I’ve been a Baptist for fifteen years now. In typical Baptist fashion, I professed faith and was baptized at age six, though this was almost certainly not when I came to an understanding of the gospel of Christ. But I’m not here to talk about my past as a Baptist. I want to talk as a Baptist who is also a millennial—a guy who is currently in the SBC Seminary Bubble—about why I am encouraged by the direction the SBC is going. I’m here to talk about the future. I think the Southern Baptist Convention is doing everything it can to put itself in a position to be used by God, and here are my four reasons:
1. Recovery of Conservative Theology
Just last week, a chapel message I heard told of the Southern Baptist Convention’s flirtation with liberal theology. Over lunch, my dad mentioned that he didn’t know that the faculty of major SBC seminaries once denied a historical Adam and strayed away from Scriptural inerrancy. “Yeah, that’s why Al Mohler was such a big deal,” was my short response.
Praise God there has been a recovery of conservative theology in Southern Baptist circles. All of our seminaries are unabashedly rooted in the Bible—and half of our seminaries are, dare I say it, kind of reformed. Young guys are clinging to conservative theology not just because it’s a fad, but because it permeates the enduring Scriptures.
In addition, we have men like Russell Moore at the helm of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and David Platt at the head of the International Mission Board. The resurgence of conservative theology in Southern Baptist circles doesn’t show signs of slowing down. As somebody who was very briefly a student at a Reformed school (though I was never sold on some important issues and maintained my Baptist distinctions), I’m encouraged to see students at Midwestern, where I study, raving about guys like Cornelius Van Til or Charles Haddon Spurgeon. These men dug deep into the God’s self-revelation in the Word, and I see a multitude of young Baptists who want to do the same.
2. Carl Henry and the Reclamation of the Intellectual Sphere
Carl F. H. Henry is arguably one of the most important evangelicals in the last hundred years (and also particularly relevant because I stole the title of this post from him). Henry, a journalist-gone-intellectual, wrote his magnum opus God, Revelation, and Authority to flesh out an evangelical epistemology that runs with the best of them, and his essay The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism reminded evangelicals of the social action that accompanies the faith. Henry’s influence, in large part, has spawned an army of intellectual elites inside the Southern Baptist Convention. The recovery of Southern Seminary is, at least in some tiny sense, a product of what Henry had to say—particularly when you consider Henry’s influence on President Albert Mohler. But even now, Henry’s influence lives on another generation removed, leaving a formidable impression on minds like Greg Thornbury (President, The King’s College), Owen Strachan (Professor, Midwestern Seminary), Russell Moore (President, ERLC), and Jason Duesing (Provost, Midwestern Seminary). Henry paved the way for the reclamation of the intellectual sphere by Southern Baptists in epistemological thought, and I see young guns itching to follow in Henry’s footsteps. Baptists want to prove that they can think with the best of them.
3. Ecclesiology and Emphasis on the Church
I’m seeing more and more Baptists think about what it means to be the body of Christ, particularly when it comes to church organization and ecclesiology. With men like Jonathan Leeman leading the ecclesiological front and guys like Jared Wilson and Ray Ortlund writing about and embodying shepherding, Southern Baptists might be giving more weight to what it means to be the body of Christ than ever before. Whether a pastor or a member, few are lackadaisical about being the church. We’re seeing an entire wave of folks serious about the gospel and serious about loving the local church. This gives me all kinds of hope when it comes to the church planting efforts coming from the North American Mission Board. It means that our church planting and revitalization campaigns will not be for naught; they will be for the advancement of the gospel and the glory of God. The refocusing on the body of Christ is all-around encouraging.
4. Willingness to Pass the Baton
This final point is so pervasive in Southern Baptist life that you have probably already sensed it even though I haven’t stated it directly. There is an ever-increasing willingness to trust younger men. I bring up the aforementioned ERLC President Russell Moore and IMB President David Platt—both men under fifty who are head of major institutions. I’m not trying to show my bias here, but the President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Jason Allen, was the youngest president in higher education at the time of his inauguration, and Midwestern’s Owen Strachan is President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Even more, MBTS professor Dr. Christian George is editing one of the biggest publishing projects of the last century in Christian publishing, and he is in his thirties. This surrounds me on even a daily level! Just this month, J. D. Greear was nominated to run for SBC President, met with favorable responses all around. Sure, there is still a divide between the older crowd and the newer crowd, but the divide is small and has not caused any major issues as of late. I’m continually reminded that the generation before mine is giving young guys their chances to show that they’re not all talk and intellect—the chance to show that they’re kingdom-minded servants of Christ.
The Present Trajectory
If you haven’t picked up on this, I’m extremely excited for what lies ahead. Growing up a Southern Baptist hasn’t jaded me nor subjected me to some kind of cultural bubble, though you might be tempted to think so. Instead, the cultural bubble has popped because the leadership of the SBC during my lifetime has refocused on what matters—trading in institutionalism for faithfulness to the Bible and reminding themselves that the Triune God is the source and model of truth. If the present trajectory is an indication of what the future holds, the Southern Baptist Convention will hold the line on Christ’s lordship in all realms of life—cultural, ethical, ecclesiological, and political—and the authority of the Scriptures in the life of believers. If anything, spending fifteen years a Baptist has prepared me to spend a lifetime picking up where my forerunners left off and enduring till the end by the power of the Spirit.
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Canon & Culture, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and is a contributor at servantsofgrace.org.