WAKE FOREST, N.C.?Stretching the full length of Binkley Chapel’s center section, the audience was more casual in dress and contemporary in worship than the usual Southern Baptist gathering. The humor interjected by speakers assumed listeners were comfortable with current technology.
Yet, the priorities outlined by presenters were similar to those declared at most every evangelism conference or pastor gathering across the Southern Baptist Convention: the centrality of the gospel rooted in biblical fidelity, the need to carry that message across cultures, and a reminder to demonstrate the love of Christ.
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and the Conservative Resurgence that brought it about were affirmed repeatedly and even the lone non-Baptist presenter expressed agreement with its doctrinal tenets.
Observers from near and far who anticipated heretical teaching likely were disappointed, finding instead a fervent appeal to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary entered the emerging church minefield with a “Convergent” conference, the name itself hinted at President Daniel Akin’s call for Southern Baptists to combine the best practices of traditional and emerging churches in order to “minister with truth and urgency.”
That appearance of the lone non-Baptist, Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll of Seattle, as a speaker at the Sept. 21-22 conference at Southeastern’s Wake Forest, N.C., campus, elicited outrage from one Southern Baptist who said the Acts 29 Network, which Driscoll leads as president, encourages lax attitudes toward sinful behavior in order to gain a hearing among unbelievers.
Southeastern evangelism professor Alvin Reid identified “the elephant in the room” during the final plenary message, referring to Driscoll’s endorsement of alcohol consumption in his book “Radical Reformission” as their only area of disagreement.
“That’s not what this conference is about,” said Reid, who added he finds much to gain from Driscoll’s analysis of Emergents. He referred to George Whitfield having owned slaves and Charles Spurgeon smoking cigars “to the glory of God” as actions that did not cause Baptists to disregard their teaching.
“I think we’ve got a lot of ninth commandment issues taking place in Southern Baptist life,” added missiologist Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research when asked during a panel discussion how Driscoll is perceived. “We ought to act like men and stand up and tell the truth,” he said, calling Driscoll “a solid Bible guy.”
Driscoll surprised the audience not by his candor?a quality which propelled him to YouTube fame?but through his contrition over “bad attitudes” and “wickedness” when reacting to criticism.
“I believe God perhaps providentially put me at the fountainhead of what has become the Emergent movement to know the people, understand the issues, then leaving them to provide [a] clarity I consider more theologically faithful.”
Having led one of the fastest-growing churches in a city with “more dogs than Christians,” Driscoll attracted media attention quickly. As a fairly new convert gaining a national following while in his late 20s, “I didn’t know how to handle that,” he said.
“In times past, being angry and frustrated combined with immaturity and pride affected my tone” and ultimately obscured his message, said Driscoll, who once had the moniker of “the cussing pastor.” He only recently explained his separation six years ago from what became the Emergent Village, noting, “My heart is not one of anger and frustration, but concern and grief.”
Driscoll also noted the position of Rob Bell, a pastor that he does not know personally but whose writings, including “Velvet Elvis,” he has read. Noting that Bell has called into question the virgin birth, Driscoll said, “The question that begs to be answered is, ‘Do we lose anything if we lose the virgin birth of Jesus Christ?’ …
“To the Lord Jesus, [such doubt] is insulting,” Driscoll said. “First of all, Mary said that she was a virgin. If she was really a lying whore, that does change the story. Because if the lying whore raises a young boy who says he is God, why believe the extravagant claims of the child of a lying whore? Following the resurrection, Jesus’ mother, Mary, was with the disciples worshipping him as God as part of the early church. Why would we believe the testimony of the resurrection of Jesus from a lying whore?
“Let me submit to you, if we lose the testimony of the Scripture about Jesus, we lose Jesus,” Driscoll said. “I believe in prima scriptura, that Scripture is our highest authority. I believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable.”
One conference participant challenged Driscoll’s own practice of watching cable television to better understand the world in which he ministers.
“It’s not to watch for entertainment, but view it like [the Apostle] Paul walking in Athens looking at idols for footholds for the gospel,” Driscoll answered, commending an exposition by Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin of 1 Corinthians 6-13 about making wise decisions.
J.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Durham, N.C., suggested using research-based resources to analyze cultural happenings without having to watch them personally. “If you have a weakness for candy, don’t hang out in the candy store,” Greear said.
Asked when a staff member should walk away from a church that will not change, Akin said unyielding doctrinal heresy justifies leaving, but a moral hurdle like racism is worth spilling blood over. “Some of us wimp out. We walk away too soon,” he said. “Unless God sets you free to send you somewhere else, try to be a change agent.”
To those who have considered leaving the Southern Baptist Convention especially when misunderstood by older pastors, LifeWay Research director Ed Stetzer advised them to clearly communicate their shared convictions regarding inerrancy, evangelism and missions.
“If we blow this thing up and all leave, we’ll just have to create it again,” Stetzer said. “God has given the Great Commission to the church, but each individual is not able to do it by himself.”
Reminding the predominantly Southern Baptist crowd that they cooperatively support the largest mission force in denominational Christianity, Stetzer said he often hears leaders in other mission-sending agencies say, “You guys are the ones who do it right.”
Greear and other Baptist speakers praised the courage of men like Adrian Rogers, Paige Patterson and Jerry Vines in leading the theological restoration of the SBC.
“When we look at what God did in our convention, being the only denomination in history that has ever turned around from the brink of liberalism and come back, that was an act of God,” Greear said. Referring to God’s promise to Moses and Joshua, he added, “That command to be strong and courageous is to a generation of younger leaders.”
Greear dismissed “the other Baptists” who point to drops in baptisms since conservatives regained control, comparing them to Sanballet and Tobiah critiquing Nehemiah. “They’ve got their rocks, but God has brought us this far and he’s going to take us forward.
“Nobody had to tell me we had a theological problem,” said Alvin Reid, a Southeastern Seminary evangelism professor, recalling years spent in Baptist schools. While visiting with Patterson “and some guy I’d never heard of named Richard Land” as he researched a seminary paper, they gave him a vision for future change.
As recently as six months ago, Stetzer said he considered stepping down from denominational leadership, frustrated by “some people who just want to keep bombing the rubble.” He said he longs for a t