Friday, June 27, 2008

Materials Toward a History of Feet Washing by R. L. Vaughn

No, I'm not talking about a book on personal hygiene.

Robert L. Vaughn, who comments sagaciously around many of the blogs that I frequent, has written a book on the practice of foot-washing as a Christian ordinance among Baptists. I've asked him to prepare a blurb to place here. In my experience, these sorts of studies are fascinating. One of my favorite papers that I wrote in seminars dealt with the laying on of hands among early Baptists. Really intriguing (at some points, even bizarre!) stuff. So I offer my recommendation for R.L.'s book, even though I have not yet held it in my own hands.

This weekend we make the first presentation of our proposed Constitution and Bylaws. As you all know, this is a process that has been ongoing at FBC Farmersville for quite a while. Count on me being hard to find around this blog for a good while.

And now, I give you R. L. Vaughn:

Allen Matthews "...donated land for the Hopewell Meeting House (Church) in Copiah County...He donated land for the Palestine Baptist Church...He was a very religious man. When his church he went to in Copiah County decided they were going to do away with the practice of ‘foot washing’, he got his towel and washbasin and walked out. They started another church on the other side of the Pearl River, in Simpson County, called Palestine..."

Don't trace your ancestry if you're afraid of what you might find. That holds true of human genealogy and Baptist history. In Materials Toward a History of Feet Washing among the Baptists, the author traces his history and finds feet washing was practiced not only by Free Will Baptists and Primitive Baptists, but also by the Missionary Baptists. The book compiles data on the relationship of the rite of feet washing and Baptists, particularly as practiced in Missionary Baptist churches. Arranged in a chronological and geographical format, Materials allows the reader to see records, controversies and variations of washing the saints’ feet in Baptist churches.

What Others Say

Vaughn did an excellent job researching an obscure subject of which contemporary Baptists have little knowledge. This book is a needed contribution to Baptist historiography. I know of nothing like it. – C. B. Anderson. Retired Chairman, Department of Social Sciences, Jacksonville College, Jacksonville, TX

The volume by R. L. Vaughn, Materials Toward a History of Feet Washing Among the Baptists, is an exhaustive compilation of source materials on feet washing as practiced by Baptists and even others. The work covers practically every aspect of the subject, including definitions of the rite, its biblical and historical roots, its manner of observance past and present, its practice by group and geographical location, and even arguments of those opposed to it. Although the work focuses on Missionary Baptists in the USA and abroad as over against Primitive Baptists, it nevertheless includes all Baptist parties and even bodies outside the Baptist fold. An extra bonus is its appendix that includes a listing of Baptist groups and subgroups in the USA and British Isles , a comprehensive and detailed listing not found elsewhere. This work is an excellent study, providing a most valuable list of sources on a practice, although bypassed by a great many today, that is observed by others as an observance with a biblical mandate. – Albert W. Wardin, Jr., Professor Emeritus of History, Belmont University, Nashville, TN; author of The Twelve Tribes of Baptists in the USA: a Historical and Statistical Analysis

A couple of excerpts

"Even those churches that do sacramentalize and enact foot washing try to mitigate the intimacy of the act...But it is precisely the scrupulous toenail clipping and pre-church scrubbing of feet that points to the real gift of foot washing. For our attempts to have clean, sweet-smelling feet to offer betray the many ways we are rendered vulnerable by our bodies." – Stephanie Paulsell in Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice

"Rather than teach a disrespect for any part of God's words or examples, or a lack of confidence in his wisdom as to what was needful to be taught and practiced by his disciples, for God's sake, if for no other, stay off of the question if you will not accept the example of being worthy of following..." – A. T. Green in The Lord's Supper and Foot Washing

For more information, e-mail Baptist.waymark[at] or write:

3528 CR 3168 W

Materials Toward a History of Feet Washing among the Baptists, consisting of Historical References to the Practice among the Missionary Baptists, including miscellaneous notes on other groups. R. L. Vaughn Mt. Enterprise, TX: Waymark Publications. 2008. 978-1-60458-249-9 pb. 232 pages. $21.99

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What Would You Do?

For the next time you wring your hands over an upcoming business meeting, I recommend that we all take the time to read this.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin and J. Howard Pew

George Carlin is in Hell right now, or Jesus is a liar.

Kinda blunt, huh? But we need to be blunt. Analysis released today by Pew Research reveals that 60% of Southern Baptists responded affirmatively to the statement "Many religions can lead to eternal life." (HT: New York Times) We're in trouble, and our only hope for a Great Commission Resurgence is a continued shoring up of the theological foundations of our convention.

We don't like the thought that George Carlin is in Hell right now. We don't like the way it makes us sound to say it. We don't like the way it makes us feel to contemplate it. We don't like the way it makes God feel that we did so little about it, now that it is too late.

So, we skirt the reality of damnation. When faced with the funeral of that wandering soul, we grade on a pretty easy curve. Who knows but that he trusted Christ in his final moments? Maybe that walking-of-the-aisle when he was nine, although it produced no visible impact upon his life for the following seventy years, was genuine. Let us not face the ugly likelihood that he will suffer for all eternity. Or we make some too-little-too-late overture to pray for him now that he's gone.

Such speculations seem benign enough at the moment—even noble when they relieve the grief of believing family members left behind. But I wonder whether we have considered the cost of our too-often de facto hem-hawing on the fate of the deceased lost?

  1. We undermine a powerful biblical motivation for receiving the gospel. Part of what was going through my mind when I became a Christian was the love for God that had been cultivated in me since birth. But another part of what was going on was the fact that I did not want to roast in Hell for all of eternity. I'm convinced that the Holy Spirit still uses fear of Hell to motivate people to come to Christ.

  2. We undermine a powerful biblical motivation for sharing the gospel.I'm convinced that not wanting my colleagues, my friends, or my family members to go to Hell—Wait a minute! I don't even want people whom I DISLIKE to go to Hell—is a powerful motivation for evangelism. I'd say that a 60% embrace of universalism might be a noteworthy factor in our lessened faithfulness to witness as Southern Baptists.

    Two uncertainties about that figure in the Pew Research data: One, I wonder whether, when speaking of "many religions," any of those Southern Baptists were thinking about Methodists rather than Muslims? In my mind, there's a difference between a "religion" and a "denomination." Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, etc., are "religions." The SBC, UMC, PCA, PCUSA, ABC, etc., are "denominations" of the "religion" Christianity. But did all of these respondents have that differentiation in mind? Second, how many people "self-identify" as Southern Baptists who haven't darkened the door of a church in ten years? Nevertheless, those potential statistical problems are very unlikely to account for 60% of Southern Baptists surveyed.

  3. We contribute to a doctrinal confusion among our people. The people in our pews might interpret our timidity in speaking frankly about people bound for Hell as courtesy, but they are likely further to infer a lack of confidence in the doctrine of eternal judgment. Jesus spoke plainly and directly about Hell, and we should do no less. And if we are not confident in Hell, why aren't we?

    The Bible is not equivocal on the existence of Hell nor on what it takes to wind up there. Even if somebody somewhere wants to host an ongoing debate about the fate of some noble savage on an unreached island somewhere, how much doubt can there be regarding a comedian who made his career by sneering at God and ridiculing God's followers? Does the Bible breathe a word of hope anywhere for a person who persists in such an attitude until death? Not that I can find.

    We squirm at the doctrine of damnation for one reason, and only one: We don't like that doctrine very much. And if the message that we send to our brothers and sisters in our congregations is that we can skirt around the Bible doctrines that we don't like, then they're going to take that message and run with it in a thousand different directions. Indeed, there is every indication that a great many of them already are doing so.

The solution is not to go out of our way to tell grieving loved-ones of the torments of Hell. But I perceive a number of temptations that I must avoid having to do with this topic:

  • When directly asked whether someone is in Heaven or Hell, I need to give a clear, unflinching testimony to the gospel without minimizing the fact that denying the gospel means eternity in Hell. I think it is fine to indicate that God will judge, and not me, but I need to make clear also that God has already revealed to all humanity the precise parameters by which He intends to make that judgment.
  • When preaching I need to make certain not to minimize the biblical witness to Hell. If I'm going to talk about the gospel, the escape from Hell provided thereby is an integral part of the gospel, and I ought to be talking regularly about Hell, too.
  • I need to show people pointedly and repeatedly that every other "religion" leads straight to Hell for each and every one of its adherents.
  • Because the effort that I mentioned in my last bullet will not be 100% effective, we need to continue our work to recover regenerate church membership. I suspect with great sadness that the vast number of those 60% who believe that many "religions" lead to eternal life are people who have not yet found eternal life themselves. After all, unless some sort of polling confusion has broken out here, these are people who have just affirmed the "other gospel" of universalism—a damnable heresy. If we cannot, after serious effort to do so, convince them of the truth of the gospel, we ought at least to clarify for them that those who believe thus are not Southern Baptists…for the sake of combatting their own confusion as well as for the sake of clarifying the public witness of the church.
  • In my speaking about Hell, I need to achieve an admixture of the tone of Billy Sunday ("You will not be in Hell five minutes until you believe that there is one.") and the caution of Lee Scarborough ("When we preach on the wrath of God, on the burning doctrines of an eternal Hell, we must do it with heart compassion").

Friday, June 20, 2008

And Then There's What Awaits You at Wal-Mart!

Yes, folks, this entire truck has been painted as an advertisement for "Psychic Readings by Nancy." Nancy apparently has forty years of experience, a phone number, a web site, and is available for your next party.

And yes, folks, hidden away up in the back windshield, that's a proud sticker from my alma mater, Baylor University.

Your Cooperative Program dollars at work. :-)

You Never Know What Awaits You in Your Local Chick-Fil-A

Friendly, extroverted preschoolers are God's gift to those who wish to "do the work of an evangelist." God certainly gave us an extra helping of that gift in Jim, and I was thanking God for that as I sat in the Chick-Fil-A playground in McKinney, TX, yesterday. Her two preschoolers were alongside mine, trying to survive a throng of vulgar, abrasive nine-year-oldish boys who had summarily and individually assigned to every person, implement, and appliance in the Chick-Fil-A either some label depicting human waste or (apparently a worse fate) the sobriquet "Hannah Montana." When the Mongols came to blows for the umpteenth time, parent-stormtroopers finally arose from their meals, entered the play area, and drug the older children out of the House that Truett Built amidst weeping and wailing.

I decided that her accent was my conversation-starter. With my friendliest face I opened with my best Gomer-Pyle-meets-Inspector-Clouseau rendition of "Êtes-vous française?" She wasn't, although I could have sworn that I heard her muttering French to someone on a cell phone a few minutes earlier. But she wasn't French; she was Albanian. Nonetheless, she was obviously delighted that I was making efforts at a conversation.

"I knew a college student from Albania. My brother-in-law brought him home from Thanksgiving for a couple of years." (There's my hook. He was a Christian, sent here by missionaries. Ask her why she's in the country, tell why he came here, and then straight into the gospel.) "Did you grow up in Albania?"


"How on earth did you wind up in McKinney, Texas?"

"My husband is in school here."

"Oh, really! To study what?"

"He's completing his Th.M. at Dallas Theological Seminary. We're missionaries to…" OK, that part I can't tell you, except to note that her response makes the remainder of the conversation very interesting.

"Well, then, I'm guessing that you're not going to let me get very far in presenting the gospel to you, are you?"

We both chuckled over that, and a delightful conversation ensued. I told her about the Moslems who have come to Christ through our ministry at FBC Farmersville, where they are now, and how much I worry about them and pray for them. She spoke of the difficulties and struggles of their ministry.

I couldn't resist myself: "So, have you ever heard of the Camel method?"

She hadn't. "Can you describe it to me?"

"It is a method that uses the Qur'an to try to lead people to Jesus."

Her brow furrowed a bit. "Yes. I know about such things. We know somebody at DTS who is constantly pushing something like this. We think it is a bad idea. We spent our first two years trying to build relationships and work indirectly at finding an opportunity to share the gospel. We accomplished nothing. Then we started just presenting the gospel to people openly. They appreciated our honesty, and we saw six people accept Christ in one year. What do South Baptists [her English was pretty good, but she labored a bit at times] think about this 'Camel'?"

"Well, I think it is a bad idea, too," I replied. "And a lot of our missionaries think it is a bad idea. But it receives very favorable promotion from our mission board administration."

"What people don't understand," she said, "is that these people think we have some sort of hidden agenda all along. When we pretend to be something that we're not, then later, when we reveal ourselves, we confirm their initial suspicions and they wonder why they came to trust us. Better to be honest all along and let the power of the gospel do its work."

I couldn't have agreed more.

Before long my Sarah had done everything that an almost-two-year-old can do in the Chick-Fil-A playground, and we found ourselves on the way to Wal-Mart and Sam's.

Every new person is an adventure when you live your life on-mission for Christ. I didn't get to witness to a lost person in Chick-Fil-A yesterday, but I did get to meet a sister in Christ and I do now have the opportunity to pray for her dangerous ministry in another part of the world. And I also got an opportunity to confirm what I knew all along: My opposition to the Camel doesn't have a doggoned thing to do with being an American, with having been called to be something other than a foreign missionary, with being steeped in some kind of SBC subculture, or with not being "broad" enough in my experiences.

It just has to do with knowing a bad idea when I see it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

In Pursuit of Biblical Literacy, Part Two

If I bring my children to your church every Sunday and Wednesday from birth until they leave home for college, what specifically ought they to know when they leave? And when I say "specifically," I mean items so specific that you could develop a standardized test (not that we ever would) with precise questions regarding items that you meant to teach.

I think that's a pretty important question. In my mind, it raises several other thought-provoking points to ponder, so I'll pass them along to you in the hopes of launching a conversation:

  1. Whose job is it to ask this question? For many years I operated on the assumption that I didn't have to ask this question because somebody, somewhere in Nashville was asking and answering that question on my behalf. All I have to know is that I'm purchasing Lifeway literature, right?

    But now I'm convinced that it is my job as pastor to ask and to answer that question. It isn't Lifeway's fault that I had that false impression before—Lifeway's own mission statement clearly states their role as a helper to churches, not as some sort of vicar for designing and implementing our discipleship responsibilities as a church. It is my job to know what our church is trying to teach and Lifeway's job to provide biblical solutions to help me lead our church to accomplish our goals.

    The sort of thoughts that I posted in the first post of this series have arisen in my mind because I've been thinking more and more about the question at the top of this post and relying less and less upon other people to do this thinking for me.

  2. How, specifically, does the work of the church dovetail with the work of parents and school in discipleship of children? As big a fan of church as I am, all of my "train up a child" eggs are not in the church-program basket. Most of them aren't there. My children are receiving deliberate biblical and devotional education at home. I regard such things as Sunday School and AWANA or TeamKid or Upward as resources in this overall task.

    But we have kids here whose parents are lost. And I'm not sure that we can assume that every family attending here has any sort of deliberate spiritual education ongoing for their children. How does the program of spiritual equipping in our church programming dovetail with home, or at least, how ought we to plan for it to interact with things going on at home as a basis for our church planning?

    Tracy and I are homeschooling. We have a lot of homeschooling families in our congregation. We have a lot of children in private Christian schooling in our congregation. We have a lot of children in our congregation who attend public schools. Each of these methodologies takes a slightly different approach toward spiritual education.

    And church programs do interact with a child's schooling. It may be as subtle as the fact that we start to presume at some point that the students in the classroom are able to read. One factor that impacts the design of most youth ministries is that assumption that youth are facing a barrage of temptations facilitated by their schoolday interactions. When you start to have a significant number of students who are studying the Bible in a structured daily curriculum, that impacts what you can expect of students in Sunday activities.

    So, when I ask myself what students ought to know when they go off to college, how much of that is the church supposed to accomplish, how much of it are the parents supposed to accomplish at home (ideally), and how much of that ought students to pick up in their formal education (however it is accomplished)? And how can the church communicate with these other institutions so that each of us knows what we're trying to accomplish?

  3. Is attendance a large enough goal for discipleship? I don't think so. But I confess that it is easy to obsess over attendance. When our Sunday School directors meet to evaluate our Sunday School, we largely evaluate it on the basis of attendance. Johnny Hunt's poignant sermon at the Pastor's Conference in Indianapolis described a crisis in his own pastorate and his church over the fact that their attendance experienced a slight decline.

    But once we get those people to come, what are we doing with them? Do we know? Are we doing a good job at it? What's our goal? The question at the top of this post points in the direction of these other questions, and leads us not to stop looking at attendance, but to see attendance as something more important than a means toward self-aggrandizement—these are the people taking part in this marvelous journey of discipleship to which Christ has called us, which we have embraced, and which we are tackling in these specific ways.

  4. Since we don't test, how can we measure our performance? Our state employs standardized testing not only to measure the performance of students but also to measure the performance of teachers and schools. Debate exists in the public schools as to whether this is the best way to evaluate teachers and schools. What about at church? Are we going to ask ourselves whether we're doing a good job? And if we will, how will we answer that question? And I mean not just the questions of whether this teacher is well-prepared, interacts well with parents and students, is doctrinally sound, shows up dependably, and all of the other things that we must watch and measure. Eventually, we have to ask the big question—is it all getting through to the students like we hoped it would?

  5. What about those who show up in the middle of the process? Remediation is a big factor in determining a church's goals for spiritual education. How big of a factor ought it to be? Ought the church's programming to be "dumbed down" and designed especially for novices to the detriment of those I mentioned at the top of the post, whose children will be here weekly throughout their childhood? On the other hand, if your faithful core are going to be effective witnesses, isn't it going to discourage the fourteen-year-old friend whom they lead to Christ when that new convert perceives that he's in a decade-plus deficit that will take him years to overcome? Does he go into a different track? Or can the church achieve something of the ideal of the one-room schoolhouse, where we all mingle at different stages along the way, interacting with and helping one another? I think we can—that sounds pretty biblical to me. But it affects the way that we design discipleship, doesn't it?

I confess that I come to these questions with opinions the prejudice me. I found a great deal of my childhood at church to be unduly repetitive and boring. It seems to me that, since then, we've accommodated by adding glitz rather than substance. There are things that I didn't learn until Ph.D. studies that I think I could have (and should have) learned in Junior High. The Southern Baptist Texan published a special report two years ago on Biblical Literacy, and I am convinced that our efforts in biblical education for the past few decades leave room for improvement, not in sincerity or in the dedication of those involved, but in effectiveness.

And now I'm curious to hear from you. To get the conversation started, I pose a few pointed questions to guide our comments:

  1. Does your local church have a detailed goal that defines what you're trying to teach and accomplish in the lives of students?
  2. How does your church evaluate its progress in discipling students?
  3. If you are a parent, what part do you see church programs playing among the other resources contributing to the spiritual development of your children?
  4. How easy or hard do you think it is for new believers to "catch up" with more mature believers in your children's and youth programming?

UPDATE: My VBS-related workload has increased toward the end of this week. I may not get to participate much in the discussion, but I'm confident that you all can carry on well without me until I get back to it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On the Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence

Three of the blogs I regularly follow (Nathan Finn, David Worley, and SBC Today) have posted this week on the theme of a Great Commission Resurgence. The Great Commission—one of the categorical imperatives of Christianity and certainly of the SBC. Who could argue, right?

Southern Baptists, as it turns out. And that's because, like most public actions in Southern Baptist life, there's as much subtext here as there is text.

First, the positives of the GCR, expressed in the negative things it addresses. Clearly Southern Baptists are less faithful than once we were about presenting the gospel to lost people here at home. We need a resurgence in our living out of the Great Commission. Clearly the North American Mission Board has been through a few years of turmoil while we are losing to paganism the large urban centers of our nation. We need a resurgence in our living out of the Great Commission. Clearly there are doctrinal problems with an International Mission Board that has so lost its confidence in the Bible as to become convinced that the Qur'an is the key to winning Moslems to Christ. We need a resurgence in our living out of the Great Commission. The very phrase "Great Commission Resurgence" scratches an important and palpable itch in the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe that it is helpful language, and I would be pleased to go to my grave thinking that I had contributed at all to seeing a Great Commission Resurgence take place even only among my congregation, much more among Southern Baptists as a whole.

But here's the problem, in my view, that generates some controversy. The proponents of the Great Commission Resurgence are constantly presenting it as the Post-Conservative-Resurgence Resurgence. Either they declaratively (seemingly authoritatively) state that the Conservative Resurgence has ended, or they proclaim that it needs to end right away. They have the "Mission Accomplished" banner painted and packed, and they are on a desperate search for the appropriate aircraft carrier on which to erect it. As the SBC Today article points out, one reads very little effort to expound upon Matthew 28:18-20 to define the GCR, yet as the article fails to point out explicitly, the one universal constant in the speeches, posts, and briefings given on the GCR is that it is defined as not being the Conservative Resurgence.

I hold out hope for a reconciliation of the Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission Resurgence.

Why The Conservative Resurgence Is Not Over

The two need to be reconciled because we need both a follow-through of the Conservative Resurgence and a Great Commission Resurgence. We need not sacrifice one for the other. Several factors in Southern Baptist life demonstrate for us the continuing need for a vital Conservative Resurgence.

  1. The very issues (and indeed, many of the very people championing those issues) that provoked the Conservative Resurgence are still active and influential in the Southern Baptist Convention at the state convention level. The great failure of the Conservative Resurgence has been its inability to translate into state convention contexts, where intimidation of pastors by denominational bureaucrats has been much more effective in shutting down conservative movements. The severity of the problem varies from state to state, but a great many leading churches in the CBF are also leading churches in their respective state conventions.
  2. But for a few noteworthy exceptions, the network of traditionally-Southern-Baptist colleges and universities remains entirely unchanged by the Conservative Resurgence—even are more resiliently liberal in its wake. Consider, for example, GCR proponent and recently minted Church History Ph.D. Nathan Finn. An alarming number of state colleges and universities in Baptist life would go out of their way not to hire Dr. Finn simply because he holds a terminal degree from a Southern Baptist seminary. That's ridiculous. What's more, the same universities are actively counseling their ministerial students not to attend Southern Baptist seminaries for ministerial training. University after university has successfully amended its charter for the express purpose of remaining untouched by the Conservative Resurgence. Walk onto the average "Southern Baptist" university these days any you'll be disabused of any notion that the Conservative Resurgence has reached "Mission Accomplished" status.
  3. The past two years of blogging have revealed more than one troubling indicator of doctrinal weakness in our convention, from speculation of autoeroticism in the life of Jesus to a wink-and-nod "caveat" system in place among our trustees and employees to an aversion toward ecclesiology (among adherents of what is essentially an ecclesiological movement!) to an out-and-out advocacy of feminism in the SBC to a denial that life begins at conception…I could go on and on. The transparency afforded by blogging—something that some people hoped would put an end to the Conservative Resurgence—has actually pulled back the curtain to demonstrate how much work remains to be done.

A Plan for Reconciling the Resurgences

First, we must note that not all who are calling for the Great Commission Resurgence are doing so from the same place. I've read some analysis that seems to regard the GCR as the anti-CR. Having opposed the CR all along, but having been unable to defeat it, people in this camp apparently see in this moment a good opportunity to employ the sacred status of the Great Commission as a dodge to supplant the CR indirectly. Such a strategy can be effective—this is exactly the way that Landmarkism was largely set aside in the twentieth century, not by articulating another ecclesiology but by changing the topic of conversation away from ecclesiology altogether. For any people who might harbor these sentiments, the reconciliation of the resurgences would cause them to abandon the GCR, since it would no longer serve their purpose of bringing an end to the CR.

A second theme arises from those who did not oppose the Conservative Resurgence, but who have tired of it or have grown disillusioned with it. They may not want to overturn the CR, but they surely would like to get it over with, already. This mood is one of impatience, typified by Ed Stetzer's comments last year in San Antonio: "Wasn't the promise of the conservative resurgence that we would get to the point that we agree on enough that we can now reach the world for Christ? When will that come?" For such impatient folks, the need is (a) to reiterate the needs that remain to be addressed by the CR and (b) to show that the CR and the GCR are compatible and can proceed alongside one another—that the CR can continue without being the only thing that Southern Baptists are doing. I think there is hope for the reconciliation of the two resurgences in this group.

A third theme arises from those who are ambivalent about the Conservative Resurgence ideals, but who regard the whole thing as a negative influence upon public relations. These are our Madison Avenue Baptists. They're terribly concerned that people "know what we're for, not only what we're against." The world for which they hope is a pipe-dream. If tomorrow the SBC were to enact a thousand strategies for feeding the hungry or sheltering the homeless but were to pass one resolution against same-sex marriage, guess which one makes the news that night? And here's one important factor to note about such things as same-sex marriage—it's not the Southern Baptist Convention who is bringing these issues to the forefront of public discourse. Organized movements exist for the sole purpose of making Gomorrah of the United States of America. We can choose either to roll over to them or to take a stand for Biblical righteousness. Wherever we draw the line to take a stand, we're going to be castigated in the press for our intolerance. The Madison Avenue plan for appeasement will only lead us to our own Münich. Folks who want a kinder, gentler SBC need to be pointed to Christ's own testimony about the certainty that we will be persecuted, misrepresented, and slandered when we stand up for the truth. We need more preaching on these themes. And we need a resolve not to be what the Apostle Paul considered "men-pleasers." We need to do what is right and let the chips fall where they may.

A fourth theme arises from those who see "Great Commission" as a calling for us to forget our Baptist convictions. Within the IMB the phrase "Great Commission Christians" is code-language for evangelical ecumenism. A renewed rigor in biblical studies and in historical theology—a renewal fueled by the Conservative Resurgence and, to some degree, by renewed intensity in Southern Baptist discourse on the subject of Calvinism—is giving rise to what Malcolm Yarnell and others have rightly termed a "Baptist Renaissance." If any see the Great Commission Resurgence as a mechanism for blunting a resurgence of convictional Baptists, they are likely to be disappointed. Historically a faithfulness to carry forward the Great Commission has been quite compatible with vigorous maintenance of the Baptist distinctives, for Baptists have been among the most faithful to pursue obedience to the Great Commission.

A fifth and final theme arises from those who are concerned about flagging evangelistic zeal among Southern Baptists. As I opined some time ago, this category includes almost everyone in the SBC, and some overlap occurs between this category and each other category listed above. Yet for some this is the primary motivation, or even the exclusive motivation, for championing a Great Commission Resurgence. Some folks calling for a Great Commission Resurgence are really only saying, "We've got to become more faithful to share the gospel around the world." Granted. Such folks need to understand that, although the successful continuation of the Conservative Resurgence is not a guarantee of a Great Commission Resurgence, it is nonetheless the sine qua non of a Great Commission Resurgence. The current direction of our state Baptist universities will not contribute to a Great Commission Resurgence. No Great Commission Resurgence is forthcoming from the New Baptist Covenant any more than it is to be expected from the Unitarian-Universalists.

Not all of these themes are equally sympathetic to the Conservative Resurgence, but enough are sympathetic for us to see a consensus achieved in the SBC. Here's a plan for demonstrating the compatibility and confluence of the two resurgences:

  1. Leading advocates of the Great Commission Resurgence need to state plainly that the Conservative Resurgence is not yet complete.
  2. Leading advocates of the Great Commission Resurgence ought to develop a joint definition (platform, statement, whatever you want to call it) of the Great Commission Resurgence together with identifiable key historical leaders of the Conservative Resurgence in order to demonstrate not only the compatibility but also the solidarity of the two movements.
  3. The Great Commission Resurgence needs to be focused explicitly upon the planting and strengthening of Baptist churches as the specific task that the Great Commission presents to us.
  4. Southern Baptists need to underscore the fact that the powerhouse of the Great Commission is not to be found in contextualization, strategies, programs, bridges, the Qur'an, marketing, seeker-sensitivity, music, tiptoeing around ethical issues, pandering to cultural hotbuttons, or any other such man-centered locus, but arises solely from the gospel power of proclaiming Christ and Him crucified. This concept is a clear and solid link between the Conservative Resurgence and the Great Commission.
  5. Southern Baptists need to beware the potential that we might become fractured into CR and GCR camps. Each concept needs the other and will utterly fail if any divorce or separation takes place.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In Pursuit of Biblical Literacy, Part One

At the tender age of five and with lunchbox in hand, I walked across town to attend Kindergarten at Lake City Public Schools (our mascot was the Catfish!). There I was blessed with a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Norma Stotts. To this day all of my class members look back and remember Mrs. Stotts's class with fondness. The next year I was once again blessed to be under the tutelage of Mrs. Betty Owens, the wife of our superintendent. My mom's careful encouragement at home had me already reading the newspaper (somewhat) before showing up at Kindergarten, and by the time I left the First Grade, I was doing great at the three Rs.

Looking back, I realize that two factors contributed greatly to the excellence of these two ladies and many others like them in the teaching profession. First, they were passionately committed to their callings. Second, they had the opportunity to teach the same material year after year and to hone their proficiency in the subject matter to razor-sharpness.

  1. In elementary school, teachers teach the same lessons year-after-year, refining them as time goes by to achieve excellent specialization in teaching that material.
  2. In high school, teachers teach the same lessons year-after-year.
  3. In college, professors specialize in a field of study and teach the same lessons year-after-year.
  4. In flight training, flight instructors generally teach the same lessons to beginning students time-after-time.
  5. In professional schools, instructors teach the same lessons year-after-year.
  6. Indeed, in virtually every setting where people take education seriously, a fixed scope and sequence of curriculum enables teachers to specialize in teaching specific lessons year-after-year.

So why don't our Sunday Schools work that way?

If the Second-Grade Sunday School curriculum involved precisely the same lessons on the same weeks year-after-year, couldn't teachers achieve mastery of teaching those particular Bible stories? Couldn't the church invest in just the right books, manipulatives, and other materials to teach just those lessons, making capital expenditures toward the fixed curriculum of the class? Wouldn't service as an assistant in that particular class for a couple of years constitute a much better preparation for teaching the class on one's own?

Is there any advantage to a random rotation through Bible stories with new curriculum every year? I mean, of course, other than the fact that you get to sell new curriculum every year?

I don't have any degrees in education, religious or otherwise, so I'm sincerely asking questions. If we're serious about making biblically literate disciples, is our current method, which seems to depart so markedly from other educational systems around us, a good one?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

So Let Him Eat of the Bread and Drink of the Cup

This morning FBC Farmersville is observing the Lord's Supper.

When someone asks you, "Who ought to partake of the Lord's Supper?" you probably will take that question to mean, "Of those attending today who are not members, which, if any, ought to partake of the Lord's Supper?" The latter question is an important one and worthy of serious study. I do not belittle the work that has gone into seeking to answer that question biblically. However, I fear that our noble and worthwhile efforts to answer that question have distracted us from what may be a larger and more important question.

How often do you ask yourself, "Of those attending today who ARE members, which, if any, ought to partake of the Lord's Supper?"

The Bible presumes the Lord's Supper as (at least) a predominantly local-church activity. Nowhere does the Bible explicitly address the question of people other than members of or apostles to the local congregation participating in the Supper. What it DOES contain in spades are careful instructions regarding the participation of local church members in the Lord's Supper. The congregation is to "celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth," (1 Corinthians 5:8) by maintaining redemptive church discipline that removes from the table those Christian believers caught in unrepentant profligate sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Clearly the New Testament presumes that the Lord's Supper will take place (at least) predominantly among a group of people who have voluntarily subjected themselves to the judgment of "those who are within the church" (1 Corinthians 5:12).

The loss of redemptive church discipline and regenerate church membership therefore corrupts a church's observance of the Lord's Supper, regardless of whether that church practices open, close, closed, strict, or whatever they wish to label their policy regarding non-members who attend. The local church has an obligation to remove grossly errant members from the table before observing the Lord's Supper.

The Bible commands that every believer is to "examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28). Clearly, the danger of "[eating] the bread and [drinking] the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner" (1 Corinthians 11:27) is one that threatens members of the local church to whom Paul's warning was delivered.

Let us who are preachers beware the miscommunication to our members that, so long as they are members of this congregation, they may consume with wanton abandon. Each of us has been charged by our Lord to come to His table in circumspection, contrition, and confession. Apart from that, we are in peril of sickness and death (1 Corinthians 11:30). And now that we have passed a resolution about regenerate church membership, let us press on all the more to recover it and thereby to redeem our celebrations of the Lord's Supper.

Friday, June 13, 2008

An Encouraging Thought for Pastors

I found myself sharing this to encourage a friend today, and in mulling it over, I thought it worth sharing with you all.

Do you ever have those times when you realize that you're not the best preacher in the world, nor the best administrator of a church in the world, nor the best to visit a hospital in the world, nor the best to comfort the bereaved, nor the best to make peace in a conflict? Do you ever have those times when you see yourself as average in all areas of your ministry? Below average?

In over twenty years of pastoral ministry (yes, I got an early start), I've had plenty of moments when I wondered why God had assigned this task to me. I see my own inadequacies so sharply, and it hurts all the more to see those inadequacies not in the pursuit of some trivial task, but in the service of the greatest, most critical function in all the world. Sometimes it makes me want to step aside and leave the pastorate to those better qualified, because I encounter them and know that they are out there.

But then two things steel my resolve:

  1. God DID call me to this task. It was real. It was dramatic. It changed my life. And that moment in the summer of my eleventh year has been one of my touchstones since that day. I cannot abandon my post except by deliberately disobeying my Lord.
  2. The Southern Baptist Convention consists of more than 42,000 local congregations, or so we hear. That means, if I could name 5,000 pastors who are all better gifted than me in every single area of pastoral ministry, there are still more than 7 out of 8 Southern Baptist churches that need a pastor just like me.

So, start working on your list. I'll bet that you don't make it to 42,000. I'll bet that you don't make it to 5,000. I'll bet that you don't even make it to 1,000. If God called you to preach, He did so for a reason. The need is too great for you to throw in the towel. In face of such a compelling need, our only responsible action is to obey God, serve faithfully, and try by God's grace to improve a little every day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Your General Attitude of Hopeless Negativism

Today we passed a resolution on Regenerate Church Membership. The very topic is one that elicits a variety of opinions about whether there is a problem, what is the nature of the problem if it exists, and what is the solution to the problem if we comprehend its nature. Coming to a consensus statement on this topic required genuine dialogue and negotiation (a.k.a. politics), including concerted efforts at the very end of the process. I am thankful for our Committee on Resolutions, even though I was not in agreement with the "genetically modified" resolution on RCM that came out of the committee. Theirs is a tough job, and I have not the slightest inclination to snipe at them for their work. Theirs was one of the voices that entered into the dialogue, and the result was a good resolution on Regenerate Church Membership that ought to please everyone involved.

Except, perusing some of the blogs this afternoon, I find that it does not. Tom, Malcolm, and I are, as far as I can tell, happy with the outcome. But various online opinions have suggested either that the wording of the resolution was insufficient or that any resolution, even one with good wording, is an exercise in vanity.

To quote Ulysses Everett McGill, "The personal rancor reflected in that remark, I don't intend to dignify with comment, but I would like to address your general attitude of hopeless negativism." Really, forgive me for saying so, but sometimes it seems that some folks just delight in the clothing of themselves in sanctimonious condemnation of the Southern Baptist Convention. I'm not in favor of denial—we have a problem with Regenerate Church Membership and continuing to address it is an urgent matter for our churches—but I know for certain that the solution to our problems does not lie in dissing steps in the right direction. Have we all been baptized in the Spirit or cured in vinegar?

Yes, we're less effective at reaching the lost than we have been in the past. But we have elected a president who wants to call us to greater fervency for presenting the gospel. The latter is not an iron-clad panacea to the former (s.v. "Bobby Welch"), but it surely is not a part of the problem. Local churches are going to have to solve this problem, but the SBC can provide encouragement for those local churches, and Hunt's agenda is likely to contribute positively in that direction.

Yes, the Southern Baptist commitment to bedrock Baptist distinctives is at something of a nadir, but the SBC just held discussion about regenerate church membership, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and regenerate church membership, voting in affirmation of those concepts. Voting for those concepts at convention is not the same thing as strengthening them at home in the church, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Those who would make nothing of the passage of such a resolution sure were willing to make a lot of the FAILURE to pass previous similar resolutions. If not adopting a resolution is very meaningful, then adopting the same resolution must be very meaningful.

We've elected two wonderful Vice Presidents to serve our convention.

We've so far had a very pacific convention meeting.

With regard to the major problems that we face, if anyone has a "general attitude of hopeless negativism" he will be excellent at showing us where we need to repent but impotent at inspiring any sort of helpful change. If any Pollyanna in the convention has a blindness toward the challenges before us, he will be like a first-rate cheerleader for the Washington Generals (look it up). What is needed is neither denial nor sourness, but an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. That is our greatest dependency both during our annual meetings and throughout the months in between.

Or, look at me for your paradigm of hope. :-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Daily Convention Report

Officer Elections

So, who all predicted that the presidential election would be settled on the first ballot, while the second vice presidential election would go into a runoff? Whoever you are, I would like to visit with you about some stocks I'm considering for purchase! What an unexpected day!

First, the presidential election:

I am happy with Dr. Johnny Hunt's election and I'm confident that he will make a good president. His sermon Sunday night was the highlight of the Pastors Conference and was an encouragement to me. I am proud of Frank Cox, believing that he articulated a strong positive vision for the Southern Baptist Convention. I am glad that both of these men are leaders in our convention.

Dr. Hunt has articulated a passionate vision for pastors to be more faithful to share the gospel with lost people in our ministry locales. Will you join me in praying that God will bring Bro. Johnny's vision to pass? Surely his vision is our need.

Second, the vice-presidential elections

Would you believe that they aren't over yet?! Tomorrow morning at 8:20 am I will (once again) cast my ballot for Dr. John Newland. If you've never met Dr. Newland, you can. He's been serving as an usher for the convention and has been on station for, as far as I can tell, virtually every minute of the convention. From usher to vice-president? Sounds to me just like a promotion Jesus would make.

Dr. Bill Henard won the first vice presidency with an astounding 73% of the cast ballots. Congratulations are in order, as are our best wishes and prayers for Dr. Henard for the year to come.

Noteworthy Motions

The press is taking note of the motion to declare Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth, TX, not to be in friendly cooperation with the convention. Broadway Baptist Church is a homosexuality-affirming congregation. I don't know why this is so newsworthy. Southern Baptists amended Article III of our convention several years ago—this motion is merely the logical extension of that vote. Someone will try to convince the Executive Committee that the problem was the pastor, not the congregation. But two out of three church members voted to express their confidence in the pastor's leadership during the controversy, and no corrective action has been taken toward the members in question.

The unfolding of the motion will consume at least a year, and I think it a good and biblical thing for Broadway Baptist to have that time to consider their grave error and to consider that they might repent.

Long-time Executive Committee employee Jack Wilkerson, who was Vice President of Business and Finance until last September, moved a proposed amendment to the SBC constitution to prevent entity heads from serving as SBC President. Hmmm…whatever might have prompted him to make that motion?

Let us all thank our lucky stars that Jack Wilkerson was not around in 1845. We would have no Boyce presidency. We would likely have no Cooperative Program (an offshoot of the Seventy-Five Million Campaign championed by entity-head-and-SBC-president Lee Rutland Scarborough), no Baptist Faith & Message (crafted largely by entity-head-and-SBC-president Edgar Young Mullins), no 2000 revision of the BF&M (championed by entity-head-and-SBC-president Paige Patterson)—I'm not sure that the SBC would have endured to 2008 if Jack Wilkerson's proposed rules had been in place early in our history, but certainly our history would be much, much different.

Good leadership is a gift from God—I recommend that, rather than shackling the ballot hands of the messengers with arbitrary rules, we leave them free to take whatever godly leadership the Lord chooses to send our way.

Fellowship with other people

Enough that it is 12:26 AM and I'm still not in bed. But I'm going to remedy that problem

Monday, June 9, 2008

Endorsements: Vice Presidents

Dr. Bill Henard is a prince among gentlemen. His track record of faithful ministry and selfless denominational service reflect the very best tradition of Kentucky Baptists. He will make a strong and fitting successor to Dr. Jim Richards as our First Vice-President. The best recommendation for Dr. Henard would be to spend time getting to know Porter Memorial Baptist Church and Dr. Henard's incredible ministry there. I'm thankful for his labors to oppose casino gambling in Kentucky, which were successful. Google "Bill Henard" and you'll find glowing appraisals of his ministry, his preaching, and his denominational leadership. I only know of one occasion on which he has been a victim of the darker side of the blog world, and both the praises and the criticism make me all the more enthusiastic about casting a ballot for him.

You're most likely to know who Dr. John Newland is because of the NFL's much-publicized bullying of Newland's Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis two years ago. That's why you know Newland, but that's not why you ought to vote for him. Rather, you need to know that Newland, the team leader for church planting in Indianapolis, has a heart for winning Indianapolis for Christ and a set of feet and hands to match. He's a humble, dedicated, devout, godly man for whom the Super Bowl crisis was merely an unplanned nationwide revelation of what has been in his heart all along—a determination to lift up Christ in his community and to carry the gospel throughout the world.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Long Road to Indianapolis

Torrential rain is making things tough today. Flights have been cancelled. I-70 is closed in at least two places. I'm blogging from my phone as we re-route through Urbana. So, for all you convention-goers out there, be careful. And we'd love to hear your travel-to-Indy stories!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Break from Politics: From a Dad with a Daughter

Last Friday I made the very sacrificial anniversary gift to Tracy of consenting to take her to Canton. Our goal on the way in was simply this: To find a (toy) weapon for Jim and an outfit or two for Sarah (my nearly-two-year-old daughter).

Excuse me—is the entire female population between the ages of two and ninety-two officially going to dress like a streetwalker now?! There wasn't a decent item of clothing on a rack. And don't get me started about the swimsuits. I swear: If I only knew the deserted island where we could go to start over, some days I'd be ready to go there.

But then every once in a while something comes along to encourage me. Like this wonderful website and all of the sites to which it links. So, as the summer fashion season descends upon us all, from one dad with a daughter to all of the rest of you out there, I give you an opportunity to find fashionable, reasonably priced, modest clothing for women and girls.

And having done my good deed for the day, I'll see you all in Indy.

I Will Not Sign the "Time to Change" Statement

And the Baptist world is shaken to its core with this stunning revelation…

Before I go into my reasons why not, let me first say how much I appreciate the statement. After the subterfuge of last year's Garner Motion ploy, it appears that Wade Burleson's movement is finally ready to bring to our convention a straightforward presentation of the key disputed issues. Good for them. We can hold different opinions and still conduct an honest debate. Here are some of the reasons why I hope that they do not succeed.

Reasons Why I Do Not Support the "Time to Change" Statement

  1. "Time to Change" really stands for "Time Not to Change a Doggoned Thing." The authors of the statement invite us to take a tour of the Potemkin village that they've erected within the IMB. There we see that the IMB, with thousands of faithful missionaries, has no doctrinal problems whatsoever, even within such a large entity. Every missionary is thoroughly orthodox and is Baptist to the core. The administration of the IMB is forthright and honest. The finances of the IMB are transparent and well-managed. The only problem plaguing the IMB, it seems from reading the statement, is a group of hyperactive troublemakers who have advanced these two problem policies.

    Unfortunately for the authors of the statement, the pasteboard façades on the banks of the Dnieper have long ago fallen down to reveal what is behind:

    • A book produced by IMB personnel and championed by the administration at the highest levels has had to be revised multiple times to restore basic Christian orthodoxy to the book (by removing the Modalism inherent to earlier versions) and to keep IMB evangelistic practice in line with basic Christian ethics (by not lying to Muslims in an effort to convert them). None of these problems were pointed out within the IMB structure, but changes only took place when people outside the IMB pointed them out loudly and persistently enough.
    • Although these former IMB trustees want to tell us what champions of the BF&M they are ("BFM 2000 - a statement that we affirm as conservative Southern Baptists as the standard for IMB missionaries"), anyone who has even casually followed Southern Baptist blogging for the past two years knows that some of these trustees gladly consented to at least one trustee and at least one missionary stating explicit disagreement with the BF&M yet continuing in their positions of service. One of the advocates of this statement was precisely the person in charge of new trustee orientation when the caveat was granted. Where was the fabled and storied commitment of these trustees to the BF&M when those decisions were being made? Where was their commitment to the idea that the convention messengers and the local churches ought to make doctrinal decisions on behalf of the convention? Their real philosophy is revealed in their actions: Nobody but the convention ought to be able to enforce policies beyond the BF&M, but small groups or individuals ought to be able to set aside portions of the BF&M without seeking the consent of the convention or even notifying the convention of what is going on. That's what we mean by the "maximal" view of the BF&M: Nobody can go beyond it, but behind-closed-door winks and nods can waive articles by fiat and murder our statement of faith by the death of a thousand cuts.
    • Just last week the blogosphere was alive with an IMB missionary's controversial statement that Mormon baptism can constitute valid Christian baptism.
    • Louis Moore's book (just out this week) is a troubling revelation of IMB administration efforts to manipulate and circumvent trustee oversight.

    In the light of these items that have taken place in the plain view of every interested observer, it is impossible for me to agree with a group whose goal is an emasculated trustee board of sycophants. In contrast to my friend Alan Cross's beliefs ("IMB trustees should return to their role as the chief supporters of the missionaries on the field, instead of their perceived current role as suspicious managers"), I do not think that a board of trustees ought to be a pom-pom festooned band of cheerleaders. If that's all they are, then they are a complete waste of money. Trustees exist to hold the IMB accountable, and while dysfunction is not necessary or helpful, firm resolve and fiduciary seriousness is a necessary part of the job.

  2. I am not convinced by the "Time to Change" statement's assertion that the new guidelines undermine the autonomy of the local church. The authors inform us that the new baptism policy "has placed the board in the position of dictating to local churches what constitutes a legitimate Christian baptism." In their estimation, this constitutes a violation of the cherished Baptist distinctive of local church autonomy, because the IMB is daring to tell a local church that it considers invalid a baptism that the local church has ruled valid. By this definition, local church autonomy includes something like the federal government's "Full Faith and Credit" clause—a local church is not autonomous unless every other local church in the SBC is obligated to accept as valid everything that local church does.

    Of course, even the authors of the "Time to Change" statement don't really believe anything that preposterous—it is just a rhetorical argument that sounds good. In the selfsame paragraph these very authors feel quite comfortable in dictating to local churches that baptism must be by immersion and must take place in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Presumably, even if an autonomous local Southern Baptist congregation were to accept Oneness Pentecostal immersion or, as some local Southern Baptist churches have contemplated openly or have done quietly, were to accept sprinkling of infants as valid baptism, our trustees would nonetheless gladly presume in such a circumstance to override that church's determination and dictate to a local Southern Baptist congregation what is or is not Christian Baptism (Or would they? Two weeks ago I would have made bold statements that we were all agreed on the invalidity of Mormon baptism).

    If the issue at play here is one of local church autonomy, then what is the difference between rejecting local congregational judgment regarding the rightful administrator of baptism versus rejecting local congregational judgment regarding the rightful mode of baptism or the rightful spoken formula of baptism? No valid answer comes to mind. And that's because this question has absolutely not one thing to do with local church autonomy.

    Rather, we must acknowledge that local church autonomy consists of something akin to "freedom of speech" plus something akin to "freedom of association." My local church can affirm, denounce, practice, abstain from, support, or defund whatever we wish, and there's nothing that the SBC or the IMB can do about it. But one function of my church's autonomy is the fact that we get to choose with which churches and how we will partner for various tasks. In the SBC we make those decisions collectively through our annual meeting and the governing structures that we select and authorize through that meeting. Unless and until the SBC gains the authority to hire and fire our personnel or to buy or sell our property, no decision that the SBC or its entities make can ever imperil the autonomy of our local church. And the local churches that constitute the SBC are free to determine both the bounds of their fellowship and their criteria for employment of missionaries or any other thing.

  3. I am not convinced by the the "Time to Change" statement's theory of restricting IMB policies to strictly the primary doctrines identified in the Bible. The statement urges us to consider carefully that "the Bible at no point raises [the] issue [of so-called private prayer language] to a matter of primary doctrinal importance." Well, of course it doesn't. That's a tautology.

    The Bible doesn't mention "private prayer language" at all, nor does the Bible categorize doctrines into matters of "primary doctrinal importance" versus other doctrines, unless our sagacious trustees are directing us to 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. And if they are, then they must concede that the list in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 of doctrines "of first importance" is pretty sparsely populated. The doctrine of the Trinity isn't in there. The doctrine of immersion is not in there—baptism isn't in there at all. So, if our former trustees are only interested in enforcing the doctrines listed in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, then we're going to have a pretty minimalist set of guidelines for missionary appointment, but if they have some other list of primary doctrines in mind, then they must concede that "the Bible at no point raises [any of the other issues that our trustees enforce as policies] to a matter of primary doctrinal importance."

    See, I just thought that we were supposed to teach new converts to obey all that Jesus commanded us, not to make lists of Bible doctrines that aren't important enough for us to try to impart them.

    What the Southern Baptist people have to do, I guess, is to decide whether we believe that "Sheelrbaoehatoanta" is a grand utterance of divine origin. And if we cannot, then we'll have to determine whether our inability to achieve obedience to Christ at that point does or does not rise to such a level of importance as to prevent us from working together on those points at which we have reached agreement. The answer to that second question will probably depend upon how aggressive the Pentecostals among us will be in advancing their doctrines and practices. But this will be a practical question, and the adherents to this statement ought to stop pretending that there's some list of primary doctrines in the Bible from which our trustees must not stray.

I expect the East Coast political activists advancing this statement to bring measures to Indianapolis for the Southern Baptist Convention to consider. This is a critical year for them, for they will not have a committee structure and platform stacked so friendly toward them again anytime soon. Action has taken place this year "accidentally" to exclude duly elected conservatives from the governmental processes of the SBC by "inadvertently" failing to send them information forwarded to all other members of committees and boards and other groups until after the insiders had already finalized action. There's a deliberate effort underway at this moment to skew the SBC political process in favor of these measures. Those kinds of actions can only succeed for so long, and next week is the last, best moment of opportunity.

It is important for conservative Southern Baptists to go to Indianapolis. It is important to pay attention. Beware of vaguely worded motions or resolutions. If you aren't 100% sure what the wording of a motion or resolution means, if you aren't 100% sure that you recognize who is bringing forward a motion or resolution and what they are trying to accomplish by it, and especially if you see that any item of business before the convention is being disputed or debated, then you have a responsibility to the church that sent you and the Lord who saved you to inform yourself before you vote. I recommend that you bookmark SBC Today in your Internet browser and check it frequently next week, because this premier SBC informational blog will be providing comprehensive analysis of the convention as it unfolds.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Witness to the Truth

Yesterday I received and read my copy of Louis Moore's new book Witness to the Truth (Garland, TX: Hannibal Books, 2008, 351 pages, $19.95 paperback). It now lies on the floor beside me, thoroughly consumed.

Oklahoma native Moore matriculated Baylor University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary before becoming the Religion editor at The Houston Chronicle for a lengthy tenure that included the era of the Conservative Resurgence. Although he is a lifelong Southern Baptist, he followed so well his commitment to journalistic objectivity as to leave even his most faithful readers largely agnostic as to his own denominational inclinations for several years. Moore worked in media-related positions for both the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the International Mission Board, but he was publicly refused the top position at Baptist Press and was recruited to serve in an anti-CR troika by John Baugh. By his own admission, Moore possesses "an independent streak [that] would never let [him] sell out thoroughly to a cause" [219] and approaches Southern Baptist ideological disputes as someone "more interested in the processes than the final decisions." [191] He counts among his cherished friends, pastors, and advisors such names as Ken Chafin, Glen Hilburn, Richard Land, Paul Pressler, Robert Sloan, Charles Page, and other noteworthy Southern Baptists from every ideological corner of Southern Baptist life. Fundamentalist, Conservative, Moderate, Liberal? Moore defies and refuses labels and vanquishes stereotypes.

The book, like its author, defies categorization. The pre-publication promotional slogan ("Can you handle the truth?") conjured up images of Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) grilling Col. Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) and hinted that the book would amount to a painful confrontation with inconvenient truths somehow related to American religious life—an affair of whistle-blowing or some sort of philippic. The actual title of the book, Witness to the Truth, suggests a first-person account belonging to the genre of autobiography or memoirs. The chapter organization (each bears an aphorism as a subtitle) posits the book as a reflective collection of life-lessons for American religious institutions gleaned from years of careful, first-hand inspection, making it more of a self-help, life-coach, "Who Moved My Cheese" sort of monograph.

The book impressed me as something of a hybrid—the fruit of a multitasker not content to attempt solely one thing at a time. Its whistleblowing aspects will probably contribute more to its sales volume than any other aspect of the book, but the tone I discerned in the writing led me to believe that the other two aspects were more important components of the authorial intent.

In my blogging career I've already reviewed one SBC exposé, and I was not terribly impressed. Moore's work fares much better. The relative paucity of bitterness and sanctimony in these pages only boosts Moore's credibility to the reader, although on occasion he reads a bit like Flavius Josephus evaluating the Jewish sects of his day. What is Moore's inconvenient truth? He labors to narrate for us a tale of entrenched religious bureaucracies that regularly lie to their constituencies and stab their colleagues in the back in order to protect their own power. Moore probably wouldn't put that fine of a point on it—never did in the book—but that's the bottom line if I read it correctly.

Epitomizing this thesis is the role played in the book by Dr. Jerry Rankin, Moore's former boss and the current head of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. According to Moore, Rankin misrepresented the salaries of both Moore and colleague David Button in order to lure them to IMB posts, misdirected IMB trustees to keep IMB headquarters in Richmond to save money while planning all along to spend over $40 million (far more than the projected costs of a relocation) on facilities upgrades on the East Coast, misled Moore as to Rankin's personal position on glossolalia, and misguided the IMB board during recent controversies regarding baptism and ecstatic utterances. The picture of Jerry Rankin that emerges from this book is of a micromanaging passive-aggressive maverick with no intention of allowing co-laborers below him (like Button, Moore, or missionaries who see things differently) or above him (like his trustees) to interfere with his personal plans. Moore obviously likes Rankin and believes that he has much to contribute to Christ's work, but believes that trustee complacency and sometimes ineptitude coupled with Rankin's own expert political maneuvering have transformed the IMB executive into an autocrat lacking the boundaries and direction that would make him most effective in his critical role.

Although I have no first-hand experience by which to evaluate Dr. Rankin, it is clear to me that some attempt is underway in Southern Baptist life to empower convention bureaucracy at the expense of solid trustee governance. Constant suggestions to reduce the number of trustee meetings, impose byzantine restrictions upon trustee conversation with one another about board matters (how many of you think that the employed bureaucracies of our entities don't "caucus" to prepare for their board meetings?), and contrive "change" petitions to strongarm trustees are all measures that undercut trustee governance leaving convention bureaucrats unfettered.

I wondered whether many denominational bureaucratic shenanigans could be prevented by a trustee board with an unflinching backbone and good professional advice from somewhere. I saw that the buck truly stopped one step further back than with the administrator. I wondered whether a tough, non-political evaluation system for denominational execs, bishops, and even popes [Moore covered a lot more than Southern Baptists in his career, as does this book] could benefit the cause of Christ.

I saw conservatives lose their ideals about reducing the size and scope of the bureaucracy, about eliminating the bureaucracy's lavish expenditures, about making the local church the true "headquarters" of the denomination. Once in power these conservatives found the large staffs, exciting expense accounts, and the controlling executive style of the denomination too tempting a prize to give up…

Regrettably, the early ideals of the Conservative Resurgence have not happened. Yes, on paper the SBC espouses a more conservative theology. And yes, the Republicans have replaced the Southern Democrats in the seats of power in the denomination. Yet in so many ways the denomination is exactly what it was when the moderates reigned supreme. Union cards and networks are still the order of the day. Names, faces, and in a few cases places have changed, but the "good-ole-boy" network still works just as it did three decades ago. (324)

Not that Moore is a thoughtless cheerleader for the board of trustees. He criticizes the secretive nature of SBC trustee governance, advocating a "sunshine law" to make all meetings in the SBC's governance system completely open to reporters denominational and secular. Moore further suggests that board standards for evaluating entity heads are mercurial and vulnerable to political abuse (although Moore does not regard all politics as inherently abusive). He advocates greater use of professional consultants to develop consistent, objective guidelines for our entities to follow in evaluating the performance of our entity heads. Throughout the book Moore communicates well his concern that conservative Southern Baptists might (have?) become little more than a rightward-nuanced variety of their predecessors in terms of the basic ills of "Baptistdom." Repeated references to George Orwell's Animal Farm dot the landscape of the book.

As I read the book, I found myself wondering whether Moore has ever stumbled across "Praisegod Barebones" (my blog, not the Cromwell-era politician and preacher). If he has, after reading his book, I find it difficult to deduce whether I think he would slam shut his laptop in disgust or fire off an email telling all of his friends to be sure to read my stuff. I suspect that he might succumb to some of both reactions if he read for very long. Certainly he is more of a journalist and I am more of an ideologue. But our similarities, not our differences, drew me into his book. We both experienced fairly young callings to ministry at Baptist summer camps. We both went to Baylor on scholarship. We both remained basically conservative in our personal theology while building relationships with a great many who did not. We both carried a good bit of naïveté into our first encounters with denominational politics. We both tire of the crazy preference of some Southern Baptists to pretend that they are not politicking when they are. I don't know that Moore could ever be a contented reader of PGBB, but I suspect that he could be an engaging and worthwhile friend.

I wholeheartedly recommend Moore's book to you. It will make you think about the recent history and the imminent future of our convention. As we pack our bags and head toward Indianapolis, it will give you something other than the facile "Landmark, fundamentalist, narrowing, crusading, uncooperative" language that has been spread hither-and-yon—something more earthy, more nuanced, and more believable—to try to understand why such tension seems to exist these days between the trustees on the one hand and the bureaucratic leadership at the IMB and their Internet champions on the other hand.

The book is also valuable just for the vignettes it serves up page-after-page: Nancy Pressler making PB&J sandwiches in the infamous Houston skybox, Mike Huckabee breathlessly shilling for James Robinson in his younger days, and the like. Moore's personal stories made me more sympathetic to the plight of religion reporters and gave me insight into their difficult and controversial jobs.

Moore is a good bit more inclined to theology in general and more sympathetic with Southern Baptist theology than is the average religion reporter in the secular press, but I still thought that the book made a bit too little of theology. As fascinated as I am with our process, I can't imagine being "more interested in the processes than the final decisions" of our SBC deliberations. Nevertheless, it has been helpful for Moore to remind me in his book that the bystanders to our Christian theological wranglings are often people who esteem theology far less and understand theology not nearly as well as seminary-trained Louis Moore. Ultimately, it is we pastors and theologians who are first called to be witnesses to the Truth. We ought to take care that those watching us most carefully do not find us regularly engaged in deception in our attempts to do so.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Forest Gump Goes to Church

I don't think that he meant to suggest any diminished mental capacities on his part. To the contrary, Louis Moore can produce a résumé of impressive accomplishments throughout his lifetime. Rather, when the former religion editor of The Houston Chronicle suggested that his newest book, Witness to the Truth, might be appropriately titled Forest Gump Goes to Church, he was referring to his uncanny tendency to have been a bystander at significant moments in the recent history of American Religion (especially American Christianity).

Moore has launched a new blog to go along with his new book. I have not read the book and have only read one post on the blog, but Moore has the credentials and the skills to make his contributions to both media worthy of your time.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Endorsements: Dr. Frank Cox for President

This week we journey to Indianapolis to attend the 2008 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I plan to cast my ballot in the presidential election for Dr. Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro Baptist Church, Lawrenceville, GA.

The Southern Baptist Convention is not about any individual. I've met a lot of nice people in the SBC during my lifetime whose life and service I would gladly choose to honor, but the presidency of our convention is not a "key to the city" to hand out as an honorary token of esteem. I've met a lot of skilled expositors or gifted leaders from whose gifts I have personally benefitted, but the presidency of our convention is not a "Lifetime Achievement Award" to mark someone's contributions. Rather, the presidency of the SBC fulfills at least two important roles.

First, the president of the SBC has the opportunity to be the foremost cheerleader and motivator to local church pastors and members in their service to the Lord. As such, I think that Frank Cox's example and message will be healthy to the churches of our convention. It is an example and message of faithfulness in ministry. Dr. Cox is still pastoring the first church he entered just coming out of seminary. His years there have not all been easy ones, yet he has persevered. Perseverance, as important as it may have been in the last decade, will (by my prediction) become an even more important ministry tool in the decades to come. His is also an example and message of sacrificial cooperation. North Metro sacrificially gives through the Cooperative Program. Theirs is an example worthy of commendation to our churches.

Second, the president of the SBC shapes the future of the convention through his appointments. I am confident that Frank Cox will make sound conservative appointments as our president. His stated philosophy of SBC polity is that we should select our trustees carefully and deliberately—making sure that we have the best trustees possible—and then trust our trustees to do their jobs well, holding them accountable to the convention not by neutering them and trashing our system of polity but by working through our polity as it has existed and served us well for several generations.

Until his nomination, I had never heard of Frank Cox. Now I find him successful enough to have accumulated the skills and relationships to be able to serve effectively as president, yet humble and just obscure enough (meant in a good way) to relate well to pastors from a broad swath of situations in our convention. I am far from the first to endorse him online. His blogging endorsements reveal a diverse informal coalition of support that includes people both east and west of the Mississippi; people at small, mid-sized, and large churches; people both closer and further to Geneva in their soteriology alike; and people transcending the generations in our convention.

In the face of that broad array of endorsements, I do not know that mine adds any momentum to his candidacy. Nevertheless, I am enthusiastic and hopeful in giving it, believing that Frank Cox represents precisely the sort of leadership that our convention needs in the coming two years.