An Alabama Podcaster Bucked Big Eva

Sean DeMars Points the Way Out of Wokeness for the SBC 

Does Sean DeMars realize what he has done? Is he aware that his competent and respectful interview first of Ligon Duncan and then, separately, of Doug Wilson and Joe Rigney is or was Verboten within the now cracked-up Big Eva? For two decades, reformed evangelicals have been fed gruel: carefully staged “start-by-listening” and “we-need-to-have-a-conversation,” brand-shaping roundtables and interviews produced by the Tim Keller-inspired Evangelical Industrial Complex (EIC). Through these contrived, scripted, and repetitive conversations, we were taught whose voices were to be ignored if possible, opposed if necessary, but never seriously engaged. Wilson’s is one of them. DeMars has done what Ligon Duncan, J.D. Greear, Mark Dever, Justin Taylor, The Gospel Coalition, Danny Akin, Matt Chandler, and David Platt will not do and Keller never did. In other words, DeMars violated what Aaron Renn has aptly called the “cone of silence” placed over Moscow. Only Kevin DeYoung has pierced the cone thus far.  

In addition to Wilson, the roster of involuntary members of the ever-expanding ranks of EIC personae non grata include Wayne Grudem (after he supported Donald Trump); ditto for Os Guinness; ditto for Carol Swain; Voddie Baucham once he rejected the racist reading of the Michael Brown shooting and the Ferguson riots circa 2014. Add to the list Tom Ascol, Mike Stone, Derryck Green, Robert L. Woodson, and Lee Brand. 

Peruse this list of names and note well—no “mood” unites them; nor does any particular political loyalty or lack thereof. The spectrum of political views represented is very wide, ranging from staunch independents and strong to tepid to shifting support for Donald Trump. None can be counted on to praise the Republican Party consistently and most frequently express deep dissatisfaction with the same.

What renders them deplorables to the EIC is that none of them have made sanctification of Christian votes for Democrats a non-negotiable dogma of Christian witness and shared ministry partnership. They have not been winsome to the left; some of them are guilty of being winsome to the right. 

None share Obama’s or Taylor Swift’s panicky yet utterly dogmatic commitment to the right side of history. Wilson is being teed-up because his influence threatens to dial back the protectiveness of the Democrat party within the generally affluent and cosmopolitan communities (and audience) the aforementioned serve. They don’t like that.  

Admittedly, all of this may confuse people. The EIC is theologically conservative but it is methodologically and strategically progressive and seeker-sensitive. Americans who know what time it is, along with culturally and politically conservative evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, may find Wilson “helpful” (one of the many words, along with “nuance” and “complicated” that the EIC tries to own and deploy as gatekeeping tools) but not so much in the blue, urban, and credentialed communities the Keller-inspired EIC is most committed to serving.

As Wilson’s star has risen–safe to say, no EIC’er will ever be on Tucker Carlson– more enquirers tell EIC acolytes “they like him.” Wilson is, of course, objectively affable. But this liking implies more. People listening to him, perhaps in secret, think he is on to something. Last year, Helen Andrews wrote for Compact that nearly everyone she knew in Washington, whether journalist, policy wonk, or politician, listened to Steve Sailer but refused to admit it either out of principle or fear. An imperfect analogy, but I suspect Wilson occupies similar status in many evangelical churches. 

And so, some members of the EIC group, begrudgingly recognizing this rising star, have adopted a strategy of well-poisoning. Wilson’s decades of public listening and respectful conversation both with those with whom he agrees and disagrees is well-known. He is, in fact, winsome and, some would say, magnanimous

In contrast, the EIC ignores, avoids, or sabotages any would-be (real) conversation. Any engagement with Wilson must be prefaced by a mountain of caveats indicating appropriate disapproval and dislike. 

Ligon Duncan included disparagement, equating Wilson’s ministry, which includes the founding of a church, school, and college in a liberal university town, to a live action role play of “faithfulness and courage.” What Duncan and his EIC comrades do is, apparently, “real life.” Not satisfied, Duncan went on to insinuate that any direct, in-person confrontation between himself and Wilson, and people like him, would end in with the latter “in the fetal position in three seconds.” A bizarre thing to say, to be sure, especially since Wilson has held his own against angry liberal mobs and an angry Christopher Hitchens and never balled up on the floor. Duncan went on to publicly doubt that these “mockers and slanderers are even Christians.” Winsomeness abounds. Are these hit-and-runs the model of leadership taught at the institutions Duncan heads? 

What is this all about? Seeker-sensitive convictions have been elevated to non-negotiable dogma status in relationships with their theologically like-minded brothers and sisters who refuse to toe the blue line in belief or attitude. It’s all tribal.  Kevin Smith, who said “I think some Southern Baptists just bent over and became political whores with this whole Trump stuff,” is still platformed, conversed with, and listened to. Squeamishness about language proves selective within Big Eva. When the attitude or language of EIC outsiders is called out, it’s usually projection. 

Professor Curtis Woods and Provost Matthew Hall have left Southern, but Jarvis Williams still teaches there and receives exquisite protection from critique, as does Walter Strickland who pushes the teachings of Liberation theologians James Cone and J. Deotis Roberts at Southeastern Seminary. Russell Fuller on the other hand, who signed the pronouncedly un-woke Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, lost his job and was asked to sign a non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreement on his way out the door.

The commitment to “gospel advance” that lies behind so much of the harm done by the EIC maps with the original seeker movement associated with Bill Hybels and the second iteration associated with Rick Warren and the Purpose Driven Life. All three “worked” as measured in buildings, bodies, and bucks, but all also eventually accommodated to the sub-cultures they wanted acceptance from. Hybels discovered this from the results of a three-year study (2004-2007) conducted at Willow Creek. Rick Warren himself proudly displayed the culture accommodating fruit of the Purpose Driven Life movement when he violated denominational standards by ordaining female pastors after which he mocked Southern Baptists on the floor of the convention in 2022, bragging that he is doing more for the building of the kingdom than are the SBC seminaries.

Five years ago, Ligon Duncan, inadvertently it seems, uncovered the liberal, Paul Tillich-like, seeker-sensitive approach that gave birth to Big Eva cancellation practices. Duncan said “my concern on the racial issues is that I do not drive our grandchildren into the arms of the LBGTQIA [community].” Note that Duncan speaks not of getting race right per se, but rather of getting race right in the perception of his grandchildren, and only because insufficient capitulation on contemporary race discourse demands might turn them to sexual deviancy. Duncan apparently does not realize that the way he connects the twin dangers of racism and sexual sin in his concern for his grandchildren makes the classic move of Protestant liberalism—anthropology (the sensibilities of grandchildren in this case) displaces theology and capitulation to contemporary culture is the result.

Duncan goes on, wrongheadedly, but sincerely I believe, to defend his position as the best way to avoid caving to the culture. To DeMars, Duncan insists, “I do not want [Christian witnesses] to get any of their signals from the world. I want them to get all of their signals from the Bible.” But once satisfaction of the sensibilities of one’s grandchildren are deemed necessary to gospel witness, the Bible is abandoned and the tail of the left-lurching Overton Window of the culture now wags the dog of EIC branding and messaging. Signals from our grandchildren are signals from the world, not the Bible.

Duncan, Dever, Akin, and even John Piper have unwarrantedly legitimized whatever establishment views on race the culture inserts into the heads of their grandchildren. Once that construal of racism is discerned, the scramble to prop it up with scripture commences. Such craven surrender to progressive culture renders these men incapable of saying the names of the un-woke black voices they have canceled because they know their grandchildren, and the world, would be scandalized and charge them with racism. These men know what they are doing. If DeMars figures this out, future sit downs with Keller-inspired elites might prove tougher to schedule.

Big Eva capitulation to blue, progressive sensibilities denies Southern Baptists the platforming of many important voices addressing pressing contemporary issues such as race, church-state relations, immigration, egalitarianism, feminism, homosexuality, and totalitarianism.

Congratulations to DeMars, pastor of 6th Avenue Community Church in Decatur, AL and host of the Room For Nuance for modeling in real life what Duncan and the rest of the EIC claim to champion but almost never exercise. The path DeMars has taken—actual face-to-face, respectful, public conversation must attend any serious disentanglement of the SBC from its decades long attempts to stay faithful to the Bible while playing footsie with the Christian-hating world. I pray DeMars’ tribe will increase and a change of direction will take hold sooner rather than later.

Image Credit: Unsplash

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Mark DeVine

Mark DeVine teaches historical theology and doctrine, as well as Teaching Elder of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Smoke Rise, Alabama. Dr. DeVine is the author of several books and writes at The Federalist, American Spectator, The Western Journal, Christ Over All, and American Thinker.

4 thoughts on “An Alabama Podcaster Bucked Big Eva

  1. I’ve heard most of the names in this piece but haven’t heard of DeMars before. Is he part of ‘big Eva’ and does the EIC consider him part of their tribe? If so, this article is more clear to me and is indeed encouraging news.

  2. You’re really cherry picking Duncan’s views on race. You didn’t link to any sources. He’s talked and written a lot about the subject. You must be specific when accusing another believer.

    You accuse Duncan of not having logical, Bible based reasons for his views on race. But from what I’ve read of his views, he’s entirely basing them on the Bible (plus the Westminster Confession). An example is at the bottom.

    What’s your response? Failing to be more considerate when accusing a brother in Christ is a sin.

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