Allen, Jason K., ed. The SBC and the 21st Century: Reflection, Renewal, Recommitment. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016. 269 pages. $29.99. Purchase at Amazon or on Kindle for less.
Note: This review was first published in The Pathway.
Gary Shultz, Jr., Reviewer
What does the future look like for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)? The SBC is one of the largest denominations in the world, with over 15 million members and over 40,000 churches in the United States alone, but both membership and baptism numbers have been slowly declining for several years. For Southern Baptists, this decline raises questions about our methods of reaching people for Christ, our faithfulness to what we say we believe, and our attitude toward our culture. How should we minister and witness going forward in a rapidly changing world?
In September of 2015 Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MWBTS) in Kansas City, MO hosted a symposium to consider these issues. This book, edited by Jason Allen, the President of MWBTS, is a collection of those presentations along with several other essays addressing the SBC’s future. Divided into three sections, these essays address three important questions. Will the SBC grow more unified around its convictions and mission or fragment over secondary doctrinal differences? Will the SBC continue to maintain its Baptist identity while engaging and partnering with other evangelical churches? Finally, will the SBC be willing to think through its structures, programs, and efforts to most effectively reach this world for Christ or will it continue to do the same things it has always done?
The heart of the SBC is collaborative ministry, exemplified by the Cooperative Program, through which SBC churches together fund missions, education, and other denominational institutions at both the state and the national level. Yet a host of issues threaten this collaboration, including differences of opinion on how to cooperate, doctrinal disagreements, and methodological preferences. Including essays by denominational leaders such as Frank Page, Thom Rainer, and the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Executive Director John Yeats, the first section addresses questions of how Southern Baptists should continue to cooperate. These essays highlight the importance of the Cooperative Program, state conventions, and engagement with the broader evangelical community in helping the SBC accomplish its mission, but also stress that they are means to that end, not the end in and of themselves.
While the heart of the SBC is collaborative ministry, the identity of the SBC is found in its doctrine. At this point in its history, the SBC has united around the truths expressed by the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. However, the rapid changes in our culture continue to challenge our theological foundations. The second section, including contributions from Albert Mohler, David Dockery, and several professors from MWBTS, highlights the need for solid convictions on doctrines such as regenerate church membership, human sexuality and gender, and the nature of the church.
As necessary as cooperation and doctrine are, they are meant to keep us on mission for our Savior. The third group of essays, with chapters from denominational leaders such as David Platt, Ronnie Floyd, Jason Allen, and Paige Patterson, speak to the future of the SBC’s missions institutions as well as the continuing relevance of preaching, prayer, and theological education. Ultimately, doctrine, mission, and ministry complement one another, and the SBC must continue to stay strong in each area in order to effectively reach the coming generations for Christ.
After I finished reading this book my main takeaway was hope. God in his grace has used the SBC to reach millions of people for Christ. As we continue to unify around our mission, stand boldly on our doctrine, and commit ourselves to gospel witness and ministry, I believe that God will continue to use the SBC for his glory. These essays will encourage and equip you and your church as we look towards a future of fulfilling the Great Commission together.