Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More thoughts on the SBC presidency


The comments about the process of electing the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (as well as the suggestions about who would make good candidates) have been very informative. After reflecting on them I want to set out some further thoughts in hopes of extending the dialogue.

Some have asked, "Is this even worth thinking about?" If you are serving Christ in a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention it is. It is part of who we are and how we operate. Now, having said that, let me try to put it into perspective. Who does or does not become president of the SBC is not ultimately very important at all when compared to what does or does not happen in local Southern Baptist churches. In other words, the local church is "where it is at" in the Kingdom of God. Denominational structures might perhaps be useful, but their usefulness should be measured only in terms of service to local churches. In that sense a denomination (comprised of free churches, at least) is a parachurch organization and the person who leads that organization is not nearly as important as the people who lead the local churches. Our polity demands that perspective but our politics tend to invert it in the minds of some.

I speak as one who is grateful for the conservative resurgence and supported it. But the reason that we needed a course-correction is because at too many points denominational leadership and servants had lost touch with the churches and were poorly serving us by propogating neo-orthodox and liberal ideas in publications, policies and programs. By God's grace, this deadly service was arrested and corrected. The office of president played a crucial role in that process. But in our most critical days that office was not more important than the office of pastor in a local church. Southern Baptists need to remember this, or relearn it, or perhaps learn it for the first time.

If we want to encourage healthy Christianity within our SBC family then we should seek to encourage pastors and church leaders in that direction. From an insider's perspective I can assure you that most pastors need fellowship and welcome it when it does not come with a hidden agenda. It would be nice to see someone in the office of president of the SBC who shared this kind of perspective; who didn't see the office as the culmination of a lifelong dream, as the capstone of a long, faithful ministry or as a political reward for time served in a cause, but rather, viewed it as a great opportunity to lead the denominational entities to become more useful to local churches.


Some comments betray a full-orbed pessimism about seeing anyone but a high-profile, highly-touted, popular pastor of a large, well-known church. I am not among them. Some who heard the announcement by Jerry Vines that he hoped Johnny Hunt would be the next SBC president indicated that the response of those at that conference was overwhelmingly affirmative. I would expect that. I would expect a similar response if someone were to say something similar about Mark Dever in two weeks at the Shepherd's Conference. Context. It makes all the difference in the world.

I have no idea if more than one person will be nominated in Greensboro. But I believe this: if a respected, legitimate conservative is nominated in addition to Pastor Hunt, that person will garner a significant percentage of the votes and could well win. Let me explain. A few people have reminded us of the gentleman who was nominated at the last minute two years ago in Indianapolis along with Bobby Welch. He received 20% of the votes cast. I do not think that this fact has been considered seriously enough. Stop and think what that means. Most of those who voted for him did not know him or know of him. Were they voting against Bobby Welch? Maybe some were, but I would surmise that most were not. Rather, my take on it is that most of those votes came from conservative Southern Baptists who are growing weary of the perceived manipulation of the system by some of our leaders.

Conservative Southern Baptists didn't like the idea that there were "kingmakers" (that's James Hefley's word, not mine) in the 1960s-70s and I suspect that such is still the case. In fact, I suspect that this weariness has only increased over the last two years. That is why I believe that a viable "alternative candidate" will garner 25-30% of the vote simply because he is not the one being promoted.

In addition, think of who will likely attend this year's convention in Greensboro. The Pastors' Conference has been designed with special sensitivity to "younger leaders." Though I have read that some in this target group are disappointed in the overall lineup, I would anticipate that McManus, Dever and the prospect of hearing Drs. Patterson and Mohler discuss their differing views on election would bring more than the usual number of younger crowd to the convention.

The controversy surrounding Wade Burleson and the IMB needs to be added to this mix as another unusual providence that will draw people to Greensboro who desire to have legitimate conservative options when selecting their leaders.

All of these factors make me believe that we may well be approaching a historic moment in the life of the SBC. It could be that conservatives will be galvanized to elect a legitimate alternative candidate to the office of president, not as a rejection of inerrancy or conservative theology, but as an expression that it is time to recognize the authority of local churches and their desire to keep moving forward in our pursuit of spiritual health and vitality. Remember, it is the messengers of churches that cast the votes.


Notice that I have not used the words "Calvinism" or "Arminianism" one time in what I have written above. The reason is that I do not see this as a Calvinist-Arminian issue. I believe those who want to turn it into one--regardless of which side they are on--are not seeing things as clearly as they ought. I would hate to see that dividing line become the focal point of anyone's candidacy. As we used to say back in Southeast Texas, we have bigger fish to fry. There are issues that are confronting Southern Baptists that everyone who loves God's Word ought to be concerned about. One of the foremost of these is the unavoidable reality of huge numbers of unregenerate church members that bloat our rolls. This is something that leaders on both sides of the theological divide have addressed in various forums. It needs to be taken off the backburner and made a prominent issue because it is at the heart of many local church problems. Related to that is the vitally important issue of evangelism. The sad fact is that many of our churches have not done a very good job at making evangelism a priority. We need a reformation in both our theology and practice of evangelism. Some who have a better theology of it must confess that they are not very consistent practitioners and some who are warmly devoted practitioners must admit that the vast majority of their converts don't stick. Related to both of these is the need to recover the priority of the local church in the purposes of God. Church is not optional in the plan of salvation.


Who knows what the Lord will do? I have prayed and will continue to pray that the Lord will grant us leadership in the SBC who will see these issues and address them in ways that will help our churches confront them redemptively. For what it is worth, if such a man is nominated for the office of president, he will have my support whether he is young or old, politically connected or isolated, or Calvinistic or Arminianistic.

19 comments:

Nathan said...

This is an oustanding post Tom. Thanks.

Rick said...

Tom - thank you for bringing clarity to the issue at hand. I agree that a viable candidate has the possibility of being elected - especially this year in Greensboro, for all the reasons you've stated.

I also applaud your efforts at focusing our attention on unity. There are far too many pointing out the differences among believers and striving to force everyone into their preconceived "good Southern Baptist" mold.

May God help us to put peripheral issues aside and find unity and cooperation among the believers standing upon His holy inerrant Word.

Christie said...

Tom, I agree with you that I would hate to see Calvinism/Arminianism become a hill anyone had to die on. I pray that both camps cooperate with each other for the sake of the Gospel and that the SBC will elect someone willing to lead that charge.

pkinsc said...

Tom, thanks for this post. On the previous post, I asked a question, but at 63 comments, you might have missed it. My question is this, it seems to me that sometime back Founders put out a paper, publication or sermon on the need to reform within the SBC, though it be painful and slow, rather than leave the convention in protest. Am I right in remembering such a paper? If not, please forgive the confusion, but if so, can you point us to where we can read or re-read on this topic? Thanks for any help on this matter, and thanks for your leadership iwth the Founders.

Tom said...

pk, here is an article that I wrote entitled, "Why Work for Reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention?" That may be the one you are remembering.

pkinsc said...

That's it exactly, thank you very much for pointing it out. Blessings!

jbuchanan said...

Tom,
I like these posts and think that this dicussion is great. But I think that you are missing the popularity of Johnny Hunt. Yes, an unknown got 20% of the vote against Whelch, but Bobby Whelch is no Johnny Hunt. I predict that if Burleson or Dever run that Hunt will receive 90+% of the vote. I also think that your advice about not making this a Arminian/Calvinism debate is good.

Nathan White said...

Tom, I’m going to have to somewhat disagree with the last portion of your post. I understand your point, and somewhat concur, but I think there is a danger in laying the issue of soteriology on the backburner. No doubt that there are bigger fish to fry that the issue of Calvinism vs Arminianism. But we must keep in mind the root issues here. Bloated roles and poor evangelism are started because of a faulty view on who God is. That must be reformed at its root, not at the surface level.

I agree that some make this issue far more important than it is, but if we really want to reform evangelism, the gospel message, and the foundational reasons why the roles are bloated etc, then we must start with a proper understanding of who God is.

Do we want behavior modification, or true change at the foundational level?

SDG

Gordon Cloud said...

Bro. Tom, I really appreciate your perspective on this. It is well-balanced and I believe it to be insightful. I also am thankful for the non-inflammatory spirit with which your comments are presented. I will definitely be back.

Matt Privett said...

Tom,

Thank you for your thoughtful posts on this subject. I would be wary to say that Calvinism/Arminianism isn't a hill to die on. The promulgation of the pure Gospel has to be a primary issue for any Christian, any church, and any denomination.

I would like to see the issue of church polity also brought to the forefront. I fear that the powers that be in the SBC would rather be Calvinists than part of a pure plurality of elders, which is what I believe the Bible teaches. I also believe that if a reformation of church polity were to sweep individual SBC churches it would allow for more genuine discussion of real theological matters, something sorely lacking in today's SBC.

Thank you for this blog. I'm hoping my own can be as well thought out as yours.

Doug said...

Tom,

I don't often comment here because I am not in the SBC, just considering it one day... But I must say, "WOW." This is a great post that really makes me consider what is important. I hope the Convention begins to deal seriously with some of these issues.

Timmy said...

Tom,

Thank you for your two recent posts about SBC president and possibilites. They are very timely and tactful. I did not respond to your previous post about what kind of president we should look for, but I would like to summarize my thoughts with a verse that characterizes the heart of a true servant of God:

"And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness."
2 Timothy 2:24-25a

I believe this verse epitomizes what our president should be like. I believe he should be a servant of the Lord, to the local churches, and to the denomination as a whole. I do not think that the president should be determined on a straight theological stripe or theological framework, but must be willing to work with those of whom he disagrees, and to do so with kindness and gentleness. Nowhere is there a biblical prerequisite that our president needs to be a denominational elite of a megachurch or a favorite personality in the preacher circuit. He is not a star. He is a servant.

And this is why I believe that Johnny Hunt should not be the next president of the SBC. He has shown himself to be quarrelsome from the pulpit and in person. He has consistently and persistenly derided anyone who disagrees with him and exercises his leadership authority in an autocratic manner which does not lend itself to cooperation and consideration of others. I believe Johnny Hunt is a godly man and a great pastor, but I also believe he has disqualified himself because of his words and actions. Because of his anti-Reformed campaign, he has rallied his followers to even more diviseness, as even tonight he is preaching in a "bible conference" where one of his followers (my former pastor) has taken the same Arminian rhetoric to attack those in the Reformed tradition without basis, substance or warrant - a tradition which is growing, and a tradition which they denounce.

On another note, you spoke of evangelism and the unregenerate in our bloated church rolls. When I first started reading your blog, you were give case studies of churches, their rolls, and their evangelism. You later considered drafting a resolution for the SBC as a corrective for this. Are you still considering doing so? I think this would serve as a meaningful reminder and continual indication of why and how to reform our churches.

You are correct in saying that God has providentially worked out that this year's convention could be historic and monumental. Considering the IMB and Wade Burleson issue, the election "not-a-debate" discussion by Mohler and Patterson, the line-up of various speakers, and the rise of Christian blogging all serve towards a viable and powerful force juxtaposed to the Kingmakers. Keep up the good work you are doing. And while the Kingmakers have already established who they want on the throne of the SBC, let us not forget that they cannot control the sovereignty of God.

hashbrown said...

The official Mark Dever for SBC President in '06 website is "officially" working.

http://deverforpresident.blogspot.com

Feel free to visit and make comments. I will be updating it with links as I have time.

Tom said...

Brothers, thanks for the encouragement. I am glad that we can have dialogue like this.

jbuchanan:

I know Pastor Hunt is very well-known and respected. I do not think he would get 90% of the vote if there is anyone else nominated. That is no slam on him, simply my assessment of the growing discontent with and suspicion of convention decision-makers. Johnny Hunt made the recommendation speech for Bobby Welch 2 years ago.

nathan:

I certainly agree that soteriology cannot be overlooked as we consider the challenges before us in the SBC. My point is that the concerns I listed are not "Calvinistic" issues. Every sincere follower of Christ, regardless of his self-conscious attitude toward "Calvinism" should be distressed over our inflated statistics and evangelism. A regenerate church membership is a Baptist distinctive that was treasured by both General (Arminian) and Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists throughout our heritage. I believe that these issues of common concern are the places that we should start in our attempt to address encouraging spiritual health in the SBC. When I say that I am not suggesting that anyone jump out of his theological skin (Calvinist or otherwise) to engage the issues, I am suggesting that the issues be recognized in terms that every serious disciple of Christ can recognize without fear that the main issue is the advancement of a theological system. Calvinists seem to be the ones who are bringing these issues up more often, but they are not exclusively *our* issues. I want my non-Calvinistic brethren to engage these matters with us for the sake of promoting denominational health. I am under no delusions that we will agree on everything, but I think that we can agree on many important things before we reach our points of disagreement. Proceeding this way, I think, will alleviate many of the fears that often stifle honest, theological dialogue.

Gordon:

You are welcome here anytime, brother. Feel free to enter the dialogue at any point. We may even ask you to make a campaign speech for Johnny at some point! :-)

Timmy:

I did work up a rough draft of a resolution (I think I even posted it). I do believe that it or one like it ought to be presented to the resolutions committee for this year's convention.

Matt said...

Tom,

Once again I am reminded why I frequent your blog.

As a young (28) Minister on staff at a church where I am the only one who holds to the Doctrines of Grace I am often in need of wise counsel.

I find it regularly on this blog.

Great post.

I sincerely thank you.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Matt

Nathan White said...

Hey Tom, thanks for clarifying. Above all I affirm your last sentence in that proceeding with grace and caution “will alleviate many of the fears that often stifle honest, theological dialogue”. Too often our Arminian brothers automatically throw up a hardened defense when ‘Calvinism’ is uttered, and likewise us Calvinists when ‘free will’ enters the discussion. This certainly needs to stop if any real progress is to be made.

My concern, as I said before, is that unless a correct understanding of God is constantly pursued, many will not dig deep to alleviate the root issues of concern (unregenerate membership etc). For example (and granted I have not experienced it all), I have yet to run into an Arminian who will biblically practice church discipline. Their view, from what I have seen, is that anyone who makes ‘the decision’ is in. And when faith is identified as a decision that just anyone can make on a whim, it becomes difficult to objectively determine whether one is an unbeliever who must be confronted in his unbelief. This is just an example of what concerns me –root issues of these outward problems.

The 5 points, per se, are not what we need to relentlessly shove down their throat, but unless God is seen as sovereign and man is seen as enslaved to sin, I just cannot see the real issues ever being honestly addressed. I fear that some issues will be addressed but only in a ‘behavior modification’ type of way that only lasts for a season.

However, it’s obvious that you do care about the real issues, only that you are concerned about the best way to go about addressing them. Rome wasn’t built in a day right? And these issues run a whole lot deeper than the next SBC president can address. So in a sense, I agree that we must take things one small step at a time, and that progress will be made if an Arminian is elected who recognizes some of the same problems that we do.

SDG

Outoftheshaker! said...

Tom - I'm new to the whole blog arena. I am not a scholar by no means. I 'm a God seeking, Jesus sharing Christian and I'm a missionary. Thank you your comments and I look forward to reading yours and others thought on matters for us that are very distant.

jbuchanan said...

Tom,
The previous post has gone well over 200 replies, so I'm not sure that you are reading it any longer. However, I do want to say that I have posted a personal apology there to Dr. Hunt and regret saying that his preaching and theology are weak. I feel it is important to do this because I did not mean to discredit Johnny Hunt or to be harsh. I may disagree with him concerning the doctrines of grace but I respect him as a leader and as a preacher. I have sent him a personal email apologizing and hope that he will accept.

P.T. said...

Tom, I am a 29 year old Pastor of a church of about 400. I am currently completing my dissertation on John Piper's expository preaching at an SBC institution. As a young Pastor, I am frustrated with much in the SBC. However, your site gives me great encouragement. I am so thankful to see that I am not alone in the battle for God's sovereign grace in salvation over man's autonomy. I think it was Tertullian that said God ordains heresy in order for others to be stirred up to herald the truth. While our convention is not promoting heresy, I do believe that he will use these tensions in our convention in order to make his church seek His Word. May his truth dominate our convention.
Fighting Together For the Truth
tony