Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Encouraging Events in Louisville


When I posted my initial reflections on the 2009 SBC in Louisville, I promised my blog readers (both of them) that I would write more later when I had the time. I still don't have the time, but I am afraid if I don't do it now, I may never get around to it. So, I have two posts (including this one) that I want to write. This one you are presently reading deals with some "good news" (note the lowercases, as opposed to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus) out of Louisville, and a future post will deal with some things that concern me coming out of this year's convention. You may find it amusing that some things will be filed under both headings.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I am very excited about the Great Commission Resurgence Taskforce. In particular, it excites me that the voices involved in this discussion include Danny Akin, Al Mohler, Al Gilbert, Frank Page, and David Dockery. As one studies the Southern Baptist Convention's history, one will find certain "shaping influences" at key points in the Convention's history. I believe we are at just such a crucial juncture now, and these men need to be involved in the shaping that must take place today. Let me lay all my cards on the table about my respect for these men. I am biased toward some of them for deeply personal reasons. Al Gilbert pastors my home church, but before he did I came to know and respect Al as a leader at the International Mission Board. He was a key figure there in enabling churches to better connect with the global work of Southern Baptists, and it is my hope that this will be one of the outcomes of this Taskforce. Danny Akin is the President of my Alma Mater, Southeastern Seminary. I began attending Southeastern months after Paige Patterson resigned to go lead Southwestern. The Seminary was well served by Dr. Bart Neal as Interim President, but I and many others had strong hopes that Dr. Akin would be the name put forward as the new President. I was so delighted when he came to Southeastern because I had developed a deep respect for him as a preacher and theologian. He demonstrates Christlikeness in his demeanor, being gentle and at the same time unflinching in his convictions. Frank Page was ordained at the church I now pastor in 1974, and I was so grateful that he agreed to return to Immanuel to preach in June of 2008. I was one of the many who voted for Frank to be our Convention President in 2006. He is a gifted preacher, a Christlike leader, and one of the "nice guys" of our Convention. I have no personal connection with David Dockery or Al Mohler, but I believe them both to be top-notch Baptist theologians who represent us well every time they rise to speak or put pen to paper. It gave me great pride to see the way Dr. Mohler was received by the congregation at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology where he showed the Reformed Evangelicals gathered there that Southern Baptists could hold their own in the theological forum. If our future course as a denomination is going to be charted by any group of people, I could offer no better names than these.

There seems to be some confusion among the rank-and-file Southern Baptists as to what a Great Commission Resurgence is and why it is needed. As I understand it, it is a logical outflow of thirty years of "Conservative Resurgence" in our midst. Having drawn some important theological lines in the sand, the natural question should be, "So what?" It is not enough to feel good about having a carefully worded statement of orthodoxy in print if we do not do anything about it. Hopefully the outcome of this Taskforce will be to show Southern Baptists how, having stood on the right truths, to now step out and make a deep impact in the world for the cause of Christ. To the average pastor or church-goer, our denomination seems to be "top-heavy" and less than "user-friendly" at times. Rather than facilitating missions and evangelism engagement, denominational bureaucracy can sometimes be a deterrent. If this Taskforce can bring back practical ways that the Convention can become a better mobilizer of the churches and their members, then it will be a smashing success.

I am also very excited by the number of interested young leaders in our midst. Frankly, over the last few years, I have been disappointed in the way "younger Southern Baptists" have carried themselves and been caricatured by others. We are not all "emergent," not all "Calvinists," not all "radical," and not all interested in throwing away every vestige of the Baptist heritage. To be sure, however, some are. Many of those are distancing themselves from the Convention now, and I am not convinced that this is a bad thing. I see nothing wrong with the Convention saying, "This is the way we are going to go, and if you are not comfortable with that, you are welcome to leave." Some of us are and remain Southern Baptist by choice, and while not quite content with the status quo, we are at least willing to proceed slowly, kindly, patiently, and respectfully for the greater good. This year in Louisville, I was encouraged to see many present who are my age (mid-30s) and younger (!), and to find some older Southern Baptists listening to our concerns. "Just trust us," is not a battle-cry that my generation wants to hear. We admire the strong convictions on which some of our forerunners have stood for the sake of the Convention, but we are also not so naive as to turn a blind eye to some of the failures of that generation. It is not "us" versus "them," and it must never be assumed that "our way" is better. But in Baptist life, iron must sharpen iron, and we must all be willing to be held accountable by one another.

The "9Marks at Nine" (which might have been better called "9Marks at 9:45") events on Monday and Tuesday nights of Convention week were highlights for me. I have a deep respect for Dr. Mark Dever and his ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist and 9Marks. Having the opportunity to gather informally following the day's events and hear him, Danny Akin, David Platt, and others share theological and ecclesiological insights was a blessing that I hope will be repeated in coming years. Some of the discussions that took place in these sessions need to make their way across the hallway onto the Convention floor. Seeing a broad generational diversity present at these meetings gives me hope that they will in the future.

I am encouraged that Southern Baptists seem to be outgrowing our willingness to be swayed by impassioned but hollow rhetoric and emotional appeals. While several speakers at the microphones spoke as if they were embarking on a new "witch-hunt," the Committee on Order of Business, the President, and the messengers did not seem to be swayed by their statements. I was glad to hear our President, Johnny Hunt, and the Committee on Order of Business address the tone and language used by some of the speakers from the floor. Another illustration of mature discernment involved the Resolution on President Obama. This was a well-worded Resolution that spoke well to the things we should celebrate about his election as well as voicing our opposition to some of his public policies. When General Pinkney attempted to amend the resolution by inserting a "red herring" statement about homosexuality in the school system, the messengers rightly rejected the amendment. As it was stated, the amendment just did not belong. Additionally, many of the same concerns about the homosexual agenda in public education could have been (and WERE) stated on the Convention floor during the Bush administration. I am not certain, however, that in some years past the messengers would have defeated this amendment. I have seen well-written resolutions butchered by impromptu motions to amend which addressed irrelevant issues. In those cases, I believe that the messengers were swayed more by the volume and rhetoric used at the microphone than by sound reasoning. Thankfully, this was not the case this year.

The International Mission Board report is always one of the highlights of the Convention for me. This year, more impressive was the presentation made just prior to that report. Jim Richards, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas, handed Jerry Rankin a check for $100,000 on behalf of his state convention to contribute toward the shortfall in Lottie Moon giving for this year. I hope there were many State Convention executives in the room witnessing this and taking note of the response of the messengers. Increasingly, Southern Baptists are saying louder and louder that it is not right for State Conventions to cling to a larger percentage of Cooperative Program dollars than they forward on to our Mission Boards and Seminaries. It is no secret that one of the reasons so many lined themselves up against the Great Commission Resurgence is because of fear that one of the outcomes of this Taskforce will be a call to States to move toward AT LEAST a 50/50 split of Cooperative Program dollars. God bless Jim Richards and the SBCT, and may their tribe increase.

I must say a word about the exemplary leadership of Dr. Johnny Hunt at this year's SBC. No small number of Southern Baptists had concern about his ability to lead the denomination as a whole given his outspoken criticism of a large and growing segment of Baptist life (the Reformed/Calvinist movement). I believe all fears were settled as we observed a humble and genuinely cooperative spirit from the Chair. Johnny Hunt's soteriology has not changed over the last twelve months, but he showed us in Louisville was that, even when we don't agree on every point of doctrine, we can be kind to one another and listen to one another for the good of the Convention. We may never know this side of heaven, but Johnny Hunt's Presidency may have prevented another massive upheaval in the SBC, resulting in the exodus of a large number of people and/or churches.

A great blessing of Convention week was visiting the campus of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to take part in the 150th Anniversary Celebration. God's hand is upon this institution, and we can rest well knowing that this Seminary and five others like it are shaping tomorrow's Baptist leaders. Dr. Mohler and those in attendance in the Chapel Service on campus showed the true spirit of what being a Bible-believing follower of Christ is all about in the way they honored and received Dr. Duke McCall, for whom a new wing at the Seminary was named. Those unfamiliar with Baptist life (probably stopped reading a long time ago) should know that Dr. McCall's years as Southern's President were tumultuous at times, and he was the "Baptist Pope" during the period from which the Conservative Resurgence sought to break free (did I say that carefully enough?). Surely, Dr. McCall was surprised by the recognition and reception he received.

Finally, and for good reason, I will mention the rise of B21. I save this for last, because I know the least about it. I was not aware that this movement even existed prior to the Convention and was unable to attend their luncheon/discussion during the week. From everything I see and read about this group, I can say that I am thankful that it exists, and see great promise in it for being a healthy and constructive think-tank for younger Southern Baptists. I like the names I see surrounding this movement and I applaud the focus of it, stated on the B21 website (www.baptisttwentyone.com) as "We embrace our past, believing this faith has been proclaimed in our Southern Baptist heritage. We work in the present, believing the Kingdom effectiveness of Southern Baptists will be in proportion to our fidelity to the Gospel. We cooperate for the future, believing the only hope for the people of the world is the Gospel of King Jesus."

I am proud to be a Southern Baptist. It is my denominational home by choice for doctrinal and missiological reasons. Danny Akin said it well, and I fully intend to steal this statement and make it my own -- "As long as I feel like this ship is moving in the right direction, I can stay on board." It might move slow, but it is going in the right direction. I leave Louisville excited about our future, and excited to return next year to Orlando and hear the report from the Great Commission Resurgence Taskforce (and go to Disney World now that the boycott is over!).

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