Sunday, January 28, 2007

Why This Matters So Much

This makes 19 entries I've posted in January, most of them devoted to the furor over the departure of Dr. Klouda from SWBTS. Why have I blogged so much about this? That's a great question considering the following facts:

  1. I am the student of a female Church History professor at SWBTS, against whose dismissal I lobbied at SWBTS.
  2. I do not know Dr. Klouda, and what I know by reputation I find admirable.
  3. I do not have any problem with a woman teaching languages.
  4. If Dr. Patterson explicitly promised tenure to Dr. Klouda, and then broke his personal promise, then I believe he is wrong.
So, what explains the vigor of my blogging about this subject lately?

I offer the following for your consideration:
  1. Dr. Klouda is being used politically. I don't doubt that she would rather be used politically than be dismissed from a teaching position. Nevertheless, given the history of the past year, I have yet to meet anyone who believes that this uproar is simply about Dr. Klouda. It is clear what side her advocates' bread is buttered on.
  2. The zealots who have taken up this cause are perfectly willing to wreck American religious liberty in her defence. Do you have a written employment policy at your church stipulating what ministry positions women can hold and what positions they cannot? This group of people would apparently argue in federal court that the federal government has the right to suspend your church's exemption from federal anti-discrimination laws if you cannot demonstrate that your actions are in line with internal policies. The implications of a federal lawsuit upon churches and other parachurch ministries are not being taken into consideration. Southern Baptists have perfectly good internal processes capable of addressing any problem at any institution, yet this modern-day Hyrcanus would appeal to the Romans for us all, and we know how well that worked out for Judea.
  3. They are further perfectly willing to sacrifice the ministry preparation of every student at SWBTS. I do not believe that they will be successful in undoing SBWTS's accreditation, but that is certainly the objective of the letters being sent to accrediting agencies right now. Where will that leave the thousands of students whose degrees are in progress at SWBTS right now? Do our "radicals" care about them? Apparently not.
  4. This is not simply a campaign to redress procedural issues or obtain due process for Dr. Klouda. The posts and comments on this subject make it clear that the design is to discredit the conservative interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12 and to change Southern Baptist theology at this point, labelling the historic practice of Baptist seminaries and universities as "strange" and demonstrating once again that Burleson will only accept labels and insults if they are applied rightward.
  5. The ultimate design of it all is a revolution in the SBC in the vein of Saul Alinsky (see an interesting article about Alinsky, the father of liberal community organization, here. See a series of articles linking this insurgency to Alinsky here, here, here, and here. And, just for fun, see Alinsky's other prominent modern-day disciple here.) Alinsky's methodology is not hard to decipher—maniuplate the "ordinary people" to achieve the political goals of your elite cadre without becoming a true believer (see here for quotes to that effect). According to Alinsky, no cost is too high for victory. I disagree.
So, the stakes are pretty high for the SBC in 2007. Burleson and Cole are very well organized and focused. I think it very possible that they will carry the day in San Antonio, because they have quite the head start on conservatives. Your faithfulness to attend in San Antonio and bring your full slate of messengers could make all the difference.

Clearly, whether they win or lose in San Antonio, they intend to try to have their way through the federal courts and the accrediting institutions. That fact, in and of itself, is enough to mobilize me to write 19 posts in January and to do much more.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Some Strange Southern Baptists

Let's be clear who we're talking about. Let's identify all of these "strange" Southern Baptists who have built theology and religion faculties of men, so that they might all be pilloried equally.

  1. Paige Patterson
  2. Albert Mohler
  3. Jeff Iorg
  4. Chuck Kelley
  5. Phil Roberts
  6. Daniel Akin
  7. James Petigru Boyce
  8. John A. Broadus
  9. William H. Whitsett
  10. E. Y. Mullins
  11. B. H. Carroll
  12. Lee Rutland Scarborough
  13. John T. Christian
  14. ...should I keep going?
Let these "strange" people be stricken from the books, reprobates and chauvinists that they are!

Oh...I almost forgot all of the presidents of Baptist universities who have had all-male religion departments. But that list would be far too long for you to have the patience to read it. I'll just pick one at random to represent all the others:
  1. Rufus Burleson, Baylor University

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Denied Employment

I recently submitted an application to teach online for an educational institution. Midway through the process, I received an addendum to the statement of faith that I had already affirmed. The addendum included, in the final paragraph, a firm statement favoring one position regarding the chronology of the Great Tribulation in the end times.

I do not hold any firm position on the chronology of the Great Tribulation in the end times. I consider the position staked out in the document to be one valid option that might very well be true.

How am I coping? Here are a few points:

  1. I will not sign the document with "caveats".
  2. I will not perform mental and ethical gymnastics, pretending that, because I don't really disagree with the document, I could sign it even though I don't strictly agree with it either.
  3. I will not pretend that this institution has violated my rights as a Christian.
  4. I will not be suing anybody in any venue.
  5. I will not bend my theology one iota to try to accommodate myself to this institution. My theology belongs to Christ and to the Bible.
  6. I now respect this institution all the more for knowing what they believe and sticking to it.
  7. I hope that they respect me all the more for dealing with them with integrity.
  8. I will not be contacting their accrediting agencies to lodge any complaints.
  9. I will not demean their theological position as "strange".
  10. I will not accuse anybody of narrowing anything.
So that's OK, all you masked avengers out there. Don't bother to add me to your list. I'll be fine...really.

Review of Spending God's Money

Branson, Mary Kinney. Spending God's Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry. Lee's Summit, MO: Father's Press, 2006. 152 pages plus 41 pages of back matter. $14.67 with shipping.

Having watched Southern Baptists' most recent institutional scandal from a front-row seat, Mary Kinney Branson has shared her perspective with the remainder of the convention by authoring Spending God's Money. She has presented the book as "an answer. . . [offering] ways to bring joy and effectiveness back into giving." (back cover) Many, conditioned by tabloidism to do so, will read it less as a formula for future solutions than as an exposé of past misdeeds.

Simple Formula, or Simplistic Formula?

The book opens with Branson's thesis:
It all boils down to a simple formula: The extent of misuse is directly proportionate to the distance between the giver and the spender. (4)
Yet, this thesis hardly stands up to scrutiny. It reflects a naïveté regarding financial goings-on at levels pretty doggone close to the giver. The similarities between the case of Dr. Robert Reccord and the case of Dr. Claude Thomas are perhaps instructive here. I am not prepared to pass judgment upon either of these gentlemen—the story of Dr. Thomas is not offered in that vein. Rather, his story illustrates that the distance between giver and pastor is not close enough to prevent accusations of extravagance and misuse.

Of course, Thomas served at a megachurch, but as someone who has worked at close proximity with Baptist churches at the smallest end of the scale, let me disabuse anyone of the idea that all of the financial dealings at small churches are as pure as the driven snow—corrupt church treasurers, self-indulgent voting blocs, less-than-trustworthy pastors, and frequently non-existent accounting standards often add up to local churches rife with financial abuse. Such things are not the norm in our local churches, but neither are they the norm at our institutions. One wonders why Branson's milk-and-sewage analogies must apply to the situation of large entities but somehow do not apply to the corruption at smaller tiers. I know of no compelling statistical reason to conclude that any "directly proportion[al]" scale of abuse distinguishes one sphere of Christian work from the other.

Ultimately, one can get no closer to the giver than the giver himself; yet let us look at the stewardship practices of our MasterCard age and see whether we can truly affirm the notion that misuse shrinks as we get closer to home. One suspects that Branson has been through an ordeal that has jaded her, and that the trauma of her ordeal prevents her from seeing the rest of the world clearly.

Whither the Cooperative Program?

One wonders whether Branson's ideas about the Cooperative Program are well-formed and well-informed. First, the book suffers from a poor historical understanding of the Cooperative Program:
Iin 1845, when travel and communication were difficult, Southern Baptists began cooperating to send missionaries to the field. But most of the fundraising was done by the missionaries themselves. They took time away from their work, traveled halfway back around the world, and told their story in hundreds of rural churches. They sent churches' offerings back to a main office, where they were distributed according to need. What one individual or church couldn't do alone, an army of givers could do with ease. From that concept, the Cooperative Program was born.

By 1925, Southern Baptists had revolutionized their giving and multiplied their efforts by asking churches to simply send a portion of their undesignated funds directly to the main SBC office and take missionaries out of the primary fundraising strategy. Now more than 43,000 Southern Baptist churches give regularly to CP, to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars annually. (15)
The concept described in the first paragraph is the opposite of the Cooperative Program. The most amazing "Cooperative" in "Cooperative Program" is the fact that the different agencies and institutions began in 1925 to cooperate with one another on a combined budget rather than competing with one another for limited missions dollars in direct appeals. Southern Baptists did not adopt the CP until 1925 (the situation described in the second paragraph). Not only is the first paragraph of the quote not an accurate description of the Cooperative Program, but it also is not an accurate description of Southern Baptist efforts pre-1925. It presents a false dichotomy.

First of all, missionaries were not exactly the ones doing "most of the fundraising" prior to 1925. All of the mission boards, educational institutions, state conventions, tract societies, etc., in the universe of the Baptist Southland hired professional fundraising agents. These people canvassed the nation cultivating contributions. Each agent was authorized to keep a portion of funds raised as an incentive. These agents were the primary fundraisers for Southern Baptist missions before 1925. Also, a major portion of the public relations job for the mission boards was handled by board executives. A brief perusal of the minutes of state convention meetings and local associational meetings in the Reconstruction, New South, and Progressive eras quickly reveals that board agents and executives were omnipresent raising funds for their respective causes.

Consider the case of William A. Clark. During the 1880s and 1890s, Clark served a variety of positions in Arkansas, all simultaneously. He was a missionary for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, the corresponding secretary for the ABSC (the highest executive position), a Home Mission Board missionary, an agent for the HMB, and the owner-publisher of the state Baptist newspaper. He got to keep whatever contributions he received for HMB until he had met his traveling expenses and had paid for half of his ABSC salary out of HMB contributions. After meeting this threshhold, he started to send contributions on to the HMB. Through all of his missionary travels and speaking engagements, he promoted his newspaper, which he personally owned. There was nothing unethical about this—this was the standard arrangement. This was the pre-CP system. Does this sound to you like an efficient system? Does it resemble at all what Branson described in the paragraph given above?

Second, missionaries did not cease to participate in fundraising after 1925. Our missionaries do go on furlough, and have for all of recent memory. During these periods, from what I can tell, most pursue a pretty active agenda of speaking at churches, camps, and other meetings. Even though our agencies are large, most Southern Baptists have ample opportunity to interact personally with IMB and HMB personnel. Most don't take full advantage of the opportunities before them, but that doesn't mean that the opportunity is not there. Branson's recommendations, if implemented, would take us back to the dark days of a bazillion different smaller agencies devoting ever-increasing percentages of their efforts toward the competition to convince American churches to entrust them with our largesse.

The implications of Branson's book are nothing less than the dismantling of the Cooperative Program. I'll gladly agree that hers is not the first chop of the axe against the health of the CP, nor is hers at all the most damaging action toward the future health of the CP. But these observations do not change the fact that Branson's recommendations will push people toward Independent Baptist polity and the society method of funding missions. For those who retain an appreciation for CP missions, the recommendations are not a very useful part of the book.

Bob Reccord and Clinton Carnes

So, ironically, those who read the book as an exposé will find its highest utility. As a tell-all story of NAMB misdeeds, it serves well. One walks away from the experience with the idea that NAMB had inept leadership at the helm, busily chasing irrelevancies while ignoring the major tasks of the institution. The book strongly urges the conclusion that insatiable desires for self-promotion contributed significantly to these problems. At times, the book gets a little petty—if NAMB is accomplishing its mission, I'm prepared not to care if Dr. Reccord has a Blackberry. In fact, there are probably few people who need a Blackberry much more than the head of an SBC agency.

Branson's comparison between the scandals under Reccord and the Clinton Carnes incident (the guy with the shell company whose seal was in the old HMB headquarters as a reminder of past scandal) far overreaches. Carnes was a criminal who deliberately concealed his identity in order to embezzle funds from Southern Baptists; Reccord is, if all of Branson's allegations are true, an inept, self-absorbed, failed agency leader who claimed far too many perks during his tenure. One is deliberate crime; the other is ethical lapse and executive mediocrity. Both are unexcusable, but they are not the same thing.

This is obviously a book forged out of personal disillusionment. Branson quotes Ronald Reagan to tell us that "Man is good..." Ronald Reagan was a great president and a rotten theologian. Man is depraved. This episode at NAMB is a good example of that depravity. Branson's book would be stronger if it were a little less surprised (but no less prophetic) at the depravity present in NAMB's leadership and a little more cognizant of the depravity the corrupts the alternatives the book recommends. One of my observations from trying to help people in their marriages is that every premarital couple thinks that their spouse-to-be is wonderful, while every married couple in danger of divorce sees all of the faults in their spouse and imagines greener grass across every fence. Likewise, Branson's book offers an unnecessarily harsh view of large mission institutions juxtaposed against a Pollyannaish characterization of small ministries, small churches, and direct missions. She has been through a tough breakup. I suppose we've all had some sort of a bad incident in ministry that soured us for a season, so I'm guessing that we all can relate sympathetically. We can also probably all have the wisdom to take what Branson has said with a grain of salt.

Conclusion

I direct readers to my previous post. The most disturbing attribute of Branson's book for me was what I didn't read in it. I read about a NAMB consumed with marketing, selling trinkets, producing magazines, etc. I'm hoping that some large part of this impression comes from the fact that Branson worked in marketing. Nevertheless, the fact that NAMB supports only 32 missionaries erodes that hope substantially. Maybe the reason why NAMB's executives are writing books, speaking on tours, forming companies, writing software, etc., is because NAMB isn't sure what NAMB exists to do. Southern Baptists would do well to remind them, because even a casual glance at the Northeast, the Northwest, the West Coast, and Canada shows the magnitude and urgency of our task...and more and more this is true of the South. We may need NAMB even more than we need the IMB. If there were no IMB, Southern Baptists would still probably be attracted to the exotic nature of international missions, especially in the form of short-term, quick-witted project-oriented strategies reaching to far-away places. Without a robust North American Mission Board helping us to do otherwise, I worry that our churches will fill Tanzania with $1 sandals while Cleveland quietly goes to Hell.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

NAMB: A Blunt, Imprecise History

I posted something else earlier, but I took it down and decided to save it for another time. While everyone is blogging about NAMB and Mary Branson's new book, I want to offer a brief (unusual for me, I know) thought for Southern Baptists to consider. I have not read the book yet (it is on the way), but what I have to say probably has little to do with the book.

The institution that is now known as NAMB has struggled to define itself since 1845. It has struggled to find good leadership since 1845. And since 1845, Southern Baptists have regularly reshuffled and reorganized this institution, throwing at it all of the odds and ends of our denominational life. Just consider the names it has held down through the years.

  1. Board of Domestic Missions
  2. Domestic and Indian Mission Board
  3. Domestic and Indian Mission and Sunday School Board
  4. Home Mission Board
  5. North American Mission Board
Each of those changes involved the folding in of new responsibilities and a reorganization of the board. The last of those was in 1995, when our Covenant for a New Century completely reorganized the SBC and threw all the leftover scraps into NAMB.

The scraps are not garbage. So many of the individual ministries inside NAMB are incredible success stories that we need (Disaster Relief is a prominent example that comes to mind, but there are others). Others are areas of pervasive need with few successes (like the evangelization of our major cities in the North). Some of these areas of failure are not NAMB's fault—carrying the gospel to Boston is not an easy assignment. But with the organization focused on so many different, unrelated things, one wonders how it could be expected to maintain institutional focus for such an important task.

I do not work for NAMB. I do not know many people who work for NAMB. In no way can I give you an inside story about NAMB's achievements, failures, structure, etc., as regards the present day. But as a Baptist historian, I can absolutely tell you this: If the North American Mission Board today has a well-defined, well-understood, well-led, well-executed sense of its nature and mission, then this is virtually the first time in 160 years that such has been the case.

Surely somebody, somewhere in the SBC is the person to solve this and lead NAMB to do what we so desperately need it to do. If past history is a guide, the question will be whether such a person is interested in the assignment.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Points of Perhaps-Surprising Agreement

Monday the semester begins, and with it my predicted lessening of blog activity (but I am not going away).

I thought it might be outside the norm for me to list some areas in which I would not entirely disagree with present-day dissenters. Some of these will be no surprise to those who read here frequently. Others perhaps would.

  1. I agree with Tom Ascol's call for biblical church discipline and regenerate church membership. Well...except that I don't really regard that idea as belonging to Tom Ascol. I'd just as soon call it Jesus' call for biblical church discipline and regenerate church membership. But Bro. Tom has certainly carried the ball on this one as much as anyone else, and I want to give credit where credit is due. I don't know him, but I have appreciated his labors from afar.
  2. I agree with Ben Cole's call for salaries to be public knowledge. I strongly suspect that Bro. Ben's request is motivated by something other than an objective desire for openness, and I do not share those motives. Nevertheless, I am a stalwart supporter of the authority of the churches. Furthermore, greater openness about these matters would defuse the very kind of thing that Ben Cole is doing right now. Let me say, a high salary for our agency heads would not scandalize me in the least. In deciding what we would pay agency heads, we ought to ask ourselves what caliber of leadership we want in those positions. If we want world-class leaders, we ought to pay world class salaries. I realize that some people might not see it that way, but I think in the long run the Southern Baptist people can be trusted to take care of their denominational employees. I guess the whole town knows what I make as pastor, but my church still takes care of me. I strongly suspect that, if I knew what our agency heads were earning, I would want to see the salaries raised.
  3. I, too, believe that there has been too much nepotism in past days in the SBC. Of course, I'll bet there's some nepotism and recirculation of leadership in your church—probably quite a bit—but I think there has been too much of it in the SBC. It doesn't make me want to lead a revolt; it makes me want to encourage people to be more active in submitting names and participating in the process. I think the grassroots are more to blame here than the leadership. Frankly, I don't want somebody serving on an SBC committee who hasn't bothered to attend the convention (or maybe hasn't bothered to attend until a good controversy started up), any more than I want somebody serving in a leadership position at my church who doesn't bother to come to Sunday School. So, I'm in favor of greater participation by people and then a greater distribution of responsibilities among those who do take an interest and participate.
  4. I agree that some leaders in the Conservative Resurgence have been shameful in their leadership in Cooperative Program giving. I am dead-set, 100%, DEFCON-1 opposed to any SBC motion, resolution, or action that dares presume to specify to an autonomous church what it ought to give, for polity reasons. But I do think it is a shameful contradiction to give to the CP in percentages that require decimal points to be significant, and then call yourself Southern Baptist.
I think every bit of this can be addressed without resorting to the kind of histrionics we've all endured this year (Indeed, in some cases I think the behavior of the reformers has damaged the chance of reform).I can hold all of these opinions without them lessening one iota my respect and gratitude to those who have led us well. I can hold all of these opinions and yet participate joyfully in the SBC if the majority of messengers do not share my views.

I have acknowledged before that the dissent movement is not monolithic. Guess what: Neither is the group of people who have not enlisted in the dissent movement. If someone has been trying to sell you on the idea that the SBC is a tyranny, that everyone who supports the SBC as it currently exists is some sort of an automaton who receives his orders from on high and carries them out, that the SBC is designed to keep the common people marginalized while an elite few run the show, then I believe that you are being sold a bill of goods.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Been There, Done That

I was intrigued to discover that Southwestern has already faced the issue of whether federal anti-discrimination law applies to the school...and triumphed.

The 1981 federal case EEOC v. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary established that faculty at Southwestern are essentially the same as pastors, and merit the same treatment under the law as pastors serving in local churches—the so-called "ministerial exception" from the earlier case McClure v. Salvation Army. Title VII therefore does not apply to Southwestern's faculty.

It is difficult to find a more pertinent precedent than the exact same question involving the exact same institution.

My Full Opinion on the Klouda Issue

A bit of reflection and confession here: For the past couple of days I have, while critiquing Wade Burleson's writings about the Dr. Klouda situation, not been very forthright about my own views. I do believe that my critiques are substantive and important, especially the bit about religious exemption from federal employment laws.

But, it is pretty wimpy of me to critique Burleson while keeping my cards so close to my vest. I apologize, and I make amends in this very post.

Point One: I have no problem with a woman teaching Hebrew. I also have no problem with a woman teaching Church History. I do think that there is a difference between a local church and a seminary.

Point Two: I do think that seminary education—or at least theological education at a seminary—works better the more holistic and integrative it is. Although I do not believe that it is unbiblical to have a woman teaching Hebrew at a seminary, I do think it is a poor strategy to have Hebrew classes that must deliberately stick only to the linguistics. An approach that desires for instructors at seminary to be people qualified (even experienced?) as pastors is, in my opinion, a healthy one.

Personal illustration: I teach Baptist History adjunctively from time to time. Yet, I do not believe that it is the purpose of the seminary to inculcate people in Baptist History. There is a difference between a university and a seminary. A seminary exists primarily to train pastors. If the content of my class is not relevant and formative to the pastoral calling, then I believe that my teaching has failed the purpose for which people give through the Cooperative Program. I teach Baptist History because I do believe that the topic is important and relevant to the pastoral task, but I acknowledge that Baptist History can be taught in such a way that it is a secular, academic discipline and of very little value as a tool for ministry training.

SWBTS is, I believe, becoming more holistic and integrative in its approach to all of the fields within the School of Theology. I believe this to be a positive development. I can see that it also makes unfeasible the kind of arrangement where you sit someone down and say, "We're going to hire you to teach Hebrew, but we aren't going to let you teach any of the biblical exegesis classes and you are to limit your activities to the Hebrew language." As I understand it (with no first-hand knowledge), that was the arrangement with Dr. Klouda under Dr. Hemphill.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals?

Great Man vs. Grassroots

Thomas Carlyle famously remarked, "The history of the world is but the biography of great men." The "great man" approach to analysis finds the greatest significance in the attributes, motivations, and achievements of the most prominent characters in a war, a philosophical school, a political campaign, or whatever.

I'm not a big fan of the "great man" methodology. I think it often fails to ask the proper questions about how this particular person rose to greatness. Often other people just as gifted, intelligent, articulate, passionate, or privileged never achieve greatness. I believe that trendsetting and conspicuous accomplishment often have less to do with the internal attributes of the person who is the "leader" and more to do with the attributes of the grassroots—of a broad swath of people. In other words, rather than asking "Why did this person lead as he did?" I think it is often more profitable to ask "Why did anyone follow him?" After all, at any given moment there are a rushing swarm of people who would fancy themselves leaders. The trick is convincing other people to come to that same conclusion.

One of my ambitions someday is to write a history of the Conservative Resurgence that makes virtually no mention of Dr. Patterson, Judge Pressler, Dr. Rogers, Dr. Vines, Dr. Criswell, etc.—to write a history of the Conservative Resurgence that explores the questions of why a groundswell of popular support arose behind these men and accomplished the unimaginable.

Perhaps a similar grassroots analysis of current happenings would also be valuable. Much speculation has occurred regarding the motives of Wade Burleson, Ben Cole, Dwight McKissic, as well as the motives of a whole host of people who agree with me, including myself. Such speculation and analysis is not so improper as some people suggest that it is. In some cases, there's some pretty clear support for the idea that personal factors play at least some role. Yet, even if there is a place for that kind of analysis, at some point one ought to ask what larger societal movements might be at work both to inspire the leadership of the various factions involved and to give traction to their labors.

In this post I hope to propose one possible candidate for the societal movement most causally related to our recent Southern Baptist fisticuffs: Evangelicalism.

What Is Evangelicalism?

If you've read this blog much at all, you know that I love to define things. Evangelicalism is a concept begging for such treatment, because the label Evangelical has meant so many different things during the past several centuries. In 1770 an "Evangelical Revival" was ongoing in the British Isles. As applied to that milieu, the phrase "Evangelical Revival" is probably a redundant one—"Evangelical" pretty much meant "Revivalistic" in its everyday use. At one point in the twentieth century, an Evangelical was basically a conservative who wished to distance himself from J.-Frank-Norris-style Fundamentalism. These days, the word receives as much attention as a (secular) political term than anything else.

Nevertheless, I suggest that, for the period from around 1970 through the present day, Evangelicalism is broadly conceivable as a primarily economic term. Evangelicalism is an industry containing Focus on the Family, Compassion International, Contemporary Christian Music, major Christian publishing houses, dating services like Equally Yoked, and myriad other business ventures. Larry Eskridge and Mark A. Noll's book More Money, More Ministry: Money and Evangelicals in Recent North American History shed much light on this phenomenon, I think.

As an economic market, Evangelicalism has done a lot of good. The variety of music, literature, film, and other media available to North American Christians is greater today than in days past largely because of Evangelicalism. For that I am thankful. Also, the likelihood of Christians obtaining justice for the unborn and others in our society is much greater because of the political influence that has come through the consolidation of Christian political influence under the banner of Evangelicalism.

Yet the cultivation of the Evangelical market has some interesting side effects, and for these I am less enthusiastic:
  1. It is in the interest of Evangelicalism to pretend that theological concepts that have been important for thousands of years are no longer important. Because no individual denominational market is big enough to sustain modern Evangelicalism, the movement must de-emphasize denominational distinctives. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, Christians have not tended to divide in the past over minutiae. The nature of salvation, baptism, the Lord's Supper, the Trinity, the church—Evangelicalism must relegate these things to relative unimportance in order for the market to coalesce. So, it emphasizes other things—things that are important themselves—to the exclusion of these "divisive" issues. The measure of a doctrine's importance becomes not its scriptural emphasis or theological gravity, but its ability to unite the core market. For example, consider the old argument that "new music" is not sufficiently "theological" vis-a-vis hymns. Actually, I find CCM to be quite theological (even more so as the movement continues to mature); however, it tends to emphasize different points of theology than hymnody—CCM is loathe to touch doctrinal issues that might alienate a constituency.
  2. Evangelicalism must necessarily emphasize para-church over church. Para-church structures are able to sidestep the doctrinal and denominational issues that linger in churches. Para-church entities tend to be more entrepreneurial and market-oriented than churches are.
  3. Evangelicalism therefore tends to make churches more para-church-ish. Ecclesiology is de-emphasized, as are denominational ties, while the church seeks to secure the benefits of full participation in the marketplace.
  4. Evangelicalism, the more market-oriented it becomes, emphasizes ontological pragmatism (that which is true, right, etc., is that which works best). Pragmatism is part-and-parcel of market-orientation.

Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals?

Dr. James Leo Garrett and Dr. E. Glenn Hinson jousted over this question in a scholarly tome. Hinson argued that Southern Baptists are Baptists, not Evangelicals. Garrett countered that Southern Baptists are Evangelicals, albeit Denominational Evangelicals. I do not doubt that Garrett's analysis was true at the time, but I wonder whether the synthesis of Denominational Evangelicalism can withstand the powerful conforming pressures exerted by the broader Evangelical marketplace. Will the Evangelical part allow the Denominational (Baptist) part to endure long?

One can see how those pressures are at work. The Evangelical media industry is far more formative upon many Southern Baptist leaders than are distinctively Southern Baptist voices. Evangelical conferences draw an increasing number of Southern Baptist disciples when compared to denominational venues. An increasing number of churches are hard at work to conceal their denominational ties while emphasizing their membership in the broader Evangelical mainstream. And who can blame them, since the very agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention itself are stripping Baptist out of their names willy-nilly in a frantic race to attach the Southern Baptist bureaucratic gullet onto the enormous Evangelical teat—the more meaningless the name, the better the cross-market appeal.

Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals? The answer is increasingly clear: yes! The question is, are Southern Baptists still Southern Baptist?

The Present Controversy

This is the one uniting theme of the current dissent movement in the SBC: Evangelicalism. All of the hot-button issues—Private Prayer Langauge, baptism, gender roles, planting of non-Baptist churches—are issues that differentiate Southern Baptists from the broader stream of Evangelicalism, not by putting Southern Baptists at odds with any of the core beliefs of Evangelicalism, but by specifying additional things that pertain peculiarly to Southern Baptists. The current call for Christian unity is not precisely a call for Christian unity; it is a call for Evangelical uniformity. For some, it is not enough that Southern Baptists be Evangelicals. The Southern Baptist Convention must be nothing more than Evangelical. I think this is why Dr. Yarnell's excellent "Baptist Renaissance" article was so odious to so many: Any recovery of Baptistness necessarily threatens lowest-common-denominator Evangelicalism.

Yet I wonder why all this hue-and-cry to make of the SBC another Evangelical clone entitity. Aren't there enough of those already? Can we honestly contend that there is no homeland for mere Evangelicals in the landscape of American Christianity? Is it so evil for Baptists, while offering benediction to those who hold different views and pursue different methodologies, to hope for at least one group of entities that is distinctively Baptist? And indeed, if the SBC were merely Evangelical, why on earth would anyone choose to work through it rather than through one of the other merely Evangelical options available?

Yet so long as Evangelicalism remains the most successful form of Christian capitalism at work in the United States, the influence of Evangelicalism upon the Southern Baptist grassroots is only likely to grow. No denomination can compete with that market. The only hope for Baptist belief is for our denominational institutions to create another forum outside the marketplace (seminaries, for example) and employ the biblical model of a more personal discipleship to offset the Evangelical domination of mass-media. The goal here is not segregation from Evangelicalism. I myself am a voracious consumer in the Evangelical economy. The goal is to find a way to uphold Garrett's synthesis—to exist denominationally within Evangelicalism.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Interesting Logic

Wade Burleson's latest post has some interesting and frightening logic in it.

First, Burleson exhibits a dismissive attitude toward religious exemptions from federal employment guidelines, offering only the bizarre and cryptic "every good principle that forms the basis for government protecting her citizens is a principle that can be found in the Word of God." Hmmm... Let's see... Seventeen states bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (including California, where we have a seminary), so I guess Burleson would be in favor of employment protection for lesbians on the faculty at Golden Gate, if he would be consistent. In the federal code quoted, religion is one of the criteria, so I guess if (heaven forbid!) Dr. Emir Caner returns to Islam, his job would be safe from Burleson, if he would consistently apply what he has written. I don't think that Burleson really believes this (or, so I hope!), but if his logic does not apply to those situations, then it does not apply to SWBTS's situation, either.

At a moment when religious exemption from such onerous federal legislation is already dangerously tenuous, for a Southern Baptist with Burleson's public exposure to undermine this important principle is wantonly reckless and competely at odds with historic Baptist convictions about religious liberty.

An off-line discussion with Bro. Burleson (I emailed him the text of this post) clarifies that, in at least some circumstances, Burleson believes that internal SBC decisions about employment policy ought to be beyond the bounds of federal employment law.

Second, Burleson draws a false parallel between criteria for receiving a degree at SWBTS and criteria for teaching at SWBTS. Does Burleson realize that SWBTS accepts students of a wide variety of denominational persuasions into all of the degree programs at SWBTS? I studied in Ph.D. seminars with several students who were not Baptist. By Burleson's logic, I suppose he would favor the employ of everyone from Pentecostals to Presbyterians on the faculty of our Southern Baptist seminaries (then again, given the discussions of the past year, he very well might).

Finally, Burleson's exegesis discussion regarding 1 Timothy 2:12 is beyond interesting. Because authentein "cannot be found in any place where Greek is used. It is not in the Septuagint, nor in classical Greek, nor any other literature of the day" (funny... the Liddell-Scott-Jones knows about nine appearances, but I digress), Burleson seems to suggest that we shouldn't bother to try to exegete the passage at all, except maybe to eisegete speculations about slang terms and Ephesian prostitutes (guess how many of the nine references listed in LSJ have anything at all to do with Ephesian prostitutes?). The Thesaurus Linguae Graecae database has revealed more than three hundred occurrances of this term and its cognates. Yes, there's a discussion to be had between liberals and conservatives on this issue, and there is more than enough linguistic evidence to fuel it. The possibility for this discussion to occur with civility is inversely proportionate to the number of times that folks like Bro. Burleson try to tie to Islamic fundamentalism those people who actually go ahead and exegete 1 Timothy 2:12.

In conclusion, an article in the latest Reader's Digest suggests that it takes at least twenty positive comments to undo a single slap in the face. Maybe Burleson ought to lengthen his obligatory sections of "now I want you to know how much I actually love <insert target of the week here> and appreciate all that they do for the convention" if he's doing that to actually try to establish some sense of balance in his blogging.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Biblical Basis of Congregationalism

This post is part of a series on congregational church polity. It is the second installment. The first is here.

Speaking of congregationalism, pastor Shannon O'Dell was quoted this week in Baptist Press (see here) as saying, "If there is one thing I could say to the rural church it is: The reason they don’t grow is that they are structured un-biblically." Of course, O'Dell apparently equates congregationalism with its worst manifestation, "Families in power want all the power in the small local rural church with no responsibility—you’re so trapped you can’t move forward." O'Dell instead favors a system of church governance in which he is in charge. He makes his contrast pretty plainly: "Most churches are structured for it to be congregationally led or democratic. God’s order states: #1 God; #2 the pastor; then the elders, deacons and trustees."

Is it true? Is there no biblical basis for congregationalism? Did our spiritual forefathers just make it all up? I don't think so. There is a biblical case for congregationalism, and I find it compelling.

I must say first, there is no biblical basis for the "Families in power want all the power..." kind of system. But judging congregationalism based upon its worst exemplar is unfair. The equivalent would be for me to judge O'Dell's system by examining the history of the papacy. Maybe that's not the most helpful way to pursue the dialogue.

Even if I have no desire to defend the abuses of congregationalism, I submit that the Bible assigns certain governance duties not to the pastor or the deacons (did I miss the part about "trustees" in the Bible?), but directly to the gathered congregation. In an effort to present a comprehensive study, I admit that I am presenting points of varying weights. Some of these points are pretty much unavoidable. Others have more wiggle room for interpretation. Taken as a whole, I believe that they make a strong biblical case for congregationalism.

The very meaning of the word church

The word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) was, prior to Jesus' appropriation of it at Cæsarea Philippi (Matthew 16:18), a political term. Ἐκκλησία conjured up for Hellenics the same thoughts that come to American minds at the mention of the phrase "town hall meeting."

The meaning of any word is a complex phenomenon, defined only by the idiosyncracies of the people who employ it. I am not saying that, because the Greeks used this word in such-and-such fashion, it necessarily defines a church as a local voting assembly. But there is no internal evidence favoring any other understanding of the word over this one. Since Jesus forewent terms like synagogue and deliberately borrowed this Greek political term, and since there is no evidence that any other meaning for the term is dominant, I find it reasonable to believe that the idea of a democratically voting local assembly of people constitutes at least some part of what Jesus meant when He chose to refer to the institution that He founded as an ἐκκλησία.

Matthew 18:15-20

15 If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

19 Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

(Matthew 18:15-20, NASB)
Church discipline is a function specifically reserved to the congregation by the very words of Jesus. The first individual mentioned in the passage has the right to bring an accusation. The two or three people of stage two have the right to serve as corroborating witnesses. But only the church has the authority to exclude. No matter the size of that congregation, even if it consists only of two or three people, Christ has promised that the authority of heaven lies behind congregational decisions about such matters.

I know that Jesus' statement opens a can of worms embodied in a thousand what-ifs. The impasse between J. R. Graves and R. B. C. Howell from 150 years ago gives us a situation to which it is difficult to apply Matthew 18:15-20. Certainly there is plenty of devil in some of the details. However, the point is that Jesus did not say "tell it to the elder" or "tell it to the apostle." Rather, He commanded to bring matters of church discipline to the assembly (ἐκκλησία, "church").

Thus, I believe that the New Testament requries that congregations regulate their own membership.

The Corinthian Scandal

What Jesus described in principle, Paul applied to a specific situation in the local church in Corinth:

3 For I, on my part, though absent in body yet present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus…

12 …Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. (1 Corinthians 5:3-5, 12b-13, NASB)

What makes this passage especially interesting to me is Paul's self-restraint when he deals with a subject that falls within the Christ-assigned jurisdiction of the congregation. Paul wants this guy kicked out, and not six months down the road, either. But Paul won't (can't?) just exclude this egregious sinner. Rather, he tells the church that they must do it "when [they] are assembled." The congregation has to meet. At the beginning of verse 5, the NASB makes the rather unfortunate insertion of the words "I have decided." These words do not appear in the Greek text. I think it makes more sense to take the infinitive translated by "to deliver" as giving the purpose of the meeting. Paul insists that the congregation assemble and handle this matter of church discipline as a congregation.

By the way, they did so by holding business meeting. I don't mean that they read minutes. I don't mean that the Corinthian church had a dusty copy of Robert's Rules of Order sitting nearby. But we do know that they voted, and we do know that a majority vote carried the day. How do we know? Because the remainder of the story appears in 2 Corinthians:

6 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority. (2 Corinthians 2:6, NASB)

Thus, it seems clear to me that, in the New Testament church, the congregation and only the congregation—according to the specification of Christ Himself—had the authority to regulate the membership of the church, which it did by holding votes and following majority rule.

Of course, I direct you back to the first post in the series. Such a system is only biblical so long as the goal of the majority is to submit to the rule of the only One who is Head of the church.

I'm sleepy. More later. In our next installment, we'll look at the congregation's role in the selection of its leadership.

Lies and Baptist Statistics

Here's one effect of our utter lack of meaningful church membership: The vast majority of Baptist statistics are so tainted as to hardly be useful.

Consider, for example, the beaten-to-death assertion that American Christians divorce at a higher rate than American lost people. Oh, really? But who are these "American Christians"? Are we talking about the people who actually have some involvement in the life of the church, or are we talking about those millions of people whose names are on church rolls but who give absolutely no visible evidence of being saved? I've only been in ministry twenty years, but my experience so far is that divorce among actual faithful attenders occurs far below the 50% mark, and still rocks and scandalizes the church.

One might argue that people with commitment issues—a group very likely to divorce—are likely to be highly overrepresented in the group of people who dally with a temporary church affiliation and then disappear. Yet this is hardly an indictment of marital fidelity among real Christians.

This oft-cited statistic soldiers on as a case study in the irrelevance and ineptitude of the gospel (or at least of the church, depending upon who is wielding it). The sad thing is that we do it to ourselves. Every person we leave on the rolls of the church who is completely out of touch with the ministry of the church—every one of them—is a false and damaging advertisement for the idea that Christianity is just another ineffective religion.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Clinton & Carter

I have received requests from readers who want to know my opinion about the Clinton-Carter soiree that took place while I was tending to Grandpa Brady in Missouri (BTW, if you missed that story in the comment log on the previous post, it is worth reading). Knowing that I would be in complete disagreement with the direction that these former presidents would wish to take Baptist life, folks hunger to hear me hurl a little invective, I guess.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but personal reasons leave me with absolutely no desire to heap gratuitous public criticism upon President Clinton.

I will say this: Baptists are in desperate need of reform. The most obvious flaw of Bro. Duren's recent post about "Tories" and "Reformers" is that many of the people he would classify into the first category are very zealous for a real Baptist reformation. Certainly I know that I am.

Yet of all of the ways in which Baptists need change and reformation, I am prepared to say that Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have absolutely nothing that we lack and need, as far as I can tell. That's not to deny that they have any good qualities—I'm merely saying that, whatever good points I see in them, the SBC abounds in those areas as well as in others.

Now, if you want me to be harsh and unkind, you could always ask me about her rather than him. Then I'll really be tempted! :-)

Sunday, January 7, 2007

There Is...One Lord

The central grounding truth of biblical church governance is the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ alone is the one Lord and Head of the church.

Papal rule is wrong and unbiblical.

Episcopal rule is wrong and unbiblical.

Synodical rule is wrong and unbiblical.

Elder rule is wrong and unbiblical.

Deacon rule is wrong and unbiblical.

Pastoral rule is wrong and unbiblical.

Congregational rule is wrong and unbiblical.

Christ founded the church (Matthew 16:18). Christ is the Head of the church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He and He alone is the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20...i.e. "Senior Pastor") of the church. He has not abdicated or retired. Jesus is not an emeritus anything.

So, biblical church governance is about one and only one thing: What does Jesus want?

Facing the bewildering array of decisions that churches face today, our purpose for our polity is to determine the will of God. I believe that every form of polity is vulnerable to corruption by those who will not acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, yet I do not believe that every form of polity is equally vulnerable to that danger. Some forms of polity are better suited to discerning and following God's will than are others.

If the New Testament gives us any instruction about church polity (and I believe that it does), then it would be strange indeed to conclude that ignoring those instructions will improve our ability to find God's will for the church. Do we find God's will by ignoring God's word? I think not.

So, this upcoming series on church polity rests upon these premises: The purpose of polity is to acknowledge and follow the Lordship of Christ; Christ has given us instruction about church polity; and even in the choice of a system of church polity, we acknowledge that the choice is Christ's, and not our own, to make.

Friday, January 5, 2007

An Update from Drs. Yarnell and Caner

While I've been trying to convince ACS to close out the 2006 books for FBC Farmersville, the blogging vortex has apparently encircled Dr. Malcolm Yarnell and Dr. Emir Caner. Welcome to Oz, gentlemen. In conversation with them, I learn that they have no desire to drop houses on anyone's heads (deserved or undeserved). I was, however, able to obtain a joint statement from them:

In 2006, Drs. Emir Caner and Malcolm Yarnell agreed to address the issue of tongues in two papers which are now White Papers at www.BaptistTheology.org. These papers have garnered extensive analysis, for which we are both appreciative. However, some critics have perceived our papers as a defense of Cessationism, a topic rarely covered in either paper. The papers were intended to deal with Private Prayer Language (PPL) and whether it is defined as a spiritual gift in Scripture. Our conclusion from the Bible was and is that PPL is not biblical. Additionally, as can be seen within history, PPL is a recent development inherently connected with the Charismatic movement and thus is not found in Southern Baptist history until recently.

The papers assert that the biblical texts that the proponents of PPL had brought forward to support such a practice, a practice which in our opinion may really just be a religiously-neutral phenomenon, provide no indication that PPL was ever acknowledged in the Bible as a spiritual gift. In other words, we vehemently disagreed with the claim that PPL is a legitimate spiritual gift according to the definition of Scripture. By accusing us of advocating Cessationism (or the novel doctrine of semi-Cessationism), controversialists are not addressing what we perceive to be the primary issue. Furthermore, we are being represented as advocating a position which we have not defined. We do note that if the practice of tongues is to be biblical, it must be practiced corporately, in order, and with a known language. The term Cessationist has been used quite imprecisely and illogically with regard to our position given that we do not believe PPL has ceased since we do not believe it ever authentically existed. Indeed, the idea of unintelligible and private speech contradicts Paul’s whole argument in 1 Corinthians 14 for the church to be edified and the lost evangelized through the intelligible and public proclamation of the Gospel.

Finally, constantly stirring a controversy over a non-biblical practice seems to us to violate Scripture’s commands to seek unity among the brethren. Ultimately, we have defended the integrity of Scripture and the traditional position of Southern Baptists in our White Papers and we stand by them. We really would prefer not to be part of a continuing controversy over this issue; however, recent accusations that we are Cessationists seem to us to be another way that confusion and division might be introduced into the Southern Baptist Convention. This is something we do not desire. Instead, our prayer is that Southern Baptists will stand firm on the Word of God and adhere to the Great Commission by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world for whom Christ died. May the peace of God reign over you. Truth is Immortal.
These learned men frame an important corrective note, I believe. The real issue facing the SBC today is not when or whether the biblical gift of tongues ceased or resumed or whatnot—the real issue regards what the gift of tongues essentially was (and is). Is the phenomenon that began its modern advent with Charles Fox Parham and continues with tongues-speakers and private-language-prayers today the same phenomenon as the biblical miracle of speaking in tongues? I've heard descriptions of "cessationism" from those who do not hold it, but I'm having trouble finding many people active in Southern Baptist life who actually hold such views (e.g., that the New Testament stipulates a post-apostolic cessation of miraculous gifts). I do, however, find well-populated ranks of Southern Baptists who, without daring to assert that God could not give the gift of tongues today, are more than willing to evaluate the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third Wave practice as being a modern innovation completely unconnected with the New Testament.