Don't Machen the SBC


By Timon Cline - Posted at American Reformer:

Published June 4, 2024

As I sat there at the Center for Baptist Leadership launch event listening to William Wolfe, Dusty Deevers, and Chris Bolt issue a rallying cry to fight for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I had one thought: Southern Baptists can’t Machen this thing or it’s over for all of us. I could almost hear fellow conservatives outside that room pushing back: Get out, now! Some congregations, faithful to Baptist distinctives and Biblical orthodoxy, already have one foot out the door. God bless them, but they are wrong. Now is the time for them to dig their heels in, brace for impact, and fight.
Mainline Mission

The SBC should be considered the last legitimate, orthodox mainline denomination in America. It was founded in the nineteenth century and was not the direct result of a split off from another denomination. If you read no further, the message is, we can’t lose another one!

The SBC is, in many respects, the lone bulwark against total liberal capture of our Protestant heritage. It is the only real opportunity for a “Reconquista” that amounts to more than the mere recovery of beautiful buildings. In most towns of middle and southern America, the Southern Baptist Churches are the stateliest, thoroughly American buildings anyway, and no Protestant campus not already given over to foreign gods is more beautiful than the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), nor can they compete with its size and reach.

In other words, the SBC represents an historic and historically Protestant denomination not yet overrun by liberalism (theological and political) and all the baggage that goes with it, wherein faithful, confessional, Bible-believing Protestants have a chance to win—more than a chance, really. This is a fight worth fighting, and all orthodox American Protestants should consider it their fight.

We know the stats: the SBC is the biggest Protestant denomination, trains more pastors and sends more missionaries abroad than anyone else, etc. More importantly, perhaps, their annual convention gets more attention from mainstream media than any other denominational gathering, and for good reason. The New York Times and Atlantic know what all Protestants should know: as goes the SBC, so goes evangelicalism.

True enough, like the rest of evangelicalism, the SBC is not quite what it used to be in positive world. At the beginning, there were real, accomplished men at the helm. From 1845 through the 1980s, the convention was led by giants, men with theological chops, experience, and political awareness. The convention oscillated in leadership between powerhouse theologians and leading statesmen, learned leaders of men and founders of institutions:

James P. Boyce, the Brown and Princeton Seminary educated founder of SBTS; Patrick Hues Mell, chancellor of the University of Georgia and professor of ancient tongues at Mercer; Jonathan Haralson, associate justice of the Alabama Supreme Court; James Philip Eagle, speaker of the house and governor of Arkansas; Edwin Stephens, the founder of a major publishing house and newspaper; Brooks Hays, the Arkansas attorney general and U.S. congressman; the list goes on.

This was the caliber of men that built the SBC and made it great. Not so lately. Since 2018, the convention has been subjected to evidently lesser men, viz., J.D. Greear, Ed Litton, and Bart Barber. Quite the contrast.

With the blessing of Providence, we may live to see the likes of W. A. Criswell, Pat Morris Neff, and Adrian Rodgers again—all of them would’ve been labeled “Christian nationalists” today, by the way, as would Presbyterian leaders like D. James Kennedy. The SBC, and in a way, all of American evangelicalism, depends on it, the return of truly accomplished men of conviction to our denominations, not megachurch plagiarists and spineless grifters. Capable men are waiting in the wings, but first, the rank-and-file and the nascent vanguard must be willing to fight. This is to cut against the grain of conservative impulse.


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