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One-On-One with Dr. Rainer

Bio picDr. Thom Rainer and his family have been friends of ours since we moved to Louisville when Jonathan and I were freshmen in High school. On our second day in Louisville we went to W.W. Cousins (best burgers in the country by the way) for burgers with the Rainer's. I was under the impression at the time that my Dad and Dr. Rainer had been long time friends because my father was leaving the next morning for a speaking engagement, and Dad told us that we would stay with the Rainer's while he was gone. I didn't know until the Convention in San Antonio this year that it was really the first time they had met and that apparently we had stayed with strangers our first few days in Louisville. The Rainer's were not strangers for long. We instantly became friends with their three boys Sam, Art, and Jess, and my parents immediately did the same with Thom and Nellie Joe. They are a family that the Akin family dearly loves, and Dr. Rainer is a man that I respect and admire very much. Dr. Rainer, now President of LifeWay Resources, has been gracious to grant sbcwitness an interview. The interview will be delivered in two parts. Today's entry will focus on the work of Dr. Rainer at LifeWay, including his transition from dean and professor to President, the current projects of LifeWay, and what the future potentially holds for Dr. Rainer and LifeWay. Tomorrow's entry will focus on the Southern Baptist Convention issues, advice from Dr. Rainer for churches and young ministers, and sadly a mention of his devotion to a school in Tuscaloosa. We are grateful here at sbcwitness that Dr. Rainer would take the time for this interview.

SBW: How do you think your previous experience has prepared you to be the president of LifeWay Christian Resources? How has your transition from professor/dean to head of Lifeway been?

I stand amazed every day that I am the president of LifeWay. There are many Southern Baptists who are smarter than I am, wiser than I am, and more godly than I am. There are points in my life that have certainly been an asset toward my preparation for this moment. I served for several years in the business world before answering God's call to vocational ministry. I had the opportunity to be the pastor of four very different churches in four states. My years as dean at Southern Seminary were invaluable in helping me understand better the academic world. And I am thankful that I had the opportunity to write several books and learn a bit about the world of Christian publishing. Certainly, the nearly 20 years I spent as a church consultant gave me some unique insights into the church. Still, despite the great opportunities God gave me in the past, I am amazed and humbled to be serving in this position.

SBW: What gets you excited when you think about the future of LifeWay Christian Resources?

LifeWay is one of the largest Christian resource providers in the world. The number of lives we touch each years is in the millions. It is an awesome and exciting opportunity. From a high-level perspective, I am excited about seeing LifeWay move toward greater biblical depth, as evidenced by B&H Academic. I am also excited about LifeWay becoming more relevant to the churches we serve, and LifeWay Research has moved us in that direction. But I guess I get most excited when I hear one of countless testimonies of someone becoming a Christian as God used one of our resources for that evangelistic opportunity.

SBW: What do you see happening with B&H Academic in the next few years?

With the recent addition of Terry Wilder in academic books and Jeremy Howard in the Biblical Reference Book area, Ray Clendenen has assembled a virtual "power team" for the acquisition and development of academic books. These men have joined David Stabnow, Steve Bonds, and Jim Baird, as B&H has the best program going forward in the academic arena representing a conservative, biblical viewpoint. The program Ray is crafting reflects my vision of an academic program built upon academic excellence and biblical authority. As old, once-reliable publishing houses veer off on a trajectory that includes more experimental theology in their catalogs, the biblical center is fast becoming the exclusive territory of B&H Academic.

SBW: What are a couple of exciting books that B&H will soon be publishing?

I could note many, but I will mention but a few: The HCSB Apologetics Study Bible,edited by Ted Cabal coming in September; and Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics, by William Lane Craig is due in October. A few titles a bit further out include: Perspectives on the Doctrine of God by Bruce A. Ware; Introduction to the Old Testament by Eugene Merrill, Mark Rooker, and Michael Grisanti; Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas Kostenberger, Scott Kellum and Charles Quarles; and Holman Dictionary of Christian Philosophy by Steve Lemke. A recently-released systematic theology, A Theology for the Church, is one of our best-selling academic titles. It was edited by Danny Akin. Do you know him?

SBW: What are you currently researching? Are you working on any books right now?

LifeWay Research has either concluded or is working on the following projects that have yet been released to the public: portions of an omnibus study related to alcohol; further studies on Calvinism in the SBC; and church polity. Results will be released at various times this fall. We are about to release the findings of a "teenage dropout" study analyzing the factors that contribute to the loss of teenagers from church involvement. We are in the middle of a major longitudinal discipleship study that seeks to determine the degree to which regular church attenders mature spiritually over the course of one year and why. We are also in the process of conducting a project related to marriage and family life. I am working on a book with my oldest son, Sam, about the major characteristics of churches that do well retaining their members. It is tentatively titled Essential Church.

SBW: How did you come up with the idea for your new book Simple Church? Can you explain, in brief, the idea behind the book?

The idea actually originated with the research of Eric Geiger, the co-author of the book, in his doctoral studies at Southern Seminary. I saw the incredible research he did on Southern Baptist churches, and helped him to expand the study to non-SBC churches as well. The central theme of the book is that churches must have a clear and biblical process for making disciples. Most churches are activity-driven rather than driven to make disciples.

SBW: Are any future plans of changing/tweaking the adult Sunday School curriculum? Right now there are only two options that I know – the Life series and Thru the Bible, any plans you have for a change in this direction?

We are constantly looking to improve our Sunday School curriculum. Sometimes it involves tweaking; other times it involves major changes. We actually have four different types of adult curriculum now. My personal favorite is Explore the Bible, a systematic study of all 66 books over an eight-year period. A new cycle begins this fall. The Life Connections curriculum seeks to be clearly life application, Bible Studies for Life provides studies according to an adult's stage of life: young adults, couples, parents, empty nester's, and retired adults. Master Works utilizes top-rate Bible studies by a variety of well-known authors. A nine-lesson study by the late Adrian Rogers is available this fall.