Writing for the Washtington Post/Newsweek, Waters attributed the tanking baptism numbers to:
- Loss of product appeal: Most Americans no longer agree that Christ is the only way.
- Loss of brand appeal: Three decades of denominational infighting that was part of the conservative takeover and is now part of a kind of internal inquisition, plus the church’s clear alliance with the Republican Party, freighted the term “Southern Baptist” with negatives.
- Market change: “Nearly all predominantly white Christian denominations” are in decline.
He drew blood, however, when he closed by criticizing the very use of the numbers with which the Southern Baptist Convention has been preoccupied:
Shouldn’t the church find more faithful ways of measuring its success? Mercy instead of membership? Forgiveness instead of financial contributions? Baptisms lived in the world instead of baptisms recorded in a book? Justice instead of just stats?
When it comes to being the church, the bottom line is not ‘the bottom line.’
Malcolm B. Yarnell III , director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, responded Wednesday with a pointed defense.
Yarnell preaches something of a sermon which answers Waters’ concluding remarks, not his entire piece. It proceeds like a piece of clockwork, and defies summary. But take a look.
Yarnell concludes that “God does not call a Christian to forsake church activity. And human activity can be measured through statistics, can it not?”
So, an apparent preoccupation with falling baptism, membership and other numbers is ok?
Or might Yarnell have done well to address the issues on which Waters was actually focused? Namely, the causes of the decline, a confrontation with which might reveal a solution, if there is one for the Southern Baptist Convention.