Monday, May 13, 2019

Stained Glass and Shoddy History

Being on sabbatical has brought me blissful isolation from most things ongoing in the SBC. If it is big enough to hit my Google News feed, however, then it pops up into my field of view in the morning. Some of the news that comes my way is encouraging. Some of it is downright dismal. Most of the dismal news has been baseball-related, but for this unsavory tidbit ("Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Displays Stained-Glass Windows Recently Removed from Southwestern Seminary") the only connection to baseball I could discern was my imagination of what a Paul Goldschmidt line drive would do to a stained-glass window.

From the article:

At Liberty University’s Baccalaureate Service on Friday night, President Jerry Falwell made a bold statement to the Southern Baptist Convention when he displayed two stained-glass windows that were recently removed from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel. The windows feature Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and Dr. Jerry Vines, who delivered the Baccalaureate address.

The two windows were part of a larger collection that honored the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches. Installed only a few years ago, the Falwell window was made possible by financial contributions from Liberty University.

President Falwell said that “unfortunately, a new generation has taken the Convention away from those values in many ways.” He said the windows have been “removed by the new regime.”

The first SBC Annual Meeting I ever attended was in St Louis, MO, in 1987. I attended the convention meeting with my pastor. I was seventeen years old. I voted for Adrian Rogers. Dr. Jerry Vines was elected to serve as president the very next year.

I care about the Conservative Resurgence.

So, because I care about the Conservative Resurgence, I would like to make a few observations about what Falwell has said, and about the general mood of the convention regarding the Conservative Resurgence.

Stop Saying the Stained-Glass Windows Honor the Conservative Resurgence

The stained-glass windows at SWBTS are not a collection of windows "honoring the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches." Period. Full stop.

Rick Warren had a stained-glass window at the SWBTS chapel. Where was he during the Conservative Resurgence? Nowhere I know. Search in vain for his name in any history of the Conservative Resurgence.

Frank Page had a stained-glass window at the SWBTS chapel. Where was he during the Conservative Resurgence? For this one, I actually DO know. I've had a lot of people talk to me about his window in light of his ending, but we ought to talk about his beginning. He was getting a Ph.D. in ethics at SWBTS under T.B. Maston, writing a dissertation friendly to the idea of women pastors. Frank Page was not friendly to the Conservative Resurgence.

By the way, I don't mean to take cheap shots at Dr. Page here. He claimed to have changed his position later. I 100% take him at his word for that. I'm just trying to lead us to do good history, not to attack anyone.

Speaking of that, let's talk about Jerry Falwell. Jerry Falwell was a leader in America. He was a leader in conservative politics. Jerry Falwell was not a "[leader] of the Conservative Resurgence among Southern Baptist churches." Jerry Falwell wasn't a Southern Baptist at the time. His church wasn't a Southern Baptist church at the time. He never served on any SBC committee or board during the Resurgence. He never presided over any SBC Annual Meeting. I do not deny that there is perhaps some way that the things that Jerry Falwell was doing were intertwined with the things that the ACTUAL leaders of the SBC Conservative Resurgence were doing, but there is a difference, if you wish to do careful history, between leading a movement on the one hand and leading some other related movement on the other hand.

Of course, the one way that my observation about Falwell would NOT be true is if you can't see any difference between Falwell's Moral Majority political movement on the one hand and the ecclesiological movement that was the Conservative Resurgence on the other hand. But if you can't see any difference between them, then you need to get some new spectacles. They were friendly to one another, but they were not the same thing.

Dr. Jerry Vines, on the other hand, WAS a leader of the Conservative Resurgence. As were many of the people depicted in the windows. But the three that I've mentioned are not the only people depicted in the windows who will not be mentioned in any serious history of the Conservative Resurgence.

So, to recap, the window collection includes (a) some real leaders of the SBC Conservative Resurgence, (b) a man who was AWOL during the SBC Conservative Resurgence, (c) a man who was, by any fair measure, on the other side during the SBC Conservative Resurgence, and (d) a man who wasn't even a Southern Baptist during the SBC Conservative Resurgence. These are not stained-glass windows honoring leaders of the Conservative Resurgence.

They are stained-glass windows honoring people for whom there existed someone willing to pay money to depict them in a stained-glass window in the chapel, regardless of their relationship (or lack thereof) to the Conservative Resurgence.

These observations are simply factual. Please remember, you can acknowledge these facts (some of which are pretty much indisputable) and still remain hopping-mad at the removal of the stained-glass windows if you like. But fidelity to the ideals of the Conservative Resurgence is absolutely not (as some people seem to think) part-and-parcel with fidelity to these stained-glass windows.

Indeed, to my way of thinking, I've always seen these windows as the worst possible way to try to remember the Conservative Resurgence, even if participation in the project HAD been limited to REAL leaders in the Conservative Resurgence. If I were planning a series of stained-glass windows to honor the Conservative Resurgence, I would have designed windows featuring scenes from the Bible that men like Ralph Elliot thought were pure fiction: the six-day creation of the world, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, the angel preventing Abraham from offering up Isaac.

To my way of thinking, the ONLY people who ever characterized the history of the Conservative Resurgence as a movement to aggrandize and lionize men were the liberals who opposed the Conservative Resurgence. Why on earth should we adopt their narrative? As a supporter of the Conservative Resurgence, I have always understood it to be a battle for the Bible. If we're going to choose stained-glass as the medium for remembering the Conservative Resurgence, wouldn't it be better to depict the Bible in those windows, if we're really trying to remember a "Battle for the Bible"?

At least, that's the way that I see it. If you have a different point of view, then why don't we do this: I won't falsely and maliciously characterize your perspective on the windows, and you don't falsely and maliciously characterize mine. Let's try that out and see if it isn't the Christ-honoring thing to do. Surely anybody who cares about honoring Christian leaders in stained glass ought to care more about honoring Christ in what we say, right?

And if you are one of those who feel differently about it, you have my sympathy. Really, you do. It's embarrassing to have taken down something that was put up to honor you. I'm so sorry. I always knew that if the windows came down, there would be a risk that people I care about would be hurt. Alongside that fear, though, was the fear that if the windows stayed up, someone somewhere might think that look at them and think that they were learning the history of the Conservative Resurgence. Given the seminary's mission as an educational institution, I'm thankful that someone has successfully averted that fate.

Stop Suggesting That Advocacy for Victims of Church Sex Abuse Betrays the Conservative Resurgence

Taking you back for a moment to my seventeen-year-old self in 1987, I supported the Conservative Resurgence because I supported the inerrancy of the scriptures. I went off to Baylor a year later and learned forever how desperately needed the Conservative Resurgence was as I sat in Freshman Old Testament class and listened to Dr. Wally Christian as he derided those who (like me) believed in the truthfulness of the Genesis accounts. A lot changed for me between 1987 (at St Louis) and 1988 (at Baylor).

At Baylor, I came to be acquainted with Schleiermacher and Ritschl and Tillich and Barth. The ideas promoted by these men were, in many ways, the target of the Conservative Resurgence. The more I learned about them and their influence, the more convinced I became that I was right all along in supporting the Conservative Resurgence.

But before I went to Baylor? Back when I was a teenage-preacher in Northeast Arkansas? You could've convinced me that Schleiermacher was a brand of bratwurst. I knew absolutely nothing about German theologians or higher criticism.

But that doesn't mean that I wasn't in the battle.

To seventeen-year-old me, the "Battle for the Bible" was not a battle against the philosophies of Schleiermacher, Ritschl, and Tillich. To me, in my daily life, it was a contest against the philosophies of Bocephus, Cindy Lauper, and Boy George. The people I wanted to see won to Christ—the people around me who were rejecting the truthfulness of the Bible—were rejecting it so that they could get all their rowdy friends to come over tonight or because they just wanna have fun.

The pastor or Sunday School teacher or seminary student who is bedding 15-year-olds left and right is no less at war with the Bible and with the Lord than was Ralph Elliott. They just wanna get rowdy and have some fun, no matter whom it hurts. They have to be defeated, for their own good and for the good of the churches, but most of all, in defense of these victims. May God forgive us for some of the ways that some of them have been treated. As an aside, it is a wicked thing to break people and then blame them for being broken. But I digress.

In any event, there just cannot be a Battle for the Bible that isn't ready to sally forth to war against people like those abusers. There are things that are not really within our power to do to oppose these predators. Our polity is what it is, and I believe that it is biblical and good. By the way, I actually think that if we leaned IN to our polity, it would do more good than leaning out from it would do. Nevertheless, I confess that there are things we cannot do. But I plan to find whatever I can do and prosecute it with extreme prejudice. I do not mind doing battle for the Bible against all foes, whether they be liberal theologians or sexual predators.

An acquaintance with the Continental Theologians came to me later, but the battle between the Bible and worldliness never left me. So, when I do things to try to put an end to sex abuse in SBC churches, I'm not doing it because I'm "woke"; I'm doing it because I'm still a Conservative Resurgence Warrior. That's who I am. That's what I plan to be.

Ten years ago, I didn't care what Wade Burleson thought about it.

Now I don't care what Jerry Falwell, Jr, thinks about it either.

NOTE: I'm still on sabbatical, and I won't ever, in the history of man until Jesus comes back, be looking at these comments. So, I'm turning them off. Thanks for understanding.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

I Found Something I Could Do

At our upcoming Spring Trustee Meeting, I will be bringing a motion to revoke the degree that SWBTS granted to Mark Aderholt. In this post I will explain the rationale behind this action as it is grounded in SWBTS's governing documents and the current state of our laws as I understand them. The motion that I will bring is, of course, just a motion from a solitary trustee. I will not be able to blog about any aspect of how the Board responds to or processes my motion. My purpose in authoring this post is simple: The Southern Baptist Convention has been through a lot of difficulty with regard to past instances of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. I think that a lot of Southern Baptists wish that they knew something that they could do. I think maybe I found something that I could do, and I'm hoping that you'll be encouraged by that.

The Mark Aderholt Story

If you read the newspaper accounts of his indictment (click here) and of his arrest (click here), you'll be introduced to the broad details of the story of Mark Aderholt. I have invited Anne Marie Miller to share her story with the Academic Administration Committee of the Board of Trustees in our upcoming meeting. Here's what I expect her to tell us.

In 1996-97, Aderholt was a student at SWBTS. In response to Miller's desire to start a See You At The Pole event at her public school, Aderholt initiated a relationship with Miller. He soon led the relationship to become sexual. He was 25. She was 16. Later, when Miller was herself in her 20s, the significance of the age differential became clear to her, and she realized the (criminal) wrong in what Aderholt had done to her. She then told her story for the first time. Aderholt was working for the IMB by then. The IMB investigated the claims, and at the end of their investigation, Aderholt was no longer employed by the IMB. He found employment with the state convention in South Carolina, but no longer. Now he is under indictment for his alleged behavior with Miller.

SWBTS's Governing Documents

The Bylaws of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary explicitly state that, regardless of his or her academic achievements, no student is eligible for graduation if the faculty has reason to question whether the student's conduct or character are unworthy of graduation. This has been an explicitly stated element of the governing documents of SWBTS since, as far as I can tell, the founding of the school.

It is not some forgotten aspect of our Bylaws, either. From time to time down through the years, we have expelled students for violations of the conduct that we expect from SWBTS students. Regardless of their grades or of the number of credit hours that these students had accumulated, they did not receive academic degrees from SWBTS.

Mark Aderholt, however, did receive a degree from SWBTS. This was not because SWBTS came to a different conclusion from the IMB when we investigated Aderholt's relationship with Miller. Rather, we have never conducted any investigation into Aderholt's relationship with Miller. We never received any report of any such relationship. If Aderholt was conducting a sexual relationship with Miller, then Aderholt knew full well that his behavior was grounds for his expulsion. If anything like what Miller claims happened at all, then Aderholt deliberately concealed his behavior from SWBTS in order to avoid expulsion and to obtain, in the end, a SWBTS degree.

The Law of the Land

Educational institutions can legally revoke degrees that have been obtained fraudulently.

Sometimes fraudulently obtaining a degree means submitting a plagiarized thesis or dissertation. But the freedom afforded to educational institutions by American law to revoke degrees is broad. An early case, much quoted in subsequent cases, is Waliga v. Board of Trustees of Kent State University, in which the court stated:

Academic degrees are a university’s certification to the world at large of the recipient’s educational achievement and fulfillment of the institution’s standards. To hold that a university may never withdraw a degree, effectively requires the university to continue making a false certification to the public at large of the accomplishment of persons who in fact lack the very qualifications that are certified. Such a holding would undermine public confidence in the integrity of degrees, call academic standards into question, and harm those who rely on the certification which the degree represents. (emphasis mine)

The court in Waliga made explicit mention not only of the receipient's educational achievement, but also of the institution's standards. The fraudulent receipt of a degree can mean more than academic misconduct. In the 200 case Harwood v. Johns Hopkins University, the court upheld JHU's right to withhold a degree from a student who, after completion of his degree, shot and killed another JHU student. Just one year before, in 1999, the case Dinu v. President and Fellows of Harvard College upheld Harvard's right to withhold a degree from two students who had stolen money from Harvard Student Agencies. Lexington Theological Seminary v. Vance (1979) upheld a religious school's right to withhold a degree from a homosexual student based upon religious convictions, and the cases Goodreau v. Rector and Visitors of University of Virginia (2000) and Yoo v. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2004) affirmed the right of institutions not only to withhold degrees not yet awarded but also to revoke for non-academic misconduct degrees already granted.

If Mark Aderholt obtained his SWBTS degree fraudulently, then SWBTS has the right to revoke that degree. If Mark Aderholt concealed a sexual relationship that he was conducting with Anne Marie Miller, then he obtained his degree only by way of preventing the school from being aware of his behavior. Such a concealment would amount to fraudulently obtaining a degree from SWBTS.

The Only Question

So, the only question is whether things happened as Miller has claimed.

As mentioned before, the International Mission Board previously investigated these claims, and the results of their investigation (as those results have been reported) found that Miller's claims were more credible than Aderholt's denials. Tarrant County has found her claims to be credible enough to arrest Aderholt and indict him.

I find her story to be credible. I believe her.

Certainly, if her story is credible enough to launch a process that ended his employment at the IMB and credible enough to launch a criminal prosecution, it is credible enough for me to launch a process at SWBTS to consider the revocation of Mark Aderholt's degree.

Conclusion

In a December 19, 2018, article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Miller encouraged victims of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct to come forward with their stories. "I think they’ll find a lot of people standing beside them (when they do so)," she said.

Among my other reasons for bringing this motion to our board meeting, I'd like to do my part in helping Miller's prediction come true.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Heritage of SWBTS Continues

Yesterday the Board of Trustees of SWBTS elected Dr. Adam W. Greenway as the ninth president of the seminary (See coverage in Baptist Press here).

The reception of the news has been overwhelmingly positive both across the campus and across the convention. There have, however, been a few expressions of concern. I write today to address them briefly. Although worded in different ways (Southern takeover, Mohler takeover, Calvinistic takeover, etc.), the expressions of concern yield themselves, I believe to analysis that distills them into two basic loci of angst: First, does Greenway's election at SWBTS represent a departure from the historic character of SWBTS in regard to the school's mission and theology. Second, does Greenway's election serve anyone else's interests more than it serves the interests of SWBTS.

Let me say first of all that I went into this process with a clear procedure in mind for myself: Before I even knew who our candidate would be, I resolved that ANY candidate would be a no-vote from me until he earned my yes-vote. I can say with a clear conscience that Dr. Greenway and our new Provost, Dr. Randy Stinson, received at my hand the most thorough vetting I knew how to give. I asked all of the questions: the polite ones and the rude ones, the sophisticated ones and the blunt ones. If I did not offend them at any point in the past two weeks, it is because they are gracious, not because I didn't try. :-)

Who Is Served by Adam Greenway's Election

Although none of us as of yet can know (less than 24 hours into his administration!), I am hopeful that his election will serve the Kingdom of God, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I believe that he will be successful in attracting new students. I believe that he will be successful in raising funds. I believe that he and Dr. Stinson will successfully build the faculty—and by "build the faculty" I mean build faculty morale, congeniality, effectiveness, and spiritual maturity.

I have served for a decade on the board of our seminary, and nobody there is serving anyone's interests other than those of Southwestern. We would not have risked what we have risked and we would not have subjected ourselves to what we have endured for any other reason. That this board has given such overwhelming and enthusiastic support of Dr. Greenway is evidence that he has convinced us that his election serves the interests of SWBTS above all others.

Whither the SWBTS Heritage?

Dr. Greenway's remarks at the post-election press conference should answer this question far better than I can. He spoke of the heritage of Southwestern in terms that should resonate clearly with all true Southwesterners. He spoke of Carroll and Scarborough, Conner and Garrett, Baker and Estep, Fish and McDowell, Naylor and Vaughan and Tolar. He spoke of a national seminary located in Fort Worth, Texas, that spans the globe and leads the convention.

If he can mobilize the ideas of these men and vector it toward that vision, then I think we can safely say that the future of SWBTS will align well with her heritage.

For my part, I am excited to watch and see what happens.

Conclusion

So, brothers and sisters in the SBC, if you have wondered whether those concerns that I mentioned at the top of this article are valid, permit me to address two groups of us who sometimes harbor such concerns:

There are those of us who leap to such conclusions because, deep down inside, we enjoy doing so. If that is the nature of your heart, then I cannot help you.

There are those of us who fret over such possibilities because our love for SWBTS and our gratitude for what the Lord did for us there is so profoundly deep and has tendrils that reach so inextricably into all that we are and all that we do. We feel a solemn duty and precious calling to protect her from harm. If that is the nature of your heart, then I can honestly say before God that I feel exactly the same way. I can say that I left no question unasked and no possibility unexplored. I can say that I am hopeful today that God has good things in store for SWBTS under the leadership of Dr. Adam W. Greenway.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

2016 Proposed Resolution on Sexual Predation in the Southern Baptist Family


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In 2016 I offered this resolution at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It did not make it out of the committee. It seems highly relevant today. Nothing in here violates our polity or any other aspect of our ecclesiology whatsoever. The resolution respects local church autonomy while recognizing that autonomous churches have the right not to be affiliated with wrongdoing churches.
On Sexual Predation in the Southern Baptist Family
May 17, 2016
Whereas any act of sexual predation is a sin and an abomination, and many acts of sexual predation constitute crimes; and,
Whereas all fifty states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U. S. Virgin Islands have laws requiring certain professionals to report suspected sexual abuse of children, and twenty-seven states specifically require clergy to report suspected sexual abuse of children; and,
Whereas Article XVII of The Baptist Faith & Message expresses our common belief that “it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience [to our civil government] in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God”; and,
Whereas God has commanded us to “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14, NASB); and,
Whereas Article XV of The Baptist Faith & Message expresses our common desire to “oppose…all forms of sexual immorality”; and,
Whereas God has commanded us to address sin on the part of elders, when sufficiently corroborated, with public rebuke and to do so without bias or partiality (1 Timothy 5:19-21); and,
Whereas Article VI of The Baptist Faith & Message affirms our common belief that pastors must be those “qualified by Scripture,” which reminds us that pastors must be “above reproach” and “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2, HCSB); and,
Whereas anecdotal reports of predatory sexual behavior toward both minor and adult members of churches by clergy or church staff are widespread; and,
Whereas woefully common are anecdotal reports of efforts by churches to prevent the reporting of predatory sexual behavior to legal authorities, to hide sexual misconduct from the members of churches, or to forestall the public release of information regarding sexual misconduct on the part of church leaders; and,
Whereas such reports, when they involve churches in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention, damage the Convention’s credibility in its efforts to call to salvation a world full of people who are enslaved to sin and are often involved in destructive sexual practices; and,
Whereas failure to mourn over and take appropriate disciplinary action toward persistent, unrepentant sin is evidence of spiritual arrogance (1 Corinthians 5:2); and,
Whereas the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention has reported to the Convention in 2008 that “The governing documents [of the Convention] in their present form already permit messengers attending any annual meeting to move to withdraw fellowship from any affiliated church for any reason,” and that, “declaring a church not to be in ‘friendly cooperation’ with the Convention would certainly be justified in any specific case where a church intentionally employed a known sexual offender or knowingly placed one in a position of leadership over children or other vulnerable participants in its ministries”; now, therefore, be it
Resolved that we, the messengers of the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, regard any pastor’s involvement in any extramarital sexual relationship to be disqualifying for the office of pastor, and that we further regard any pastor’s involvement in any sexual relationship with any member of his church other than his wife to constitute an abuse of his pastoral authority over the congregant, a betrayal of his pastoral relationship with the entire congregation, and a reproach upon his service in the office of pastor; and be it further
Resolved that we regard such misconduct to be so severe as to warrant action by churches to terminate the employment of pastors who behave thusly and to revoke their ordinations; and be it further
Resolved that churches who knowingly ordain or hire into pastoral office those who behave thusly are churches whose faith and practice do not identify closely with The Baptist Faith & Message as it pertains to pastoral qualifications; and be it further
Resolved that churches who knowingly prevent people from reporting cases of sexual misconduct are churches whose faith and practice do not identify closely with The Baptist Faith & Message as it pertains to the role of God-ordained civil government; and be it further
Resolved that we encourage fellow believers to consider whether churches and parachurch ministries that have demonstrated a pattern of placing sexual predators into positions of influence or intimidating or otherwise silencing victims of sexual predation are unworthy of support or patronage unless they repent; and be it further
Resolved that we humbly call to the attention of the various boards of trustees, state conventions, local associations, and local churches within the Southern Baptist family the degree to which churches and parachurch ministries who willfully enable, tolerate, or cover up sexual misconduct are corrosive to the collective Southern Baptist witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ; and be it further
Resolved that we affirm a consideration of the highest standard of ethics regarding the prevention and reporting of sexual predation as relevant information when considering “all questions of cooperation among the different entities of the Convention, and among the entities of the Convention and those of other conventions, whether state or national”; and be it further
Resolved that we would benefit greatly from hearing the stories of churches and institutions who have handled well the discovery of sexual misconduct in their congregations; and be it further
Resolved that, recognizing that false accusations of sexual predation do sometimes occur, we affirm thorough investigation by trained investigators working for the proper authorities rather than avoidance or suppression of accusations as the most reliable means to discover both false accusations and valid accusations for what they are; and be it further
Resolved that we commend to those who have acted as sexual predators the way of regeneration for those who are lost, and for all, repentance, spiritual growth, and vigorous accountability in a church family as the only hope for victory over the pernicious snare of sexual temptation; and be it finally
Resolved that we humbly and gently commend the way of apology and repentance to our sister churches and to various parachurch institutions who have failed to handle appropriately the discovery of sexual misconduct in their congregations or institutions.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Thanking God for Black Southern Baptists

Note: Throughout this essay I will use the term "Black Southern Baptists" anachronistically at times. Therefore, you should take it to mean "Black Baptists from the South" whenever you encounter it referring to Baptists living before 1845.

In the first century of Christianity, nobody accomplished more in terms of spreading the gospel where people thought it couldn't spread and in terms of bringing together Christians people thought couldn't be brought together than did the Apostle Paul. He gave leadership to the church in Antioch of Syria, which was perhaps the most ethnically diverse and most exciting churches in the history of Christianity. From there, Paul left to become the father of cross-cultural evangelism and church planting. All of the apostles undertook this mission, but Paul succeeded beyond them all. Why was he so successful? Of course, the biggest reason is that God gave him a unique calling and a unique gifting for this task. As a consequence, Paul was uniquely motivated, and motivation means a lot. Few people are successful at things that they aren't trying to do, after all.

In addition to all of those things, I've noticed that Paul was extraordinarily thankful for people of all kinds. Whether this arose naturally from the man God made Paul to be on the one hand or was a careful strategic decision on the other hand (or some combination of the two?), I can't say. I simply observe that it was true. Paul gave thanks for people, and he generally did it at the beginning of letters, before he tried to teach anything or correct anything.

Book Expression of Gratitude
Romans

“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.”

Paul was giving thanks for people whom he had never even met and for a church with whom he had never gathered.
1 Corinthians

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus”

Paul was giving thanks for a very troubled church whose interpersonal, moral, and theological failures he was writing to correct.
2 Corinthians This troubled letter is one of the rare exceptions which Paul did not open with an expression of thanks for the church.
Galatians Disappointment and astonishment replace thanksgiving in this epistle addressing the Galatian heresy. By the way, this actually serves, I think as evidence that the expressions of thanksgiving in the other letters are not mere boilerplate letter-writing formalities for Paul. He doesn't give thanks when he can't do so sincerely. He just has an amazing knack for being able to do so sincerely when others would fail at the task.
Ephesians

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers”

Paul gets caught up in his doxology for so long in Ephesians as to make you think that he'll never get around to his expression of thanks for the church, but it's the very next thing that he does.
Philippians

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you”

In many ways, Philippians IS a thank-you note in its entirety. In this letter, Paul even gave thanks for the activities of his enemies!
Colossians

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you”

As with the other prison epistles, we get a clear picture of Paul's own sufferings in this letter. Paul was thankful for other people and said so even when he himself was suffering.
1 Thessalonians

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers”

The Thessalonians, it appears, were at least somewhat disappointed in Paul's not having returned to visit them. They also were disappointed that, although Paul had preached the resurrection and the Second Coming of Christ, some members of the church had died and their bodies lay in their graves. Paul gave thanks for people who were complaining and worried about some things.
2 Thessalonians

“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”

Paul identified thanksgiving for fellow believers as a moral obligation. Go back and read that verse again!
1 Timothy In this personal letter to Timothy, Paul didn't bother. This is one reason why I think Paul was being strategic about his epistolary thanksgivings.
2 Timothy

“I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.”

But, in the second of his personal pastoral letters, the thanksgiving just broke through again!
Titus Another personal letter with no thanksgiving in the introduction.
Philemon

“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers”

Getting ready to make a strong appeal and to attempt to make peace among separated and estranged (now-)fellow believers, Paul returns to the preparatory balm of thanksgiving.

I realize that I probably took too much of your time going through that list of epistles, especially since it was a labor to demonstrate to you something that you likely already knew. Sorry. I just thought it would help what I'm trying to do in this post if I would lay out a set of biblical evidence that warrants, I think, the drawing of at least these conclusions:

  1. There is biblical precedence for us to look for reasons to be thankful for every individual Christian and every group of Christians.
  2. Giving expression to our sincere, heartfelt gratitude for other believers can coexist with expressing difference of opinion or even with moments when we are tempted to engage in contests of our wills.
  3. The kind of thanksgiving that most resembles the Pauline model is a thanksgiving coupled with a hopeful intercessory prayer that genuinely and earnestly hopes for the best for fellow believers.

Applying These Principles to Black Southern Baptists

It seems to me that some of what we write or say as white Southern Baptists is not as bad in-and-of-itself as it is made bad by the absence of this Pauline model of thanksgiving from the recipe. I'm starting off November by giving thanks for Black Southern Baptists, because I think it makes the conversation better for me to do so. I want to give thanks for the group as a whole, and then I want to give thanks for some individuals.

Thank God for the African Influence upon Southern Cuisine

I've been to England, folks. You know that joke that says that (among other things) in Heaven the cooks are all French, but in Hell the cooks are all British. There's a reason why that's funny. It's not that British food is run-screaming-into-the-night horrible (although, black pudding), it's just that there's nothing there worth much emotion one way or the other.

On the other hand, I've been to Senegal and I've taken a lot of Southerners to Senegal. Everyone loves the food there. Every. Single. Southerner.

The truth was sitting there right under my nose, but here's what finally turned on the light bulb for me: I learned about a myth over there. In West Africa, there are people who think that it is lucky to eat peas. My Mom and Dad taught ME that people eat black-eyed peas on New Year's Day for good luck. How did a West African myth wind up in Arkansas? Then I thought it through. The fried chicken over rice, mixed with mushy carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and just the right seasoning! The eggs for breakfast! The penchant for pork as a special treat! This is the food I grew up eating! It makes sense, doesn't it? The slaves were the ones doing the cooking in wealthy Southern households. Southern food is connected with West African food.

Other people have known this for a long time, but it took international travel to bring it into my view.

So, thank you, Black Christians from the South, for every mouthwatering potluck of my childhood in my 100% white country Southern Baptist church. You weren't there, but you WERE there in every spoonful!

Thank God for the African Influence upon Southern Music

I don't know enough about musicology to know whether Wintley Phipps does or does not know what he's talking about with regard to the musical roots of "Amazing Grace," but my case doesn't rise and fall on his.

Some of our worship music comes from Germany ("A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"). Some of it comes from England ("And Can It Be?"). But for that portion of it that comes from America, the influence of black Americans is indelible. Alongside the recognized category of the Negro spiritual (and these songs made it into my personal hymnody even in a white church), the influence of black musical styles by way of the blues, rock-and-roll, and gospel music genres has touched everything composed and written in my lifetime.

Our worship music is better because of the influence of black Christians upon it, and for that I am thankful.

Thank God for African Influence upon Southern Baptist Missions

When we formed the Southern Baptist Convention and the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board), we only initially sent a handful of missionaries to a handful of countries. The choices that we made at that time tell us what we cared about in that age of our existence.

We sent missionaries to the Far East because of William Carey, Andrew Fuller, and the fascination with the Far East that had captivated West Europeans since the days of Marco Polo. We sent missionaries to Italy, because we were ready to storm the gates of the Vatican with a water pistol. But neither Italy nor Brazil nor any other destination came second upon the heels of China as a missionary focus for Southern Baptists. Rather, from the opening days of the IMB, we have been laboring the share the gospel in Africa.

The details of this effort represent the twisted amalgamation of sin and nobility solely within the reach of sinful humanity to achieve. Southern Baptists genuinely wanted to win the population of Africa to Christ. They also wanted to solve the problem of American racial slavery. Those Southern Baptists who were too racist to countenance the integration of black Christians into their own churches and communities on the one hand, but too Christian to accept the status quo of racism, chattel slavery, and religious segregation, thought it the best solution simply to ship all of the slaves back to Africa. As a key part of this plan, several important Southern Baptists had supported black Baptist missionaries like Lott Carey in endeavors like the Liberia project.

The sad history of Liberia is as good a demonstration of the disaster that sin brings as I know, but the result of Southern Baptist missionary work in Africa has been a success story. We most certainly would not have gone as early or in as much force to Africa to share the gospel had it not been for the influence of black Southern Baptists upon our decision making. The importance of that decision is a story that is still being written. It is not difficult to imagine today that the two first target areas for Southern Baptist missions—China and Africa—may be the home of the churches that carry the gospel into the world if American evangelicalism finally implodes.

To extend that line down through today, I doubt that I would be involved in Senegal as Dave and I are involved today if it were not for the pioneering influence of black Southern Baptists. Indeed, the sending of missionaries from America in general is indebted to George Lisle, the first American missionary (and a black man). Thank you for turning our attention toward Africa. I have been blessed by that.

Thank God for African Influence upon Southern Baptist Preaching

I know everyone falls all over themselves to laud the preaching of Charles Spurgeon, and I know that there are clear differences between Southern Baptist white preaching and Southern black preaching. Nevertheless, I think that you can trace significant differences between European and Northern preaching on the one hand, and then Southern (white or black) preaching on the other hand. In my opinion, the best Southern Baptist preaching brings a balance of logos, ethos, and pathos that is often missing—particularly with regard to pathos—from more European preaching. I think that our black brothers have helped us in this regard.

Last year at a training event in Africa, one of our teachers was teaching disciples about some of the finer points of ecclesiology. This included, among other things, describing how to address conflict when it arises among church members. After the training session was over, I said to the teacher, "I noticed that whenever you were delivering the lecture material, you spoke in French, but whenever you were playing the role of a disgruntled church member, you shifted to the Jola language. Why is that?" His answer, simply stated, was that his African language was more suited to the conveyance of emotion than was French. I'm no expert in linguistics, but I fear that Southern Baptist preachers might have wound up as boring as an Anglican rector were it not for the influence of Africans upon our discourse. There is, after all, a beauty in a Martin Luther King, Jr., sermon that is exemplary to us without being foreign to us. What's more, we love to hear black Baptist preaching.

So, I suspect that I am a better preacher because of the influence of black Southern Baptists, and there are few things that I love to do more. I'm grateful for anything that makes me a better preacher. Thank you.

Smorgasbord

I could extend this article for a long time. I'm thankful for black influences upon our theology and our ministries to urban areas. I'm thankful for famous black theologians like James Deotis Roberts and famous black pastors like E.V. Hill or Tony Evans. I'm thankful for black colleagues and friends like Jamar Andrews, Michael Allen, and my new friend, Walter Strickland.

When I say that I am thankful for them, I mean that I have needed them and that I need them still. My life is made richer because of the influence of these brothers and sisters. Indeed, among other things, I'd probably be a lot more racist than I am if it weren't for people like that. It scares me to write about race, because it is so easy for me to make inadvertent mistakes whenever I do so. So if anything in this article is a mess, please hear my testimony that it would be worse if it were not for these folks.

Conclusion

There's a way of saying that God had His hand working something good out of the American slavery experience that sounds awfully arrogant falling from the lips of a white man: "Well, God brought the gospel to Africans through slavery. This was clearly something that God used for His glory." That just sounds a lot like, "You people really ought to be thankful that we enslaved you so that God could save you and improve your lives."

Well, when it comes to Romans 8:28, I not only affirm it, I cling to it. Even the experience of American slavery, I think God has worked together with everything else for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. But in saying that, I'm not offering some one-sided assessment that black Southern Baptists are better off for the unfolding events of history. That's not mine to say. Instead, I'll just say that, even though the line of depravity and wrong is so painfully visible in the story that brought most black people into the Southern Baptist family who are among us, among whatever else God has done to bring something good out of the bad, He has made my churches better churches and has made me a better man because of your influence here. It would be sinfully dishonest for me to pretend that all the things you gave me were things that I made for myself.

Thank you.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

About the Presidential Succession at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

For the three people in the Southern Baptist Convention who ever thought this might be a good idea (Hi, Mom!), I want to declare early and definitively that I will in no way whatsoever be a candidate for the presidency at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I hereby offer my Sherman Statement: If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.

It's not that I would find the assignment distasteful. To everyone who has mentioned it (Hi, Mom!), I'm deeply flattered. If there is a man among us who doesn't have an ego, it isn't me. My ego loves the idea that anyone would think of me in that way. What's more, I love SWBTS, love the mission of SWBTS, love the students of SWBTS, and love the faculty of SWBTS. I'd be in the middle of the school I love, giving of myself to lead it. I think I'd enjoy that. Whoever steps into the helm at SWBTS steps into a blessing, in my opinion. What's more, I think I wouldn't entirely stink at it. But I will not in any way entertain the idea.

My reasoning is simple. I have played an instrumental and public role in causing the office of the president to become vacant. It strikes me as unseemly for anyone involved in vacating an office such as this one subsequently to fill it. Such happenings fuel conspiracy theories and undermine confidence in our polity and our convention entities, and I want no part in doing that. There are people who can do as good a job or better who have in no way whatsoever been involved in this. I love the school too much not to defer to one of those other potential leaders, whoever they may be, such that the transition is clean and above reproach (a good, important, biblical word).

What's more, I'm happy at First Baptist Church of Farmersville. If you're happy, stay happy.

It's not just the presidency, by the way. I do not plan to join the faculty, join the administration, or any other such thing. I plan to be (very soon) the former trustee who hangs around at campus events and who gives his widow's mite to the school. I'd leave the door open maybe after my term of service as a trustee has come to an end to teach the occasional adjunct class as I did before I was a trustee, if anyone would have me.

Why make this declaration? Because Southern Baptists can sometimes be a rumor-loving, conspiracy-imagining people. We're better when we don't do that, and I want to be a part of making us better.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Let's Talk Israel: New Creation Eschatology and the Land by Steven L James

One of my favorite fringe benefits of maintaining an ongoing relationship with my seminary is that I am frequently in the company of people who know more about theology than I do. One of them, Dr. Steven James, has written New Creation Eschatology and the Land: A Survey of Contemporary Perspectives (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017). I just finished reading it, and I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to you. I found it for sale online at a number of locations. Amazon is selling the Kindle edition for under $10.

The book is an adaptation of Dr. James’s Ph.D. dissertation. For a lot of people, the only way to acquire a taste for reading one of those is to write one, but you shouldn’t let that chase you away from this book. Although it follows the format of a dissertation, it poses a simple research question for which most Christians will understand the relevance and follow the line of thinking. He held my interest from the first page to the last.

People who believe in New Creation Eschatology want us to pay close attention to Revelation 21:1-22:5 and take those words literally and seriously. God hasn’t suggested that we will spend eternity floating among the clouds in Heaven, they remind us; He has promised us eternity under the New Heavens on the New Earth, living as a new creation in a new creation. Living as a new creation, I will be the same, but different. I will be the same because I will still be Bart Barber, and the body I inhabit will be the body I have now, resurrected to eternal life. I will be different because I will have been changed—purified from the residues and consequences of sin. According to New Creation Eschatology we should expect the same thing from the world that we inhabit. The earth beneath our feet will be the same, but different. We will not be whisked away to Kolob or shipped off to rule our own respective planets. We will live forever on earth. The earth that we inhabit, however, will be purified and pristine, cleansed from the effects of sin and made to be very good.

Why do people believe this? As it turns out, they have a pretty strong basis in biblical teaching consisting of passages from both the Old Testament and the New Testament promising the restoration of the cosmos in the last day.

Steven James believes that if all of those who have embraced New Creation Eschatology will apply consistently the same theological method that has led them to take literally the promise of a restored earth, that approach will lead them to take literally the promise of a restored Israel (both demographically and territorially, although the emphasis is upon the territory) as one part of the restored earth. James concludes, however, that a number of those who decry the spiritualization of what the Revelation says about the new heaven and the new earth are the same people who spiritualize what the prophets say about the restoration of Israel.

James interacts with the writings of prominent exponents of New Creation Eschatology and with the major scriptural arguments that they make. Determined to offer more than just a negative case, he proposes an interpretive framework by which the key passages advanced by both sides of the Israel question can live in harmony.

It’s not hard to know more theology than I do. Frankly, I like Historical Theology better than Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology more than Historical Theology, and being a pastor better than the whole business. Nevertheless, the people whom I serve as a pastor ask questions about Israel and Heaven more than all the other places of the world combined. I’m thankful that Steven James has helped me to think more carefully about these two places and about what the Bible says about them.