Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lighthearted Trivia

Can anyone (besides Keith Sanders) identify the following for me: "Classified Reconnaissance and Weapon-Capable Deep-Sea Amphibious Dredge"? We're about to find out how cultured my readership is.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Truly Befuddles Me

It is 2008. In America, we have churches within the SBC that affirm homosexuality (Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth, TX). We have a high divorce rate in our churches. Regenerate church membership, if we do not act and act soon, will be completely lost to us. Church discipline is a distant apparition of a forgotten day. The attire of many Christians differs not significantly from that of streetwalkers. Our pews are stacked with people enslaved to alcohol and prescription drugs. Biblical literacy is at an all-time low in Baptist history.

But some people seriously argue that the major problem we face in our day is legalism?

Wake up.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The BF&M: The Consensus Document?

Recently our blogging brother Les Puryear offered a piece of analysis at his blog entitled BFM2K: Not Minimal or Maximal but Consensus. In his post, Puryear strove to discard the language of "minimal" or "maximal" with regard to the application of The Baptist Faith and Message, preferring instead to refer to it as the "consensus" of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ultimate implication of Puryear's post was, contrary to the wording of the title, to make the BF&M both a maximal and a minimal document. Here's that conclusion expressed pretty plainly in the article:

For those who wish to reduce the doctrinal standards of the SBC, which are addressed by BFM2K, I submit that you are in violation of the consensus position of the SBC.

For those who wish to stipulate additional doctrinal standards which are not addressed by BFM2K, I also submit that you are in violation of the consensus position of the SBC.

Puryear buttresses his argument with language from the infamous Executive Committee statement proffered to the convention through the Garner Motion:

The Baptist Faith and Message is not a creed, or a complete statement of our faith, nor final or infallible; nevertheless we further acknowledge that it is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention and as such is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention. (emphasis mine)

Puryear includes in his article a two-point definition of "consensus" that is helpful and from which I will draw in my counter-analysis. I think that much of Puryear's analysis is thoughtful, sincere, and potentially helpful. Certainly these are the most important questions of our time in the SBC, and we do well to clarify them. I am thankful for Les Puryear's efforts in that direction.

I agree with this article and with the EC statement (which I endorsed) that the BF&M represents a consensus of SBC doctrinal opinion. However, I think that it is important to note that, by the definition of "consensus" given in Puryear's article (and it is a good and accurate definition), every decision of the SBC is a consensus decision. Thus, I can accurately say that the current trustees of the International Mission Board, approved by the messengers to the SBC, are the only consensus decision makers regarding doctrinal policies at the IMB. The rest of us can all hold our own opinions about what ought to occur there or at any other entity, but our opinions do not enjoy the gravity that trustee opinions hold by consensus action of the convention.

The BF&M is a consensus document; it is not the only, total doctrinal consensus of Southern Baptists. As "statement[s] of doctrinal beliefs" go—formal documents containing a partial listing of articles of the faith for a group of people—The Baptist Faith and Message is indeed the only one of those endorsed by the consensus opinion of the convention. However, the convention has expressed consensus upon a large number of doctrinal issues not contained in any formal "statement of doctrinal beliefs." As I stated long ago (see here), the SBC now has a consensus opinion upon global warming. Of course, some folks have taken issue with the global warming resolution, but certainly no more than have objected to the latest revision of The Baptist Faith and Message (not even as many!).

So, the Southern Baptist Convention has put its consensus behind a great number of propositions. Puryear's article mentions (even if I would give the idea more attention) what does effectively differentiate The Baptist Faith and Message from other consensus actions of the convention: certainty and importance. Southern Baptists have nowhere hinted that we enjoy no more consensus than the boundaries of the BF&M, but we have stated that we have made an effort to identify critically important items by their inclusion in the BF&M. These thoughts we identify as "those articles of the Christian faith which are most surely held among us," that is, the things about which have achieved a high level of certainty. Further in the preamble we read about the importance of these doctrines in verbiage that Puryear has quoted: "We are not embarrassed to state before the world that these are doctrines we hold precious and as essential to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice."

Nevertheless, the convention itself has demonstrated by its own actions that it is entirely capable and willing to find consensus on other items of either lesser certainty or lesser importance than the doctrines enshrined in the BF&M. Indeed, should the people of the SBC make any plain statement about the desired role for The Baptist Faith and Message, that action in and of itself would be a consensus statement outside of our statement of faith.

In conclusion, those who lead our entities find themselves discharging their duties within a number of common-sense constraints. They dare not contradict The Baptist Faith and Message where it speaks, because Southern Baptists have demonstrated their consensus behind it as an "instrument of doctrinal accountability." As such an instrument, it is a minimal statement of doctrine (to reject any portion of it is to be in disagreement with the document and to be subject to convention accountability). They dare not ignore other consensus statements of the Southern Baptist Convention, although these lack the full force of the BF&M, since Southern Baptists have not generally declared these as thoughts "most surely held" or "essential." Nevertheless, to contradict the consensus opinion of the SBC as expressed in a resolution or motion is a serious thing indeed. Finally, they dare not oppose the trustees of the institution, because they are the only consensus group of people to make decisions for the institutions which they govern.

Friday, March 21, 2008


The April 15 tax deadline is looming large on the calendar. Spending my formative years in a family business, one of the major tax decisions I recall being batted around in Dad's office each year was the subject of write-offs. For every custom job we would always manufacture a little more product than the customer ordered. That way, if something broke on the assembly line, or even if the customer broke a lamp in installation and wanted to order a replacement, we wouldn't be eight weeks away (or even longer for a single piece) from being able to deliver. But usually the products don't break, and those extras surely accumulate on the shelves over the course of a year. Then there's the problem of the occasional cancelled order or returned merchandise. For all of that inventory in the dusty parts of the warehouse, the question each year was what to write off.

The advantage of writing something off is that you can reduce the value of your inventory (and thereby your taxable income) by the entire cost of the product. But if you ever manage to sell it in the future, you have to declare the entire sales price as profit, without any allowance for the cost of the item (or the added difficulty in accounting). In the final analysis, writing off inventory is the same thing as abandoning all realistic hope of the merchandise ever being worth anything.

In the process of recovering biblical church discipline in churches, there is always the fear that a church will be perceived as unloving and intolerant if it exercises the Christ-commanded prerogative of disciplining its membership. The premise seems to be that churches have abandoned church discipline because we have grown to be more accepting of one another's faults—that a restoration of biblical church discipline is an abandonment of acceptance.

Perhaps a growing tolerance accounts for some small percentage of the causes for laxity in church discipline, but I think a far greater contributor is the growing ease with which we write off fellow members, not some growing acceptance of them. I have been guilty of blithely allowing members to wander into sin or abandon church fellowship with very little reaction on my part. God forgive me, but there have been times in my pastorate that I really didn't even notice until much later. And I've heard more than one dear brother in ministry say that there's nothing wrong with his church that a few funerals wouldn't correct. Do we so easily write off our brothers and abandon hope that "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it"?

The right way to restore biblical church discipline, I am convinced, is to recover a sense of mourning over brothers and sisters in sin. An absence of mourning over a wandering brother is a sign of arrogance (1 Cor 5:2). Oh, Father, grant that we might have hearts that yearn for a fellowship of faithfulness with all of our fellow congregants in Christ!

To make my point more poignantly, I give you Michael W. Smith:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

So Much for My Bracket

A friend invites me every year to complete a bracket for the NCAA March Madness tournament. And every year I complete my "Baptist Renaissance" bracket, picking teams based upon their religious heritage from a conservative Southern Baptist perspective.

Baylor's loss today hurts my bracket significantly, so this is already something you probably don't care about. Nevertheless, I present to you my Baptist Renaissance bracket breakdown.

Round One

  • North Carolina v Mt Saint Mary: North Carolina is a state secular school, while Mount Saint Mary is the second-oldest Catholic school in the nation. I should have picked Mount Saint Mary, but I guess it was too late at night when I picked my bracket—I picked North Carolina! That mistake messed up my bracket for a couple of rounds, but...oh well!
  • Indiana v Arkansas: Both are government schools. According to the latest Pew survey, Arkansas is one of the most Baptist states in the union. And, as we all know from "Hoosiers," Indiana worships basketball. The BR pick goes to Arkansas.
  • Notre Dame v George Mason: This one is a tough pick. Both are private schools. Notre Dame is the more conscientiously religious of the two schools. Yet George Mason was one of the architects of the First Amendment. That earns major props from this Southern Baptist. George Mason is the pick.
  • Washington State v Winthrop: Washington State is a government school. Winthrop University, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, is a private school with no discernable history of religious affiliation. Washington is a more secular state than South Carolina; therefore, the pick goes to Winthrop.
  • Oklahoma v St. Joseph's: Our church has some fine Christian young people attending OU and serving through Trinity Baptist Church of Norman, but rules are rules. OU is a government school, and Saint Joseph's is a Jesuit school. The pick goes to St. Joseph's.
  • Lousiville v Boise State: Both are secular schools. Lousiville is the home of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Boise is the home of potatoes. The pick goes to Louisville.
  • Butler v South Alabama: South Alabama is a government school in Mobile, Alabama. Butler university was founded by Ovid Butler as (originally) North Western Christian University to educate young Christians from an antebellum abolitionist perspective. The pick goes to Butler.
  • Tennessee v American: American University has enjoyed a lengthy relationship with American Methodists. Tennessee is a state school. The pick goes to American.
  • Kansas v Portland State: Both are state schools. Oregon is among the least religious states in the union. The pick goes (weakly) to Kansas.
  • UNLV v Kent State: This one was really difficult. On the one hand, Las Vegas represents everything reprehensible in human nature. On the other hand, Kent State was like the Alamo to the 60s generation, and the 60s movement represented almost everything reprehensible in human nature. Nevertheless, I cannot pick with Las Vegas, so the pick goes to Kent State.
  • Clemson v Villanova: Clemson is a state school (although it was founded by private funds from the estate of Thomas Clemson). Villanova was founded by the Augustinian order of the Roman Catholic Church. The pick goes to Villanova.
  • Vanderbilt v Siena: Siena College is Franciscan. Vanderbilt was initially a Methodist school, but it Baylored the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1914. The Methodists responded by founding SMU, by the way. So, since Siena is the only one of these schools that maintains a current religious connection, the Saints win the pick.
  • USC v Kansas State: Southern California ranks right up there with Las Vegas. The pick goes to Kansas State.
  • Wisconsin v Cal State-Fuller: In the aftermath of the recent anti-homeschooling ruling by a California court, I've pretty much decided to diss all things California. Wisconsin benefits from my ire.
  • Gonzaga v Davidson: Gonzaga is a private Jesuit school. Davidson College was once Presbyterian, but apparently was not of the elect [smirk]. The school now "extends beyond the Christian community to the whole of humanity and necessarily includes openness to and respect for the world’s various religious traditions." Uh......huh. Gonzaga gets my pick.
  • Georgetown v University of Maryland, Baltimore County: UMBC is a secular school. Georgetown is a Catholic school. Georgetown gets the pick (see, this system actually makes sense sometimes!).
  • Memphis v UTA: Although the University of Texas at Arlington is a secular school, it has awarded degrees to some key folks advancing the Baptist Renaissance. For that fact alone, I accord UTA special status. Memphis was, at one time, the headquarters of the Brotherhood Commission, but that's not enough. I award the pick to UTA.
  • Mississippi State v Oregon: Bulldogs are among the ugliest, frothiest creatures inhabiting the planet. The fact that they still exist is strong evidence against evolution. And strong evidence against evolution is a good thing to this Southern Baptist conservative. Oregon is a pretty dark place spiritually. Mississippi State gets the pick.
  • Michigan State v Temple: Michigan State is a state school. Temple was founded by Russell "If You Love Jesus You'll Be A Millionaire" Conwell through his Baptist Temple ministry. Temple all the way.
  • Pittsburgh v Oral Roberts: Part of me would like to dissociate Christianity from ORU, but Pittsburgh is a state school. The pick goes (reluctantly) to Oral Roberts. By the way, they can't burn functional CDs at Oral Roberts—the hole in the middle keeps healing up.
  • Marquette v Kentucky: With a name like Marquette, you know it's going to be a Catholic school, right? Man, those Jesuits must know something about basketball! Kentucky is a state school. Marquette gets the pick.
  • Stanford v Cornell: Please don't ever use in a sermon the story about the plain looking couple whom Harvard's president allegedly dismissed at their appearance, unwittingly forfeiting the fortune that founded Stanford. It's a lie. Leland Stanford had no apparent religious aims in founding the university, and it resides in California (see where this is headed?). Cornell University was founded as the first coeducational Ivy League school and a school open to people of all races. As an interesting side note, a large number of Stanford's early faculty came from Cornell. The pick goes to Cornell, although it is not a religious school, largely because it is not in California.
  • Miami v Saint Mary's: Let's see....Cocaine running gang members or a Catholic College in the tradition of John Baptist de La Salle? I'll have to break my California rule here, especially since "Baptist" is in the name of the college's patron. St. Mary's gets the pick.
  • Texas v Austin Peay: Both are state schools, but Austin Peay wins the pick for two reasons: First, the school is named after Tennessee Governor Austin Peay, who fought against evolution during the Scopes Trial. Second, the school sits on the former campus of Rhodes College, then called Southwestern Presbyterian College.
  • UCLA v Mississippi Valley State: Mississippi: Home of B. H. Carroll. Los Angeles: Home of Paris Hilton. I'm picking Mississippi Valley State.
  • Brigham Young v Texas A&M: I draw the line at heresies. BYU gets negative treatment for its religious status. May Judge Baylor forgive me for saying it, but Go Aggies.
  • Drake v Western Kentucky: Drake was founded by a Disciples of Christ preacher, General George T. Carpenter. Western Kentucky is a state university. The pick goes to Drake.
  • Connecticut v San Diego: Both are state schools. Connecticut gave us Isaac Backus. I pick U Conn.
  • Purdue v Baylor: Baylor was founded as a Baptist school. Purdue is a state school. Although Baylor's Baptist status remains somewhat unclear after the school's trustees stole it away from the BGCT, canned Robert Sloan for daring to articulate a thoroughly Christian vision for the school, and hired a Presbyterian to preside over the school, we must also look at the bright side. Down through its history, Baylor has trained a number of great conservative Baptists. Shoot, even I went there. Sic 'em, Bears.
  • Xavier v Georgia: By now you know how this works. Xavier is Catholic. Georgia is secular. Xavier.
  • West Virginia v Arizona: West Virginia is more religious than Arizona. I pick West Virginia.
  • Duke v Belmont: Neither school is exactly a model of Christian education. Belmont was, until recently, at least nominally Baptist. Duke was Methodist and has Satan for a mascot. I pick Belmont.

Round Two

  • North Carolina v Arkansas: According to the Pew Study, Arkansas is more Baptist than North Carolina. And I came from Arkansas, too. I pick Arkansas.
  • George Mason v Winthrop: Mason's status as a Father of the First Amendment trumps again.
  • Saint Joseph's v Louisville: Sorry, SBTS...Louisville is not a religious school. I pick Saint Joseph's.
  • Butler v American: American was specifically connected to the Methodist Church. American over Butler.
  • Kansas v Kent State: Here's my chance to knock off the 60s hippie LSD school. Go Kansas.
  • Villanova v Siena: Six one way; half a dozen the other. I think Villanova beats Siena.
  • Kansas State v Wisconsin: Kansas is a more religious state to my liking. I'm going with Kansas State.
  • Georgetown v Gonzaga: Again, I'm pretty much free to pick according to actual basketball here. I'm going with Georgetown.
  • UTA v Mississippi State: UTA gave us Emir Caner. Mississippi State gave us John Grisham. I'm going with UTA.
  • Temple v Oral Roberts: Whatever her founding, Temple's not religious any more. ORU is the pick.
  • Marquette v Cornell: Marquette.
  • Saint Mary's v Austin Peay: Saint Mary's.
  • Mississippi Valley State v Texas A&M: Texas A&M is home to one of the largest BSUs in the world. I'm going with the Aggies.
  • Drake v U Conn: Drake.
  • Baylor v Xavier: Baylor.
  • West Virginia v Belmont: Belmont.

Sweet Sixteen

  • Arkansas v George Mason: George Mason.
  • Saint Joseph's v American: Methodist beats Roman Catholic. American.
  • Kansas v Villanova: Villanova
  • Kansas State v Georgetown: Georgetown.
  • UTA v Oral Roberts: UTA's honorary Baptist standing beats the ecstatic babblers.
  • Marquette v Saint Mary's: I'll take sixth-seeded Marquette, thank you very much.
  • Texas A&M v Drake: A&M, for reasons given above.
  • Baylor v Belmont: Da Bears.

Elite Eight

  • George Mason v American: George Mason (I'm pretty big on this Religious Liberty thing, and consequently pretty happy about a judicial ruling today).
  • Villanova v Georgetown: Both Catholic. I'll take Georgetown.
  • UTA v Marquette: UTA.
  • A&M v Baylor: Now this game, I'd love to see. Baylor over A&M.

Final Four

  • George Mason v Georgetown: George Mason.
  • UTA v Baylor: Real Baptist school over honorary Baptist school: Baylor.


  • George Mason v Baylor: Baylor University, congratulations on your first men's national basketball title!

Oh well, one can always dream.

Mohler Surgery Successful

Dr. Albert Mohler expects to enjoy a full recovery from his surgery earlier today. Here is the press release:

March 20, 2008
For immediate release

Mohler recovering from surgery

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has undergone successful surgery for the removal of a pre-cancerous tumor from his colon. The surgery was performed in Louisville on March 20. Results of pathological testing on the tumor are not yet available, but doctors expect Mohler, 48, to have a full recovery. The tumor was discovered during a routine colonoscopy in February.

The Mohler family has expressed appreciation for all concern, prayer and encouragement.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Interpreting the Bible, Part 1

The One and Only Interpretation

In many sectors of American religion, the worst accusation that one can level against an opponent is to allege that he believes his is "the one and only interpretation of the Bible." Such a person, the rhetoric goes, is the epitome of hubris, putting himself in the place of God. It's a great line of argumentation to play toward a people incredulous of metanarratives.

Unfortunately, it is an argument that reinforces a deadly evil in contemporary American thought rather than correcting it. The concept of "the one and only interpretation of the Bible" is itself soundly biblical:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (II Peter 1:20-21, NASB)

So, to deny the existence of "the one and only interpretation of the Bible" or to run away from "the one and only interpretation of the Bible" is to contradict the Bible. Every passage of the Bible means precisely what God intended for it to mean—nothing more and nothing less. Although I believe that the "book" in view here is the Book of Revelation, surely the concluding words of the Bible give us some impression of how God feels about the addition to or subtraction from what God has spoken:

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19, NASB)

From that passage I deduce at least this: God does care whether we subtract from His message or add to it. Does this apply only to manipulation of the words of the text, or does it not also apply to the denial that those words actually, objectively, mean anything?

In the task of biblical interpretation, "the one and only interpretation" of a passage is a foundational concept. Indeed, it is the mission. The ten-dollar seminary word for the task of interpreting the Bible is hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the quest for "the one and only interpretation" of the passage. Any time that it does not result in "the one and only interpretation" of a passage, hermeneutics has failed. The Bible is not about our diversity; it is about God's singular revealed truth.

"The one and only interpretation" of the Bible or of a biblical passage does not mean that every passage is monolithic. God is capable of metaphor, subtlety, and even double-entendre. It means not that any passage can have only one meaning (Isaiah 7:10-16, for example), but that there is one and only one right opinion, however complex it might be, as to what any given passage means—God's opinion of what He intended to say.

Next segment: Hermeneutics and the phrase "I don't know."

Monday, March 17, 2008


I am returning early (two funerals) from FBC Deweyville, TX, where First Baptist Church of Farmersville wraps up its second mission trip of the year (of six planned this year) on Wednesday. Deweyville lies just across the Sabine River from Louisiana, out in the country. The nearest urban center is Orange, TX.

Upon arriving in Deweyville, I was a little dismayed to discover that my cell phone didn't work there. Also, there was no wi-fi in the church gymnasium where we were staying, and the office only had a dial-up Internet connection. Our entire team was a little bummed out to learn that we would be several days without cell phone service.

Then, late this morning, I spent a while visiting with the Associate Pastor of FBC Deweyville. After Hurricane Rita passed through the area, Deweyville was without ELECTRICITY for TWO MONTHS.

That little revelation put things into perspective for me.

Speaking of perspective, I hope that the victims of Hurricane Rita haven't dropped out of yours. FBC Farmersville's first mission trip of the year was to Waveland, MS, where we continue to fulfill our ongoing commitment to serving the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Members of FBC Farmersville were on the ground at Houston's Reliant Astrodome to serve Katrina victims just days after the storm, and these fine people whom I love continue to serve the victims of Katrina.

But don't forget about the victims of Hurricane Rita in Deep East Texas. Our crew is repairing a home near Kirbyville that was bisected by a fallen tree. Meanwhile, this afternoon, our children gathered fallen limbs into a burn pile near an elderly woman's mobile home in Deweyville. More than two years after the storms these residences remain uninhabitable, their residents stuck in limbo until someone will help them overcome the storm's havoc.

Don't stop a thing that you are doing to help Katrina victims, but do you think that your church might be able to add some volunteers or resources to assist the victims of Hurricane Rita as well? If so, I commend to you the fine folks at Nehemiah's Vision. Our church was able to be present at FBC Vidor last Sunday night as Nehemiah's Vision celebrated their 500th residence repaired since Rita. FBCF has helped with six of those houses. Your church can help, too.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

One Man's Trash...

Today I direct you to a recent article at SBC Outpost. They derive pleasure from attacking Dr. Patterson and SWBTS. I like to say good things about them. Rarely can we both take pleasure in the same material.

But today marks that rare occasion. Dr. Patterson, according to SBC Outpost, does not believe that anyone receiving a CP paycheck at SWBTS ought to be a member of homosexuality-affirming Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth. SBC Outpost wants you to know about this in the hopes that you will think less of Dr. Patterson and SWBTS for their uncompromising standards. People in the comment stream over there are scandalized to think that a Southern Baptist seminary wouldn't have professors serving as members in any old church that they want.

I direct you to this post because I'm proud of any stand SWBTS takes against this blatant abomination before God.

In Greensboro Dr. Mohler gave thanks that, because of the Conservative Resurgence, Southern Baptists weren't having to debate things like homosexuality. Now, apparently, a conversation has broken out regarding the kind of "narrowing of parameters" that would have Southern Baptist seminary professors not hold membership in homosexuality-affirming churches. But I predict it to be a short-lived conversation.

By the way, where in The Baptist Faith & Message does it say that seminary professors shouldn't be members of homosexuality-affirming churches?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Happy Birthday, SWBTS

This year the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary celebrates the 100th anniversary of its own founding in Waco, Texas. Born in the postmillennial fever that anticipated "The Christian Century" (yeah, right), Southwestern has endured more hardship than perhaps the witnesses to its founding could have imagined. But through it all, God has used the seminary to accomplish much for His Kingdom and to make deep marks upon the visage of the Southern Baptist Convention. The founding of SWBTS was, I believe, significant to the larger history of the Southern Baptist Convention in several ways.

  1. The founding of SWBTS demonstrated that the Southern Baptist Convention was large and healthy enough to keep multiple seminaries afloat. A mere forty years earlier it was not at all a settled question as to whether Southern Baptists needed even one seminary. I believe that the founding of Southwestern Seminary is, in this way, a testament to the burgeoning success that Southern Seminary experienced during the New South period.
  2. SWBTS's founding both gave evidence of and accelerated a major westward shift of the center of influence within the Southern Baptist Convention. During the nineteenth century, people from Atlanta, Richmond, Nashville, and Charleston dominated the Southern Baptist Convention. The twentieth century witnessed the rise of Memphis, Jackson, Dallas, and Waco to positions of significant influence. Certainly the bare facts of westward migration account for some of this shift, but the existence of SWBTS ameliorated the "brain drain" that resulted from putting all of the most promising preachers from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma onto Louisville-bound trains. SWBTS arrived on the scene as the convention was passing a baton from Boyce, Broadus, Manley, Howell, Graves, and Dagg to Gambrell, Carroll2, Truett, Buckner, and Burleson.
  3. The founding of SWBTS hastened the waning of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is the fountainhead of Calvinism in the SBC and has been since its inception. SWBTS emerged not so much as an anti-Calvinistic seminary but as a seminary a bit more disinterested. Over time, some organized resistance to Calvinism grew among some of the SWBTS faculty. For an earlier research project I read through all of the papers of W. T. Conner. His growing dissatisfaction with Calvinism (which he regarded as Southern Baptist "orthodoxy") is a passionate focus within some of his personal correspondence. Of course, Calvinism was on the wane at Southern as well during the twentieth century (Dale Moody, anyone?), but the emergence of alternatives to Southern seminary within Southern Baptist life served to erode Calvinistic hegemony over the theological education of Southern Baptist pastors.
  4. Although B. H. Carroll may have anticipated a save haven for Landmarkism at SWBTS, quite the opposite eventually developed. Of course, the basement of Fort Worth Hall is the birthplace of The Trail of Blood, but J. M. was quickly replaced with other voices. The influence of Baker and Barnes, Estep and McBeth, built a Church History department that, as much as any institution in the convention, waged war on Landmarkism.
  5. SWBTS elevated more-pragmatic, less-ideological subjects as academic disciplines in their own rights. The role of the Evangelism department at SWBTS is emblematic in this regard. The concept has spread far beyond SWBTS. On the one hand, it has served to guard us against a cold, intellectual orthodoxy. I believe that the emphasis upon pragmatics at SWBTS is one reason why advancing Modernism and Neo-Orthodoxy did not enjoy quite as much success in Fort Worth as it did in other climes. On the other hand, perhaps the SWBTS mindset has played some role in the propagation of the bald pragmatism that has such a stranglehold on our denomination today. I offer this one not so much as a conclusion I have drawn, but as a hypothesis I'm stirring around in my brain.

I could go on, but I'll bore you no longer. Seminary Hill has helped to shape the history of the SBC. Much in the past century is worth celebrating. I exercise my gift for understatement when I say that Southwestern Seminary has been a blessing to my life. I offer thanks to B. H. Carroll for his inspirational vision of seminary education. I offer thanks to Lee Scarborough for persevering through the worst of times. I offer thanks to our brethren in Louisville, whose financial bailout in the abyssal of the Great Depression preserved Southwestern to endure to this day. Most of all, I thank the teeming masses of Southern Baptists whose Cooperative Program dollars and other contributions have provided for me to attend SWBTS.

May the next century eclipse the first.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Zero to Forty in One Careless Moment

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released today the first comprehensive study of sexually transmitted diseases among adolescents (HT: The Dallas Morning News). News agencies are releasing the story with the headline "At least 1 in 4 teen girls has a sexually transmitted disease." Digging into the figures, we learn that the rate of infection among teen girls who admit to being sexually active is actually over 40 percent.

The infection rate for sexually transmitted diseases among abstinent teen girls: 0%.

The infection rate for sexually transmitted diseases among fornicating teen girls: 40%

It is too wild a ride to go from 0 to 40 in one careless moment. No matter how the world lampoons us for doing so, if we care at all about people we will continue to preach abstinence and advocate it as public healthy policy.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Grinning and Greening

My last post was a little skeletal, so I thought I would offer a few more thoughts about the recent ecostatement by some Southern Baptists.

Global warming. Man! Is there such a thing as a QUATERNARY doctrine? Because, for all the talk about creation care and the like, can anyone identify a single Southern Baptist who's saying, "Pollute the land! Crank out the chemicals! Let it all BURN!!!"? I think that Southern Baptists are in consensus that God has commissioned us to have dominion over the earth. I think that Southern Baptists are in consensus that littering or pollution or the lacing of public drinking water with hexavalent chromium is wrong. Nobody thinks that God's plan is Love Canal.

"Creation care" we're in agreement on; global warming we're not so sure about. And we're not so sure about Kyoto and its "pollute all you want" pass to places like China. If I buy a hybrid car, will the electricity I use to charge it pollute the atmosphere more or less than the gasoline I was using to fill my old car? If I buy ethanol, doesn't that cause more chemicals to be sprayed all across Iowa to grow the corn?

Is there any substantial disagreement among Southern Baptists on issues actually touching upon the THEOLOGY of "creation care"? Or is it basically a difference over which of conflicting political approaches to endorse in trying to care for creation?

And if it is the latter, how important is that, really?

In my last post, I speculated that the recent statement was all about public perception. I offered that speculation without offering evaluation. I'll fill in the blanks now. I'm not sure that this action will help public perception of Southern Baptists at all. I don't think there's anything wrong with paying an appropriate level of attention to public perception. As a pastor, I sometimes consider public perception of my actions. We're foolhardy if we completely disregard public perception. I don't think that our ideology or the truth should ever be at the mercy of our quest for positive public perception, but a desire to improve public perception of Southern Baptists by the world is not, in and of itself, a bad thing.

But perhaps, just maybe, it harms public perception in some ways for a bevy of Southern Baptist employees to go out of their way to slap at a resolution just adopted by the SBC in the immediately preceding annual meeting. Global warming is a topic on which people are certainly free to arrive at their own opinions. But before I would rise up to rebuke the SBC in The New York Times, I would want it to be a pretty important issue, especially if I were regularly cashing a CP paycheck. [NO, I don't want ANYBODY getting into any TROUBLE over this. I'm just saying that it has a negative effect on public perception] Somebody should have rebuked the SBC on the issue of slavery, but on CO2 emissions?

I can't help but think that some of the people involved didn't anticipate that this statement would be construed as a rebuttal of our Southern Baptist messenger body. After all, Baptist Press is reporting that Frank Page endorses the past two SBC resolutions on the topic in addition to this statement. BP also reports that negotiations were ongoing with the ERLC involving some modifications of the document but not a final endorsement. Obviously at least some of the people generally in support of the idea were trying to achieve different wordings of the text.

And, of course, a great many of the signatories don't work for the SBC and can disagree any old time they want to, but let's do so agreeably, and preferably away from CNN.

While we're greening, let's keep grinning at one another.

First Church of the Weather

From the recent climate change statement by some Southern Baptist leaders (see here), the key line is:

Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed.

This thing is an attempt to shape public perception of Southern Baptists more than anything else. Just my opinion.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Rock and the Hard Place

It is the policy of First Baptist Church of Farmersville and all of her staff and volunteers to report to the police immediately any allegation of a sex-related crime. Stay in ministry to very many people for very long in this day and age, and you're going to wind up in a situation to apply such a policy.

Story Number One

Quite some time ago in my ministry a girl (let's call her Eve) came to me and reported that she had been the underage victim of a sexual assault. She said that a non-minor cousin had sexually assaulted her and that her parents were considering letting this cousin stay with the family for the summer. I reassured her that we would do everything that we could to keep her safe, and I immediately picked up the phone and called the police.

A couple of days later, Eve came to me and said that Child Protective Services had launched an investigation of the circumstances in her home. She begged me to withdraw my phone call, saying that she had made the whole thing up. I told her that I could not stop the investigation and would not do so if I could. She could be recanting under duress, after all. The only safe thing to do was to let CPS complete their investigation. CPS determined that the cousin hadn't even been around when the incident had been alleged to have taken place. Eve had, as she admitted to me, made the entire story up.

Story Number Two

Barely a year ago today a wise and observant member of our church staff overheard a conversation between teenagers talking about a car that just didn't sound right. He followed up and dug deeper, and the teenager in question alleged that a single male member of our congregation had sexually assaulted him. The police were notified that night in the middle of the night. Within a few weeks we had uncovered a serial sexual predator. He's now awaiting trial and sentencing, and I give the credit to that faithful pastor here at our church.

Story Number Three

A few years back I was trying to help a married couple piece things back together. The wife began to email me with questions about the counseling. I answered the first one. On the second one, I asked her to wait until our next meeting, suggesting to her that her husband needed to be present to benefit from the conversation. Within a few weeks, she was emailing me love poetry on a nearly daily basis. She claimed to be hearing secret messages from me encoded in not only my sermons but also the things that other people were saying from the platform. I terminated the counseling relationship at the first conclusive sign that things were going wrong, and I eventually encouraged the husband to seek psychological help for his wife. The wife's behavior was compulsive, and we eventually had to ask this family to go to church somewhere else.

Fortunately, I had never been alone with this woman, I had shown my wife every piece of correspondence both ways, and the entire church (among those who learned about the situation) trusted me completely in this situation.

Lessons Learned

  1. There is such a thing as a false accusation, and the ramifications of forwarding a false accusation can be devastating for everyone involved.
  2. There is such a thing as a genuine accusation, and the ramifications of failing to forward a genuine accusation can be devastating for everyone involved.
  3. There is no definitive criterion by which anyone can tell the difference between a false accusation and a genuine accusation upon hearing one.
  4. Get it right 9,999 times while getting it wrong once, and some people will allege that you're sitting in your office all day rooting for the perverts to victimize innocent children.
  5. Where there is an allegation of criminal activity, the only safe course of action is to report the allegation to the authorities reflexively and without further thought.
  6. It is really hard not to cherish the idea of sex offenders roasting in Hell for putting us all through these trials, but even some things that are hard to do are worth doing nonetheless.
  7. Where there is no allegation of a crime, you're going to have to seek God's wisdom and use your own judgment. May God have mercy on your soul if you're wrong, because nobody else will.
  8. Let us all approach these issues reminding ourselves:
    • My daughter may be a victim someday. If she reached out to somebody, what would I want them to do about it?
    • My son may be falsely accused someday. If he were, what standard would I want people to apply in determining his guilt or innocence before proceeding to destroy his life?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Endorsements: Bill Wagner for President

No, not of the Southern Baptist Convention, although I know that is the post which he is seeking. I think Bill Wagner would make an excellent president of the newly formed Antioch Network of Churches.

  1. Wagner is the President of a Pedobaptist theological seminary. The ANC needs somebody at the helm who realizes that THERE IS NO SECONDARY DOCTRINE. By golly, if it ain't primary, it's tertiary.
  2. The statement of faith in force at the institution that Wagner leads is a pretty good match for the statement of faith in force over at the Antioch Network of Churches. No doctrinal strangleholds here. I find it hard to imagine a single Christian who couldn't affirm the statement of faith. Can you imagine how much easier Christian unity would be if God hadn't bothered to write SO MUCH scripture? Really, this postcard theology is all we need.
  3. Wade Burleson likes him. He'd be a shoe-in over at the ANC.

But, there are a few obstacles that Wagner would have to overcome.

  1. According to this interview, Wagner is still confused over the meaning of the Garner motion. To get the full blessing of the ANC folks, he's going to have to swear on a stack of tNIV Bibles that no human being drawing breath could ever be confused as to the meaning of the Garner motion. He'll need to repent of being confused, explain that he really has known all along the plain, simple meaning of the motion, and pass between the hewn carcasses of oxen and rams covenanting to uphold the One Catholic Apostolic meaning of the Garner motion.
  2. Wagner's campaign website lists a faculty berth at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary among his "Current Positions," as does his campaign blog (word has it that Wagner also has a campaign manager—do we need to enact McCain-Feingold for campaigns for SBC high office?). Burleson et al will be forced to decry the horrible corruption imminently on the horizon should an agency employee be elected as SBC President (that's a deeply held conviction among our dissenting brethren, you know).

Still, all things considered, campaigning to preside over the Antioch Network of Churches rather than the Southern Baptist Convention would remove the last obstacle, and I'm sure that Wagner would be open to instruction on the first. It is settled in my mind: Wagner for President (ANC).

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Horrible Court Decision

<understatement>I don't always agree with everything Marty Duren writes.</understatement> But I heartily AMEN every word of his latest post. When I finally made it home this evening, I asked my precious wife if she had heard about this atrocious decision in California. She replied, "I've heard about it, signed the online petition to depublish the decision, and emailed it to every member of Farmersville Association of Christian Educators."

That's the girl I married, folks. Don't mess with her unless you've got a death-wish.

Basically, homeschooling was declared illegal today in California, one of two major trendsetting states in US Education practices. Marty thinks it was a really bad decision. I think it is an alarming bellwether for these turbulent times.

I'm guessing that neither Marty nor I think that we just ought to say "Oh, well," and passively accept the decision of that court. I certainly haven't concluded that I can't discuss the matter until and unless I go out and get a law degree.

I think it might be wise for homeschoolers across the country to seek specific sanction by amendment to their state constitutions. What do my readers think of that idea? Otherwise, rather than the much-ballyhooed "exit strategy" from public schools, we may find ourselves having to come up with escape routes.

Seminaries and Professors? Churches and Ministers? A Case Precedent Worth Considering

Last January, in the initial days of the Klouda lawsuit, I pointed the attention of the blogosphere to the earlier precedent set by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. As I noted last year, this case involves the same institution and essentially the exact same question as the current Klouda case.

The entire section quoted below is relevant to current circumstances. One sentence I find most interesting. It appears that even in the Dilday administration more than twenty years ago Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary expected that faculty "[model] the ministerial role for the students." Not all ministers are pastors—other schools exist beyond the School of Theology and other degrees exist beyond the MDiv, after all. But the raison d'être of the School of Theology is to train pastors. If faculty are expected to be model pastors for future pastors, does it not make sense that they be qualified to serve as pastors? And even if you disagree, mustn't you concede that such an argument is reasonable?

A. Is the Seminary a "Church"?

We come now to the crux of this case: the proper characterization of the Seminary. The EEOC describes the Seminary as a religiously affiliated institution. The Seminary claims it is wholly religious.

Since we have already distinguished Mississippi College on this issue, see Part II, supra, we turn to McClure. Our task in discerning the nature of the Seminary and the role of its employees is more difficult than that the court faced in McClure. There, all parties agreed that the Salvation Army was a religion and McClure was a minister, id. at 556. Clearly, the Seminary is an integral part of a church, essential to the paramount function of training ministers who will continue the faith. It is not intended to foster social or secular programs that may entertain the faithful or evangelize the unbelieving. Its purpose is to indoctrinate those who already believe, who have received a divine call, and who have expressed an intent to enter full-time ministry. The local congregation that regularly meets in a house of worship is not the only entity covered by our use of the word "church." That much is clear from McClure. In the Baptist denomination, the Convention is formed to serve all participating local congregations. The fact that those who choose to participate in the Convention do so voluntarily renders it no less deserving of the protection of McClure. Since the Seminary is principally supported and wholly controlled by the Convention for the avowed purpose of training ministers to serve the Baptist denomination, it too is entitled to the status of "church."

B. Who are the "Ministers"?

This is a more difficult question. The parties have identified three categories of Seminary employees: faculty, administrative staff, and support staff. The district court concluded that the first two groups should be considered ministers, while the latter group were not "ministers in the formal sense." To the extent that these findings indicate determinations of fact by the district court, they must be accepted unless clearly erroneous. Fed.R.Civ.P. 52. The status of these employees as ministers for purposes of McClure remains a legal conclusion subject to plenary review. The Seminary urges that all its employees serve a ministerial function. While religious organizations may designate persons as ministers for their religious purposes free from any governmental interference, bestowal of such a designation does not control their extra-religious legal status.

The district court found that the Seminary makes employment decisions regarding faculty members largely on religious criteria. This finding is supported by the record. As previously discussed, the level of personal religious commitment of faculty members is considered more important than their devotion to the Baptist church or their academic abilities, though all of these qualities are desirable. According to Dr. Dilday, President of the Seminary, there is no course taught at the Seminary that has a strictly secular purpose; Dr. Naylor, the Seminary's President Emeritus, testified similarly. Though the record indicates that ministers are ordained by local churches and not by the Seminary, most of the faculty have been ordained. The Seminary expects the faculty to teach by example as well as by other means. The faculty models the ministerial role for the students. Based on the district court's findings of fact, we conclude that the faculty at the Seminary fit the definition of "ministers" for the purpose of applying McClure.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Klouda Refused To Take Position at SWBTS

Recent publication of documents over at SBC Outpost (thanks for all that research, guys) reveal that SWBTS offered Dr. Sheri Klouda an ongoing position working in Roberts Library with no reduction in salary or benefits. Klouda rejected the offer and announced that she was going to take a position at Taylor University.

Of course, that is Dr. Klouda's prerogative. She wants to teach; therefore, she chose to take an available teaching job over a job directing the writing center at Roberts Library. I don't blame her for that.

Nevertheless, the revelation does significantly change things. Previous anti-Patterson, anti-SWBTS spin now falls pretty flat:

  1. Klouda's alleged reduction in income, change in health benefits for her husband, and necessity of selling a house in the DFW area are now clearly shown to be a result of her own decision. The administration at SWBTS gave her an opportunity to avoid any and all of those inconveniences, which she declined of her own free will.
  2. Funds were solicited to meet the resultant financial hardship, all upon the pretext that Dr. Klouda had been forced to move and take a lower salary against her will. That now appears not to have been the case. She was apparently required not to teach Hebrew at SWBTS and not to serve on the faculty of the School of Theology, but it does not appear that anyone at SWBTS required her to suffer any loss of income or benefits, nor that anyone required her to change residences.
  3. The position offered to Dr. Klouda is admittedly a much less prestigious position than her former professorship. Nobody will characterize this as a step up (or even a lateral move). Angered at the loss of her professorship, perhaps Dr. Klouda didn't want the seminary's help. It's an emotion that we've all probably harbored at some point or another, and with which we all can likely sympathize to some degree. Many would perhaps swallow pride if the livelihood of the family were at stake.
  4. But the fact that SWBTS employed Dr. Klouda for two additional years and then offered her another ongoing position certainly reflects that the seminary administration made extensive good-faith efforts to deal compassionately with Dr. Klouda in the aftermath of their theological disagreements. Anyone who has served in a leadership or supervisory capacity can also sympathize with the difficulty of giving bad news to someone, of trying to soften the blow and extend every courtesy in light of the circumstances, and yet encountering someone so angry over the state of affairs as to reject offered kindnesses and lash out.
  5. Dr. Blaising apparently labored to help Dr. Klouda find another teaching position. From all that we've read from many in the blog world, Dr. Klouda is an exemplary academic and a teacher par excellence. Since we also know that our Southern Baptist seminaries are among the lowest paying jobs in Christian academics, can't we have some optimism that a highly qualified scholar will soon be earning far more than she earned in Fort Worth? A degree in Hebrew is not nearly as parochial as my Baptist History credentials.

All of that simply to show that the seminary has not imposed any financial hardship upon Dr. Klouda. Now I know…many of you out there have theological and ideological objections to the events surrounding Dr. Klouda at SWBTS. The seminary has opined that those training pastors ought to be capable of serving as pastors. Dr. Klouda disagrees. So do a number of blogging brethren. It is a theological disagreement.

I respect your right to hold your theological views. I respect Dr. Klouda's right to hold hers. I respect Dr. Patterson's right to hold his, and Dr. Blaising's right to hold his. I respect the right of the trustees of SWBTS to form seminary policy according to their theological convictions as guided by the study of scripture and the will of the convention expressed in the history of our institutions, our statement of faith, and the practice of sister entities.

What I do not acknowledge or respect is the right of the United States Government even to hold a theological viewpoint, much less to adjudicate it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Huck's Army

Thank you, Mike Huckabee, for running hard unto the end. I committed to cast my vote for Mike Huckabee, confident that he would not win the Republican nomination. I offer the same commitment tonight to Senator John McCain with regard to the general election, and with precisely the same confidence (although with not nearly the same enthusiasm).

Our Servants at GuideStone

Baptist Press provides for us today an article entitled "Hawkins Notes GuideStone's Servant Role." A young woman whom I once had the privilege to pastor now works at GuideStone, and she has confirmed for me the steadfast dedication of the employees there. I had occasion to drive past the GuideStone building in uptown Dallas not long ago. Before 6:00 a.m. a steady stream of modest cars were streaming into GuideStone's parking garage. These servants go to work early for you!

A heartfelt thank you to those who serve us at GuideStone. Your dedication has been noted by such as the folks at Lipper. Neither do they go unnoticed by those at First Baptist Church of Farmersville and thousands of other churches around the nation.

Religious Liberty and the Definition of "Church"

Is the Southern Baptist Convention a "church"? How about a state convention body? A local association? A mission board? A seminary?

Ecclesiologically, Southern Baptists tend to regard the cooperative efforts of multiple local congregations as something other than a church. In Nashville in 2005, Bobby Welch was careful to note that the SBC was not performing the baptisms that were taking place beside the stage—that we were merely witnessing the baptisms that Nashville area churches were performing in our presence. Churches, not people, constitute the membership of the convention, which is a fellowship of churches rather than a church itself. Strictly speaking, we consider our cooperative entities to be more para-church than church.

Nevertheless, our Baptist commitment to religious liberty has caused us to hold that the government has no business employing our theology against us to grant favorable treatment to one denomination over another because of the various ways that various denominations draw the boundaries of church. Such action constitutes at least a partial de facto establishment of special privilege to one denomination of faith over another.

Consider, for example, the recent case that pitted the tax assessor of Tarrant County, Texas, against the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC). The SBTC constructed its headquarters in Tarrant County and applied for religious exemption from property tax. The tax assessor initially denied the application, arguing that the SBTC, according to its own theology, is not a church and is not employed primarily for "religious worship." Other denominational headquarters within Tarrant County (the Methodists, for example) had been granted exemption for facilities that served nearly precisely the same functions as the SBTC headquarters, solely on the grounds that the polities of these denominations defined the boundaries of the church differently.

The SBTC appealed the ruling and the courts overturned the decision of the tax assessor. The eventual decision was the right one: The government has no authority to apply the same laws differently to various denominations because of their differing theological views. Theology is beyond the government's authority.

So, is a Southern Baptist seminary a church? As far as the brusque arm of federal intrusiveness is concerned, you bet it is. I'm not even saying that the federal government has no right to answer the question differently than I have; I'm saying that the federal government has no right to consider the question at all on a denomination-by-denomination basis.

As I've been saying for more than a year, the proponents of the Klouda case are, in their short-sightedness, hard at work to sell our Baptist and American birthright of religious liberty for a bowl of vindictive porridge. As the SBTC case demonstrates, the issues at play here are far-reaching and significant. Let's keep Pandora's grubby hands off of this particular box.