Saturday, February 25, 2006

What Does It Mean to Be Missional?

One of the most popular buzzwords in Christian circles today is "missional." This word has long been at the heart of the emerging church conversation, it has been embraced by many younger Christians across nearly all denominations, and it has even been used in official SBC statements. But when you look at the various ways in which the word is used, it is evident that not everyone defines or uses "missional" in the same way.

With seemingly everyone these days talking about the need for Christians to be missional, we need to have a common understanding of what is meant by the concept. Basically, this is an open forum for you to discuss your understanding of what it means to be a missional Christian. When you use the word "missional" what do you mean by it? How is (or isn't) the idea of being missional a biblical concept? Why should (or shouldn't) Christians strive to be missional? What are some specific ways that we as Christians can be missional? Why do many Christians find it difficult to be missional? Feel free to discuss any other relevant questions or issues as we try to come to a common understanding of what it means to be missional.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Five Themes for Greensboro

Wade Burleson demonstrates his ability to cut to the heart of the matter in his post 5 Themes for Greensboro. In this post he lists five significant issues that may be addressed by the Southern Baptist Convention when it meets in Greensboro this June. I'm listing the issues here, but be sure to read Wade's commentary on each issue.

  1. The establishment of a framework for the free exercise of principled dissent.
  2. The institution of safeguards to prevent the manipulation of the nominating process of the Southern Baptist Convention.
  3. The forbidding of undue influence of agencies and institutions of the SBC by other agency heads.
  4. The resolution that trustees are servants of the Convention, not directors of the convention.
  5. The expression of belief that Southern Baptist Convention works best with a broad front door of cooperation.
Of these issues, which one do you think is the most essential one for the convention to address? Do you think any of these issues should not be addressed in Greensboro? Are there any other issues that you believe should be addressed in Greensboro?

Scot McKnight on the Emerging Church (or Finally, an Objective Examination of the Emerging Church)

One of the biggest problems I have encountered in my efforts to understand the emerging church has been the lack of many good, objective studies of the emerging church. (I have Gibbs and Bolger's book on my list of books to read.) Most of those who are part of the emerging church movement (they call it a conversation, but they practice their ideas as well as talk about them) tend to be vague when they discuss its characteristics. On the other hand, many critics of the emerging church seem to caricaturize the movement, or they focus on one of its leading spokespersons and erroneously assume that he or she speaks for the entire movement. Objective examinations of the emerging church that actually deal with the real nature of the movement have been hard to find.

Today I finally read a balanced, objective article about the emerging church that actually explains the major characteristics of the emerging church and looks at both its strengths and weaknesses. Scot McKnight's article is THE starting point for anyone who wants to understand the emerging church. His overall approach is generally positive toward the emerging church, but he doesn't hesistate to address some of the potential weaknesses of the movement, particularly its hesitancy to define its theological views.

Read Scot's article and comment on it. (It's a relatively brief article.) Do those of you who are part of the emerging church agree with his observations? Why or why not? For those of you who are not part of the emerging church, what do you think about Scot's observations? What characteristics of the emerging church describe you? Which ones do you not relate to at all?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

An Open Letter to IMB Trustees

The following is a modified version of an email I sent to Tom Hatley, Chairman of the IMB Board of Trustees. I have modified it as an open letter to all IMB trustees. I don't know that many trustees will read and respond to it, but I wanted to give them an opportunity to present their side of these issues. Feel free to read and respond, even if you are not a trustee.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am writing to express some concerns about recent actions of the IMB Board of Trustees. One of our strongest characteristics as Southern Baptists is the wonderful work of our missions boards in taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples. I am truly thankful for those of you who devote considerable time and effort to overseeing the work of our missions boards. However, despite my respect for all the trustees, some of the board's recent actions have led me to have serious concerns about the future of the IMB and the SBC.

My initial concern was with the policies on prayer language and baptism that the IMB trustees adopted in November. These policies seem to elevate particular interpretations of Scripture to a level of authority that is rightly reserved for Scripture alone. I have yet to see any trustee or supporter of the policies offer any solid, irrefutable biblical evidence for either policy. In fact, in the case of the prayer language policy the clearest biblical statement would speak against such a policy (1 Cor. 14:39). Drs. Hershael York and Ergun Caner have appealed to Baptist history to support the baptism policy, but I thought that as Southern Baptists we based our doctrinal policies on the Bible rather than on church history or tradition. Furthermore, it concerns me that as a denomination we have a doctrinal statement (the BFM 2000) that has been approved by the SBC as a whole, but some of our entities take it upon themselves to impose doctrinal requirements that have never been adopted by the convention itself. The result of these policies is that our missions efforts are going to be harmed as we tell God-called Southern Baptists who fully affirm the BFM 2000 that they cannot serve as missionaries within their own denomination. As these men and women either turn to other organizations for support or raise their own support, I fear that some of the resources that are presently being channeled through the Cooperative Program will be redirected to other organizations or directly to these missionaries. I am also concerned that these policies indicate an effort to separate ourselves from other believers who agree with us on the essentials while disagreeing on certain non-essentials or on matters where the biblical principle is not clearly stated.

While the board's decision regarding the new policies is a matter of great concern to me, the board's subsequent actions regarding Wade Burleson have given me even more serious doubts about the SBC's future. Before these events took place, I had never heard of Wade Burleson, so my response has not been colored by any personal bias. The actions related to Burleson have led many rank-and-file SBCers to conclude that there is a great disconnect between our convention's leaders and the rest of us for a number of reasons.

First, these actions seem to be intended as an effort to silence any dissenting voices on the board. Trustee chairman Tom Hatley has said that the board's decision to seek Burleson's removal has nothing to do with his opposition to the new policies, but would such an action have been taken if he had used his blog to support the policies? One of the greatest dangers to the SBC today is the attitude among some of our leaders that disagreement over issues that are not clearly addressed by Scripture is unacceptable. I pray that this attitude has not crept into the IMB Board of Trustees.

Second, these actions seem to indicate that many of the trustees have forgotten that they are accountable to the SBC as a whole. Unlike self-perpetuating boards of trustees, where the board chooses its own members, the IMB Board of Trustees (and all SBC trustee boards) are elected by the messengers of the SBC on behalf of the SBC. Thus, the trustees are accountable first to God, second to the SBC, and then to the board on which they serve. When a trustee reports to the SBC at large on things that happen in public meetings of the board, that trustee is not violating his trust to the board; he is fulfilling his trust to the SBC. In fact, my understanding of the trustee policies is that one of the duties of a trustee is to "take [his or her] interpretations back to the people" after trustee meetings. This is exactly what Burleson did via his blog. He took his interpretation of what happened at the November and January meetings back to his constituency, the entire SBC. In my opinion, this particular policy suggests that all trustees should be encouraged to have their own blogs or other methods where they can take their interpretations to the people of the SBC.

Third, these actions seem to demonstrate that some of the trustees are out of step with the current climate of the SBC. Many SBCers are active in the blogosphere. We use blogs the same way that past generations used pamphlets and letters to the editor. To make any attempt to suppress blogging by trustees would be seen as an attempt to be secretive and to resist accountablility to the convention. Also, the day has passed when the leaders of the SBC could expect members to go along with their actions simply because these leaders were conservatives. When we believe that any of our boards or leaders have made a poor decision, we will speak out against that decision, and we expect any leaders or trustees who oppose the decision to speak out as well. We also are strongly opposed to overtly political practices such as caucusing by trustees and interference by employees of SBC entities in the workings of another entity.

Fourth, the way the board handled this matter seems to contradict basic principles of fairness. According to Burleson, and no one has refuted his claim, no one approached him in an effort to resolve any problems before the board voted to recommend his removal. He also claimed, and again no one has refuted him, that he was not given an opportunity to present his case to the board before the vote. Based on some comments that other trustees have made, it appears that several of the trustees have never examined Burleson's blog for themselves to see what he actually said. Anyone who reads Burleson's blog would see that his overall tone toward the IMB and his fellow trustees is positive and that he has taken great pains not to reveal any confidential information. Finally, the board has not been open with the people of the SBC about why this move was made. Over a month has elapsed since the vote to recommend Burleson's removal, yet the board has presented no evidence to support such a radical move.

Despite my concerns over the board's actions in these matters, I have been greatly encouraged by the efforts that are presently being made to resolve things. May God continue bless each of you in your personal lives and in your service on the IMB trustee board.

I apologize for the length, but these matters are very important to the future of the SBC.

In Christ,
Tim Sweatman
Pastor, Jackson Grove Baptist Church
Bowling Green, Kentucky

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Yikes! I've Been Tagged!

Just when I thought I was safe, my friend and fellow Steelers fan Kiki Cherry tagged me with the Four Things Tag.

4 Jobs I Have Had in My Life

Food Service Worker--My first job was working at concessions stands at Opryland. At the start of my 2nd year I was promoted to crew leader, then at the end of my 3rd year I was made a supervisor in one of the restaurants. That lasted less than a year because my style was not what upper management wanted. Plus, I was probably too young for the job. (I was 18 when I was promoted, which made me the youngest supervisor in the entire food service department.) So the next year I moved to the ticket office, where for 2 years I primarily sold group tickets.

Proof Operator--The summer before I began working on my master's degree I worked as a temp in the Proof Department of a local bank. I encoded checks and made sure that the tellers' drawers balanced. I quickly learned that bank tellers are not always the brightest folks in the world.

Research Assistant--While I was in the Ph.D. program in history at the University of Tennessee I spent 16 months as a research assistant on the James K. Polk Papers Project. Basically I transcribed, edited, and annotated personal documents (primarily letters) from the life of our 11th President. This was an 11 or 12 volume series; I think the volume I worked on was No. 10. Other than the pastorate, this is the most enjoyable job I have had as an adult. Unfortunately, the grant that funded my position was not renewed.

Customer Service Rep--I worked for Whirlpool through a temp service taking phone calls from customers to help resolve problems with their appliances and schedule service appointments. This is the job I hated the most because: 1) I hate talking on the telephone; 2) I am an idiot when it comes to fixing things; and 3) I hated having to tell people that they would have to wait a week or two to get their appliance fixed. (There were very strict rules on what qualified for emergency service; I learned that it is not an emergency when a person's oven tears up two days before Thanksgiving.) The most surprising thing about this job is that I lasted 6 months.

4 Goals I Set for This Year

Exercise more--This should be an easy one, mainly because doing any sort of physical activity (like standing up occasionally) would be a major improvement. Unfortunately, I have made no progress this year.

Go to bed/Get up earlier--As you can tell from looking at the time on many of my posts, I am definitely a night owl. That's one of the benefits of not having children and of having a job where you set your own hours. We've always stayed up until 11:00 or midnight, but when my wife lost her job back in June we got used to staying up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Now she's back on a normal schedule, but I'm still staying up until 2:00 or 3:00. So I am making some progress on this one, but there's plenty of room for improvement.

Eat out less--This is one where I've actually done well. I used to eat lunch out 2-3 times a week, but in the past few months there have been times where I went 3 or 4 weeks between eating out.

Call my parents more--This is an area where I am totally different from my wife. She calls her parents practically every day (sometimes several times a day), while I talk to my parents (usually just my mother) about once a week (sometimes it gets close to a week and a half). I've gotten better about calling each week (unless they call first), and some weeks I've called more than once (usually for a specific reason).

4 Movies I Could Watch Over and Over

Star Wars--I could have made this easy and just listed 4 of these movies separately, but I wouldn't know which 2 not to list. Of the 6, Revenge of the Sith is the best.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail--Those guys were simply brilliant! Even now when I watch this movie I see new things in it. Plus, the dialogue is great for quoting.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off--Man, I wish I could get away with half the stuff he pulls off.

Smokey and the Bandit--I guess I have some latent redneck in me.

4 Places I Have Lived

Nashville, Tennessee (1972-1994)--I still consider this to be home.

Bowling Green, Kentucky (1994-1996)--I also attended college here 1990-1994.

Clinton, Tennessee (1996-2003)--The furthest we have been away from our families so far.

Bowling Green, Kentucky (2003-present)--This place changed a lot while we were gone.

4 TV Shows I Love to Watch

Hmmm, I don't watch a lot of TV other than sports, news, and the occasional music special or documentary.

4 Places I've Been on Vacation

Washington, D.C.--I've been 3 times, but my favorite time was in 1998. It was the first real trip my wife and I went on by ourselves. As a history buff, this is one of my favorite places in the world.

Atlanta, Ga.--I took my wife there in 2004 for our 10th anniversary. Why Atlanta? Because they have pandas! My wife absolutely LOVES pandas, so I wanted to take her to see them. She cried when she walked into the panda house and saw them.

Orlando, Fla.--Our family went quite a few times when I was in junior high and high school, but the most memorable time was in 1995 when my wife went with us.

Madrid, Spain; Paris, France; London, England--I listed these together because I went to all 3 on the same trip. I went with a group from school during my senior year in high school. There was lots of adventure, most of which had nothing to do with the sites we visited.

4 Websites I Visit Daily

Missional Baptist Blog

SBC Outpost

Grace and Truth to You


4 of My Favorite Foods

My mom's roast with rice and gravy

Chicken and dumplings

Fried chicken (I am a Baptist minister!)

My wife's homemade chili

4 Places I Would Rather Be Right Now

A Western Kentucky or Tennessee football or basketball game, or a Steelers or Titans football game

An Avalon concert with backstage passes

Cades Cove

Anywhere alone with my wife

So Now I'm Going to Tag......

Kevin Hash

Nick P.


Jason Sampler

Saturday, February 11, 2006

John Reisinger on the True Nature of the Church (the Ekklesia)

This post began as a comment on Wade Burleson's blog about Reisinger's articles, but when I got to 4 paragraphs I decided that it would be more appropriate to do my own post. These articles are timely, especially since my last post was titled What Is a True Christian Church? After reading Reisinger's articles, I would guess he would say that my question is really not the right question. Even so, I encourage anyone who is interested in the church to read what Reisinger says. These articles are lengthy, but they make you think.

The Ekklesia--Part 1
The Ekklesia--Part 2
The Ekklesia--Part 3
The Ekklesia--Part 4
The Ekklesia--Part 5

Reisinger is right on a number of things. The church is the people of God and not an instutution. Being part of the church involves being united with Christ, which unites us with all fellow believers. There is no definitive institutional/organizational model given for all local assemblies to follow. On all of these things I am in agreement with Reisinger.

While I agree with Reisinger's basic assumptions, I do see some weaknesses in these articles. I think that at times he de-emphasizes the local congregation too much. He acknowledges that the NT pattern is for the church to be grouped together in local assemblies, but he seems to see this aspect of the church as secondary to the universal aspect of the church. However, I see the NT having a lot to say both about and to local assemblies, including such matters as leadership and discipline. This indicates to me that on at least some level there was a sense of belonging to a particular local assembly, even if there was not a sense of church membership as we have today. I also disagree with his belief that the NT does not speak of a visible church that included both saved and lost people. It does appear in certain places, especially John's letters, that the NT does speak of the local assembly including unregenerate people ("they went out from us, but they did not really belong to us"). Obviously those local assemblies did not knowingly welcome such people into their fellowship, but nevertheless they were considered to be part of the group on the basis of their false profession.

I also would have liked to see him deal more with how the church can work together to carry out our mission today. As he admitted, we don't live in the same context as the 1st century church, with our various denominations and differences regarding doctrine. I would have liked for him to address how we can work with fellow believers who have very different beliefs than we do on certain doctrines. For example, I can regard someone who believes one can lose his or her salvation as a brother or sister in Christ and enjoy fellowship with him or her, but I really don't think I would want that person leading a discipleship group in the local assembly I pastor. So how does this idea of the church being one, which is clearly biblical, play out in real life?

He seems to make a similar error to one he accuses institutionalists of when he asserts that in NT times all the believers in each city met in one assembly. I don't know of any biblical statement to that effect; indeed, Romans 16:5 implies that there may have been multiple assemblies in the city of Rome. It may be safe to say that these assemblies did not see themselves as completely separated from each other, but we can't make a blanket statement that each city had a single assembly.

I like what Reisinger is trying to do in these articles, showing that there is only one church and that the church is defined as all people who have been called unto salvation through Christ. I think he makes a clear case that no group or local assembly can accurately claim to be the true church because of its organizational structure. However, I wish he had addressed how doctrinal differences relate to this issue.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What Is a True Christian Church?

In recent discussions on various blogs, one issue that has kept coming up is the nature of the church. There have been a couple of good discussions about this on Rick Thompson's blog. And of course, this issue has come up in discussions of the IMB policies, especially the policy on baptism. In his defense of the IMB policy on baptism, Hershael York, professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and immediate past president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, wrote the following:

Of course this begs the question, "What is a New Testament church?" Can we call a congregation a true New Testament church if they deny that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Can a crowd of well-intentioned worshippers really be a church if they add works to the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus by teaching that baptism is essential for salvation? Can a cadre of Christians really be a church if they do not observe the ordinances properly or deny that we are kept by the power of God unto the day of redemption? Baptists have so carefully defined the church, the ordinances, and soteriology that we have historically denied that such are true New Testament churches. We do not insist on the name "Baptist" on the sign in the front yard, but we insist that the church be marked by New Testament doctrine, specifically as it relates to the ordinances and to salvation, including the eternal security of the blood-bought believer. We cannot have a settled peace that such churches have the authority to baptize since they do not hold to the teaching of the New Testament.
Most of us would agree that the Bible makes it clear that sound doctrine is essential for any church to be considered a true Christian church, but are any of us so bold as to affirm that we are absolutely correct in all of our doctrinal views? If not, where do we draw the lines on which doctrines are essential if a church is to be a true Christian church? And is sound doctrine all that is necessary for a church to be a true Christian church? Or are there other essentials that must be present? Basically, what I'm asking is how you would describe a true Christian church. What are the essential characteristics of a true Christian church?

For the sake of this discussion, a "true Christian church" is defined as one that belongs to Christ, where we would expect that the members are saved. (Yes, I am aware that many church members are unsaved, but I'm talking about general assumptions. For example, we expect that members of Southern Baptist churches are saved, but not Mormon churches.) Also, for the sake of brevity, in your initial comment don't try to provide evidence to support your views. If someone challenges your views, then feel free to provide evidence.

Monday, February 06, 2006


In a game that was more historic than well played, the Pittsburgh Steelers completed what may be the greatest stretch run in NFL history by defeating the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL, capturing the 5th Super Bowl championship in franchise history. The Steelers' victory also provided a storybook ending to the Hall of Fame career of Jerome Bettis, who in his final game won the Super Bowl in his home town of Detroit. This Super Bowl had quite a few firsts and records, including the following:
1. Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher won his first Super Bowl, silencing critics who said he couldn't win the big game.
2. The Steelers became the first No. 6 seed to win a Super Bowl, as well as the first Super Bowl champion to win 3 road playoff games en route to the Super Bowl.
3. The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl.
4. Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker had the longest run in Super Bowl history with his 75-yard touchdown, breaking Marcus Allen's 22-year-old record.
5. Seattle defensive back Kelly Herndon recorded the longest interception return in Super Bowl history, breaking Willie Brown's 29-year-old record.

While this game was exciting in the sense that the outcome was uncertain until the final 5 minutes, the fact is that Super Bowl XL ranks right up there (or down there) with Super Bowl V as one of the worst played Super Bowls by both teams. Seattle receivers dropped a number of passes, the Seahawks had quite a few big plays called back because of penalties, and they were plagued by uncharacteristically poor execution and clock management at the end of both halves. And although they won the game, the Steelers played one of their worst games of the season. For much of the game (especially in the first half) they had problems covering Seattle receivers, and their offense didn't seem to have any rhythm until the second half. The Pittsburgh defense didn't get in many of the big, intimidating hits that define them. Both quarterbacks threw key interceptions in scoring range, and 2 of these interceptions (one by each team) changed the momentum of the game. And there were some key calls by the officials---the pass interference penalty that nullified a Seattle touchdown, the Roethlisberger touchdown, and the reversal of the Hasselbeck fumble---that may have played a role in shaping the outcome of the game (fortunately, the officials made the right call on all 3 plays).

If there was one thing that made the difference in this game, it was the big play. The Seahawks didn't make a lot of big plays (and it seemed that most of the ones they did make were nullified by penalties), while all 3 Pittsburgh touchdowns were the result of big plays (Roethlisberger's 37-yard pass to Hines Ward on 3rd & 28, Parker's 75-yard TD run, and Antwaan Randle El's 43-yard TD pass to Ward). Ward's big plays (5 receptions for 123 yards and 1 TD, 1 run for 18 yards) earned him the game's Most Valuable Player award.

Despite their problems defending against the pass and the scarcity of big hits, the Pittsburgh defense played pretty well. The Steelers held league MVP and leading rusher Shaun Alexander, who set the NFL record for touchdowns in a season with 28, to 95 yards on the ground and no touchdowns. The Steelers also limited the NFL's top scoring team to only 10 points. And despite not getting the type of pressure on the quarterback that they had against Indianapolis and Denver, the Steelers still sacked Hasselbeck 3 times.

In the end, however, it doesn't matter whether or not it was a pretty game. All that matters is that THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS ARE SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS!!!!!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Greenwood Gets the Shaft Again

For the 20th straight year, Pittsburgh Steelers great L.C. Greenwood got the shaft from the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This was the 2nd straight year and the 6th overall that Greenwood was a finalist for the Hall of Fame. How Greenwood, one of the greatest defensive linemen of all time and a key member of the greatest defense and team of all time, can still not be in the Hall of Fame 25 years after his retirement is difficult to comprehend. Greenwood's career performance is definitely worthy of the Hall of Fame. During his brilliant career he was voted to the Pro Bowl 6 times, played on 4 Super Bowl championship teams, recorded 73.5 quarterback sacks (unofficially---the NFL didn't list sacks as an official statistical category until 1982), and recovered 14 fumbles. And like many of his Steeler teammates, Greenwood elevated his game to another level in the Super Bowl. His 3 batted passes and constant harassment of Minnesota QB Fran Tarkenton in Super Bowl IX helped set the stage for the Steelers' first championship. The following year, against Dallas in Super Bowl X, he sacked Cowboys' QB Roger Staubach 3 times. In 1991, Greenwood was voted to the Super Bowl Silver Anniversary Team.

A comparison of Greenwood's career with the careers of other defensive linemen voted to the Hall of Fame demonstrates his worthiness for enshrinement in Canton. Willie Davis (Green Bay, 1960-69) played in 5 Pro Bowls; Carl Eller (Minnesota, 1964-78) played in 6 Pro Bowls; Dan Hampton (Chicago, 1979-90) played in 4 Pro Bowls and recorded 57 sacks; and Lee Roy Selmon (Tampa Bay, 1976-84) played in 6 Pro Bowls, recorded 78.5 sacks, and recovered 10 fumbles. Greenwood's individual numbers measure up to these players', and of this group only Davis joins Greenwood as a member of multiple championship teams.

What surprised me the most about this year's election is that Dallas offensive tackle Rayfield Wright was chosen instead of Greenwood. Both men were chosen for 6 Pro Bowls, but Greenwood won 4 Super Bowls compared to Wright's 2. Wright's bio on the Hall of Fame web site gives a glowing account of Wright's performance in the 1975 playoffs, including Super Bowl X against the Steelers. The web site described Wright's play against Greenwood and Hall of Fame defensive ends Jack Youngblood and Carl Eller as "exceptional." I don't know how Youngblood and Eller did against Wright, but Greenwood recorded 3 of the Steelers' 7 sacks of Dallas QB Roger Staubach. That is hardly what I would call "exceptional play" by an offensive tackle. I'm not saying that Wright did not deserve to be elected to the Hall of Fame. He certainly is deserving of the honor, but he should NOT have been elected before L.C. Greenwood.