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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.

Oprah on Marriage

I am currently attempting to finish notes for my upcoming class that I will be teaching at Southwestern Seminary. The class is entitled "The Christian Home" and the catalog description states that it is a "study of the biblical and theological foundations of the Christian home. Students will be equipped to apply sound moral standards in their relationships at home and to build strong families." As a result my life for the last few weeks has been consumed by all things family. Everything I have read deals with the family. All my thoughts have considered family. Even my Sunday School class has been dealing with marriage and family issues. Typically, I keep my resources on marriage and family pretty reliable; however, I found a new one today—Oprah.com. Go ahead, insert snide remark here!

Actually, while perusing CNN.com, I found an article entitled, "Questions to ask before you get married." While linked to CNN, it was attributed to Oprah.com (the author is Susan Piver, not Oprah). Reading the article caused my mind to return to the premarital counseling that my wife and I had with our pastor prior to our wedding (by the way, he required it in order to perform the wedding ceremony). Even though I would not recommend Oprah or her website as a legitimate source for marital counseling, I am encouraged by many of the questions posed in the article. Here is a sample…

Question 1: What percentage of our income are we prepared to spend to purchase and maintain our home on a monthly or annual basis?
Question 2: Who is responsible for keeping our house and yard cared for and organized? Are we different in our needs for cleanliness and organization?
Question 3: How much money do we earn together? Now? In one year? In five years? Ten? Who is responsible for which portion? Now? In one year? Five? Ten?
Question 4: What is our ultimate financial goal regarding annual income, and when do we anticipate achieving it? By what means and through what efforts?
Question 5: What are our categories of expense (rent, clothing, insurance, travel)? How much do we spend monthly, annually, in each category? How much do we want to be able to spend?
Question 6: How much time will each of us spend at work, and during what hours? Do we begin work early? Will we prefer to work into the evening?
Question 7: If one of us doesn't want to work, under what circumstances, if any, would that be okay?
Question 13: What place does the other's family play in our family life? How often do we visit or socialize together? If we have out-of-town relatives, will we ask them to visit us for extended periods? How often?
Question 14: If we have children, what kind of relationship do we hope our parents will have with their grandchildren? How much time will they spend together?
Question 15: Will we have children? If so, when? How many? How important is having children to each of us?
Question 16: How will having a child change the way we live now? Will we want to take time off from work, or work a reduced schedule? For how long? Will we need to rethink who is responsible for housekeeping?
Question 19: Do we share a religion? Do we belong to a church, synagogue, mosque or temple? More than one? If not, would our relationship benefit from such an affiliation?
Question 20: Does one of us have an individual spiritual practice? Is the practice and the time devoted to it acceptable to the other? Does each partner understand and respect the other's choices?

Now I admit that the spiritual questions toward the end get a little hokey, but at least they are being asked. Here are some questions from our premarital counseling with Pastor Bill Bowyer…

1. Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you are certain that if you were to die today, you would go to heaven?

2. How long have you known your fiancée? On a scale of 1–20, how well would you say you know your future mate?

3. Have you been married before?

4. Why do you want to marry?

5. What do your parents feel about your relationship and this potential marriage?

6. How would you define marital love?

7. What is your opinion on divorce?

8. Are you financially prepared for the financial costs of marriage?

9. What does the statement, "Lordship of Christ" mean? How should this concept affect a marriage?

10. Are you currently building a pure relationship? (i.e., Are you living together? etc.)

11. Can you honestly say that you want God’s perfect will for your life and that this marriage fits in that will?

Those questions came during the first session as well as the following points of a premarital and marital covenant that included…

1. I will remain celibate (sexually pure) until our wedding day and from that day forward give myself only to my spouse.

2. I will never divorce my spouse.

3. I will never physically or emotionally abuse my spouse.

4. I will, unless providentially hindered, be in church worshipping with my family on the Lord’s Day.

5. I will raise any children that God gives us to love the Lord Jesus Christ and His church.

6. I will, in the event that my spouse and I have problems or disagreements that we cannot seem to resolve, seek with my spouse Bible-based Christian counseling to help us resolve our problems.

7. I will attend premarital counseling sessions with a pastor.

I believe we had a total of five sessions (I could be mistaken) with our pastor, and once those were concluded, he approved of performing our wedding ceremony. Other sessions included questions and discussions on character traits that we appreciated about each other, the biblical concept of marriage presented in Gen 2:18–25 and Eph 5:22–33, communication, financial goals and expectations, and other items related to the first few years of marriage.

The reasons that premarital counseling, and even the questions that Oprah raises, are important are abundantly obvious in our culture. Just look at the prevalence of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, adultery, etc. It is out of control, and not just in "secular" society—it is out of control in the church. Here are some statistics that I gathered for my class:

· In 2006, 9.8% of American adults were currently divorced (and not remarried) and 2.1% were separated. (US Census Bureau)

· In 2005, 5% of all American households were composed of unmarried couples of the opposite sex. (US Census Bureau)

· In 2001, 21% of all adult American men and 23.1% of all adult American women had been divorced. (US Census Bureau)

· In 2005 there were 3.6 divorces per 1,000 people in the US. Given that there were 7.5 marriages per 1,000 people, the divorce is around 48%. (US Census Bureau)

· In 2001, 13% of Protestant pastors had been divorced at least once. (The Barna Group)

· In 2001, 25% of self-identified born-again individuals had co-habited. (The Barna Group)

· In 2004, 35% of self-identified born-again individuals had been divorced, which is incidence among non-born-again individuals. (The Barna Group)

· As of 2004, 23% of married born-again individuals get divorced two or more times. (The Barna Group)

· In 2004, only one out of every seven adults (15%) strongly agreed with the statement "when a couple gets divorced without one of them having committed adultery, they are committing a sin." A similar percentage (16%) moderately agreed with the statement. The vast majority (66%) disagreed with the statement, most of them strongly dismissing the notion. (The Barna Group)

· In 2003, compared to married couples who did not cohabit before marriage, couples who cohabited before marriage were 65% more likely to separate and only one-third as likely to reconcile following a separation. (Heritage Foundation)

The statistics are sad and show that even many Christians do not take marriage and family issues seriously. We need to change our perspective and get serious about recovering the priority of marriage and family.

Good News–No Cocaine Was Involved!

If you are wondering what I am referring to, please read this article. I thought about waxing eloquent about how debased America's popular culture is, but I am so bumfuzzled by this "news" piece that all I can do is throw up a link and hope Al Mohler, Russ Moore, or Denny Burk takes the time to say something worthwhile about this little cultural nugget.