Today a big announcement is being made by Founders Ministries regarding a very important documentary that chronicles the story of how we’ve arrived at the very juncture of the modern downgrade of the SBC. I want to explain why this is so important and how you can get involved.
Growing up in a Southern Baptist Church setting as a boy, I heard stories about how the liberals entered seminaries, rose to rank in the SBC, and turned the ship down a liberal path. The stories I heard were shocking.
After sensing a call to serve the Lord in pastoral ministry, I moved to Louisville, Kentucky with my wife and soon I would learn the name Molly Marshall, I would read the book A Hill on Which to Die by Paul Pressler, and I would watch the film “Battle for the Minds” in a summer elective course taught by Dr. Russell Moore. I would learn more stories regarding the horrible theological liberalism that nearly sank the largest Protestant denomination in America. The story of the conservative resurgence of the SBC is one unique chapter in church history, however, it seems as if we are at another crossroads where some within the ranks of the SBC are determined to take the SBC down another broken road of theological liberalism. The question remains, by what standard are they leading and making such decisions?
During the 2019 SBC meeting in Birmingham, we were told by the Resolutions Committee that Critical Race Theory is merely an analytical tool by which we can assess our culture. That is simply not true. The social justice train continues to steamroll through denominational structures, seminaries, and local churches. Methods such as intersectionality must not be embraced as a mere analytical tool. We’re being asked to replace theology with victimology, swap pastors for sociologists, and trade theologians for political activists. By what standard are such decisions being made?
Today, we have a movement that insists on normalizing soft complementarianism, soft intersectionality, and in the blink of an eye—the SBC will be too far gone to recover from the storm of social justice. Sadly, there are many people in the SBC who are caught up in the social justice movement out of emotion or sympathy for the perceived victims of our day. In reality, a small number of players understand the big picture agenda of deconstructionism and the power grab tactics that are being employed. Could it be that the SBC is being played for a larger political agenda in the cultural sphere? Why is there suddenly such a massive push toward a redefinition of complementarianism? By what standard is the systemic racism idea being pressed upon the SBC? Is the Bible sufficient or must we employ critical theory in order to address problems within the local church and the culture as a whole?
This question is central and I’m excited about a new documentary that is being produced by Founders Ministries where that very question is going to be answered.
By What Standard? God’s World, God’s Rules is a documentary that presses those questions by showing how godless ideologies are influencing evangelical thought and life.
Take a moment to view the trailer for the new film and consider offering your support financially as well. Help us spread the word about this important documentary. No longer are we simply hearing stories about the past—we’re living in the midst of a massive controversy and we have an opportunity to impact the outcome. How can you get involved?
- Watch the trailer
- Consider contributing financially to the project
- Share the link on social media
- Look for ways to engage in conferences and meetings
- Tell the truth to your friends and family
- Tell the truth to your local church
- Show up at the SBC and vote
The Southern Baptist Convention fought a 30-year long battle for the Bible known as the Conservative Resurgence, but what happened in Birmingham, Alabama might just prove to validate the woke movement for the largest protestant denomination in America. Did the SBC abandon the sufficiency of Scripture? Many people have made that claim for years citing pragmatism as the modus operandi of the Convention—but this time it happened in an official capacity as a resolution.
Last year prior to the annual meeting of the SBC in Dallas, Texas—I wrote an article titled, “The SBC at the Intersection of Intersectionality” where I warned of the dangers of identity politics within the Convention. I likewise preached on the dangers of intersectionality in a sermon back in January of 2019 in the pre-conference to the annual G3 Conference in Atlanta. Not only was I heavily criticized for the article and sermon—the leaders of the Convention openly denied that it was a real threat. Here we are just a few months later and the entire SBC has officially adopted Resolution 9 – “On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.” It’s official—we are encouraged to use these worldly ideologies and philosophies as helpful tools to diagnose and address social ills in a depraved world. The use of such woke tools will not end well for the SBC. We were given an opportunity to stand, and we remained seated. We were given a test on our commitment to the Scriptures and we failed.
The Woke Downgrade
Intersectionality was originally coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a political activist and radical feminist, in order to describe oppression against women on specific different points of intersection. Today, it’s used in a more broad sense. In short, intersectionality as it has been defined, is discrimination based on overlapping layers of individual classes of discrimination. It’s when a person is subjected to discrimination for more than one classification such as a woman who is black and lesbian. She would classify, under this line of reasoning, for three basic discriminatory marks—being a woman, who is black, and is also a lesbian. According to the definition of intersectionality, where these three marks “intersect” is the focus of her greatest and most severe discrimination which places her at the greatest risk of oppression in our culture.
Although this term was birthed out of a radical feminist postmodern political culture, it’s now being used within evangelical circles to describe people who are oppressed and “held back” from certain advancement within evangelicalism.
We must always remember that words matter and doctrine matters. Therefore, when it comes to the adoption of a resolution using terms like Critical Race Theory and intersectionality, the words in the document must be taken seriously. In the resolution, the following statement is made:
WHEREAS, Critical Race Theory and intersectionality alone are insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of the social ills that they identify, which result from sin, yet these analytical tools can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences, and
If CRT and intersectionality are insufficient alone to diagnose social ills, what about the Scriptures—are they insufficient alone to diagnose social ills? In a day where we’ve already watched the evangelical world attach woke to church—now the SBC has attached woke to the Scriptures.
You cannot attach identity politics to the sufficient Scriptures and still claim to be champions of sufficiency. God’s Word must stand alone. Like a confident lion walking in the afternoon sun on the African plains—it doesn’t need assistance to diagnose and address the social ills of a depraved society. What the SBC did, in passing this resolution, is make a clear statement to the watching world that we believe the Bible is not quite capable of addressing the lived experiences of broken people and may need the assistance of CRT and intersectionality.
When Charles Spurgeon was addressing the compromise among Baptists in England, he penned “The Downgrade in the Churches” where he wrote the following:
A chasm is opening between the men who believe their Bibles and those who are prepared for an advance upon the Scripture. . .The house is being robbed, its very walls are being digged down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth. . .to go downstairs to meet the burglars.
When the elect exiles were being pummeled by persecution and severely mistreated by depraved God-haters, Peter didn’t point them to identity politics to diagnose the problem and pursue solutions (1 Peter 1). Instead, Peter pointed people to the sufficient Word of God by quoting the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:8) in order to encourage them in the faith. We need leaders like Peter in days of confusion, hardship, and a culture filled with devilish ills.
For a Convention that experienced many scars in a lengthy battle for the inerrancy of the Bible, it grieved me as a 42-year old pastor who is a product of the Conservative Resurgence to watch as the SBC voted to adopt a resolution which in many ways denies the sufficiency of Scripture.
The Woke Hermeneutic
As the Baptists in Spurgeon’s day spiraled downward, he could see that the issue was fundamentally based upon their lack of commitment to the Word of God. In his work on the Downgrade, Spurgeon said:
Inspiration and speculation cannot long abide side by side. . .We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word and yet reject it.
The same thing is true regarding the sufficiency of Scripture. Yet, in the resolution that was adopted on CRT and intersectionality—it affirms the sufficiency of Scripture and denies it at the same time. It’s a theological disaster and filled with logical contradictions.
In seminary, pastors learn the science of biblical interpretation (hermeneutics). In other words, how a person approaches the text of Scripture matters. If improper methods are employed, you can make the Bible say all sorts of things that were never intended by the original author. The goal of the biblical interpreter is to rightly handle the biblical text in such a way that the original intent and single meaning of the text is proclaimed and applied to the modern audience. This is essential for biblical scholars, country preachers, urban church planters, and pioneer missionaries.
Many would argue that the SBC has no business arguing over complex ideologies such as CRT and intersectionality. Some people may say, “Let’s stop fighting over semantics and start winning the lost to Christ. The world is dying and going to hell in a hand-basket, and we’re arguing over words and phrases like ‘Critical Race Theory’ and ‘intersectionality.'” To such a response I would say that denominations are dying too. While we’re not called to go and make denominations—we must recognize that denominations can be good tools for cooperating together to make disciples in our commission that comes from Christ himself (Matt. 28:18-20).
However, in order to make disciples, you must be able to rightly deliver the message of the gospel. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Therefore, how we handle the Bible matters and when we’re being told that we need new helpful tools to be added to the Bible in order to address the brokenness, sin, injustice, and human depravity within our cities—this is what we call a new hermeneutic.
A denial of sufficiency will open the door to a new hermeneutic and that will always end in disaster. Anytime the text of Scripture is muzzled by subjective experiences of people—the meaning, method, and message will be altered. This is precisely the same broken path traveled by many groups throughout history and in every case, they have all completely capitulated on the authority of God’s Word.
On March 1st 2019, I made a statement on Twitter. As the aggressive push of identity politics continues to invade evangelical circles, I stated:
Intersectionality has convinced many within evangelicalism to:
- Replace theology with victimology.
- Swap pastors with sociologists.
- Trade theologians for political activists.
We will never achieve “reconciliation” and “unity” and “equality” through social justice.
The SBC has made a serious mistake and one that without stern correction will be the tipping point for an already vulnerable and numerically decreasing Convention of churches.
Rushed to vote at the 11th hour due to Convention rules that would not permit the SBC from extending the time of business a third time (total time of the two previous extensions was only 15 minutes), the messengers of the 2019 SBC lifted their ballots to officially adopt a resolution that we cannot afford. And that’s how the 2019 SBC concluded.
Just imagine a world where we had a multitude of local churches who actually believed the Bible was sufficient. No pride, injustice, ethnic discrimination, gender oppression, police brutality, sexual abuse, or any other controversy could withstand the faithful preaching of God’s Word. Imagine how women would flourish with their gifts, ethnicities would find unity at the cross, and the gospel would be proclaimed far and wide. I long for that day, but we cannot get there from here. The resolution that was adopted will not lead the SBC in that direction.
When W.A. Criswell stood before the SBC during the heat of the battle of the Conservative Resurgence, in his sermon he told a story as an illustration to the liberals who were questioning the full inerrancy of the Bible among Southern Baptists. He said:
A friend of mine, a teacher, went to the University of Chicago to gain a Ph.D. in pedagogy. While there, he made the friendship of a student in the divinity school. Upon the young theolog’s graduation, the budding preacher said to my teacher friend, quote, “I am in a great quandary. I have been called to the pastorate of a Presbyterian church in the Midwest, but it is one of those old-fashioned Presbyterian churches that believes the Bible. And I don’t believe the Bible, and I don’t know what to do.” My teacher friend replied, “I can tell you exactly what you ought to do.” Eagerly, the young preacher asked, “What?” And my teacher friend replied, “I think that if you don’t believe the Bible, you ought to quit the ministry!”
I would say that those who prefer sociology over Scripture and identity politics over the sufficiency of God’s Word are no friend of the SBC. Such a person should not be permitted to rise among the ranks of SBC leadership or welcomed to pastor an SBC church.
I conclude with the words of Charles Spurgeon who stood courageously during confusing times in his own circle of churches and pointed to the sufficiency of Scripture:
This weapon is good at all points, good for defense and for attack, to guard our whole person or to strike through the joints and marrow of the foe. Like the seraph’s sword at Eden’s gate, it turns every way. You cannot be in a condition that the Word of God has not provided. The Word has as many faces and eyes as providence itself. You will find it unfailing in all periods of your life, in all circumstances, in all companies, in all trials, and under all difficulties. Were it fallible, it would be useless in emergencies, but its unerring truth renders it precious beyond all price to the soldiers of the cross (Sermon: Matthew 4:4).
In recent days, a debate has been resurrected within evangelicalism on whether or not women should preach the Bible to the gathered church. The lines are often divided between complementarianism and egalitarianism. Both are complicated words that contain baggage and differing levels of agreement such as soft and hard complementarianism as an example. However, beyond the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12-13 regarding the roles of men and women in the pulpit—how can complementarianism serve to honor the dignity and value of women?
Perhaps the biggest news story involving the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the sex scandal that has become a black mark upon the Convention. Regardless of where you stand on the issues of the way the news media portrays the complicity of the Convention as a whole—the fact remains that women and girls have been abused and men have abandoned their post as protector and provider. This is nothing short of tragic.
When we examine the the definition of complemenatrianism, if we’re honest with the term itself, it involves more than prohibitions on women serving. It’s far more than a stop sign for women. The word itself defines the position that points to the calling of men to be the leaders of the home and the local church—not based on their physical stature or mental abilities—but based on their calling that’s rooted in creation.
Male headship is not a product of the fall. It’s an aspect of God’s blueprint for his people that predates the fall. When we examine the creation account, we see that Adam was created first and then Eve. It was Adam who was given charge of naming all of the animals (Gen. 2:20) and Adam likewise named Eve—his wife (Gen. 2:23). Adam was given charge to work (another responsibility of man that predates the fall). Adam’s headship was God’s plan and we find the commentary on this in various places in the New Testament—such as Ephesians 5:31 where Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 as he describes the mysterious relationship between Christ and his bride the church. In that passage, Paul drives home the responsibility of the husband to love and lead his wife. Once again, this is not a post-fall responsibility—it predates the fall.
Male leadership is not part of the curse, it’s one of God’s good blessings for the home and the church (see 1 Tim. 3:1-5 and Titus 1). Such a big view of male headship points to the responsibility of providing and protecting women for the glory of God. In other words, mature manhood is based on something beyond how much a person can benchpress or how far a man can run. You may hold a coral belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, be able to bench press 300lbs., climb a mountain, skin a deer, and shoot class 3 weapons like a champ…but if you don’t know how to lead your wife and protect her physically and spiritually—you’re not a biblically mature man.
In many cultures throughout history, in order to be a man, you had to be able to:
Today, that formula has been replaced by the three B’s:
Today’s manhood is often shallow and superficial. It’s based on how you perform sexually, athletically, and financially. Sadly, the world has very low expectations for manhood. We have forgotten what Voddie Baucham calls the four P’s:
As men take their leadership responsibilities seriously—it serves to protect women from abuse both in the physical sphere and the spiritual sphere. Complementarianism serves to protect women from home intruders and spiritual wolves, heretics, and false prophets. This is God’s plan for both the home and the local church—that Spiritual and gifted men would lead in both the physical and spiritual spheres.
We must make sure the whole wide world knows that abusive men are not overly passionate complementarians — they’re not complementarians at all. Such a man has abandoned his post as provider and protector resulting in the abuse of little girls and women.
Russell Moore in an address given to the Evangelical Theological Society on November 17th 2005 said the following:
Ironically, a more patriarchal complementarianism will resonate among a generation seeking stability in a family-fractured Western culture in ways that soft-bellied big-tent complementarianism never can… And it will also address the needs of hurting women and children far better, because it is rooted in the primary biblical means for protecting women and children: calling men to responsibility. Patriarchy is good for women, good for children, and good for families.
Any move away from the mature biblical manhood and male headship in the home and local church is a move that the SBC and our local churches cannot afford. The SBC has traveled that road before and it was not exactly a peaceful journey. May the Lord grant us wisdom and resolve to stand upon the sufficient Word of God as we navigate through these challenges and confusing days.
When Molly Marshall served as the associate dean of the school of theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky she held to unbiblical positions that transcended to a far higher level than her egalitarianism. Upon being forced to resign due to her theological liberalism that contradicted the Bible and the governing documents of the institution, at a candlelight vigil on April 18th 1995, Molly Marshall stated, “The school of theology is without a tenured woman and probably will be as long as the misogynistic forces are unabated.” While we’ve come so far within the SBC, for many, we’ve been moving in the wrong direction. According to Beth Moore:
I am compelled to my bones by the Holy Spirit – I don’t want to be but I am -to draw attention to the sexism & misogyny that is rampant in segments of the SBC, cloaked by piety & bearing the stench of hypocrisy. There are countless godly conservative complementarians. So many.
This is one statement in her long Twitter response to Owen Strachan’s recent article “Divine Order in a Chaotic Age: On Women Preaching” where he pointed to God’s divine hierarchy rooted in creation and connected to the design of the hierarchy established in God’s church.
In May of 2016, I penned an article titled, “Why Your Pastor Should Say ‘No More’ to Beth Moore” where I communicated several concerns that should be taken seriously regarding Beth Moore’s ministry. Today, I’m publishing a sequel to that article that focuses on why the Southern Baptist Convention should cease partnership with Beth Moore’s ministry on any official level—which would include the ERLC, LifeWay, and local churches who make up the SBC. As I begin, I want to be clear that this is not intended to be a hit piece on Beth Moore personally. I’m sure she’s a great mother, wife, and friend to many people, but her ministry, beliefs, and ideas are problematic and must not be overlooked.
The SBC and Doctrinal Fidelity
Years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention took a plunge into the abyss of liberal theology. During those days, professors were teaching post-mortem salvation opportunities at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The story of the SBC is one that is quite shocking and a testimony of God’s sovereign mercy. No denomination has ever returned from the abyss of liberal theology with a bright resurgence like the SBC. The story of the Conservative Resurgence (although not without imperfection) is something that all Southern Baptist churches should not forget.
While the SBC has certainly been rescued from theological liberalism—at some point the SBC has become a slave to pragmatism. Sadly, whatever works often trumps what the Bible actually says. This leads people, institutions, and entire denominations away from doctrinal purity. Over time, the SBC learned that a partnership with Beth Moore would be a good decision both pragmatically (due to her popularity among women) and financially (primarily through LifeWay). No amount of financial benefit should warrant a blind eye to Beth Moore’s theological deficiencies.
Charismatic Associations and Gifts
Beth Moore has become more visibly aligned with groups of people who do not align with the convictions and theological positions of the SBC. For instance, in early 2017, Beth Moore was the keynote preacher at a large charismatic conference where she said, “We are settling for woefully less than what Jesus promised us,” She went on to say, “I read my New Testament over and over. I’m not seeing what He [Jesus] promised. I’m unsettled and unsatisfied.” She likewise communicated, “I want holy fire!” The evening ended with many pastors and conference attendees running to the altar where they laid prostrate on the floor weeping and praying for more than an hour. While that may be a mild example, she has likewise appeared on TBN with Joyce Meyer and worshipped in Joel Osteen’s church. The apostle Paul stated plainly that we were to warn the church and avoid those who cause division (Rom. 16:17). Beth Moore chooses to partner with heretics which is a problem the SBC should avoid.
According to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, the SBC embraces a clear teaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. According to Article IV. B., “Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.” That is not the position of the Roman Catholic Church which has been denying the material principle of the Reformation (justification by faith alone) for centuries. According to the RCC:
If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
Within her teaching ministry, Beth Moore has referred to Roman Catholics as her “brothers and sisters” in Christ. In one video from 2002, Beth Moore stated that God gave her a vision of the unity that God was building among various denominations in which she included both Catholics and charismatics. This ecumenical view of other faiths is problematic and weakens the SBC as a whole. As the SBC looks into the future, it should be obvious that a clear stance on justification by faith alone must be embraced, guarded, and proclaimed. Not only should the SBC be clear on justification, but other doctrinal distinctives must be maintained as well. Unfortunately, many people view distinctives as restrictive or even judgmental in nature. This negative view of doctrinal clarity often leads to the capitulation of God’s Word. Is the SBC interested in remaining in a specific theological lane or is the Convention interested in moving toward a more broad or mainstream protestant position?
The SBC and Women Preachers
When Molly Marshall was serving as a pastor of a local Baptist church, she recounts an incident when the little boys and girls in the church had a disagreement during children’s church. The disagreement was over whether or not little boys could be the preacher when they were “playing church”—to which a children’s worker had to correct the little girls by telling them that the little boys can be preachers too. Molly Marshall stated that the little girls had witnessed her as their example and this was key to their development which is why Marshall believes we develop a specific worldview and read the Bible through that particular lens regarding the roles and responsibilities of women within the church.
In 2017 Barna Research Group pointed out that there was a rise in the number of women pastors. According to their study, “One of every 11 Protestant pastors is a woman—triple as many as 25 years ago.” In a new statistical analysis, “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.: A Statistical Update” the numbers indicate that within “most Mainline denominations, the percentage of clergywomen has doubled or tripled since 1994.”
Dr. Albert Mohler who serves as the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has recently weighed in on this issue of complementarianism in an answer to a question during an “Ask Anything” podcast where he stated the following:
If you look at the denominations where women do the preaching, they are also the denominations where people do the leaving. I think there’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice.
While the mainline protestant denominations continue to shift toward an egalitarian position, this movement demonstrates an uptick across the board. When adding totals from American Baptist Churches USA, Disciples of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and United Methodist denominations, the numbers indicate 32 percent of clergy from those denominations in 2017. Compare the most recent percentage total (32%) with numbers from 1994 (15%) and 1977 (2.3%) and the trend is easy to follow. The numbers reveal an explosive growth of women serving in the office of pastor.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, Beth Moore became the focus of many conversations within the Southern Baptist Convention mostly because of her article titled, “A Letter to My Brothers” which was written a few weeks before the SBC gathered in Dallas, Texas in June of 2018. Since then, she has been very outspoken on issues that we can all agree are problematic such as misogyny, sexism, and discrimination against women. However, is preventing women from preaching the Bible oppressive?
Victimology has replaced theology beneath the banner of social justice. To play the victim card in our culture today is like playing the ace of spades in a card game. The victim approach to ladder climbing is both politically correct and extremely powerful. The social justice movement, unfortunately, places a clear reading of 1 Timothy 2-3 and the roles of women that are rooted in creation within the category of misogyny. Beth Moore has clearly twisted the Scriptures and used the social justice movement to fuel her agenda. Suddenly, anyone who speaks out against her and this progressive deconstructionist trend are shouted down and labeled as misogynists.
Not only did Beth Moore take to Twitter to taunt her opposition on these matters in recent days, she likewise took to the pulpit in a SBC church on Mother’s Day to exercise her perceived privilege and calling as a preacher and teacher of God’s Word. Will Beth Moore mobilize her partnerships with Russell Moore (president of the ERLC) and her open door to the churches of the SBC through her ongoing LifeWay publishing agreement to shift the SBC toward an egalitarian position? Will her supporters within the SBC ignore the Bible and cite the mainstream protestant trends while demanding that we need to get up-to-date with the times? What the future holds for the SBC on such issues is uncertain, but if the positions of current leadership such as J.D. Greear and Russell Moore is any indication—it would not be out of the question to see a woman elected as a vice president or even presidential role in the upcoming years. Such a move would press the SBC down a progressive path through a top-down influence upon the local churches of the SBC.
The Russian journalist and philosopher Fyodor Dostoevsky made the famous statement, “If there is no God, then everything is permissible.” This is true, but the problem with this line of thinking is that there is a God and he has established boundaries and hierarchies, and this goes for both the culture, home, and his church. To tamper with God’s design is to go to war with God himself. Beth Moore has made herself very clear on large theological and methodological positions and for that reason, it would be wise for the SBC to be clear where the denomination stands. If Dr. Mohler is accurate in his evaluation, if denominations where women do the preaching are also denominations where people do the leaving—it would be detrimental to the SBC to follow this trend. We must remember, this is not just about losing people—it’s dangerous to find yourself on the opposing side of God on any issue as Israel learned in 1 Samuel 4:21.
The SBC is not charismatic. The SBC is not egalitarian. To say so is not divisive nor is it misogynistic. It’s time for the SBC to say “no more” to Beth Moore.
For a number of months, the temperature has increased greatly on issues related to what is being labeled as the social justice movement. For many people, this has come as a big surprise, but for others the trajectory has been anticipated as things continue to develop. It’s often difficult to follow language, logic, and motive in a Twitter conversation (or debate). For that reason, I would like to point out some of the troubling terms that are emerging from the social justice movement that demand our attention.
Terms and Definitions Matter
For anyone who has ever engaged in a friendly debate on the doctrines of grace, it’s quite clear that to have a profitable conversation we must be using the same dictionary. If one person comes to the conversation with a different set of definitions—the conversation will be derailed from the very beginning. Back in the days of the conservative resurgence period, liberals and conservatives both embraced the term of inerrancy, but the liberal had a completely different definition for the word. Therefore, as we enter into important conversations and engage in necessary debates over matters of social justice—we need to understand that our terminology matters.
What exactly does social justice mean? Is a social justice warrior (SJW) one who is defending the gospel or is that individual guilty of putting emphasis on something that isn’t the gospel in order to promote and empowerment and unity agenda? How we view these terms and positions are critical in order to engage in this profitable cultural conversation. Intersectionality is another term that you need to be aware of in this social justice conversation. Although it was originally coined by a radical feminist to defend oppressed homosexual women—now that same strategy is being employed within evangelical circles. What does it mean to embrace complementarianism? There is a minimum and a maximum view of this doctrine, so which view is most biblically accurate? Such terms and how we define them are key to this conversation.
As we move on, I want to mention a few terms emerging from the social justice movement that trouble me. I will explain each term and how it’s being used within the social justice movement and why we should be concerned.
Christians should care for oppressed people, and we can state that with quite a bit of theological force. As we look back at the history of America, we see periods of time where oppression was systemic in nature and explicitly sinful. Such eras of time included oppression on black people and women. Even beyond the Emancipation Proclamation and eventual end to slavery—both groups were targeted with ungodly discrimination and systemic oppression.
As laws were passed, both blacks and women were eventually free to enjoy the same freedoms in America. Although our culture was slow to change, it eventually led to their advancement in our culture to our present day where both blacks and women occupy the highest seats in our nation. We have seen blacks and women as successful business owners, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, professors, and politicians. The richest black American is a woman—Oprah Winfrey. Her net worth as of February 15, 2018, is $2.8 billion, according to Forbes, making her the richest black American. Just take a look at the Supreme Court of the United States and the office of president as prime examples of how the former years of systemic racism and systemic oppression have ended.
We should be grateful for such freedom and advancement, however, the social justice movement continues to claim that we’re presently holding back people of color and preventing women from flourishing as God has intended from the beginning—within evangelicalism. Is that true? Specific leaders in evangelicalism are calling for the dismantling of present hierarchies so that a new era can emerge where this oppression will not continue. For that reason, the language of modern oppression concerns me; and if we’re brutally honest, people of color and women are not being systemically oppressed in evangelicalism today—it’s simply not true.
If the idea of oppression is one of the key motivating factors for this need for social justice, we must identify who’s being oppressed and how they’re being held back. According to certain voices within evangelicalism, people of color and women have been held back from climbing the ladder to the top within our organizational structures, institutions of higher learning, and local churches—so we must do everything within our power to reverse this oppression by an agenda of empowerment. If systemic oppression was true, there would be a need to work together for liberation. However, if true systemic oppression is not a reality within evangelicalism—why is there a such a radical push for empowerment?
Within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), we have seen a massive surge in conversation centered on empowerment. Scholarships are being set aside for people of color that are not being offered to white people at the same institutions. Many people are talking about the sudden need to empower a women to become the president of the SBC. Consider the language of Dwight McKissic as he posted the following on his Facebook just a few days before the 2018 annual meeting of the SBC:
If I thought Beth Moore would accept the nomination or be agreeable to being nominated, because of her qualifications and the current context the SBC finds herself in… I would nominate her for SBC President. The SBC is a parachurch organization – not a church. Therefore, there is absolutely not one Bible verse, or SBC constitutional bylaws prohibitions, nor any BF&M 2000 prohibitions against a woman serving as SBC President. Tradition, sexism, fear and other non-biblical factors would probably prevent any woman… from being elected President of the SBC.
Is the SBC really guilty of sexism or any other sinful oppressive behavior because we have not elected a woman to serve as president of the SBC? Should we create scholarships for people of color within institutions of higher learning just so that we can increase the percentage of a specific demographic in our classrooms who will eventually go on to occupy the office of pastor in local churches and serve as missionaries on the field?
Back to the important term of complementarianism—what exactly does it mean? If we truly believe that we have been guilty of holding women back, what does that mean for the future of our local churches if we engage in a “women’s liberation” movement in the SBC? Will we begin to see women preaching and teaching in the local church on a regular basis as the fruit of the social justice movement? What if a woman is elected as the president of the SBC, will she be invited to preach in the chapel services of the seminaries and Bible colleges of the SBC? How far will those who are championing the idea of systemic oppression be willing to press this issue of empowerment? What if our excitement about empowerment leads women to walk away from their calling that God has established from the beginning—one rooted in creation itself?
In many ways, the logical conclusion of the social justice movement is to embrace the unbiblical category of LGBT Christian. Just over one week from now, the Revoice Conference will be held in St. Louis. The front page of the conference states the following:
Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality
Did you notice the key word, “empowering” in the sentence? The empowerment agenda is fixed on liberating those who have been held back from flourishing. Therefore, this mindset claims that we have held back people of color, women, and homosexuals through systemic oppression that has prevented them from occupying specific offices, positions, or enjoying membership in our local churches. Is this true? Have we held back homosexuals from flourishing and refused to care for them properly?
Sure, it can be clearly documented that many Christians have refused to care for homosexuals in a proper Christ-honoring manner, but the best way to care for homosexuals is not to call them Christians. That would be a soul-damning mistake. Paul never calls homosexuals brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, he roots their identity in the gospel of Jesus and points to the past tense reality of their sin (1 Cor. 6:9-11). As Christ followers, they are new creations in Christ and they have a new desire to identify with Jesus and do war with their sin. To call struggling sinners “gay Christians” is to lead them into deeper oppression of sin rather than to the light of Jesus Christ. Owen Strachan observes:
There will be no “queer treasure” in the New Jerusalem. There will be nothing unholy in the celestial city, nothing sinful that will be brought to the worship of the crucified and resurrected Lord of the church. There is no righteousness in a believer, a truly born-again Christian, identifying as “bisexual.” This identification alone would not qualify a man or woman to serve at a Vacation Biblical School event, let alone instruct the church on sexual ethics.
As this social justice agenda continues to morph and move down the tracks, it’s essential that we have some important conversations. Can we engage in the necessary conversations with respect for one another? Sure we can engage in a Christ-honoring manner, but the reality is—many of the lead voices in the social justice agenda are unwilling to have an open conversation on these important matters.
We must fight to uphold the dignity of women as God has instituted from the beginning. We must encourage women to flourish within God’s design as image-bearers in the home, the local church, and beyond. However, to ask of women what God never asked is to lead them down a road of oppression and discouragement. We must likewise preach the gospel faithfully and labor for unity in the gospel that transcends all socioeconomic boundaries and ethnic lines. It’s in Jesus where we find true purpose, hope, and identity. This identity brings about true unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3-6). The same gospel that encourages women to flourish and unites different skin colors also brings about the salvation of sinners—including those lost in the perils of homosexuality. We should celebrate this gospel together.
In order for our engagement on these matters to be profitable we must understand the terms—but most importantly we must understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Christ we will find true unity and purpose to labor with one another to bring people out of darkness and into the marvelous light of Jesus Christ. May the Lord raise up gospel saturated ambassadors who bleed Bibline (like John Bunyan) rather than champions of social justice. The gospel has not been recalled and the Word of God doesn’t need a revision for our modern challenges within our culture. I fear that the modern social justice movement in evangelicalism is communicating to the world that the gospel is somehow insufficient to deal with our social challenges. The gospel is still the power of God unto salvation and the Word of God is sufficient.
This is a guest post by Pastor Tom Buck. Tom Buck is Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Lindale, Texas. He holds a BA in Pastoral Ministries and New Testament Greek from the Moody Bible Institute, a ThM in Bible Exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is presently completing his doctoral work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tom previously served for 12 years as the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Fellowship in Florida. He has been at First Baptist Church since 2006.
The Ongoing Push to Empower Women
Last month, I drew attention to the redefining of complementarity occurring in the SBC (https://bit.ly/2Jkn386). Various leaders were using similar language calling for “the tearing down of all hierarchy” and “empowerment” of women in the SBC. This rhetoric began to translate into action as the election of a woman as the “first trustee chairwoman” at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary was celebrated, followed by the proposal for a woman to serve as president of the SBC.
Some pushed back against this movement with Scriptural responses. For example, I wrote several articles carefully exegeting 1 Timothy 2:12-15 in order to offer a biblical argumentation for the complementarian roles of men and women. With that Scriptural foundation, I argued that a denomination comprised of local churches should not desire a model of teaching and leadership different from God’s design for those same individual churches.
Proponents of empowering a woman as SBC president have given arguments such as the Baptist Faith and Message only prohibits a woman from serving as a pastor; the office of president is not the biblical office of pastor; and the job description for president does not prohibit a woman from serving. What they have yet to advance is an argument for the roles of men and women that proceeds from a careful analysis of Scripture. Rather than interacting with any biblical arguments offered, one writer simply concluded, “in short, there’s no reason a woman cannot be SBC president.”
The impetus behind this recent movement is critical to understand. This conversation did not arise in a vacuum but surfaced in light of the sad revelation of mistreatment of some women in the SBC. To be clear, there is no justification for the abuse of women and it is right to take a strong stand against all its forms. In addition, when such abuses come to light, we should look to Scripture to guide both our reaction to them and the solution for how to rightly move forward. However, emotional pragmatic answers have been controlling the conversation instead of ideas rooted in Scripture.
For example, in a panel discussion at SBC 2018, solutions were discussed for how to respond to the accusations of mistreatment and marginalization of women in the SBC. Repeatedly, the call to empower women and give them roles of leadership were echoed. One panelist commented that when situations arise where women have been mistreated in the church, the wisest answer is to empower women in leadership to bring about a peaceful solution. At face value, that answer might appear completely logical, but it is absolutely unbiblical.
The NT Model of Leadership
In Acts 6, the church encounters its first crisis that created a division in the church. Luke writes, “a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (6:1). The text does not ascribe the motives behind the marginalization of one group of widows over the other as deliberately sinful. Nevertheless, the unequal distribution among these women was serious and needed to be confronted.
This matter was of such importance that the apostles summoned the entire church to address the problem (6:2). Although it was necessary for the apostles to not be distracted from leading the church in the preaching of the Word, the needs of the widows must not be overlooked. Therefore, the apostles called upon the church to choose individuals from among the body to lead in this important task to assure that these women were cared for and no longer marginalized.
The first recorded problem in the church directly involved the mistreatment of women. The apostles identified the need for individuals to lead in the task of bringing about a peaceful resolution that would result in godly care for these women. If there is any task that it would seem appropriate to place women in positions of authority, surely this would be a perfect case. Yet, the apostles directed the church to “pick out from among you seven men” (6:3).
Considering the arguments being made about empowering women, it should be striking that the apostles did not recommend for even one woman to be enlisted in the oversight of this ministry to the widows. It cannot be that the apostles lacked wisdom, failed to be sensitive, or merely acquiesced to the cultural norms of the day. When the apostles saw the need for oversight of this critical ministry in the church, they set a clear example of God’s design for authoritative leadership to be men.
The argument I am making is not that no women could have assisted these men chosen to lead. If they were wise leaders, they would have sought women to assist them in this task. However, the empowerment to lead in resolving this ministry crisis was given exclusively to men. Apparently, male authority in the church is not exclusively restricted to the teaching role of a pastor as some suggest.
It seems unreasonable to believe that the apostles did not deem it appropriate to enlist women to exercise authority in resolving the crisis of the widows, but the SBC should elect a woman as SBC president to address its problems. Perhaps the reason that individuals have not given biblical examples for their argument to “empower” women in the church is because none exist. The apostles were all men; the planting of churches was led by men; the writing of the New Testament was the work of men; and leadership in the churches was given to men.
That said, my ultimate point is not that women should have no leadership in the church. They most certainly should. In fact, I contend that this push to empower women in unbiblical ways will only serve to minimalize and discourage women from valuing the very leadership God has called upon them to exercise.
We Desperately Need Women to Biblically Lead
One of the dangers of responding to issues of this nature is appearing unbalanced. While trying to defend against the onslaught of those promoting unbiblical roles for women, it is easy to get entangled in only addressing what women cannot do. The reality is that women are a wonderful gift from God and their leadership is needed both in the home and the church.
My experience as a pastor is that we need more women, not less, leading as God calls for in Titus 2:3-5: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior… and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” In other words, God calls women in the church to lead other women in fulfilling the vital role that he has given them. Only in Scripture can God’s intended design for women be found.
Paul respected women and worked side by side with them in the work of the gospel (Rom 16). However, the only ministry in which he called upon them to lead was the discipling of children and other women. Mothers in the home should take great joy in the privilege to raise their children in godliness. Women in the church should devote themselves to the crucial role of discipling other women. Women have the unique privilege and responsibility of leading in these significant ways. It is sad and tragic that so many women feel unfulfilled in the beautiful design for which God created them. It is an even greater tragedy when the church cultivates that emotion.
Rather than enticing women with empowerment and cultivating a dissatisfaction towards their God given design, the SBC should call upon churches to equip women to serve in their Titus 2 role. I believe in the radical equality of men and women as image bearers of God. I also know that women have suffered greatly in this world at the hands of sexism. But it is the sin in this world that truly oppresses women, not the role God designed for them or the biblical authority structure of the church. Ever since Satan deceived Eve in the garden, the world has been selling “liberation” for the price of rebelling against God’s design. We should not allow them to set up shop in our individual churches or in the SBC.
Therefore, we should stop “empowering” women and start discipling them to follow Scripture.