I hope you'll recall that I have, in general, tried to be a voice of reasoned, calm moderation in the midst of previous administrative transitions in the SBC. When so many of my friends were vocally opposed to the election of Dr. Jason Allen at MWBTS, for example, I wrote this to ask them to take a deep breath and calm down (and I've got to say, I'm pretty pleased with his performance so far). Those of you who know me well have come to conclude, I hope, that I am not unreasonably reactionary.
Nevertheless, having received confirmation from multiple independent sources across the country that David Platt is the IMB Search Committee's choice to receive the presidency of the International Mission Board, I cannot help but express my opinion that the trustees must not elect him to serve in this position. I offer the following reasons, pretty much in descending order of their importance to me.
First, his election is a disastrous blow to the Cooperative Program. His church makes no Annual Church Profile report, and the strongest endorsement of the Cooperative Program he was able to make when asked was, "I'm still wrestling through how [the Cooperative Program] looks in the context of [the church I pastor]." Wrestling. In other words, he affirmed the Cooperative Program with his words even though he didn't lead his church to support the Cooperative Program financially. It isn't because they are so embarrassed about how high their CP support is that Brook Hills is refusing to complete Annual Church Profiles. The Southern Baptist Convention is full of pastors, missionaries, and laypeople who don't have to wrestle with it at all. We know how the CP looks in our churches. We give money through it and change the world for the gospel.
I've got to say, generally I'm the guy who is uncomfortable with all of us picking on each other about our varying levels of CP support. Churches are autonomous. They make their own decisions. Especially I find it distasteful for denominational employees to dare to criticize churches for what they give or don't give. We ought to be thankful for every dollar.
But the calculus of all of that changes a little, I think, when you're asking to be considered for the position of heading up the agency that receives over half of the national CP allocation. At that point, I think it becomes relevant whether you've been a CP visionary who has given actual leadership to strengthen the CP or whether you're somebody who didn't consider strengthening the CP to be worthy of your time and effort. The latter category reflects a group of people who are too lacking in vision and leadership to be promoted to such a position as the helm of the IMB.
David Platt simply has not given leadership with regard to the CP—neither to contribute to it effectively nor to fix whatever he thinks is broken that might prevent him from having confidence in the CP. I'm not saying that he could not; I'm simply observing that he has not. If he wants to go about doing so between now and whenever the next guy at the IMB retires, I'd be happy to consider him among the other qualified candidates at that time.
Look, friends, the Cooperative Program is not dead yet, and it will only die if you and I sit by and watch it die. If those setting the vision for the future of the SBC are a collection of people who really don't care very much about the Cooperative Program, then it certainly will die. I think that would be a shame. I'd be ashamed of myself if I stood by and watched it happen without having said anything. That's what brings me to my keyboard tonight.
Second, His election will be a needlessly polarizing event. And our trustees ought to ask themselves whether that's good for the IMB, good for the SBC, or good for the cause of the gospel. Think of all of the constituencies in the SBC who are going to be offended and polarized by his election:
- Pro-Cooperative-Program Southern Baptists are not going to like it.
- Anti-Calvinists are not going to like it (and this time there are not going to be non-Calvinist voices like mine speaking to mitigate them)
- Anyone who uses "The Sinner's Prayer" is likely to have some concerns.
Perhaps you don't sympathize with ANY of those points of view. But that's not really the question, is it? The question is whether it makes a brighter future for the IMB to put a stick into the eye of every Southern Baptist who does fall into one or more of those categories.
Some of you will be offended by what I am writing tonight. I beg of you to ask yourself this question: If you and I have sometimes agreed… If you've ever in the past respected anything else that I have written or felt that I was at all a reasonable interlocutor when we disagreed… If ever you've felt that you and I were partners in the work of the Great Commission or could be partners in the work of the Great Commission… If any or all of that has ever been true for you, then do you think it is a wise choice for the IMB to elect a president who would bring you and me to an impasse like this?
Why, at this moment, in this way, should we polarize the Southern Baptist Convention over this?
The clear answer to me is that we shouldn't. There are other good choices. I pray that the IMB will make one of them.
Third, I fear that, even after his election were over, if it were to occur, he would prove to be a polarizing personality. His statements about "The Sinner's Prayer" are a good example. Ask yourself, how much worse would that controversy have been if the sitting president of the IMB were to make statements like that? And if the president of the IMB made statements like that, wouldn't more than his book sales suffer from it? Should the International Mission Board be jeopardized in that way?
But I think that being "Radical" necessarily involves being someone willing to charge off into controversy from time to time. The question is not whether the world needs people like that. The question is not even whether the Southern Baptist Convention needs people like that. The question is whether Southern Baptists need people like that…at the helm of the International Mission Board.
For my part, I think that personality type and aptitude fit very well the role of a seminary professor. I think it fits very well the role of a pastor and author. I'll even say that I'm entirely comfortable with the idea of David Platt as a successor to Al Mohler or Danny Akin (especially if he shows a little more leadership with regard to the Cooperative Program in the future). I just think it is a mistake we cannot afford right now for us to make him the IMB President. The right guy for the wrong job.
And I cannot make this point strongly enough (I mean that: I won't be able to make it strongly enough for most of you to hear it and believe it). I like David Platt. He's a good preacher. He's a good author. He has said a few things that we need to hear. I support him. I want him to succeed. I support David Platt, and I support the IMB. I just don't support David Platt at the IMB.
Those facts won't keep me from losing friends over this post. And with a heavy heart I realize that if David Platt were to author a post like this about me, I would certainly take it personally and would be offended. It would cast a pall over any friendship or partnership we might try to have afterwards. I realize that the personal stakes involved in a post like this one are high.
But I value the tens of thousands of dollars that my church annually gives through the Cooperative Program. I value the UUPG work that my church is doing through the International Mission Board, to which tens of thousands more dollars are going and to which I personally have given a lot of time, prayer, effort, and discomfort. I value the lives of young people and not-so-young people who are close to me who are serving through the IMB or are planning to serve there. I value the Great Commission. I value the cause of the gospel. I value these things too much to be able to remain silent at this point when I believe so much of this is on the line. We are to be servants of one another. To borrow a phrase from Thomas More, I desire to be David Platt's good servant, but God's first.
I believe in our trustee system. Our trustees have not voted yet. I beg of you not to do so until you have given these questions full and careful consideration. That's your job. You owe that to the rest of us. There are better choices out there. Please be careful to get this one right.
The IMB President's salary comes from the Cooperative Program. Whoever draws that salary ought to have been supportive of the Cooperative Program. For me, it's no more complicated than that. We need not an IMB President who wrestles with the Cooperative Program, but one who has embraced it.