Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Southern Baptists and Conventional and Cosmopolitan Cultures

Underneath the surface of most of our convention’s arguments and debates is the fact that we are a single denomination with overlapping cultures. Yes, there are debates over doctrine. Yes, there is contention over methodology. But in my view, most often the differences are cultural, which is why they are so difficult to resolve.

Consider the SBC as a river. Multiple streams have flowed into this river—streams of people with various views on any number of beliefs and practices. Just as streams flow into a river, sometimes they also flow out, which means they can carve out paths that lead to divergence over doctrines and methods. Today, different cultural streams in the SBC have led to rifts among pastors and institutions, and in several places, the rifts have become gulfs. In a few cases, the gulfs have grown so wide that the cultural breach now threatens our cooperative work.

I do not believe we should minimize the issues by denying that the gulfs are wide, or by dismissing the concerns of one side or the other, or by waving the banner of cooperation as if we can magically make the divergence disappear. When a denominational river begins to diverge into separate streams, we cannot merely focus on the doctrinal and methodological rocks and say, “Cooperate!” We have to work to ensure that the water from upstream, even if it takes in water from more than one stream, will flow in the same direction, that the combined stream is strong enough to avoid diverging when it runs into the rocks of difference. This work includes being aware of and attuned to cultural distinctions, while focusing on how to keep those cultures together.

For weeks, I’ve wrestled with different terms in order to best describe the cultures in the SBC. In my conversations with pastors and leaders, I’ve shot down term after term for being too negative, too confusing, or too problematic. In the end, I’ve settled on these two descriptors—“cosmopolitan” and “conventional”—because they seemed to capture something of each culture and, I think, they contain the least amount of baggage. They’re not perfect, but I hope they’re helpful. Read More
The Southern Baptist Convention is not the only denomination with more than one culture. The narrative that is often used to describe the Anglican Church in North America as being formed from three disparate streams that flow together as a single unified river is misleading and inaccurate. Trevin Wax's description of the SBC would also describe the ACNA.

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