Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Response to the Big Speech

Oh…you thought I meant…No!…Not THAT speech.

I'm talking about Steve Jobs's speech unveiling the new Apple iPad.

I confess that, back when the iPod came out, I thought it was a silly little curiosity—who would pay that much just to carry around a few songs? Obviously, I was wrong about the iPod. On the other hand, when the iPhone came along, I knew that it would be a blockbuster hit.

I do not believe that the iPad is going to be as successful as the iPhone. When the iPhone came along, it promised a massive improvement to a category of device (cell phones) that was already established. I didn't have to decide whether I really needed a cell phone or not; I just had to decide whether the iPhone or another type of cell phone was the phone for me.

Things are different with the iPad. Jobs and crew not only have to convince me that the iPad is the best device in its category; they have to show me that I want to enter the category at all. And frankly, even though I'm a faithful Apple customer since I got my Apple IIc for Christmas back in the 1980s, and even though I've enthusiastically convinced a few others to join the Apple fold, I'm not sure about the iPad. I'm comfortable with my cell phone being a closed platform that can only install applications from a regulated App Store. I'm not sure that I want that model implemented for such a large device as the iPad. For very little more money than the 64GB 3G version, I could have a laptop with multiple of that amount of storage, a real keyboard, an iSight camera, and an open platform for installation of whatever I wish (MS Office, VMware Fusion, etc.).

I'm not predicting the failure of the iPad. Apple is good at making products succeed. The electronics community seems to be excited about the "tablet" category. I'm sure that Apple will make boatloads of money. I'm just saying that I'm not presently seeing an iPad in my future.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Sparks that Set on Fire Every Heart

The news today from Arkansas's First Congressional District, where I grew up, is that Representative Marion Berry (not to be confused with Marion Barry) will not seek a seventh term in office. It's a bad year for holders of that office—Berry's predecessor in the seat is present Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, who is consistently numbered among the most vulnerable Democrat senators up for re-election this year. She will likely fall to Gilbert Baker's campaign this Fall.

Of course, the retirement of yet another Democrat lawmaker is hardly news worthy of blogging considering the pallor of the Donkey's complexion these days. What is remarkable is what Berry had to say about the attitude of our President. For the complete story together with commentary, see James Taranto's story in the Wall Street Journal, aptly entitled "You've Got Me, Babe." The money quote: "Well, the big difference here and in '94 was you've got me."

Title quote by Dante Alighieri, Inferno 6.73-75

Changing the Denominational Map

How can we extend the gospel more effectively beyond the South? How can Southern Baptists best see the robust growth of evangelism and church planting in major non-Southern cities and pioneer areas? Does history offer us any clues about this question?

I'll be uncharacteristically brief. It is very, very difficult to change denominational maps like the ones that I discussed in my previous post. France is still Catholic, as are Spain and Italy. In Russia, you'll find that the Russian Orthodox Church is still the big kid on the block. Germany is Lutheran (even if only nominally so). Texas is Baptist. Once these geographic patterns are set, they are very difficult to change.

But change they sometimes do. Historically God has employed two major factors to effect these changes:

  1. Population Migration

    The Diaspora of Jewish Christians from Judea contributed to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman world. Likewise, the westward migration of American citizens during the nineteenth century dramatically altered the religious landscape of the United States of America. The Great Depression enlarged the Southern Baptist Convention, forcing people out of the South and into places like California and New Mexico (two non-Southern states that traditionally are stronger in SBC life than many other non-Southern states). Even Alaska has a stronger Southern Baptist presence because of economic and military factors that relocated many Southerners into that portion of the country.

    Maybe the best way to do missions would be to relocate entire churches of Southern Baptists into the areas that we wish to reach? Maybe we need to pray for some sort of an economic disaster in the South?

  2. Spiritual Awakening or Reformation

    The most dramatic alterations of the religious landscape of this continent took place in the First and Second Great Awakenings. As a result of these movements, a theretofore predominantly Presbyterian and Anglican nation was transformed into a predominantly Baptist, Methodist, and Restorationist nation.

    Previously in Europe, the spiritual awakening known as the Protestant Reformation had entirely rewritten the spiritual map of the Old World. Spiritual constants that had been on place for centuries suddenly and dramatically changed, then to remain virtually unchanged from that epoch until today.

    Rather than disaster in the South, perhaps we should be praying for reformation and revival.

Certainly, whatever is the dominant Christian denomination of choice in a region, it steadily grows weaker between times of spiritual awakening or reformation. We see that trend at work in each one of the places mentioned above subsequent to their last encounter with population migration or spiritual awakening.

I can't think of anything else in the entire history of Christianity that has worked. Can you?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

If Heaven Ain't A Lot Like Dixie?

So, the "Southern" in "Southern Baptist Convention" has had the attention of the blogging world lately. Right out of the gate, we ought to acknowledge that the topic is an emotional one. The likelihood of this matter coming to an actual vote—and if it does come to a vote, the outcome of that vote—will be determined at least as much by non-rational factors as it will be determined by lists of reasons pro and con. What's more, I confess that I also have as many feelings as I have thoughts about the question. I will endeavor, in this post, to stick with thoughts and leave the feelings aside.

Thesis to Test

I have seen two logical rationales offered for changing the name of the convention:

  1. The argument from identity: This rationale asserts that the Southern Baptist Convention is not really all that Southern, and that the name therefore does not fit the identity of our convention.

  2. The argument from pragmatics: This rationale asserts that our convention's name poses a practical obstacle to our evangelistic efforts in regions other than the South.

Evidence to Consider: Southern Baptist Identity

How would we test the first argument, the argument from identity? Is the Southern Baptist Convention no longer Southern? One way of examining this thesis would be to look at demographic data describing the SBC. The Association of Religion Data Archives contains a fascinating set of data from the year 2000, showing the geographic distribution of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Geographic Distribution of Southern Baptist Adherents

Fourteen states lie east of and including Oklahoma and Texas and south of and including Missouri, Kentucky, and Virginia. Kansas makes up the outside northwestern corner of this plot of geography, but is not included in this collection of states.

Ranked by number of Southern Baptists living in the state, the top fourteen states are the fourteen Southern states. Collectively, they account for 17,635,679 self-identified Southern Baptists. The other thirty-six states outside the South account for 2,206,936 Southern Baptists.

Thus, a whopping 89% of Southern Baptists live in the South, compared to 11% outside the South.

Geographic Distribution of Southern Baptist Congregations

Ranked by the number of Southern Baptist congregations, the states line up similarly. The fourteen southern states again dominate the listing. One noteworthy exception appears, however—California, one of the largest states in the nation, just edges out Arkansas for the fourteenth spot on the list. Arkansas takes the fifteenth slot.

The fourteen southern states account for 34,365 of the SBC's congregations, or 83%. The other thirty-six states collectively have 7,100 congregations representing 17% of the convention.

Southern Baptist Adherents as a Percentage of State Total Population

California's successful grasping of the fourteenth slot in the previous table might have something to do with the fact that California is so much larger, both in land area and in population, than is Arkansas. What happens when Southern Baptists are measured as a percentage of the state's population?

Over 32% of the population of the Sovereign State of Mississippi identifies itself as Southern Baptist. At the other end of the table, barely 1% of the folks watching a Minnesota Golden Gopher game are likely to be Southern Baptists.

In this category once again the fourteen states of the South take the top fourteen slots in the table. Examine them collectively, and you learn that a full 21% of the people who live in the South identify themselves as Southern Baptists. In contrast, only 1.4% of the people living in the remaining thirty-six states identify themselves as Southern Baptists.


The demographics of the Southern Baptist Convention reveal that the label "Southern" does accurately describe the Southern Baptist Convention, which is preponderantly Southern. In every category, the fourteen states of the South dominate the demographics of the SBC.

Indeed, although I would not advance such an argument, one could make the case that it would be deceptive to call the Southern Baptist Convention anything other than the Southern Baptist Convention—the effect of the change would be to hide the demographic realities of the convention with a name that obscures our very real and inherent regionality.

One could argue with these statistics in a couple of different ways. First, one might assert that having only 10% of the membership of the convention living outside the South is enough to meet the threshold at which the convention should no longer be named the Southern Baptist Convention. This might make sense if the roughly 10% of Southern Baptists living outside the South were evenly distributed among the other states. The tables, however, reveal that a high proportion of Southern Baptists not living in the South live just across one state line from the South. The percentages become even more disproportional when one considers not only Southern Baptists living in the South but also Southern Baptists living clustered around the South.

Second, one might assert that the Southern Baptist Convention cannot be the Southern Baptist Convention if any SBC members or congregations live beyond the confines of the South. In other words, once one, single, solitary Southern Baptist relocates outside the South, we have ceased to be the Southern Baptist Convention according to this hypothetical logic. And there's a certain force of truth to this characterization—although the Southern Baptist Convention is preponderantly Southern, it is not entirely Southern.

Yet it is not uncommon to employ geographical terms in this general rather than precise manner. For example, one could accurately say that California is west of Nevada. And yet, portions of Nevada are actually west of portions of California. When each constituent city of Nevada is considered atomically against each constitutent city of California, one cannot say of California that it lies west of Nevada; when the two states are considered collectively and in general, then the geographical description makes sense. The same is true of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Evidence to Consider: Evangelistic Pragmatics

Preceding are the statistics. As I mentioned at the beginning, many of the factors involved in this topic are emotional rather than factual. The 10% of Southern Baptists might feel offended that the convention has not altered its name in consideration of the tiny minority of Southern Baptists who do not live in the South. A Southern Baptist living in the South might feel offended that anyone would even consider slighting the Southern preponderance of the convention by changing the name. These emotional factors do not easily submit themselves to analysis and are even more resistant to change.

Another argument is more complex, involving a mixture of feelings and ideas: Some suggest that we ought to remove the "Southern" from our name because the word poses a hindrance to evangelism. I say that this argument involves both feelings and ideas because we Southern Baptists feel passionately about the question of evangelism. Make Southern Baptists think about the Great Commission and you have (depending upon your motives and how you use the idea) the power either to make Southern Baptists stop and think or to make them stop thinking at all.

So, if we were setting aside the emotions for a moment and trying to be strictly cerebral, how would we test the thesis that our evangelistic efforts outside the South would be more effective if we were to rename the Southern Baptist Convention?

Comparative Denominational Demographics

One approach might be to go back to the same data source and compare the effectiveness of Southern Baptists outside the South to the effectiveness of other evangelical denominations in the same areas.

Looking at adherents, we find that there are two and only two states that break into the top fourteen when we consider evangelicals beyond the Southern Baptist Convention: California and Illinois. Otherwise, evangelicalism at large seems not to have any substantially different evangelistic effectiveness in seeing people converted beyond the South than do the Southern Baptists. The percentages do change substantially, however (again, largely because of California and Illinois), moving from 88/12 to 64/36 when we consider all evangelicals rather than only Southern Baptists.

Looking at congregations, the impact of non-Southern-Baptists congregations becomes a bit more significant, with Indiana joining Illinois and California in displacing Southern states from the top fourteen. The dramatic demotions of Mississippi (8th among Southern Baptists; 18th among evangelicals at large) and Virginia (11th among Southern Baptists; 16th among evangelicals at large) reveal that evangelical strength beyond the South is bolstered by a larger number of smaller congregations.

When we consider the rate of evangelical adherents in each state's population, we see that all evangelical groups, including all of those without any regional descriptor in their names, are far less effective outside the South than they are inside the South. Evangelicals comprise 30% of Southerners compared to a mere 8.5% of non-Southerners.

Overall, we see that other evangelicals do perform somewhat more consistently between Southern and non-Southern areas, and yet we observe that even those evangelical denominations without the word "Southern" in their names struggle to spread the gospel outside the South compared to what they achieve within the South.

Historical Examples

Beyond these statistical measurements that give us a snapshot of things as they existed in 2000, we can also pull out the home movies and see how things came to be that way.

A large number of denominations have preached the gospel and planted churches in the United States of America—most of them without the word "Southern" in their name. Perhaps the best example for Southern Baptists to consider in comparison would be the American Baptist Churches in the U. S. A. (formerly the Northern Baptist Convention). This denomination is worthy of consideration for two reasons. First, it is a sister denomination to Southern Baptists, being the group from which we separated in 1845. Second, in 1951 the Northern Baptist Convention did precisely what some people want the Southern Baptist Convention to do today—they changed the name of their convention to rid themselves of a regional name. In fact, they took the very name that some Southern Baptists were considering before the Yankees beat us to the punch (much to the consternation of some)!

It is no mystery that the ABC is smaller by an order of magnitude than is the SBC. What you might not have considered before is the geographic distribution of ABC churches. For that, we turn once again to ARDA. The distribution map reveals that the ABC is heavily clustered in the New England states and around the Great Lakes (one stand-alone state that is strong by ABC standards is California, where 170,000 American Baptists reside)

Someone doubtless will complain that American Baptists do not make for a good comparison with Southern Baptists became American Baptists have a different theology than do Southern Baptists. I agree that Southern Baptists and adherents of the American Baptist Churches in the U. S. A. could in fact be characterized differently in their theology. That fact, however, is immaterial to the comparison. Even if one completely accepts the presumption that American Baptist theology will fail where Southern Baptist theology will succeed, the fact remains that American Baptist churches do not fail or succeed with their theology equally across the geography of our country. Also inescapable is the conclusion that American Baptist geographical distribution has not changed substantially since 1951 when they discarded their regional name for a broader name.

Somebody has already done precisely what some people want the Southern Baptist Convention to do today, and the result was a dismal failure.

Another denomination worthy of consideration is the Presbyterian Church in America. Their denominational name is national in scope, but unlike the American Baptist Churches in the U. S. A., the Presbyterian Church in America is a conservative denomination. Yet the geographical distribution map for PCA churches and adherents, just like the map for the SBC, reveals a high population cluster in the Southeast with waning adherence the farther north or west one travels (with the exception of California).

Of course, I welcome the listing by the name-change proponents of all of the denominations who have abandoned a regional name and have then gone on to great and storied effectiveness in regions of the United States where beforehand they were anemic. Apart from hard data to demonstrate that this approach has worked in the renaming of other denominations before, we're left to conclude that other factors besides denominational names (or, alternatively, no factors within our control at all!) are the secret to religious success in the United States but outside the South.

Cultural Captivity Remedied by a Name Change?

On my previous post, a friend of mine and a thoughtful commenter on this site suggested a different, more internal reason for a name change. Perhaps the changing of the name "Southern Baptist Convention" in and of itself would not effect greater receptivity for the gospel when Southern Baptists proclaim it outside the South, but perhaps the changing of the name would change Southern Baptists by liberating us from our Southern parochialism. Andrew asked, "Are we not hidebound in our comfortable Southern (intending both geographic and denominational) ways in our familiar Southern areas that we are lacking the means to reach the lost in America, much less around the globe?"

In other words, maybe the removal of "Southern" from the name "Southern Baptist Convention" would change US, thereby making us do OTHER things that would make us more effective in evangelism and church planting to non-Southerners.

It is a complex question, and one that would be difficult to measure empirically. We can, however, (and did in the comment stream of the post) explore the premise that Southern Baptist churches are held captive by Southern culture.

I replied to Andrew's question in this fashion:

As a historian I would assert that the distinctiveness of Southern culture is at its lowest point since the Colonial period. Everything from media to chain restaurants and big box stores have made it more true than ever before that Boston = Atlanta = Houston = Los Angeles. Of course, these equations are not absolutely true, but they are more true than they have ever been before.

Moving from culture-at-large to church culture, a Cowboy Church movement has arisen largely because the standard Southern Baptist church culture has almost nothing Southern about it. The music is Rock, the marketing is Madison Avenue, the platform dress is Abercrombie & Fitch, and the A-V technology is Times Square.

What's Southern about that?

I did not (as one reader misunderstood) equate "Cowboy" with "Southern" in the comment. Rather, I stated that there was a lack of Southernness in Southern Baptist churches in general, and that the Cowboy churches were able to profit from that lack. To be more specific, of those who graduated with me from Riverside High School, I'd say that generally comparable percentages of the student body listened to country music on the one hand and pop music on the other hand. Southern Baptist churches in the South, on the other hand, have featured in addition to hymnody an almost exclusive selection of pop-sounding Christian music. Southern Gospel is not really representative of recent Southern culture, and no CCM equivalent of the immensely popular music group Alabama has ever been able to break through to prominence.

Country & Western music is more Southern than is pop music. Cowboy churches frequently utilize somewhat-baptized Country & Western music in their worship services. In doing so, they provide worship services that are more compatible with Southern culture as a whole (although Southern culture as a whole is different from Cowboy culture) than are the Bono-clone worship services that have been the vogue in many SBC churches in the South.

Hank Williams Jr. famously opined in a song, "If Heaven ain't a lot like Dixie, I don't want to go." Does the presence of the word "Southern" in the name "Southern Baptist Convention" indicate that SBC members and churches pretty much agree with Bocephus?

I certainly don't feel that way (nor have I ever really liked Hank that much). Do some people feel that way? I don't know. Maybe. But I'm certain of this much: Even if some people do hold that opinion, changing the name of the SBC won't do anything to solve that problem.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

SWBTS: Showing How Faithfully the Bible Has Been Transmitted

I'm delighted to direct your attention to this press release detailing the acquisition of several fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Great Moments in Fomenting "Necessary Change"

  1. Their numbers had been declining, they perceived difficulties in their attempts to engage the younger generations, and they worried that their brand was too regionally connected with the South and could not continue to fulfill their national and international ambitions without modification—all of these factors motivated the "experts" at Coca-Cola in 1985 to abandon the drink formula that they had sold for a century and to introduce the now-infamous New Coke.

  2. Although he had won the ratings war for the 11:30 Eastern television time slot for twelve straight years, Jay Leno recently learned that "experts" in charge at NBC had determined to abandon a formula that had been successful since the days of Jack Paar and to bring unprecedented changes to late-night television.

  3. "Change We Can Believe In"

The moral of the stories: Beware experts selling change. Caveat Emptor.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Southern Baptist's Pilgrimage from Racism

…and the great MLK Day posts keep coming. I give you Malcolm Yarnell's A Southern Baptist's Pilgrimage from Racism.

What Killed Racism in Conservative Christianity

I enthusiastically recommend to you Russell D. Moore's MLK Day post. I am thankful for his insight demonstrated in this post. Click the link now; don't miss it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Proposed Improvement to the Cooperative Program

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention should develop an online "bill-pay" application and provide it for free to Southern Baptist Churches. It should interface with the major church management software packages. It should enable churches to send CP dollars with a single click. The application should, in cooperation with the state conventions, know the respective CP budget in effect for each church. When the church clicks the button to authorize the payment, the funds should transfer immediately to their final destinations (e.g., IMB, NAMB, seminaries, state Baptist university, etc.).

Ideally, the convention should provide for the churches' discretionary use an additional, compatible piece of software, an application that would track contributions for the local congregation. This software should give churches the option, if they choose to utilize it, to forward CP gifts automatically when each batch of contributions is posted.

Thus, if I give $1000 to FBC Farmersville on Sunday, by Tuesday the funds are already in Richmond, Alpharetta, Fort Worth, Grapevine, etc.

The interest earnings gained by having the funds available on a weekly basis to our cooperative enterprises would be more than enough to fund the development and hosting costs to the convention. Furthermore, harried volunteer Treasurers and Finance Committees in smaller SBC churches would appreciate something from the SBC to make their lives easier.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Gospel of Geography

What percentage of money given to Southern Baptist churches should ideally find its way offshore to international missions projects? Everybody in ministry—everybody—has an opinion on this question. Furthermore, not one participant in the conversation is entirely free from self-interest in the matter. The topic is ripe for demagoguery, but I think it also can be discussed reasonably, resulting in a greater effectiveness for Christ and the Great Commission.

2.5% For All of the World?

Great hand-wringing has occurred of late of the overall percentage of Southern Baptist funds that leave the shores of the Southern Baptist Convention. We hear that 2.75% of Southern Baptist funds go offshore. That figure, the implication asserts, is terribly low. Or is it?

What if we could convince every Southern Baptist Church to give 10% through the Cooperative Program? For most of my lifetime I've heard that number given as the target percentage desired by Southern Baptists for our local churches to consider. Certainly, considering what an improvement it would be over recent trends, a 10% CP gift from every SBC church would cause traffic in Nashville to grind to a halt for the obstruction posed by denominational employees cartwheeling in the streets.

So, 10% from the churches would be a considerable increase and a good goal.

What if we could convince every state convention in the SBC to forward 50% of their CP receipts to national and international causes?

I believe that the originators of the Cooperative Program had a divinely inspired idea when they suggested a 50/50 division between CP funds retained within a state convention and CP funds spent on national and international causes. Although there are details to be accounted in that division such as the costs of promoting the Cooperative Program, from its inception the Cooperative Program featured the general idea that state conventions and the national SBC should share CP dollars equally.

As a parenthetical item of interest, I note that the 50/50 calculation and the recognition of CP gifts from individual churches were never intended to include designated gifts. From time to time a fallacious view of the CP—that designated gifts to particular elements of the SBC system should count as CP giving—has entered Southern Baptist discussions about the CP. Southern Baptists are indebted to Augie Boto for his research at the Executive Committee uncovering the source of that fallacy in an erroneous entry in the Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, corrected in later editions, that misstated which gifts rightfully qualify as CP gifts.

So, with regard to the budgets of our various state conventions, I have been, am, and foresee continuing to be an advocate of the 50/50 split. A friend recently planted in my thinking a wonderful realization: It is the 50/50 division of money that recognizes state and national conventions as equal partners and denigrates neither ministry. If every state convention would forward 50% of CP receipts, the amount of money going overseas would greatly increase and we would witness expansive missions work through Southern Baptists around the world.

The budget of the Southern Baptist Convention already forwards a full 50% of CP receipts to the International Mission Board for use throughout the world.

So, where does that leave us? 10% x 50% x 50% = 2.5%, right?

Where Would Increases Come From?

The United States of America certainly doesn't contain 97.5% of the world's population, so shouldn't we want to get more of our money overseas? That's the argument that's been advanced, and it has merit. Selfishness as believers is a pernicious vice to be avoided.

However, I have heard friends employ this percentage mainly when they were speaking about restructuring the Southern Baptist Convention and various other entities in the SBC family. It seems to me that even if the diagnosis is correct, the proposed cure is a poor one. The low number in the formula above pertains to local churches, not to our convention entities.

What if we shut down everything in the SBC family except for international missions? No colleges and universities. No summer youth camps. No state church planting or evangelism emphases. No retirement homes. No seminaries. No NAMB. No ERLC. In other words, what if we scrapped entirely the Convention Method decision that we made 160 years ago and went with the Northern Baptist societal approach (which, after all, turned out so great for them)?

The resulting percentage going to international missions under that approach? Still a number well down into the single digits unless we were able to ramp up local church faithfulness to give to missions. The logjam keeping dollars in the United States rather than getting them out to "lostness" simply lies neither in Grapevine, Texas (for FBC Farmersville) nor in Nashville—it lies right under my nose.

Is 8% for the whole world really that much more moral or faithful or urgent or obedient or "missional" or Great Commission focused than is 3%? If the population of the United States of America consists of only 4.52% of the world population, then doesn't the logic presently being advanced require that your churches forward at least 95% of their income to other places and subsist on the remaining 5%?

No? Why not?

What's Good for the Goose

I suspect that we all could excel at giving other people's money to some worthy cause. It is in the giving of our own resources that we reveal our hearts. In this sense—that we should sacrifice on our own parts before calling upon others to sacrifice—it certainly is true that charity begins at home.

I've never heard an argument for state conventions forwarding less than 50% of their CP receipts to Nashville that I couldn't apply with equal vigor to an argument for my church sending less CP money to the state convention to begin with. Conversely, if I have good reasons for not giving through the CP every dime that people put in our offering plates here at FBC Farmersville, then I ought to resist the temptation to be disrespectful toward people who spend CP dollars here in the United States rather than sending it all overseas.

The Missiological Value of Money Kept

Once upon a time, no nation on the planet was more effectively engaged in the sending out of missionaries than was the United Kingdom. The vitality of Christianity in the United States over much of our history has been to some degree a result of factors unique to the USA but also to some significant degree an impact of the evangelical fervor exported to our nation from the British Isles. London was formerly the world center of Christianity. Today? Not so much.

When the churches at home decline, there is no percentage of giving that can sustain the missionary enterprise abroad. Now, at this time, we Southern Baptists are at precisely the wrong moment in our history to be abandoning the spread of the gospel at home, even if we do so in the seemingly altruistic desire to spread the gospel more effectively throughout the world. If we were in a strong position at home, that would be one thing. But we are not.

This is not an argument for the status quo. I'm all in favor of a discussion about how we can use our money more effectively both at home and abroad. By all means, let's have a vigorous discussion about whether CP money spent within the borders of the US is apportioned and applied effectively. If we can do more ministry with less money, then I'm all in favor of that.

Unfortunately, that's not the way that the percentage discussion has gone among Southern Baptists. Rather, as it has transpired on a popular level (not necessarily in line with the way that prominent figures have framed it), it has been laced with foolish unstated presumptions that money kept within our shores is a bad thing and money sent abroad is a good thing. Yet, but for ministry performed within our shores, there would be no money at all going abroad from the United States.

Occasionally in the summertime I'll put ice water into the large orange cylindrical cooler that we own. It's always easy to get a cool, refreshing drink while the cooler is full. Just push the spigot button and the vigorous stream of water will knock the cup out of your hand. But later, when the water level has dwindled to near the bottom of the cooler, it's not so easy to fill the cup. This percentage discussion, it seems to me, amounts to a suggestion that we ought to open the spigot wider or tilt the cooler more aggressively, when the real problem is that we need to refill the reservoir.

The beauty of the Convention Method—a beauty recognized by prior generations yet seemingly lost on many today who seem infatuated with Societal missions—is that it recognizes the value both of keeping churches healthy at home and of using that health and strength to spread the gospel abroad. We need to hear more about the value of the Convention Method these days.

What we desperately need is a spiritual awakening in the United States of America. What we desperately need is a reformation among our churches (which will contribute greatly to the spiritual awakening that we need). Apart from that, it makes little difference what percentage of our ever-dwindling resources we send overseas. With such an awakening, the impact of our sacrificial offerings on the spread of the gospel will be more than you could imagine.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In Half-Hearted Defense of Harry Reid

We're so childish in the way that we deal with racial issues in this country.

Race ought not to be a factor in politics. Race is a factor in politics. I don't cast my vote because of a candidate's race. Many people do.

Because so many people will be influenced by race in casting a ballot—because race indeed is a factor in politics—people who analyze politics are going to analyze the racial factors in politics. It is just that simple.

I guarantee you that Harry Reid voted for Obama. Were I a betting man, I'd bet money that Harry Reid would vote for Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or Mike Tyson or [insert African-American person here] before he would vote for any Republican. The subject matter is not Harry Reid's personal feelings about the candidates.

If he's opining that Obama's light skin color and refined diction make him more electable than Black candidates who lack those features, then Reid is analyzing OTHER PEOPLE'S racism, and not demonstrating his own. Reid's having to apologize is silly; calls for his resignation are outright ridiculous.

I think that even Michael Steele and my own Senator John Cornyn probably even think the same thing (although each is calling for Reid's resignation). They've just been overcome by the temptation to engage in a little tit-for-tat. Certainly, any Republican who uttered anything vaguely resembling Reid's comments would have been interred in Guantanamo already (Remember President Carter's "analysis" of Joe Wilson's comments?).

But two wrongs don't make a right, and somebody has to show the way forward in race relations in the US. Democrats are obviously and demonstrably incapable of doing so. The more opportunistic that Republicans become in their attempts to hasten the inevitable Ides of March for Democrat control of the Hill, the less optimistic I become that they, either, are willing to lift race-rhetoric in this country to someplace higher.

Friday, January 8, 2010

One Reason Why I Love FBC Farmersville

The cover for our new church directory.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Great Speaker for the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

Today our prayers are with Johnny Hunt as he fights for victory over cancer, which we are confident the Lord will grant him.

I also want to put in a suggestion for the development of the program for the 2010 Southern Baptist Convention. I would love to see us have Representative Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) to speak in a prominent time-slot in our annual meeting in Orlando. Doing so would give us a chance to express our appreciation for this heroic man and to hear words of encouragement from him in the pursuit of justice for the least in our society.

As an added benefit, it might slow down some of the gadflies who have falsely and derisively claimed that the SBC is nothing more than an affiliate of the GOP (none of whom ever seem to have problems with the 125-year monogamy that the Democrat Party enjoyed with the SBC).

If you don't know much about Bart Stupak, you might peruse this excellent article in the New York Times.