Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Resolution on Regenerate Church Membership

Tomorrow I will begin my BlogOver 2008. It may take me away for longer than I have intended, because I have developed some sort of infection in my left eye that has it bloodshot, leaking mucus, and partially shut. Of course, Paul apparently did a good job of presenting the gospel while possibly suffering from a similar condition, so maybe God will bring me some opportunities to share the gospel with medical personnel and pharmacists.

While I am away, I hope that you will visit and endorse the Resolution on Regenerate Church Membership, being hosted at a new website, Convictional Baptists, that I have created as a resource site for the principles articulated in the Fifth Century Initiative. At the moment, the resolution is the only content on the site, but that will change rapidly.

Tom Ascol is the man who has championed the concept of a resolution along these lines, and Tom will be bringing his own resolution again this year. I'm thankful to see the inclusion of language about believer's baptism in Tom's resolution this year. The similarities between the two resolutions outweigh the differences, although I prefer our resolution. I expect that there will be many people who affirm both resolutions in the days leading up to Indianapolis.

Anyway, visit the site and add your endorsement if you are so inclined.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bart's Analysis of Ed's Analysis of the SBC

Dr. Ed Stetzer has offered his analysis of the current state of the Southern Baptist Convention arising out of his interpretation of Lifeway Research's latest report on ACP figures. The ripples have spread throughout Christenblogdom (see several reactions traced here). Stetzer on the same day recorded an interview with Chris Elrod (available at SBC Voices) discussing the report.

I suppose the reaction has been precisely what we all might expect—everyone in Southern Baptist life has used the statistics as a "See, I told you so" for whatever they presently dislike about the SBC (Calvinism, a dogged insistence upon being Baptist, the Conservative Resurgence, not chasing the culture fast enough). Along with every "See, I told you so," has been a stern "You guys just don't get it," in reply to the other groups' "See, I told you so."

And, of course, I'm eager to join the party and assert that the situation addressed in The Fifth Century Initiative is precisely the cause for the present Southern Baptist malaise. In fact, Ed's very next post supports the theory that a return to regenerate church membership alone would do wonders for our evangelistic effectiveness, even if nothing else in the SBC changed.

Eventually, somebody is going to ask how so many people can look at the same numbers and come to such vastly differing interpretations of the data. Some of those who are so enthusiastic about abandoning any hope of arriving at a clear interpretive answer with regard to what the Bible says are the most emphatic that we must all come to the one and only uniform interpretive answer with regard to what the latest ACP says (I love irony). But maybe it will be helpful for me to go a different direction with this post. Why does Ed see these numbers as calling for one set of actions in the SBC, while I see them calling for another? Perhaps a starting point for an answer will be to examine things that I think are presumptions that I do not share with Ed.

First, I do not agree that Southern Baptists are still doing what we did in the 1950s. The only people who say such things are people who were not alive and ministering in the 1950s. In the 1950s Southern Baptists were faithfully going to church three times weekly. They had robust Discipleship Training programs ongoing. They had two evangelistic crusades (which they called revival meetings) every year. Some of these would last two weeks. People in the churches not only attended, but they also invited lost people to come to these meetings and sought their salvation. The Southern Baptist Convention was able to coordinate a nationwide revival strategy entitled "A Million More in '54" during the 1950s.

Now, setting aside the discussion as to whether a similar approach would work today, can anyone with a straight face suggest that the Southern Baptist people are doing today what they were doing in the 1950s? One might make a very cogent case that the problem with Southern Baptists is that we have stopped doing what we did in the 1950s and can't seem to find the resolve to do it again. The members of my congregation are not 1950s people, they are not emulating the 1950s. They weren't alive then. They can't emulate the 1950s. But even if they were 1950s people—even if they just stepped out of Marty McFly's Delorean—a people busy sharing the gospel are doing their jobs as Christian witnesses. I firmly believe that a geek, a dork, a cowboy, a jock, a prom queen, a Napoleon Dynamite, a wallflower, or anyone else can be equally effective in sharing the faith just by being equally persistent in sharing the faith. Sometimes it just seems like Ed is suggesting that the world can't hear us share the gospel until they think we're cool. Ed probably wouldn't say it in those words, but that's what it sounds like. I don't agree with that presumption, because the power is in the gospel, not in our contextualization of it. And no, I'm not opposed to contextualization, I just think that the power is in the gospel and not in the contextualization.

Second, I do not agree that Southern Baptists can improve our missional PR by becoming less controversial. I agree that the world often regards us as controversialists. I agree that many people know us more for what we're against than for what we're for. But here's the thing: That's not a phenomenon that has anything to do with private prayer language, the relationship between eternal security and baptism, or even the inerrancy of scripture. Most lost people don't even know what those things are. Those who know us by what we're against, well, they know that we're against homosexuality and abortion and universalism. They know that we dare to think that the Bible teaches that Jews and Muslims and most Catholics are going to Hell. They've never heard of the Conservative Resurgence. When they complain that Christianity is divided and fractious (in my experience of witnessing to hostile lost people), they're talking about the fact that there are so many denominations of Christianity and they're talking about the crusades or the Civil War or the Civil Rights movement. They're not talking about appointment guidelines for the IMB.

So, if we could wave a magic wand and make all of the blog wars of the past two years vanish overnight, that wouldn't get anyone's attention outside our little ghetto. The only reason that the recent climate change statement had legs press-wise is because it was interpreted as an in-your-face toward other Southern Baptists, and therefore, as a controversy. Unless and until we are prepared to jettison biblical morality and compromise the gospel, we're not going to improve our PR status in this world. Ed Stetzer knows the research well enough to know that our stance on homosexuality alone is a huge obstacle for young lost people when it comes to the SBC.

But, Ed Stetzer is not prepared to jettison those things. I know that he's not. And they can much more readily be attached to our declining numbers than can our internecine debates. If Ed wants those debates to end, it must be for other reasons or because of some way in which he conjectures that the two topics are related.

I do not agree that declining numbers alone are a clarion call for action in the SBC. I think that there is a clarion call for action in the SBC, but the indicators are in our eroding beliefs and anemia in obedience to Christ's commands. If we were solid in our theology and faithful in our obedience to share the gospel, live transformed lives, and order ourselves biblically, then we shouldn't change no matter how much our numbers might decline. Stetzer's quote from Cal Guy measures the pragmatic impact of a person's theology in terms of what believers do, not in terms of how unbelievers respond to what believers do. Ultimately, our theology must make some account for Matthew 7:13-14.

I can count on my hands and feet the number of Southern Baptists I know who ever present the gospel to anybody. And I've been a member of six SBC churches in three states over a period covering more than three decades. Unless I've just been extremely unlucky in my acquaintances, these facts alone indicate a problem regardless of our membership numbers.

I say this because there are bad ways to chase numbers. Joel Osteen has great numbers, and you call tell from the videos that Ed's not on the same page as Osteen. We've got to have a different standard by which we can measure fruit, and we need to promote those standards of biblical obedience rather than statistical benchmarks.

I do not agree that we are necessarily losing the leaders we need to survive into the next century. Having a promising ministry in a local church is not the same thing as being a potential leader in a network of churches. Different tasks require different skills and callings. William Carey was pretty ineffective as a local church pastor, but brilliant as a missionary translator and strategist. James P. Eagle was never any more than an itinerant bivocational pastor, with no formal pastoral training and no record of significant accomplishment as a pastor, yet he is the patriarch of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and gave strong leadership to the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1890s and 1900s. We ought always to be careful of thinking that we can identify whom God will or will not raise up to lead His people. Here's a thought experiment for you: Our denominational contests of the past three years have witnessed the emergence of key leaders on the respective sides. How many of them could you have identified or predicted five years ago?

How many lapsed Southern Baptists are becoming key leaders in some other denomination? From my observation, most of the individuals whom I would guess that Stetzer has in view are choosing to forego denominations entirely and either do their own thing in isolation or work in some small homogenous group. If the Southern Baptist Convention is becoming small and homogenous, it is more likely because it is emulating these people than because it is rejecting them. For whatever my opinion is worth (and I'm sure you'll all tell me!), a great many people reject working in established denominations for the same reasons that they reject working in established congregations—they want to work in a context in which they can do things the way they want without having to convince anyone else. Such is not the mark of our great potential leaders of the future, IMHO. They're great at leading people who are already going in the direction that they want to go.

In conclusion, Ed Stetzer and I agree about a lot of things. Maybe Chadwick Ivester ought to Photoshop Ed Stetzer and myself into some sort of photo. Ed can leave me at home on his next trip to an Acts 29 meeting, but I wish I could have been at the Building Bridges Conference with him. It's a mixed bag. We agree about some of the things in his blog post that has precipitated so much gnashing of teeth. In some areas, I believe that Ed proceeds from a few false assumptions. But we ought to be careful to make the distinction that Ed himself has made in his comment stream. One can join Ed in having recognized a problem in the SBC long before these ACP data came out—one can see clearly the symptoms—without agreeing with Ed about his diagnosis or his prescription. If the denomination's vital signs are diminishing, then that just makes it all the more important that we choose the right prescription and administer it with rapidity and resolve. That's why I'm spending time engaging the SBC in its decision making process, because I think the need is just that important and the prescription is clear.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Here I Stand, Still Reforming and Hopeful

In a post over a year ago entitled "Points of Perhaps-Surprising Agreement" I specified a number of current issues in the Southern Baptist Convention upon which I agreed with what I then termed our "dissenting brethren." There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then, and I thought it might be helpful to take another look at that list in light of the preceding fifteen months:

I stated my agreement with the call for biblical church discipline and regenerate church membership. Since then, I have been thankful to witness the approval of a resolution on regenerate church membership by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (for the text of the resolution, see here). I am hopeful that a similar resolution will pass at the SBC Annual Meeting this year.

I stated my agreement with the call for the disclosure of salaries at our entities. I am thankful to learn that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has an open policy regarding disclosure of salaries. Every trustee of every entity should have access to the specific salary of every employee who draws a Cooperative Program paycheck. I am hopeful that SWBTS's policy is or will be the policy of every SBC entity.

I stated my agreement with criticisms of nepotism and recirculation of appointees in the past. But I noted that the fault for this circumstance lies with disengaged Southern Baptist masses rather than with smoke-filled-room appointment processes. The controversies of the past two years have demonstrated that many young Southern Baptists remain committed to the principles of the Conservative Resurgence. I am hopeful that the coming years will witness a new influx of young participants in the SBC without sacrificing our beliefs in the process.

I stated my agreement with the desire to see more fidelity to the Cooperative Program among our SBC leaders. I'm thankful that we've seen a greater emphasis upon CP faithfulness in the selection of our leaders, and that we've done so without scrapping our polity to enact litmus tests. As I've said before, I think that the tightened definition of what constitutes CP giving may prove to be an unwise action. Nevertheless, I'm hopeful that we will see a surge in Cooperative Program giving among all Southern Baptists.

So, I'm still precisely where I was a year ago, and I think that we've made progress in most of these areas. I think that we'll make even more progress in Indianapolis. I find, after the sometimes-tumultuous days since my previous post, reason to be hopeful about the future of the SBC.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Gimme that Baptist Identity Religion,
Gimme that Baptist Identity Religion,
Gimme that Baptist Identity Religion,
It's good enough for me.

It was good for John the Baptist,
It was good for John the Baptist,
It was good for John the Baptist,
It's good enough for me.

It will dunk us all in water,
It will dunk us all in water,
It will dunk us all in water,
It's good enough for me.

Makes me judge everybody,
Makes me judge everybody,
Makes me judge everybody,
It's good enough for me.

Women stay barefoot and pregnant,
Women stay barefoot and pregnant,
Women stay barefoot and pregnant,
It's good enough for me.

It will take us few to Heaven,
It will take us few to Heaven,
It will take us few to Heaven,
It's good enough for me.

Makes us all spooky fundies,
Makes us all spooky fundies,
Makes us all spooky fundies,
It's good enough for me.

(Everybody, now)

Gimme that Baptist Identity Religion,
Gimme that Baptist Identity Religion,
Gimme that Baptist Identity Religion,
It's good enough for me.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On Baptism and the Local Church

A recent post at SBC Today has generated significant conversation (yet again) about the proper relationship between the ordinance of baptism and the local church. No reason and no desire (on my part) exists to duplicate either their post or their comment experience over here—SBC Today is a great blog, and if you wish to jump into their discussion, then that's what the link is for

I do, however, always read with interest the differing perspectives that people bring to this topic every time it arises. It ought to be evident to the online world by now that I'm a guy with an interest in ecclesiology. So my ears perk up when I hear our missionaries describing themselves as living overseas bereft of any church with which to baptize their children. When I hear our missionaries describe themselves as baptizing several new converts in an area but being too far away from the "nearest church" to get "authority" to baptize them, the very sentiment is disconcerting to me.

Reading these things only reinforces in me the need for a renewed focus upon the teaching of sound ecclesiology among Southern Baptists. Might I offer a few basic thoughts here, tonight?

Every Christian Everywhere Always Needs to Be a Member of a Church. The Bible presumes that, whenever a Christian is living for any substantial time in one community, a Christian will be in fellowship with other believers in a church. Just as the Bible presumes that all believers will be baptized, the Bible presumes that all believers will be a part of a local body of believers.

And indeed, so much of what the New Testament presumes about the Christian life cannot take place apart from a church. How does a Christian fulfill the command to "bear one another's burdens" while remaining aloof from any church? Indeed, there are so many "one another" directives in the New Testament that presume a reciprocal covenant relationship with other believers! How can Christians relate properly to church leadership when they are not a part of any body of believers?

To be without membership in any local (to you) congregation of believers is a defective existence.

Any Christian Anywhere Can Start a Church. A great many of the blog comments on this topic seem to presume something akin to an Essential Mother Daughter Authority (EMDA) view of the church. Distilled to its essence, EMDA is the presumption that a church gains its "churchly" authority from the mother church that officially votes to start it. I believe that Christian baptism ought to be performed in connection with a biblical local church. Somebody somewhere reading those words thinks I mean that, if I were marooned in the Galapagos Islands and led one of the natives to Christ, I couldn't baptize them unless I could first build a boat and sail off to somewhere to gain permission from an existing church. They seem to presume that I'm talking about EMDA.


In such a case I'm going to start a church in the Galapagos Islands, and all of those who received Christ and were baptized in the Galapagos Islands would be added to that church. People point to Phillip's baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch. You know, the Ethiopian church claims that Philip's encounter was the birth of the church in Ethiopia.

In other words, the "authority" of a "mother" church is not necessary to the formation of a "daughter" church. If it is, then Roger Williams and his band in Providence is in trouble. As is John Smythe and his group in Holland. Indeed, both Williams and Smythe eventually endured personal spiritual angst over this very point—wondering whether they were wrong to form local churches without the authorization of an existing church. Those of us who remained Baptist concluded that they hadn't done a thing wrong and that any group of believers can form a church.

The Church Is Not the Building. Inevitably in these discussions, somebody makes the startling claim that linking baptism with the church is the same thing as requiring that you find a baptistry, a wireless microphone, and a water heater or you can't have a baptism. Nobody with a brain is saying any such thing. To say that baptism ought to take place in connection with a local church is to say absolutely nothing about WHERE baptism ought to take place. It is to say absolutely nothing about WHEN baptism ought to take place (although we ought to have a discussion about that sometime). It is merely to say WITH WHOM baptism ought to take place: with the people among whom a disciple will grow and by whom he will be held accountable to his profession if possible. And if there are no such people—if he is the first— then he is baptized as the disciple who will witness the baptism and discipling growth of others yet to be born into the church that he is forming.

Conclusion. When I read stories about people who have to baptize their children in swimming pools apart from the encouragement and support of any local believers, my very first thought is NOT, "Warning! Warning! Ecclesiological Error! Citizen's Arrest! Citizen's Arrest!" Rather, my first thought is, "How terribly sad! How unnecessarily isolated! How unlike the life of Paul, for example, who seemed to be right in the middle of a local church anywhere that he lingered for more than forty-eight hours."

Christ called me to Himself in 1975, just before I turned 6. I've been an active member of a local body of Christian believers continuously since that moment...32 years and counting, now. Cut off from the body of Christ, I think I'd feel completely disoriented to life. I'd be (not in the eternal, spiritual sense) profoundly lost. Anyone facing the presumption of ongoing, lengthy Christian existence without a church has my profound and sincere pity and my prayers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Blogover 2008

This is a commitment for me and a proposal for the rest of you. I'm wondering who else among bloggers might be interested in joining me.

Starting on Thursday, May 1, 2008, I'm neither going to blog nor comment, nor read blogs nor comments until I have presented the gospel to ten people whom I do not know to be believers.

Now, if some of you guys on the other side will post something really controversial at 12:01 am on May 1, then you'll only make me all the more efficient in my soul-winning. I'll be pounding on doors at 4:30 in the morning. :-)

But seriously, it seems to me that this would be a great way for us to remind ourselves of our commitment to "the main thing." I've named it Blogover as a corruption of the annual Crossover events at convention.

What say ye?

Monday, April 14, 2008

More Good News from the IMB; Bad News for Her Critics

For a data-packed Hallelujah story about what God is doing at the International Mission Board, as well as a pointed rebuttal of doom-and-gloom naysaying, I commend to you all Hershael York's latest post. Reading it will be time well spent.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Les Puryear Follow Up

C. B. Scott, Kevin Bussey, Rob Ayers, and a whole host of people have opined that my post before last about Les Puryear was out-of-bounds. These are all good Christian gentlemen, and I'm praying over the matter. Allow me to state the following ad interim:

  1. It is pretty obvious at this point that Les is going to run. C. B. indicated in a comment on the earlier post that he had confirmed independently that Les plans to run. I think that's great (so long as he doesn't win). Go for it, Les. Anybody who wishes to do so ought to be able to run for SBC office. But when you run, you place upon Southern Baptists the obligation to figure out who you are and evaluate you as a candidate. That's what I've been trying to do. If I were not extremely confident that Les is going to run, I would not have posted this stuff.
  2. Les and I obviously have our theological differences, and I have a reservation or two about Les as the leader of the SBC. I'll be voting contrariwise. I was pretty candid in stating that, but no more candid than people have been about Ronnie Floyd or Al Mohler. My objections to Les as the leader of the SBC do not equate to reservations about Les as a person, Christian, or pastor. In fact, among our candidates running right now, Les would be my #2 choice.
  3. I think that politics is a good thing. When Southern Baptists abandon politics, the bureaucracy takes over. Just like when Southern Baptist churches abandon the "politics" of business meetings, the staff takes over. I think that much of what people took as insulting in the previous post was merely my pointing out that Les is working politically. I don't consider that to be an insult. I'm working politically. I work politically a lot. I believe that it is important to do so. I believe that we have an obligation and a duty to do so. I concede that this point makes me something of an odd duck among Southern Baptists. Everyone else seems to love to be political while pretending that they are not. I think that's duplicitous, and needlessly so. The SCLC was clearly political (not solely political, but politics played a role), but that doesn't make it a bad thing.
  4. Given what seems to be the blogging consensus that I've said too much about the Puryear candidacy, I make this pledge: I'll not publish any more posts about Les's candidacy for SBC President between now and Indianapolis.

So, Les can have his announcement without further comment from moi. If I have misrepresented Les, he can clear the air however he sees fit. Differences aside, I believe him to be a good and honorable man. I just don't think he would make a good presiding officer over the SBC. But then neither would I.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Camel: Pre-Evangelism Alone?

Apologists for The Camel: How Muslims Are Coming to Faith in Christ make much of the claim that the book only teaches pre-evangelism. This point is important because the book lacks so much of the content of a genuinely Christian presentation of the gospel. If one can assert that the meat of the gospel is elsewhere—that The Camel just stops short of giving us the actual evangelistic method used to present the gospel to Muslims—then one is free to surmise that all of The Camel's problems are resolved and tied up into a nice, neat package when a missionary moves into the unwritten actual evangelism that takes place outside the activities presented in the book.

Actually, The Camel: How Muslims Are Coming to Faith in Christ purports to include not only the pre-evangelistic "bridging" but also the full presentation of the gospel. In the chapter "Camel Destinations" the authors include "The Korbani Plan of Salvation." So, is the Korbani plan of salvation evangelism or merely pre-evangelism? Well, the phrase "plan of salvation" generally is one that we would associate with evangelism, not pre-evangelism. Furthermore, the book itself asserts that this chapter is evangelistic, not pre-evangelistic:

If a Muslim listens to you through the entire Camel presentation, keep in mind that he has still not heard the Gospel. Your Camel presentation allowed him to see Isa in a way he has never seen Him before and gain an eye-opening glimpse into who He really is. The presentation lifted Jesus out of prophet status and raised Him nearer to Savior status. A foundation for hearing the plan of salvation is now in place.

In your Camel journey thus far you have begun a relationship with a Muslim or a group of Muslims, but your journey is far from complete. There are three very important destinations ahead of you. In this chapter you will learn how to reach these three destinations: 1) Presenting the plan of salvation to a Muslim, 2) Bridging a Muslim into the Bible and 3) Launching a new Muslim-background believer into a church-planting movement. (111)


In order to share the plan of salvation with a Muslim in a manner that he will more readily understand, consider using the Korbani Plan of Salvation. The Korbani Plan uses natural bridges within the culture of every Muslim to introduce the New Testament message of salvation. (113)

So, according to The Camel itself, the book contains not only pre-evangelism but also contains a complete plan of salvation—it is an evangelistic presentation and is subject to evaluation as such. The Korbani plan of salvation appears on pages 113-120. The Camel, complete with the Korbani plan of salvation:

  1. Never clarifies that Mohammed is not a true prophet.
  2. Never confronts the Muslim Qur'anic concept of Allah as deficient and unacceptable, teaching who "Allah" truly is in accord with biblical revelation.
  3. Never suggests to the Muslim prospective convert anything other than wholesale acceptance of the Qur'an as being on par with or greater than the Bible. Indeed, the destination after the presentation of the gospel is entitled "Your Second Destination: God's Word." The first destination, you understand, was evangelism employing the Korbani plan of salvation. This second destination is an attempt to talk a Muslim who has heard the gospel into reading the Bible. Clearly there is built into the very ordering of the steps a presumption that one can fully evangelize a person who has not even yet accepted the Bible as material worthy of reading! Why should this Muslim read the Bible? Because the Qur'an says to do so. The Bible's worthiness and authority, in The Camel system, is derived from the worthiness and authority of the Qur'an. Nowhere in The Camel is this situation corrected.

Finally, as we consider whether The Camel is honest, whether The Camel is Christian, and whether The Camel is biblical, I think it is critically important to recognize that The Camel is actually TWO conversations in ONE book. First, there is the conversation that Greeson is having with you, the Christian who wants to learn to present the gospel to Muslims. Second, there is the conversation that Greeson wants you to have with a Muslim believer. The questions about whether The Camel is honest and orthodox pertain to the second conversation more than the first. If The Camel says that we, of course, know that Mohammed is a false prophet, but that we must be sure not to mention that fact to a Muslim prospective convert, then Greeson's admission to you is not the same thing as being honest with Muslims when we present the gospel to them.

Key details of the nature of God, Jesus, God's Revelation, and the Gospel are treated by The Camel as "insider information." The book discusses the status of Mohammed and the Qur'an, as well as the obstacles to Christian faith that a Muslim faces. But it carefully instructs evangelists to Muslims not to let Muslims in on that conversation. And throughout The Camel, including the entirety of the Korbani plan of salvation, that deceptive situation never changes.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Another SBC Presidential Candidate? Les Puryear's Possible Bid

As a follower of things political in the SBC, I have been watching with significant interest the preliminaries to the 2008 SBC Presidential Election in Indianapolis:

  1. The indomitable Wiley Drake became the first announced candidate on Aug 13, 2007, when Robert Bosworth, who attends Drake's church, made public his intention to nominate Drake in Indianapolis. (HT: ABP) We've heard very little about Drake's candidacy since then, and it is possible that things have changed. But until a formal withdrawal from "the race" takes place, we'll consider Bro. Wiley to be in the running.
  2. Speaking of "the race," Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary faculty member Bill Wagner has engaged the campaign for the presidency in as formal a race-oriented way as any candidate in convention history. Wagner has a campaign staff, a campaign website, and his own Gingrichesque contract with the SBC. Wagner's campaign faces an uphill climb much more significant than the physical journey across the Rockies that he'll need to make in order to reach Indiana from California, but he's in the running.
  3. I had found my candidate when, on January 2, 2008, Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and among the SBC's leading statesmen, announced that Dr. Robert Jeffress would nominate him for the office. (HT: SBC Today, where you can find excellent interviews with all of the confirmed SBC Presidential candidates) After he had suffered the slings and arrows of many on the leftward periphery of the convention, Dr. Mohler's campaign was brought to an abrupt end by a cancer scare (see here).
  4. Dr. Frank Cox of Lawrenceville, GA, announced on February 7, 2008, that famed evangelist Junior Hill would nominate him for the presidency. Cox gave a very encouraging interview to SBC Today and is clearly the frontrunner at this point. His nominator is unparalleled. He is a Cooperative Program champion. He has a devotion to God's Word and a gracious personality that resonates with Southern Baptists across the convention. With Dr. Mohler's withdrawal, Frank Cox has become the man to beat.

Will those be the only candidates? I think not. None of these are acceptable candidates for the Burleson Coalition (although I satirically suggested that Bill Wagner would make a good candidate for them, but I doubt that they will cast their vote for Dr. Wagner). Sources close to Burleson and sympathetic to his movement have been reporting in local associations in diverse locations across the country for several months that another candidate would be coming—a small-church pastor with high-profile endorsements. I now believe that I know who that person will be: Les Puryear.

If Puryear runs, it will be among the most fortuitous positions from which to seek the office in recent memory. Historically, potential candidates have used the Pastors Conference as a forum from which to gain press coverage, name recognition, and a forum for identifying with a platform. Puryear himself inquired about the possibility of advancing "a small church pastor" to lead the Pastors Conference until he learned about the exorbitant cost that the president of the conference incurs each year. Besides, format changes in the Pastors Conference have made it not nearly as effective as a political pre-meeting for the convention.

But Puryear won't need the help of a Pastors Conference—he has gained press coverage, name recognition, and a forum for identifying with a platform by creating his own conference. Rather than having to pony up cash for it, he has managed to obtain sponsorship from unwitting CP entities for the meeting.

At Puryear's conference, the current President of the SBC as much as endorsed Puryear. According to the North Carolina Biblical Recorder:

"It's time to have a small church pastor as president of the SBC," said Page, just two months from concluding his second one-year term as president. He encouraged participants to "nominate someone in this room."

Now, just today, Puryear has cryptically declined to sponsor a motion in Indianapolis, saying:

You say that you're looking for someone to present your motion as you will not be able to do so. I am not the one to do it as will become more clear next week.

From all of this evidence, it seems clear to me that Les Puryear is going to announce for SBC President next week. Now, a bit of political analysis:

  1. Who will nominate Puryear? That is the $64,000 question. Has the presiding officer of the convention ever attempted to nominate his successor? I suppose that I ought to know, but I do not. Junior Hill will be a difficult nominator to beat, but if Puryear can line up enough support—maybe make certain that sympathetic platform personalities mention his conference from time to time during the convention meeting—then the cumulative effect just might be formidable.
  2. Will Burleson, Cole, and the SBC Outpost gang endorse Puryear publicly, or will they work from behind the scenes? Clearly he's the best candidate for their movement among the announced options so far. Puryear has made careful and public efforts to distance himself from Burleson in the immediate past, and with Burleson's polarizing persona, that's probably the wisest move at this point. But count on this: Les Puryear's committee appointments would be precisely the kind of appointments that Wade Burleson would make.
  3. Is it really possible for a blogger to get anywhere in public office-seeking in the SBC today? When I started blogging, I just presumed that it would be impossible ever to run for anything and very difficult ever to move to another church because of blogging. That works fine for me, because I'm at the best church in the SBC. Less information on the wire about you is generally better, as is less involvement in controversy. For example, how will the convention respond to Puryear's assertion that no true Christian can ever be in unrepentant sin? Is Puryear an Antinomian? If he were not a blogger, it is doubtful that anyone would even know about his more peculiar views, but there's all sorts of information on the wire about Puryear and all of the rest of us who blog. I'm not sure that any of us bloggers will ever be elected to anything for that reason. Better to keep one's head low and one's mouth shut if one aspires to office.
  4. I think that future SBC Presidential candidates may be less likely to give interviews to blogs because of this. Puryear has solicited and received interviews from the other candidates as a blogger, not as a challenger to the election. If much more of this happens, candidates may prove to be skittish about dealing with bloggers as though they were professional journalists who, even if biased in their questioning, are certain not to be running themselves in elections. If Puryear had been forthright with these men about his intentions to run, would they have granted the interviews? I'm not suggesting that Les broke any rules—the blogging rules haven't been written yet. I'm just suggesting that circumstances like this will be the kinds of conflict of interest that will lead bloggers to try to establish some sort of an ethical code to cover advocacy blogging.

Part of me hopes that Puryear is running. It would make me feel a lot better about something that has been bothering me. Over at SBC Impact a couple of days ago, Les posted an attack piece against me just out of the blue. It referenced a post that was ancient by blogging standards and twisted my words in bizarre ways. When I confronted Les with the misrepresentations, he wouldn't even discuss the specifics. As the tone of my comments surely revealed (I'm not that good at hiding such things), I was a little hurt by the whole event. Even though we've disagreed on some things, I thought that Les and I had a decent online relationship, and I couldn't understand why he would take a gratuitous slap at me and then refuse even to discuss the matter.

It didn't make sense for a friendly acquaintance and blogger to do that, but for a politician to do it? With that post Les tried to style himself as "middle of the road" (until Peter Lumpkins made him regret that wording) and then avoided saying anything substantive in the follow up that could come back to bite him later. That's one strategy that a candidate for the SBC presidency might follow…a business decision. "It's not personal; it's business." And I feel better about that. Because the business of elections will be over soon enough, and all will be back to what it was before.

I'm still not going to make an endorsement. I don't know for certain that Les will run—these are just my suspicions 99% confirmed by Les's statement on his blog today. Also, I don't know that Les will be the last candidate if he does run. I'll make an endorsement before we get to Indianapolis, but for now I'm keeping my options open.

But since "Joining God in His Work" has made it a point to interview all of the SBC candidates, I'll really be interested in reading Les's interview of himself. :-)

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Lord Praised for Giving Deliverance

The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me.

The cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Charlton Heston (4 October 1923 - 5 April 2008)

Far into the future Charlton Heston will be memorialized as Moses. Yet no matter how much acclaim he receives for throwing off the yoke of Egyptian bondage on the silver screen, the truly remarkable attribute of Charlton Heston was his penchant for breaking the bonds of stereotype in his real life.

Heston was the Army-Air-Corps-veteran gun lover who was, quite frequently, anti-war (depending upon the nature of the conflict). He presided over both the Screen Actors Guild and the National Rifle Association. He was the white conservative Republican Civil Rights activist who dubbed Martin Luther King, Jr., the Moses of the twentieth century yet opposed affirmative action. He was the child of a broken home who stayed married sixty-four years—in Hollywood, no less! He is, perhaps, the only person both to have hosted Saturday Night Live and to have offered an A&E series in which he simply read the King James Version of the Bible on international television. He forcefully campaigned both for John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

Charlton Heston believed that America was allowing liberalism to erode truth. In a world where radical feminism, the radical gay agenda, the pro-death agenda, and ever-encroaching socialism continues its ongoing efforts to oppose God in the world (and too many times, in the church), Heston reminded us that "political correctness is tyranny with manners." Heston said, "Americans know something without a name is undermining the nation, turning the mind mushy when it comes to separating truth from falsehood and right from wrong. "

In return, people like George Clooney and Michael Moore tried to make Heston into a caricature, but they failed utterly and miserably. Heston was nobody's caricature. He thought for himself. And that's what the liberals despised about him.

I do not know anything about Charlton Heston's personal relationship with Jesus Christ (or lack thereof). But as one who grew up watching The Ten Commandments on television, I can only hope that, at this very moment, Moses is telling Heston what REALLY happened.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Enormous Mission of Preaching the Word

I've been preaching since I was fifteen, but I've only been diligent in keeping any sort of record of my preaching for the past few years. The sermon calendaring program I've been writing for myself for several years now (it is a web application written in C# for Microsoft's ASP.NET framework) contains pretty complete records of my Sunday morning preaching since 2004. Sunday evening and Wednesday evening data is spotty before 2007.

The application not only helps me to look forward in scheduling my sermons, but also helps me to look backwards in analysis of what I have been preaching. Here's a bit of number-crunching for you.

There are 1189 chapters in the Bible. I have records of sermons from 285 of those chapters, leaving 904 chapters of the Bible from which I have no record of having preached in my nine years at Farmersville. That's no record of having preached from those chapters at any time during the week. Those 904 chapters constitute (chapter-wise) 76% of the Bible.

I have preached more sermons out of Leviticus 19 than any other chapter of the Bible, according to these records. I preached a Sunday evening series out of that chapter once upon a time. Exodus 20 comes in second (the 10 commandments). On the other hand, a book-by-book analysis shows that the gospels in particular and the New Testament in general get far more preaching attention from me than does the Old Testament. This falls in line with my persuasion that the New Testament ought to get more attention from New Testament Christians than does the Old Testament. Don't twist my words as permission to ignore the Old Testament—I preach from the Old Testament a great deal, but primacy of place must go to the New Testament.

It is possible, preaching from a different chapter at each of three meetings a week, to preach from each chapter of the Bible in as little as seven years and seven months, but I'm not anywhere near on-track for accomplishing that pace (nor do I wish to). Eighty chapters of the Bible have provided more than one sermon for me, and some portions of the Bible merit a bit more attention. For example, the Ten Commandments can easily produce ten sermons from one chapter, while the story of David and Goliath is probably a self-contained sermon.

Lesson learned: I'll not live long enough to preach the entire Bible as it ought to be preached. The task is a lifetime calling.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Powerful Rebuttal In Liberalism's Face: Office Of Landmark Studies

Today it was my great pleasure to spend the morning with Dr. Emir Caner, Dr. Thomas White, Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, and several other of the diligent scholars at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tonight, nearly eight hours after my return home, I'm still giddy with excitement about the things that we discussed. History is going to be made in the next few months, and if God is willing, the Southern Baptist Convention will never be the same again.

Next Fall, the Center for Theological Research will open the Office of Landmark Studies. The purpose of the office will be to develop and disseminate scholarly resources to begin the work of rebutting the fifty years of virulent anti-Landmark inaccuracies that have been foisted upon the Southern Baptist people by bitter academicians. Several factors make the timing of this action fortuitous, IMHO:

  1. Landmarkism was among the more resilient inoculations against liberalism in the SBC 100 years ago. With the most popular and powerful blog in the Southern Baptist Convention having become the leading standard bearer for the liberal position on the question of women pastors, there is a need for an organized and intensive voice in defense of sound Baptist theology. The Office of Landmark Studies will be able to employ the resources available at to provide online rebuttals, while the Southwestern Journal of Theology will provide a presence in the academic world.
  2. The Office of Landmark Studies will have an opportunity to refine and correct antebellum and turn-of-the-century Landmarkism, reinvigorating its stronger points while cutting away some of its weaker aspects. For example, nineteenth-century Landmarkism was generally open to interaction with some Baptists affiliated with what is today the ABC. The intervening years have revealed Northern Baptists to be liberals—in large part, heretics. A renewed Landmarkism will be able to consider carefully the developments of the past century and have a more informed and critical view of so-called "Baptists" outside of the Southern Baptist Convention. Also, Graves-Dayton-Pendleton-type Landmarkism, like all of Southern Baptist history except for the past few years, was entirely beholden to the Democratic Party. Now that we have broken free of the stranglehold that the Democrats once had upon us, we have no intention of going back. Freed from these impediments, a new Landmarkism will be able to flourish like never before.
  3. I'm hoping that the founding of the Office of Landmark Studies will foreshadow an expansion of the Church History program at SWBTS. The core curriculum that you and I studied at SWBTS in the 80s or 90s was built around the idea of teaching four hundred years of Baptist History. The Baptist Heritage class needs to be split into two sections and greatly expanded to instruct students more fully about the English Baptists' robust antecedents who lived and served throughout the Patristic and Medieval periods.
  4. Southern Baptists have shown greater attention in recent years to the doctrine of the Kingdom of God. A still-ongoing program in SBC life is entitled "Empowering Kingdom Growth." But what is the Kingdom of God? Now—in the face of Barna's "Revolutionaries" and in the light of our own emphasis—is the time to remind the body of Christ that the Kingdom of God consists of the aggregate of New Testament Baptist Churches.

I attended the meeting in an advisory and encouraging role, but am thrilled to have walked away with a more tangible method for contributing to the project. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of SWBTS's relocation to Fort Worth, the seminary plans to release a revised and expanded edition of James Milton Carroll's classic work The Trail of Blood. I have agreed to edit this revision, which I hope to have in print and on the shelves at your local Lifeway Christian Store by mid-2009.