From the March 1999 issue of the Texas edition of CBF News comes an article by Michael Clingenpeel in Virginia that is very helpful.

A Tale of Two Worlds

    Seventy-one years ago Albert Dieffenbach, an observer of the  American religious scene, described the 1920s conflict between the  fundamentalists and modernists as "two spiritual worlds, irreconcilable,  met in inevitable collision." I visited the descendants of these two worlds during the month of June, first the Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City and last week the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Houston. Those of us who audit annually the proceedings of both  groups are witnesses to two world views, two forms of religious  practice, two codes of theological beliefs and two manuals for  ecclesiastical behavior.
 First, there's the SBC. 
    Today's SBC is a world populated mostly by theological and political fundamentalists. In the early years of the SBC controversy, journalists struggled over terminology for this wing of the SBC, and briefly adopted the bulky term "fundamental conservative" at the suggestion of the SBC peace committee. Now that Jerry Falwell is a dues paying, messenger card-carrying Southern  Baptist, all heads should be clear that the SBC is fundamentalist. 
    Fundamentalism is more than a set of beliefs. It is a mind-set, a  unique way of looking at the world that divides reality into distinct,  concrete, opposite camps. Everything is right or wrong, good or evil, true or false, us or them. Fundamentalists have little tolerance for diversity, ambiguity or abstractions. Their world view makes them zealots. 
    The SBC is a convention that holds the Bible as the inerrant and infallible word of God and measures all reality by its interpretation of the Bible. Its favorite activity is evangelism because everyone who does not conform to its pattern of thinking and behavior needs to be converted from bad to good or from falsehood to truth. Its second favorite activity is edict and warfare because what cannot be converted to think or act like "us" must be condemned as wrong, evil or false, an enemy to the security of the fundamentalist world. Its favorite organizational pattern, whether for church or family, is a hierarchy with clear lines of authority. In any organizational hierarchy someone functions as the head; for fundamentalists it is always men and clergy. 
    Not all Southern Baptists are fundamentalists. But virtually all of the SBC's leaders are, and their numbers are rising rapidly among grassroots Southern Baptists because moderates are opting out of the SBC and Independent Baptists are joining.
Second, there's the CBF. 
    The CBF is a world populated by theological and political moderates. They hold a world view characterized by diversity and complexity. While they acknowledge that there are theological and moral absolutes, their list of absolutes is not very long and they often are difficult to distinguish. Moderates view life as pastels and shades of gray instead of as bold, primary colors. They confess that some situations are perplexing and force persons to choose between alternatives, none of which is ideal. Life's complexity and ambiguity make moderates slower to claim authority or certainty. There is no such thing, therefore, as a flaming moderate. 
    The CBF is a fellowship of Baptists who hold the Bible as the written word of God that reveals the living Word of God, Jesus.  Moderates claim the inspired Bible as their authority, but admit that it is not always clear how its ancient passages are to be applied to late 20th-century issues. CBFers, therefore, have a shorter list of absolutes than SBCers. They believe people should come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and that unreached people around the world deserve to hear the gospel, but their desire to influence society from within rather than convert it from outside generally makes them shy away from in-your-face evangelistic methods and confrontational resolutions. 
    They tolerate a wide variety of worship styles, church structures, confessional statements and missions strategies. Women find greater freedom to exercise their gifts in leadership positions in CBF because they are not convinced the Bible teaches rigid hierarchies in church and family. They believe pastors and laity should be taught to interpret the Bible for themselves, and that schools should educate rather than indoctrinate. 
    I often am asked these questions. Where should our church send our mission money? Where do we find our spiritual kin? Where do we get our pastor?
    Never have Virginia Baptists' options been clearer. Your church may choose a fundamentalist SBC. You may select a moderate CBF. You may choose to support both, or neither. SBC and CBF are not the only kinfolk in the larger Baptist and Christian family.
    Still struggling over where to send your support and find your fellowship? Try this. Pick three or four key leaders from your congregation, men and women of perception, integrity and fairness who hold the respect of your people. Send them next June to the SBC in Atlanta and the CBF in Birmingham. Have them report their observations. There are two worlds out there, and every local church is still in charge of deciding the one in which it wants to dwell.