Southern Baptist Identity

I warned you earlier this week that you had better read up on Ed Stetzer's paper on missiology and SBC identity. Here's the punchline: iMonk and I are going to trade 5 questions each on this paper/talk because a lot of people need to listen up.

I'll be posting his questions here with my answers; he'll be posting my questions at his bloggy with his answers, so there'll be enough outrage for everyone.
I'd like to thank Frank for the opportunity to dialog over Ed Stetzer's significant contribution to the conversation regarding current developments in evangelical ecclesiology and missionary strategy, i.e. the "missional" church. If our readers don't know, Ed Stetzer is a missiologist at the SBC's North American Mission Board, has two earned doctorates, and is a respected author and speaker in missional, emerging and evangelical circles. I've long cited him, along with Tim Keller, as the "go to" guys for a reliable analysis of what is happening among conservatives church planters and innovators. Stetzer's talk at the Union University conference on Baptist Identity is, in my opinion, a great step forward in articulating what is happening in current Southern Baptist life, and I would plead with all of those who, like me, love the SBC to hear Stetzer's message, "Toward A Missional Convention."
Two things as we get ramped up:

[1] I am stunned to hear that iMonk loves the SBC. When did that happen?

[2] Since this is bound to be a long answer, let me address something briefly for those who will be inevitably creeped out over this chat. It is very rare to have an open and civil discussion with someone with whom you disagree about every other word -- and yet, in spite of the occational street fight, iMonk and I have the ability to discuss issues from what I consider pretty radically different points of view. So if you want to find out what a fan of Emergent thinks of the Stetzer thing, and then what I think of the Stetzer thing, and whether either one of us is completely off the chain, stay tuned. This thing will go back and forth for about 5 questions.
First Question: Stetzer boldly says that the current SBC leadership represents a leadership culture that has reformed the denomination confessionally, but failed to produce the expected corresponding evangelistic results because of their refusal to grasp and encourage missiological principles crucial for church growth in a diverse contemporary American culture. In fact, Stetzer says that only 11% of SBC churches are experiencing conversion growth and there are no reasons to expect a reversal. Can conservatives in the SBC accept and respond to the fact that their project of theological uniformity has only been half a reformation, and the problem is not a lack of conservative conformity, antimissionary Calvinists or innovating church planters?
I think Dr. Stetzer identified with gusto the problem (singular) the SBC faces -- which is the disaster which follows success. He also was pretty plain-spoken about what kind of self-deception is going on in the SBC (for example, the transition from inerrancy to sufficiency, as if you could have the first without the second and it mean anything).

But that said, I think he was also very hard on liberals. Because there aren't many in the SBC, he didn't dedicate a lot of bandwidth to the problems, but he was clear that one reason the SBC has the problem it has is that it doesn't want to be misunderstood as associating with disreputable people, theologically. In that, rather than robustly defending the right use of words (like "missiology"), the SBC tends to pull further into its shell, into its safe culture. While that feels pretty good, that's exactly wrong.

What happens when liberals (or anyone) start corrupting words like "Gospel" and "Trinity" and "Eucharist" -- not to mention "Marriage" or "I'll split a beer with you"? Do we just toss it in on those, too? Dr. Stetzer's answer is that we -contend- for those truths, and you know I agree with him. The question, unfortunately, is "how to do that and win brothers in Christ rather than create bogie men" -- because Dr. Stetzer himself admits that he's sick to death of the fighting. I'm a fighter and I'm sick of the fighting. But the fight must be pressed -against liberalization- without telling the lost people who are watching, "and you're next, bub. Know your roll!"

It's more than a gut check: it's a gut-wrenching fact that the SBC had better decide that it is really about missions, and missions means more than sending people to deepest, darkest not-America: it means (as I have confessed at my blog) going across the street to the trailer park and telling those people right there about Jesus in a way they can understand what I'm saying.

Can the status quo see this and admit that they have a problem which someone else has to help them fix? I dunno -- you think they can admit that they have demonized good men for no reason other than convention politics? I sorta doubt it.

two words: grass roots. It's still a convention, and on the floor eventually -- if people show up -- the majority has to win. And let's face it: I think the majority is a very conservative, very concerned "third generation" resurgence crowd who want the liberty to -- and I know it's shocking -- reach the people they have in their home towns without becoming pariahs in their Daddy's convention. With the Gospel, mind you: not with a program or entertainment or whatever. With the news that Christ died for sin, as Scripture said he would, and was buried and raised from the dead, just like Scripture said he would. But if they don't use a Gaither vocal band third-string team and a canvass tent with no A/C, let's not start checking confessions of faith and baptism certificates.

As a footnote, I'd like to eventually check some of Dr. Stetzer's math and stuff. For example, he cites Barna on church attendance -- but ironically Barna thinks people are dropping conventional church for some kind of revolutionary church model -- not becoming unchurched. Dr. Stetzer says the opposite in citing Barna, and that threw me for a loop.

I'll have your first Q in the mail today, iMonk, and you can mull it iver for the weekend.
iMonk's first answer is here.