Ready for Reformation
Bringing Authentic Reform to Southern Baptist Churches
Publisher: Broadman & Holman Publishers
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
What is the difference between a prophet and a pessimist? Sometimes only time can tell the difference between the two. At the height of British imperial glory, Rudyard Kipling penned his famous poem Recessional. Rather than spilling forth with uncritical praise, Kipling issued a warning:
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe
Such boasting as the Gentiles use
Or lesser breeds without the Law
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!
Dr. Tom Nettles is professor of historical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In the spirit of Kipling, Nettles has written Ready for Reformation: Bringing Authentic Reform to Southern Baptist Churches. He warns our denomination of the sins of lethargy and pride. Glorying in past accomplishments will blind us to our present mistakes, and will stunt fuller biblical reform. With deep gratitude to God, we acknowledge the recovery of biblical authority brought about through the conservative resurgence in the SBC. Nettles himself played a part in the recovery through his influential book Baptists and the Bible.
The first article of The Baptist Faith and Message clearly defines our convictions regarding the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. This is what we believe about the Bible. But how effectively does that belief work itself out in the local church? Nettles pleads for unity built on solid biblical theology. We should not aspire to be a common-denominator denomination. He writes, "An unwillingness to confess a body of definite truth often betrays a sickness unto death already at work." Regarding preaching, Nettles asks, "Does inerrancy guarantee biblical preaching?" No, and the proof can be found in the plentitude of shallow-sermon pulpits. Conservative credentials and sincerity do not fix flimsy exegesis. He states, "No amount of zeal or earnestness to prompt sinners to commit to the message will transform error into truth."
Nettles outlines the history of evangelism among Baptists, and applies the lessons to contemporary practices. He wonders why only 25-35 percent of SBC members can be found worshipping on any given Sunday. Certainly this is not indicative of a biblical view of evangelism and the gospel. He says, "Perhaps less baptisms with greater pastoral and church discernment would be better than more baptisms under the same programmatic conditions that have governed the last fifty to seventy-five years." In a powerful chapter on grace, Nettles argues against synergism, the idea that grace is "a cooperative effort." Showing a Trinitarian understanding of the atonement, Nettles says, "When a person ignores the particularity of the grace of all three persons of the triune God, he courts theological disaster." Nettles shows the pastoral significance of these vital doctrines.
Finally, in writing about the doctrine of the church, Nettles addresses three issues ripe for change. We must recover a biblical view of membership, eldership, and church discipline.
So, is Nettles a prophet or pessimist? His exalted view of our sovereign God keeps his book away from the language of defeat. Nettles knows God is able to stir His people to a greater love and application of the truth. There is both warning and hope found in the verse, "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."
Therefore, Nettles serves as prophet in warning against stopping the reformation at the doorstep of inerrancy. A house full of precious treasure from the Lord awaits those who press on and live out their confidence in the Scripture. Nettles concludes the book by saying, "We must learn to see Christian doctrine as so relevant and revitalizing that its implications redefine our entire being." Purchase a copy of this book, and consider the ways your own ministry may need further reformation.