Thursday, December 21, 2006

What Is Your Favorite Christmas Tradition?

Practically everyone who celebrates Christmas has over the years developed certain traditions that enhance the meaningfulness of the season. For some, these traditions are an attempt to reconnect with or recreate memories from childhood. Some establish new Christmas traditions as a way of breaking free from the past. Some develop traditions designed to move their focus from the materialistic and/or consumeristic aspects of the Christmas season to something more important. Regardless of the reason for our traditions, they are a very important part of how we celebrate Christmas.

The first Christmas after we were married, Maria and I established a very special Christmas tradition. In the waning moments of Christmas Eve we turn off all the lights except for those on our Christmas tree, and we just sit there in the dimness thinking about the miracle of Christmas. Sometimes Maria sings a Christmas carol or two; "Silent Night" is usually one of the ones sung. Then at midnight we take the Bible and by the light of the Christmas tree we read aloud the Christmas story from Luke 2 and Matthew 2. Even in the years that we have been away from home and didn't have a tree to provide the ambiance, we always read the Christmas story at midnight. In 12 years of marriage we've never missed a year. This simple tradition allows us to retreat from the busyness of the season, the travel and the hauling of gifts to and from our parents' homes, and focus on what it's all about.

What is the most meaningful Christmas tradition that you and your family have established? What makes this tradition so special or meaningful to you?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Happy (Belated) Anniversary!

It seems hard to believe, but it was just about a year ago (November 23 to be exact) that The View from the Hill made its debut. As I mentioned in my first post, the main reason I set up this blog was that some of the blogs I wanted to comment on required a Blogger account, and I figured if I established an account I might as well go all out and set up a blog.

I could not have begun to imagine everything that has happened as a result of this blog. I have personally debated theological issues with seminary professors and other SBC leaders. I have learned more about SBC missions work over the past year than I had in my previous 20 or so years in Southern Baptist churches. My thinking on a number of issues has changed as I have been challenged to try to set aside the lenses of culture and tradition when studying the Bible. People from all over the United States and even around the world are praying for me as I seek the place where God would have me serve. I have been removed from consideration for the pastorate of at least one church because of what I have written on this blog. I have discovered that there are serious problems that threaten the future of the SBC. And I have met a number of pastors, missionaries, and laypersons who give me confidence that the SBC's greatest days may very well lie ahead. I also got a free Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl XL championship t-shirt because of this blog (thanks, Kiki & Doug)!

As much as I enjoy blogging, I must confess that at times I have been tempted to stop operating my own blog. These thoughts usually come when I am feeling sorry for myself because I have worked 3 or 4 hours on a post and only 5 people comment or when I have several days when I sit down and can't think of anything to write about and thus hardly anyone visits my blog. Sometimes I feel like I really don't have anything to contribute to the conversation and that I'm just restating what others have already written. But then I remind myself that I really didn't have any grand expectations when I started this blog, and yet it has resulted in so many good things. I have also been greatly encouraged by the affirming statements that many of my readers, most of whom are far more accomplished than I, have made. I've even been encouraged by the fact that some people go to the trouble of writing to express their disagreement with me!

So despite my occasional bouts of self-pity, this blog will go on. Maybe I'll actually post more regularly. Maybe I'll finally come up with a post that gets 100 comments. Maybe I'll even write a post where the reader won't have to scroll halfway down the page to read the whole thing. OK, probably not, but it never hurts to imagine! Anyway, to everyone who reads this blog, I want to express my gratitude for taking the time to read what I have to say.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What It's All About

The following statement in Baptist Press by Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page is a clear reminder to Southern Baptists of the reason the SBC exists---to facilitate cooperation among believers and churches so that we can effectively carry the gospel to all peoples. He urges Southern Baptists to focus not on those things that divide us, but to center our attention on the great task that we are all called to.

I am calling for Southern Baptists to renew a passion for a worldwide evangelistic and mission thrust. I believe that God’s Holy Spirit can empower a unified mission movement which truly shares the relevant message of Christ with a lost and dying world and continent. It will not be done as long as Southern Baptists "fuss and fight" among themselves. It will not be done if we seek to promote personal agendas and political initiatives. It will be done only when we---even though we are in varying interest groups---decide that the common unified mission task is our prime agenda!
Amen! May it be so, Lord!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Two Most Important Issues Facing the Southern Baptist Convention---NOT!!!

There is an article in the Georgia Christian Index about Georgia pastor Bill Harrell, who serves as chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. As he talks about the Executive Committee and the SBC, he mentions two specific issues that he believes must be resolved by the SBC---worship style and Calvinism. I cannot say with certainty that Harrell thinks these are the two most important issues facing the SBC, but the fact that in a major article he chose to mention worship style and Calvinism as "two important issues to solve in our Convention" indicates that they rank high on his list.

The article makes it clear that Harrell does not think very highly of contemporary worship styles. Indeed, he seems to believe that contemporary worship is some sort of threat to the church:

“I am afraid,” Harrell declared, “that the contemporary church movement gets people into a casual mindset, which can lead to a casual mindset toward spiritual things, toward God. People who have lowered the bar to attract the world, who have embraced a non-confrontational approach where sin is concerned in order to attract the world, have become so much like the world that they are losing their witness to the world.”
So, contemporary churches are dangerous because they are casual in style, which can lead to a casual attitude toward God. I suppose this is plausible, but no more plausible than saying that traditional churches are formal, which can lead to worship that is lifeless and ritualistic. Just because something is a possibility does not mean it is a likelihood or a certainty. For the record, in the contemporary services I have attended there has been a great deal of emphasis on the greatness of God and His holiness.

I agree that churches that embrace a "non-confrontational approach where sin is concerned" lose much of their witness. However, Harrell is sorely mistaken if he believes this is a problem only in contemporary churches. The gospel can be watered down in a traditional church just as easily as in a contemporary church. In fact, I personally have been in more traditional churches than contemporary churches where this has happened.

What about this idea of lowering the bar to attract the world? I don't see how having a contemporary style lowers the bar. If God is being worshiped in spirit and in truth, the Word of God is being faithfully proclaimed, and people are having real encounters with God, then the bar has not been lowered, whether the special music is a choral rendition of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" or a guy with long hair and faded jeans singing an acoustic version of "My Savior, My God." The bar is not about style; it is about substance.

I hope Harrell is not implying that churches should not want to attract people who are of the world. I would think that these are the people we would want to attract. Discussing his church's use of traditional elements such as a choir, orchestra, and singing from the hymnal, Harrell states, "The kind of people we attract are the people who want to go back to church." It is wonderful that this church attracts people who used to attend church. They need to be reached, and many of them relate to the traditional service this church offers. But what about those people who have no church background, who are secular and worldly? Should we not try to attract them, not by offering a watered down gospel, but by creating an environment that relates to them culturally?

Harrell's views on contemporary worship don't really bother me. While I find his worries about contemporary worship to be unfounded, I realize that different people prefer different styles. What DOES concern me, however, is Harrell's apparent belief that there is a proper style of worship that distinguighes Southern Baptists from other believers:
First, concerning the matter of worship style, we must decide what identifies us as Southern Baptists. This will be difficult, because we are autonomous, but I believe our Convention leaders need to make a more definitive statement about how we identify ourselves in worship and who we are as Southern Baptists.”

“We are never going to be homogeneous, never have been, but there are some lines we should never cross as Southern Baptists,” Harrell added. “There must be something distinctive about us or we will lose our identity."
Harrell pays lip service to the autonomy of the local church, but he then goes on to say that convention leaders should decide what constitutes acceptable worship for Southern Baptists. Uhh, when did we as Southern Baptists get bishops? Of course there are lines that we should not cross in worship, but those lines should be based on clear biblical principles. Somehow I get the idea that the lines that Harrell is talking about would be based on certain cultural preferences, traditions, and specific interpretations of Scripture.

Harrell apparently has the same level of respect for Calvinism that he does for contemporary worship. I am not a five-point Calvinist, but I don't believe that "too much of the New Testament must be ignored or radically interpreted to embrace the five points of Calvinism." I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are five-point Calvinists, and I assure you that they do not ignore or radically interpret the New Testament.

Harrell refers to Calvinism as a "problem" within the SBC. I don't understand why so many prominent SBC leaders have such a view of Calvinism. Their disagreement with a point of view does not make that point of view a problem for the convention. Calvinism is a legitimate system of theology that has a solid biblical foundation; it is neither heretical nor unorthodox. Calvinism has always been present in the SBC. In fact, most of the leaders of the SBC in its earliest years were Calvinists.

While I don't see Calvinism as a problem in the SBC, I do find Harrell's proposed solution to be very troubling:
Harrell further explained, “I think the problem of Calvinism in the SBC could be solved if we establish one ground rule. If a man wants to start a Calvinistic church, let him have at it. If a man wants to answer a call to a Calvinistic church he should have the freedom to do that, but that man should not answer a call to a church that is not Calvinistic, neglect to tell them his leanings, and then surreptitiously lead them to become a Calvinistic church. That is not to suggest that all of our Calvinistic friends do that, but when it is done it is divisive and hurtful."
It seems to me that the idea of church autonomy would preclude the establishment of a "ground rule" that interferes in the pastor search process. Harrell offers some good advice, not only as it relates to Calvinism but to other issues as well. However, churches and pastors should be the ones making these decisions; we don't need anyone else making a "ground rule" to govern the process.

In pointing to contemporary worship and Calvinism as two of the main issues that the SBC needs to deal with, Harrell has done the SBC a great favor. Not because these are problems that needs to be dealt with; they are not problems at all. Instead, Harrell has inadvertently pointed to some real issues that the SBC does need to address---the lack of respect for church autonomy, the effort to establish uniformity in practice and in doctrine, the belief that one's own views and preferences are THE right ones for everybody, an excessive focus on preserving a distinctive Southern Baptist identity, the inability to recognize the difference bewteen reaching out to people in a way that is culturally relevant to them and watering down the gospel. These are some of the most important issues facing the Southern Baptist Convention, and our response to these issues will determine the future course of our convention.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Which Road Will We Take?

Over the past year it has become obvious that not all Southern Baptists share the same position on every matter of doctrine. I suspect that this has always been true, but some people seem to have been genuinely surprised when they learned that there are Southern Baptists who are Calvinists, who believe that all of the New Testament spiritual gifts are valid today, who accept symbolic post-conversion immersions from non-Baptist churches, who do not believe that taking a drink of alcohol is a sin, who accept leadership by a plurality of elders, etc. Many, and probably most, of the Southern Baptists who hold these views also affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, support the Cooperative Program, and are grateful for the Conservative Resurgence. Basically, they are committed, conservative Southern Baptists. However, for some people these things are not enough to define one as a Southern Baptist; one must also subscribe to a particular interpretation on a whole host of issues not addressed in the BFM, including some of the ones listed above.

There is a strong segment within the Southern Baptist Convention that seeks to exclude, to varying degrees, people who do not subscribe to a certain interpretation on such issues as the ones listed above. Typically this exclusion is manifested in policies that disqualify Southern Baptists who hold such views from service or employment with some SBC entities. The policies passed by the trustees of the International Mission Board in November 2005 and the statement adopted by the trustees of Southwestern Seminary earlier this week are recent examples of this type of exclusion. Now, I'm sure that the trustees of these entities are more than happy to accept money from people and/or churches who hold to such views, but they do not want these people serving with them.

While many, but certainly not all, SBC leaders support the exclusion of these Southern Baptists from various types of denominational employment or service, there are some folks who apparently would like to see these people leave the SBC. Here are a couple of quotes that seem to reflect such a sentiment:

  • Paige Patterson, quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram---"I have opposed [speaking in tongues] for all of these years because I think it's an erroneous interpretation of the Bible," he said. "Southern Baptists traditionally have stood against what we feel like are the excesses of the charismatic movement. All we're doing is restating where we've always been."

    Baptists are "the most intense advocates of religious liberty," Patterson said, defending the right of other Christians to believe in speaking in tongues.

    "But don't wear a Yankee uniform when you play for the Mets," he said.

  • Ben Stratton, in a comment on Art Rogers' blog---I stand with our Baptist forefathers and say that there is no place in Southern Baptist life for pastors or churches that believe in speaking in tongues, either publicly or privately.
While I try to refrain from putting words into the mouths of others (not always with success), I believe these statements speak for themselves. The implied message seems to be, "If you believe that speaking in tongues is a biblically valid practice, we don't want you in the Southern Baptist Convention." Nevermind the facts that conservative evangelical scholars do not agree exactly on whether "tongues" refers only to known human languages or to an entirely unknown/unhuman language, that there is no direct biblical statement that any spiritual gifts would cease before the Lord's return, that Paul said he rejoiced that he spoke in tongues more than any of the Corinthian believers, that the Bible specifically says not to forbid speaking in tongues, and that the BFM never even mentions the subject. Despite all this, some people have determined that all speaking in tongues is unbiblical and thus has no place in the SBC.

For a denomination that historically has championed the priesthood of the believer/all believers it seems unbelievable that certain individuals or groups would presume to declare that the interpretation they favor is THE interpretation that every Southern Baptist must hold to in order to be fully accepted in denominational life. It is even more remarkable that Southern Baptists have allowed them to do so. Does the priesthood of the believer/all believers allow us to interpret the Bible any way we see fit? Of course not. There are a number of core beliefs that define us as Southern Baptists. That is why we have the BFM---to list those doctrines that we as Southern Baptists share in common and that define us. While not every Southern Baptist, myself included, fully agrees with every clause in the BFM we accept it as the defining statement of what Southern Baptists believe. The way I see it, if the BFM does not address a specific issue then we have freedom to interpret what the Bible says about that issue and still be welcome in Southern Baptist denominational life. If we are going to exclude people from service because of their doctrinal views, we as a convention should be the ones making that decision by amending the BFM. That way there is no uncertainty about what THE Southern Baptist position on an issue is.

We have reached a point in the SBC where we are going to have to decide once and for all which road we are going to take when it comes to dealing with differences of interpretation on issues not covered by the BFM. We can continue down the road of excluding those who, although they affirm the BFM, have different interpretations on doctrines not addressed by the BFM. If we follow this road, however, those who are excluded from denominational service will undoubtedly begin to channel their support (including their money) toward other organizations that actually welcome their service as well as their money. Many will eventually leave the SBC altogether. But this doesn't have to happen. We can acknowledge that, while every doctrine is important, not all doctrines are essential to fellowship or cooperation. We can invite every Southern Baptist who accepts the BFM to be a full participant in denominational life, even if they have a different position on issues not addressed by the BFM. This road will strengthen the SBC by encouraging cooperation and allowing us to focus on the Great Commission rather than squabbling over nonessential doctrines. And this road will help our witness by giving us true unity, a unity where we work together even though we don't agree on everything. The choice is ours. Which road will we take?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Faith: A Hymns Collection from Avalon

Yesterday evening I got my copy of Avalon's new CD Faith: A Hymns Collection. All I can say is, "WOW!!!" I've already listened to it four times. Somehow Avalon has managed to take ten of the most well known and beloved hymns of all time, along with three more recent songs, and present them in a way that is new and fresh. Avalon has always been known for their dynamic harmonies, but on this album they really take it to a new level. They demonstrate a great stylistic versatility on this project---"Jesus Medley" ("Jesus Loves Me"/"'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus") has a gentle acoustic sound; "I'll Fly Away" has a soulful camp meeting feel; they sing "Holy, Holy, Holy" a capella in a very reverential style; "How Great Thou Art" is done with a gradually building rock sound; "Amazing Grace" has a rhythm-and-blues tinged feel to it. The vocals on "It Is Well With My Soul" are simply amazing; their variations in volume and dynamics set the appropriate emotional mood for each verse. My favorites on this album are probably "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," "In Christ Alone," "It Is Well With My Soul," and "How Great Thou Art." This is simply a great CD.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Should We Get Rid of the Baptist Faith and Message?

This afternoon the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary approved a statement declaring that the seminary "will not knowingly endorse contemporary charismatic practices such as a private prayer language nor hire professors who advocate the practice." (Quote is from this article by Baptist Press.) The new statement was adopted at the request of seminary president Paige Patterson. On his blog Ben Cole has posted Patterson's remarks to the trustees in which this request was made. This action by the SWBTS Board of Trustees is just the latest example of the trend within the SBC of narrowing the parameters of cooperation by requiring adherence to a particular interpretation of Scripture, even on issues where our understanding of the Bible is less than perfectly clear, as a condition of working together.

Why did Patterson and the SWBTS trustees feel it was necessary to make such a move? I cannot say for sure. However, when this controversy first erupted a few weeks ago Patterson characterized the position of SWBTS trustee Dwight McKissic that private prayer language (PPL) is a legitimate spiritual gift, as "harmful to the churches" of the SBC. Apparently the churches of the SBC have never recognized this position as being harmful, because the subject has never been addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message. Many may not agree with this position, but that does not mean it is harmful or dangerous. Since the SBC has not seen it necessary to adopt an official position on PPL, should a seminary that is funded by Cooperative Program dollars---including dollars from churches which believe that PPL is a legitimate gift---adopt a position that excludes Southern Baptists who are in agreement with the BFM and who financially support the seminary? I think not.

Perhaps a motion should be made at the 2007 SBC Annual Meeting in San Antonio to do away with the BFM. If our entities are free to establish their own doctrinal requirements then how can we claim to have a common doctrinal confession? It seems nonsensical for the SBC to point to the BFM and say, "This is what we believe," if the IMB, NAMB, and our seminaries are all saying, "Oh, and if you want to be a part of our ministry you also have to believe. . ." The way things are right now, we don't have one statement of faith; we have several statements of faith.

On second thought, we should not get rid of the BFM. Instead, we should make sure that our SBC entities do not go beyond the BFM in establishing their doctrinal requirements. Any Southern Baptist who is faithful in his or her Christian walk and who affirms the BFM should be welcome to participate in the work of any of our entities for which he or she is qualified.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Little Men with Little Ideas"

This week in the Editor's Journal section of the (North Carolina) Biblical Recorder's web site Tony Cartledge writes about the role that blogging continues to play in SBC life. While not an exhaustive analysis of how blogs have been helping to shape the conversation on a number of issues within the SBC, the fact that state papers and other traditional media outlets are writing about the blogs indicates that blogs are making some impact. Cartledge lists a few of the most prominent SBC bloggers (Marty Duren, Steve McCoy, Wade Burleson, Ben Cole, Nathan Finn) and points out that even SBC leaders Jimmy Draper and Al Mohler set up blogs (he forgot Morris Chapman).

Even though some of the most prominent and popular leaders in the SBC have their own blogs, a number of SBC leaders still seem to have little respect for the medium and/or those who use it. In a way, the criticism that certain leaders have directed at bloggers is also evidence that blogs are making an impact. The following quote from this article describes how one SBC leader, Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin, views the blogging phenomenon in the SBC:

Blogs are not universally popular, however. During a plenary session of the trustees at Southeastern Seminary, seminary president Daniel Akin was asked by a trustee to share his opinion about blogging. Akin, who posts many of his writings online, though not in the form of an interactive blog, said blogs are both a blessing and a curse, "a 21st century outlet for extreme narcissism."

Blogs require no accountability, Akin said, allowing people "to make scurrilous, false, untrue accusations against men that I believe are men of God."

Akin said he didn't know anyone who had been attacked more than former SEBTS president Paige Patterson. "Some people have personal agendas," he said, and do things that "are shaming the body of Christ."

"Even if they have legitimate concerns," Akin said, verbally underscroring the "if," they are not expressing them "in ways that are consistent with the Bible."

"I don't really give a rip what most bloggers think," he said. "Most of them are little men with little ideas and little agendas."
I have never met Danny Akin. I have always respected him, but these remarks of his have caused me to lose much of my respect for him. (I doubt he will lose much sleep over this, since he doesn't "really give a rip" what I think.) Ironically, two of the most prominent SBC bloggers---Brad Reynolds and Nathan Finn---are employed by SEBTS. I can only assume that he sees them as being part of that small minority of SBC bloggers who are not "little men with little ideas and little agendas."

To be fair, Akin does have some valid criticisms. There are far too many personal attacks made on blogs. Sometimes bloggers do fail to express themselves in a manner consistent with how the Bible says we are to treat one another. Too often accusations are made without being backed up by evidence. And undoubtedly there are some bloggers who are advancing their own personal agendas.

Unfortunately, these valid criticisms are overshadowed by the tone with which he expresses them as well as the disdain, or even outright contempt, he demonstrates toward most bloggers. The fact that, according to the article, he underscored the "if" when saying "Even if they [bloggers] have legitimate concerns," implies that our concerns are not legitimate. (If you're not convinced, just say it out loud, emphasizing the "if.") Also, I find it disturbing that the leader of one of our SBC entities doesn't "really give a rip" what we think. Akin then goes on to do the very thing he accuses many bloggers of when he describes most bloggers as "little men with little ideas and little agendas."

Akin's last statement indicates that he either has not read what bloggers have been saying or believes that those who do not agree with him and/or Paige Patterson are "little men with little ideas and little agendas." As someone who has been an active part of the SBC blogosphere for over a year I can say that such a characterization is completely off the mark. We may be "little men" in the sense that few of us pastor megachurches or serve in denominational positions, but as I recall Jesus is not too impressed by status. A cursory reading of the dozen most influential SBC blogs reveals that some of the sharpest minds in our convention are engaged in blogging. I have no problem with Danny Akin or anyone else disagreeing with what we have to say or even with how we say it, but I would think that someone as educated as Danny Akin, someone who is looked upon as a spirutal leader, would be able to express disagreement without being contemptuous.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Joshua Convergence

Earlier this week in Winter Park, Florida, a group of 40 Southern Baptist pastors and seminary professors held a two-day meeting called the Joshua Convergence. The stated purpose of the Joshua Convergence is an admirable one:

The purpose of the Joshua Convergence is to give a voice to younger leaders across the Southern Baptist Convention who are strongly committed to biblical inerrancy, who support the goals and leadership of the conservative resurgence, and who unashamedly embrace biblical standards of separation and morality, in order that the Southern Baptist Convention might continue to hold to the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture in the future and the nations might be transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These stated objectives are ones that I can embrace. I am part of that group known as younger leaders, and I welcome another outlet for younger leaders to voice their ideas. I am strongly committed to biblical inerrancy, but I am equally committed to biblical authority and sufficiency. I am supportive of the stated goals of the conservative resurgence, and I have great respect for those who led the resurgence. That being said, if I believe that any of the leaders of the resurgence are doing something that is wrong, unwise, or detrimental to the SBC and/or the Kingdom I am going to oppose their actions. I unashamedly embrace biblical standards of separation and morality, but I resist efforts to cloak standards based on tradition, culture, or history with the mantle of biblical authority. My desire is that the Southern Baptist Convention would "continue to hold to the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture in the future" and that God would continue to use us in His work of transforming the nations by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There has been some speculation that the Joshua Convergence was organized as a reaction to the May 2006 meeting in Memphis that led to the Memphis Declaration. Since I was not part of the group that organized or participated in the Joshua Convergence, I cannot say whether or not such speculation is accurate. What I can say is that, like the meeting in Memphis, the Joshua Convergence issued a statement, the Principles of Affirmation. A different speaker expounded upon each point of the Principles of Affirmation; the Florida Baptist Witness summarizes what each speaker said. There is much in the Principles of Affirmation that I would readily affirm, but there are a few elements that I cannot subscribe to. I have listed the seven statements of the Principles of Affirmation below, with my commentary following each section. The original statements are in blue text, while my comments are in bold italic letters.
1. Truth — ‘This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night .…’ Joshua 1:8

We affirm the inerrancy of Scripture and the need for Southern Baptists to continue ‘to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3). We maintain that any departure from the sufficiency of Scripture in preaching, evangelism, counseling, missions, ministry, or ecclesiology strikes against the very truth and authority of God's Word. Pride and human sinfulness will draw believers away from biblical truth if they are not eternally watchful. The battle for the Bible must be renewed in every generation. We take our stand to continue in that battle.

I fully agree with everything except the last two sentences. To say that "the battle for the Bible must be renewed in every generation" suggests an offensive mindset that is looking for a fight. I prefer to say that we should remain constantly vigilant against the devil's schemes to undermine our commitment to the Bible as the Word of God.

2. Gratitude — ‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.’ Joshua 1:5

We affirm our deep thankfulness for those who have taken our Convention back to its theological and spiritual moorings. Because of the prayers and personal sacrifice of these godly men and women, we are the beneficiaries of seminaries that champion God's Word, evangelistic mission agencies, and a Convention committed to the Great Commission. We are deeply disheartened by anyone who would malign the motives of these godly leaders. Instead, we seek to continue in the direction they have established, joining them in service to the Lord Jesus Christ with the prayer that God's hand of guidance would be with us.

Again, I agree with this statement. I am grateful for those who led our convention back to a solid biblical foundation. I am also disheartened by those who malign the motives of their brothers and sisters in Christ. I do take issue with a couple of statements made by Jeff Crook in his address on the subject of gratitude. At one point he said, “Those who throw spears at our heroes are not just displaying their arrogance but also their ignorance.” Perhaps I am overreacting, but this statement seems to come dangerously close to hero worship. Crook also got in a potshot at bloggers: “They [the leaders of the resurgence] didn’t win the victory by blogging, nor were they armchair quarterbacks. They were in the game and on the field.” The majority of the bloggers that I know were on the field in Greensboro, are planning to be on the field in San Antonio, are on the front lines at this time, and most importantly are on the field in our own communities. He then went on to say, “There’s some young preachers tonight that need to put their hand over their mouth.” Excuse me, but who is being arrogant? The gist of Crook's remarks seems to be that anyone who disagrees with anything done by any of the leaders of the conservative resurgence is making a personal attack, is ignorant and arrogant, and needs to shut up. Unfortunately there have been too many instances when disagreement has escalated into personal attacks, but disagreement itself is not an attack or a sign of ingratitude or dishonor. I do want to applaud Crook for honoring the small church pastors who sacrificed greatly to attend conventions and vote during the resurgence.

3. Service — ‘Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth ... as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ Joshua 24:14-15

We affirm a God-given stewardship of service in our Convention in order to bring about His kingdom purposes. Our Lord has said, ‘Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant’ (Matthew 20:26). We are aware that - as with any human organization - the mechanisms of the Southern Baptist Convention can be manipulated. We commit to refrain from such practices. Instead, we will serve through any avenue God provides, not with the expectation of being elevated or honored, but only to please Jesus Christ. We seek a spirit of humility wherever we might serve.

I agree completely. Again, however, some of the remarks of the speaker, Jim Shaddix, detract from the impact of this statement. Shaddix wisely reminded us in pastoral ministry to "avoid the pursuit of vocational 'security' at the expense of serving God." He also acknowledged that even our "heroes" err and make mistakes. But then for some reason Shaddix decided to take a shot at bloggers: "When do these guys pastor their churches? When do they prepare? When do they do the seat time and the diligent study to prepare God’s Word, to interpret it rightly and to present it to their people in the preaching [event]? When do they go soul winning and share the Lord Jesus Christ. And maybe most importantly, when do they give themselves the fervent sacrificial prayer crying out to God for His anointing upon their lives and upon their ministries?" He went on to say that there could be good answers to these questions, but the accusation had already been implied. I wonder if the same questions could be asked of pastors who spend so much time going to conferences or various board meetings.

4. Holiness— ‘And Joshua said to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’ Joshua 3:5

We affirm personal purity and separation from worldliness. Convinced that a redeemed life produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24), we abhor compromise of biblical holiness, modesty, and temperance in the name of Christian liberty (Romans 6:15). Though we do not endorse pharisaical legalism, we resist attempts to accommodate standards of holiness to vacillating cultural norms. To this end, we oppose the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Throughout its history, our Convention has stood against the evils of alcohol. The present generation can in good conscience do no other. Further, we are unequivocally opposed to the antinomian attitude in some Christian circles concerning unwholesome and immoral language, cynicism, and profanity. We feel strongly that the Bible condemns such actions.

I agree with the first two sentences and the last two sentences. It's the part in between that I cannot agree with. I do not intend to have another discussion of the alcohol issue, but I can see no reason for the alcohol issue to have been brought up except as a reaction to the recent discussion of the matter. If you wish to provide an example of behavior that is unholy, at least pick one that is actually prohibited by Scripture and that Jesus did not engage in.

5. Unity — ‘Now the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of meeting there. And the land was subdued before them.’ Joshua 18:1

We are fully committed to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a summary of our common beliefs, and we desire full cooperation with all who share this commitment. Within our number are those with diverse positions on the doctrines of grace, aspects of eschatology, approaches to worship, and missions and evangelism strategy. While we cherish opportunities to discuss these differences, we reject all attitudes of mean-spiritedness, personal attacks, or intellectual and spiritual arrogance in these debates. Instead, we pledge to maintain a peaceable spirit and to work together in our common goal of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I agree and would love to see this be the norm in the SBC. I would also like to see a greater desire for unity with our other brothers and sisters in Christ.

6. Identity — ‘That this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?”’ Joshua 4:6

“We are wholehearted in our dedication to Baptist ecclesiology as expressed in Scripture for our understanding of what constitutes a local church. We are Baptists by conviction not by tradition alone, believing the fundamental principles which constitute a Baptist church are the very ones which made up a New Testament church. Such essential tenets of a believer's church, founded upon the sole authority and sufficiency of Scripture, include regenerate church membership, believer's baptism by immersion, believer's Lord Supper as a memorial, church discipline, local church autonomy, congregational polity, confessional fidelity, priesthood of the believer, separation of church and state, religious liberty, and an unwavering passion to carry out the Great Commission. We should never be prideful in being Baptist, but we should always be thankful in being Baptist.

It seems to me that we preach this better than we practice it (regenerate church membership, church discipline, separation of church and state). Based on this statement, I would expect all of the participants in the Joshua Convergence to openly support the Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership when it is offered again. Instead of being thankful to be Baptist (which is a choice we make), let us instead be thankful to be a child of God. I pray that all of us have the desire to make disciples of Jesus Christ rather than making good Baptists. By the way, could someone show me where the Bible describes congregational polity as as an essential tenet of a biblical church?

7. Mission—‘That all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.’ Joshua 4:24

“We affirm our desire for the nations to hear the gospel of Christ. Based on this conviction, we are committed to be personal soul-winners, to lead our churches and Convention in evangelism, and to support worldwide church planting. We commit to give sacrificially to missions and to encourage our churches continually to increase their missions giving. We are convinced that the Cooperative Program has been unusually blessed of God as a tool for training and sending God-called servants to proclaim Christ. Without hesitation, we desire for all Southern Baptists churches to grow in their giving to the Cooperative Program and encourage our state conventions to send higher percentages of Cooperative Program receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention.”

I fully agree, but would like to see a greater emphasis on making disciples instead of simply getting decisions.

What would be really great is for those of us who signed the Memphis Declaration and those who issued the Principles of Affirmation to meet together and discuss the issues that unite us as well as those which divide us. I fully believe that all of us are motivated by the same thing: to bring glory to God by carrying out the Great Commission in the spirit of the Great Commandment. I really think if we sat down together and talked to one another, prayed with and for one another, and got to know one another that we would realize that even though we may disagree on certain matters we are on the same side and need to work together for the Kingdom. If we cannot do this, then the Southern Baptist Convention is a dead man walking.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

South Carolina Bound

Tomorrow morning Maria and I are headed to the Low Country of South Carolina, about 20-30 minutes northwest of Charleston. We'll be meeting with a search committee Saturday morning at 9:00, then I will be preaching at their church on Sunday morning. My understanding is that this is not preaching in view of a call. I won't have access to a computer while I'm gone, so I hope nothing big happens over the weekend.

Please pray that God will give a safe trip there and back, and pray that both we and the church will discern and follow His will.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Crisis of the Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention is in trouble. For thirty years or so our baptismal numbers have been stagnant or even declining. Fewer than half of our members attend services on any given Sunday. The percentage given by churches to the Cooperative Program has fallen significantly over the past two decades. And even though our total membership is increasing slightly, the rate of growth is certainly not keeping with the rate of population growth. But while the statistics paint a pretty bleak picture, the crisis of the Southern Baptist Convention is not primarily one of numbers. The numbers are by and large the result of deeper problems, problems that are spiritual in nature. While these problems have plagued the SBC for decades, over the past few weeks they have been especially noticeable in the SBC blogosphere. The following are just some of the factors underlying the spiritual crisis that we as a convention are facing:

  1. The elevation of tradition to a level that makes it equal with Scripture. Now, no one in the SBC admits that he or she does this, nor do I believe that anyone in the SBC intentionally does this. However, many of the arguments in the recent debates over tongues/prayer language, baptism, alcohol, the Lord's Supper, and ecclesiology have been based on history and tradition rather than on direct biblical evidence. There is nothing wrong with history or tradition, but when we look to them for authority we are in effect denying the sufficiency of Scripture.
  2. The continuing effort to exclude people from positions of leadership and service on the basis of doctrinal views that are not clearly taught by Scripture (or even articulated in the Baptist Faith and Message). In many instances, this is a result of point #1 mentioned above. In case anyone has forgotten, in November 2005 the IMB Board of Trustees adopted policies disqualifying anyone from serving as a missionary who practices a private prayer language or was not baptized in a church that affirms the eternal security of the believer. The problem with these policies is that there in no solid, irrefutable biblical basis for them. (NOTE: I am not saying there is no solid, irrefutable evidence for eternal security; there is. I am saying that there is no solid, irrefutable biblical evidence that links the validity of baptism to a belief in eternal security.) These policies are based on a particular interpretation of Scripture. This interpretation may or may not be held by a majority of Southern Baptists, but other interpretations have just as much of a biblical basis. If we continue down this path of increasingly narrowing the parameters of cooperation beyond what the Bible clearly teaches, the SBC will lose many people who are passionate about their faith and committed to doing the work of the Kingdom.
  3. The willingness to assume the worst about those with whom we disagree. If I may indulge in a bit of hyperbole for a moment, there are some people in the SBC who seem to believe that either Paige Patterson or Wade Burleson is the devil incarnate and that every contentious issue in the SBC is the result of some conspiracy engineered by one or the other. There are those who believe that the Conservative Resurgence was nothing more than a blatant power grab by Patterson, Pressler, Rogers, etc. There are also those who believe that bloggers, led by Wade, are working to undo the Resurgence and bring theological liberalism into the SBC. Accusations of lying, character assassination, and even questioning the salvation of others are not uncommon. Allegations have been made about denominational leaders trying to undermine the leadership of other denominational leaders, even trying to dig up dirt on them. Whether such allegations are true or not, they are indicative of deep problems within the SBC. We either have leaders who are abusing their positions, or we have people who are willing to lie about these leaders. Neither option is acceptable. Some of us seem to have forgotten that we are not enemies, but brothers and sisters in Christ.
  4. A reluctance to engage in honest and open discussion with those with whom we disagree. I suspect this is related to the previous point. It is difficult to sit down and have a genuine discussion with someone you consider to be an enemy. It is much easier to try to discredit those with whom you disagree by labeling them as a liberal or a fundamentalist than it is to defend your own views. There are some who seem to fear that a genuine, open discussion of certain topics will lead people into error or confusion. Thus, efforts are made to suppress dissenting or minority viewpoints. In reality, such fears betray a lack of conviction in one's own position. If you were truly confident in your position, you would believe that it could hold its own when compared to other positions.
If we do not address these issues, the SBC will continue to slide into irrelevance and will eventually cease to be an instrument used by God to advance His Kingdom. We must reclaim a commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture, not just its inerrancy. We must repent of our pride, which manifests itself in a belief that our particular interpretations of Scripture are the only ones that can possibly be right. We must learn to differentiate between essential and non-essential doctrines, and we must be willing to cooperate for the sake of the Kingdom with those who agree with us on the essentials even if we differ on non-essentials. We must agree to disagree on those doctrines that are not clearly and unambiguously defined by Scripture. And we must love and respect one another, even if we do not agree on everything. Fortunately, there seems to be some movement in these directions within the SBC. It is too early to tell whether this movement will take hold of the SBC and bring about genuine repentance and a change of attitude, but there are many people praying that it will happen and working to help make it happen.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I'm Still Around

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting here or commenting on other blogs very much lately. (If you haven't noticed, please don't tell me!) For the last two weeks I have been working 50+ hours a week at the WKU Bookstore, so I really haven't had time to read a lot of other blogs and news sources, much less write anything. I'll probably be working there through this week, then I'm not sure about next week.

On the preaching front it looks like September will be a good month. I got a phone call yesterday from a pastor here in Bowling Green. He had lost his voice, so he asked me to preach at his church this morning. It went very well, despite the short notice. I'm scheduled to preach next Sunday at a church about half an hour from here. There is a possibility that this church may be interested in me as a pastoral candidate; I really haven't talked to them or even given them a resume, but one of their search committee members had a pretty in-depth conversation about me with my wife's brother-in-law. Then on the 24th I'm preaching at a church about half an hour from Charleston, South Carolina. I have had a couple of good conversations with one of their search committee members, and they are very interested in me. It sounds like this church and I would be a good match, but we'll know more after we go down there. Please pray that the Lord would give us a clear sense of direction and a willingness to accept His will no matter how everything turns out.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My 2006 NFL Predictions

It's hard to believe that we are less than a month from the start of the 2006 NFL season!!! For me, summer is the worst time of year for sports because there is no football. I don't like NASCAR, and baseball is a sport I follow but don't really watch. Now that the preseason has started, however, it's finally time to talk football.

At first glance it appears that the 2006 season will be another split-decision for me. My hometown Tennessee Titans look like they're still going to be pretty bad. It's hard to believe that just a couple of seasons ago they were 12-4 and nearly knocked off the Patriots in the playoffs at Foxboro. On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom I have rooted for since I was a kid the late 1970s, are in excellent position to defend their Super Bowl title.

With the salary cap and free agency, teams can drastically change their fortunes almost immediately, for better or for worse. This makes it challenging to make preseason predictions, because teams change so much from year to year. Fortunately, I enjoy a good challenge, so here are my predictions for the 2006 season. Of course, an injury to a key player can send these predictions down the toilet, so I don't promise that I'll stand by them come November.


AFC East
New England Patriots (11-5)
Miami Dolphins* (10-6)
New York Jets (6-10)
Buffalo Bills (5-11)

AFC North
Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
Cincinnati Bengals (9-7)
Baltimore Ravens (7-9)
Cleveland Browns (5-11)

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
Tennessee Titans (6-10)
Houston Texans (3-13)

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
Denver Broncos* (11-5)
San Diego Chargers (8-8)
Oakland Raiders (5-11)

* Wild-card teams

First Round
Denver over New England
Kansas City over Miami

Divisional Round
Pittsburgh over Denver
Indianapolis over Kansas City

Conference Championship
Pittsburgh over Indianapolis


NFC East
Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Washington Redskins* (10-6)
New York Giants (9-7)
Philadelphia Eagles (7-9)

NFC North
Chicago Bears (11-5)
Green Bay Packers (8-8)
Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
Detroit Lions (5-11)

NFC South
Carolina Panthers (12-4)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers* (10-6)
Atlanta Falcons (6-10)
New Orleans Saints (2-14)

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks (12-4)
Arizona Cardinals (9-7)
St. Louis Rams (5-11)
San Francisco 49ers (3-13)

* Wild-card teams

First Round
Tampa Bay over Dallas
Chicago over Washington

Divisional Round
Carolina over Tampa Bay
Seattle over Chicago

Conference Championship
Carolina over Seattle

Pittsburgh over Carolina

Friday, August 11, 2006

My Last Word on the Alcohol Resolution (Hopefully)

On his blog Ben Cole has posted a transcript from Albert Mohler's radio program of Mohler's response to a question about alcohol. Of all the statements about this issue that I have seen from SBC leaders, Mohler's is by far the most reasonable. In fact, I agree with some of what he says. For example:

And yet I will tell you up front that I know there are believing, faithful Christians who enjoy a glass of wine or do drink some beverage alcohol. And I cannot say in all persons in all circumstances it is sin for them as Christians to do that. There's no verse in the Bible that says 'thou shalt not drink alcoholic beverage, period.' So intellectual honesty...demands that we say there's no proof text in the Bible that says thou shalt not ever drink an alcoholic beverage.
Mohler concedes that the Bible does not forbid the drinking of alcohol, BUT... (you knew there was a "but" coming):
I just have to say I believe the safest position for a Christian is total abstinence...I belong to a church and denomination, and I serve as president of an institution that before God believes that the best position to hold is a total-abstinence position, in accountability to other Christians, and in accountability to the churches.
I have no problem with Mohler believing that total abstinence is the "safest position" for a Christian. He is entitled to his personal views based on his own understanding of Scripture, history, and culture. In fact, I personally agree that total abstinence is the best choice for a person (not just a Christian) to make. Where I disagree with Mohler is over the propriety of any church, denomination, or institution that would presume to tell a believer which choice he or she should make regarding alcohol. Remember, Mohler has already acknowledged that the Bible does not forbid the drinking of alcohol. So on the basis of what authority does Southern Seminary forbid the drinking of alcohol? Upon what authority does FBC Anytown rely for requiring its members to abstain totally from alcohol? Upon what authority does the Southern Baptist Convention base its resolution against the use of alcohol? Do we look to the Bible as our authority in matters of faith and practice, or do we look to human reasoning, interpretation, and tradition to supplement the Bible?

In the absence of any biblical prohibition against the drinking of alcohol, we have no right to require that others abstain or to condemn the use of alcohol by others. We may study the biblical statements about alcohol, the historical context, and our own cultural context and conclude that abstinence is the best position, but it is not up to us to do the Holy Spirit's job in the lives of other believers. We can try to persuade others that our view is correct, but we cannot try to govern their beliefs or actions apart from clear biblical teaching. As a rule of thumb, anytime we find ourselves saying, "There is no biblical statement or principle that clearly forbids _________, but..." we should allow others to make their own decision about the issue and not look down on them as being less of a Christian than we are if they make a different decision than we do.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tagged Again

Apparently Art Rogers believes that since I am now unemployed I have too much free time on my hands, so he tagged me with the "Book Tag."

  1. One book that changed your life: The Present Future by Reggie McNeal
  2. One book that you've read more than once: The Life of Andrew Jackson by Robert Remini
  3. One book that I'd want on a desert island: Other than the Bible, How to Build an Airplane Out of Palm Trees (I don't know if it's a real book, but it's what I would want.)
  4. One book that made me laugh: Anything by Lewis Grizzard
  5. One book that made me cry: None, but probably the closest would be The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
  6. One book that you wish you had written: The Purpose Driven Life (for obviou$ rea$on$)
  7. One book you wish had never been written: Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
  8. One book that you are currently reading: Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putman
  9. One book that you've been meaning to read: The Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll
I'm going to tag Kiki Cherry, Jeff Richard Young, Wes Kenney, and Kevin Hash.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Disturbing Statement from Bobby Welch

In the August 2006 issue of SBC Life there is an open letter to Southern Baptists written by former SBC president Bobby Welch in which, among other things, he discusses some of his impressions of the 2006 SBC Annual Meeting in Greensboro. In this letter, Welch makes some disturbing statements regarding the vote on the (in)famous resolution against alcohol [all emphasis is mine]:

Additionally, the Convention voted almost unanimously that they wanted pastors and people who are leading them not to be persons blinded by a theology that encourages and promotes drinking alcoholic beverages of any kind....

Undoubtedly, the greatest surprise to almost everyone was that several Southern Baptist pastors actually came to a microphone and publicly promoted the drinking of alcoholic beverages and wanted the SBC to do the same! Actually, I never thought I would see that take place, and it is not only a surprise but an outrage!
I would like for Bobby Welch, or anyone else, to provide one statement made during the debate over this resolution in which a person who spoke against the resolution actually promoted or encouraged the use of alcohol. I personally do not recall anyone who spoke against the resolution making any statement to this effect. The basic point of most of the statements from those opposed to the resolution was that since the Bible never requires God's people to practice total abstinence we also should not require total abstinence.

Bobby Welch's statement is disturbing because it means one of two things: either he did not understand what those who spoke against the resolution were saying, or he is deliberately misrepresenting their statements in order to discredit those who opposed this resolution. To be honest, I find it difficult to believe either option. Bobby Welch is an intelligent man, so it seems reasonable to assume that he understood the arguments being made by the opponents of the resolution, even if he disagreed with them. Furthermore, Bobby Welch is a Christian, a preacher of the gospel, and a leader of our convention. The honesty that should be characteristic of such a man and the fairness with which he presided over the past two SBC Annual Meetings are not consistent with a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts to discredit those on the other side of an issue. And yet, since those who voiced their opposition to the resolution were NOT promoting the use of alcohol, it is obvious that Bobby Welch either did not understand what they were saying or he is being dishonest about what they were saying. I have no way of determining which of these options is correct, but either option is disturbing for Southern Baptists. Our former president either cannot understand plain English, or he is lying. Actually, I suppose there could be a third option: he simply was not paying attention during the debate. Again, however, this would be disturbing because he was the presiding officer during the debate. None of these options is acceptable, and none of them fit with what I know about Bobby Welch, but I cannot think of any other way to explain his statements in this letter. With these statements, Bobby Welch has done neither himself nor the SBC any favors.

I really wish that the discussion of the alcohol issue would cease. Not only is it becoming an increasingly divisive issue, but the more that our convention's leaders talk about this issue, the more that my confidence in them diminishes.


Until I have reason to presume otherwise, I am giving Bobby Welch the benefit of the doubt and am choosing to believe that he simply misunderstood what the opponents of the resolution were saying. While this is disturbing (because their statements were clear), it is not as disturbing as his making a deliberate misrepresentation would be.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Last Day

Yesterday was my last day as pastor of Jackson Grove Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. As is often the case with good-byes, yesterday was an emotional day for just about everyone. A few of the members hated to see us go, period. Others were personally sad that we were leaving but believed it was best both for the church and for us, and a few were glad that we were leaving (or at least that I was leaving).

The times ahead will be challenging for both me and the church. I will probably go insane if I have to go very long without preaching, plus there's this little manner of trying to find something to help pay the bills until I'm called to another church. On the church's end, my departure probably won't be felt as much as that of Maria, at least in the immediate future. She was the music director, youth director, VBS director, church clerk, planned most of our outreach events, and took care of all the decorating for holidays and special events. Not to mention that she is such a warm and loving person toward everyone. (No wonder that several of the members chipped in to give her a very nice necklace yesterday and didn't give me anything!)

It was unlike any other pastoral departure I had witnessed, but I've only gone through this twice (three times if you count an interim who was forced to leave because the church found out he was using church resources to start his own church and was recruiting the church's members). In the church I attended as a youth we had a pastor leave, but I don't recall much about his last day. Then in the church we attended before I became a pastor, the pastor (who was a good friend) suddenly announced his resignation. On his last Sunday, he sneaked out of the building during the closing prayer and left without giving anyone a chance to say good-bye. My departure was considerably different in that we had a transitional time in the service when I introduced the interim pastor (our DOM), and then there was a dinner after the service.

I am grateful that my departure from Jackson Grove was amicable. There were several times since the first of the year when I really thought that the end, whenever it came, might be acrimonious, but once I announced my resignation at the end of May most of those who were opposed to my leadership suddenly developed a more positive attitude toward me. It may not have ended as I would have liked, but it did end better than it could have.

So where do I go from here? I'm still sending out resumes to churches; I have about 25 doors that are cracked open to various degrees, but as of yet none are wide open. I've contacted some of the DOMs in the area to let them know I am available for supply work. And I have a temporary position lined up at the local university bookstore starting in mid-August; that should last about a month, and it will actually pay quite a bit more than the church did. After that, I have no idea what I will do.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Florida Baptist Witness Interview with Frank Page

In the most recent edition of the Florida Baptist Witness, there is a series of brief articles based on a July 12 interview of SBC president Frank Page by Witness editor James Smith, along with an introductory editorial by Smith. In the editorial, Smith strongly urges all Southern Baptists to give Frank Page the respect and support he deserves as SBC president. The interview itself covers a broad range of subjects---the Cooperative Program, some of the theological issues that are being hotly debated in the SBC, Page's change of position since 1980 on the role of women in ministry, his election as SBC president, and some of the things he wants to emphasize as SBC president. To no surprise, Page is candid and forthcoming throughout the interview. The interview, along with Smith's editorial, can be found at the following links:

In both the editorial and the interview, Smith is balanced and fair. This piece is neither an effort to smear Page nor a pro-Page propaganda piece. Smith raises some difficult issues, but he allows Page the freedom to explain his position. Basically, Smith believes that Southern Baptists need to get to know Frank Page and see how he leads the SBC before deciding that he is unfit for the position. Thus, he expresses his disapproval with the maneuvering by some within the SBC to run a candidate against Page next year in San Antonio:
One of the tangible ways that those who supported a different candidate in Greensboro can demonstrate their support of Page today is stand down now from any political organizing and seeking to run an opponent to Page at next year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in San Antonio. Shouldn’t he at least have a chance to prove himself before folks attempt to deny him a second term, a tradition granted to most Southern Baptist Convention presidents even during most of the heated years of the conservative resurgence (with some exceptions)?
The interview gives us a clearer picture of where Page stands on certain issues and some of the things he would like to see happen within the SBC. As is to be expected, not everyone in the SBC will be pleased with what Page says in this interview. For that matter, even though I supported Page during the election, I am disappointed by some of his responses in this interview. Does this mean I no longer support Page? Absolutely not. If I had known then what I now know about some of Page's positions, I still would have supported and voted for him. I may disagree with him on some specific issues, but on the broad themes that defined the election---the Cooperative Program, broadening the base of participation in SBC leadership, openness and transparency---I believe we share a similar perspective.

The most troubling thing in the interview is Page's discussion of the IMB issues regarding the policies on tongues/private prayer language and baptism. My disagreement with him on this matter is at the most fundamental level: he believes that "it is proper for the IMB to set theological policies which are not explicitly addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message," while I believe that this makes the BFM irrelevant and basically allows our trustee boards to redefine our doctrinal positions without us as a convention having any say. This also opens the door to the potential embarrassment of having entities that officially adopt doctrinal positions which are diametrically opposed to those of another entity. In such a case, which position would be the Southern Baptist position? That is why we have the BFM---to declare what our common doctrinal positions are---and no SBC entity should be allowed to redefine these positions.

I also find Page's position on the tongues/prayer language issue to be somewhat inconsistent. On one hand, Page states his concerns with the policy on prayer language: “'I just think in that one area there is a possible interpretation of a private prayer language [in Scripture] that we need to be very careful about saying, no. If there is some scriptural possibility there, [a policy forbidding it for missionaries] makes me nervous.' Page cited 1 Corinthians 14 as a passage which may be interpreted to permit a private prayer language, while noting that he does not personally have a private prayer language.” Just a few lines later, however, Page is quoted as supporting the exclusion of persons from missionary service who advocate and practice tongues. While I agree that 1 Corinthians 14 may be interpreted to permit a private prayer language, there is no doubt that this same chapter clearly says not to forbid speaking in tongues. In the same way that there is not agreement about whether this chapter allows for private prayer language, there is not agreement over whether tongues refers to a known human language or a completely unknown language. So how can a person say that we should be careful about prohibiting a private prayer language because Scripture may allow for it while at the same time prohibiting the use of tongues even though Scripture clearly says not to make such a prohibition?

On the baptism policy I also find myself in disagreement with Page. According to the Witness, "As to the IMB’s baptism guideline, while Page said he was not familiar with the details, he affirmed that he believes re-baptism is necessary in the case of a person who was baptized by immersion following salvation in a church with 'incorrect theology,' including one which rejected eternal security of the believer — which is the requirement of the IMB baptism guideline." I have discussed my opposition to this policy in depth (also in the comments here), so I will not go into detail about why I disagree with Page on this point. Let me just say that on this issue I see a bit of inconsistency in Page's position as well. In the interview he says, "We just need to be careful in our trustees that we hold to guidelines that are explicitly biblical and do not go beyond that," but this policy that he supports does not rest on one single explicit biblical statement or principle.

The interview reminds us that Page was a member of the Resolutions Committee in Greensboro that presented the surprisingly controversial resolution against the use of alcohol. To his credit, in the interview Page does not try to make an argument that it is wrong in and of itself for a Christian to drink alcohol in moderation. He describes his support of the resolution in terms of trying to preserve our witness. In many areas of the Bible Belt the use of alcohol, even in moderation, would seriously damage a Christian's witness (at least a Baptist's witness). However, there are other parts of the country and the world where drinking in moderation would have no negative effect on a Christian's witness. Why should a Christian have to abstain in these places? Why support a universal resolution in response to a regional matter? Why not simply pass a resolution encouraging us to set aside our freedom in certain situations if the exercise of our freedom would hurt our witness?

You may be thinking by now, "Why does this guy support Frank Page? On some of these controversial issues they are in total disagreement!" That's true, but on these issues the president of the SBC has little direct influence. On the broad themes that I mentioned earlier, however, the president's role is pivotal. It is in these areas that I believe Frank Page can make a significant change for the better within the SBC:
  1. The Cooperative Program---Before the election there was a great deal of discussion about the Cooperative Program, with close attention being given to the CP giving of the candidates' churches. Page won in no small part because his church gives much more to CP on a percentage basis than his opponents' churches. Page's church demonstrates that a church can give sacrificially to CP while simultaneously engaging in missions work. Hopefully this is a model that other churches will emulate. Unlike those whose churches give low percentages to CP, Page has the moral authority to challenge SBC churches to renew their commitment to CP. He realizes that for this to happen, people and churches must believe that their CP dollars are going toward worthwhile ministries that are making a real difference.
  2. Broadening the base of participation in SBC leadership---Describing recent SBC elections, Page remarked, "We’ve not had elections; we’ve had coronations." Page's election marks a new day in the SBC, at least temporarily, when a small group of leaders no longer decides who will serve as president. In the interview, Page announces his intention to "intentionally seek out pastors of every size church, including small and medium-size churches, young pastors and older pastors who are godly, conservative men who need to be involved." Since Page is not connected with the "Good Ol' Boy" system that many believe has tightly controlled the SBC for 25 years, expectations are high that he will appoint new faces to those committees chosen by the president.
  3. Openness and transparency---This is seen most clearly in Page's response to the recent revelation that in his doctoral dissertation he strongly advocated the view that women can serve in any position in the church, including that of pastor. Rather than avoiding the issue, Page acknowledges that questions about the matter are appropriate. He admits that in his dissertation he tried "to conform biblical passages to some cultural preferences of the time." He now refers to his former position as "extreme" and admits to being embarrassed that at one time he held to this position. It would have been easy for Page to say as little as possible about this issue, but he seems to believe that it is best to be candid and open about the truth, even when it is a bit embarrassing. In this he has set an example for all of us to follow, especially if we are leaders.
This interview gives us a good idea of who Frank Page is and what he brings to the presidency of the SBC. I have only touched on parts of the interview; be sure to read it in its entirety (use the links at the beginning of this post). What will Frank Page's presidency mean for the SBC? Only God knows, but in the interview Page explores the possibilities:
Speculating on what his election means about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention, Page offered two scenarios — a “blip on the screen” which would not result in meaningful change or a “true heart change” in which “the Cooperative Program is going to be strengthened and that we’re going to truly involve a larger number of godly, conservative men and women in the convention. And, instead of a tightly controlled convention, that it’s going to be more open for, I believe, healthy dialogue and debate.”
I am hopeful that we will see a "true heart change" in the SBC as a result of Frank Page's election.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Is the Battle for the Bible Over?"---A Response

In an article posted on the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention's web site, Gary Ledbetter, editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, raises the question of whether the "battle for the Bible" is really over within the Southern Baptist Convention. Certainly, one would be hard pressed to find a current leader in the SBC who would deny the inerrancy of Scripture. It might be accurate to say that the battle regarding inerrancy is over within the SBC, but can we really say that the battle for the Bible is over? Ledbetter asserts that the battle for the Bible is not over, and on this point I fully agree with him. As you will see, however, we have different reasons for believing this.

Ledbetter is right when he says, "The battle for the Bible will not end until time does." As long as Satan is operating in this world, he will attack the inspiration, truthfulness, and authority of the Bible, because the Bible is the Word of God. So in this sense the battle for the Bible is something we will always be engaged in. We must always be vigilant against efforts to denigrate the inspiration, truthfulness, and authority of the Bible. If Ledbetter had stayed with this theme, his analysis would have been completely on the mark. Unfortunately, he carries his argument too far and confuses biblical fidelity with subscribing to a particular interpretation of Scripture.

Ledbetter indicates that there are Southern Baptists who profess to believe in inerrancy but who are not really faithful to Scripture because they accept unbiblical doctrines. He mentions the recent, and often contentious, discussions about baptism and church membership, tongues and private prayer language, and the use of alcohol as examples that the battle for the Bible is far from over in the SBC. Certainly if someone denies the deity or the humanity of Jesus, or that salvation is found only through Christ, or anything else that is clearly taught in Scripture then that person is being unfaithful to Scripture, even if he or she claims to believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. However, the examples given by Ledbetter do NOT meet this standard because on each of these issues the view that is predominant among Southern Baptists does not rest on clear and unambiguous biblical teaching. These views reflect a specific interpretation of what the Bible says about each subject, but while the Bible is inerrant and infallible, our interpretations are not.

I believe that there is a new "battle for the Bible" coming to the forefront in the SBC. Whereas during the Conservative Resurgence the battle was over the inspiration and authority of the Bible, the new battle for the Bible is concerned with the sufficiency of Scripture. The key issue for our generation within the SBC is not, "Is the Bible really the Word of God?" but "What does the Bible itself say about [insert topic]?" It is because we acknowledge that the Bible is the Word of God that we examine everything, including issues that Southern Baptists in the past have almost universally agreed upon, in light of what the Bible actually says, and also what it does not say. This has resulted in some contention within the SBC, as many of us have become convinced that the predominant views on some issues within the SBC are lacking in clear and unambiguous biblical support. This is certainly true for the issues that Ledbetter refers to in his article.

Ledbetter and I agree on what needs to happen in our churches if we are to be faithful to Scripture. At the end of his article he says:

A systematic preaching and teaching of the whole Bible will cover everything eventually. It’s not commonly done. It is more loving for us to pass along as much of what God has taught us as possible than it is to teach to perceived needs or trendy subjects. That way our children and our other disciples can learn to love God and his truth in the same way we have.

“Inerrancy” is still a good and serviceable term. It’s got to be more than that, though. If it is our conviction regarding the nature of God’s revelation of himself to all men, we’ll do something about that. We’ll learn it, love it more than other competing versions of the truth, and we’ll teach all of it to those who follow us.
I agree with this statement. However, if we actually do this--- systematically preach and teach the whole of Scripture as it is written---I believe the results will be different from what Ledbetter expects. Ledbetter seems to think that such preaching and teaching will lead future generations of Southern Baptists to embrace the predominant views on the issues mentioned above. I believe that the opposite is true. Such preaching and teaching will result in a diversity of views on these issues, because the Bible does not address these issues with perfect clarity. If we teach the Bible as it is written, then we will have agreement on those issues where it speaks clearly, diversity on those issues where it does not speak clearly, and unity in the midst of this diversity. To me, this would be a victory in the "battle for the Bible."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

In Not Of

In her post The SBC's Forgotten Missionaries, Kiki Cherry recounts some of the challenges encountered by our SBC Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionaries in their efforts to raise the funds needed to support their ministries. (For more information about MSC, read Kiki's post and go to the MSC home page.) MSC missionaries make up a large percentage of NAMB's missionary force in North America, and they are on the front lines in some of the most challenging ministry environments in North America. Many MSC missionaries serve in areas outside of the Bible Belt, and most of those who serve in the Bible Belt are ministering to some of the most needy and neglected segments of our society. In short, most MSC workers are serving in environments that are very different from what most SBC church members and pastors are accustomed to. While many, if not most, Southern Baptists live inside a church bubble, our MSC missionaries are at the forefront of a missional movement within our convention. Because they have broken outside the church bubble, they are often misunderstood and criticized for the way they minister to people. Kiki describes a couple of encounters that illustrate the difference between a church bubble mindset and a missional mindset:

We also were challenged in aspects of our ministry. One man objected to us "interacting with homosexuals." Another lady was appalled that we would "allow non-Christians to come to our group." She was concerned that they might tarnish our Christian doctrine if they were allowed to participate!!!
A church bubble mindset, as exemplified by the critics, is concerned with maintaining the purity of the institution. There is a fear that interaction with people whose values and lifestyles are non biblical will lead Christians away from the truth. Homosexuals, drug addicts, prostitutes, drunkards, etc., are to be shunned and avoided until they give up their sinful behavior. If we were to associate with such people, others might assume that we are condoning their behavior. Outsiders are welcome to come to the church, as long as they conform to the church's norms of behavior and appearance. The church is a safe and comfortable refuge from the big, bad world out there. It is not a place for questioning; it is a place where all the answers have been found.

A missional mindset, on the other hand, is concerned with bringing the message of redemption to a fallen world. Missional Christians recognize that the world is a dirty, sinful, sometimes scary place. They also realize that it is the place where lost people are and that if these people are going to be reached with the gospel then Christians are going to have to go to them. Furthermore, to reach them we must go to them not in fear, not with a judgmental attitude or critical spirit, but in love. So we need to interact with and minister to homosexuals, drug addicts, prostitutes, drunkards, etc. When they act like a lost person, instead of criticizing them we need to love them. We don't condone their behavior, but we realize that we cannot expect people to live a godly lifestyle until they are disciples of Jesus. Being missional also means that we accept people's questions as legitimate and that we listen to what they have to say. Instead of becoming defensive, we should welcome their questions as they push us deeper into the Word to find real answers.

It may be a cliche, but we have to be "in the world but not of the world" if we are going to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gone are the days when the church could simply say, "Here we are! Come to us!" and see people respond. Like it or not, we are living in a secular world filled with secular people who are not clamoring to join a church. Indeed, many of them see the church as irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst. However, they are looking for something real and meaningful to fill a void in their lives. Only Jesus can truly fill this void and give them that real and meaningful something they are seeking, but we have to take Him outside of our church bubble and into their world if they are going to know Him. The lyrics to the song, "In Not Of" by Avalon describe the journey of a believer from a church bubble/protect us from the world mindset to a missional/redeem the world mindset:

I hide me far away from trouble
The world outside me grows darker by the day
So I promise to stay here close beside Him
Surely God would want His children safe

Then reading, how my eyes were opened
I find that He is leading us out into the world
Into the middle of fallen saints and sinners
Where a little grace is needed most

Come take the Light to darker parts

Share His truth with hardened hearts
We are not like the world
But we can love them
Come bring the Hope to hopeless men
Until the lost are found in Him
He came to save the world
So let us be in it, not of it

Wait a minute, if we say we love them
Why are we not in it? Why we run and hide?
Entertain a stranger, maybe entertain an angel
The danger is if our worlds don't collide


We've cursed the darkness far too long
We need to hold the candle high
We have to go and right the wrongs
We need to touch the world with love
With His love

Wait a minute, if we say we love them
Why are we not in it? Why are we not in it?


Wait a minute, if we say we love them
Why are we not in it?

Written by Nick Gonzales and Grant Cunningham.
Copyright 1999, Vogon Poetry (ASCAP) and River Oaks Music Company (BMI)

As God's people we have two options in this ever darkening world. We can retreat into our safe and comfortable church bubble, but in doing so we limit our ability to minister to people and reach them with the gospel. Or we can go out into the world, where lost people live, and love them. We'll have to put up with a lot of stuff that bothers and offends us, but how else are we going to reach them?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Letter to John Floyd

The eyes of the Southern Baptist Convention will be on the IMB Board of Trustees as they meet in Richmond, Virginia, next week. It seems to be a given that the issues relating to Wade Burleson will garner the most attention. The way that the board has handled these issues so far has resulted in a lack of confidence in the board on the part of many Southern Baptists, including myself. However, the IMB Board of Trustees has a new chairman, Dr. John Floyd of Tennessee, so there is a possibility that things may be handled differently. Today I sent the following email to Dr. Floyd suggesting some things that need to be done to restore our confidence in the IMB Board:

Dear Dr. Floyd,

My name is Tim Sweatman. I am pastor of Jackson Grove Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as well as the owner/editor of the blog The View from the Hill. As you may be aware, I have been highly critical of several decisions made by the IMB Board of Trustees over the past several months and of the leadership provided by former Chairman Tom Hatley. As the new chairman of the IMB Board, you are doubtlessly aware that many in the Southern Baptist Convention are watching closely to see the type of leadership you will bring to the board. It is my sincere prayer that God will give you wisdom to do what is right so that our work in worldwide missions can go on without the distractions posed by the aforementioned board decisions and the controversy surrounding them. I pray that the board meeting next week will begin the process of putting these distractions behind us. I believe that the following steps would do much to eliminate these distractions and controversies and restore the confidence of all Southern Baptists in the IMB Board of Trustees:

  1. The board needs to examine its doctrinal requirements and remove any that go beyond the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 so that no Southern Baptist who is in agreement with our common confessional statement is disqualified on doctrinal grounds. It is improper, albeit legal, for the IMB or any other SBC entity to establish doctrinal requirements or standards for its employees that go beyond the BFM. The BFM serves as our convention's common statement of faith. Any Southern Baptist whose doctrinal views are in alignment with this statement should be allowed to serve with any of our entities. Of course, there must be other standards such as character, previous church service, calling, education/experience, etc., but the BFM should be the doctrinal standard for employees of SBC entities (including missionaries). We have established our trustee boards to operate our entities, not to redefine our doctrinal views.
  2. Forums and executive sessions should be used only in cases where the security of our missionaries requires secrecy or when legally confidential matters are discussed. As the sole member of the IMB, the SBC has a right to know about what is happening within the IMB. With the exceptions noted above, all business of the IMB should be conducted in open plenary session.
  3. When accusations are made against an individual trustee, that trustee should be accorded the right to speak on his or her own behalf before the board. Also, no public accusation should be made before that trustee has been privately confronted. Furthermore, if there is a need for an accusation to be made public, the evidence for the accusation should also be made public at that time, and the accused should be allowed to present his or her own evidence.
  4. The prohibition against trustees expressing their disagreement with board approved actions needs to be repealed. Again, the SBC has a right to have our trustees speak to us openly and honestly. Of course, any disagreement should be expressed in a Christlike manner, but to be fully informed we need to hear all sides of an issue.
  5. Regarding the decision of the SBC to refer the Wade Burleson motion to the IMB Board of Trustees, I expect that you will bend over backward to make sure that no one can accuse the board of trying to sweep the matter under the rug. To be honest, I think it is unwise to have a body investigate itself, but that is what was decided. Your leadership on this particular issue could do much to give credibility to this process. I hope that you will seek to appoint to this committee trustees who are impartial and have not been directly involved in these matters. I also believe that you should give Wade the right to veto any selection. Only by the appointment of trustees who are acceptable to both sides can we have any degree of confidence in the committee's findings. Furthermore, if any of the parties involved disagrees with the findings of the committee, such disagreement should be incorporated into the final report.
The firestorm caused by the passage of the policies/guidelines on prayer language and baptism and the various issues related to Wade Burleson have cast the board in a poor light among many Southern Baptists. If there is anything positive about all of this, it would be that a number of Southern Baptists are for the first time really paying attention to the workings of the IMB. Of course, I'm sure that you join me in wishing that everyone was talking about reaching people groups and penetrating cultures of lostness instead of these controversies. I sincerely believe you are in a position to provide the necessary leadership to put these controversies behind us and help us focus on what really matters. I and many others are praying that you, Wade, and all the other trustees will speak and act with wisdom, courage, and grace as you deal with these issues. Thank you for your service, and may God bless you.

In Christ,
Tim Sweatman

P.S. I will be posting the body of this email on my blog. However, I will NOT post your response unless you give me your permission to do so. In that case, I will post your complete response so that nothing you write will be taken out of context.