Wednesday, June 20, 2012

SBC 2012 Final Day

Well, as they say, "It's all over but the shoutin'." Actually, looks like the shoutin's over too. All in all, this was a great convention. It has had it share of controversy, but that is probably one of the marks of a good convention. It is really amazing that 8,000 Southern Baptists from all over the USA can come together for a few days and do business in a way that is not much different than most of experience at our regular church business meetings.

My update from yesterday was growing too long for me to include one observation from yesterday. Southern Baptists are a missions people. Always have been, Lord willing, always will be. That is why we adopted the moniker "Great Commission Baptists" this year. The IMB report is THE highlight of the annual meeting, as we hear the report of missionaries appointed, people-groups engaged, churches planted, souls saved, and lives and communities transformed. And this year was no exception. Therefore, I simply cannot understand how we can call ourselves "Great Commission Baptists" when 75% of the messengers evacuate the room before this all-important report. Seems hypocritical to me. My friends at the IMB were discouraged by this. It makes one wonder if our "missions emphasis" is just lip service. Thankfully, I know that it is not, but messengers, we could do better than we are doing to encourage our brothers and sisters on the front lines.

Now, about today ...
Once again, my day began early with the streetcar ride from the hotel to the Convention Center. One important aspect of the Convention is fellowship with brothers who serve the Lord across the country (and the world), and it was a joy to be together today with Dennis Conner (AZ), Heath Lloyd (NC), Jake Porter (TX), Chas Rowland (MS) and my missionary friend from "parts unknown." Before I break down the convention action, I have to share our lunch experience. I am not a big fan of the seminary luncheons. Not that I don't love Southeastern Seminary and the men of God who lead it, but by Wednesday afternoon, my ears are tired from listening and I am usually looking for some downtime and some local culture. So, Chas, Missionary X, and myself hopped aboard the streetcar for an adventure to a New Orleans gem of a restaurant -- Dooky Chase. Now, you know the food has to be good if they can put the word Dooky in the name and still draw a crowd (Dooky Chase is actually the owner's name, and I am sure he's never been teased about that!). And it was phenomenal. Buffet lunch featuring famous fried chicken, pork loin, duck, green beans, mustard greens, red beans and rice, and a very spicy Cajun sausage. I enjoyed multiple servings of it all! Thankfully, there's lots of walking to do during Convention week! We met Leah Chase, the owner, who also happens to be the inspiration for the Disney Princess Tiana in "The Princess and the Frog." This was probably the culinary highlight of the week for me, though it is a hard call.

Now, on to business. Wednesday is the day when we get down to business. We finish up the officer elections, vote on motions submitted, and affirm resolutions. The "nickname" motion passed by a very close margin (probably closest vote I have witnessed in 15 years of Conventions). I've addressed this at length in yesterday's post so I won't say anymore about it. I think it is a win-win, and I am happy it went this way. The election of Second Vice President proved to be a contested race, with three seemingly well-qualified nominees. I think that each one represented a "stake" in the traditionalist/non-traditionalist, Calvinist/Anti-Calvinist imbroglio. One candidate is a known and outspoken anti-Calvinist, one is a died in the wool traditionalist, and one is a mediating voice of reason amid the fray, albeit a guy with Calvinistic sympathies and leanings (though not an extremist by any stretch of the imagination). Thankfully, in a runoff, Dave Miller, the mediating voice, was elected overwhelmingly. I think that was a statement by the messengers that said, "We do not want polarizing personalities in Convention leadership." That is what drove my vote for Miller, anyway.

We have a new "crazy uncle" who made a name for himself this year by hogging the microphone over and over again yesterday and today, and though some of his points were valid, his antagonistic demeanor was less than endearing to most messengers. But crazy uncles are part of the fun of family reunions, so we just smile and nod our heads as if to say, "Bless your heart brother!" When I first began attending Conventions, I really despised the resolution debates. Seemed pointless to me. But, over the years I have come to understand that these are more important to the watching world than they are to some of us. The resolutions are what the press reports on (though, thankfully Fred Luter's election has dominated the secular press reports). The resolutions are the officially published opinions of the Convention on matters ranging from social, to political, to theological. Full texts of the resolutions should be available online soon (if not already). The subjects addressed in this year's resolutions were:

  • Defending religious freedom. 
  • Opposing the "civil rights" rhetoric on the same-sex marriage debate (this resolution was submitted by African-American Southern Baptists and has some real teeth to it). 
  • Affirming the inerrancy of the Bible and the historicity of Adam and Eve (this is actually a developing firestorm in other evangelical denominations, so the SBC drew a needed line in the sand on it).
  • Affirming community and human needs ministries in the local church as a means of evangelism. 
  • Appreciation and acknowledgement of the role of African Americans in the history of Baptists in the United States. 
  • Appreciation for the host city. 
Two resolutions had the potential to be contentious, but only one amounted to an actual debate. Both addressed issues stemming from the infamous "Elephant in the Room," which is what the Calvinism / anti-Calvinism divide is being called this week. First, there was a resolution affirming cooperation within the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) on the doctrine of salvation. It is a well-worded and carefully balanced statement that all Southern Baptists should be readily able to affirm. But, we got wind of some rumors floating around during the lunch break that some in the anti-Calvinist movement were planning a motion to amend that would insert language undermining the reformed doctrine of "limited atonement" (if there's ever been an unfortunate label hung on a doctrine, that surely has to be the prime example). I've blogged on this subject before here. That amendment, if it had been made would have done great harm to the conciliatory spirit of the resolution. Thankfully, the amendment was not made, and the resolution was passed unchanged. 

The resolution that did stimulate debate concerned "the sinner's prayer." Most of us were probably led through a prayer like this when we became followers of Jesus: "Dear God, I confess that I am a sinner, and I believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. I accept Him as my Lord and Savior and I thank you for loving me and saving me, in Jesus' name, amen." What's wrong with that? Well, in reality, there are at least two things wrong with it. First, it is not found in the Bible, so we cannot say that it is a necessity to say these or similar words in order to be saved. Second, not only have those of us who have been saved prayed this prayer or one like it, but MULTITUDES of UNSAVED people have prayed this prayer (often repeatedly) without truly experiencing the new birth. It becomes something of a mantra or an incantation, magic words like "hocus pocus" that has no power in and of the words themselves to save. David Platt recently made a much publicized statement criticizing the reliance on the "sinner's prayer" by well-meaning Christians. This, of course, added fuel to the anti-Calvinist fire, as people misunderstood Platt's sentiments to express that old worn-out caricature that Calvinists hate missions and evangelism. Fact is, David Platt and Brook Hills church is probably doing more for missions and evangelism than many anti-Calvinist churches combined. But, Platt's words led to the submitting of this resolution, which affirms in a carefully crafted way the use of the sinner's prayer. There were impassioned pleas on both sides, some failed attempts to amend, and finally the resolution passed unchanged. There were some snarky tweets posted by Calvinists who were upset that it passed (some referred to it as an extra-biblical statement, and others spoke of it as a move against the sufficiency of Scripture). Frankly, I think these are probably overreactions. I believe that most of us, if we read the resolution carefully and calm down a little bit, will see that it's really not so bad. I confess, I voted against it and I wish it had not passed, because it only fattens the elephant.

We heard several seminary reports today, and these are always an exciting time. Our six Southern Baptist seminaries have over 16,000 students enrolled. That is very exciting and encouraging. Of course, I am partial, and I believe that Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is the finest seminary in the world, simply because of the high caliber of graduates it produces ;-). No, actually, I love Southeastern most of all right now because of President Danny Akin. Danny is one of a small number of cool-headed, voices of reason in our convention. Danny is sympathetic to the traditionalists and the young guns, the old and the young, the Calvinists and anti-Calvinists, and has a mediating effect on the Convention. May his tribe increase. There are few Southern Baptists that I respect more than Al Mohler, president of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also probably the most famous Southern Baptist Calvinist. I am sure that it was no coincidence (because there really is no such thing) that the Southern report focused on missions and cross-cultural evangelism (featuring the testimony of one of my favorite preachers, John Folmar). I don't know for sure, but I suspect this was a calculated statement to silence those who claim that Calvinists are anti-missions and evangelism. 

Two great disappointments in the seminary report occurred today with the reports of Midwestern and New Orleans seminaries. Midwestern has been riddled with internal conflict for years, overarching the tenures of two consecutive presidents, Mark Coppenger and Phil Roberts. Roberts was pressured to resign in February after accusations of financial mismanagement and verbal abuse. No mention was made of the situation during the report, so not surprisingly, several messengers raised questions about the issue. One very important point was that the Convention needs to be informed of the findings of the audit, and if the charges against Roberts were baseless, then reconciliation needs to be made with a brother in the Lord. The interim president and the chairman of trustees both insisted that the matter was addressed in the printed seminary report. Folks, I have read that report five times now, and the information just isn't there. That is highly disappointing. 

The New Orleans report began with a surprise. Dr. Chuck Kelley announced that he would take questions before the report rather than after. That is highly unusual. Interestingly, there were already three messengers at the microphones ready to ask the questions. How did they know that the question time would come at the beginning? Their questions were "softballs" and each one met with a very well scripted response. Not only this, but two of the men who asked the questions had been sitting on my row scribbling some notes, and then each made a bee-line to the mics before the Q&A time was even announced. Now, brethren, there are "fishy smells" all over N'Awlins, but this one is the fishiest. What is Dr. Kelley hiding from? What is going on at New Orleans that he doesn't want to take questions on? Who knows? One brother suggested that it might have been an attempt to dodge questions related to the "Traditional Statement" (alluded to in my blog from yesterday) that Kelley has endorsed. Whatever the case, this kind of maneuvering does not engender trust. 

Final point I will mention from the day ... the NAMB report. Thank God for the leadership of Kevin Ezell! NAMB has been down a rocky road for a decade or so, and Ezell seems to be finally leading in the right direction. There are exciting new church planting initiatives and some much needed conversation about church revitalization -- the most overlooked aspect of SBC life in the last 30 years, in my opinion. I am excited to see how these new initiatives take shape in the future. My confidence in NAMB is at an all-time high. 

Well, that about sums it up from a busy week in Big Easy. I appreciate the opportunity to have been here as a messenger of Immanuel, and I look forward to sharing these reports with the body when I return. This has been a historic week, and in spite of frustrations and controversies, we must not lose sight of the significance of Fred Luter's election as President of the SBC. These are good days to be Southern Baptist (or Great Commission Baptist if you prefer), and I am as proud as ever to be one. 

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