I received an insightful, concise email from a respected Southern Baptist Convention leader regarding the new Baptist Identity Movement in the SBC. With permission, and on the condition of anonymity, I share the email with you below.
Technically, those identifying themselves as part of the “Baptist Identity” Movement (BIM) are what might better be defined as “Neo-Landmarkists.” This ideology (BIM) tends to distance themselves from the old style J.R. Graves Landmarkists who believed you could directly trace Baptists back to the Apostolic Church through a succession of supposed like-minded churches and movements. Modern day BIM personnel eschew this type of ideology in favor of a more watered down version of traditional Landmarkism.
Nevertheless, the BIM seems strangely out of step with the needs of Southern Baptists in the early 21st century. At a time when Southern Baptists face a world and an America that is demographically different from its core constituency of white Southerners, the BIM has chosen to look inward at the Baptist community itself for its work and mission. The movement’s quest for a purer more disciplined Baptist orthodoxy and orthopraxy has consumed most of their energies at a time when evangelicals face very real dangers from radical Western secularism and emergent Islam (both the missionary and jihadist varieties).
Baptists are called to witness to a lost and spiritually-dying world. When Baptists should be thinking about finding a broader consensus to face these spiritual threats, instead, many have chosen to wage cultural warfare with our own. Baptists have always forged their own identity through consensus of the entire community rather than allowing a fringe element to determine that identity for the entire community. This was true of the pro-Missionary Baptists of the early 1800s who overcame the anti-missionary impulses of some Baptists, the Southern Baptists of the late 1800s who turned back the forces of Old Landmarkism, and the Conservatives of the 1970s and 1980s who wrestled the Convention away from the moderates. Wade, in our own states both you and I thought that this latter battle for identity was important.
Fortunately, the Baptist Identity Movement does not speak for all Southern Baptists and soteriology and eschatology prevent even those that might agree in ecclesiology from mounting a truly unified movement. Baptist Identity people in various state conventions, for instance, remain split on these issues, and strangely enough, many of them who look to Southern Seminary for inspiration took a dim view of the John 3:16 conference and hold pre-millennial dispensationalism in disdain.
I remain hopeful that eventually Southern Baptists will view the Great Commission as more important than trying to police Baptist orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
____________ (anonymous by request)