Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bravo to the GCR Task Force, Part 2

Picking up from my previous post, I also want to make certain that you did not miss the updated report that I later linked in a new first paragraph to that blog. GCR Task Force Chairman Ronnie Floyd has engaged in a little Q&A with the press in the aftermath of Monday night's report.

The full text of the GCR Task Force Progress Report is here. The six numbered initiatives in that report, abridged and paraphrased by myself, are (as you recall from the previous post):

  1. The adoption of a new mission statement for the SBC.
  2. The thoroughgoing reorganization of the NAMB.
  3. The handing-over of international people groups living within the USA to the IMB.
  4. The reassignment of CP promotion and education to the state conventions.
  5. The addition of "Great Commission Giving" as a statistical category alongside "Cooperative Program Giving"
  6. The reallocation of 1% of the CP budget away from the Executive Committee to the IMB

I covered items 1-3 in the first post. Let's pick up the thread at item 4.

State Conventions to Resume Primary Role in Promoting the Cooperative Program

This will appear to many as a merely clerical move. It will affect the "preferred items" portion of state convention budgets. It will mean that less money and fewer assignments now belong to the Executive Committee, causing that entity to be marginally less powerful and important within the Southern Baptist Convention.

But I really believe that the best analysis of this fourth recommendation pertains to a consideration of the next two planks of the GCR platform. Let's move to an analysis of these items in sequence without letting go of this fourth item entirely. The fifth item is:

"Great Commission Giving"

Southern Baptists have always acknowledged designated giving to Southern Baptist causes. We give awards to top Lottie Moon Christmas Offering givers. Putting a new label ("Great Commission Giving") on these designated contributions, in and of itself, is no substantial change from what Southern Baptists have always done. I know of no reason to withhold support from something that is, in its substance, merely the status quo.

However, there is clearly a symbolic aspect of this plank. Some churches give very little through the Cooperative Program. At times in the past, Southern Baptists have engaged in the shaming of such churches. This is something of an effort to put an end to that practice once and for all.

What do I think of that?

Well, first of all, I think that the Cooperative Program has been misused in our recent past. The denominational apparatus of the Southern Baptist Convention should not be using CP litmus tests to determine who will serve the denomination as officers or trustees. Also, it is very unseemly for the Southern Baptist Convention to be sending denominational employees to upbraid churches about their CP giving (if such has ever happened). If I, as a member of a church giving 10% through the Cooperative Program, wish to complain to the SBC church down the pike that they are not pulling their weight in partnering with us, then that's one thing. For CP-paid denominational employees to try to dictate terms to an autonomous local church is repugnant to what I believe about the churches.

Secondly, I would note that some churches have VERY good reasons for not giving through their particular state conventions. If a local church has a beef with a state convention precisely because that state convention is not very supportive of the SBC, then it is foolish for the SBC to step into that squabble on behalf of the state convention. Somebody really smart once said that "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

There certainly are churches that give very little through the CP because (at least in part) they like to spend that money in their own churches. If a church were to (a) give around 0.02% of its receipts through the Cooperative Program while (b) the church leased and operated a private jet for the pastor, then in that hypothetical situation I would affirm the church's right to operate in that manner, but would not personally celebrate that situation in any sense. But not every low-CP church can be classified together with the churches that make no good-faith effort to join us in our cooperative mission.

I said that we would consider the third plank together with these latter two planks. When the reassignment of CP promotion responsibilities is combined with the advent of a new "Great Commission Giving" category, I do believe that we need to be careful that we are not setting aside the Cooperative Program as the primary giving emphasis of the national Southern Baptist Convention. The task force report clearly states that this is not the intention of the task force, and I applaud them both for having the foresight to see that this would be a danger and for having the decisiveness to state plainly that the Cooperative Program should neither be altered nor should share the spotlight with an unproven newcomer.

Nevertheless, the primacy of the Cooperative Program will not be secured merely by the well-wishes of the task force. We must be diligent that we continue to speak from the platform about the Cooperative Program. We should not introduce speakers by talking about their "Great Commission Giving" totals, nor should denominational magazines or emails trumpet anyone's "Great Commission Giving."

In other words, to state the matter more plainly, "Great Commission Giving" should not stand at any disadvantage to Cooperative Program giving as it pertains to giving tests for any aspect of participation in the SBC, but I think it is terribly important that Cooperative Program be the only giving plan promoted at all by Southern Baptists at any tier. We should never do anything to promote "Great Commission Giving" as a convention.

To do so is simply to embrace societal missions and to discard the convention method.

Now it appears why the third plank is relevant to the fourth one. The relinquishment of the task of promoting the Cooperative Program must not be a move that makes way for the SBC at the national level to perform any promotion of "Great Commission Giving."

Clearly, the task force has not given any indication that such an attempt lies behind this plank at all. My point is not that these two actions are designed to make this happen. I just think that, taken together, they open the vulnerability. This is not a reason for us to oppose these actions; rather, it is an indication of the areas in which we must be careful as we adopt them.

Moving 1% from Executive Committee to IMB

The task force is proposing that we reallocate 1% of the Cooperative Program receipts away from the Executive Committee to the International Mission Board. This follows logically from the fact that the task force is adding to the job of the IMB (domestic internationals) while taking away from the job of the Executive Committee (CP promotion).

One is tempted to wonder whether a whopping 1% reallocation lives up to all of the hype about getting more resources to lostness and all of the criticisms about how little Southern Baptist missions money makes it out of the USA. It is not clear from these recommendations that the task force will succeed in getting any more money out of the USA. The IMB will indeed receive 1% more funding, but it will also, for the first time in its history, start having to spend money on missionary activity here in the USA. It is possible that the IMB will spend more money to get programs going within the USA than it will receive by the 1% reallocation—possible, but not likely. The point being that some percentage demonstrably less than 1% will additionally go overseas from the SBC because of these changes.

I don't say this in criticism of the task force recommendations. I think that these are good recommendations. I say what I have said more in criticism of some of the more radical recommendations and appeals to the task force—appeals that they have obviously (and wisely) set aside.

This is not a report that "blows up" anything. Praise the Lord. This is a report that respectfully recognizes the value and substance of previous generations' accomplishments and then determines to build upon them.

Were you expecting this report to amount to Moses come down from the mountain with the thing that somebody else was going to do to inaugurate a third great awakening to spread across the globe? Then you're likely to be underwhelmed by this progress report. Obviously, a <1% reallocation of money and a few points of restructuring are not going to mark the sea-change of our spiritual future.

If, however, you were expecting (as I was) a few points of denominational restructuring that stand a chance of helping a little bit, then maybe you're pleased with this progress report. I know that I am. I plan to vote in support of these measures, and I hope that you will do so, too.

I also think that the task force has identified in the prolegomena and in some of the content of the first proposal a few of the really powerful concepts that do indeed have the potential to propel Southern Baptists into an unprecedented age of Great Commission effectiveness. None of these things can really be put into place by a ballot vote. None of these things can really be accomplished by a task force.

The greatest potential that we have for a decisive step forward as Southern Baptists lies not in programmatic restructuring but in spiritual renewal. The best parts of the report are the other areas besides the six recommendations (or maybe that statement reflects my lack of wonkishness). The lack of sensationalism in the six items listed in this proposal may be the best feature of the report. Perhaps the absence of seminary mergers and name changes among the six restructuring proposals will cause us to pay less attention to them, and to pay more attention to the spiritual concepts embedded within the report.

To realize all that God would love to do through our obedience will take hard work on our part—on the part of vast numbers of Southern Baptists. In my final post in this series, I want to move away from the six specific proposals and consider some of the things that I believe we all will need to do as Southern Baptists in order to see these efforts succeed.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bravo to the GCR Task Force

We have now seen a progress report from the GCR Task Force, with details promised to follow in the coming months. Unless the details include covert funding for an Alaskan bridge to Gravina Island, a renewed attempt to rename Discipleship Training as "Quest", or a proposed merger into the Alliance of Baptists, I firmly plan to do two things with regard to this Task Force Proposal:

  1. Cast an enthusiastic ballot in favor of the associated motions in Orlando; and,
  2. Work hard personally to see this initiative succeed.

The remainder of my post will consist of my endeavoring to elicit the same response from you.

Why You Should Vote in the Affirmative

Well, before you determine how to vote, you probably should become familiar with the contents of the progress report. You might consider watching the video report, which has the approximate running time of the average Lord of the Rings movie, or you could peruse the PDF file linked above. The content of each is identical, so suit yourself. Setting aside prolegomena for later analysis, I direct your attention to the six major planks of this platform:

  1. The adoption of a new mission statement for the SBC.
  2. The thoroughgoing reorganization of the NAMB.
  3. The handing-over of international people groups living within the USA to the IMB.
  4. The reassignment of CP promotion and education to the state conventions.
  5. The addition of "Great Commission Giving" as a statistical category alongside "Cooperative Program Giving"
  6. The reallocation of 1% of the CP budget away from the Executive Committee to the IMB

Let's consider these one-by-one.

The New Mission Statement

The task force proposes a new mission statement as follows:

As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.

  • Ecclesiology leads off the mission statement. We are a convention of churches. The Great Commission was given to churches, and all that we do as the SBC we do not as atomic individuals but as a convention of churches. The report urges upon us a return to the primacy and efficacy of the local church as the central headquarters of the Great Commission.

    In order for this Great Commission Resurgence to occur, each church has to own the responsibility of fulfilling the Great Commission. Each church has to own Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8. Each church has to own the responsibility of reaching their village or community or town or city with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each church has to own the responsibility of reaching their region, America, and the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • The evangelistic emphasis of this vision statement is upon the presentation of the gospel to individuals, and not to "people groups." Our vision is not accomplished until we have presented to gospel to each and every individual on the planet.

    Note: I acknowledge that people groups can be a convenient construct for the training and deployment of missionaries. I am not arguing that the concept of a people group must be ignored in Southern Baptist life. I am merely agreeing with the proposed mission statement that it is our task to present the gospel to people (and to all of them), and not just to people groups.

  • If the Great Commission mission statement is going to follow the actual text of the Great Commission, it should say something about the immersion of disciples. Jesus didn't flinch from saying that, nor should we. I would support anybody's motion to amend the mission statement by adding something about baptism in order to bring the statement into line with what Jesus said.

  • But the mission statement does mention the discipleship of believers, and no believer who has not been immersed as a believer is properly pursuing discipleship. If there are other things that you would prefer to see in the mission statement, I'm betting that it is probably something that you can shoehorn into "discipleship" somewhere.

    Discipleship means teaching disciples to obey all that Christ has commanded. That includes adherence to the principles taught in appropriate portions of the Old Testament law (which Christ exegeted quite a bit and which was the subject matter of many of His commandments). It includes proper ecclesiology, which arises out of the commandments of Christ. It includes believers' immersion (although I believe that immersion deserves separate mention simply because Christ mentioned it separately). It includes Christian citizenship. It includes the training of pastors to pursue their callings.

Along with the mission statement are a number of core values. Let's save those for consideration in the third post. I support this mission statement and plan to vote for it.

The Reorganization of the NAMB

The North American Mission Board needs to rise above its most recent history. Surely all Southern Baptists can agree upon that statement. Furthermore, the United States of America is being lost to the gospel; therefore, Southern Baptists have never needed the North American Mission Board to be vital and successful more than we need it today.

From the very beginning of this discussion I stated my opinion that it would be a bad idea to dissolve the NAMB into the IMB. We now see—me thankfully so—that the GCR Task Force has not only preserved the NAMB but has also articulated for it a strong, focused vision. The vision expressed for NAMB in this report is one that I support enthusiastically.

  • I support a renewed emphasis upon church planting in urban North America outside the present strength areas of the SBC. FBC Farmersville is already on the move in this direction, recognizing its strategic importance to all that our convention is doing. In many ways, even INTERNATIONAL missions become easier and more effective the more that we reach New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco with the gospel.

    The more I consider the idea, I think that the NAMB ought to coordinate a synchronized splash in major cities like New York City. What would happen if we set a date in early 2012 upon which we were simultaneously going to launch 100 new church plants in the city? The church planters could be secured in advance and trained together. They would have a ready-made association (not that they couldn't participate in existing associations) for mutual support, brainstorming, and encouragement. The NAMB could fund a coordinated advertising campaign leading up to the launch date. We've done simultaneous revivals; why not have a simultaneous church planting day?

    But I digress. This post is about the GCR Task Force's ideas, not about my ideas.

  • I support a strong emphasis upon evangelism at the NAMB. I'm enthusiastic about the imminent GPS emphasis, and I'm thankful that more NAMB resources will be devoted to the cultivation of evangelism among Southern Baptists.

  • I support the direct appointment of missionaries by the NAMB. I believe that this simpler model can lead to greater effectiveness.

  • I support the elimination of cooperative agreements and cooperative budgets by which the NAMB passes funds back to the state conventions. Like many people, I have always thought that this boomerang missions funding arrangement was queer. I grieve not at all to think about it going away.

    I confess, however, that I am unsure as to what the unintended consequences of this measure may be. Pioneer area state conventions will doubtless fear this change, and may lobby against it. State conventions in historic SBC territories may take this action as an excuse to decrease further the percentage of Cooperative Program money that they forward to national and international causes, which (along with other portions of the report) may push us even further away from the 50/50 goal that I so long to see us achieve at the state convention level.

I do recognize that some of these actions could be viewed as preliminary steps toward the outcome that I have opposed: A merger of the NAMB into the IMB. The gutting of the Alpharetta, GA, headquarters and the assignment of a smaller task to the NAMB may indeed work out to make the NAMB "easier" for the IMB just to swallow some day in the future. Nevertheless, I choose to be thankful that the NAMB is definitely being resuscitated now rather than to worry that the NAMB might be euthanized later. Furthermore, any potential future NAMB-IMB merger cannot take place unless Southern Baptists approve it by ballot. We can deal with it then, if it comes up at all. Also, if it should be that Southern Baptists would EVER approve an IMB-NAMB merger, then I would rather that it take place incrementally than hastily.

I also confess that I am wondering whatever will become of the elements of the NAMB that do not fit within the vision articulated by the Task Force. For example, what of Disaster Relief? Southern Baptists need national coordination for Disaster Relief. Will the NAMB consider this something that belongs under Evangelism?

It seems to me that the plan for the NAMB is, in some ways, a return to what we had before the Covenant for a New Century—a board tasked with home missions assignments as its primary focus. Having folded other things into the NAMB in the 1990s, will we spin them back out in the 2010s, or will the cumulative effect be the destruction of these other worthy ministry efforts? I don't know, and the progress report doesn't say.

There are many details yet unstated, and yes, I worry about some of those. But we ought not to let imagined problems prevent us from celebrating realized achievements. I also don't want to be the guy who gets 95% of what he wanted, but acknowledges none of that while he carps over the 5% that didn't succeed in negotiations. I support the NAMB proposal.

The IMB Invasion :-)

Before considering the new task added for IMB, which I support, I will take a moment to mention one thing about the IMB. The GCR Task Force report is refreshingly honest about the challenges faced and weaknesses evidenced at the NAMB and among our local SBC churches. That can be a good thing. Playing Pollyanna is unlikely to lead us forward, and it is a sizable portion of what I expect and desire from this task force that they both take for themselves and offer to us Southern Baptists a hard, realistic look at where we stand as a denomination.

I note, however, that the task force has not shown the same healthy, searching, probing honesty toward the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. How is it that such imperfect and struggling churches who (unsurprisingly) cooperate in an imperfect and struggling effort to pursue the Great Commission on our own collective doorstep have somehow birthed and nurtured utter perfection in an international missions agency?

Come on, guys. The IMB needs to face up to some things, too, if we will be more effective in pursuing the Great Commission together. If we can't talk about those things now, then when? Or do we suffer from a blinding IMB mystique that permeates our convention even all the way up to the task force?

Now don't misunderstand me. I think that the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is the greatest missionary organization in the history of post-biblical Christianity. I'm not trying to allege that the IMB is bad; I'm just trying to assert the difference between "great" and "perfect." We need to be mature enough to discuss the IMB's flaws as well as the NAMB's.

Oh, well. Enough of that. Leaving behind what isn't in the report, let's consider what is in the report.

The GCR Task Force recommends that the International Mission Board be allowed to work among internationals living within the United States of America. Presently, the relationship between the NAMB and the IMB is in at least one way like the relationship between the FBI and the CIA in our national government. Just as the CIA cannot legally conduct espionage within the border of the USA, the IMB cannot conduct missions activities within the USA and Canada. The proposal would lift that restriction.

I think that this could lead to some great ideas. Perhaps domestic work with an international group could become a training step that missionaries take before going overseas. It costs a serious bundle of money to get a missionary onto a foreign field, sometimes only to have the missionaries serve one term and then drop out. I wonder whether domestic international groups might become a cheaper training ground in which truly successful missionaries might be identified for placement overseas?

That's probably a horrible idea—missiology isn't my field. Suffice it to say that I see positive possibilities in allowing the IMB to perform this sort of work within the USA. It ought to be limited, however, to first-generation, non-English-speaking groups. I plan to vote for this measure.

I'm now halfway through the outline that I drew up earlier today, and entirely through my stamina for writing. I'm also feeling a bit like the pot-calling-the-kettle-black for my "Lord of the Rings" comment in the beginning of this post.

What say we end this post here to make it a manageable chunk? The next post will consider the last three planks of the platform. The final post will entail the things that I believe that we will all have to do as Southern Baptists to make all of this succeed.

The very fact that I am making a third post is indicative of and necessarily entails an important point—I don't believe that these proposals, in and of themselves, will solve anything substantial for Southern Baptists. Take it as comforting or take it as challenging: The success of the SBC does not rise or fall on the thoughts or actions of twenty or so leaders in the SBC; it rises or falls on you, the individual Southern Baptist church member reading these words right now. If this initiative will succeed, I believe that there are several essential things that we all must do together. The third post will elaborate upon them.

My First, Brief, Active Response to the GCRTF Progress Report

First Baptist Church of Farmersville, partnering with other Southern Baptists, is already committed to assisting in the planting of a new Southern Baptist church in North Adams, Massachusetts. We need a church planter. Were you inspired by the GCRTF presentation on the evangelistic needs in New England? Do you think that God might be calling you to serve in this way? Let me know, and I would be glad to tell you how you can put your name in the hat. I'm not offering the job to anybody (don't have the authority to do that, since this is a partnership for us), but all of the partners involved are praying for God to send the right person.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Comfortable, but Not Very Helpful

Ancient is the temptation to attempt to make God in our own image, rather than to content ourselves with our being made in His. In light of that fact, Elton John's declaration that "Jesus was a compassionate, super-intelligent gay man" is neither original nor surprising, heretical as it is (see here). It is the quintessence of self-worship and self-absorption to take sentences that one might well have written about oneself, swap out one's own name for the name of God, and feel very comfortable with all that we share in common with our favorite deity.

Of course, the real Jesus—the Jesus who actually lived in Judea 2,000 years ago and whose life is recorded in the gospels—must make Mr. John quite uncomfortable. He makes me uncomfortable. If He doesn't make you uncomfortable, then you're either not reading the New Testament or you're not reading it seriously.

And yet, no matter how much Mr. John may derive greater enjoyment from a Jesus of his own making, the remainder of Parade Magazine's interview with him shows clearly how much he needs an encounter with the real Jesus.

He needs the real Jesus because in spite of every conceivable advantage in his life, he's found nothing but heartache. His homosexual profligacy didn't satisfy him:

I'd always choose someone younger. I wanted to smother them with love. I'd take them around the world, try to educate them. One after another they got a Cartier watch, a Versace outfit, maybe a sports car. They didn't have jobs. They were reliant on me. I did this repeatedly. In six months they were bored and hated my guts because I'd taken their lives and self-worth away. I hadn't intended to.

Along with sexual perversion came chemical addictions, which also consumed his soul and left him with nothing:

Just about every relationship I ever had was involved with drugs. It never works. But I always had to be with someone, good or bad, otherwise I didn't feel fulfilled. I'd lost the plot.

. . . . . . . .

For some people a gram of cocaine can last a month. Not me. I have to do the lot, and then I want more. At the end of the day, all it led to was heartache

Underneath and around these perversions and addictions—leading to them and growing out of them—Elton John slumps under the burden of his own guilt. He has chosen the old path of seeing whether he can accrue enough good works to make his own atonement for his sins:

I set up my foundation because I wanted to make amends for the years I was a drug addict.

How much money will it take? How many good works? Who gets to read the scales?

I'm so thankful for Emir and Ergun Caner. We've seen two Muslims profess faith in Jesus Christ here at this little rural Texas church thanks to the witness and pastoral advice of Emir Caner. They are so right when they tell us about the brutality of the scales versus the beauty of God's grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. But this message of grace is not a message for Muslims alone. The world is full of Elton Johns, toting around counterfeit Jesuses, all very comfortable to them, but no help at all. And all the while, "Jesus , the Mighty to Save" is not far away at all, and is their only hope.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

BO Baker; Evangelist, Pastor, and Musician; Gone to Heaven

Dick Baker (L) and his brother BO Baker(R)

Among FBC Farmersville's favorite sons is BO Baker. Today, at the age of 87, BO Baker walks with the Lord in glory.

BO and his brother Dick were the sons of "Bunk" Baker, a pillar of FBC Farmersville throughout most of the twentieth century, a bold witness for Jesus Christ to the residents of Farmersville, and a prominent local businessman. I still have members here who will tell you that they came to this church because Bunk Baker came to their doorstep within their first 48 hours of having arrived in Farmersville to invite them to church here. Bunk Baker himself had been saved well into adulthood due to the witness of Matthew Mueller, the only pastor of FBC Farmersville to remain in this pulpit longer than I now have (he stayed 14 years; I've been here 11).

From Farmersville BO Baker went to Baylor University (in a round-about sort of way). He came to direct the singing at the BSU's midweek "Baylor Religious Hour." In that role BO Baker first became involved in the stirrings of the Holy Spirit that turned into the Youth Revival Movement. Looking back, Baker reflected:

Out of the sparks of campus revival spread flames of interest within the student world. . . . The result was the meaningful and historically important Youth Revival Movement which claimed the high point on the spear as revival spread beyond the faculty and student body at Baylor and Waco, producing a fire fall at other university campuses across the [South]. The Youth Revival Movement was truly a remarkable work of God. Its only explanation was divine intervention.

Indeed, the Baylor revivals inaugurated one of the most significant spiritual awakenings among Southern Baptists in the twentieth century. Along with Buckner Fanning, Howard Butt, and other significant leaders, BO and Dick Baker played an integral role.

BO and Dick sang together and played trumpet duets. The two served together on the staff of Birchman Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth. BO eventually pastored the Plymouth Park Baptist Church in Irving, TX, for some 25 years, while his brother Dick served as the Minister of Music at Prestonwood Baptist Church for 15 years. Throughout their lives, even when they were serving at different churches, they regularly led revivals together. One of their last (perhaps THE last?) trumpet duets that they played was before a crowd of 40-or-so senior adults here in our gymnasium. I was delighted to be present.

BO leaves behind a legacy of poems, sermons, and prose. My favorite entry is his (as far as I know) last book, entitled Until the Phone Stops Ringing. This very personal memoir, copiously adorned with photographs old and new, tells of the enduring connection between Farmersville, TX, and this emissary of our congregation who served the Lord so well and so widely. The title of the book comes from BO's repeated reply to those who inquired as to when he would retire: "We plan to retire when the phone stops ringing!"

A call came to BO Baker this morning that preempted all others. Right now he is with the Lord.

I write today to honor BO Baker. He and the movements of which he was a part WERE the 1950s so lampooned and castigated and demeaned and relegated to unimportance in the headlines today (and yet entirely unsurpassed). Allow me to say it: I think that BO Baker's work was important. I think the myriad souls saved under his preaching came by the action of the Holy Spirit who chose to bless what BO was doing. I think that my ministry could benefit from being a little bit more like Bunk and BO and Dick. I think if we wish to see the kind of Great Commission Awakening that we say we want to see, we might do well to stop talking for a minute and listen to the BO Bakers out there in our convention, while we still can.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"The End of Christianity"; The Beginning of the Discussion

William A. Dembski's The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World is an interesting and provocative book. I have not yet finished it, and will supply my own thoughts about the book once I have done so.

In the meantime, I would direct your attention to a review of the book written by Dr. David Allen. Allen's review notably includes a preamble by Dr. Paige Patterson and a clarifying statement by Dr. Dembski himself about some of the more innovative portions of the book.

I will not go into a review of the content of the book, since I am saving that post for when I have actually completed the book myself. I will not offer at this time any opinion about the content of the book, the helpfulness or lack thereof of the theories proposed therein, or the compatibility of Dembski's book with Southern Baptist beliefs. I will, however, take a moment to highlight something particularly noteworthy about this review. Consider the following statement from Dr. Paige Patterson in the preamble to the review:

As president of Southwestern, I seized the occasion to meet with Bill Dembski. As a young-earth creationist, I do not agree with Dembski’s views of the age of the earth or the retroactive effects of the Fall. Indeed, as a “young earther,” my own position, which I naturally hold dear, is heavily critiqued in Dembski’s book.

You may have read on occasion the allegation—the deliberately dishonest allegation—that Dr. Patterson or other much-maligned Southern Baptists require that people agree with them on every point of theology or else they will not cooperate with them. Here we have a perfect test case to see whether this is or is not true. Dr. Patterson bluntly states that he "[does] not agree" with Dembski, and even that Dembski has authored a book "highly [critical]" of Dr. Patterson's own system of belief. Understand me plainly: A professor at SWBTS, working for Dr. Patterson, has authored and published a book that Dr. Patterson (rightly) perceives as highly critical of Dr. Patterson's own theological viewpoint.

We have here an example of a person who does not agree with Dr. Patterson at all points of theology, and of all things, with regard to the creation account in Genesis. If there is any truth whatsoever to the charge that Dr. Patterson will not tolerate and cannot cooperate with anyone who does not agree with him at all points of theology, then we are certain what we will read next: A ravaging Philippic against Dembski's book followed by a press release announcing Dembski's dismissal from the SWBTS faculty. If we do not read precisely that, then those allegations have been false witness borne against Dr. Patterson.

So, what do we read next?

The meeting with Dembski confirmed my previous judgments that Dembski is a biblical inerrantist, accepts the historicity of Genesis 1–11, including the special creation of Adam and Eve, and in every other way is teaching as an enthusiastic supporter of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Beyond that, Bill is one of the most humble of the great intellects whom I have ever known personally. In gentleness and great Christian grace, he discharges his duties to family, church, school, and denomination. . . .

. . . . As the case ought to be among brethren, colleagues, and sister seminaries, Southwestern and its president wish to express gratitude to Tom Nettles for alerting Bill Dembski and all of us to possible problems in his presentation. This is what friends should do. That this can take place in our Southern Baptist Zion with positions stoutly stated but without acrimony demonstrates that diversity of a tolerable variety exists within the unity of our broad fellowship—a unity motivated by love and trumped only by truth.

So, like most Southern Baptists, Dr. Patterson is someone who sees Southern Baptists as a people who enjoy "the unity of our broad fellowship" within which "diversity of a tolerable variety exists." Which matters belong in which category? Which ones belong to the necessary foundation of "the unity of our broad fellowship" and therefore cannot be compromised? Which ones pertain to the "diversity of a tolerable variety" within our unity which we overlook for the sake of unity? I may answer that question differently at some points than does Dr. Patterson. You may have answers that differ from both of ours.

But any honest person must admit that the mere categorization of a few items of doctrine into different categories does not in any non-demagogic way constitute requiring that people agree with you totally before you will cooperate with them. It does not constitute any attempt to drive out of the convention anyone who disagrees with you about anything. Anyone who tells you differently is flying in the face of the facts and is trying to hoodwink you.

Beyond the mere wording of this preamble is the action represented by the fact of its existence. Dr. Patterson has gone to the extraordinary action of defending Dr. Dembski's work against a severe review of it—against a severe review that itself came from the vantage point of Dr. Patterson's own beliefs. Dr. Patterson is defending the scholarly work of the professor who critiques Dr. Patterson against the review of the professor who agrees with Dr. Patterson.

So here we have the truth, not only stated in words but also demonstrated in actions. Praise God for the truth. Stand by for the spin, sure to follow soon.

Be wise, my friends. Don't believe everything you read.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Baylor, Baptists, and Bill Clinton's Nemesis

Ken Starr Should Be Free to Choose His Own Denomination and Church

By now you've heard the news: Ken Starr is Baylor University's New President. The story states that Starr's wife is Jewish (although apparently a Christian as well), and that they plan to join "a Baptist church" upon their arrival in Waco. If they have ever held membership in a Baptist church before (Starr's father was a Church of Christ preacher), no mention is being made of it.

Starr thus makes the second consecutive man to go through the forced pretense of joining a Baptist church in order to preside over my alma mater.

This fact is the context of my plea to Baylor University: Please, please, please, please, please! Stop this farce! If you will no longer require that your presiding officers actually BE Baptists, please stop coercing them into joining Baptist churches upon their arrival in Waco. Doing so:

  1. is a slap in the face to the historic Baptist tradition of voluntarism. John Lilley's past church memberhsip and Ken Starr's soon-to-be church membership represent something of a coerced faith, do they not? Aren't we, as Baptists, opposed to such a thing?

  2. devalues the concept of Baptist church membership (if, indeed, that can be done further). How can it not do so for an erstwhile Baptist university to adopt the ethos of le bon roi Henri?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

On the Preservation of Freedom in the SBC

It is interesting how much of the blogging over the past few days has touched upon the question of freedom in the SBC. On the one hand, some analysts have taken Les Puryear's emails to constitute a threat to the "Academic Freedom" of professors within the SBC. On the other hand, people like me have suggested that the outcry over Les's actions constitute an unwarranted effort to curtail the freedom of pastors to complain about teachings with which they disagree.

Which is it?

I don't think that anyone benefits from a complete lack of accountability. Every sermon that I preach, I preach as someone who is accountable for his own words. On rare occasions, people object to something that I have said. Sometimes I believe that they have misunderstood me. Sometimes I see their point and apologize for my error. Sometimes I believe that they are simply wrong (and occasionally wrongheaded!) and I stand my ground. But even on those occasions, the challenge has brought me to refine my views, to examine my assumptions, and to hold my faith with greater fervor and sincerity.

I don't see any reason why denominational employees, including seminary professors, shouldn't live the same way. Now that I'm a trustee of a seminary, I get complaints about the seminary. I get them from buddies. I get them from people I've never met. I get them from people I love. I get them from people I'm trying to love better.

But I never, ever just dismiss one out-of-hand. Certainly it has never even entered my mind to throw the contents of one up on my blog and try to attack or belittle anyone authoring such a letter. Most of the time I take the time to write an actual reply and send it to the person who complained. Of course, since the seminary is governed by the trustees as a collective unit and not by any individual trustee, I never make promises about what I will or won't do, and I usually don't even express an opinion on the matter (since I ought only to make up my mind after hearing all of the data brought out by the deliberative process), but instead I promise to pay close attention during our trustee meetings and work hard to make prayerful, wise decisions. Those promises are sincere.

Oh, sometimes, at the end of a long day, I confess that I'm tempted to see another piece of mail as a nuisance. Sometimes, when conversing with a friend, I regret that the call is not about friendship, but about seminary business. But those are rare feelings that generally only occur when I'm fatigued, and even then I deliberately set those feelings aside. That's because I truly regard those complaints as something sacred. The represent individual Southern Baptists caring enough about the mission of their entities to become involved in them.

I may disagree with an individual Southern Baptist over the content of a complaint, but I usually try to include in my reply some statement of gratitude toward the individual for caring enough to comment. I believe that the Conservative Resurgence, although it was greatly about denominational employees not being able to ignore the truth of God's word, was also substantially about convention entities and employees not being able to ignore the sentiments of the Southern Baptist people. For years bullying tactics tried to shame or browbeat individual Southern Baptists who dared to question what the entities were doing. Sometimes and in some quarters today these things still happen. I want it to be clear to everyone that I stand against those sorts of tactics.

Most complaints will result in no action whatsoever. That's the way that it ought to be, for no entity can survive being whipped around in a new direction by a new letter every day. Read the letter, give it careful thought, and if it does not warrant action then move past it respectfully. It's OK to do nothing about a complaint made by a single individual. And yet every individual Southern Baptist ought to—must—be able to retain the right to stand up and disagree with what is going on at any entity without being tarred and feathered. Every once in a while, that letter from a concerned pastor or member somewhere is going to be right, and the entity is going to be wrong. And the great hope of our polity (as opposed to, for example, the Episcopalians) is that, when that situation occurs, the concerned pastor or member has a chance to state his case and maybe, with the Lord's help, make a difference.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Adding to the Fact File on Les Puryear

A minor dust-up has taken place in SBC blogging life regarding Les Puryear. Les has been blogging recently on the topic of Antinomianism (see here, here, here, and here), at which topic he arrived by way of a discussion of tithing.

Now Les has come under the sort of mean-spirited personal attack that has far too often characterized Southern Baptist blogging since I began reading SBC blogs in 2006. Les's personal correspondence has been re-routed and misused by people with no honor. The use of this material has occurred in a manner calculated to malign Les. Les has now given a full explanation of what REALLY happened. People will challenge the veracity of Les's account, you can count on that.

I have one piece of information to offer as corroboration of what Les has written. Before anyone else published anything about what Les was doing, Les telephoned me to ask me if I would be interested in authoring a scholarly rebuttal of Köstenberger's paper. Les and I don't speak by telephone often (maybe three or four times ever in our lives), so it is easy to recall the details. I declined to write the paper and directed him to other people who might be interested or might already have been working on similar projects (because this kind of subject matter is important to them). The facts of our telephone conversation line up perfectly with Les's explanation of what was happening in his interaction with Dr. Daniel Akin at SEBTS, in which he mentioned the scholarly rebuttal as something that grew out of his subsequent interaction with Dr. Akin.

Oh, and before you come to the conclusion that I'm just sticking up for a blogging-buddy, I would like to point out that my relationship with Les Puryear has been tense—very tense—rather than warm and cuddly. You might consider this post, which I took as an attack piece upon myself personally and which misrepresented my personal beliefs and practices (an action which I'm willing to regard as a mistake on Les's part). Look at the comment thread on that one and see how warm it got. And then, not long afterwards, I prematurely outed Les's 2008 bid for the SBC Presidency and then flatly opposed his election (see here and here).

In my original post outing Les's candidacy, I wondered out loud whether Les was an Antinomian (you'll find that little tidbit if you read the post). I'd say that question has been answered! I apologize, Les, for misunderstanding you. And I think now you see why I was on the lookout for Antinomians in our midst back then. You don't have to look very far.

I imagine that Les Puryear and I will disagree on many more things in the future, but I've always tried to be honest about him and to be honest with him. Les is not a part of my "camp" or anything, but I count him as a brother and I'm hopeful that he is someone independent who has come to see a difference between the way our "camp" operates and the way that others conduct business in the SBC.

Was Les trying to get Köstenberger fired? I don't think that Les wrote that letter to get Köstenberger fired any more than people who tint windows for a living are trying to extinguish the Sun. People who tint windows for a living see the detrimental effect of too much sunshine, but they know that extinguishing the Sun is not within their power. Likewise, I don't think that Les ever seriously thought for a moment that he had the juice to get a professor fired. Goodness gracious! I'm a TRUSTEE at an SBC seminary and I don't think that I have the clout to get walking papers drawn up for a professor just because I disagree with something that a professor writes or says. Anybody who thinks that Les has the ability to get Andreas Köstenberger fired—anybody who thinks that Les thinks that Les has the ability to get Köstenberger fired—is certifiably out of touch with reality.

I think that Les disagreed with Köstenberger's position, that Köstenberger's paper perhaps seemed to Les to be unduly dismissive of Les's own viewpoint, that Les worried that Köstenberger's reasoning might indicate not only a troublesome conclusion on a particular doctrine but also a troublesome understanding of the nature of Old Testament scripture, and that (here's the crux of the matter) Les wanted to lodge a complaint. Does lodging a complaint mean that Les, if he were hiring new professors for some hypothetical seminary of his own, might not have Andreas Köstenberger at the top of his list? I think it probably means at least that. Does it mean that Les thought he could get Köstenberger fired and had determined to do so? No.

Does it mean that Les was questioning whether Köstenberger belonged at SEBTS? Clearly it did, but it also appears just as clearly that Les was perfectly willing to listen to good answers to his questions. I'll bet that you freely opine as to who ought to be pitching for your favorite baseball team or whether the coach of your favorite football team ought to be fired before next season. Maybe you've even called in to an ESPN radio show or written a Letter to the Editor on the topic. Most people, if and when they gain the actual authority to be able to make hiring and firing decisions, are more judicious, circumspect, and cautious when taking irreversible actions than they are when they are expressing an opinion. Les was just expressing an opinion and asking a question (albeit a definitely pregnant one). He disagreed with Köstenberger's opinion and with Köstenberger's rationale for getting there, and Les was expressing his disagreement.

The real irony here is that the side of Southern Baptist life that styles itself in its promotional material as being the champions of free dissent and transparency in the SBC just dropped a piano on a guy for his choice of words in the mere action of his exercising his freedom to dissent and to lodge a complaint with an SBC entity.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Great Advice on Wisdom in Electronic Communication

Don't miss the latest thoughtful piece by Gary Ledbetter: "Think Twice, Send Once." Gary knows whereof he speaks, and the effectiveness of your ministry may someday hinge on precisely the subjects that Gary is addressing.

Particularly useful is Gary's reminder about the unknown reach of communiques that you might regard as private. There are some people in Southern Baptist life who are entirely without honor as it pertains to the "personal" correspondence that you might conduct with them. I've regretfully found that to be true in my personal experience, as have others. So be wise out there; be careful. Take Gary's words to heart.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ed Young Responds to WFAA News Story

Ed Young has responded to allegations that surfaced in a recent news story about Fellowship Church in Grapevine. Above is the video including statements by Young and by two members of the church's "board of trustees."

I linked the WFAA story and am honor-bound to provide this response to you as well. Any questions?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Speaking of Intellectual Property

The full story is available at: WFAA Channel 8 News.

The conspiracy minded among you, knowing what I blogged about yesterday, are going to think that I have sources at WFAA tipping me off about their stories. The rest of you will realize that I'm not nearly that important or well-connected.

But it just so happens that on the day I opine about intellectual property, our local DFW news station runs an investigative exposé about rock-star-preacher phenom Ed Young Jr. Although the bulk of the story has more to do with his $8.4 million private jet about which staff members are allegedly lying to the congregation and Jr's alleged $1.24 million annual compensation package, there is a section of the video which deals with the concept of intellectual property as it applies to preachers.

Of course, it would be irresponsible for me to link in this video while ignoring the main thrust of the story. I'll be glad to opine thusly:

  1. I do not believe that it is inherently immoral for a pastor to fly around in a private jet, although I doubt that it is wise for a pastor to live so far above the means of those in his flock. I'll concede that most of the ways for a pastor to live in that kind of opulence are situations fraught with temptation to sin that few people could overcome. Nevertheless, I ought to remember that my salary (approximately 1/20 of Jr's) appears luxurious and ostentatious to every pastor for whom I have preached in Cuba. Some humility on my part is called for here.

  2. I'm not clear enough in my own understanding of a theology of intellectual property (see immediately previous post) to have any strong foundation for weighing in on the appropriateness of Jr's turning church work product into personal largesse. He did write the sermons, after all (if you can call it creative genius to conclude that standing by a bed and talking about taking sex to a "whole 'nuther level" will attract the curious). I'm betting that the vast preponderance of his church members are OK with Jr's selling his sermons and "expertise" online for tidy sums.

  3. What does seem clearly worthy of rebuke, if true, is the allegation that the staff has been hiding from the congregation a corporate jet that the congregation has purchased and which furtively has been employed to take Jr's family to the Bahamas and to Mexico/Belize. Ed is (in)famous for having attacked congregationalism, alleging that every time the congregation votes they make the wrong decision. I'm betting that they would have disagreed with his situation on this one, too, had they known about it (presuming that the allegations are true, which they might not be).

    My congregation knows my salary to the penny. They know what I get for mileage and expenses. They can come in, sit down, and peruse the checkbook itself (and we have no credit cards or any other way for church money to be expended). We have utter, 100% transparency. I'm a fan of that.

    As far as our financial dealings with the church go, the church ought to be fully in the know. A pastor ought to be playing the role of Peter, not the role of Ananias.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Theology of Intellectual Property

©2010 Christopher Bart Barber, all rights reserved.

One of the more interesting cases of my lifetime (IMHO) is Association For Molecular Pathology et al v. United States Patent and Trademark Office et al. At issue in the case is whether the Myriad corporation can secure a patent covering the human genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.

At first glance, I have no real sympathy for Myriad. How can one patent not that which one has created but that which one has merely discovered? Didn't God make genes? Aren't we glad nobody patented gold? Water? Long walks in the park?

And yet, upon further reflection, how is Myriad's action different from that of a pastor who copyrights a sermon? Do you, as a pastor, pray asking God to guide you in your sermon preparation? Is it really entirely your creation? What about Christian music? I believe that it is not only illegal but is also immoral to make duplicates of a Mercy Me CD in order to avoid paying for their product. But why do I regard “I Can Only Imagine” differently than I regard the gene BRCA1?

It seems clear to me that I need to develop some sort of a biblical theology of intellectual property—some systematic approach to the topic that incorporates both a check against human hubris in exclusive credit for what God has done and an acknowledgement of the commandment not to steal. I haven't done that work for myself as of yet, but it is going onto my to-do list.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Very Wise Decision: GCRTF Will Not Recommend IMB-NAMB Merger

The Florida Baptist Witness is reporting that the Task Force will not be recommending a merger of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. I know that the task force was duty-bound to consider this possibility thoroughly, and I'm thankful that after having considered it exhaustively they have concluded against the merger. I opined early-on against the merger (as a bad idea, not as a malevolent action), so perhaps it is not surprising that I gleefully receive this recommendation.

I expect that we will soon hear the remainder of the recommendations. I'm cautiously optimistic. Optimistic because I have confidence in the Southern Baptist people, including those involved in this process. Cautious because my theology tells me that we are—all of us—fallen and frail and error-prone creatures longing for redemption. Whatever the proposals, in whichever of my three categories they may fall (viz., those for which I would fight, those about which I would merely comment politely and then vote, and those against which I would go to war), I plan to hear them prayerfully and to show my respect and gratitude for those who have given so much of their time to prepare them.

But I am very hopeful to see some of category #1, perhaps a good bit of category #2, and none of category #3 at all.