JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptists “are at their best when they find ways to collaborate and cooperate together,” Union University President David S. Dockery believes.
In his new book “Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Perspective,” Dockery issues what he describes as a call “to cooperation and unity among Southern Baptists.”
Dockery said the idea for the book grew from Baptist Identity Conferences hosted by Union in 2004 and 2007. Following the second conference, Dockery published a booklet titled “Building Bridges” that was distributed at last year’s SBC annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.
Noting that the booklet received “an extremely warm response,” Dockery said he wanted to expand upon the ideas it contained and gather them in one place. “This book represents those reflections,” Dockery told Tennessee’s Baptist & Reflector newsjournal.
Fortunately, Dockery had completed the manuscript prior to the tornado that struck Union on Feb. 5, turning his focus to the rebuilding of the Jackson, Tenn., campus.
“Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal does not attempt to deal with every issue or wrestle with every intramural squabble that can be named among us,” Dockery writes in the preface. The book concentrates primarily on missions, education, worship and Southern Baptists’ theological and confessional heritage, with Dockery telling the Baptist & Reflector, “I happen to think these are the big picture items in Southern Baptist life.”
In his preface, Dockery draws from “our history and our heritage, particularly our theological heritage,” in calling for “renewed commitments to and shared cooperation around the truthfulness of Holy Scripture and the uniqueness of the gospel message.”
“We then look for avenues that point us toward a new consensus, with a focus on overarching issues like missions, worship, education, and leadership” and “grounded in a biblical, historical, and theological framework,” he writes. “Other key theological and ethical issues are addressed along the way,” yet within the context of “our Baptist distinctives and identity.”
Dockery underscored why it is important for Southern Baptists to seek consensus and renewal in his comments to the Baptist & Reflector.
“Southern Baptists are at their best when they find ways to collaborate and cooperate together,” he said. “I believe that there must be some basic theological commitments around which we can cohere. This theological consensus has been present at our best times in Baptist life.”
Dockery cited the establishment of the Baptist Faith and Message in 1925 and its revisions, along with the creation of the Cooperative Program, as key moments in SBC history.
“I am prayerful that we can once again find a theological consensus around which we can cohere,” Dockery said. “This is especially important since the programmic and cultural consensus that shaped Southern Baptists throughout the middle of the 20th century no longer exists.”
Consensus, Dockery cautioned, “does not necessarily lead to renewal.” The title of the book reflects the appeal and prayer for both, he added. “The spirit of God,” he noted, “must bring renewal to our shared work together.”
Dockery acknowledged that differing factions exist in the Southern Baptist Convention that could hinder cooperation with each other.
“Throughout our history there have been both Calvinists and non-Calvinists; premillennialists, postmillennialists and amillenialists; formal worship styles and informal worship styles; urban congregations and rural congregations; and other differences,” Dockery told the B&R. “We need to recognize that these differences are generally matters of secondary or tertiary importance.”
That does not mean they are unimportant, he said, or that people should not have convictions about such things.
“But they are not first-order issues that define the very heart of what it means to be a Baptist,” Dockery said. “The call to unity is thus based on a shared commitment to the full truthfulness of the Bible, the message of the Gospel, a commitment to missions and cooperative work together, and the primary distinctives of Baptist ecclesiology such as a regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism by immersion, and congregationalism.”
Baptist history is full of examples of times when Baptists with various differences found ways to move forward together, Dockery said, citing the Triennial Convention in 1814 as one example. “We have found ways to renew those commitments from time to time throughout our history,” he noted.
“I believe we are at a crucial time when we must do so again. We must recognize the opportunities and challenges that we face and pray for God’s grace and guidance to help us move forward together for the good of the Gospel and the glory of our great God,” he said.
In the book’s preface, Dockery acknowledges that he wrote the book with “much fear and trembling, for I recognize that there are many others who are better equipped than I to address these important matters.”
“I have written the book with much prayer for I desire only to offer a way forward for the people of God called Southern Baptists.”
Dockery told the Baptist and Reflector his prayer is that the book “will provide a sense of hopefulness for our future.
“I pray that the book will remind us of the best of our heritage, that it will help us refocus on the full truthfulness of Holy Scripture, that it will help us center our efforts around the Gospel, and that it will point a way forward for us in the shared work of Southern Baptist life in the complex and changing world of the 21st century.”
The book is a release from the Broadman & Holman Publishers division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. “Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Perspective” by David S. Dockery is available at LifeWay Christian Stories and online via www.lifewaystores.com.