It seems when any struggle against theological liberalism ends, Baptists will invariably begin to withdraw from former evangelical allies in an attempt to preserve what Baptists believe to be a true, ecclesiogical "Baptist" identity. In other words, when the religious landscape is dotted with the carcasses of dead churches that have been overrun with the disease of theological liberalism, conservative Baptists recognize the foolishness in arguing with fellow evangelicals over lesser issues than the gospel. But when the circle of evangelical fellowship has been so narrowed institutionally as to exclude any who deny the true gospel, then the regrettable tendency of evangelical, conservative Baptists is to move away from discussion with other evangelicals over what it means to be "Together for the Gospel" into a struggle against each other over what it means to be "Separate" for the sake of church and ecclesiological purity.
I believe we are living in a very dangerous day for evangelical Christians and churches - particularly those of us who are conservative, evangelical Baptists. In a time when the world is succombing to aggressive and unbending Islamic ideology proliferated by the religious fanaticism of Islamic fascists, some Baptists, including Southern Baptists, are dangerously turning their wary eye toward fellow evangelicals in a battle for "church purity." Instead of recognizing the danger approaching externally, and the threat to destroy any vestiges of institutional evangelicalism, some conservative Baptists are removing their own evangelical brothers from fellowship - believing them to be either disruptive, unrepentant or ultimately illegimitate Christian brothers.
I would like to offer five articles that will illustrate the point I am making above. Southern Baptists particularly will be hearing in the next five years from certain leaders about the importance of maintaining ecclesiological purity and a strict Baptist identity. I'm not sure why - in a day when we should be moving toward more evangelical cooperation and fellowship - that some among us are pushing toward strict separatism, but I will do my part in continuing to sound a needed alarm. The enemy is NOT among us.
Wayne Grudem, a man of incredible intellect and passion for Christ, seems to have been pushed by others to edit his Systematic Theology textbook. Strangely, the only section that is completely rewritten in the new edition is the section entitled "Do Churches Need to Be Divided Over Baptism?" In a textbook that numbers over one thousand pages, and in a day when many other subjects are in sore need of attention among evangelicals, why rewrite that section? I would hazard to guess that a couple of letters and phone calls from strategic people in the SBC who are pushing for a stricter and tighter Baptist identity sent Grudem to the edit room to change the wording of his textbook to reflect a tighter and "purer" ecclesiological viewpoint consistent with the resurging Baptist identity movement in the Southern Baptist Convention. (Update: So as to not have to guess I called Dr. Grudem and had him read this blog and he graciously told me that the rewrite was precipitated by some Southern Baptist elders in a former church where he was a member and another Baptist pastor who called him from out of state to urge him to rethink this question. He acknowledges that the debate is a serious one, but he rewrote the chapter of his own accord and not because of pressure.) One can read Grudem's rewrite of the section in question here.
Grudem's close friend, and fellow evangelical Baptist pastor, Dr. John Piper, responds to Grudem's rewrite, disagreeing strongly with Grudem, and carefully addressing the problems Grudem's textbook changes bring.
Dr. Grudem responds to John Piper's article with a personal letter published (with permission) here.
I appreciate the gracious spirit exhibited by both men, but don't let the kindness displayed by Wayne Grudem and John Piper cause you to miss the very important issues at stake.
To help you understand the consequences of the debate - which shall be ongoing in the Southern Baptist Convention for at least the next couple of years - you ought to read Southern Baptist theologian and fellow church member Sam Storm's excellent analysis on what is at stake in this debate between Grudem and Piper.
In His Grace,