A Conflict of Visions: The Theological Roots of the Southern Baptist Controversy -- By: R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 07:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: A Conflict of Visions: The Theological Roots of the Southern Baptist Controversy
Author: R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

A Conflict of Visions:
The Theological Roots of the Southern Baptist Controversy

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is President and Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and has edited and contributed to important volumes on theology and culture. Dr. Mohler’s writing is regularly featured in World magazine and Religious News Service.

Southern Baptists enter the twenty-first century facing serious questions of identity, mission, polity, and truth. The very foundations of our denominational life and the convictions most precious to us have been shaken by succeeding waves of cultural change and denominational conflict. The last thirty years have witnessed a remarkable expansion of Southern Baptist ministry and influence. We have seen unprecedented response on the mission fields and a remarkable spirit of cooperation amongst our people. Nevertheless, at this great turning point in history, we face the most important questions in our denomination’s history. This is the Baptist crisis.

As the historian Sidney Mead once commented, denominationalism is “the shaping of Christianity in America.”1 Given our heritage of religious liberty and the absence of a state church, denominations emerged as churches of like faith and practice banded together for mutual edification and cooperation in mission. The crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention arises precisely because it is this basic vision that is now at stake.

We can now observe what Stanford economist Thomas Sowell called a “conflict of visions.”2 This conflict has created a fault line in our denominational life, separating those who hold to rival visions of what the Southern Baptist Convention should be, believe, and do. This conflict of visions explains why Southern Baptists are divided on so many issues. More precisely, it explains why a small minority of disenchanted Southern Baptists has moved away from the denominational mainstream. The experience of the last thirty years demonstrates that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are indeed united on these most basic issues. Speaking through denominational elections, resolutions, and support for the Convention’s work, Southern Baptists have made clear their basic support of this our historic denominational vision.

What can explain years of controversy? In a very real sense, this conflict of visions has led to the development of a two-party system in Baptist life. Just as in the larger political sphere, the development of these parties has led to a division of agenda and competition for leadership. Th...

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