JACKSON, Tenn. – Dec. 5, 2006 – Southern Baptists need to build consensus and forge a new united identity centered on the one true gospel, according to Union University President David S. Dockery.
Dockery has written a booklet entitled “One Gospel: Toward a Southern Baptist Consensus” in which he calls for the unity of the church and doctrinal integrity. Union trustees on Dec. 1 unanimously endorsed Dockery’s efforts in this area.
“I think our historical amnesia creates theological and biblical problems, so I wanted to try to frame the discussion historically and then offer a theological exposition of the gospel around which we can unite,” Dockery said. “I think there are growing anxieties about different emphasis within the gospel across Baptist life. Our goal at Union is to be agents of grace and agents of reconciliation.”
Dockery said Southern Baptists need to recognize that various perspectives regarding the doctrine of salvation have been present since the early days of the 17th century, long before the Southern Baptist Convention even existed. He further said it’s unlikely, apart from God’s intervention, that Baptists are going to come to unanimity on some of these positions, which he thinks are secondary matters.
“What I wanted to do was to call us back to a primary focus on the gospel itself and understand those areas where we have strong agreement about the sinfulness of humanity and their lostness apart from Christ, that our salvation is found in Christ alone,” Dockery said.
He acknowledges that Southern Baptists won’t agree on every point of doctrine, but wrote the booklet as a way to build consensus around areas where Southern Baptists can agree and work together for the good of the gospel. At the same time, Southern Baptists should be unified against certain heretical teachings, such as hyper-Calvinism and universalism.
In a chapel service at Union Nov. 17, Dockery encouraged the Union community to take the lead in building consensus among Southern Baptists.
“I invite us to move from controversy and confusion to a new consensus and take a step back, not just to commit ourselves afresh to missions and evangelism, as important as that is, but to commit ourselves first and foremost to the gospel, the message of missions and evangelism, the message that is found only in Jesus Christ and his atoning death for sinners,” Dockery said. “I trust that we can hold hands together for the good of the gospel beginning here at Union University, which can bring a fresh breath, a fresh wind of God’s Spirit across Tennessee Baptist life and across the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Dockery traced his own experiences growing up as a Southern Baptist in the 1950s, when being Southern Baptist carried a cultural and programmatic identity no longer seen today. Instead, in recent years, Dockery said the Southern Baptist Convention has become a gathering of loosely-connected groups – including fundamentalists, evangelicals, revivalists, purpose-driven churches, quasi-charismatics, culture warriors and Calvinists, to name a few.
Dockery acknowledged that tension may exist between some of these groups – as tension exists in some basic Christian doctrines. But he said tension doesn’t have to lead to fragmentation or division.
“It is possible to hold hands with brothers and sisters who disagree on secondary and tertiary matters of theology and work together toward a common good to advance the kingdom of God,” Dockery said. “But we need to be of like mind on first-order issues, issues such as the authority and truthfulness of the Bible, the deity and humanity of Christ, the Holy Trinity and the exclusivity of the gospel.”
In other matters at their meeting Dec. 1, Union trustees heard positive reports about the Union 2010 capital campaign and enrollment for the fall 2007 semester. They heard updates on the process relating to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools reaffirmation of Union’s accreditation.
Trustees received updates on White Hall, the $20 million science building under construction and scheduled for completion in the spring. Trustees also welcomed two new trustees – Morris Chapman and Gil Fletcher – to the board.