Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Quick Update, and a Brief Statement About the IMB

For those of you who are interested (some of you have even asked), here is a quick update on what has been going on in my little corner of the world.

I haven't heard anything from the church in McMinnville, Tennessee, where I preached at the end of September. However, they said up front that they were going to proceed rather slowly and that there were other potential candidates they were going to speak with in subsequent weeks. I thought that everything went well. The church has a strong commitment to serving the community and supporting missions. They are looking for someone who can teach the Word. If there is any potential problem, it is that I come from a background far different from that of most of the members.

Probably the biggest thing that has happened recently is that we have moved. We are in a brand new house about a mile closer to town than we were, and the rent isn't much more than we were paying. This was a somewhat unplanned move. Maria had been looking at the classifieds, and she found the listing. We looked at the house right around the time we went to McMinnville, and after a couple of days we were at the top of the list. However, since the house was such a great deal there were several other people who were interested. The builder-owners were eager to get someone in the house, so we had to decide very quickly. While we loved the house, we were hesitant because we did not want to get trapped in a lease knowing that there was a possibility that we might be called to a church out of town, and also we did not have the cash flow to pay rent on two places in October plus a security deposit. The owners worked with us on both issues, and we took the house. Most of October was spent packing and moving a little at a time. We have been moved in for about two weeks, but we are surrounded by boxes that are not unpacked yet. In addition to being in a new house, I also got broadband Internet service, so if we ever get settled in I plan on resuming a more regular blogging schedule. (I know, you've heard that before, but this time it should happen!)

Given my preoccupation with moving, I have not been following events related to the SBC. I did happen to see on Baptist Press what happened with the IMB concerning Wade Burleson. Needless to say, I was very upset with the decision. I don't have time to discuss my thoughts in detail, but I will say that the decision has caused me to seriously question whether there is a place for me in the SBC. At this point the main thing keeping me in the SBC is that I do not want to give up on our cooperative missions work. But it looks like there are several in our convention who are not interested in truly cooperating with anyone who disagrees with anything they believe, say, or do.

In closing, I ask that you pray for me. I have felt far away from God for a few weeks, yet at the same time I have thought about Him and His Word more deeply than I have in a long time. Sometimes it seems like God delights in watching me go through failure after failure. I have never been a negative minded person, but after four years that have been more bad than good (and getting worse each year) it's hard sometimes to believe that God really cares about me. In my mind I know that He is in control and that He loves me and that all that I am going through is somehow intended for His glory, but surely there must be some way that God can be glorified and I can be happy at the same time. Please pray that God will strengthen my faith and give me a better attitude.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Latest on the Church Search, and Other Personal News

Please keep Maria and me in your prayers this weekend as we meet tomorrow with a search committee in McMinnville, Tennessee, and as I preach at their church Sunday morning. This is an initial, get-to-know-each-other interview, and not an in-view-of-a-call situation. But considering that I haven't put forth any real effort in my church search for a couple of months, this was completely unexpected. Actually, they just called me out of the blue three weeks ago; I had not even sent them a resume.

McMinnville is a decent sized small town (12,000-13,000) about halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga, and it's about 20 miles from the town where my mom grew up. It would be a bit of an adjustment for us if we ended up going there, but at least we would still be able to visit each of our families in a day trip.

Of course, having had my optimism dashed on several occasions over the past couple of years, it's hard for me to go into this expecting a positive result. It's easy to say that God is in control and that whatever happens is His will, but after so many close calls (and even more where I never had a shot) it becomes harder to really believe this in a way that goes deeper than mere intellectual assent to such statements. So in addition to praying for the interview and the service Sunday morning, please pray that God will strengthen and renew my confidence and hope and that He will just help me to have a better attitude in general.

In other good news, I got a phone call last night from a church in Portland, Tennessee (about 25 miles south of us), asking me to preach the first two Sunday mornings in October. I preached there two Sundays in January and two more in July. I am preaching three of the next four Sundays. It's been nearly a year since I've preached on such a consistent basis, so I am really excited.

One other bit of good news (that has nothing directly to do with the church search) has the potential to return me to regular blogging. We have finally decided to get broadband Internet through our cable company, which is supposedly 6 times faster than DSL (which we cannot get where we live). One reason I have not done any blogging lately (not just here, but also at other blogs I used to read daily) is that my dial-up connection speed has dropped from 38-40k to 12-14.4k, making it impossible to look at more than a handful of pages in one sitting (and forget anything with a lot of graphics or media). To put it in perspective, using the DSL at Maria's sister and brother-in-law's house, I am able to read in about an hour all of the blogs and news sites that it normally takes me all evening to read at home. Unfortunately, we have had to postpone our service call more than once because our car situation makes it impossible for one of us to get home during the day.

For the past couple of weeks we have been down to one car, so by the time I pick Maria up from work and we run some errands that she normally does on her own I have little time at home (the other reason for my absence from the blogs). We picked her car up last night (had to get a new fuel pump---nearly $400), but as I went to shift out of park the button on the gear shift would not push in. The mechanic tried to get it to work, but all he could do was put the key into the shift lock and release it that way. He said for us to bring it back in a couple of days and he would get it working; he thought there was a short in the shift lock or gear shift or something like that. As I was driving down I-65 on the way home, I noticed that none of the gauges on the dash were working and the odometer was not rolling over. So apparently there is a problem with the electrical system in the dash and console areas; the mechanic had to fiddle with some of the wiring to get the fuel pump to work, so it seems to be related. We have to take the car back to get this fixed; hopefully it won't take two weeks this time. So please pray for our car situation as well, especially as we consider whether or not to buy a new (or new to us) car.

Friday, August 31, 2007

My 2007 NFL Predictions

With the beginning of the college football season this week and the NFL regular season next week, my time in the sports wilderness for 2007 has reached its end.

Last season certainly did not go as I expected regarding my two favorite teams. I thought the Titans would be awful again and that the Steelers would make a serious run at defending their Super Bowl title. As it turns out, they both finished 8-8---a pleasant surprise for one, a tough disappointment for the other. On the bright side, my number 3 team---and my favorite player, Peyton Manning---hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy at season's end.

Going into the 2007 season the NFL looks considerably different than a year ago. Coaching legends Bill Cowher, Bill Parcels, and Marty Schottenheimer are gone from the sidelines (at least for now). Marshall Faulk, Tiki Barber, and Tarik Glenn are just a few of the players who have said good-bye to the game. Michael Vick and Pacman Jones are among those who have experienced the strong hand of Commissioner Roger Goodell. Star players such as Randy Moss, Trent Green, Travis Henry, Willis McGahee, Jamal Lewis, and Daunte Culpepper are playing for new teams.

Despite all these changes, some things remain the same. Brett Favre will be calling the signals for Green Bay as he tries to will the Packers back into the playoffs. The AFC is still far stronger than the NFC, especially at the top. And come January many of these picks, and others as well, will elicit great laughter

Well, that's enough talking. Let's get to the picks.


AFC East
New England Patriots (12-4)
New York Jets (8-8)
Buffalo Bills (5-11)
Miami Dolphins (4-12)

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

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts (13-3)
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
Tennessee Titans (7-9)
Houston Texans (6-10)

AFC West
San Diego Chargers (12-4)
Denver Broncos* (11-5)
Kansas City Chiefs (5-11)
Oakland Raiders (2-14)

* Wild-card teams

First Round
Denver over Baltimore
Pittsburgh over New England

Divisional Round
Indianapolis over Pittsburgh
San Diego over Denver

Conference Championship
Indianapolis over San Diego


NFC East
Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)
New York Giants (7-9)
Washington Redskins (6-10)

NFC North
Chicago Bears (12-4)
Green Bay Packers (8-8)
Detroit Lions (6-10)
Minnesota Vikings (3-13)

NFC South
New Orleans Saints (12-4)
Carolina Panthers* (9-7)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
Atlanta Falcons (4-12)

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
St. Louis Rams* (10-6)
San Francisco 49ers (8-8)
Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

* Wild-card teams

First Round
Seattle over Carolina
St. Louis over Dallas

Divisional Round
New Orleans over St. Louis
Chicago over Seattle

Conference Championship
New Orleans over Chicago

Indianapolis over New Orleans

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Alien Baptism" and the Irony of the IMB Guideline

For those of you who do not regularly read Joel Rainey's blog, I want to call your attention to his latest post, I Do Believe in "Alien Baptism." In my opinion, this post presents the clearest and most compelling case against the IMB baptism guideline passed in November 2005. Joel does this not by directly attacking the guideline, but instead by describing four different types of "baptism" that are alien to the biblical teaching on baptism and demonstrating how the IMB guideline fits one of these descriptions. According to Joel:

  1. An "Alien Baptism" is any baptism that takes place prior to regeneration and conversion.
  2. An "Alien Baptism" is one that occurs by any mode other than immersion.
  3. An "Alien Immersion" is one that takes place among a "faith community" that is not made up of genuine followers of Christ.
  4. An "Alien Immersion" is one that places the primary focus of the ordinance on anything besides union with Jesus Christ and His people.
In his explanation of his fourth point, Joel points out the irony of the IMB guideline:
Scripture is clear in teaching that there is ONE baptism. With that in view, I am appreciative of the IMBs desire that all who go to the mission field under our banner have experienced this. The problem comes when they begin to tie baptismal validity to doctrines that while precious and essential to Baptists, are secondary in matters of salvation and the church. I am speaking of course of how the IMB ties baptismal validity to whether the congregation that performed the baptism believes in "eternal security." The outcome of such a guideline is that a candidate could be genuinely born again, immersed in the name of the triune God after this experience, as a testimony of that experience, among people who share our Gospel convictions and are themselves believers, and still be required to be "baptized" in a Southern Baptist Church...

But if the candidate has already been Scripturally baptized, and there is only one baptism, then what exactly is being required by the IMB?

I believe IMB trustees are honorable people, and like me, they simply want to guard our Biblical heritage and ensure the same of those who will represent us on the mission field. But this new guideline changes the focus of Baptism from Christ and His people to the doctrine of "eternal security." Such a move means that the above question can be answered in only one way: The IMB is now requiring "alien baptism," which ironically, is the very thing I am certain they were trying to avoid with the new guideline.
After reading Joel's post, my initial thought was, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Monday, July 09, 2007

Are We Going to Build Bridges or Burn Them? (Part 3)

After a hiatus of more than four months, I am finally resuming this series. Given all of the events that have transpired in the SBC since the end of February, I believe this series is even more relevant than before.

In Part 2 I looked at three prominent SBC leaders---Thom Rainer, Morris Chapman, and Bill Curtis---who, in my opinion, are working to lead Southern Baptists down the road of building bridges. These are men who appreciate the diversity that exists within the Southern Baptist Convention and recognize that people who disagree on secondary issues can cooperate together for the work of the Kingdom.

Unfortunately, other SBC leaders sound a different call, a call to separate from or even exclude those with whom we disagree. In contrast to those who would lead us to build bridges, these folks would lead us to burn bridges with some Southern Baptists, including some conservatives who affirm the BFM 2000. I feel compelled to point out that I believe those who support this approach sincerely believe they are protecting the SBC from serious doctrinal error or even heresy. However, despite their sincerity and their good intentions, I believe that they are wrong and that their approach will make the SBC weaker instead of stronger.

The most well known SBC leader who in my opinion advocates the path of exclusion and bridge burning is Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson. Patterson is one of the most polarizing figures in the SBC---respected and adored (and even idolized) by many, but also mistrusted and criticized (and even vilified) by many. One reason that Patterson is such a polarizing figure is that he doesn't try to hide his views, a characteristic that I respect greatly. His position on such issues as the sign gifts (especially tongues/private prayer language) and the role of women in ministry are well known in SBC circles. The problem is not Patterson's views on these issues; the problem is that apparently he sees his position on these issues as the only legitimate position for Southern Baptists.

I acknowledge that Patterson does not advocate excluding people on the basic of every point of doctrine, as demonstrated in his discussion of soteriology with Al Mohler at the 2006 SBC annual meeting. But the following statement seems to reflect Patterson's general opinion about cooperation with those with whom he disagrees, at least as it relates to one issue:

Noting that differences of interpretation on spiritual gifts is one reason why different denominations exist, Patterson invoked a baseball analogy, suggesting Baptists and charismatics are not on the same denominational teams: "Why would I want to wear a Red Sox uniform if I want to play for the Yankees?"
When one examines Patterson's remarks in a radio interview during at the 2007 SBC annual meeting (as described by Art Rogers), it is evident that he identifies those who disagree with his position on some of these contentious issues as liberals and believes they have no place in the SBC:
Paige Patterson was interviewed by the Criswell College radio station. In that interview he said that every 25 years the SBC has to throw out Liberals and that it was time to do it again. When asked if these men might be Conservatives who disagree with methodology, he replied that they were Liberals who knew not enough Baptist History to fill a thimble.
In addition to leading us down the path of excluding people with certain views, others would go even further and exclude those who associate in any way with those who hold these views. An example of this occurred at an Executive Committee meeting this past winter when Roger Moran of Missouri made the following statement in support of a motion calling on Lifeway to investigate the emerging church movement:
One of the most dangerous and deceptive movements to infiltrate the ranks of Southern Baptist life has been the emerging/emergent church movement...

In my home state, the Missouri Baptist Convention is on the brink of a near civil war—and at the heart of our struggle has been the blatant dishonesty of those who are determined that Missouri Baptists will embrace this new postmodern approach to ministry.

The most recent evidence of the clash in Missouri came on January 28th when on the front page of the Sunday edition of the St. Louis Post Dispatch there appeared this article, titled: “Beer and the Bible—It works for one growing St. Louis church but its got Missouri Baptists hopping mad.”

The story is about one of our new churches in St. Louis called the Journey, which received a $200,000 loan from the Missouri Baptist Convention and has what the Post Dispatch called a “beer ministry” in a local downtown bar. Another so-called ministry is the churches’ “film night,” where secular movies are viewed and discussed—movies that are often rated “R.”

What makes this all the more significant is that the Journey was exalted by the top leadership of the Missouri Baptist Convention as a model for church planting and its pastor is hailed as a modern-day “Caleb.”

And while this may sound like a local church issue or a state convention issue—it is not. It is a critically important issue facing the entire Southern Baptist Convention.

The pastor of the Journey Church is Darrin Patrick and he serves together with Ed Stetzer from the North American Mission Board as co-chair of NAMB’s Young Leaders Task Force.

Interestingly, these two men also serve together on the board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network (Patrick actually serves as vice president and Stetzer as a board member.)

The president of Acts 29 is Mark Driscoll, best known by his peers as “Mark the cussing Pastor.” Driscoll, who claims to be theologically conservative, pastors the non-denominational Mars Hill Church in Seattle Wa, where this past New Year’s Eve, his church hosted a “Red Hot Bash.” Those who attended were encouraged to dress “red hot,” and those planning to drink were advised to bring their ID’s.

I mention Driscoll because he is scheduled to appear in chapel at one of our seminaries, and one or our cherished professors from another seminary will be preaching at Driscoll’s church later this year...

Serving on the board of Emergent Village is Chris Seay, an emerging church planter from Houston, Texas who was one of the featured speakers at the Younger Leaders Summit in Nashville, hosted by Lifeway’s Jimmy Draper in 2005 and by 2006 was led by NAMB’s Ed Stetzer.

And while I am certainly perplexed as to why a board member of Emergent Village was a featured speaker at our Younger Leaders Summit, I am equally concerned about the particular group of younger leaders we seem to be pursuing for leadership positions in the SBC.

For withing this group of young SBC leaders, are: those who strongly oppose the SBC’s long standing position on alcohol; and those who now want us to move toward embracing the charismatic practice of speaking in tongues; and those who are now telling us that CBF really wasn’t much of a problem; and those who are now calling for a "revolution" to move the SBC back to what they call the "center"...

The seriousness of the emerging/emergent movement and the degree to which it has infiltrated the SBC warrants a full and thorough investigation. And I would argue that the investigation needs to start at the North American Mission Board, and most specifically in the area of church planting.
The emerging church conversation is so broad and diverse that there are few, if any, generalized statements that are true of all the various strands of the movement. My issue with Moran is not his views about the emerging church (I share some of his concerns about certain aspects of the emerging church) but the guilt-by-association theme that pervades his statement. His support for this investigation seems to be less about gaining an understanding of the emerging church and more about finding out which SBC leaders are the least bit sympathetic with the emerging church so they can be dealt with. It is obvious that on the issues of alcohol and tongues (and who knows what else?) Moran sees no place in the SBC for those who disagree with him, even if they provide biblical support for their position, nor does it appear that he sees a place for ones who cooperate with them.

Let us not forget about the trustees of the IMB and Southwestern Seminary who continue to exclude Southern Baptists from service with their respective entities on the basis of specific interpretations of Scripture that not only go beyond the Baptist Faith & Message but also are challenged by opposing interpretations that have just as much biblical support, if not more. One would think that world missions or the task of training future ministers would be more important than advancing narrow theological views on secondary doctrines, views that are not the only biblically sound and reasonable positions on the issues in question. Apparently this is not the case with some of our trustees. For them it is more important to exclude from service people whose views differ from their own (although these trustees are more than happy to accept their financial support) than it is to work for the Kingdom with faithful, passionate believers (Southern Baptists at that) who agree with them on the essentials of the faith and core Baptist distinctives but not necessarily on these secondary and disputable matters.

Just so nobody misunderstands, I am NOT questioning the commitment of these people to the Lord, His Kingdom, His church, or the Southern Baptist Convention. As I said earlier, I think they sincerely believe that an exclusionary path is necessary to preserve the doctrinal purity of the Southern Baptist Convention. Were they drawing lines of demarcation on the basis of essential doctrines where the Bible speaks clearly, I would support them wholeheartedly. However, many of the recent lines they have drawn are based on specific and even questionable interpretations of secondary issues. Drawing lines on the basis of such issues brings unnecessary disunity into the body of Christ, making us less effective in carrying out the Great Commission.

In Part 4 I will discuss why I believe that building bridges is a better path for us to follow than burning bridges.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Return of SBC Outpost

June 27, 2007

ST. JOSEPH, MO — On Monday, July 2, 2007, the online conversation
concerning the future of the Southern Baptist Convention will move forward
as a group of prominent bloggers merge their efforts to provide a forum
for ministry ideas, missionary support, church revitalization, and
denominational reform. SBCOutpost.com, previously administrated by Pastor
Marty Duren of New Bethany Baptist Church in Buford, GA, will be launched
as one of the premier sites for Southern Baptist news and commentary.

Little doubt exists that blogs have dominated the conversation in Southern
Baptist life for the previous 18 months. At times, the conversation has
engaged substantive issues of theology and ministry. At others, the
dialogue has been shrill and divisive. With the launch of a newly
reformatted SBCOutpost.com blog, the chance for elevating the meaningful
dialogue and limiting the intensity of contention will arrive for all
Southern Baptists.

Intentionally designed as a bridge for the diverse constituencies of
Southern Baptist life, SBCOutpost.com will bring together denominational
executives with rural pastors and church planters, missional pastors with
traditional pastors, seminary theologians with Sunday School teachers, and
field missionaries with their prayer partners. The day has passed for
monopolies in news and information. SBCOutpost.com will seek to
supplement, not replace, the excellent coverage of Southern Baptist life
already offered online through Baptist Press, Associated Baptist Press,
and various Baptist state papers.

SBCOutpost.com is singularly unique, however, in the chance for reader
interaction and commentary, offering a forum for the discussion about the
future of culturally-informed, Christ-honoring witness and ministry
paradigms for the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition to this unique
format, SBCOutpost.com will launch with the largest aggregate readership
of any alternative news source dealing with Southern Baptist issues. The
mission statement of SBCOutpost.com is "to provide interactive,
substantive, and reflective dialogue for Southern Baptist churchmen and
women to participate in shaping the future of the Southern Baptist

The stated intention of SBCOutpost.com is to become the number one choice
for discussion of Southern Baptist news and commentary, and the blog
editors would like to encourage all Southern Baptist entities to include
SBCOutpost.com as a part of their regular schedule of recipients for all
press releases, news updates, and other statements as they are released to
major media sources by emailing editor@sbcoutpost.com.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

5 Things I Dig About Jesus

I got tagged by Micah Fries for a 5 Things I Dig About Jesus meme. Here are the rules:

  1. Those tagged will share 5 things they dig about Jesus.
  2. Those tagged will tag 5 other bloggers.
  3. Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here of their meme so that others can read them.
Here is my list (not in any particular order):
  1. I dig that Jesus loves me, this I know. Sometimes the most profound truths are those that are the most simply stated. When I was an enemy of God, Jesus loved me enough to die for me. When I fail God, Jesus loves me enough to forgive me. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:31-39, there is absolutely NOTHING that I or anyone else can do that can separate me from the love of Christ. And since I know what I do I am truly amazed that Jesus, who also knows everything that I do (more than even I know), continues to love me and always will.
  2. I dig that Jesus was tempted in every way that I am, yet He NEVER sinned. Maybe it's just me, but I find the idea of the Trinity easier to understand than how anyone can live in this world and never sin in any way. You know there had to be times when, in His humanity, he was tempted to say to His critics, "You don't believe in Me? You don't believe in ME? Well, here's a sign that will MAKE you believe in Me?" and turn them into newts or something along those lines. Or when He healed someone and they failed to show gratitude, there had to be a temptation for Jesus to unheal them. And you know there had to be times when He just wanted to take His disciples and knock their heads together until they got what He was telling them. And yet, in a way that just baffles me, Jesus never did any of these things. He responded appropriately at all times, patiently enduring human arrogance, ingratitude, and ignorance in the process.
  3. I dig that Jesus knew His purpose, and He never let anything distract Him from fulfilling it. In a nutshell, Jesus came to earth to carry out the Father's work of redemption. He did this by living a truly God-centered life, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, showing the love of God to all people, and ultimately by dying on the cross to atone for our sins and by rising from the dead to deliver us from sin's curse. In doing this He experienced physical discomfort, was misunderstood by His own family, was rejected by His own people, had lies told about Him, and in general had a difficult time. Conversely, He had to ward off the efforts of others to steer Him down the path of fame and power. Through everything, both good and bad, Jesus maintained an unshakable focus on the Father and on the work the Father had given Him.
  4. I dig that there is nothing we can face in life that Jesus' power cannot overcome. If Jesus can control the forces of nature, heal the most terrifying diseases of the day, compel demons to submit to His will, feed thousands of people with one sack lunch, raise the dead, and rise from the dead Himself, what can possibly happen in our lives that is too great for His power to overcome?
  5. I dig that Jesus has called me to participate in His mission. If Jesus' primary concern were efficiency, He never would have chosen people (especially this one) to continue His work after He ascended back into heaven. And yet that is exactly what He did. He has commanded all of us who are His people to carry on His work of proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, showing the love of God to all people, and being agents of reconciliation between holy God and sinful humanity. Knowing how unworthy I am to take part in this work, it truly demonstrates how amazing and vast God's grace is.
OK, I'm tagging the following people:
  1. Kevin Hash
  2. Cam Dunson
  3. Alyce Faulkner
  4. Dave Samples
  5. Debbie Kaufman

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Reflections from a Distance

For the first time since 2003, I was not present at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Furthermore, since I have been able to spend an average of only a few minutes a day online for the past few weeks I was unable to follow the events leading up to San Antonio and the convention itself as closely as I would have liked. In addition, since I have dialup Internet access at home and streaming media and blogs are blocked on my computer at work, I have been unable to watch any of the convention proceedings. I say all of that to make it clear that my observations about San Antonio are based entirely on secondhand knowledge.

I came away from the 2006 convention in Greensboro optimistic that meaningful reform could be accomplished in the SBC, but based on what I have read over the past few days I believe San Antonio demonstrated that reform is a long way off, if it is even possible at all. Ironically, it is the reform movement's most tangible victory in San Antonio---the adoption of the Executive Committee report concerning the role of the BFM as it relates to the agencies of the convention---that is the primary source of pessimism. The fact that the report was adopted with 57-58% of the vote should be a cause for optimism, as this demonstrates that the majority of Southern Baptists seem to desire that we come together around the essentials of the faith and core Baptist beliefs to cooperate for the sake of missions and the work of the Kingdom. However, the response by certain convention leaders and defenders of the status quo reveals just how deeply entrenched the opponents of reform are.

The words that follow are somewhat strong, and it is with dread that I write them, but after several days of reflection I sincerely believe they are true. The response of many SBC leaders reflects a degree of arrogance and even contempt toward the people who make up the SBC. Here are a couple of reasons why I believe this to be the case:

  1. Soon after the vote to adopt the report, some defenders of the status quo began saying that the motion to adopt passed because the messengers did not understand what they were voting on. While the wording of the actual motion might leave some wiggle room for interpretation, let us remember that earlier in the day Executive Committee President Morris Chapman spoke about this issue during his report to the convention. Now if anyone is qualified to speak to the meaning of the Executive Committee report, I would think it would be the president of the Executive Committee. Dr. Chapman's remarks leave no room for ambiguity when it comes to the Executive Committee report:
    (1) Any practice instituted by an entity in the Southern Baptist Convention that has the force of doctrine should be in accord with the Baptist Faith and Message and not exceed its boundaries unless and until it has been approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and secondly,

    (2) If an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention adopts a confession of faith separate and distinct from the Baptist Faith and Message and it includes a doctrine unsupported by our confessional statement, the entity should request approval from the Convention prior to including the doctrine in its confession.
    If this convention followed a pattern similar to the ones I attended, the vast majority of the messengers were present for Dr. Chapman's address. While Dr. Chapman's remarks are not an official part of the report adopted by the messengers, they certainly inform us about the Executive Committee's intent in presenting the report. I would expect that people who are committed to the ideal of original intent when it comes to interpreting Scripture and the U.S. Constitution would be consistent and apply the same standard to this report. Thus, those who heard Dr. Chapman almost certainly knew what the Executive Committee meant when they presented their report. In addition, the debate on the motion to adopt the report clearly demonstrated the way most proponents and most opponents of the motion viewed it. It is likely that some individual messengers were unclear about what was being voted on, but to claim that the messengers as a whole did not understand even after hearing Dr. Chapman's remarks earlier in the day and the debate before the vote is an insult to the intelligence of Southern Baptists and, in my opinion, reflects a mindset that believes we should let denominational elites run the convention because those poor deluded folks who make up the convention cannot be trusted to understand the issues.
  2. After the motion to adopt the report passed, some of our entity leaders basically said they were going to follow business as usual. In other words, even though the convention had expressed its will that the BFM be the doctrinal guide for our entities, some entity leaders have decided not to adhere to the will of the convention. Some of them have tried to advance the argument that the report is ambiguous, but as I demonstrated above that is a weak argument. Others make the point that the BFM is a "minimalistic" document that only expresses our core doctrinal beliefs as Southern Baptists and is not meant to be exhaustive. I agree with them on this point, but not on its ramifications. They seem to be saying that since the BFM is a minimalistic statement, our entities need to define more narrowly what Southern Baptist doctrine is. The problem with this approach is twofold. First, no single entity can speak for the SBC as a whole. Second, if two entities adopt contradictory positions, which one is the SBC position? The fact that the BFM is a minimalistic statement does not mean that our entities need to add to it in a de facto manner. It means that as a convention we come together around the essentials of the faith and core Baptist doctrines. The BFM is minimalistic so that cooperation and participation can be maximized. Art Rogers explains this concept in a simple but profound way:
    This [the BFM] is the minimum consensus that we can honestly expect to achieve in our varied interpretation of the Word. In other words, pretty much everything else that we agree on is a bonus, but not a test of fellowship.
    Regardless of which reason is given, those who would lead our entities to continue making their own doctrinal statement are going against the expressed will of the SBC. One of the greatest weaknesses of the SBC is that the convention is powerless to put a stop to such a blatant disregard for the will of the convention. In a practical sense, SBC leaders are not accountable to the convention, and they know it and act accordingly.
In addition to the aftermath of the vote on the Executive Committee report, another discouraging sign was the refusal of the Committee on Resolutions to present Tom Ascol's resolution on integrity in church membership to the convention for the second straight year. Considering all the publicity this issue received over the past year, it is unbelievable that this resolution was not reported out of committee. To me, the failure to bring this resolution to the floor reflects a general unwillingness within the SBC to deal with issues of substance that directly affect our churches, and in this case an issue that makes a mockery of one of our core Baptist beliefs---regenerate church membership.

I am much more pessimistic about the future viability of the Southern Baptist Convention as an avenue of cooperation and partnership for the work of the Kingdom than I was a year ago. I haven't even addressed the failure of the IMB Board of Trustees to rescind the narrow doctrinal requirements that were imposed on missionary candidates in November 2005, the actions of the Executive Director of the Florida Baptist Convention in distributing Jerry Vines' infamous anti-Calvinism sermon to every pastor in the state, or the departure of several of the leading voices from these debates and discussions. When all of these things are taken into account, we seem to be going the wrong way.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Are We Going Deep Into the Truth or Drowning in Minutia?

The irony is that most people crying for "meat" are really crying for minutia. They want to learn the deeper truths about the times of the rapture rather than how to live the Christian life. True meat teaches people how to be transformed by the renewing of their minds so that they will live like Christ, love like Christ, and leave what Jesus left behind. But believers in church-focused ministries often think it is more important to teach about controversial subjects rather than transformational truths.
Ed Stetzer & David Putman, Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), p. 80.

That was the first thing that came to mind when I read this quote from Ed Stetzer and David Putman in Breaking the Missional Code. I am one of those who has a deep craving for the "meat" of the Scriptures. Not only do I personally have a strong desire to dig deep into the Word, but my preaching and teaching ministry has at its core a commitment to in-depth biblical exposition. So when I first read what Stetzer and Putman wrote, my mind immediately shifted into a defensive position, as I initially perceived them to be criticizing in-depth teaching and study of the Bible (which surprised me). But as I read the latter part of the excerpt above and thought more about what they said, I realized that to a great extent their observation is painfully true. Too many of those who are passionate about digging deep into the Word are interested primarily or even solely in increasing their knowledge, while many Bible expositors are more concerned with helping their listeners to become scholars of the Bible rather than practitioners of it. The value of in-depth Bible study and teaching is not that it builds up our biblical knowledge, but that it equips us to live a life that honors God and is pleasing to Him.

As believers we must be mindful of two extremes when it comes to Bible study:
  1. As Stetzer and Putman point out, we must resist the temptation of becoming bogged down in minutia. I believe it is important for us to try to understand the literary and historical context of the Bible, but we must keep in mind that our goal is not to become an expert on biblical times or even on the text itself. Instead, we should seek to understand the Bible's context so we can more fully understand what God is communicating to us about Himself, the redemptive work He is doing in and around us, and how we can live in a way that demonstrates His glory. While the Bible is timeless, the fact is that it was written to specific people in a certain language, time, and culture different from our own. Without some understanding of these differences and the historical and literary context, we may miss out on what God is actually communicating through the words of the Bible. However, a problem arises when we become more focused on facts, details, and context than on the message being communicated.
  2. We must be careful not to gloss over or even ignore those parts of the Bible that at first glance do not seem to have any relevance to our lives today. Everything that is in the Bible is there for a reason. Some parts are less practical than others, but every passage in the Bible is part of the message that God has revealed to us. To deliberately ignore anything in the Bible is to ignore God Himself. Obviously we will study some parts more frequently and in greater depth than others, but we must be careful not to neglect any part of Scripture.
It cannot be emphasized enough that no matter how deep one digs into Scripture, Bible study is ultimately worthless if it does not help us to grow to become more like Christ in what we think, say, and do. God is less interested in how much we know than He is in how we live and how we love Him and others. We must go deep into the Word to discover and understand what God is telling us and how this message affects our lives, but we must not allow knowledge and understanding of the text become ends unto themselves.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Frustrated and Disconnected

By now it should be obvious that I have fallen well short of my goal of posting on a more regular basis. Needless to say, the events surrounding the passing of my dad a few weeks ago kept me away from blogging. Once again I want to thank everyone for your prayers and words of encouragement during that difficult time.

It's not just the situation with my dad that has kept me away from blogging. Truth be told, part of the reason I haven't been active in posting or even commenting lately is that I'm feeling a bit disconnected from things right now. I wasn't able to make it to the conference on the Holy Spirit, and I won't be in San Antonio in June. Since I am not pastoring at the present time (and haven't for nearly a year), I'm not really drawn toward discussions related to church leadership or other topics of interest primarily to pastors. And frankly, I've been in a bit of a spiritual dry spell lately. I simply cannot understand why God would give me a gift and a passion for preaching and teaching but not give me an opportunity to utilize them. Going through the search process this time around has given me more of a negative attitude toward the institutional church, as I perceive that many (if not most) of our churches are like Samuel was when God sent him to the house of Jesse to anoint Saul's successor---interested mostly in human standards regarding one's qualifications.

Despite my feeling frustrated and disconnected at times, I'm not planning on going anywhere. In some ways, for me to stop blogging would be an acknowledgment that I don't really expect God to put me in a place to use the gifts and passion He has given me. However, I'm foolish enough to believe that if God calls someone to a particular ministry He will give that person an opportunity to carry out that ministry---even if the person doesn't have a seminary degree and 5 years of experience in a growing church!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Long Goodbye

I apologize to my readers for my long absence from the blogosphere, but March was the worst and most emotionally draining month of my life thus far. With all of the personal difficulties and even tragedies that I have been through over the past few weeks, following the issues surrounding the Southern Baptist Convention has not been a high priority for me.

After almost a month of refusing to eat, my dad, Richard Augustus Sweatman, passed away around 7:15 Monday morning, March 26, at the age of 78. Dad was a private man, so I won't share in such a public forum a lot of details about what happened. Basically, after a couple of incidents where he fell or could not stand up on his own, he simply decided he was ready to go. Despite all of our efforts to get him to change his mind, he would not eat or let anyone take him to the hospital. Over the next couple of weeks Dad told us where his insurance policies and important papers were and that he loved us and was proud of us. While I am thankful that we had plenty of time to say everything we wanted and needed to say (especially since my wife and I live in another state and could visit him only on the weekends), it was difficult watching the strongest man I ever knew gradually waste away by his own choosing. My brother was finally able to get him to the hospital on March 18, but by then it was too late. That Friday he was taken from the hospital to a hospice center, where he peacefully died Monday.

In addition to losing my dad, I had the honor---and the responsibility---of leading his funeral service. In keeping with his wishes, we had a private graveside service with family and a few close friends. Leading that service was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I am glad that I did it. I don't believe that anyone outside of his family could have adequately described my dad. I shared about how Dad was his own man: a quiet man who led by example rather than by words; a private man who even as a young boy preferred to go fishing in the swamps of South Carolina by himself rather than hang around with other kids; a working man who did not retire from his job as a construction foreman at 65 but worked as long as his body let him; a strong man both physically (continuing to work about 2 or 3 hours after his lung collapsed) and especially in his will. I then gave a brief summation of the gospel and closed with the Apostle Paul's words from 1 Cor. 15 about the hope of the resurrection we have through Christ.

Please continue to pray for our family, especially my mom and my sister, who lived at home with Dad. While this has been hard on all of us, they were the ones who took care of him every day.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Are We Going to Build Bridges or Burn Them? (Part 2)

In Part 1 I began this series by listing some of the various types of diversity found within the Southern Baptist Convention. We are a very diverse people demographically, in style and methodology, and even in certain areas of doctrine. Many Southern Baptists see this diversity as a strength, showing the world that even though we differ in many ways we can come together in unity because of Jesus. They espouse building bridges to connect these diverse people and groups in fellowship and cooperation for the sake of missions and evangelism. Other Southern Baptists believe such diversity---in style, methodology, and especially in doctrine---is a threat to our Baptist identity and heritage. They advocate separating from those who differ from them in one or more of these respects, a path that I refer to as bridge burning. In this post I want to focus on three Southern Baptist leaders who support building bridges---Thom Rainer, Morris Chapman, and Bill Curtis.

My use of the bridge metaphor is based on an article written by Lifeway president Thom Rainer after he spoke at the Baptist Identity Conference at Union University. In this article, Rainer mentions a number of the doctrines over which Southern Baptists disagree and basically says we should have fellowship and cooperate with one another in spite of our disagreement on these issues:

I am a part of a denomination that has many tracks but few bridges. And if we don’t start building some bridges quickly, God’s hand of blessing may move beyond us...

I spoke last week at the Baptist Identity Conference at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. From an outsider’s perspective, one might conclude that the crowd was like-minded. After all, it was a gathering of mostly Southern Baptists.

But I knew better. Present were five-point Calvinists and others who would not affirm all five points. Also in attendance were cessationists and non-cessationists, people with differing views of women in ministry, bloggers, and print-media writers. There were some who thought leaving "Baptist" out of a church’s name was wrong; and there were others had already taken the denominational label out of their church’s name. The views on eschatology held by the attendees were many.

It was a diverse group of Southern Baptists indeed.

I spoke to many people before and after my formal presentation. One person commented to me, "Dr. Rainer, I better leave you before people start wondering why we are speaking with each other." Admittedly, his comment was meant to be humorous. But it did have a sting of truth in it. The labels had already been applied. The sides had been chosen. And you had better be careful about the side you chose or the people with whom you associated.

I reject that line of thinking.

As far as I knew, everyone at that conference was my brother or sister in Christ. As far as I knew, everyone was a Bible believer. I refuse to let labels keep me from building bridges...

I understand the risk I am taking by writing these words. But silence is not an option. I must be about building bridges...Though I am a fallible and sinful person, I will seek God’s power to stay true to the following:

1. I stand firm on the inerrant Word of God. I support without reservation the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

2. Though I may disagree with some on secondary and tertiary issues, I will not let those points of disagreement tear down bridges of relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ.

3. I will seek to join with those who will work together on the common causes of missions, evangelism and the health of the local church.

4. I will seek God’s will in prayer before I write or speak a word of disagreement against another brother or sister in Christ or even a non-Christian. I will seek to see the plank in my own eye before pointing out the splinter in another person’s eye. I will follow the truths of Matthew 18 when I feel that I need to confront a brother or sister in Christ.

5. I will spend more time rejoicing in the Lord (Phil 4:4).

6. I will seek God’s power to have a more gentle and Christlike spirit (Phil 4:5).

7. I will pray that the lost and the unchurched world will know me by my Christlike love.

Such is my commitment.

If God so leads, I invite you to join me in building bridges.

Another SBC leader who would like to see more bridge building in the SBC is Executive Committee president Morris Chapman. One several occasions, most recently at the Executive Committee meeting February 19, Chapman has made it clear that, while we must always remain vigilant against those who would seek to undermine or deny the truthfulness and authority of Scripture, the time has come for Southern Baptists to stop fighting and cooperate for the sake of the Kingdom. He issued a clarion call for all Southern Baptist conservatives to come together in his message "The Fundamentals of Cooperating Conservatives," delivered at the 2004 Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis:
We must never cease to be vigilant against heresy. This is always the task of faithful Christians. However, crusades cannot last forever. Again and again we have debated vigorously that the conservative resurgence was theological, not political; that our objective was doctrinal purity, not political control.

If this is true, the crusade phase of the conservative resurgence has passed. The stated goals have been achieved. The battle has been won. Now there are other tasks at hand. We cannot linger at the base camp of biblical authority. We are a people who not only believe the Book; we are compelled to live by the Book. Biblical concepts such as surrender, sacrifice, righteousness, and holiness must consume our hearts and minds. We must plant churches on almost every corner of every block in this nation. And we must take the gospel to the ends of the earth. This is our biblical mandate. This is our commission.

In the spring of 1990 after it was announced I would be nominated for president of the Convention, I pledged to Southern Baptists that I would “enlarge the tent, lengthen the cords, and strengthen the stakes,” those same words stated in Isaiah 54:2

My promise was to all Southern Baptists who believe in the absolute authority of God’s Word. Then as now, there were those who rejected biblical fidelity and have excluded themselves from the historic convictions of Southern Baptists. They have excluded themselves from the pledge I made...

A mistake of some fundamentalist movements in the past has been the belief of the adherents that to be right with doctrine is to be right with the Lord. True righteousness was too easily discarded in favor of a type of dogmatism that was stifling and demoralizing to other Christians. In other words, right doctrine was equated to righteous living. They are not one and the same...

It is the sin of Pharisaism when good people, whose theology and ministry are above reproach, are slandered, discredited, or ostracized simply because they refuse to blindly follow particular political posturing. Innuendos, unfounded rumors, sly winks and nods are as deadly as an assassin’s bullet and usually as ungodly.

Could Southern Baptists fall into the error of Pharisaism? Could we ever, while priding ourselves on orthodox beliefs, be out of fellowship with the Living God and the true saints of God? The threat is real. I am concerned…now that we have affirmed by vigorous endeavor that Southern Baptists are people of the Book, that we will develop a censorious, exclusivistic, intolerant spirit. If this occurs, we will be the poorer for it. It will not only result in narrower participation in denominational life, a shallower pool of wisdom and giftedness in our enterprises, and a shrinking impact upon the world, but we will be in the unenviable position of being right on doctrine but wrong with God.
NAMB trustee chairman Bill Curtis is another prominent SBC leader who understands the importance of building bridges. In an interview with South Carolina pastor Chadwick Ivester, Curtis encourages Southern Baptists to unite together within the boundaries of the BFM 2000 and cooperate for the sake of missions and evangelism [material in brackets is mine]:
As it stands, there seems to be two major groups in the SBC, and they view this situation differently. Group A fears the contemporary worship movement and the increasing number of pastors who are Reformed [or those who have a private prayer language or who believe the Bible does not require total abstinence from alcohol or who believe...]. Group B fears a further "narrowing" of the convention based upon personal preferences and generational methodologies. What you have is two different groups looking at the same issues from totally different sides. And that’s where, for Southern Baptists, a choice must be made: Are we going to make preference issues a test of fellowship within our convention? Or are we going to say, "No, we have a document which serves as a statement of our collective beliefs called the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. We’re going to let that be the document that helps us define who we are. And when there are opposing positions which can exist within the confines of that document, we’re not going to break fellowship over those issues but move ahead together to fulfill our primary mission as a convention—fulfilling the Great Commission." ...

In the long term, however, our ability to sustain that missionary effort will be dependent upon the degree to which we, as a people, can work together. My concern is with the potential fallout from a further narrowing the SBC tent. The choice to limit cooperation even further will affect our capacity to support missionaries and to fulfill the Great Commission as a convention.
Thom Rainer, Morris Chapman, and Bill Curtis speak for many Southern Baptists when they call on us to join together in spite of our differences in style, methodology, and doctrine. They believe that cooperation in missions and evangelism is important enough that we should focus more on those things that unite us (missions & evangelism, the BFM) than on those things that divide us (worship styles, methodology, or specific interpretations on issues such as the sign gifts, eschatology, and soteriology). This does not mean that these men, and others who favor a bridge building approach, are soft on doctrine. I would be highly surprised if these men did not have strong positions on each of these contentious issues. However, they understand that, while all doctrine is important, there is a difference between essential doctrines and nonessential doctrines. They recognize that there is a difference between issues where the Bible is absolutely clear and those where the Bible is less clear. And they understand that the primary reason the SBC exists is not to define what Baptists believe on every single issue, but to facilitate cooperation among autonomous churches so that we can more effectively and efficiently take the gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples.

In Part 3 I will look at some SBC leaders who, in my opinion, seek to lead us down the path of burning bridges with those who differ from the supposed majority view of Southern Baptists on a number of issues not addressed in the Baptist Faith & Message.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Are We Going to Build Bridges or Burn Them? (Part 1)

By now it should be obvious to anyone familiar with the Southern Baptist Convention that we are a diverse group. People from a variety of races, ethnicities, and languages make up our convention. Our churches range in size from a few people to several thousand people. We have churches in sparsely populated rural areas, small towns, suburban neighborhoods, inner cities, and cosmopolitan city centers. Our churches meet in small frame buildings, brick edifices with steeples and stained glass, cathedrals of stone, modernistic prefabricated structures, schools, movie theaters, individual homes, and almost anyplace else where people can gather. In our churches we sing hymns, contemporary praise songs, musically complex anthems, Southern gospel songs, ancient psalms, and many other styles of music accompanied by piano and organ, rock-n-roll band, orchestra, 5-piece country or bluegrass band, recorded music, and even a cappella. Our pastors wear suits, polo shirts and khakis, Hawaiian flowery shirts, jeans, even t-shirts and shorts. We have pastors with multiple doctorates, pastors who did not finish high school, and everything in between. Our churches have Sunday school and home cell groups, RAs/GAs/Acteens/Mission Friends, AWANA, and TeamKID. We reach out to others through weekly visitation, GROW, FAITH, relational evangelism, revival meetings, community service ministries, VBS, seeker-sensitive worship services, the NET, and many other programs, or even without a program.

It's not only in areas of style, methodology, or programming that we are diverse. We are also quite diverse in doctrine and theology. While we have a shared doctrinal core as articulated in the Baptist Faith & Message (and we have some disagreements over that), on other issues Southern Baptists have a wide range of beliefs. We have Calvinists and Arminians, cessasionists and continualists, every type of millennialist as well as some preterists, KJV-only folks and those who read The Message, those who believe the Bible allows drinking alcohol in moderation and those who believe the Bible demands total abstinence, those who engage the culture and those who try to separate from the culture, complementarians and egalitarians, Landmarkers and ecumenists, and so forth. On most of these issues Southern Baptists can be found at the extremes as well as all points in between.

While many of us view such diversity as an essential part of the unity to which Jesus calls His people, others are uncomfortable with or even suspicious of the diversity that now exists within the SBC. Many of them view changes in style, methods, or programming as compromising with the world. Some believe the church should be a refuge from the surrounding culture or simply wish to recreate the world they grew up in. Others believe that theological diversity inevitably results in syncretism or theological liberalism. However, some degree of diversity is unavoidable. We live in a society comprised of various subcultures; to reach people in all of these subcultures requires us to have cultural diversity within our churches. And like it or not, the SBC is going to have to tolerate a degree of theological diversity within its ranks if we are going to continue to play a vibrant role in God's redemptive mission. The Bible is not absolutely clear on every single point of doctrine. Because the Bible comes to us across wide barriers of time, culture, and language there are things within it that we cannot understand with certainty. Regarding such things, it is not uncommon for people who affirm the truthfulness, inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture to use sound exegetical and hermeneutical principles and come up with different interpretations of these issues.

We can respond to the diversity within the SBC in one of two ways. We can build bridges to join with those who differ from us in matters of style, methodology, and even theology (within the bounds of the BFM), or we can burn bridges with those who differ from us in these areas. People on both sides sincerely believe they are being faithful to the cause of Christ. Within the leadership of the SBC are advocates both approaches.

In Part 2 I will focus on some of the leaders in our convention who are in favor of building bridges.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

SBC Executive Committee: "BFM 'Sufficient Guide' for Trustees"

During its meeting earlier this week, the SBC Executive Committee adopted a statement affirming that the Baptist Faith & Message is a "sufficient guide" for Southern Baptist entity trustees in establishing doctrinal policies. The Baptist Press article announcing this development states in part:

The Executive Committee, in response to a BF&M-related motion at last year’s annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., stated that it "acknowledges the Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible, nevertheless we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention." [Emphasis is mine.]
It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this statement will have when the IMB Board of Trustees revisit the policies on private prayer language and baptism at their March or May meeting. They are already on record as declaring, "While the Baptist Faith and Message represents a general confession of Southern Baptist beliefs related to Biblical teachings on primary doctrinal and social issues, the IMB retains the prerogative and responsibility of further defining the parameters of doctrinal beliefs and practices of its missionaries who serve Southern Baptists with accountability to this board."

It is my hope and prayer that the IMB and all of our other entities will heed the Executive Committee's statement and repeal any doctrinal requirements other than the BFM. If they refuse to comply voluntarily, the convention needs to require that they do so. Not being an expert on the SBC Constitution & Bylaws, I do not know if this can be done without revising the bylaws. But even if the bylaws have to be revised, we need to ensure that all of our entities are operating according to the same doctrinal standard. No Southern Baptist who is in agreement with our general doctrinal statement should be rejected by any of our entities because he or she does not share a particular interpretation that has not been officially adopted by the SBC.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sheri Klouda: "I Was Let Go 'Because I'm Female'"

I encourage you to read Sheri Klouda's interview with WFAA-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth. In the interview she makes some strong statements about the events surrounding her departure from Southwestern Seminary. The following statements, if true, make me even more outraged about what happened and the way that it happened:

"I was told that I was a mistake that trustees needed to fix," she said. "Those are the exact words." And she said she was told she could no longer teach at the seminary for one simple reason. "Because I am a female," she said...

But Dr. Klouda said she was deceived as well by Seminary President Paige Patterson. "Initially, I felt like Dr. Patterson lied to me as far as his intentions," she said. In 2003, Dr. Klouda said she went to Dr. Patterson for reassurance after he had taken over the seminary. Even though Klouda got her degree from Southwestern and had been teaching there for three years, she said she was troubled by Patterson's strict interpretation of the passage from Timothy. "He told me I had nothing to worry about, his exact words," she said. But two years later, she had plenty to worry about. She said while no one challenged her teaching, Dr. Patterson said she was no longer wanted at the seminary as a teacher.

Whether or not you believe that it is proper for women to teach men theology and biblical languages, the issues raised by Klouda's statements should be troubling. If it is true that Paige Patterson misled Sheri Klouda into believing that she would continue in her tenure-track position at Southwestern, then his ability to effectively lead the seminary is compromised. If it is true that a seminary trustee or administrator told Klouda that she was a "mistake that trustees needed to fix," we should be concerned that our leaders are so insensitive to the human aspect of this situation. And should these allegations turn out to be false, we in the SBC should be concerned as to why so many Southern Baptists found such allegations to be plausible.

Someone Who Gets It!

I strongly encourage those of you who are interested in the future of the Southern Baptist Convention to read Chadwick Ivester's interview with NAMB trustee chairman Bill Curtis. In reading this interview I found myself thinking, "Here's a denominational leader who really gets it!" With a clarity that is rarely seen among our convention's leaders, Curtis lays out THE issue that we as Southern Baptists must deal with [material in brackets is mine]:

As it stands, there seems to be two major groups in the SBC, and they view this situation differently. Group A fears the contemporary worship movement and the increasing number of pastors who are Reformed [or those who have a private prayer language or who believe the Bible does not require total abstinence from alcohol or who believe...]. Group B fears a further "narrowing" of the convention based upon personal preferences and generational methodologies. What you have is two different groups looking at the same issues from totally different sides. And that’s where, for Southern Baptists, a choice must be made: Are we going to make preference issues a test of fellowship within our convention? Or are we going to say, "No, we have a document which serves as a statement of our collective beliefs called the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. We’re going to let that be the document that helps us define who we are. And when there are opposing positions which can exist within the confines of that document, we’re not going to break fellowship over those issues but move ahead together to fulfill our primary mission as a convention—fulfilling the Great Commission." ...

In the long term, however, our ability to sustain that missionary effort will be dependent upon the degree to which we, as a people, can work together. My concern is with the potential fallout from a further narrowing the SBC tent. The choice to limit cooperation even further will affect our capacity to support missionaries and to fulfill the Great Commission as a convention.
I'm pretty sure that on some of the controversial doctrinal issues being debated within the SBC Bill Curtis and I have totally different views. But we both agree that on these issues of secondary importance---which are not addressed in the BFM 2000---we can hold differing views and still cooperate for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission. If more leaders like Bill Curtis stand up and speak out, the Southern Baptist Convention may have a bright future after all.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sheri Klouda: "'Tis a Puzzlement"

In today's Fort Worth Star-Telegram, there is an article by former Southwestern Seminary professor Sheri Klouda in which she discusses some of the feelings and questions she still has about her departure from Southwestern. In the article she says that, while not "brittle and full of malice," she is still "puzzled" about the chain of events that culminated in her forced [my word, not hers] departure from the seminary.

Here are some of the questions Dr. Klouda still has [all material in quotes comes directly from the article]:

  1. How could Southwestern's trustees (many of whom are still serving) and then-president elect her to the seminary's faculty if they did not believe her election to be in line with the BFM 2000 (which she "proudly and publicly" signed)?
  2. "Is it not fair and right to allow a female professor, hired under the same terms as other faculty members, to undergo the same tenure evaluation process and receive objective affirmation or denial on the basis of her teaching abilities, professional development, scholarly achievements and publications, collegiality and service to the students?"
  3. If hiring her was a momentary lapse in judgment or a relaxation of "well defined parameters of objective truth" (as at least one trustee has stated), why did they want her to leave "unobtrusively" and give the impression that the departure were her own idea?
  4. "Why didn't someone acknowledge the tremendous financial and emotional burden placed on my family through no fault of my own? Why not, as the Scriptures teach, make right the wrong? After seven years of dedicated service, shouldn't I at least receive an apology?"
Dr. Klouda is not the only one who is puzzled and has questions.

(HT: Ben Cole)

A Word from the Field

In the midst of all of our discussions, debates, and even arguments over doctrinal parameters and policies in the Southern Baptist Convention, let us not forget that our words, our tone, and the decisions that are made are affecting the work and the morale of our missionaries. Listen to this statement from Nomad, a missionary serving with the IMB in the 10/40 window:

I can't help but to be discouraged to be overseas and know that my supporters are at odds with one another over things that mostly likely don't have an eternal significance. The very people who are supposed to be praying, giving, and participating, are instead spending all of their time arguing. Looks like Satan has pulled one over on us and is making us think this "stuff" is more important than seeing a lost world reconciled to God. May God have mercy on us!
Let us all remember that, no matter what side of these issues we may find ourselves on, the reason the SBC exists is to support missions work cooperatively through our prayers, our giving, and our service. We do not have to agree on every jot and tittle in order to cooperate. Is doctrine important? Absolutely! Are there points of doctrine that we must take an uncompromising stance on in order to be faithful to the gospel? Certainly! Are there points of doctrine that are not worth arguing over if such arguing hinders our cooperation in missions? You'd better believe it!

Now I'm enough of a realist to understand that we will not all agree on which doctrines belong in which category, but I strongly urge all of us to ask ourselves the following question about each doctrinal issue under discussion: Would I be comfortable standing before God and telling Him that I worked to keep someone off the mission field (or made their journey to the field more difficult) on the basis of this point of doctrine?

I'm also enough of an idealist to believe that we who claim to be born again can discuss, debate, and disagree in a manner that does not hurt the morale of our missionaries or, even worse, bring reproach on the name of Christ in the eyes of the world. While there are occasions where it is necessary to rebuke a fellow believer, most of the personal statements that are being made in these discussions are not biblical rebukes; they are character attacks, which may be the norm for politics inside the Beltway but have no place in the Kingdom of God. I would guess that it is the tone of our discussions, more so than the content, that is causing so much of the discouragement and disillusionment we are beginning to see among our missionaries and missional minded Southern Baptists. Let the discussion continue, but let's make sure that both what we say and how we say it reflect the One to whom we belong.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Private Prayer Language, the Cooperative Program, and Missions

Over the past week or so there have been some intense discussions regarding the issue of cooperation within the Southern Baptist Convention. At the heart of many of these discussions has been the issue of speaking in tongues, especially the practice commonly known as private prayer language (PPL). As most of you are well aware, in late 2005 the trustees of the International Mission Board established a controversial policy disqualifying anyone who practices a PPL from serving as a missionary with the IMB. Complicating the matter is the fact that for years IMB president Jerry Rankin has openly acknowledged that he has a PPL. Further complicating the matter is the fact that many Southern Baptists believe that there is a biblical basis for PPL, even if they do not practice PPL themselves.

I believe that this controversy over the issue of PPL poses a significant danger to the Cooperative Program, and thus to the effectiveness of Southern Baptist missions work. As increasing numbers of Southern Baptists are rejected as missionary candidates because they have a PPL, there is a strong possibility that their churches may choose to redirect some or even all of their financial support for missions either to support these candidates directly or to support another entity that welcomes these candidates. It is also possible that Southern Baptist churches in which the church leaders or a significant number of members believe in or have a PPL may see the IMB policies as a message saying, "If you have a PPL, you are not welcome to participate in the one thing that most defines what the SBC is all about." Even if no one from these churches applies to serve with the IMB, it is entirely plausible that these churches may decide that if the IMB doesn't want people like them to serve as missionaries then it doesn't make a lot of sense to send money to the IMB through the CP.

There is another way that this whole matter of PPL could negatively affect the CP. To be honest, I had never considered this possibility, but it was mentioned in some comments on Wade Burleson's blog. In one comment Geoff Baggett said, "The moment that someone makes the decision to send SBC missionary representatives to the field, knowing that they are active practitioners of glossolalia (even in private), there will be an instantaneous disappearance of CP dollars. The big “sucking” sound. The money will be cut off." (To be fair to Geoff, he made it clear that his church would likely not react in such a way.) In a later comment Peter Lumpkins added, "I have a hunch that, should such views become widespread, our Baptist family would likewise exercise their autonomous right, and unfortunately, the CP would probably be transformed almost overnight into a lamentable, empty hull, gutted of any real likeness to its former missionary glory." (Again, Peter said nothing to indicate that his church would curtail its support for the CP in such a case.)

So if prohibiting people with a PPL from serving with the IMB threatens the CP, and if allowing people with a PPL to serve with the IMB threatens the CP, what should the SBC do? The pragmatic solution would be to do an analysis to determine which option will be less damaging to the CP and pursue it, but somehow I get the feeling that God doesn't want us to make such a decision on the basis of how it affects the bottom line. My personal opinion is that the IMB should rescind its policy and allow otherwise qualified candidates who have a PPL to serve, just as they did for all the years preceding the adoption of the 2005 policy. Of course, a cynic might say that I support such a position because I believe that the biblical support for PPL is stronger than the arguments against it. I would surmise that those who believe that the Bible makes no allowance for PPL would prefer for the policy to remain in force. Thus, we are at an impasse, one that could divide the SBC, result in significant reductions in CP giving, and seriously undermine SBC missions work if it is not resolved. The $64,000 question, or I guess in this case the $200 million question, is how can we resolve this impasse and prevent the CP and our missions work from being irreparably harmed?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Say It Ain't So!

After 15 very successful years, Bill Cowher has officially resigned as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. While most of the experts, and even his own players, expected this to happen, I still held out hope that this moment would not come at this time. In his press conference, Cowher said he was leaving to spend more time with his family. For someone who displayed great emotion throughout his coaching career, Cowher didn't display a whole lot of emotion during his press conference.

Bill Cowher is one of the great coaches in NFL history. Overall his record was 161-99-1, for a .619 winning percentage (higher than Tom Landry, Paul Brown, Bill Walsh, and his predecessor Chuck Noll). In 15 years his teams made the playoffs 10 times, won 8 division titles, appeared in 6 AFC championship games, played in 2 Super Bowls, and won Super Bowl XL. During his tenure Cowher averaged 10 regular season wins per season; since 1992, the Steelers have more regular season wins (149) than any other NFL team.

Here are some interesting tidbits about Cowher's coaching career. Cowher won both his first game (defeating the Houston Oilers 29-24 on September 6, 1992) and his last game (defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 23-17 in overtime on December 31, 2006); both were road games. Cowher's first loss came on September 27, 1992, a 17-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Brett Favre's first start as the Packers' quarterback. Cowher led the Steelers to the playoffs in his first 6 season; Paul Brown is the only other coach to have done so.

In his press conference Cowher was careful to say that he was resigning rather than retiring, raising speculation that he might return to coaching after the 2007 season. After all, he is only 49 years old. I just can't bring myself to imagine Bill Cowher standing on any other sideline. He wasn't just the coach of the Steelers; he was the face (or the jaw) of the organization. Cowher is a Pittsburgh native and was a Steelers fan long before becoming a player or coach. After working for the Rooney family, I can't imagine that he would ever feel comfortable working for another owner. And throughout the long history of the NFL, few coaches who had great success with one team approached a comparable level of success with subsequent teams.

Where do the Steelers go from here? Early speculation is focused on Steeler assistants Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt, both of whom are being courted by other teams. Following the pattern of Cowher and Noll, the Steelers will probably focus on a pro assistant coach who also played in the NFL. It will be interesting, because the Rooneys don't have a lot of experience hiring head coaches; this is only the third time since 1969 that the Steelers will be hiring a head coach. Of course, that means that they do a pretty good job of hiring head coaches. While Cowher will be missed, I expect that the Steelers will end up doing just fine.

Incidentally, Cowher's departure means that the coach of my other favorite NFL team, Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans, is now the longest tenured NFL head coach with one team, having been the Titans' coach since 1994. If this season is any indication of the future, Fisher will probably surpass Cowher's 15 years with the same team. Given Titans owner Bud Adams' history with his coaches, this would be truly remarkable.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Call to Come Together

In a statement released today through Baptist Press, SBC president Frank Page issued a call for all Southern Baptists to seek reconciliation on "divisive issues" and focus on the very reason the SBC exists---cooperation in evangelism and missions:

“I believe that God’s people are more than tired of fighting among ourselves,” Page said. “I sense an overwhelming uprising of God’s people who say that it is time to get on with the issues of missions and evangelism. While we will not ignore our differences, we must pull together in a cause that is greater than any of our own agendas, opinions and interests.

“I believe that God’s people want to get on with Kingdom work.”
Southern Baptists have divergent views on a number of issues, including the sign gifts, ecclesiology, soteriology, eschatology, the role of women in the church, and the use of alcohol. This should not surprise us, as there is an old saying to the effect that whenever you get two Baptists together you end up with three different opinions on something. Because the Bible is not crystal clear to us on every single matter of doctrine, we are going to have differing views on some doctrines. This is OK. This may come as a shock to some, but we can disagree on some issues and still enjoy fellowship and work closely together within our convention as partners in carrying out the Great Commission.

Contrary to what some people seem to think, such cooperation does NOT inevitably result in a theological free-for-all where we end up including pedobaptists, sprinklers, Pentecostals, or even Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and/or universalists within the SBC. Cooperation does not mean that we establish no doctrinal boundaries. Cooperation does require, however, that we limit such boundaries to those issues that are clearly taught by Scripture and/or are core defining doctrines (not necessarily traditional historical beliefs) of Baptists. It is even possible to cooperate in the cause of evangelism and missions while debating our doctrinal differences.

As the various doctrinal differences within the SBC become more pronounced, we are going to have to make a decision as a convention. Are we going to follow the path of demanding doctrinal conformity on biblically unclear and/or relatively minor issues, or are we going to come together for the purpose of evangelism and missions and agree to disagree on such issues? There are many who would take us down each path. I stand with Frank Page in urging Southern Baptists to choose the latter path, for the sake of the Kingdom.