Monday, February 22, 2010

Pray for the Midwest Founders Conference & the Great Commission Task Force

I am preparing to travel to St. Louis tomorrow for the Midwest Founders Conference where I will join Ray Van Neste and Phil Newton in speaking on Pastoral Ministry. Unfortunately, Dr. John Thornbury has had to back out of speaking due to health issues (from which, I understand, he is recovering well). Though the temperatures are expected to be about 60º colder than what I am leaving in SW Florida, the fellowship is always warm at this meeting. If you are in the St. Louis area, I encourage you to attend the conference or at least try to catch a session or two.

Please pray that the Lord will use this conference to strengthen to hands of pastors and to prosper the churches they serve.

Today is also the day that the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) is giving its report to the Executive Committee of the SBC. Ronnie Floyd, the Chairman of the GCRTF will be leading the way in setting forth observations and recommendations that have been formulated since last June. Contrary to earlier, speculative bloviating by the crowd of chronic naysayers, the GCRTF is making this report available to the churches well in advance of the June convention in Orlando. You should be able to access it online tonight around 10:30 PM Eastern time.

Pray for the Executive Committee meeting today. And pray particularly that every God-honoring, Christ-exalting, pride-killing, kingdom-focused recommendation that the task force proposes will resonate with Southern Baptists who are tired of the denominational status quo and who are longing to link arms to take the gospel to the nations.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why I am hopeful about the GCR movement

Over the last several months I have repeatedly been asked why I support the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) and the broader impetus that led to its formation. A full explanation would include some necessary nuances and caveats that transcend the limits of a blog post, but the main reasons can at least be summarized here. These are, quite obviously, my opinions.

I believe:
  1. The SBC is unhealthy to the point that if it does not significantly change, it will become irrelevant beyond recovery within a few years.
  2. There are many who share my concerns--some of whom have already checked out of convention life while others are headed that way if things don't change for the better.
  3. The SBC represents loads of potential for being an instrument of great good in the kingdom of God. It has been such in the past, and still is in some degree at present, but the potential is greater than anything we have seen thus far.
  4. There are some in the SBC whose vision for what the convention should be is theologically naive and missiologically counterproductive.
  5. There are others in the SBC who don't think about theology and missiology at all.
  6. There are still over 6000 unreached people groups in the world--2000 years after our Lord commissioned His church to make disciples of all peoples.
  7. The leaders who are at the helm of the call for a GCR are trustworthy men. I disagree with them on some doctrinal issues. But I do agree with them on the most important points of doctrine and I believe them to be men of integrity who will not kowtow to political pressure, even if it causes them to stand against men they esteem and love.
  8. The GCRTF could--and should--come back with radical, convention-shocking recommendations that are rooted in a vision to marshal our resources to reach the nations.
  9. The call for a GCR could be the greatest hope of this generation to unite churches around the gospel, under the sovereignty of God, to give our utmost energies to making disciples of the nations.
I am 52 years old. I have zero interest in investing one more dime or one more minute in any religious organization that does not serve churches in the mission to reach the nations. Our church is ramping up our efforts and sharpening our focus in this area and we want to partner with other churches that have a similar vision. We want to be challenged, encouraged, strengthened and linked with like-minded churches with whom we share core commitments.

I believe that at least many on the GCRTF share these concerns and believe that the SBC can become a far more effective vehicle than it currently is to assist churches in their efforts to enlarge the kingdom of God. If these concerns are courageously addressed in the GCRTF recommendations, then the SBC will be challenged to pursue a path that could lead to our most useful days.

I have been around long enough to have been adequately disabused of any denominational naivety. Programs come and programs go. Bravado and superlatives seem almost endemic to SBC life. Some may be tempted to speak of the GCR and the GCRTF in such ways. I am not in that number. I am hopeful, but I am not naive. I pray for Ronnie Floyd and his committee every day and I encourage you to do so, as well.

We desperately need what the best declarations coming from those involved in the GCR movement are calling for. So I have been and remain supportive of the effort and praying that the Lord will use this to awaken, empower and unite Southern Baptists for the renewed purpose of "eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the denomination for the propagation of the gospel."

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Charles Simeon, Calvinism, Arminianism and Cooperation

Charles Simeon was an Anglican who served Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for 54 years. The story of his life and ministry are fascinating and challenging to modern pastors who tend to be soft and too quick to retreat in the face of opposition and trial.

Simeon tells the following story from his early years of a meeting that he had with the venerable John Wesley. A young, largely unproven Calvinist engages an older, much revered Arminian. The conversation--and heart behind it--is instructive for us today as we contemplate how brothers should relate to those with whom we disagree on important doctrinal points. Too often we allow our disagreements to eclipse completely the fundamental beliefs that we hold in common.

Danny Akin and Bruce Ashford have recently addressed the issue of Calvinists and non-Calvinists working together in the Southern Baptist Convention. What they write is helpful and exudes the kind of spirit that should characterize all of us who genuinely want to see spiritual and doctrinal renewal in the SBC, hopefully through efforts to promote a Great Commission Resurgence. Tim Brister has added his reflections to the conversation as well, reminding us that while we should not allow secondary or tertiary concerns unnecessarily divide us in gospel enterprises, we must never lessen our insistence that primary, fundamental issues be firmly and clearly held.

Now let's allow Charles Simeon join the conversation (he writes about his experience in the third person perspective). He has something to teach us. May the Lord grant us a double portion of his spirit today.
A young Minister, about three or four years after he was ordained, had an opportunity of conversing familiarly with the great and venerable leader of the Arminians in this kingdom; and, wishing to improve the occasion to the uttermost, he addressed him nearly in the following words: "Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions, not from impertinent curiosity, but for real instruction." Permission being very readily and kindly granted, the young Minister proceeded to ask, "Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved, that you would never have thought of turning unto God, if God had not first put [it] into your heart?"--"Yes," says the veteran, "I do indeed."--"And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by any thing that you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?"--"Yes, solely through Christ."--"But, Sir, supposing you were first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?"--"No; I must be saved by Christ from first to last."--"Allowing then that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?"--"No."--"What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?"--"Yes; altogether."--"And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom?"--"Yes; I have no hope, but in him."--"Then, Sir, with your leave, I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is, in substance, all that I hold, and as I hold it: and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree."
The Arminian leader was so pleased with the conversation, that he made particular mention of it in his journals; notwithstanding there never afterwards was any connexion between the parties, he retained an unfeigned regard for his young inquirer to the hour of his death.
(Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1: Genesis-Leviticus Preface, pp. xvii-xviii)

Labels: , , , , ,

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!

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reflections on the #SBC2009

The 2009 Southern Baptist Convention may well go down as the one that has left me the most hopeful...ever. My first convention was 1979 when Adrian Rogers was first elected President and the "Conservative Resurgence" (CR) officially began. I am grateful for that movement because it inhibited the slide toward liberalism that was taking place in many of our agencies and institutions. Some doubt that such tendencies were present, but I lived through them and have many personal stories to illustrate the documented case that has been made in various places.

Others (Ed Stetzer, Aan Cross, iMonk, SBCimpact, Alvin Reid) have offered insightful recaps and observations of the convention and following are some of my own reflections of what took place the last two days in Louisville.

The Great Commission Resurgence

Many of us who fully support the CR have grown increasingly uneasy over the last several years as it became apparent that the gospel was being pushed (or left) on the periphery of convention life in favor of secondary or tertiary issues. God has used that unease to unite brothers and sisters who do not agree on some fine points of theology in the common cause of reasserting the preeminence of the gospel in both our creed and deeds. The growing call to recover the gospel and and to reassert its pride of place energized a growing number of Southern Baptists over the last few years while leaving others fearful that gospel preeminence would necessarily mean Baptist indifference.

The 2009 convention, on initial blush, seems to have set a course for Southern Baptists to major on Christian essentials without compromising on Baptist distinctives. The means by which this has been accomplished is the Great Commission Resurgence led by Drs. Danny Akin and Johnny Hunt. The call of such a resurgence over the last year has rallied Southern Baptists--including more of the rising generation than we have seen interested in a while--to reexamine, retool and recommit to great task of proclaiming the gospel in word and deed.

The passing of Dr. Mohler's motion to form a task force to study how the SBC can become more effective in serving Christ through the great commission was a significant milestone in our recent history. His motion was challenged, most notably by a messenger from Florida who asserted that what ails the SBC is nothing other than the rise of "Calvinism." But the challenges did not hold sway and Dr. Mohler's motion passed by a 95% margin.

Anti-Calvinist Rhetoric

It may be that the anti-Calvinist messenger was emboldened in his opposition by the foolish remarks of the president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, Morris H. Chapman which were made earlier in the day during his report. Dr. Chapman's words have been publicly repudiated by SBC agency heads as well dozens of Southern Baptists who have voiced their concerns on blogs and twitter, and well they should be. He stated,
The Southern Baptist Convention is experiencing a resurgence in the belief that divine sovereignty alone is at work in salvation without a faith response on the part of man.

Some are given to explain away the “whosoever will” of John 3:16. How can a Christian come to such a place when Ephesians says, “For by grace are you saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8)? I do not rise to become argumentative, or to change minds already convinced of one perspective or the other. But I do rise to state the obvious. Man is often tempted to design a theological theory in light of a biblical antinomy in order to clarify what God is trying to say.
I daresay that Dr. Chapman, or any Southern Baptist for that matter, can find any person in the Southern Baptist Convention who holds such horrific views. If such a miscreant could be found I would be the first to renounce his errors and to try to persuade him to submit to the teaching of Scripture that God is absolutely sovereign and people are absolutely responsible in the gracious work of salvation.

Dr. Chapman's comments were out of place and sounded more like the incendiary rhetoric of years past than the more respectful kinds of exchanges that have tended to characterize the Calvinist debates since the Building Bridges Conference in 2007. Though I was disappointed in him, I was greatly encouraged by the response of the messengers. No one went to a microphone to attack him personally and all of the public comments that I have heard dealt with his words, not with his person or character. That is the way that it should be among brothers.

Personal Conversations

I was greatly encouraged by personal times of fellowship with brothers and sisters at the Founders Breakfast, Baptist 21 lunch, 9Marks sessions and President's reception as well as in hallways, parking lots, restaurants and shuttle buses. It was great to learn about work going on amon unreached people groups, new church starts, church restarts as well as in established ministries. Not all of the stories were of great victories, but all of them reflected the grace and goodness of God as He is keeping His servants strengthened and faithful in the task.

I was even blessed to have both fun and serious conversations with brothers with whom I disagree theologically. It is good to be able to have good-spirited banter over differences on fine points of doctrine, as important as they are, knowing that we agree on the essentials of the gospel. I enjoyed that kind of fellowship on more than one occasion. It is also good to be able to confront a brother with love and respect with whom there is strong disagreement and to be shown love and respect in return. Some of us may never agree on some points this side of heaven, but we can learn to disagree without rancor and resorting to caricature. I believe that this kind of spirit is spreading within the SBC and, despite the antics of one or two blogs that continue to assert half truths, distortions and conspiracy theories that border on paranoia, will ultimately the SBC of tomorrow.

Finally, who cannot be encouraged to see the number of younger Southern Baptists who participated in the convention this year? As I listened to some of them preach, lead dialogues and describe God's work in their lives and minstries, I could not help but be energized. Under the grace of God, the future looks bright for Southern Baptists and I am very hopeful. God has raised up exceptional leaders for such a time as this and seems to be stirring the hearts of more and more among us. So I leave Louisville motivated to keep pressing on in working for renewal in my own life and congregation as well as trying to encourage others along the same path.

May the Lord grant us a genuine resurgence in love, joy and zeal in pursuing His mission in the world.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Vote Passed

Dr. Al Mohler's motion to commission a task force passed tonight at the Southern Baptist Convention. Specifically, the motion requests that
the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 23-24, 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky, authorize the President of the Southern Baptist Convention to appoint a Great Commission Task Force charged to bring a report and any recommendations to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Orlando, Florida June 15-16, 2010, concerning how Southern Baptists can work more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.
There was brief public opposition during the time for debate. The most rancorous opposition came from a pastor who is convinced that the problem with the SBC is the rise of Calvinism in our ranks. He likened it to the Primitive Baptist movement and blamed all the ills the convention on the revival of the doctrines of grace in the convention. His comments were inflammatory and unfounded. They did not carry the day.

A substitute motion was put forward but was fortunately voted down, allowing for an overwhelming affirmation of Dr. Mohler's original motion. The Parliamentarian, Dr. Barry McCarty, later said that the vote was at least 95%-5% in favor.

This was a good move that bodes well for the future of the SBC. Of course, it is just the beginning. Johnny Hunt must now appoint a committee that will take up the responsibility of this assignment. Pray for him and for those whom he appoints. The last thing that the SBC can afford at this point is a study and report that fall short of serious analysis and recommendations. While these recommendations will not be binding on any entity in the SBC just because a task force recommends them, they can become rallying points for the way ahead in marshalling our cooperative efforts more energetically and efficiently in the work of the great commission.

Though in the big scheme of things this vote is not all that important, I believe that it is a harbinger of better days on the horizon. In fact, today is the best day that I have ever spent at a Southern Baptist Convention. In no particular order, following are some of the reasons that I say that.

1. Danny Akin. Dr. Akin spoke at the Founders Breakfast at 6:30AM, the Baptist21 luncheon at noon, at the SBC giving a theme interpretation at 3:30PM and at the 9Marks after-meeting at 10:00PM. No doubt he is tired! But his weariness is reason for Southern Baptists' encouragement. In each assignment, he knocked it out of the park, communicating great insight in a personable, humble and courageous manner. He is the kind of leader that Southern Baptists desperately need right now, and the demands on his time indicate that he is willing to answer the call.

2. Johnny Hunt. He has proven to be a remarkable leader for Southern Baptists this last year. Dr. Hunt makes it very hard not to love him. He is gracious, humble, transparent and enthusiastic in his leadership. He has demonstrated a willingness to work with all Southern Baptists who are willing to unite around the gospel and press forward in the great commission. He has been very gracious and kind to those with whom he disagrees at certain points, setting a tone of genuine love and respect in the SBC that we have needed for a long time. Some have been less than thrilled with his leadership but, from my vantage point, their antipathy has more to do with his unwillingness to tow anyone's party line than with him personally. His love for Christ, pastors and for the conversion of unbelievers is contagious and I, for one, want to catch what he's got! I look forward to his next year of leadership and will continue to pray for him privately, in my home and in our church.

3. Though I have not heard all of the sermons from the pastors' conference or that were preached today at the convention, what I have heard has left me more encouraged about the state of preaching in the SBC than in a long time. There have been wonderful messages preached. Sell your blood if y0u must, but be sure to purchase the CD of David Platt's sermon from last night at the pastors' conference. It was incredible.

4. The IMB. Everyone has heard of the financial shortfall that will result in the decrease in our missionary force by the end of the year. Of the $16 billion that Southern Baptist churches collected last year, less than 2.6% went to the IMB. But that message seems to be rallying Southern Baptists to renew our commitment to getting the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world. I was deeply moved by the IMB report tonight of what God is doing and what the needs yet are. Jim Richards of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention presented Jerry Rankin with a $100,000 check to help start making up for the shortfall. The pastors' conference took up a special offering to assist with it as well. I believe that Southern Baptists will rally and that this financial crisis will provoke the kind of self-examination that we need at this time in order for us to re-order our priorities.

5. The growing humility within the SBC. I heard agency heads, featured preachers and seasoned pastors saying publicly what has needed to be said for a long time. God doesn't need the SBC. The SBC can fail and be thrown onto the ash heap of ecclesiastical history and the kingdom of God will march on victoriously. It is that kind of awareness and humility that breeds the kind of perspective on the SBC that may well lead us to see our brightest days in the future. Until we get over the SBC we will not be in a position to utilize it for kingdom purposes as we ought.

So, I am hopeful. It seems to me that a fresh wind is blowing. If it is the wind of God's Spirit then may we recognize His work and redouble our efforts to be faithful in following wherever He leads.

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Morris Chapman and the Great Commission Resurgence

Morris H. Chapman is president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. Last week he published an article through Baptist Press entitled, "This One Thing I Do (Philippians 3:12-14)." In it he provides a critique of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) document and offers reasons for his unwillingness to sign it. I have previously explained why I did sign it and also addressed why I find the call for a GCR particularly urgent at this time. After reading Dr. Chapman's article I find that not only am I unconvinced by his arguments, my resolve to support Johnny Hunt, Danny Akin and others in calling for a GCR is strengthened. Indeed, Chapman's article actually highlights the need all the more.

I hope to explain my meaning by interacting with Dr. Chapman's arguments. Before doing so, however, I want to commend him for his willingness to speak openly and forthrightly about his concerns with the GCR document. This kind of open and honest dialogue about ideas is exactly what the Southern Baptist Convention needs. As Chapman has demonstrated, it can be done without stooping to personal attacks or assuming the worst about those with whom we disagree. I hope to follow his example by being pointed without being personal. I am concerned with his ideas and arguments, not with his motivation, intentions or integrity. I have no reason to doubt that his desire is to see Christ honored among the people known as Southern Baptists.

Dr. Chapman's main complaint about the GCR document is Article IX, which is entitled, "A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure" and states,
We call upon all Southern Baptists, through our valued partnerships of SBC agencies, state conventions/institutions, and Baptist associations to evaluate our Convention structures and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. This commitment recognizes the great strength of our partnership, which has been enabled by the Cooperative Program and enhanced by a belief that we can do more together than we can separately.
Chapman rightly points out that the explanatory language following this article has been softened as a result of concerns raised. What he finds particularly bothersome is the original language that said,
... our denominational structures have become bloated and bureaucratic at every level, from local associations to state conventions to the SBC itself. We believe our ministry effectiveness is being strangled by overlap and duplication, poor stewardship, and a disproportionate amount of Cooperative Program dollars being kept by the state conventions.
Though this statement no longer appears in the published explanation, Chapman fears that it reflects "an obvious, predetermined bias toward restructuring" of SBC entities. Furthermore, he believes that the Program and Structure Study Committee which completed its work in 1997 and issued the "Covenant for a New Century" (which the convention adopted and whose ministry statements are now part of the Organization Manual of the Southern Baptist Convention) has adequately met the concerns raised by Article IX.

On this point, I simply disagree with Dr. Chapman. Far from seeing the work of that earlier committee as being adequate for our present challenges, I believe that the structures of the SBC need to be carefully reexamined--and soon--to see how Southern Baptists can get more Great Commission bang for our buck. In my estimation, everything ought to be open to scrutiny. No entity or agency should be exempt.

His arguments against even considering possible restructuring almost sound protectionistic, but I am confident that they are not because, as Johnny Hunt mentioned a few weeks ago, Dr. Chapman himself called for a "major overhaul" of the convention in 2004. In an address at the Baptist Identity Conference at Union University, Dr. Chapman said this:
The Southern Baptist Convention needs fine tuning. In fact, the Convention may require an overhaul, not in its polity, but in its programming and processes by which it functions daily. A major overhaul by the national Convention and the state conventions appears to be an absolute necessity, letting the facts speak for themselves lest the conventions discover too late they were blind and deaf to a delivery system that better serves the churches (emphasis added).
This language is much stronger than anything in Article IX of the GCR. Furthermore, this recognition of the need for further structural change beyond the "Covenant for a New Century" was acknowledged again by Dr. Chapman on his blog post from September 25, 2006, when he wrote,
One primary question remains to date, "Should other changes be made within the SBC infrastructure for the purpose of enhancing our Southern Baptist witness in North America and beyond." A similar question is, "Can the operations of SBC entities become leaner, more focused, and more effective? To both questions, the answer is, "Yes." (emphasis added)
Article IX is doing nothing other than what Dr. Chapman himself has said ought to be done and in fact called on Southern Baptists to do. His objections to it, therefore, ring hollow.

The reason that he gives for objecting also are unconvincing. He raises the issue of revival (which is not raised in the GCR document) and then criticizes Article IX as an impediment to revival.
Revival and spiritual growth are the greatest needs in our Convention and our nation. This is the challenge around which all Southern Baptists can rally. Reorganization is not. Neither is it a prerequisite to revival.
Don't get me wrong. Effective and efficient organization is critical to any corporate endeavor and periodic changes are necessary. But revival in our churches and appointing a task force to study Convention structures are not two parts of one whole. They are two separate objectives that, if sought under the same banner, have the potential to cause both to fail.
This is a straw man argument. No one has ever claimed that studying the structures of the SBC will promote revival. To suggest otherwise only confuses the issue. As does this:
Perhaps some have the mistaken notion that if we get our stuff organized first, then God will pour out His blessings. Does history bear this out? Are there biblical examples from which to draw that would lead us to expect this? Reorganization does not change hearts.
Again, against whom is Dr. Chapman arguing? Certainly not the framers of the document that he is criticizing.

A paragraph that begins with this statement, "My overriding concern is that if Article IX remains in the Declaration, all attention will remain riveted on this one article," goes on to mention Article IX eight more times, thus supplying an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I fear that some who read Dr. Chapman's article may be misled by the following paragraph:
The work of the Program and Structure Study Committee was completed in 1997 under the Covenant for a New Century. At that time, the Southern Baptist Convention was restructured so that 95% of all Cooperative Program funds received by the Convention were, and still are, directed to the very three priorities identified by the framers of this Declaration -- our two mission boards and our six seminaries.
One of the biggest concerns that I hear from pastors today is not so much what happens to CP dollars after the funds are "received by the Convention" but rather, what happens to them once they leave the churches. According to this BP report, in 2007-2008 only 1.13% of undesignated offerings given by Southern Baptists made it to the International Missions Board. This is the kind of statistic that is causing alarm bells to go off inside the missionary hearts of Southern Baptists. Doesn't this at least raise a question about our structures and how funds are allocated and shouldn't this question at least be honestly asked and studied? That is all that Article IX is asking for.

Dr. Chapman's attempt to distinguish between his call for an "overhaul" of the convention in 2004 from the call in Article IX is unconvincing. He writes,
I did not recommend that a task force be appointed. I also did not recommend that the national Convention appoint a committee to judge other Baptist bodies. I could never do so, for the SBC has pledged never to even attempt to do so (SBC Constitution, Article IV).
This strikes me as odd given his expressed appreciation for the work of the committee that recommended the "Covenant for a New Century" to the SBC. Did that committee "judge other Baptist bodies?" Did it violate the SBC Constitution Article IV, which states, "Authority: While independent and sovereign in its own sphere, the Convention does not claim and will never attempt to exercise any authority over any other Baptist body, whether church, auxiliary organizations, associations, or convention." No on both counts. Neither would blue ribbon committee violate the SBC constitution, despite to Dr. Chapman's contention to the contrary.

One further point and I will close. Chapman cites a concern for unity in the SBC as a reason that he cannot sign the GCR document.
I cannot sign the Declaration as long as Article IX is included because it is likely to be divisive.
I love unity among God's people and I hate division, so my heart goes out to this concern. But as one who worked for a Conservative Resurgence (CR) in the SBC from 1979 onward, this sounds eerily familiar. Those who opposed the CR at that time sounded this warning repeatedly for over a decade. If we allow fear of division to trump all other concerns, then we will soon be headed right back down the slope toward liberalism that we once trod.

How can taking an honest look at who we are and what we are doing be offensive to truth-loving, kingdom-advancing people? If there are better ways for us to do what we are trying to do in our cooperative efforts, why wouldn't we want to know? If needed changes are discovered that will benefit the kingdom of God and spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, why wouldn't we seek to make them?

I have great respect for Dr. Chapman, but on this issue, I believe that he is wrong. I much prefer his earlier call for a "major overhaul" of the SBC to this latter warning of division and quenching of revival. Weighing his arguments has caused me to appreciate the need for honest evaluation and appraisal even more than previously. If we don't then I fear we might miss an opportunity to strengthen our cooperative efforts in ways that will benefit kingdom work for years to come.

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 21, 2009

IMB cuts and the GCR call

What is the relationship between the recent call for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) and the vote this week by International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention to scale back missionary appointments for this year? Just this: both make the case that Southern Baptist churches desperately need to reexamine and retool their priorities and the latter heightens the importance of the former.

The GCR encourages us to face up to the fact that biblical Christianity requires more than strong affirmations of biblical authority. Certainly we should not ever back away from our commitment to the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, but neither should we think that such a commitment is enough. In fact, fidelity to Jesus Christ demands that we measure our lives and values by the Word of God. Where we are found wanting, Christ calls us to repent--to change.

The GCR emphasizes the Lordship of Christ, centrality of the gospel, priority to the Great Commandments and the health and mission of local churches. It also calls for "A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure" (article IX), stating specifically,
We call upon all Southern Baptists, through our valued partnerships of SBC agencies, state conventions/institutions, and Baptist associations to evaluate our Convention structures and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. This commitment recognizes the great strength of our partnership, which has been enabled by the Cooperative Program and enhanced by a belief that we can do more together than we can separately (emphasis added).
I do not understand why any informed Southern Baptist would disagree with this statement. The SBC is in dire need of reexamining the way that we do things, including the way that we allocate our financial resources. Every Christian and every church ought to be concerned that they are getting the most "bang-for-the-buck" with their financial investments in kingdom work. That fact alone should make Southern Baptists welcome a healthy evaluation of the current structures of SBC life to see how we can do what we ought to be doing in increasingly better ways.

This is simply a matter of stewardship, and I am grateful that the framers of the GCR included this article in the document.

The IMB announcement that financial shortfalls are forcing a reduction in the number of missionaries that we will send to hard places this year highlights the timeliness of the GCR call. I first wrote about this in December 2008, noting that it is time for Southern Baptists to get serious about the allocation of Cooperative Program dollars. Three years prior to that, I showed how money given through state conventions to the Cooperative Program (CP) actually is allocated. The little-known fact is that most CP dollars are used by the state conventions through which they are given. Less that 40% actually reaches Nashville and less than 20% gets to the IMB.

Now the trustees of the IMB are forced to announce (through tears, according to the BP report) that there is not enough money to appoint all of those who are willing, equipped and ready to be sent by their churches. Can we sit back and let this happen?

Isn't it past time for Southern Baptists to reevaluate the structures of our convention organization and see how we can improve our financial stewardship?

I agree with SBC President, Johnny Hunt, who responded to the IMB announcement with these words, "We need to take the gloves off in Jesus' name and tell the truth so the people will know." Baptist Press goes on to quote Dr. Hunt as saying, "I think Southern Baptists are going to say there are some things we can cut, but sending missionaries is not one of them....That is not an option."

Amen.

Though there are many reasons to support the GCR, the need to reexamine the structures of the convention should be a rallying call to all Southern Baptists who want to see the sacrificial gifts of their churches make it to the places where it is needed most.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why I signed the Great Commission Resurgence declaration

Danny Akin, Johnny Hunt and others have released a manifesto entitled, "Toward a Great Commission Resurgence." It is a document aimed at Southern Baptists with implications far beyond the SBC. In some respects this call is the culmination of a growing concern among many Southern Baptists over the last several years. The essence of the concern, as I see it, is that having won the battle for the authority of Scripture in the SBC, we are in danger of losing the peace through infighting, political power struggles and neglecting the "weightier matters of the law" while championing other things.

I am sure that some would not articulate this exactly as I have, but from ongoing conversations that I am having with brothers and sisters across the SBC, I don't think my way of stating it would be contradicted by those leading the charge in calling for a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). One of the most encouraging dimensions of this growing movement is that those who are joining it come from diverse sectors of the SBC. Calvinists as well as non-Calvinists, elders (older boomers) and youngsters (Gen Xers) as wells as "in-betweensters" (I am sure that there is a name for us, but I didn't read the newspaper the day it was announced) all all signing on. Denominational workers, pastors and laymen are on board.

What unites us in this movement is not some naive notion that we are all the same or that we all agree on every doctrinal or practical issue that confronts us. Rather, we agree that the gospel is central to any and every Christian effort and that we must not allow anything, no matter how good and noble it might be, to detract from proclamation of that gospel around the world.

Let me try to explain a bit. Everyone whom I regard as a fellow-laborer in the gospel would fully affirm the the first of the GCR's 10 points, which has to do with the Lordship of Christ:
We call upon all Southern Baptists to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things at the personal, local church, and denominational levels. (Col. 1:18; 3:16-17, 23-24)
Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Therefore, Jesus Christ must be our passion and priority and we should aspire to both know Him and love Him more fully. We must long to see Him have preeminence in all things. We desire to see a Convention of Christ-centered, "Jesus-intoxicated" people who pursue all that we do by God's grace and for His glory. We believe we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to lead us into a new and fresh intimacy and communion with the Lord Jesus that results in greater obedience to all that He commands. Christ's Lordship must be first and foremost in a Great Commission Resurgence or we will miss our most important priority and fail in all of our other pursuits.
This is a great statement. I may want to call attention to our Lord's commandment to exercise church discipline (Matt. 18:15-18) while others in the movement may be zeroed in on His commandments to love or to evangelize or to care for the poor and needy. The great hope of joining with brothers who are clearly committed to the statement above is that we can genuinely help each other by pressing each other to take seriously all that Christ commands and perhaps even expose our respective blind spots or weaknesses. I need that and want that and even invite it from those who are pre-committed with me to the type of vision articulated in the GCR.

Or take another example. The second point addresses the centrality of the gospel:
We call upon all Southern Baptists to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in our lives, our churches, and our denominational ministries. (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:17-21)

The gospel is the good news of all that God has done on behalf of sinners through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. As individual Southern Baptists, we must be gospel-centered from first to last. Gospel-centered living will promote a grace-filled salvation from beginning to end by putting on display the beauty of the gospel in every aspect of our lives. It will remind us that we do not obey in order to be accepted, but rather we obey because we are accepted by God in Christ. Gospel-centered living will help ensure that the bloody cross of a crucified King is the offense to non-believers rather than our styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes.

The gospel must also guide and saturate our local churches and denominational ministries. Too many of our pulpits have jettisoned the pure proclamation of the gospel, which has resulted in many of our people losing the full meaning and wonder of the gospel. Too often our denominational programs and agendas have been crafted without a close tethering to the gospel. If we assume the gospel, we will lose the gospel. We must get the gospel right and proclaim it with clarity and boldness if we are to experience a Great Commission Resurgence.
This statement reflects, perhaps more noteably than any of the others, the fresh winds that are blowing across many of our churches. The gospel is not only for unbelievers. It is for Christians, too. It is not simply the means for the beginning of new life in Christ. It is the way and essence of that life. I might want to argue (as I have repeatedly over the years), perhaps more than some others who affirm this statement, that in many respects we already have lost the gospel and need to work for its recovery. And as this statement recognizes by way of warning, I believe that one of the main ways we have lost it is by assumption.

Though others who buy into this movement may not agree fully with me on this point, by expressing our agreement on this statement we have established clear grounds to have meaningful conversations about it. The statement recognizes that without the true evangel, there cannot be true evangelism, and I am delighted by such a declaration.

No doubt many in the SBC will not want to sign on to the GCR movement. Some of these are men with whom I share much in common and for whom I have great respect. Bart Barber fits into that category and his recent explanation of why he cannot sign the GCR document is worth reading though, obviously, I did not find it convincing.

Others are opposed the the GCR for reasons that appear to me to be primarily political--they fear losing control of the SBC or at least their (or their elders') sense of legacy in having fought for the conservative resurgence (CR) of the last 30 years. I have no sympathy with this mindset and hope that it will have no influence on those calling for a GCR. While I worked for the CR from the time I first cast a vote for Adrian Rogers in 1979 it is time for Southern Baptist inerrantists to recognize that inerrancy is not enough. Timothy George was prophetic when he warned decades ago that "the exchange of one set of bureaucrats for another does not a reformation make." We must keep pressing forward for the sake of the gospel.

Others seem to be afraid that embedded in the gospel-centeredness of the GCR is an inevitable loss of Baptist identity--that to speak of Christian essentials as being more important than Baptist distinctives somehow diminishes the latter. While I don't know anyone in this group to whom I would have to take a backseat regarding Baptist credentials (and I know several whose calls for Baptist distinctives--such as regenerate church membership--are more theoretical than practical when their church life is examined), I simply do not share their fear and believe that it is unwarranted. The call for a GCR is made by convinced Baptists and is directed primarily to Baptists. To claim that the substitutionary death of Jesus is a "weightier" matter of biblical doctrine than believers' baptism is no slight to baptism. Any view that disagrees with this will ultimately devalue both doctrines of atonement and baptism.

All of this to say, I am encouraged by this call for a Great Commission Resurgence. I am under no delusion that issuing a manifesto and gathering thousands of signatures will bring about the reformation that we need. But such actions may further that effort by clarifying lines of demarkation regarding what we must be and do, and what we must not be and do if we are going to be faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is why I am grateful to Drs Akin, Hunt and others who are boldly leading the way in this effort.

Our God will receive the glory that is His due when His work is engaged in His way; when His message is received and passed on without any editorial adjustments by well-intentioned messengers; and when His Son is seen and honored and delighted in as the all-surpassing treasure of His people.

The GCR could well be an instrument that helps further this cause. For that reason, I support it and want to stand with others who are committed to the vision that it casts for the future of the SBC.

Labels:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Akin: Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence

In a much-anticipated message at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Danny Akin today unveiled 12 "Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence." Dr. Akin, more than anyone else, has been outspoken in his call for such a resurgence. His leadership in doing so has met with mixed response ranging from condescending, dismissive scoffing to enthusiastic support.

One question that has been raised is, what exactly is meant by "Great Commission Resurgence" (GCR)? Dr. Akin begins to answer that question today in his address. Obviously, no Christian will position himself against the the great commission. That leads some to feel justified is decrying the need for a great commission resurgence. But that attitude was common when the Conservative Resurgence earnestly began within the SBC in 1979. "Everyone believes the Bible, so why is this issue being raised?" That was the question then. Now it goes like this, "We never stopped believing in the great commission, so what's the point in calling for this resurgence?"

The axioms that Dr. Akin outlined help give definition to the GCR vision. Notice how gospel-centered it is:
  • "We must be gospel centered in all our endeavors for the glory of God" (II)
  • "...building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel" (V)
  • "We must covenant to build gospel saturated homes" (VII)
  • "We must encourage pastors to see themselves as the head of a gospel missions agency" (X)
  • "We must pledge ourselves to a renewed cooperation that is gospel centered" (XI)
If this vision begins to shape the mission of Southern Baptist churches then the future of the association known as the Southern Baptist Convention will be much healthier than many would ever have imagined. If such a vision does not win the day then I fear that the SBC, as a convention, will continue down the path of increasing irrelevance.

Audio and video recordings of Dr. Akin's message will soon be posted here. Following are the axioms as reposted from Between the Times.

Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence
Acts 1:4-8
By: Daniel L. Akin, President
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, NC
April 16, 2009

I. We must commit ourselves to the total and absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of our lives (Col 3:16, 17, 23-24).

II. We must be gospel centered in all our endeavors for the glory of God (Rom 1:16).

III. We must take our stand on the firm foundation of the inerrant and infallible Word of God affirming it's sufficiency in all matters (Matt 5:17-18; John 10:35; 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

IV. We must devote ourselves to a radical pursuit of the Great Commission in the context of obeying the Great Commandments (Matt 28:16-20; 22:37-40).

V. We must affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a healthy and sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord's Commission (1 Tim 6:3-4).

VI. We must dedicate ourselves to a passionate pursuit of the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus across our nation and to all nations answering the call to go, disciple, baptize and teach all that the Lord commanded (Matt 28:16-20; Acts 1:8; Rom 1:5; 15:20).

VII. We must covenant to build gospel saturated homes that see children as a gift from God and as our first and primary mission field (Deut 6:1-9; Psalm 127; 128; Eph 6:4).

VIII. We must recognize the need to rethink our Convention structure and identity so that we maximize our energy and resources for the fulfilling of the Great Commission (1 Cor 10:31).

IX. We must see the necessity for pastors to be faithful Bible preachers who teach us both the content of the Scriptures and the theology embedded in the Scriptures (2 Tim 4:1-5).

X. We must encourage pastors to see themselves as the head of a gospel missions agency who will lead the way in calling out the called for international assignments but also equip and train all their people to see themselves as missionaries for Jesus regardless of where they live (Eph 4:11-16).

XI. We must pledge ourselves to a renewed cooperation that is gospel centered and built around a biblical and theological core and not methodological consensus or agreement (Phil 2:1-5; 4:2-9).

XII. We must accept our constant need to humble ourselves and repent of pride, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, contentions, lying, selfish ambitions, laziness, complacency, idolatries and other sins of the flesh; pleading with our Lord to do what only He can do in us and through us and all for His glory (Gal 5:22-26; James 4:1-10).

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Baptist Identity, Great Commission Resurgence and How We Read the Bible

Much has been written recently about "Baptist Identity (BI)" and a "Great Commission Resurgence (GCR)" As I previously noted, broadly speaking, those terms have emerged as representing two competing visions for the future of the SBC. However, it would be inaccurate to suggest those designations mean that the BI crowd does not care about the great commission or that the GCR crowd is indifferent to Baptist identity. The difference between the two lies at the point of emphasis and centrality. Perhaps we might say, the difference emerges from the way that one reads the Bible.

When Dr. Danny Akin called for a "Great Commission Resurgence" at the Building Bridges Conference co-sponsored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (of which he is President) and Founders Ministries (and hosted by LifeWay) in November 2007, his words resonated not only with those present but with Southern Baptists across the convention who listened to the audio of his talk and heard about this call. Dr. Akin is widely known and respected as an outspoken proponent of expository preaching with a passionate commitment to getting the Gospel to the nations. Anyone who would question his devotion to either simply cannot be taken seriously.

The vision that Dr. Akin and those who stand with him are casting for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention is one that arises out of a deep devotion to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. That devotion is what makes the Gospel central in the articulation of a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR).

Baptist distinctives are not ignored or forgotten by the vision that Dr. Akin has cast. They simply (and rightly) grow out of a primary devotion to Gospel. That is, after all, how Baptists developed in modern history. It was out of commitment to the Gospel that our 17th century forebears were led to form separate churches.

As I listen to and read what some BI guys are saying I come away with the impression that there is a lurking fear among them that a GCR-inspired future will lead Southern Baptists down an ecumenical path toward indistinct evangelicalism.

One of the clearest examples of the differences between the vision of the GCR and that of many identified with the Baptist Identity movement can be found in considering the issue that Al Mohler dubbed "theological triage."

Dr. Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an institution dedicated to training ministers for Baptist ministry, wisely recognizes "theological seriousness and maturity demand that we consider doctrinal issues in terms of their relative importance. God's truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis."

Mohler includes the Trinity, person of Christ and justification by faith as examples of "first-order truths" while the meaning and mode of baptism would be a "second-order" issue and eschatology a "third-order" concern.

What Christ-loving student of God's Word who is even mildly aware of the history of the church would not agree that belief in the deity of Christ is vitally more important than belief in believers' baptism? It is hard for me to conceive that any right thinking Baptist would disagree with this. As Dr. Mohler puts it, this is a matter of "theological maturity."

Contrast this way of reading the Bible, however, with that of one of the contemporary champions of the Baptist Identity movement. Dr. Malcolm Yarnell is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Theological Seminary. In an October 30, 2008 chapel message at Southwestern, Yarnell rejects of the kind of theological triage that Dr. Mohler says is necessary to theological maturity. He asserts,
You cannot perform theological triage on the lordship of Jesus Christ without severing His will into pieces and picking and choosing what you want to do. You will find out what he says and you will do it all because you know your life is totally dependent on Him.
Dr. Yarnell reads the Bible in such a way that there can be no allowance for theological triage. For him, making a distinction between first-order, second-order and third-order teachings of the Bible is a denial of the lordship of Christ. He says,
New Testament Christianity has no secondary doctrines when it comes to the lordship of Jesus Christ. That's why I say Baptism is not secondary nor is it tertiary. It is essential.
In Dr. Yarnell's vision of Christianity, baptism is just as essential as the deity of Christ or salvation by grace through faith. Nothing can be secondary if a person is truly committed to the lordship of Christ. He clarifies his meaning with the following words:
Now, does that mean that baptism saves you? No! But if you are saved then you will obey and you will be baptized according to Christian baptism not according to something of your own invention.
Note the distinction he makes. While believers' baptism does not save, "if you saved then you will be baptized according to Christian baptism." Do you see what he is asserting? If a person has not been baptized as a believer then that person is not saved, or at best, that person has no reason to hope that he or she is saved. Yarnell gives no room to the prospect that a brother or sister may be sincerely mistaken in their views of baptism and thus may fall short of complying with what is required, not out of rebellion or wilfull disobedience, but out of error.

That kind of narrow-mindedness strikes me as more than simple theological immaturity. It strikes me as dangerous to biblical Christianity. It makes no allowances for spiritual growth nor for the kind of apostolic charity that Paul displays in Philippians when he write, "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" (v. 15).

As a convinced Baptist I can fellowship with brethren who are right on the Gospel but wrong on baptism. While I wouldn't try to start a church with them, I can learn from them, respect them and rejoice in the grace of God in their lives while disagreeing with their understanding of the meaning and mode of baptism. I don't see how Christian love can do less.

There is a significant difference between the vision of those who believe that Baptist distinctives are just as important as Christian essentials and the vision of those who believe that Baptist distinctives are important precisely because they grow out of Christian essentials.

For the sake of the spiritual health and maturity of our convention of churches, pray that the latter vision prevails.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Building Bridges Conference--final thoughts

They said it couldn't be done. Many doubters--both friends and those who would not want to be so identified--thought a meeting on Calvinism sponsored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries and hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources, simply could not be "pulled off." The issues are too divisive, the rhetoric that has been employed by both "sides" in the debate within the SBC has been too hateful, there is not that much interest, there are too many more important things for us to be doing...these were among the rationales offered by those who thought this kind of meeting either could not or should not happen.

It was done, and, by the grace of God, it was done beneficially. There are many specific events that took place during the conference that were wonderfully helpful to those who participated. I have commented on the some of those highlights previously. But the cumulative effect of the whole event is far greater than the mere sum of the individual presentations. The conference was marked by a gracious spirit. There was plain speaking, which we all desperately need. And for the most part that plain speech was communicated with real humility and boldness.

That is too rare in our day. Too often we confuse boldness with brashness and humility with excessive self-deprecation. But while brashness and talking poorly about oneself may be mutually exclusive, true boldness and true humility are not. Think of Moses. Better yet, think of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn't go around talking about how humble he was. He simply lived His life in service to others (Mark 10:45; Romans 15:3).

I believe a Christ-like spirit permeated not only the presentations, but the times of singing and praying and fellowship around the tables. It was almost surreal to stand in meal lines and hear snippets of conversations taking place all around, with phrases like "imputation," "common grace," "compatibilism," "free offer," "libertarian freedom," "decree" and "concurrence" being voiced.

Despite what might have been expected, a common theme that ran through most of the presentations was the importance and centrality of the Gospel for Christian living and ministry. Speakers from both "sides" sounded the need to return to Christ-centered living and preaching.

Another recurring theme is the need to admit and deal with the sad state of many--probably the majority--of our churches. Most Southern Baptist churches are dominated by members who show no signs of spiritual life. This robs God of His glory in His church, greatly hinders evangelism and undermines the pursuit of holiness. It is, in my estimation, the most serious issue that confronts Southern Baptists today. And it is not a "Calvinist" issue. It is a Gospel issue.

I witnessed genuine deference displayed in large and small ways at the conference. Rebukes were humbly given ("your clapping is not helpful") and were humbly received. Scripture was reverently read and heard. Prayers were sincerely offered. Gospel-centered songs were simply, robustly sung to the Lord. And hard-edged theological issues were addressed head-on.

When was the last time you went to a Southern Baptist conference and heard messages on particular redemption, election, effectual calling, hell, Romans 9, Romans 10, Ephesians 1, Calvinism and Molinism (!). And have you ever witnessed Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists pointedly challenging each other's views and affirming their common convictions all the while maintaining genuine goodwill even to the point of actually enjoying each other's company? In Dr. Akin's talk he made this statement, "One of our problems has been semi-Arminians with an attitude and Calvinist with a chip on their shoulder." Almost without exception those attitudes were absent from the conference.

I don't expect everyone to celebrate the success of this conference. I have hoped against hope that with the mp3s made quickly and freely available, it would not be easily dismissed or misrepresented. Norman Jameson has reminded me, however, that we still have some among us who are unwilling to let facts influence their opinions. In his recent editorial in the Biblical Recorder Jameson demonstrates that, despite listening to at least some of the recordings of the conference, he simply does not understand the issues addressed or the good that was accomplished. I regret that, but I am very grateful that no one is left to the misrepresentation of his views. The recordings of the conference are available. Listen for yourself and compare his warped perspective with what was actually said.

I suppose a Jamesonian spirit will remain with us until the Lord returns. Hopefully, it will diminish in influence as people check the sources for themselves and discover that the reality is far different from the distorted report. But whether the naysayers increase or decrease, what I experienced in Ridgecrest gives me hope for the future and encouragement to redouble my efforts to work together with those committed to the recovery of the Gospel and the renewal of churches whether or not we see eye-to-eye on the five points of Calvinism.

After demonstrating many points on which Bible believing Southern Baptists agree, Danny Akin concluded his presentation with this challenge to begin a "Great Commission Resurgence":
So, will we live or will we die? Will we come together for life or fracture apart in death? I make my choice for life. It is my hope and my prayer that you will join me.
I unashamedly join him in his effort, and encourage others who are committed to the Gospel of God's grace to do the same.

Labels: ,