Friday, August 29, 2008

The SBC and the Authority of Scripture: SharperIron Buries the Lead

The SharperIron headline that, according to a new LifeWay survey, just 69% of SBC church members affirm the authority of Scripture caught my eye. Sounds kind of discouraging, right? Cause to skewer the SBC? No doubt.

But what the lead misses is that 100% of the SBC pastors surveyed affirmed the inspiration of Scripture, and 97% unequivocally affirmed its inerrancy. Though I have no doubt (and am grateful for the fact) that the latter figure would be even higher among independent, fundamental Baptist churches, it should be neither surprising nor substantially discouraging for two reasons. First, thirty years ago the SBC was on the brink of theological disaster. That 100% of pastors affirm inspiration and 97% affirm inerrancy surely reflects a positive trend over the past thirty years.

Second, the pastors who would have been trained in the darkest days of the SBC seminaries—the 1970s and 1980s—would be largely in their 40s–60s today. I'm guessing that demographic comprises the bulk of men serving as senior pastors of SBC churches. Given the training they received in seminary, that 69% figure doesn't sound so bad, and the 100%/97% numbers are a bit more encouraging.

But let's put that 69% statistic in context. On any given Sunday, only about 6 million out of 16 million SBC church members even show up in church (PDF). So that means that about 5 million SBC church members who don't even attend church faithfully actually believe in inerrancy! So almost as many who DON'T attend church believe in inerrancy as DO. Not bad, huh?

Of course, that assumes a couple things. First, it assumes that all the members who DO attend church are the same people who believe in inerrancy. (No doubt, millions of that 69% who affirm inerrancy left the SBC years ago for IFB churches years ago and just forgot to resign their membership.)

Don't get me wrong. There's obviously still a massive problem when 10 million out of 16 million members don't show up for church. It's too bad there are no such statistics for IFB churches. It'd be interesting to compare. I really wouldn't know what to expect. But I suspect the problem is one of church membership and discipline much more than it's a problem of pastors teaching faithful attenders false things about Scripture. So let's get the story straight.

But I wonder if anyone's ever written anything on membership and discipline . . .

Or were you looking for something written by a fundamentalist rather than one of those Southern Baptists?


Chris Anderson said...

Interesting take, Ben. Seriously.


Ben said...


You'll have to explain that link to me. The music didn't seem edifying so I shut it off.


Chris Anderson said...

Nice. I appreciate your sensitive conscience. It must be from your background. :) Perhaps this one is better?

Now Ben, we're good friends and all, but reading this post from a guy who once suggested that DMD and I seem determined to defend fundamentalism from legitimate criticisms...well, it makes me smile.

Anonymous said...


I would think these "what people believe" surveys are always difficult to weigh.

Over the years I've started three churches from scratch and helped launch several others. The truth is, if you were to survey many of those converts within, say, three years of their profession, you'd find a lot of "heresy."

And the same is true for older, more aggressive evangelistic churches, especially those who regularly see dozens upon dozens of converts come into the fold yearly. If you were to poll them early on in their Christian walk, you'd find enough heresy to choke Benny Hinn.

Surveys, like the one you reference, don't really tell us how much these "misfits" have actually grown in the faith. It only tells us what they don't know, and that distorts things considerably. It may be they've come a long way.

Have a good one!


Ben said...


Much better. Thanks.

Do you think I'm defending the SBC against legitimate criticisms or proposing a more plausible reading of the data? I didn't neglect exposing the far more valid criticism. One that's pretty serious, I think.

The SBC is not a healthy organism. But there are an awful lot of glass houses on the block, and some of their owners throw more rocks than others.


Point taken.

Anonymous said...

the "old" fundamentalists I know (compared to the YFs)would likely have had highlighted the difference btwn what the pastors held compared to the views of the people of the pew. They likely would have then said, "there but for the grace of God go I" and taken it as a warning. I know not all of them would, but the "OFs" I know would. There needs to be a greater inward focus among fundies, as we notice the failings of other Christians outside our camp. Is it possible that YFs, including those who run the website you ref'd, could be blinded to committing the same mistakes they might attribute to their blustery forebears? BTW, I think I am a YF...If this is too acerbic, please edit me.
Sam Hendrickson

d4v34x said...

Hi Ben,

Been enjoying your blog for a while, btw. Anyway, the source article defines the SBC church members as 260 (of a much larger protestant sample) that attend church at least once a month. I'm not sure, therefore you can extend the resultant percentages to the portion of SBC membership that never or rarely attends. Very interesting info, though.