Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Here's a Christmas Blessing for You Southern Baptists

Jesus said:

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

So, if you are a Southern Baptist, you should feel really blessed after spending a little time in the comment stream of this Washington Post story.

You know, we've just got to firm our resolve against this kind of criticism. It is our calling to do what is right, not necessarily to do what is popular.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Something Neat Happened at Church Today

Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of FBC Farmersville's native sons, Dick Baker, when he slipped into the back row. Dick's beloved wife Ann passed away not long ago, and this is his first Christmas without her. He decided in the midst of this season to come back home today.

After I finished welcoming everyone, I went back to Dick and asked him whether he'd like to sing something for us. He replied, "I'd like to do whatever you want me to do." So, although the service was already full to overflowing, when next I stepped behind the pulpit I announced that Dick Baker was going to favor us with a song. He stepped up to the piano, and just like that, brought us something wonderful. It was eloquent, Christ-centered, and entirely appropriate both to the Sunday before Christmas and our Lord's Supper celebration. And he did that with about three minutes' notice.

So I'm here hoping that, should the Lord favor me to live that long, I will be the kind of person who still has something worthwhile to say before God's people at the drop of a hat.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Exciting VBS Idea

I know nothing about what they have achieved in the execution of the whole thing, but the most exciting concept that I've seen for 2008 Vacation Bible School is Group's Rome curriculum, subtitled "Paul and the Underground Church." I find it exhilarating to look at a curriculum for Vacation Bible School and see clearly that it might have something to do with the Bible.

BTW: Our first loyalty is to Lifeway. If all the VBS choices are equally uninspiring, we generally purchase Lifeway's curriculum for the year. But if somebody's curriculum offering stands out (Lifeway's or anybody else's), then we are willing to go with that.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thoughts from a Man Who Can't Stop Thinking

My brain will not let go of those terrible few moments on Thursday afternoon when our car collided with Nicholas Scroggs. I drove back over to the scene today because there were questions rattling around in there that just needed answering. Maybe it's the weirdo Ph.D. in me: What do you do with a problem? You research it. Then you write about it.

Here goes therapy.

So, I went back to do my research today. I tracked down where he would have started his journey on foot. I followed the route up to where the path to the Interstate diverged from the path to the underpass and associated sidewalk—the safe route. I located his house, which was his destination. The safe way was clearly, undeniably, unmistakably, inexplicably the shortest way home. He went out of his way to go across the Interstate, apparently for no other reason than to go across the Interstate.

So much of this I just couldn't see while sitting on the side of the highway. But I went back to that vantage point as well. I picked out the spot where I'm pretty sure he started his run. I noted where I believe that the impact took place. Then that horrible spot where I sat and held his hand.

It's a morality play—that's what it is. And the gospel is right there underneath it. There's the beauty of man, created in the image of God. The last moments of Nicholas Scroggs were beautiful. Even juxtaposed against all of my terror and all of my frantic action, he could have been running for Olympic gold. His stride was perfect. That backpack trailing in the wind. In any other place, at any other time, under any other circumstances, we all would have stood to applaud the sheer athletic grace and beauty and youth and vigor that he displayed. How magnificent! For a moment, it almost felt like he belonged there and the cars were intruding.

That's part of what haunts me so much. The pure vitality of the life that ended with my involvement was on such glorious display right before me in those final moments. Juxtaposed against the horrible images that I see when I lie down at night, I also see his final vigorous moments when he was so alive.

He never saw me. He never looked my direction. There was no expression of fear or hesitation. I really don't think he ever knew.

Alongside the beauty of man, there's our temptation, our spirit of thrill-seeking rebellion, and our fatal flaw. I've tried to chalk this up to his being fourteen. But four, fourteen, or one-hundred-forty, we're all infected with the same virus. Temptation blinds us to consequences. A forty-year-old man has an affair and fails to think, "I could lose my marriage, my good relationship with my children, a lot of money" All he sees is the temptation. A fourteen-year-old boy wants the thrill of running across eight lanes of freeway and doesn't even see the grave risk that he will never again reach home. Grown people tank up on booze and get behind the wheel and it somehow never occurs to them that they just might kill somebody tonight. It's the same disease; the forty-year-old just doesn't have the energy to run across concrete for no reason at all. We struggle to understand, especially because he was a good boy and a smart boy. We're so puzzled to sort it all out because we're looking for some error that he made in his thinking. It wasn't his brain; it was his will.

As they call us in C. S. Lewis's fictional land of Narnia, we are truly sons of Adam. So, why did Nick Scroggs do what he did? Well, why do you do what you do? Why do I do what I do? Because we're broken. We will to do what even we know to be unwise, to be hurtful, to be wrong. We do it because we wanted to do it, and that's all the reason that we need.

And then the terrible consequences. They sneak up on you. You may not ever see them coming. And they don't just affect you. They put in danger the people you love, the folks traveling around you. Folks you don't even know, they hurt because of what you do. The victimless crime: I think it belongs with Sasquatch and the Abominable Snowman.

Finally, there's the loving person trying to encourage a friend to choose life. Nick had a good friend (I think he's remained unnamed in the media, and I'm not going to out him) who was walking with him that day. He refused to cross the Interstate with Nick. He tried to convince Nick to go down to the underpass with him and to join him in the journey safely home. He tried. But Nick's friend couldn't choose for Nick; Nick made his own decision.

Nick's friend and I, we've got to be feeling a lot of the same things right now. Nick's friend tried to persuade him to go another way. I tried to miss Nick, and almost succeeded. If that concrete barrier had been just two feet further to the left, I think that I could have gotten past him safely.

So often I'm on a cell phone or placating an unhappy child while driving. But I was 100% and entirely undistracted at that moment. What are the odds? If I'd been chatting away on a call or turned to pick up a thrown sippy-cup or driving along at some frantic and excessive speed, then I'd be second-guessing and feeling a lot of guilt right now. And thank God that I'm a teetotaling abstentionist—if I had had "just one beer" or "just one glass of wine" over lunch, I would carry with me to the grave the question of whether my so very slight impairment might have made the difference between life and death. As it was, by the grace of God, it was a moment when I was doing everything right.

If Nick's friend hadn't tried to talk him out of it—God forbid, if he'd been egging Nick on and daring him—then he would carry that burden all of his life. But he did try to talk him out of it and refused to go with him. And so, by the grace of God, we're surrounded by people saying over and over again, "You know that this wasn't your fault. There wasn't anything you could do about it." And we know that they're right.

But somehow, as I sat on the concrete of Interstate 30 and held Nick's lifeless hand, and as Nick's friend fell on the concrete and begged Nick to wake up, it not being our fault wasn't worth a bucket of spit. It wasn't about assigning blame; it was about tragedy and loss. Thank God, I know for certain from having witnessed it all that Nick never suffered. He was running, and then he was gone. I saw both. And all that was left was other people sitting around bewildered, trying to figure out why.

There you go. That's the way I see it. God's masterpieces tempted to do very dangerous and foolhardy things and meeting up with terrible consequences that too often destroy them and hurt everyone at ground zero. This is the story even of good people.

Are we doomed just to suffer with this condition? Knowing the Lord, I recognize the gospel in there. This story is exactly what the Bible says about us. It further says that God did an intervention. Jesus took the worst of our consequences upon Himself. He saves us and then sends us out to warn people away from the danger while we're walking with them. When they don't listen, even when we've done everything that we can, it hurts something awful. I don't even want to imagine what it feels like when we didn't do anything to stop it.

Not everyone involved in this story will be a Christian. Mine is just a little personal blog, but there might even be someone reading this who is not a Christian. Perhaps you see it differently. Please understand, I'm not trying to manipulate Nick's story and use him for anything at all. Far from it. But I just can't put it out of my mind. Sleep eludes me and solace cannot be found. Tracy has to grab me and snap me back into this reality pretty often, because I'm just insentient and lost back in the reliving of those terrible seconds, oblivious to whatever is going on around me right now. I'm thinking it through and writing about it because something's got to help, and maybe this is it.

And when I try to make sense of it all, I see the gospel there. Because I think that the Bible describes us pretty doggone well. God's got our number. And maybe, if we can all come to grips with that, we'll let Him help us.

I'm not feeling very eloquent tonight, and I need to try to sleep. And I'm scared to death to write about this because it would be so easy to hurt people when probing around in a wound looking for something. Please forgive me.

Friday, December 12, 2008

In Memory of Nicholas Scroggs

Beyond posting this link and thanking so many of you for your kindness over that past seventeen hours, I find myself utterly unable to say anything. Please pray for this boy's family.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Format for Praisegod Barebones

Starting January 1, I am implementing a change of direction for this blog, as follows.

Scheduled posts: Posts will be scheduled in advance by topic and author. I will publish the schedule semi-annually.

Guest authors: I will invite a select group of contributors to author the posts. Don't call me; I'll call you. ;-)

Delayed and moderated comments: After an author publishes a post, it will remain on the site without comment for one week. After that time, I will begin to release those comments that gain approval. The screening of comments will take place solely according to the following rules:

  • Comments that interact with the original post by contrasting it with the fully documented words of relevant historical sources will be permitted.
  • Comments that interact with the original post by presenting a well-reasoned critique of the logical development of the post's thesis will be permitted. Such comments should refer to specific wording of the original post as the basis of the critique. Where such critiques employ the material of other authors or other works by the same author, they should refer to specific wording and be fully documented.
  • Comments that interact with the original post by posing a question well-crafted to further the dialogue and bring forth more information will be permitted.
  • Foul and offensive language on the part of the comment author will not be permitted. Foul and offensive language will only be permitted in quotes of others if the inclusion of offensive material is necessary to the point being made. Anything that does not meet the tests of being substantive and well documented will not be permitted. This includes, among other things, spam.
  • If a comment is rejected, I may decide to make suggestions to its author as to how he or she might improve the comment (e.g., "You need to provide a citation for the quote that you give in paragraph two") and allow resubmission.

Here's my purpose: I'm trying to set up an online forum that approximates the experience of participating in a doctoral seminar. You need not have any academic degree to participate. Indeed, I see this as a way for people to experience something approximating the doctoral study experience without having to pay tuition or pass qualifying requirements. I want the blog to become a forum where people all come having actually prepared for a discussion that is well focused around a clearly defined topic. It is a rare and wonderful thing to enjoy dialogue among people who do indeed know what they are talking about. They may have different viewpoints, but when they share them they wind up sharing more than just opinion—they convey content.

For a while after January 1, at least, this will be the only format of material on this blog. I'm not committing to this format forever, because I don't believe that the "journal of personal opinion" function of a blog is completely without merit. I'm merely observing that there is no place in the entire Southern Baptist blog realm that creates the kind of careful, credible dialogue that I hope to achieve. The more "academic" blogs generally either allow a free-for-all in the comment stream or do not allow comments at all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What Is the "Baptist Identity Movement"?

If I am a part of any "movement" in Southern Baptist life with regard to Baptist identity, it is detailed here. Anyone wishing to affirm, critique, or analyze any "Baptist Identity Movement" of which I am a part should do so in reference to that document.

Great Conversations in History, Installment #1

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Thanks of a Grateful Nation

The year 2003 was the last time that the seventh day of the month of December fell upon a Sunday. Gathered that day in the senior adult men's Sunday School class at First Baptist Church of Farmersville was a collection of wizened octogenarians. Before commencing the Bible study, the group took a moment on that Pearl Harbor Day to reminisce. "Where were you when you heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked?" asked the teacher.

"We had just come home from church," was one answer.

"We had gone to town," another replied.

When the conversation passed to Charles Waideilch, a lanky, normally quiet, transplanted Midwesterner, he replied, "I darn sure know where I was—I was standing in the middle of Hickam Field with a BAR pointed up in the air shooting at Japanese airplanes!" After years of attending Sunday School together, none of the men in the class had known until that moment that Charles had fought valiantly at Pearl Harbor.

Not many years later, Charles broke his hip. He went into rehab at the same time and in the same institution as another of our members. The other man was depressed and ready to quit, but Charles's optimism buoyed up not only himself but also his compatriot. Charles worked hard at rehab and was nearly back on his feet for good when a nasty infection set up in his other leg, eventually requiring its amputation. Again, back at the same rehab facility, Charles was fitted for a prosthetic and determined to walk again. He was nearly there when an uncommon intestinal bug sapped away his energy, and then finally his life.

Pearl Harbor Day is all but gone. How many people will even remember today the significance of the date. Anyway, we're not in the mood for reminders that evil in the world sometimes forces bloody conflict upon even the noblest and most peace-loving. Yet, for the moment, walking all around us are living reminders of both the bloody cost and the terrible necessity of military conflict. If only we will see them.

In the stairwell of Fleming Library (no longer a library) a bronze plaque commemorates those associated with SWBTS who served in the war. I passed it a thousand times before I even saw it. Silent, unpretentious, unnoticed—a metaphor of so many of the veterans who are our brothers and sisters in our congregation. They deserve the thanks of a grateful nation, but not only in the form of a flag conferred at their burial. They deserve the thanks of the living while they yet remain alive.

So tomorrow I'll go up to a Veteran's Retirement Home in Bonham, Texas. There I'll visit a member of our church who served under George Patton. And while I'm there, I'll be on the lookout for the "Pearl Harbor Survivor" cap that I saw the last time I was there, just to take a moment to say thanks.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mark Dever on Allah and Yahweh

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Would You Support the Return of Prohibition?

Seventy-five years ago today, Utah ratified the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution, repealing the Eighteenth Amendment and its prohibition of alcohol in our nation.

(HT: Dallas Morning News)

Occasionally we have a good row in the Southern Baptist blogging world over alcohol, and it seems like it's just been too long. Don't you all miss it? So here goes.

A good many of those who have argued that the recreational consumption of intoxicating liquors ought to be a permissible avocation among Southern Baptists will offer the obligatory: "Now I don't drink myself, and I always counsel total abstinence as the wisest choice, but I just don't think that we can say that the Bible condemns recreational drinking of alcohol." Certainly it is a well-formed line of argumentation for the topic at hand, because a convention of churches shouldn't make rules without some biblical foundation.

A governmental authority, on the other hand, doesn't really need biblical authority to do anything. Government can, and often does, do things simply because they are "the wisest choice." For example, you can't smoke cigarettes in restaurants in Dallas. You can't run up to Walgreens and purchase morphine for home use. You can't drive your automobile down I-35E without wearing your seat belt. None of these laws have any justification whatsoever out of the Bible; they are simply an effort to force people to make "the wisest choice."

So, if we had the opportunity to bring back the Prohibition of alcohol, would you support it? If not, why not. And please try to use the very best in grammar and punctuation in your responses—the drug legalization lobby may want to quote you.

The Barber Plan for Peace

I know…I know…To some of you that title reads something like "The Michael Moore Plan for Objectivity in Filmmaking." It is one of the great prices paid when you take a stand in a debate that onlookers will tend to place the participants at the poles of the debate and will miss much of the nuance. Thus, compared to those who would sacrifice more on the altar of "Christian unity," I might appear (falsely) not to be interested in unity at all. Compared to those a bit more reluctant to enter a public debate, I might appear to enjoy contest more than collegiality.

Truth be told, I hate conflict. But sometimes conflict can be constructive. The conflict presently ongoing within the SBC concerning Calvinism is, in my estimation, more destructive than constructive. Of course, that call is a subjective one. What is constructive to the builder of the freeway is destructive to the resident of the house that used to sit there.

I should think that, at this point, my colors are clear. The house in the path of the proposed freeway is the SBC, and I live in it. I believe that the historical distinctive beliefs of Baptists are among the plain teachings of the Bible. I have enumerated those teachings (or, at least, those among them that I consider to be most vulnerable) elsewhere. I'm at work in my own congregation to strengthen our obedience to these principles. I believe that it will strengthen any church to obey the Bible at these points. To any degree that my voice can be heard in our convention, I wish to use it to champion these ideas.

Among those who share these distinctive convictions, both historically and in the present, have been both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. In our lesser moments (in my view), Particular (Calvinistic) and General (non-Calvinistic) Baptists have held one another at arms length, maintaining separate affiliations. In our brighter epochs, our emphases upon our ecclesiological commonalities have overshadowed our soteriological differences. The Southern Baptist Convention has served as an example of this phenomenon. This does not mean that the SBC cannot be plotted on a soteriological continuum. Either Hardshellism or Free-Willism have served as a strong motivation for congregations to depart the SBC. But the space that we have occupied on the soteriological spectrum has been far broader than the territory on either end of us.

I wonder whether our situation will long endure, or whether our "blessed arrangement" will prove to be little more than a "dream within a dream." Not being a Calvinist, I believe that some "points" of Calvinism overreach beyond the teachings of the Bible. At least one such point I would characterize not as a an overreach, but as a complete philosophical construction with no strong exegetical basis. So, strictly speaking, I regard Calvinism as an error. I do not, however, count it as anywhere nearly among the graver threats that we face. In fact, I believe that fighting about Calvinism poses a far greater threat to our convention than does Calvinism itself, per se.

I was going to inject here some smarmy comment about how "Some of my best friends are Calvinists." At the very moment that I was considering the comment, I received notice that Ligon Duncan has requested to be one of my Facebook friends (doubtless after weeks of careful research and consideration). So you see, not only do I have Calvinistic friends, but prominent Calvinists whom I have never even met are actually seeking me out for friendship! :-)

My new buddy-buddy status with Bro. Duncan notwithstanding, the tensions at this moment are high. Rather than speculate about what has widened, is widening, or will further widen the divide, let us take a moment to consider what specific things might narrow it.

We can emphasize some things that are more important and could serve to unite us. A really good example is a common commitment to recovering some concept of a congregation of scripturally baptized visible saints. Here is a powerful need among Southern Baptist churches, and one that unites many of the people involved in our most recent conversations. Our near-total loss of this distinctive is, in my opinion, the root disease behind many of our symptoms these days and one of the most pressing questions facing us at this moment.

The question of church membership has arisen tangentially in all of this discussion. Malcolm Yarnell has questioned whether Tom Ascol's church extends communion to someone who has not been baptized (i.e., a Presbyterian). Tom has not responded to this question, but it appears to me that Tom's detractors, Tom's supporters, and everyone in between has concluded that such is indeed the practice at Tom's church. Some think it is awful; some think it is laudatory. Most concede that it is contrary to the wording of the Baptist Faith & Message, although most concede that Tom's church would be far from the first or only Southern Baptist church to have such a policy (explicit or implicit) with regard to the Lord's Table.

Tom is not an employee of the Southern Baptist Convention nor of any of her entities. I don't see that he has anything to lose from just 'fessing up about whoever this guy is. His squirming and suggesting that Malcolm is using "innuendo" are helpful neither to Malcolm nor to him, in my estimation. One presumes that this person is a regular attender. Tom can take credit for refusing to extend church membership to this person apart from baptism (again, presuming a lot about the situation), and he can concede his differences with our statement of faith at this particular point.

And along the way, perhaps we could open up a conversation that relates to our quest for more meaningful church membership: What about all of these people who regularly attend a church but never join for some reason or another? Is it healthy or holy to skirt around on the periphery of a congregation without making a commitment? If people will not join my congregation, do I have some obligation to encourage them toward either yielding to the teachings of the scripture or moving on to somewhere else? There are quasi-members who function in every way like members but don't join. Then there are quasi-members who join but function in every way like people who aren't members. Doesn't one blur the meaning of membership as much as the other? I think that it does.

Tom Ascol has strongly implied that Malcolm's home church does not practice regenerate church membership. It is a claim that echoes the sentiments of Tom's associate, Timmy Brister, just in advance of the SBC annual meeting earlier this year. The pastor of Birchman is a dear friend, as is Malcolm. And I am a dear friend to myself. :-) But for both of our churches, I think we can all agree that the ratio of participation to membership indicates that we have been carried along by the same currents that have been steering most of the churches in our convention.

I do think that Malcolm and I (as well as my pastor-friend at Birchman) can accurately say that we were no part of developing this problem and have made some progress toward being a part of the solution. Malcolm is helping to develop a Covenant to help his church move forward in this important way. I am confident that 2009 will witness major strides in our progress here at FBC Farmersville. Part of the greatness that I see in Bob Pearle and Malcolm Yarnell and Bill Henard is that they are the kind of men capable of providing this kind of leadership to established churches.

And along the way, maybe we can open another conversation that relates to the quest for more meaningful church membership: How can we lead historic congregations and larger congregations to know a better concept of church membership? I'm thankful for the way that some of our church plants and some of our smaller churches have admirably tackled the church membership issue. Some of them, having done so, have grown to be large churches (a vindication, in my opinion, of the positive effect that this kind of reformation and revival can bring).

But what about the historic church that has drifted away from a robust concept of church membership, but is otherwise not "in trouble"? These are churches that are fiscally successful, have good infrastructure, are involved in evangelism and missions, hold to sound theology, have good worship, and are in so many ways model churches. But these key historic Baptist concepts of biblical church discipline and covenantal duties of membership have been lost somewhere along the way. These churches didn't lose their historic concepts of church membership in a week, and they aren't going to regain them in a week. Do we give up on these churches?

Certainly, attacking people who believe in regenerate church membership for belonging to these churches is not a helpful idea. What are we saying, that Malcolm Yarnell should take his ideas about biblical church membership out of his church, stop working to give good leadership there for a stronger direction in the future, and go to some safe and easy place of ministry and membership where he need not work to better his church? That's a surefire recipe to guarantee that none of our historic and larger churches ever improve their practice and theology of church membership. Anyone who really cares about seeing positive change in the SBC in this direction ought to refrain from such remarks.

Another area that can unite us is a commitment to revitalized personal and corporate evangelism.

We desperately need help in this area, because we all know that most Southern Baptists aren't sharing the gospel at all. Of course, the leaders sounding the alarm about Calvinistic threats to evangelistic prowess are not the folks who haven't shared the gospel with anyone else. And they would be among the first to concede that the SBC has serious problems in those areas, and that those problems have absolutely nothing to do with Calvinism. Perhaps, in their heartfelt passion for seeing evangelism grow within the SBC, although they know that Calvinism has had nothing to do with bringing us to the crisis that we face today, they worry that any theological move away from evangelistic urgency will be just enough to kill an already critical patient.

Calvinists can stop pretending that our problem in any way is that we offer the gospel of Christ too much, too emotionally, or in the wrong manner. 'Tis a weak gospel indeed that can be foiled by a couple of verses of "Just As I Am" and a preacher standing at the front of a room. Let us agree that, whoever is actually presenting the gospel, even if they are presenting it differently than we are, we will not tell them to stop. Even if you think that adjustments need to be made, the nadir of our evangelistic energies is not the time to be discouraging any zeal for the gospel.

On the other hand, we non-Calvinists can just stop saying that Calvinism necessarily makes a person or a church less evangelistic and/or less missions-oriented. Let's not be like a collection of slugs debating which of us is the slowest. None of us are bound for the Olympic track team, my friend. We're in desperate need of improvement in our commitments to sharing the gospel. I'm of the opinion that less self-loathing and more confidence in Christ will help us all in that respect. But I would call upon those of us who are not Calvinists not to attack Calvinists for supposedly being less evangelistic. For the vast majority of Southern Baptist believers, it is not within the realm of possibility to be any less evangelistic. Living your life without sharing the gospel with anyone is an absolute bottom below which nobody else can go.

Our missions movement is something we inherit from the Particular Baptists, not the General Baptists. Now I'll give you this: When I encounter Calvinists who quote lots of Gill and think very little of Fuller, then I confess that it makes me nervous. All of the other laudatory things that he did notwithstanding, John Gill's name cannot be associated with the spread of missiological vitality among Baptists. But so long as we're talking about Fuller and Carey and Spurgeon, the charge of being derogatory to evangelism and missions just doesn't apply in general to Calvinism.

But however Calvinistic Fuller and Carey and Spurgeon were, they were Baptists ahead of being Calvinists. Spurgeon's sermon on baptism rankled a lot of Calvinistic paedobaptists. It was out of the intimidation of knowing that he would face Carey's Baptist scrutiny that Adoniram Judson dug deeply into the New Testament and found there the immersion of believers only. I think that Tom Ascol's historiography is ideologically driven (in other words, I think it highly unlikely that his next book is going to be a friendly biography of Benjamin Randall), and I encourage him to use it more and more to show how Baptist-before-Calvinist has been an incredibly successful combination for the gospel.

I call us today to the same commitment. Let us be Christians before we are Baptists, but let us be Baptists before we are Calvinists or Arminians or whatever else.

One of the arguments that some Baptists have made in favor of the society method of missionary organization is that societies have more committed memberships. After all, the only people who will be members of the American Tract Society, for example, will be people committed enough to the idea of evangelistic tracts to have donated actual money toward a society to produce tracts. On the other hand, they have alleged that conventions accumulate members who are only interested perhaps in one aspect of the convention, yet gives them authority to direct ministries for which they have little or no vested interest.

Over the past couple of years in blogging, I've written a thing or two critical of various aspects of our Southern Baptist Convention. I've come out strongly against the syncretism inherent to the book, The Camel, which is a product of our International Mission Board. I've fired a volley across the bow of Lifeway Research (and didn't realize until today that they just might shoot back!). I've reviewed a dud of a "tell-all" book attacking NAMB. I've criticized some Executive Board decisions. I've written much in defense and support of our convention, but I've written some things in criticism as well.

But know this for certain. When FBC Farmersville goes out to do missions, we overwhelmingly go out to do it with and as Southern Baptists, and usually with IMB or NAMB involved in one way or another. Our missions giving goes to SBC causes, and the vast preponderance goes through the Cooperative Program. I never recommend a ministry-oriented person toward anything but an SBC seminary. And my retirement and my insurance premiums go straight to Guidestone.

When I speak of or to the Southern Baptist Convention, I do so as someone with a vested interest in it all. I'm committed to our common cooperative ministry. To all of those Southern Baptists who happen to be Calvinists, I am your brother and I want us to move forward together. Let us do so as convictional, evangelistic, enthusiastic Southern Baptists.

Be all the Calvinist that you wish; just be a Baptist first.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What's Happening at FBC Farmersville

This Summer, if our Lord tarries and is willing, my first decade at First Baptist Church of Farmersville will come to completion. FBC Farmersville has a history of long-tenured pastors, or, at least, longer than average. My two immediate predecessors were here for seven years and eight years, respectively. Passing the ten-year milestone will make this pastoral ministry the second-lengthiest in the church's 144-year history. If it pleases God for me to be here to celebrate our sesquicentennial in 2015, I will do so as the longest-tenured pastor in the congregation's history.

That could almost sound like bragging, so let me assure you that it is (a) a testimony to the grace of God, (b) a testimony to the lovingkindness and patience of this family of believers, and (c) a celebration of what I'm thankful for and not a boast in what I'm proud of on my part—God knows my heart. These people stuck with me through Ph.D. seminars and a dissertation, after all.

These next six months could well prove to be some of the most significant of the decade. After more than a year of dialogue and revisions, the congregation will see in January 2009 a proposed Constitution & Bylaws for FBC Farmersville. Once we have adopted it, I will gladly post it for anyone to see. But I do not grant any online community the privilege to see it before our church family has seen and approved it.

Coming hard on its heels will be our Church Membership Covenant. This one has passed the approval of the special committee that has been working to author it. I find that the influence of those on the committee has been very helpful to me. I authored all of the first drafts, but they brought to the table a goal to wind up with a document readable and understandable by children. As someone genuinely converted at nearly six years of age, I was sympathetic to the goal (even if unable to accomplish it without their help and prodding).

Although we will present the Constitution and the Covenant at different times, we will vote to approve them together. The Constitution & Bylaws refer to the Covenant, so were we to adopt it without the Covenant, we would be operating contrary to our Constitution & Bylaws from that point until the adoption of the Covenant.

Our deacons have joined with me in a project to develop a brief ministry plan for every household in our congregation. This will include both the households who actively participate now and those whom we have not seen for quite some time. I expect that every ministry plan will involve contact with the household, if possible. Here is my goal: To accomplish regenerate church membership at First Baptist Church of Farmersville without dropping a single household from the present membership roll. If they are lost, we want to present the gospel to them and have the privilege of witnessing their conversion and baptism. If they are backslidden, we want to see their love for the Lord and for the brethren rekindled. If they are active, we hope to encourage them all the more.

The goal is, of course, unattainable. Some of those folks go to church elsewhere. Some of them we will likely not be able to identify or find. Some of them will spurn our efforts to reach them. We're going to try anyway. And it is important to me for my people to know that it has never been my intention or the desire of my heart to effect any sort of "purge." If any wind up leaving our rolls, let it be because we were running after them to catch them for the Lord, not to chase them away.

If 50% of the people we contact tell us to go away and leave them alone, then we'll double in average attendance next year. But more importantly, I'll have the assurance of knowing that I've actually shepherded the flock over which God has made me an overseer.

I'm as enthusiastic about serving here as ever I have been. We've had a really difficult few years, marked by a few painful moral scandals among the church membership (the worst of which resulted in a sexual offender being sentenced to prison last month). Our attendance and baptisms have waned through this difficult season. Now I have every reason to hope that we have put this season behind us. Our baptisms since September have already doubled last year's ACP numbers, and far beyond. I baptized three adults in the last few weeks. We're seeing a heightened interest in evangelism to accompany the amazing improvements that our congregation has made in missions involvement in the past few years (from 0 mission trips ten years ago to 7 this year).

I've always wondered what it would feel like to have pastored a congregation for as long as a decade. The amazing thing is, it feels like I'm just getting started. It hasn't felt that way at every point along the road. Sometimes it has been quite difficult. But today, I can honestly say that it feels almost like the initial "honeymoon," only better, because we know that it is based upon a real understanding between church and pastor, and not some imaginary vision of one another soon to be exploded.

God's Provident Hand of Justice?

Today I received an address change notice. Jerry Corbaley is in Hawaii.

For contrast, I offer this beautiful panorama from Northern Oklahoma.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fighting About John 3:16

I had hoped to attend the John 3:16 conference, but the vagaries of court dockets prevented me from being able to schedule any firm out-of-town plans in that date range. As things now stand, the aftermath of the conference, which I've discovered this morning, may have turned out to be as interesting as the event itself. One thing we bloggers have created within SBC life is that our great events are now akin to Presidential debates—immediately after the event itself we all enter the spin room, and the public remembrance of what happened is shaped more by the post-event interpretation than by the event itself. As bloggers, we'll have to decide for ourselves whether we've improved the SBC by that development.

I find that the warmest spot of contention arises between two men whom I know and with whom I have cooperated: Dr. Malcolm Yarnell and Dr. Thomas Ascol. As many of you will recall, Dr. Ascol, Dr. Yarnell, and I cooperated in a last-minute partnership to accomplish a good resolution on Regenerate Church Membership at the 2008 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, IN. The last-minute partnership in Indianapolis was the culmination of several weeks of emailing one another to work out some means of cooperation on this matter. I do not offer myself as the best friend or leading expert on the beliefs or temperaments of either of these men. I freely confess that I know Malcolm better and love him more than I do Tom, although I suggest that the latter truth is merely the consequence of the former, and not the result of any disfavor I have toward Tom. So now you know my biases, and now you know the basis of my observations.

And here are my observations:

  1. Dr. Ascol and Dr. Yarnell affirm mutually incompatible ideas. If they offend one another, it is not because they are offensive people. Neither one, it seems to me, is trying to hound the other out of the SBC (some stupid comments from the sidelines to the contrary notwithstanding). But they are passionate thinkers thinking different things. I've watched close-at-hand while the both of them have shown their heart for Christian unity and harmonious fellowship. But although these men have the hearts of ecumenists, they have the minds of theologians. Unfortunately, most contemporary ecumenism boils down to ignoring the vast majority of other things that Christ said in an effort to obey His wishes for the unity of the church. These men want to be obedient to all of what Christ said, and therefore their differences in thought are their whiskers—possibly attractive at a distance, but scratchier the more firmly you hug.

    Their mutually incompatible ideas are more than four hundred years old. These scholars have embraced two different streams that flow into the Baptist river: the English Presbyterians on the one hand and the Continental Anabaptists on the other hand. OK, perhaps it is a bad metaphor to call them streams flowing into our river, because each continued to flow on its own, although each is legitimately a tributary to seventeenth-century Baptist thought.

    What's more, these are important ideas. Although Calvinism is not the gospel, it certainly touches upon the gospel and has implications for the gospel. Surely we'll all have to concede that the question "For whom did Christ die on the cross?" is at least an order of magnitude more important than "Those strange sounds that guy is making over there: Do you think that they are an utterance of the Holy Spirit, or just something that he made up?" The latter is not an unimportant question (especially to the guy who vehemently asserts that his made up something is an utterance of the Holy Spirit), but it is not nearly as important as the former.

    So, I think we dishonor these men and deceive others if we pretend that they just have a personality conflict or a disagreeable spirit or that they are just arguing over trivial, unimportant matters.

  2. Calvinism, in its essence, is offensive to those who are not Calvinists. Arminianism, in its essence, is offensive to those who are not Arminians. Both, in their essence, are offensive to those who are neither. So, should we really be that surprised that Dr. Ascol was offended by the John 3:16 conference or whatever else? If inclined to do so, I could take great offense at Dr. Ascol's most recent post around which so much of this controversy has centered:

    Terminology matters, so let me quickly assert that what I mean by "Calvinism" is exactly what the great Southern Baptist statesman, John Broadus, meant when he wrote,

    The people who sneer at what is called Calvinism might as well sneer at Mont Blanc. We are not in the least bound to defend all of Calvin's opinions or actions, but I do not see how any one who really understands the Greek of the Apostle Paul or the Latin of Calvin and Turretin can fail to see that these latter did but interpret and formulate substantially what the former teaches.

    What we are talking about is the sovereignty of God in salvation including unconditional election, total depravity of sinful nature, definite atonement of particular sinners by the death of Christ, the monergistic work of the Spirit in regeneration and the preserving grace of God operating in the life of every believer.

    Taken at its plain meaning, Dr. Ascol has asserted that anyone who is anything less than a five-pointer has rejected what is nothing more than Pauline theology. That's not only Dr. Yarnell, Dr. Vines, Dr. Allen, myself, but it is also, for example, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Dr. Russ Moore (not so sure, last I checked, that Limited Atonement—"definite atonement of particular sinners by the death of Christ" in Calvinist-speak—is the plain and simple theology of the Apostle Paul).

    I do not believe that Dr. Ascol misspoke, because I sincerely believe that Dr. Ascol believes precisely that. He believes that Limited Atonement is biblical. Personally, I don't know how on earth he comes to that conclusion, but I believe that he does. Now, here's my choice: I can take offense that Tom would believe such a thing or would say such a thing, or I can shed all of this twenty-first-century victim mentality, grow up a bit, and reconcile myself to the fact that people just disagree about these things. People aren't trying to offend me; it is just that their ideas offer me the opportunity to take offense any time I so desire.

    But what if I don't so desire? I can give Dr. Ascol the right to articulate his beliefs clearly and accurately. I can acknowledge his right to gather around himself a group of people who agree with him and to enjoy fellowship with them. I can acknowledge his right and the right of his group to seek to promote their beliefs. And I can acknowledge that in doing so Dr. Ascol is not going out of his way to denigrate me. He's trying to promote his ideas. Where our ideas differ, a contest of ideas may well ensue. Ideas matter and are personal, so there will likely be some personal feelings involved. But Dr. Ascol does not advance his ideas in order to attack those who disagree. The attack upon those who disagree is merely a consequence of his passionate advocacy of his ideas.

  3. Consciously to affirm the reception to the Lord's Supper of one not immersed as a believer is to act in disagreement with The Baptist Faith & Message. Long before I was alive and long after I'm in Heaven (if Jesus tarries) people will continue to argue about which position on the extent of the Supper is the biblical position, but the wording of the BF&M is pretty clear. Not everyone has paid close enough attention to realize that fact, but there's little room for debate as to what the BF&M actually says. I think that Dr. Ascol realizes that, and that's why he's understandably keeping his cards pretty close to his vest about the policy of the church that he pastors.

  4. There's no way on earth that Malcolm Yarnell affirms Servetus's lapses from Christian orthodoxy. I think that this little twist is the height of irony, although it probably isn't that funny either to Dr. Ascol or to Dr. Yarnell. The false claim that people hurl willy-nilly against Dr. Yarnell is that he's a Landmarker…that he somehow equates "Baptist" with "Christian." This little terminology brew-ha-ha illustrates that Dr. Yarnell does not hold that point of view. You can be a Baptist and not be a Christian. Servetus, it appears, was one of those (and the category is a large one, my friends).

    So, it just strikes me as funny that Dr. Ascol, and not Dr. Yarnell, is the one equating "Baptist" with "Christian"—asserting that since Dr. Yarnell called Servetus a Baptist he must have been regarding him as an orthodox Christian. Pardon me for putting words into Dr. Yarnell's mouth, but it seems to me that he was saying that Servetus shouldn't have been a Baptist, but nevertheless was one. In other words, he should have been put out of the church for his heresy, but he shouldn't have been burned at the stake.

  5. I think that we all ought to leave room for mystery in our understanding of what happens when we are converted. I remain unconvinced by both Dort and the Remonstrants (because each strays, IMHO, from the plain teaching of the Bible). But each system does remind us of important biblical truths at certain points. As I have said before, I thank God for Calvinists, although I am not one. I love the many Calvinists I listed in that post, in the way that we can historically love someone whom we have never met. But in my love for them I acknowledge that the Bible leaves these many questions in some state of tension, and I choose to strive someday to understand what these great Calvinists-gone-by know now rather than slavishly devoting myself to what they thought that they knew when they were here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One Big Weakness of the Theory of Evolution

By "the theory of evolution" I mean to signify the notion that new, superior species arise through the processes of genetic variation and natural selection. Those who control public education in Texas are presently debating whether our curriculum should continue to address both strengths and weaknesses in the theory of evolution. I didn't realize that the debate had prompted even national Baptist Press to sit up and take notice (see here). The pseudo-scientific groups do not wish to acknowledge that there are any weaknesses at all in the theory of evolution. (Even the evolutionists believe in an inerrant text, apparently—the only difference between them and conservative Christians is that the evolutionists believe that they have authored their own inerrant statement, whereas Christians will at least acknowledge their own fallibility and ascribe inerrancy only to God and God's word!)

So, are there weaknesses in the theory of evolution? You bet there are, and I'll only trouble myself to mention the most glaring one: In thousands of years of recorded human history, we've not once seen it happen. Scientists have coerced a thing or two like it in a lab somewhere, but with all of our myriad species on earth and with as long as humans have been recording history, you'd think we'd have a record of somebody saying, "My cow gave birth to a buffalo last week!" After all, as the theory goes, this is supposed to be something that just happens, and just happens with regularity, right?

If it ever does happen, it will be a pretty strong argument for the theory: "See kids, Tommy over there has another set of eyes in the back of his head. That makes him a new species derived from homo sapiens, and guarantees him lower automobile insurance rates."

But it doesn't happen. And most scientists appear to have the same relationship with evolution that some Christians seem to have with the second coming—they'll affirm it as a matter of dogma 'till they're blue in the face, but their words and actions sometimes make you wonder whether they really believe it. Consider the book A Plague of Frogs. William Souder is apoplectic over a rash increase in mutated frogs allegedly caused by contaminants in their watery habitat. Scientific sources utter grave pronouncements over our certain imminent doom if these things aren't sorted out quickly.

But wait a minute. Why aren't these scientists gleeful about the uptick in mutations? Shouldn't we be supremely confident that the outcome will inexorably be a superior frog? Or do they need Charles Darwin to reach down through the decades and help their unbelief?

The basic foundation of science is to be dubious about a person's grand, sweeping claims and to observe for one's self. Observation over doctrine. On occasion some labcoat will stroll away from his bunsen burners and wave before the world some evolutionary Shroud of Turin to encourage the faithful, but the processes of evolution simply are not observed and do not repeat in real-world experience. It is because of the fundamentals of science, not in spite of them, that people continue to see weaknesses in this theory.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Spectator's Seat in Divorce Court, Perjury and Broken Vows

Today I attended the sentencing hearing of the sexual predator whom our staff discovered (I last made mention of this situation here). The hearing was relocated to Auxiliary Court 3 in the lavish new Collin County Courthouse.

But before they could get to our case, they spent an hour processing divorces and related matters. My associate pastor whipped out his iPhone, activated the stopwatch function, and after a while turned to me and said, "They're doing these at about four and a half minutes a pop." An hour of four-minute divorces. You do the math. It was really depressing.

Perfunctorily each case stood before the judge, most with attorneys but some without, and rehearsed a set of formulaic questions and answers as a part of the divorce ritual. As I listened, I couldn't help but think to myself that most of these people either weren't listening to what they were saying, hadn't thought much about what they were saying, or just didn't care that they were lying and committing perjury.

Each had to affirm that "the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marital relationship." There's so much to parse there—where to start?! Had all of those marriages really become "insupportable"? The word means incapable of being supported. Is it really the truth that they could not support the marriage, or that they would not do so? And what are "the legitimate ends of the marital relationship"? For what legitimate reasons does marriage exist? Just to make me happy? Does it not exist for me to sacrifice for the good of my spouse and my children (if any)? Does it not exist as one of the basic building blocks of our society? If it requires a little bit of flexibility and grace and forgiveness on my part to keep the marriage going, are not the legitimate ends of the marital relationship met thereby? How can it be that, in case after case after case, these people have all carefully discovered (some after as little as two or three years in the marriage) that there is absolutely no way to meet the legitimate ends of the marriage?

Next came, as night follows day, the affirmation that "no reasonable expectation of reconciliation exists." In Texas, none of these people were required by law to go to any sort of marital counseling, and statistically we know that many of them had not. Yet how could anyone assert that "no reasonable expectation of reconciliation exists" without having lifted a finger or made any effort to get help in reconciling the marriage? Is picking up the phone and asking for help not reasonable?

I think it likely that these folks were just perfunctorily babbling off a script that they had before them—saying whatever it took to get their divorce and committing perjury (even if thoughtlessly so) in the process.

Shocking? It shouldn't be. These are, in many cases, the same people who mindlessly and meaninglessly muttered their vows at the beginning of the whole journey. Their shallow and empty affirmations at their divorce proceedings serve to complete the set of bookends to their whole marital experience.

Birth Control Roundup

I promised some time ago a follow-up post on the abortifacient properties of oral contraceptives. I think I can get it all out there in just a very few words…a smattering of bullet points:

  • Makers of oral contraceptives have claimed in their marketing that their pills create a "hostile endometrium" as a failsafe to prevent the implantation of any "breakthrough ovulation" eggs that might happen to be fertilized. They list this claim for the marketing benefit for those to whom such a feature would be attractive.
  • The makers of oral contraceptives have not conducted scientific studies to prove that this "hostile endometrium" has ever actually prevented implantation of a fertilized egg.
  • A group of pro-life OB-GYNs have seized upon this lack of proof to suggest that the marketers have overreached—that oral contraceptives do not actually cause the endometrial lining of the uterus to be so "hostile" as to prevent implantation of the newly-conceived human being.
  • The defenders of oral contraceptives against the charge of being abortifacient have also not conducted scientific studies to prove that there is no such thing as a "hostile endometrium" effect.
  • The fact that oral contraceptives are in existence that prevent women from having menstrual periods at all is evidence that the hormones in the oral contraceptive pills do affect that nature of the endometrium. The items at question are (a) whether the hormonal changes that take place at conception would override the endometrium-thinning effects of the oral contraceptives, and (b) whether the newly conceived human being is hardy enough to implant regardless of a "hostile endometrium."
  • The most accurate statement, therefore, that any of us can make is that oral contraceptives promise to prevent the implantation of conceived human beings.
  • I incorrectly stated in a comment several posts earlier that IUDs were not abortifacient. I have since learned that they are.

Next will be a post on the value of catechisms, as promised to Chris Bonts, who most correctly predicted the time of John McCain's concession speech. Congratulations, Chris!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Another Baptist Convention in Texas?

BGCT blogger Rick Davis reported yesterday of rumors that some within the BGCT are contemplating a departure to form yet another Baptist state convention in Texas. (HT: Aaron Weaver, aka Big Daddy Weave)

Having not kept up with goings-on in the BGCT, I don't know what to make of this. Are we talking about three or four people or three or four hundred people? Was this talk prior to or subsequent to the most recent annual meeting of the BGCT? In Davis's comment stream, Ken Coffee (recent unsuccessful candidate for the BGCT vice-presidency) suggested that the sore spots for these folks were the plans to morph the BGCT into a national convention and the BGCT's hostility toward the SBC.

To any such folks, if they exist: If you are comfortable with the BGCT's budget priorities (80% for us, 20% for the rest of the world) and with the liberal doctrinal positions and low view of the Bible manifest at the Texas CLC, some of the BGCT universities, etc., then you ought to wait things out and not do anything drastic right now. If your sole objection is to BGCT expansion beyond Texas, I'm not sure to what degree such plans are really on the table any more. The name change to "Texas Baptist Convention" (if adopted) seems to imply a return to a Texas-only philosophy at BGCT. If your only objection is to the tension between the BGCT and the SBC, then you need a reality-check—the BGCT's budget priorities and liberal doctrinal positions, juxtaposed against the SBC's financial plans and conservative doctrinal positions, guarantee ongoing tension between these two bodies in their current relationship. Don't let some of the folks on blogs fool you—attempts to bring the SBC to liberal positions on women preachers and the like are failing.

On the other hand, if you are uncomfortable with the BGCT's doctrinal positions and budget priorities, then you ought to try a dual affiliation with the SBTC before you go and start a third state convention. None of the blogs that I've read have given any explicit shortcomings that these allegedly discontented BGCTers have with SBTC that would convince them to start a third state convention rather than joining the other one already in existence for a decade now. I could speculate as to a few possible items in that category.

It may be that you've heard horrible things about the SBTC that have eliminated any interest in joining. I would ask you, why not find out for yourself? Isn't it possible that the BGCT is not the most objective place to learn about the SBTC? If your church is comfortable with the SBC's statement of faith, then you meet the criteria to belong to the SBTC (and if not, then I've already suggested that you might just ride things out over at BGCT for a while). If, after adding an affiliation with SBTC, you find that the SBTC is every horrible thing that its detractors have alleged, then you can quite easily end your SBTC affiliation, and you will still be aligned with BGCT. If, on the other hand, you find that SBTC has been misrepresented, then you'll have saved yourself the work of establishing a third convention.

It may be that you've met a person or two connected with SBTC whom you haven't liked that much. Such an experience frankly slowed the rate at which I dipped my toes into the SBTC pool. But quite obviously, since you're considering breaking away from BGCT to start something else, you have had some sort of a bad experience with some people at BGCT. Yet you're still a member of that convention. Every convention, church, Sunday School class, fellowship group, you-name-it, is a mixed bag. I've found the SBTC to be a warm, wonderful, Christ-honoring, gospel-spreading, mission-affirming fellowship of Baptist believers. You might find it differently, but don't you owe it to yourself to find out for yourself?

It may be that you're tired of all of the fighting—not interested in being a part of some sort of government-in-exile. Guess what: Neither was I. I was pleasantly surprised at first and continue to be pleased to find that BGCT is never mentioned at SBTC events. We've moved on. In fact, if you haven't moved on, and are looking for a place to join in BGCT gripes, then please don't come to the SBTC. Souls are too precious and time is too short for such things. The place to gripe about the BGCT is the BGCT annual meeting.

It is your privilege as believers to choose your own affiliations, and it is your duty as believers and stewards to pursue vigorously what you believe to be the best strategy for proclaiming the gospel to the world. But before you start something new, you owe it to yourself and to your progeny to have considered and tried every option for affiliation with present groups. Perhaps that process will lead you to a newfound sense of belonging within the BGCT. Perhaps it will lead you to join your brethren in the SBTC. Perhaps it will lead you to launch something new. Whatever should come of it all, my prayer is that you might honor the Lord, remain true to His Word, and diligently pursue His work to His glory.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Putting the Holy Back in the Holidays

There's a really disheartening poll from Zogby this morning. Actually, it has nothing to do with electoral politics, and what disheartens me is not the results of the poll (which don't exist yet), but the actual poll question itself. Here's the Zogby interactive polling question that came in this morning's email and broke my heart:

Thinking about the upcoming holiday season, which of the following best describes what it means to you? (Choose up to TWO)

  • Sharing time making memories with family and friends
  • Finding the right selection of gifts for everyone on my list
  • Waiting in shopping lines/crowded malls
  • Traveling
  • Being a little nicer to everyone I encounter
  • Stressing out
  • Other
  • Not sure

Notice anything missing from that list? Is the spiritual significance of the holidays so far lost that it rightfully belongs in "Other"?

For a few years we at FBC Farmersville have tried to put before our people some tangible ways to keep a spiritual emphasis during the holidays. We list nativity re-enactments in the DFW area, suggest family activities for the holidays, and this year we're even making music suggestions. Does your church do anything to try to cultivate the holidays as a spiritual occasion? If so, do you mind sharing with the rest of us what you do?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Most Succinct Election Analysis on the Web

The only way for Republicans to lose the White House is to pretend that ours is not a conservative party.

The only way for Democrats to win the White House is to pretend that theirs is not a liberal party.

Good night to you all, and congratulations to President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama.

Monday, November 3, 2008

An Election-Day Eve Piece of Political Trivia

You've all heard the parable of Abraham Lincoln, the man who failed at so many things and yet persevered all the way to the White House and to the pedestal of history.

At the other end of the spectrum is a particular twentieth-century president who only lost one election in his entire life.

  1. Name this President.
  2. Name the man who defeated him in a run for office.
  3. Name the fictional character based upon the man who is the answer to #2.

Note: Although there is more than one twentieth-century president who lost only one election, there is only one for whom all three questions above make sense.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

If Barack Hussein Obama Wins

In my last post I tried to address some of the things that you might not think about at first consideration of the prospect of a McCain victory. Of course, it goes unstated that a McCain victory would be far and away the better of the two choices. Among things that I didn't mention, a McCain election would not mean that the campaign to save the lives of teeming masses of innocent children every day wouldn't be set back a couple of decades. That, in and of itself, is worth the price of admission. And then there's the specter of facing the hostility of a President who regards our faith as something to which desperate people stubbornly and foolishly cling. But, a shocking come-from-behind McCain victory would also prompt (I predict) the reactions delineated in my last post.

Now, on the other hand, although I would go to great lengths if I thought that I could prevent Obama's election (and I'll do what I can in a polling place on Tuesday morning!), I think there are a few things that we believers ought to remind ourselves when we face a more hostile environment to people of faith on Wednesday morning:

  • FIrst and foremost, I think we have to acknowledge something of the hand of God in the events that have swept Obama into the White House. I mean, who foresaw this economic cataclysm coming at just the right timing to have maximum impact upon the election? And which political party could have made it happen on cue if they had wanted to do so? Nobody.

    I know…I know…God didn't make people take out crazy subprime interest-only ARMs. We got ourselves into this mess. But I'm talking about the precise timing and ferocity of the meltdown. McCain was surging on a Palin-induced rally and this economic mess came just in time to nip that in the bud. It happened long after Republicans had the opportunity to pick a more economically savvy candidate, and long after John McCain had any opportunity to get his bearings and sort out his talking points. Yet it happened long enough before early voting for the bleak reality to sink deeply into the consciousness of so many American voters.

    If something like that had emerged to catapult McCain to victory, we would have declared it—without much hesitation—to be the hand of God. Well, why must it be something else if it puts Obama into office?

    Because Obama is a bad and godless liberal? Remember, this is the same God who brought bad and godless Assyria down upon Israel. He brought Nebuchadnezzar upon Judah and the Bible explicitly says that God gave into Nebuchadnezzar's hands the sacred vessels of the temple to put into the treasury of a pagan idol (Daniel 1:2). I don't believe that Barack Obama is a whit closer to God than Nebuchadnezzar was, but I recommend that we all be VERY careful about thinking that we know what God would do or what God wouldn't do.

    The United States of America may very well deserve precisely Barack Hussein Obama. This may be the election where God lets us have just that.

    And if the result is socialism (and the inevitably ensuing collapse of our economy and poverty for everyone), then socialism will not defeat the church. Just ask my friends in Cub@. And even in that, we can give thanks. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom, and a little poverty just might facilitate a lot of revival.

    If the result is persecution of the church and (a generation or so down the road) the imprisonment of those who will preach the whole Bible, then we can rejoice. For the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, and just such a thing might do us more good than any jingoistic convention program could ever do in bringing back purity and vitality to the church (and we won't even have to design a logo for it).

    So, God might have lots of good reasons to hand this election to Obama. I would still be sinning to vote for him, but God can simultaneously expect me to vote for McCain and plan for an Obama victory.

  • I will pray for Barack Obama and will show him respect as my President. I reserve the right to disagree with him, and I'm sure that I will exercise that right on many occasions, but I will not treat Obama that way that so many people have treated President Bush. A great many liberal church members (indeed, liberal churches!) have flagrantly sinned in their language and attitudes toward President Bush. They reveal, methinks, that they have a higher regard for "Never trust anyone over 30" than for "Honor the King" (1 Peter 2:17).

    Let not the same be said of us. Let us argue the issues, but if he wins, let us show President Obama biblical respect. Let us remember that, in the face of wrongful laws and oppressive treatment, Daniel and his compatriots always showed deferential respect to Nebuchadnezzar.

  • Barack Obama may not turn out to be as bad of a president as I think he will be. The events that define a presidency often happen during the presidency itself. Think for a moment how much the events of September 11 have defined the presidency of George W. Bush. When I voted for him in 2000, I had no idea that those 2001 attacks were coming. Neither did you. Neither did HE. To some degree, every President-Elect is a pig in a poke. Some of them just smell a lot worse.

    So, God is able to shape the events that will shape Barack Obama. Don't forget, "The King's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Proverbs 21:1). Perhaps we pastors ought to practice a corollary to a principle that we've prescribed for so long: If we want a better president, we should pray for the one that we get. And we should perform those prayers knowing that God is quite powerful enough either to harden Obama's heart around his wrongful ways (Exodus 9:12) or to bring him around to an entirely new way of thinking (Acts 16:22-40).

God is able to bring good things out of an Obama administration—with Obama's help or in spite of his resistance. But even if He does not, let us be faithful and obedient, remembering that, as it pertains to our true citizenship, the administration of our kingdom does not hang in the balance on Tuesday.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

If John McCain Wins

Tonight I give you the first of two pre-election posts. The second will be entitled "If Barack Hussein Obama Wins."

A surprising number of people in my contest have chosen to predict a McCain upset victory. I remain unconvinced. But if it should happen, I have the following observations for you:

  • If McCain has not conceded the race by Wednesday morning (November 5), I recommend that you go out to your cars, yards, etc., and immediately remove every sticker, sign, or placard that might say "McCain/Palin" or any other such thing. An Obama loss would provoke scattered violence throughout our nation. I'm as serious as I can be. If you don't want your car keyed, your house egged, or your person confronted, then you'd better take those signs down and don't even think about gloating. The sole exclusion from this rule is C.B. Scott. If an angry mob of Obamaniacs surround and attack C.B., they have coming whatever they get and we should have no pity upon them.

  • Wave goodbye to Sarah Palin. John McCain will put up a high-voltage fence around the Naval Observatory (where the VP resides) and instruct the Secret Service to shoot her if she approaches the gate and tries to escape. Her best shot at getting on TV after the election would be if she could land a cameo on Deadliest Catch. I'm a fan (my bumper sticker says "SARAH!" with a tiny "McCain" underneath), so I'm not saying that she doesn't deserve better. I'm just predicting what she'll get.

  • McCain will be under tremendous pressure to bring "healing" to a nation deeply riven over the election's outcome. In response, McCain will do the sort of thing that he does when he's under that sort of pressure—he'll cooperate with Barney Frank or some other such wild-eyed liberal to draft some piece of "bipartisan" legislative agenda. In doing so, he'll be operating in the same way that President Bush did early in his administration before he learned better. For the Kennedys, Franks, Obamas, and other folks on the left, a firm cooperative hug is merely a better position from which to insert the stiletto into your back.

  • The happiest people on earth will be David Letterman, Jay Leno, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart.

  • Oprah will cry.

  • Rush Limbaugh will say "I told you so."

  • American troops will get out of Iraq on about the same timetable that they would have under an Obama administration.

  • Barack Obama will not go gentle into that good night. He will not pull an Al Gore, freak out, gain 120 pounds, and jet around the world to encourage people to forsake travel for the environment's sake. He'll preserve his image in hopes of running again.

  • The NYSE will not like a McCain victory. Stocks will plummet if he wins, albeit temporarily. Eventually stock traders will trade on news other than politics.

  • Contrary to speculation, John McCain will easily outlive his term of office. Until some Democrat socializes it, for now we have the best healthcare system in the world. The President of the United States gets the best of the best. McCain would not, while serving, die of disease.

Stick around for the flip-side in part two.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Praisegod Promotions: Contest # 1

The winner of this contest will receive his choice of (a) The right to post an article on this blog of his or her own composition and choice, edited only to exclude obscene words or thoughts, or (b) The right to require the host of this blog to author and publish a post on any question of his or her own choosing.

Here's the contest: Name the precise date and time that the loser will concede the national presidential election, and who will be conceding. Of those who identify the correct loser, the closest time prediction will win. All dates will be Eastern Standard Time (unless you explicitly state otherwise).

Submit your entries into the comment stream. Fair Warning: Grosey tends to win my contests at the last minute.

Russell Moore on "Judgement House" Evangelism

Click here for an excellent column by Russell Moore. Here in the DFW area a group of liberal United Methodists have started to picket one of the local manifestations of the "Judgement House" (see the story that I watched here). Their on-camera objection was that the concept of divine judgment is incompatible with the concept of divine love (typical shallow inane liberalism).

Moore's article is something entirely different. He shows from a God-honoring, biblically-faithful perspective why these productions are such a misdirection from weightier things. Read and enjoy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Program Your DVRs Now

Mike Huckabee's talk show will feature as a guest (among others) Bill Maher!

!!!!!

Your predictions please:

  1. It will be a loser-leave-town cage match: All heat and no light.
  2. Huckabee will wuss out and dodge any conflict with Maher over religion because Huckabee's truly a liberal softy at heart.
  3. Maher will wuss out and pretend that he's really not trying to insult people like Huckabee…just the "religious wackos."
  4. Maher will trounce Huckabee, who's really more politician than preacher and doesn't know enough religion and philosophy to hold his own against Maher.
  5. Huckabee will mop the floor with Maher, who is, after all, nothing more than the modern equivalent of a court jester.
  6. When Huckabee and Maher shake hands—actually touch—then…well…Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. :-)

Coming your way Saturday at 7:00 PM CDT on Fox News Channel.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Current Void in Background Checking Technology

I'm so thankful that we live in an age in which churches are able to investigate the background of candidates for pastoral office so thoroughly. Churches can and regularly do perform criminal background investigations, credit investigations, driving investigations, and the thorough questioning of provided references. Here at First Baptist Church of Farmersville, when they called me nearly ten years ago, they asked my references to provide the names of people who knew me, and then asked those people to provide the names of people familiar with my ministry, going three levels deep to investigate my background.

What a great idea, since all pastors are not alike, and since there are some predators and bad apples out there who can do major damage to a church!

Some have suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention set up a database of sexual offenders in the pulpit, reacting, I'm sure, to the fact that the vast and rapid improvement in resources to investigate pastors still has not eradicated the problem of clergy abuse. What remains to be demonstrated is not that a problem still exists, but that any of the proposed solutions would actually accomplish more good than harm.

So, not all pastors are alike. But neither are all churches alike. I'm keenly aware of that fact, being blessed as I am. First Baptist Church of Farmersville, having been founded here in 1865, has never terminated a pastor and has never split. The congregation has faced good times and hard times, seasons of growth and seasons of challenge. We have weathered all of the storms of over 140 years and have done so, so far, without acting abusively toward those whom she has called to serve. Not every pastor, I have come to realize, enjoys the blessing of serving at a church like this one.

But the government does not maintain a database of abusive churches. No national bureaus report whether churches pay what they have promised to pay or deal fairly in their conduct of business or follow the rules of their own governing documents. Where do you turn when a Pastor Search Committee lies to you? Are you certain that the local Director of Missions will tell you the truth? Will he risk alienating a contributing church to give the honest truth to a rank stranger? Some will and do, and we all thank God for them. But sometimes pastors walk into abusive situations with no fair opportunity to learn all of the facts.

Here's hoping that the onward march of technology will result in some system that holds rogue congregations accountable for their actions. I would much rather that it be an informal system than a formal system. The staggering decline in the number of people interested in pastoring existing congregations is, to some degree, influenced by the abuses of these bad-apple congregations. There are fewer of them than we suspect, I am convinced, but the difficulty in identifying them poses a frightening prospect for pastors. The stories of pastors and their families brutalized by congregations may not outnumber the stories of good things done for pastors, but they certainly stick in the memory and move the heart. A great many pastors have had their zeal for ministry and their love of the church beaten out of them by cowardly bullies masquerading as Christians.

Ideally, churches and pastors should find one another in a free and open exchange of critical information. But it needs to be a two-way street. And it needs to be centered around the conviction that God brings pastors and churches together, and that He rewards the actions of anyone who deals honestly and justly in submission to His will and with respect for His children.

Friday, October 24, 2008

No, That's Not a Roar in the Background Audio

File this one under "Blind hogs and acorns."

My artistic skills are…well…questionable. That's why I'm so tickled that today's pumpkin carving turned out so well. Last year I carved my first-ever pumpkin. I haven't touched the tools since that day. What I wanted to do this year was create an Aslan pumpkin. But I couldn't find a suitable pattern anywhere online. I decided to do my own.

The project turned out to be much more involved than anything that I attempted last year. For one thing, I wouldn't have a simple pattern to follow. Indeed, I had to make my own pattern. I downloaded a JPG photo of Aslan from the recent movie. Using Photoshop, I added adjustment layers for Hue/Saturation and Brightness/Contrast to create a highly contrasted Grayscale image of Aslan's face. I then upscaled the image to fit my Letter sized page and printed it out.

Now, for the next complication. It became clear to me that a simple cutting out of holes (like I did last year) just wouldn't do. I was going to have to accomplish shading and highlights—partial shading of the gourd. And there's really no way to tell what it is going to look like (for a novice like me) until darkness falls and you light the thing up, although deeper cuts ought to mean brighter light, right?

So, I transferred some rough reference points (eyes, nose, mouth, outline of the mane, etc.) and worked the thing over with scraper and knives, and the movie below depicts the results. Honest…this is the first and only attempt that I made. I'm pretty tickled with it. If you aren't impressed, it's just because you don't realize how poor my artistic skills really are.

Enjoy. BTW, You'll need QuickTime to view it.

Thomas White in His Own Words

I've only got a couple of seconds to cobble together a quick post here. Not to post for myself, but to direct you all to Dr. Thomas White's own words on the matter of birth control and Christian ethics.

I'm curious as to everyone's thoughts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Do Americans Regard Children as a Blessing?

Frankly, no. Thomas White is right on the money. Our culture regards money as a blessing—the more you have, the more blessed you are. Our culture regards sex as a blessing—the more you have, the more blessed you are. Not so with children. And those who criticize Thomas are, to put it bluntly, people defending the American worldview against the biblical worldview.

I could write more. Oh…I could write much more. But rather than explain, I'll merely illustrate. Is the following the product of a culture that regards children as a blessing? Would it even be funny if it were not lampooning an anti-parenting bias in our culture?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Hand That Swings the Paddle Rules the World

An article in today's New York Times will, perhaps, bring you equal parts of insight and fear. The title "When Is Spanking Child Abuse?" seems reasonable enough at first glance. There certainly is such a thing as child abuse. Whoever practices physical abuse of children is someone who spanks. What such a person would term "spanking" quite obviously could be child abuse. A reasonable discussion along the lines of "When Is Spanking Child Abuse?" could be profitable to everyone who should participate.

This, my friends, is not that discussion. For Lisa Belkin's unmistakeable underlying presumption in writing the article is that most of her readers will meet the question "When Is Spanking Child Abuse?" with the answer "Always!" (although the comment stream didn't bear that out).

Here's the insight that we all might gain from her article: How far discourse on this topic has moved in such a brief time:

  1. A century ago, corporal punishment was a presumptive part of parenting.
  2. During the twentieth century, American culture became surprisingly aware of a subculture of non-spanking people.
  3. Through the influence of people like Benjamin Spock (not a Vulcan, BTW!), serious debate took place over the propriety of spanking children.
  4. Spanking came to official and vehement disfavor among leadership in the medical, psychiatric, and social work fields.
  5. Now, as this article makes clear, in places like New York, this article takes a tone of surprising awareness that people somewhere still spank.

Consider these quotations:

Spanking…has never really gone away in many parts… [This quotation presumes a readership that would have assumed spanking to have been a thing of the past!]

........

Corporal punishment in school is still legal in 21 states. [Yikes! Surely you jest!]

........

Despite the rise of the timeout and other nonphysical forms of punishment, most American parents hit, pinch, shake, or otherwise lay violent hands [Gasp!] on their youngsters: 63 percent of parents physically discipline their 1-to 2-year-olds, and 85 percent of adolescents have been physically punished by their parents.

........

While the United Nations has set a target date of 2009 to end corporal punishment by parents, and while 23 countries have already banned hitting kids, the United States is not one of them.

........

Isn’t all hitting child abuse?

The article features some creative use of statistics. The last time I checked, one third amounts to a whole lot less than half, but Belkin analyzes a statistic that "over a third" of spankers escalate to child abuse. Now, that's a horrible statistic, if it is true. But it does not amount to the claim that spanking "usually escalates" to child abuse. Usually? Hmmm.

It's alarming enough that a regular columnist for a paper as influential as the Old Gray Lady holds these views. More disturbing is the fact that an action by a father that left no one injured and no one aggrieved has resulted in a godly father standing before the bar of judgment. It could be me just as easily as it could be him. That scares me a bit.

It also scares me a bit to think that discipline of children is so absent New York City that a parenting columnist for the Times would find the concept so Neanderthal. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, and if things keep going as they are foolishness will increasingly be the hallmark of our society. And then, sooner than we expect, the United States of America will fall to some better, stronger race of people who love their children enough not to let them turn into the worst version of themselves.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Huck 2012

For the record, I blame what's going to happen on Election Day on everyone who supported McCain in the primaries (yes, my dear West Point grad nephew, that includes you! :-o ). Rather than waiting until November 5 and penning some melancholy screed—indeed, rather than writing much of anything myself at all—allow me to point you to some articles that I believe will prove to be prescient.

Andrew Romano has authored an article for Newsweek speculating that Republicans could be in much better shape right now if Huckabee had been the nominee. Romano's best point is that nobody in the GOP foresaw the "perfect storm" coming this Fall. I've always been suspicious of the whole process of dumping the candidate of my convictions in favor of a candidate that I adjudge "more electable." My convictions, I know; what it will take to be elected six months into the future, quite obviously, nobody knows.

Marc Ambinder has written an article for The Atlantic positing Huckabee as an early frontrunner for 2012. Who knows? But I do have some hope that the GOP will do what it cyclically does: Lick its wounds from having fatally supported a pseudo-conservative and choose someone convictional.

Whoever runs for the GOP in 2012 will have much better odds of winning because Matthew Continetti is right on the money when he writes for The Weekly Standard Here They Come: Democrats Gone Wild. We are about to experience (and hopefully survive) the least restrained self-indulgence of liberalism that our nation has ever witnessed. George McGovern will spend four years looking wistfully at the Obama White House. Americans will feel differently before it is all over, leading to Pat Buchanan's predicted "Coming Backlash."

I know…I know…the election hasn't taken place yet and McCain technically might win. But you people ought to listen to me about these things: Having followed Baylor football since 1988, I know a losing team when I see one.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Creative Way to Attack Internet Porn?

First, why would we bother? After all, some might argue, the publication of lewd material goes back to the dawn of time. Why fight what seems to be unstoppable?

Well, just because pornography has been around for a very long time, that doesn't mean that its perverseness and pervasiveness have not changed down through the years. For example, if a resident of my home town, Lake City, Arkansas, had wanted to view live pornographic action a century ago, such a person would have been forced to travel to some seedy part of Memphis (a then-imposing journey of some sixty miles), locate a suitable establishment, and then hope not to be seen while entering or exiting. Today, the same man must invest money and effort into spam-abatement software and procedures in order to AVOID being solicited by purveyors of porn.

Pornography is a negative influence upon our society. It is a blight upon the face of our culture. It is a growing menace to the sexual fulfillment and happiness of the American people.

But how do you stop it? Efforts to create a special TLD (top-level domain) for pornography as well as efforts to combat wanton internet porn have collapsed when confronted with the fact that the Internet does not behave like other commerce in the world. A web site might be hosted from anywhere on the planet, so enacting tough legislation in a particular jurisdiction is entirely ineffective.

I say that an Internet problem deserves an Internet solution. Something creative and distinctively Internetish that stands a chance of prevailing in the war on porn.

What am I proposing? The inspiration for my plan is SETI@home. Participants in the SETI@home program download software onto their computers that, while they are not using their computers, works diligently in the background to download and process radio signals from outer space searching for evidence of intelligence in the universe beyond Earth (think Contact).

Why not have such sleeper programs installed on computers to chew up the bandwidth of porn providers, hitting them in the pocketbook where it hurts? A sufficient number of computers toiling at this task would degrade the user experience of porn customers and force providers to outlay cash for expensive extra bandwidth just to stay afloat. Such programs would continuously browse the free portions of known pornographic sites to place high demand upon their computer resources. It might not be a knockout blow, but at least it would score as a punch.

Of course, one would have to probe the legal niceties delineating SETI@home on the one hand from something like a Distributed Denial of Service attack on the other hand. At some point tending toward the latter, I think such activities could become illegal. And we wouldn't want that.

Also, I suppose that those who have good enough web filtration to keep people from browsing porn for real would also find that their filtration software would block the porn-hacker program, as well.

It may not be workable, but it seems to me that this is a problem crying out for a good solution. It scares me to think of a generation of children (including my own) coming-of-age with the Internet as it now exists.. I'm willing to take responsibility for helping to keep them from pursuing porn, but we ought to find some way to limit the ability of porn to pursue them. For people who take such responsibilities seriously, the viability of the Internet itself may be the thing at stake.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What Does America Stand For?

I find it somewhat bizarre to live in a time when America is preparing to elect its first Socialist president, the Republican Party is discussing the nationalization of banks and government intervention to prevent the failure of private enterprises, the only nation willing to pursue a capitalist approach to space travel is Russia, and the hotbed of world capitalist investment is China.

Friday, October 3, 2008

How You Begin and How You End Up: Two Different Things

It is possible to arrive in this world as a result of sin and accidentally, and yet for the ensuing years of your life to be marked by godliness and the certainty that God intended all along for you to be here.

Consider, by way of illustration, the life of Gianna Jessen (see also personal site). Her conception was by means of an act of fornication, her birth by means of a botched saline abortion, which left her inflicted with Cerebral Palsy. Jessen's earliest childhood experiences took place within the foster care system, while doctors were predicting that she would never walk nor be able even to lift her own head. Her entire story of coming to be is stamped with the imprint of sin and accident.

But today, Jessen runs marathons. She loves the Lord and sings Christian music. The Supreme Court of the United States has heard her story in official testimony, and she has appeared on major national news programs. It would be incorrect to assert that the evil in attendance at her birth has been swept away—the circumstances of each of those sins still affect everything that Gianna does—but in the great mysterious ways of our God, even these circumstances of evil God has made into His own triumph and used to accomplish His own good will.

We must draw similar conclusions about the Southern Baptist Convention. Our convention came to be as a result of sin—it does us no good to sidestep or whitewash it. At least two sinful aspects of our inception are worthy of note.

The Sin of Racism

Most prominent is our congenital support of the Southern system of racial slavery. However, there is much clarification that needs to be made on this topic. This moment in our history is a favorite citation employed by those who say that they are inerrantists, but they are not. They will remind us that our Southern Baptist forefathers supported slavery. They will remind us that they justified their support of slavery based upon the acceptance of slavery in the Bible. They will generally NOT state what they have forcefully and deliberately implied: that the Bible is not inerrant where it speaks about human slavery. Nevertheless, they will then depend upon that conclusion to insist (carefully avoiding the employ of these particular words) that other portions of the Bible are likewise in error—scriptural injunctions against homosexuality or radical feminism or whatever other sort of "liberty" they wish to advocate for the moment—and that any who would seek to be obedient to the Bible are no different than the patriarchs of the SBC who surely lusted after the blood, sweat, and tears of the oppressed African slaves on the cotton plantations of the South.

All of this comes about when we make no effort to show how, specifically, Southern Baptists were in error on the question of slavery in 1845.

The proprietor of a local financial planning business conducts a weekend radio show (read, "hour-long commercial for his business camouflaged in the garb of actual radio programming"). Last weekend he engaged in a lengthy diatribe asserting that most American citizens working a 9-to-5 job are actually no different from slaves. They are forced to perform labor that they find unpleasant, he said. They are tied down by debt, and do not actually "own" any property. If they do not succeed in paying their taxes, they can wind up in jail. How free are they, really?

I think that this particular radio host gets too caught up in his own rhetoric. Certainly there are differences between a modern American working shift work and an ancient slave, but mustn't we admit that these are differences of degree rather than differences of essential nature. Was the life of Joseph so much worse than theirs when he was the servant of Potiphar? How about of Gehazi, the servant of Elisha? Eliezer, the servant of Abraham? More to the point, what about each of us as Christian believers, aptly described as slaves of the Lord? Does God sin against us by putting us into such a relationship with Him?

Slavery as an economic arrangement is worse than many economic arrangements (e.g., free enterprise) and better than some others (e.g., being left destitute without any work to do nor any food, shelter, water, or charity). With the explicit command of the New Testament we must concur, "if you are able also to become free, rather do that" (1 Corinthians 7;21, NASB). Freedom is to be preferred to slavery, but the Bible does not condemn slavery ipso facto.

Where the founders of the SBC erred is in equating what was transpiring in the American South in 1845 with the lives of Joseph, Gehazi, and Eliezer. They were debating slavery; they should have been debating racism. The system of slavery in the American South meant, apart from a very few exceptions, that every black person was condemned to slavery by simple virtue of being black. Africans were kidnapped into slavery: They did not enter slavery because of debt, criminal activity, or the fortunes of war. Far too often and embarrassingly, Africans were kidnapped and sold into slavery by other black Africans. Once in the USA, black babies were born slaves. Black families were separated under this system of enslavement. Manumission was simply not the realistic hope of people caught up in the nineteenth-century African slave trade.

So deeply pervasive was the racism of this system that I, born some 125 years later, have heard with my own ears in the community of my childhood otherwise good and normal people speculating as to whether black people have souls. Unlike the situations of Joseph, Gehazi, and Eliezer, Antebellum American slavery was not just an economic matter of what certain people did; it was a theological error concerning what people are. It was a refusal to recognize that every person, regardless of race or continent of birth, is the special and beloved creation of God.

This is the system that the earliest patriarchs of the SBC defended. We do ourselves no favors to shy away from the plain fact that they were, at this point, wrong.

The Sin of Uncooperative Belligerence

In the early-nineteenth-century jostling that took place between abolitionists and the defenders of racism among Baptists in America, Southern Baptists took a provocative and uncooperative tone in the 1840s. In particular, they adopted a sentiment that always marks the death-knell of Baptist cooperation: The notion that my convention has to endorse whatever my local church endorses.

The only way for cooperation to succeed among Baptists is for local congregations to agree to pursue corporately those things that we have affirmed corporately by fair and due process. We will, at the conclusion of these processes, have remaining differences from congregation to congregation over what we do or do not approve. Where my local congregation is in agreement with the corporate actions of our fellowship, we pursue our objectives through that fellowship. Where we are out of step, in those matters we are free to act either independently or through other affiliations.

It is tyranny to demand that, if my congregation accepts somebody's baptism as valid, all Southern Baptist churches must accept it as valid. It is tyranny to demand that, if my congregation affirms a person's qualifications to serve as a missionary, all Southern Baptist churches must affirm and support that missionary candidate. This sort of tyranny, allowed to propagate, is always a deadly poison to inter-congregational cooperation. It certainly proved to be so in the 1840s.

Aggrieved pro-slavery Baptists in the South forwarded James Reeve's application to serve as a missionary with the Triennial Convention. Georgia Baptists did so making it plain that Reeve was a slaveholder. They further indicated that they had raised all of Reeve's support. They demanded that the Board approve Reeve as a missionary. We have come to refer to Reeve's application as "The Georgia Test Case."

It seems to me that Georgia Baptists and James Reeve had several options open to them:

  1. Nobody was holding a gun to James Reeve's head to require him to remain a slaveholder. Knowing full well that this was a matter of contention among Baptists, if Reeve's true desire was to serve as a missionary, he might easily have sold his slaves and gone on to the mission field undeterred. Doubtless, he (wrongly) regarded slaveholding as his right and regarded his financial means to own a slave (as well as his "liberty" to do so) as the blessing and gift of God. He was, in view of the repugnant system of Southern slavery, wrong on at least some of these points, but even if he had been right, would he not have been even more right to set aside these rights and gifts in order to pursue his calling in harmony? After all, nobody believes that it is disobedient to God not to own slaves.
  2. If Georgia Baptists had the necessary funds to support James Reeve as a missionary, they could have sent him themselves. Supporting Reeve independently would not have prevented them from sending through the Triennial Convention those candidates who enjoyed the corporate blessing of the Triennial Convention. Just as FBC Farmersville pursues some mission projects independently, but pursues its main missions strategy through support of the Cooperative Program, the Baptists of Georgia could have sent Reeve on their own.
  3. They could try to bully Baptist abolitionists into supporting their view, and if they failed in that attempt, they could withdraw, protest that their rights had been violated, and start their own separate group.

Of course, you already know that they chose the last option, somehow asserting with a straight face that their decision to approve of a slaveholding missionary somehow bound the Triennial Convention to an obligation to support slaveholding missionaries as well. Their tyranny failed, and they had to start their own separate convention.

How We Ended Up

As it turned out, Southern Baptists did not institute any grand and long-lived tradition of sending out slaveholding missionaries. They did, however, establish a convention with a structure superior to that of Baptists in the North. Southern Baptists have maintained a greater fidelity to the truth of the Bible, generally speaking, than has the ABC (the present Northern Baptist group).

We were birthed in racism and xenophobia, but today a variegated array of colors, ethnicities, language, and socio-economic statuses convene each week in the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. We were birthed a contentious and uncooperative lot, but we have maintained a healthy cooperative organization for more than a century and a half. We still struggle, yes we do, with the sins of our ancestors, but by the grace of God we generally overcome them (although we may not fare quite so well with the peculiar weaknesses of our own generation).

Every human endeavor is in some manner tainted by sin. It is not only a "trustworthy statement"; it is the good news of God. Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, and He remains at work in this world to redeem the tainted enterprises of sinners saved by grace, using us in spite of ourselves to accomplish His purposes and to give glory to Himself.