UPDATE: Brad Whitt has a great follow-up to his original post entitled, "The Challenge for Committed, Contributing Southern Baptists"
Also, Tim Rogers queries if Brad Whitt fits the profile of a fresh, young stateman in "A New SBC Statesman?"
Dr. Steve Lemke offers insight on Brad Whitt's essay in "The Shot Heard Round the SBC (Part 1)"
On February 28, South Carolina pastor, Dr. Brad Whitt, wrote a provocative piece entitled “Young, Southern Baptist…and Irrelevant?” Barely a week later, in an unprecedented maneuver, two highly visible Southern Baptist professors responded to Whitt’s piece—Drs. Ed Stetzer and Nathan Finn. I responded to what I perceived to be Stetzer and Finn’s aggressive attempt to marginalize Whitt’s concerns. As one high profile Southern Baptist mentioned to me in conversation about it, how ironic that Stetzer and Finn visibly attempt to marginalize Brad Whitt in their critical pieces which flagrantly deny young Southern Baptists like Whitt are being marginalized! >>>
Even so, what Stetzer and Finn perceived in Whitt’s short essay to be worthy of rebuttal has proved to be true: whatever Brad Whitt was communicating, it resonated well with Southern Baptists across the convention. No less than a half-dozen state papers have run Brad Whitt’s article, and I’m told several more are planning to publish it. Whatever Whitt is peddling, Southern Baptists are buying. Well, allow me to qualify the assertion somewhat: many Southern Baptists are buying. Truth be told, some Southern Baptists appear on the extremely aggressive side—so much so, in fact, they could be considered hostile.
Allow me to mention a few quotes from Brad Whitt’s state paper, The Baptist Courier. While some are more potent than others, the obvious majority are fairly negative:
- “The general drift of Brad Whitt’s first-person article in the March 3 edition of The Baptist Courier was offensive and divisive… Dr. Whitt criticized many very effective kingdom pastors and leaders…To publicize his personal interpretation of ministry and missions as the norms for all other congregations is a dangerous precedent… such an attitude does not edify the church and should not be published by the Courier…As president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, I must take issue with his broad characterizations and negative assumptions…This kind of rhetoric threatens the very cooperation that he suggests as our model... Such self-serving polarization should be avoided… Perhaps the “mind of Christ,” rather than our personal preferences, should be our guide…” Sonny Holmes, President, South Carolina Baptist Convention, North Charleston (//link)
- “I believe Mr. Whitt goes on to take backhanded swipes at anyone who differs from himself. Does it really matter if a man doesn’t preach in a suit or doesn’t use a traditional pulpit?… Mr. Whitt is “irrelevant” because he’s made himself that way… The fact is, the SBC will never go back to the days of Vines, Rogers, Patterson, etc.” Roger Upton, Gaffney (//link)
- “Southern Baptists are at a crossroads and must evaluate their effectiveness at accomplishing their mission — not maintaining the bureaucracy… Whitt paints two camps, apparently divided along theological and methodological lines — one giving faithfully to the Cooperative Program, and one not” Chuck Mayo, North Charleston (//link)
- “Mr. Whitt seems to be rallying a group that agrees with his personal preferences (coats and ties, pulpits, choir specials, etc.) and his personal favorite preachers (Rogers and Vines)” Josh Culbertson, Laurens (//link)
- “…here is my concern: It is far too easy for those of us who are more traditional to ignore or even to “slam” these young pastors when they raise serious questions that make the rest of us uncomfortable” Mike O’Dell, York Association (//link)
- “I, along with Whitt, am a relatively “young” pastor…[and]…proudly serve a traditional SBC church… Whitt and I are similar in our preferences. Does our shared personal preference of a pulpit over a stool make us bona ﬁde Southern Baptists?…Dr. Whitt’s article was void of any mention of [the BF&M]… Not one of Whitt’s personal preferences is addressed in the 2000 BFM…. Whitt was ambiguously vague in identifying the leaders in the SBC with whom he accuses of misleading the SBC. He should name the names of the Southern Baptist leaders… Furthermore, according to the 2000 BFM, the GCRTF, and the overwhelming majority of SBC messengers in Orlando, stools and pulpits can and will coexist in the SBC” Chadwick Ivester, Kershaw (//link)
- “In reading the letters to the editor in the last issue, I think some, including our state convention president, must have read pastor Brad Whitt’s article from a different version than I did. They took issue with him on several points. I hope they talked to him personally to hear his heart for the work of God, as I chose to do… I found him to be a wonderful, young, energetic, caring pastor, strong in his convictions and concerned about so many pretending to speak for young pastors. He just wanted the privilege to speak for himself and the willingness to be heard. That is not unreasonable” Laneir Singleton, Florence (//link)
A few observations.
First, with one exception, only one affirmative letter to the editor was published.
Second, perhaps the most spirited rebuttal was from the president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, Sonny Holmes. One must query why Holmes would be so condemnatory. He accuses White of criticizing “many very effective kingdom pastors and leaders” but not a single name is mentioned in Whitt’s short essay. He further notes that such an essay as Whitt penned is a “dangerous precedent” and “should not be published.” Excuse me? A young pastor’s opinion is both dangerous and unworthy to be published in a state paper? Where are Drs Stetzer and Finn who insisted no marginalization was taking place? Do they have a similar rebuttal to offer Sonny Holmes for calling for state papers to censor the voice of young, traditional Southern Baptists?
Holmes goes on to suggest that “this kind of rhetoric threatens the very cooperation that he suggests as our model.” Indeed I would say the identical about Holmes rhetoric which explicitly calls for censorship of men like Brad Whitt. Nor do some of the other letters to the editor make any better sense of Brad Whitt’s provocative piece.
For example, Mayo accuses Whitt of taking “backhanded swipes” at all those who do not agree with his preferences, and the example he uses is Whitt’s tie-wearing. However, Whitt no where suggested in his essay wearing a tie was sacrosanct for a gospel minister making Mayo’s concern sound ridiculous. And, contrary to Culbertson, Whitt never suggested that Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines constitute the only heroes available for Southern Baptists. With Singleton, I wonder too what the men were reading which made them focus on such non-essentials of Whitt’s piece.
Ivester complains because Whitt did not mention the Baptist Faith and Message in his essay, perhaps a legitimate criticism in itself. However, he spoils a potentially valid point by suggesting “Not one of Whitt’s personal preferences is addressed in the 2000 BFM.” How tragic. A potentially good point completely thrown to the wind by wrongly and ridiculously caricaturing Whitt as merely interested in “personal preferences.” In addition, while Holmes spanks Whitt for criticizing “many very effective kingdom pastors and leaders,” Ivester body-slams Whitt for not “naming the names” of those leading us astray. Which is it? How easy to allow emotions to carry us when we offer critiques of those with whom we disagree.
One thing is for sure: Brad Whitt publicly verbalized what many Southern Baptists continue privately mulling over in their minds. They are confused with what is taking place. Attempts to Calvinize the SBC on the one hand, and contemporize it on the other keep Southern Baptists thoroughly off balance. We no longer resemble a convention of like-minded, free churches led by free church churchmen. Rather we led by a collection of cliques, each desiring to remake the Southern Baptist Convention in its own image.
What is more, Southern Baptists unfortunately lack a genuine statesman who has the respect of every sector of Southern Baptist life. Far too many suspicions exist from one sector to the next (nor can it be helped). Who will God rise up from among us to wield the staff of unity for us? Only our Sovereign knows… Only our Sovereign knows…
Until then, may Brad Whitt’s breed continue to raise the necessary questions which will force grassroots Southern Baptists to question the unchecked leadership systematically over layered upon Southern Baptists from the top down. If we are not careful we will be right back in the same shape we were prior to the Conservative Resurgence in 1979. Then the elite of our denomination were imposing upon Southern Baptists beliefs nine out of ten Southern Baptists did not embrace. Inerrancy became the flag under which Southern Baptists marched to victory to reclaim their undeniable heritage of biblical authority. Presently, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary undeniably teaches strict Calvinism, a soteriological position nine out of ten Southern Baptists do not embrace. And, the perception among many sectors within Southern Baptist life is, other seminaries are quickly following Southern’s theological paradigm shift.
Even so, a Calvinistic resurgence is not the single woe we face. And, contrary to Sonny Holmes’ wrong-headed statement about being dangerous for Southern Baptists, young voices like Brad Whitt calling our attention to these issues cannot be marginalized--and will not be marginalized if we have a say. Far from being dangerous, Brad Whitt personifies hope for our Southern Baptist heritage.
With that, I am…