Theology is a significant driver in the future of associations. Theological differences are one of several factors that led to the formation of new associations and state conventions within California, Texas, Virginia, and Missouri (Elliot & Warner, 2007). A detailed explanation of every possible theological issue that might cause future schisms within the SBC is not necessary. It is only necessary to acknowledge that some associations will break away from existing associations over matters of theological or social issues, either because the original association took a stance that the new association disagreed with or because the original association failed to take a stand that the new association wanted to address. Therefore, while any number of specific theological, political, or social issues may play a dominant role in shaping the future of associations, the existence of issues versus their absence can also be a driver. For instance, an association’s decision to admit member congregations regardless of which Baptist Faith and Message they support as opposed to requiring all congregations to support a specific version will have a profound impact on the future of that association. The consequences of decisions such as these shape the future.
In-depth exposition of theology concerning associations is beyond the scope of this study and the capabilities of its author. There are numerous resources available that address the theological foundations of SBC, its distinctive practices, and how theology may shape the future of the denomination and associations (Akin, 2007; Clendenen & Waggoner, 2008; Dockery D. S., 2009, 2011; Garrett, 2009; Humphreys, 2002; Lempke, 2005; Norman, 2005). This study will not attempt to duplicate the work of the field, nor will it select particular theological positions or practices to elevate above others.
Mohler (2009) advocated for “theological triage” (p. 31) to help determine the difference between first, second, and third-order issues, or namely, those issues that distinguish Christian from non-Christian (e.g. denominational differences), those issues keeping Baptists from joining a covenant community with other Christians, and those issues that should not keep Christians from cooperating together even though differences on those issues exist. The fact that theology will play a role in future associations’ policies concerning cooperation is merely an extension of Christianity’s history. Two foundational assumptions of this study are that associations of the future will place a high priority on people attaining new life in Christ (John 3:16; Rom. 3:21-26, 6:4; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 1:22-23, Holman Christian Standard Bible), and that many of the issues that Mohler (2009) would designate as secondary issues, including those that divide Baptists from other Baptists, are irrelevant to determining strategies for effective associations of the future.