The recent resignation of Adam Greenway from the presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has revealed that deep divisions currently exist within the Southern Baptist Convention. While Greenway’s departure from Southwestern has been bemoaned by his supporters, his detractors — mostly old guard conservatives, loyal to the memory of Paige Patterson and the “conservative resurgence” — rejoiced.
In fairness to the true ideological position of Greenway, he could not accurately be portrayed as a “theological liberal” by any classical definition. As president of Southwestern Seminary, Greenway signed a statement of faith affirming that he adhered to the decidedly complementarian and trinitarian Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
However, in the eyes of many of Greenway’s “old-guard” conservative detractors, he represented a more “woke” and progressive movement within the SBC. Whether or not this depiction of Greenway reflects reality is debatable, but what is certain is that two distinct camps have formed among Southern Baptists, and each are vying for denominational control. Formation of the very vocal Conservative Baptist Network is evidence that not everyone agrees with the current direction of the SBC.
There are currently several simmering issues exacerbating tensions between “old guard” conservatives and their often younger and more “woke” cobelligerents. Issues such as how to deal with the current sexual abuse scandal within the SBC and the legitimacy of female pastors.
Another factor that has not received a lot of press coverage pertains to the supporters of Patterson and the “conservative resurgence.” For more than two decades, Patterson and his loyalists enjoyed unrivaled power within the SBC. They did the hiring, firing and called all the shots.
However, with Patterson’s dramatic fall from grace related to his failure to report a sexual abuse incident to the police, many SBC pastors and leaders loyal to Patterson now feel like they are on the outside looking in on the very denomination they once controlled. These people did not like the way Patterson was fired and is now maligned by denominational elites.
However, the divisions currently festering in the SBC are not predicated upon hurt feelings alone. There are very real theological and institutional issues that need to be addressed within the entire convention. A case in point is the debate over the legitimacy of female pastors. The recent ordination of three women at Saddleback Church and similar actions at other SBC churches threatens to further fracture the SBC if not addressed in a decisive manner.
There is another storm brewing in the SBC, and the denomination must address these issues.
Lee Enochs is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Gateway Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary.