Saturday, December 15, 2012

One More Thing to Do When Tragedy Strikes

We're not surprised, I think, at the volumes of great information filling the Internet in the aftermath of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, CT, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School (in case you're reading this a few years down the line and don't recall, I'm talking about this). Among the responses I've read, Dr. Al Mohler's has meant as much to me as any. There's a lot of godly wisdom in the world, and we are blessed by the immediate access we have to it because of the Internet. I won't try to add to or replace the thoughtful and comforting words that you have already received in so many places.

But I do want to offer one additional piece of advice that you may not have seen yet. With regard to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, after you've prayed for the victims, snuggled your own children, resolved not to let another day go by without thanking God for them, and taken careful and sober stock of the effects of sin in a culture running hard away from God, I want you to do one more thing:

Turn off your TV.

Listen, this 24-hour cable news cycle in which we live is not natural. The non-stop diet of tragedy that it serves is great for ratings, but bad for souls, I suspect. You already know all that you need to know about this tragedy. Just turn it off.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Way Forward for Conservative Evangelicals

The election is over and President Obama has won another four years. The fate of the GOP was sealed with the nomination of Mitt Romney, and Evangelicals knew it. Evangelicals vote for Mitt Romney. A few Evangelicals altered their theology and terminology in favor of Mitt Romney. But Romney was not the choice of Evangelicals.

Why did Evangelicals vote for Mitt Romney? Because they did not believe that they had any other good choice. That's what has to change. Trust me: Somewhere in America there's a Bob Dole IV, and whoever he is, today he is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2016. If Evangelicals want to have more and better options, Evangelicals are going to have to create them. I'm happy to get the ball rolling by offering a few thoughts

  1. The hard work of prioritizing our convictions lies before us. This will be the universal conclusion drawn this morning by Republicans, although different Republicans will apply the process differently. The major elements of Republican ideology are, in my estimation: (1)Free-Market Capitalism, (2)The Pro-Life Agenda, (3)Hawkish Foreign Policy, (4)Constitutionalism, (5)Nativism and Anti-Immigrationism, (6)The Law & Order Agenda, and (7)The Anti-Homosexuality Agenda.

    I didn't take four weeks to develop that list, but instead threw it together on the fly. Perhaps I've missed something important, but I feel pretty good about it as top-of-my-head efforts go.

    We're going to have to prioritize these things, as I said. And we're going to have to do so with some of these other factors in mind.

  2. The Republican Party has to add not merely individual voters to its rolls, but larger and more rapidly growing blocs of voters. This is where the GOP ought to listen to Evangelicals if it wants to survive. Evangelicalism is growing among African-Americans and Latinos. The GOP is not. Obviously, Evangelicalism is not the cause of Republican demographic woes, for in the key ethnic groups that brought woe to the GOP last night, Evangelicals are succeeding.

    The question is: If the GOP persists in alienating African-American and Latino Evangelicals, then among White Republican Evangelicals, which of those three words will win out? Will we stand in coalition with fellow Evangelicals, with fellow Republicans, or just with fellow white people? I think we should stand with Evangelicals in the political arena.

    Of the ideological elements given above, two stand out as highly problematic: the question of immigration and the question of economic theory. The economic question is not as troubling as it may seem. The country could become a bit more oriented toward Free-Market Capitalism while maintaining a commitment to the social safety net. I think that the safety net concept is important to these demographic groups. Principled opposition to the safety net is probably not going to take root here, but Bill Clinton accomplished welfare reform, yet he retains robust support among these folks.

    The immigration question is where the problem lies. And, to speak frankly, some of the more extreme rhetoric on immigration from within the GOP is wrongheaded and wronghearted. I believe that there is an enormous pool of (potentially?) committed Pro-Life Evangelicals who could be developed from within the Hispanic community, but we'll never know so long as Pro-Life Evangelicals are wedded to a severe immigration platform plank.

    As for African-Americans, it seemed to me that quite a number of them were not happy with the gay-rights agenda within the Democratic Party, but where else could they go? I can relate to their feelings: I wasn't thrilled with Mitt Romney (nor were many of you), but we didn't have a lot of options open to us, did we? The major obstacles, I suspect, are fiscal rather than cultural in nature.

    Although the phrase "compassionate conservatism" is probably beyond rehabilitation at this point, a fusion between a more mercy-themed fiscal policy and a strong social conservatism could be a game-changer within the African-American community (if everyone were acting in good faith). At the very least, it is a conversation worth having. I'm not sure that I understand completely what policy changes would have to take place in order to form a coalition between Pro-Life White Evangelicals and Pro-Life Black Evangelicals, but I'm at least willing to ask that question and learn the answer.

    What concerns me is that a conversation has taken place this year among African-American Evangelicals over how their relationship with the Democratic Party will be affected by the radical Democrat sexual agenda, and Pro-Life White Evangelicals never even entered that conversation in any meaningful way. Maybe we don't succeed at building coalitions with African-Americans over justice for the unborn because we don't try very hard to build those coalitions in the first place—not in any way in which we are willing to concede as much as we are asking them to concede.

I'd love to write more, but I'm out of time for today. Rather than stitch together a mega-post over several days, I' think I'll just go ahead and sally forth with this much of whats swimming around in my head and get your reactions, with the promise of more to come.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Mormonism Is a Cult, and Should Be Called One

I find myself today disagreeing with Richard Land, Ed Stetzer, and Peter Lumpkins.

There's a sentence nobody has ever uttered before, nor will again.

Mormonism is a cult, and if I read and understand these gentlemen correctly, they all agree with me on that point. Where we differ is in whether, or in what contexts, we should actually call Mormonism a cult. I think I understand their arguments and I appreciate what I understand to be their motivation (presuming, as I choose to do, that it rises above merely influencing the outcome of a political election).

That having been said, I'd like to interact with the fullest explanation of that point of view—the one Ed Stetzer gave in his article "Mormonism: Richard Land, NAMB, and a Southern Baptist Plan." Although I respect the arguments made by Stetzer, I'd like to show why I think he is in error.

First, I think Stetzer has too small an understanding of his audience. Stetzer wants Mormons to leave Mormonism and come to the gospel. So do I. And he correctly observes that most Mormons would rather that we did not refer to Mormonism as a cult. To drop the word "cult" is to do something that would make Mormons happier with our discourse. So far, we agree.

However, Stetzer's article makes no allowance for the fact that Mormons whom we would see converted into gospel Christianity are not the only ones within earshot of our conversation. Mormons are laboring hard to win people to Mormonism out from under the noses of Evangelical Christian churches (or even off their rolls, but that's a topic for another day). If "cult" is an accurate descriptor of Mormonism, and it if is a strong enough word to dissuade the non-Mormon lost people under our influence from being wooed away by Mormonism, then I'm in favor of using it.

In a village in Senegal, an animistic chief forcefully said to me, "You're not Jehovah's Witnesses, are you? Because if you are, you need to pack up right now and leave." Someone had told him to stay away from Jehovah's Witnesses because they are a cult. I was thankful for the person who had told him that. It made the job of sharing the gospel there a little bit easier. I'm glad that their aversion against Jehovah's Witnesses was not just technical, but was strong and emotive.

Second, I think Stetzer's analogies to other situations are bad analogies at key points. He compares Mormons' relationship with Christianity to Christians' relationship with Judaism. And yet there is an obvious difference between these two situations, and it is the very hinge upon which the choice of terminology turns: We Christians do not claim to be Jews, but Mormons do claim to be Christians. Stetzer's desire is that Mormons should not claim to be Christians at all, and so he suggests simply referring to them as another religion. But Mormons are not heeding Stetzer's instruction at this point. This is precisely why stronger language is in order here: The clarity of the gospel is at stake. Who is the "church of Jesus Christ?" Are they, or are we? Or are we all? When we are in dialogue with Muslims or Hindus or atheists, the definition of the ministry of Jesus Christ is not (quite so much) at stake as it is when we are in dialogue with or about Mormons.

Stetzer also appeals to an analogy with an adulterous neighbor, implying, basically, that using the word "cult" to refer to Mormons is like ordering in a supply of scarlet A's to distribute throughout your neighborhood in response to the prevalence of divorce in your cul-de-sac. A more accurate analogy would be to imagine that your neighbor was Noel Biderman, the founder of the company Ashley Madison, which proudly calls itself "the world's leading married dating service for discrete encounters." Mormons aren't just being something; they're selling something to others. And if your neighbor Biderman, the adultery salesman, were telling everyone that a little one-night stand on the side actually is monogamous marriage, then you'd have an analogous situation.

Wouldn't that situation be a bit different than the Hester Prynne story that comes to mind in Stetzer's article? In such a situation, where the very meaning of marriage and adultery were being confused in people's minds, wouldn't you have some obligation to speak up and say, "No, I'm sorry, but what you're promoting actually is adultery."

Third, if we're going to shift terminology, I think we have biblical warrant to go with something sterner rather than something kinder and gentler. Which sounds worse to you, "Mormonism is a cult," or "Let Mormons be accursed"? If Galatians 1 does not apply to Mormonism, then I'm hard pressed to figure out where it applies at all. Indeed, that's the challenge that I place before those who would like us to be more polite in our dealings with those who purport a different gospel of Jesus Christ: Would you list for me the groups for which you think we should speak of them in a Galatians 1 sort of way? Can you explain for me how those groups differ from Mormons? Or have we just entirely lost our nerve for such things altogether?

Consider also the language from Jesus Himself to the seven churches in Asia. Jesus commended the Ephesians for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, told the church at Pergamum that he would wage war against the Nicolaitans with the sword of His mouth, called a false teacher in Thyatira "Jezebel," and referred to Jewish groups in Smyrna and Philadelphia as "a synagogue of Satan." When people start to mess around with the truth of the gospel, Jesus doesn't mince words. Why, again, should we?

In conclusion, Stetzer is right that we cannot avoid the topic of Mormonism in this election season. It's a challenge. It is also an opportunity. An opportunity to speak truth about Mormonism. Ed Stetzer clearly said that we should not cease to call Mormonism a cult if pressed to do so, and I appreciated that principled stand on his part. My aim in this article has been to demonstrate why I think it is a biblical and strategic practice to include, as a part of our discourse about Mormonism, an intentionality about identifying it as a cult.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I Might Not Vote for Mitt Romney

I'm considering—seriously considering—writing in "Mike Huckabee" when I vote for President of the United States on Election Day.

  1. Not because Mitt Romney is a Mormon. He is a Mormon, of course. The personal implications of that are real and frightening. There is only one way of salvation for human beings. He has rejected it and embraced a lie instead of the truth. He is lost.

    Nevertheless, I do not believe that we should have a religious test for public office in the United States of America. I would vote for a Mormon. I was planning, until a few minutes ago, to vote to have a magic underwear closet installed in the Lincoln Bedroom, and I was entirely comfortable with that.

  2. Not because I strongly suspect that Mitt Romney is still the liberal that he was when he was Governor of Massachusetts. I really do. I fully expect that, once he is safely ensconced at 1600 Pennsylvania (if, indeed, that were to transpire), he will do absolutely nothing to carry forward a conservative vision for America. I really don't know why liberals are so worried about him.

    And yet, never in our history have we had a president as liberal as Barack Obama. I'm not sure that we've ever in our history had a serious CANDIDATE for the presidency who was as liberal as Barack Obama. I'll take an insincere liberal pretending to be a conservative over a liberal true-believer any day of the week. Facing the choices we face, I was prepared to vote for Mitt Romney in spite of my well-founded suspicions.

  3. Not because Mitt Romney is such a weak candidate. Imagine how differently the last debate would've gone if we could've had a candidate actually capable of taking the fight to Barack Obama over Obamacare? What if we had a candidate with the convictional nerve to challenge the President over his atrocious record on religious liberty when he starts to talk about Obama's religious-funding-for-chemical-abortion mandate?

    And yet, I've voted for these self-defeating kamikaze GOP candidates before: Bob Dole, John McCain. I was prepped to do so again.

    Really, what has lost my vote for Mitt Romney is nothing that Mitt Romney has done or has been, nothing that Barack Obama has done or has been—the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association probably cost Mitt Romney my November ballot when it stopped calling Mormonism a cult explicitly because of this election.

  4. Because walking away from the GOP in this election may be the only way to save the gospel from the pragmatic branch of Evangelicalism that never met a doctrine it wouldn't throw under the bus for the right price, I may not vote for Mitt Romney in November. I can imagine circumstances in which I would vote for Mitt Romney, but under no circumstances will I play make-believe about his heresy. That price is too high. That is a bridge too far.

    For the sake of my congregation, when Billy Graham is muddying the waters of the gospel, I have an obligation to provide clarity. For the sake of Mormons in my community who need to know of their need for the gospel of Jesus Christ and who are being reassured in their damnable heresy by none less than Billy Graham, I have an obligation to provide clarity.

If the election came down to a single vote, that vote were mine, and the circumstances of the election put me in a situation of having to choose between a vote that would doom the nation to four more years of the curse upon our land that is the Obama Administration or a vote that would leave doubt in anyone's mind whether the true followers of the gospel of Jesus Christ consider Mormonism to be a cult—if that were the choice that I faced and it were all within my hands, Rick Warren would be praying at another Obama inauguration in January.

Why? Do I want Obama to win? No. The defeat of Barack Obama is a priority of mine. But it is only one among many priorities. And in that list of priorities, that particular one isn't at the top…isn't in the top ten.

I've got my priorities straight. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association doesn't. I'm worried about some of the other institutions of Evangelicalism around me.

I'm worried about some of you.

Prove me wrong. Prove the BGEA wrong. Prove Mitt Romney wrong. Come out HARD against this terrible mistake, and do it BEFORE the election.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Why Even Selfish Churches Should Insure Their Pastors

It's that glorious time of the year again: Budget Season! I don't know whose insurance premiums the President had been watching when he said in the debate that rates were going up at a slower rate than ever before, but he needs to come and look at ours for a little reality check. Each year at FBC Farmersville we grimace when we look at the rates for the new year. For most churches, employee health insurance is a major portion of the budget (even for churches for whom that expense is obscured under a line item entitled "Salary").

Churches provide insurance because they are generous and want to take good care of those whom God has given them as servants. And yet, as I labor on our church's budget each year, it is my duty to look out for the best interests of the church. Church leader, occasionally you may encounter those who, seeing high insurance premiums, would advocate dropping the benefit of health insurance for the church staff. If a church does that, it obviously harms the financial interests of the church staff. I'd like to make a case for how that church may also be harming its own financial interests.

In other words, I'd like to explain why even selfish churches ought to insure their pastors.

Even among the wealthy in our country, only a few could afford to self-insure against hospitalization and medical expense. The most expensive hotel room in town probably can't touch the cost of the cheapest hospital room: A one-night stay in the hospital costs an average of nearly $16,000. Have a car accident, a stroke, or a cancer diagnosis, and you're going to need a lot of coin stashed away somewhere if you're planning to do the whole thing out-of-pocket. I think we can safely presume that very few Southern Baptist pastors could face such a scenario out-of-pocket.

So, what if something like that should happen to one of your pastor's children? What would your church do? When his financial duress began to become obvious and the stress began to mount, what would you do? When he declared bankruptcy, how would your church respond? Would you kick him and his family to the curb? How would that look? What would happen when he went to the local bank and set up a fund, begging members of the community to contribute to help pay for his little girl's chemotherapy? How would that look? What effect would any of these scenarios have upon your church's reputation? When you eventually faced hard choices, would the challenge of it all split your church? Would you lose members over it?

What would you pay, on that day, to get your church's good reputation back? Comparing the various insurable risks that a church faces, you might be a lot better off financially (if you are in a smaller church with an older building and with a beloved pastor) to have a church building burn down without property insurance than to have a pastor's child get leukemia without health insurance.

Of course, having a child develop cancer is only one of the scenarios we could consider. What if your pastor should die and leave behind a family of four in your parsonage with no income? What if your pastor suffers a stroke and is disabled? Won't this family be an object of sympathy and pity in your community? Won't your church feel tremendous pressure to meet their burdensome financial needs?

Protection against these sorts of scenarios is the value provided to churches by the insurance that they provide for their employees. You're not just insuring your staff; you're insuring your church's reputation in your community. The insurance could be worth whatever your church's reputation is worth.

This very reason is why your church ought to provide health insurance as a benefit rather than simply increasing the salary and telling your employees to go get their own insurance. Will all of your staff members actually go out and buy the insurance, or will some of them pocket the cash? How can you be sure who is doing what? If the church buys the insurance, then at least the church can know for certain that the insurance is in effect. That's worth something.

It should be a goal for your church to make certain that you have no uninsured full-time employees.

Here's what we do at FBC Farmersville: We provide a health insurance benefit for our full-time staff. We provide a long-term disability benefit for our full-time staff. We do not provide a short-term disability benefit, because we are able to self-insure against that risk. We do not provide life insurance for our staff, although that exposes us to some risk, because it is so difficult to arrive at any uniform way to evaluate the life-insurance need of various employees.

Ours is probably not the perfect approach to employee insurance, but we've done what we've done both out of a noble desire to take good care of our staff and out of far-sighted self-interest on the church's behalf. May the Lord prevent us from ever facing any of the scenarios that I've outlined in this essay, but if any of them should befall us, I'm thankful that our church will not face an imminent financial crisis or crisis of reputation while we are facing such unfortunate events.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Non-Calvinists: We're Not A Monolithic Group

In a post at SBC Voices entitled "Trust and the Trustees of MWBTS," deep in the comments, Rick Patrick said, "Calvinists think Dr. Allen is eminently qualified, while everyone else thinks his only real qualification is that he knows Al Mohler." The subject of the post is the nomination of Dr. Jason Allen to the helm of our seminary in Kansas City and the subsequent reaction to that nomination by some friends of mine (we'd probably all agree that this post by Peter Lumpkins and the several that followed it on Peter's blog have given leadership to the voices dissenting against Allen's nomination).

It's Rick's comment, mostly, that brings me to my keyboard tonight. I'm not a Calvinist. I'm also not opposed to Dr. Allen's candidacy in Kansas City. And I like to speak for myself rather than to be defined by being lumped into some group. Really, I wasn't sure WHAT I thought about Allen's candidacy, because until all of this came up I really didn't know much about him. But I've performed a little bit of research, and here are some of the questions I would ask my non-Calvinistic brethren:

  1. Are you sure Dr. Allen is a Calvinist? Because one of his best friends in the world says that Dr. Allen holds to fewer than 4 points and always has. Now, if he were a Calvinist, that wouldn't exclude him from service in the SBC as far as I'm concerned, but I've yet to see a single quote from Allen in which he actually claims to be a Calvinist. Working for Dr. Mohler, I wouldn't think that he would have been afraid to own up to it, if he actually is a Calvinist at all.

  2. Are you sure that Dr. Mohler is behind Dr. Allen's candidacy at MBTS? Because the rumors I hear are that Judge Paul Pressler is a big booster of Dr. Jason Allen. I haven't spoken with Judge Pressler directly about this, but I do live in Texas, and from not too many hops away, that is my impression of things. I don't doubt that Dr. Mohler is supportive of Dr. Allen, but why is that one relationship, above all of the others, the one that defines who Dr. Allen is? Pressler's endorsement would have some persuasive force with me.

  3. Is Dr. Allen's performance at his seminary church really the right measure of his candidacy? I served FBC Farmersville while I was a Ph.D. student. It was tough. Dr. Allen, as I understand things, served a church while being a Ph.D. student and holding down a full-time job at SBTS. Wow. I'm not sure how prudent that is, presuming as I do that Dr. Allen has not cloned himself, but I must admit that, from someone who has lived some portion of that life, it earns a bit of my admiration.

  4. Is Dr. Allen a member / leader / Manchurian Candidate from the "Founders movement"? I don't know. Again, if he's not a Calvinist, then I doubt that he's a leader in the Founders movement. I believe it when I read that he served a church that was listed as "Founders-friendly," but I don't know what that means. You know, CBF will list your church among their affiliated congregations if one wayward member is sending them money. How does a church wind up on the Founders list? Does the church have to vote to affiliate? Or is it just the pastor? What if the church changes pastors—does the listing automatically come down if the new guy doesn't have the same relationship with Founders that the last guy had?

  5. I wonder whether all of the YRR supporters of Dr. Allen know what he believes about beverage alcohol? I hear that he's a convictional teetotaler like me, or at least something close to that. Peter is the author of an excellent book on this topic. It's interesting to me to discover that, on this issue, it's (I think) Peter Lumpkins and Jason Allen on one side, and Mark Driscoll on the other.

So, things are a little more complicated than Rick's comment makes things out to be. Not that I'm picking on Rick. His comment generally summarized what had been the tenor of online discussion up to that point. But that's because I wasn't saying anything, and perhaps a lot of other people who aren't Calvinists but aren't opposed to Dr. Allen's candidacy likewise weren't saying anything. I've decided to speak up, not to strike a blow against Peter, who is my brother and stood up for me in a difficult hour once upon a time, but just because Rick's comment made it clear to me that the discussion had come to speak for me in a context in which I'd rather speak for myself.

Whatever happens in Kansas City, I'll be praying for Midwestern and for Dr. Allen. May God lead the seminary there to carry forward the gospel into new work states where it is increasingly needed!

Monday, September 17, 2012

It's Really About Baptism

Lifeway Research is reporting that 52% of Southern Baptist churches no longer really consider obedience to Christ's command to be baptized to be that big of a deal.

That's the true, central meaning of this report. Although the subject of the report is ostensibly the Lord's Supper, the shift in Southern Baptist practice actually reveals movement in Southern Baptist thinking about the OTHER ordinance. It would be different, I suppose, if 52% of SBC pastors had responded that the Lord's Supper should be provided to whomever wishes to participate, but that's not how the survey came back. SBC churches are willing to dictate who should and who shouldn't partake; they just don't think that baptism is all that important—not significant enough to enter into such deliberations.

This is hard evidence of the movement away from being Baptist that is sweeping through SBC churches. What factors have brought us to this point? Here are my thoughts.

  1. Cowardice. Going open-communion is easy. On the other hand, anyone who leads a church to make refusal to be baptized a bar to open communion is going to have to be prepared to endure enormous pressure for doing so.

  2. Evangelicalism. It is the nature of market-driven evangelicalism to de-emphasize ecclesiology in general and the ordinances in particular. These things are but impediments to the growth of one's market.

  3. Liberalism. The flight of paedo-baptists from liberal denominations into SBC churches has filled our churches with people who do not share our core convictions.

  4. Pragmatism. Atheological pragmatism—the worship of method and numerical success—bothers not at all with whether Christ has really commanded that we baptize and be baptized or whether ongoing rebellion against Christ's command is reason for one not to partake of the supper. Rather, it simply asks what will be the cost of closed communion in attendance and dollars.

  5. Permissivism. The loss of church discipline is an important factor in this downgrade. Really, without church discipline, our Baptist understanding of baptism and the Lord's Supper doesn't make any sense.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Is Your Money Where Your Mouth Is?

Baptist Press is reporting that that Florida Baptist Convention faces a liquidity crisis in the future because of its commitment to forward 50% of the Cooperative Program funding that it receives from churches to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to fund missions on a national and international scope. Half of the money, of course, the FBC would retain to fund missions within the state of Florida.

I'm a big fan of this kind of reallocation. Yes, there are gospel needs within our states. Yes, we need money in places like Florida in order to address those needs. But no, it is not the right priority to take more than half (or, in the case of some state conventions, as much as 80%!) of Cooperative Program money for ministries within our states. I'm thankful that states like Florida have begun the process of reallocating their budgets.

The story goes on to reveal a rift between two philosophies of how to accomplish this reallocation without bankrupting the convention. One approach would address the problem primarily by cutting expenses in other areas. I think that's a good approach, for a number of reasons. Another approach would slow the progress toward 50% to avoid financial stress on the convention.

Here's what needs to happen. Every pastor or church in Florida who has ever complained about bloat or inefficiency at the Florida Baptist Convention needs to step up right now with increased CP giving as they see the Florida Baptist Convention take bold steps to forward more funding to the field. As the FBC acts with a greater sacrificial commitment to see the gospel carried around the world, if the member churches of that convention continue (or worsen!) the current sorry state of CP giving among SBC churches, they simply reveal that all of the excuses bandied about are just that—excuses designed to cover up the real motivation of self-absorbed greed that I fear underlies most of our declining cooperative financial estate in these days.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Is Catholicism a Monotheistic Religion?

The village chief sat before me and firmly—immovably—declared that he is a Christian, a faithful Roman Catholic, and leading and elder member of the local Roman Catholic parish, and a teacher with a lengthy pedigree of instructing catechumens in their parish for decades. And so, he told me, he is happy to hear us telling stories about Jesus to the people of the tribe, but he himself has no real need for the gospel.

It was an interesting conversation to have in that particular setting, seated as we were right beside the outdoor shrine containing his family's idol to which he had recently sacrificed a young goat. He's a liar, right? No doubt, but beyond that, he seems not to perceive any substantial tension between being a faithful Catholic and being a worshipper of idols and fetishes and animistic spirits.

I know that bad missiology can bring about horrible perversions of the truth, and I realize that this man came to his particular variety of polytheism contrary to the official wishes of the Roman Catholic Magisterium, and yet maybe this chief sees something about Roman Catholicism that many of us don't see…or don't want to see. Maybe he thinks Roman Catholicism is compatible with his polytheism because Roman Catholicism itself is actually polytheistic.

Consider the following:

  1. The Veneration of Saints: Since the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea, AD 787), the official position of the Roman Catholic Church has supported and encouraged Christians to offer worship (Lat. "dulia") to the saints. The Roman Catholics set aside particular days that are the holy days of particular saints on which they are to be worshipped particularly. Saints are associated with professions, events, situations, and themes, and people are encouraged to pray to the particular saints on particular occasions or for particular needs. Furthermore, people and churches are encouraged to have graven images made of these saints so that people wishing to worship the saints can worship these sculpted images of them.

    And this is something other than polytheistic idolatry?

    If you think otherwise, I'd love to hear you explain to an African chief how it is OK for someone to bow down, pray, and offer incense to a fourth-century Roman soldier who gave away half of his cape and became a bishop, but it is not OK for someone to bow down, pray, and offer a sacrifice to an idol in a shrine that his grandfather built.

  2. The Veneration of Mary: Everything that Roman Catholics do for "saints" they also do for Mary…plus much more. It is common Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary's mother's conception of her was miraculously immaculate, that Mary did not sin, that Mary did not die but was bodily admitted into heaven, that Mary remained a virgin for all of her life, that Mary serves with Jesus Christ as co-Mediator, -Redeemer, and -Advocate on our behalf.

    All of this is common Roman Catholic belief. Much of this is the official position of the Roman Catholic Magisterium. None of it is in the Bible, and most of it is in explicit contradiction to things that the Bible has said.

    Yes, Roman Catholics say that Mary is less powerful than Jesus. But, then, Greeks said that Athena was less powerful than Zeus. The Greeks were polytheists nonetheless. How is it that Roman Catholics are not?

  3. The Veneration of The Elements of the Mass: It is not as common today as it once was, but the Protestant Reformers reacted against an idolatrous Roman Catholic view of the elements of the mass that expressed itself in people filing lawsuits for closer seats to the front so that they could see the elements better or opening holes in church walls in order to be able to see the consecrated bread. (If you're interested to read more about this, see Joseph A Jungmann's 1961 work, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development).

    Of course, this kind of idolatry regarding the Lord's Supper is nothing more than the natural and inevitable consequence of taking seriously the notion of transubstantiation. How is this worship of a loaf of bread and a cup of wine essentially different from the animism in African traditional religions?

'Tis an ill time for me to be writing this sort of thing. Because of our social and political landscape in the USA, Evangelical Protestants (including Southern Baptists) are friendlier toward Roman Catholics than we ever have been. Of all four people on major national electoral tickets this year, the one that Evangelicals support the most is a Roman Catholic. We don't hear much anti-Catholicism around these days, and I must admit that I myself have struggled to find just the right position on Roman Catholicism, considering the defection of high-profile Evangelicals like Francis Beckworth. Is Roman Catholicism a non-Christian cult or is it merely a false and apostate church?

Increasingly I'm coming to the conviction that Roman Catholicism not only isn't Christian, but that it's not even worthy to be grouped together with Judaism, Islam, and non-Catholic Christian as one of the major monotheistic religions.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Charles Blow's Inadvertent Indictment of Leftist Politics

Charles Blow is a Democrat-oriented columnist for the New York Times. He has written a column this week entitled "Starving the Future." Blow's intention in the column was to build a case for Democratic entitlement policies (and thereby to attack VP candidate Paul Ryan) by envisaging the dire competitive future that American children face vis-à-vis their Chinese and Indian peers.

Here's Blow's rationale, excerpted in his own words from the article and presented faithfully and true to the flow of his rhetoric:

  1. "Emerging economic powers China and India are heavily investing in educating the world’s future workers while we squabble about punishing teachers and coddling children."
  2. Why is the future so bright for the children of China and India? Because "by 2030, China will have 200 million college graduates — more than the entire U.S. work force," and "by 2017, India will graduate 20 million people from high school — or five times as many as in the United States."
  3. What is it that makes the future so bleak for American children? The facts that "Half of U.S. children get no early childhood education, and we have no national strategy to increase enrollment," "More than a quarter of U.S. children have a chronic health condition, such as obesity or asthma, threatening their capacity to learn," "More than 22 percent of U.S. children lived in poverty in 2010, up from about 17 percent in 2007," and "More than half of U.S. postsecondary students drop out without receiving a degree."
  4. Also, Blow would like you to know that American "students regularly come to school hungry because they are not getting enough to eat at home," and "The saddest are the children who cry when we get out early for a snow day because they won’t get lunch."

Do you follow the line of reasoning there? China and India are about to dominate the future workforce by producing more workers in the youngest demographic than we have in our total workforce. The solution is to make sure our children can do well in school by using government entitlement programs to combat hunger and poverty among our children and to hire more teachers.

Blow's statistics are impressive and should alarm us all. Blow's reasoning from them is insane.

The nations that he says are about to dominate us (China and India) have HIGHER rates of childhood poverty and hunger than we do. By quite a bit. At least, that's what UNICEF says (not exactly a right-wing group).

Also, these nations that are about to dominate us have HIGHER student-teacher ratios than we do. Ours (sitting at about 14) is less than half as much as India's and is slightly better than China's.

How are China and India about to dominate the world economy and leave the USA in the dust? Not by having more effective government handouts. Not by having more teachers in their schools. China and India are about to surpass us simply by having more children.

American society hates children. It is sacred to us to make sure that we can delay childbearing, prevent childbearing, murder children before they are born, and normalize and promote sexual relationships that have no hope of producing children. With each passing generation we have fewer and fewer children.

Charles Blow and his party are the number-one reason why.

Our future is not hungry for more government welfare. Our future is not hungry for more liberal indoctrination. Our future is starving all right, but it is starving for functional family life and an embrace and promotion of historic traditional parenting as a blessing to our society.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On Teaching at Seminary

God has called me to be a pastor, and I intend to be faithful to that calling, in just that context, until God clearly and definitively calls me elsewhere (or until no congregation will suffer me to serve any longer). This has been the primary reason why I have rebuffed opportunities to put my degree to work as a faculty member somewhere.

But there has been another reason, secondary to the first, but powerful.

I have suspected that serving as a seminary professor would be boring to me. Teaching Introduction to Church History would be, the first time I did it as a full-time faculty member, very exciting, I'm sure. I'm sure it would still be exciting the second time through. But how would I feel about it the sixth time I dusted off those notes and started in once again on good old Church History I?

I suspect they'd have to lock me in a rubber room.

And for this reason, I've felt some pity toward those who teach at seminary and are locked in such a repetitive job. One thing you've got to say about serving as the pastor of any local church—every day is different!

Last night that changed for me. Last night I attended Dr. Ryan Stokes's lecture "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origin of Satan." A light bulb went on last night and I saw some things that I think are pretty winsome about serving as a seminary professor.

Seminary profs get unparalleled access to their colleagues' research and to the seminary's resources. They get to attend lectures and colloquia. I don't know that every seminary professor takes advantage of the opportunity, but they regularly get chances to learn a lot from their peers. That would be enjoyable to me. And from the times I've passed by, for example, Dr. James Leo Garrett spending an entire day at work in the library feeding his curiosity, he's never looked bored to me.

Seminary profs have the opportunity for enriching collegiality. Dr. Patterson has built a faculty at SWBTS that includes a lot of strong friendships. Especially with regard to many of the newer faculty members, the fraternal kinship among these professors is hard to miss. I think that seminary professors may have a far better opportunity to build deep friendships with peers than do most pastors in local churches. Of course, down through the years I've also seen a few occasions of deep enmity springing up among faculty members, and in the past those experiences have sometimes led me to think that faculty tend to be a petty and easily-offended lot. But I was wrong about that, and my eyes have been opened to see how deeply these people can come to care about one another.

Of course, I've always known that seminary professors have a great opportunity to achieve widespread impact for the advance of the gospel. The best faculty members (in my opinion) relish in their contribution to souls won, churches strengthened, and believers equipped.

So, my seminary-professor friends, I'm thankful for you. I hope you're having fun doing what you're doing. Dr. Patterson, I'm thankful for your work to build a community of faithful scholars at SWBTS. I'm proud to partner with the lot of you under the lordship of Christ until He comes.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pseudo-Congregationalism Is from Satan

The First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, Mississippi, has become the pariah of the Southern Baptist Convention. On the eve of their wedding, Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson were forced to relocate their ceremony to another church's meeting house in order to placate the objections of racists within the congregation. Shameful.

The title of this post refers to James MacDonald's blog post from months ago in which he declared that "Congregational Government Is from Satan." Indeed, for all I know, MacDonald might be reading about FBC Crystal Springs and thinking that the situation in Mississippi is a prime example of exactly what he was talking about.

But the real problem with FBC Crystal Springs is that it appears that they are NOT practicing congregationalism. Rather, they are suffering from a malady that I call "pseudo-congregationalism." Pseudo-congregationalism is a system in which the official structure of the church's polity is congregationalist, but the church actually functions in a manner that avoids the key components of true biblical congregationalism: submission to the lordship of Christ, prayer, free collaborative discussion, strong pastoral leadership, and decisive congregational voting. From what we've heard about the decision to relocate the Wilsons' exchanging of vows, it appears that there was no vote taken, no call to corporate prayer issued, no congregational discussion held, no courageous resolve on the part of the pastor, and (consequently) a decision came forth that was contrary to the will of Christ. Pseudo-congregationalism really IS from Satan, and he uses it to dastardly effect.

Let me explain why these key elements of biblical congregationalism would have made a positive difference in Crystal Springs.

  1. A Decisive Vote: I choose to doubt that this congregation would have actually voted to deny the Wilsons the opportunity to marry in the church's meeting space. Because there has been no vote, there is nobody to take responsibility for this decision. Because there is nobody to take responsibility for this decision, everyone in the church is under suspicion.

    The victims instinctively recognize the need for congregationalism. In this interview (Be sure to watch the video; don't just read the text) Charles Wilson responds to the suggestion that only a troublesome minority in the congregation raised opposition to his nuptials: "When you talk about the minority…How many is the minority? Was it half of the church? Was it three-quarters of the church? I don't know. Honestly, I don't know!" The witness of this church is sullied and unclear, and even the local TV station opines, "Many believe there would have been no controversy if there had been a vote within the church."

    Of course, there's the possibility that a vote within the church might have favored some racist policy to exclude the Wilsons and other black people from being able to get married in the church. I think that's unlikely (for reasons I'll mention below, I doubt the troublemakers would even have spoken up in such a meeting), but it is possible—would have even been PROBABLE a century ago in the preponderance of churches throughout our nation. But even if the vote had gone the wrong way, at least the people behind this horrible decision would have to take responsibility for it. As things stand at present, the culprits are the anonymous "some people" who always dominate churches governed by pseudo-congregationalism.

    In contrast, the Apostle Paul was able to state definitively that "the majority" (2 Corinthians 2:6) in the Corinthian church had enacted punishment upon an errant member (the offender in 1 Corinthians 5, perhaps?). Biblical congregationalism facilitates biblical accountability.

    This church needs to understand that they are not riding out a storm by faith. That's the wrong metaphor here. The storm is of their own creation. They're facing a decision. They need to decide it. By a vote. With no ambiguity remaining once the matter has been settled.

  2. Free Collaborative Discussion: When the people of the congregation know that they make all of their decisions through voting, they also know that they'll have to persuade their fellow congregants if they want their viewpoint to prevail. In most congregationalist churches, somebody is going to have to make the motion. Somebody else is going to have to second it. For decisions that are controversial at all, people are going to have to rise in the midst of the congregation and make a case for or against the policy.

    The result is that, whether shameful racism would have prevailed in the vote or not, individual members of FBC Crystal Springs either would have had to go on the record in support of racism or would have had the opportunity to declare their principled opposition to this proposed travesty. As it stands now, every member of the congregation is under a cloud of suspicion. Am I the only one who watched that video and wondered how many of the people who are publicly decrying the church's action NOW were among the people who were PRIVATELY supporting racism before? People act differently when they have to take public responsibility for their views. Business meetings can provide this kind of accountability, or you can wait for TV cameras to provide it.

    Wilson expresses his own frustration with the unavoidable uncertainty that hangs over this congregation now. He knows that the individuals responsible are extremely unlikely to identify themselves in an open vote: "How're they going to go in and have a head count? Ask the person, 'How are you going to have a head count? How are you going to stand up and say, 'Yes, I voted no."?'" Wilson's right: That's not likely to happen at this point. An honest discussion held among the full congregation would have provided the clarity he desires.

    In Acts 15, facing a strikingly similar question of race and the gospel, the Jerusalem church called a meeting at which full and free discussion took place. In the Jerusalem meeting, as far as we can tell from the biblical account, the opposition to Paul and the gospel, in spite of having caused so much trouble up to that point, didn't even have the courage to dare to speak their wrongful views before the apostles and the congregation.

    The first words of Acts 15 are "some men"—the anonymous "some men" of pseudo-congregationalism. The episode ends with an official letter endorsed by the apostles, the elders, and the congregation. Good congregationalism does that: It dethrones sinister cabals of "some men" and subjects them to the will of the Lord by the authority He has granted to His congregation. Light makes cockroaches scatter. Free collaborative discussion can be a balm to wage medicinal war against the sinful ills of human agenda in Christ's church.

  3. Strong Pastoral Leadership: MacDonald's presumption is that congregational church government and strong pastoral leadership are mutually exclusive. Not so. In this case, a commitment to true biblical congregationalism would have empowered this pastor and would have bolstered his courage. Here's his mistake (and we all make them): He said, "I didn't want to have a controversy within the church." If we take Pastor Weatherford at his word, he was trying to avoid a messy conflict between racists and Christians in the church, knowing that each party had "strong feelings" on the subject.

    And let me say it, lest anyone be misled by my little article: Congregationalism is not the way to avoid controversy in the church. If you want to avoid controversy, you will avoid votes on anything but the mildest of questions. You will avoid public discussions unless everyone who speaks is guaranteed to speak on the same side of the issue.

    And yet, internal controversy is precisely what this church desperately needs if it will be healthy at all. Was there ever a better story to illustrate the truth of 1 Corinthians 11:19? "There must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you." Sometimes it is a pastor's job to love holiness more than peace. Clearly this is about pastorally loving the Wilsons enough to take a courageous stand on their behalf. Clearly this is about pastorally loving the innocent member of FBC Crystal Springs whose reputation is unjustly besmirched by this episode. Perhaps less clearly to all observing, it is also about loving the racist members of FBC Crystal Springs, whose primary discipleship need at the moment is that it "become evident among them" that they are not among "those who are approved."

    In a pseudo-congregationalist system, these few members have purloined unto themselves the right and authority to intimidate this pastor without any congregational mandate. Pseudo-congregationalism shuns the formal in favor of the informal, for the informal is so much easier to manipulate. In a true system of biblical congregationalism, a pastor can have the confidence to tell troublemakers to take it to the church or shut their traps.

    That's not to deny that sometimes even the majority of the congregation stands on the side of wrong. But even in those situations, congregationalism can provide the right environment for strong pastoral leadership to take place. A good friend who is a pastor recently resigned his church immediately following a particularly baleful vote in the church's business meeting. An associate pastor of the church was confronted for wantonly carnal behavior. All of the lay leadership of the congregation (their personnel committee, deacons, etc.) supported the ouster of this associate pastor, who really needed to go. But he was able to play upon the sympathies of the congregation and won a close vote that would otherwise have required his termination. My friend knew that he could not lead a church that would make such an endorsement (and neither could I), so he immediately tendered his resignation.

    Some might point to such an episode as a failure of congregationalism. In a sense, it is, since the action of the church departed from the will of Christ, who ought to be her head. Nevertheless, the action of the church formed the setting for one of the strongest actions of pastoral leadership that my friend has ever taken, in my opinion. My pastor-friend taught the members of that congregation—especially the ones who had barely lost their attempt to do the right thing—the importance of taking principled stands, even at risk to one's own livelihood, for the sake of the gospel and the church. My friend wasn't afraid of controversy; he was willing to stand up in the storm and do the right thing. It is in controversy that pastoral leadership is proven and put on display—or revealed to be lacking.

    In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul exercised his strong apostolic leadership to tell the church precisely what to do. He did not, however, presume to do it himself. He would settle for nothing other than the action of the congregation to discipline its wayward member. It is, after all, supposed to be pastoral LEADership, not merely pastoral DOership. In healthy congregationalism, congregational decision-making is a benchmark of discipleship. The pastor must lead the disciples so well that they see for themselves the wisdom of following Christ at each step of the church's mission and they take positive action to embrace those steps and take ownership of them as the disciples they are called to be.

  4. Corporate Prayer: By "corporate prayer" I do not mean to signify, necessarily, the moments when a congregation gathers in the same room and somebody voices a prayer for them. Rather, I'm talking about those times when an entire congregation is praying, even if they are doing so individually in their prayer closets, with a united focus on the same question or matter of prayer. Pseudo-congregationalism makes rush decisions in the middle of the night to placate "some people" and avoid controversy. In contrast, true biblical congregationalism sets aside time for corporate prayer before addressing important or controversial decisions. At FBC Farmersville, we publish the agenda of our business meetings in advance for this very reason. Although a member may introduce any item of business in our business meetings, if it has not been placed on the agenda in advance (and any member can place anything on the agenda in advance), then our constitution prevents us from voting on it at that meeting, since we have not had time to pray about it.

    I don't doubt that Pastor Weatherford prayed about what to do in response to these graceless critics, whoever they were. I suspect that he prayed long into the night. But this is the key weakness of episcopal or presbyterial (or, worse, in this case, oligarchical) church polity: Even good, godly pastors sometimes can't pray enough when they're all alone in praying. We pray better for God's guidance when we all pray for it together than when the congregation is kept uninformed and denied the opportunity to seek the Lord for guidance.

    In the New Testament, the church was nimble to pray in moments of crisis. In Acts 12 the congregation convened on the very night that Herod was planning to bring Simon Peter forward to do him harm. God answered their prayers and miraculously freed Peter from the jail. When, after we kept what would have been our first adopted child for twenty-four hours, the birth-mother changed her mind and took him back from us, FBC Farmersville assembled for prayer on our behalf within a few hours. Even in times of crisis, when decisions must be made quickly or when circumstances are thrust upon us, we are better off when we all pray together before we act or react.

  5. Submission to the Lordship of Christ: The goal of any worthy system of church polity is to have the church find and obey the will of the Lord. At this point it is important to clarify that the problem at FBC Crystal Springs is really only secondarily and tangentially a question of civil rights. Yes, wrong has been done to the Wilsons, but far greater wrong has been done to Jesus Christ. In pseudo-congregationalism, the need of the timid to avoid controversy, the need of the compliant to be liked by all, the need of the aggressive to dominate, the need of the marketer to project the right image, and the need of the financially dependent to safeguard the money supply all take a back seat to the RIGHT of Jesus Christ to be Lord over His church.

    It is here that congregationalism intersects with church discipline. If the membership of the church extends freely to those who are disinterested in the Lordship of Christ (not the same thing as those who just see things differently from me) because they have never submitted to His lordship by receiving the gospel or have demonstrated by their behavior that their carnality is leading them away from obedience to Christ as Lord, then gone is the one mechanism by which biblical congregationalism can work—the action of the Holy Spirit among genuine believers who are listening carefully to Him.

    Unless they repent, the members of FBC Crystal Springs who opposed this wedding on racist grounds need to be disciplined out of the church. So long as they remain in such a spiritual condition, they are not qualified to contribute to the mission of the church, to identify themselves as representatives of the gospel, or to aid the church in seeking the Lord's will. Congregationalism in which such people have ANY say is a recipe for disaster.

There are many victims of pseudo-congregationalism. Innocent members like the Wilsons are victims of it. Many suffering pastors are the victims of it. But among the greatest victims of psedo-congregationalism is true biblical congregationalism. So weakened is the wheat by the spread of this noxious weed that drastic measures are required to revive it. We cannot look too smugly in the direction of Crystal Springs. Pseudo-congregationlism holds sway in many congregations that haven't made this big of a blunder yet. May the tragic unfolding of this sin-drama in Mississippi awaken us all to the need to rise up and defend the Lordship of Christ against all challengers in our churches.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I Say We Kick Them Out. I'll Make the Motion

According to the Jackson, MS, Clarion-Ledger newspaper, the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, MS, has denied to allow a couple to get married in the church's meeting space because that couple is black. The pastor of the congregation acknowledges as much.

If something doesn't change between now and then, I personally will make the motion at our SBC Annual Meeting in Houston that we refuse to seat messengers from this church and that we declare them not to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dave Miller has blogged about this, and I'm thankful for that. Our other officers should vocally lead on this one. I'm not saying that President Luter should not speak to the problem as well; rather, I'm saying that it is important for the world to see WHITE Southern Baptists standing up against racist churches.

This church is acting in violation to the clear teachings of the Bible and to the clear text of the Baptist Faith & Message. The Southern Baptist Convention needs to become a confessional fellowship in which actions like this one that are in violation of the Baptist Faith & Message constitute clear grounds for removal from the convention.

I am hopeful that I'll never have to make my motion. The fact that I promise to do so if this church does not formally repent of its actions will, I suspect, make that kind of repentance more likely. They know that they'll lose that vote if the motion ever comes to the convention floor. Perhaps the fear of national shame over this will become bigger than their fear of their racist members who caused all of this to begin with. I'd bet that those members aren't numerous within the congregation, but are just monied and influential.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

If I Were Jonathan Merritt's Pastor

From the beginning, let me acknowledge that the very thought expressed in the title may send chills of horror up and down Merritt's spine (if, indeed, he has any idea who I am). I've no doubt that we agree about many things, but when he's in USA Today, I generally disagree with Jonathan Merritt.

This has been a full week for Merritt. First, The Atlantic posted his column entitled "In Defense of Eating at Chick-fil-A." Second, gay former-evangelical blogger Azariah Southworth outed Merritt as someone with whom he had a same-sex sexual encounter in the past. Third, today in an interview with Ed Stetzer Merritt has basically acknowledged that Southworth is not making anything up.

What would I do if I were Jonathan Merritt's pastor? Tracy and I would go see him, I would give him a hug, I would pray with him and for him, and I would ask if I could do anything to make this week easier for him. That's it.

If I were Azariah Southworth's pastor, I'd ask the congregation to kick his rear end right out of the church (not that he'd still be there, since he has declared himself to be an agnostic).

Don't miss this about how Merritt has responded:

  1. Jonathan Merritt has not rejected God's definition of marriage or God's definition of sin. Consider two people. One of them is Jonathan Merritt—a man who has fallen to homosexual temptation in the past and who, probably, will be tempted in this way at some point in the future. He is someone, however, who agrees with God's plan for human sexuality and who acknowledges homosexual activity as sinful. He's repentant and contrite now and is not continuing in or living in his sin. Now, consider another hypothetical person who is entirely straight, is married to a person of the opposite sex, and has been sexually faithful to that one person for life. This second person has lived according to God's plan for sexuality without fail for a lifetime. But, the second person denies that homosexuality is sinful.

    The first person, Jonathan Merritt, is welcome as a member in good standing of our church. The second person is subject to church discipline and withdrawal of fellowship.

    Perfection is not the standard of church membership. Contrition in sin, submission to Christ, and covenantal agreement with God's revealed truth are important standards of membership in a New Testament church. Jonathan Merritt has, in this case, I believe, demonstrated those qualities.

  2. I also appreciate that Jonathan Merritt rejects the label "gay." I don't walk around and say, "Hi. I'm Bart. I'm an angry blogger." I've fallen to that temptation before. I'll struggle with that temptation in the future. But my identity is not found in my sin, but in my Savior. I'm Bart, and I'm a Christian.

  3. I retain, I'm sure, profound disagreements with Merritt that will doubtless remain evident in the future. Nevertheless, I must say that this revelation changes things. It's easier to understand now why Merritt strays ideologically in the directions that he does. I know I'll feel more compassionate and less frustrated with his leftward-leaning pronouncements in the future, knowing what he's been through and understanding a bit better what has brought him to where he is today.

Like most pastors, I'm ministering to people like Jonathan every day. Homosexuality isn't the temptation for all of them. The guy I went to see in jail today is tempted by other temptations. The guy I shared lunch with faces yet another set of temptations. But we're all sinners. The path to freedom comes in drawing near to God, acknowledging sin as sin, taking responsibility for it, never ending the fight, seeking accountability in fellow believers, and taking up the cross daily. It looks like Jonathan Merritt has been trying to do just that. If I were his pastor, I hope I'd come alongside him and try to help.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Troubling Questions for Both Sides of the Calvinism Debate

My Question for Fellow Non-Calvinistic Southern Baptists

Not all of our state conventions in the SBC have adopted the BF&M 2000. Cooperative Program money in some of our state conventions still funds institutions where people deny biblical inerrancy and live, in most ways, in a pre-Conservative-Resurgence SBC.

Now, I understand that soteriology is important. I understand that the circumstances of our day make Calvinism a major topic of discussion. But I have to wonder, why is there so much energy available for talking about Calvinism, and, for some people, so much energy available for attacking Calvinism, but there's so little energy for getting state conventions to adopt the BF&M 2000 and for advancing biblical inerrancy in state Baptist conventions?

Do you think that the nature of election is really a more important question than the nature of the Bible? Are your priorities in this matter reflected in the way that you are spending your time and influence? Why are there people in our convention who are bold to attack the Founders but meek to talk about the CBF?

My Question for Calvinistic Southern Baptists

I know that there are churches where, at the moment, search committees would be unlikely to call a candidate who professed to be a Calvinist. However, not infrequently do I hear some of my Calvinistic brethren talk about SBC churches that they either have planted or have led to affirm the Second London Confession or some other decidedly Calvinistic statement of faith. Indeed, Sam Waldron (a scholar I very much enjoy) published in the journal of 9 Marks (an institution I absolutely love) an article entitled "Why (and How) Your Church Should Hold the 1689 Confession." Couldn't that article also be accurately entitled "Why Your Church Should Tell All Non-Calvinist SBCers That They Aren't Welcome Here As Members or Pastors"?

Isn't that going a good bit beyond what anyone has ever done to try to keep Calvinists out of particular SBC pulpits? Basically, if you do that, aren't you constitutionally setting up a church to make certain that no pastors who aren't Calvinists will EVER be considered for that church? If there's a practice afoot of adopting statements of faith in SBC churches to exclude Calvinists forever, I don't know of it.

Now, our churches are autonomous. I'm not questioning whether any church has the RIGHT to adopt Second London…or whatever. Indeed, our churches have the right to leave the convention altogether or even to leave the faith! I believe in local church autonomy and I'm not undermining it at all. Rather, I'm just asking, isn't it a bit disingenuous to complain of exclusionary practices among non-Calvinist SBCers if, at the very same time, you're setting things up in your church to exclude most SBC members and pastors from ever being able to be a part of your church?

If, as a pastor with that kind of local practice, in a national platform you say that Calvinism isn't something that should divide us, but that we should cooperate in spite of differences over Calvinism, I think you're a bit schizophrenic. How can it be terribly important locally—important enough for church schism—and not terribly important nationally?


I love you both. I'm not going to fight about Calvinism. I'm just not. But as a bystander to much of what is going on in the SBC these days, even if these questions are not troubling to you, they are troubling to me. I wish you'd all think about them. If you've got really good answers, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, June 25, 2012

In the Town of New Orleans, Part 3

The ghosts of blogging past made some appearances at the SBC Annual Meeting this year:

  1. Dave Miller is the first blogger (to my knowledge) to be elected to SBC national office. That's an interesting and significant development, I think. I don't know that it represents a major change in the way that Southern Baptists view bloggers, since factors specific to this year may have played a significant role. Then again, maybe it does represent a change, since…

  2. Marty Duren was present at the convention as a paid employee of Lifeway. The outsider blogger has now been assimilated. :-) Maybe a history of blogging doesn't really amount to a roadblock for anything you want to do in the SBC.

  3. The (in)famous "Garner motion" made an appearance at the convention, as well. Back in 2007, SBC blogging erupted in interpretive warfare over whether the BF&M was a "maximal" or "minimal" doctrinal statement for Southern Baptists. The "Garner motion" was like a Rorschach test. Some people suggested that it reinforced the "maximal" viewpoint—that the convention was saying thereby that our entities could expect people to adhere to the BF&M, but to no more than the BF&M. Others (including myself) maintained that the motion actually backed up the "minimal" viewpoint—that the convention was saying that our entities must expect their employees to adhere AT LEAST to the BF&M and could have additional doctrinal requirements beyond that minimal standard.

    This year's resolution "ON COOPERATION AND THE DOCTRINE OF SALVATION" made specific reference to the Garner motion:

    WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention in 2007 affirmed The Baptist Faith and Message as a consensus confession, but not a comprehensive confession, seeking to unify Southern Baptists, local churches, and other Baptist bodies that may also hold other confessions of faith. (emphasis mine)

    And so, now the messengers of the SBC are on record affirming the interpretation of the Garner Motion that I supported all along. The BF&M is our "minimal" "consensus confession" upon which we all agree. Our churches and our entities "may also hold other [additional] confessions of faith." Some of our churches or entities may be more Calvinistic and may affirm the Abstract of Principles or the Second London Confession. Other churches or individuals might affirm something like the "Traditional Statement" as an alternative soteriology to Calvinism. I suppose, if an entity can affirm the Abstract of Principles, an entity could also affirm the "Traditional Statement" and make affirmation of it a requirement for employment, although no entity is going to do that. The point is that, the individual variations of our churches and entities notwithstanding, we are unified by the fact that we all affirm the common core of doctrine that is the Baptist Faith & Message and then we have freedom to go beyond that.

    Well, that was precisely what I and others were saying all along about the Garner motion. It was nice to see Southern Baptists owning that view of the Garner motion as their own through the adoption of this resolution.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

In the Town of New Orleans, Part 2

At 8:30 am on June 19, 2012, most of the people attending the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in New Orleans had never heard of R. Richard Tribble. By 9:00 am, everyone attending knew who he was. Mr. Tribble, in the intervening thirty minutes, made four motions from the floor of the convention and successfully overturned a parliamentary ruling by Parliamentarian Barry McCarty.

And a great many of the rest of us SBC messengers descended into snarkiness. Richard Tribble's name became a byword and a punchline among Southern Baptists in the span of a half-hour. And I joined in.

I'm writing this post to repent of that.

Tribble didn't, that I could tell, make any motions that were utterly ridiculous. None of his actions from the floor were self-serving, that I know of. He made no motion that was hateful or dripping with scorn or disdain. Any of his motions, had they come from some duly elected blue-ribbon panel of the convention, would likely have passed and been heralded as important steps forward.

I didn't favor any of his motions and I voted against them all, but they weren't unreasonable. Nor was he.

During the nickname debate, I happened to sit behind and make the acquaintance of two people who knew Tribble (or at least who purported to know more about him than I did). They told me that he was a parliamentarian himself, and that he had been studying the nickname proposal for nine months in order to defeat it. Alas, Tribble doomed his own efforts in a few critical ways.

First, he failed to appreciate the differing roles of parliamentary law and public persuasion in our Southern Baptist system. He needed to have chosen one item as the focus of his efforts. His offering of four motions in the first business session was a political mistake: By the time he got the chance to argue any of his points, people had categorized him and were no longer prepared to take him seriously. If you want to do anything at the SBC, realistically you get one chance every few years to step up to the microphone and actually be heard.

Second, he failed to appreciate the role of history in our decision-making. Wiley Drake has defined a stereotype in Southern Baptist thinking of this era. Many Southern Baptists do not believe that Drake's second-vice-presidency reflected well upon our convention. Tribble's flooding of the first business session with motions put him into the same category as Drake in the minds of many Southern Baptists. Generally speaking, that was not advantageous to him in gaining a hearing for his motions.

I was with a group of fellow Southern Baptists who spotted Tribble on Wednesday and began to discuss him. I got up from the group and walked over to introduce myself to him and meet him. He seemed a reasonable enough fellow, although the strain of his warfare and repeated defeat at microphone 6 had obviously taken its toll on his demeanor a bit. He was a serious man, and I think he meant nothing but good for our convention.

I needed to look into my own heart and consider why I reacted to Tribble the way that I did. He brought no more proposals to us for our consideration, after all, than did the GCR committee two years ago. Could it be that most of us Southern Baptists have descended into a subtle elitism? Could it be that we have in our minds a list of the true leaders of our convention, and that we'll take seriously only their ideas and their motions? When a simple rank-and-file Southern Baptist comes to the microphone with lots of ideas about how our convention might work better, are we annoyed that hoi polloi are stepping out of their place?

Are we really congregationalists? Do we really believe that it all starts at the local church? Do we truly affirm the right of any messenger from any congregation to come to the microphone and make his case? Are we sincere in stating that the headquarters for our mission is in the local congregations and that our denominational grandees are the servants of all?

Our treatment of R. Richard Tribble might give us pause on these matters. I know it did for me.

Friday, June 22, 2012

In the Town of New Orleans, Part 1

I'll react to our SBC 2012 Annual Meeting in New Orleans in several parts. For the first installment, I'll deal with the most significant thing that happened at the meeting: The election of Fred Luter as our President. Below are some random, barely organized thoughts about what we've just seen.

  1. Southern Baptists are JUBILANT about this. Fred Luter received a lengthy standing ovation upon his election. This wasn't—not at all—done begrudgingly. The SBC didn't elect Fred Luter as a part of kowtowing to any hostile pressure from any activist group. Southern Baptists have not had to compromise doctrinally in order to take a bold step forward racially. Nobody made Southern Baptists do this; Southern Baptists did this of their own accord.

    And friends, that's the way it ought to happen. If we'd elected a black president a decade ago, but had done so in a half-hearted fashion or under pressure, that would have been progress, but it wouldn't have been as much of an accomplishment as this year was. I'd rather change hearts a decade later than force an insincere change in actions a decade earlier. Southern Baptists have elected a black president, and we have done so in a manner that truly bespeaks our character and that leaves us with a taste for more, I predict.

  2. Once again, SBC life and secular politics are moving on parallel tracks. I've argued before that, for much of our history, the Southern Baptist Convention has been in sync with major movements in broader American society. For example, our Conservative Resurgence occurred roughly simultaneously with the "Reagan Revolution" in American secular politics.

    It may strike my readers as strange, considering the (historically bad) nature of President Obama's presidency and the low level of support that President Obama has within the SBC, to encounter a suggestion that Fred Luter's election has anything to do with Barack Obama's election. And yet, I think this is a strange coincidence indeed if it is merely coincidence. Before the 2008 Obama election, I heard people suggesting that they personally were not opposed to having a black president, but that they weren't sure that the country was "ready" to elect one. Was anyone saying the same thing about the SBC presidency? I don't know.

    But I do know this: Nobody could make that argument credibly after the Obama election. I think that President Obama's election was an historic turning-point that changed even the people who don't support his radical left-wing statist politics.

  3. The most important audience for this action isn't CNN. I know that a lot of us are secretly hoping somewhere in our inmost being that this action will win us some love and respect from mainstream media and cultural elites. Well, you can forget that. Liberal America hates the Southern Baptist Convention and will do so unless and until we abandon biblical Christianity.

    If the folks at CNN aren't the most important audience, then who needs to know that Southern Baptists have elected Fred Luter? The kids in your youth group, pastor—they need to know. They're going to hear the argument that churches are racist, and those kids absolutely are not racists and will need to know how to respond. They need to know that Southern Baptists are not racists. You need to report back to your congregation with a Powerpoint slideshow and you need to make certain that the people in your congregation see a photograph of the new SBC President. The black children and children of other ethnicities in my congregation need to see that they're not attending somebody else's church but are instead a part of a family that includes them.

    Along those lines, I want to encourage Fred Luter to continue Bryant Wright's tradition of recording video messages addressed to Southern Baptists. In contrast to what happened with Wright's messages, we SBC pastors need to look for opportunities to put Fred Luter's videos in front of our church members with some regularity (email newsletters, show them on the big screen, perhaps?) Especially if we serve in churches where everyone on the platform is white, we need to seize this opportunity to put someone of another color "on the platform" where we can.

  4. Where do we go from here, as it concerns racial diversity? The long-term future for Southern Baptists, I hope, does not consist of the recruitment of more black churches into our convention. That's not where we need to be going, long-term. Black churches are welcome in the SBC, but we need a higher vision than that. There ought not to be such a thing as a black church or a white church. In the long run, the black church and the white church alike are dead ends, destined to extinction. We need to find racial unity on Sunday morning by worshipping and witnessing and covenanting together within congregations. When we do that (and the transformation is already underway!) then the makeup of our Southern Baptist institutions will necessarily follow all the more.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Traditionalist Troublemakers? The Truth

On May 30, 2012, Dr. Eric Hankins introduced what he called "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" in this post. In response, the dormant Southern Baptist blogging world shook itself awake. Hundreds of Southern Baptists signed the document. I did not. I gave my own reasons here.

In conversations online and offline with people from many segments of SBC life, I've heard so many people say, "This timing isn't an accident. They're going to do something at the convention. These people are up to no good. You know they're planning to take some divisive action against Calvinists at the SBC."

Well, the convention is now halfway over, and we've had a chance to see who's being divisive. The proponents and signatories of the "Traditional Statement" have, to my knowledge, done NOTHING with the statement at this convention. They haven't made motions related to it. They haven't submitted resolutions related to it. They haven't made speeches about it from the convention floor. They haven't hosted after-parties to debate it or discuss it or rally support for it.


That's not to say that the statement hasn't come up. There has been at least one motion AGAINST the statement. It has been mentioned multiple times from the convention platform in philippics decrying division among the brethren. Every side has had its say about the statement—directly or indirectly—except for the people who are actually behind the statement.

I just thought that these facts ought to be entered formally into evidence. Maybe some people owe an apology to Dr. Eric Hankins and a host of other signatories to the statement. They said that they were just putting out a statement to articulate their views. As it turns out, they have been true to their word and will leave New Orleans with their integrity intact.

Monday, June 18, 2012

James MacDonald, Convictional Baptist?

James MacDonald just delivered what I thought was a very good sermon in the SBC 2012 Pastors Conference. In general, I would say that the program has been superb, and I'm very thankful for Grant Ethridge and the entire Pastors Conference team.

MacDonald said that he is a "Baptist by conviction," and immediately after the sermon, Ethridge asked that Kevin Ezell go back to the Green Room and sign MacDonald up into the SBC. I couldn't help but recall, as that conversation was transpiring, MacDonald's declaration last year that "Congregational Government is from Satan." I want to be a man who passes over opportunities to tear down a brother, but I also want to be a man who takes opportunities to teach. In the latter interest, and not in the former, I contribute the following:

  1. Being a Congregationalist is a condicio sine qua non of being a "Baptist by Conviction." The Baptist movement is an ecclesiological movement. Congregationalism comes in bewildering variety, but Congregationalism in the broad sense is part of what it means to be a Baptist. Congregationalism is one of the things about which we feel a Bible certainty. That's why the Baptist Faith & Message is direct and clear on the matter.

    It's important to say so, not to hate on James MacDonald, but because we Southern Baptists are great at forgetting what makes us who we are. This episode in his life is a chance to remind all of my Southern Baptist readers that we are congregationalists, and that those who are not congregationalists are not us, even though we may love and appreciate those outside our fold.

  2. Although I disagree with MacDonald's argument against Congregationalism, I am actually sympathetic toward it. MacDonald's major motivation throughout the article, it seems to me, is the statement that he made as his fourth reason, "Congregationalism Crushes Pastors."

    Who can argue with that?

    Last week I spent several hours with a young man who claims to be a Christian but is not in church. He began to tell me that he had had some bad experiences in churches. I love it when people tell me that, as though I could not possibly relate, since I'm a pastor. Nobody knows about bad experiences in churches better than pastors do. I sympathize with MacDonald, because I too have seen men who wanted and tried to be a good pastor who have been crushed in congregationalist church processes.

    But maybe churches weren't created primarily for the comfort of pastors. Maybe Jesus' intention was not to put a big red "Easy" button on the desks of pastors. Maybe, as men like Stan Norman have been declaring for years, the congregationalist system has biblical advantages for the task of discipleship, which I think IS the Great Commission purpose of the church.

    If you conclude that congregations exist at the pleasure of pastors, then congregationalism is not going to be your preferred form of church polity. If, however, you believe that pastors exist at the pleasure of Christ's body, then I think that much of MacDonald's argument will be unpersuasive to you. But it is unescapable that all of us who love the Lord and who love His church will mourn over the ways that Satan has wounded pastors (who are disciples, too, after all) and scandalized them. Some of them, perhaps, needed to be pruned out of a ministerial role in which they had no business to begin with, but some of them have been driven out by wicked men, and that's an unavoidable truth. My heart, just like MacDonald's, is grieved over that, and although I think that he has drawn wrongful conclusions about the matter, I am thankful for his sympathetic heart toward struggling pastors.

  3. Pastors need accountability. Episcopal and Presbyterial government is used by Satan, as well, and others have already made this point well, so I need not belabor it. Ecclesial dictatorships are not biblical.

By the way, I have not undertaken to rebut MacDonald's unsupported claim that congregationalism is unbiblical, but I will happily direct you to Jonathan Leeman's well-written article, which addresses that question toward the end.

Perhaps MacDonald has changed his mind about congregational church government. If so, then welcome to the SBC, Pastor MacDonald! But I do think it is important that we—as cordially as is possible—remember and reiterate that we are congregationalists.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Developments in the Race for Second Vice President

Since I posted my endorsements previously, two new candidates have entered the race for Second Vice President.

Dave Miller, Iowa blogger and principal at SBC Voices, will be nominated by blogger Alan Cross. Brad Atkins, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, will be nominated by Johnny Touchet.

I'll still be voting for Dr. Eric Hankins, for the reasons that I have already mentioned in prior posts.

John Nance Garner would likely be surprised to see what a coveted office the Second Vice Presidency of the SBC has become this year. It's not possible for the Second Vice Presidency to overshadow our historic presidential election this year, but it appears likely that Nathan Lino's election as First Vice President will not attract the attention that the contested 2VP race will draw.

What may be shaping up is an election that is more a referendum on various ongoing questions in the SBC than it is a decision among the men involved. Atkins's candidacy will likely be evaluated in the light of his unprecedented appearance at February's SBC Executive Board meeting in an attempt to take money away from SBC seminaries and give it to the IMB. That this motion was unpopular among seminaries is perhaps unsurprising, but even the IMB recognized this as a bad idea, formally requesting that it not be adopted.

Hankins is a rising young voice in the SBC whose candidacy will probably be taken as a referendum on his very excellent Resolution on the "Sinner's Prayer" and the "Statement on Traditional Southern Baptist Soteriology." The statement has garnered hundreds of signatures from across the SBC but has also raised the hackles of many Calvinists within the convention.

Miller has characterized his candidacy as being representative of Southern Baptists outside the stronger states in the SBC. Also, he has a long tenure of blogging and has built many relationships in that venue.

While we're speaking about elections, I'm pleased to announce that Parliamentarian Barry McCarty has crafted some maneuver within Roberts Rules of Order by which we will all be able to vote or otherwise participate in the election of Fred Luter. Since Luter is unopposed, normal procedure would be for the Recording Secretary simply to cast the convention's ballot without the messengers being able to vote. I'm delighted that I'll be given the chance to affirm Luter's election.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Endorsements, Part 3

Resolution on the Sinner's Prayer

I support Eric Hankins's "Resolution on the 'Sinner's Prayer'" and encourage you to vote for it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Endorsements, Part 2

Dwight McKissic's Resolution on Mormon Racism

I'm giving an entire post just to this resolution. We need to support this resolution. Here's why.

  1. It puts secular politics into its proper place.

    It took me a few years to escape the Democrat upbringing that I received in Northeast Arkansas, but since the Democrats succeeded in convincing me that they were making no place for a pro-life Christian in their party (during the Bill Clinton administration), I have never voted for any kind of presidential candidates other than Republican presidential candidates. I want Mitt Romney to win Barack Obama to lose in November. That really needs to happen.

    But, doggone it, if we won't say something negative about Mormonism just because the Republican presidential hopeful is a Mormon, then we've sold our souls and God help us! This resolution will not affect the electoral outcome in November one tenth of a percentage point. We need to speak the critical truth about this lethal cult right now—precisely when it is embarrassing to a GOP candidate—just to prove to ourselves, to the watching world, and to the GOP that we're committed enough to the truth over politics to do so.

  2. It puts denominational politics into its proper place.

    Dwight McKissic and I have squared off against one another in denominational politics. More than once. But, brothers and sisters, Dwight McKissic is not my enemy. He's just wrong in public more than his fair share. ;-) But I manage to wind up in the same situation with some frequency, so I suppose I'm the pot calling the kettle black here.

    And so, it's important to note it, folks, that even if you've generally fallen on the other side of things from Dwight McKissic with some regularity, an idea is not bad just because Dwight McKissic was its originator. Whatever feelings of denominational politics Dwight's resolution might engender in you, his resolution about Mormonism is a good idea. The committee should expand it, I think, and make it a full-fledged resolution against the many offenses and errors of Mormonism. Certainly there is no denominational dust-up we've ever had that is as important as telling the truth about this insidious, damning heresy called Mormonism.

  3. McKissic has his facts straight and the resolution is historically solid.

  4. Playing kissy-kissy, nice-nice with Mormonism is idiotic as an evangelistic and apologetic strategy. The Mormon strategy is to try to build respectability and to try to keep people from knowing about Mormon racism and Kolob and the fact that Mormonism is built upon a fraudulent book telling tales about a fictional civilization that obviously never inhabited this hemisphere. If one would advance the idea that our apologetic strategy should center around being sure not to be so unkind as to get in the way of the Mormon proselytization strategy, then everybody associated with drafting and implementing that strategy needs to be demoted to some department where the most harm they can do is in the area of teaching children what crayon to use to color Moses' hair.

So, if Dwight's resolution doesn't come out of committee either pretty much intact or strengthened, then I hope that he'll try to bring it out from the floor. Either way, we need to be sure to vote to adopt it or something like it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

SBC 2012 Endorsements, Part 1

President: Fred Luter

Fred Luter would be well qualified to serve as SBC President even if he were white. The fact that his election will be historic make it all the more thrilling for me. I hope that he will run unopposed. Indeed, if you, dear reader, are someone who is considering running against Fred Luter, then you're making a horrible mistake.

Luter's conservative credentials; his track-record of faithfulness in his pastorate in New Orleans, even in the face of tragic and difficult circumstances; and his strong leadership skills demonstrated across decades of denominational service all commend him as the right choice to lead our convention this year.

Photo of Dr. Fred Luter

First Vice-President: Nathan Lino

Fellow Texan Nathan Lino is an exemplary candidate. Warm and gregarious, devout and prayerful, passionate about the gospel and encouraging toward people, Nathan represents what I hope to be when I grow up. His service on the International Mission Board has been valuable to the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly as he served on the search committee who brought Tom Elliff to the helm of the IMB.

Nathan serves at Northeast Houston Baptist Church reaching the Humble, Texas, area. The church is, in so many ways, a model for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As a bonus, since Nathan is an expatriate of South Africa, when we elect him and Dr. Luter, both of those offices would be occupied by "African-Americans," after a manner of speaking. ;-)

Photo of Nathan Lino

Second Vice-President: Eric Hankins

I was thrilled to learn that Clint Pressley will nominate Dr. Eric Hankins for the office of Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Hankins and I were classmates in an Eschatology seminar at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Every student in that seminary was exemplary, but Eric distinguished himself early in the year as a brilliant thinker and a strong young leader.

Since that time, I have followed Eric's ministry, first here in Texas and then in Oxford, Mississippi. I have some dear friends who are fervent, lifelong Mississippi State University Bulldog fans. Just on principle, they would have to be suspicious about a church in Oxford. But if you're not one of them, I see a lot for us all to admire about what Eric is doing in Oxford. This is a historic established church in a university town, but they're aggressive and innovative in missions, leading the way in a church-planting network and adopting an international people group. They give 12% through the Cooperative Program—Twelve! Percent! That was a lot even back when churches still gave a lot through the CP.

For me, it comes down to this: I think the brightest possible future for the SBC combines a passionate love for Christ, an earnest heart to go with Christ after the lost, a strong re-commitment to CP Missions, a knack for innovation and creativity within the theological framework of our Southern Baptist heritage, and substantive thoughtfulness about the issues of the day. Eric Hankins represents all of those things. A vote for him is a vote for our best future together. If you join me in that sentiment, I hope you'll lift your ballot in New Orleans in favor of his election.

Since I first endorsed Eric, he has been prominently associated with "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation." If you are a Calvinist, then it is possible that you are reluctant to vote for Eric because of his association with that statement. If that's you, then I want to challenge you on that a bit.

Dr. Mohler is in affirmation of the "Abstract of Principles," a document much more Calvinistic than our "Baptist Faith & Message." As we all know well, Dr. Mohler is a five-point Calvinist. You probably know that I am not. And yet, I forcefully defended Dr. Mohler in his ill-fated candidacy for the presidency of the SBC a few years ago, as did some people who are signatories to the recent statement.

In 2008, many non-Calvinists were big enough to throw their support behind a Calvinistic candidate because he was a good man and the right choice. I think that SBC Calvinists will be put to the test somewhat in this year's 2VP race. Eric Hankins has never done anything to restrict the rights of Calvinists in the SBC. He has merely articulated his own beliefs about soteriology, just as Calvinists in the SBC have done a hundred times over. I hope to see next week that Calvinists are oriented enough toward cooperation to be willing to support a candidate who vocally is not a Calvinist.

Photo of Eric Hankins