southern Baptist life. Gaines will complete his second and final one-year term as president, and could nominate North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear for the office. Gaines mentioned that prospect in 2016, after Greear withdrew his candidacy to prevent a second run-off election between the two.

At the 2017 annual meeting in Phoenix, Gaines confirmed the account, but declined to speak further because he and Greear haven’t discussed it since, according to the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.

Prior to the 2016 convention, Gaines and Greear were viewed as representative of different parts of the SBC: Gaines, then 58, is by his own admission “not a Calvinist.” Greear, then 43, represents a generation that has increasingly embraced Reformed theology. Before Gaines’ election in St. Louis, The Christian Post online newspaper said in a headline, “SBC votes today on whether Millennial Reformed theology represents the future.”

In the end, unity and a cooperative spirit won out. The candidates met, each seeking a way to avoid division, and both volunteered to step aside before Greear ultimately convinced Gaines to accept his concession.

In 2018, should Greear be nominated and elected, he would be the first of his generation of Reformed thinkers to hold the office of SBC president. He also would have the responsibility that all SBC presidents hold to name the Committee on Committees, which names the Committee on Nominations, which nominates trustees for SBC boards. Gaines recently outlined that process, in answer to a question by SBC Today about how everyday Southern Baptists can have a voice in SBC life.

“If ‘the grass-roots, mom-and-pop Southern Baptist members’ want their voice to be heard, they need to elect SBC presidents that will appoint SBC Committee on Committee members who will appoint people who share their convictions,” Gaines said. “They should attend every SBC annual meeting and vote for the SBC president who will best represent their views.”

Gaines has made prayer and evangelism the markers of his presidency. At the June annual meeting in Phoenix, he encouraged all Southern Baptists to focus on evangelism, “regardless of their doctrinal convictions on the matter,” Baptist Press reported.

“Our world is going straight to hell and we need to be one in telling people about Jesus and not letting these secondary things divide us,” Gaines said during a panel discussion hosted by Baptist21, a network of younger Baptist leaders.

He has appointed a soul-winning task force to reverse the trend of declining baptisms and to renew evangelism in the denomination. Greear is part of the team.

“The main thing we can do to go forward is to focus on winning people to Jesus Christ,” Gaines said in Phoenix.

“If you’re a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist, you don’t know who’s lost and who’s saved. I would just say if you’re going to be a Calvinist be a Spurgeon Calvinist, and let’s go out and tell people about Jesus Christ. The bottom line is this: we’re supposed to ask people to repent and believe in the gospel.”

– By Meredith Flynn with reporting by Baptist Press

61222word_cloud

We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.

– The Editors

SBC candidates: Unity matters

What the U.S. presidential election may have lacked in civility, the 2016 election for Southern Baptist Convention President more than made up for in grace. When a close vote forced a run-off between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear, the election seemed poised to divide Baptists over matters of theology and generation.

Instead, the candidates talked the night before the third vote was to be taken, and one bowed out, urging his supporters to vote for his opponent.

“It’s time for us to step up and get involved, to keep pushing forward and engaging in the mission with those who have gone before us,” North Carolina pastor Greear posted in support of Tennessee pastor Gaines. “It’s time to look at what unites us.”

On paper, this decade’s SBC presidents are a diverse bunch, not united by much in terms of their backgrounds and interests:

  • Atlanta-area pastor Bryant Wright (2010-2012), who recently spoke out in favor of ministering to refugees
  • Dynamic New Orleans preacher Fred Luter (2012-2014), elected as the SBC’s first ever African American president
  • Ronnie Floyd (2014-2016), pastor of a multi-site church in Arkansas and a prolific blogger who led the denomination toward a laser-like focus on prayer
  • And Gaines, elected in 2016, who has espoused traditional Baptist theology and his own intense focus on evangelism.

What does unite them is a logical progression in the things they have called Baptists toward: For Wright, it was a return to Great Commission principles. Luter’s presidency was marked by impassioned pleas for spiritual awakening and revival. And Floyd called Southern Baptists to their knees—for themselves, their churches, the denomination, the nation, and the world.

Gaines announced he will continue the emphasis on prayer at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix. It may be a sign that the desire for unity, despite differences in age, theological perspective, and communication style, is actually, in Greear’s words, “what unites us.”

A new missions paradigm

After a season in which budget shortfalls and personnel cuts seemed to limit the future potential for Baptist missions engagement around the world, International Mission Board President David Platt continued to preach a message to the contrary.

“Limitless” is the word Platt has used to describe the mission force needed to take the gospel to places without it. To achieve that goal, he has said, the SBC has to think differently about missions and missionaries than we have in the past.

“Let me be crystal clear: the IMB is still going to send full-time, fully-funded career missionaries just like we’ve always sent,” Platt said during his report at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “They are the priceless, precious, critical core of our mission force.”

But the IMB’s emerging strategy is to put around those missionaries a “limitless” force of students, retirees, and professionals—people who, to borrow Platt’s words, are willing to leverage their jobs and lives so that more might hear and respond to the gospel.

The newly redesigned IMB website reflects the strategy, with buttons for people in a variety of categories to search for opportunities overseas. There are needs for business consultants, healthcare professionals, construction engineers, and more. The IMB also offers training resources for churches to equip and mobilize members for missions, both short-term and longer.

Global mission “is not just for a select few people in the church, but for multitudes of Spirit-filled men and women across the church,” Platt said in St. Louis.

A year ago, when hundreds of IMB missionaries moved back home, the chances of getting the gospel to some of the world’s darkest places seemed dimmer. Now, with a strategy focused on everyday people like the ones who sparked a gospel fire in the New Testament, the opportunities seem endless. Or, limitless.

If I had a hammer

We’ll hear it a lot in the new year. On Halloween night in 1517, disgruntled priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 complaints on the church door in Wittenberg and started an ecclesial revolution. We’re likely to hear about it from all corners, including events at our seminaries, panels at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, and bus tours of Germany. And we may have a few serious discussions about the theological direction of the SBC. Look for Reformation@500 in the pages of the Illinois Baptist throughout 2017.

Read Cloudy with a chance of surprises, pt. 1

Greear Floyd Gaines2

JD Greear, Ronnie Floyd, and Steve Gaines.

There are three winners at the conclusion of the SBC presidential race: Steve Gaines takes the position and the responsibility; J.D. Greear takes the mantel as most Christ-like, and Southern Baptists leave St. Louis unified behind a single presidential candidate.

Greear’s action, withdrawing his name from the race after two ballots failed to produce a winner, was a first for longtime observers of the convention. Greear guaranteed two things: many of his supporters who are young and are new to SBC life are more likely stay engaged if they do not feel pushed out by the older, traditional constituency Gaines represents. And Greear guaranteed himself a place in SBC leadership for decades to come.

Would anyone be surprised if Greear ran unopposed in 2018? The 50% of SBC messengers who had backed Gaines could easily support in the next election the young man who did the very mature thing.

Deferring to the older candidate is indeed a mature move. And, in this case, it’s wise.

Both Greear and Gaines cited the need for unity in the denomination in this decision. “For the sake of our convention and our mission, we need to leave St. Louis united,” Greear said.

Gaines said he, too, had considered withdrawing. He quoted a close friend who said to him after the first day of the annual meeting, “We’re in a mess, aren’t we.” After two ballots, Gaines was still four votes short of a majority, because 108 ballots were disqualified by improper markings. Messengers at the best-attended convention in a decade or more were split right down the middle.

“It’s tricky,” Greear joked as he stepped to the podium to make his announcement, referring to a rap music video produced by a member of his church that some had construed as endorsements by several SBC-entity heads. The crowd laughed.

But it would be tricky to lead the denomination with the membership divided into two camps: established and traditional epitomized by Gaines, and younger and Reformed led by Greear.

For the sake of unity, Greear withdrew.

Gaines had offered to make the same move.

At 43, Greear will likely have another opportunity to be SBC president. Perhaps at 58, it is Gaines’s turn. With his mid-South megachurch platform, Gaines is likely to lead the convention in renewed evangelism, which Floyd and others have said is so vital.

And Greear has a little longer to bring his half of the SBC populace into leadership to form a new mainstream and identity, rather engage in a tug of war with the old guard over theology and tactics. “We are united by a gospel too great and a mission too urgent to let any lesser thing stand in our way,” Greear said.

The two men hugged on the platform, as Gaines was declared the winner by outgoing president Ronnie Floyd.

He could have as easily said, We all win.

– Eric Reed

Steve GainesFirst Baptist Church in O’Fallon had a guest pastor in its pulpit Sunday morning. Memphis pastor and candidate for Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines delivered the message at each of the church’s three morning worship services June 12.

The Bellevue Baptist Church pastor lamented Southern Baptist’s lack of focus on evangelism. “What’s happening in the Southern Baptist Convention is a tragedy,” Gaines declared. “We’re in a 17-year nose dive. This is unprecedented, we have more SBC churches, but fewer baptisms. If the people in those churches we’re planting aren’t evangelistic and soul-winning, we’re not going to reach this nation.”

His primary sermon text was taken from Acts 2:40-47. Gaines used Christ’s instructions for the church to exhort churches today to be more evangelistic.

He urged Southern Baptists to invite God back into their churches. “When God comes to church people start getting saved and baptized.” When people walk into a church “it doesn’t need to be dead. It ought to be alive with the power of God.”

Gaines stressed, “We should never plan a worship service to attract people. Instead, we should plan worship services that will attract the manifest presence of God – He will in turn will attract the people.”

Sharing Christ isn’t difficult he noted. “If you knew enough to get saved, you know enough to tell someone how to get saved.”

Prior to the sermon O’Fallon’s Pastor Doug Munton, who will be nominated to serve as the convention’s First Vice President at tomorrow afternoon’s meeting, introduced Gaines as his good friend. He then endorsed Gaines for Southern Baptist Convention President saying, “I’m biased, I believe Steve is the right guy, at the right place, at the right time.”

Gaines is one of three candidates who will be nominated for the job of SBC President tomorrow afternoon. David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church, New Orleans, LA, and JD Greear, pastor of the The Summit Church in Raleigh, NC, are also candidates.

 

 

 

My history attending the annual Southern Baptist Convention is not as long or as deep as many. Occasionally I meet someone who will tell me, “This is my 40th SBC,” or “I haven’t missed a convention in 25 years.”

Though my father was a pastor and then director of missions, I didn’t attend my first SBC until 1992. That year the convention came to Indianapolis, as close as it had been in many years to the Chicago suburbs where we lived. A friend from church suggested going, “because it’s rarely so close.” Indeed, the SBC would not come within 500 miles of Chicago for another 10 years. So we went and took my dad along with us.

Little did I know that only five years later I would be flying to only my second SBC in Dallas, to be voted on as a vice president with the newly formed North American Mission Board. I haven’t missed an annual SBC meeting since then. This year, Lord willing, will be 20 in a row.

If you haven’t been to the convention before, or can’t go often, this is the year.

I share this personal history to say that I really do understand why the average person may not regularly attend the annual SBC. Unless there’s a controversy or crisis of some kind, the SBC is often left primarily to professionals who have travel budgets, and pastors who may direct part of their family vacation time there. Perhaps that’s why attendance at the SBC has only topped 10,000 three times in the last 15 years. Peak attendance during the conservative resurgence of the mid-1980’s was over 40,000.

But now, let me challenge you to attend the June 14-15 SBC in St. Louis this year. As my friend said, it will be years before it’s this close to Illinois churches again. If you haven’t been before, or can’t go often, this is the year.

More importantly, this year’s elections and other actions will be significant. It was announced just last week that Illinois’ own Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist, O’Fallon, will be nominated as First Vice President. I’m really excited about that. I hope hundreds and hundreds of Illinois Baptists will be there to support this outstanding Illinois pastor for this national role.

The election for president this year also presents a significant choice between pastors with notable differences, not just in ministry experience, but in the areas of doctrinal conviction and missions cooperation. Illinois messengers will want to study these in advance of the convention, and arrive prepared to support the nominee who best represents not only their own churches’ practices and convictions, but also the direction that they feel is best for our Great Commission cooperation as Baptist churches in the future.

Normally Illinois ranks about 15th of 42 state conventions in the number of messengers it sends to the national SBC. But the last time the convention was in St. Louis (2002), Illinois ranked 5th, with 611 messengers from 193 churches. And in 1987, the previous time the SBC was in St. Louis, Illinois churches sent 1,373 messengers. Yet last year only 139 messengers from Illinois churches attended the SBC in nearby Columbus.

To encourage messengers to turn out in record numbers this year, IBSA will be hosting a reception for Illinois Baptists at the St. Louis convention center, on the Monday night following the Pastors’ Conference and just prior to the convention’s start on Tuesday morning.

Whether this year is your 40th SBC, or your very first, I hope you will make the SBC in nearby St. Louis a priority this year. What happens at the SBC is really up to folks like you and me.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

SBC_VotingWith another call to prayer for the redemption of America, another missionary commissioning, and another bunch of resolutions on national politics and the precipitous slide in our national moral values, this might appear to be another fairly predictable meeting when the Southern Baptist Convention convenes in St. Louis June 14-15.

It isn’t.

The more significant news from the convention is not likely to come from its political statements or from protests by cultural liberals outside the hall. What can be said about the run for the White House, same-sex marriage, or sexual identity that hasn’t already been said? It will be in the election of an SBC president to succeed outgoing Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd that messengers will signal a turn.

Floyd has issued a “national call to prayer for spiritual leadership” in the Tuesday evening session. Floyd is using the mid-America location to address issues at the spiritual heart of America, in particular the need for evangelism and spiritual awakening, and renewed efforts at racial reconciliation. (See “What are the three greatest challenges facing the SBC?”)

By the time of the prayer gathering, messengers will already have selected a new president—and perhaps a new direction. At this crossroads, signs point to missions funding, evangelism and theology, and the age of denominational leaders.

The most obvious turn could be generational. Only recently has the “greatest generation” of Southern Baptists handed off leadership to their children, the Baby Boomers born after World War II. The possible election of 43-year-old J.D. Greear over Steve Gaines, 58, or David Crosby, 63, would confirm the handoff to Generation X, or the Baby Busters. These younger leaders, born after 1964, have already assumed leadership of the Convention’s two missions boards.

Leaders have reported that the demographics of convention attenders have shifted younger over the past decade. The meeting isn’t as gray as it used to be, and that’s good news observers say. These younger Southern Baptists are making their presence known through Baptist 21, SEND conferences, and other venues aimed at Busters and their quickly advancing successors, the Millennials. Electing one of their own could hasten the transition.

“One of the things God has put on my heart is that my generation needs to take personal responsibility for the agencies and the mission boards of the SBC and not just think of them as the SBC’s, but think of them as ours,” said Greear in his nomination announcement.

A second turning point for the Convention is the future of the Cooperative Program. Implicit in the election of a president is endorsement of his view of CP funding for missions and Southern Baptist work, whether it is whole-hearted and longstanding, recently renewed as part of the Great Commission Resurgence, or newly embraced as one of many ways of funding missions. The three candidates for president all speak highly of the Cooperative Program, but their churches have notable differences in their historic support of CP and their current giving levels.

Crosby’s response to a question from the Illinois Baptist is enlightening: “As SBC president, I will not talk or act as if a return to the society method of supporting our cooperative work is progress.” (See “What are the three greatest challenges facing the SBC?”) At its foundation, this is what a church’s record of CP support demonstrates: Is missions giving through Cooperative Program the main way Southern Baptist churches fund missions, or rather one of many ways?

And third, simmering under the surface in this election is the role of election in salvation and the future commitment to evangelism in the SBC.

“Listen very carefully: We have criticized evangelism right out of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Floyd told the SBC Executive Committee in February. “Years ago, something happened where pastors and churches that reached and baptized people effectively came under the microscope of other Baptists who oftentimes did not have a heart for evangelism themselves. A culture of skepticism about evangelism began to creep into our Convention. Evangelism began to die.”

This culture shift was framed by some as evangelism versus discipleship. Evangelism was criticized as “easy believe-ism” while discipleship was elevated. Discussion of the “sinner’s prayer” at the 2012 Pastors’ Conference was followed by Executive Committee CEO Frank Page’s appointment of an ad hoc panel to address the rise of Reform Theology and whether Calvinists and “Traditionalists” as they were called at that time could peacefully coexist in the SBC tent.

Gaines was an outspoken supporter of the “sinner’s prayer” style of personal commitment at the time, while International Mission Board President David Platt, then pastor of Birmingham megachurch The Church at Brook Hills was critical of evangelism that emphasized acts of conversion, such as “walking the aisle” at church, over discipleship of new believers that emphasizes personal recognition of God’s call and sovereignty in their salvation.

This election brings up that question again. Gaines and Crosby have traditional views on evangelism and conversion, while Greear’s theology is Reform. The church Greear pastors is evangelistic, baptizing 928 in 2014, but it is also active in the Acts 29 Network of church planting, which expects its members to hold Reform views. And of the three candidates, Greear has the greatest support among the rising group of younger, Reformed pastors in the SBC.

These three issues—and the candidates holding different views on them—stand before Southern Baptists at the crossroads.

– Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist

The Illinois Baptist editors asked the SBC Presidential candidates this question: What are the three greatest challenges facing the SBC? Here are their replies:

David CrosbyDavid Crosby
First Baptist Church, New Orleans

1. We must get out of our buildings and into our communities. We are plagued with the mentality that people “go to church.” This says that “church” is a location somewhere. We need the reverse: “Churches go to people.”

I want us to expand the presence of our churches in their communities. I will seek to foster strategies of compassion ministries that keep us in touch with neighbors in need and open wide the doors of loving witness. These ministries break down racial and class barriers and help our churches look more like our communities and more like heaven. This is our future.

2. We must bring a message of hope to our churches and our culture. The primary metaphor for being in the world as believers is not warfare. It is light. Anyone in darkness is thrilled to see a glimmer of light. Our warfare mentality has had the unintended effect of stealing hope from our hearts and our message. An angry and fearful posture in the world is unwise, unfounded, and unchristian. Losing the culture wars is no loss at all compared to losing the message of a living hope.

My daily reality is the hardscrabble world of urban New Orleans. I will lead the SBC from the perspective of this highly diverse and difficult mission field where God’s people shine like stars and loving engagement brings true hope.

3. We must be cooperative. Southern Baptists are distinguished from other groups in that they actually do mission together, not just independently. Cooperation, we believe, is biblical and is a superior strategy for accomplishing the world mission of the church.

The spirit of cooperation has waned, but the need for it has not.

As SBC President, I will not talk or act as if a return to the society method of supporting our cooperative work is progress. I will cultivate and promote a cooperative spirit. I will demonstrate cooperation by continuing to give a substantial percentage of the undesignated receipts of my church to our unified giving plan.


Steve GainesSteve Gaines
Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis

Three of our greatest challenges in the SBC are: spiritual awakening, soul winning, and stewardship.

Regarding the second challenge, the SBC is in a 15-year downward trajectory in baptisms, the longest in SBC history. In 2014 we baptized 100,000 fewer people than in 1999. Regarding the third challenge, we recently called 1,000+ IMB missionaries home due to financial deficits.

In my opinion, the first challenge, our need for spiritual awakening, is the most important. If prioritized, it can solve the other two.

The SBC needs fresh wind and fire from heaven. That will only come when a spirit of prayer and repentance captivates our pastors, lay leaders, church members, associations, state conventions, and SBC entities.

I will seek to lead our SBC to prioritize passionate prayer in each person’s personal life, and encourage the development of specific prayer strategies for pastors, church members and all who serve in our SBC agencies. Without spiritual awakening, the SBC will continue to decline. God can do more in revival in one hour than we can do in years without it.

Both the early church (cf. Acts 2:1f) and missions (cf. Acts 13:1f) were birthed in prayer meetings. Prayer and revival caused the early church to win multitudes to faith in Jesus. Prayer and revival also made the early believers strong financial stewards who gave generously. When we pray, we will evangelize and make disciples. God will also activate his angelic army to defeat our enemy, the devil, and thus advance his kingdom in our churches, Convention and culture.

If chosen to lead the SBC, I will give myself wholeheartedly to help the SBC experience spiritual awakening to bring glory to God through souls being saved, people being discipled, financial resources being made available, and more missionaries being sent out to the ends of the earth.


JD GreearJ.D. Greear
The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham

First and foremost, we need a continued re-awakening to the gospel. Historically, revival has begun not with lost people getting saved, but with the church getting “re-converted” to the gospel, which then leads to massive evangelism. I know we feel like we live in a dark age, but if we look at the last four awakenings in the Western world, we see that the conditions in our country are riper for revival now than at any other point since the Great Awakening.

The time is right. The harvest is ready. So we need to boldly ask God for what we know he wants to give us. And our entities need to respond accordingly. The Convention doesn’t exist for sake of the entities or the state conventions. It exists for the Great Commission. We must constantly re-evaluate everything we do in light of that.

Second, we need to bring a new generation of Southern Baptists to the table to partner with older generations in the cooperative missions of the SBC. There is a new wave of excitement about the SBC, but many newer generations of churches are still sitting on the sidelines. We need to take personal responsibility for the entities of the SBC and step up to own the mission. We must join with a faithful older generation to sacrificially give, support, and serve in these entities, boards, and institutions.

Third, we need to see diversification in the leadership of the SBC. About one in five churches in the SBC now is predominantly non-Anglo (praise God!), and we want to see our brothers and sisters from these non-Anglo backgrounds join us in leadership. I believe we are at a kairos moment in this. We should strive to see SBC leadership reflect the diversity of the SBC—culturally and racially, including younger and older, more traditional and more modern. We are united by The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) and our passion for the Great Commission. I believe that our greatest days are yet ahead!