Third, looking specifically at the baptism numbers, the decline is both remarkable and lamentable. The most obvious insight is that we do not care as much about reaching lost people as we once did. That would be the observation that should cause Southern Baptists greatest concern. We will consider that question below. The second observation that would quickly come is that our methods of evangelism are not as effective as they once were. Honestly, that argument is beyond refute. Southern Baptist growth was largely driven by revivalism and its programs. We should not be surprised that revivalism is most effective in a context of Christian cultural dominance.
I think he’s half right.
Finally admitting that the future of the Southern Baptists–to say nothing of American Christianity in general–won’t be forwarded by a revivalistic model is something that’s gone down hard for many, and not just Baptists either. Pentecostals and Charismatics keep looking for that great revival to “win American back for God,” but it’s a Pickett’s Charge approach that will get Pickett’s Charge results.
But to say that revivalistic Christianity is facilitated by “Christian cultural dominance” leads to a chicken and egg problem. Which comes first: the revival or Christian cultural dominance? I think that American history, from the days of Finney (who brought eighteenth century religious torpor to a grinding halt) to the SBC’s own efforts to convert the Booze Belt to the Bible Belt, would put the revival first.
What revivalistic Christianity does require is an open society where the Gospel can be set forth in an open forum to “poker playing dog” kinds of people, and get an open response. The openness is fast fading, driven by such things as restrictions by social media, the “shaming and doxxing” culture of Christianity’s enemies, and the heavy hand of the state. Coming up with a “Plan B” to something that’s worked for two centuries is what’s flummoxed Evangelical leaders, Baptists and otherwise.
Fortunately we have the examples of places like Iran and China to show us that you don’t need an open society to have the growth of the church. Getting that message through to our leadership is another story altogether.
But there’s one problem Mohler neglected altogether: the ethnic makeup of the SBC. Being as white as it is, it’s just in the crosshairs for the assault we’re seeing on the church, demographic and otherwise. (The Episcopal Church, for those of you tempted to crow, is even whiter.) What we need to do more than anything else is get out of the way and let those whose numbers swell our ranks to take the lead.
Ah, but that’s the really tricky part…