Union University has earned a reputation of providing the venue for important conversations in Southern Baptist life. Previous conferences have focused on important issues of Southern Baptist identity and this year's conference on Southern Baptist, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism may well prove to be another significant marker in the current developments in the Southern Baptist Convention. There was a diversity of speakers from a various backgrounds speaking on different topics, but I believe a unified message emerged from this important gathering. Southern Baptists and Evangelicals share common beliefs and characteristics, but they have a distinct identity. We must be willing to collaborate with Evangelicals in those areas in which we agree, while maintaining our Baptist distinctives. The future of the Southern Baptist Convention depends on maintaining a balance between confessional uniformity on one hand, and methodological diversity on the other. The speakers were not optimistic based on the current state of things, but were hopeful based upon the goodness of God. The future of the Southern Baptist Convention will be determined by this next generation who must become committed to their local churches and must believe that the Convention is the best means of fulfilling the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you can't listen to all of the presentations and if you're interested in this topic, listen to the following five presentations: Ed Stetzer, Danny Akin, David Dockery, Nathan Finn, and Albert Mohler. These lectures provide helpful perspective and suggestions for the current opportunity in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Other excellent presentations were those by Timothy George (on "The Faith, My Faith, and the Church's Faith") and Ray Van Neste (on "The Oversight of Souls: Pastoral Ministry in Southern Baptist and Evangelical Life"). The other lectures were also helpful in their place, but these were the highlights for me personally.
Some of the best application of the themes sounded in this conference were made appropriately on the last day of the conference by Nathan Finn (see my summary of Finn's presentation here) and Albert Mohler. They issued independent, but eerily similar calls for the rising generation of Southern Baptists. Finn argued that Southern Baptists must pass on the faith through catechesis (teaching the doctrines) and through telling the story of our Baptist heroes. Mohler gave an impassioned plea to the conference attendees, but especially to the young university audience to rise up and take the responsibility for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. If Southern Baptists hear and heed these calls the future for the Southern Baptist Convention may be bright indeed. As David Dockery concluded his presentation, "Let us begin moving from handwringing to hopefulness. Let's work together to advance the gospel, to trust God to bring forth fruit from our labors resulting in renewal to the churches, enabling new partnerships with networks and structures, creating a faithfulness to our denominations, our denominational heritage, and our denominational entities, all for the good of the churches, the extension of God's kingdom on earth, and for the eternal glory of our great God."