Bill Leonard on the Southern Baptist Identity Crisis

Bill Leonard is one of the best known Baptist historians alive. He retired recently from the position if founding Dean of the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University.

I met Professor Leonard a few years ago, during a research conference organised by the Baptist Faculty of Theology at Bucharest University (he is a friend of the Dean of this faculty, Prof. Dr. Otniel Bunaciu, the President of the Romanian Baptist Union) and I was impressed by his scholarship and Christian realism.

Bill Leonard has published recently on ABP about the current identity crisis of the Southern Baptist. To be fair, I doubt SBC leaders will listen to this analysis, as one of the comments to that article indicates. It takes a lot of humility to listen to your critics, a virtue that is great demand among SBC leadership.

Here are, according to Leonard, the signs of this identity crisis (I am afraid there is a lot of resemblance with the current crisis of the Romanian Baptist community; this is the main reason I try to point out to this text).

  • Statistical declines or plateaus in the number of annual baptisms reported by SBC member churches.
  • Declining contributions to denominational programs and agencies.
  • A continuing increase in the age of the average SBC church member (now calculated to be in the mid- to-late 50s).
  • Studies indicating that the majority of SBC churches are declining or stagnant in membership and baptisms. One recent study suggests that only 11 percent of SBC churches are growing through evangelization of unchurched persons rather than simply transfer of members from other churches.
  • A growing number of churches that have dropped or minimized the name “Baptist” in their promotional materials or overall identity.
  • A tendency of many churches to shop around for educational and promotional literature beyond the traditional denominational materials and publications.
  • A steady decline in the number of churches that utilize traditional methods of evangelism — revivals, professional evangelists, direct evangelistic techniques — as means of reaching the unchurched.
  • An expanding localism by which members strongly identify with their specific congregation but are less identified with more extended denominational alliances. Their Baptist identity, if it exists at all, is connected to a local church rather than an extended denominational history or identity. When transferring membership, they are apt to look for a particular type of congregation before they consider its denominational label.

Read on…

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Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

5 thoughts on “Bill Leonard on the Southern Baptist Identity Crisis”

  1. Si eu care ma asteptam la pugnacio..
    Ca sa va raplatesc amabilitatea, la o recenta conferinta SBC (Florida) a fost o confruntare mare pe tema…de bani. Aveau prea multi de impartit pe progrmele propuse.. in rest saracie de idei. M-a surprins neplacut..
    La o usa mai jos, se tinea in paralel, la concurenta, o conferintsa R.C. Sproul. Alta atmosfera, alte idei…
    Sunt, oarecum ingrijorat…

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  2. Nici eu nu sunt specialist. Blogul este pentru nespecialisti. Specialistii scriu tomuri academice.
    Ba chiar s-ar putea sa va surprinda, dar sunt de acord cu multe dintre cele pe care le-ati scris mai sus.

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  3. Cine critica are dreptate, daca mai e si competent are si mai multe treptate.
    Mai greu e de gasit solutii dedit de criticat chiar si pt specialisti.
    SBC in viitor?
    -pe unde traiesc eu, SBC are biserici mici si slabe
    -viitorul pare al non-denominationalilor si asta nu din vina SBC…dar e mai problematic de ghicit. Portivit lui McLaren. viitorul nu-i al mega-church, ci a bisericilor mici. Nu sunt prooroc… Acu’ vreun Wilow Creek, campioana non-denominationalilor si-a facut mea culpa…
    -Bill Leonard scapa un lucru: bisericile noi cresc in procent mai mare (indiferent de denominatiune) decit cele vechi… Din pacate, SBC are biserici imbatrinite nu doar ca membri, dar si ca facilitati si ca lipsa de prospetime in comunitatea unde fiinteaza.
    -B. Leonard parca nu pomeneste rolul personalitatilor. Rick Warren e si el SBC (nu chiar clasic) si are mega-church. Cu toate criticile aduse SBC -inclusiv pe ac. blog- bisericile au independenta in multe privinte. Cei ce-au copiat metoda lui Rick si-au dublat membrii in 6 luni… nu stiu daca i-au mentinut dupa aia..
    -De-acord cu mutatia spre penti-carismatici. O observatie: dupa Christianity Today, carismaticii isi “curata casa”. Dupa parerea mea, aceasta ajungere la maturitate va duce la pierdere semnificativa de membri. Spre cine se vor indrepta deziluzionatii carismatici? Probabil spre penti… da’ nu-i sigur. Oricum, multi baptisti SBC au copiat inchinarea de la carismatici, nu mai e dogmatismul clasic -nici macar la emigratia romaneasca… deci poate vor atrage pe unii. Numsi e cesationsimul chiar asa dominant.
    -Recent, Al Mohler a participat la o conferinta organizata de o biserica non-denominationala, fosta baptista, aproape de noi. Iata ca nu-s chiar atit de ingusti SBC cum se crede! La sectiunea intrebari/raspunsuri Mohler a fost consevator, evident.
    Scuze, pt opinii nespecialiste.

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  4. Bill Leonard nu este numai membru Cooperative Baptist, ci si istoric al comunitatilor baptiste. Impresia mea este ca vorbeste aici in a doua capacitate, chiar daca implicatiile legate de prima lui identitate sunt inevitabile. Oricum ar fi insa, adevarul (daca este vorba de un adevar) ramine valabil oricie ar fi cel care-l rosteste si cu orice intentii ar face el asta.

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  5. Nu sunt sigur, poate gresesc, dar impresia mea este aceea de privire aruncata piezis in ograda altuia, dupa care se scot in vazul tuturor vecinilor problemele observate – poate o evitare a evaluarii propriei situatii …
    Alminteri analiza este interesanta si, intr-adevar, ceva similitudini cu baptismul romanesc exista, chiar foarte suparatoare …

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