I think in a deeply tribal age – particularly when talking about sharply defined fault lines between the tribes – it is important to clarify as explicitly as possible where one stands and what one’s intentions are. I think what I write below is likely to be misunderstood as an attack or condemnation or attempted rebuke. Toward that end I want to note that I think Josh Buice is right on about what is wrong with the SBC. I support G3 – I attend often – and am glad for its existence. I count many of the men working with G3 among the most helpful Christians in our age. I also have been deeply involved in the Southern Baptist Convention for a long time, at personal costs, and am thinking for the first time seriously about what that relationship should look like in the future.
I was in Georgia for the 2021 G3 conference and watched Pastor Josh Buice deliver the answer he gave in the video below.
The first 3 minutes of his answer could have come from my own thoughts and the conversations I have been having since the annual meeting in Birmingham in 2019. At around the 3:18 mark Pastor Buice asks whether or not there is value in staying in the SBC to “fight the fight” – which I take to mean fighting for reform and/or not allowing the bad actors he mentioned (Ed Litton and his supporters, in particular) to continue driving the SBC into ever-increasingly gross doctrinal and ethical error. This section ends with him saying, “I’m just not going to do it any more.”
The resulting cheer I heard from the crow landed heavier on me than Pastor Buice’s own words. I am a Baptist. I believe local church autonomy is Biblical. Pastor Buice and his congregation are free to make whatever decision they believe is in their best interests. That cheer, however, led me to believe Pastor Buice’s words – intentional or not – had landed as a call, a call to join him in partnering with the faithful brothers at G3 which he mentioned just prior. After all, as Josh said, we can plant churches without the SBC.
Now that Josh has announced his church’s decision to leave the SBC we have two public statements from Pastor Buice about his thoughts on the state of the SBC, what faithful churches should be thinking through as they evaluate their relationship to the SBC, and what opportunities for other options there are.
My hope here is to offer – from a much, much smaller platform – a few follow-up questions in response to Pastor Buice’s statements, questions I hope Buice will see and respond to. Here is the first, along with some necessary context before and some elaboration following:
(1) If we leave and partner with G3 what is the plan for when doctrinal error comes to G3?
G3 has grown, in the eyes of this outsider, like a wildfire. I think God is blessing G3 and I am thankful for what G3 has become in (what appears to me) so short a time.
Church history makes clear that in our fallen world the temptation to doctrinal drift necessarily comes to Christian organizations and movements. This seems to happen particularly when God’s blessing is on the group – because God is providing refining trial, the devil wants to derail the work, or both.
Inevitably this kind of trial/temptation is going to come to G3. What then? And, to be clear, I assume there already is an answer – just one I would like to know more about before I seriously consider bailing on the Southern Baptist Convention for their ongoing doctrinal error.
G3 is insulated in many ways against the fashionable errors of our moment. I do not foresee any way in which G3 would find itself embracing wokeness or egalitarianism or LGBTQ+ positivity. I do not think G3 is subject to embracing Rick Warren and Andy Stanley-style pragmatism or the church-hating elitism of David French, Russ Moore, and Ed Stetzer.
What that means is the trial will not come from those avenues or, at least, are highly unlikely to. Most likely it will come from within, in an arena that was unexpected. This is historically how those temptations to drift into error come – like it did for the Ephesian elders.
I never dreamed that I would see a day when David Platt preached cultural Marxism from the platform of Together for the Gospel, nor that I would see him stand side-by-side with a man claiming Jesus was dysphoric. I never thought I would hear J.D. Greear reach such a depth of cravenness that he would say, from a pulpit, that God whispers about homosexuality. I never thought I would read The Gospel Coalition spend a year spreading lies about the kind of people who fund their endeavors. And, most shockingly of all, I never thought I would see 9 Marks tell churches not to gather.
G3 will certainly face a crisis like the ones I just mentioned which those men and organizations failed. My church has been listed on TGC’s directory. It has been listed on 9 Marks’ as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pray’s Mills was as well, at one point or another.
Now I am considering the G3 church network. I deeply respect the men working in it. Of course, I also deeply respected the people who I mentioned above at one time.
For the record, I do not hate parachurch organizations. I think they are helpful supplements to the local church. I have lived long enough now, though, to see that they all too often become threats to the local church. Clearly, Pastor Buice and I agree on that and do not want G3 to follow in that path. This is why I want to hear more on how G3 is self-consciously working to prevent this.
For those who want to find conflict here is the closest I come to criticism. I have written before and more than once that I find it distressing that Reformed people in my generation seem entirely unwilling to work to reform much of anything. As a pastor I have met more Christians than I can count who want to join a Reformed church but not a church they can partner with others to reform.
I have met others who do not understand why reform can’t be accomplished comprehensively and quickly and right down to their particular idiosyncratic preferences, openly suggesting the only reason that cannot be done is that some kind of compromise is behind the pace they find too slow.
My response, generally, has been that Reformed folks are going to have to actually reform something or give up the label in the interest of integrity.
As a friend recently said to me on the subject of Buice’s departure, “I didn’t hear [Buice say] that SBC life required complicity with doing wrong. Nor did I hear that local churches need the SBC. I heard that it is frustrating to contend with error over and over, and even to be attacked for your integrity.
But American churches are fumbling the handoff of missions and education, not just in the SBC. Reinventing institutions every generation means fundraising from the mites of faithful widows will be a gift to unbelievers at the next handoff. I want to separate from institutions that cannot conserve the faith for more than one lifetime.
And I am writing this, in part, in the hope that Pastor Buice can show me how we can work today to solve that problem tomorrow, based on more than the hope that tomorrow’s men will be less sinful than today’s Southern Baptists.”
Here’s where I know Pastor Buice isn’t wrong – you can plant churches without the SBC. That simple statement, however, does not capture the magnitude of what is lost when the SBC is. G3, growing at the most healthy and rapid pace imaginable, will likely never be able to place church planters in hostile nations the way the International Mission Board can. Now, how the IMB trains who they place there is a problem worth considering leaving over, for sure. I am simply noting that there are considerable and important ways G3 will not be able to plant churches without the SBC, at least not in my lifetime even if everything goes well. Again, if our church planters are woke, egalitarian, and affirming that is not a loss. Still, I know enough missionaries in hard places that were placed by existing IMB relationships to know we have Southern Baptist missionaries who hate doctrinal and ethical decline as much as I or Pastor Buice.
Another example of what will be lost and likely never recovered is Mission:Dignity, the program supported by Cooperative Program dollars which provides literally life-preserving resources to retired country preachers and their widows. For something like Mission:Dignity to exist you need scale and size that will not exist at G3 in my lifetime, if ever, if there is even a desire for that work to begin. And it is good work, the kind that keeps me participating in the SBC to one degree or another.
My whole point here is this: let’s not be flippant. It is naïve to think that the loss of the SBC will be of little consequence to the Kingdom, practically. It is also naïve to think even the most blessed and upright organization will be able to replace the SBC to a substantial degree in any timeframe short of multi-generational blessing, a timeframe the people who heard Pastor Buice issue his statement will thus never see this side of glory.
This is before we get to the horror show that existing institutions turn into when abandoned to liberals. Princeton is the great cautionary tale on that front but that consideration is not my purpose here. I only intend to note that we should go into new ventures with our eyes open and with well-calibrated expectations.
(2) What Does the Next Josh Buice Do?
Aaron Renn has convinced me that we need institutions, that liberals are terrible at building institutions but they are skilled at colonizing them. Church history, along with the more contemporary stories of parachurch organizations like The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, tells me that the push and pull of compromise is merely a matter of time for G3.
So when the doctrinal conflict comes and when it comes from unexpected vectors and perhaps even from unexpected brothers what is G3’s plan?
Specifically, what is the next Josh Buice to do when it comes? I expect Pastor Buice will fight for G3 when it comes. After all, it is his vision, his work, and arises from the life of his church.
But when it comes what is the next Pastor Buice, part of the G3 church network, to do when it comes?
Does he do the math, become exasperated to the point where he’s not going to put up with fighting the compromise any more, then leave to start a G4 of his own?
If not, why not?
Answering this question intentionally and comprehensively would be a big help to people like me who are energized by what is happening with G3 but who also want to know how an organization like G3, a parachurch organization whose founder is positioning it as a kind of replacement for at least some aspects of the cooperative work of the SBC, will not succumb to the inevitable temptation to compromise on doctrine and ethics, as well as why, when that temptation does come, we should expect participants will choose to fight for the organization rather than leave to start a new one.