The Southern Baptists’ Spat Over Social Justice is Actually About the Sufficiency of Scripture

Image: By What Standard trailer screenshot / Founders Ministries
Pastor Tom Ascol serves as the president of Founders Ministries.

Fallout over a controversial documentary trailer rebuking an alleged social justice agenda within the Southern Baptist Convention marks the latest flashpoint in ongoing clashes over how the denomination should engage ideologies they see as contrary to Scripture.

Founders Ministries, a Calvinist-oriented Southern Baptist group, announced August 1 that three of its six board members had resigned over objections to the trailer for a forthcoming documentary titled By What Standard? Addressing recent debates over racial justice and women’s roles, the documentary alleges “wavering” commitment “to the authority and sufficiency” of the Bible among some Southern Baptists, the ministry said.

Two of the outgoing board members—Tom Hicks and Fred Malone—said in statements that they agree with the issues raised in the documentary but believe the trailer, which featured clips from the SBC annual meeting in June, conflated the problems with the denomination’s efforts to confront sexual abuse. (Initially, the four-minute trailer included an image of sexual abuse survivor and victim advocate Rachael Denhollander. After complaints, her clip was removed.)

The other resigning board member, Jon English Lee, did not release a statement.

Over the past year, two additional Founders board members had resigned, but the ministry’s president Tom Ascol said neither cited theological or philosophical differences among his reasons for departing.

At least three interviewees to be featured in the documentary—seminary president Daniel Akin, pastor Mark Dever, and author Jonathan Leeman—asked to be removed from the film over “concerns about what the tone, tenor, and content of the full documentary will be.” Several other participants took issue with the trailer.

These leaders do not represent opposite extremes of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. The Southern Baptists taking issue with Founders’ approach share many core convictions with the ministry, not just the inerrancy of Scripture, but also an opposition to radical feminism and critical race theory dictating the church’s social engagement. A key difference among conservative Southern Baptists comes in how much they are willing to learn from elements of secular ideologies, versus rejecting them outright.

Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida, said reaction to the documentary illustrates how challenging it can be for Christians who agree on the inerrancy of Scripture and the exclusivity of the gospel to settle on a common strategy for confronting error in the culture.

Ascol told CT that everyone involved in the current SBC discussion is committed to Scripture, but there’s a divide between those who see learning from secular ideologies as a threat to the sufficiency of the Word and those who “think we can use the tools of these ideologies without getting burned by the ideologies themselves.”

‘Unaware’ of the danger?

The ideologies in question tend to involve race and gender, which have become hot topics among Southern Baptists in recent years, as the denomination continues to reckon with racism throughout its history and grapple with the proper application of complementarian teaching.

Despite relative agreement within the SBC on its statement of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message, different approaches on these social issues have come to the fore of Southern Baptist Convention over at least the past three years, dating back to disagreements around the 2016 presidential election.

More than 11,000 conservative evangelicals—many of them Southern Baptists—signed a 2018 “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” claiming “lectures on social issues” in the church and “activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture” “tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.”

Southern Baptists recently adopted a controversial resolution on critical race theory and intersectionality (CRT/I), which cited both theories as useful for confronting racial divisions even though the theories “have been appropriated by individuals with worldviews that are contrary to the Christian faith.”

Members of the denomination were split: “Some Southern Baptists claim insights from CRT/I can be appropriated to understand the plight of victimized populations and to more effectively approach them with the gospel,” the Southern Baptist Texan reported. “Others say the theories’ origins—typically ascribed to postmodernism and to neo-Marxism—undermine their usefulness for believers.”

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Source: Christianity Today