My Thoughts on the 2013 SBC Annual Meeting in Houston

I had given a lot of thought to recommending associational meeting places to help boost attendance and interest in the annual meeting that takes place in various cities around the country. However, after attending the meeting in Houston, I realized something; I believe the reason that so many are now staying away from the meeting may have more to do with what happens or maybe more accurately stated, what does not take place at the annual meeting, than anything else. Let me explain.

A number of motions were brought to the floor of the annual meeting last year. Those motions were either ruled out of order or they were all referred to a committee. I looked at the report for this year’s meeting and noticed that all of those motions referred to committees last year were not brought back up this year. Several motions were brought up on the floor of the meeting this year and guess what? Those motions that were not ruled out of order were referred to some committee and not even debated on the floor of the convention. Ronnie Floyd made a motion and managed to get an audience with those in charge of hearing motions, but that is all I heard of that.

The SBC has a resolutions committee that receives resolutions submitted to them before the convention convenes. This committee has the right to revise any resolution submitted to it as it sees fit before presenting the resolution to the convention for approval, if it chooses to do so. If the resolutions committee does not believe the resolution is in the best interest of the convention, it may not present the resolution at all. Once a resolution is presented, discussion ensues and the chair entertains motions to amend the resolution. Once those issues are settled, the motion with any approved amendments are then voted on. There is only one real problem with this; resolutions are nothing more than strong suggestions because those resolutions have no authority where the entities of the SBC are concerned nor do they have any authority over the church, because churches are autonomous bodies. The entities are not autonomous, but are governed by a board of trustees and as such, are not required to follow any vote taken by the convention messengers. This was clearly seen when in Phoenix the messengers voted to have Lifeway take the NIV 2011 off its shelves and when the board of trustees met in 2012, they voted to keep it. The BOT was under no mandate to act on the vote of the messengers in annual session. This is true of all the entities of the SBC.

It might also be noted, that motions made on the floor of the convention would be no more binding than resolutions. Citing an exaggerated scenario, a motion could be made on the floor of the convention to fire one of the entity heads. That motion could pass unanimously but it would still be up to the trustee board as to what they decided to do with reference to such a motion, no matter what the nature of that motion might have been.

The only real significance that can be seen in the business of the meeting would be related to voting for the president of the SBC. Since this year was considered an “off-year” for any presidential election noting Dr. Luter’s unopposed re-election bid, some have said they would save their money for Baltimore where a new president will be elected in 2014. This could explain the lower than expected number of messengers in Houston. I have even heard that reason given for folks not attending New Orleans knowing that Dr. Luter would be nominated unopposed as well. The Convention then elects a First Vice President and then a Second Vice President. Bart Barber was elected to the first position unopposed and Jared Moore was elected to the second receiving 422 votes over Don Cass with 252 or so votes. There were 674 votes cast in total. William Thornton has raised a good question regarding a quorum necessary to conduct business. You can read his article by clicking here. With the number of messengers registered, 1250 would have had to be in the convention hall to even vote for the 2 VP and since 674 votes were cast, there is some wonder if that vote were not cast prematurely. It was 20 minutes or so before the scheduled time on the printed program.

There is a second problem with the nomination process of officers. Someone got up and nominated Jared Moore and basically said Jared is a personal friend; his church gives 16% to the CP and he is not a mega church pastor but just an ordinary guy pastoring a rural church of folks that love Jesus and their community. A second individual got up and nominated Don Cass and spoke to his credentials and why he ought to be the next 2 VP. Neither of these two guys even so much as waved to the crowd, as small as it was. No one had much of a clue who these two guys were other than what they were told by the individual nominating them. This process is producing some serious potential problems. Jared Moore is two heartbeats away from the presidency of the SBC. I find that problematic for a number of reasons.

The first is highlighted by an article Jared himself wrote on his own blog. For those who do not know Jared, he is an avid blogger. In an article he wrote that was published at SBC Voices on September 24, 2012 titled “An Open Letter to “Failing” Churches and Foolish Southern Baptists”, he wrote the following statement:

The church I pastor, New Salem Baptist Church in Hustonville, KY, didn’t record a single baptism last year (2011). I realize some folks in Southern Baptist churches and in Southern Baptist State and National entities lament our efforts as “failing,” but I want to publicly rebuke them, and encourage those who have labored faithfully without much tangible fruit.

It is bad enough that Jared’s church did not baptize a single person in a year but he sees it as his duty to rebuke those who find that problematic. Jared goes on to say,

“At least one baptism per year” is an unbiblical quota. Where is such a quota at in Scripture? You won’t find it. So, why do some judge the ministries of others based on this quota? Furthermore, why is their quota so low? Why isn’t their quota “at least one baptism per week”? Or, better yet, “100 baptisms per week”? I suppose then they would have to admit that they’re failures as well?

I do understand there are a lot of circumstances surrounding people being saved and baptized in our churches. However, one of the biggest reasons people are not saved centers around our not witnessing and sharing the gospel with folks outside the pulpit. It is absolutely inconceivable that ANYONE who is saved could not win 1 person to Jesus in a year. I agree with Moore that there are no such goals spelled out in the Scriptures but I would also argue that the thought that a born again Christian would not lead one person to Christ in a year would be highly unusual as well. Moore’s article can be read by clicking here. He does make some good comments but there really is no excuse for anyone to go a year without leading someone to Christ. If the 422 messengers who voted for Jared knew this fact, I wonder how many would have still voted for him?

Perhaps there ought to be some kind of opportunity to ask, “If anyone knows of any reason that this person should not be nominated to this position, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.” It works for weddings; maybe it ought to be used in nominations for office in SBC elections of the future. A brief question and answer session ought to be incorporated into the election process, seeing that these are the most significant opportunities for messengers to engage in.

There was a pronounced effort made to set a tone for co-operation in the SBC. The repeated cry was for all of us to “look at all the things we agree on” and not focus on the few things that we disagree on. Personally I find that a little condescending. If there were not significant differences, we would not be having these debates in the first place. Here is a fact. The cry to get along is almost always the cry of the underdog until they become the big dog and then there is no longer any toleration for differing positions. From all indications, the same can be said of the New Calvinist movement. The new church planting organizations that are Reformed, are planting reformed church plants that are committed to reformed theology up front. More recently, the trustees of a couple state supported Baptist colleges have voted not to renew contracts on professors and the New Calvinist contingency has made their calvinism a major issue in their contracts not being renewed. Sharp criticism has been leveled against the institutions and in one case the executive director of the state. It is as if the day is fast changing and the New Calvinists are already flexing their muscles proving their desire to have one theological position in the SBC; Reformed Theology.

Call it what you want; it is what it is. We can call for unity and I believe everyone would love to see real unity. However, the unity we are seeking is a one-sided effort allowing the other side to continue doing what it needs to do to move the SBC closer to the Reformed way which I believe is set to be solidified when the SBC moves to Baltimore. The foundation has been laid and barring a significant move of God, the guys leading this calvinist charge will prevail in Baltimore and the SBC will be turned to a more reformed position.

This convention in Baltimore may well prove to be one of the most significant conventions in the history of the SBC. I believe every Southern Baptist ought to begin to make plans to go to Baltimore because win, lose of draw, this will be the convention you will not want to miss.

May God bless the SBC in these very interesting days!

Bob Hadley,
Westside Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, FL

The BF&M 2000 and Calvinism Revisited!

The relevance of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is garnering a lot of attention today. Its popularity has soared in the last few years as the revival of Calvinism has found fertile ground in the entities of the SBC. A lot of attention has been focused on the diversity that is contained in the BF&M 2000 and the relevance of Calvinist leanings in the document. In fact, depending on who one talks to today, there are a growing number of references to the BF&M 2000 as being a Reformed document simply because Al Mohler was one of the fifteen members of a committee charged with the mission of re-writing the newer document. Someone recently made a comment to me personally that the committee relied heavily on Dr. Mohler “to work out the specific wording of the revisions from the BF&M 1963.” His take was basically Dr. Mohler’s presence on the committee completely overshadowed the other members and his obvious qualifications and expertise were relied on for the re-write. This individual concluded that this ought not to come as a shock to anyone.

At question is the reference to regeneration in Section 4 on Salvation. Calvinists begin with what they call total depravity or total inability which says that man is dead in his sin and he is enslaved to a sin nature that he has inherited from Adam. Not only does man inherit a sin nature which the BF&M 2000 acknowledges, Calvinists maintain that man inherits Adam’s guilt and is therefore guilty of Adam’s sin as well as his own and in order for him to even respond to the gospel, he must be given a new nature, a new heart or he must be born again so that he can then repent and exercise believing or saving faith. Consider the following quotes:

“A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved.” (Lorainne Boetner) “We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again that we may believe.” (John Piper) “Faith is the evidence of the new birth, not the cause of it.” (RC Sproul) “the revived [regenerated] heart repents and trusts Christ in saving faith as the only source of justification.” (ESV Study Bible, 2531.) [for a complete reference to the quotes above, see Dr. David Allen’s comments from his presentation at the John 3:16 Conference in Atlanta by clicking here.

As seen in the statements referenced above, Calvinists for the most part see faith as the evidence of the new birth; we are born again to believe and the most egregious statement, A man is not saved because he believes in Christ, he believes in Christ because he is saved! For most Calvinists, regeneration takes place and is initiated by God and by Him alone giving a lost man his salvation, period. It is God and God alone that decides who will and will not be saved; it is God and God alone who decides who will go to heaven and by default is solely responsible for determining who will die and spend eternity in hell. Here is the most amazing part of this discussion. These Calvinists are saying that this theology is consistent with the BF&M 2000 and because that is the adopted position of the SBC these guys deserve to teach in the seminaries of the SBC and serve in the entities of the SBC and they are actively seeking to grab hold of every ounce of influence their positions will allow and then some.

How does the BF&M 2000 justify being called a Reformed document? Where in the BF&M 2000 is this notion that men do not believe to be save but are saved to believe?

Section IV of the BF&M 2000 says the following about Salvation:

“Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.”

Consider the first sentence, “Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.” Salvation is “offered freely to all who accept Christ as Lord and Savior.” When an average person reads this statement, he sees God offering salvation to all and while one can read this sentence correctly that way, it can also be read with the emphasis on “all who believe.” Calvinists believe that those who believe are those who have been regenerated or effectually called to salvation and once that takes place, repentance and believing or saving faith automatically follow. So it is fair to say that this statement can “swing both ways.”

Look at the next phrase: “who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.” This statement is Calvinist leaning but in a way that someone not familiar with the nuances of the specific issues would not notice. Basically Calvinists will point to this statement saying “Jesus’ death on the cross obtained eternal redemption for the elect, who are those who believe.” The BF&M 2000 does definitely allow for that interpretation. Look at the next statement: “In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification.” The 1963 statement leaves out “justification.” It read, “In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, sanctification, and glorification.” In the 63 statement, regeneration and justification were seen as basically the same thing; regeneration being “born-again” which is what justification accomplishes. So by adding justification, a distinction was made in the 2000 document and the Calvinists point to this distinction to say that regeneration precedes justification in the BF&M 2000, which is perhaps the most distinguishing mark of Calvinism.

Move on down to Section A: Regeneration. The wording of this section is unchanged with the exception of the final statement in the 63 version dealing with justification is now a separate Section B of its own, with no change in the language.

“Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus.” No problem right? Well maybe and maybe not. A work of God’s grace sounds so sweet to the Baptist ear that loves Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound. I have heard this hymn affectionately referred to as the National Anthem of Baptists. So being born again is a work of God’s grace. Amen. Calvinists and their Doctrines of Grace love it as well. Regeneration is a work of God’s grace where believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. This has tremendous implications where Calvinism is concerned. Through regeneration the lost person becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus. It is a work of God’s grace and not of man’s doing at all. It is amazing how words can be written that seem to say one thing to someone who is not familiar with the unique nuances of a particular theology and then as the theology is explained those nuances jump out in full view.

Here is perhaps the most detrimental statement in the confession. “It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Calvinists read this verse and say, “regeneration is a change of heart brought about by the Holy Spirit to which the sinner THEN responds in repentance and faith in Jesus and is justified or converted.” The non-Calvinist will read the statement in this way: “regeneration or being born again is a change of heart brought about by the Holy Spirit through the conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus and is saved.” The non-Calvinist sees “to which the sinner responds in repentance” referring to the work of the Holy Spirit that convicts men of sin while the Calvinist sees “to which the sinner responds in repentance” referring directly to regeneration that is a “change of heart” and they gloss over the convicting of sins because regeneration will automatically cause one to see his sin as God see it and he will naturally as a new creature repent.

At this point, the Calvinists have more than a leg to stand on in this debate that the BF&M 2000 leaves room for both the Calvinist and the non-Calvinist to both work together and to vie for leadership positions in the entities of the convention and to seek to influence the theological tenets for the future of the SBC.

There is a statement in the BF&M 2000 dealing with this issue of regeneration the Calvinists are overlooking. It is found in Section 2 C “God the Holy Spirit.”

Here is what this statement says:

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, fully divine. He inspired holy men of old to write the
Scriptures. Through illumination He enables men to understand truth. He exalts Christ. He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration. At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ. He cultivates Christian character, comforts believers, and bestows the spiritual gifts by which they serve God through His church. He seals the believer unto the day of final redemption. His presence in the Christian is the guarantee that God will bring the believer into the fullness of the stature of Christ.”

Note the following statement: “He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration.” Ok this is an interesting statement. Since there seems to be a good deal of confusion about just what regeneration means in the later section, perhaps this earlier statement will clear up the ambiguity in the later statement.

Here is the most damaging statement for the Calvinist position in the whole of the BF&M 2000: “At the moment of regeneration He (The Holy Spirit) baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” There is no ambiguity in this statement. Here regeneration is clearly identified as conversion and justification. Regeneration is not the cause and effect of repentance and believing and saving faith; regeneration is the result of repentance and saving faith because at regeneration the Holy Spirit baptizes first of all, “every believer” and then “every believer into the Body of Christ.” This statement is as clear as one can be. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit takes place at regeneration and the unregenerate becomes a “believer.” Repentance and believing faith have already taken place because they are essential to becoming a believer, which is what this statement says. Second, the indwelling Spirit baptizes the believer into the body of Christ.

Here is the final keg in the coffin for the SBC Calvinist . This sentence, “At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ” was added to the BF&M 2000 statement! It is not part of the 63 statement. So while Calvinists attempt to argue that the BF&M 2000 is a move back to historic Calvinism, this addition by itself negates the more ambiguous statements dealing with the timing of regeneration in the salvific process as presented in section IV on Salvation.

Perhaps it is time for trustees of the various entities to revisit the adherence to the BF&M 2000 that has been trumpeted as the fix all for the Calvinist revival in the SBC and see how they stand on “At the moment of regeneration He baptizes every believer into the Body of Christ.” Perhaps this is the statement that may hold the most hope for a renewed perspective on the BF&M 2000 and its relevance for the 21st century.

An Open Letter to Drs. Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer and Lifeway Trustees

The following letter was delivered to the leadership of Lifeway’s trustee meeting held in Nashville, February 13 and 14.

An Open Letter to Drs. Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer and Lifeway Trustees,

I have been a Southern Baptist since my earliest of days. I was saved at the age of 10 at a revival meeting in a Southern Baptist church in West Tennessee. I graduated from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. I am a proud product of Cooperative Program giving. I have been proud of my association with the SBC because of the Cooperative Program and the opportunity it affords so many to partner in sharing the Great Commission in so many ways. Sadly, this attitude is swiftly changing.

I am very concerned over the publishing of a project that Lifeway has undertaken and is now in the process of promoting titled, “The Gospel Project.” The recent Baptist Press article introducing this project really spoke volumes. Consider the following comment, “This is more than curriculum,” said Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project. “The goal is to provide a theologically driven study that points people to Jesus. It’s easy to come to Scripture looking for just new information or immediate application. We can even have Bible knowledge and not be focused on Christ,” Wax said. Add to that Dr. Stetzer’s comment and my concerns are amplified; “Going ‘deep’ means different things to different people.” Stetzer could not have been more accurate in his statement.

The list of contributors to this project is indeed telling. In looking over the list, it is obvious that there is a clear bias in this group that lacks any theological diversity and it is virtually reformed to the core. In reading Dr. Stetzer’s comment regarding the direction and input from those who are serving the local church, it is unclear to me who Stetzer is referring to. If Dr. Stetzer is indicating an expressed need for a Reformed theological project of this magnitude, then it might be considered a prudent move to undertake such a bold project. It is clear to me in Stetzer’s comments that this particular group was carefully selected, for whatever reason, to “speak into this project at the outset,” and help them “think through important high-level issues at the outset of the curriculum’s development,”

If it is true that there was a demand from local churches for such a special project as this, my strong suggestion is to title this project, “The Gospel Project: A Reformed Perspective.” In this way, those in the local church who have expressed the need and desire for such a project will know that this project has been developed for them. If that is not the case and there was no specific demand for a “Reformed perspective” as such, then the question begs to be answered, “Why such a radically theological leaning advisory board and writing consortium?”

There is no shortage of widely publicized jargon that makes it perfectly clear that those in this carefully selected group consider the Doctrines of Grace and the Reformed position of soteriology the most consistent form of Christianity and the purest presentation of the Gospel. It is also absolutely clear from Dr. Stetzer’s own statistical data, that the SBC is overwhelmingly non-Reformed in their soteriology, no matter how “shallow” their understanding of the deep theological truths concerning the things “God has accomplished in the Gospel for us,” may or may not be. In speaking for myself, I do not desire to have a project of this magnitude produced by Lifeway that has any appearance of attempting to reform the people who attend the average Sunday School classes in non-Reformed churches. Lifeway ought to be diligent with respect to the products it produces to make sure this does not happen. That is not the case with “The Gospel Project.”

Why this expressed concern for “The Gospel Project”? Unless there is indeed a call from church leaders across the SBC for a Reformed Curriculum then it can only be assumed that Lifeway has produced “The Gospel Project” with the expressed purpose of reforming the shallow and incorrect understanding of just what the true gospel is within our autonomous Southern Baptist congregations. While I believe in my heart that there is no real demand for this kind of project from the typical SBC church, I have no problem with churches purchasing this kind of literature as long as they understand up front what it is that they are buying.

I do have serious concerns with Lifeway’s labeling this project simply as “the Gospel Project” with no reference to its theologically leaning perspective. The administration of Lifeway knows full well that Baptist churches have looked to Lifeway for decades for theologically pertinent literature for their members. Many churches will see the promotional information on the “Gospel Project” that is new and exciting and Lifeway knows churches will purchase the literature. There is absolutely no doubt that this project will have a Calvinistic leaning perspective; otherwise there would be no reason to choose such a tightly knitted theological group.

Here comes the anticipated two-fold defense. “This is not a theologically biased project.” That argument is an argument from naivety, ignorance, or intentional cover-up. To attempt to even make this kind of argument, in my opinion, a brazen insult to this group of writers who were carefully selected for this project. No one should expect them to set aside their strong theological persuasion to produce a project of this magnitude and not be biased in their understanding of the synonymous position that the “true gospel” is Calvinism. It was their own admission and original purpose to make this project “Christ-centered, mission-driven, shaped around the narrative of God’s redemptive plan.” For this select group of writers that plan is best set forth in the Doctrines of Grace and Calvinism.

The second anticipated response is, “There is no hidden agenda on Lifeway’s part to put this project into churches to help ‘reform them’.” Great. Label the project’s title as “A Reformed Perspective” and all will be kosher. This is a simple request. Anything less, will shed serious doubt on Lifeway’s intentions and its ongoing ability to provide theologically pertinent literature to the mainstream Southern Baptist church. This potential problem MUST be avoided. According to Dr. Stetzer’s 2006 research 90% of SBC churches are not Reformed in their theology and as such, I suggest that they are not very likely to be looking for literature to move them in that direction any time soon.

Respectfully submitted,

Bob Hadley
Pastor, Westside Baptist Church
Daytona Beach, Florida

Baptist Press: The CNN of the Baptist World!

The following article was written by Howell Scott at From Law to Grace and is posted in its entirety here.

For a similar article from Peter Lumpkins titled “Gerald Harris, Al Mohler, and Baptist Press” , CLICK HERE.

When I was in law school at Florida State University, CNN was THE 24-hour cable news outlet. In fact, it was the only such cable news source at the time. When Operation Desert Storm commenced on January 17, 1991, I was glued to CNN for all the live, front-line news from Kuwait. In July 1994, shortly before moving with my wife to Louisville to begin our studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I recovered from wisdom teeth surgery by watching the Pre-trial hearing in the O.J. Simpson murder case. Later on, I would be sitting in our basement apartment at the Seminary Guest House watching CNN’s live coverage of the ”not guilty” verdict (which doesn’t necessarily mean “innocent”) when it was handed down. As a major political junkie, I would stay up into the wee hours of the night every Election Day watching CNN’s extensive political coverage.

All the while, I always knew in the back of my mind that CNN, like most of the mainstream media, leaned to the left in their reporting. But, at least they had Crossfire, which allowed conservatives of that day to have a voice (albeit very small) on the only alternative news network to CBS, NBC, and ABC. Then, in 1996, something monumental happened which impacted (and continues to impact) journalism and news in this country — Fox News was born. On October 7, 1996, Fox News launched what would quickly become a wildly popular 24-hour cable news network that would give viewers a real news choice for the very first time.

It was not until I started watching Fox News regularly that I came to understand just how liberal CNN truly was (and is). No longer would Americans have to swallow the liberal pabulum that the mainstream media — including CNN — would try to spoonfeed its viewers. Instead, we would be offered a truly “fair and balanced” approach to news. After all, real journalism, as the late James Deakin, long-time White House reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and one of my favorite professors at George Washington University taught us, journalistic reporting should be balanced, fair, and complete. Although Professor Deakin probably would not have liked that Fox News uses the “fair and balanced” label to describe their journalistic standards, he could not argue that these standards were not what he taught and what he lived by, even if his reporting got him put on Nixon’s Enemies List.

James Deakin was no conservative, but he taught this conservative a healthy respect for journalism. It is through the lens of his three criteria for objective reporting — balanced, fair, and complete — that I critique news stories. And, just because a story happens to emanate from a source that I might otherwise find trustworthy does not mean that the story gets a pass. Such is the case with the Baptist Press’ reporting on the Gerald Harris kerfuffle following his OPINION piece, “The Calvinists are here,” originally published in the (still) independent Christian Index, the autonomous Georgia Baptist Convention’s newspaper of record (see here for the article republished with proper permission granted).

Within 24 hours, Baptist Press had posted a “news” article responding to the Harris article. Entitled ‘Encroachment of Calvinism’ concerns editor, the reporter, Erin Roach, quoted four direct sources who opposed Harris’ article. These sources included Dr. R. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Danny Akin, President of The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Both seminaries are entities of the Southern Baptist Convention. Also quoted in opposition to Harris’ article was Mike Ebert, the new NAMB’s Vice President of Communications and, Lifeway Christian Resources’ Corporate Communications Director, Marty King. Being in the business of communications, both Ebert and King sure have a funny way of trying to advance their message to all Southern Baptists. The way they responded to Harris almost makes one think that they were trying to communicate a message to a particular sub-culture within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Mr. Ebert’s response, as published in the BP article, is curious indeed. I find it quite perplexing and disturbing that Ebert, an employee of one of our entities, would call Mr. Harris — the well-respected editor of The Christian Index – “a friend who has a passion for evangelism and missions” while at the same time accusing him of evoking “the McCarthyism of the 1950′s.” Mr. King does no better, accusing Mr. Harris of publishing “false accusations without offering any evidence of their truthfulness.” In other words, Mr. Harris and the Christian Index publish lies. With friends like this, who needs . . .?

If the resources and power of the SBC’s public relations arm — which is, after all, what Baptist “Press” really is — can be marshalled so quickly to write a scathing rebuttal to the Harris piece, one would rightly assume that BP’s article would at least have the pretense of objectivity. Surely they would interview Mr. Harris to respond to an article written about him, wouldn’t they? How about one or two Southern Baptists who agreed with Mr. Harris’ article? Nope. Instead, we are treated to more piling on supporting statements from Dr. Ed Stetzer (“The Baptist Bogeyman”) and Trevin Wax (SBC Voices interview), both principal players behind Lifeway’s The Gospel Project curriculum. As an aside, why would it be necessary to ask whether contributors/advisers to The Gospel Project are Calvinists when the answer to that question is as clear as the blue New Mexico sky?

It has been five days since the Baptist Press article responding to Gerald Harris’ opinion piece in The Christian Index. I suppose that BP could write another article which would quote Gerald Harris, as well as other Southern Baptists — both pastors and lay folk — who shared Mr. Harris’ perspective about the encroachment of Calvinism in SBC life. The folks interviewed wouldn’t even have to be all Non-Calvinists. I know a few Reformed Southern Baptists who happen to share Editor Harris’ perspective. That would at least meet the minimum standards of balance, fairness, and completeness.

In a Baptist world with alternative sources of news — blogs and Associated Baptist Press come to mind — the Southern Baptist Convention’s public relations arm, Baptist Press, would do well to practice a modicum of objective reporting instead of publishing articles that appear to be nothing more than a blatant attempt to silence any opposition to the establishment. Grassroots Southern Baptists are watching. Before it’s too late, Dr. Page and others in leadership at the Executive Committee need to act to protect the continued integrity and trustworthiness of Baptist Press. Otherwise, they will be viewed as the CNN of the Baptist World. And, that’s not gonna be good for anyone!

Changes Coming to the Southern Baptist Convention

The Southern Baptist Convention is being changed. As I look at the rich history of the SBC, our strength has been our unity that has been centered around the Cooperative Program. While there have been significant differences in our theological positions, we have always been able in varying degrees to work together for a common cause of taking the gospel message to our neighborhoods and then to the world.

Today things are decidedly different. Theology and not cooperation is now the focus. The problem the SBC is facing is not Calvinism or Arminianism. It is not inerrancy or liberalism. The problem the SBC is facing today is not theology; the problem we are now facing is the need to define who we are today and who we will not be tomorrow. While theology itself is not the problem, it will be the focus of the identity problem that is inevitable. We as a convention have managed to cooperate for missions and all the while, theology has been for the most part a secondary issue. Today theology has moved to the forefront and cooperation has taken the back seat and that is the problem. Before the scud missiles begin to fly, remember something. The SBC is not a church. While theology is essential to the church, that is not necessarily the primary focus of the SBC, The primary purpose of the SBC is to do collectively as a convention of churches what individual churches cannot do on their own. While theology is important to the SBC, cooperation is the principle characteristic that holds it together. This theological battle that the SBC is embroiled in now will see as an unanticipated result, a convention that will begin to force limits on its ability to cooperate together and that is the real problem we are facing as a convention.

I have looked at this theological issue and have said, “Calvinists cannot continue down the road they are headed for if they are allowed to do so, the face of the convention will be forever changed.” Here is the reality of it all. Calvinists have managed to do the same thing today the Liberals did in the 70’s and 80’s. This liberal group of Southern Baptists saw the Scriptures differently than the majority of Southern Baptists. They were able to position themselves in the seminaries and graduates were becoming more liberal in their interpretation and application of the Scriptures. This became unacceptable to many and a few took the reigns to lead a conservative resurgence to get “Back to the Bible” and to establish what they decided would be an inerrant view of the Scriptures. Calvinists led with non-Calvinists in this resurgence. Liberals were expelled from the seminaries and entity positions and Calvinists stepped up and gradually over the next 20 years took their place in the seminaries and then began to fill key positions in SBC entities just as the liberals did a couple decades before. This in and of itself is not even the problem. Many today argue, Calvinists have always been a part of the convention and they deserve to lead as they believe God would have them do. While I do not agree with Calvinism, I do agree with this sentiment.

Many, including myself have looked at Calvinism as a threat to the current landscape of SBC. I am beginning to realize that this in and of itself is really not the case. So, what is the problem? The problem as I see it, is the inevitable move that the SBC must now take to identify itself theologically, namely Calvinist or non-Calvinist. This will have an indelible effect on the most basic Baptist identities of the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church, for this move of the convention to identify itself will have its effect on those who choose to cooperate. The move to establish just who the SBC will be in the future will almost definitely isolate those who lose the identity battle. I have argued that this would definitely be the case if the Reformed position continued it current course. Those leading the reformed revival are obviously not at all pleased with the non-Calvinist position that still virtually dominates the SBC today. One argument is that as the Reformers manage to gain control of the convention, it can be expected that those leading the charge will make changes that will solidify the Reformed position so that this problem will never again be repeated. I would expect nothing less. This is the fear that originally caught my attention.

If the non-Calvinist contingency were to manage to hold onto the convention, the same problems would still exist. In this case, the convention would almost by necessity be forced to identify itself in non-Calvinist terms so that it would be more difficult for Calvinist leaders to be able to hold key positions of leadership and influence in the convention. Either way, the ramifications of the convention’s attempt to settle this theological battle will have disastrous results.

The BF&M is headed for change. That is now inevitable. It will be changed to settle the issue of regeneration with respect to repentance and saving faith. Some will suggest the issue of church government must be addressed. Once this step is taken, the SBC will be forever changed because the priesthood of the believer and autonomy of the local church will be usurped by the convention’s new theological stance. One could argue against this citing the conservative resurgence and the battle of the 80’s. The liberals did leave the SBC and it survived. The major difference can be seen in the battles themselves. Inerrancy was a winnable battle for Southern Baptists. The issue we are currently embroiled in is much more detrimental and controversial. The battle lines are not so clearly defined. Calvinists cannot even decide among themselves who is or is not Reformed enough. Non-Calvinists have never really cared. Once the SBC takes a stand on this issue, everyone loses.

Following the release of the BF&M 2000, there was a move by some to modify it because of some of the language use and it is my understanding Dr. Al Mohler stood at the convention and in effect said, if we start changing the BF&M people, especially our critics in the world, will see us as unstable and unsure of what we actually believe. (My interpretation of his retort.) His argument or that argument in general, whether he made it or not, is exactly where the SBC is today.

The only possible caveat may be what some call the apathy in the pew. There is an argument that regardless of what takes place with respect to control of the entities of the SBC, the people in the pew will adapt and churches will conform and the CP will continue to work as it has always done. I do not believe that will be the case this time. This divide is too deep and too ill defined and this inevitable attempt at a resolution will be disastrous and those who feel polarized will in all likelihood lead their churches to leave the convention. Those who remain will have no choice but face an endless barrage of ongoing theological nuances that will no doubt continue to plague the convention as new power players seek to lead the convention and force further division among its churches and the people who are in the pew. Actually, this problem will plague both sides as each seeks to establish itself in its new found attempt to maintain a viable identity.

Richard A. Spears in McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs speaks about Matthew 26:52, “Live by the sword, die by the sword” and he warns, “You can expect to become a victim of whatever means you use to get what you want.” I am afraid this statement tragically describes the inevitable plight of the SBC. I for one am saddened by these prospects and hope that I am wrong.


Here is an editorial note on the day after this post.

The following is a personal response to a series of questions posed by Dave Miller at SBC Voices. Dave’s article can be accessed by CLICKING HERE.

Is the Southern Baptist Convention a united community filled with people with a passion to serve Christ, honor him and walk in the fruit of the Spirit?

We are not a united community. That is sad but true. Are we a community with a passion to serve Christ? I believe we have a number of churches in our convention that this would describe. I also believe there are unfortunately a large number of churches who do not have this “passion”. They have other priorities and would admit they need this passion but they have simply not be taught the importance of walking and talking with the Lord and establishing a personal relationship with Him as a goal for their lives and the life of their church. The truth a lot of churches are more focused on what goes on inside the church than they are outside the church. The problem plagues churches of all sizes and theological underpinnings.

Is the Southern Baptist Convention focused on the Great Commission and our divinely-ordained purpose to bring the gospel to the world?

I believe for the most part, that has been the overarching priority of the SBC in years past. That priority was cooperation. As long as the primary focus of the SBC was cooperation, I believe the potential was there for the purpose of carrying the gospel to the world. Have we done the most with what we had? No. Have we made mistakes in administrating the task set before us in our convention entities? Yes. Has the SBC been diligent in attempting to accomplish this task, yes.
Is the Southern Baptist Convention holding the line on theological orthodoxy?

I discuss this question in detail in an article I posted last night at SBC Issues. I believe this move to “hold the line on theological orthodoxy” has usurped the cooperation priority and that in and of itself has now moved the convention into uncharted waters that I am not sure it can navigate its way out of.

The convention is NOT a church; it is an organization that exists to assist churches in doing together what individual churches cannot do on their own. The theological positions of the convention itself are not as big a factor as some I believe might suggest, because the churches who cooperate together determine their level of cooperation, not the convention. It is the responsibility of the churches to direct the convention and not the other way around and that is now the troubling aspect of the current theological climate that exists in the SBC today.

As individuals and churches, we do not have today nor do we want tomorrow a convention that decides for us who we will be or what we will believe in order to cooperate together to accomplish the Great Commission. I know there are already very broad statements that we must adhere to and that is necessary. There is a major difference in what exists today and the call for “holding the line of theological orthodoxy” as a convention.

After thinking about Dave’s questions and my response, here is a second response I felt led to make.
As I think about these questions raised I am realizing the importance of putting some things in their proper perspective. Blogs give us the ability to be vocal, we sometimes take the mistaken idea that it also makes us experts. I have been abundantly guilty of this and I know better. We are all basically working things out in our own minds as we speak our minds and hopefully benefit from things others say as they are doing the same.

Here is the problem we all need to remember. Our opinions are like those of a 6 year old when it comes to asking what our priorities ought to be in our lives as adults. The 6 year old can no doubt give us a heartfelt honest and sincere answer; the problem is his perspective is way too limited. What we are arguing about is not really theology, at least where the SBC is concerned. We are looking at things like a 6 year old might. We have no real idea what the overall ramifications would be to the suggestions we are making because of our limited perspectives concerning what the reality actually is concerning what the SBC is and what it is doing.
In essence I am seeing some of these things as I write this comment. What we are actually doing is this; we are bringing our input into discussions that have been taking place in the Executive Committee and trustee meetings of the various entities for decades. The questions that we are really asking have more to do with the entities of the SBC and what they do and how they do it than anything. Who is qualified to lead them; who is qualified to go; what should they do when they get there and how should they do it?

We can all be great mail room managers; that does not qualify us to be the CEO. We all have opinions about play calling in our favorite sports and can be expert arm chair quarterbacks and coaches. That does not qualify us as experts on the field and in the game where it all counts. I suppose the same thing needs to be said in our discussions regarding the SBC and how it ought to operate and what is ought to be.

Do we have a right to have a say in what takes place and do we have a right to be critical, maybe. The problem with our answers to both of these questions again must be kept in check because of our limited perspective of what is actually going on as opposed to what we think ought to be going on. I may do things today that appear to be leading in one direction but in reality it is only a step that is necessary to get me from where I am today to the place I want to be in the future. Sometimes, we have to go south to get on the interstate to go north.

I need to remind myself of that fact as I speak my mind especially where I am being critical in analyzing what I see as the “priorities of the SBC” and the ramifications of decisions and actions being taken by it. One thing is consistently true; Things are almost never what they seem.

It is easy for any organization to get off track. It is easy as individuals to get off track. It is easy for us all to lose our focus and our overall best intentions. Hopefully we can all learn from each other and benefit from one another even with our differences and know that we all share a common bond in Christ and a love for and an adherence to His precious Word.

That is my prayer for us all!


The Future of This Ole Ship, The Southern Baptist Convention

The SBC is embroiled in a politically charged environment that is not going to go away. At stake is the direction this old stately ship is going to sail in the future. Everyone knows that this is the case. There are many who do not mind and support the direction the rudder is facing today. That is part of the process. It is one of the difficult aspects of being so diverse. It will work itself out.

While I have been criticized for being so critical of what I see taking place, I am trying as best I know how to be as fair as I can, given the information I have to go on and things that I see taking place that I do not approve of. I clearly recognize the responsibility of those who disagree with me to express their concerns and opinions accordingly and welcome and respect those opinions. if I did not, I would not be posting here.

It is helpful to read those who have differing opinions, or else the whole concept of blogging would be a waste of everyone’s time. All the Calvinists would just gather over at “The Voices” and rant and rave about the non-Calvinists that gather to rant and rave at Peter’s Place. The interaction I think can be helpful to some degree. However, this propensity to refuse to acknowledge a dissenting opinion and perspective and marginalize the one who is making it, it petty and unbecoming to everything we should be here to do.

I have made statements that fall into that category as well and have apologized for doing so and will apologize again. I would love nothing more than to find a comfortable balance here but I do not believe that is possible and I also am becoming increasingly more aware of the fact that the Calvinist agenda may well now be so far along that the convention’s future will no doubt look much different than it did yesterday. That is a compliment, for the record.

I will continue to express my opinion and solutions as I see them to avoid what I believe will be the inevitable change that appears to be coming. Do I have a crystal ball, no. Do I believe everyone always says what they mean and mean what they say, no. Sorry; no one else here does either. So with that being said,

May God lead and guide and direct the future of the SBC and may He maintain the glory in all we undertake to do. The SBC needs God; God does not need the SBC.


A Response to Trevin Wax and His Remarks Concerning the Gospel Project

Dave Miller has posted an interview with Trevin Wax, the managing Editor for Lifeway’s newest intensive Bible study, titled, “The Gospel Project” at SBC Voices, a SBC Blog site to help keep Southern Baptists informed on current issues. You may read Dave’s interview and Trevin’s answers
by clicking HERE.

I want to respond here to a number of comments Trevin makes. First of all, I have no problem with the production of the project if there was a legitimate need expressed for such a project as this. I do have a problem with the way it is being marketing and that is the extent of my issue. I will address that in more detail at the end of this response.

Statement #1… “How do we encourage people to study the Bible in a way that shines light on the supremacy of Jesus Christ in all things?” Supremacy as in soteriology and conversion, which are the heart and soul of Reformed Theology and we can expect this select group of writers to “go soft on unconditional election and irresistible grace?” I would not expect anything of the sort from this group.

Statement #2, “We are driven by this same approach to the Scriptures — one that has a long heritage in Baptist life.” Given the strong historical underpinnings of Reformed Theology in the storied history of the SBC and the only more recent shameful move away from it, I would certainly expect to hear more from some guys than others. Hey, history is history, right? Ask the Jews about today’s historicity of the Holocaust. Seems the significance of history is all too often in the eye of the beholder, or in many cases the eye of the writer.

Statement #3, “(In fact, one of the quarters in the 3-year cycle is called “Atonement Thread.”) The goal is to show how all the stories of the Bible are telling one overarching story of redemption through Jesus Christ.” The interesting focus here is the “one overarching story of redemption”. Let’s see, reservations go up or go down?

Statement #4, with respect to the “gospel”, Trevin wrote, “This announcement calls for a response: repentance (mourning over and turning from our sin, trading our agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation).” I am sure the role of regeneration will come up somewhere in this presentation.

Statement #5, “The uniqueness of The Gospel Project does not mean other curriculum options are not theological or gospel-focused – any more than calling your congregation Life Baptist Church means that the other churches in town are all dead.” That was an interesting illustration to say the least. Seems like I have heard similar remarks about folks who differ on what the true gospel really is.

Statement #6, the nitty gritty, “No. When we put together the initial advisory group to give us some initial insight into the scope of topics we should cover, we invited people who were known for emphasizing the Christ-centered nature of the Scriptures. The advisory council is made up of people who think that way (and most were connected with Ed in some way).
But this “Christ-centered” emphasis is not exclusive to Reformed folks. That’s why eight of the eleven council members are Southern Baptist. The other three are Baptist, but not SBC.” Who can argue against folks who are promoting “the Christ-centered nature of the Scriptures”? After all, SB’s are people of the Book! The obvious problem is where we center Christ in our theology. We all are Scripturally based. Interesting choice of words here. Trevin says being Christ-centered is not exclusive to Reformed Folks so as to include non-Reformed folk but notice his next statement, that is why 8 are SB and 3 are just Baptist; failing to mention that ALL are decidedly Reformed, especially the 3 non-SB folk. I am sure that was just a slip of the tongue there.

Statements 7 and 8 are very interesting. #7, “As far as how many are Reformed or not, I honestly do not know how many points people claim.” Nice touch. Reformed, absolutely; how reformed, who knows! #8, “That (the indoctrination of the DOG in SB churches) wasn’t a question or even a topic of conversation that came up in those initial meetings, as far as I can recall. The conversations were about how we could structure this curriculum in a way that points to Christ, not Calvinism.” Here is the real problem I have with this project. It is a Calvinist project that points to Christ. Any way you slice it, that is what it is. Man up! Anyone who has half a brain KNOWS that this is the case. Otherwise this last statement would have been moot. It is what it is. That is the problem.

Statement #9, “We think it is great that leaders like D.A. Carson, Matt Chandler, James MacDonald, and Danny Akin would take the time (without compensation) to give us their input in how to shape a curriculum. That’s a dream team for us.” These three gentlemen are card carrying unapologetically Reformed in their theology. Nice Dream Team for some; not “all of us”.

Statement #10, “Yes – at least I think so. We’ve never asked anyone if they were Calvinists. We ask them about the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.” I believe Trevin is telling the absolute truth when he said, “we never asked.” I believe that 110%. The BF&M 2000 has most certainly garnered much more mileage than it was ever intended to get in today’s SBC! That is a fact.

Statement #11, Response to the question, will we hear about the TULIP, regeneration etc, Trevin;s response, “I don’t think so, but it depends on the non-Calvinists. We are not going to bring a doctrinal system to the text, but we do have convictions about the text as Southern Baptists.” In otherwords, while the terms are left off, the concepts are no doubt there. My contention all along has been, I would expect no less from these individuals who have both the responsibility and obligation to themselves and to the God they serve to write from the depths of their hearts and conviction. I would be sorely disappointed if they did not.

I will conclude my comments with the following statement from Trevin. “In the end, many people will not prefer this curriculum because it is confessional at the core. For those who are inside our denomination, I think there will be two groups who will not like this curriculum: SBC Calvinists who believe their soteriological system IS the gospel and want to push Calvinism rather than Christ, and anti-Calvinists who think any inclusion of Reformed writers (or someone who once met or even read a Reformed writer) entails a conspiracy or agenda to push a particular view of soteriology.

First of all, everyone and I do mean EVERYONE knows that good Calvinists do believe “there soteriologal system IS the gospel” so that is correct but everyone also knows that no good Calvinist pushes Calvinism over Christ. Is that not a great definition of a Strawman or what? Second, all those anti-calvinists out there ‘who think any inclusion of Reformed writers (or someone who once met or even read a Reformed writer) entails a conspiracy or agenda to push a particular view of soteriology.” Another nice little condescending touch; after all, anyone who is not Reformed is illiterate or incapable of being theological so the only objection they could possibly come up with is “the writers association with reformed Theology.” Why should I be alarmed? Silly me.
“Both of these groups are misguided.” We may not be as misguided as Trevin thinks.

Once final comment for Trevin. I have suggested and will continue to do so, the following simple solution to this whole issue. Name the project, “The Gospel Project: A Reformed Perspective.” Perspective is certainly fair and is not necessarily suggesting that it is “fully reformed” if your contention is that it is not. Most of the folks that I have talked with would be relatively satisfied with that modification in the title.

Here is why I believe it is fair and responsible on Lifeway’s part. If the demand was to produce a piece with this theological leaning, then identify it as such so those looking for it till know that is what it is. The only possible objection would be, it will not sell. If that is the case, then it ought not sell. It would be highly unethical for Lifeway to intentionally sell a program to churches that do not want a Reformed perspective in their literature. While I know that has already been done to some degree, this move is unprecedented in Lifeway’s history. Lifeway is aware of the relationship SB churches have with it and they are also aware of the connotations the phrase, “The Gospel Project” will garner in the marketplace. Seems to me the Reformed effort to “hijack” the term gospel is similar to their doing the same thing with grace. It is a highly effective move and will continue to be so.

Lifeway’s refusal to market this project for what it is will only lend to the argument that this project has been produced to help reformed pastors who go to pastor non-Reformed churches do the tough work of reformation. That is a fact and once again, everyone knows the stakes. I implore you to do the right thing and convince Lifeway to correctly label this project that you all ought to be proud of and do not cheapen its impact by refusing to label it for what it is.