Friday, December 28, 2007

Pray for Tom Brady

Several people have contacted me off line about my response to Tom Brady's comments in his recent 60 Minutes interview and have promised to pray for him. Since New England is playing Saturday night for an undefeated season, and doing so in front of what could be a record setting television audience, this seems to be a great opportunity to pray concertedly for him. If you watch the game, ask the Lord to stir him up to keep seeking the answers to his questions and to give him no rest until he comes to rest in the Lord Jesus Christ, his Savior.

Encourage others to join in the effort. May the Lord put people in his life that will guide him that is found in knowing Jesus (Matthew 13:44).

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tom Brady, your questions have answers

Tom Brady, the 3-time Super Bowl champion quarterback of the New England Patriots was featured the week in a 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft on CBS. Brady is already a sports legend in one of the citadels of professional sports in America, Boston. His current team is 15-0 and is poised to finish the season undefeated, something that hasn't been done in the NFL in 35 years. He has won the Super Bowl MVP twice and been named to the Pro Bowl 4 times. He also was recently named the Associated Press' "Male Athlete of the Year."

He has dated actresses and supermodels and makes millions of dollars a year. He has been called America's most eligible bachelor. By most popular standards, he has it all. That is why I was struck by hearing him make the following statement during the interview:
"Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, 'Hey man, this is what is.' I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think, 'God, it's got to be more than this.' I mean this isn't, this can't be what it's all cracked up to be."
When Kroft asked him, "What's the answer?" Brady responded, "I wish I knew. I wish I knew. I love playing football and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I'm trying to find."

Here is what I would say to Tom Brady, if given the chance to discuss this with him.

Tom, I appreciate your honesty in admitting on national TV that Super Bowl championships and Pro Bowl appearances do not ultimately satisfy what you long for from somewhere deep inside. What you feel is not unique. And your questions really do have answers. Others have asked them throughout history. Many have found the answer in what God has revealed in the Bible.

Augustine, an African Christian leader from the 5th century is an example. During his years of pursuing sensual pleasure and knowledge, he experienced that longing for something more that you described. Later, as he reflected on it, he expressed it like this in a prayer, "Lord, you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

The 17th century mathematician, Blaise Pascal, also understood this longing and wrote about it in his famous, Pensees. "All men seek happiness...without exception," he wrote. "Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves."

That is why you play football. You, like every other person, are on a quest for happiness. Like very few people, you have experienced all the happiness that the pinnacle of success in your field can offer. Yet, like everyone else, you have discovered that such happiness is fleeting. As Pascal goes on to explain, that is the inevitable result of every quest that does not recognize that God himself is the only object that can fill the emptiness that we all experience.

One of the books in the Bible specifically addresses the futility of trying to find satisfaction apart from God. Ecclesiastes says that everything is "vanity." Solomon, the author, pursued wisdom, knowledge, success and pleasure, but nothing could ultimately satisfy. Yet the quest to find satisfaction is inevitable because, as he put it, God "has put eternity into man's heart" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

So, the reason that your 3 Super Bowl rings leave you thinking that there is still something greater out there for you is because there is. You were made for something far greater than football, wealth, fame and success. You were made for God.

Genesis 1 and 2 teaches us that God made people in his own image. Originally, men and women were in a joyful and harmonious relationship with their Creator. But, as Genesis 3 tells us, that peaceful relationship did not last. The first man, Adam, disobeyed God with the result that the whole human race became separated from God and liable to His judgment.

The Bible calls this disobedience, sin. And sin has left every person spiritually opposed to God. So, our predicament is this--we were made by God, for God. Yet, we are no longer able to know and enjoy God because our sin has separated us from him. That leaves us in a spiritually lost condition. Our only hope is to be rescued.

That is exactly what God did by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world. Jesus came on a search and rescue mission. He came to reconcile people to God. And he accomplished this mission by living on earth as a representative of sinners like you and me. Though he had all kinds of opportunity and lots of pressure to disobey God, he never did. He lived the kind of life of complete obedience to God that you and I are obligated to live. Then, in an act of incredible love and sacrifice, he stood before God a substitute for any and all sinners who are willing to trust him as Lord. He exchanged his life for theirs by enduring God's wrath against sin in his death on the cross. That is what enables God to forgive us of our sins.

Jesus put it like this: "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And this: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus was born in order to save people who are lost. And he has accomplished that salvation by giving up his life on the cross.

When God raised Jesus from the dead after 3 days, it was a clear demonstration that everything Jesus came to accomplish had been achieved. By his life, death and resurrection, a way has been opened for God's fallen image-bearers to be brought back into a life-changing relationship with their Creator. That is the meaning of one of the best-known verses in the Bible, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

The key, then, for us, is faith. We must place our trust in Jesus Christ. That means that we must bow to him as Lord, commit ourselves to him and become his followers. When you trust Christ you receive eternal life here and now. You come to experience life that is abundant and full of joy (John 10:10; 15:11).

You see, there is more to life than great success. There is God. Until you come to know him, your heart will never be satisfied, no matter how many Super Bowls you win. So, keep being honest with yourself. Keep thinking about the "something more" that you have been created for. And go read your Bible to discover for yourself what that something is. When you find it, humble yourself before Jesus Christ, and become his follower. Trust Him. Ask him to make you right with God.

Then, and only then, will your heart find the rest that it craves.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Frank Page on Calvinism and Southern Baptists

SBC President, Frank Page, wrote an article for Baptist Press yesterday entitled, "Calvinism and Southern Baptists." He cites the recent Building Bridges conference and the research on the growth of Reformed theology within the SBC that LifeWay released in conjunction with that coference. Of the former he says,
Though I was unable to attend the conference, except for a very brief time of greeting, it is my understanding that the conference was a wonderful event where solid, healthy discussion took place.
Of the latter he comments,
The research portrays what many have imagined to be true. While around 10 percent of rank-and-file Southern Baptist pastors would consider themselves to be five-point Calvinists, a sizeable portion (29 percent) of recent seminary graduates would identify themselves in that particular way. In fact, over 60 percent of graduates of one of our seminaries identify themselves as five-point Calvinists.
In light of this theological renewal (at least, that is what I regard it to be), Dr. Page offer the following helpful opinion, "I believe that the issue of Calvinism is one that can be discussed within the family of Southern Baptists. I believe we need to have honest, open dialogue." So do I, and I greatly appreciate Dr. Page openly and honestly addressing it.

Echoing encouragements from Paige Patterson (and Danny Akin), Dr. Page encourages prospective pastors to be forthcoming about their theological commitments with regard to the doctrine of salvation and every other doctrine when dealing with pastor search committees. He also admonishes search committees to be very clear about "what they will allow regarding teaching in this area [of Calvinism]."

I add a hearty "amen" to his statements. But I also think it is necessary to inject a huge does or realism into the discussion at this point. Many of our Southern Baptist churches have not been very well taught on basic doctrinal issues. It would unkind and unproductive, therefore, for a pastoral candidate to employ theological jargon in a thoughtless way when interviewing with a search committee. Such language can be intimidating to some sincere believers and confusing to others. The goal is genuine understanding. Therefore both love and wisdom dictate speaking plainly and simply about one's doctrinal commitments when in the interview process.

In defense of my Calvinistic brothers, I need to point out that, too often, calls for them to "lay their cards on the table" actually thrust them onto the horns of a dilemma. What some mean by this is that you must bring up the term, "Calvinism" in your interview, or else you are being dishonest. I don't believe that is true. Furthermore, if a brother does mention the term then he is liable to be accused of "pushing" Calvinism. But if he doesn't, then he is being dishonest. It is, to say the least, an untenable position.

I encourage men to provide the search committee with a confession of faith that represents what the candidate believes. This can be a recognized confession or one that he himself has written. But it ought to be more thorough than brief. Don't try to hide your convictions. To do so is cowardly and dishonest and has no place in Gospel ministry. Try to explain your views in clear, concise language. If "Calvinism" as a term comes up, fine. Define it accurately and address it. If it doesn't come up, don't feel compelled to mention the word as some kind of test of honesty. Just be very clear about your biblical convictions.

In addition to Dr. Page's calls to both churches and pastoral candidates, I think it would be appropriate to make a similar call to denominational employees. They need to be scrupulously honest when speaking about the issue of Calvinism and Calvinists within the SBC. Enough caricatures and misrepresentations have been hurled about by denominational servants over the last few years to last for a lifetime. It is shameful and should be stopped. Also, those in such positions should be very careful not to impose themselves on local churches as if they were operating as bishops in an episcopacy. Local churches need to remember our Baptist polity and refuse to allow this to happen.

Finally, Dr. Page's concluding statements should be heeded by all:
It is incumbent upon all Southern Baptists that we study the Word of God clearly to see what it says about the salvation given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us be peaceful, Christ-like in our discussions, but let us be diligent in our study.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Interview with Kevin Larson: an axed Missouri Baptist church planter

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketKevin Larson is one of the church planters that the Missouri Baptist Convention recently axed after previously having agreed to support his efforts financially and with personal encouragement. He planted Karis Comunity Church in downtown Columbia in 2006. He recently answered some questions that I submitted to him and is allowing me to post his responses in order to give a perspective on the Missouri Baptist fiasco that you probably will not find in any official denominational report.

Kevin's comments confirm some of my suspicions about the inappropriateness of the MBC Executive Board's decision. I agree with Dr. Mark Devine of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who was recently quoted as saying, "I believe Missouri is setting a negative example that other state conventions should reject."

Kevin is a graduate of Southern Seminary. He and his wife, Amy, have three children under age 5.

1. Briefly describe your conversion and call to ministry.
I professed faith in Christ and was baptized as a young junior high boy. However, before arriving at the University of Missouri in 1990, God reawakened me to the things of God. I then became involved here in a campus ministry, and I took off in my faith. It was during my senior year at Mizzou, then pursuing law school and politics, that I realized only God could change hearts, that labors in government could never bring true and lasting change, and I felt the Lord calling me into the ministry of the word. I had the privilege of being discipled by a Reformed man, ironically in an Arminian campus ministry, who is now a PCA pastor also here in town.

2. What led you to become a church planter in Columbia?
I received a degree from here at the University of Missouri in 1994. I love this city. While in seminary, I began exploring church planting. I visited New England Theological Seminary in Vermont and saw that church planting could be done well. I almost went up there, but I sensed the Lord redirecting us, beyond my wildest dreams, back to Columbia. Not having a Baptist background other than seminary, I took what I thought was a risk and began discussing church planting with Missouri Baptists. I built a relationship with the state church planting director, Jerry Field, and he encouraged us to come and plant. During my last visit back to Columbia, I felt God calling us to come back and plant a church in the urban, arts district of downtown Columbia called "The District."

3. What kind of preparation or training did you go through (NAMB, Acts 29, etc.)?
I am a Southern Seminary graduate. I did take one church planting course, but mainly I focused during my time there on theology and the biblical languages. I was heavily involved in Clifton Baptist where Tom Schreiner, Bruce Ware, and Chip Stam are involved. In fact, their elders ordained me (and Tom is coming to preach here in February). They still contribute financially. While at Southern and Clifton, I just soaked up God's word and Reformed theology and experienced church life like I never had before. It was amazing.

Regarding church planting training, I went through the Missouri Baptist Convention's training, which was helpful. I attended an Acts 29 Bootcamp in St. Louis in 2005, which was also very helpful. While at Southern, I honestly hadn't heard anything about Acts 29, but, in my view, an abstinence only view would be unthinkable by virtue of students having sola scriptura beaten in their heads everyday. I ran into Jonathan McIntosh and Nathan Mattia of The Journey and Acts 29 at the Midwest Founders Conference in 2005, while I was raising funds for our church plant. They handed me the Driscoll book, The Radical Reformission. It was initially shocking, of course. But it opened my eyes to an approach to evangelism that was refreshing. Much of my anxiety going into church planting revolved around how to evangelize. So much of church planting seemed pragmatic and shallow. Yet so many Reformed types talk about evangelism more than they do it. Driscoll's approach was what I needed.

From that time on, I began talking with people from Acts 29, listening to Driscoll sermons, and the like. But I waited awhile before pursuing any affiliation, as I didn't know enough about them. But the more I found out, the more I liked.

4. How long has Karis been going?
We began meeting publicly on Easter of 2006. We have been meeting in the same location ever since, the historic Tiger Hotel ballroom in downtown Columbia. However, an exciting development is that we will be moving into the newly renovated 1200 seat Missouri Theatre in Fall of 2008.

5. What encouragements have you seen during that time?
Well, God has done so much. People are embracing a vision for the church that is, I think, quite countercultural. We have used Dever's 9 Marks extensively, and it is rooted in the DNA of the church. We have high expectations for members in Karis. We push membership almost too hard. God is blessing the preaching of the word, although I am by no means a master of the pulpit. But I do preach 45-60 minute expositional sermons each week. Another elder, Luke, does an amazing job of crafting a reverent, God-centered, gospel-focused order of worship. Our musicians are amazingly talented and committed to what we're doing. We have reached a high of 109 in worship on a Sunday. We will soon move from 6 to 8 Community Groups where we try to practice Acts chapter 2 in the year 2007 with a meal together, a time of Bible study, and an extensive time of prayer for each other. Young men are being taught theology (Grudem, Goldsworthy, and others) and are being given opportunities to preach. Young women are learning about biblical womanhood and are studying theology, as well. In addition to all of that, we are impacting our community and are building relationships there. We have served the downtown "District" through cleaning up graffiti, and we got lots of press from that. We have reached out to the homeless quite well. We have labored to seek the good of the city, and Columbia is noticing. We have 58 members. I have 2 other elders, and 4 deacons. People are being baptized. We are ministering to lots of college students, which I love. And I really feel like, if I got hit by a car, the vision would continue. I walk around downtown in this amazing college town and just pinch myself. I love being here. I sense God's continual call to serve here. And I think God is blessing.

6. What challenges have you faced?
There are many. It has not been a bed of roses. There have been three main challenges in Columbia. First, there are megachurches here, some of which are very good, that keep us from some of the growth, particularly of families with kids, that other plants can get easily and speed things up. My children are still the only regular children, and that is very hard on my wife. Second, this is a very liberal town in many ways. People are opposed to the gospel. So, it has been just plain hard and slow and demanding much faith. But my approach has been to simply become a part of the community (I quickly found a job at a key downtown coffeehouse when I got here, although I am now full-time at Karis) and try to build relationships, and, by God's grace, that has happened. But the third thing that has been so hard is this: we have had critics, thus this blog post, that have been a distraction. This began about a year ago when our sponsoring church, Hallsville Baptist, under the leadership of its pastor, ironically also a Founders church, demanded that I preach and discipline total abstinence and distance myself from Acts 29. I told him, a friend, that I could not do that. So they pulled out, and although I certainly didn’t agree with their decision, the pastor and I parted on good terms. The controversy, however, has continued, and it has come to a head obviously in the last week. There have been other critics, even one in our town, that have tried to petition the MBC staff to defund us. Thankfully, they didn't listen to their appeals. Because of "Theology of the Forge," we have been tied into the controversy with the Journey, although ironically we are a small church, unlike them, and the ministry there hasn't gone very well, quite honestly, like theirs. But I know Darrin and people there. God is blessing them in so many ways. I consider them a ministry worthy of imitation.

7. Explain the church's relationship to the Missouri Baptist Convention.
We have been funded by them from the moment we stepped on the ground here. In fact, just a couple of months before the controversy, I sat down with Jerry Field, the state Church Planting Director, our sponsoring church pastor, Jim Shaver, and our D.O.M., Steve Tanner, and Jerry gave me, and they seconded it, a glowing evaluation. I don't say that out of arrogance, but rather in defense of us in light of recent events. In fact, the MBC church planting team committed to fund us into our fourth year, a rarity in their practice, because they were pleased with our progress and thought we had a strong chance of succeeding, sadly unlike several other attempts to plant in Columbia.

8. Explain your relationship as a church planter to the MBC.
I receive funds every month. I receive coaching from Jerry Field. For the record, and to be very clear, I have never received anything but support, encouragement, and love from the MBC church planting staff. Jerry Field is as honest, kind, and qualified as they get. He's tops. We are currently an affiliated MBC church. We give to the Cooperative Program. We take the annual offerings all MBC churches take up. We don't give as much as some to the CP, but we are a small church, just a plant, of course. We had plans to contribute a significant, growing amount in 2008.

9. What is your and the church's relationship with Acts 29?
We went through their boot camp, as I mentioned. We then decided early this year to be assessed by them and pursue member status. I assessed well with Jonathan McIntosh, John Ryan, and Trey Herwick, all Baptists and A29 guys. They gave me the conditions that we just reach 50 people in attendance, and I receive coaching for a few months. I met the conditions and we joined the network officially just a few months ago. I attend their quarterly meetings, participate on their online members forum, plan to go to their annual retreat, and will do anything else they offer, because it's all very helpful and encouraging. I just love interacting with like-minded, Reformed men who want to see people come to Jesus and cities changed.

10. How did you find out about the Executive Board's decision to withdraw funds from you and Karis.
I heard it initially through our sponsoring church pastor. More came to light on the MBC Yahoo Group. When Jerry Field found out all the details, he let me know officially.

11. Has anyone from the MBC contacted you to discuss their concerns?
Yes. I had a great meeting just a couple of weeks ago with Jerry, and MBC officials David Tolliver (Acting Executive Director) and Roy Spannagel, along with Jim Shaver and Steve Tanner, at the Forge and Vine where we have our monthly theology discussion. They could easily tell that the site was not a bar. I debated a bit the abstinence-only position with Tolliver and Spannagel. Their main concern, I think, was when I told them that we allowed members to drink in moderation according to their own consciences. But it was a respectful, considerate meeting. Again, I've had no problems with MBC staff. Rather it’s mainly people in the state that have had the problem with us. We are so grateful for the support the MBC has provided. But, I do think the executive board's decision is wrong and discouraging. Although they do have the right to make that decision, I say that the further narrowing of parameters of cooperation does not bode well for the MBC's future.

12. Don Hinkle has recently written that part of the motivation behind the Executive Board's decision is Missouri Baptists did not give cooperative program dollars to plant churches who "pledge to do one thing, then do another." To what is he referring? Has Karis been guilty of this?
I emailed Don and expressed my objection to that statement. He is a good man and a friend, but I think that's mistaken. In my understanding, this can only refer to one of two people. I have practiced abstinence respectfully. I have taught the warnings of consuming alcohol. That is all that is required by the document we signed. I have it attached below. The MBC staff approved my interpretation of the document and encouraged me to sign. I have kept that agreement with integrity, and others have confirmed this.

13. How will the Executive Board's decision affect you personally?
If it's just the MBC funds that we lose, it won't make a bit of difference. If other supporting churches follow suit, we'll be in for problems. About 1/3 of our 2008 budget relies on outside support. But the $500 a month from the MBC? That's already taken care of.

14. How has it impacted the membership of Karis?
We are winning people to our vision that don't know what SBC stands for. They wonder what all the fuss is about. They just don't get it. They are frustrated, but they support me when I say that I deeply want to honor the people that have funded us and have prayed for us. They care for the sweet old ladies out there that have given us their gifts and have prayed for us. As an aside, some of those little old ladies have visited our church and have loved it!

15. Is there anything else you would like for us to know about these events?
In Missouri, I think this is about alcohol, yes, but it's ultimately about power. Who will control Missouri Baptists? By the way, I have even heard rumblings that the group's next target in Missouri will be Calvinism. Interestingly, at the recent annual meeting in the Lake of the Ozarks here, a group of men running with a clear platform were trounced in officer elections, while an alcohol resolution only passed with, I think, 58%. The messengers overwhelmingly elected a group of men who had clearly expressed a desire to be more open and embracing of younger Baptists. And that is what I think is at stake.

As I've told many, my experience at Southern clearly shows me that my generation (I'm 36) and younger has little appetite for this. The average Southern student thinks Driscoll is fine, Tim Keller is amazing, and can't understand what all the fighting is about. Why? Because Dr. Mohler and his faculty teach sola scriptura and the other four solas of the Reformation. And that makes this whole issue pretty simple.

My opinion? The other mainline denominations are becoming more and more gray. No disrespect is meant toward my elders; we are desperate to have mature Christians at Karis. But the grayer a congregation or denomination looks, the more bleak the future becomes. Well, those mainline denominations are graying due to liberalism. Young people want something true and something worth believing and dying for. But the SBC, I'm afraid, could gray and ultimately die because of legalism. If this is allowed to persist and grow, it will push young Reformed, expositional preaching, church disciplining, and gospel cherishing guys like me out to the curb. I am convinced this is the case. However, I have been overwhelmed with encouragement--calls, emails, blogs and the like--ever since this happened. We intend to stay in the MBC, at least for now, contributing and participating to some extent in order to effect change. While many people would say we should give up and jump ship, we have met too many great people and have had too much support to just let it all go. But there will be a threshold for myself and other young men that will lead to an "enough is enough" response. I pray that won't happen. With denominations becoming less and less relevant and the Cooperative Program becoming less and less supported, some people out there need to answer the question, "Why?" by looking in the mirror. Younger Christians have a hard time understanding why they should contribute to the CP. My congregation doesn't understand why we have to endure all the distractions we've seen in denominational life. For years, many have been praying for laborers for the harvest. They've wanted men with sound theology and a heart for the lost. Even though I may not look or think exactly like them, I think they've asked God for people like me. Will the answers to their prayers get kicked out the door? For God's sake, I hope not. But we'll stand for sola scriptura, whatever the cost.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Help plant churches in Missouri

Darren Casper is the Director for church planting in the St. Louis Metro Association of Baptist churches in Missouri. He has contacted me to let me know about a way that people can assist those church planters whose funds from the Missouri Baptist Convention will be cut off January 1, 2008 (18 days from now) because of a decision made on December 10, 2007.

These church planters have been screened and approved by the North American Mission Board as well as the Missouri Baptist Convention. Because of their affiliation with Acts 29, their promised funding is being cut. If you would like to assist those church planters during this time of unanticipated shortfall, you can send a check made out to:
St. Louis Metro Baptist Association
(designate it for the "Show Me Church Planting Fund")

Mailing address:

St. Louis Metro Bapt. Assoc.
attn. Darren Casper
3859 Fee Fee Road
Bridgeton, Mo. 63044

You may contact Darren at 314-571-7579, extension 103.
This is a great opportunity. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Lord stirred up the hearts of individuals and churches to more than make up the deficit that these cuts will entail? I will be contributing and I encourage others to do so as well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Missouri Baptists axe Acts 29

Scott Lamb lets the word out on a decision by the Missouri Baptist Convention's Executive Board that establishes "a 'no-partnership with Acts 29' rule for MBC church plants." Scott is not privy to all of the details, yet, but has enough information to know that churches that affiliate with Acts 29 will be judged unworthy of support from MBC church planting funds. This hardly seems like a kingdom focus regarding church planting, does it?

Recently I read research from Ed Stetzer done for the North American Mission Board that indicated that only 68% of church plants are still in existence after 4 years. I wonder what that rate is for Acts 29 network churches?

Perhaps the MBC Exec Board has good, theological reasons for rejecting the Acts 29 network of churches in toto. If so, then I wish they would show me, and not simply resort to the tired and hackneyed response of "trust us, we know what is best for you." Missouri Baptists should not let this decision go unexamined. Neither should they settle for superficial rationales. At a time when we need to become more aggressive and purposeful in planting gospel churches throughout our land, this type of action seems more provincial than evangelical.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Decline of State Baptist Papers

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Baptist Press released a story today documenting the decline of state Baptist papers. The story confirms what many have suspected for the last several years. Southern Baptists are not relying on "official news sources" for their information about denominational issues as much as they did in years past. The reality is that many subscription-based print media are facing a declining readership in the wake of the ubiquity of the internet. That, coupled with the fact that we are living a post-denominational world does not bode well for the future of state Baptist papers whose editors view their main purpose in terms of promoting a denominational agenda.

Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist and executive director of the Association of State Baptist Papers made this astute observation:
State Baptist papers are still searching for the reason they exist.
Why do state Baptist papers exist? What purpose do they serve and what will be their purpose five years from now?

One hundred years ago Baptist papers did not have this kind of identity crisis. J. B. Gambrell, the great early 2oth century Texas Baptist statesman, served as editor of the Baptist Standard in the latter years of his life. He was never uncertain about the responsibilities of his paper. When Crozier Seminary started succumbing to modernism Gambrell wrote that it had become a "hotbed of radical destructive heresy." After he received criticism for expressing himself so plainly on this question, Gambrell defended his actions by explaining his perspective on the "duty of the Baptist press" in a 1913 editorial. He wrote:
Of course, the press should be duly cautious, but it should be duly loyal and courageous, too. If the press will speak out our schools can be and will be saved from the influences which have blighted religion in some parts of the world as the boll weevil have blasted the cotton fields of the South where they have gone. The denominational press can save our churches from what drove Spurgeon from the larger Baptist fellowship of England. The Baptist press can save unity of the Baptists of America by faithfulness. That the attacks on the integrity of the scriptures and on the belief of Baptists will result in divisions is as certain as predestination. It is not a pleasant work Baptist papers are called to, but it is unspeakably important.
Caution, loyalty and courage. Combining these qualities in the right proportion is a challenge that any denominational news organization faces. That is true not only for the "official" sources of Baptist news, but also for the increasingly popular blogs that offer commentary on Baptist life. When the Scriptures or Baptist principles are under attack--either wittingly or unwittingly--then those who are genuinely loyal to the Baptist cause must cautiously yet courageously expose and resist those attacks.

As Gambrell noted, that is not a pleasant task, but it is vitally important.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Building Bridges Conference--final thoughts

They said it couldn't be done. Many doubters--both friends and those who would not want to be so identified--thought a meeting on Calvinism sponsored by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries and hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources, simply could not be "pulled off." The issues are too divisive, the rhetoric that has been employed by both "sides" in the debate within the SBC has been too hateful, there is not that much interest, there are too many more important things for us to be doing...these were among the rationales offered by those who thought this kind of meeting either could not or should not happen.

It was done, and, by the grace of God, it was done beneficially. There are many specific events that took place during the conference that were wonderfully helpful to those who participated. I have commented on the some of those highlights previously. But the cumulative effect of the whole event is far greater than the mere sum of the individual presentations. The conference was marked by a gracious spirit. There was plain speaking, which we all desperately need. And for the most part that plain speech was communicated with real humility and boldness.

That is too rare in our day. Too often we confuse boldness with brashness and humility with excessive self-deprecation. But while brashness and talking poorly about oneself may be mutually exclusive, true boldness and true humility are not. Think of Moses. Better yet, think of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn't go around talking about how humble he was. He simply lived His life in service to others (Mark 10:45; Romans 15:3).

I believe a Christ-like spirit permeated not only the presentations, but the times of singing and praying and fellowship around the tables. It was almost surreal to stand in meal lines and hear snippets of conversations taking place all around, with phrases like "imputation," "common grace," "compatibilism," "free offer," "libertarian freedom," "decree" and "concurrence" being voiced.

Despite what might have been expected, a common theme that ran through most of the presentations was the importance and centrality of the Gospel for Christian living and ministry. Speakers from both "sides" sounded the need to return to Christ-centered living and preaching.

Another recurring theme is the need to admit and deal with the sad state of many--probably the majority--of our churches. Most Southern Baptist churches are dominated by members who show no signs of spiritual life. This robs God of His glory in His church, greatly hinders evangelism and undermines the pursuit of holiness. It is, in my estimation, the most serious issue that confronts Southern Baptists today. And it is not a "Calvinist" issue. It is a Gospel issue.

I witnessed genuine deference displayed in large and small ways at the conference. Rebukes were humbly given ("your clapping is not helpful") and were humbly received. Scripture was reverently read and heard. Prayers were sincerely offered. Gospel-centered songs were simply, robustly sung to the Lord. And hard-edged theological issues were addressed head-on.

When was the last time you went to a Southern Baptist conference and heard messages on particular redemption, election, effectual calling, hell, Romans 9, Romans 10, Ephesians 1, Calvinism and Molinism (!). And have you ever witnessed Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists pointedly challenging each other's views and affirming their common convictions all the while maintaining genuine goodwill even to the point of actually enjoying each other's company? In Dr. Akin's talk he made this statement, "One of our problems has been semi-Arminians with an attitude and Calvinist with a chip on their shoulder." Almost without exception those attitudes were absent from the conference.

I don't expect everyone to celebrate the success of this conference. I have hoped against hope that with the mp3s made quickly and freely available, it would not be easily dismissed or misrepresented. Norman Jameson has reminded me, however, that we still have some among us who are unwilling to let facts influence their opinions. In his recent editorial in the Biblical Recorder Jameson demonstrates that, despite listening to at least some of the recordings of the conference, he simply does not understand the issues addressed or the good that was accomplished. I regret that, but I am very grateful that no one is left to the misrepresentation of his views. The recordings of the conference are available. Listen for yourself and compare his warped perspective with what was actually said.

I suppose a Jamesonian spirit will remain with us until the Lord returns. Hopefully, it will diminish in influence as people check the sources for themselves and discover that the reality is far different from the distorted report. But whether the naysayers increase or decrease, what I experienced in Ridgecrest gives me hope for the future and encouragement to redouble my efforts to work together with those committed to the recovery of the Gospel and the renewal of churches whether or not we see eye-to-eye on the five points of Calvinism.

After demonstrating many points on which Bible believing Southern Baptists agree, Danny Akin concluded his presentation with this challenge to begin a "Great Commission Resurgence":
So, will we live or will we die? Will we come together for life or fracture apart in death? I make my choice for life. It is my hope and my prayer that you will join me.
I unashamedly join him in his effort, and encourage others who are committed to the Gospel of God's grace to do the same.