I came to a Reformed faith largely out of the preaching of Matt Chandler. The way he spoke with surety and boldness drew me towards the bible in deeper and clearer ways. Any time Chandler would mention a name of a pastor I would immediately look that person up and begin to listen to that preachers teaching. I say all that to provide some background on how I came upon David Dockery. Through a series of sermons, blog posts, and teaching series his name happened to be mentioned and I came upon this text with some zeal for my Baptist brethren to be brought together under the gospel of Christ.
David Dockery is the 15th president of Union University, a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) college in Jackson, Tennessee. Under the leadership of Dockery, Union has grown in enrollment for 15 straight years, tripled its number of donors to the university, and has seen a strong increase in a strong commitment to excellence in teaching and scholarship. It is this type of leadership which the SBC needs to maintain in order to reach the world for Christ.
Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Proposal (B&H Publishing Group, 2008) was written with a strong commitment to the gospel and a desire to see, “The Southern Baptists once again cooperate together, particularly for the purposes of advancing evangelism, global missions, and education.” (preface) It is this heartbeat for the SBC and the gospel which propels this book forward in an engaging read and a compelling call to action.
Dockery begins this plea with a review of the past, a look at the present and his prayers for the future of the SBC. He calls for a shaking off of spiritual amnesia which has infected the body to the point of completely misunderstanding our theological identity in light of our historical position as a people called Baptists. Calling the body to take up a fresh look at our history, the Gospel, our theological foundations, and our worship and in doing so, “We can move beyond confusion and controversy to a new consensus focused on the Gospel” (12).
Dockery then moves to an in-depth look at the renewing markers which must be present in order to see a new Southern Baptist identity to emerge. He points to three areas which are essential for this renewing to take place; Scripture, Global Missions, and Cooperation. Dockery takes up the Bible and places it at the center of faith and challenges the Southern Baptists in the twenty-first century to, “Develop a doctrine of Scripture that is not enslaved to rationalism and not denatured by an alien postmodernism” (23). Understanding that being a “people of the book”, Baptists must make the Scripture their foundation upon which the building blocks of faith may be built and established. As we see the Gospel being reclaimed across the body of God we can also note a forward-moving trend in Baptist life to once again take up the Great Commission and give our very lives for this Good News.
“Southern Baptists are positioned like few other Christian denominations or congregations to influence the world for Christ”, notes Dockery, as he examines the changing face of global missions in the SBC. Calling the body to contextualize the gospel in all contexts, Dockery understands that we live in a century where the world is more accessible than it has ever been before. He is also careful to note that with the move towards a more accessible world, the people of God gain a more weightier responsibility as a people strategically positioned to make Christ known to the furthest reaches of the World.
One thing that most churches across several denominations can agree on is that Christ has called his Church to take the message of the Gospel to every soul in all the World. Dockery uses this premise as a call to cooperation, not only among the SBC, but believers in all corners of the globe. An impression is made on the world, remarks Dockery, when Christians love each other and live and serve together in harmony. He reminds us that the weight of past controversies has defined us as a people but the time is now to rise above the controversies and take up the Gospel in cooperation with other Baptists in order that the commands of Christ will be advanced in our lifetime with unprecedented results.
Dockery moves towards a mighty call as he peers into the past in order to show us the roots of our cooperation in the Gospel and the faith we confess. He calls us to stand together on the major points of doctrine, namely the Cross of Christ and the authority of the Word of God. He takes us through an exposition of the true Gospel, stopping at certain points to examine various doctrines which have both divided and joined Baptists through the centuries. Dockery gives us a glimpse of the creation, the fall, redemption, and the consummation. I find my only qualm in this section of the book. In mentioning the various aspects of our salvation in Christ, Dockery makes note of the doctrines of adoption, sanctification, justification, providence and forgiveness. Here, I’m guessing for the sake of space, he only mentions union with Christ in passing. While I stake my entire life on my Union with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords I believe Dockery mentions this only in small proportion to keep from making the entire book on the doctrine of Union with Christ. There are many books out there which examine this doctrine in-depth and the amount of pages fall well beyond that of Dockery’s book, so while I think the doctrine should be expounded I understand the necessity for keeping this section short.
The section on Baptist worship escaped me somewhat, never being in the context or experiencing a Baptist worship service. Since my time in church I have been in mainly Charismatic services which are drastically different from what Dockery is referring to. That being said, I think this section is most helpful to those in the context of any church to learn from Dockery when he tells us that, “We need to recognize that Christian worship is the active response to God the Father through the Son. Praise, prayer, preaching, the celebration of the ordinances, confession, and giving are all Christ-centered, Scripturally informed actions” (123).
The passion for excellence in education is a trademark of SBC institutions which can be traced through the six SBC seminaries and the many SBC colleges who prepare ministers for the gospel to be propagated to the ends of the earth. Calling the educational arm of the SBC to unity Dockery sets before us a solid way in which to more forward. “What we need are bedrock. non-negotiable commitments to a belief in the Triune God, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit; to a belief that there is only one mediator, and that is Jesus Christ” (151). He furthers this discussion by bringing the church into the mix and bridging the gap between the educational institution and the church by suggesting that Theologians need to be more clear in their writings in order for the church to understand and be built up. He also understands that the education in our seminaries needs to be able to move along the same plane, intellectually. as the social institutions. There is a need for smart Christians who can perform much-needed ministry in contextual and practical ways which build up the church and further the intellectual calling of the church.
In asking the question, “What must we do?”, Dockery seeks to learn from the Baptist heritage in order to build upon our future. He examines the Particular Baptists and the General Baptists in their theological formulations and calls us to do the same. He looks at great men of the past like William Carey and B.H. Carroll and calls us to take up the mantle in learning from great men and women like them. In this section he calls for the Arminianism and the Calvinism parties to bridge the gap, not in secondary matters, but to cooperate in the gospel of Christ for the building up of the Church. He finishes off this section calling us to harmony by saying, “The diverse voices of the larger Southern Baptist movement can once again make a harmonious chorus out of what seems at the present moment to be cacophony of sounds. Thus out of seeming confusion can come a harmonious choir, but this can happen only with and by a recommitment to the truthfulness of Scripture” (196).
Finally we come to the end of this passionate plea for the gospel to be recovered among the SBC. I feel like this book should be finished while on my knees in adoration and loving praise to God who has brought this text about through the loving heart of a true gospel minster. Dockery has done a masterful job in examining the past, calling for a united present and giving us a formula for SBC cooperation in the future. I have learned much from this book and indeed much from the Baptist heritage in my own walk with Christ. I am glad to throw my lot in with the Baptists in cooperation and praise to God. Dockery writes with clear prose and clarion blasts of truth. He calls us to quit the bickering among our brothers and see the glory of God in the face of Christ as our main mission. He reminds us of our missional past and urges us to reclaim our posts as a people who live by the Book. I highly recommend this to any and all Christians. I wish there were more denominations calling for renewal as much as has been called for in the SBC. I am thankful for all the people who can call themselves children of God and. along with Dockery, plead with the Church across the globe to reunite under the banner of the gospel. I will leave this post in the words of Dockery himself, for I see no other way to end it so perfectly.
“Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal is a call to cooperation and unity among the people of God called Southern Baptists…It is an invitation to work together in collaboration, with the hope that the people, churches, and entities of the Southern Baptist Convention will be strengthened, that the Gospel will be advanced, and that Jesus Christ our Lord will be honored. For these things to take place, we need to pray for the renewing power of God’s Spirit to move among us and to anoint leaders who will lead the way. From a divine perspective, we need renewal and revival among us. From a human perspective, the need of the hour is leadership, Spirit-enabled leadership” (202).