Friday, August 18, 2006

The SBC, Monoculturalism, and World Missions

In June, I had the privilege of attending the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro. With the exception of the one session of the previous year’s Pastor’s Conference in Nashville in which my father preached for the last time before a "convention" audience, it had been about 19 years since I had last attended the SBC annual meeting.

As I have already alluded on this blog in an earlier post, there were many things about this year’s convention that caused me to be "proud" and thankful. One thing, however, that impacted me, after 16 years of living in Spain, was the rather unique cultural perspective represented by the SBC as a whole. My point at this juncture is not to criticize that cultural perspective so much as to recognize it for what it is: one particular cultural perspective among many, not only in the world as a whole, but also in the evangelical Christian world.

At the same time, we as Southern Baptists give a very high priority, and rightly so, to making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ among all the peoples of the world, representing a vast array of cultural perspectives. The problem, in my opinion, comes when we limit ourselves as Southern Baptists to our particular cultural perspective in our efforts to contribute towards the task of the worldwide church down through the ages in discipling the nations.

Notice I did not say "the task God has given to us as Southern Baptists to disciple the nations." Because I firmly believe that task has not been commended to us alone, in isolation from other parts of the Body. That is why I am grateful current IMB administration has, for the most part, moved us in a direction to be more sensitive to this reality.

I am concerned, however, about a general drift, on the part of some within the SBC to move us to not only a narrow view of the authority of Scripture (something I think is good and necessary) but also, at the same time, a narrowing of our cultural parameters, both within the SBC, as well as in our cooperative relationships with other parts of the Body of Christ around the world.

At times, I believe, we get confused between what is essential doctrine, and what are culturally-based biases, in the way we go about our missionary ministry. One example that comes to mind is the infrastructure of Baptist Unions around the world built on the model of the Southern Baptist Convention, complete with their own Sunday School Board, WMU, etc. A large part of the literature used and promoted in not only Baptist, but Evangelical churches in general, has been translated from English. Perhaps this is a "necessary evil." Perhaps, if we were to take away the contribution made to the work by "imported" infrastructures, models and literature, the work would be in much worse shape than it is. In any case, what’s been done has been done.

What I would suggest, though, is that, in the future, we seek for more and better ways to creatively work in cooperation with other parts of the Body of Christ that offer a different cultural perspective than our own. Not compromise on essential doctrine. But be very careful to separate correctly between what is essential doctrine, and what is cultural preference.

As Southern Baptists, we have a lot to offer towards the task of fulfilling the Great Commission. We represent a vast supply of financial, human, creative and spiritual resources. However, it is going to take a lot more than the "cooperative" efforts of Southern Baptists by themselves to win a lost world for Christ and effectively make disciples from out of all the people groups and cultures of the world.


Donald said...

Thanks for your words. I too have been surprised at how many non-Baptist churches use Baptist materials and recently at how many Baptist churches have stopped using the Casa Bautista materials. Many of the institutions modeled after the US church that have been established in the Latin America are now finding it difficult to survive without the subsidy that established it. Perhaps it was the way that these institutions were formed that has created this difficulty.

I was unable to be at the convention this year but I did recently have dinner with the new president. After our dinner, I find myself praying for him more often. My prayer is that there can be reconciliation and a unity that our convention has not seen in many years. The task before us is enormous. It is too big of a task for a united Southern Baptist Convention much less one that is divided into factions.

Tom Bryant said...

Thanks for you perspective. Sometimes the SBC's rightful pride in what we do well turns into an arrogance that says, 'we do it better' or even worse 'no one else gets it right.'

We have non SBC friends in Africa who have noticed a great and spirit of cooperation with SSBC missionaries. They hope and pray that we don't back track.

Bart Barber said...

:-) Monoculturalism :-)


If, by culture, we're talking about American vs. Spanish, French, Algerian, Moroccan, etc., then I think I probably agree with you entirely.

Alan Cross said...

You are absolutely right, David. It's interesting that in today's SBC, you have to spend as much time saying what you're NOT saying as you say what you DO say, lest anyone think you are a liberal. It is really sad. We basically have a party line in the SBC, and it is what was reflected in Greensboro - culturally speaking, that is.

It was my first convention too. I live in Alabama. I was shocked by the cultural expression reflected in Greensboro. Almost everyone was white. That's not reflective of where I live. People dressed the same and had the same hairstyles, for the most part. We all shared the same values and our differences are minor, yet we have real trouble getting along. Can you imagine if we brought other cultures into this?

Our problem as a denomination is actually pretty universal, however. In other words, it's an American problem. Most Americans think we are the only nation in the world. It's also a human problem as most people feel this way, I think. I used to feel that way until I travelled to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. My perspective was broadened and I was able to see things differently. It was humbling and I went as a learner as well as a teacher. Most of us don't have that experience and our worlds are very small. Perhaps the real problem is pride and an exalted view of ourselves.

Bryan Riley said...

I really feel like Jesus said this very thing when He prayed: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." Check out, which is cooperation between the SBC, YWAM, Campus Crusade, Wycliffe, and TransWorldRadio. Praise God for such cooperation as we "go."

David Rogers said...

Thanks, Bryan, for the link on I was not aware of that. That is an excellent example of a "Strategic Alliance".

antonio said...

good thoughts and i hope it becomes a reality in the SBC