Southern Baptists will vote today in Saint Louis, Missouri, for a new convention president in an election experts say might determine the future of evangelism in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
The election is also a test of whether Southern Baptist pastors are leaning toward the more Reformed theology tendencies of some of their younger millennial leaders or are staying with leaders who tend to be more critical of Reformed theology.
According to sources who could not be named for this article but who are very familiar with the inner workings of the denomination’s structure and affiliated institutions, at issue is both the theological orientation of the Baptist faith and Message and its overall approach to ministry. What is arguably most at stake is the fervor for evangelism for which Southern Baptists have been known historically.
One indication of the size of the debate is a chart circulating in SBC circles that argues that baptisms have fallen off since 2000, when Calvinism began to reach a critical mass within the Convention. One source argues the chart shows that the number of baptisms steadily increases from 1880 on until 2000, and that in the last year Baptisms only mirrored the numbers posted in 1947 because of the influence of Reformed Theology on younger SBC leaders, even as the number of Southern Baptist churches continues to grow.
Slated for a vote to serve as president of the convention are J.D. Greear, pastor of the Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, and Steve Gaines, who serves as senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee, one of the more historic parishes for Southern Baptists. Neither Greear nor Gaines could be reached by presstime.