Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rename Redux?

This week the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention approved a recommendation from President Bryant Wright and an illustrious task force of his appointment that the Southern Baptist Convention begin to employ the informal tagline "Great Commission Baptists." The recommendation is for neither a legal change of the convention's name nor a legal dba, but simply for Southern Baptists to have the option to begin to refer to ourselves as Great Commission Baptists as we may wish to do so. Presumably, the Executive Committee or interested Southern Baptists would also take legal steps to register this trademark and protect it from encroachment by available legal means.

I'm clearly on the record in opposition to the way that President Wright went about this (see here), and I stand by those objections. Subsequent events have made me only more concerned that the value of a floor vote of the Southern Baptist Convention is waning. I, for one, do not celebrate that.

And yet, those objections have more to do with the process than with the substance. I have previously expressed my skepticism that name changes will accomplish anything substantive for us. Even name-change proponents are already hedging their bets, insisting that name changes alone will not be fruitful unless accompanied by other more substantive changes. Count me among those who've been saying that all along. Furthermore, count me as someone saying that substantive improvements are effective with or without superficial actions like name changes.

All of that having been said and clarified, I think that the recommendation is pretty good. The name is doctrinally substantive. That this is nothing like "Cru" and "Converge" is a gift from God and a breath of fresh air. Furthermore, the idea of an informal name that churches and entities may use or eschew at their own preference is pretty close to the situation that we have now. Churches and entities decide whether to employ the name of the convention or not. Many churches labor hard to find the most meaningless name possible, and we have entities whose common names evoke little idea of a connection with the SBC. It was my recommendation earlier on that churches in pioneer areas, if they are concerned about the effect of the words "Southern Baptist Convention," come up with something else to call themselves as a regional moniker. The effect of this proposal is little more than that, perhaps. I believe that the task force has done a commendable job. I wouldn't campaign against this recommendation. I'm thankful that it makes an accommodation for people who will bring this up every few years until Jesus comes back if we don't do something (not that I'm confident that this accommodation will change that phenomenon). Maybe this is a good peacemaking measure and should be evaluated on those terms rather than on whether it will accomplish anything at all in winning people to Christ. The task force did a good job.

They may fail anyway. It has happened before.

In the late 1960's, the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention was concerned that "Training Union" might not be the best name for a curriculum, what with the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and all. After careful study, our best and brightest came up with a good name change for Church Training: They would market the materials under the name "Quest." That's a pretty good name. It is short. It describes a journey toward a goal (which is one way to characterize discipleship). It sounds exotic. Slam dunk, right?

Well, there was a problem. You see, in 1969 (when this proposal came to the floor), "Quest" was also the brand name of a feminine hygiene product. The convention's comfort with the old name, coupled with the potential embarrassment associated with the new name, led the messengers to reject the proposal.

People are already using the initials "GCB" to stand for "Great Commission Baptists." Unfortunately, between now and convention time, the ABC network will release one of the most despicable shows in recent memory, ""Good Christian B-----es," under the initialism "GCB." I say that it is one of the most despicable shows in recent memory, because I can hardly imagine ABC releasing "Good Jewish B----es" or "Good Muslim B----es" or "Good Hindu B----es," can you? Christianity: the one faith it's OK to hate. The central theme of the show is that Dallas-area church-going women are a collection of hypocritical, backstabbing, raging misanthropes. Not only is "GCB" not exactly the image that we want to cultivate; it is the very image that we're fleeing, isn't it?

Tweets went out the very first night of the announcement pointing out this unfortunate coincidence. I've been working on my sermon planning retreat and have been unable to respond until now. But I think that this poses a problem for the convention if we adopt this name. Most shows like this one die quick deaths. Maybe this just isn't the right time. In five years, this show will probably be long-forgotten. I do think that "Great Commission Baptists" is too good a name to abandon it (if we have to have any change at all). But I certainly don't want our church associated with this television program any more than is absolutely unavoidable.

In my opinion, it would be far better to be associated with feminine hygiene than to be associated with feminine hypocrisy.

P.S.: The convention meeting that rejected "Quest"? It was in New Orleans. Read all about it here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why I Am Not A Libertarian

Frontispiece, The United States Magazine and Democratic Review

The line between Libertarianism and non-Libertarian Conservatism has grown indefinite during my lifetime. What was originally a watchword of the Democrat Party—the slogan of John L. O'Sullivan's The United States Magazine and Democratic Review magazine, "The best government is that which governs least"—has now become the prevailing slogan of the Republican Party. This slogan can be found as the battle cry of limited-government Conservatives or Libertarians, but taken at face value it is necessarily an Anarchist sentiment. If the least government is the best, then it logically follows that no government AT all is the best government OF all.

Of course, most of the people who wield this slogan don't really mean it—they stop somewhere far short of anarchy. They mean to say that government would govern better if there were less of it than there is now. The major problem is that, while they don't really mean that government governs best when it governs least, too many of these people THINK that they really do mean that. A desperate need exists within the general landscape of political conservatism for all of us to think carefully toward the development of a consistent and comprehensive philosophy of government. For those of us who are Christians, our careful thought must also be prayerful thought, and the philosophy of government that we adopt needs to arise out of statements that the Bible has made about government.

I'm thinking that I might devote some time and some space on this blog to this topic. I will examine what the Bible says about government and interact with the major political systems of our day, hoping that we can all arrive at a better-informed and more carefully-developed concept of Christian citizenship than we might have at present.

Today, I would like to consider Libertarianism

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy accurately defines Libertarianism as "the moral view that [people] initially fully own themselves and have certain moral powers to acquire property rights in external things." The only justification for denying full liberty to any individual person, according to Libertarianism, is in order to protect the liberty of other people. This concept of self-ownership is the foundational concept of Libertarianism without which other Libertarian political convictions are incoherent. I would encourage you to read the entire Stanford article. It is excellent and well-sourced.

I disagree with Libertarianism. I offer the following as my primary objections against this political theory:

  1. As a Christian, I consider the foundational premise of Libertarianism to be a form of sinful rebellion against God. To state that individuals initially and fully own themselves is to fail to acknowledge that we exist as creations of a Creator. God is our Owner. He has authority over us. This truth is really the starting point of the gospel—if God is not my Owner, and if He does not have authority over me, then I have very little need for the gospel and very little reason to hear it.

  2. As a Christian, I believe that the best government is that which governs according to the scope of authority and the purposes that have been given to human government by God. The Bible is quite explicit on this point:

    Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due to them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7, NASB)

    This can hardly be construed as a Libertarian manifesto. It is a statement of support for the Roman Empire! It speaks of "subjection" as something that is "necessary" from God's perspective. Individual liberty appears in this treatise absolutely nowhere. The purpose of government, according to the New Testament, is not for the protection of individual liberty. Rather, God has authorized secular governments for the purpose that those who "do what is good" might "have praise from" their government, but that those who "do what is evil" will have cause to "be afraid" of the "sword" borne by the state who, on God's behalf, is "an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil."

    Biblically, it is the purpose of government to encourage good behavior and to punish bad behavior. This purpose is derived from the One who has delegated authority to human government, from God.

    If this is the purpose of government, does that purpose exist across the entire scope of human life, or are there things that are beyond the purview of governmental authority as invested in government by God? I believe that there are limitations to the scope of governmental authority. In the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus specifically commanded His servants not to attempt to uproot the tares from the wheat field. The field, Jesus said, represents the world. The wheat are the Christians and the tares are those who are not. Jesus explicitly commands that judgment upon people for rejecting Christ not take place until the Final Judgment.

    This, the most important execution of justice, is not something that God is willing to delegate to anyone else. I'm sure that God has many reasons for insisting upon performing this kind of judgment Himself, but the concern listed in the parable is that "while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them."

    It is this parable and other passages like it that make me an adherent to Roger Williams's theory of "The Two Tables of the Law." God has not authorized government to execute justice in matters of human beings' relationship with God. God will tend to that Himself. Rather, God has authorized human governments to execute justice in matters of human beings' relationships with one another. For this reason, I support unbridled religious liberty. The concern given in the Parable of the Wheat and Tares has proven in history to be well-taken: Governments that enforce religious conformity have, without fail, been governments that have persecuted Christians who share my theological convictions. No government should ever try to enforce a good relationship with God.

    Governments do rightfully exist to regulate human relationships. Business relationships, family relationships, and community relationships require governmental restraint upon the innate wickedness of human beings. The governmental justice that comes into these relationships, being mediated by fallen human beings, is imperfect—sometimes horrendously so. The human author of Romans 13 was all-too-aware of this, having been wrongly imprisoned and brutally punished more times than we dare count. Nevertheless, he knew, as God does, that imperfect human justice, inferior as it is to the ideals of divine perfection, is still far superior to anarchy.

    It is within this scope of authority—intercourse among human beings—that government can fulfill its purpose of rewarding the doing of good and punishing the doing of wrong. This biblical philosophy stands in marked contrast against the Libertarian philosophy of protecting individual rights.

  3. As a Christian, I recognize Libertarianism's exaltation of individual liberty as spiritually unsophisticated. According to the Bible, this kind of liberty is actually slavery. Whoever deprives a person of the liberty of being a Crystal Meth addict is PRESERVING that person's individual liberty, not taking it away. Libertarianism, in its most consistent forms, fails to understand this.

    The contrast between the biblical concept of liberty and the Libertarian theory is striking. Libertarianism presumes that liberty is the natural state of mankind, and that people only lose their liberty when someone intervenes. Christianity presumes that bondage is the natural state of mankind, and that people only find liberty when someone intervenes.

  4. As a human being, Libertarianism seems to me a hopelessly naïve philosophy of human liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Libertarianism fails to acknowledge that the liberties most precious to most of us are inherently social in nature rather than individualistic. Among all of the other liberties that I desire, I want the liberty to live in a community where my children can walk the streets in safety. I desire the liberty to choose an environment for my family in which we will be exposed to good role models who are trying to be moral people. I desire for my children to be able to choose mates from among a pool of peers who have at least seen something of a functioning home. Libertarianism does not acknowledge these as liberties, because they are not INDIVIDUAL liberties, but are instead liberties tied to the collective state of society.

    Consider, for example, divorce. The Libertarian approach to divorce must simply be that people, being full owners of themselves, have the unabrogated right to determine that they no longer wish to be married. The Christian approach to marriage is far different. According to the Bible (1 Corinthians 7:4), in marriage each individual is owned by his or her spouse, and together they are obligated to God who has joined them together (Mark 10:9). Both of these concepts—spousal ownership and divine obligation—directly contradict the fundamental precepts of Libertarianism.

    Furthermore, as the divorce rate skyrockets (and a consistent Libertarian can only rejoice that people are exercising their individual liberties), the fabric of society is being affected by these fundamental changes. The community is different when marriage is no longer capable of maintaining order in the families of a community. But I have to live in a community somewhere. I have no choice about that. And if I have no liberty to join with likeminded people to create the sort of community that is most beneficial to us—which unavoidably means curtailing the liberty of other individuals within the community to do things that damage the collective good of our community—then the most valuable and precious elements of my individual liberty have been stolen from me. But Libertarianism expressly asserts that I do not have that liberty—it does not even acknowledge that kind of liberty as important, although obviously it is in real life. This is the point at which Libertarianism is so naïve.

  5. As a moral philosopher, I consider Libertarianism to be a ridiculously reductionistic approach to morality. Libertarianism is not the alternative to the legislation of morality; it is among the most inflexible and Totalitarian moral philosophies in existence. Libertarianism takes a single moral concept—that it is morally good for human beings to be free to make decisions for themselves—and makes it the trump card over all other moral concepts. Liberty is not merely good under Libertarianism; it is the summum bonum, and Libertarianism legislates this moral viewpoint upon everyone. Essentially, all other moral concepts cease to exist in Libertarianism, except as points of internal deliberation for the individual. Libertarianism requires that all of society conform to this ordering of moral principles in practice. Talk about cramming your morality down someone else's throat!

    Is morality really this simple? Is it always the most moral thing to maximize individualistic liberty? You need not be a Christian to suspect that something is missing here, but if you are a Christian, you must admit at this point that Libertarian morality is strangely at odds with the central tenets of your faith.

For these reasons I am not a Libertarian. Although I have no idealistic supposition that human government will lead us to utopia or ever be anything other than a stopgap measure imperfectly restraining evil until the day that all will be set right, I do believe that government is, on the whole, an important blessing given to the world by God. I'm all in favor of making it the greatest blessing that it can be. Future posts on that are upcoming, I hope.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Resume Cover Letter

Here's why they'll never enlist me to teach anybody how to write cover letters for resumes.

I've been praying for God to send you the right person as a pastor. I do sincerely pray that he will send you as your next pastor someone who is better qualified and more capable than I am. The Lord knows that your church needs just the right man at this sensitive time in your church's life.

Keith Sanders has been my friend since I was twelve years old. Like good friends should, he thinks more highly of me than he ought. It is my understanding that your committee contacted him and asked him for recommendations. He has asked me to send you my resume. It's a little bit out-of-date, but not much, and not in any way that matters much. I hope that it provides you with the information that you need.

I've been at FBC Farmersville for twelve years. Dr Jeremy Roberts, whom you likely know, recently told me, "I suspect that you'll die at FBC Farmersville." I can only hope that he meant that he could see the love that I have for this church and this place, and not that he expected my imminent demise! So, you need to know from the start that, if God should lead me to your church it would absolutely break my heart. I'm praying against it, and that's no joke. We'd start off with both the new church and the new pastor grieving. I hope Jeremy is right and that God leaves me here until a ripe old age.

But, I don't get to make those decisions. As the Kingdom of Heaven goes, I'm in labor, not management. It is God who led me here, and I can only serve at His pleasure. I have a very close friend in Keith, and he's asked me to consider this. He knows me pretty well and he's a godly man. I have to take that seriously. So, I've come up with a compromise: I decided to write the most discouraging email that I could honestly write and then attach my resume to it.

I'm an average preacher at best. I'm passionate about recovering a more meaningful and more closely-connected concept of church membership (see a video about that here), and because of that we're making changes here at FBC Farmersville. You might not be comfortable with those changes. I'm very conservative in my theology. I'm a Southern Baptist because I believe firmly in our historic doctrines. I'm often absent-minded and need a good secretary in order to be competent at all. I'm not the best multi-tasker in the world; I do better if I can focus on something. If you're looking for a high-octane personality who leads quick change and charges right over people, I'm not your guy. I realize that's the style today, but that's not me. A member here once asked me, "Bro. Bart, did you want our church to do this right away, or like a year from now?" I replied, "Mrs. Donna, in my way of thinking, a year from now IS right away."

I wear a suit and tie when I preach. If I didn't, I'm afraid that my mother would find out about it. You'd need to be comfortable with my dressing that way to preach, because that's how I'm comfortable when I preach. I don't require that of anyone else. In fact, you'll see a video of myself and an associate pastor here that shows my attitude on that subject pretty clearly.

Sometimes churches have some sort of a packet that they send out to everybody who sends a resume. If you have one of those, and if you plan to send it to me, please remove from it any information that might at all be related to the pastor's salary. I have been careful in my years of ministry never to know anything about salary information of any church until after reaching a final decision about whether God is calling me there. I don't think that I would make a wrong decision just because of money, but I'd rather avoid the temptation altogether than to find out where my limits are.

The people at FBC Farmersville know every blemish and problem with me, and they love me anyway. I don't keep secrets from them, because they're my family. If you should need to do so, you may contact anybody you want in this church or in this community. They know that I hear from churches on rare occasions (I never have understood why we pretend that church members don't know how this process works), and they're pretty confident that I want to stay right here, so you won't set them off into any sort of a panic.

Wade Burleson, who was at the center of so many controversies in the SBC a few years ago, may not think very highly of me, although I don't want to put words into his mouth. He's the pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, OK. I've also had the occasional bit of tension and disagreement with Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, although he is always a perfect gentleman about it. I recommend that you call them and find out about me in the worst possible light. I'm not saying that these are bad men, but just that they are two men whom I would consider least likely to feel any pressure to make me look good in their descriptions of me.

God's going to do great things in your church. I'm confident about that. I'm praying for you to find the right man, so long as it isn't me. I really mean that: I AM praying for you.

Yours in Christ,
Bart Barber