CRITICAL REVIEW: The SBC and the 21st Century
Allen, Jason k., The SBC and the 21st Century: Reflection, Renewal and Recommitment. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2019. 247 pp. $29.99.
Biographical Sketch of the Author
The editor of this book is Jason K. Allen who, along with various other noteworthy Southern Baptists, has compiled this work on the Southern Baptist Contention in the 21st Century. Dr. Allen is currently the 5th president of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. Before his election to the presidency of MBTS, Dr. Allen served as the senior pastor of Muldraugh Baptist Church in Muldraugh, KY, a Southern Baptist Church. He, likewise, spent time as the senior administrator at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as a member of Southern Seminary's executive cabinet. Dr. Allen is a two-time graduate from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, receiving a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D.
Summary of Contents
In this book, the authors set out to provide the reader with a comprehensive update on the mission and accomplishments of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The trajectory of the book beckons the reader to look to the future as it examines the past. According to the authors, the SBC has weathered many storms throughout its history, and while the road ahead presents new obstacles to tackle, Southern Baptists have proven themselves dedicated to commission of God and up to the challenge. The churches of the SBC have been and will continue to be great commission churches. Over the years, Southern Baptists have adjusted with the times while remaining faithful to their Biblical convictions. As a covenantal people, member churches subscribe to foundational truths currently captured in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. With this solid foundation underneath their feet, member churches are able to cooperatively stand together for Baptist values, Christian ministry, and world missions.
The Southern Baptist Convention has evolved in the years since its formation. There are now a number of major entities that operate within under the SBC’s banner. From theological education and publishing to home and foreign missionary sending, Southern Baptist have a wide and powerful impact for Christ in the world. This power, as always, must be checked and maintained. Each contributor in this book is a subject matter expert in one, or many, areas of the SBC. This book lays out each area of influence within the convention, presenting how it has changed in the 21st century, how it has stayed the same and how the convention plans to stay faithful to the commission of God and to Southern Baptists in the years to come.
The thesis of this book can be found in its preface. It is “to provide insightful assessments of the Southern Baptist Convention’s past and present and hopeful exhortations for our future” (Allen, XV). The authors of this book did a great job of presenting the past, present and future of the SBC. This is to be expected, since they are not speaking as outsiders looking in, but the very leaders who are setting the vision for these entities. This book surly is the best representative road map for the Southern Baptist Convention and its bodies. There are, however, a few seeming contradictions that may need to be addressed as well as a few novel assessments which deserve to be highlighted.
Starting out with a positive, the vision laid out by David Platt in the chapter entitled “The Future of the IMB and Our Collaborative Great Commission Work” is both wise and needed. Dr. Platt sets out a compelling argument for a more church-centered missionary sending organization. The IMB was established to help churches share the burden of Missions expenses thereby sending more missionaries than would have been possible otherwise. This, however, does not take away the Biblical warrant that missionaries be tied to a local church. Dr. Platt explains that world missions had become an endeavor undertaken by the IMB in which the churches only needed to send candidates and money. This chapter insists that there is a more Biblical way than this. Dr. Platt argues that local churches should be the ones sending the missionaries with the IMB being the ones to offering them aid. This model allows for the church to take center stage, as is displayed in the pages of scripture.
A negative point in the book is the consistency with which some of the authors refer to the Southern Baptist Convention as a “denomination”. This becomes a greater issue when the SBC is compared to actual denominations. While the wording may be convenient shorthand, it skews the perception of the reader who is looking to this book for facts about the convention from the convention’s most experienced leaders. Regrettably, some of the authors don’t get the terminology correct here. The Southern Baptist Convention is a cooperative entity which only exists for two days each year. In some ways this isn’t an important distinction, but on other ways it is very significant. Baptist need to be clear about what they are part of and how it functions.
A final issue that is unfortunately included in this book comes in the last chapter, which is entitled “Every Kindred, Tongue and Tribe? Ethnic diversity in the SBC”. In this chapter, two things stand out as problematic. The first comes with the use of Proverbs 27:17 in order to promote “being sharpened across the lines of race” (Allen, 218). The initial concern arises with regard to the use of the word “race”. The title tactfully uses the term “Ethnic”, which provides a more Biblical foundation for discussion since Christian’s believe in a single race originating with Adam. This concern is then amplified when the author argues for diversity of appearance to be a consideration when studying theology. One’s appearance is of almost no significance in the pursuit of truth. Diversity of experience can be helpful in a discussion, even more so diversity of ideas, but an individual’s appearance does not directly correlate to either of these. For Dr. Strickland and Dr. Akin to suggest that it does is of great concern.
Dr. Strickland and Dr. Akin go on in this the same chapter to suggest that it is “unthinkable” that a seminary student could receive an adequate theological education without having read a single “person of color”. They go on further to make a correlation to 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, seeming to imply that Christians will, in some way, be lacking if they don’t access the “gifts God has given them to steward” (Allen, 218). Certainly, Christian’s should read as widely as possible from whoever has significant insight, however, to claim that a Christian is essentially lacking in some way without having read a certain ethnic group or a person of a certain skin color brings into question the perspicuity of scripture, the reality of Holy Spirit illumination and most importantly the sufficiency of Scripture. A group of individuals, regardless of their appearance should be able to sit down with the Bible and expect to be led by the Holy Spirit “into ALL truth” (John 16:13).
If the thesis of this book is indeed, “to provide insightful assessments of the Southern Baptist Convention’s past and present and hopeful exhortations for our future” then it has accomplished that. However, in accomplishing that task, this book has raised some concerns for the future of the SBC. Just as it reminds readers of the mission drift which occurred in past decades, it simultaneously presents both a warning about and a display of potential mission drift in the future. It is more important than ever that Southern Baptists know what their mission is and why they cooperate to accomplish it. The discussion about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention must continue. As a convention, Southern Baptists can never settle into a mindset which tells them that the tough times are only behind lest we be overtaken unaware.