Saturday, June 30, 2007

For Immediate Distribution

I've been blogging for a year now, and I have some readers. Also, I'm about to start podcasting. Furthermore, I'm thinking about launching a printed newsletter, which would have an instant readership of at least thirty people. With my fine suite of Apple computers and software, I have produced several Preteen Camp, Mission Trip, and VBS videos. I once did a Q&A "man on the street" video production for a chapel sermon. For that production, I even had a guy help me. And I directed the finest video documentary of an adoption that has ever been produced, in my opinion. Therefore, I am not only a journalist—I am a multimedia journalistic conglomerate. I demand that everyone immediately begin to forward me all their press releases. And tomorrow, I'm sending a letter to George W. Bush demanding a spot in the White House Press Corps. :-)

Enlarging the Place of Our Tent

Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwelling, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
(Isaiah 54:2)
While a significant portion of the Baptist blogosphere is busy retreating, regrouping, and reorganizing, Praisegod Barebones is preparing for a major expansion. For the month of July, I will be offline (let's face it, I've pretty much been offline throughout the last half of June). When I return in August, I will do so bigger and better. I want to be careful not to overpromise, so I'll give you a few things that I think are practically certain at this point:
  • Podcasting: I plan to produce occasional podcasts. In fact, if all of you would send in donations, I could listen to them on one of these. You know, maybe I'm going about this all wrong. My first podcast will announce that God will take me home on Labor Day if the good Southern Baptist people haven't purchased an iPhone for me by then. Or maybe I should leave that tactic to Art Rogers, since he lives in Tulsa.
  • The Fifth Century Initiative: I am very hopeful that the Fifth Century Initiative will cease to be "my" project and will become a conference involving a large group of faithful and visionary Baptists.
  • Online Sermon Calendaring: I have authored a web application that allows me to plan my preaching easily and from anywhere with Internet access. The resulting content is available to display online with great creativity in presentation. I've been hard at work over the past year modifying the code to make it accessible to multiple users. I hope to debut it in August. I'm not promising a "killer app" or anything—it is software written by a preacher who is self-taught in C#, T-SQL, AJAX, Javascript, and ASP.NET. Of course, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
  • And, of course, Southern Baptist political commentary will continue apace. During my blogging vacation, I recommend that you spend some time getting to know Dr. Thomas White. His blog is here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bridges and Fences

Joe Stewart has authored a new dispatch (see here) that strikes to the heart of the majority of current issues facing Southern Baptists. This post reveals the deep intellect and profound wisdom that Joe possesses. Visit the post and leave him a comment.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Something Worthwhile from Slate

I can't guarantee your safety reading anything else over there, but Slate online magazine has a review of Evan Almighty that gives precisely my opinion of the whole enterprise. I haven't seen the film, but Slate describes it as precisely what I knew it would be. See the review here. Yes, this is what passes for a post when I'm busy. :-)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

How to Know When Bart Will Vanish Temporarily

Here's the sequence of events:

  1. Some sort of disaster hits in Texas (see here).
  2. My wife's Disaster Relief Child Care unit gets activated (see a woefully out-of-date website here. The child care unit is not on stand-by—they've been up and running for two days in Gainesville).
  3. That means that I have Jim and Sarah all by my lonesome, and Mr. Mom barely has time to breathe, much less blog!
So, I hope it does not offend all of my faithful readers to learn that you come in somewhere other than first on my priority list. I have a few more things to post in June. I'm taking July off from blogging, primarily to make more time for shady, smoke-filled-room, behind-closed-doors, nefarious politicking. ;-)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

San Antonio Hindsight: Part Four

A Consensus Proposal: Explicit Referendum Powers?

Should agency trustees be accountable to the Southern Baptist Convention? Here, it seems to me, is a question that occupies a fundamental position in our current debates and upon which some measure of widespread agreement is feasible. Should agency trustees be accountable to the Southern Baptist Convention? I answer yes. At the risk of putting words into people's mouths, I'm going to guess that Wade Burleson, Ben Cole, Art Rogers, Marty Duren, C. B. Scott, Les Puryear, Alan Cross, Robin Foster, Jeremy Green, Wes Kenney, Jerry Corbaley, David Worley, Tim Guthrie, Peter Lumpkins, Joe Stewart, etc., etc., etc., will all agree. I'll be shocked if anyone in Southern Baptist life responds negatively to that question. With such widespread agreement on an underlying principle, people can build consensus—especially people led by the same Spirit. It all boils down to asserting a right akin to the secular political process called referendum. I think it is unwise to set up an automatic referendum situation. That's one reason why I oppose the current assertion by a few people of the BF&M as a maximum doctrinal statement for the agencies (among other reasons). No good framework exists for determining which policies and practices are doctrinal and which are not. The ultimate effect of the recommendations in Dr. Chapman's sermon at the SBC would be, in my estimation, each board of trustees bringing a dozen items every year for review by the convention. Inefficient and onerous—the people of the SBC don't want to deal with all of that folderol. Not having to rubber stamp every little decision is one of the reasons why we have a trustee structure in the first place. I do not affirm any system that forces the Southern Baptist messengers into an automatic referendum of new doctrinal policies and practices. For Southern Baptists to have to vote, 150 years later, to affirm the Abstract of Principles for SBTS is idiotic. I do, however, believe that the Southern Baptist messengers ought to be able to provoke a referendum of any trustee policies and practices that we WISH to take up. Furthermore, the mechanism for doing so ought to be accessible and reliable—messengers ought to be able to know clearly their precise avenue of recourse, and it ought to work the same way every time for every issue. Our polity does not allow the convention to instruct the agencies; therefore, our referenda amount to the expression of an opinion, for or against. But remember, the SBC is the indispensible source of funding for these agencies. Believe me: They pay attention to the opinion of the SBC. Currently, our bylaws and rules of order are structured in such a way as to try to slap down as many initiatives from the floor as is possible. In most cases, I believe this is a wise approach (for one thing, it helps to stem our bureaucratic accretions somewhat). Nevertheless, if you give people the impression that they cannot gain a fair hearing at the annual meeting, you are courting the eventual rise of denominational junta after denominational junta—you force people to seize power in order to have influence. I believe that this right of referendum is already possible within our current structure. Nevertheless, I can understand why somebody might conclude that such an action is not really possible, whether it is technically possible or not. So, I'm suggesting that Southern Baptists could clarify and codify an explicit right and procedure for elective referendum of trustee or Executive Committee actions by the body of convention messengers. Should it require a simple majority or 2/3 to bring a trustee action to the floor for review? A simple majority or 2/3 to overturn a decision? Should the process take a single year, or should the trustee body have a year to prepare a response or propose a solution? Should the proposed referendum have to be filed in advance, as our resolutions are now? I'm open to persuasion on these specific issues. I'm specifically interested in hearing from those on the "other side of the aisle"—does this seem a workable solution to you? What say you?

Monday, June 18, 2007

San Antonio Hindsight: Part Three

Word of the Year: Irenic

The report of the Committee on Resolutions was, in my analysis, reflective of President Frank Page's peaceful spirit. Any resolution that had the slightest whiff of any controversy whatsoever made its way into the wastepaper can. The committee's anti-controversy policy was evenhandedly applied to all parties. As soon as I saw the report, I was more than happy to leave the Resolutions report alone entirely and respect the committee's quest for peace. It was a good enough disposition of this year's flood of resolutions. Nevertheless, allow me to observe that this approach to resolutions, if applied year-after-year, will eventually become counterproductive. Consider, for example, the heated debate over the meaning of the vague EC statement on the BF&M. At least two submitted resolutions dealt squarely and specifically with this topic: Les Puryear's and mine. Neither resolution was ambiguous. Les did a good job of writing his. I think I did a fair job of writing mine. The Committee on Resolutions decided to trash both of our resolutions. The SBC (through no fault of the Committee on Resolutions) wound up adopting a vague statement that both Les Puryear and I supported and in favor of which we both voted. Conflict can be constructive when it resolves something. Consideration of either of our resolutions would have been definitive—would have resolved something. We avoided that moment of contest in San Antonio, but as a result the conflict remains entirely unresolved. I don't savor the idea of the SBC becoming like the members of a disfunctional family who caustically argue with one another every night without achieving any resolution. Neither do I savor the idea of the SBC becoming like the members of a disfunctional family who stuff it all in and ignore matters of difference until the unresolved conflict kills the relationship. Rather, we ought to give our convention processes the opportunity to address differences frankly and to bring some resolution to issues hanging up in the air. Eventually, a dogged determination to avert substantive conflict will only make it fester. But for one year—this year especially—the Resolutions report was a breath of fresh air. Thanks, Dr. Page.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

San Antonio Hindsight: Part Two

A Personal Perspective

The San Antonio Convention had personal significance for us in several ways. First, on Monday evening Tracy and I walked into the Marriott Rivercenter hotel. We had to overcome some things to do so. Five years ago we brought to that hotel an infant boy that we were adopting. That overnight was a mystical, amazing experience—I never realized how quickly God can knit together the hearts of parents to their children. The next morning, moments before the legal deadline, the birthmother called that hotel room to announce that she had changed her mind (which I fully affirm is her right to do). We bundled up the one who, in our hearts, was our little boy, and we gave him away. Then we slunk out of the Marriott Rivercenter. I deliberately did not book a room for us in that hotel, but I knew that we wouldn't be able to avoid the convention hotel for the entire week. Sure enough, there we were on Monday night. My feelings were a strange mixture. Somewhere walking around San Antonio is a five-year-old boy who was almost my son. That kind of pain doesn't go away entirely. But on the other hand, walking around San Antonio with me was a four-year-old boy who is my son…and an eleven-month-old daughter crawled a good bit of the Convention Center to boot! Our confidence in what God has done gave us the courage to return to what was once the site of a disaster in our lives.

No More Live-Blogging

I just can't do it. It feels sacrilegious to be typing away on my computer, blogging during church. I won't ever attempt it again. Sorry.

Meeting People

I met a bunch of new people this week. Les Puryear is a great guy, and a few minutes chatting with him was one of the highlights of my week. I got to meet Marty Duren, of Fox News Channel fame :-) . I met Dr. Russell Moore. Chadwick Ivester is a brand-new acquaintance. I met Tim Guthrie, who appears to be doing great after the heart attack. I met Alycelee. I tried to keep Bob Cleveland from stepping out into traffic. I never did find Dorcas Hawker. I'm skipping about fifty people. Sorry. And then there are all of the people whom I already knew but got to see once again. Top of that list is Harold & Betty Ray. I look for them every year at SBC. Bro. Ray has been the Director of Missions at the Mt. Zion Baptist Association in Jonesboro, Arkansas for a long time. He was a ADoM at Associational Boys Camp in 1981 when God made plain to me His calling upon me to preach. I have a lifelong love in my heart for the Rays. Of course, there were many others.

Conclusion

These are some personal reflections about San Antonio, and they will probably be meaningless to the vast majority of my readers. But, this kind of entry is helpful from time to time if for nothing else than to remind you that this is a blog, not a newspaper. :-)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

It's the Text, Stu...Wait, We Don't Use That Word

We didn't vote on the debate. We didn't vote on Morris Chapman's sermon. We voted solely upon the text of the EC statement, and that text is so vague that a dozen different interpretations of it are already floating around the SBC. Please note, before anyone alleges that I am spinning out of sour grapes, the indisputable fact that I endorsed the motion before it ever came to the floor for discussion, and at a time when the messengers had just minutes before (in the announced 1VP results) demonstrated plainly that this body of messengers was not sympathetic to Wade Burleson's movement. What possible reason can you give for me to have endorsed that motion at that particular moment other than the one I have expressed publicly—that I had honestly concluded that I agreed with the statement? Any statement on this topic with which I and Les Puryear both agree is, by definition, a vague statement. (Bro. Les is a great guy, but everyone must concede that he and I represent the two opposite poles on this particular question) David Rogers has an excellent and introspective post about the antipathy between political expediency and plain speech. David, to his credit, is much better at the latter than the former. David the denominational politician obviously wasn't my candidate. David the thinker and plain speaker is much more to my liking. I don't think that David ever gave up plain speaking, but in political life one is always surrounded by people who do much of your speaking for you, as obviously took place with David. Anyway, the post is here, and I highly recommend it. I think that the EC statement on the BF&M is a victim of precisely the phenomenon about which David writes. The statement was crafted for political effect, and somewhere in the process it ceased to say what its supporters wanted it to say. It belongs in the category of political expediency rather than open communication. This reason, I believe, explains why the statement is so vague. I propose that we do something entirely out of the ordinary—let us seek open communication about this contentious issue, and in so doing, let us seek peace rather than political advantage. Let us put up in 2008 a plainly written statement. Perhaps we just ought to take Dr. Chapman's statement in his sermon (lifted from Wade Burleson's site):

(1) Any practice instituted by an entity in the Southern Baptist Convention that has the force of doctrine should be in accord with the Baptist Faith and Message and not exceed its boundaries unless and until it has been approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and secondly, (2) If an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention adopts a confession of faith separate and distinct from the Baptist Faith and Message and it includes a doctrine unsupported by our confessional statement, the entity should request approval from the Convention prior to including the doctrine in its confession.
Now that sermon, my friends, says things plainly (but, unfortunately, we did not vote upon the plainspoken sermon, but upon the vague politically expedient text). Do you notice all the things Dr. Chapman's quote possesses that are not in the EC statement? It is specific and pointed. It spells out the procedures involved. Yes, there is a phrase or two that cries out for meaningful definition ("that has the force of doctrine"???), but Dr. Chapman's statement is leap-years beyond the text upon which we voted. The clear specificity of Dr. Chapman's sermon is precisely the attribute that causes Wade Burleson to want to quote it now, in the aftermath. It is also precisely the attribute of Dr. Chapman's words that made them precisely what our dissident brethren did not want to be contained in the motion. Dr. Chapman's sermon is the kind of plainspoken communication that clearly leaves everyone certain whether he stands in agreement or in disagreement. But, I remind you, we didn't vote upon Dr. Chapman's statements. But we should have. So, let us take a blunt, plainly worded statement like this and schedule time on the platform next year for an even-handed debate of the measure. Rather than give unrebutted time for the CEO to deliver a stump speech, let us have Dr. Chapman and an equally articulate spokesperson from another point of view speak to the concept. I think Dr. Al Mohler might be a great choice, although he may not appreciate an unsolicited nomination to an unanticipated task. Let's follow clear and careful rules of debate and do everything possible to produce more light than heat. Then, let us have a brief time of floor debate followed by a vote. And if the text of the statement actually says something clearly, then we'll all know where we stand, and we'll all need to move forward from there. Those who plot movements according to political expediency will object, but I am confident that there are more of us who are drawn to open communication. That fact is the hope of the SBC.

San Antonio Hindsight: Part One

Here begins my post-convention analysis. Why shouldn't I—everyone else is doing post-convention analysis! But I am going to try to delve a little deeper than some of the stuff I'm reading elsewhere.

Part One: Who Came and Who Didn't

A lot more didn't than did! In fact, on Wednesday night a large portion of the meeting hall had been walled off to prevent attendees from sitting three-to-a-section. Final registration totals were a full third less than predicted. Baptist Press reports that the largest number of those who came (unsurprisingly) were residents of Texas. Indeed, nearly one in five messengers was a Texas Baptist (see the story here). Yet the story does not break out attendees by state convention, but only by state. The voting results suggest that the BGCT simply did not show up in large numbers. Reports that BGCT messengers were going to bus in from Waco for the 1VP vote turned out to be bluster. That fact, in turn, suggests that liberal Baptists in the BGCT care not at all what happens in the SBC, and conservative Baptists in the BGCT don't appear to be all that interested, either. If one cannot mobilize a significant anti-Conservative-Resurgence/anti-CR-leadership faction in Texas, one cannot do it anywhere. I walk away from this year strongly encouraged about the probable outcome of our future meetings in Indianapolis and Louisville.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened in San Antonio

On Saturday night, I was walking from the Residence Inn over to the Convention Center when I first spotted it. The sign to the Crockett Hotel lured visitors inside to the "Landmark Restaurant." I immediately resolved that I needed to gather a group of all those who have been recklessly accused of being "Landmarkers" in the past year and enjoy a meal there together, just so I could take a picture and blog about it, pulling the chain of those who stereotype us. Well, the week got away from me. We tried to go once, but learned that the restaurant only serves breakfast. Finally, early this morning, I was able to get Dr. Malcolm Yarnell to walk over with me for breakfast at the Landmark Restaurant. We walked inside to the hostess station, where the following conversation took place:

Hostess: Table for two? Us: Yes, please. Hostess: Do you have your coupon? Us: We don't have a coupon. Hostess: OK, do you have your room number? Us: Well, we aren't guests at the hotel. We just wanted to eat breakfast over here. Hostess: (Awkward, puzzled silence) Us: Are you not set up for people to pay with cash? Hostess: Well, actually, the restaurant exists to serve breakfast to the guests at the hotel. Us: OK, I'm sorry. We saw the sign outside and thought it was a public restaurant. Hostess: You're welcome to dine at the breakfast buffet in our sister hotel, the Menger, just across the street.
Disappointed, we walked across the street and ate the recommended breakfast. Later in the day, Dr. Ergun Caner called Dr. Yarnell at which time Dr. Yarnell communicated our disappointment at being shut out of the Landmark restaurant. Dr. Caner's reply? "Of course—they're closed communion!" :-)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Vignette that Says it All

I was sitting on an aisle in a relatively unpopulated area of the convention hall this morning during the Southern Seminary report. Discussion and questioning followed the report. While the discussion was ongoing, I noticed and made eye contact with one of the only other people in the section, a man who appeared to be in his sixties—older than me, but not old by any sense of the word. I smiled at him, but he had a troubled look on his face. He got up and crossed the ten-foot distance between us. Arriving at my seat, with a voice of grave concern he bent down and said to me, "What have I missed? All we did last night was reaffirm the BF&M, right?" I said, "Sir, somehow two different interpretations of last night's vote have emerged." "But all we did was reaffirm the BF&M, right?" "Well, we reaffirmed it as a guide for our agencies." "But all we did was reaffirm the BF&M, right?" He grew more insistent the longer we spoke, and in his concern this simple sentence was all he could say. I couldn't even get his name from him. It is clear to me what HE meant when he cast his vote last night. That makes two of us.

Dr. Mohler's Second Home Run

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's report was NOT just another report. I think that Dr. Mohler has spoken a word that will encourage and unite Southern Baptists. Don't miss it.

Politics of the BF&M Recommendation

The topic of discussion this morning on blogs is the BF&M recommendation. Please note that the topic is not the greater than 2-to-1 victory of Jim Richards, because some are humble in victory while others cannot resist the temptation to gloat and grandstand even in contrived victories. So, I'm glad to speak about the BF&M recommendation, which I endorsed before it ever came to the floor. Ask yourself, friends—how is it "spinning" motivated out of "sour grapes" when one makes an endorsement long before the item even comes to the floor? By making this endorsement, I have apparently puzzled a large number of people of all blogging persuasions. I have offered an explanatory post that works through the text. Now, I offer a political explanation. Here, in my opinion, is what happened:

  1. People who would like to prevent trustees from addressing any theological measure beyond those addressed in the BF&M wanted the Executive Committee to adopt a statement to that effect.
  2. These dissidents wanted to craft their statement in such a way that one could not argue against it without, basically, arguing against the BF&M.
  3. A strategy was reached to borrow from the recent slogan "sufficiency of the Bible" and speak of the sufficiency of the BF&M.
  4. But to make the recommendation fit this strategy, it couldn't really say outright what the dissidents wanted it to say. But political considerations trumped accuracy and the statement went forward in this fashion.
  5. Last night, after the 1VP election was finished, I sat down to take a look at this motion and to determine how I was going to vote. SBC motions are too important for us to vote by emotional political reaction. Each vote ought to reflect a carefully reasoned and prayerful choice. When I cut through all the balderdash and read the actual text of the statement, I realized the mistake made by the folks with whom I often disagree—they had nuanced the statement so much for political reasons that it no longer said at all what they wanted to say.
  6. I immediately endorsed the measure, right from the floor of the convention.
  7. At least one conservative was at a mike last night to speak in favor of the motion from this vantage point, but, like many speakers last night, he did not get to speak to the issue because time ran out.
  8. We voted on the actual statement, but now we are being told that the interpretation is what will be enforced.
Many, many people on my "side of the aisle" are apoplectic in their opposition to this recommendation, largely because they know of at least a few people who will bring down yet another year of heartache upon the SBC by ignoring the text of the statement and asserting something else. But I am not bound by anyone else's reading of this. I have yet to see anyone show me where in the text of this statement it contradicts anything I am saying.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The EC Statement, Line-by-Line

I learn upon browsing on over there that Wade Burleson has asserted that the SBC has instructed our agencies and institutions that they "do not have the right to narrow doctrinal parameters beyond [The Baptist Faith & Message]." So, let's just look at the statement line-by-line:

  1. "The Baptist Faith and Message is neither a creed, nor a complete statement of our faith, nor final and infallible…" Pretty self-explanatory stuff here. Our confession does not address everything, does not function creedally, can be amended, and might be wrong.
  2. "… nevertheless, we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention…" Simple historical fact here. Southern Baptists have never adopted any other statement of doctrinal beliefs.
  3. "… and such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees…" The BF&M needs no other clarifying document in order to serve as a guide to trustees. There is no list of primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrines in the document. The document itself, as it stands, speaks for itself and is sufficient as a guide to the trustees. I should note, some people seem to be asserting it as the only sufficient guide to the trustees. But such a belief would be heresy, and I think that people really just aren't thinking through what they are saying. "Only sufficient" is language that we Baptists generally reserve for speaking about the Bible. Thankfully, the text of the statement says nothing of the sort. So, the BF&M is precisely what this statement says it is: One document that is sufficient to serve as a guide to the trustees.
  4. "… in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention…" The statement flatly affirms that trustees are the ones authorized to set the policies and practices of our entities. We as a convention absolutely expect them, when considering any policies and practices, to take into consideration the content of the BF&M.

Here's a Question for You?

Since what Wade Burleson and others have said quite clearly what they really wanted Southern Baptists to say—that the people of the Southern Baptist Convention oppose the adoption of any doctrinal policies that go beyond the BF&M—why didn't the motion just, quite simply, say that? Because that motion could not pass at the SBC...that's why. The interpretative vagueness of the statement was necessary to secure its passage; therefore, it must necessarily govern its application.

Unintended Consequences of Convention Actions

A little political analysis and conjecture here:

Action:
Southern Baptists defined "Cooperative Program giving" as only the giving of a portion of undesignated monies through both a state convention and the SBC.
Consequence:
The splintering of more state conventions.
In those state conventions where conservatives are dissatisfied with the theological stance of the state convention, they will no longer be able to give around the state convention and count that giving as CP giving. Although this will not prevent them from sending messengers to the SBC, they will not be able to have a leadership influence in the convention because they will not have enough "CP giving" to meet present standards. Their choices? Lose their influence in the SBC, militantly work to change their state conventions to match their convictions, give to fund ministries contrary to their convictions, or create separate state conventions in order to be able to give more CP dollars. I'm not ready to make any evaluation (would this be good or bad?) of any aspect of these suggestions at this point. I need to think about it more first. But I do see clearly that, although the Executive Committee did not mean to incentivise churches to form new state conventions, they have done precisely that.

Motion on BF&M Passes

[Edit] I should make clear to everyone, this is my read of the voting, not the official report of the convention. The ballot count will not be announced until tomorrow. [/Edit] And I'm thrilled with the fact that the motion passed. I cannot imagine that Southern Baptists would have failed a motion stating that the BF&M is a sufficient guide to our trustees in discharging their duty to set policies and practices. I'm thankful that the statement clearly recognizes the authority of trustees to set policies and practices. I'm thankful that it calls upon trustees to consult the guidance of the BF&M in making those discussions. I doubt that any board of trustees has adopted any policies or practices without at least consulting the guidance of The Baptist Faith & Message, which is entirely sufficient to serve as one guide to our trustees in making such decisions. It was strange to me that, of the discussion offered, none of it dealt substantially with the actual wording of the statement. This morning's speeches charged the issue with a set of extraneous interpretations of the statement that are not actually contained in the text. This should be a statement that all Southern Baptists can come together behind, in my opinion.

Endorsements, Part Next

I endorse the motion to adopt the Executive Committee's statement on The Baptist Faith & Message as the statement of the convention. Although I respectfully disagree with Dr. Chapman's interpretation of this statement, as I also disagree with Wade Burleson's interpretation, I see nothing wrong whatsoever with the actual text of the statement itself. Our confession of faith is a sufficient guide for our trustees. It is not the only sufficient guide. The Bible is also a sufficient guide. Trustess ought to and must consult The Baptist Faith & Message before making any doctrinal guidelines. I have no problem with the text of this statement, and I wholeheartedly endorse its adoption as expressive of the sentiments of the convention.

Informed Consent?

I pose two questions tonight. One looks backwards and has a definite answer. The other looks forwards and asks for prediction:

  1. Since 1925, have Southern Baptists ever elected anyone as President or Vice-President who has, as David Rogers has done, publicly stated and demonstrated that he is not in agreement with The Baptist Faith & Message?
  2. Will the nomination speech for David Rogers tomorrow afternoon make it clear to Southern Baptists that this is precisely what they are doing if they elect him as First Vice-President? In other words, will Rogers's nomination speech fairly disclose to the Southern Baptist Convention messengers that Rogers has publicly expressed disagreement with The Baptist Faith & Message, or will the nomination be an attempt to trick Southern Baptists into electing someone without their informed consent?
I'll not be available to interact much with the comments, but you are invited to give your answers to these two questions in the comment thread. Of course, those who would rather spin than answer are invited to do that in the comment stream as well.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Questionnaire Edit Update

For those who have been following this story: See this update.

Holy Spirit Agency in Baptism

While I'm offline in meetings today, I don't want you to be without anything edifying to read. I left my church a guest preacher; I'll leave the rest of you a guest blogger. Welcome Dr. Greg Welty, candidate for the D. Phil at Oxford (i.e., official supergenius) and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at SWBTS. Thanks for your hard work of late to expose the spurious nature of claims being made about The Baptist Faith & Message, Dr. Welty. ======================

Defending the BFM 2000 on the Spirit as the Agent of Baptism

In a recent post at his blog, Wade Burleson has argued that the BFM 2000 is "contrary to Scripture" in its statement that "He [i.e., the Spirit] baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ" (BFM II.C). Burleson cites Sam Storms, who says the following:
The problem is that there isn't a single, solitary biblical text which says that the Spirit baptizes anyone into anything. It is always and in every text Jesus Christ who baptizes believers in the Holy Spirit, the result of which is that we are incorporated into the Body of Christ.
(Before I go any further, I should stress that what follows is simply an assessment of a particular piece of reasoning, not a judgment of a person. I have greatly benefited from many aspects of Sam Storms's ministry over the years, as have many others.) Before I get to my main rebuttal of Burleson's conclusion, I start by noting that in the above Storms follows up a misleading claim by a false one. The claim that "there isn't a single, solitary biblical text which says that the Spirit baptizes anyone into anything" is misleading at best. For, by the same token, there isn't a single, solitary biblical text which says that "The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being." But presumably, Storms accepts this Trinitarian claim at the end of the first paragraph of BFM II. And that's because many claims in the BFM are grounded in *several* texts of Scripture taken together. You don't need "a single, solitary biblical text" which states the entire doctrine in full. The question at hand, then, is whether there is a good, biblical basis (however construed) for concluding that "the Holy Spirit baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ." I submit that there is such a case, if we interpret 1Co 12:3 *in context*, in light of the united testimony of the surrounding verses. Before I make that case, let's consider not Storms's misleading claim above, but the false claim which comes after it. He says that "It is always and in every text Jesus Christ who baptizes believers in the Holy Spirit." Actually, this is false, for 1Co 12 is itself an exception to Storms's sweeping claim. 1Co 12 is clearly speaking about the baptism of believers, but nowhere in 1Co 12 is there the claim that *Jesus Christ* is the agent of baptism. And this points up an interesting issue. *Who* is the agent of baptism in 1Co 12? Jesus Christ is never identified as the agent. Still, there clearly *is* an agent who is identified for us in this passage, and that is the Holy Spirit. As v. 11 points out, "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills." Here, the Spirit Himself is presented to us as the agent who "distributes to each one individually." And He does this "just as He wills." While v. 11 is about the Spirit's willing distribution of spiritual gifts, the subsequent "gar" clauses in vv. 12-13 help us to understand why we ought to affirm the Spirit's agency here. The Spirit Himself is the agent who distributes the gifts, *for* it is "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (v. 13). If the Spirit were *merely* the passive means employed by another agent (for instance, Christ) to bring about baptism, then there would be no reason to cite baptism by the Spirit as a reason to affirm the Spirit's sovereign, willing, agential distribution of the gifts. But this is precisely what Paul does. He infers the agency of the Spirit from baptism by the Spirit. And this is because the Spirit is an agent in both baptism and gift-distribution. Nevertheless, I can certainly see Storms's point that Christ is also the agent of Spirit-baptism. As he points out, Mt 3:11, Mk 1:8, Lk 3:16, and Jn 1:33 all testify that it is Christ who baptizes. But doesn't this pose an insoluble difficulty for 1Co 12? If Christ is the agent of baptism, how can the Spirit be the agent of baptism? Or, vice-versa? Doesn't one exclude the other? And here we reach the heart of what is unacceptable in Storms's argument that the BFM's statement lacks adequate biblical grounding: Storms imposes a false dichotomy upon the text of Scripture. (Indeed, even if everything I have said in the preceding paragraphs is incorrect, the point made in the present paragraph stands, and is decisive.) Storms seems to infer from the fact that Christ is the agent of baptism, that therefore *the Spirit is not an agent in that baptism*. But why think this? The Holy Spirit is a *Person*, after all. This much is clear from 1Co 12:11; He distributes to each one individually just as He wills. And while it is most consistent with the united testimony of the rest of Scripture to regard Christ as the agent of baptism, the fact that according to 1Co 12 this baptism is by means of *another Person* is surely significant. Why would the personal agency of the Spirit in baptism somehow be suppressed or excluded simply because the Spirit is the means Christ uses to baptize? Storms himself would reject this reasoning in a variety of other contexts. For instance, God uses *His people* as a means to bring about various results here on earth. Does the fact that we are means in the hands of God somehow exclude our own personal agency in bringing about what is effected? Of course not. Indeed, I believe Sam Storms has been used by God as a means to baptize many people in the churches he has pastored over the years. Does it follow from this that Storms was not a personal agent who baptized many people? Of course not. God the Father accomplished redemption by means of Jesus Christ. Does it follow that Jesus Christ is not a personal agent who accomplishes redemption? And so on. Indeed, the fact that Christ baptizes believers *by means of another Person* -- rather than by means of an impersonal force or substance -- is a reason to *affirm* the personal agency of the Spirit in baptism. And thus, we can quite easily find biblical basis for the statement in BFM II.C that "He [i.e., the Spirit] baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ." All we need is the combined teaching of the Bible that (i) believers are baptized by the Spirit, and (ii) the Spirit is a Person. Contrary to Storms's position, contextually speaking it's far more plausible to see the Spirit as an agent here not only of the distribution of spiritual gifts (v. 11), but of baptism into the body of Christ (vv. 12-13). Again, according to Paul, it is precisely Spirit-baptism which leads us to affirm the agency of the Spirit in gift-distribution. Why would a *passive* Spirit as the means of baptism be a reason for affirming the *active agency* of the Spirit in gift-distribution? Paul's reasoning makes no sense on Storms's hypothesis. But once we affirm the active agency of the Spirit as the means of baptism, Paul's reasoning makes sense. The Spirit's will is involved in both baptism and gift-distribution. A final note. Storms says:
"Some have argued from 1 Corinthians 12:13 that Paul is describing a baptism "by" the Holy Spirit into Christ or into his body. Part of the motivation for this is the seemingly awkward phrase, "in one Spirit into one body," hence the rendering, "by one Spirit into one body."
I'm not sure why Storms feels the need to speculate on "the motivation for this" translation. It's not because of a "seemingly awkward phrase." Rather, the fundamental reason to translate 1Co 12:3 as baptism "by" the Holy Spirit is that the preposition "en" is used, and clearly -- as Storms himself notes later -- "en" is quite adequately translated by the English "by". I close this section with the balanced assessment of Jimmy Draper, who recently wrote an article for Baptist Press on "Baptism of the Holy Spirit." Draper says:
"The phrase "baptism of the Holy Spirit" does not appear in Scripture. Christ is always described as the baptizer in the Gospels (see for example Matthew 3:11) and Acts, and then the Holy Spirit is His agent in the epistles."
A bit later, Draper says:
"It is a misunderstood experience. We actually have misnamed it. We refer to the baptism "of" or "in" the Holy Spirit as if He is an impersonal substance. From Scripture it should be "by" or "with" the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 12:13 is a good example. The Greek preposition "en" can be translated "in," "by," "with" or "of." Here it is clearly instrumental and should be translated "by."
Notice how Draper does not fall into a false dichotomy. On the one hand, the Spirit is the "instrument" of baptism. We are baptized "by" the Spirit. But on the other hand, the Holy Spirit remains an "agent" in baptism. The instrumental status of the Spirit as He relates to baptism does not in any way exclude his status as an agent in baptism. The Spirit is *the agent by which* Christ baptizes. In fact, the double-agency of Christ and the Spirit with respect to baptism parallels quite nicely the double-agency of Christ and the Spirit with respect to the bestowal of spiritual gifts on believers. According to 1Co 12:11, the Spirit is the agent who bestows spiritual gifts. But according to Eph 4:7-8, Christ is the agent who bestows spiritual gifts. The reconciliation of these two claims is easy: the Spirit is *the agent by which* Christ bestows the gifts. So, far from being "contrary to Scripture," the statement in BFM II.C is what Scripture would lead us to affirm. To be sure, the BFM does not state *everything* that could be stated on the topic of baptism by the Spirit. But what it does state seems to be eminently biblical.

My First Live-Blog

It is a strange experience. I ought to be sitting there paying attention to church, but there I am typing away on my computer. I have this strange phobia that my mother is going to walk in and catch me not behaving in church (at least she's not up in the choir where she can stare me down). My Mom did a great job helping us kids do well in church—I credit it as "means"…one of the things God used to bring me to Himself at such an early age (not quite 6). I doubt that I'll be able to interact with the comments much. It is tough enough just to get the posts up. We'll all talk it through after the whole thing is over. Also, I'm not promising to be present for everything. I'll be in a meeting today, so I won't be much of a source for Pastors Conference happenings today. Other than that, I hope to keep you up-to-date.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pastors Conference: Dr. Jerry Vines

Acts 8 "The Chariots are Changing"

Summarizing the Book of Acts

The Savior went up. The Spirit came down. The Saints went out. Evangelism: The whole work of the whole church the whole of the age. The book of Acts is full of divine encounters. Illustration: Dr. Vines met a young man on the train in Texas. The man was headed to Houston to talk to a preacher about getting saved. His fiancée refused to marry him until he was saved. Dr. Vines led him to Christ. That is a divine encounter, to meet someone traveling just to get to know Christ. The story of the Ethiopian Eunuch was a divine encounter.

Point One: A Prompt Soul-Winner

(v. 26) Phillip, the Spirit-filled Baptist deacon (Amen from Bro. Bart). "Normally we do not think of Baptist deacons and angels at the same time." :-) The angel conveyed with a sense of urgency the need for Phillip to go and be a witness. "Arise and be going." Phillip arose and went—no hesitation, complaint, or disagreement. He could have said "not me...I'm busy...let's appoint a committee...let's vote on it" But the Bible is very clear about evangelism. "You do not vote on the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ." [Even this congregationalist agrees] A liberal referring to evangelism in Dr. Gray Allison's evangelism class said, "I just can't get that out of the New Testament." Dr. Allison said, "Of course you can't; it's in there to stay!" Instead of saying "not me" he could have said "not now." Phillip was in the middle of a "big meeting"—an exciting revival. But Phillip left it to go to the middle of nowhere in response to the Holy Spirit. "If you are not willing to tell one person about the Lord Jesus, then you are not worthy to tell multitudes about the Lord Jesus." [WOW! Great quote.] He could have said, "not there." It was a desert road where one could expect nothing. "God puts us in strange places for His providential purposes." [Amen, from an Arkansan in Texas ;-) ] But he said none of those things...he went. God uses a prompt soul-winner: someone who is obedient and observant.

A Prepared Sinner

A man prepared by the Spirit of God to hear the message of soul-winning. He was an important man. He is a minister of finance for the Candacy—a man of influence and power. None of the things that made this man a great man made this man a saved man. He was a lost man in need of Jesus. There is a growing Universalism in our country in many places. He's a religious man. He had been to Jerusalem to worship. He was probably a God-fearer (potential Jewish proselyte). [sorry...Dr. Vines...I stopped paying attention...Dwight McKissic just walked up. Please, nobody smear his reputation simply for his sitting here. He's just a kind and generous man.] Churches are either fry or freeze. The service is either "religious smackdown" or a dry, dull, dead service. People need to hear Spirit-filled worship, Spirit-directed preaching, and a Spirit-inspired invitation. He's a responsive man. The Spirit called Phillip to make contact with the chariot and Phillip ran to him. There are people out there who can be won to Christ if we are willing to attach ourselves to the lost people around us. The Spirit will direct us to people who are responsive. "The church will do the most for the world when the church is the less like the world but the church is called to go into the world to make contact."

A Powerful Scripture

The place where he was reading was about the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord. "Of whom is the prophet speaking?" Talk about a lead-in to a soul winner! All of the Bible points to our Savior. Phillip opened his mouth and began at the same scriptures and preached (evangelized) Jesus to him. When you're preaching Jesus, that's good preaching. When you are not preaching Jesus, you are not preaching.

A Personal Salvation

Jesus walked over 70 miles one-way to be baptized—don't tell me it's not important. If you want to have a rapture before the rapture, you get involved in telling somebody about Jesus and see them come to salvation. [The word that speaks of Phillip being caught away is the word from which we get the word "rapture."] Irenaeus said that the Eunuch became an evangelist and led the Queen Mother to Christ. The chariot is now a gospel buggy with a bumper sticker that said "Honk if you love Jesus." But the chariots are changing. Illustration: Sitting by a young man on a plane—a computer scientist with two degrees from Harvard. Tatoos and rings in his ears. The chariots are changing racially. We must strip away every vestige of prejudice to catch those racial chariots for Christ. The chariots are changing religiously. Your next-door neighbors may be Hindu and Buddhist rather than Methodist and Presbyterian. Teens are learning to witness by text-messaging. One blog a second is popping up on the Internet. We can use those blogs as places to be evangelists [Does he see me back here?] Amidst those changing chariots, there are two unchanging constants. We have the same gospel of Jesus Christ that is meeting the same people in need of Christ.

Pastor's Conference: Dr. Paige Patterson

Dr. Patterson is sharing a testimony about Christ's victory in spite of opposition. Unfortunately, I came in just at the last minute and have missed several of the points. I'll share some impressions:

  1. He spoke of the difficulty of seeing one's spouse suffer for ministry. Now there's somebody who knows whereof he speaks.
  2. "I'm the worst possible genetic combination—part Irish and part Texan. That means that I'll meet you in the parking lot any day any time." But Christ works to change that in him.
  3. The only way to learn to exercise the Christian graces of loving your enemy is to have an enemy...to pray for those who despitefully use you is to have people who despitefully use you.
  4. God's graces are always abundant beyond heartache and opposition.
At Adoniram Judson's spot of imprisonment in Myanmar, Dr. Patterson lay on his back with his feet in the air. There Judson's feet were hoisted on the stocks with his feet in the air for his imprisoners to beat the soles of his feet. He kept himself entertained by translating the Burmese Bible while being punished. Judson died with only 7 churches to show for his work, greatly opposed and apparently a failiure. But his work became the seedbed out of which the entire nation came to Christ. "The glory that shall be revealed is greater than all the suffering!" Dr. Patterson quoted a passage that I had reason to quote recently: "The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." I am continually amazed at the restraint that this godly man demonstrates in the face of great opposition.

The Baptist Renaissance

This morning I have this quote from 1VP candidate David Rogers:

…At the same time, it would appear a certain sector within Southern Baptist life has taken on the mission to accentuate everything that distinguishes Baptists from other evangelical Christians to such a degree that our essential unity and spiritual communion with the wider Body of Christ has been downplayed or even resisted.
David's words, coming as they have within the last few hours, provide the perfect starting point for my final pre-convention post on this blog. I appreciate everyone's patience with my silence of late. I'll have to tell you about the funeral sometime.

I Support a Renewal of Baptist Identity

I received a kind comment from OKPreacher (his screen name a reference to geography, I am certain, rather than to homiletical prowess). The comment was on yesterday's post, but it was clearly anticipative of this post. That gives me a chance to reply to a comment in the original post—not something you get to do every day!
Bart, I appreciate your blog and everything you have to say. My concern is that we as Southern Baptists arn't focused on the most important problems facing us. For example, a renewal of baptist identity isn't going to help us reach more people for Christ. I would encourage a renewal of Christian identity amoung Baptists and all who claim to be Christians. From what I have experienced as a pastor is that most Southern Baptist members don't understand what it means to be a Christian. They don't understand the very basics of how to grow as a Christian. Sure they say they believe the Bible is inerrant and they give to the Lottie Moon Offering, but for them being a Christian is going to church on Sundays. Until we have a renewal of Christian identity, who cares about baptist identity. When Jesus raptures His church, it won't just be baptists going. Lets focus on what is really needed, a Christian identity that results in bring billions of people into God's Kingdom.
This brother and I agree more than perhaps either of us recognizes. I support a renewal of Baptist identity because it is precisely what we need in order to focus on the most important problems facing us and to renew our Christian identity. The heart of the Baptist movement is a desire for congregational authenticity and purity, coupled with a belief that the New Testament contains instructions for having just such a church. One key theological basis for Baptist practice is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit—particularly the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the church. The seventeenth century Baptists mostly came to Baptist life from Anglicanism, convinced that the ills of the state church were the result of a church led by lost people who therefore were disconnected from the Holy Spirit. The problems of churches in the seventeenth century were the problems of the world around them. The Baptists saw the solution in the construction of (to quote Roger Williams), a "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world." In other words, the world ought to be able to see a clear difference between itself and the church. In their quest for authenticity, the Baptists concluded that authentic leadership was not enough to produce an authentic church. Authenticity must extend to the church's membership. The New Testament congregations were fellowships of professed believers only. The very grounds of New Testament unity were devotion to the teaching of the apostles (preserved for us in the Bible), their common immersion, their gathering at the common table, their shared contribution and labor in the common mission, etc. While recognizing and availing themselves of strong pastoral leadership (have you successfully talked your entire congregation into moving to another country together?), they made the work of the church pertain to its every member. I agree with OKPreacher that there are many Southern Baptists who "don't understand what it means to be a Christian." Indeed, I would assert that there are many Southern Baptists who are not Christians. This is precisely why we need a renewal of Baptist identity. Tom Ascol's resolution on Integrity in Church Membership needs to be enhanced to incorporate language about believer's baptism—one indispensible part of maintaining a regenerate church membership—but I think something like Dr. Ascol's resolution exemplifies an important manner in which we need a renewal of Baptist identity. The fact that such a resolution might not receive unanimous support in the SBC is powerful evidence of our problem; however, the fact that so many people would support it is a strong reason for hope in our future. I hope that it passes with some mention of believer's baptism this year. So (forgive me some measure of oversimplification) Baptist identity boils down to a congregation of believers empowered by the Holy Spirit for 100% participation in the church's mission. Nobody on the bench. I believe that it is the God-endorsed, Bible-prescribed tonic for what ails us. I just can't believe that we are considering the election of a First Vice-President who publicly disagrees with The Baptist Faith & Message and whose primary concern is that we might be too Baptist. Why would someone worried about too much emphasis upon being Baptist even want to be an officer of a Baptist organization? Aren't there enough generically evangelical organizations in the world that need a vice president? I love David and have greatly enjoyed our intermittent conversation over the past year, but his quote just befuddles me to no end.

I Support Biblical Christian Unity

...which is something altogether different from ecumenism (even in its evangelical variant). What is biblical Christian unity? I agree with The Baptist Faith & Message.
Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ's people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament..
I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, what is it that impedes a people from prevailing spiritually? Does the fact that there is a Methodist church across town keep your church from being what it ought to be? Not at all. Does the fact that brothers and sisters within your congregation bicker and fuss ever get in the way of your church's effectiveness? You bet it does. That's where we see a breach of Christian unity. We need to focus on inter-congregational unity, not neo-ecumenical schemes like the "city church." Running headlong after ecumenical entanglements will only make things worse—every ecumenical movement in history has had as its ultimate result the further fracture of the Body of Christ (Church of Christ, anyone?). Until we are ready to be united in sound biblical doctrine, we are not ready to be united. Our source of cooperative unity has always been doctrine, not missions. Roman Catholics were busy about missions before modern Baptists emerged, but we didn't unify with them. The Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts was around for nearly a century before Baptists formed the Baptist Missionary Society. Congregationalists had organized for missions in America before the Baptists. If missions is the basis for our unity, then why did we create separate missionary bodies rather than just joining up with these groups? Because they weren't Baptist…that's why. Many Baptists (and put my name at the top of the list) are not going to foot the bill to plant Presbyterian churches, Methodist churches, Anglican churches, or Pentecostal churches. That is our historic position. If the planting of these kinds of churches is a worthwhile effort on our part, then we have sinned and are schismatics for forming anything like the Southern Baptist Convention to begin with. If we should be unified with them today, we should have been unified with them all along. Indeed, many of them were far closer to orthodoxy then in 1845 they are right now. I agree with the BF&M—let us cooperate with other Christians on any and all things that do not compromise our convictions. If that is why David means by "our essential unity and spiritual communion with the wider Body of Christ", then I do not see how any renewal of our Baptist identity could ever endanger this kind of cooperation. If David means something else thereby, I would like to know exactly what he means, and how it fits in with what the BF&M has to say on the subject.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Jim Richards Blog Interview

I see that Peter Lumpkins has followed up his Mac Brunson interview with an interview of First-Vice-Presidential candidate Dr. Jim Richards.

Convention News

As the convention unfolds, you'll have several options for keeping up with events.

  1. The Florida Baptist Witness already has special convention-related news on their site. I expect that they will be publishing updates as the convention progresses. BREAKING NEWS: The Baptist Witness has an interesting breaking story on their site that you won't want to miss.
  2. The Southern Baptist Texan also has already posted a special convention edition. I recommend it as a helpful resource.
  3. Baptist Press's new Instant News Blog is a great idea. You can turn there for some of the most rapid reporting available anywhere.
  4. I plan to be pretty busy, but I'll be posting my own observations as time permits. So check here every day or so.

Important Things I Support

Because of events that transpired yesterday, this single post really represents the contents of posts two and three of a five-part series, greatly abridged. Part one was I Support the Cooperative Program. It is the purpose of this series, apart from going out of my way to disparage anyone else's views, to provide a heartfelt exposition of the issues that have motivated me for a year of blogging and still motivate me as I go to San Antonio. An outline:

  1. I Support the Cooperative Program.
  2. I Support Our Southern Baptist Convention Polity
  3. I Support the Conservative Resurgence
  4. I Support a Renewal of Baptist Identity (next post, later today)
  5. I Support Biblical Christian Unity (next post, later today)
I hope you will all appreciate the (very difficult for me) effort made to remain brief. I'm sure that some of the material I left out will show up in the comments eventually.

I Support Our Southern Baptist Convention Polity

Indeed, I wrote a white paper detailing attributes of our convention polity that I appreciate and support (see Why Southern Baptists Need the Trustee System). I depending upon you clicking the link and reading the paper—I won't repeat any of that material in this abridged post. Wade Burleson has hosted a recent debate over whether The Baptist Faith & Message contains so-called "tertiary doctrines." As it regards the topic at hand—to wit, in the sphere of convention operations, fiduciaries, and employees—Wade Burleson's opinion of the matter is entirely irrelevant. Furthermore, Dr. Greg Welty's opinion is irrelevant. So is the opinion of every other person commenting on the blog. So is mine. I'm not saying that each person involved isn't entitled to his opinion—he is. I'm not saying that each person involved hasn't labored hard to reach an opinion. I'm saying that all of these opinions are irrelevant because our polity follows the opinion of the convention messengers duly assembled. The people of the Southern Baptist Convention have already spoken to this issue, identifying The Baptist Faith & Message as "those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us" and as our "instrument of doctrinal accountability." The whole "primary"/"secondary"/"tertiary" question is an anachronism—nobody was discussing Al Mohler's "Theological Triage" when any revision of The Baptist Faith & Message was adopted. Nevertheless, the Southern Baptist people have clearly stated what connects the various doctrines within the BF&M. These are our most surely held doctrines to which we expect our fiduciaries and employees to remain accountable in their service to the convention. To include any doctrine in The Baptist Faith & Message is ipso facto to declare it either a "primary" or a "secondary" doctrine. By including these doctrines in The Baptist Faith & Message, the Southern Baptist people have already proffered their collective opinion that none of them are "tertiary." Wade Burleson disagrees…fine. Some others disagree, too. The question is, who gets to decide? The Southern Baptist people, assembled as messengers at the annual meeting. I have no heart for imposing my opinion upon anyone else. I do, however, have a passion for defending the right of the convention to have an opinion and to expect it to be followed by those who serve on its behalf. That is how our polity works. For this reason, I have offered and fully support my resolution "On the Role of The Baptist Faith & Message." The resolution does nothing more than embody my passion for our polity as expressed in my white paper. My resolution supports this polity; the IMB report on PPL and baptism exemplifies it. We make our decisions not through random samplings determined by someone else, but by considering the opinions of thousands of Southern Baptists in a forum which affords every Southern Baptist church the opportunity for input. Certainly, some of these issues are contentious. All the more reason to arrive at our decisions through a polity that has worked well in dealing with difficult issues for more than 150 years.

I Support the Conservative Resurgence

In 1988 I left home, went to college, and encountered rank academic theological liberalism for the first time. People debate how many actual liberals were in the Southern Baptist Convention before the Conservative Resurgence. Wade Burleson has offered his opinion that there really weren't that many. See his post here for how he would have handled things. To read many of the blogs these days, you could only walk away with the impression that the Conservative Resurgence was, whatever it started out to be, in the long run a colossal mistake. Indeed, Burleson has opined that the whole thing would be much harder to accomplish today:
I regret that blogging was not availiable 30 years ago at the beginning of the conservative resurgence in the SBC. I truly believe that had blogging been available then, some of those who were hurt, disenfranchised and falsely accused of major doctrinal or theological error could have shown through their writing they were in reality theological [sic] conservative.
So, how many liberals were there? Was the Conservative Resurgence an unfair inquisition—a bloodthirsty purging of those "hurt, disenfranchised and falsely accused"? Or was it the providential action of God to rescue our denomination from the oblivion of hetereodoxy? Whatever the frequency of liberals among rank-and-file Baptists (and I think it was relatively small), the frequency of liberals was very high among the employees of our Southern Baptist agencies. They were furthermore hard at work producing even more liberals through our seminaries. I invite you to look at this document, authored by a person very unfriendly to the Conservative Resurgence, and come to your own conclusions about the frequency of liberalism among women training at SBTS pre-CR. Today, things are different in the Southern Baptist Convention. I thank God for that. I will not quietly march back to 1978. Yet support for today's SBC dissent quite demonstrably includes a large contingent of people who would undo the Conservative Resurgence. On Wade Burleson's blog just a few posts ago, he stated in his original post just the kind of language designed to reassure people like me who support the CR—indicating that he has no intention to seek reconciliation with the CBF ("nobody is advocating for the reunion of the CBF and SBC—it shouldn't happen.") However, in the very first rush of comments, two people challenged Burleson for distancing himself from CBFefs. He immediately retracted, saying,
Good point and I agree—I was not clear. Anyone should be welcome back.
Well, I'm sorry, but I have no desire to reverse course and become the pre-CR Southern Baptist Convention. My gratitude to God for the Conservative Resurgence will motivate my voting this year. We need Southern Baptist leadership who remain committed to the direction of the Conservative Resurgence. Not everyone will agree with what I've written here, and I've always made my blog a place where liberty reigns to express contrarian opinions. However, please understand that I have written these things in an honest, transparent effort to demonstrate what is motivating my words and actions these days. Here is an opportunity for the reader, if not to agree, at least to understand. The final installment—later today.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

I Support the Cooperative Program

At the Tuesday Morning session of last year's Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Greensboro, NC, I stood at Microphone #10 and uttered the only vocal address that I have ever given to the Southern Baptist Convention. The topic was not Private Prayer Language. Nor was it Evangelical Ecumenism. As far as I know, it had not a thing to do with Wade Burleson. I went to Greensboro and spoke passionate (controversial?) words about the Cooperative Program. I had longed and prayed for a Cooperative Program Report that would resuscitate Southern Baptist hearts to sacrificial CP giving while fairly highlighting both the role of churches and the role of state conventions in accomplishing this feat—it was important enough to me that I mustered the courage to speak haltingly in that cavernous hall about the Cooperative Program. A few months later, I embarked upon my first assignment for denominational service, a position on the SBTC Resolutions Committee. Normally, committee members don't speak of their individual writing assignments—the resolutions belong to the committee after they come out of the committee, and to the convention after they are passed—but I'm glad to confirm that my writing assignment for the committee was to prepare our resolution #8 On the Cooperative Program (see the text here). The Cooperative Program is important to me. Of course, many people say that the Cooperative Program is important to them. Many people claim to support the Cooperative Program. But what does that mean? Especially in a day when state conventions like the BGCT torture the meaning of the phrase to make it fit giving plans clearly outside the historical scope of the term (see an item from Wes Kenney, Mr. CP Blogger, here). As for me, when I say that I support the Cooperative Program, I want you to understand exactly what I mean:

  1. I mean sacrificial giving at the local church level. We're always going after the candidates with this question—maybe all of the bloggers ought to be required to tell us about their percentage of CP support. We give 10%. Wes…you CP stat guru, you…can you search out the percentages of the other bloggers? As far as I am concerned, it is no easier for our church to give 10% than it would be for the largest mega-church in the convention. In fact, I suspect it is harder. Fixed costs, you know. My personal opinion is expressed in the resolution I authored: "[I] believe sacrificial support of the Cooperative Program to constitute a significant and integral part of being Southern Baptist." Churches that give a 1% pittance to the CP are dangerously flirting, IMHO, with losing their Southern Baptistness. Many of my friends will disagree, but that's just the way I feel about it.
  2. I mean sacrifical giving at the state convention level. This is the #1 reason why I'm so proud to be affiliated with Jim Richards and the SBTC. Next year the SBTC will adopt a budget that keeps 10% less money for the SBTC than it forwards to the SBC for missions causes around the globe. Folks, that is unparalleled! Think of the effect that budget has when applied to the gifts of so many churches. In a previous post on the 1VP election, I highlighted the difference that Jim Richards's SBTC plan would make on a single church, Green Acres Baptist Church, in the BGCT. The BGCT's budget sends just 21% for the entire remainder of the world and keeps 79% in Texas. If Green Acres were to switch from BGCT to SBTC, they could send hundreds of thousands of dollars more to worldwide missions without spending another dollar—and that's just one church. I'm fine with GABC making the autonomous decision to stay in the BGCT. I'm just showing how drastically state-convention selfishness can offset local-church generosity, preventing missions money from making it to the places of greatest need around the world. I'm thankful to report that many states like my home state of Arkansas are taking steps to keep less, not more, and give more generously to worldwide causes. I applaud. I think that kind of progress is necessary to the ongoing health of the Cooperative Program.
  3. I mean doctrinal accountability from the recipients to the givers. Right out of college I pastored a small Oklahoma Baptist church. When I went there, they were giving a flat $100 each year to the IMB. They had become convinced that the BGCO was financially crooked and the SBC was theologically liberal. I begged and pleaded for two years, but only worked them up to a small percentage directed to the IMB alone. When churches are not certain that the agencies are doctrinally accountable to them, they stop giving. We have a great system of accountability in the Southern Baptist Convention. I will describe it in detail in a future post. Suffice it to say at this point that doctrinal accountability and CP generosity go hand-in-hand. Earlier this Spring (on the same outing that produced the infamous J. R. Graves cemetery photo), my brother-in-law and I located the spot where the 1925 SBC annual meeting convened. The Cook Convention Center covers the spot today (and I think we ought to have our 2025 meeting in the Cook Convention Center in Memphis to commemorate the anniversary). It is hallowed ground for Southern Baptists. That one meeting defined the modern SBC by creating the Cooperative Program and The Baptist Faith & Message. The BF&M is not a creed; it is a gentlemen's agreement. It represents a reassurance to the churches that the people who spend our CP money live up to a minimum doctrinal standard. Whenever that agreement is violated, lower CP giving will follow as night follows day. If our agencies adopt further guidelines and refuse to allow the convention any say in the matter, that state of affairs will also damage CP giving. Fortunately, that is not the case. All of our agencies remain accountable to the convention. The process of accountability with regard to the IMB policies is playing out even this year. We'll see what is the eventual conclusion of it all. I'll make this prediction—it will be precisely whatever the convention messengers want it to be. That's because our system works (and remember, I'll be posting more about that later).
Yes, I support the Cooperative Program, and my support for CP will influence my voting this year: I will vote for Jim Richards for 1VP because I support the Cooperative Program. Because of his strong role at SBTC, more dollars go into the SBC's CP coffers because of Jim Richards than because of any other person in the SBC. That is, his commitment to sacrificial giving at the state level results in vast sums of additional money going to the SBC CP. Nobody—nobody—NOBODY does more for the CP. A vote for the CP is a vote for Jim Richards.

My Blog Journey So Far

In May 2006 I embarked upon a conversation with my computer. Even my wife wasn't reading my blog. I told nobody about it. So why would any rational person start writing essays to nobody? I read a document entitled the Memphis Declaration. I differed with its analysis of the Southern Baptist Convention. It made me feel better to express my thoughts in writing—so I did so. Thus began what is now more than a year of periodic contributions to this forum. I have provided here the barely-filtered sentiments of my mind and heart. Some of it has been personal (the birth and adoption of our daughter, the discovery that our congregation included a sexual predator preying upon our community), a bit of it has been embarrassingly wrong, a bit of it has been prophetically correct, all of it has been very human, and the vast majority of it has been denominationally political. So, here we are today, a year later. Some of you comment, so somebody somewhere is reading with regularity (I don't use a hit counter for fear of the sin it might provoke in my ego, either by being too high or by being too low—thus, I don't really know who all is reading. Maybe I should commission a poll? :-) ). The denominational politics continue. An historic meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is right around the corner. It is important for every voting messenger to understand the issues. Between now and Monday, I will provide a series of posts seeking to articulate my views on the topics that seemingly differentiate myself and those with whom I have disagreed so often throughout this journey. Although the themes will obviously cover ground that I have treated before, I do hope to bring some fresh insight to the task. I trust that every reader will digest these posts carefully, if you wish to be an informed observer of current events. Unlike Bro. Burleson's latest posts do with me, I will not at all seek to caricature his position. I am simply going to speak for myself about some things that are important to me. After the convention is over, I am going to be presenting a multi-post series entitled The Fifth-Century Initiative. Most presently-living Baptists trace the origins of the modern phase of Baptist life to John Smythe's Baptist church, founded near Amsterdam in 1609. Two years from now, we will embark upon the fifth century of modern Baptist existence. Now is a good time to contemplate how the New Testament witness will endure until Christ's coming. The Fifth-Century Initiative will close with a set of proposals to be considered at the 2008 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Clock-Cleaning

Dr. Greg Welty is attempting a yeoman's task over at Wade Burleson's place (see here and here). Dr. Welty, we appreciate the clock-cleaning that you are delivering. It is work that needs to be done. But, of course, such discussions don't work in contexts where people aren't sure what the meaning of the word is is. You'd have better luck injecting yourself into this conversation: :-)

BGCT Clergy Sex Abuse Measures

See the story in the Dallas Morning News here (written by reporter Sam Hodges and reporter-associate Ben Cole) My evaluation:

  1. Database: Well-intentioned bad idea, for reasons mentioned here.
  2. Hotline: Well-intentioned great idea. The first thing they need to say on the hotline is "call the police."
  3. Putting pastors on a list without legal review merely because "church officials are convinced of the misconduct" (and the misconduct here could include having watched a dirty movie last weekend): Really bad empower-bad-people-to-ruin-somebody's-ministry, get-your-convention-sued-for-a-sackload-of-money kind of bad idea.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Horserace

For the first time in my recollection, the election of First Vice-President will be the big event, far overshadowing the Presidential election at the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. Nobody will want to miss being there at 5:00 pm on Tuesday. Today, I'm wearing my political analyst hat. The 1VP election does have tremendous personal significance for me. Never before has anyone I have known personally ever run for any office in the SBC. Now, this particular race features not one but TWO men with whom I have become personally acquainted and whom I personally like. That's a little mind-blowing for me. But the historical significance of this election is equally staggering. Privately I had predicted that the Burleson Blogger Coalition would secure the nomination of a Southern Baptist who has cautiously steered away from the controversies of the past two years, much like E. Y. Mullins was snatched out of New England obscurity in the midst of the Whitsett Controversy to lead Southern Seminary. Instead, they have selected a nominee who is very publicly and vocally aligned with one side of the partisan divide currently plaguing the convention. Not that David Rogers is monolithic…not at all, but he certainly is not a fence-straddler. And so, now we have a 1VP election in which each candidate's colors are clear. Two partisan candidates. Frank Page's re-election is a non-event, making this the vote-to-end-all-votes in San Antonio. Setting aside my obvious advocacy role of late, the analyst in me salivates to witness this historic election. Some fascinating observations:

  1. Jim Richards is certainly the Cooperative Program candidate. In addition to attending a church with exemplary Cooperative Program support, Dr. Richards has been responsible for re-defining what state conventions can do in supporting national and international missions causes. Twenty years ago, who could have imagined a state convention being so generous as to pass along for missions more money than it keeps for itself? Jim Richards, that's who—he not only imagined it, but he also brought it to pass. Analysis of last year's Presidential election grappled with the question of what caused Frank Page to win so handily. Was it his support of the Cooperative Program? Given the events of the intervening year, that seems likely. This 1VP election may help us to answer the question, as one of the CP's greatest friends stands for election in the person of Jim Richards. If you like the Cooperative Program, you're going to like Jim Richards. (NOTE: Bellevue Baptist Church, David Rogers's home church for obvious reasons, gives 1.02% through CP, although I doubt David had anything at all to do with that decision)
  2. It is delicious irony that the self-proclaimed anti-nepotism squad is nominating Dr. Adrian Rogers's son. One of the earlier salvos fired against Dr. Richards came from Marty Duren (see here), who derided Richards's candidacy based upon the fact that Jim Richards is being nominated by Mac Brunson who is married to Debbie Brunson who was selected by the Committee on Nominations (sorry for the convoluted sentence structure…it takes a few phrases to describe such remote connections!) to serve on a board from the state of Florida, even though she has served on the board before and has not lived in Florida, apparently, long enough. Marty has edited away the comment after I objected, and I thank him for that. I opposed to the overreaching connection, but not to his objections to cronyism, nepotism, and recycling of appointments. I agree wholeheartedly with this concern (see #3 on this post). I'm just not as caustic about it as some are. I think David Rogers ought to be able to run for First Vice-President no matter who his daddy was—let him be evaluated on his positions and his exemplary service in a difficult missions field. But you've got to love the irony of the Burleson Coalition asking the SBC to indulge in a little nepotism.
  3. The differences between the two candidates extend beyond politics into theology. David Rogers has some publicly expressed disagreement with The Baptist Faith & Message (see here for a reference to that fact with a link to sources); Jim Richards is fully in support of The Baptist Faith & Message. David is, obviously, the pro-Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third-Wave practices candidate, and has blogged extensively (his blog is here). Jim Richards just as obviously is not. David favors a very minimalist ecclesiology, relating warmly to a "city church" concept merging (although not quite formally consolidating) Baptist churches with other non-Baptist churches. Dr. Richards is a firm supporter of Baptist distinctives in ecclesiology. Anyone who has read my blog for more than a week knows that I agree with Dr. Richards, but any objective observer would have to note that this election has become something of a referendum on Baptist theology.
  4. The big winner in all of this may be none other than Dr. Patterson. The First-Vice-Presidential election takes place immediately after the Southwestern Seminary report. I have fully expected the SWBTS report to be the key moment when Ben Cole will attempt to make our Annual Meeting his personal vehicle for advancing his personal vendetta against Dr. Patterson. But, with such a critical election for his party coming up immediately afterwards, Ben may find that it is not politically astute to spew too much venom and reflect poorly upon his candidate. I'm not sure whether that will stop Ben, but it is a factor worth considering. Which will win out: vengeance or calculation?
In any event, we have not seen an election at the Southern Baptist Convention genuinely contested on clearly-defined issues since the 19980s. This is truly historic. My biggest regret at getting so involved in it personally is that I have disqualified myself from ever being able to write about it as a historian. Whoever gets that assignment in the future someday—I envy you. Have fun.

Reservation for Two

There's a couple that have been attending our church. Retired from first careers into owning and operating a functional cattle ranch nearby, they have been married 34 years. Several months ago, I went to their home to visit them. They've been very faithful in attending the worship service since then. She's lost; he's a Christian. Until last night. I wish I were eloquent enough to describe to you the spiritual celebration we had in that living room. And the celebration spread for the remainder of the evening, as members of our congregation arranged Sunday School connections, and made preparation for Sunday (I'll be out-of-town when they are presented to the congregation). Until late in the evening I was sharing this good news with members of our church as we worked to welcome this new sister in Christ. It is always a great thing to witness Christ bringing a new member into the family. Always. But there's just something special about seeing a family united in their faith. I grew up going to church at just the right time to be exposed to films like "A Thief in the Night" while at an impressionable age. Thinking about the return of Christ often conjures up in my mind glimpses of Patty Myers wondering where her husband went. Whatever your eschatological convictions, we know that eternity will separate husbands from wives... ...but not in this family. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Endorsements, Part Four

C. B. Scott's Resolution on Victimized Children RESOLUTION ON RESCUING VICTIMIZED CHILDREN WHEREAS, The Christian faith cannot be separated from a prioritized concern for the welfare of children, especially those from broken and abusive homes (James 1:27); and WHEREAS, The Lord Jesus Christ commands his church to receive children as heirs of the Kingdom of God by modeling a genuine concern for his little ones and by warning sternly those who would victimize them (Matthew 18:6; 19:14); and WHEREAS, Research shows that violent physical and sexual crimes against children have escalated in our nation; and WHEREAS, This abuse has occurred too often in churches and homes -- which ought to be places of shelter and safety -- at the hands of family, educators, ordained clergy and ministry workers – who ought to be trusted persons of authority; and WHEREAS, Children who suffer physical and sexual abuse by their own families and ministers are especially in need of prayer, ministry, pastoral care, and love by faithful Christian parents; and WHEREAS, Baptist children's homes seek to provide resources for churches who seek to adopt, foster, and minister to victimized children who have been neglected by the world; and WHEREAS, Southern Baptist churches have a responsibility to provide encouragement, support, and resources for Christian parents who seek to adopt, foster, and minister to victimized children; now, therefore, be it RESOLVED, That messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in San Antonio, TX, June 12-13, 2007, express our grave concern that our society has failed to maintain a culture of security and safety for children; and be it further RESOLVED, That we urge all Southern Baptist churches to invest sacrificially in the ministries of Baptist children's homes that seek to redeem God's precious little ones from the abusive environments that threaten to corrupt their innocence; and be it further RESOLVED, That we call upon Southern Baptist churches to intentionally utilize the resources of our churches for the purpose of rescuing victimized children from abusive homes; and be it further RESOLVED, That we urge all Southern Baptist families to consider welcoming into their homes through foster care and adoption those victimized children who most desperately need their nurture, support, and encouragement; and be it further RESOLVED, That we recognize God will bring to justice both those who have abused children and also those who neglect opportunities to minister to them; and be it finally RESOLVED, That we pray for every child who has been abused in our land, asking God to heal their deep emotional and physical wounds, grow them into mature and healthy adults, and stop the cycle of abuse from repeating itself in another generation. Bro. C. B. and I share similar interests when it comes to this resolution. Not only do we agree, but we also agree passionately and with deep personal connection. In the discussion here you'll see that I proposed an amendment. But let me make myself perfectly clear: I plan to vote for this resolution precisely as it is. The amendment I discussed is not necessary, and I wouldn't want to do anything to take away from the main thrust of this resolution.

Endorsements, Part Three

Second Vice-President: Dr. Eric Redmond I have never met Eric Redmond. Nevertheless, for his statesmanlike performance on the SWBTS Board of Trustees this year, I cannot help but applaud. I enthusiastically support and recommend his candidacy. Bill Britt, of course, is an exemplary and wonderful gentlemen. Really, between these two candidates, Southern Baptists cannot go wrong. I wish we could establish an office of Third Vice-President and elect both of these men. Because the two are such fine Southern Baptists, I struggled long and hard to come to a decision. But then, my mind was completely made up when I saw that one of my heroes has endorsed Redmond—how could I do otherwise?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

A Non-Angry Post about the Lifeway PPL Report

As a part of my Mea Culpa, I retract the entire post about Biased Researchers. Unless anyone objects, I will remove it entirely from the blog. Although I would step back from my tone in some of the other posts and comments, I reiterate my other questions about the research as representative of my thought.

I Agree with Bill Underwood

North America does need a true Baptist witness, as does the world. Through the Conservative Resurgence, the Southern Baptist Convention has been poised to be that witness. Rescued from becoming yet another decadent ecclesial weathervane dancing to the winds of liberal mainline academia, The Southern Baptist Convention has asserted its faithfulness to the inerrant word of God, the doctrinal seedbed from which numerous Baptist sprouts were nurtured as the seventeenth century unfolded. But Baptists are not the only plants in that garden—not the only ones who claim biblical inerrancy. To be Baptist is to have concluded some things about what the Bible says. Let us not pretend that biblical interpretation is unimportant vis-à-vis the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The movie Crimson Tide pits Gene Hackman (Captain Frank Ramsey) against Denzel Washington (Lt. Commander Ron Hunter) in an epic contest with the detonation of nuclear weapons at stake. Command of a nuclear missile submarine changes hands three times during the course of the movie, with nuclear armageddon a trigger-pull away more than once. Throughout the movie, Hackman and Washington remain in complete agreement about who has the ultimate authority to order the release of nuclear weapons—only the President of the United States (i.e. "National Command Authority") possesses such authority. The difference between the two came down to a discrepancy over what the President had actually ordered: Not whose message was authoritative, but what had the authoritative message said? Sometimes my writing is clumsy and imprecise. Sometimes people struggle to discern what, really, I am trying to say. Communication can be a frustrating goal to achieve, due to our limitations in expressing ourselves. I believe better of the Bible. I trust that God writes better than Bart does. And, contrary to the assumptions of pragmatism and postmodernism, I believe that it is no more important to know the content of messages about the release of nuclear weapons than it is to know the content of messages about the relationship of people with God. If I were blown up by a nuclear weapon tomorrow, the event would be but a footnote to a life that will stretch eternally in Heaven. If, however, I were lost and lived to the ripe old age of 150 to die peacefully in my sleep, my great fortune in earthly longevity would constitute merely a footnote to an agony that would stretch eternally in Hell. The gospel is the focus of the New Testament. I believe that it is crticially important to proclaim the gospel clearly—thus my strong objection to the teachings of President Carter. The other things in the Bible are important, too. If they were not, God would not have bothered to provide them to us. Not only are they important, they are important for the sake of the gospel. For example, it is not necessary to know or even agree with the biblical qualifications for elders and deacons in order to be saved. But churches that, for example, call greedy swindlers as pastors are going to be less effective in the long run in carrying the gospel to the world than are churches that call godly men as qualified in the Bible. I believe that every element of biblical ethics, every element of biblical ecclesiology, every element of biblical pneumatology, every element of biblical doxology—every element of instruction for New Testament churches and believers—is a potential asset for the effective proclamation of the gospel. Ultimately, it is all about the gospel. Baptist churches share the gospel better when they are genuinely committed to Baptist belief. Recently, at a SENT conference for the SBTC, I presented a breakout session entitled "Baptist Identity as Missional Asset." My point was simply that the various elements of Baptist identity echo some of the same thoughts as those presented through the recent buzzword "missional." Healthy Baptist churches are naturally missional. Being Baptist is not something to run away from if you wish to be missional; it is something to be embraced and cultivated. So yes, Dr. Underwood, we do need a true Baptist witness in the world, for the very sake of the gospel. Evangelical porridge is a poor price to receive for the Baptist heritage, as is the liberal philosophy of man. Let us pray that such a witness endures somehow in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Mea Culpa

Since Thursday morning, I have been angry. My anger grew steadily from then through this morning. With each blog post of the past twenty-four hours, I injected more and more anger into my writing. "...the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." (James 1:20) Although the question of whether the Holy Spirit inspires non-language utterances is a matter of some contention among us, we all ought to be able to agree that the Holy Spirit convicts us quite eloquently when His children are of the wrong heart. I have to give a little narrative to get around to apologizing to everyone. I have to keep the narrative very vague and uncompelling in order not to make matters any worse. Late Wednesday evening, I first learned of an inappropriate (I came to conclude later) circumstance relating to the upcoming PPL report. Indeed, this is how I came to know that a PPL report was even coming out on Friday. Thursday morning I lit up phone lines across the nation trying to get into a position of equity. At points along the way on Thursday morning, I discovered the inappropriateness of the circumstance. Thus a very strange conversation with Dr. Brad Waggoner on Thursday morning—I had called earlier that morning to try to achieve some equity in the situation and had not gotten through. By the time he called me back, I was starting to learn unsettling things about the situation. At that point, I didn't know whether to beg him, accuse him, tattle to him, or what. I simply spoke with him briefly about my admiration for Lifeway Research—which, at that point, was still how I felt. Nevertheless, that obviously was not why I had called him. I misled him. For that, I apologize publicly. I mention this because someone in a comment had made reference to that phone call, and an explanation is in order to whoever that was. As the day progressed on Thursday, I learned positively that the circumstance had indeed taken place, and in a manner that bothered me even more than what I first thought had happened. I grew very, very angry—all the more so because I felt so foolish about my earlier telephone call to Dr. Waggoner (whom I shall be calling and to whom I shall apologize personally on Monday morning). Then the Lifeway report came out, missing any numbers for SBC laity—an absence barely enabling people to claim that the majority of Southern Baptists believe in PPL. I connected this bewildering and convenient feature of the report with "Situation A" described above, and moved from angry to livid. And that, quite obviously, has been the attitude behind my recent posts. But today, during the wedding, while I was preaching to a young couple beginning a life together, talking about the biblical pattern for marriage, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the awesome destructive force of anger. Yes, sir. Guilty as charged. So, I repent of my anger and my angry words. I have spoken with and apologized to a certain blogger. I apologize to all of the other bloggers who have had the misfortune to cross my path in the past twenty-four hours. I apologize to Dr. Ed Stetzer—although I never alleged that he was a part of the inappropriate circumstance, I did mix his name into all of this, highlighting chapters of his life in the past year that he would probably rather forget. I'll be calling him Monday morning, too. I wasn't ever angry at Dr. Stetzer, but I stirred him into a post marked by my anger toward others. I don't think I wrote clearly enough in my anger for a reader to be able to tell that I wasn't accusing Dr. Stetzer of anything other than being a human being in a difficult position (a fact that he himself acknowledged in the podcast). I apologize to Dr. Waggoner. I never got to my final post in this series, where I was going to point out that, even with all my doubts about the Lifeway report, I would be surprised to see the appropriate corrections lower the PPL fraction by more than a 10-point swing. Thus, I think that the "majority" thing is very dubious, but this report still shows the PPL fraction to be much higher in the SBC than I thought it was. So, where does all of this end up? I've lost a little faith in Lifeway Research. The things that I chose to get angry about are inappropriate and still concern me, even though I am putting away the anger. People make mistakes. Other people ought to forgive. I've lost a little faith in the Southern Baptist people. Azusa Street has made tremendous inroads into the Southern Baptist Convention. My opinion of that is clear, and there's no need to deny it. The trend is also clear. I do not think that the 50% figure is accurate today when describing all Southern Baptists (pastors and laity alike), but clearly that is the direction that the statistics are moving. In a century, we may be thoroughly charismatic as a denomination (I hope that Jesus comes back long before a century has elapsed, for reasons other than this conversation). But mostly, I've lost a lot of faith in myself. God's servant may indeed get angry, but it is unbecoming for anger to be in control of God's servant. I apologize not only to a certain blogger, Brad Waggoner, and Ed Stetzer, but also to you, my readers. I realize that, with all the intentional vagueness, this sounds pretty foolish. I feel pretty foolish right now. If you knew the details, it all might make more sense to you. Others know the details, and it makes sense to some of them. But I can't clarify further. Think of me as foolish if you wish, and that way I'll think twice before I write in anger again. Dear friends, we disagree. I'm not going to quit disagreeing—to pretend I believe otherwise than I do just to please men. But I will not be angry about it. Let us follow our polity to resolve our differences. Let us leave what happens in the hands of a sovereign God. Let us be honorable in our speech and deeds. I will be praying that Southern Baptists will see through the "Charismatic Chaos" and stem the tide. Some will pray otherwise. But I will pray what I pray in love for you all.