Tuesday, June 23, 2009

God Intended It For Good

Today I sat humbled and impressed with the solemn responsibility and honor entrusted to me as a trustee of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Since I drove up to Fort Worth from Baylor University in 1989, I have loved SWBTS for its love for the Lord and obedience to Him. Most trustees only have the honor of being approved as one among a large slate of nominations. I give thanks to the Lord, who by His unmerited grace has given me the relatively rare honor of having been individually affirmed by name by the messengers of the SBC for this position of service. May I in no way disappoint Him in this sacred charge.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Salient Points Worth Considering

Allow me to direct you to some of the better reading in preparation for Louisville:

  1. Dr. Jerry Vines's most recent blog post on the incessant attacks against the 1950s is statesmanlike and poignant. I think it important that we not indulge younger believers in the conceit that their generation is essentially different from all who have preceded them.

  2. Will Hall's four-part series presenting another view of our SBC statistics is required reading. See his posts here, here, here, and here. Apparently the Southern Baptist Convention is large enough to have more than one person in the denomination who can analyze statistics.

  3. Nathan Finn's series on the Great Commission Resurgence over at Between the Times, although it seems to offer some sort of a veiled endorsement of more incendiary blogging on the subject, has so far largely been an enthusiastic selling of the GCR in a tone more respectful of at least some of those who disagree. The starting post is here.

    The series has not yet reached any of the areas of the document that would pose any real difference of opinion between Dr. Finn and myself, but I have every reason to expect that I'll still be recommending the series at the end of the week. So far it has occasioned friendly conversation between the two of us.

If Poker Were Based upon Baptist Politics, I Could Make a Killing in Vegas

I predicted in this post that some sort of branding and ostracism would come about in efforts to strongarm people into affirming the Great Commission Resurgence document. In addition to whatever has taken place behind the scenes, Timmy Brister has contributed an online drive-by to make the effort more overt.

Do you have any questions about the GCR document? Have you hesitated in signing a blank check for an unblueprinted complete renovation of the SBC? If you have, then according to Bro. Timmy, you are a part of a vast cabal spanning several years marshaling forces to oppose any sort of a Great Commission resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.

  • All of this talk about "Baptist Identity"? Just an anti-GCR ploy, shrewdly developed before anyone knew that there was a "Great Commission Resurgence" document.
  • The 2008 SBC Presidential election? Frank Cox was really running to keep Johnny Hunt from carrying forward the Great Commission Resurgence. And what's really remarkable about this is that Frank Cox somehow knew that Johnny Hunt was going to run as the "Great Commission Resurgence" candidate before Johnny Hunt purportedly knew that he was going to run at all. Not to mention the remarkable foresight of someone like me, to endorse disingenuously one of the original co-sponsors of the GCR document (Al Mohler), knowing all along that health problems would keep him from running in the end and thereby providing plausible deniability for my covert scheme to thwart any resurgence in our faithfulness to the Great Commission.
  • My blog post praising the Great Commission Resurgence document for containing within itself the core ideas of "Baptist Identity"? Actually a veiled attack against the Great Commission Resurgence document for NOT being in line with "Baptist Identity". You see, what I REALLY MEAN is often the exact opposite of what I write.

We owe a great debt to Bro. Timmy for his analysis. He is irreplaceable. I mean, I certainly couldn't have figured any of this out apart from his help.

Monday, June 15, 2009

SBC Preview Post

Soon I will leave behind the kangaroo-festooned campus of First Baptist Church of Farmersville and embark upon the twelve-hour journey to Louisville, Kentucky, for the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. What will this particular meeting hold for us all? Here's a brief preview from my perspective:

The Great Commission Resurgence: Our President has made this item the centerpiece of his presidency. I have blogged before (see here) about my areas of agreement and disagreement regarding the Great Commission Resurgence. Although there are a great many names affixed to the document (including an impressive contingent related to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which is evidence of Dr. Akin's skilled leadership of that school), there are also a great many conspicuous absentees.

The great blunder in the document, of course, was and is Axiom IX on reorganization. The concept simply is not critical to our renewed fulfillment of the Great Commission, and it singlehandedly has prevented Southern Baptists from achieving real unity around this important effort. If a GCR resolution fails next week, it will be because of Axiom IX, and if it passes, it will be in spite of Axiom IX. Rather than "Simple Convention," the parallel to "Simple Church" that we should have pursued was "Simple Resolution."

The thing about it is, there are specific reorganizational ideas that the Southern Baptist people would no doubt receive well and consider prayerfully. They don't have beans to do with experiencing a resurgence in our faithfulness to the Great Commission, but they can be useful nonetheless. If people have specific plans for reorganization, let them bring them forward and let's consider them on the merits. But what we have in Axiom IX is the Southern Baptist equivalent of the federal funding for a local dog park being attached onto the military spending bill in Congress. The dog park might be a good idea. The federal funding might be better spent there than on any other number of things. But it has little conceivable connection with military spending. It is a parasitic item—someone's pet project attached to something else important enough and popular enough to carry along a passenger as it steamrolls its way to approval. The GCR is our Southern Baptist stimulus package.

So, I've struggled and struggled with what to do. The GCR contains things that I know to be good, intermingled with things that none of us really know what they mean. Those things might be good or might be bad. Known good things, unknown things, and no known and confirmed bad things.

So, how will I vote?

I don't know, because none of us have seen what we'll actually be voting on yet at this point. As things sit right now, I regard the thing mostly as "Encouraging Kingdom Growth, the Sequel" and I cannot really get excited about it either way. I'm very excited about the Great Commission (I just received the "we're here safely" text from our advance team for our two consecutive mission trips to an unnamed country which you could likely reach by digging for a long time), but I'm just not very excited about the GCR. I'm excited about the SBTC resolution on the Great Commission Resurgence, which I consider to be far superior to the GCR document that we'll be discussing in Louisville, but I'm not excited about the GCR.

What do I generally do at our annual meeting with regard to things I'm not very excited about? After all, that's a pretty well populated category. I'm never very excited about the resolution of appreciation for the host city, for example. It's a nice, meaningless formality. Usually, I lift up my ballot like a good little sheep and vote in the things that don't stir me very much. To vote against something—actually to oppose it—requires some level of contravening passion to keep me from extending my right arm with my ballot in the affirmative. That passion being absent, I just might do precisely that (viz., vote in the affirmative) next week with regard to the GCR document. Probably will, if for no other reason than the fact that Bro. Johnny won, elections matter, and he deserves some latitude to lead the convention. We'll see what I do when that moment comes.

If I do vote for the GCR document while yawning, I suspect that I will not be alone. I know a lot of people who have affirmed the GCR document; I only know of a few who are giddy about it and regard it as the panacea it purports to be (and most of them share the same ZIP code). A lot of people have the wisdom not to be the nail standing up. Some of us were not so blessed.

Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth, TX: The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention is scheduled to let us know next week whether Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth will or will not be considered to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. Broadway Baptist, a church in good standing and prominent leadership in the BGCT, made the news in our area last year with regard to their welcoming stance toward homosexuality.

Article III of the SBC Constitution states plainly "Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior." Broadway Baptist Church has members in good standing who are known, open, ongoing participants in cohabitating homosexual relationships. Broadway was in the news because they couldn't decide whether to acknowledge homosexual "families" in their church directory or not. The church's final resolution was not to picture families of any kind at all. The cohabitating homosexual households in the church include individuals who serve in the lay leadership structure of the church.

Keep in mind, unlike any other sin that we might discuss, these are not people who have merely "fallen" into an indiscretion. These are people who do not acknowledge that homosexuality is a sin in the first place and who are making no effort whatsoever to be anything other than homosexuals. There is no repentance, no contrition, and no attempt at holiness in this part of their lives.

The Executive Committee faces three choices:

  1. The Executive Committee can strain credulity and argue that it somehow is not an affirmation, approval, or endorsement of homosexual behavior to admit openly, unrepentant homosexual couples to membership and to approve them repeatedly for lay leadership positions within the church. They can then seek to let Broadway off the hook by a technicality. If this happens, then I predict that someone will oppose the EC's decision from the floor.

  2. The Executive Committee can ask for more time and attempt to put Broadway into some sort of a probationary status. The national media will take this for what it is—the first signs of an institutional erosion of Southern Baptist opposition to homosexuality. This could be construed, I suppose, as a heeding to the call of Jonathan Merritt.

  3. The Executive Committee can summarily exclude Broadway Baptist Church from the Southern Baptist Convention. This will be the right thing to do. We should do it mournfully. We should do it with an open invitation to them that they are welcome back into this convention as soon as they have gotten right with the Lord. We should do it without the slightest regard for how it will play on CNN. But this is what we Southern Baptists must do this year in Louisville.

Frankly, I'm very hopeful that I will have the opportunity to cast my ballot for the third option. I will be surprised and very disappointed if anything else comes out of the Executive Committee meeting. They have asked all of the right questions. They have all of the information that they need. And they are good, God-fearing men and women with the backbone to do what is right.

And then, it will be interesting to see if the Tarrant Baptist Association or the Baptist General Convention of Texas are prompted to any sort of action by the example of the SBC.

Elections

It is an off year for the elections. Next year will probably not be as exciting as last year was, but it will be much more exciting than this year will be.

But I may make up a nomination speech BINGO card for the entertainment of the convention-goers. I don't know if I'll have the creative juices after VBS to get that done or not. We'll see.

Southern Seminary

One highlight of the week will be our opportunity as Southern Baptists to be hosted by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Those are some great folks. I recommend the armored cavalry museum down at Fort Knox (but do not recommend the Gold Repository—looking at a bunker from behind a razor-wire fence 300 yards away just isn't very entertaining). I'm looking forward to learning about Louisville Sluggers and to doing a bit of historical research in the area. We may very well drive up to the Creation Evidence Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, just to have a look-see and let the kids pet the camel. I'm going to stand at the water fountain in Boyce Centennial Library, take a really long drink, and see if I start to think that there are people for whom Christ did not die.

I'm going to think of four men who resolved that the seminary may die, but they would die first. And with the voices of Boyce and Broadus and Manley and Williams ringing in my ears, I'm going to pray that in spite of this anti-denominational Zeit we might find enough people with their antiquated but needed Geist to dream the dream of Southern Baptists united to plant New Testament churches throughout a lost and needy world, or die trying.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Motion I Will Not Be Making in Louisville

In the light of the straitened financial circumstances at our International Mission Board, at this time it would be inappropriate for me to make my motion about professorial salaries. My concerns are just as relevant, but our emphasis as a convention should be upon the needs of all of our agencies and strengthened support of the Cooperative Program, not upon any individual component.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Another Great "Safeguard" to Consider

Hariette Petersen (known to blogland as SelahV) has a wonderful blog series ongoing about the problem of sexual sin in the ministry (see here for a starting place). While she was doing the research for her Warnings and Safeguards lists, she contacted me (among other people) for insights and comments. I listed for her a few safeguards that Tracy and I have incorporated into our ministry marriage.

But I failed to list one very important safeguard. This is something very effective at keeping me on the straight and narrow:

The guy in the blue button-down shirt and the cowboy boots is my father-in-law. I don't break his daughter's heart for many reasons: One of them is my suspicion that he would do more than put me into a vending machine.

;-)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Manufactured and Distorted Contest

Conflict and difference of opinion are inevitable to some degree when people congregate. It is difficult enough to work through differences of opinion when we all understand one another. It is all the more difficult when argument erupts not over the real differences but over misunderstandings or misinterpretations instead. A very wise professor once told me that we are only ready for debate when each side can state the opposing side's point of view so clearly that they themselves would say, "Yes, that is precisely what I believe."

A while back I interacted online with the blog Baptist21 by commenting upon a panel discussion held at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The panel discussion covered a wide range of topics. Among them was an insight by David Nelson that the problems in the Southern Baptist Convention are not generational, but are instead ideological. I agreed with this insight and wanted to applaud it, although I did not wish to applaud the manner in which he applied it.

Dr. Nelson presented the difference to SEBTS students in the way of a contrast between, as it were, black hats and white hats. According to Dr. Nelson, the struggle for the soul of the SBC is presently taking place between those who would ruin the SBC by clinging to what he regards as a Baptist sectarianism on the one hand, and the good, noble ecumenicals on the other hand.

You may not agree with Dr. Nelson and with myself that current SBC tensions are non-generational in their nature, but we must all agree that Dr. Nelson's manner of presenting this observation was pointedly biased in favor of ecumenism and against those who do not embrace his ecumenism.

So, I tried to approve of Dr. Nelson's basic insight, but attempt to show to him that he had applied it in a biased and incendiary manner. Here's what I said:

I think that David demonstrated a great deal of insight in his comments. I was impressed.

I would have described it as the difference between those who would sell our Baptist birthright of obedience to the commands of Scripture for a bowl of ecumenical porridge versus those who wish to fulfill the Great Commission in its entirety (including the teaching to follow all that Christ has commanded), and would have been no more slanted to one side than he was to the other.

But even though we look at the matter from apparently different sides of the aisle, I thought that his observations about how these really are NOT generational issues so much as they are ideological issues…well…he was astute there.

Thanks for posting the video.

Obviously, I identified with a different point of view than did Dr. Nelson, but I thought that I approached the matter with respect for him and his office while creatively attempting to articulate both my appreciation for his insights and the points where we differed. Nathan Akin took some apparent umbrage at my comment. He posted a comment asking me for clarification about my comment. Specifically, he wanted to know whether I was accusing Dr. Nelson of actually having sold out for the "ecumenical porridge." I will not post the entire comment, since it interacts with other people's comments in addition to mine, but here's the relevant passage of Nathan's rejoinder:

However, are you being serious with the Ecumenical porridge comment? Are you implying those in the stream that Dr. Nelson would represent do not care about fulfilling the entire command of the Great Commission and that they do not care about teaching the commands of Christ?

I was happy to help Nathan understand what I had written, especially since I wish no falsely grounded ill will between Drs. Nelson and Barber. I was not accusing Dr. Nelson of having sold out his Baptist birthright for ecumenical porridge. Rather, I was accusing Dr. Nelson of saying something just that incendiary from the other side of the aisle. Thus, I replied to Akin:

Nathan,

I tried to cobble together a comment that would be the opposite slant of Dr. Nelson. He characterized the convention as being at a crossroads between (bad) people who are sectarian and (good) people who are ecumenical.

It was a lopsided and inaccurate characterization. I was illustrating that by reflecting back another lopsided and inaccurate characterization, but from the other direction. Thus, my words: “I would have described it. . . and would have been no more slanted to one side than he was to the other.” Please note the subjunctive.

So, what is my charge (a stronger word than I would have employed) against Nelson? Is it that he has sold out his Baptist birthright for ecumenical porridge? No. Rather, it is that his comments on the panel amounted to a slur of that degree, but just lobbed in the opposite direction. I left the thread, thinking that I had cleared the matter up.

But no. Today I learned of a podcast interview at the same blog in which, among other things, Nelson responds to "claims by Bart Barber that he has sold his Baptist birthright." Of course, as you can clearly see by reading the exact quotes above, I charged Nelson with no such thing. He is responding not only to a misunderstanding, but to a misunderstanding that I thought I had already cleared up.

There is a silver lining to all of this. The folks over at Baptist21 are obviously sensitive to inflammatory and divisive comments directed toward the ecumenicals among us. Their reaction is evidence enough of that. Perhaps the original purpose of my hypothetical and hyperbolic slanted comment can be accomplished after all. The gentlemen at Baptist21 should think about how they felt when they falsely thought that I was actually accusing them of having sold out their Baptist birthrights. That feeling precisely is the way that I received Nelson's comments in the panel discussion, although his were not hypothetical comments, but represented his actual point of view and the instructional material that he was disseminating to the student body that day. The original purpose of my comment was to make them consider how they would feel if someone was making that kind of slanted and unfounded slam against their point of view. Perhaps we are most of the way toward accomplishing that purpose.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Golden Editorial Supporting the GCR

Not much time to blog lately. My apologies.

I will, however, take thirty seconds to direct your attention to this editorial. It is well worth your time to read it. Excellent advice for our convention and our president.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Young Conservatives Anthem