The Economist recently had a review of Baptists in America: A History, a new book by Thomas Kidd and Barry Hankins, history professors at Baylor University. Among other things, the reviewer avers that current Baptist opposition to abortion and gay marriage is “a throwback . . . to their roots as outsiders resisting the mainstream.”
Certainly there was much countercultural activity by the early Baptists in this country. For example, they rejected the practice of infant baptism and the establishment of a state church—and some suffered because of that countercultural stance. (I wrote last year about one of June’s relatives who spent time in jail for the “crime” of preaching as a Baptist.)
But in some ways Baptists in the South were not countercultural as they became entwined in and ardent supporters of the culture of slavery. As The Economist article says, “. . . white Southern Baptists will forever labour in the shadow of having been badly wrong on civil rights.”
(Most commendably, though, at the 1995 annual meeting the SBC did “genuinely repent of racism”; while some saw that as too little much too late, surely that was better than not doing it at all.)
Last week at the 2015 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, David Platt, the (relatively) new president of the International Mission Board of the SBC, had a major part in Tuesday evening’s call to prayer “for the Next Great Awakening and to Reach the World for Christ.”
|David Platt at the 2015 SBC Annual Meeting|
Platt has recently written a book titled Counter Culture. I had a very mixed reaction to Platt’s new book when I read it earlier this year. The second chapter on poverty was excellent, I thought. The eighth chapter was also a strong, and good, rejection of racism.
The fourth and fifth chapters were also quite good, but I had some serious questions about most of the other chapters.
Platt had previously written Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (2010). That New York Times bestseller was my first introduction to Platt, and I found it quite impressive. He is also the author of Radical Together (2011) and Follow Me (2013).
In his first three books, there is virtually no mention of abortion or LGBT issues, but those matters dominate Platt’s new book. In fact, the implication is that being completely and absolutely opposed to all abortion and homosexual activity is necessary for being a Christian.
This, it seems, is a new fundamentalism.
According to Platt, “Abortion is an affront to God’s authority as Creator, an assault on God’s work in creation, and an attack on God’s relationship with the unborn” (p. 69). Consequently, if we believe the gospel, then we must speak out against the injustice of abortion” (p. 72).
In the chapter on the gospel and sexual morality, Platt declares that the Bible is clear that “homosexual activity is sexual immorality before God” (p. 170). He goes on to assert that “unrepentant sexual sin will ultimately lead to hell” (p. 177).
There is a quite different, and much better, view of what it means to be countercultural Christians in Robin Meyers’s book Underground Church (2012), and I plan to share and critique ideas from that book soon.
Early Baptists in the U.S. were, admirably, countercultural in their emphasis on individual freedom and freedom from the state.
But there is nothing commendable in their current “countercultural” efforts to deny freedom to others, such as to pro-choice women or to gays/lesbians who want the freedom to form a legally-recognized, permanent relationship with their partners.