The Best Intentions: How a Plan to Revitalize the SBC Accelerated Its Decline, by Charles S. Kelley Jr.

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The Best Intentions: How a Plan to Revitalize the SBC Accelerated Its Decline, by Charles S. Kelley Jr.

June 16, 2023

The Best Intentions: How a Plan to Revitalize the SBC Accelerated Its Decline, by Charles S. Kelley Jr.

As a fellow SBC seminary president (MBTS), I enjoyed serving alongside Chuck (NOBTS) from 1995 to 1999. We six presidents would meet regularly, and I recall one time we were in Denver for some business and we headed to Starbuck's after hours. As we drank our coffee or tea, we were entertained by a small cover group playing songs from the 1950s-1970s (the Beatles and such). Turns out, only two of us knew the words to most of the songs and could sing along if nudged. (We weren't.) Apparently, the other four (not to be named here, but their initials are Crews, Mohler, Patterson, and Hemphill) spent those earlier days in more exalted pursuits. Alas, that music was "the soundtrack of my youth." As for Kelley, he was a DJ for pop/rock music on a Baylor University radio station. So as we showed our recognition and appreciation for these songs, we faced expressions of dismay and even pity at our table.

Incidentally, Chuck is the brother of Dorothy Patterson, wife of Paige Patterson, a driving force in the SBC's "conservative resurgence." And their dad was member of our MBTS board, kind enough to engineer an invitation for me to preach at his church, FBC Beaumont. 

When asked to pitch in a word of commendation for this book, I gave a read and was thankful for what I saw. So I "penned" these remarks, and, in the forest of 17 other blurbs, they printed the last two sentences of mine. 

Yes, Chuck knew his 60s music, but he was a master at championing and advancing the cooperative, Great Commission efforts of Southern Baptists. In this book, he chronicles and explains the recent slippage in our programs of evangelism and missions. 

Commendation (with blurb in bold at the bottom) 


I was raised in the Southern Baptist church, benefiting from a range of programs and emphases, but when I answered a call to prepare for the pastorate, I was intimidated by the prospects. I’d been a philosophy prof for seven years, and when I got to seminary, I found myself “drinking from a firehose” as I tried to get up to speed on sermon preparation, Greek and Hebrew, church music, etc.


Thankful to say, Southern Baptists didn’t drop me with a “good luck” after graduation. I was soon gratified and even astonished at the array of denominational programs and resources available to me over the next several decades—from the Sunday School Board (MasterLife); the Foreign Mission Board (a state partnership with Brazil); and the Home Mission Board (as I served in the local church, association, state convention, and seminary) with Continuing Witness Training; Prayer for Spiritual Awakening; Crossover; Mission Service Corps; Interfaith Witness; Cooperative Agreements, funding evangelism conferences, church plants, and state staff; the Nehemiah Project; “Here’s Hope” Simultaneous Revivals; Strategic-Focus Cities; and the One-Day Soul-Winning Workshop. Along the way, at the Executive Committee, I got to tell the story of how this whole, wonderful web of congregational and denominational entities worked together to do great things, including four church-starts a day.


Yes, there were tensions, blunders, slackers, and us knuckleheads in the life and work of our big, messy denomination. But God blessed our mess. And then we got “smarter and smarter” as we streamlined and centralized our approaches, but, somehow, we seem to have outsmarted ourselves. As Dr. Kelley demonstrates, there has been a precipitous drop in baptisms, church plants, and Cooperative Program support.


Yes, of course, there have been a number of factors, some of which he lists. I’d add that we’ve also been damaged internally by misbehavior in some of our agencies, whether in the form of social “ingratiationism” (wokeness, obsession with winsomeness, and craven concern with PR) or the powerplays of executive worldliness.


The language of the “Great Commission Resurgence” was noble and well-intended, but “the road to disintegration can be paved with good intentions.” And I thank Dr. Kelley for so aptly demonstrating this.