Thursday, May 31, 2007

Resolution On the Role of the BF&M

I think that the most important issue that we face with the longest-lasting implications is the question of the appropriate role of The Baptist Faith & Message in our convention. I have submitted the following resolution out of my related concerns:

On the Role of The Baptist Faith & Message

WHEREAS, The various entities of the Southern Baptist Convention operated for the first eighty years of the convention’s existence according to their own internal theological parameters, including the Abstract of Principles at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and WHEREAS, The messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, May 14-15, 1925, shaped the modern Southern Baptist Convention by adopting The Baptist Faith and Message as ”those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us”; and WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message did not become the statement of faith of any of the various entities of the Southern Baptist Convention until it was adopted as such by the boards of trustees that govern the entities; and WHEREAS, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, upon its adoption of The Baptist Faith and Message, nevertheless retained the Abstract of Principles as a body of additional binding theological parameters for the operation of the seminary, setting the precedent and demonstrating the propriety of individual Southern Baptist entities adopting and following additional binding theological parameters beyond The Baptist Faith and Message; and WHEREAS, Various trustee boards have made the wholehearted affirmation of The Baptist Faith and Message a minimum theological requirement for trustees governing those entities; now, therefore, be it RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, regard The Baptist Faith and Message as the “instrument of doctrinal accountability” which we encourage all of our entities to employ as the minimum theological standard by which they operate; and be it further RESOLVED, That we acknowledge the appropriateness of entities adopting and enforcing additional theological standards such as the Abstract of Principles as a part of the unique responsibility of the board of trustees of each entity, operating in conscientious accountability to the convention, to govern the entity in its charge in all matters theological and otherwise; and be it further RESOLVED, That we consider public disagreement with The Baptist Faith and Message to constitute suitable grounds for the removal of trustees from service upon those boards which have made affirmation of The Baptist Faith & Message a minimum requirement for service; and be it finally RESOLVED, That we affirm the unabridged liberty of any individual who has not voluntarily entered a fiduciary or employee relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention or any of its entities to accept or reject, in part or in total, the tenets expressed in The Baptist Faith and Message.

Endorsements, Part One

For President of the Southern Baptist Convention: Frank Page I was wrong. Not in voting for Jerry Sutton. Dr. Sutton would have made an excellent president. If he ever runs again, he has my vote. I was wrong about Dr. Frank Page. I've wanted to say so for some time, now, but I've been reluctant to do so, knowing that some would not take my remarks seriously, alleging that my retraction is some act of fealty in return for an appointment to the Committee on Committees. Actually, I doubt very much that Dr. Page reads Praisegod Barebones, I doubt very much that he has any idea at all who Bart Barber is, and I doubt very much that he personally selected my name for service on the Committee on Committees. For all I know, if he had known more about me, he might never have appointed me! Certainly, we've never had the pleasure of personal acquaintance. At Greensboro last year, I knew only two things about Dr. Page: The basic gist of his dissertation (which I did not read for myself until later) and that he was being advanced in certain circles as the "dissent" candidate. I am not a dissenter. I publicly predicted that he would side with moderates and liberals. Rather, he has carefully and publicly distanced himself from such things as the New Baptist Covenant (Ben Cole's spin notwithstanding). If I had last year to do over again, I would still vote for Dr. Sutton. But this year, having observed him for a year, I can gladly vote for Dr. Page and recommend that you do so, too.

Holy Spirit Conference Reflections

Pastor Dwight McKissic has forwarded to me the audio CDs of the conference to which he graciously invited me. Having had some opportunity to review them, I can now intelligently comment on the conference. Thanks, Bro. Dwight. no particular order:
  1. My biggest regret is that I so flagrantly violated the time scheduled for my session. That was rude of me. It was not intentional. It bothers me still today.
  2. My most cherished attribute of the conference was the opportunity to meet in person so many of the people with whom I have swapped electrons over the past year.
  3. I was treated with the utmost of respect and courtesy, even during the infamous "panel discussion" Q&A time.
  4. I think that Robin and I may have frustrated some of the folks involved by not tailoring our presentations to some sort of a preconceived concept of "cessationism/semi-cessationism." It is possible that we did not live up to our assignments, but if that is the case (and I do not know that it is), then I think what I actually did was better than what I was assigned to do. It seems to me that sometimes the folks who have tended to argue the other side of our contemporary issues would like for folks like me to step neatly into a theological box, perhaps because their arguments address the box better than they address who we really are? I do not fit into the box, nor do the Southern Baptists I know.
  5. I detected very little actual difference in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit among most of the presenters (although I'm not so sure that biblical glossolalia derives from the Holy Spirit speaking "frog" and "locust"). Our differences relate to how we apply our doctrine of the Holy Spirit to the specific phenomena around us. Are the specific Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third-Wave practices in view to be equated with and accepted as the genuine biblical gift of tongues, or are they counterfeits? With fear and trepidation, I violate the Art Rogers Rule and offer my bald speculation that, from my experience, most Southern Baptists do not believe that the ecstatic utterances (oh, wait, we've been forbidden from using THAT terminology now), just make that "the kind of utterances that are not known languages"…that most Southern Baptists do not belive that these kinds of utterances are what the Bible actually means when it refers to the gift of tongues.
  6. People who believe in non-communicative tongues struggle between two poles—on the one hand, they wish to avoid portraying tongues as useless; on the other hand, they wish to avoid portraying tongues as something that gives the modern-tongues-speaker any advantage over the non-tongues-speaker. In this conference, if there was a danger of stepping over one of those boundaries, it was the danger of presenting tongues as a gift conveying special advantages to the possessor. By a very few presenters and by many of the participants in the audience, tongues were referred to as a breakthrough-gift for spiritual advancement to the next level, that which empowers one to speak to cancers or demons to be able to effect healing or exorcism, etc. I think that the majority of the presenters deliberately wanted to avoid this kind of approach, but I think that the difficulty is inherent to the question—there is a reason why such a large number of people who have advocated the modern practice have come to endorse it as a distinguishing mark between healthy Christians and less-healthy Christians.
  7. I appreciate Jack Maddox, who—unlike many unnamed souls among you—actually did come and participate as a conference attendee sympathetic to mine and Robin's presentations.
Overall, it was a great privilege to be able to participate in the conference. Nobody has ever asked me to do anything like that before, and as far over time as I went, nobody ever will again! So, I'll just have to bask in this experience as long as I can. :-)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dissentient Voices and the Fate of Luther Rice

Your labors will be ultimately appreciated and the page of history will do you ample justice, notwithstanding the dissentient voice of the narrow-minded of the present day. -Adoniram Judson to Luther Rice
The true Father of the Southern Baptist Convention (IMHO) never actually was a Southern Baptist.
  • The driving force behind Baptists in America ever organizing churches to support mission work in the first place? Luther Rice
  • The most aggressive advocate of his time for the convention method over the society method? Luther Rice
  • The impetus behind the founding of a gaggle of state conventions, associations, and domestic institutions? Luther Rice
In my opinion, other than the embarrassing support of racial slavery, virtually everything else distinctive about the Southern Baptist Convention can be traced to the mind and work of Luther Rice in some fashion.

Luther Rice's Great Strengths

Luther Rice had a missionary heart. From the very day of his conversion (14 September 1805), Rice resolved to "be willing to give Deity a blank and let him fill up [Rice's] future destiny as He should please." At Williams College Rice (an exuberant Congregationalist) encountered four other young men with a similar resolve for service, and together they formed an informal accountability and encouragement group nicknamed "The Brethren." The group was entirely resolved to pursue vocations in foreign missions, even though no structure existed in North America to support them in the venture. Eventually Rice and other of the Brethren wound up at Andover College with another young Congregationalist, Adoniram Judson. The group brashly approached the Massachusetts state Congregationalist association about setting up a missions-sending structure for them, and they succeeded. When the world opposed Luther Rice's missionary vision, he went about changing the world to suit himself. Luther Rice was a tireless servant of Christ. Rice described his own ministry: "I have traveled 6,600 miles, in populous and dreary portions of country, through wilderness and over rivers, across mountains and valleys, in heat and cold, by day and by night—in weariness, painfulness, fastings and loneliness." Luther Rice really had no home but Heaven. They buried him in South Carolina simply because he happened to be there when he died. He never married. His life in its entirety was given to the Lord. Luther Rice dared to see a bold vision for the Baptist people. Once convinced of Baptist doctrine, he tenaciously clung to it. He was not the kind to dodge confessional statements, issue caveats, or wriggle out of fiduciary responsibility. Rice boldly proclaimed to the Congregationalists, "those persons only, who give credible evidence of piety, are proper subjects; and…immersion is the only proper mode of Christian baptism"—Here is the voice of a man of integrity. Rice believed that missionaries should seek funding from those who agreed with their ecclesiology, so he singlemindedly pursued Baptists in America, daring them to dream with him a dream of what they could do together with the Lord's help. Although Rice founded many Missionary societies, his vision favored the convention plan:
My mind became impressed with the importance of a general combination of the whole Baptist interest in the United States, for the benefit alike of the denomination here, and the cause of missions abroad
In 1814, after a mere two years' work by this thirty-one-year-old, Luther Rice's efforts yielded the famous Triennial Convention, an every-three-years meeting of American Baptists designed to serve as Rice's "general combination of the whole Baptist interest." Notice, by the way, that this former-Congregationalist was quite content with simply a "combination of the whole Baptist interest." Luther Rice loved to see young people called out and trained into the Lord's work. In 1815, Rice recognized the potential of John Mason Peck. In response to Rice's encouragement and tutelage, Peck embarked upon missionary work in Missouri and became the father of Baptist home missions in America. Rice founded Columbian College (now George Washington University) in order to train Baptist laborers for the harvest.

Luther Rice's Bold Accomplishments

By 1820, Luther Rice had propelled Baptists into cooperative foreign missions, home missions, education, and publication. Sometimes he had worked with amazing diplomacy; often he had pushed projects forward by fiat and bravado. But however he pursued it, the vision he had for Baptists in America was very similar to what Southern Baptists ultimately organized for themselves. Luther Rice was not perfect. I do not offer an unqualified endorsement of everything Luther Rice ever did. But, as I have indicated in an earlier post, I am not so naïve as to ignore the reality of human depravity. I do not expect perfection out of our denominational servants—only a spirit of respectful submission to the expressed will of those whom they serve.

The Luther Rice Slapdown

Many Northern Baptists opposed the convention method, favoring the society plan instead. Those who opposed Rice's ideas and those who opposed Rice's personality coalesced into an anti-Rice, anti-Convention mob at the 1826 meeting of the Triennial Convention. Their strategy was as effective as it was simple:
  1. Slander, attack, and accuse Luther Rice personally, thereby emboldening those who disagree with him and demoralizing those who agree with him.
  2. Use the momentum from the tearing down of the man to tear down the movement.
They succeeded. The anti-Rice group alleged malfeasance against Rice and Columbian College, ultimately securing Rice's ouster from the employ of the Convention. Even Francis Wayland, previously a bold visionary for Baptists, was cowed by their rhetoric. When the Triennial Convention canned Rice, the anti-Convention forces swept the field, thoroughly reverting the Triennial Convention to nothing more than a Foreign Missions society. By the late 1820s, the Triennial Convention had abandoned home missions, educational ministries, publication ministries—everything that would embody the convention methodology of Luther Rice. Ultimately, many people who favored the convention method wound up in the Southern Baptist Convention. Long after Luther Rice's great Baptist convention had been torn down, the lengthy investigations commissioned in 1826 exonerated Luther Rice of financial wrongdoing. His financial recordkeeping hadn't been the best. He had been daring on some occasions when he ought to have been more circumspect. In no way, however, had he at any time tried to line his own pockets with God's money. The allegations were bald slander, but Rice's vindication came far too late to do any good for the Baptist people of America.

Today's Dissentient Voices in the SBC

Expect this year to see the same kind of attacks launched toward Dr. Paige Patterson. Indeed, it has already begun. I know Dr. Patterson only barely as a person, but I know publicly of his vision for a Southern Baptist Convention that honors the conservative theology of its churches and people. He has taken every opportunity to keep the SBC anchored to the Bible. In that regard, his actions have been consistent with his words. I do not strike any parallels in this post between Rice and Patterson, but between Rice's opponents and Patterson's opponents. Many don't like Patterson's ideas. Many wish the Conservative Resurgence had never happened. Many long for 1978. The best way to tear down the Conservative Resurgence in a hurry is to tear down the people who carried it forward. Ben Cole has revealed to us the alleged dire financial straits of SEBTS in 1999. Here is Paige Patterson's "Columbian College"—SEBTS allegedly on the financial ropes in 1999, and all apparently (according to Bro. Ben) due to poor presidential leadership. But wait a minute: Today is 2007. Did SEBTS go into receivership? Did the professors and staff have to forego their paychecks (not an unprecedented happening for Southern Baptist professors)? Are padlocks on the doors in Wake Forest? Did Dr. Patterson leave Southeastern sitting on the side of a North Carolina street with a beggar's cup? No. No. No. and No. SEBTS was undeniably stronger when Dr. Patterson left than it was when he arrived. Ben doesn't give the whole story. Ben Cole has revealed to us that someone once-upon-a-time sued the Pattersons claiming that they extracted a deathbed request under duress in 1982. But wait a minute: Today is 2007. What was the outcome of that lawsuit? Did the Pattersons greedily fight some poor widow to deny her a living? Was there a misunderstanding? How did the relationship turn out? TCarnes asked Bro. Ben for more information in a comment on the post, but Ben refuses to give the rest of the story. Why? I don't know. And then there was the discussion about enrollment and graduation numbers (see here, here, here, and here). In my posts I hope you see the major components of the story left out by Ben (I hate to pick on Ben, and I'll gladly stop doing so when he stops picking on others). What else does Bro. Ben have to reveal? I don't know that, either. But I expect the most salacious revelations, if there are any, to come very close to the convention meeting—too close for anyone to have time to ferret out the details. When the goal is to find the truth, you give everyone enough time to pursue the quest to its fruition. When the goal is deception, you pull an "October surprise." After all, it worked on Luther Rice. As far as I know, Dr. Patterson is not running for anything this year. I will not hazard a guess at his age, but he's older than I am and probably will not be pursuing another thirty years of denominational service. Why go after him now? Because doing so is the best chance for rolling back the Conservative Resurgence, as anyone would know who's been hanging around with Herb Reynolds, John Baugh, Bill Underwood, Jimmy Carter, et al. Will Dr. Patterson's "labors…be ultimately appreciated"? By conservatives, they will. Thank God for the Conservative Resurgence and thank God for all those who took the tough stands to make it happen. To the degree that Paige Patterson was a part of that, thank God for him. I was a conservative long before our paths ever crossed. If tomorrow's Star-Telegram publishes pictures of Dr. Patterson offering animal sacrifices to the ghost of Harry Emerson Fosdick, I'll still be a conservative tomorrow and the day after that. I don't agree with Dr. Patterson because I like him; I like him because I agree with him. Like Judson with Rice, I'm content to let the "page of history do [Patterson] ample justice." Is it possible that Dr. Patterson has ever done something that would scandalize me? Sure, it's possible. I can guarantee you that I've done things that would scandalize every one of you. We are sinners, brothers. But let us keep the convention focused on ideas, not personalities. Let us not make the SBC a forum for people to pursue personal vendettas. What is the end result of this really lengthy post? First, my stomach churns a little every time I hear Bro. Ben assure us all that San Antonio will be "interesting." I'm steeled against the prospect of allegations and tactics that would make Dick Tuck blush. Second, I'm determined to keep my focus on the principles, not the people. I'm determined that 2007 will not be 1826 all over again. Dirty politics will only work if people knee-jerk in response to allegations. Whatever scandalous allegations or gossip we hear in San Antonio, let us retain a helping of prudence. Knowing the publicly expressed strategy of ad hominem attacks against Dr. Patterson as a diversionary tactic to cloak a push for ideological change in the SBC, let us resolve to remain committed to a conservative vision for the SBC. Knowing all of the half-stories that have been told us this year, let us investigate carefully and thoroughly any allegations that are made, and then let the chips fall where they may only after we have the whole story.


To help us keep up with the ad hominem attacks, I have devised something of a new award. I have set up the domain name, which will always point to the blog with the most recent attack upon Dr. Patterson.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New Baptist Covenant, or New Baptist Convention?

At least one prominent Baptist from the left side of the aisle is willing to view the New Baptist Covenant as a starting point for building Herb Reynolds's "Baptist Convention of the Americas." (see here) Just something to be considered alongside denials that this has anything at all to do with forming any kind of denominational structure. (Of course, after what happened last time, it is with fear and trepidation that I ever again point you to Ethics Daily for anything, but the target article is editorial opinion, not news.)

"Busiest Convention in Years" : Extended Contingency Schedule Approved

With the unprecedented flood of motions and resolutions expected this year in San Antonio, the SBC Executive Committee and the Committee on Order of Business has taken action to address the very real possibility that the standard convention schedule does not include enough time to accommodate all of the business that will be brought to the floor June 12-13. The strategy adopted by the Committee on Order of Business is to deal with the less-controversial measures first (boilerplate approvals of reports, resolutions on hospitality, etc.). If time elapses during the regular meeting, the most controversial resolutions and motions will be resolved in a special extended session scheduled for June 26, 6:30 pm. By the way, I submitted a resolution this year. I'll share it later.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A New Baptist Blog

Sean Milliken endured "Baptist Heritage" with me this Spring in Little Rock. One morning I walked into the classroom and Sean asked, "Dr. Barber, who is Praisegod Barebones?" I had wondered when a student would find me online. Sean may or may not have been the first, but he was the first to mention it in class. Now he has his very own blog. I have no idea the meaning behind his blog title Old News Milkman, but with Sean I have learned that it is better not to ask! :-) Welcome, Sean.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Decoration Day

Once upon a time, people referred to Memorial Day as "Decoration Day." In the aftermath of the War Between the States, Decoration Day was a holiday set aside to honor those who had died during the "Late Unpleasantness." But somewhere along the way, at least for one family living in the rustic wilds of the Ozarks, Decoration Day developed a more general sense. It became a day when people tended to the graves and the memories of all of their family dead, military or civilian. On Decoration Day one decorated the graves of family members; on Memorial Day (to embrace the new name) one remembered them. James Clifton Barber believed in Decoration Day. He believed that the fifth commandment extended even beyond the death of mother and father—even transferred from generation to generation. Last year he ascended to his Savior, and we deposited his remains beneath the stubborn dolomite of the Ozarks near Salado (that's Sal'-ah-doh in Arkansas, not Sah-lay'-doh as in Texas). He is my paternal grandfather. My father predeceased his own father, and the family responsibility passed to my generation. Tomorrow, I go with artificial flowers in hand to tromp through cemeteries in Floral, Hutchinson, McHue, Salado, Jonesboro, and Cane Island. Some whose graves I will decorate, I do not remember personally. Others are but fleeting pixies of my early childhood recollection. And then there are three of my four grandparents (Grandma Barber is still living) and my own father, who have made hallowed ground for me of narrow plots in widely separated cemeteries. I'm taking my son Jim with me. Of course, a four-year-old needs more than cemeteries to make a trip worthwhile, so I've got something planned. I have not alerted my brother and brother-in-law that we'll be in state. We're going to the domestic headquarters of our family business with Jim's camo play tent and tunnels. We're going to enter through the Finished Goods warehouse and sneak across to the Raw Materials warehouse, where we'll quietly deploy the tent in the aisles. From there, Jim plans to stage a surprise invasion of Uncle Blake's and Uncle Ronnie's offices, swords swinging and cap-guns blazing. These are the things that captivate a preschool boy's imagination—we have sat in our headquarters and devised a plan, and now we're going to execute it. I'll drive 900 miles in two days with a four-year-old in tow to visit places where, after all, I don't really believe there is anything beyond formaldehyde and dust. Foolish, isn't it? But these are people to whom I can no longer send a card. Dad would have been sixty-seven yesterday, and I couldn't even pick up the phone and call. So many of the really good ways to show my continuing love and appreciation for these people are no longer possible, but this one remains. And along the way I'll be remembering that this is just the in-between time, waiting until we're all gathered up. So, off we go in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, streaking across Northeast Texas with Beauty and the Beast in the DVD player and a half-devoured McDonalds hash brown firmly grasped by ketchup-stained fingers in the back seat. A little boy will endure stories about a grandfather he never got to meet, and therefore the stories will not seem real to his four-year-old mind. But maybe he will grasp the reality that family is important, both to challenge to impromptu sword-fights while they are here, and to decorate and memorialize when they are gone. Now isn't that a longwinded preacher's way of saying, "I won't be blogging for a couple of days"?


In honor of Ben Cole, who is both smarter than I and better at combat strategy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Total Depravity or Total Naïveté

Scandalous Admissions

I believe that people lie. I believe that people are sinners. I believe that institutions built around the suspicious assumption that people will always lie are institutions doomed to failure. I believe that institutions built around the naïve assumption that people will always tell the truth are institutions doomed to failure.

Controversial Commentary

Dr. Ralph Elliott, of "Elliott Controversy" fame in Southern Baptist history, was canned in the early 1960s from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in connection with his authorship of The Message of Genesis, a tome espousing higher-critical views of the biblical book (the first eleven chapters are myth with no tangible connection to historical reality, Abraham probably existed, but certainly was not commanded by God to offer up Isaac, etc.). The book scandalized Southern Baptists so much that, in addition to giving Elliott his walking papers, the convention revised the Baptist Faith & Message (in 1963). Defending himself years later, Ralph Elliott said that a great many Old Testament professors at Southern Baptist seminaries agreed substantially with what Elliiott had written in The Message of Genesis. Elliott basically complained that he was being run out of town on a rail not for being a liberal, but for being honest about being a liberal. He even coined a term to describe the dishonesty of his colleagues: "Doublespeak." According to Elliott, his colleagues had learned to employ a nuanced terminology to express their beliefs to Southern Baptist churches and sound like they were conservative, while retaining the possibility of expressing their beliefs to the academic guild and identifying with them as theological liberals. To put it bluntly, Ralph Elliott asserted that Southern Baptist professors were lying to their constituent churches. Read what Elliott wrote:
"Doublespeak" has become an insidious disease within Southern Baptist life. Through the years, the program at Southern Seminary has acquainted students with the best in current research [i.e., higher-critical liberalism] in the given fields of study. Often, however, this was done with an eye and ear for the "gallery" and how much the "church trade" would bear. Professors and students learn to couch their beliefs in acceptable terminology and in holy jargon so that although thinking one thing, the speaker calculated so as to cause the hearer to affirm something else. When I taught at Southern Seminary years ago, we often said to one professor who was particularly gifted at this "doublespeak" game, that if the Southern Baptist Convention should split, he would be the first speaker at botn new conventions. It is my personal belief that this doublespeak across the years has contirbuted to a lack of nurture and growth and is a major factor in the present problems. The basic question is one of integrity rather than the gift of communication.
Elliott is right in at least this: It is a matter of integrity, and the depravity of mankind guarantees that many people will display their lack of integrity (yes, me included, although I hope not very often). Prior to 1979, the system in place called for Southern Baptist employees to tell Southern Baptist churches what they wanted to hear, regardless of whether it was the truth (again, see Elliott's The Genesis Controversy). Throughout the twentieth century up through 1979, Southern Baptists were reassured by denominational doublespeak, but by the late 1970s, the liberalism in Southern Baptist academic institutions could no longer be hidden. Uncomfortable as it was to do so, the people of the Southern Baptist Convention had to face the difficult fact that they were being misled. I think it was Dr. Malcolm Yarnell who once described to me the thinking processes of some British professors who, in order to obtain and keep their jobs, had to affirm some statement of faith (was it the Thirty-Nine Articles? Let's assume for the sake of discussion that it was), but who sharply disagreed with the content of this Anglican statement of faith. He inquired of them how in good conscience they could sign a creed which they could not truthfully affirm? One replied along the lines of, "Well, they gave me the document, I looked it over, thought to myself, 'Yes, those are the Thirty-Nine Articles alright!' and I signed to affirm that they were indeed the genuine Thirty-Nine Articles." People are depraved and will sometimes lie to you just for the sake of lying—put a job on the line and a great many people will lie to keep it. A recent study speculated that as many as 40% of resumes contain lies. As Southern Baptists, we have some differences about the five points of Calvinism. That's OK. Nevertheless, I think it is critically important that we have a realistic view of human depravity. Those who will not acknowledge the depth of human depravity are condemned to a life of naïveté. Those who do acknowledge human depravity will understand the profound need for strong accountability within the Southern Baptist Convention. And, to draw out the implications clearly, we cannot build a system of Southern Baptist cooperation upon a doctrine of Total Naïveté. "I went and spoke with that professor (missionary, denominational leader, former President of the United States, etc.), and he told me personally that he is orthodox. Therefore, he should keep his job. Therefore, we must cooperate with him. Therefore, the Conservative Resurgence was a mistake and went way too far." Yes, he said that he was orthodox. Have we learned nothing from "doublespeak"? Must we check our brains at the door and take everyone at their word, assuming that nobody ever lies? Obviously, the context of this post is the recent controversy over Jimmy Carter's particular beliefs about whether people will receive God's saving grace apart from explicit conversion to Christ. Carter has written publicly that he believes that they will. Carter has apparently assured Wade Burleson privately that he holds no such belief. In court, a cross-examining lawyer follows up statements like Carter's with the question, "So, were you lying then, or are you lying now?" That's the context of this post. But the implications of this post reach far beyond its immediate context. Indeed, it speaks to the whole controversy of the past year at some level. If the Southern Baptist Convention operates on the perennial assumption that people are always lying, then it is doomed to failure. We cannot long partner in complete suspicion of one another. I have no doubt that Wade Burleson and many of those who typically agree with him are of the opinion that such perennial suspicion is the modus operandi within the Southern Baptist Convention—that the problem is that some SBC leaders are too suspicious and are unwilling to trust people. I don't read them making this argument, but I suspect that some of them would affirm a statement to that effect. However, if the Southern Baptist Convention operates on the perennial assumption that people are always telling the truth—that we are obligated always to take denominational leaders and employees at their word—, then we are also assuredly doomed to failure. At that point, we have contradicted our own anthropology (doctrine of man, not the course at college). Such an approach only facilitates "doublespeak." The plague of "Conservative Resurgence remorse" that is spreading in some SBC circles has as one of its primary symptoms, I believe, the doctrine of "Total Naïveté" toward those on the left, coupled with an unbounded suspicion toward the leaders of the Conservative Resurgence who are willing to make the tough stands. I think that the Carter episode epitomizes what I'm talking about. The SBC contains in its upper eschelons of leadership people representing a wide variety of viewpionts on nonessentials (recognizing that this is a word defined differently by many of us—I would not put the exclusivity of Christ into this category). There is some suspicion at work today in the SBC; indeed, the experiences of the past fifty years show why some suspicion is a necessary component of our cooperative work. Excessive and paranoid suspicion is not the norm in our convention. Certainly, the kind of baffling naïveté demonstrated over the past week is no responsible cure for anything that ails us. Heaven help us if we decide to follow the leadership of the naïve.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A New Blogger Nickname

I hereby dub thee "C. B. Martellus Maccabeus Adler Scott" (see C.B.'s "hammer" comments in the thread here). :-)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Myth of Hard-Hearted Southern Baptist Conservatives

Disaster Relief

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is the third-largest disaster relief organization in the United States of America. Normally people don't crow about the bronze medal, but consider who comes in ahead of us: The American Red Cross (ARC) and The Salvation Army (TSA). Disaster relief items get top billing for those two groups, while for Southern Baptists it is decidedly secondary to the propagation of New Testament churches. Still, can you imagine ARC or TSA being on the receiving end of the tongue-wagging, finger-pointing lectures that Southern Baptist conservatives receive about not caring for hurting people, all while we're dishing out upwards of 90% of the meals that ARC feeds people in disaster situations? I don't think so.

Poverty Assistance

Yesterday, while I was at the dedication of a new disaster relief unit, teams from FBC Farmersville were making repairs to the houses of two impoverished families in our community. Of course, this will slip entirely under the public radar (OK, except for this blog post). The government had no role in it, so it will not appear in their statistics. We did not alert the media to come take pictures of us being generous. In a very "Matthew 6" kind of way, we quietly and simply went about doing good.

I do see changes in the way that Southern Baptist churches assist the poor—changes reflective of overall shifts in our ecclesiological paradigm. Once upon a time with regard to missions, benevolence, etc., our paradigm was more-or-less to invite people to pay for someone else to do it. Now, although we still collect money, individual church members desire to be more involved hands-on: thus, the kind of event we had on Saturday.

Polls have indicated that conservative evangelicals are among the most generous people on earth. Southern Baptists fit into that category for these purposes. But, because Congress didn't get to vote on things like our ministry on Saturday and because nobody's political coalition got to take credit for it, people chastise Southern Baptists as though this kind of ministry were not going on every week across the nation.

The Eternal Gospel

Of course, I'll grant that the Southern Baptist apparatus emphasizes evangelism over the meeting of physical needs. That's exactly how things ought to be, and I will not apologize for it. If a person is going to Hell, it matters not whether he goes from a neat little Habitat house or a slumlord tenament. Southern Baptists perform a lot of ministry to physical needs, but such ministry is subservient to our efforts to share the gospel.

Ben Cole has observed on his blog:

If Southern Baptists would commit to issues of social justice with the same rallying cry that founded the Cooperative Program for the task of world missions — namely that we can do more together than we can apart — we might find the good and pleasant blessing promised of God when brothers dwell together in unity.

I'm glad that Ben has a heart for helping people. We all benefit from that spirit. But Southern Baptists are already committed to appropriate issues of social justice. I don't know that our approach has been any less effective than LBJ's forty-year-and-counting War on Poverty and whatever else the government is doing to address "issues of social justice." The image of Southern Baptists as disengaged from the plight of hurting people is simply unfounded, unsubstantiated liberal stereotyping (i.e. liberals are the origin of it, whoever may be repeating it). And one can understand the need for the stereotype, because if liberals cannot convince themselves that they are the more-enlightened, more-compassionate among us, then what do they have left?

I'm all in favor of us doing more. Let's become #1 in Disaster Relief. Let our churches be even more involved in ministering to physical needs. But frankly, I agree with Nathan Finn that our greatest need for improvement is in the area of sharing the eternal gospel, not the social gospel. I'll guarantee you that a good number of the people working on houses for us yesterday have never personally presented the gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone. But we're working on that.

Now I'll be accused of "triumphalism." :-)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Burleson, Cole, and Carter

Wade Burleson, Ben Cole, and others have been to meet with Jimmy Carter. In a post detailing the event, Burleson addresses his concern that people will use the event to "seek to crucify [him] for meeting with President Carter." (See Burleson's post here. See Cole's version here. Marty Duren's version is respectful, but much less giddy about Carter, meaning I like it better. See here.) I think that Burleson worries needlessly. Burleson wrongly suspects that somebody somewhere in the SBC will be shocked, scandalized, or otherwise surprised that he and his group are meeting with Carter and is enthusiastic about what Carter is doing. The headline will come when we find someone leftward of this group who is not acceptable to them. In as non-crucifying a manner as I can muster (Burleson wasn't suggesting that his actions and words are beyond any review at all, was he?), I only wish to point out something I find interesting. The title of Burleson's post is "That Which Unites Us Is the Gospel of Christ." Here are Jimmy Carter's thoughts about the gospel in his own words, given in full context:
Q: Your first lesson on Ephesians describes man's reconciliation to God through grace and the sacrifice of Christ. Do you believe that grace ultimately applies to people who don't presently believe in Jesus? A: Yes, I do. I remember two things. One is that in John 3:16, which is probably the best known verse in the Bible - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son." And Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, said we should love our neighbors, but also love those who despise us and hate us and our enemies. So, the opportunity for everyone to be saved through the grace of God with faith in Christ applies to everyone. And I have been asked often, you know, in my Sunday School classes, which are kind of a give and take debate with people from many nations and many faiths - what about those that don't publicly accept Christ, are they condemned? And I remember that Christ said, "Judge not that ye be not judged." And so, my own personal belief is one of God's forgiveness and God's grace. That's the best answer I can give.
So, there is Carter's understanding of the gospel. I ask you, the Southern Baptist people: Does that gospel unite you with Jimmy Carter? As for me, I would have to entitle any post about Jimmy Carter in this manner: "What Divides Us Is the Gospel of Christ"

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Daring to Aspire to Mediocrity

Earlier I promised to make a motion in San Antonio regarding professorial salaries. Now I want to take a little time to explain why. It is my understanding (and my earnest hope) that we take good care of our missionaries. Indeed, in defense of the Cooperative Program I have heard people say that the dependable and comparatively generous support that we supply to our missionaries is the envy of scores of self-funding missionaries around the world who learn the discipline of fervent prayer while staring at the mailbox each month awaiting the hoped-for support checks from US churches and individuals. I cannot verify this concept first-hand, but let me genuinely say from the bottom of my heart that things ought to be that way. If we do not take good care of our missionaries, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. It is my understanding (and my earnest hope) that we take good care of our denominational executives in every nook and cranny of Southern Baptist life. Some try to stoke the unrighteous fires of envy and provoke us to jealousy over the generosity of Southern Baptists toward those who give so much to lead our entities, but I am not among them. I am not privy to all of the details of SBC executive compensation, but I support high salaries for our leaders. If we do not take good care of our executives, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We do not take good care of our seminary professors, and for that, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. I am trying to rectify that situation. In doing so, I offer the following points, some to show why I have come to this conclusion, and others in rebuttal to anticipated objections:
  1. The vast host of our pastors are endebted in some way or another to a seminary professor. I'm guessing that something you use in a sermon, something you do in your church, some point of theology that is precious to you—somewhere in your ministry one can discern the impact of a professor in a seminary, if God favored you with the opportunity to go to seminary.
  2. All of the other categories mentioned above depend upon seminary professors. Our missions boards depend upon our seminaries for some of the credentials and qualifications for missionary service. Our executives are largely the product of our seminaries. The funding of seminaries was not a part of the original raison d'être of the SBC, but the convention came pretty quickly to realize how vital a seminary was to SBC missions endeavors.
  3. It is much more expensive to become qualified to be a seminary professor than to be anything else in Southern Baptist life. My expenses were greater because I pastored a church some distance away from the seminary (making my commute longer and making me take longer to finish), but I can account for $50,000 of expenses related to my doctorate. That's not counting the MDiv expenses, BA expenses, etc. Many of our future professors will get a degree for less, but I have given you a figure to take into consideration, anyway.
  4. Seminary professors are laboring in accountability to the Southern Baptist people. Some notice should be taken and reward should be given for a sector of employees who have admirably turned things around since 1979. I'm not saying that all is perfect at our seminaries, but the amount of progress is spectacular. Southern Baptists have nobly and ably wielded the stick, but it is time to locate that carrot.
  5. Yes, I am qualified to serve as a professor, have had opportunities to serve as a professor, and do currently teach adjunctively for SWBTS. No, that doesn't mean that I'm trying to feather my own bed. God has called me to be a pastor. I became aware of that calling when I was eleven. It was a dramatic and powerful experience of calling. It is going to take a pretty clear word from God to get me into anything else. Furthermore, the legacy of the pastor-theologian is a compelling one for me. I do not anticipate that I will ever be a faculty member at any of our seminaries. I see myself as just the person to lead this campaign. I am close enough to the situation to see the need, yet just far enough away to carry the need to the Southern Baptist people without appearing self-serving. Most of those who know about the problem feel that it would be inappropriate for them to say anything. I do not feel thusly constrained. By the way, my adjunct salary is quite modest, and I'm not at all certain that it would be affected by my motion.
  6. This problem cannot be laid at the feet of seminary administration or the boards of trustees. The problem is endemic to all of our seminaries. It has existed for a century. Thus, nothing specific to any one seminary, any one administration, or any board of trustees can tenably be alleged as the cause. I am convinced that they are doing the best they can with what they have.
  7. Special campaigns are not the answer. If you are raising money for a building, you can name every room, foyer, and alcove for a donor. I remember Dr. Hemphill saying about the Leadership Development Center at SWBTS, "If you see anything around here without a name on it, we'll be glad to talk with you about putting one there." People will give to put their names on structures. On the other hand, even if you endow a chair (raise money to pay a professor), you can only reasonably attach one name to that project. People just don't give for that sort of thing. Also, since this problem affects multiple seminaries, campaigns at individual seminaries will not address the problem effectively or equitably.
  8. Letting seminary professors supplement their income with interim pastorates is not the answer. Some of our professors are called to teach, not to preach. Nobody is more supportive than I am of a tight connection between seminary and church. But I am also supportive of those whom God has gifted for academia and called to teach. Either these denominational servants are at a serious pecuniary disadvantage, or some church in the vicinity of a seminary winds up with someone whom God intended to do other things besides preach. Neither scenario is a good solution.
CONCLUSION: Please do not misunderstand that I am not asking for much. I want our missionaries to be well compensated. I want our executives to be well compensated. With regard to our professors, I am merely asking that we dare to aspire to mediocrity. Can't we find some way to climb out of the cellar to meet the average professorial salaries from the latest survey of the Association of Theological Schools? Average. Mediocrity. I would like to think that someday we could dare to do more. But for now, average would be a significant improvement, and that's all I'm asking for.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell Is in Heaven

See more information here.

The Demise of the Denominational Stump-Speech

I have said before that blogging is more like conversation than publication. Let me add that, in my estimation, politicking up to this point has been more like publication than conversation. Since (and even before) Paul started raising money to contribute to the Jerusalem church whose blessing he desired for the Gentile mission, churches have always been political and always will be (and "political" is not a bad thing). But the politics of church and church-related institution is changing right before our eyes. Blogging typifies the direction that it all is going—more toward conversation. As a result, I pronounce the following new political realities:
  1. The death of the stump-speech. If I read Pressler and Patterson correctly, one block in the foundation of the Conservative Resurgence was a simple, effective stump-speech outlining the problems with the SBC and a proposed solution. Conservatives carried this stump speech throughout the country to groups small and large, building grassroots support for the movement. A good "elevator talk" is still quite helpful, but here's how things have changed: In our world of telecommunication, your stump speech is likely to be promulgated throughout the convention the very first time you give it. On the one hand, that's a good thing, right? I mean, you're getting widespread exposure for your message. On the other hand, in a week (and I'm really stretching it by giving it a week), your stump speech is old news. You can't post the thing over and over online. When you go to deliver it in person, people will yawn. So, one of the changes before us is that the tasks of convention politics are becoming less like the activities of a vocational evangelist and more akin to the work of a pastor in a local church. You need new material on a regular basis. The "sugar sticks" will be depleted in a hurry.
  2. The impotence of "declarations" or platforms. When's the last time you read a stirring discussion centered on the Memphis Declaration? The authors of the Memphis Declaration stopped referencing it almost before the housekeeping staff had emptied the Coke cans (and who knows what else) out of the hotel room trash cans in Memphis. And the Joshua Convergence's Principles of Affirmation? Even less effective than the Memphis Declaration. I don't know that static documents are any more helpful than static speeches these days. People come to know what you stand for by interacting with the stream of material that you provide. Over time, the recurring themes and passing inconsistencies of your work become evident to all, and they make an assessment on that basis.
  3. The power of listening. Not necessarily agreeing, but listening. The most effective blogging involves fielding questions. Think Fox News, not CBS. The result is not always dialogue—people sometimes just scream their talking points past one another—but the most effective person in this platform is the one who will genuinely listen to those who disagree and then effectively rebut their arguments. I'm not talking about the kind of "listening" where we sit in a circle and hold hands. I'm talking about listening as a polemical weapon. When it becomes clear to the reader that you aren't listening to the arguments of the other side, the reader can only wonder whether you are just incapable of understanding the arguments of the other side (or worse, have no answer for them).
  4. The doom of insincerity. The only way that you can produce a steady stream of convincing material and be prepared to engage those who disagree in genuine dialogue is if you sincerely believe what you are saying. At least, that's the only way I can do it. Publication enshrouds; conversation probes. Eventually, inauthenticity will out. You can be riddled with inconsistencies, but they must be your inconsistencies, if that makes sense at all. One underestimated political force today is the compelling value of authenticity and transparency. Of course, there are limits. Admit to some taboos and you will get no credit for your transparency in revealing them. But some willingness to come to grips with your own foibles is almost necessary. There is a fine line somewhere between the tenacity of a bulldog and the stubbornness of a mule. The former is purposive, while the latter is mere disposition.
  5. The elevation of writing. Radio and television made writing of much lesser importance than speaking. People wrung their hands about the dawning of illiteracy. Blogging is all about writing. Blogging is not the only force at work in the political world, and speaking is still incredibly important. Nevertheless, blogging provides a more influential medium for writers than they have had in recent years.
Conversation is a warm and fuzzy word, but it ought not to be. Gossip is conversation, too, after all. I'm no futurist, and I do not see these developments as any sort of panacea. Nevertheless, I view these developments as a slightly positive step. Indeed, I think we may be living in a reincarnation of the days of seventeenth-century religious pamphlets or nineteenth-century denominational newspapers. Both were more conversational than the 1970s, although neither was as instantaneously responsive as the new electronic media. Both were occasions of strident denominational dialogue. Both were occasions of significant denominational growth.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Who Is on the Side of Liberty?

As we near San Antonio, expect to hear more and more rhetoric claiming that SBC Conservatives are the opponents of religious liberty. I've been blogging now for around a year, and I would challenge each of you who have been a part of the medium for a while to look around and see whose liberty has been curtailed. I personally know of several conservative bloggers who have been intimidated out of blogging. Jobs have been endangered. Lawsuits have been threatened. People have been bullied. No, I will not name names and put these people into greater peril, no matter how much anyone might demand substantiation. But I know that it has happened. On the other hand, although I constantly see people qualifying their anonymous posts with "I have to stay anonymous because I'm a student at SWBTS" or "As a missionary I would love to speak out, but I have to remain anonymous to avoid repercussions," it seems to me that the major vocal dissenting bloggers from a year ago are all still out there just as vocal as they ever were (or more so). If anyone had been terminated or flunked for their dissident blogging, I'm betting we would have heard about it (as probably would the Supreme Court by now). Hmmmm.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Interpretation of Statistics

Figures won't lie, but liars will figure. -Charles Grosvenor
I am not saying that my good friend Ben Cole is a liar. In my opinion, he is among the more honest people involved in the debates of the past year. He is the Lady Godiva of Southern Baptist dissent—whatever his thoughts, opinions, and motives have been, we have all seen them in their unvarnished state. Personally, I like that kind of openness, even when there is disagreement. I hope to contribute to the total and unrestrained defeat of whatever shenanigans Ben has in store for this year's SBC meeting, but my desire for his defeat is not a desire for his disgrace or destruction. Ben has conceded (see here) that his comparison between SWBTS and DTS was less than completely accurate. A concession is in order from me. I will concede that enrollment at SWBTS has gone down. Ben's metanarrative, of course, is that Dr. Patterson is the cause of declining enrollment at SWBTS. Here is the point of my initial quote: although statistics are solid and unwavering in and of themselves, it is when people attempt to interpret them that statistics can make liars of us all. Thus, in the interests of the truth (and, of course, out of my love for SWBTS), I offer the following factors other than Dr. Patterson's presidency that must be considered in order to interpret Ben's statistics accurately.
  1. Ben's good friend Paul Powell (of Truett Seminary) and the fine folks at Logsdon Seminary and the B. H. Carroll Institute are hard at work every day trying to convince people to attend their schools rather than attend SWBTS. The effects of these schools are relatively new phenomena, and they would be in operation whether Dr. Patterson or even Ben Cole (insert uncontrollable shudder here) were president of SWBTS.
  2. Ben's good friends at Baylor University and their colleagues at a wide array of Baptist undergraduate institutions have all but sworn a blood oath to steer students away from SWBTS and to ban the hiring of SWBTS graduates regardless of their personal beliefs or qualifications.
  3. All of these folks and their henchmen at the BGCT have gone so far as to deny exhibit space for SWBTS at the BGCT's annual meeting—an unparalleled occurence in Southern Baptist history.
  4. What were the enrollment and graduate trends at SEBTS under Patterson? Could Bro. Ben enlighten us with those statistics? As I have already mentioned in another post, the robust growth of other seminaries in the Southern Baptist system cannot help but impact the numbers at SWBTS.
Finally, let me concede yet another point. If I were a liberal, I would not want to attend SWBTS. I do not doubt that Dr. Patterson's presence at the helm of the seminary discourages some people from attending there. I will lose no sleep over this fact. I have no desire for the SBC to subsidize the education of liberals (whatever you believe that word means, you must concede that whoever is a liberal, he would think twice about attending SWBTS right now). But I do not believe that this factor is any more determinative of the enrollment trends at SWBTS than the other factors I have already listed. Ben's statistics are (now) sound; the problem is with his metanarrative.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Congratulations DTS

Dallas Theological Seminary held their commencement services today, graduating more students than they have ever graduated before (a total of 379). Bill Brown, president of Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH, was the commencement speaker. Dr. Brown was once a youth minister here in Farmersville, and he is staying with members of my church this weekend. It was my pleasure to meet Bill and his wife Lynne yesterday and to get to know some more about Cedarville. It is a shame that this bright day for DTS is for Bro. Ben Cole just another occasion to take pot-shots at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (see here). Before you happen to stroll over to BaptistBlogger, it might help you to know that Bro. Ben is comparing DTS's once-a-year commencement number to SWBTS's Spring-semester-only commencement number. Of course, Ben was careful not to say erroneously that DTS graduated more students than SWBTS, but he was also careful not to say anything that would get in the way of every reader walking away with that impression. Sometimes you don't have to lie to be dishonest. Here are the numbers giving the full picture: SWBTS graduated 263 students in December, bringing the annual total for the seminary to 510, some 35% more than DTS's 379. Not that such comparisons are appropriate or at all helpful to the kingdom, but if anyone wishes to make them, he ought to give the whole story and portray the comparison accurately. But on the occasion of seminary commencements, allow me to suggest that we all need to beseech the throne of heaven to raise up more men called and surrendered to pastor existing churches. We have a very strong youth group here at FBC Farmersville. Tracy Odneal, our associate pastor and student minister, is remarkable at what he does—a man among men. We've seen a large number of students over the past few years give their lives to God for a variety of vocational callings: missions, camp ministry, music, and other wonderful things. But where are the pastors? A chapel service at SWBTS this year included a poll of the audience. Of those who are preparing for pastoral ministry, all but a handful planned to start a church rather than pastor an existing church. So, it is not the mission of SWBTS to have large enrollments. The seminaries do not exist for themselves, but for the churches. SWBTS is no longer the only viable option for conservative Southern Baptists. The broadening of conservative seminary options, although it naturally results in a decline in SWBTS's enrollment, is a good thing for the churches; therefore, it is a good thing. I hope that the enrollment of all of our seminaries grows, but I hope it grows with what our churches need more than anything else—people called to pastor our churches. I'm not saying that is the only need, but it is the most profound need. God bless DTS. God bless SWBTS. But most of all, God bless the churches with the blessing of strong pastoral leadership. May DTS, SWBTS, SBTS, NOBTS, SEBTS, GGBTS, MWBTS, MABTS, etc., etc., etc. all prosper under God's hand, but may that prosperity redound to the benefit of the churches by yielding more and more pastors to lead our churches. That, after all, is one of the big reasons for which churches fund seminaries. Again, congratulations DTS.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Ethics Daily Follow-Up Does Not Provide Substantiation

Let me clarify my position first so nobody will be confused. I am opposed to Wiley Drake receiving the Vice Presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention. I am in favor of Wiley Drake receiving fair treatment by the press. A follow-up article (see here) by Bob Allen at Ethics Daily is not exactly a retraction, but it sure isn't a substantiation. The article shows a lot of footwork that would have been work well done before the initial article (see here) came out. Among the interesting tidbits is a history of the site in question, including the admission by the administrator of the declaration that "names were added that should not have been… Fraudulent e-mails were sent in…" Of course, Allen depended upon a story by Intelligence Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (of Civil Rights movement fame). They are the heavy-hitters in this story. The first article originated with them. It is time for them to weigh in. Unfortunately, they won't return my telephone calls. If they have posted more information on their web site, I cannot find it. I should mention, although Allen cannot substantiate his previous accusations, he does include a lot of scandalous information about Drake suggesting that Drake is, in point of fact, opposed to abortion (gasp!). One suspects that if Drake doesn't mend his ways he might wind up a Republican and therefore consigned to the fires of perdition. :-)

Sunday, May 6, 2007

On Being Evangelical

The president of the Evangelical Theological Society has converted to Roman Catholicism (see his blog entry here). I observe the following:
  1. Evangelical is just the kind of adjective that is in favor these days—it is void and without form. ETS's definition of Evangelicalism apparently (up to this point) has room within itself for denying the foreknowledge of God. Now, not just an Evangelical pew-sitter, not just a member of ETS, but the president of ETS has converted to Roman Catholicism. But the straying of a lone Evangelical is not the real issue here, so much as the fact that it is not a settled matter that he has strayed at all. Francis Beckwith apparently regards his Roman Catholicism as not being at odds with his status as an Evangelical. Indeed, other than for the public-relations issues that it might have caused, Beckwith thought it might be perfectly appropriate theologically for a Roman Catholic to lead the ETS. And according to Beckwith, it was not a foregone conclusion that others among ETS leadership would have any problem with his continuation as president under these circumstances. If "Evangelical" does not mean at least "not Roman Catholic", then what does it mean? And if the president of the ETS doesn't know what Evangelical means, then who does?
  2. Beckwith cites his desire for unity as a strong motivation in his decision. Ultimately, Evangelical Ecumenism must concede to broader forms of ecumenism, for if it is conceded that unity trumps doctrine, then no firm stopping place can be asserted successfully for long. Look carefully at what Beckwith has written in the aforementioned blog post about justification.
  3. Here's the perfect illustration of my differentiation between Roman Catholicism as cult (which I think it is not) vs. Roman Catholicism as false and apostate church (which I think it is). Had Beckwith joined the Mormons, I would conclude ipso facto that he is not a Christian. Having joined the Roman Catholics, I am prepared to do no more than to suspect that he has been educated beyond his intelligence and is in gross disobedience to Christ (Yes, to all of you scandalized by this statement, I am concluding that it is not Christ's will for anyone to be a Roman Catholic).
  4. All this at what was once the world's largest Baptist university (and is still my alma mater). Beckwith teaches church-state studies at Baylor. Let us pray that the Lord will not tell Helwys, Williams, Clarke, Backus, and Leland that a Roman Catholic is being paid by Baptist churches to lecture Baptists about the proper relationship between church and state!
  5. These observations illustrate why our mission boards and seminaries must strengthen their resolve to be Baptist (and to plant only Baptist congregations), not merely Evangelical. We must couple that resolve with a vigorous effort to make certain that we all know precisely what it means to be Baptist.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

What Wes Kenney Does to Relax from Blogging

We Love You, Wes!

Keep calling them like you see them. As I have already stated, I believe that your most recent article reflects responsible, diligent blogging. And for all of the rest of us, Bob Allen has promised a follow-up piece on Monday with regard to the Wiley Drake situation. I have no idea whether it will consist of retraction, substantiation, correction, or genuflexion. Aaron Weaver, last I read him, is much more skeptical of Drake's denial than about the SPLC's story. SPLC has not returned my phone calls. They represent the big question mark—a major national organization with a huge axe to grind on the one hand but a huge reputation to protect on the other hand. Did the former get the better of the latter with regard to these accusations against Drake? Where will this story go next? We'll get the next installment on Monday.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Lessons Learned from Yesterday in Blog-Land

For all of those who find the whole thing bewildering, some data to help you sort things out.

First, the Silver Lining

Do you believe in Romans 8:28? But for the eruption of blog activity yesterday, the charges against Wiley Drake would have continued unrefuted. These charges were on the Internet and being discussed long before yesterday.

A Timeline

Intelligence Report, a publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center of civil rights fame, reported in their Spring 2007 issue (no specific date of publication was readily visible on their web site) that Wiley Drake had affirmed the actions of James Kopp, an anti-abortion-motivated murderer. See the article here.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Bob Allen posted an article on Ethics Daily largely repeating the details from Intelligence Report. See his article here.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Aaron Weaver, proprietor of the blog Big Daddy Weave, posted an article the same day as the Ethics Daily piece. Weaver entitled his article "SBC 2nd Vice President Supports Doctor Killer". I commented in the response thread on this article. In the comment thread Weaver specifically and emphatically asserted that Drake had already been contacted about these allegations.
Friday, April 27, 2007
William Thornton over at BaptistLife discussion board, opened a thread in response to the Ethics Daily story. See the thread here
Monday, April 30, 2007
Wade Burleson entered the ongoing thread at BaptistLife and posted comments affirming Drake's philanthropic ventures but attempting to style him as the prototype of what "many in current leadership" in the SBC would make of us all.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Aaron Weaver posted a second time, chiding us all for not taking this story more seriously than we had. See his second article, "The Sound of Silence Surrounding Wiley Drake". In his article, Weaver pointed us to several similar philippics against folks in the SBC. If Bro. Aaron wanted a stronger reaction from SBC bloggers, then he certainly got it!
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Wes Kenney began to contact people about publishing a blog article on the Drake situation. I am one of many whom he contacted. Wiley Drake was among those whom Wes tried to contact. When Wes contacted me, I replied that I had seen the whole story reported at Big Daddy Weave and Ethics Daily more than a week ago—that this was old news (i.e., that Wes's article was well written and worthy of publishing, but that he was not breaking anything that had not already been broken). I told him that I had already commented about Caligula's horse over at Big Daddy Weave, but that I might post something along those lines on my site. I'll let Wes comment on his own, but I think he was as bothered by Wade's attempt to push all of this off onto SBC leadership as by anything else.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Wes posted his article (see here). I posted an article going back and dredging up my previously reported negative thoughts about Drake's initial election (see my article "Incitatus"). Wade Burleson posted an article distancing himself from Wiley Drake (see here). When things started to get out of hand, and due to my own concerns that Wes Kenney was being labeled a fundamentalist, that Wiley Drake was eerily silent (words rarely spoken about Wiley Drake) regarding the whole matter, that Wade Burleson was not being given credit for having distanced himself from Drake, that a conversation with a Baptist journalist did not yield confirmation of the allegations, etc., I posted a more moderating post (see my post entitled "Wiley-Gate?", and please note the question mark).
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Blogger-Of-The-Week Art Rogers tracked down Wiley Drake and discovered that Drake denies the whole thing. Kudos to Art.

Lessons Learned

  1. This story is not about irresponsible blogging. Wes tried to contact Wiley Drake. I assume that he is among several. Wade Burleson has a reputation of trying to contact people first-hand when allegations are coming forward. We know that Wade has known about these charges at least since Monday. If Wade was unable to get in touch with Wiley Drake about them until late last night, then we can understand why Wes had trouble getting through to him.
  2. If you are going to comment publicly on current events, sooner or later you are going to need to retract and apologize. Most bloggers are capable of doing so. Some seem constitutionally incapable of doing so. I leaped to the conclusion that Drake was guilty, even if I did not post that conclusion. For that, I publicly apologize. I remain at the end of all of this just as unsupportive of the Drake election as I ever was before any of this broke, but I am much, much more sympathetic toward him if these charges are indeed unsubstantiated.
  3. The huge losers in this may be Ethics Daily and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Shame on them if they are gossip columns. Nevertheless, they deserve an opportunity to try to defend their stories. I've tried to contact the SPLC, but to no avail. Art, you seem to be the man—can you help us there?

Thursday, May 3, 2007


I offer the following wrap-up observations.
  1. This controversy ought not to be about Wes Kenney. Wes merely did what bloggers do—he commented on events that have been reported in a denominational press organ relying upon an advocacy newsletter. Wes did not break this story. Wes is one of the most evenhanded bloggers in Southern Baptist life. I cannot help but wonder where the vantage point is from which Wes Kenney is so far to the right of you that he looks like a fundamentalist. Wes is not the issue here.
  2. The election of Wiley Drake ought not to be about Wade Burleson. Bro. Wade is responsible for comments that he has made about the SBC "deserving" Wiley Drake (see here) and for pretending that the endorsement of murder (or whatever else he might have meant to typify by reference to Drake) is somehow the logical result of being a conservative Southern Baptist (see here). But unless he colluded with Ben Cole and Bill Dodson, the only responsibility he has for the VP election is his own vote, however, he voted.
  3. I am anxious to hear from Wiley Drake. It would be nice to have these charges either confirmed or denied.We have heard from Wiley Drake! Art Rogers (see here) was finally able to get through to Drake. Drake denies ever having visited the site in question. Now, I'm REALLY anxious to hear from Bob Allen over at Ethics Daily, who broke the story last week into Baptist life.
  4. I have regarded Drake's election as a disrespectful action since I learned of it. Whatever he is and whatever he believes, he was elected as a lark. That's not the right way to select our leadership. Frankly, it is the kind of petulant stunt that political movements ought to avoid if they wish to be taken seriously.


When Suetonius recorded the life of the Roman Emperor "Caligula" (Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), he provided one of the more stunning portraits of reckless abusiveness in the history of human leadership. The Roman throne had hosted ambitious manipulators and ruthless generals, but none of them proved to be more dangerous than a self-absorbed, egomaniacal, pampered-from-birth, pompous, dynastic cynic—Caligula. His reign only lasted from 37 to 41, when his own guards assassinated him.

Frivolity and disrespect were the weapons Caligula wielded to try to destroy the empire. Caligula despised the senate for daring not to yield to his wishes, and he reserved the most ridiculous of his acts of disrespect for the senate. He auctioned off the wives of Roman senators, daring them to object. Suetonius even reported that Caligula considered appointing as Consul his favorite horse, Incitatus.

Consul was not the most important office in the empire, but it was an important office. It wasn't the equivalent of a presidency—more like a vice-presidency.

Don't misunderstand Caligula's motives. He loved his horse, but Caligula did not have any high estimation of his horse's capacity for governance. Caligula was not endorsing anything his horse had done or planned to do in public service. Caligula's actions revealed nothing about his agreement or disagreement with his horse on any sort of political platform.

Nevertheless, Caligula's action is historically significant. Although it reveals very little about Caligula's opinion of his horse, it reveals a great deal about Caligula's opinion of all of the Roman government except for himself. He did not take the government seriously. He disrespected it. As far as he was concerned, the senate deserved to have to deal with his horse Incitatus.

(HT: Wes Kenney's latest post and a forum over at BaptistLife)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

But Some of the CP Money Is Ours!

In the present debates over SBC matters and in past debates during the Conservative Resurgence and before, one popular argument against SBC standards-setting has suggested that, since some of the money given through the Cooperative Program comes from people who disagree with SBC decisions, the SBC has an obligation either not to make such decisions, not to abide by its decisions, or not to accept any CP money from those who disagree. I think this will be quite simple to explain: The SBC works exactly the same way that your church works (if it practices Congregationalism). Your church freely receives contributions from any member (and probably some other people) who wish to give it. Your church receives that money with no strings attached. Your church fairly makes decisions regarding how that money will be spent. Every member has an opportunity to voice an opinion in that process of making decisions. Not every member has equal influence in your church (because the congregation gives more credence to the opinions of some), but every member has equal opportunity to influence your church. At the end of that process, the result of the decision-making process solely determines how the money will be spent. The fact that a person contributed part of the money to the budget does not mean that the final decision must accommodate that person's desires. I cannot come to church and say, "Our Sunday School class wanted nine-foot ceilings instead of eight-foot ceilings. Although the majority of the new building may have eight-foot ceilings, some portion of the facility must have nine-foot ceilings to respect our wishes, since, after all, some of that money came from us." No, we don't receive money that way and we don't make decisions that way in our churches. Neither do we do so in our conventions. Your church probably has a lot of members who would not be eligible for the various employed positions of the church. You may even have entire Sunday School classes or Bible study groups without a single qualified member. Yet your church still receives the offerings of those people and does not in the least consider itself to be violating the rights of those members to do so. The SBC is not a church, but in this particular case it operates just as churches do. If it is fair for our churches to operate this way, why not the SBC?