Allen Challenges Southern Baptists to Make Five Healthy Choices for a Stable Future in McCall Leadership Lecture
Southern Baptists are facing numerous challenges that must be met by faithful leadership and an unyielding commitment to confessional and biblical fidelity, Jason Allen told Southern Seminary students Thursday morning in the Duke K. McCall Leadership Lecture at Alumni Memorial Chapel.
At the moment, there are critics on every side of the Southern Baptist Convention and challenges galore, he said, but this is not the first time the denomination has faced serious battles without and within. Allen, a two-time graduate of Southern Seminary, is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.
“I believe that Southern Baptists are a great people,” Allen said. “I believe they are congregated in great churches and formed together in a great convention. Yes, God will discipline us from his Word and by his Spirit and even through instruments and means beyond our control like the secular media as they press in on our hypocrisies and on our failures.
“But at our heart, as a convention of churches, as a denomination, I believe Southern Baptists are a great people and to serve them is a glorious opportunity and a sweet stewardship. I say that I am an optimist about the Southern Baptist Convention, and I say that not half-heartedly. To be an optimist in these days might make one a contrarian but I believe that is a position we can take and should take.”
Allen said Southern Baptists must make five healthy choices if they will remain faithful. The denomination must:
- Choose biblical conviction over cultural accommodation
The SBC, her leaders, and churches, must not be ambiguous on major ethical issues of the day, even if it may seem the denomination is overreacting or comes off as alarmist to the watching world.
One current cultural challenge the SBC currently faces is critical race theory (CRT). Another is all things related to sexuality, marriage, gender, personhood, and biblical complementarity, he said. The first challenge, CRT, may wane in years to come, Allen said, but the second certainly will not.
“We live in an age where we’d better be clear and loud and frequent about our biblical beliefs,” Allen said.
“We serve a denomination that lives fearful of doctrinal decline, and I believe that is a good thing. Yes, it can lead to suspicion and accusations at times, but I would rather live in a convention of churches that is fearful of doctrinal decline so much that at times they are overly alarmist than to serve in one that assumes the best and hopes for the best and isn’t willing to sort things out; that’s when you wake up one day and you’ve drifted far, far away from your doctrinal foundations and your mission commitments.”
No matter how gracious our tone, contemporary culture will not accept biblical views of issues related to gender, marriage, and sexuality.
“There is no perfect pitch to the ear of the secularist,” Allen said. “Biblical sexual ethics, no matter how politely stated, will not be met with cultural approval.”
- Let their confession of faith define their coalitions and not vice-versa
Southern Baptists must hold fast to their confessional statement, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, so that those who consider affiliating with the denomination or joining its churches will know precisely where the SBC stands on critical doctrinal issues.
“Doctrine first, mission second—in that order—defining the boundaries of our ministry coalition,” Allen said, “We must have the denominational self-confidence to hold fast to our confessional statement, hold to our convictions, and let that define our fellowship.”
- Pursue theological and spiritual health over numerical size
For decades, the SBC has happily touted itself as the largest Protestant denomination in the United States but pursuing sound doctrine and sound living could make those numbers less impressive, Allen said.
“In a denomination like the Southern Baptist Convention, it is appropriate to take careful looks at how our churches are doing, how our witness is doing collectively,” he said. “And as we pursue spiritual and theological health in the future it most likely will mean that in our generation, we will find ourselves serving a denomination that is getting smaller, not larger. And we have to become okay with that. . . . Perhaps God wants to make us smaller.”
- Renew their focus on the local church
Collectively, SBC churches are composed of nearly 14 million members, but only about half attend church on any given Sunday morning, a huge red flag for denominational health, Allen pointed out.
“As a convention of churches, (we must) understand that we are no more than a convention of churches,” Allen said. “And if we want to have a healthy work collectively, that will only happen as we have healthy congregations individually. We must reassert and rediscover what healthy church membership looks like.
“It is incumbent upon us to train ministers who will preach the Word and who will treat membership seriously, to rediscover a disciplined congregation. What a gift that would be in our generation, to lead that type of renewal in our churches.”
- Cultivate trustworthiness over suspicion
Trust brings with it credibility, Allen said, and Southern Baptists must be trustworthy in both their theological commitments and in faithfully living in obedience to God’s Word.
“The ingredients for trust are words like integrity, clarity, consistency,” he said. “We must cultivate our own trustworthiness and as we do, [we must] expect trustworthiness in others, and as we find that [we must] exercise trust one with another.
“When our doctrine and our mission are right and clear, trust is in abundance, historically, and those centrifugal forces, historically, have pulled us together in a unifying way. When our doctrine is in question and our mission is lost sight of, trust is undermined, and insofar as that happens it pulls us apart in a centrifugal way.”
A Hopeful Future
Allen says he believes Southern Baptists will overcome the present challenges and will continue doing faithful kingdom work for the glory of God.
“I’m hopeful about our future because I know there are [faithful people] in the pews of our churches and I know many faithful pastors serving our churches. And I believe I know their commitments and their determinations that as a people, as a convention of churches, we’ve shown ourselves not only willing, but determined to self-assess, to self-correct when that is necessary, and we have the means to do so.
“As we do, we know that we are a people of the book, and I believe God honors those who honor his Word . . . and as our churches are faithful, Christ is faithful to his churches.”