10 Observations about the Future of Baptists
During these changing times in our world, there is much that impacts the Baptist movement. No one can accurately predict what the future holds. All we can do is take the present trajectory and project out a few years. Here are 10 predictions and observations I want to share with you:
No. 1. The New Baptist Covenant in the fall of 2011 might be our last opportunity to create a nationwide, diverse, multi-ethnic Baptist group meeting like the Triennial Convention of the 1800s. Jimmy Carter is using his influence to bring the group back together after a successful event in 2008. We will need to institutionalize this effort for it to have a future.
No. 2. Liberty University has become the image of Baptist institutional higher education. It might be defining "evangelical" higher education as well. At least it is working hard toward that goal. Liberty is also beginning to dominate Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) life. Watch its presence grow in this next decade.
No. 3. In Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) life, watch North Carolina. The theological discussions are becoming testy and worthily so. Do we in CBF life need to be a theological subculture in the U.S. religious scene or seek to stay in the mainstream? If Larry Hovis, executive director of the North Carolina Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, can steer their ship through this process, we will need him leading the national effort in the next few years. I have known him for nearly 25 years, and I trust him immensely.
No. 4. Hopefully, environmental concerns and the environmentalist movement will help change our perspective in Baptist life away from "bigger is better" to sustainability and carbon footprints. Maybe we can start looking at "quality of investment" when distributing our Baptist dollars.
No. 5. Those who oppose women in leadership will lose on this one. Women are now in the majority – sometimes overwhelmingly so – in most sectors of society. Churches will follow.
No. 6. The controversy with Calvinism has not come to full fruition yet in SBC life. It is still building. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is leading the way and effectively creating a network of SBC elites.
No. 7. Ed Young Jr., Joel Osteen and Jonathan Falwell have all proven that charismatic leaders can be replaced and their children can oftentimes exceed the elders.
No. 8. Thomas Road Baptist Church and Saddleback Community Church are vying for the role of the most influential local congregation in the country. It is interesting that both consider themselves Baptist. I don't think that is by mistake.
No. 9. We Baptists in the South descended from converted Congregationalists like Roger Williams. E.Y. Mullins is our most significant theologian, one which Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is working extremely hard to erase from SBC's history. Any historical analysis of our kind of Baptist that diminishes either of these two individuals does a disservice to our heritage and the analysis.
No. 10. I've discovered recently that life really is about the journey and who is on it with you more so than what you can accomplish. I have loved being with the folks at Baptist Heritage Council. It has been a great group throughout these 14 years.
David Key is director of Baptist Studies at Emory University. This article was reprinted from Baptist Heritage Council of Georgia.