The Southern Baptist Phantom Menace

Imagine for a moment that a church friend comes to you and expresses his frustration over another member of the church. Your friend mentions that he is tired of Sunday School at various times. He does not like the way things are taught sometimes or some of the methods used in the lessons. In his frustration he mentions that he may just stop tithing for a while and maybe stop attending Sunday School too.

Realizing that you are in the same Sunday School class and that you sometimes teach, you think to yourself, “Who or what exactly is he talking about?” After asking for clarification your friend basically suggests that there are just some things that need to change around the church and he is going to do what he said until he gets his way. You leave the conversation wondering the identity of this phantom teacher or teachers.

Ultimately, the concern is that you are the phantom.

Regardless of who the phantom is, if these disagreements are really problems to divide over it seems best to address them head on. It seems best to name names and situations to work through such issues in brotherly love. Exposing such issues will help those involved know who really is causing the division and whether or not there is sin involved in either the accuser or the accused. The motivation of the accuser may be the real problem, but who can know if the party in question remains a phantom. Besides, Scripture seems to warrant such exposure.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:5-6 ESV)

Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue. (Proverbs 28:23 ESV)

Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. (Proverbs 141:5 ESV)

Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. (Proverbs 15:32 ESV)

It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:5 ESV)

The wisdom in the above Scriptures cannot be carried out very well if there is a communication breakdown like the one described in my above scenario. Unfortunately, much like the scenario above, there seem to be such phantoms in the Southern Baptist Convention. For example, a different perspective on SBC phantoms was recently written. No doubt some have the best intentions in mind for the SBC. Some of these intentions come from tradition and/or personal conviction which does not necessarily make them right or wrong, biblical or unbiblical.  Despite Baptist autonomy, cooperation and agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message these phantoms do exist as far as I can tell. I’d like to point out a few from my perspective.


First, brother Brad Whitt has two articles where phantoms may be found: Young, Southern Baptist…And Irrelevant? and What Makes Us “Southern Baptist”?

In the first article Whitt states:

Being a Presbyterian has never appealed to me like it seems to some leaders in our convention and their protégés.

Which leaders? Evidence?

Their theology is different from that which I read in the Bible, and their methodology about how best to reach the world for Jesus is foreign to me as well.

Which theology and methodology? Have they been historically different and foreign in Baptist life?

What if we treated the convention with the same disregard or disdain some entity leaders seem to treat us?

What disregard or disdain and by whom? Those are strong implications.

They have gained possession of the microphone, and they have determined that we’ve got to do things “radically” different — whatever the facts might be.

Who is this phantom “they”? One popular Southern Baptist author/pastor comes to mind when reading the word “radically” and that is David Platt. Not that I’m guessing.

Right now, too many “outsiders from within” have influence, and they resent who we are, what we do and how we do it.

Again, who? And on what evidence is this case made?

Since ecclesiology is also mentioned in this article I would like to point to my recent article Southern Baptist Church Offices, Elders et al. which documents that the current SBC President has a church government set-up with elders in light of the fact that some Southern Baptists voiced disdain for elders.

In Whitt’s second article he writes:

There are those with an agenda who are attempting to remake the Southern Baptist Convention in someone else’s image. They continue to tell us that our fellowship of churches must radically change in order to remain relevant in terms of current social and denominational trends.

There is that phantom “they” again of which there are a few more in the article.

Other phantoms may be found in brother Jerry Nash’s Hold The Hearse, I Have An Idea! Can you spot the phantoms?

I have a suggestion for those who wish to lead the SBC in a new direction.  Let us agree to let the anti-SBC, anti-CP, anti-Association, anti-State Convention and pro-Primitive Baptist doctrines be blessed to go out and become whatever it is they want to be.  I believe God would be honored if they left before destroying The Southern Baptist Convention.

In the comment section Trevin Wax gave the best response which does, in a way, ask for the phantoms to be revealed. I’m not sure much else needs to be asked.

For what it’s worth… I agree with Dr. Nash that anyone in our Convention that fits this description – “anti-SBC, anti-CP, anti-Association, anti-State Convention and pro-Primitive Baptist” – should indeed go elsewhere. When you find that person, let me know. 😉

Also, fellow Georgia Baptist, Pastor Bill Harrell, recently wrote and publicly shared his Letter to the Georgia Baptist Convention (pdf version). His church decided to designate their giving around two SBC seminaries. This move around two seminaries is ironic since in the letter it states that Great Commission Giving is “nothing more than an avenue for people to give specifically where they desire instead of displaying our historic cooperative spirit and it will bring back societal giving.” But some phantoms may be found in the quote below.

I have never had a problem with someone being of a certain theological persuasion. It is their privilege to believe as they feel led but, I cannot support entities which have Calvinism as their agenda and are using it as a tool to take the SBC into a theological model with which ninety-five percent of the people in the SBC disagree. The leaders in charge will not listen to advice and they seem bent on being able to call the SBC a “reformed” convention. Calvinism is not the issue with me but using our seminaries as a breeding ground for an “army” of Calvinists with which to achieve their goals is something I cannot and will not support.

The following questions may help reveal these phantoms.

  • Which entities that have Calvinism as their agenda? Where is evidence of this agenda found or stated?
  • Who are the referenced leaders in charge?
  • Where have said leaders attempted to call the SBC a reformed convention?
  • What evidence is there that any seminary is being used as a breeding ground for an army of Calvinists?
  • What does Harrell mean by the term army?
  • What are the goals that said army is attempting to achieve?
  • On what basis is it stated that 95% of the SBC disagree with Calvinism?

Visible and Overlooked

The substance of these “problems” caused by the phantoms seems to rest on the issue of an SBC identity. Who or what is a true Southern Baptist? How do they look, walk and talk? What are they for? What are they against? What do they preach? How do they preach? What to they eat? What do they drink?

In as much as the answers to the above questions about SBC identity are going to be similar they are also going to be different for each church and each person from pew to pulpit. I will offer two examples of items along the lines of SBC identity that seemed to have gone overlooked.

First, there is the Cowboy Church Network of North America. Very clearly at the bottom of the homepage is the following statement.

The Cowboy Church Network is a partnership of Southern Baptist cowboy churches throughout North America.

As far as I can tell there are between 50 to 60 Cowboy churches in this network. Are Southern Baptists cowboys? True Southern Baptists? Apparently there are some. Personally, I’m not sure what to think of this cowboy approach. I have my quibbles with their approach, but that does not mean I am making a grassroots effort to remove them from the Convention.

The other example is that of Dr. Emir Caner. Caner is the President of Truett-McConnell College which is on the main SBC website and is affiliated with the GA Baptist Convention. He has put forward The Anabaptist Vision: My Vision for Truett-McConnell College. A similar article may also be found on Truett’s website (pdf). Southern Baptists are not Anabaptists. If we were then we probably would not be as involved in politics. Nor would we be disagreeing over a plurality of elders in church government, but would have a more varied church polity. I don’t recall much, if any, frustration over this Anabaptist Vision. Yet, there are those who seem to think that there is an unstated Calvinist agenda in the SBC (i.e. see Harrell’s letter above).

Can anyone imagine the outrage if the president of any SBC affiliated college or seminary put forward a Calvinist Vision for a school?

I point these two items out not to say we should rally to remove Caner and the Cowboys. I point them out to show that we can find disagreements to argue about and we really don’t have to look that hard if that is our goal. Even so, let’s say that some think we should remove Caner and the Cowboys. Shouldn’t we have open and honest dialogue about such things? (I’m not advocating for removal but making a point.)

Moving Forward

If such SBC phantoms continue to go unnamed it is unclear how reconciliation can ever occur. Of course, that is if reconciliation is the goal. I certainly hope it is the goal and that honest and open dialogue takes place. Too often Christians do each other a disservice by assigning and critiquing the motives of others with whom we disagree.

And what about cooperation? We’ve been existing and cooperating thus far. The SBC doesn’t exist without cooperation. It is unclear how current cooperation can continue without reconciliation. Reconciliation is not about the Convention, it’s about the cross. Reconciliation is the Christian thing to do. Jesus has reconciled us to Himself and secondarily to each other. In our sinful natures we act as if God has not reconciled us to one another, but exiled us together.

In February 2007, Bill Curtis, Chairman of the North American Mission Board Trustees wrote Working Together for the Sake of the Gospel. Curtis recently tweeted this 2007 article stating that this was his response to Harrell’s letter. Curtis layouts a framework for cooperating in evangelism and respecting each other using the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Curtis’s whole article is worth reading and I will just leave you with a quote from the piece.

Cooperating together despite our differences has been an integral part of our Southern Baptist heritage since the time of Charleston and Sandy Creek. Perhaps it is time for a new generation of Southern Baptists to work together for the sake of the Gospel. Perhaps it is time for our SBC leadership to guide us into a new spirit of cooperation for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. I urge the precious people of the Southern Baptist Convention to join me in adopting the framework I have recommended, so that we can work together for the sake of the Gospel and fulfill the Great Commission as cooperating Southern Baptists.

Those are some of my thoughts. What are yours?

Let's connect!

tagged as , in Church Issues,Culture,Gospel,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Job June 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm

You hit on a major point here that needs to be emphasized. The folks’ driving the attempt to first alter the CP rules to prevent CP monies from going to Particular Baptist church plants and THEN pushing for a new Baptist Faith and Message to exclude Particular Baptist involvement in the SBC are purposefully trying to be as vague as possible so that they can A) move stealthily and B) when they are finished, limit the negative consequences by making the other side appear to be the bad guys.

The Particular Baptists in the SBC have responded primarily by appealing to unity and Baptist history. However, their opponents A) want a split and have no interest in unity and B) by dishonestly raising the Anabaptists (who were often much more similar to modern Pentecostals than to modern Baptists) show that they have no legitimate interest in preserving Baptist history or tradition.

I regret to say that unless God chooses to intervene, it is not very likely to prevent the changes in either the CP or the Baptist Faith and Message that the agitators seek. Though the agitators are far from the majority, the nature of the SBC means that it doesn’t take very many of them to get really damaging changes put into effect, and the targets of these agitators are too few in number and influence to oppose them effectively, especially if they keep trying.

However, one thing that can and should be done is to force the agitators to speak plainly and openly about what it is that they are doing, and about the negative effects that their actions are going to have on a lot of good Christians and churches. Right now, they are artfully avoiding that by claiming themselves as victims of everything from personal slights to conspiracies to take over/destroy the SBC. Even if it is impossible to stop what they are doing, it is imperative that we show the world what they are doing, and who is doing it, so they won’t be able to emerge from this pretending as if they’re this heroic Conservative Resurgence 2.0 movement.

2 Josh Collins June 13, 2011 at 5:41 pm

My thoughts are that phantom arguments are a rallying cry. We can all fight a faceless enemy over minor reasons, but name the people you want to see out of the convention and suddenly we realize that these are not power-hungry sycophants, but brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we agree with more than we disagree. Which is probably one reason why blogging is so dangerous. It’s not the anonymity of the writers so much, as the virtual anonymity of their intended audiences and their perceived distance from those they are attacking.

3 Ben Simpson June 14, 2011 at 12:39 am


Wow! A most excellent article! Absolutely great job! Your example of Brad Whitt is very relevant because he seems to be the mouthpiece that SBC Tomorrow and SBC Today are rallying around.

On May 19th, Whitt published on his site a blog entitled “What Makes Us ‘Southern Baptists’?” where he stated that common theology, committed ecclesiology, and cooperative missiology are what defines “Southern Baptist.” That sounds really good but is very vague even in his explanation, and when I pushed him a little bit to move from vagueness to vividness, he declined to comment further. I had the following questions for him (the “you” is, of course, Whitt):

1) When you say “common theology,” do you mean the majoritarian positions of the SBC, or do you mean the BF&M? The majoritarian positions of the SBC are much narrower than the BF&M. To mean the former would imply that those in the minority are not true Southern Baptists.

2) When you say “committed ecclesiology,” I’m assuming that you are talking about congregationalism. Does the label “true Southern Baptist” include both single-pastor/elder/overseer-led and plural-pastor/elder/overseer-led congregationalism?

3) I’m glad to see that we agree that elder/overseer/pastor all speak of the same office. Does the Bible allow laymen who meet the qualifications of the office and are ordained to the office to serve alongside the vocational minister as pastors also, if the church so chooses?

4) When you speak about “cooperative missiology” and then link it so strongly to the local church, are you calling for the end of IMB & NAMB process as we know it? Should we seek to only approve church planters and missionaries at the SBC every year? Surely, you don’t mean what I’ve just said, but that would be the only way to let the churches cooperately have direct say-so over who is commissioned. I think that when you say “cooperative missiology,” you really mean missions carried out by those who hold majoritarian doctrinal and ecclesiological views. You most likely desire these entities to bar those who hold minoritarian but within orthodoxy Baptist views. Am I correct in my assumption? Do you want only majoritarian-viewholders to be commissioned and supported?

5) You say, “local autonomous churches have just as much right NOT to fellowship with such churches if they believe that they have stepped outside of scriptural precedent and historic Baptist practice.” They certainly have that right, but you seem to be upholding tradition alongside the Scripture in a very Rome-ish way. Is tradition as important as Scripture? If not, what role does it play?

He declined to reply and had Peter Lumkins come on the blog to berate me. I responded in the following way, but my comment is still waiting to be approved a month later:

Brad, the leadership that you are seeking in the SBC through your writing and ministry requires specifics. Vagueness does us little good. I was simply seeking to draw out some further insight with simple questions. Obviously, you put the piece out for discussion. Your blog is a perfect place for that. I hope you’ll reconsider not answering any of my questions. Brad, I’m simply trying to understand specifically what you’re saying. In the end, I might actually agree with you.

Sorry to rehash these things, but I thought it would bring further insight into Whitt’s unwillingness to expose the phantom.

Thank you for this article!

4 Ben Simpson June 14, 2011 at 12:47 am

BTW, love the Star Wars connection here!

5 Brent Hobbs June 14, 2011 at 1:02 am

Great post. I skimmed it earlier today and marked to come back to so I could read it closely. I’ve seen each of the articles you listed and been bothered by all of them (save the Curtis article, with which I strongly agreed).

I think your point about nameless phantoms is certainly valid and a good one. Even if they were, however, to “name names”, it wouldn’t necessarily get us anywhere.

The real problem is that these agitators have found an issue (maybe issues) they are willing to divide over and they don’t care about making any effort to keep unity until the problem is solved.

Some things are worth dividing over. We’re in the SBC now because we believe that. But there are some things that are NOT. In my mind, the only way to move on in unity is for the convention to say clearly “we will not divide over this” (I think that was part of the intention surrounding the GCR movement).

Other than that, our only choice is to ignore the source. Our state papers need to take a lead in this area. There’s a difference between healthy debate and promoting divisiveness. The spirit represented in most of those articles, in my mind, should have disqualified them from being publicized as they were.

It’s fine for Lumpkins (for example) to spew his pedantry and sarcasm on his own blog, but it shouldn’t be promoted or publicized the way these letter were. (Not that these letters quite rise to that same level, BTW.)

I’m definitely not saying we should shut down debate. Just that we should have standards and that one of those standards should be love, charitable reading of our opponents’ words and intentions, and unity rather than divisiveness.

(Sorry, I didn’t mean for this comment to get nearly that long!)

6 Ben Simpson June 14, 2011 at 10:34 am


Wow! What an excellent article! You did a great job bringing out examples of phantoms, particularly in Whitt’s writing. As I commented to Whitt, the leadership that he is seeking in the SBC through his writing and ministry requires specifics. Vagueness does the SBC little good.

However, as Josh points out above, vagueness helps Whitt & his cohort out by giving them a nameless, faceless enemy that they can rail on.

You’re doing a great job. Keep it up!

7 Brent Hobbs June 14, 2011 at 11:06 am

Those are some great questions. No reason he shouldn’t be able to provide some answers. Unless, as I suspect, he doesn’t want to publicize the real implications of what he’s promoting.

8 Mark June 14, 2011 at 11:29 am

Hi Job,

I do hope you are wrong in stating that the opponents of Particular Baptists in the SBC have no interest in unity. While there seems to be evidence that some do not want unity I hope they are simply a vocal (diminishing) minority. If we are to appeal to Anabaptists for an identity we’d have similar disagreements over polity and patriotism, etc. There would probably only be a blame shift.

9 Mark June 14, 2011 at 11:36 am

I’m somewhat lost on your comment. If names and evidence of any SBC “infractions” are identified we can more readily attempt to work out these disagreements. What I tried to communicate is that we are family in Christ so therefore we should use names. Based on what you are saying it is the examples I gave above who are not naming anyone who should realize the disagreements are minor and within the family.

10 Mark June 14, 2011 at 11:39 am

Thanks for the comments and the good clarifying questions even though they went unanswered.

11 Mark June 14, 2011 at 11:45 am

It would be nice of the state papers did take the lead, but as you probably know some of those papers publish articles attacking the phantoms i.e. Whitt’s article. You’re right that naming folks would not guarantee that the dialogue would be moved forward. However, it would certainly get the issues out in the open and call for those names to give a response.

12 Brent Hobbs June 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Definitely agree that it would be a good thing!

13 Josh Collins June 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

By the “brothers and sisters in Christ”, I was referring to those specifically named in blog attacks. When bloggers keep things vague (phantom-esque), it allows stronger feelings of attack and distrust to fester, as opposed to when they openly state who/what they are talking about. Nameless enemies are the scariest of course. But I think when bloggers name names, it actually may give an element of sympathy to those being named, especially if they are known as generally good Christians.

And yes, I basically agree with your post. (I was rushing off a comment and didn’t make my sentence flow very clear!)

In many movements, you need some frontmen who can say nice things about cooperation and unity and vaguely imply that some do not agree, as well as some muscle that will name names and press the implications of the frontmen, but without the direct ties. I don’t know if that is happening in some of SBC backlash or not. But it could explain the vagueries from some, while others are more than willing to give specifics and risk those debates.


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