Thursday, March 04, 2010

Memo: How to smoke out a Calvinistic pastor in your church

Yesterday I was sent the following 3 documents that have been circulating in Western Tennessee among some Southern Baptist Churches. It seems that they were distributed at seminars being held for churches to teach "how to find out if any of your staff are Calvinists and how to get rid of them." Since receiving them I have communicated with others who have verified that they are being made available to Southern Baptist churches in Tennessee, not by any official denominational worker, but by zealous people who view the doctrines of grace as heresy. I am trying to contact one or more of those persons in hopes of better understanding what has provoked this mission.

The first document is in the form of a memo and is entitled, "Reformed Red Flags." It contains a list of 16 "behaviors" to look for when seeking to smoke out Calvinistic pastors. Number 3 on the list is "use of the ESV Study Bible." Someone should alert Crossway immediately. Founders made the list, as did John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, RC Sproul, James White and the first Southern Baptist confession of faith (which is still used at Southern and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminaries, and which even the famous non-Calvinist Paige Patterson has signed), the Abstract of Principles.

To read the documents in a larger size, click on them.

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The second document is entitled, "Theological differences between Traditional Southern Baptist and Extreme Calvinists." It seems to be a warmed over version (and perversion) of some of the things that Fisher Humphreys put in his book, God So Loved the Word: Traditional Baptists and Calvinism. Most of the depictions of Calvinism in this document are built on the caricatures found in the previous one and many of the views described as "Traditional Baptist" are held by all evangelical Calvinists. Granted, I know the document purports to deal with "Extreme Calvinists," but I defy anyone to capture and put on display such a creature as described below. Are some Calvinists unbalanced? Yes. Are some jerks? Yes. Is there a danger that the profile given below of extreme Calvinism is sweeping into Southern Baptist churches? No. The kind of inaccurate and distorted representations are easy to make (anyone who reads blogs knows this) but they violate the 9th Commandment and should be renounced by anyone--Calvinist or not--who genuinely takes the Bible to be the Word of God written.

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The last of the documents is recommended to churches to use with new pastors and staff members. The desire expressed in this document that a pastor be forthcoming in doctrinal convictions is commendable. It assumes, however, that the church to which it is recommended does not have a historic Southern Baptist confession of faith (most notably, the Charleston Confession, Abstract of Principles or New Hampshire Statement). A case can even be made that the Baptist Faith and Message is largely a Calvinistic statement, though not as explicit as earlier Southern Baptist confessions. The problem with many of our churches is not that pastors are coming in and trying to teach some "new" doctrine. Rather, it is that they often have drifted from their own stated doctrinal foundations through neglect or liberalism or pragmatism. When a pastor begins to restore those foundations, what he teaches can sound new when in reality it is fully in accord with the church's own doctrinal statements.

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Much could be said about the wickedness and ignorance behind a campaign to "smoke out" Calvinistic pastors using these dubious tools. However, I want to conclude by issuing a plea to my fellow pastors who may be more reformed in our understanding than others in the SBC. Though these documents promote caricatures and distortions, they are a sad reminder that this is the way that at least some people perceive us. As I have indicated, I don't know anyone who fits the profile that these documents present. I doubt such a person exists within the SBC. Nevertheless, this is how some people perceive us.

What shall we do? Protest and return fire with fire? Point out the practical (and sometimes, doctrinal) Pelagianism of our less Calvinistic brothers? Become defensive and try to answer each accusation point-by-point? I don't think that response is called for. Saying nothing of Proverbs 26:4 for the present, I instead recommend that we take the opportunity to examine ourselves and our ministries and see if there are any kernels of truth whatsoever in the accusations on which the caricatures are built. Enemies can help us even when they are trying to destroy us. Learning from them does not mean that we agree with the charges or judge them fair.

Caricatures die in the presence of long, consistent evidence to the contrary. Our agenda is not to be set by accusations (or even affirmations). We have the Word of God for that. Let's examine ourselves in the light of that Word and determine to live wholeheartedly for our crucified and risen Savior. Critics will come and critics will go. What ultimately matters faithfulness to our Lord expressed through obedience to His Word.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Bloggersation with Alvin Reid

This is the first of a series of "bloggersations" that I hope to publish here over the next several months. One of the vitally important dimensions to the resurgence of gospel unity that is developing within and beyond the SBC is the establishment of friendships. Too often, brothers who disagree with each other talk past one another rather than constructively to each other. When there is no vital relationship it is easy to traffic in caricature or to allow misconceptions to go unchallenged. But where the respect engendered by friendship exists, those destructive tendencies are not tolerated.

It has been my joy to get to know Dr. Alvin Reid over the last year and to be able to call him my friend. He is a Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. As you will read below, our friendship developed because he initiated it. His example should encourage all who love Christ and His gospel to reach out to others to establish gospel-centered friendships. As Alvin and I have traded emails, tweets and phone calls, it began to dawn on me that aspects of our conversations might be of interest and perhaps useful to others. The idea of blogging part of a conversation dawned on me a few months ago, and Alvin quickly agreed to participate. What follows is a bloggersation between Alvin and me about the 2009 SBC and our friendship.

What happened at the SBC this year?

AR:While I agree with Jonathan Edwards that one should best judge a movement a posteriori than a priori, i.e., by its fruits, I believe we can say that the meeting in Louisville was of historic proportions. I wrote of this at my website, but in a nutshell it said we (in no certain order): 1) said to a coming generation of younger men of God that we believe in them and the future; 2) affirmed the call for a Great Commission Resurgence with an overwhelming voice; 3) affirmed wholeheartedly the leadership of men like Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin, and Al Mohler among others; 4) said as a body we will not focus on secondary issues of disagreement but come together to strive to fulfill the great commission; 5) proved we can differ on matters such as Calvinism, eschatology, etc, and yet bind together as a people for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel.
For me, it was every bit as historic as Dallas in 1995, my first SBC.

TA: I came away more encouraged from this convention than from any of the others that I have attended, going all the way back to 1979. There were several elements that combined to bring this about. First, God is giving us the kind of leaders that we need for this new day. Johnny Hunt's grace and spirit is contagious and I sense that lots of those who attended--me included--want to catch whatever it is that he has! Danny Akin's leadership resonated with the convention as he chaired the Resolutions Committee without a glitch and spoke in 4 different forums on Tuesday. Al Mohler's motion to have a task force appointed, and Frank Page's timely support of that motion signaled a new spirit of cooperation that many Southern Baptists have been longing for.

How do you account for what took place?

AR:I certainly think it was God at work, although I try to be careful to speak for God beyond what He clearly reveals in His Word. I also think it came as a convergence of many factors, signified first in Frank Page's election, and from where I sit this was the culmination of what I had been hearing for three years as I travel around the SBC: a general sense of unrest, that culture has changed and we have not been willing to adapt to reach this culture (adapt methods not our message which is unchanging). I have spent my entire life studying movements, and this has all the marks of a growing movement. I am praying for a revolution of gospel-saturated believers who will live as missionaries in our increasingly unchurched and dechurched world. Add to that a flattened world where we can gain information and communicate more easily, and the sense that we are not doing our best to serve the Lord God has been reaching a crescendo.

TA: I think Alvin has a good take on this. There is a growing unrest that began years ago in the SBC. I think the rising generation has added energy and passion to that unrest that is now forcing some vitally important issues to be addressed. The informational gatekeepers have been forever circumvented by the new media. I think the last 2 SBC presidential elections have signaled the strength of the new winds that are blowing. So in one sense, I think the recent SBC in Louisville represents the next step in this development. Enough Southern Baptists are now willing to admit that we have real problems that cannot be solved by more cheerleading or doing more of the same. We need to get honest and start caring about not only the authority of Scripture but its sufficiency.

How did you guys become friends?

TA: Twitter. For real. On November 8, 2008, Alvin sent me a Direct Message saying, "We have never met personally...I would love to interact with you by email." Less than two hours later I received a warm, lengthy email with the subject heading: "Hello my brother." He told me a little about himself and said that he wanted to get to know me better and hopefully enjoy fellowship in the future. I had read some of Alvin's writings and appreciated his insights into and love of revivals and awakenings. But, to my shame, had he waited on me to reach out to him we would not be friends today.

The fact that he had gone out of his way to establish some interaction with me intrigued me and engendered an immediate respect and appreciation for him. As we corresponded back and forth and talked on the phone I came to discover what many people have known about Alvin for years--that he is hard not to love! I am very grateful to the Lord for his friendship. Alvin is sold out to the gospel of Christ and is a passionate evangelist. I have a lot to learn from him.

AR: I had forgotten who took the initiative, but I am glad I did. I think our friendship is a great example of how God has been working in hearts. There are new coalitions and constituencies forming around biblical unity centered on the gospel, and less on certain causes some support. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure I was ready to be good friends with a brother in Christ who also led the Founders Ministry five or more years ago. But we began to converse via email, and then on the phone a couple of times. We finally met for lunch this past April near Tom's area when I was there preaching.

Let me unpack what I said about where I was five years ago to now. Most of my friends were not Calvinists all through college and seminary. The occasional Calvinist I met typically wanted to tell me (since evangelism is obviously a big deal to me) everything wrong with evangelism, but never seemed to offer ways they sought to fulfill the great commission. This would be a total of a handful of people. Then on occasion I would get to know men of God of a Calvinist bent who also loved the gospel. Mark Coppenger hired me in Indiana out of seminary. I went door-to-door on several occasions with this Calvinist brother who was both brilliant and not snotty :-). I realized that I too can stereotype others even as some have stereotyped me!

Then I began to be consistent (not a bad idea). I love Edwards. And Whitefield, Carey, Spurgeon, etc. I also love Wesley and Graham. But while I could love the many Calvinists God used in the history of revival and evangelism, I had more disdain than affection for my contemporaries who were Calvinists.

And then I met Nathan Finn. Nathan was in my PhD seminar. I had no idea who he was. I soon learned two things. First, he knew history a lot better than I did. Second, he was truly humble about it. He and some others in the seminar who shared a more Reformed theology helped to make the seminar a delight. I realized that there seemed to be a growing number of Calvinists who were serious about the Great Commission, in the heritage of Andrew Fuller and Carey.

Finally, I watched my president, Danny Akin, who like me is not a Calvinist but who takes seriously the sovereignty of God and His work in salvation without affirming all five points. He has become a model for building bridges for all who love the gospel. Let's be honest; I have known plenty of non-Calvinists who never share Christ. So like Akin, I would submit that the believer who is not serious about the great commission is in rebellion before God, whatever his "ism".

So by the time Tom and I met I had been on a journey that led me to love Calvinists today who love the gospel as much as Edwards and Spurgeon of old. I can learn much from Tim Keller today about reaching the cities as I can from Samuel Mills and Carey who longed to reach the nations.

Where are your doctrinal agreements and disagreements?

TA: Other than the fact that I am a hyper-Calvinist and Alvin is a Pelagian, we really see eye-to-eye on theological issues. :) Seriously, those kinds of caricatures are what too-often become the default judgment of men who disagree on certain points of the doctrine of salvation. When they are unjustifiably harbored, communication and relationship inevitably break down.

Alvin and I have not talked at length about the details of our doctrinal convictions. We could, and I am sure at some point we will, and it won't endanger our friendship, because we are in great agreement on so much. We both believe in the sovereignty of God, the depravity of people by nature, substitutionary atonement, perseverance of the saints, that faith and repentance are duties, along with all the other orthodox Christological and Trinitarian doctrines.

I would assume that we disagree on the extent of the atonement, though I certainly affirm universal dimensions to the definite atoning work of Jesus and I would suspect (though we have not talked about it) that Alvin sees limitations to the saving benefits of Christ's atoning work. We could have a profitable conversation about that without dismissing each other as heretics.

AR: I think Tom articulated this very well. I have spent my life teaching applied theology. In other words, I care little what one says he believes if how he lives does not back that up. So what drives me is the practice of one's faith, which is why Paul is such a remarkable example to this day. He was both a brilliant theologian and a remarkable practitioner. That is why the conversations I have had with Tom and others on his staff have focused on how we practice the theology we affirm. And, the more we talk about practice, the less we seem to divide. I suspect if we talked more about theology apart from practice we may find increasing disagreement. But as I said above, whether you call yourself a Calvinist, a non-Calvinist, a simple biblicist, a compatibalist, or another word bigger than mayonnaise, if your life does not demonstrate a heart for the gospel and a burden for the lost, your theology or mine needs work. But the shrill stereotypes, "Calvinists do not witness," or "non-Calvinists have abandoned the gospel," help no one. Such rhetoric can gain a collection of followers, but hardly resembles a yearning for biblical unity.

Aren't you at least a little bit suspicious of each other?

TA: No. I have come to see some of Alvin's heart and what I have seen I love. His tireless investment in students and relentless efforts to make disciples of Jesus convicts and challenges me to follow Christ more diligently. So I have no reason to be suspicious of him and many reasons to have great confidence in him.

AR: I am not at all. I once was somewhat. See, full disclosure :-). But I have discovered we trust those more whom we get to know best, if there is a shared love for God and His truth. I can speak for the Tom Ascol I know now, as I did not know him in the past, but the Tom I know now I am convinced has a great heart for the nations and a desire to see the gospel proclaimed. Let me take a taxonomy from one of my favorite philosophers, Aristotle, who wrote in his Nichomachean Ethics about three kinds of friendships:
1) utility--friendships formed because we find one another useful for a task or agenda.
2) pleasure--we enjoy merriment and humor.
3) perfect friendship--common virtue, a common conviction.

I use this because I have found a few (very few) cases in SBC life where what I thought were close friendships were actually utilitarian--I was considered a friend as long as I promoted the agenda of certain friends. Such friendships are not as deep as we sometimes believe. But I am finding that most of my lifelong friends, and more recent friends like Tom, have become the third type of friendship. Our desire to see Christ exalted, the gospel proclaimed, churches planted, and God's truth taught, are far more important than other matters than seem quite vital to others.

I guess I would say finally that the common virtue we share is not only for the Word and the gospel, but there is a great sense of urgency. Tom has a daughter serving in a far away land for the gospel. My president, Danny Akin, has two children doing the same thing. This is not a theoretical or even a utilitarian connection. We are driven by a sense of urgency for a world lost and in need of Christ Who alone can save.

We not only should join together for the gospel, we must!

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Dockery on integrity in church membershp

Dr. David Dockery, President of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, was interviewed for a Baptist Press article regarding the topic of inflated membership rolls in Southern Baptist churches. He offers some helpful insights, such as this:
"We need to highlight the foundational matters of church membership," Dockery added. "We need a fresh understanding of the Gospel; the relationship of saving faith to sanctification, maturation and spiritual faithfulness must be recaptured. Beyond this, we also must recover the New Testament's teaching on church discipline."
The article also made references to the resolutions before the Resolutions Committee for next week's annual convention.
Dockery affirms the call for repentance expressed by one of the resolutions proposed for the annual meeting.

"We need to repent of our lack of concern for biblical faithfulness in our concern and care for church members," he said. "We need to repent of the way the way we often allow people to join local churches without stressing the covenantal aspect of membership. We need to repent of the fact that we have largely neglected any aspect of church discipline that would have helped us begin to address some of these matters."
Amen. This is why I will gladly support any resolution the committee brings out on this subject as long as it includes a clear call for repentance. If a proposed resolution does not include such a call, then, as I have previously indicated, I will do my best to get to a microphone and offer an amendment to include such a call.

Isn't it refreshing to hear denominational statesmen like Dockery speaking so plainly and lovingly about these kinds of vitally important issues? We need more leaders like this. And we need to pray for and encourage the few that are currently blazing the trail.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

What Should Southern Baptists Do with Calvinists?

In the previous post I mentioned the above titled article written by Elmer Towns of Liberty University and published in Theology for Ministry (May 2008). Kenneth Fryer found the article online which makes it more convenient to review (the published version has been somewhat edited). I encourage you to go read it at the link above.

I found Dr. Towns' article to be seriously flawed in both research and argumentation. While he does not caricature the doctrines of grace in the typical ways that characterize many of the opponents of Calvinism, he makes some glaring factual mistakes, fails support some gratuitous assertions and leaves the reader wondering what exactly he is trying to say.

For example, in a footnote that is appended to the acknowledgement that "from the beginning the issue of Calvinism has been an issue among Baptists," Towns' makes this observation:
Leon McBeth in his historic encyclopedia, The Baptist Heritage Broadman Press, 1987 gives several incidences of Calvinism in the history of Southern Baptist. He gives lengthy discussions of the English Particular Baptist in the 17th and 18th century, and their decline (p. 152-154, 171-178). He tells of the Primitive Baptist, or "Hardshell Baptist" including other small sectarian movements, i.e. the "Absoluters" (p. 720), the "Old Liners" (p. 720), the "Progressive" (p. 720) and the "Two Seeds in the Spirit" (p. 720). He describes many smaller attempts of churches and associations to revive Calvinism such as “Sovereign Grace Bible Conference” (p. 771) and "The Banner of Truth" (p. 771-772), "The Sword and Trowel" (p. 773) and the paper The Baptist Reformation Review (p. 773). We are indebted to McBeth for documenting the futility of so many Calvinistic attempts to influence the Southern Baptist Convention [emphasis added].
What does his last sentence mean? The Southern Baptist Convention was formed by men and churches who held to some version of the 1689 Baptist Confession. Is Towns suggesting that the groups he mentions tried (and failed) to "influence the Southern Baptist Convention?" Does he really regard all of these groups as "incidences of Calvinism in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention?" Check the pages cited from McBeth and judge for yourself if Towns accurately represents the author's meaning.

He misunderstands the LifeWay research that was released at the Building Bridges Conference last November. After noting that some "alarmists" have warned that "eventually the Calvinists will take over the convention if the seminaries continue to indoctrinate graduates with Calvinist leanings," Towns evaluates the study this way:
Should people be upset at this trend? The research indicated that "churches pastored by Calvinists tend to have smaller attendance and typically baptize fewer persons each year." While the study suggested that many Calvinists have the same statistics as non-Calvinistic Southern Baptists, it also asserted that the growth of Calvinism is not a threat. However, the study did not differentiate between five point Calvinism, and Southern Baptist pastors who have identified themselves as Calvinistic [emphasis added].
He is simply mistaken. The 2006 LifeWay research asked the question, "Do you consider yourself a five point Calvinist?" the 2007 NAMB research asked respondents to state their level of agreement with the following statement: "I am a five point Calvinist." Towns makes this mistake twice in this article, the second time by asserting, "Stetzer’s report did not distinguish between five point Calvinists and the generic Calvinist [by this latter term Towns means someone who believes in the "sovereignty of God," "salvation by grace" and "eternal security"]." Further, the word "threat" is nowhere in the research document. The conclusion, however, does not the growth of Calvinism, particularly among younger ministers within the SBC.

Towns raises the following big question before addressing four specific questions that he believes will help clarify how the big question should be answered.
Should or should not Southern Baptists attempt to purge itself [sic] of five point Calvinists?
The first clarifying question is this, "Should any Southern Baptist fly under a particular flag?" He asserts, "Most Southern Baptist pastors fly the SBC flag rather high, but some also have other flags," and then names some of them, including the "Bible expostion," small groups," "Sunday School" and "Southern gospel music" flags.

Towns then asks, "So what’s wrong with a five point Calvinist flag?" And answers,
The problem is that most five point Calvinists don't just point to their flag; many become exclusionary of any other view that will not salute their flag and fight for their flag in ecclesiastical battles. These five point Calvinists claim they have the right flag that should be flown over all churches. Some five point Calvinists try to proselyte everyone into their point of view [emphasis added].
Not only does Dr. Towns demonstrate an inability to read published research accurately, he also shows no hesitation to speak in unwarranted generalities based, as a footnote explains, on nothing more than his experience.

Second clarifying question: "Is Calvinism a diversion against the Great Commission and baptism?" Included in this section is the odd statement that "Most five-point Calvinists do not give a gospel invitation after they push to get people saved." What is a "Gospel invitation" if not a "push to get people saved?" As becomes evident later in the article, Towns equates the former with an altar call.

In this section Towns does acknowledge that Spurgeon was a "great Calvinist," but then makes the undocumented assertion that "research doesn’t show he preached often in [sic] the tenets of five point Calvinism."

Towns' treatment of Calvin left me wondering if understands the reformer's theology. He pits the theology in Calvin's Institutes against his expositions of Scripture.
In his early life John Calvin espoused extreme positions on predestination in his theology called the Institutes of the Christian Religion.14 Later in life Calvin seemed to mellow his view of predestination as he studied the Scriptures more thoroughly by writing commentaries on every book of the Bible. As an example, his view on predestination opened when he wrote in his commentary on I John 2:2.
Calvin published the Institutes first in 1536 and revised it 4 more times before the final 1559 edition was published. Towns' footnote in this paragraph (14) is to the 1559 edition. Calvin's commentary on 1 John was published eight years earlier, in 1551. Had the reformer changed his views he would have had ample opportunity to note that in the last edition of the Institutes.

Towns' third clarifying question is this, "Is five point Calvinism a new intolerance?" Fair enough. But the explanation that follows has nothing to do with Calvinism at all but rather address the widespread cultural relativism and ideological intolerance of our day. He concludes with this: "Now anti-Christian views are gaining influence, and they have become intolerant to the Christian church, denying the freedom to teach in public what they have always believed."

What does that have to do with Calvinism?

The fourth clarifying question: "Will five-point Calvinism spread?" Again, I do not follow the reasoning that follows this question. Towns writes,
If five-point Calvinism were an isolated doctrine that could be embedded into a church for only its members to enjoy, that would be fine, but does it preach "the whole council [sic] of God?" As an example, many deeper life pastors find a nugget of truth in the “abiding life,” and their church becomes a separatist congregation from all other churches because they go deeper into the Word each week to find new nuggets. Sometimes, nuggets become the reason to verify their existence. In the same way, five point Calvinists find their doctrine of predestination the main reason for their existence.
Each of these sentences can be dealt with individually (though the first one doesn't seem to make much sense), but their relationship to each other escapes me. For the record, I have never met a five point Calvinist who found his reason for existence in the doctrine of predestination.

Towns suggests that a dandelion rather than a tulip would be a better description of Calvinism because "dandelions spread their seeds across the entire lawn, blown about by the winds of fads and self-examination. And what more do we know about dandelions, they kill the surrounding grass and as they spread across a beautiful lawn, they can destroy an entire lawn [this sentence was edited in the published version in the journal, but not without new grammatical difficulties]."

So, what should Southern Baptists do with Calvinists? Towns acknowledges that it is "alright to be a Calvinist," but quickly adds that "it is not alright to be a flag waving five point extremist that attacks any and every position or church that disagrees with its own." Since I do not know any Calvinist--or non-Calvinist for that matter--who fits this description, I suppose it is safe to assume that every Southern Baptist Calvinist should feel welcome in the SBC, according to Dr. Towns' view.

He also makes the point that it is "alright not to be a Calvinist." Churches that are "dispensational" and that "expose their young to an altar call where everyone - including children and youth - are led to Christ through a tangible conversion experience" do not have to be Calvinistic. I have never come across the language of "tangible conversion experience" before but suppose that he means by that a spiritual experience (conversion?) that is marked by physical movement (walking the aisle).

In the final analysis, Towns does not answer the question his title sets out. While I can understand the difficulty in publicly doing so, I wish that his article had not promised more than it delivered. What he has written does not offer much help to the kind of fraternal exchange that needs to take place within the SBC on this issue.

What would be wonderfully beneficial is a thoughtful, expository explanation of the convictions that men like Towns hold in contrast to historic, evangelical Calvinism. Perhaps the John 3:16 conference will do that. I certainly hope so. That type of effort could promote genuine engagement over the Word of God. Every Christian--Calvinist or not--can support that.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Elmer Towns on the Conservative Resurgence

Elmer Towns serves as the Co-founder and Dean of the School of Religion at Liberty University. In the recent issue of Theology for Ministry (Vol. 3 No. 1), the theological journal of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, he has an article entitled, "What Should Southern Baptists Do with Calvinists?" (EDIT: thanks to Kenneth Fryer for the link) It appears just before my article entitled, "The Way We Were and Are Becoming Again: The Revival of the Doctrines of Grace in Southern Baptist Life." This issue of the journal is dedicated to "Contemporary Movements in American Christianity" and Dr. Daryl Cornett, the editor, wanted to include contrasting views of Calvinism in the SBC. It is safe to say that he accomplished his goal.

I plan engage some of Dr. Towns' thoughts in future posts as I have time. But as I read his article last week, I was struck by the following paragraph that gives his view from Liberty Mountain on what happened in the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention that publicly began in 1979. He quite obviously views it as a fundamentalist victory.
In the last twenty-five years Southern Baptists have fought the battle of perceived liberalism within its ranks and bureaucracy, and most would agree that the fundamentalists have won that battle. Beginning with the election of Adrian Rogers in 1979, one self-identified fundamentalist after another has become president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and in turn they have controlled the nomination and election process of the various boards and seminaries. In due time, boards mandated that liberal-leaning individuals were not nominated to positions, and fundamentalists turned the various boards and committees toward fundamentalism.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

2008 Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

Well, it's that time of year again...the flowers are blooming, school is ending and I am submitting my annual resolution on church membership to the Southern Baptist Convention's Resolutions Committee.

The first year I submitted it (2006), the Committee refused to bring it before the Convention in Greensboro because, as the chairman said, if we remove all those members of our churches who don't attend, we will lose some of our best evangelistic prospects. I was allowed to read my resolution on the floor of the convention, however, and request a vote to override the committee. The vote failed to get the required supermajority though some estimated 40-50% of the messengers voted for it.

Last year, it was same song, second verse. The rationale this time was that the committee did not want to violate the autonomy of the local churches by bringing the resolution to the convention. The vote to override the committee was stronger, but still not enough to bring it out for the whole convention to consider it.

Since then Malcolm Yarnell has crafted a resolution for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention that was passed in their annual meeting last fall. Yesterday, I was informed that this resolution will be presented to the Resolutions Committee for consideration in Indianapolis. Bart Barber is coordinating efforts on this and will make an announcement about it soon.

I affirm everything in the Yarnell-Barber resolution. It is well-crafted and expresses Baptist commitments very clearly. My only reservations about it are that it does not state the rationale for the need of such a resolution (as indicated by our ACP statistics), it does not call for repentance (despite the fact that past resolutions have repeatedly called on Southern Baptists to repent for other sins and one last year even focused completely on repentance) and it does not call on denominational servants to be supportive of churches that take practical steps to recover the principle of regenerate church membership.

At the encouragement of friends, I offered a few suggestions to address these issues in ways that I thought would strengthen the Yarnell-Barber resolution and make it unnecessary for me to submit my resolution again. For various reasons, my suggestions were not taken and so I am compelled to proceed with my plans to offer the resolution below. My decision to do so should not be taken as criticism of the Yarnell-Barber resolution. We agree on much and share many of the same concerns about these issues.

What this means is that there will be (at least) two resolutions that address membership in our churches that will be offered to the Resolutions Committee this year. One of them spells out an affirmation not only of regenerate church membership but also of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, but does not call for repentance. The other focuses more narrowly on the need for our churches to repent of our neglect of actually pursuing the principle of regenerate church membership and church discipline which calling on pastors and denominational servants to be supportive of the recovery of these church practices.

I am glad that Southern Baptists are being encouraged to have this conversation. I hope that this summer in Indianapolis that we will have the humility to admit our widespread failure in these areas over the last generation and will express our desire to return to that which we say we believe.

Several pastors, theologians and church leaders have indicated that they intend to support the following resolution and have given me permission to list their names publicly. Among them are, Eric Redmond (2nd VP of the SBC) Phil Newton, Southwoods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN, Darrin Patrick, The Journey, St. Louis, Tom Bryant, FBC Osprey, FL, Tom Nettles, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Joe Thorn, Redeemer Fellowship, St. Charles, IL, Roy Hargrave, Riverbend Church, Ormond Beach, FL, Voddie Baucham, Grace Family Baptist Church, Spring, Texas, Nathan Finn, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Greg Welty, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Bill Ascol, Bethel Baptist Church, Owasso, OK, Jeff Noblit, FBC Muscle Shoals, AL, Paul Dean, Providence Baptist Church Greer, SC, Fred Malone, FBC Clintion, LA, Wyman Richardson, FBC Dawson, GA and Tim Brister, Grace Baptist Church Cape Coral, FL

Others are encouraged to sign on, if you agree with it. Just add your name in the comments.

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and

Whereas life in a local church should be characterized by loving discipline as the Bible teaches in passages like Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5 and Titus 3:10-11; and

Whereas the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,266,920 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,148,868 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and

Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle as described in Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message; and

Whereas the significance of believers' baptism tends to be lost when churches that practice it fail to exercise loving care for all their members; therefore, be it

RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further

RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further

RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord's teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior's teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ACP statistics released for 2007

Chris Turner, Media Relations Manager for LifeWay, has issued a report on the 2007 Annual Church Profile report for the Southern Baptist Convention. Some of the numbers are alarming enough to cause Ed Stetzer to say that "For now, Southern Baptists are a denomination in decline."

Stetzer has some insightful commentary on what the numbers indicate and he has some good suggestions on what those of us who are committed to laboring within the SBC should do. Three issues that the ACP call us to note, according to Stetzer, are, 1) the loss of SBC leaders-- especially ethnic and younger leaders who are abandoning the SBC; 2) the public infighting that characterizes so much of the SBC culture; 3) "Our loss of focus on the Gospel." Stezter writes, "We must recover a gospel centrality and cooperate in proclaiming that gospel locally and globally." Amen.

No doubt there will be various interpretations of these numbers over the next several weeks leading up to the annual meeting in Indianapolis. It is impossible to say exactly what they mean with any certainty. Baptisms are down to the lowest number since 1987. Total membership is down. Typical Sunday morning worship attendance is slightly up.

Those who lament the baptism statistics do so because they believe that the reported number of baptisms is a true indicator of the effectiveness of our evangelism. Where the Gospel is clearly understood and central to the evangelistic enterprise, that is a reasonable belief. In a day, however, when the Gospel has been lost or at least marginalized, that belief is debatable.

Regardless of how you interpret the numbers, they serve as a reminder of how desperately we need reformation and revival in our churches. Surely no one who loves the SBC would dispute that. And, surely, no one would take that as an expression of disloyalty to all things SBC. Time for denominational posturing and boasting is long past. It is time for humility and integrity.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Brister cools off Global Warming Debate

Finally, someone has brought much-needed sanity to the recent Global Warming flap in the SBC. Through extensive research and interviews, Timmy Brister has brought together information that cannot be found in any other single source. The combination of cool heads and hot air make for the kind of moderate climate that breeds the kind of seriousness that much of this denominational debate deserves.

I think his post deserves some kind of environmental award.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Jeffress to nominate Mohler for SBC President

Confirming months of speculation, the SBC Texan announces that Robert Jeffress, pastor of FBC Dallas, will nominate Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, for president of the SBC in Indianaopolis on June 10. Read the story here.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Interview with the Baptist Center

Last year Dr. Steve Lemke asked me to participate in a series of interviews he was conducting with various folks across the SBC. I submitted my answers to his questions in January of this year and they were published yesterday. Though it is amazing how much can change in the denominational milieu in 8 months, after rereading my responses this morning, I wouldn't change much of what I wrote back then.

Here are some excerpts. To read the complete interview go to the Baptist Center blog.

1. What do you see as the greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention right now?
The greatest strength of the SBC that I see is our unashamed declaration that the Bible is God's infallible, inerrant Word of God. Without commitment to this formal principle of reformation, the many other good things that the SBC does would be undermined and eventually eroded completely. The convention has in place a wonderful structure that is ready to engage many spheres of culture through various ministries (NAMB, IMB, ERLC, Seminaries, LifeWay, etc.). For that structure to serve kingdom purposes as faithfully as it ought, the doctrinal and spiritual advanced that have been taken place over the last 25 years must be strengthened.
3. What do you think is the greatest threat or challenge to the Southern Baptist Convention right now?
Pride. If you believe what many prominent SBC pastors and denominational leaders say then you would conclude that Southern Baptists are the greatest group in the kingdom of God. That kind of attitude is a breeding ground for a myriad of spiritually fatal diseases. Two of the most potent of these are the inability to be self-critical and spiritual presumption.

Too many of our conservative leaders in the SBC have repeatedly demonstrated over the last ten years an unwillingness to receive criticism of anything related to "the cause" (the conservative resurgence). Questions and warnings from fellow conservatives have been dismissed as disloyalty or worse. Too often pragmatic responses have been offered for actions which, according to the Bible, are inexcusable.

This mentality further calcifies the deadly assumption that we all know and agree on what the Bible means when it mentions the Gospel, conversion, and church. Many Southern Baptists see no need to reexamine these basic, essential ingredients of the Bible's message, yet it is overwhelmingly clear that the vast majority of our church members in the SBC have little if any biblical understanding of these life-and-death matters. Indeed, simply raising this issue is judged by some leaders to be a waste of time--time that could be better spent spreading the Gospel, seeking conversions and growing churches. But if we are mistaken in what these spiritual realities are, then it is disastrous to go on promoting them as if we are doing the Lord's will. I have written more on this here:
5. Some have suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention is likely to decline in the near future. What is your assessment of the future of the Southern Baptist Convention?
I am fearful that it might become increasingly irrelevant to more and more churches and pastors. I do not think that this is inevitable, and I sincerely hope that it does not happen, but I do fear that the current trajectory we are on may lead us that way. God has given the SBC some leaders who are models of faithfulness in spirituality and integrity. If those leaders do not speak up plainly and loudly in calling for honesty and integrity throughout our denominational structure, then I do not think that we will find the spiritual strength to deal with our problems in a humble, Christ-honoring way.

I am hopeful, however, that there is a growing number of pastors and churches who recognize that the SBC, for all of its good and potential usefulness, has some serious problems which must be addressed if we are going to move forward into the future with making a positive impact for Christ's kingdom. If those with these convictions can be united to deal honestly and forthrightly with our denominational problems, then there is reason to hope that our future can be full of greater blessing than we have seen at any time in our past. If the serious problems are ignored, I think the SBC will simply decline into kingdom irrelevancy.
7. The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC has been a controversial issue in some ways. What is your perspective on the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC?
The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC is a type of theological homecoming. It is beyond dispute that the theological consensus of the SBC our our founding in 1845 was Calvinistic. As Timothy George has noted, every one of the 293 delegates who attended the constitutional meeting in August, Georgia in 1845 came from churches or associations that held to the Second London Confession of Faith (in some cases in its Charleston or Philadelphia expressions). In the early decades of the 20th century that consensus broke down and soon was overtaken by strong emphasis on pragmatism, perhaps most notably demonstrated in the "Million more in '54" campaign. The shift of theological commitments from the center of our identity to the periphery resulted in denominational amnesia. We simply forget who we were.

The conservative resurgence was the first stage in our denomination's doctrinal recovery. With the reestablishment of a clear confession of Scripture's full authority as the Word of God written, it is inevitable that there should follow a recovery of the message of Scripture as historically understood by those who founded the Southern Baptist Convention. That is what is happening. We are witnessing a return to the faith of our fathers.

I see that as a very healthy thing, though, just as was true with the conservative resurgence, it has not been without its problems. Some have used their newly recovered understanding of the doctrines of grace as an excuse to become pugilistic in their treatment of those with whom they disagree. Others have mistakenly allowed their recognition of the absolute sovereignty of God to diminish their full commitment to the absolute responsibility of people. Still others have regarded commitment to truth as a license not to love. None of these are justified and all are to be roundly condemned as sinful. Fortunately, such follies have been a minority report among those who are returning to the evangelical Calvinism of our Southern Baptist forebears.

What is equally and perhaps even more troubling is the intensity and frequency of hostile opposition to those who have come to believe what James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, P. H. Mell. W. B. Johnson, R. B. C. Howell and other founders taught and believed. Some denominational employees at every level have misrepresented the views of many of their fellow Southern Baptists when speaking against Calvinism. Occasionally these misrepresentations have taken the form of attacks and have resulted in stirring up considerable trouble for pastors and members of local churches.

What I find most grievous and offensive are the inexcusable misrepresentations of historical and theological views on this subject that have come from many academicians in the SBC. Those is such positions should know better than simply to recite an old, erroneous party line about Calvinism. Fortunately, with the ready access to many sources of information today, church members and pastors no longer have to take theological and historical assertions as fact simply because they are cited by a reputed scholar. In fact, some supposed scholarship in this area has been exposed as being very suspect, at best.

Tom Nettles' newly revised book, By His Grace and For His Glory, forcefully demonstrates the preeminence of the doctrines of grace in our Southern Baptist heritage and convincingly argues for their biblical validity. His book, though first published more than 20 years ago, has never been seriously engaged much less refuted.

So I see the resurgence of the doctrines of grace in Southern Baptist life as a good thing and as a movement of God that is continuing to grow. I believe that it could well be the beginnings and foundation of the revival that we so desperately need.
10. What would you say is the most significant theological issue confronting Southern Baptists in this generation?
Well, as I have already said, I believe that in many respects we have lost the Gospel. Nothing is more important than that. Perhaps the most significant, observable manifestation of that for us is the large number of unregenerate church members that we have. In that sense, ecclesiology will be a vitally important issue for Southern Baptists to confront honestly in the next few years. We must be willing to define simply what constitutes a church on the authority of the New Testament. Then we must apply that definition to forty-two thousand assemblies that we call churches within the SBC.

John Dagg, the first writing Southern Baptist systematic theologian said that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it. If he is correct, then many of our churches are in far worse shape than most of us want to admit. Jesus' words to the churches in Asia from Revelation 2-3 give me reason to remain hopeful, however. He is a patient High Priest and, as Lord and Head of the church, has promised to build His church throughout history until the new heavens and new earth appear.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism Press Release

The formal announcement for the upcoming conference at Ridgecrest, North Carolina, November 26-28, 2007 is now available at the LifeWay website. Registration information is available there, as well. Speakers include Al Mohler, Danny Akin, Tom Nettles, David Dockery, Sam Waldron, Ken Keathley, Nathan Finn, Malcolm Yarnell, Greg Welty, Thom Rainer, James Merritt, Charles Lawless, David Nelson, JD Greear and Voddie Baucham.

The conference is being sponsored by Founders Ministries and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. LifeWay is hosting the event.

I am personally very encouraged at the prospect of this conference. The Lord has worked in wonderful ways already in the planning. It is time for Southern Baptists to quit talking past one another on important theological issues. The issue of Calvinism has become increasing prevalent in the minds of many over the last several years. Brother and sisters in Christ ought to be able to discuss such an important topic like this without condemning those with whom we disagree.

This conference will provide a forum for just such a dialogue. We have a significant lineup of excellent theologians and expositors who represent what Scripture means when it says iron sharpens iron. This conference is an opportunity for Southern Baptists to experience the kind of theological sharpening that takes place when brothers and sisters come together to learn from one another and to challenge each other to follow our Savior more faithfully.

I hope there will be a wide cross-section of Southern Baptist life represented by those who come and participate in this conference. It promises to be a historic gathering. Please join me in praying that the Lord will use it in a mighty way to encourage and strengthen pastors, leaders and churches throughout the SBC and beyond.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

SBC-SA #5 - Resolution Committee Refused to Recommend Integrity in Church Membership

Every number has a story. That has been a recurring theme of the Southern Baptist Convention this year in San Antonio. We have heard speaker after speaker as well as numerous video presentations make this point. Some of them have been very moving stories of individuals and people groups who have either recently been reached by the Gospel or stand in need of being reached.

This morning, the Resolution Committee and messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention took actions that confirmed that theme--every number has a story. Sadly, the numbers involved tell a sad, sad story.

The Resolutions Committee refused to submit my resolution on integrity in church membership to the convention for vote. As promised, I brought a motion to overrule that decision. It takes a 2/3 majority to overrule that committee. President Page gave me an opportunity to read my resolution on the floor of convention. The debate was for the most part healthy and appropriately spirited. It was very respectful.

My appeal for allowing the convention to consider this resolution was that we had just passed a resolution calling for corporate repentance and "every number has a story." I read the statistics again from our Annual Church Profiles. I emphasized the fact even in the most generous analysis only 37% of our members even care enough to attend a worship gathering once a week. I have addressed the shame of this statistic repeatedly and will not belabor the point again here.

The chairman of the Resolutions Committee, Gerald Harris, responded to my appeal by saying that the committee thought it inappropriate to bring my resolution before the body because they feared it would infringe on the auntomy of local churches. We should not try to tell churches what to do, he said. Well, anyone who read my resolution and the resolutions that were passed this year and other years will recognize that this argument holds no water. However, it is a tremendous advance over last year's response from the chairman that, if churches took my resolution seriously we would lose our most promising prospects for evangelism!

The convention failed to overturn the committee and therefore my resolution never formally came before them for a vote. Several people--of various theological persuasions--came up to me afterwards to express appreciation for the attempt and dismay over the failure of the committee and convention to allow the resolution to be considered. While I am disappointed by these events and, quite honestly, surprised, I am in no way despondent! Think about it, for two years in a row a resolution calling for integrity in church membership has been read on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention. We have discussed these matters. What the discussion has exposed is just how spiritually sick we are. While I don't like the fact that we are spiritually ill, I rejoice that this is being made increasingly apparent. Until we admit we have a problem, we will never seek to address it. In other words, until we see our sin, we will never repent of our sin.

I am encouraged because this conversation will continue for another year and, as promised, I will, by God's grace, be in Indianapolis next year to submit the same resolution. The passing of my resolution is not the goal. The goal is the recovery of the Gospel and reformation of local churches. If the events surrounding the efforts to get this resolution before the SBC can contribute to that by shining the light on how desperately sick we are, then praise God!

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

SBC-SA, #1

We arrived in San Antonio this evening after a wonderful time of worship and fellowship with Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas. Voddie Baucham, one of their elders and the speaker for the Founders Fellowship Breakfast on Tuesday morning, preached from Mark 9 in the time of worship and it was a joy to meet and share a meal with that church body. The Lord is doing great things in this new church plant and they are already thinking (after a little more that one year) about their next church planting effort.

I caught most of Charles Colson's message at the Pastors' Conference tonight. He told a story about meeting with several prominent pastors and 2 well-known theologians. During his presentation to them about concerns over cultural decay it dawned on him that they may not be tracking with his line of thinking. So, he stopped and asked them to answer the question, "What is Christianity?" After a long and awkward pause, a few answers were put forth, including some Bible verses, loving God and loving others, the Ten Commandments, etc. But none in the group suggested that Christianity is the way of life and view of the world that comes from knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

His story illustrates what I am convinced is the greatest problem facing American evangelicals today: we have largely lost what it means to be Christian. If you have read this blog very long you probably have read my contention that we can no loger assume that evangelicals agree on the nature of the Gospel, conversion and the church. We need to be willing to ask and answer biblically the questions, what is the Gospel, what is a Christian (and how does one become one) and what is a church. Failure to get these right will mean the loss of biblical Christianity.

The highlight of the convention experience so far was receiving a little booklet with the messenger registration packet. Buidling Bridges, by David Dockery and Timothy George is being given to every messenger. If memory serves me, it is in essence the presentations that they made at the Baptist Identity Conference earlier this year at Union University. Colson wrote the foreword and Thom Rainer wrote a preface, summarizing points from his talk at the same conference. It is healthy information for Southern Baptists and I hope it gets a wide readership not only in Alamo city but throughout the whole SBC.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Radio Interview with Dr. Denny Burk

Dr. Denny Burk, Assistant Professor of New Testament at the Criswell College in Dallas, Texas, will interview me about integrity in church membership and the resolution that I have submitted to the Southern Baptist Convention's resolution committee for the annual meeting in San Antonio next month. The radio station is KCBI out of Dallas. Denny is guest-hosting for Dr. Jerry Johnson on the Jerry Johnson Live talk show. It can be accessed online via livestream at station's website. The program begins at 5 PM Central Time today. That is 6 PM for those of us on the right coast.

There is also a podcast for the show: Jerry Johnson Live Podcast which should be available for download tomorrow.

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Last Call for Founders Breakfast with Voddie Baucham

Tickets for the 2007 Founders Breakfast, held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio, Texas are still available. The deadline for ordering a ticket is June 6, or until we are sold out. Voddie Baucham will speak on "Southern Baptists at Sardis." Tickets are only [EDIT: $15.00]. The breakfast will be held at the Marriott Riverwalk in the Alamo Ballroom on Level 2, at 6:30 AM, June 12, before the opening session of the convention.

I hope to see you there!

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

2007 Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

As promised, I have submitted my resolution on integrity in church membership to the Resolutions Committee for the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention. From what I understand, others may well submit similar resolutions this year.

Before sending my resolution in, I consulted with a few respected leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention. I sent each a copy of what I intended to propose. All were very favorable about the concerns addressed and offered advice. One encouraged me to wait a year or two before submitting the resolution in hopes that the convention might be better prepared for such a dialogue at that time. I understand and respect his reasoning, but decided to go ahead with my original plan.

I am very gratified to see more and more people giving serious attention to the issue of ecclesiology in general and Baptist polity in particular. In case you missed you, you really must read the Baptist Press story on John Hammett's recent faculty lecture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a professor of theology at the school and spoke on the need to recover our commitment to a regenerate church membership. Here is a summary statement from the article:
Hammett said the most pressing problem facing the Southern Baptist Convention today is not the decadent, post-modern culture, but the Southern Baptist culture, which has lost sight of the Baptist mark of the church -- regenerate church membership -- and allows anyone to join the church and maintain their membership without any interview process or accountability.
Read the whole story here. Who knows if the SBC will adopt my resolution or not? In one sense, it really doesn't matter. As I have explained to various reporters and interested observers of things SBC a resolution carries no binding authority on any person or institution within the convention. But it is an expression of what messengers think on a given subject at a particular time. More importantly, a resolution can be a way of raising an issue to the level of conversation within the SBC. If that happens again this year, then I will be most grateful.

Here is the text of what I submitted. Pray that our Lord will use it to provoke greater concern for biblical integrity in the way that we seek to live in our churches.

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership
Submitted by Thomas Ascol
May 1, 2007
  • Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and
  • Whereas life in a local church should be characterized by loving discipline as the Bible teaches in passages like Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5 and Titus 3:10-11; and
  • Whereas the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,306,246 members in Southern Baptist churches; and
  • Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,138,776 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and
  • Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle as described in Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message; now, therefore, be it
  • RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in San Antonio, Texas, June 12-13, 2007, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord's teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further
  • RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally
  • RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Akin's 8 Theological Essentials for the SBC

Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke today at the "Theology Driven Ministry" conference hosted by the seminary. Other speakers include Sinclair Ferguson and Paul Tripp. Following is the handout that accompanied Dr. Akin's talk.

The eight points that he emphasizes are matters that must become the subject of serious dialogue and reflection if we hope to see spiritual health return to the SBC. One cannot read through this outline without coming away with great respect for Dr. Akin. He is both insightful and courageious to speak plainly about the problems that plague us and to call us back to submission to the teachings of God's Word. This is the kind of leadership that Southern Baptists desperately need at this time.

The issues that he raises ought to be taken to heart by every pastor and church member who longs to see Christ honored in our local churches. I look forward to hearing the audio of this message when it becomes available.


By: Daniel L. Akin

The Conservative Resurgence gave Southern Baptist a second chance but it did not secure our future. Has there been a Resurgence? Yes. Has there been a Restoration? Doubtful. Have we experienced genuine Revival? Clearly the answer is no.

Eight Theological Essentials for Southern Baptists in the 21st Century

1) The non-negotiable of a regenerate Church (John 3; Rom. 3; 2 Cor. 5; Gal. 3)
  • First, we need to make it clear that church membership is a privilege, not a right.
  • Second, we must preach against easy believism and reject any form of a compromised gospel.
  • Third, we must be careful with respect to our own theological integrity concerning infant or early adolescent baptism that lacks a clear understanding and confession of the gospel.
2) The essential nature of believers baptism by immersion with a biblical appreciation for its significance. (Matt. 28; Acts, Rom. 6)
  • That baptism involved a particular member (a believer), mode (immersion) and meaning (public identification with Christ and the believing community) is grounded in New Testament witness and has been a hallmark of Baptists throughout their history.
  • We must see evidence of regeneration for those we baptize. The baptism of young children must be administered with the greatest possible care.
  • Baptism should be viewed and emphasized as a first and necessary step of discipleship and obedience to Christ. We will reject as inconceivable the idea of admitting anyone into our membership without believer’s baptism by immersion.
3) The recovery of the lost jewels of church discipline and genuine disciple-making as essential marks of the Church.
  • Church discipline is clearly and repeatedly taught in the New Testament, yet most do not preach on it or practice it. Jesus addresses it in Matt. 18:15-20 and Paul does so several times in 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:5-11; Gal. 6:1-2; and Titus 3:9-11.
  • Theologically it is to disobey the plain teachings of Scripture and ignore the necessity of church discipline in maintaining the purity of the church.
  • First, we must preach and teach our people what the Bible says about church discipline.
  • Second, we must begin to implement church discipline lovingly, wisely, gently, carefully and slowly.
  • Third, we must apply discipline to areas like absentee membership as well as the specific list provided by Paul in 1 Cor. 5.
4) The emphasis and practice of a genuinely Word-based ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5)
  • For those of us who profess to believe in both the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, there must be in our churches what I call “engaging exposition.”
  • We must advocate an expositional method with a theological mindset under an evangelical mandate. It is preaching that models for our people how they should study, interpret and teach the Bible.
5) The vision for a faithful and authentic biblical ecclesiology (Acts. 2; Eph. 4; Pastorals)
  • First, there must be the 4 marks of 1) a regenerate Church membership, 2) the Word, 3) the Ordinances and 4) Church Discipline. Second the local church should be elder/pastor led and congregationally governed. Here, in my judgment, there is room for flexibility in terms of patterns, structure and implementation.
  • As we move forward in this century, Pastors will need to give particular attention to a theology of stewardship and discipleship.
  • The members of our churches must move from being shoppers to buyers to investors.
6) The continued nurturing of a fervent missionary and evangelistic passion that is wedded to a healthy and robust theology (1 Thess. 1; Eph. 4:11-16; Jude 3-4; Rev. 5)
  • No church will be evangelistic by accident.
  • First, there are multiple ways churches can do missions and evangelism. That we do it is the key.
  • Marketplace evangelism which can reach into the workplace is an area needing attention, strategizing and training.
  • Youth and student evangelism needs renewed emphasis.
  • Theologically and biblically, we must challenge our people to evangelize without bias or prejudice, loving and going after the exploding ethnic and minority groups where we live.
7) The teaching and preaching of a 1st century biblical model for church planting (Acts 17)
  • The 21st century is more like the 1st century than has ever been the case in our Western culture.
  • We are losing America and the West because we are losing the great metropolitan areas where there is a concentration of people.
  • First, explore creative methods, but make sure that they are faithfully filtered through the purifying waters of Holy Scripture.
  • Second, be wise fishers of men.
  • Third, we must ask God to raise a new generation of godly and gifted church planters and missionaries.
8) The wisdom to look back and remember who we were so that as we move forward we will not forget who we are
  • The Southern Baptist Convention today is not the Southern Baptist Convention of your parents, and certainly not your grandparents.
  • We now have several generations who know almost nothing of William Carey and Adoniram Judson, Bill Wallace, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. They do know nothing of Boyce, Broadus, and Manly; Carroll, Robertson, Frost, Mullins and Truett.
  • They have never heard Criswell, Rogers or Vines preach, and they are not really sure who they are.
  • In creative and dynamic avenues fitting a 21st century context, we need to retell the Baptist History story in a way that will grab the attention and stir the hearts of our people. And we need to do it, at least in part, from the pulpit.
  • The North Carolina evangelist Vance Havner said, “What we live is what we really believe. Everything

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Interview with the Pathway

Scott Lamb recently interviewed me for The Pathway. The questions focused mostly on Founders Ministries and the Southern Baptist Convention. They have recently posted part of the interview on their website. Here is an excerpt with a link.

In what direction do you see Founders Ministries heading in the coming years?

Founders Ministries intends to continue encouraging Southern Baptists to be faithful to the Scriptures and working for the recovery of the biblical Gospel and the spiritual renewal of local churches. We also plan to become more involved in helping churches become actively involved in planting new churches. We will continue to expand our internet ministry, both in the materials that we make available through (which is receiving over 800,000 hits per month) and our online Founders Study Center.

Do you see any encouraging trends in the SBC?

I am greatly encouraged to see how the conversation in the SBC has turned toward issues that Founders has been talking about for the last 25 years. It is gratifying to hear denominational leadership admitting publicly that most of our churches are in real trouble when it comes to the issue of regenerate church membership and biblical church discipline. At some point, the dialogue must necessarily shift to an honest consideration of how we got into this mess. Then, many of the unbiblical and unhealthy approaches to evangelism that have crept into our denomination can be reassessed.

Do you plan on submitting a resolution at the SBC annual meeting in San Antonio?

(read the rest)

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Emerging Assessments

Last week Dr. Mark Devine, professor of theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, sent me a link to his article on the Emerging Church. It is scheduled for publication in the Midwestern Journal of Theology. Mark is a very insightful theologian and his gifts of analysis are a welcome contribution to the emerging "conversation." I highly recommend the article, "Fast Friends or Future Foes: The Emerging Church and Southern Baptists." It is carefully nuanced and avoids the dismissive caricatures that too often passes for critique when it comes to the emerging churches, such as those that appear in this Baptist Press article that was released yesterday.

Norm Miller, who wrote the BP article sets his parameters with this not-especially-helpful paragraph:
The emerging church movement is diverse and difficult to generalize. However, the mix of influences includes: postmodernism (a focus on sense-making through the various mediums of culture); Calvinism ala John Piper; and for some, Christian liberty, as granted by their scriptural interpretation, to drink alcohol and engage in other cultural activities that many Southern Baptists eschew based on opposing scriptural interpretation.
Difficult or not, Miller shows no hesitation in gratuitously linking postmodernism, Calvinism, alcohol(ism) and worldliness (at least as perceived by "many Southern Baptists") to broadbrush the emerging movement. Actually, this ploy is rather efficient because it allows both Calvinists and emerging folks to be demonized with one stroke.

The controversy swirling around Darrin Patrick, church planter and pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, is highlighted in the BP article. Both the Associated Press and Good Morning America have featured the church and noted its outreach efforts at a local pub. Despite Patrick's repeated declarations that neither he nor his church promotes drinking beverage alcohol, some vocal critics continue to imply--and even charge--that he does just that (Darrin, I feel your pain).

One of the most outspoken critics is Roger Moran, "Missouri Baptist and SBC Executive Committee member." He is quoted in the BP article as saying, "No Southern Baptist entity or personality should be loaning our denominational credibility to such churches or organizations as The Journey and Acts 29. We simply cannot do that for movements that are dripping with error and expect good to come out of it."

Hey, we have been doing it for each new fad churned out by "church growth" experts for the last 30 years. I do not know Mr. Moran, but he and I have mutual friends who speak highly of him. I am glad that he is concerned about "movements that are dripping with error" and the need to identify and distance ourselves from them. But I wonder, does he (or anyone else who shares his concerns) discern the errors that are dripping from the shallow evangelism movement that permeates our convention? Probably not because, as Devine so picturesquely notes, "Wherever the lure of potential numerical growth dangles, numerous Southern Baptist
knees go wobbly" and "numerical growth covers a multitude of sins."

Compare the damage being done to churches by the "emerging movement" to that which has already been done by Bible thumping, alcohol condemning, liberal hating, denominational boasting, Calvinist bashing conservatives. Simply do the math. Look at the membership-to-attendance ratios of the churches that are constantly being paraded as models within the SBC. When twice as many people are on the rolls as attend then "dripping with error" might be an apt description of what is going on.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not at all suggesting that emerging churches or Calvinistic churches or any kind of churches are beyond critique. In fact, the opposite is actually my point. It is time for conservative Southern Baptists to get honest and engage in some long-overdue, honest self-examination. When that happens, then we will inevitably be humbled by what we discover and, if there is any spirituality within us at all, will be compelled to confess our widespread neglect of the Word of God that we love and proclaim with confidence.

One of my hopes is that the rising generation of church leaders like Darrin Patrick will, perhaps unintentionally, provoke this very kind of effort. By taking Scripture more seriously than conventional customs they will force the rest of us to go back to the Bible to engage their beliefs and practices. If that can be done without dismissively treating their concerns and arguments, great benefit could result for the SBC and broader evangelical world.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Reflections on the Baptist Identity Conference, pt. 2

The recent Baptist Identity conference hosted by Union University has appropriately received a great deal of attention. As I mentioned previously, I came away greatly encouraged. Though I had to miss the presentations on Saturday (by Timothy George and Ed Stetzer, both of whom, I am told, did a great job), what I heard and observed gives me hope for the future. Not a giddy kind of wishful thinking, but a sober, longing-kind-of-hope. What took place there is an indication of what can happen and what ought to happen and what, I am convinced, a growing number of Southern Baptists genuinely long to happen within our denomination.

Beyond the value of each presentation individually and all of them collectively, the very fact that men from differing theological commitments (regarding Calvinism, for instance) and ecclesiological orientation (from "traditional" to "contemporary," for lack of better terms) could meet together, learn from each other and experience genuine fellowship around the Gospel was most encouraging. I spoke with several people who began their introduction with, "I am not a Calvinist" or "I am not Reformed" and then went on to extend genuine fellowship to me. The most notable of these conversations began with, "I read your blog regularly and do not agree with half of what you write." That wasn't said antagonistically but as a matter of self-disclosure, I think. The conversation that followed, however, focused significantly on the issue of reinstituting the principle of a regenerate church membership and church discipline in this brother's church. I was very encouraged with his commitment and plans to do so.

Here is my point. There was no pretense that everyone at the BID conference agreed on every important theological and ecclesilogical point. But there was an obvious agreement among participants concerning love for Christ and His church and that provided a basis for honest dialogue, including at points, strong disagreements. I find this very healthy. Brothers need to be willing and able to talk to one another about substantive issues without writing one another out of the kingdom and without misrepresenting those with whom we disagree. Paul recognized the possibility that not everyone in the church at Philippi would agree with his views even though he wrote as an apostle. But he did not reject them for that (as he did the heretics who were infiltrating the Galatian churches). Rather, he calmly and confidently wrote,
"Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you" (3:15). That humble, generous spirit characterized the conference and has set a standard for future Southern Baptist gatherings.

Another unexpected encouragement came in the form of admission that, by and large, the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention are in a real mess. They are spiritually unhealthy--even many of the ones that are held up as "flagship" churches. Several of the speakers specifically mentioned how we have lost the cherished Baptist principle of a regenerate church membership. This is a vitally important development. This problem has been with us for at least a couple of generations. Some people have been calling for the SBC to own up to it for decades, but without, apparently, gaining much traction. The refusal of the convention last year to vote on my resolution calling for integrity in church membership seemed to many to be an indicator of how resolute SBC leadership is to addressing this gargantuan problem. But at Union University last week, speaker after speaker addressed this issue. Two of the speakers told me privately that they supported the resolution last year and another stated the same thing publicly several weeks ago.

This bodes well for the future and not because we may get a resolution on regenerate church membership passed at the annual meeting. That might be nice, but, unless you are a state convention executive who selectively decides to make an exception, resolutions are not binding at all. Personally, I think that the failure of the resolution to make it to the floor last year may have better served the cause for which I submitted it than if it had simply passed. That cause is simply this: I want Southern Baptists to get honest about the obvious state of our churches! When 60% of your church never even shows up to worship with their fellow members it is time to weep. Yet, far from weeping, so much that has gone on in SBC life the last several years is more akin to strutting. Sometimes I ask myself, "What must this look like to heaven?" We have God's inerrant, infallible Word and have fought hard to maintain our corporate commitment to its authority. Yet, we regularly, blatantly, unrepentently ignore some of its most basic teachings, even when those very teachings are at the heart of our Baptist identity.

When respected denominational spokesmen and leaders begin not only to acknowledge the problem but call for it to be addressed, it is time to be hopeful. That is how I left the Baptist Identity conference. I am hopeful.

But, I am not naive. That is why I describe my hope as "sober." I will explain that more fully in my next and final installment of reflections.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Thom Rainer on Building Bridges

Thom Ranier is a class act. I have already commented on my appreciation for his message at the recent Baptist Identity Conference. Now he has written a very helpful article on the need to build bridges among Southern Baptists. In it, he says,
I am a part of a denomination that has many tracks but few bridges. And if we don't start building some bridges quickly, God's hand of blessing may move beyond us.
Read the rest of it here.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Reflections on the Baptist Identity Conference, pt. 1

After a few days to ruminate on the recent conference held at Union University, I am prepared to start offering some of my reflections. Audio recordings are available. First and foremost, I am greatly appreciative of Dr. David Dockery and the faculty and staff of Union University for sponsoring this conference. It is a reflection of the keen insight that Dr. Dockery and those who serve with him have into the current concerns and great needs of the Southern Baptist Convention. If we are going to see the SBC move forward without coming apart at the seams then we will need much more of the kind of wisdom that organized and planned this event.

The contrast between the sessions at the identity conference and the all-too-typical-fare that is regularly served up by various Southern Baptist leaders and spokesmen is stark. That is true in both spirit and content. Most of the speakers that I heard communicated with a contagious humility. That in no way suggests that they were convictionless. Quite the opposite was the case. All of the speakers addressed their subjects without the kind of arrogance and triumphalism that has become standard for denominational meetings. It was refreshing and very helpful in promoting genuine dialogue about important issues.

Each talk was also thoughtful. Though no one was called on to exposit Scripture (though Frank Page did draw his points from Philippians 1), each speaker used Scripture to direct and challenge our thinking, even when the main subject at hand was historical (Patterson and Dockery) and biographical (Moore). More than one speaker emphasized the importance of exercising care in not making secondary and tertiary issues primary concerns. And more than one warned against trying to impose personal preferences on others as if they were binding biblical commandments. That is a quite a contrast from the kind of legalism and unfounded castigations that are being championed from certain sectors of denomational life.

Thoughtful humility and humble thoughtfulness. We need huge doses of both injected into the life of the Southern Baptist Convention if it is to retain its viability in this post-denominational world.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chadwick Ivester interviews Bill Curtis

Bill Curtis is a South Carolina pastor and chairman of the trustees of NAMB. He has spoken very helpfully and publicly to some of the most important issues facing the the SBC. Chadwick Ivester is also a pastor in South Carolina and has published the first part of an interview with Bill Curtis. It is worth reading and then praying that the Lord will use Pastor Curtis to help point Southern Baptists forward in healthy pathways.


Friday, February 09, 2007

It's a post-denominational world

LifeWay has released the results of research on denonimational loyalty among Protestant and evangelical church attenders. The study indicates that "one-third of all American Protestant churchgoers feel less than positive they will continue attending the same church in the near future. If they do switch, only about one out of four would only consider another church in the same denomination." Baptists, we are told, are fairly typicial in their responses to the survey questions.

This information is not surprising or, at least, it shouldn't be. Old line denominationalism is dead. That is different than saying that old denominations are dead, though, in some cases, that also is patently true. Those leading the Southern Baptist Convention would do well to think deeply about what this research indicates. It could, I think, help give some insight into some of the frustration that is arising in the not-always-very-successful-attempts at communicating across generational and cultural borders that are within the SBC.

The old ways of being Southern Baptist are fading fast. When I grew up SBC every church in the local association had RA's, GA's, WMU and knew who Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong were. Convention Press was safe and, I was led to believe, sufficient for supplementing my spiritual growth. As late as my college years I remember rebuffing a roomate who tried for a year to get me to read a book that had tremendously helped him spiritually. I took one look at the spine and, not seeing "CP" or "Broadman Press," tossed it back on his desk with a dismissive sectarianism and said, "I'm not interested." The fact that the front cover had Knowing God and identified the authory as J.I. Packer meant nothing to me (pause for a moment of unresolved embarrassment!). I doubt that many Southern Baptist college students would harbor those same thoughts today. The denominational world has changed.

Ultimately, this is a good thing, I believe. Blind loyalty is never wise. By getting over that when it comes to a denominational identity one is free to pursue unreserved loyalty to Jesus Christ and out of that loyalty identify with a local church and/or denomination. Such people make the very best kinds of church members and churches comprised of such members make the best kinds of denominations.

From my limited vantage point, what I see happening is this: Some who are currently leading the SBC have grown up in the old world (or else have bought into it while growing up in the new) and are having difficulty coming to terms with the new one. Consequently, they sometimes mistake loyalty to Christ as being "anti-denomination" when they hear those who, out of devotion to Christ, speak critically of the covention. I am not suggesting that the defenders of the denomination are not loyal to Christ. Love compels me to believe that they are. But, like my own attitude in my college dorm room, their devotion to Christ tends to be expressed denominationally, so much so, that they sometimes come across as "my denomination, right or wrong."

When post-denominationalists and denominationalists talk about the denomination, it is very easy to miscommunicate by talking right past each other. This research by LifeWay could become a useful tool to help facilitate better communication as we press forward to what I hope will be a very bright and Gospel-productive future for the SBC.

Here is a chart of some of the findings:

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