This week, I am interviewing Dr. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary. Check out part one of our conversation here.
Daniel Akin: Apathy.
I think that Southern Baptists have lost their first love, and therefore, we are apathetic in too many areas when it comes to the Great Commission and the glory of God in seeing the nations brought to Christ for his fame.
With the younger generation, I observe apathy in that they do not see why they should buy into the vision of the SBC. They are not too excited about the mechanics of the SBC. They resonate with the fact that the SBC says we exist to take the gospel to the nations, plant churches across North America, and provide good healthy theological education. My observation is that people in their twenties, thirties, and even forties resonate with this vision.
The problem is that they do not see the SBC pursuing those three agendas with laser-beam passion and the kind of focus that they themselves aspire to have. As a result, there are many guys your age that are asking the question, “Why should I be a part of this big behemoth that I feel is wasting way too much money and seems too top heavy and bureaucratic to be worth expending effort and energy. We can just simply take our money, and we can do church planting and missions on our own apart from the SBC.”
I understand that unhappiness, and I understand that dissatisfaction. That is why I, along with a number of others, and in particular the current president of the SBC – that is why we are working very hard to try to steer the SBC in a new fresh direction that would cause young men like yourself and like my own sons to say, “It’s not perfect (of course nothing perfect exists this side of heaven), but it’s the best thing going. I can see why I would be a wise and good steward to invest in what the SBC is trying to accomplish.”
Trevin Wax: What do you think are the major reasons for the declining number of baptisms and our shrinking membership?
Daniel Akin: First, we have become practical inclusivists. Even though, in theory, we will say that we believe that heaven and hell are real, and that Jesus makes all the difference, we have emotionally disengaged ourselves from that theological proposition, and we are convinced that if someone is a good person, somehow God is going to let them get into heaven. So we do not have the sense of urgency about the plight of the lost.
Secondly, Dr. Mohler has pointed out a fact that is kind of funny and sad at the same time. You can almost document the stagnation and decline of baptisms within the Southern Baptist Convention as the decline in the number of children that Baptist have.
The truth is, (and I said this in my Axioms sermon that’s either famous or infamous depending on your perspective) we have bought into the mindset of the modern world in that we think that less children is best or at least better. Because we have less children, we have less family members coming to faith in Christ.
Of course, I am not for baptizing children at a very young age. We have made a huge mistake there. So let’s just go ahead and recognize the elephant in the room: many of the baptisms we record every year are re-baptisms. People that are baptized as children come to be convinced that they had not understood the gospel, had not been converted, and therefore went through baptism again.
Every so often, when I am doing a forum here at Southeastern, I will raise this question. (I used to do this at Southern too and I always got the same result.) I ask the students, “How many of you went under the waters of baptism more than once?” It was never less than 40% and almost always about half.
About half of the adult baptisms we report each year are re-baptisms. The other majority of them are among children ages 5 to 12. That number has been shrinking because we have less children in our churches now.
You put all that together with the fact that we are less passionate about the plight of the lost and you see why there is a significant decline and stagnation in baptisms. We have not been keeping up with the population growth in America for thirty to forty year now. Even though we saw modest increases in the number of churches, and modest increases in terms of total membership, we were losing ground every step of the way.
We have been very deficient on the doctrine of regenerate church membership. We have baptized far too many at a young tender age when they were not capable of grasping the truth of the gospel.
On any given Sunday, we do not have 16 million Southern Baptists in worship. More likely, we have around 8 million present. And if you use as a criteria for “faithful church attender” someone who comes just once a month, we might have 10.5 to 11 million true Southern Baptists, not 16 million. You put all that in a pot and you can see that we have some serious issues.
Trevin Wax: Some have said that one of the best ways to evangelize the next generation is to give birth to it and to raise it up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. What should pastors do to encourage people to embrace that vision of having children or adopting children all for the glory of God?
Daniel Akin: They should teach the Scriptures and point out that Psalm 128 talks about the beautiful gift that children are from the Lord. God blesses the one who has a large number of them. The psalmist uses different analogies of the quiver full or the olive plants around the home.
Pastors should acknowledge that we do have a culture mandate to be fruitful and multiply and that the Scriptures consistently witness to the fact that children are a good gift from a great God. They are a prime avenue and a prime mission field. In fact, in my Axioms message, I said that our first line of doing missions is our own families. Of course, if you have one child as opposed to four, five or six, then you have a much smaller initial mission field.
You may have seen a YouTube video that’s being widely disseminated right now. I was watching a clip of it again this morning. The video is about the declining birth rate among white Europeans. According to some statisticians, Europe is now beyond recovery, and their particular culture is doomed and destined to die or at least to fade into insignificance. Many of the countries have a birth replacement of 1.1 or 1.3. Among Muslims, the rate is 8.1.
Europe is probably going to fall to Islam without a military conquest. Muslims will simply, by a natural process, outnumber the white Europeans (who are no longer truly Christian anyway).
We certainly do not want to say, “The way we need to evangelize the world is to have more children…period.” No, we do need to have more children and faithfully teach them the gospel and the Christian Scriptures.
But at the same time, there are 1.6 billion people on the planet who have never heard the name of Jesus, and 3.5 billion who have a nominal witness or no witness at all. It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and. We should have more children, and we should also give away more money and send more people.
I’m convinced that God is calling out a lot more than are going. I believe that is especially true among men. Men have an absolutely pathetic track record in terms of missionary service in comparison to our sisters in the Lord.
Tomorrow, we will discuss Dr. Akin and Johnny Hunt’s Great Commission Resurgence document, including some of the controversial aspects of the document.