Saturday, April 29, 2006

Younger Leaders and SBC Politics---It's About Missions (UPDATED)

One of the things that is often said about younger leaders* in the Southern Baptist Convention (YLs) is that we are turned off by the political wrangling and infighting that have characterized SBC life for the past several decades. Ironically, in recent months many YLs have engaged the SBC political process in response to a growing effort to narrow the parameters of cooperation within the SBC, which excludes faithful, God-called SBC people from certain areas of service, and to suppress dissenting voices within the SBC. Dozens of blogs have been started, meetings have been scheduled, research has been conducted, attempts have been made to persuade people to allow themselves to be nominated for office, letters have been written to state papers, and contacts with SBC leaders have been made. Unfortunately, at times tempers have flared, words have been carelessly used, and personal attacks have been made.

Obviously, not all YLs have jumped on the political bandwagon. One of the primary critics of the recent political efforts of YLs is Steve McCoy. Steve is definitely not supportive of the status quo within the SBC, but he does not believe that the political process is the best way to change the SBC. He believes that we need to focus less on changing the structure of the SBC and more on changing our local churches, specifically by leading our churches to become truly missional. As our churches, which comprise the SBC, change, the convention itself will gradually be transformed. Steve has made it clear that he is not advocating a withdrawal from the process of the SBC, but his point is that we should not look to the political process as a means of effecting real change within the SBC.

I don't know of anyone who disagrees that the key to bringing about a true missional resurgence or reformation in the SBC is to follow the path Steve advocates. Indeed, I would surmise that this is the means that most YLs would prefer to use to transform the SBC. Furthermore, I would guess that most of us agree that this is the only way to really bring about genuine long term change within the SBC.

So if most YLs would prefer to change the SBC by leading local churches to become truly missional, why has there been such a focus on the political process in the past few months? The answer can be given in one word: MISSIONS. The recent trends in the SBC toward exclusion, narrowing the parameters of cooperation, and suppression of dissenting voices have had their biggest impact on our missions work, especially on the international level. A large number of missionaries feel a need to comment anonymously or under pseudonyms out of fear that if they stray too far from the party line they could be terminated. SBC people who have been called by God to the missions field are now being told that they cannot serve through their own denomination's missions boards, not because of any character issues or heretical views, but because they do not qualify according to some extrabiblical doctrinal standard. A missionary couple serving in one of the most unreached areas of the world is in the process of being terminated because of their work with other missionaries who are in agreement with the doctrines articualted in the BFM2000. I do not think it is an exaggeration to state that if these trends are allowed to continue then the SBC will face a severe missions crisis within the next decade, if not sooner.

This is why so many YLs have reluctantly engaged the SBC political process. We are not seeking power or prestige for ourselves. Most of us are simply committed to doing whatever we can to reverse these trends as quickly as possible, for the sake of our missions work. These trends are adversely affecting our missions work NOW, so we need to act NOW. If we wait until we bring about reform by reforming our churches, the damage to our missions work will already be done. So yes, let's be committed to the task of reforming our churches and work toward a true missional resurgence that transforms every aspect of SBC life. But let's also commit ourselves to doing what we can to ensure that we do not allow our missions work to suffer before that happens.
* I am using the term younger leaders in a generic sense. I am NOT referring in any way to the Younger Leaders Initiative that was started by Jimmy Draper in 2005. The Younger Leaders Summit on June 12 in Greensboro has absolutely NOTHING to do with any of the political efforts that are being made by some of us YLs.

[UPDATE: The IMB administrative staff has decided not to terminate the missionary couple mentioned above, so they will be allowed to return to the field.]

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Who's Going to Greensboro?

Everything's official. I've completed my online registration for the SBC Annual Meeting in Greensboro and made my hotel reservation. All that's left is to arrange for my rental car and decide which church to attend Sunday morning.

I think it would be interesting for us to share why we're going to Greensboro and whether or not this is our first convention. (If this is your first convention, be sure to read Art Rogers' blog. He is providing a detailed primer of how the convention operates.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Why Does Greensboro Matter?

For the past few months there has been a great deal of talk in the Southern Baptist blogosphere about how the 2006 SBC Annual Meeting in Greensboro could be one of the most pivotal annual meetings in SBC history. Some have expressed a belief that Greensboro 2006 could be as significant as Houston 1979 (considered by many to be the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence). Only time will tell if that will be the case, but make no mistake, this year's annual meeting will be important for a number of reasons.

  1. At the 2004 annual meeting in Indianapolis, Jimmy Draper expressed concern about the lack of involvement in the SBC by younger people. In an effort to connect younger leaders to the SBC, Draper began the Younger Leader initiative in 2005. There will be another Younger Leader meeting on the eve of the annual meeting in Greensboro. A primary focus of younger leaders is to lead our churches, and by extension our convention, to become missional communities living as the presence of Christ in our communities. Imagine the possibilities if this missional focus permeated the entire SBC. However, many younger leaders have distanced themselves from the convention because they perceive that the convention is more concerned with power and politics than with living out the gospel. Younger leaders also feel that a number of prominent SBC leaders look down upon them because they use nontraditional methods and reach out to people who have been neglected by most SBC churches. The only way that these things will change is for younger people to get involved in the workings of the SBC and bring about these changes. We need to get involved and change the SBC or affiliate with a group that shares our vision.
  2. Also at the 2004 annual meeting, Morris Chapman stressed the need for conservatives who agree on the essentials of the faith to cooperate so that we can more effectively do the work of the Kingdom. However, what we have seen in the past few months is an effort to exclude conservative Southern Baptists on the basis of doctrines that are either nonessentials or not clearly taught in Scripture AND that are not addressed in the Baptist Faith & Message. The SBC is standing at a fork in the road: one path is the way of cooperation and unity, the other path is the way of separation and uniformity. The first path will lead the SBC to its greatest potential in reaching the world for Christ; the second path will lead the SBC to its demise as an effective means of reaching people for Christ. We must take a stand for cooperation and unity.
  3. Our SBC missions boards (NAMB and IMB) are facing difficult situations that threaten their effectiveness at taking the gospel to all people. The dust is still settling at NAMB in the wake of Bob Reccord's resignation; it is too early to predict what might happen there. The situation at the IMB is more clear, and at the moment more of a danger. For the sake of brevity I won't describe what has been happening at the IMB; if you're not familiar with these events you can go to Marty Duren's blog or Wade Burleson's blog for the best summaries and analyses of what's been happening (start with the November 2005 archives and work your way forward). If the recent actions of the IMB Board of Trustees are allowed to stand (especially the November policies), the result is going to be the loss of many God-called, faithful, committed Southern Baptist missionaries from the mission field. We CANNOT allow this to happen. While we will not be able to overturn these actions at Greensboro, if the convention expresses its disapproval then it is more likely that the trustees will reverse their actions.
  4. There is a growing effort among some within SBC leadership to suppress any dissenting voices. Policies have been passed to prohibit public dissent by trustees of the IMB. Efforts have been made to remove people who do not follow the prescribed party line. However, free and open discussion is healthy for any organization; history is filled with examples of the dangers inherent in groupthink. If the environment of the SBC continues to become more restrictive, demanding an enforced uniformity of opinion, younger people will leave the SBC in droves. We must let our voices be heard and demonstrate that true unity is NOT the same thing as uniformity. We must insist that principled dissent, which has played a pivotal role in the shaping of our convention from 1845 until the present, not be suppressed.

As you look at the list of challenges facing the SBC, you may be thinking that this annual meeting won't make any difference. I acknowledge that the needed changes won't all take place in Greensboro, nor in San Antonio. They may not even happen in Indianapolis or Louisville. But if we make the commitment, they WILL come to pass. But for this to happen, we have to take the first step, and that is Greensboro.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Are Education and Christian Faith Compatible?

In a comment over at Kiki Cherry's blog, a reader named Cathy asked me about "seminaries that try to insulate their students from different views of scripture." Since this wasn't the topic of that particular post, I gave a brief response. I also stated that the issue of Christian higher education is one I have thought about for a long time and that I intended to do a blog post on the subject sometime. Actually, I'm going to address this issue in a couple of posts. In this post, I will lay out some of my views on the how education and Christian faith relate to one another. My next post on the subject will focus specifically on the purpose of Christian higher education, especially in regard to whether Christian colleges and seminaries should expose students to a broad range of ideas, promote a particular view, or a combination of the two.

I have spent much of my adult life around higher education as a student, research assistant, instructor, and even working in a university bookstore. All of my involvement in the world of higher education has taken place at public universities. In my 10 years as a student (4 undergraduate, 6 graduate) I never encountered any professors who really challenged Christian beliefs. So I didn't really think much about the relationship between education and faith. My first attempt to organize my thoughts on the subject was in 1998 when I applied for a part-time position as a history instructor at Carson-Newman College, which is affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. (I didn't get the position.) As part of the application process I had to provide a statement of my views regarding the relationship between education and faith. The following is the text of the statement I submitted:

As a Christian and a scholar, I believe that knowledge and education are compatible with faith in God. Education provides people with the tools to seek truth. Since God is the source of all truth, it would seem that education would bring people closer to Him. However, this is often not the case. In today’s world it is common for many highly educated people to deny either the existence of God or the validity of His Word. This is largely due to the arrogance that is part of our sinful human nature. God has chosen to use people to bring about His will in the world, but those who do not know Him do not see His hand in the course of history and progress. Because such people have dominated the academic world for many years, most people are taught that humanity is the supreme force in shaping the world. The Christian scholar should fight against this trend. By initially establishing a frame of reference in which history, knowledge, and progress are defined as part of the will of God, Christian scholars can impart to their students that people are God’s tools for achieving His will and not the masters of the universe. As people gain more knowledge of the world within this frame of reference, they will view new discoveries as being another piece of God’s plan. In this way, then, education will bring them closer to God.

Because God is the source of all truth, I see no reason for Christians to fear being exposed to ideas that on the surface appear to contradict Scripture. Instead of trying to suppress the expression of such ideas, Christians should examine them to determine if they really do contradict God’s Word. If that is the case, Christians should point out factual and logical flaws in those ideas and declare what God says about the subject through His Word and the Holy Spirit. By trying to suppress the expression of ideas, Christians give the impression that our beliefs and God’s Word cannot withstand challenges, when in reality the ideas of the world cannot stand up to God’s truth when it is fully revealed.

Both my understanding of Christianity and my belief in academic freedom lead me to oppose any efforts to force people to believe a certain way. While I am convinced that absolute truth as expressed by God exists, I believe that He gives people the right to accept or reject His truth. As Christians, we are called to tell others about God’s truth, but we are never authorized to force them to accept it. In the same way that we should not coerce others into accepting God’s truth, we should not try to force them to adopt our ideas concerning human knowledge. Instead, free and open discussion of issues should be encouraged, and all opinions should be tolerated. This does not mean that we do not point out errors or flaws, but it means that we do not ridicule others for what they believe.

While all Christians long for Heaven, God has a purpose for each of us while we are on Earth. Education is an important tool for us in carrying out His purpose. A sound education allows us to communicate clearly, think critically, better understand others, and have a more realistic perspective of our place in the larger world. Education also enables Christians to enter the corporate, political, and academic fields, where we can exert a Godly influence on society. Because education in a secular environment does not emphasize Christian values and beliefs, God’s purposes are best served when His people are educated in a Christian environment.

My views are largely the same today as they were when I wrote this. The one statement that I may not fully agree with today is the very last one. Over the past year or so I have come to question the wisdom of Christians insulating ourselves from views that are contrary to what the Bible teaches. I now believe that it can be healthy for Christians to have our beliefs challenged. This forces us to evaluate what we believe and why we believe it, which can solidify our beliefs. It also provides an opportunity for us to share our views with and explain them to others (respectfully, of course).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I'm a What?

Over at Micah Fries' blog I found this link to a quiz about your theological worldview. I was a bit surprised by the results. Here's how I scored:

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox






Reformed Evangelical




Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal


Roman Catholic


What's your theological worldview?
created with

Apparently Baptist is not recognized as a theological worldview (although it seems that some are trying to change that). I've never considered myself to be either Reformed or Arminian, but apparently I lean more in the Arminian direction. So I guess the next time someone asks I can say that I'm 82% Wesleyan and 54% Reformed (and hope that they aren't mathematicians). I wasn't surprised at all that liberalism and Catholicism ranked at the bottom. I was initially shocked to see fundamentalism rank so high, but I do tend to fit the classical definition of fundamentalism (before it became a political buzzword). I'm definitely more charismatic than I thought (I don't know how; I'm usually pretty dull). And I came out a little higher on the Emergent side than I would have expected. I was most surprised to rate so highly on Neo-orthodoxy. I've never thought of myself in that way, but I'm not sure how it is defined for this quiz.

According to the results, I shouldn't plan on becoming Pope anytime in the near future, but the Methodist church is an option. Hmmm. . . on second thought, probably not. Baptists are better at cooking fried chicken.

So, what are you?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Reality Check

Over the weekend I read a couple of articles that really challenged me and made me think. I'm not sure why these articles had such an impact on me; I've read several accounts of persecution before that were just as brutal as these. Perhaps all of the attention I have been giving to the various issues related to the IMB and the interaction I have had with some of our international missionaries have attuned my heart more closely toward what is happening with the church overseas. Regardless of the underlying reasons, these two articles (actually they are way too brief to be articles) really spoke to me. I have summarized them in the following two paragraphs.

In late January, Alliance Church pastor Timothy Ariao and his wife Delia Juebas were ambushed and killed while traveling to a church gathering in the South Cotabato province of the Philippines. This was the most recent in a series of attacks against Christians in that country over the past several years.

Last October, three teenage Christian girls were beheaded by Islamic extremists in the Central Sulawesi province of Indonesia. In a display of Christlike love, the parents of the girls have publicly declared their forgiveness of those who murdered the girls. Their pastor has said that the deaths of these teenage martyrs were not in vain because they have brought unity to the Christian churches in the area and encouraged believers to be strong in the faith.

Sadly, such stories are not rare. In many parts of the world being a follower of Jesus is not merely inconvenient or uncomfortable---it is DANGEROUS. Things that we as American Christians do as a matter of routine---drive to a church service or simply go somewhere in public---put many of our brothers and sisters around the world in harm's way. The danger is by no means limited to native Christians in other countries. Many missionaries who are serving Christ overseas face similar dangers, as news reports in recent years have reminded us. In the past five years eight Southern Baptist missionaries have been killed in the Philippines, Yemen, and Iraq. I have no idea how many missionaries from other denominations have also given their lives for the gospel. In many parts of the world, spiritual warfare is manifested in physical acts of violence against believers.

Here in America it is quite safe and even comfortable to be a Christian. Our idea of persecution is to be made fun of or caricaturized by the media and Hollywood. Sure, this is unpleasant, but it is far from dangerous. And in America there are some perks to being a Christian. If you want to run for public office, it can be beneficial to refer to yourself as a Christian. That would be the death knell for your campaign (or your life) in many countries. If you own a business, you can attract some additional customers if you publicize it as a Christian-owned business. All in all, we have it pretty good as American Christians. Perhaps we have it too good.

Our comfort and prosperity have given us a distorted idea of what it means to be a Christian. American Christianity is largely characterized by individualism and consumerism. We take care of ourselves. If we don't get what we want, we change churches or abandon the church altogether. Our idea of sacrificing for the gospel is to slip an extra ten or twenty in the plate when special offerings for missions are collected. Our attitudes and our actions reveal that we see ourselves not as Christians who happen to be American, but as Americans who happen to be Christian.

I believe that one of the results of comfortable Christianity has been an increased tendency to separate ourselves from other believers for just about any reason. Sometimes we divide because of relatively minor doctrinal differences, such as the nature of the end times or whether women can teach men. [NOTE: I definitely believe there ARE core doctrines that must serve as lines of distinction between us and others. I am not referring to divisions made on the basis of these doctrines, but over what we often call non-essentials.] More often we separate because of differences in tradition or personal preference. Possibly the main reason we break away from other believers is because of personal disputes that are never resolved. Why do we separate over matters such as these? Part of the reason is that we really don't believe we need each other. We feel like we can get along just fine without certain other believers. We think that we can just fellowship with and cooperate with those who believe exactly (or almost exactly) as we believe and still do what God has called us to do. This is certainly not unique to the American church, but it is quite prevalent here.

But what if it weren't so comfortable or acceptable to be a Christian? What if we suffered severe persecution or economic deprivation because of our faith? Would we be so willing to disassociate ourselves from other believers? Somehow I don't think so. I believe that if we lived in a country where being a Christian placed our lives in danger that we would be far more willing to fellowship with and cooperate with fellow believers who have a different understanding of the end times or the proper role of women in ministry or whether the practice of tongues is legitimate. We would count it a privilege to worship with other Christians who sing a style of music we do not particularly care for. We would strive for reconciliation with a brother or sister when one of us offended or was offended by the other instead of turning away from him or her. Our common hardships and struggles would make it more likely that we would realize that we need each other. We would be more apt to recognize that despite our differences we are all in this together, serving the same Lord. We would be much closer to living out the unity that Jesus prayed for His followers to have.

I'm not a prophet, but I believe that if we do not make a sincere effort to pursue this unity among ALL of us as believers then the Lord may take steps to push us in that direction. It wouldn't be the first time He did something like that. In Acts 1 Jesus told His disciples to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Well, they did really well on the Jerusalem part, and maybe on the Judea part, but they hadn't made any movement toward Samaria, let alone the rest of the world. So what happened? Persecution came to the Jerusalem church. This persecution drove many of the believers out of Jerusalem and Judea into Samaria and other regions, where they shared the gospel and established churches. Who's to say that the Lord won't allow us to taste persecution to make us come together? As the Indonesian pastor in the article said, the killing of those three Christian girls brought unity to the chruches in the area. I pray that it won't take something so drastic to bring us together.