I promised my inerrancy piece next, and I've been delaying blogging in order to try to keep that promise. But that piece is coming out on a different site than this one, and the date of its publication is not entirely within my control. I have decided to move forward and let it come out whenever it comes out. I should also mention this—some of the comments on the last post seemed to indicate that I left a false impression. I am going to be writing about someone who does not affirm inerrancy. I am not going to be “outing” anyone. I will be interacting with the published works of someone. If you do not already know that he is an anti-inerrantist, then you just haven't been paying attention to this particular person. I don't want to spill the beans entirely at this point, simply to preserve a little drama for the unveiling of the piece, but this is not going to be a post in which I reveal that Keith Eitel is a closet liberal <snicker>
Now, to my post.
Recently I received in the mail a form letter from Geoff Hammond and Richard H. Harris commending FBC Farmersville for having given more money in 2008 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering than any other church in the Collin Baptist Association. As I look at the piece of paper sitting on my desk, with the North American Mission Board logo emblazoned at the top of the stationery, I find myself wondering whether I should save the stationery in case it soon becomes a collector's item and a memento of bygone days in the SBC.
Tim Patterson, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the NAMB, has announced his support for the dissolution of the NAMB and the folding of its tasks into the present International Mission Board (IMB). Whatever Dr. Daniel Akin's and Dr. Johnny Hunt's intentions for Axiom IX of the Great Commission Resurgence document, Patterson's idea is what I expected would be the most likely initiative to emerge as the outcome of the discussion promoted in that document. I think that it is a bad idea.
Don't get me wrong—it isn't that I'm a big proponent of the status quo at NAMB. The letter on my desk is Exhibit A in the case that Southern Baptists could do a better job of cooperating through NAMB. Collin County, Texas, is a mostly urban area populated with many large churches. We're a small-town church in one of the few remaining relatively rural sections of the county. In a decade of ministry here, I can't ever recall us having been the top dollar giver for anything. At least in Collin County, NAMB is so under-supported that our mediocre effort took top prize. I suspect that our association is not atypical.
Frankly, at the risk of self-incrimination, I confess that I personally under-support both NAMB and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. I promote the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering much more. We send much more money to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (and, by the way, get nowhere close to top ranking in our local association in spite of our doing so, so the other congregations in our association must be giving much, much more to Lottie Moon as well). Why? Respectfully, the answers have absolutely nothing to do with this being the twenty-first rather than the twentieth century. Our mission efforts at home have comparatively struggled since even the century before that.
I can see that the movement to consolidate NAMB and IMB has gained some momentum. I am dubious about the potential of my quiet objections way over here in the corner to divert the steamroller. I presume that some substantial portion of my readership is all jazzed up at the potential of a NAMB-IMB consolidation, and that some further impressive fraction doesn't care one way or the other. Either of these groups may actually be wiser than I am. Nevertheless, for the benefit of us all, I offer the following few ideas that I urge you to consider before supporting the idea of a consolidated mission board for the SBC:
Are you certain that this will solve NAMB's problems rather than spread them?
Back in January 2007 I composed and published a post about the history of NAMB. In addition to providing you with a link, I would like to provide you with most of the text of the post (it was uncharacteristically brief for me):
The institution that is now known as NAMB has struggled to define itself since 1845. It has struggled to find good leadership since 1845. And since 1845, Southern Baptists have regularly reshuffled and reorganized this institution, throwing at it all of the odds and ends of our denominational life. Just consider the names it has held down through the years:
- Board of Domestic Missions (1845)
- Domestic and Indian Mission Board (1855)
- Domestic and Indian Mission and Sunday School Board (1873)
- Home Mission Board (1874)
- North American Mission Board (1995)
Each of those changes involved the folding in of new responsibilities and a reorganization of the board. The last of those was in 1995, when our Covenant for a New Century completely reorganized the SBC and threw all the leftover scraps into NAMB.
As Southern Baptists, we need to remind ourselves that the scraps are not garbage. So many of the individual ministries inside NAMB are incredible success stories that we need (Disaster Relief is a prominent example that comes to mind, but there are others). Others are areas of pervasive need with few successes (like the evangelization of our major cities in the North). Some of these areas of failure are not NAMB's fault—carrying the gospel to Boston is not an easy assignment. But with the organization focused on so many different, unrelated things, one wonders how it could be expected to maintain institutional focus for such an important task.
I do not work for NAMB. I do not know many people who work for NAMB. In no way can I give you an inside story about NAMB's achievements, failures, structure, etc., as regards the present day. But as a Baptist historian, I can absolutely tell you this: If the North American Mission Board today has a well-defined, well-understood, well-led, well-executed sense of its nature and mission, then this is virtually the first time in 160 years that such has been the case.
The International Mission Board has had the benefit of pursuing a concise and clearly understood mission for over 160 years. We've never reorganized it from the outside, folding new entities into its structure. Even if a few proto-John-Maxwells down through the ages have tried to make their mark by “recasting the vision” of the IMB, the common Southern Baptist church knows that the International Mission Board and only the International Mission Board exists to apply the financial and human resources of the Southern Baptist Convention toward the spread of the gospel outside of the United States of America. In the mind's eye of the SBC churches, the International Mission Board exists only to do that.
Nothing so simple can be said of the North American Mission Board, and that to its detriment. The lack of a clear, simple, intuitive understanding of precisely what it is that the NAMB exists to do eventuates in a lack of congregational allegiance to and support of this vital SBC entity.
Consolidation of these two boards would do nothing to simplify the tangled web of dissonant tasks existing within the NAMB. Rather, all it would accomplish is the robbing from the IMB of the simplicity and straightforwardness from which it has benefitted for a century and a half. All of these problems would simply move from Atlanta to Richmond.
Do we really want to do that?
Aren't we already organized for the twenty-first century? Are we now getting a head start on the twenty-second?
A new “FAQ” section has appeared on the Great Commission Resurgence web site. The section is very helpful and was an encouragement to me in several areas. It addresses the fact that Southern Baptists radically reorganized the convention not so very long ago. It omits the name of our 1995 reorganization plan, which was “Covenant for a New Century” (perhaps we should have entitled it “Covenant for the Next Year or Two”). The purpose of that major reorganization was to streamline the SBC and design it to face the new challenges of our present century—the Twenty-First Century. The FAQ handles the objection that Article IX is nothing more than a call to go back and do the same old thing that we did before. Here is that particular question and answer in its entirety:
We went through a restructuring of the SBC agencies in the mid 1990s, and some feel like the changes were positive while others believe they set us back. Why would we go through this hassle again?
If you feel like previous changes made us more ineffective, to argue against making a change (since you felt bad decisions were made last time around) is to surrender and assume that we cannot or will not make good decisions as we reexamine the structure of our convention.
If you feel like the changes made us more effective, to argue against discussing our structure again is to conclude that we cannot make even more effective improvements. We should always be willing to discuss anything and everything to make sure we are being wise stewards of Cooperative Program dollars and resources being used to advance the Kingdom.
The logic is simple enough. If you didn't like the last round of reorganization, then you must not like the way things are today after that reorganization, and therefore you must see the need for change. On the other hand, if you did like the last round of reorganization, then you must see how beneficial it is to do this sort of thing. No matter what you thought of the last round of reorganization, your opinion must bring you to see how great it would be to reorganize again!
Simple enough, but some of the logic is missing a few pieces. The key missing ingredient is the fact that reorganization is costly. Reorganization costs
Energy. The Southern Baptist Convention only has so much denominational attention span and so much denominational energy. To commit to a path of reorganization is to decide that the brightest and best minds of our convention will spend the next several years focusing upon organizational charts instead of lost people.
Ministries. Whenever we consolidate, some ministries always die. Consider the Brotherhood Commission. The Covenant for a New Century didn't improve the ministries of the Brotherhood Commission. They certainly needed improvement. RAs, for example, was a program in decline by 1995. Did the folding of the Brotherhood Commission into the NAMB make any actual improvement to the ministries of the former Brotherhood Commission? Not that I can observe. The RA program has gone from sick to comatose.
Have the ministries of the Radio & TV Commission improved since we consolidated them into NAMB? No. In fact, we sold them out entirely. I think that Southern Baptists could benefit from some creative and energetic harnessing of electronic media. The Radio and Television Commission was a good idea poorly executed. If we cannot learn to use media to spread the gospel, then God help us. Television is full of TBN trash because they took TV seriously while we (Southern Baptists as a whole, not necessarily the folks at the RTVC) did not. Consolidating the RTVC into the NAMB was supposed to be the solution to these problems. It solved nothing; it killed the RTVC.
Reorganization and consolidation means simply this: Killing off ministries that wind up being tangential to the new behemoth created.
Am I opposed to the killing off of SBC ministries? Not at all. If we didn't kill off a thing or two from time to time, then we would be a bloated bureaucracy like you couldn't believe. Whatever we have that is not given to us in Scripture may be consigned to the categories of fading flowers and withering grasses.
But if there are ministries that we need to kill, let us make certain that we do so intentionally and forthrightly. Let us not vote to improve something and wind up killing it instead.
Money. Funding study committees, relocating entity headquarters, redesigning logos and business cards and stationery and the like—these things all take money.
We're told, “We've got to do something. Why not this?” I agree that we've got to do something. But we don't have to do just any old thing. I am not impressed by the results of our last bid at reorganization. I've read and considered the argument that, because I don't like the results of the last reorganization attempt, that's all the more reason to re-reorganize. But the concept of consolidating the NAMB and the IMB does not represent a course correction from the Covenant for a New Century. No, quite the contrary, it represents a steaming full speed ahead on the same course of overconsolidation of muddled behemoth entities into even more gargantuan muddled entities. This is no slow turning of the Titanic; it is playing chicken with the iceberg.
Have you no interest in broadening participation within the SBC?
Rather than consolidating the NAMB and the IMB, I think we ought to consider doing just the opposite. Leaders in the SBC always talk about trying to involve more people and bring in the younger folks into the SBC structure. They also keep talking about streamlining and efficiency. These are endeavors that work against one another.
I predict that SBC President Johnny Hunt will proudly declare that his presidential appointments this year have reached out to people never appointed before to serve in the SBC and have brought in newer, younger leaders for the future of the SBC. Good for him; good for us all. When SBC presidents wish to show that they have taken action to broaden participation in the SBC, they always point to the appointment of people to serve on committees and boards.
Well, the more that you consolidate the entities, the fewer committees and boards you're going to have. The fewer committees and boards you have, the less opportunity there is to broaden participation in the SBC.
Consolidation of entities equals consolidation of power.
If this trend continues, by the end of this century and the dawning of the next, fifty people will run the SBC during the year when the convention is not meeting. I'm a big fan of the trustee system. I've authored a paper in support of the trustee system. Some seem to think that the trustee system is the problem. Fewer boards! Fewer meetings! I say more boards, more members, and more meetings. Let us involve a greater number of grassroots Southern Baptists in our grand enterprise. Would this not be one good approach to getting Southern Baptists more involved in the pursuit of the Great Commission?
Centralization always sounds good to the person in the middle. But I believe that the rest of us ought to think the matter through carefully before signing on the dotted line.
Isn't there a dramatic risk that domestic church planting will become (more of) a stepchild to international missions if these two boards consolidate?
Presently, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention vote each year on budget priorities balancing international missions and home missions. If we consolidate the mission boards, the messengers will no longer have that privilege. Rather, we will approve a generic line item for missions, and the new board will decide how much to spend on domestic church planting and how much to spend on international missions.
Southern Baptists have always loved international missions more than we've loved the planting of churches in the United States. But a profound need exists for us to focus on church planting in the Northeast and the West. We will lose our nation unless we begin to impact those areas. If we consolidate the NAMB and the IMB, rather than having an entity for which reaching those areas is a top priority, we'll have an entity for which that mission is a footnote. Over time, I predict that more and more funding would migrate away from home missions and onto foreign fields, which has always been the kind of missionary work most exotic and appealing to Southern Baptists.
Aren't there some fundamental differences between what NAMB does and what IMB does?
Here's one difference right off the bat: The North American Mission Board exists to plant Southern Baptist churches, but the International Mission Board cannot plant Southern Baptist churches. The IMB should plant Baptist churches and only Baptist churches, but IMB churches are not geographically eligible to join the Southern Baptist Convention.
Will our projected new consolidated mission board start planting non-SBC congregations here in the USA?
The NAMB's benefactors are also its dependents. Thus it interacts with state conventions and local associations and local congregations in a manner unlike anything that happens at the IMB—differentiated from IMB interactions, if in no other way, simply by the fact that the people who receive NAMB ministries also have the ability to choose those who oversee the NAMB and to set the NAMB's funding.
Is this a catalyst for a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists, or is it a diversion?
Article IX will crowd out the remainder of the Great Commission Resurgence document. Whatever you think about the other articles, Article IX is shaping up to be the only article that matters.
First, Article IX is the only one of these articles that the Southern Baptist Convention has any ability to influence. Every other article represents tasks that can only be undertaken by local churches and individual believers, with the exception of Axiom V, which Hunt and Akin have clarified to be an affirmation of the status quo. The Southern Baptist Convention is inept to shape the actual ministerial practice of local churches and individual believers. This ineptitude is not a new development. It has never been the purpose nor the design of the SBC to shape the actual ministerial practice of its local churches and individual believers.
So, to vote on the GCR at this year's annual meeting is to vote solely upon Article IX.
Second, within Article IX, the only possible real outcome is a restructuring of our mission boards, seminaries, executive committee, and the ERLC.
Do you think that some level of streamlining or reform needs to take place at some state conventions? The lack of financial support for national and international missions at the Baptist General Convention of Texas is shameful and criminal, in my opinion. I see areas within the Southern Baptist family that could stand some change.
But I know that the Southern Baptist Convention is entirely powerless to effect any of those changes. The state conventions are autonomous. The local associations are autonomous. If the Southern Baptist Convention had the wherewithal to affect the workings of state conventions, the BGCT would not exist in its present form.
So, no motion, no resolution, no study committee, no task force, nor any blue-ribbon panel of the SBC can get individuals to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, can focus individual Southern Baptists or Southern Baptist local churches on the gospel, can prompt individuals to live out the Great Commandments alongside the Great Commission, can make the SBC any more committed to biblical inerrancy than we achieved in the Conservative Resurgence, can improve the fidelity of SBC churches to biblical ecclesiology, can make Southern Baptist preachers preach better, can make local churches be any more biblically faithful or any more methodologically diverse, or can make Southern Baptist families more distinctively Christian. These are all tasks given by God to people and institutions other than the Southern Baptist Convention. And the SBC cannot change local associations or state conventions or local churches.
What's left? The SBC can consolidate, eliminate, or reshuffle the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, the six seminaries, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Lifeway, Guidestone, or the Executive Committee of the SBC. And in this category, the only specific idea that I've heard anyone mention is the concept endorsed by Patterson: The consolidation of these two mission boards. Thus, in my analysis, voting on the GCR is essentially a vote on the consolidation of the mission boards.
And because I agree with most Southern Baptists that we do need to focus our efforts upon the fulfillment of the Great Commission, I am not supporting what amounts to another distraction from it—a fiddling around with offices and titles and mission statements of our para-church entities.
A person should try not to be critical unless he is prepared to be constructive. Don't shoot at other people's ideas unless you're willing to put forward your own. In an upcoming post I will share my own ideas about better ways to incubate a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC.
In conclusion, I listened today to a podcast interview with Pastor Johnny Hunt on this topic. He had a great many positive and helpful things to say. I appreciated the interview. I encourage you to listen to it.
Two concepts that Hunt mentioned in this interview caught my ear. First, Bro. Johnny spoke about “pushback.” I want to clarify that, at least on my part, there is no pushback going on. Some of our leaders have taken us by the hand and asked us to go on a journey with them, with very few of the details of the trip known to us beforehand. Not all of us have responded with an immediate, “Yes! Whatever you say! Wherever You Lead, I'll Go!” A lack of immediate, unanimous, unconditional acceptance is not pushback. I'm not trying to oppose Bro. Johnny or Dr. Akin; I'm just trying to think this through and decide whether I think they have a good idea or a bad idea or just another SBC parade (to steal terminology from Tim Guthrie's recent excellent post). The consolidation of the NAMB and the IMB is, in my estimation, a bad idea put forward by good people. If the GCR is not about this consolidation, then it would be helpful to me for the GCR leaders to say so quickly, clearly, and publicly. Otherwise, what we have here is nothing more than my wondering aloud whether I personally intend to jump on this bandwagon or not. That's not “pushback” by any stretch of the imagination; it is just me being something other than an automaton.
Second, Bro. Johnny spoke frequently and at length about trust. Because I've been quoted in a couple of media outlets in criticism of the GCR, I feel some obligation to address the question of trust. Johnny Hunt and Daniel Akin have 100% of my trust that they love the Lord, love Southern Baptists, and sincerely want the days of our greatest obedience to the Lord to be ahead of us rather than behind us. I have no doubts that they want to help. There's a distrusting of people in which you suspect that they may be out to hurt you, but then there's also a distrusting of people in which you know for certain that they want to help you, but aren't entirely confident that they know how to help you. I know that Hunt and Akin want to help.
If I have any lack of trust in our leaders, it lies not in the area of their intentions, but in the area of their omniscience. Don't get me wrong: Each knows a great deal more than I know and has demonstrated it in the living of his life. They are probably right. I am probably wrong. I require them to convince me before I sign the document, but I acknowledge the high likelihood that they know better than I do. Indeed, for that very reason, I trusted our leaders in the 1990s when we reorganized the last time. But I've since lost the faith—not in the gospel or in the Great Commission or in Johnny Hunt or in Daniel Akin, but in the idea that we can reorganize ourselves out of our collective Southern Baptist situation. Ours are spiritual problems, not organizational problems. Our addressing them or failing to address them will take place this Sunday and the Sundays after that (and indeed, Monday may be a more determinative day), and not on June 23.