Southern Baptists Re-Observed
In 1993, sociologist Nancy Ammerman published an edited collection, Southern Baptists Observed, that assayed the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) as the conservative takeover of the denomination was triumphant and expanding. This volume examines the state of the SBC now that it has been under conservative control for a generation. Rather than asking where that change in leadership came from, the question here is what has happened since.
The sweeping success of the conservative takeover—based on enforcing doctrinal fidelity, especially on issues like biblical inerrancy and so-called complementarianism, a rejection of modern, secular values, and advanced international missionary work—veiled a weakness at its very heart. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the conservative resurgence failed to attract new members and, even worse, the younger generation who had grown up in the SBC were fleeing the denomination—nearly half of them are leaving the church as adults and never coming back. The contributors to this volume all offer insights into the question of why. While conservatives dominate the SBC’s governance, they have failed to resolve issues that preoccupy its members and the larger society, including those related to gender, homosexuality, race, and abuse.
The essays are grouped under four broad categories: Truth and Freedom: Baptist Institutions and Contentious Issues; Defining and Defending Biblical Truth: Staking the Boundaries; Apologies, Reconciliation, and Continuing Reality; and the View from Outside. With an introduction by editor Keith Harper contextualizing the history of the movement and the issues it faces today, this collection is sure to add new insight into this influential denomination.
KEITH HARPER is senior professor of Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the editor of UT Press’s America’s Baptists series. He is the author of A Mere Kentucky of a Place: The Elkhorn Association and the Commonwealth’s First Baptists editor of Through a Glass Darkly: Contested Notions of Baptist Identity.