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.


Les Puryear said...


Dr. Patterson's cute retort ""Why would I want to wear a Red Sox uniform if I want to play for the Yankees?" reveals a blindspot.

His blindspot is seeing followers of Christ as being on different teams.

As Marge Gunderson said, "I just don't understand it...It's a real shame."


Debbie Kaufman said...

Well said Tim.

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.

This quote identifies the problem well.

Lee said...

It was not unusual for my home church in a small town in Arizona to partner with several other churches in town on evangelistic and ministry events. In fact, for several years, a regular monthly gathering took place between leaders of our church, the ABC-USA church, AofG, Church of God, Presbyterian and a non-denominational church to organize the local food bank, promote a quarterly gospel singing festival, and conduct joint services at Thanksgiving, Easter, and the High School baccalaureate. They also arranged and conducted a bi-annual crusade. There were friendships and relationships between people in the various congregations. The commonality we all had in Christ's redemption far exceeded, at least for most people, the minute differences in doctrine and worship practice that existed. Those six or seven churches put together numbered maybe 240 people total, in a community with four Mormon wards and 80% unchurched. I guess that experience is why I still don't see why Christians need to separate from each other over interpretations of scripture on which there is no absolute confirmation of validity.

I also don't see that the New Testament really allows for the kinds of walls and divisions to be erected between various groups of the church that have become pretty much the norm in Christianity, particularly in a culture where the church is as free as it is here. Rather than focusing on my "Baptist Identity," I'd rather focus on my Christian identity. I keep hearing people say that they go to a Baptist church because it practices the theology that they agree with, and want to practice. I find that to be exclusive, selfish, and I have to ask the question, "So what about what God wants?"

Anonymous said...

Another "New Baptist Covenant" speaker has been shown to have ties with Planned Parenthood of Waco.
The Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, former pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, was one of the Sponsors of this Planned Parenthood event:

This conference was designed to counter “True Love Waits.” Bill Underwood’s former pastor is also listed as a sponsor of the same event.

Why is Wade Burleson supporting this charade?