The announcements by J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill that they will both run for president of the SBC sets up a repeat of the 2016 election. In that one, young-and-Reformed Greear represented the potential for a generational handoff and a firming up of Calvinist theology within the convention. But in a near tie that promised to be divisive, Greear withdrew from the election before a third balloting, giving the seat to Steve Gaines.
At 56, Gaines stood in contrast to the 42-year-old Greear for several reasons. In terms of age alone, Gaines may have been characterized as a spokesman for the younger Baby Boomers, while Greear clearly had the ear of his generation, X. As successor to Adrian Rogers, Gaines led Memphis-area megachurch Bellevue to increase Cooperative Program giving and was known for his traditional views on evangelism and salvation. In a three-man race, with New Orleans pastor David Crosby covering much of the same ground as Gaines, North Carolina’s Greear performed well, but not well enough to avoid a run-off. Greear surely earned the respect of many of the older crowd when he deferred to Gaines. The emotional moments on the convention platform in St. Louis were marked by tears and hugs.
“The Convention essentially said ‘see you in two years,’” one observer summarized, and so we are. Greear announced his intent to run a second time on January 30, now that Gaines is finishing his term in office. Two days later, Hemphill announced.
At 69, Hemphill is of Gaines’ generation, albeit a decade older. As a leader in the area of church growth at the Home Mission Board (precursor to the North American Mission Board), President of Southwestern Seminary, pastor, and evangelist, Hemphill swims in the same stream theologically as Gaines. And Hemphill has been a strong supporter of the Cooperative Program. The church where he is currently a member give 10% of its undesignated receipts to missions through CP, in contrast to the 4% given by Greear’s church, The Summit. (The church gives substantially more than 4% to a number of mission causes under the banner “Great Commission giving,” press releases and news reports point out.)
So, what we have now appears to be a rematch, in terms of generation, theology, and mission giving through CP. And we have returned to the fork-in-the-road that, for a while, characterized the 2016 election. Now the question is, will the 2018 election serve as a decisive moment in the theological direction of the SBC and the age of its leaders? Or will a spoiler declare his candidacy, and make this race, and its outcomes, all the more interesting?