Below is an excerpt from a blog post this past Monday by Trevin Wax, a Managing Editor at Lifeway (a SBC institution), about his observations of younger Southern Baptists. I have removed parts to shorten it, but you can read the entire post here.
1. Younger Southern Baptists have chastened expectations regarding political engagement.
It’s common to hear the story of young evangelicals fleeing conservative churches and embracing center-left politics. I don’t see this happening among young Southern Baptist pastors. What I do see is less emphasis on bringing change through political engagement and more emphasis on dealing pastorally with the implications of a secularizing society.
When I talk with older Southern Baptists about recent cultural developments, I get the impression that many of them see mobilization of Christian voters as the best way to effect change. When I talk with younger Southern Baptists, I get the impression that the landscape has shifted to the point they expect to be a minority. Therefore, the strategy becomes more about preserving space for Christian morality and less about enshrining our views in law. This is a generalization, but I think there’s truth here: Older Southern Baptists are more likely to see the U.S. as Israel. Younger Southern Baptists are more likely to see the U.S. as Babylon. That’s a significant shift, and it leads to a different tone.
2. Younger Southern Baptists tend to be Reformed-ish.
Not all young Southern Baptists are Calvinists, by any means, but many of their preaching heroes are, and so young guys tend to settle under the Reformed umbrella by default. I say they’re Reformed-ish because when pressed, I find that many don’t subscribe to all of Calvinism’s particular tenets and doctrines. Like all Southern Baptists, the younger generation is on a spectrum with regards to Calvinism, with perhaps more who are comfortable with that label today than in the past.
It’s interesting to note that young Southern Baptists who reject Reformed theology are in agreement with their Calvinist counterparts that theological depth and biblical exposition are essential to the health of the church, and that our teaching and preaching should be centered on the gospel. They tell me how much they benefit from the vast sermon resources available from John Piper, John Macarthur, and other pastors even if they don’t agree with all aspects of their soteriology. Likewise, I’ve heard this comment (in multiple variations) from young non-Reformed pastors explaining why they frequent blogs and websites from Reformed guys: “The Calvinists are always talking about ministry and mission; the non-Calvinists are always talking about Calvinism.” (Keep in mind, this type of comment refers to online perception, and wouldn’t be true of offline conversations.) So, it seems to me that even among the young Southern Baptists who are not Reformed or even Reformed-ish, there’s an appreciation of this stream in Southern Baptist life.
3. Younger Southern Baptists tend to be theologically conservative without holding to certain cultural distinctives.
The two biggest examples of this would be worship style and alcohol. On worship style, the trend is toward contemporary worship and casual dress. It’s safe to say that most Southern Baptist church plants are as theologically conservative as those of previous generations, but the style has changed. (Interestingly enough, some of the churches aligned with the liberal splinter group CBF are more traditional and liturgical in their worship style than their younger conservative counterparts.)
On alcohol, I find that younger Southern Baptists don’t agree with the Convention’s many statements that imply total abstinence as a test of true faithfulness or a qualification for church leadership. Some younger pastors require their staff to abstain, primarily to avoid potential problems that issue may cause. In the middle, there are pastors who are personally opposed to alcohol but do not require the position for people in leadership. On the other side, there are younger Southern Baptists who see no problem with drinking in moderation. State conventions are sometimes put in the awkward position of wanting to celebrate some of their fastest growing churches and best preachers without affirming a church’s choice to not take a hard stance against drinking. (On this issue, I sense that my views on alcohol consumption are the minority opinion. Young Southern Baptists respect my teetotaling convictions, but they do not share them.)
4. Younger Southern Baptists are all over the spectrum when it comes to eschatology.
I don’t have surveys to back this up, but my hunch is that thirty years ago, most conservative Southern Baptists would have placed themselves firmly in the premillennial, pretribulation Rapture camp regarding the end times. Dispensationalism reigned supreme for decades, even if prominent Southern Baptists throughout history like E.Y. Mullins and Herschel Hobbs did not hold this view.
Among young Southern Baptists today, Dispensationalism is on the decline and diversity is the norm. Whenever I talk to young guys about their eschatology, they run the spectrum from amillennial, to historic premillennial, to post-tribulation Rapture, to partial preterism. I’ve even met a couple of postmillennial Southern Baptists (a happy, hopeful minority!). But I meet very few traditional Dispensationalists. Left Behind was perhaps the best and worst thing to ever happen to Dispensationalism. The books popularized it for the masses and made it a punchline for the next generation.
5. Younger Southern Baptists are focused more on local church ministry and less on Convention meetings.
Last summer, several older pastors noted the difference in atmosphere between the Convention meeting in Houston and the SEND North America conference at Prestonwood. The Convention meeting was sparsely attended and largely filled with denominational protocol, entity reports, and voting sessions. SEND North America was overflowing with energy, excitement, and the schedule was filled with breakout sessions that ran the gamut from church revitalization to church planting to counseling, etc. It was far more multigenerational, far less formal, and designed around pastoral equipping.
As a young Southern Baptist, I find Wax’s observations spot on. My acquaintances within the convention around my age all fit the findings within this article. There is one thing that is not mentioned in the blogpost that is underneath these observations – there is a major rift between the younger generation and the older generation. Many (not all) in the older generation see the younger as being “radical” and pushing the envelope too much whereas the younger tend to be view the older as being too staunch in tradition. However, both generations want the same thing – the gospel to be spread. The question I am continuously asking is: How do we overcome the barrier and partner for the sake of the gospel?