Tuesday, April 29, 2008

2008 Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

Well, it's that time of year again...the flowers are blooming, school is ending and I am submitting my annual resolution on church membership to the Southern Baptist Convention's Resolutions Committee.

The first year I submitted it (2006), the Committee refused to bring it before the Convention in Greensboro because, as the chairman said, if we remove all those members of our churches who don't attend, we will lose some of our best evangelistic prospects. I was allowed to read my resolution on the floor of the convention, however, and request a vote to override the committee. The vote failed to get the required supermajority though some estimated 40-50% of the messengers voted for it.

Last year, it was same song, second verse. The rationale this time was that the committee did not want to violate the autonomy of the local churches by bringing the resolution to the convention. The vote to override the committee was stronger, but still not enough to bring it out for the whole convention to consider it.

Since then Malcolm Yarnell has crafted a resolution for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention that was passed in their annual meeting last fall. Yesterday, I was informed that this resolution will be presented to the Resolutions Committee for consideration in Indianapolis. Bart Barber is coordinating efforts on this and will make an announcement about it soon.

I affirm everything in the Yarnell-Barber resolution. It is well-crafted and expresses Baptist commitments very clearly. My only reservations about it are that it does not state the rationale for the need of such a resolution (as indicated by our ACP statistics), it does not call for repentance (despite the fact that past resolutions have repeatedly called on Southern Baptists to repent for other sins and one last year even focused completely on repentance) and it does not call on denominational servants to be supportive of churches that take practical steps to recover the principle of regenerate church membership.

At the encouragement of friends, I offered a few suggestions to address these issues in ways that I thought would strengthen the Yarnell-Barber resolution and make it unnecessary for me to submit my resolution again. For various reasons, my suggestions were not taken and so I am compelled to proceed with my plans to offer the resolution below. My decision to do so should not be taken as criticism of the Yarnell-Barber resolution. We agree on much and share many of the same concerns about these issues.

What this means is that there will be (at least) two resolutions that address membership in our churches that will be offered to the Resolutions Committee this year. One of them spells out an affirmation not only of regenerate church membership but also of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, but does not call for repentance. The other focuses more narrowly on the need for our churches to repent of our neglect of actually pursuing the principle of regenerate church membership and church discipline which calling on pastors and denominational servants to be supportive of the recovery of these church practices.

I am glad that Southern Baptists are being encouraged to have this conversation. I hope that this summer in Indianapolis that we will have the humility to admit our widespread failure in these areas over the last generation and will express our desire to return to that which we say we believe.

Several pastors, theologians and church leaders have indicated that they intend to support the following resolution and have given me permission to list their names publicly. Among them are, Eric Redmond (2nd VP of the SBC) Phil Newton, Southwoods Baptist Church, Memphis, TN, Darrin Patrick, The Journey, St. Louis, Tom Bryant, FBC Osprey, FL, Tom Nettles, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Joe Thorn, Redeemer Fellowship, St. Charles, IL, Roy Hargrave, Riverbend Church, Ormond Beach, FL, Voddie Baucham, Grace Family Baptist Church, Spring, Texas, Nathan Finn, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Greg Welty, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Bill Ascol, Bethel Baptist Church, Owasso, OK, Jeff Noblit, FBC Muscle Shoals, AL, Paul Dean, Providence Baptist Church Greer, SC, Fred Malone, FBC Clintion, LA, Wyman Richardson, FBC Dawson, GA and Tim Brister, Grace Baptist Church Cape Coral, FL

Others are encouraged to sign on, if you agree with it. Just add your name in the comments.

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership

Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and

Whereas life in a local church should be characterized by loving discipline as the Bible teaches in passages like Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5 and Titus 3:10-11; and

Whereas the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicate that there are 16,266,920 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas those same profiles indicate that only 6,148,868 of those members attend a primary worship service of their church in a typical week; and

Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle as described in Article VI of the Baptist Faith and Message; and

Whereas the significance of believers' baptism tends to be lost when churches that practice it fail to exercise loving care for all their members; therefore, be it

RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 10-11, 2008, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further

RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further

RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord's teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior's teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Baptist Standard on the Calvinist Resurgence

The Baptist Standard has published a package of articles on the resurgence of Calvinism. Ken Camp, the managing editor of the Standard, has done a very credible job on the stories. One of them highlights a talk by Leo Garrett on "Baby Boomer Baptist Theologians" in which he contends that at least half of the most influential Baptist theologians in that category are rather Calvinistic.

A second story is about definitions and is better than many that I have seen on the same subject. Once again Dr. Garrett is cited to define "hyper-Calvinism." I still disagree with the inclusion of the first 2 (supralapsarianism and belief in a covenant of redemption) of his 5 points of hyper-Calvinism, but appreciate the alterations he has made in his views from last year. Dr. Garrett is a humble, gracious scholar and it was very wise for the Standard to seek his insights on these issues.

A third story identifies factors that have led to the resurgence of the doctrines of grace over the last two decades. Attention is appropriately focused on John Piper as perhaps the leading human catalyst. Roger Olsen is cited as an appropriate critic of the Piper and the movement. I like Olsen but, not surprisingly, disagree with his assessments.

It doesn't take much insight to know that the Baptist Standard would not celebrate the resurgence on which they report. But they reported on it honestly and are to be commended.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Other reflections on the 2007 ACP report

The Southern Baptist blogosphere is buzzing with comments on the ACP report that was released yesterday. Chris Elrod has a 30 minute video conversation with Ed Stetzer about it. Timmy Brister has weighed in with his typically insightful analysis.

The best comments that I have read come from Nathan Finn. Nathan teaches church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is one of the sharpest thinkers of the rising generation of Southern Baptists. Some guys are easier to like from a distance. Nathan wears well. The more you know him, the more you love and appreciate him. His insights are prophetic and need to be read by every Southern Baptist pastor and church member who cares even a little bit about the association of churches known as the SBC. He asks the question, "Does the SBC have a future?" and succinctly highlights some of our very serious problems that certain leaders either refuse to admit or regard as traitorous to articulate. Nathan defies that mentality and speaks humbly, clearly and boldly. Just go read it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ACP statistics released for 2007

Chris Turner, Media Relations Manager for LifeWay, has issued a report on the 2007 Annual Church Profile report for the Southern Baptist Convention. Some of the numbers are alarming enough to cause Ed Stetzer to say that "For now, Southern Baptists are a denomination in decline."

Stetzer has some insightful commentary on what the numbers indicate and he has some good suggestions on what those of us who are committed to laboring within the SBC should do. Three issues that the ACP call us to note, according to Stetzer, are, 1) the loss of SBC leaders-- especially ethnic and younger leaders who are abandoning the SBC; 2) the public infighting that characterizes so much of the SBC culture; 3) "Our loss of focus on the Gospel." Stezter writes, "We must recover a gospel centrality and cooperate in proclaiming that gospel locally and globally." Amen.

No doubt there will be various interpretations of these numbers over the next several weeks leading up to the annual meeting in Indianapolis. It is impossible to say exactly what they mean with any certainty. Baptisms are down to the lowest number since 1987. Total membership is down. Typical Sunday morning worship attendance is slightly up.

Those who lament the baptism statistics do so because they believe that the reported number of baptisms is a true indicator of the effectiveness of our evangelism. Where the Gospel is clearly understood and central to the evangelistic enterprise, that is a reasonable belief. In a day, however, when the Gospel has been lost or at least marginalized, that belief is debatable.

Regardless of how you interpret the numbers, they serve as a reminder of how desperately we need reformation and revival in our churches. Surely no one who loves the SBC would dispute that. And, surely, no one would take that as an expression of disloyalty to all things SBC. Time for denominational posturing and boasting is long past. It is time for humility and integrity.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Steve Gaines revives the caricatures of Calvinism

I hope I live long enough to see the day when the common caricatures of the doctrines of sovereign grace have been so widely exposed that any self-respecting preacher will be ashamed to keep serving them up as if they were irrefutable critiques of what John Broadus called "that exalted system of Pauline truth which is technically called Calvinism." Honestly, I don't know what keeps some men from being ashamed of doing so in this present day, given the numerous refutations of those caricatures over the last twenty years. Some doctrinal misrepresentations seem to have a shelf life that is longer than most urban legends.

Steve Gaines illustrated this point again last week in his chapel message delivered at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. Here are a couple of the straw men that burned to the ground with much ado. After warning his hearers not to "get caught up in [that] theology that says that God just wants to save some" and citing Scriptures that he believes disallow particular redemption, Gaines says (at the 20:20 mark),
It would emaciate my evangelism if I couldn't walk up to a total stranger and say, "Jesus died for you." There's some people who can't do that. They can't do that. They say, "Jesus died for the elect, I hope you're one of them."
I would hate to think that my evangelism would be emaciated by the elimination of something that the New Testament knows nothing of! Nowhere in God's Holy, inerrant Word do we find an evangelistic appeal based on the idea that Jesus died for the particular person being appealed to. Where is there any record of any apostle going up to a person, stranger or not and saying, "Jesus died for you"? Jesus died for sinners as sinners. The promise of salvation is for all who will, through faith, receive Him as Lord. "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31), not "Believe that Jesus died particularly for you."

What does it say about one's understanding of evangelism when it would be "emaciated" unless a statement that the Bible nowhere makes nor instructs us to make can be said? I mean no disrespect, but this highlights much that has gone wrong with the conservative resurgence in the SBC. Too many are willing to thump their Bibles and boldly declare its inerrancy while denying its sufficiency in for matters of faith and practice. If the Bible is inerrant (and I am fully convinced that it is), then shouldn't it be treated with more respect than is shown by those who blatantly neglect (church discipline) or add to (evangelism) its clear teachings?

Gaines' caricature of how those who believe in particular redemption evangelize needs no comment. It is dishonest on its face and I challenge him one example of a Christian who would make such a statement. If such a miscreant were to be found, I would be the first resist him and his God-dishonoring engagement of lost men and women.

Next, Dr. Gaines repeats a canard that should have been put to rest long ago. It was a key point of Jerry Vines' diatribe against Calvinism in 2006. It stems from equating regeneration with the whole work of salvation. Regeneration is sine qua non to salvation, but it is not the full content of salvation. Failure to make that distinction leads to the following fallacious critique (beginning at 24:00):
You cannot be saved until you repent. The same theology that says that Jesus only died for some says, no, no, no, no, no, you repent after you are saved. Number one, that's not even logical. But, number two, it is not biblical. You say, "Oh no, no if you believe you have to repent to be saved then that's works!" You know what that's like" [It's like] saying, go downtown to Dallas, find a guy on the street; he's a beggar, he's sitting there and you go up to him and you say, "You know, I want to give you some money. But, now, don't you reach out your hand because that would be works. Don't you reach out your hand! In fact, when I hand it to you, don't even open your hand because that would be works. I'm just gonna throw it on you and somehow you need to get hold of it. I don't know how. I'm just gonna zap you with some money. Don't you say anything! That'll be works, too." How ridiculous have we gotten. "Oh but that's my system." Get rid of your system and go back to the Bible. Quit reading the Bible through your theology and start getting your theology from the Bible."
Now, I applaud Gaines' insistence that repentance must be preached in the preaching of the Gospel. That is no small thing in this day and age of minimalist preaching. The confusion that his words reflect, however, between reformed theology and dispensational theology is astounding. It is the Reformed understanding of the Gospel that has insisted on the preaching of repentance in the face of those who have attempted to separate repentance from faith.

The recognition of the priority of regeneration in relation to faith and repentance cannot legitimately be construed as teaching that repentance comes only after salvation. It is a misrepresentation that no honest theologian--Reformed or otherwise--would ever make.

Teachers like Zane Hodges have asserted that repentance is not part of Gospel and should not be insisted on in evangelism. But he does so as an advocate of "non-lordship salvation." Gaines would have done much better to take that teaching--that does exist--and critique it rather than building a straw man out of his ill-informed understanding of reformed soteriology and destroying it.

Some will regard my review of Dr. Gaines' remarks as unkind or perhaps even harsh. Such is not my intent. I look forward to the day when this kind of review will be unnecessary because the caricatures that call them forth will have died away. Until that time, those who unabashedly misrepresent the theology and teaching of a growing percentage of Southern Baptist pastors and churches should be held accountable for their words. If doing so causes embarassment, let the cause be rightly traced to the those who perpetuate the caricatures and not to the ones who simply call attention to their misrepresentations.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Quick Takes on T4G '08 and the reformed resurgence

I have spent the last couple of days with 5000 friends at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville. OK, I'm stretching the truth a bit. It hasn't really been two full days. But there are 5000 people here. The preaching has been good and the conversations between the speakers has been fun and encouraging as an example of the value of friendship.

It has been great to bump into several old friends and to make even more new friends. I am encouraged to hear the stories of God's work in various churches and minsitries around the nation--stories of conversions, church plants, church restarts, God's deliverance and providential ordering of lives.... It has been a good reminder of what has been rather quietly taking place across the evangelical world the last couple of decades.

The resurgence (in the case of the SBC, "recovery") of reformed theology has begun to catch the attention of more and more folks. Collin Hansen's book, Young, Restless, Reformed, will further help to tell some of the story of this resurgence. I had lunch with Collin yesterday. Though he interviewed me for the book, this was the first time I had the privilege of meeting him face-to-face. He is a great guy and it was interesting to hear his "outsider's" perspective on Calvinism in the SBC. Be sure to read that chapter in his book. What Collin observed is exactly what some of us have been saying for the last 8 years. Some (much?) of the response to the revival of the doctrines of grace is more politically than theologically scripted. Collin found this surprising, which simply confirms that he is, indeed, an SBC outsider.

The resurgence is being noticed by those across the spectrum in SBC life. Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary's theological journal, which is scheduled to published in the next few weeks, contains an article by me entitled, "The Way We Were and Are Becoming Again: The Resurgence of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention." I also was interviewed this week by the Texas Baptist Standard that, in conjunction with some other state Baptist papers, are doing a package of stories on this very issue. Who knows how those stories will turn out? But I must say, I was impressed with many of the questions. They were thoughtful and seemed not to be agenda-driven.

Some have raised honest questions about how widespread the resurgence is. Compared to the larger evangelical world, it is true--the reformed movement is still very small. But unlike other movements, it is theologically driven and is recovering doctrinal and biblical insights from the past. These distinctive features give it some strength and substance that will make it more formidable for the long haul than the fads that come and go with some regularity.

Those who believe the doctrines of grace have reason to be encouraged, and no reason to be complacent. There is a real recovery of the Gospel taking place. Those who are reformed are helping lead the way. We have many reasons to pray and to keep pressing forward in seeking the renewal of existing churches and the planting of new ones.

I plan to write more about this in the weeks ahead.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Check out the new look at Founders.org

An updated design at the Founders website was launched last night. One of the best upgrades is a new, easier to use bookstore, where you can now easily secure numerous excellent titles. There are also information and registration options on the upcoming Founders Breakfast at the SBC in Indianapolis with Eric Redmond.

Next week I plan to be at the T4G conference in Louisville (assuming that there are still enough jets deemed air-worthy to keep flights on schedule). I must also put my computer in hospital during this time. So, the slower blogging pace of the last few weeks will come to a virtual stop while repairs are being made. I hope to get back on track the following week.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

We won!!...no, wait, we got outscored!

The results were announced tonight on the Blog Madness Final Four over at SBC Voices. First we won. Then, after a recount...it was determined that we got outscored. Tony Kummer went back and checked his auto vote counter thingy and discovered a malfunction. Though no outside auditor has verified his findings, he has reversed his original announcement of our victory and declared Southern alumnus, Steve McCoy, the victor.

As an old Aggie, I have learned that we never lose, we just get outscored or run out of time. Both happened in the final balloting. The first announcement was that we won 312-302. After the recount, however, it was determined that my winning votes came in too late...after the 8:01 PM Monday deadline, when the vote count stood at 299 for Reformissionary and 295 for Founders.

I think it is safe to say that the people have spoken...just not soon enough!

Thanks to all who voted, and thanks to Tony and Steve for the fun.

Just wait till next year!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Blog Madness Final Four: Full Court Press

I'm a good sport and all. I don't trash talk. I play by the rules and I always hope the best man (or woman) wins. I also believe that it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.

I also greatly enjoy baskeball. So when I discovered that my blog had made it to the Big Dance (aka Tony Kummer's Blog Madness) I decided to take notice and see how the votes were going. It was interesting to see how the competition unfolded. I noticed that guys like Steve McCoy in the East Division and Timmy Brister in the Midwest made dramatic comebacks to get into the 2nd round. Then it dawned on me--they were begging for votes on their blogs! Very effectively, too, I might add. Shucks, after reading all of Steve's promises I almost voted for him myself.

Now we are in the Final Four and only Ascol, McCoy, Lumpkins and Stetzer are left. Currently, I am not quite winning. It is what it is. But as every sports fan knows, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And it ain't over till the fat lady sings.

It looks like it is shaping up to be a show down between McCoy and me. Now it's show time, baby! Though some people think I should be happy just to be here, I am in it to win it and so I am going to a full court press. From scouting his moves in the previous rounds I discovered that McCoy likes to throw it down from downtown. He's a trifecta addict. I got one thing to say to that.
(click for bigger image)
Full Size Block
Not in my house!

If you live by the 3, you die by the 3. If they can't score, they can't win. Offense may win games, but defense wins championships. Here's the instant replay, with a closer look (that's right, Joe, it ain't happening, and, uh...when we said "b-ball" I guess we shoulda been more specific, huh?).
(click for bigger image)
Full Size Block

OK. All of this to say, go vote for the Founders Blog and let's put this championship to bed. Game on.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Every interpreter's nightmare

Editora Fiel is one of the finest missions works I have ever been associated with (click here for a "translated" version of their website). Rich and Pearl Denham have given their lives to making Christ known in Brazil (and other Portuguese speaking countries) for more than 50 years. It has been my privilege to speak 3 times at the annual Brazilian Fiel conference for church leaders. The last time I was there was 2006. This clip is from the last day of that meeting. Eros Pasquini is the main interpreter for the conference. In addition to being a faithful pastor, he is the best interpreter I have ever worked with. At about 1:45 into the clip I begin to express my appreciation to him for his excellent work during the conference, and have a little fun in the process. If you have ever been an interpreter or worked with one, you will probably appreciate the humor.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Other Resurgence - FJ 71

The theme of the latest Founders Journal (71) is "the other resurgence." It contains articles by Tom Nettles and Christian George, representing the "old guard" of the reformation efforts within the SBC and the rising generation who is similarly committed to those efforts.

Dr. Nettles needs no introduction to most of the readers of this blog. His teaching and writing ministries have been blessed of God to call many back to our biblical and historical roots as Southern Baptists. His book, By His Grace and For His Glory (recently revised, updated and republished by Founders Press) has never even been seriously engaged, much less refuted by those who lament the resurgence of the doctrines of grace among Baptists over the last 25 years. It is a classic work. Tom's article in this issue of the Founders Journal is entitled, "Why Your Next Pastor Should Be a Calvinist." I highly recommend it.

Christian George is the son of Dr. Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. Christian is also an author (his latest book is Sex, Sushi and Salvation) and is about to being working on a PhD at St. Andrews. His article is entitled, "Younger Evangelicals and a Restlessness for Revival." It reveals the heartbeat of the twentysomethings that are hungry for authentic Christianity.

My editorial in this issue of the FJ looks at the "Calvinistic Resurgence" in light of the "Conservative Resurgence" and makes two points. First, the latter did not occur without significant controversy, which makes the makes the castigations against the doctrines of grace and those who believe them as being "controversial" lose their force (especially when they come from the very controversialists who led the charge in the 1st CR). Second, despite all of the good that was done in the 1st CR, by and large, the Southern Baptist Convention is in need of dramatic renewal in our day. Arguably, our churches are worse off today than they were in 1979.

We place every issue of the Founders Journal online about 6 months after they are published in print. This long-standing policy inevitably decreases the number or print subscribers that we have, but it furthers the goal of Founders Ministries, which is to work for the recovery of the Gospel and the reformation of local churches everywhere.

If you are not a subscriber to the journal, this would be a great time to become one. You may sign up by going here.

Galyon interviews Wagner

James Galyon has a very informative interview with SBC presidential candidate, Bill Wagner. Dr. Wagner, in an earlier interview, made the statement that he thinks Calvinistic Southern Baptists are less missional than the non-Calvinistic Southern Baptists. Dr. Galyon challenges this statement and provides a wonderful overview of missionary efforts in the early Reformed movement.