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Team Baptist

One of those distinct memories of my early elementary school was P.E.  Inevitably, the sport of the day began with choosing teammates.  The teacher picked “captains,” and the captains would then alternate in choosing their teammates.  In the end, this elementary draft sometimes left you with a hodge podge of players.  But there was one thing I noticed—no matter how different the players on each team, they rallied around one another for the sake of the greater goal of winning the game.

This illustrates a great spiritual truth.  Despite many differences among Southern Baptists, I have found that we have mostly recognized that we are on the same team: our rule of faith being the Bible; our consensus statement regarding biblical doctrine being the Baptist Faith & Message; and our rallying cry being JESUS SAVES!

Perhaps this is why the SBC team morale in the last 7-10 years has been especially troubling.  It seems we have teams within the team nowadays (perhaps this is the way it has always been but it seems more evident of late).  And it seems that one of the ways of determining whose “team” you’re on is being asked questions like, “Who do you read?” or “Who do you listen to?” (referring to pastors/theologians).

This line of questions has come to me several times in recent years.  And then when they hear that I primarily listen to people with whom they disagree in some respects, then they insinuate that I have become skewed in my beliefs because of this.

Please allow me to clear the air on some of the greatest influencers of my theology.  From a very young age, I remember Sunday mornings in my home included Charles Stanley on television right after breakfast and before we left to assemble with the saints.  I like to say that I cut my teeth as a new believer on his preaching.

In my early days of college, I remember several summer revivals with Tennessee evangelist Ronnie Owens.  I can’t tell you how much God used this man to bring revival to my wandering college-heart.  I like to say that through his preaching I had root canals on several rotten teeth.

In my late years of college, I remember listening to Adrian Rogers on my morning commutes.  His preaching helped me grow in my passion for Jesus, the lost, and for expositional preaching.  I like to say that God did some additional work on my teeth that was not only corrective but even cosmetic.

Finally, it was while in seminary that I was deeply influenced through the preaching of Bob Pitman of Kirby Woods Baptist, Bud Bickers, missions professor; and Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist.  God used these men and others like them to polish my gospel teeth even further.

Ironically, throughout the years of being greatly influenced by these men of God, I have come to disagree with some of the finer points of their biblical interpretations—for example, in the areas of ecclesiology and soteriology.  I don’t disagree with them by and large but on the finer points.

Yet, I continue to have a great respect for these men and their ministries.  And yes, I still listen to them on occasion.  But no, I do not listen to them exclusively nor primarily.  I believe in a varied diet of God’s Word as long as the shepherds feeding my soul are within the realm of orthodoxy.  And yes, that means that some of the shepherds that feed me are outside of the SBC—men like R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Tim Keller, John Piper, and C.J. Mahaney.

Time and again, I hear of my fellow SBC teammates criticizing teammates like me for listening to SBCers who are Reformed in their ecclesiology and soteriology; and they seem even more disturbed that I would listen to non-SBC preachers.  Ironies of ironies, however, some such critics have no problem listening to non-SBC preachers like John Hagee.  Some will even use non-SBC evangelistic programs such as Evangelism Explosion, which was put together by D. James Kennedy.

Now I understand that there is a pocket of squirrely Reformed Baptist in the SBC.  But I can say that out of all of my Reformed acquaintances, they all love Jesus, share the gospel, and have a passion for their local flock.  Besides, there are always fringe elements.  Yes, there is a small number of squirrely Reformed Baptists.  But just as accurate, there is a small number of squirrely “Traditionalist” Baptists.

Yet, I am convinced that the majority of Southern Baptists recognize there is plenty of room under the SBC umbrella for a variety of Baptistic expressions.  And that is exactly what the Preamble of the BF & M allows for.  After all, we are on the same team.  So I say, let’s start living and loving like it in our ministries and communications.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta
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