Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant" and "The Gospel Coalition"

I have read with interest recent blog-posts and news stories related to the upcoming “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.” Although, at this stage, these stories are already old news, I have not commented up till now, because I have not had the time to do adequate research in order to respond with what I considered to be a reasonable amount of responsibility.

In the meantime, I have also read several posts and stories related to the recent “Gospel Coalition” Conference (see also here), and it occurred to me that pointing out several comparisons and contrasts between the two might help to illustrate some points I have been trying to make through this blog.

The announced “overall theme” of the “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant” is “Unity in Christ.” I, as you will be well aware, if you have read this blog for any length of time at all, have no problem at all with this theme, in and of itself. It is an issue in which I believe strongly, and about which I have dedicated a major portion of my writing. However, it seems a bit contradictory to me to convoke this meeting with this theme under the name “New Baptist Covenant.”

On the “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant” web-site, it states, in reference to the organizers of the gathering: “The leaders of these organizations affirmed their desire to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times,” and “they reaffirmed their commitment to traditional Baptist values.” At the same time, it adds: “They specifically committed themselves to their obligation as Christians to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, welcome the strangers among us, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.”

I have no problem at all with Christians belonging to any collection of churches or organizations coming together in order to cooperate for the furtherance of such causes as “promoting peace with justice, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick and marginalized, welcoming the strangers among us, and promoting religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.” If working together with other believers helps to better further these very worthy causes, then, by all means, let’s do that.

I do have a problem, however, with the apparent “mixing the metaphors” of “cooperating for worthy causes,” “unity in Christ,” and “traditional Baptist values.” As I understand it, what unites us in Christ is not our common membership in specifically Baptist churches, unions, conventions, fellowships or alliances. Neither is it our cooperation for the furtherance of worthy causes, nor our acceptance of “traditional Baptist values,” but rather our common relationship with Christ by grace through faith in the substitutionary atonement, by way of His death on the cross, as well as submission to the lordship of Christ and His Word.

I am also concerned, along with others, about the vagueness of the stated understanding of what the gospel really is, as well as questionable views regarding essential first-tier doctrines apparently held on the part of several leading representatives of the “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.” I resonate, as well, with the concerns voiced by Geoff Baggett on this post regarding the implications of the use of the term “covenant.”

At the same time, I am much more encouraged by the stated aims of the “Gospel Coalition.” In a “foundational document” issued by the “Gospel Coalition” entitled “The Gospel for All of Life: Preamble,” it reads: “We want to generate a unified effort among all peoples—an effort that is zealous to honor Christ and multiply his disciples, joining in a true coalition for Jesus. Such a biblically grounded and united mission is the only enduring future for the church. This reality compels us to stand with others who are stirred by the conviction that the mercy of God in Jesus Christ is our only hope of eternal salvation. We desire to champion this gospel with clarity, compassion, courage, and joy—gladly linking hearts with fellow believers across denominational, ethnic, and class lines.”

The Gospel Coalition’s “Confessional Statement” and “Theological Vision for Ministry” statement go on to articulate a hearty description of the essentials of the gospel on which it would seem to me all Bible-believing, blood bought, born again, committed disciples of Jesus ought to be able to agree. As is the case with all Confessions of Faith, there is, of course, room for minor discrepancies and differences of interpretation. It is by no means infallible. In the words of the Baptist Faith & Message, Holy Scripture itself is “the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.”

All in all, though, I am much happier with the potential contribution towards true “unity in Christ” offered by the “Gospel Coalition” than I am by the doctrinally “loosey goosey” yet, at the same time, denominationally-based “Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.”


Bart Barber said...

The "Gospel Coalition" sounds promising and exciting to me, too. Thanks for the information!

Publius said...

Call me cynical if you must, but the "New Baptist Covenant" seems to me to be more political than anything. From what I know of many of the participants, and from its primary stated goal of promoting 'harmony,' I expect the new Baptist Covenant to be a sort of Baptist United Nations. It will attract dying main-line Baptist denominations who wish to retain a semblance of relevancy, fringe Baptist groups who wish to be included in the 'mainstream,' and humanist politicians masquerading as concerned Christians.

The press release for the New Baptist Covenant spoke of Carter and Underwood convening "a group of 18 Baptist leaders representing more than 20 million Baptists across North America." Umm, no. They do not represent anyone but themselves. We are not a hierarchy.

The Gospel Coalition, on the other hand, seems to be simply a tool helping Christians worldwide cooperate in service to Christ. It is not representative, does not promote "harmony," and maintains its focus on service, not on longevity or internal structure.

I love this quote:
"Carson noted that no one will be disappointed if, in ten years or so the Coalition dies. It is above all, a service ministry devoted to the Gospel. May we be as focused in all we do.

Geoff Baggett said...

"doctrinally loosey-goosey"
I like it ... wish I had come up with it. ;)

Great word, David. I, too, will check out this "Gospel Coalition."

joerstewart said...

I read the gospel coalition this weekend and was encouraged as well.

Anonymous said...

It will be hard to build much unity beyond the hard-right conservatives while excluding women from leadership.