One school of ancient Greek philosophers postulated that “the only thing constant is change.” The current president of the United States campaigned on a repetitious refrain of “change” as the solution to all present problems. The conclusions of both are questionable and less than absolute. But there is an element of truth in both. Change is ever present in any living, growing entity. The Southern Baptist Convention is no exception.
The volume under review is a bold effort to identify and address the challenges Southern Baptists must confront on all levels of denominational life if historic missional commitment is to be realized. These 16 clearly written, scholarly essays contain more than analyses. This is not a book of bureaucratic party lines or a promotional document, cheerleading for a repeat of what has always been done. It is a recognition of the necessity to address the cultural, theological, and ecclesiastical issues of the 21st century and to address those challenges without compromising the historic confessional position that has served the denomination since 1845. The writers inquire as to whether the ways of the past are sufficient for the future.
In the preface, David Dockery, editor and president of Union University, observes the growth of Southern Baptists from a small, predominantly white denomination, to one of worldwide ministry and influence. Implied throughout is the axiom that “with the Southern Baptist Convention’s growth have come the challenges of increasing fragmentation, theological controversy, and sweeping cultural change.”
In cover notes the publisher asks:
What does it mean to be a Southern Baptist in the twenty-first century?
How can a fresh consensus be established from within?
What are the core biblical convictions and key practices that must be upheld to reach the lost in this age of cultural accommodation?
The relevance of this book is greatly enhanced in light of current deliberations about the Great Commission Resurgence among (between) Southern Baptists that have recently taken its place in the SBC. In various chapters the effectiveness of many traditional patterns and practices are questioned, yet not in a pejorative way. The reader is challenged by various Southern Baptist leaders to rethink who Southern Baptists really are and who they will be in the future.
David S. Dockery’s “Introduction: Southern Baptist in the Twenty-first Century” calls for stability and renewal in denominational life. The book is structured in two major divisions each comprised of seven chapters. The first addresses “Theological and Historical Perspectives.” R. Albert Mohler, Jr. identifies theological, organizational, and cultural issues in “Baptist Identity: Is There a Future?” and Timothy George writes a somewhat ecumenical chapter asking, “Is Jesus a Baptist?” Other writers in this section include R. Stanton Norman, Greg Wills, Russell Moore, Paige Patterson and James Leo Garrett Jr.
The second division,—“Ministry and Convention Perspectives” addresses “Axioms of a Cooperating Southern Baptist” by Morris Chapman, and Ed Stetzer describes how to be missional in a changing world in “Toward a Missional Convention.” Several other stimulating and sometimes disturbing chapters raise questions that must be considered if Southern Baptists are to remain true to Christ’s command to reach and disciple a lost world. Daniel L. Aiken offers his answer to the question in “A Future-Directed Proposal for the SBC.” A statement by Timothy George concisely summarizes the book: “We will not meet tomorrow’s challenge by forgetting yesterday’s dilemma, but neither will we win tomorrow’s struggles fighting yesterdays battles.”
While this book may not be an easy read, it should be on every preacher’s shelf, in the library of every Southern Baptist educational institution, and should be read by laymen and leadership concerned about the Gospel and future of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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Copyright © 2013 Florida Baptist Witness
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