Friday, February 23, 2007

Southern Baptists at Sardis

I am delighted to announce the upcoming Founders Breakfast at the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio, June 12, 2007, in the Alamo Ballroom A/B/C/D on Level 2 in the Marriot Riverwalk. Dr. Voddie Baucham will be our speaker and will address the incredibly timely theme of

"Southern Baptists at Sardis."

Dr. Baucham is a Southern Baptist pastor, church planter, apologist and well-known conference speaker. More importantly, he is a husband and father who understands the importance of family life in God's kingdom purposes. He preached two outstanding messages at the Florida Baptist Convention last fall and also was used of God to challenge the church I serve to take our responsibilities before God more seriously when he preached to our people.

This theme, at this time, with this speaker promises to be a tremendous opportunity for many of us to come together to be instructed and exhorted from the words of our Lord through the ministry of His servant. Tickets are $15.00, which does not even cover the cost of the breakfast itself. Furthermore, Founders Ministries is so committed to making this ministry available to as many as possible that we are making tickets available for $10.00 if you register early.

The last two years this event has sold out and we have had to turn people away. Though we tried to get a larger venue this year, space is once again limited. For more information and to register online, go to our website and fill out the information requested.

Pray for Voddie as he prepares to minister to us at the breakfast. Pray that the Lord will meet with us by pouring His Spirit out on that gathering.

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Reflections on the Baptist Identity Conference, pt. 3 (final)

If a collective vision can be constructed from the messages at the Baptist Identity Conference, it would include the following ingredients.
1. Being Baptist is much broader than being Southern Baptist
2. Being Baptist is secondary to being Christian
3. Being Baptist means taking church life seriously--inlcuding discipline and a regenerate membership
4. Being Baptist means respecting the autonomy of the local church
5. Being Baptist means not neglecting the interdependence of local churches
6. Being Baptist means holding the authority of God's Word above tradition, even recent tradition
7. Being Baptist means being confessional
8. Being Baptist means being unafraid to challenge or be challenged from the Word of God
9. Being Baptist means being willing graciously to disagree without dismissing fellow Baptists who stand within our confessional boundaries.
10. Being Baptist means being willing to learn more and apply more of the Word of God
These ideas were addressed both formally and informally during the meetings. Obviously, this list is neither exhaustive nor detailed, but it does capture some of the major concerns that were expressed during the conference. As, I have previously stated, I was very encouraged by the conversation that took place during that meeting.

However, I am not so naive as to think that all of those wonderful ideas will be courageously championed or warmly welcomed by many Southern Baptist leaders and churches in the near future. Anyone who did harbor such idealistic hopes should have been sufficiently disabused of their fantasies by the recent report coming out of the Executive Board's meeting earlier this week. In many ways, the Southern Baptist Convention reminds me of a ship at sea without a rudder. While we are headed we know not where some are fighting for control of the bridge while many who are on board are wondering whether or not to abandon ship.

If the concerns that were sounded at the Identity Conference can be taken up and sounded throughout the SBC then we will, I believe, have an opportunity to rediscover our rudder and thus our heading as we move further into the 21st century. But, it will not happen without a severed cost and significant change. Let me elaborate my meaning by focusing only on one key issue that was repeatedly raised at the conference--regenerate church membership.

If what those who addressed this issue at Union University last week are correct--and I believe that they are--then the overwhelming majority of our churches are in deep distress spiritually and the source and nature of that distress have nothing to do with being "plateaued" or "declining" in growth or in the numbers of people being baptized (or not being baptized). Rather, if--as Thom Rainer indicated--less than 7 million of our more than 16 million Southern Baptist church members attend even one stated church meeting a week, then the unmistakable conclusion is that something is terribly wrong in our churches. Whatever kind of evangelism we have been practicing is failing miserably in producing disciples, regardless of how many water dunkings it may be producing. Loving church discipline is obviously not being practiced. Where these two realities prevail, Christ is being dishonored by the very people who bear His Name. That, more than budgets, programs or promotions needs to become the priority of our denominational leaders, pastors and churches.

If and when it does, then churches must be led to acknowledge the problem and then understand biblically how to correct it. This will involve deep repentance and significant change in the way most churches "do business." Imagine what would happen. First Baptist Church of Big City, which has 2700 members, only 1000 of whom attend, will feel compelled from the study of God's Word to admit and address their unhealthy state. That in and of itself will take great grace and humility, and may well result in a huge upheaval among the members who actually do attend--particularly if Paige Patterson is correct in his assessment that 30-40% of those who show up on a Sunday morning in most of our Southern Baptist churches are unregenerate.

If a typical Southern Baptist church begins to take seriously its call to return to biblical church order, care in accepting members and practicing discipline, there will a huge price to pay. If it is successful, then it will inevitably shrink in terms of its "size" as reported in the Annual Church Profile. It will then be relegated by denominational systems to the category of "declining" and the pastor will soon start receiving from state denominational offices offers to help the church "turn things around." Some members might become disillusioned by the controversy that could erupt. Other churches in the area may pick up many of the disgruntled former members and spread rumors and half-truths about what is happening. Then, to top it all off, if recent patterns hold true to form, the pastor will probably be branded a "Calvinist" and accused of "ruining a perfectly good church."

This scenario, or something very like it, has repeated itself over and over in situations where men have moved forward to institute the kind of change necessary to lead a church back to spiritually healthy pastures. Such a journey will not be made without trials and controversies. It need not be destructive (at least, in most cases), but it will not be painless. The end result is worth every drop of sweat and blood and tears that it costs. But the process can be grueling.

That is why my hope is sobered. I want to see more churches make this commitment and beging such a pilgrimmage. But those who lead them need to have their eyes wide open to what is involved in the process. Certainly, the Lord can enable any congregation to be restored to spiritual health. That is what we should hope for. It should be the subject of our prayers. And those of us who are in the trenches, on the front lines of this battle, serving in local churches, should encourage one another to take up this challenge and stay the course.

Where this happens, God is at work. Where God is at work, we have every reason to expect the sufficiency of His grace in Jesus Christ to be made manifest, His glory to be revealed, and His Gospel to go forth in saving power. That is my hope.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Reflections on the Baptist Identity Conference, pt. 2

The recent Baptist Identity conference hosted by Union University has appropriately received a great deal of attention. As I mentioned previously, I came away greatly encouraged. Though I had to miss the presentations on Saturday (by Timothy George and Ed Stetzer, both of whom, I am told, did a great job), what I heard and observed gives me hope for the future. Not a giddy kind of wishful thinking, but a sober, longing-kind-of-hope. What took place there is an indication of what can happen and what ought to happen and what, I am convinced, a growing number of Southern Baptists genuinely long to happen within our denomination.

Beyond the value of each presentation individually and all of them collectively, the very fact that men from differing theological commitments (regarding Calvinism, for instance) and ecclesiological orientation (from "traditional" to "contemporary," for lack of better terms) could meet together, learn from each other and experience genuine fellowship around the Gospel was most encouraging. I spoke with several people who began their introduction with, "I am not a Calvinist" or "I am not Reformed" and then went on to extend genuine fellowship to me. The most notable of these conversations began with, "I read your blog regularly and do not agree with half of what you write." That wasn't said antagonistically but as a matter of self-disclosure, I think. The conversation that followed, however, focused significantly on the issue of reinstituting the principle of a regenerate church membership and church discipline in this brother's church. I was very encouraged with his commitment and plans to do so.

Here is my point. There was no pretense that everyone at the BID conference agreed on every important theological and ecclesilogical point. But there was an obvious agreement among participants concerning love for Christ and His church and that provided a basis for honest dialogue, including at points, strong disagreements. I find this very healthy. Brothers need to be willing and able to talk to one another about substantive issues without writing one another out of the kingdom and without misrepresenting those with whom we disagree. Paul recognized the possibility that not everyone in the church at Philippi would agree with his views even though he wrote as an apostle. But he did not reject them for that (as he did the heretics who were infiltrating the Galatian churches). Rather, he calmly and confidently wrote,
"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" (3:15). That humble, generous spirit characterized the conference and has set a standard for future Southern Baptist gatherings.

Another unexpected encouragement came in the form of admission that, by and large, the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention are in a real mess. They are spiritually unhealthy--even many of the ones that are held up as "flagship" churches. Several of the speakers specifically mentioned how we have lost the cherished Baptist principle of a regenerate church membership. This is a vitally important development. This problem has been with us for at least a couple of generations. Some people have been calling for the SBC to own up to it for decades, but without, apparently, gaining much traction. The refusal of the convention last year to vote on my resolution calling for integrity in church membership seemed to many to be an indicator of how resolute SBC leadership is to addressing this gargantuan problem. But at Union University last week, speaker after speaker addressed this issue. Two of the speakers told me privately that they supported the resolution last year and another stated the same thing publicly several weeks ago.

This bodes well for the future and not because we may get a resolution on regenerate church membership passed at the annual meeting. That might be nice, but, unless you are a state convention executive who selectively decides to make an exception, resolutions are not binding at all. Personally, I think that the failure of the resolution to make it to the floor last year may have better served the cause for which I submitted it than if it had simply passed. That cause is simply this: I want Southern Baptists to get honest about the obvious state of our churches! When 60% of your church never even shows up to worship with their fellow members it is time to weep. Yet, far from weeping, so much that has gone on in SBC life the last several years is more akin to strutting. Sometimes I ask myself, "What must this look like to heaven?" We have God's inerrant, infallible Word and have fought hard to maintain our corporate commitment to its authority. Yet, we regularly, blatantly, unrepentently ignore some of its most basic teachings, even when those very teachings are at the heart of our Baptist identity.

When respected denominational spokesmen and leaders begin not only to acknowledge the problem but call for it to be addressed, it is time to be hopeful. That is how I left the Baptist Identity conference. I am hopeful.

But, I am not naive. That is why I describe my hope as "sober." I will explain that more fully in my next and final installment of reflections.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Thom Rainer on Building Bridges

Thom Ranier is a class act. I have already commented on my appreciation for his message at the recent Baptist Identity Conference. Now he has written a very helpful article on the need to build bridges among Southern Baptists. In it, he says,
I am a part of a denomination that has many tracks but few bridges. And if we don't start building some bridges quickly, God's hand of blessing may move beyond us.
Read the rest of it here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Reflections on the Baptist Identity Conference, pt. 1

After a few days to ruminate on the recent conference held at Union University, I am prepared to start offering some of my reflections. Audio recordings are available. First and foremost, I am greatly appreciative of Dr. David Dockery and the faculty and staff of Union University for sponsoring this conference. It is a reflection of the keen insight that Dr. Dockery and those who serve with him have into the current concerns and great needs of the Southern Baptist Convention. If we are going to see the SBC move forward without coming apart at the seams then we will need much more of the kind of wisdom that organized and planned this event.

The contrast between the sessions at the identity conference and the all-too-typical-fare that is regularly served up by various Southern Baptist leaders and spokesmen is stark. That is true in both spirit and content. Most of the speakers that I heard communicated with a contagious humility. That in no way suggests that they were convictionless. Quite the opposite was the case. All of the speakers addressed their subjects without the kind of arrogance and triumphalism that has become standard for denominational meetings. It was refreshing and very helpful in promoting genuine dialogue about important issues.

Each talk was also thoughtful. Though no one was called on to exposit Scripture (though Frank Page did draw his points from Philippians 1), each speaker used Scripture to direct and challenge our thinking, even when the main subject at hand was historical (Patterson and Dockery) and biographical (Moore). More than one speaker emphasized the importance of exercising care in not making secondary and tertiary issues primary concerns. And more than one warned against trying to impose personal preferences on others as if they were binding biblical commandments. That is a quite a contrast from the kind of legalism and unfounded castigations that are being championed from certain sectors of denomational life.

Thoughtful humility and humble thoughtfulness. We need huge doses of both injected into the life of the Southern Baptist Convention if it is to retain its viability in this post-denominational world.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Notes on the Baptist Identity Conference, pt. 3

I have been exposed for the amateur blogger that I am by sitting next to Timmy Brister, Steve McKoy, Joe Thorn, Tim Ellsworth, Art Rogers and Steve Weaver the last two days. In the time that it takes me to figure out how to get blogger to load properly and prepare for a new post, they have already posted and responded to comments on their blogs. Check them out for good summaries and reflections on the conference.

Today, Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary spoke on "What Contemporary Baptists Can Learn from Anabaptsts." It was very good. He listed 6 things:

1. A redeemed disciplined church
Contemporary Baptists, he said, fail at 2 levels:
1. Lack of care with new converts
2. Lack of church discipline
He acknowledged our miserable statistics and problem with unregenerate church members and called for working to find a way "to make church membership meaningful."

2. The witness of baptism as a profession of faith
The one being baptized has yielded himself to the authority of Christ and submitted himself to the church. Baptism is not only into Christ but also into His body.

3. The Bible as the source of authority
Experience seems to have more authority in many churches today than Scripture

4. The church looks different from the world
Worldliness has so crept into our churches that there is not much difference between them and society at large.

5. The Lord's supper as a fellowship trust
Contemporary Southern Baptists have failed to grasp this importance of the LS as the fellowship of the Lord's body.

6. Courage of conviction
We must recover the anabaptist vision of suffering in following Christ.

I was greatly encouraged by this talk. Dr. Patterson said things that Founders Ministries has been promoting for years.

Russ Moore, Dean of Theology and VP of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke on T. T. Eaton." Dr. Moore was very engaging. Dr. Moore made some far-ranging applications of Eaton's role in the Whitsitt controversy at Southern Seminary to the controversies plaguing contemporary SBC life.

David Dockery, President of Union University spoke on, "The Southern Baptist Convention since 1979." Dr. Dockery gave a very helpful overview of Southern Baptist history before outlining his analysis of what has happened the last 28 years. It was very insightful and, as always, spoken with a great, irenic spirit. He made a point that we must be willing to focus on primary issues--Gospel issues--and not try to demand uniformity on tertiary issues.

Greg Thornbury, Dean of the Chrstian Studies Department at Union spoke on, "The Angry Young Men of the SBC." Dr. Thornbury wins the prize for most creative title. He explained how it originated and put several quotes from the comment sections of various Southern Baptist blogs. They were not identified, but I recognized two of them from this blog, including an excerpt from Ergun Caner's famous contributions here exactly one year ago.

I will post my reflections later. Overall, I have been greatly encouraged by this meeting and think that Union University has done Southern Baptists a great service by hosting it.

Note from the Baptist Identity Conference, pt. 2

Thom Rainer and Mike Day were the 2nd and 3rd speakers on Thursday. Dr. Rainer spoke on evangelism and church growth and said good things about both. I especially appreciated his call for humility at the end. He demonstrated that for which he pled. He also called attention to the serious problem we have in the SBC with unregenerate church members, citing the sad fact that while we claim more than 16 million on our roles only 7 million come on Sunday morning. The repeated admission of this reality--including by more and more prominent SBC leaders--bodes well for the future. The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting that it exists and is serious enough to address. I think we are rapidly getting to that place.

Mike Day is the DOM of the Mid-South Baptist Association in Memphis. I have a confession to make. When I saw that a DOM was scheduled to speak on "The Future of Baptist Associations and State Conventions" I was, shall we say, less than excited. Boy, was I wrong. His talk was worth the whole conference. I encourage everyone who cares about the future of the SBC to order the CD from Union with his message. Dr. Day offered a very fine analysis of these two layers of Baptist organizational life, calling attention to their redundancy and need for change. He mentioned the need for a new way of thinking associationally, that takes some hints from the history of Baptist associations in America. He mentioned "affinity associations(!)," and called for them to be regionally based but not limited by strict geographical boundaries.

I was fully engaged by his words and could not believe that a DOM was actually saying them. The SBC is changing and needs to change for the better. Dr. Day gets that. This type of thinking can help move the denomination forward in very healthy directions.

Timmy Brister, Steve McKoy, Joe Thorn and Art Rogers are all blogging about the conference. Their observations are worth reading.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Baptists Identified

Here are the identities of the Baptists whose images grace the top of this blog.

Click on the image for a larger picture.

Notes from the Baptist Identity Conference, pt. 1

Already the trip to Jackson, TN and Union University has been worth the expense, time and effort because of renewed fellowship with old friends and the opportunity to make new friends. I finally met Timmy Brister in person, and was allowed to share a table with him, Steve McCoy and Joe Thorn.

I enjoyed renewing friendship with Ben Cole, Art Rogers, Steve Weaver, C.B. Scott, Ray Van Neste, Greg Thornbury, David Dockery and others. Some of these brothers will be live-blogging, or at least blogging about the sessions. I won't attempt that, but I will try to give some updates as I have time.

Parts of the conference will be live-streamed by a local TV station.

Frank Page spoke on the "Future of the Cooperative Program." He is the President of the SBC as well as serving as Pastor to the FBC of Taylors, SC and the self-described, "Southern Baptist Forrest Gump." :-) Using Philippians 1:12-20, Dr. Page called attention to 3 points from Paul's words that apply to Southern Baptists and the Cooperative Program.

1. The issue of mindset, v. 14
2. The issue of motives, vv. 15-19
3. The issue of methodology

I like Dr. Page. His spirit is so gracious and he comes across as a man committed to real humility. He is not willing to paper over the problems and differences in the SBC. He acknowledges the need for healthy debate and wants too encourage it. Dr. Page entertained questions after his talk and I found this to be the most helpful part of his presentation. If everyone interested the health of the SBC would imbibe his spirit, the kind of important, difficult dialogue that needs to take place across our convention could be greatly facilitated.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Identify the Baptists

In honor of the Baptist Identity Conference starting on Thursday at Union University, try to name the dead guys at the top of my blog. Start with the top row and go from right to left. No history professors allowed. :-)

I plan to leave in a few hours for the conference and look forward to the fellowship with many new and old friends there.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chadwick Ivester interviews Bill Curtis

Bill Curtis is a South Carolina pastor and chairman of the trustees of NAMB. He has spoken very helpfully and publicly to some of the most important issues facing the the SBC. Chadwick Ivester is also a pastor in South Carolina and has published the first part of an interview with Bill Curtis. It is worth reading and then praying that the Lord will use Pastor Curtis to help point Southern Baptists forward in healthy pathways.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Upcoming Radio Interviews

I am scheduled to be interviewed by Chris Arnzen on the radio talk show, "Iron Sharpens Iron" the next two Mondays (Feb. 12 and 19) starting at 3 PM Eastern time. The show broadcasts out of station WNYG in New York but is also available through a live feed over the internet at the link above. Chris allows listeners to call in at 1-631-321-WNYG (9694).

On February 12 the topic will be, "Have we lost the Gospel?" On February 19 Chris wants to get my perspective on particular issues currently facing the Southern Baptist Convention.

Friday, February 09, 2007

It's a post-denominational world

LifeWay has released the results of research on denonimational loyalty among Protestant and evangelical church attenders. The study indicates that "one-third of all American Protestant churchgoers feel less than positive they will continue attending the same church in the near future. If they do switch, only about one out of four would only consider another church in the same denomination." Baptists, we are told, are fairly typicial in their responses to the survey questions.

This information is not surprising or, at least, it shouldn't be. Old line denominationalism is dead. That is different than saying that old denominations are dead, though, in some cases, that also is patently true. Those leading the Southern Baptist Convention would do well to think deeply about what this research indicates. It could, I think, help give some insight into some of the frustration that is arising in the not-always-very-successful-attempts at communicating across generational and cultural borders that are within the SBC.

The old ways of being Southern Baptist are fading fast. When I grew up SBC every church in the local association had RA's, GA's, WMU and knew who Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong were. Convention Press was safe and, I was led to believe, sufficient for supplementing my spiritual growth. As late as my college years I remember rebuffing a roomate who tried for a year to get me to read a book that had tremendously helped him spiritually. I took one look at the spine and, not seeing "CP" or "Broadman Press," tossed it back on his desk with a dismissive sectarianism and said, "I'm not interested." The fact that the front cover had Knowing God and identified the authory as J.I. Packer meant nothing to me (pause for a moment of unresolved embarrassment!). I doubt that many Southern Baptist college students would harbor those same thoughts today. The denominational world has changed.

Ultimately, this is a good thing, I believe. Blind loyalty is never wise. By getting over that when it comes to a denominational identity one is free to pursue unreserved loyalty to Jesus Christ and out of that loyalty identify with a local church and/or denomination. Such people make the very best kinds of church members and churches comprised of such members make the best kinds of denominations.

From my limited vantage point, what I see happening is this: Some who are currently leading the SBC have grown up in the old world (or else have bought into it while growing up in the new) and are having difficulty coming to terms with the new one. Consequently, they sometimes mistake loyalty to Christ as being "anti-denomination" when they hear those who, out of devotion to Christ, speak critically of the covention. I am not suggesting that the defenders of the denomination are not loyal to Christ. Love compels me to believe that they are. But, like my own attitude in my college dorm room, their devotion to Christ tends to be expressed denominationally, so much so, that they sometimes come across as "my denomination, right or wrong."

When post-denominationalists and denominationalists talk about the denomination, it is very easy to miscommunicate by talking right past each other. This research by LifeWay could become a useful tool to help facilitate better communication as we press forward to what I hope will be a very bright and Gospel-productive future for the SBC.

Here is a chart of some of the findings:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Al the Christian" faces death

David Van Biema interviewed Al Mohler for Time magazine regarding Dr. Mohler's recent hospitalization and near death. Dr. Mohler's words are a fine example of the practicality of serious theology. Those who dismiss the importance of doctrine in Christian discipleship should read this interview very carefully and be challenged to rethink their views. His words are also very helpful in showing how Calvinism is not simply is not in any sense a detraction from biblical Christianity, it is a humble and imminently practical submission to what the Bible teaches about the nature of the Christian faith.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Have we lost the Gospel?

For the last several years I have been expressing my growing concern that, in many ways and in many places, evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular have lost the Gospel. One of the first blog articles that I ever posted addressed this concern and I have repeatedly expressed it in lectures, sermons, interviews, private conversations and articles. Founders Ministries, of which I am the Executive Director, is committed to working for "the recovery of the Gospel and the reformation of local churches." I entitled a book I edited, Reclaiming the Gospel and Reforming Churches.

Anyone who has read this blog even intermittantly over the last year and a half should have some awareness of my burden for this issue. Some take strong exception to having this question even raised. To them, it is tantamount to denominational insurrection. But they typically belong to the crowd that judges any criticism or questioning of the "post-conservative-resurgence" SBC to be an act of war, more likely to get you lumped and dumped into the CBF crowd than if you denied the Virgin birth. Quite honestly, I don't have much hope of persuading folks from that sector of the family of the legitimacy of my concern.

I am much more hopeful of those whose commitment to Scripture's authority is not mixed with political ambition or misguided bureaucratic loyalties. Honest evangelicals know that something is horribly wrong in our corporate life. Too many evangelical churches are spiritually unhealthy due to the extended neglect of basic biblical teachings, principles and practices. At the top of this list is the Gospel itself.

When we interview perspective church members, we always ask them to give us a brief explanation of the Gospel. Some of the answers that we have received--even from long-time members of conservative evangelical churches--have only confirmed in my mind that the Gospel has been significantly neglected in much of American evangelicalism over the last generation. If you want to liven up your next Sunday School party, ask people to take 2 minutes and write down a simple statement of what the Gospel is. Then collect those papers and read them aloud. It will be better--and potentially more profitable--than pictionary! It will probably also be very sobering.

The Gospel is all about Jesus Christ. I teach the people I serve to think of it simply like this: It is the message of Who Christ is, What He has done, and Why it matters. Answering these questions from the Scripture will provide an outline of the biblical Gospel.

Here is a summary of my concerns about spheres in which we have lost or are losing the Gospel in our day.

1. In preaching
I took several hours last spring to listen to a number of SBC seminary chapel sermons. I heard lots about leadership, commitment, courage, faithfulness, sheep, shepherds, prayer and devotion, I heard very little of Jesus Christ. Often Christ was mentioned almost as an afterthought. I realize that this is far from a scientific study (but if you are interested in one that corroborates my concerns about Southern Baptist preaching, see Marsha Whitten's All is Forgiven) but the sermons were preached by well-known and highly respected Southern Baptist pastors. It is not unreasonable to expect that their sermons to seminarians would be carefully prepared. Assuming that to be the case, I came away from my exercise rather discouraged.

Here is an experiment that I recommend. Get a simple outline of the Gospel in your mind and listen to the sermons preached in your church (even if you are the preacher!) or other churches and try to determine to what degree the Gospel is the basis of them. Too often only some facts related to the Gospel are tacked on at the end of a message in order to justify some kind of altar call, but the Gospel itself is not foundational to it. If a sermon would play just as well in a Kingdom Hall or Jewish Synagogue as it would in a Baptist church, you can be sure it is void of the Gospel.
2. In Christian living
Very often the Gospel is viewed only as the threshhold into the Christian life by which one must enter the kingdom. Once in, however, the Gospel loses its importance. Where this happens in conservative churches moralism tends to gain preeminence and Christianity tends to be conceived in terms of rules and requirements. In moderate and liberal churches sentimentalism tends to reign and attitudes and actions are evaluated in terms of how "loving" they feel. Do not misunderstand--the Christian life includes both rules and especially love (rightly understood, of course), but the Christian life is based on neither. It is based on Jesus Christ--who He is, what He has done and why it matters. That is why we are called to live by faith. Faith in what? Or whom? The person and work of Christ. This is also why Paul could write, "For to me, to live is Christ." Christ was life for Paul because the Gospel had come to him in power. Read the ethical portions of the New Testament to see how the Apostles exhorted the early church to holy living. It wasn't by moralistic teaching. They teach the law on the basis of the Gospel. I see very little concern for the relationship between law and Gospel in Southern Baptist life today. The reason, I believe, is due to the removal of the Gospel from the heart of Christian living.
3. In our churches
The Gospel is the power of God to save all who believe. Churches are to be comprised of those who testify to having experienced this saving power. Of all the sectors of evangelicalism, Baptists most certainly should stand firm on this point. Yet, simply take an honest look at our churches--even good, "Bible-believing," "flagship" SBC churches. What do you find more often than not? Bloated church rolls with twice as many members as regular attenders. The overwhelming majority of our churches have neglected Gospel order, taking cues more from the marketing world or corporate America or therapeutic professions than from Scripture. John Dagg, the first writing theologian among Southern Baptists put this in his Treatise on Church Order, "When discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it." If he is correct, then how many Christless churches might we have within our ranks? Read Revelation 2 and 3 to see that Jesus Himself warns of this possibility. If the candlestick has been removed from a local church then the Gospel has been taken with it.
So, have we lost the Gospel? I think we have, in many ways. I know this seems like a harsh judgment, but I do not make it with any joy or intent to harm or even embarass. Neither am I suggesting that every church or evangelical (or denominational) entity has lost the Gospel. Rather, I am suggesting that the Gospel has been forgotten, misunderstood, undervalued and marginalized by many churches and ministries that consider themselves evangelical. We can no longer assume that we know the Gospel and prize it as the transforming power of God that saves all who believe. Such assumption, I fear, has contributed to the Gospel's demise in many churches.

Why even raise this question, knowing that it will inevitably provoke the angst of some brothers and sisters whom I respect and tempt them to dismiss me as a crank or some kind of helpless malcontent? I do so because it is simply too important to leave unaddressed. Too much is at stake. The glory of God in the salvation of sinners is at stake. So is the eternal destiny of many who may think that they are right with God but who are merely religious (Matthew 7:21-23).

If I am right in my suspicions, then all of the many other issues that are clamoring for our attention right now in SBC life and beyond are minor in comparison to this. If we have lost the Gospel, or are losing it, then nothing else matters.