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Guest Editorial: Representative response to Whitt

by Ryan Smith

Editor’s Note: There has been healthy feedback and discussion of Brad Whitt’s Guest Editorial, “Young, Southern Baptist and . . . irrelevant?” which appeared in the March 17 issue. The Messenger asked one of those who commented, Ryan Smith, worship leader at Stillwater, Eagle Heights, to write this representative response.

I appreciate Brad Whitt and his service for the Gospel. I am thankful for all those whose partnership with like-minded churches serves to convey the Gospel for the glory of God in the mission fields He has given.

Having read Brad Whitt’s article, I would say we might disagree on a few levels. I wear jeans on Sunday morning. Our pastor preaches with a stand and no podium. We are modern in our worship preference, and it fits our local context in a progressive university town. I am not sure what is meant by “restless” but we certainly have an urgency and discontent. We are passionate about the Gospel and life found in submission to the Scripture. Disregard for these things is seen in the culture, taught from many pulpits, and communicated through many forms of media. That’s not to say culture, pulpits or media are bad, just often abused.

This is breeding a generation of people who are tired of vague generalities, promises from preachers that Jesus never promised in Scripture, and a society with post-modern boundaries that are slowly being revealed as crumbling walls of straw. This generation wants something genuine and true. Unfortunately, many don’t see the church as the place to go to for that truth.

It seems for decades the church has been so intent on building its bookstores, media houses, dialect and organizational structures that we have forgotten to consider whether or not this is accomplishing the work of the great commission through the great commandment.

Is there reformation going on? Certainly. Is it theological? In some cases, but it is hardly at the center of the debate. In large part, it is a turn from building the structure of a Christian organization and instead building doctrines from, and submitted to, the Scripture. We are setting the table with meat for an entire generation starving for solid food.

Many of the things we do in our context to communicate the Gospel may not work in Whitt’s context. If podium and tie is the way to go, then man, do it with all you’ve got for the glory of God! But let us ensure the methods we employ (church or convention-wide) do not become the objects of our effort and affection. Christ alone is on that throne.

Jesus did not come to establish the SBC. The SBC organized to collectively serve His kingdom. Let us keep that in perspective. Let us also be organized, but let us understand, “Southern Baptist” and “Cooperative Program” are both manmade names and organizations. May we never worship the vehicle.

If anything, the “young, restless and reformed” may seem counter-cooperative because of divisive and isolating language as seen in the aforementioned article. It often seems to boil down to a discussion of methodology preference veiled in complaints about theology. In reality, we may not be as far apart theologically and in our reverence for the Scripture as one might think. But the statistics and “facts” Whitt alludes to are not entirely optimistic for the status quo. We need constant methodological reform. Instead of veiled insults, perhaps a mentoring arm would provide the best support from those before us in ministry. I’m sure you would find once the weapons are down that there are no enemies in front of you.

Granted, our methodology may be foreign to Whitt. But is foreign methodology bad? In any missiology course offered at a Southern Baptist seminary, you will find the first step for any missionary is to evaluate the culture and context to identify avenues for conveying the Gospel. We would not want to hop on a plane to the Middle East or Northwest America and use only comfortable methodology.

As a leader in a Baptist church employing modern methodology, I am not trying to change the way traditional churches lead. I am not upset by the way they sing songs or the material of their pants. To be honest, I have great respect and gratitude for these churches. I want traditional-minded churches to be effective in gospel ministry and influential in the community for the glory of God. Many are.

Good or bad theology can be taught from either pulpits or stands, in suits or jeans, in oratory or in song, from guitars or organs. Let us be joyful in exhorting one another towards biblical theology and obedience. Let us pool our resources to facilitate missions at home and abroad. Let us pray for one another regardless of who has the mic. May we thank God for those before us, pray for those who come after us and encourage those beside us. Let us be the John 17 church that Christ came, lived, died and was raised for. Thanks be to God for His enduring patience with us all.

Staff

Author: Staff

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  • Lacee

    I agree with this. Well thought out and well written response. Let’s not alienate even more people who need church homes with “isolating language.”

  • Max

    Ryan –

    I have read, with interest and burden, Dr. Whitt’s editorial and your representative response. Your combined observations on this subject offer a good cross-section of contrasting perspectives held by the professional pulpit at large within the SBC. Let me offer a view from the pew … one that I believe is widely held by the majority of Southern Baptists. I’m reluctant to enter this debate, for debating is not preaching the Gospel – and Lord knows we all need to get back to that!

    When it comes to such issues as the one at hand, we can flail at the branches or take an axe to the root of the tree. This is not a matter of young guys vs. old guys … pulpits vs. stools … jeans vs. suits … choirs vs. bands, etc. Bottom-line for us folks in the pew is a growing concern about the rise of Calvinism in the denomination and what we now more clearly see as an agenda to effect a generational shift in SBC churches to a theology that is more distinctly reformed than not.

    I am an American by birth, a Christian by choice, and a Baptist by conviction. However, I must say that my convictions in Southern Baptist life are becoming strained by the rise of “New Calvinism” in the SBC, not only because I personally disagree with reformed theology, but because I see a young generation within our churches being influenced in a very underhanded way. Young, restless and reformed pastors race to direct our youth to reformed leaders and their websites, sermons, articles, books, and blogs. Some of these non-SBC “influencers” have even been invited as speakers on SBC platforms and quoted in LifeWay literature for young adults.

    I was young and now am old and I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’ve lived a long life and know that Jesus is the eternal contemporary who has been relevant in all ages and across all cultures. The Way, the Truth, and the Life can penetrate barriers in time and place. Jesus is the same, yesterday, and forever. He doesn’t change and neither should the message about Him. Reformed vs. non-reformed messages are distinctly different portrayals of the Cross of Christ. Thus, at the heart of this problem – the root of this tree – is a need for SBC leadership to focus not on methodology and missiology, but the very message that identifies us as a denomination. It is my prayer that when the dust settles, the world will once again see Southern Baptists united with one voice to tell the old, old story to perishing souls.

    -Max

    • Pam Knight

      Max, thank you for for the “Representive Response” that should have been given. You like many of us did not misunderstand what Pastor Whitt was saying. And I too agree there are a greater number of us who agree with you and Pastor Whitt. The point he was making was so plain to see and it had not one thing to do with the clothes you wear or the music you sing or if you use a pulpit or podium. Thank you again Max for your reaponse.
      In Christ

  • Ryan,

    I appreciate your repsonse. I think you put much more eloquently what many of us that participated in the comments on Whitt’s article were trying to say. Thank you for that.

    I love what you said in the last paragraph.

    “Good or bad theology can be taught from either pulpits or stands, in suits or jeans, in oratory or in song, from guitars or organs. Let us be joyful in exhorting one another towards biblical theology and obedience. Let us pool our resources to facilitate missions at home and abroad. Let us pray for one another regardless of who has the mic. May we thank God for those before us, pray for those who come after us and encourage those beside us. Let us be the John 17 church that Christ came, lived, died and was raised for. Thanks be to God for His enduring patience with us all.”

    I think we can all learn from this.

  • Mark Abbott

    I am astounded that the original article, nor this retort or any of the other responses have contained any scripture to back their opinion. Which makes it just that…their opinion.
    Matthew 6:31 states:
    “therefore take no thought saying, what shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or wherewithal shall we be clothed? It seems to me that if you make a point to wear slacks to show yourself a snappy dresser then you’ve taken alot of thought as to what you shall be clothed in. Likewise if you make a point of wearing jeans(holey or whole) to show how with the times you are, you’ve taken much worry and thought.
    Peter says in 1 Peter5:5
    Like wise you younger submit yourselves unto the elder. Yes all of you be subject one to another and Clothed with humility for God resisteth the proud but gives grace to the humble.I’m seeing alot of pride here. Seeming to say, I’ll take my opinion over everyone including God himself.
    If you continue stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine as in Acts 2:42 with fellowship and the songs you sing tell the story of Jesus using his words to accurately divide the word of truth, what difference is there if it is a hymn or a modern song? The truth is what matters.
    Matthew 16:18…….I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
    We need to remember just whose church it is.

  • Ultimately these articles are about identity. Here is to hoping that our identity is increasingly Gospel and less Southern Baptist. Let’s also hope that Gospel conviction would drive Southern Baptists together for mission and nothing else.

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