Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My take on SBC presidential politics

Now that the Democratic presidential primaries are over we can turn our attention to some real presidential politics, namely, the race to become president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Frank Page concludes his second term next week in Indianapolis. He was the long shot winner of two years ago in Greensboro, when very few of the "movement conservatives" in the SBC gave him much of a chance. In fact, some lobbied pretty boldly against him. I am sure I am not the only person who got emails questioning his conservative credentials and warning about the return of the CBF if he were elected.

Two years ago from this very day I wrote a pointed critique of Page's book, Trouble with the Tulip. What he had written raised serious doubts in my mind about his understanding the doctrines of grace. I have been told that this book was revised and was reprinted in 2006 and now more properly distinguishes between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. If what I have heard is true, then it would serve as one more example of the kind of humility and meekness that has characterized Dr. Page's presidency.

It has been refreshing to have had a president who didn't travel around the country declaring how great the SBC is and who did not ignore the huge problems that we are facing. It has also been encouraging to have a leader who did not see it as his duty to beat the drum for the entrenched powerbrokers of SBC.

Prior to the Greensboro convention two years ago, I commented on the announced candidacy of Johnny Hunt. In no way could I have imagined what that blog would ultimately become. Due to the arrival of a couple of fomer Muslims who began launching theological scud missiles in the comments, the point of the original post was quickly forgotten. What I wrote then, however, I still believe today.

Though I am not very interested in SBC presidential politics I have been somewhat amused at just how much the process leading up to the election next week has mimicked our national presidential politics with promotional websites, endorsements and stumping. There are six candidates (so far!) who have announced that they will be nominated. You can read their answers to a Baptist Press survey here. A number of people have asked me who I am endorsing. The answer to that question is easy. No one. I am not even sure who I am going to vote for.

It is not that I don't care at all. I just don't care about this election very much. The things that make me care at all have to do with some of the institutions and agencies of the SBC--primarily, the International Mission Board. It doesn't take much denominational awareness to recognize that there are many in the SBC who would love for Jerry Rankin, the President of the IMB, to take an "early retirement." I wish his detractors would simply come out publicly and lay their cards on the table rather than shoot at him from the shadows.

The Board of Trustees adopted new policies on baptism and private prayer language a couple of years ago. I think the former policy is unwise and points us in the direction of Landmarkism and the latter is unnecessary and probably was intended, in part, to embarrass Rankin. This action by the IMB BoT, in my mind, may be the most important issue to be considered in deciding who to vote for in the presidential election.

Who would I want to be the next president? The following considerations will inform my vote.

I think that having Frank Page as president has been good for the SBC. I would not want to see a man elected who would feel compelled to catapult us back to the trajectory we were on three years ago when the denominational kingmakers strategically crowned the next man-in-waiting a few months before the convention. Anyone who is being endorsed by status quo champions would by that very fact make me a little suspicious.

I would be hesitant to vote for anyone who thinks that the new IMB guidelines are good policy. The case has yet to be made that the new baptism requirement squares with Scripture, Baptist history or contemporary needs. Avery Willis, Johnny Hunt and Les Puryear all have expressed concerns about those policies.

I would someone who is a convictional conservative. Though some have cast the election in terms of a candidate that conservatives will vote for (Frank Cox) and candidates that others will vote for, I don't see it that way. To my knowledge, all of those running are theological conservatives. They are not all "party men," but they are all, I think, inerrantists.

It will be interesting to see how all of this pans out. No doubt there will be more than one vote because it is highly unlikely that any one of the six will get a majority on the first ballot.

If you are going to be in Indianapolis, it would be great to say hello to you. I will be at the Founders Breakfast on Tuesday morning.

I am Tom Ascol, and I approve of this message.

13 comments:

James Hunt said...

Come on, Tom...throw your hat into the ring. You'd get my vote.

TOM for president.

Truth is I'm surely glad that we seem to be past the day when power brokers of the SBC crowned the next candidate of choice...or, at least I hope we are.

Greg Welty said...

Johnny Hunt's answer to the question about Calvinism:

"I am not overwhelmingly concerned about Calvinism. I am concerned about hyper-Calvinism, simply being defined as those that take election to the point that they feel that the Gospel should not even be shared with the whole world. I, personally, believe that the Gospel is for "whosoever." I trust that Calvinists, and those who love Jesus of other persuasions, would come together for the common cause of making Jesus Christ known to the nations. There is plenty of room for all of us in this Baptist family."

Les Puryear's answer to the question about Calvinism:

"Since I am a Calvinist, I don't see why any non-Calvinist should be concerned about the reappearance of Reformed theology. Many of the original leaders of the SBC were Calvinists. I think those who fear Calvinism have an unfounded view that Calvinism leads to a reduced emphasis on evangelism and missions. What some are calling Calvinism is actually hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism says that we should not evangelize or preach the Gospel to the non-elect. I do not know of any Calvinist in the SBC who holds to that position. We are called to preach the Gospel to everyone and most Calvinists whom I know in the SBC are very passionate about evangelism and missions. I think rather than worrying about Calvinism impacting evangelism and missions, we need to find out why 51.5 percent of our churches do not support missions either financially or through prayer support. The problem in our convention with evangelism and missions is not Calvinism, but the apathy of our churches to engage the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ."

I thought these were two very good answers. They even agree on their definition of hyper-Calvinism.

Brad Williams said...

Les is more!!! (I won't be present, and I don't actually know who I would vote for anyway, but I thought that would be a funny campaign slogan.)

GUNNY said...

Good stuff, Greg. Thanks for sharing.

This is actually one of the few annual meetings of late that I would have liked to have been able to attend.

Keep us up to speed, if you can, and represent.

P.S. The Aggies (women) softball team lost the championship last night. Bad bull, but 2nd place in the whole NCAA ain't bad.

ABClay said...

Brother Greg,

I agree with you about Hunt's answer to the questionnaire.

You didn't put up Frank Cox's answer. I found it rather difficult to understand. Has anyone ever truly defined what an "aggressive Calvinist" is? Is it a Calvinist who teaches their beliefs? Is it limited to those pastors who hold Calvinistic beliefs?

I personally find Hunt's preaching style much more to my liking than Cox's. I am sure that they both love the Lord, etc, but all other things being equal between the two of them I believe I would vote Hunt.

Of course, there is the choice of a brother who holds to a reformed theology as well. Who knows...

Grace and Peace...

ABClay

Pastor Hilliard said...

What I like about Hunt was that he had a clear vision, he has passion, and he had the right spirit about why he is running. He isn't seeking to appease either side of all these debates. He has his opinions and shared them with grace but he wants to focus the convention on the task at hand.

Seems like everyone is saying the "baptist identity" people are pulling for Frank Cox and the "dissenters" (I'm not fond of either label) are going for Avery Willis. Thus, I think the best bet is somewhere in the middle. Johnny for president!:)

kingofbleh said...

ABClay -

An "aggressive Calvinist" is one who blogs regularly. :-b

Tom -

I thought your write-up two years ago was more of an indictment of the SBC kingmaking process and not as much of Johnny Hunt himself (with which I agree). Of course this thought got obscured by the brew-ha-ha that ensued in the comments section.

I was impressed with both Johnny Hunt's and Les Puryear's answers to the BP questioniare. Their overall message is basically the same: repent for not evangelizing and become more missional. I felt Johnny Hunt's answer on regenerate church membership was vague, but I am sure he will be given an opportunity to clarify next week as we already know this will be one of the top issues at the meeting. We'll see what he says.

Nathan Finn gave a positive endorsement of Johnny Hunt on his site. I'd encourage everyone to read it. I am particularly impressed with brother Hunt's emphasis on church planting and expositional preaching. And I can tell you that he definitely practices what he preaches.

On the other hand I have longed for the day when we will see a pastor of a church under 1,000 members elected to the presidency. I know brother Puryear is also strongly committed to evangelism, church planting and expositional preaching.

From what I can see we have two very strong candidates among a field of 6 excellent men, and perhaps this fact alone shows that the SBC is maturing as a denomination and advancing beyond the backroom tactics of the early years of the CR.

In Christ's love,
Lucas Defalco

chadwick said...

Johnny Hunt's statment on Hyper-Calvinism seems to imply that there is a problem with Hyper-Calvinism in the SBC.

Are there any proven Hyper-Calvinists in the SBC?

Who are these Hyper-Calvinists?

If there are any Hyper-Calvinists in the SBC, is there any factual proof?

If there are any Hyper-Calvinists in the SBC, wouldn't the Founders' Ministries be the first to have the Hyper-Calvinists expelled?

Wouldn't a Hyper-Calvinist in the SBC be an oxymoron?

Isn't the CP the means for Southern Baptists to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth to be preached to every creature?

To be Southern Baptist, a pastor or church must support and give to the CP. Doesn't giving to the CP take the Gospel to every creature?

Therefore, wouldn't being an SBC pastor or church eliminate any Hyper-Calvinism in the SBC?

If an SBC pastor or church ever embraced Hyper-Calvinism, wouldn't they cease being Southern Baptists?

chadwick

Wyman Richardson said...

I have a question for whomever would like to answer. It concerns a candidate's church's CP giving.

Now, I believe that CP giving is only one factor, but also that it is an important factor in selecting the new SBC Pres.

So I've started asking myself this question when I look at any candidate: "If every church in the SBC gave the percentage that this candidate's church gives to the CP, what would it do to SBC mission causes funded through the CP?"

I'm seriously a bit conflicted about my own question. Is this fair?

On the one hand, it seems fair to ask such a question. On the other hand, maybe it doesn't adequately account for all of the other ways churches approach missions now.

Take Johnny Hunt for instance. If I ask that question about him concerning CP percentage giving, my answer would be, "Disastrous. It would be disastrous if every church in the SBC gave the percentage [note: not the amount, the percentage] that First Woodstock gives." They give somewhere around 2 percent.

But if I broaden it out and ask, "What if every church in the SBC was going on mission trips and personally involving themselves in missions like First Woodstock," well, it would be amazing, because Woodstock has people all over the world on virtually any given day of the year. What they do at that church in terms of personal missions involvement really is amazing.

So, I'm a bit conflicted. I believe the SBC President's church should set a standard for CP percentage giving, and yet, with the rise of short term mission endeavors and greater direct involvement in mission efforts, is it right to think this way?

How much weight should we give to CP percentage giving?

Tom said...

James:

If nominated...I will not run. If elected...I will not serve. ;-)

Lucas:

I should have linked to Nathan's post. Thanks for mentioning it.

Wyman:

I understand your conflict but I do not think that CP giving should be a major factor in deciding on a president. It sure wasn't during the early days and in the heat of the conservative resurgence. Someone should go back and review the CP giving records of Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, Bailey Smith, James Merritt, et al were. If memory serves me there were only a couple of exceptions to rather low percentages of CP giving (Jimmy Draper was one, I think). In light of this, I find it very strange that movement conservatives of today sound exactly like the moderates of yesteryear in insisting that a man's CP record either qualify or disqualify him for office. If that reasoning were applied retroactively some of the champions of the CR would be disqualified.

Pastor Hilliard said...

Chadwick,
When I went to a Baptist College in Fl. during the early 90's, I can assure you that hyper calvinist were all over that campus. It was an ugly seen. I left thinking all calvinist were like that. I've since learned quite different. So, yes, there are some (maybe many) in the sbc.

Wyman,
You should listen to Hunt's thoughts on this. I found it challenging. I agree his percentage is low. But as he shared, he would rather focus on disciples then percentages. Here is what he meant:

My church currently gives 6% which amounts to about $12,000. If you were to come and challenge my church to increase our giving and you focused on percentages, we could say, "Okay, we'll move it up to 12%." You would be thrilled (me too!). It would double us to $24,000.

But if I said, "Yes, we'll increase". But instead of moving a percentage, I told you we would increase our giving to $200,000 and the goal was to get there in 5 or 10 years, how would you feel? I'd be ecstatic. Of course, the question is, "How?" Increase disciples! The more people you win to Christ the greater your giving would be!

When Johnny first went to Woodstock their giving was small (compared to now). But they have increased it to their current amount through disciple making. Sure, I'd wish they'd increase the percentage (it would look better) but I wish more that churches would follow their example of disciple making. Plus, Woodstock is doing what more and more churches are doing in the SBC. Bypassing the CP to give to CP cause, mission, etc. directly. The CP unfortunately doesn't account for that. So, their giving is way beyond the percentage you'll be told.

As Johnny shared, to say that, if churches followed their example, CP giving would go down really misses the boat. If churches followed their example, CP giving would be through the roof!

Wyman Richardson said...

Tom and Pastor Hilliard,

Good points and many thanks. Very interesting, really, about some of the architects of the the resurgence not contributing to the CP.

As I said, First Woodstock has really raised the bar in terms of direct missions involvement. It is to be commended and, one hopes, emulated.

Oh, and I agree with Tom Ascol for President.

kingofbleh said...

Here's the link to Nathan Finn's endorsement for anyone who is interested:

http://nathanafinn.wordpress.com/2008/05/07/on-johnny-hunt-and-the-sbc-presidency/