A Recovering Baptist

The winding path of life and belief can lead through rugged terrain, but it can also reveal beauty if we’re open. Openness doesn’t have to mean perpetual uncertainty or lack of conviction. It should mean striving for orthodoxy with theological humility.

I was a Free Will Baptist, then I was a Southern Baptist. Now I’m not sure what I am. I suppose I’m a Lutheran with some Baptist leanings. I began with a legalistic bent that still haunts me to this day. I mellowed into a dogmatic Calvinistic Baptist who didn’t realize I’d traded one form of performance-based righteousness for another.

I thought that the Southern Baptist camp was the theological promised land because it had a big enough tent to welcome my emerging convictions on the doctrines of grace. In the Bible Belt, there is a Baptist church on every corner. In some cases, there are multiple Baptist churches of the same philosophical-theological underpinnings within a ten-mile radius. Other Baptist churches whose philosophy and theology stand in stark contrast are within that same radius. There was much discussion of being gospel-centered and focused in my circles. However, I realized that the focus boiled down to saying the word gospel a lot.

Opening yourself up to an objective analysis of belief is daunting. It’s not that I believe Baptists are insincere in their distinctive beliefs or that a biblical case cannot be made. I went to school and learned where the Baptist case originated and how to best make it today. It was challenging to let go of the presuppositions I had embraced as biblical convictions.

Baptists would never state that their beliefs are the only ones that fall within the realm of orthodoxy. Yet, there is an undercurrent of labeling anyone who differs on core doctrinal issues as borderline heretical. I know because that undercurrent pulled me down for a long time. Unfortunately, I contributed to that undercurrent for far too long as well.

Southern Baptist seminaries share a general theologically conservative consensus, but there are also major differences. Some lean more toward a Calvinistic soteriology, while others are hardcore Arminians. Still, others have a more balanced approach or a percentage breakdown closer to fifty-fifty.

My beliefs in Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the church’s role, and the nature of the church have all shifted and are in a state of inquisitive flux. I don’t view the Baptist position on these as heresy. However, I denounce the former arrogant posture of certitude I displayed as a Baptist and that I still see prominently displayed in their ranks. Such a posture isn’t limited to Baptists, but I can speak from my own experience as one.

After deciding to leave the Baptist circles, I visited a Presbyterian church (PCA) for a time. I ended up moving for work, visited a Lutheran church (LCMS), and joined as a member. When that job fell through a few years later, I landed back at the PCA church, but found myself longing for many of the Lutheran distinctions I had come to love.

There is a blessed fellowship in the common doctrine we share regardless of our denomination. Nonetheless, the theological differences do bear themselves out in practice. I don’t write this to persuade others to agree with my conclusions. Instead, I’d like to encourage you to open yourself up to determine what your convictions truly are beyond what you’ve always been taught or taught others.

What does the Bible teach on its own? To what degree have we read our theological presuppositions into Scripture? Do those come closer to the time of Christ and the apostles and have a better interpretive framework than those who came centuries later? These are profound questions without easy answers.

When I say that I’m a recovering Baptist, I do so tongue in cheek. I might have been a recovering Methodist, Catholic, or Lutheran. Perhaps you find yourself longing for something more. Shallowness isn’t the willingness to revisit your beliefs and change them. Being theologically shallow is persisting in your tradition without reason. Look no further than Christ and his Gospel to dive into depths that know no end.

Photo by Julien Lavallée on Unsplash

Chris Dunn
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