The rise of the Southern Baptist Convention out of the confines of its own walls into a major player in Western Christianity’s evangelicalism calls for a conversation. There were days when the SBC was all to itself, read only books from Broadman, and did not even know what CT [don’t ask] was, but when the Moral Majority of the 80s evoked a widespread Christian response the SBC joined in — and in some ways turned from its past.
Its joining of that movement led to its voice in a wider, American movement of evangelicalism, and now the SBC has become perhaps the strongest voice in American evangelicalism. This may offend some of us northerners who know that, prior to the 80s, evangelicalism was locked up in Wheaton (College, Graduate School, and its many publishers and organizations). [I exaggerate, but not by much. Publishers were in Grand Rapids, too, and still are.] No longer. At least so it seems to me. To be sure, it needs to develop some theologically, and can’t rely on power moves to establish theology (HT: Steve McCoy to the BP article).
There are lots of shifts that will occur if the SBC becomes increasingly active in evangelical doings, and one of the more notable ones will be the shifting away of some of the more mainline type evangelicals, who may well find a home in the emerging conversation rather than the increasingly conservative shift of the evangelical movement. The “cultural-theological” wars of the SBC are a harbinger of things to come for the wider evangelical movement, or perhaps I should say are mirroring the cultural wars within evangelicalism.
I can give two prime examples: first, the Evangelical Theological Society shows an increasing presence of Southern Baptists while 20 years ago that voice was not so clear; second, the professors at some of the SBC seminaries were reared in historic evangelicalism and were never SBC — and now are. This is evidence of the increasing shifting of boundaries between the SBC and evangelicalism. I don’t think I’m saying the SBC was not “evangelical” in the 60s and 70s, but I’m willing to say that they did not identify themselves with the evangelical meetings of the 50s with leaders like Ockenga, Henry, and CT. I am willing to say that are quite happy to call themselves “evangelicals” today, and they are proud of it. Forty years ago they were “Southern Baptists.”
What do you think?