By Stephen Feinstein
A couple months ago, Jeff Noblit of Grace Life Church announced that his church will be resigning their affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention. His announcement was made to the church he shepherds, but it was also streamed. Due to the streaming of the announcement, it spread quite fast to where I was asked to watch it not long after. Only in this age of social media could a message directed to a local church near the east coast find itself into the ears of a pastor on the west coast. Due to the content of the video, it likely received wide support from those who believe and spread the narrative that the SBC is downgrading into theological liberalism, cultural Marxism, and feminist egalitarianism. This widespread support comes from those both inside and outside the SBC. Some are genuinely concerned about the faithfulness of their denomination. Others are trolls just wanting to see the convention burn. I have encountered both types on social media over this issue.
With that being said, I feel compelled to respond to Pastor Nobilt indirectly in this blog. Normally, I would not trouble myself. But his announcement had second and third order effects. When some of my own church members and former members sent me the video asking why we are supporting a godless denomination, it created fires in my own ministry that needed quenching. Rather than give the same answer dozens of times, I decided it would be easier just to write my thoughts about Pastor Jeff’s announcement.
First, let me state upfront that I think Jeff’s message was very sincere and reflective. I appreciate the fact that he held on as long as he could before supporting the decision to exit the SBC. I do not believe Pastor Jeff was intentionally being divisive. In fact, I am convinced he is following his conscience—a conscience sanctified by the Scriptures. Yet, I find myself in wide disagreement with him over his stated reasons for leaving the SBC. Theologically, Jeff Noblit and I are very much the same. We are soteriologically Calvinist. We believe in a plurality of equal elders in terms of church polity. We both practice church discipline as articulated by Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5, among other texts. These very convictions are the reason Jeff stated his church is leaving the SBC, because in his experience, the SBC is opposed to these important biblical traits of a healthy church. For obvious reasons, if Jeff’s concerns were true, Sovereign Way Christian Church would have to exit the SBC too. Yet, we are not exiting the SBC. And the reason is because I believe Jeff is wrong on most of the reasons he gave.
In his narrative, Jeff left me with the impression that his church could have been a major player in SBC politics and position, but Grace Life was blackballed because their fidelity to the biblical practice of church discipline, the biblical governance of a plurality of elders, and the biblical soteriology, better known as the doctrines of grace. It is certainly possible in his local association some of this may be true. But Sovereign Way’s (SWCC) experience is quite opposite. I helped plant this church in 2010 as a non-denominational church. From day one, we were Reformed in our soteriology, we possessed a plurality of elders, and we practiced church discipline. It was not until 2013 we decided to affiliate with the SBC. Our local association was most helpful. They accepted us with open arms. They knew we were Reformed, they knew we practiced plural eldership, and they knew we practiced church discipline. These items did not hinder our affiliation. Since we are a small church, the SBC was not going to gain vast financial resources from us. If anything, we were going to cost them rather than be a gain. Despite this, we quickly attained, and still possess, a good reputation with the staff of the nearest SBC college and seminary. Our local association has partnered with us multiple times since our affiliation.
In light of that, it is truly difficult to argue the SBC as a whole possesses an animus against biblical eldership, church discipline, and Calvinism. I completed by Master of Divinity at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2017, and in that context I was presented with arguments in favor of plural eldership, Calvinism, and church discipline. Keep in mind, this is the SBC’s first and most prominent seminary. They would not be so if the SBC as a whole has an animus against Grace Life’s faithful distinctive traits. On top of this, of the six seminaries, four of them are either Calvinist or are trending in that direction. The wrongly labeled “traditionalists” may take issue with this, but as seminaries teach preachers how to exegete biblical text and how to preach expositionally, this Calvinist trend is inevitable since it is most faithful to the Bible. Some of the seminaries strongly support Biblical, or Nouthetic, counseling, even assisting ACBC in providing training. Biblical Counseling is entirely Calvinistic in its biblical understanding and presuppositions. Some of the most widely known and celebrated para-church organizations that are affiliated with the SBC, such as 9 Marks, are likewise Calvinist, possess plural eldership, and practice church discipline. We can add to this that in 2008 the messengers of the SBC voted favorably on a resolution titled, On Regenerate Church Membership and Church Member Restoration, which was an affirmation of the Matthew 18:15-20 process of church discipline. Even though it was hard fought, if the denomination was overwhelmingly opposed to church discipline, then the resolution would have never passed. Finally, when I survey many of the heads of the SBC institutions, as well as members on the committees and boards, far too many of them are Calvinist for one to credibly argue there is an anti-Reformed animus that makes affiliation in the SBC difficult for Reformed churches. In light of all these facts, it is impossible for me to accept Pastor Jeff’s stated reasons for exiting. It does not represent the reality of the SBC as a whole. If it did, then SWCC would be exiting too.
Jeff continued his message by bringing forward a few straws that “broke the camel’s back,” as he put it. First was the rise in embracing and affirming Beth Moore’s ministry within the SBC. I share Jeff’s concern and really have nothing to write. I would simply say that it does not justify exiting the convention—at least not at this point. The SBC is 47,000 churches in cooperation, and it takes time to get the messengers from the majority of churches organized and galvanized over issues like this. The majority of our messengers are biblically conservative complementarians. They would not embrace Beth Moore’s violation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Jeff also brought up three prominent pastors that backed Paula White’s ministry. Those three pastors should be ashamed of themselves, but three pastors out of 47,000 churches hardly represents a denominational crisis. Baptists prize local autonomy, and due to that, these three would have to deny the faith in order to be forced out of the SBC.
Those previous two issues are not likely the main point of concern for Jeff. He focused in on Critical Race Theory as he referenced the now infamous Resolution 9. Jeff claimed that the messengers voted to include Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality (CRT/I) as tools to help us interpret the Bible. This is patently false. I do not believe Jeff is trying to deceive anyone, but instead this reflects a very careless reading of the resolution. It also reflects a mindset that presently assumes the worst about the motives of resolutions committee. It is simply not true that the SBC messengers voted that we should include God-hating theories and ideologies to help us interpret the Bible. There was nothing in the resolution about hermeneutics. To argue such either demonstrates a careless reading, or it demonstrates it wasn’t read at all, and instead is based on the uncritical acceptance of rumors and accusations.
Many people know that I was the original author of the resolution. My original sought to denounce the Marxist ideology behind CRT/I and to provide a means to hold accountable anyone that tries to smuggle it into our denomination. The resolution committee decided to focus more on a narrow definition of CRT/I rather than the broader understanding of it. I wanted it declared as incompatible with biblical Christianity due to the contemporary critical theory from which it is fueled. Instead, they changed my broad focus to a narrow focus centered on utilizing CRT/I as analytical tools in a social context. Just so we can all be clear, I will quote some of the more controversial statements in Resolution 9 so we can determine exactly what is being said. First look at the fourth WHEREAS:
WHEREAS, Evangelical scholars who affirm the authority and sufficiency of Scripture have employed selective insights from critical race theory and intersectionality to understand multifaceted social dynamics; and
Please note there is nothing about hermeneutics (interpretation of Scripture) in this statement. It simply says some faithful believers have used selective (meaning very limited) insights from CRT/I to understand social dynamics. Is that true? I assume it is. There is likely some orthodox believer that took one of the few accurate observations from CRT, and used it to better understand some social dynamic somewhere. That is the MOST that this statement says. As expositional preachers, we strive to never overstate or understate a text, but instead to properly understand and explain exactly what it means. When that same process is applied here, the statement is not by any means endorsing the use of CRT/I to interpret Scripture or order social affairs within the church.
Next, look at the seventh WHEREAS. It says:
WHEREAS, Critical race theory and intersectionality alone are insufficient to diagnose and redress the root causes of the social ills that they identify, which result from sin, yet these analytical tools can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences; and
Again, what does it say? It directly says CRT/I are insufficient to address the social ills they identify. These social ills result from sin, something repudiated by the critical theory that drives CRT/I. After stating CRT/I cannot accomplish their intended goal, the statement then again admits that it sometimes makes accurate observations. It says CRT/I can aid in evaluating a variety of human experiences. Does that sound like it is being used to interpret Scripture? Does that sound like it is telling churches to employ it within church social situations? No. I think you can see the pattern here. Pastor Jeff did what many have done in their reaction to Resolution 9. He and they are guilty of overstating what the resolution actually says. The overstatements have been irresponsible, leading to the alarm of many and the unnecessary division of many more.
The eighth WHEREAS is often overlooked by those citing Resolution 9 to sound the alarm. It says:
WHEREAS, Scripture contains categories and principles by which to deal with racism, poverty, sexism, injustice, and abuse that are not rooted in secular ideologies; and
This clearly states that the Bible itself has the categories and principles by which to deal with everything CRT claims to be concerned with. This is a statement of the sufficiency of Scriptures. Added to this is the first RESOLVED. It says:
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, June 11–12, 2019, affirm Scripture as the first, last, and sufficient authority with regard to how the Church seeks to redress social ills, and we reject any conduct, creeds, and religious opinions which contradict Scripture; and be it further
Does this sound like the resolution is telling SBC churches to interpret the Scripture with CRT? Does it tell the churches to address social dynamics in the church with intersectionality? No. It says the Scriptures are the sufficient authority for these matters. Furthermore, it directly rejects any position that contradicts Scripture. Since Critical Theology and CRT/I do just that, they are repudiated by this resolution.
So that only leaves the second RESOLVED statement. It says:
RESOLVED, That critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture—not as transcendent ideological frameworks; and be it further
This statement assumes that some aspects of CRT/I can be divorced from the Contemporary Critical Theory that animates it, and if this is the case, then it is possible for such aspects to be used in subordination to Scripture. I disagree with this statement within the resolution. I see CRT/I the same way the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (of which I am a certified counselor) sees secular psychology. Secular psychology gets some observations right due to common grace. We can acknowledge where it gets things right, and such accurate observations are sometimes helpful to us. Secular psychology, however, is entirely incompatible with biblical Christianity due to the worldview and presuppositions that animate it. Therefore, we do not seek to integrate biblical and secular counseling, nor do we presume it is possible to subordinate secular psychology to Scripture. The two are rivals. They are enemies. The same is true of CRT/I and biblical Christianity. This statement in the resolution opens the door for a Christian to analyze some social issue through a CRT/I lens, and I think that is unwise. However, it does not apply this to interpretation of the Scriptures (hermeneutics) or to social relationships in the church. Furthermore, it denounces the transcendent ideological framework behind CRT/I.
So at the worst, the resolution assumes that some Christians can look at political and social items through a narrow usage of CRT/I devoid of Critical Theory and in total subordination of Scripture. To insinuate Resolution 9 says anything more than this is a grossly inaccurate overstatement. This is why I made a video in an attempt to demonstrate that the reaction against Resolution 9 was ultimately a series of irresponsible overstatements. As the original author of a resolution that was radically altered, I would have been irate had Resolution 9 actually stated what its critics accuse it of. Had it been guilty of what Jeff Noblit said it is, then I would be writing this in support of his decision. Instead, I agree with R. Albert Mohler. The resolution should have said a lot more, but it definitely could have said no less. This is why evangelicals who actually study critical theory in order to refute it also do not present Resolution 9 in the irresponsible, alarmist fashion that we see from others. For the most part, those who denounce it as smuggling Marxism into the SBC repeatedly demonstrate they likely do not even know what CT/CRT/I is.
I understand the concern of some people. The convention had a chance to denounce the Critical Theory ideology as a whole, and that opportunity was missed. But it was not missed because of a conspiracy or downgrade. Those who possess large platforms should have reached out to the resolution committee members to see what their rationale was. After all, that is the biblical thing to do. I have done so, and I can tell you, the committee members are just as opposed to CRT/I as the rest of us. They also see it on the whole as being incompatible with biblical Christianity. Rather than jump to conclusions that assume the worse, people should speak with them. And let me encourage you with this. I believe at Orlando in 2020, we will get another resolution that will finally put this issue to rest. Pray that this happens.
The final point I would like to make is why I still think the SBC is the best option for faithful Baptist churches. I do this as a plea of Jeff to remain with the SBC. In Paul’s epistles, there was clear cooperation between independent churches as they pooled resources and people to assist the impoverished churches in Judea. Faithful churches, like the one at Philippi, and less faithful ones, like the one at Corinth, still cooperated for this biblical purpose. Apparently this kind of cooperation extended to Great Commission purposes too, as Paul expected the Roman church to assist him in reaching Spain. With that said, a cooperation of orthodox churches is always stronger and more capable of fulfilling the Great Commission than a single church in isolation. In the Matthew 24:14, Jesus said the end will only come after we reach every nation with the gospel. We should all make this our churches’ number one priority.
Applying this concept of cooperation to the SBC, no other group of churches, nor any individual church, even comes close to what the SBC accomplishes for the kingdom. For example, the International Mission Board presently funds 3,678 missionaries all over the world. In 2018, 847 unreached people groups were engaged by missionaries. In the same year, 13,898 new churches were planted outside of the U.S. Amazingly, 77,605 people confessed Christ as Lord, of which 52,586 were baptized. The 3,000 plus missionaries are also effective at producing more gospel ministers: 18,428 pastors were trained overseas and 85,362 indigenous leaders received theological, pastoral, and church planter training. With this kind of work being accomplished, our generation may at last finish the Great Commission. It makes little sense to blow up the SBC because of rumors. Within our own hemisphere, the North American Mission Board planted 624 new churches in 2018 and sent 3,600 chaplains into the military, prisons, hospitals, and natural disasters. I am enabled to preach the gospel in a unique environment because NAMB sends me to the Army. Finally, with four of the six seminaries trending Reformed, it only means greater numbers of biblically sound pastors are being produced and sent to the churches.
So for all these reasons, I strongly disagree with many of the statements made by Pastor Jeff Noblit. If Jeff reads this, please understand brother, I have nothing but great respect for you. You have done more for the kingdom than I have, so I write this critique with great trembling. If anything, I hope this persuades you to stay with the SBC. We need more churches like yours to stay in the convention. We are winning the fight, and the only way we will continue to win is if gospel-loyal pastors like you stay committed to the SBC. CRT/I is a true threat, and it is incredibly naïve to deny it. So I will continue to fight it until the SBC has repudiated it at both the national and state level. The success of this depends first on Christ, but second it depends on having many faithful churches take a lead in the SBC. I pray that Pastor Jeff and those who feel as he does will perhaps see what I am writing here and change their mind and support the ongoing Conservative Resurgence from inside the denomination. Thanks for taking the time to read this. God bless.