Next week, the Southern Baptist Convention will gather for its annual meeting in Houston. We will conduct business, hear reports from our various ministries, adopt resolutions about various topics, and listen to sermons and “preachy addresses” from some of the better-known preachers among us. I’m particularly excited about that last point, since my friend and boss, Danny Akin, is preaching the Convention sermon this year. We’ll also spend time hanging out with friends that we rarely see outside of the Annual Meeting. (Don’t let anyone fool you–this is the highlight for almost everyone in attendance.) I this post, I want to offer my thoughts about what to expect at the Houston Convention.
First, there is Calvinism. Over the past year, much of the chatter in the SBC has focused on this issue, especially on the internet. (This is all some blogs seem to talk about.) SBC president Fred Luter has offered his thoughts on the debate. Other SBC leaders chimed in from time to time, including Dr. Akin. Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, formed an advisory committee to help him think about how Southern Baptists on all sides of the Calvinism discussion can better cooperate together to advance the gospel. Late last week, the committee released their report, titled “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension.”
Thus far, it seems that most of the responses to the Calvinism report have been positive. For what it’s worth, I was highly encouraged by the balance, clarity, and charity of the document. You can expect Dr. Page to address Calvinism in his Executive Committee report. It could also come up at other points in the program such as resolutions, motions, sermons, or the Q&A following ministry reports. I would expect Calvinism to be directly addressed by several SBC leaders, in the hopes that it doesn’t have to come up as often in future Convention meetings. Most folks seem ready to move on.
Second, there is the transition at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). Richard Land retired this past week after a quarter century of leading this ministry and its predecessor, the Christian Life Commission. In the age of 24-hour network news, Dr. Land has been the public face of the SBC for most Americans. His successor is Russ Moore, former vice president and academic dean at Southern Seminary. I expect some sort of formal passing of the baton at the SBC as Southern Baptists honor Dr. Land for his leadership and perhaps hear some initial thoughts from Dr. Moore as he begins to carve out his vision for cultural engagement and advocacy of religious liberty. If you haven’t heard, Dr. Land is now president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC.
Third, there is the re-election of Dr. Luter as Convention president. As most readers know, last year Dr. Luter became the first African American and only the second ethnic minority to be elected as SBC president. He will almost certainly not be opposed as he runs for the traditional second term as president. You don’t mess with history. There will likely already be some chatter in the Convention hallways and at the restaurants about who will run for the Convention presidency in Baltimore in 2014. Feel free to offer your suggestions for the next president in the comments.
Fourth, there are the cultural issues. I’m anticipating Southern Baptists will discuss and, in some cases, directly address several cultural issues via reports and resolutions. One issue that looms large is homosexual marriage, arguably the most hotly debated “social issue” in America right now. Another perennial topic is abortion, which will likely be addressed in light of the Gosnell trial. The potential threat posed by new healthcare laws to religious liberty will almost certainly come up. So will the revised membership policy recently adopted by the Boy Scouts of America, a topic I’ve addressed elsewhere. Other possible topics include immigration reform, the morality of unmanned drone strikes, and the way Southern Baptists and other evangelicals should think of Mormonism.
Fifth, there is the Cooperative Program (CP) and the larger question of missions giving. It is no secret that Cooperative Program giving is in the midst of a steady decline. According to recent reports, the average church now designates 5.9% to the CP. Last year, Frank Page issued a “1% Challenge,” calling upon local churches to increase their giving by one percentage point in their 2013 budgets. The early reports seem positive, but most folks I talk to are still nervous about the future of the Cooperative Program. Southern Baptist entities and state conventions are scrambling to re-educate uninformed Southern Baptists about the CP while assuring others who are concerned about the Cooperative Program that it remains the best strategy for funding our denominational ministries.
The future of the Cooperative Program was, of course, a hotly contested issue within the larger discussion of the Great Commission Resurgence, a movement that some interpreted as being anti-CP or at least tepid toward the Cooperative Program. It would be fair to say that Southern Baptists are still divided about the GCR, especially those in certain state conventions. I expect there to be some candid, but potentially hopeful discussion of the present state and future prospects of the CP at this year’s Annual Meeting. You can read my thoughts on CP giving in a post titled “Is the Cooperative Program Worthy of Sacrifice?” I co-authored that essay with my friend Micah Fries.
Finally, there is the name debate. Last year, Southern Baptists voted by about 53% to approve “Great Commission Baptists” as an alternate designation for the SBC. The idea was that churches, especially those outside of the Deep South and Southwest, could distance themselves from the name Southern Baptist if that name is deemed a hindrance to outreach. It would be difficult for me to exaggerate my own ambivalence about this particular debate. (Just being honest.) Apparently, lots of other folks are also ambivalent, since thus far we haven’t witnessed mass numbers of churches rushing to change their name to Great Commission Baptists. However, for some folks, this is a REALLY BIG DEAL, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an attempt by some messengers to reverse last year’s vote.
If you are at the SBC Annual Meeting, drop by the Southeastern Seminary booth to learn more about how SEBTS is equipping students to serve our churches and fulfill the Great Commission. I will be at the booth off and on throughout the day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; I hope to see some of you there. Also, there is still time to sign up for the SEBTS Alumni & Friends Luncheon at the SBC on Wednesday. Our speakers at this year’s luncheon include our own Dr. Akin and Johnny Hunt, a distinguished SEBTS alum and past president of the SBC.
(Note: This essay was first published yesterday at Between the Times)