For the world outside of the Southern Baptist Convention, and for much of the Southern Baptist Convention outside the world of Twitter, what happened yesterday remains unknown. But for some of us who love Jesus and labor for him through the means of the SBC, yesterday was a troubling day, indeed.
Founders.org describes their ministry as “committed to encouraging the recovery of the gospel and the biblical reformation of local churches.” They adhere to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and the famous “Abstract of Principles” of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Their work is communicated through a quarterly journal titled “The Founders Journal,” blog articles on their website, national conferences, and a weekly podcast featuring Tom Ascol who serves as president and executive director of the ministry.
Founders.org has become increasingly concerned and increasingly vocal about what they perceive to be a deep-rooted, dangerous issue impacting the contemporary evangelical church. Worse yet, they purport that this issue is being affirmed and communicated by key SBC leaders and entities who are advancing a theologically liberal agenda.
The issue of concern springs from the concept known as social justice and, according to Founders.org, the insidious ideologies that inevitably accompany its pursuit. These ideologies include Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and views of women and sexuality that are reminiscent of the theological liberalism from which the SBC was delivered through the conservative resurgence over twenty-five years ago.
That brings us to what happened on July 23. Founders.org released a trailer for their upcoming “cinedoc” called “By What Standard?” The trailer is accompanied by a menacing background sound track and includes edited snippets of key SBC leaders, primarily from the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting, discussing issues related to the aforementioned ideologies. The full film releases later this year, and from what we can discern from the trailer, it will be an assault on certain entities and individuals over their propagation of various social justice views.
The trailer elicited a firestorm on Twitter. Many of the SBC leaders who were featured in the film, such as Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman, and Adam Greenway, released clarifying statements. These statements were in agreement on two primary things: 1) They were interviewed on topics such as biblical authority or complementarianism, but did not know the documentary would be using their material for a polemic piece against other SBC leaders or entities. 2) The leaders were outspoken on their concern and “alarm” at the way SBC leaders were represented by the trailer.
One especially egregious moment from the trailer has a voice speaking of “principalities and powers” who “exert pressure on us” during which a blurred but recognizable video image of Rachael Denhollander, who is a strong advocate and abuse survivor, was visible. The response on Twitter was so strong that the trailer was later edited to remove the blurred image of Rachael.
What should we think of this upcoming documentary and and the tension within the SBC over these issues? Here are a few things I am processing:
First, like Founders.org, I also affirm the 1689 London Baptist Confession and the Abstract of Principles. I am in agreement with most of the doctrinal positions held by the Founders.org leadership team. Furthermore, I have been helped and appreciate much of the work provided by Founders.org.
Second, I believe differing and challenging voices are important. Denominational unity is a reality not because we always agree, but because we remain allied for the Great Commission and essentials of our faith as demonstrated in the BFM2000. In fact, the checks and balances that come through charitable disagreement work toward ensuring our unification, not our division.
But the key word here is charitable. Disagreements with fellow brothers and sisters will only be winsome if they follow the glorious standard of our incarnate Christ who was full of grace and truth. Tom Ascol is theologically sharp and denominationally devoted. His voice can and should be one which causes us to rethink our positions – not necessarily change them, but rethink them. Unfortunately, Tom’s concerns in this case are masked by the contemptuous manner in which Founders.org is expressing them. The propagandized nature of the video trailer, the explicit linking of a sister-in-Christ with the forces of evil, and the accusatory tone against individuals and entities do not meet the winsome standard of grace and truth. These actions do not turn people toward Tom’s position. They drive them away.
Third, there are principles in the trailer I certainly agree with. Most conservative evangelicals will affirm how theological liberalism arrives through incremental movements. Coupled with that principle, there have been tweets and statements made by some SBC leaders this past year that left me a bit uneasy. Some of these statements left me wondering what they were trying to say and others voiced opinions I just do not agree with. Nevertheless, I have seen nothing that breaks the confession of the BFM2000 and, as mentioned above, these leaders are helping me think more clearly about my own positions. Thus, I agree with the principle addressed in the Founders.org trailer, but I do not agree with this particular application. I am thankful for the ministry and leadership of Beth Moore, Russell Moore, Danny Akin, Rachael Denhollander, and many others. I do not always agree with them, and there may be times when a voice like Tom Ascol needs to push back to help us all reconsider. But not like this.
Fourth, I have written this next sentence so many times in so many contexts. I have applied it to my own life, well, about every day. And that is the inherit danger of becoming the thing we despise the most. Is it possible that in responding so strongly to Founders.org and Tom Ascol that we violate the very principle that caused us to reply in the first place? I have been so impressed with our SBC leadership, such as Albert Mohler, Jonathan Leeman, Danny Akin, and Adam Greenway, who have responded to the trailer in a gracious and winsome way. They distanced themselves from it, asked to be removed from the project, but did not vilify Tom or Founders.org – and these are the people who have the most legitimate reason to be angry! And yet, some are responding to even their gracious rebuke by calling for more vitriol and are suggesting their responses were too gracious. In other words, some want to see the blood of Founders.org on the floor of the Convention meeting hall. Just as the inappropriate trailer will not win us to the Founders position, our unhealthy responses will not win the Founders leadership.
To summarize a very long article – I believe Founders.org and Tom Ascol have an important voice in the SBC and can use that voice for good. But this cinedoc does not appear to be the appropriate vehicle for communicating their concern. If the film follows the model of the trailer, then my small little presence in Graefenburg, KY will stand against it.
May the Lord be gracious to our convention and to our churches.