Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Draft Dever

I'm not exactly plugged into the SBC grapevine, but I first heard talk that Johnny Hunt would be the insider candidate to be the next Convention president about a year ago, so some of the recent scuttlebut isn't a surprise. Last fall, I saw a low-key plea for a Mark Dever presidency here, but I didn't make too much of it.

Last week, Tom Ascol at Founder's blog linked to some informed speculation here that the Johnny Hunt rumors are about to become reality. Almost immediately, more pleas for a Dever candidacy immediately sprung up in the comments section of Ascol's post, in his subsequent post, and on this "unofficial, unserious" blog.

Now, I realize that some readers may have no idea who either of these men are, and sense no real reason to care. I'm not going to try to convince you otherwise. Suffice it to say, however, that though they are both theological conservatives and are both considered fundamentalists by their detractors (Dever calls himself one; I don't know about Hunt), they stand in very different strains of SBC tradition.

I don't know if Dever has the slightest interest in being elected. I don't know if he has a chance of winning. (Read Ascol's second post for the best analysis you are likely to encounter.) I also don't know if everyone who would share his emphasis on ecclesiology and his strong stand on the gospel would be willing to risk the thin veneer of SBC unity for the dream of a Dever presidency.

What I do know is this: I heartily agree with Ascol that support for a Dever presidency should be about far more fundamental issues than Calvinism. There should be no doubt that the doctrines of grace are closely related to the gospel, but they are not the primary issues the SBC needs to address. As I see it, a diluted, downgraded gospel; the sufficiency of Scripture; regenerate church membership; three-ring-circus evangelism; and a bucketfull of other issues are at the heart of the reformation and transformation that SBC churches need to weigh seriously.

Aside from my membership in the universal Church, I don't really have a dog in this fight. On the other hand, maybe that membership alone is enough to make one dog worth rooting for (sorry for the analogy, any CHBC friends reading—I couldn't find another one that would work). And maybe a broader platform for Dever's reformational ideas would lead to some spillover among my "unaffiliated Baptist" (i.e. independent) brethren in some places where they are sorely needed. Maybe.

There I go, sounding like an optimist again.


Keith said...

How you gonna verify a "regenerate church membership"? You can verify professions -- just ask -- but regeneration?


Ben said...

Well, Keith, I'm not the guy to prescribe a solution. I have some thoughts, but they're certainly not original with me. Dever articulates them as well as anyone, which is probably why this "draft Dever" mini-movement is popping up.

A reasonable place to start is by paring down bloated membership rolls. Tom Ascol has documented multiple representative cases of churches that are baptizing lots of people and adding them to membership without corresponding increases in attendance. Clearly, this is a problem since it means that churches are giving public affirmation to a person's profession of faith even though that person may never again darken the door.

The approach I'm talking about means working through a process that deals with these folks who profess faith and then abandon the church so that they are aware of their responsibilities and the theological implications of willful disobedience to Scripture. Ultimately, the approach culminates in the removal of such folks from membership.

Another pretty important place to start is by clarifying the essence of the gospel. I don't mean one sermon or even a series, but a consistent emphasis on the fact that conversion is a whole life commitment, not just a sinner's prayer.

Finally, I haven't suggested that we can really verify it, but we can certainly be honest about it and take some corrective steps.

Keith said...

It seems to me you are just talking about the proper use of church discipline.

I agree that Southern Baptists (and other "get em on the list" baptists too -- probably every denomination/tradition for that matter) have work to do in that area.

My comment was more of a joke/dig at the traditional baptist lingo of "regenerate church membership".

Personally, I lean toward the covenant view of church membership. However, even if one rejects that view, it would seem the best that can be acheived is a professing and aparently obedient membership.

Regeneration can only be known with certainty by God -- so it's a problematic membership test.

Like you, I have no dog in current SBC politics, even though I have been impressed with the little I've read of Dever.


Ben said...


It's about more than church discipline, even though that is an indispensible element of any solution. That's where my second point is crucial. Essential to the idea of a valid profession is a right understanding of the gospel—what these professions are actually professing.

A professing and apparently obedient membership is hollow unless there is an understanding of what they are professing that is consistent with what Scripture teaches must be professed.

Keith said...

Agreed. Folks must indeed profess that Jesus is Lord, that they are helpless and hopeless without his grace, and that they trust him to fulfill his promises. Churches definitely must do this type of "admission" discipline (at least for non covenant converts seeking membership).

Would you agree though that there can still be false professions even with good gatekeeping or admission discipline? If so, aren't we still analyzing professions instead of regenerations?

Thanks for the interaction. I'll bow out now, I didn't mean for a wisecrack to take up a lot of your time.


Ben said...


Yes and yes. But then I didn't suggest initially that anyone could verify regeneration—only that regenerate church membership is an issue the SBC needs to address. Clearly, there are some steps toward the ideal that churches can take without purporting to verify regeneration.

Ashley said...

I am a former member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Mark is amazing. I don't really consider myself a Baptist anymore, but I would love to see him as president of the SBC.