Archive for May, 2009

Time to get rowdy!

May 27, 2009

In the words of my good friend (and part of this year’s Hebrew crew) Kelly, “It’s time to get rowdy!” I try not to pour out the vitriol when I blog…but some issues require the sharpened tongue and the rapid-fire rebuke.

Let me begin by saying that I have the utmost respect for those who allow themselves to be nominated to denominational offices and trusteeships. Their sacrifice of time (and I am certain, money) to do this service for the Southern Baptist Convention is admirable and should be encouraged.

However, occasionally, well-meaning and passionate statements necessitate the response of those with less degree of tunnel vision about the issues. Such a scenario has arisen in recent days concerning the funding of the SBC entities and their inability to properly do their work.

I am fairly certain that this conversation has arisen as a watershed  from the recently released Great Commission Resurgence statement. I have read the statement and I agree in principle with all of its articles. Particularly, Article IX (A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure) has motivated us (The SBC, particularly her blog-friendly participants) to discuss what is effective and what is dead-weight in the 21st century world and church.

Therein lies the rub: The trustee leaders of  two oldest entities in the SBC have gone and made some rather ill-advised and half-thought-out proposals to remedy the lack of funds at the national level. The North American Mission Board chairman, Tim Patterson, has proposed merging the two mission boards to eliminate the “antiquated”, “duplicate”, and “overly bureaucratic and bloated” aspects of the organizations. The International Mission Board chairman, Paul Chitwood, has proposed changing the Cooperative Program formula “to ensure that the majority of money given to get the Gospel to the nations no longer gets held back in our own nation.”

Now both of these ideas on the surface are admirable. Rev. Patterson is simply asking for us to do what will eventually be needed: to take a very hard and very counter-traditional look at what each Southern Baptist ministry does and produces for the money we give to it. Rev. Chitwood is simply asking for the most money to go to the greatest need: to the lost.

However, both ideas are wrongly oriented. Both men miss the point (although Rev. Chitwood alludes to it): the problem is not the redundancy of the system (as is) nor the CP formula…at least not at the national level. THE PROBLEM IS THE STATE CONVENTIONS!

There is redundancy and deadwood in the system…at the state level. There is poor allocation of monies received…at the state level. There is a breakdown in how the Cooperative Program is supposed to function…at the state level.

Let us review the history of the CP: In 1925, the Cooperative Program was adopted with the guiding principles of:

1) equal division of church offerings between church needs and the Cooperative Program (SBC Annual, 1976, p.54)

2) equal division of funds between state and national conventions (see principle #4)

3) equal division of national money between domestic and international missions (SBC Annual, 1983, pp. 42-47)

4) funds given seen as a “sacred trust” which the states “were not to touch… for their own use” (principle #11)

I think that it is fairly clear that point #3 is being upheld…since every year, 50% of national CP money goes to the IMB. It is also clear that the other points are not being upheld!

After all the fighting over whether 10% CP giving was too high a threshold to require for participating churches, it turns out we aren’t even close to the original vision of the 1925 statement! When 36.2% (not 50%) of monies collected by the state conventions is allocated to go to the national convention, it is clear that we have a problem at the second level of trust! If we then consider the 13 state conventions that make up the core of the SBC (78.5% of combined Baptist budgets, 81.6 % of national CP budget, over 80% of SBC messengers, 83.1% of SBC members), the statistics are slightly better with 37.6% of the combined budgets going to the national convention.

In light of this, it does not surprise me that many state convention leaders were upset with the GCR statement. Admittedly, the plan has a glaring absence of “clear details, proposed plans or potential consequences.” But, with all due respect to Rev. Barrentine, it is a statement, not a plan of attack! Or is it…perhaps the state leaders fear the blue-haired ladies and the young whipper-snappers of the convention actually considering whether all those state ministries are necessary. Border states have little to fear…it is the core states, with breakaway retirement home systems, wayward colleges and universities, and convention centers that seize valuable assets who need to consider what fat they might be willing to cut to promote world evangelization.

In summary, let me add my own solution to the possibilities being bandied about: why not fulfill the 1925 vision as much as possible. Let’s start with the state conventions SERIOUSLY considering what ministries are indeed 20th century holdovers and how they can dispose, rework, or combine them for greater efficiency. Let’s start demanding that 50% of CP money go to the national convention NOW – not in 10-20 years when our 1% increment gets us there! An excellent idea (that needs to be more bold and go farther) is David Hankin’s Cooperative Program Advance Plan – coming from a state convention director nonetheless! Let’s start by increasing our churchs’ giving to Cooperative Program, as well as national and state missions offerings…and cut our own fat before we demand the pound of flesh from the conventions!

Let’s get started…it’s times to get rowdy, people!

*editorial note: Now I’m going to make some brownies…hopefully I’ll feel better after that! I relish any comments concerning this idea or the others highlighted, especially from anyone I have potentially offended…

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Reflections on the “Generational Issues and the SBC”

May 21, 2009

I recently watched the “Generational Issues and the SBC” Panel Q&A conducted at Southeastern Seminary and found it to be most helpful for my own thinking about the future and the present of the SBC. I will treat the four speakers alphabetically and have included the approximate starting times (according the media player at the website) of the comments I quote.

Daniel Akin: (website)

“Bottom line: if you do that [violating a signed covenant],… your issue is integrity. Basically, you’re a liar, basically you’re dishonest, basically you are disqualified for ministry…. If you give your word to do something, then keep your word.” (63:00)

How appropriate in a day when we have a young man who chose:

  1. to attend a fundamentalist school
  2. to violate the covenant of that school to take his girlfriend to the prom

…and yet wants to whine and complain about their treatment (expulsion for violating the covenant he chose to sign and violate) of him!

“I am not a fundamentalist. I am an evangelical who affirms the fundamentals.” (16:15)

I have always found Dr. Akin to be a unfiying voice in the Convention in recent years. Yet again, I would like to thank him for encouraging me to move forward with a resolution to the 2007 Convention on soteriology.

Nathan Finn: (contributor at Between the Times)

“If your Calvinism precludes you from cooperating with non-Calvinists, then you would probably be happier somewhere else. But if your Calvinism is not the primary issue for you, but maybe an important issue, but you’re willing to work with other evangelical Baptist Christians who disagree with you on the doctrines of grace, then the Southern Baptist Convention is a great place to be.” (46:00)

I appreciate your emphasis on cooperation over Calvinism. I hope that others will agree to share a unified front against the powers of Satan and not let the friendly fire of theological discussions to weaken our ranks!

JD Greear: (blog)

“Good parachurchism…exists to assist the local church in her ministry…. Bad parachurchism tries to take local ministry from the local church,…thus separating it from the context God intended to move forward…. The Southern Baptist Convention was conceived in good parachurchism and over time, many parts of it have devolved into bad parachurchism.” (18:00)

I am glad that he has made a statement, recently reinforced by the Great Commission Resurgence statement (of which he is a signatory), that the Convention may need to be tweaked to be more effective. I’m sorry, state and national entities, but the years of programmatic and redundant ministry have passed. Just as we as a denomination need to trim our personal fat, we may need to reconsider if, for instance, each state convention really needs their own retirement homes system or not.

Greear later states: Take the lead (in doing ministry) and take what you’re doing to the institutions. See how fast they get onboard and those that don’t, “will probably get left behind.” (16:45)

David Nelson: (SEBTS article)

“I don’t think the major issue facing the Southern Baptist Convention is intergenerational. I think there are two issues. I think that there are competing visions for the Convention…. I think that we don’t all agree about what the gospel is. Those are two pretty big issues that divide us.” (22:30)

Nelson goes on to describe them:

Two visions:
1) those that enjoyed the CR and would like for things to be just like it was when the CR occurred:

  • separatist stance: “Baptists have the way to do things”
  • “Christian” subculture that isn’t and distance us from those we are trying to reach with the gospel

2) more ecumenical, willing to work with like-minded groups that are not Southern Baptist

  • focused on cultural transformation or engagement
  • interested in breaking out of the subcultures we have created

Two views of the gospel
“pray a prayer and get a better life” vs. “no life apart from Christ and maybe a life of suffering in this age”

Personally, I am in the second category on both terms (and I’m pretty sure the Bible is too!). I hope that the years ahead for the SBC will be a second Resurgence and not a second Baptist Civil War. I may blog on this issue in the coming weeks, depending on the ruling of my church’s elders about my plans.

Theology Ditty 11: “How is Our Understanding of God Related to History?”

May 18, 2009

Ditty 10 is lost right now – hoping to restore it when/if I find the paper copy!

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We understand God because we have experienced Him in relationship. In colloquial terms, we have history. The Bible is the record of God’s history with Israel and the early church. Tradition is the reckoning of His dealings and leadings with the later generations of the church. The experiential clothing of the basic doctrines as applied to our lives is the result of our personal history with God.

Beginning at Sinai (maybe before that at the burning bush), God initiated a relationship with Israel through miraculous signs and His words communicated through the prophets. As they cycled between obedience to and outright rejection of his revelation, He continued to interact with them and in doing so taught them and us about Himself and His desires for humanity. Culminating in the early church and the apostles, God completed the authoritative record of His direct dealings with mankind, though He has not stopped acting in human society and history.

Once the Scriptures were adopted as canonical, God began what might seem to be a more indirect path of revelation. As the Church Fathers and ecumenical councils struggled with the implications of the Gospel and the logical underpinnings of doctrine to the biblical narrative, God through their discussions, debates, and disagreements continued to reveal the truth of His plan and His character. As tradition took center stage and trumped God’s word as authority, God worked in the hearts of many to reform His church and return to the purity of biblical faith. As human society and knowledge has advanced, God continues to reveal Himself afresh to each generation in its terms and to its need through His modern-day messengers, the ministers.

More narrowly, I and you understand how God is by what He has done with and through us. As we realize our need for a Savior, we find a Creator and a Lord beyond our belief and naive hopes. Along the path of growth and Christian maturity, we find a Friend and Comforter who is more than willing to rebuke us to shape us in His image. In dark days and hard times, we find a Rock and a Shelter whose love is the strongest of nets to catch us. In all things, throughout all generations, God has worked to make Himself known through our history.

Theology Ditty 9: “What is the relationship between natural revelation and non-Christian religion?”

May 4, 2009

After more than a month of silence (working and those seminary papers really eat up your waking time!), I’m back! Hopefully, I’ll post twice a week for May to catch up for lost time….

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Non-Christian religion is simply the expression of mankind’s realization of God’s truth paired with the distortion of His nature. Man-centered religion is the attempt to adapt what we know to be true and right in the framework of a wrong answer to one or both of the questions: “Is there a God?” and “What is the nature of mankind?”

Buddhism and Eastern mysticism answers both questions incorrectly, in that they see mankind as inherently good, but mistaken about his place in reality and that they see the non-existence or palpable absence of God. From that foundation, they take the ideas that we must act rightly and that we inherently seek for something beyond ourselves to mean that by releasing our hold on this world will ultimately free us from its corruption and its limitations. Thus the East seeks to satisfy God’s demands for perfection through self-denial and meditative transcendence.

Works-based religions, whether polytheistic or monotheistic, rightly recognize that there is a God, but that our nature is such that we have the capacity to please Him and earn a life with Him in our own deeds and choices. From that, they discern that God (or Allah or Brahma or whoever) has put in us the desire to act rightly and seek Him/It. Thus many of the world’s religions attempt to fulfill the innate morality God has given us through the strictures of legalism.

Naturalism, best typified by evolutionary thought and practice, answers the question of God’s existence falsely, but does recognize that mankind is inherently wicked and violent. From that atheistic anthropology, they deduce that we act rightly because it benefits us in ever-increasing circles of influence with concomitantly decreasing benefit to us. So the rationalist view is that we are moral people because our biology (our extended desire to survive through reproduction) leads us to behave that way.