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One Sacred Effort

According to our banner, SBC Witness exists for the purpose of "encouraging Southern Baptist cooperation and faithfulness." Each of our contributors, though we serve in diverse ministry positions, live in different states, and disagree on any number of secondary matters, are committed to the SBC and are hopeful for the future of the convention. And we all like SEC football.

One way that we can encourage Southern Baptist cooperation and faithfulness is by educating Southern Baptists about our Cooperative Program (CP), the unified giving plan at the heart of the convention. As Jon Akin and Jedidiah Coppenger so helpfully demonstrated this summer, the CP is not without its faults. Jon, Jedidiah, and many, many others (including me) are convinced that the CP has room for improvement, and that it is critical for Southern Baptists to be willing to revisit and tweak the CP to make it a more effective means of funding our cooperative endeavors.

Despite its weaknesses, the CP is still the best thing going. Unfortunately, many–perhaps most–Southern Baptists have no clue what the CP is. Not a few SBC pastors are virtually unfamiliar with the Cooperative Program. But there is a remedy.

In 2005, B&H published an important work titled One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists. The book is co-authored by Southern Seminary theology professor Chad Owen Brand and Louisiana Baptist Convention executive director (and former SBC Executive Committee vice president) David E. Hankins. It is a very good book.

All of our seminaries make educating students about the CP a component of our respective curricula. For example, at Southeastern all students are required to take what amounts to an independent study course on the CP. Students read One Sacred Effort (which B&H graciously provides free of charge) and take a number of quizzes on the content of the book, administered online. Of course the CP is also emphasized in Baptist History and Identity classes at both the college and seminary levels, though the book is not required in those classes because of the aforementioned independent study course. No student goes through our seminary–or our sister seminaries–without being introduced to the CP and the Southern Baptist "way" to do cooperative missions.

But One Sacred Effort was not written for the sole purpose of being used as a textbook in college and seminary classes. Brand and Hankins wrote the book to educate all Southern Baptists, especially pastors and other church staff. To that end, let me highly encourage those of you engaged in local church work to purchase a copy of One Sacred Effort. It is the best short treatment of general SBC history, Baptist identity, and the in's and out's of how the SBC works and how we fund the many things we do.

The Money Quote for the Southern Baptist Convention

Timothy George has been at Southeastern the last two days to deliver the annual Page Lectures. He spoke on both days about the Reformation, focusing today on Martin Luther's recovery of the biblical gospel. It was rich stuff.

Yesterday, Dr. George also met with both Southeastern's faculty and her doctoral students, answering a variety of questions on a number of topics. At one point, someone asked him to offer some thoughts about the current state of the SBC. That was when he offered the money quote, which I am going to attempt to reproduce with basic accuracy. This is not an exact quote, but it is 95% correct:

The Southern Baptist Convention suffers from both amnesia and myopia. We don't know who we are, but we know we are better than everyone else. 

This is perhaps the most succinct, intelligent, accurate thing I have heard anyone say about the SBC in the last couple of years. I think he nailed it. Which, I think, begs the question: how can we emphasize (recover?) a healthy, historic, biblical Baptist identity without spiraling into mere sectarianism, unhealthy triumphalism, or prideful self-sufficiency?

What Do The Following Men Have in Common?

Question: What do the following men have in common?

Hanserd Knollys, Thomas Grantham, Obadiah Holmes, John Clarke, John Waller, James Ireland, Joseph Craig, among many others.

Answer: All went to prison for their belief in the baptism of believers alone. This is not including countless others, like early Harvard University president Henry Dunster, who were persecuted in other ways. Or the Anabaptists, who suffered and died for similiar convictions.

Would you be willing to suffer persecution for your baptismal convictions? Not the gospel itself, for which I assume (hope?) the answer is "yes." But would you be willing to suffer for the conviction that the gospel is most consistently displayed in the full immersion of new believers in water? Is baptism a conviction worthy of enduring suffering and persecution?

Your thoughts? 

What Does it Mean to be a Missions-Minded Southern Baptist Church?

What does it mean to be a missions-minded Southern Baptist pastor or church? I think this is an important question, and several events over the past six months or so have set me to pondering this issue. First has been the renewed emphasis on global missions at Southeastern, where our mission statement claims that "Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission." Our unofficial motto has become "every classroom a Great Commission classroom." A zeal for the nations is evident among our students, faculty, and staff, even those who do not feel a specific calling to be career or long-term missionaries. I doubt we are the only SBC seminary characterized by a passion for the Great Commission. So what do/will the churches led by these students and attended by these faculty and staff look like?

Another reason I have been pondering this question is because of the ever-increasing emphasis on being "Great Commission churches." This emphasis comes in many forms. The International Mission Board has a variety of programs that allow individual churches to partner with specific missionaries or "adopt" an unreached people group. The missional movement, both within the SBC and in other forms, has strongly emphasized the need for cross-cultural missions, both internationally and in North America. In those circles where John Piper has influence, he modeled one way of being an American pastor with a heart for the nations, particularly through his popular book Let the Nations Be Glad! And, of course, churches of many shapes, sizes, and theological convictions are not participating in short-term mission trips to other countries.

A third reason I wonder about this is because I sense the definition is changing from what it has historically meant to be a missions-minded SBC church. To put it bluntly, it seems no longer enough to simply pray for missionaries and give generously to the Cooperative Program. But that is exactly what it meant to be a missions-minded SBC church even a generation ago. Two examples will suffice.

Example one: In John Burton's biography of long-time FBC Dallas pastor George W. Truett, the final chapter is titled "The Preacher and Missions." The chapter is a thirteen page recounting of all the ways Truett led his church to give money for missionary causes, particularly the Seventy-Five Million Campaign and the Cooperative Program. It ends by talking about the role Truett played in building the denomination. In a chapter about missions. For the author, denomination-building and being missions-minded were two sides of the same coin. It is no coincidence that Burton wrote the biography in 1946, when the SBC was just entering into a fifteen-year period where programming, efficiency, and financial support replaced doctrinal convictions as the heart of Southern Baptist identity. [See Joe W. Burton, Prince of the Pulpit: A Pen Picture of George W. Truett at Work (Zondervan, 1946), pp. 69-82.]

Example two: Back in the spring I gave a talk at FBC Durham on the history of mission involvement at our church. I spent some time poking around in the church archives, and I came to several conclusions. First, for FBC Durham, until about 30 years ago the primary way we participated in missions was through giving to the Cooperative Program. Second, the primary way we connected with missions was through the teaching and prayer emphasis of the church's Woman's Missionary Union (WMU). Third, with the exception of a handful of church members who became career missionaries, from 1845 to 1977 our church had almost no experience with the actual practice of missions. Finally, that began to change in 1977 when our church called a former missionary to be pastor. He led the church to engage in short-term trips, initially to the Caribbean. In the last thirty years, two of our church's four pastors had international missionary experience prior to assuming the pastorate (including our current pastor, Andy Davis) and the church has participated in literally dozens of mission trips, including seven or eight this year. What it means to be a missions-minded SBC church has changed for FBC Durham; though we still give liberally to the CP and to other mission endeavors, that is no longer considered enough. We actually do missions now. I suspect other churches share this testimony.

So back to my initial question: what does it mean in 2007 for a Southern Baptist church or pastor to be missions-minded? What is the best way to measure a church's commitment to taking the gospel to the nations? Is it still financial giving, either through the denomination or through other means? Is it still having programs like WMU? Is it still through praying regularly for missionaries? Is it critical–perhaps even mandatory–to actually participate in short-term mission trips? What about identifying and cultivating potential career or long-term missionaries from within the body? How do we know our churches are doing all that they can to facilitate the spreading of the gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation?

And here's the money question: how much of our missions-mindedness ought to be tied to denominational programs?

I am itching to hear your thoughts. 

On Broken Hearts and Baptist Blogs

Like many readers, I appreciate Evan sharing his (broken) heart with the rest of us yesterday. Blogging can be a sickening thing, and it often is in the SBC. In fact, as a blogger my fear is that blogging as a medium for ministry will be judged worthless by the great majority of Southern Baptists because of the recklessness of a relative few. I keep hoping that the growing number of relevent, insightful, edifying blogs among Southern Baptists will make a helpful contribution to SBC culture. I just hope that the approach of the few has not already permanently poisoned the pot for the many. But I digress.

Several months ago I posted some thoughts on blogging as part of my series Some Possible Solutions for What Ails the SBC. I thought that, in light of Evan's challenging post, I would reprint that material here. The following was originally posted in the fall of 2006. I have made some editorial revisions and a couple of expansions for this post, but the substance of the original post remains unchanged.

Time for a confession: I don’t like bloggers that much. Oh, I like people that blog, even many with whom I disagree. But the culture of blogging in the SBC bugs me. So I realize that I am about to irritate a bunch of people, but here goes anyway—I have several suggestions for bloggers, and no, I will not name names (frankly, because we all fall into this trap sometimes—I am the chief of blog sinners):

A. Bloggers need to regularly pray about their blogs. Pray that God will help you to blog with integrity. Pray that God will bring sinful motives to light. Pray that God will use your blog for his glory.

B. Bloggers need not assume they are smarter or godlier because they are more tech-savvy or can turn a phrase. There is an arrogance that can easily accompany blogging. Because of the temptation to pride, we need to remember that we bloggers are, after all, each of us remarkably unimportant people who now have somewhat wide audiences because we have a gift for regularly putting words up on a screen. But this ingenuity should not be confused with wisdom (especially of the godly kind), at least not across the board. Sometimes opinions are just opinions, and while they matter to you and people like you (or me), they really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

C. Bloggers need to guard against negativity, and yes, I am preaching to myself. For some reason, cynical people are drawn to blogging. It is important that blogging not be used by the enemy to feed our sinful predispositions and make us uglier versions of our already sinful selves.

D. Bloggers need to admit that Bobby Welch is right, even if they do not like him, FAITH, bus tours, or his criticism of blogger culture. Bloggers need to not let their hobby take the place of things that really matter, which includes personal evangelism. I am not claiming that ANY blogger is not evangelistic enough—that’s between the blogger and God. What I am claiming is that blogging can consume one’s life and detract from the things that really matter, like family, church, job, and yes, sharing the gospel with non-Christians. So let’s just be careful and not dismiss those who do not blog when they try to keep us honest about the things that are really important in life.

E. Bloggers need to remember that sometimes the better part of wisdom is not posting about everything you know. Or think you know. Or want people to think you know.

F. Bloggers need to remember that if this little revolution ever becomes about SBC political power, they will become the very thing they gripe about the most: a power base. If any blogger is hoping that his blog will ultimately elevate him to a position of prominence, then I pray God would bless him with a burden to want to be something besides Southern Baptist—and I mean that for both dissenting bloggers and thoughtless toadies of current SBC leadership. If you think blogging is your ticket, then I hope it’s a ticket to Mars.

G. Bloggers need to remember that blogging communities are only pseudo-communities; as fun as it is to dialog in the comments, real community can only exist in real, face-to-face relationships. I met Bart Barber and Marty Duren at the SBC. I have spoken to Wade Burleson three times, once briefly in person. I have spoken to Ben Cole once. I have had a couple of conversations with Tom Ascol. I have never formally met Jeremy Green, Art Rogers, Les Puryear, Dorcas Hawker, Tim Rogers, Kevin Bussey, Timmy Brister, Wes Kenney, Peter Lumpkins, Micah Fries, or even my fellow blogmate at SBC Witness, Jedidiah Coppenger. I have no clue who SWBTS Underground is. I have never met C. B. Scott, though we have several mutual friends. Brad Reynolds is a colleague, but we have only ever talked a couple of times in person, both briefly. In fact, the only bloggers who I can claim to really know in any meaningful sense are my other buddies at Witness, Alvin Reid, a couple of professors and administrators at other schools, and a handful of SEBTS student bloggers. I say all that to say, I only have a real friendship with the folks at the end of the list. There are things I appreciate about all of the other folks—even the ones I disagree with—but they are not real friends. Maybe one day they can be, but only when we really get to know each other, which requires a context besides a weblog and an email exchange. So let’s never confuse blog relationships with real friendships. Even better, let’s pray that many of our blog relationships will one day become real friendships. [Note: I have met some of these bloggers in person since I wrote this nine months ago, and would count one or two more of the above-mentioned bloggers as friends].

H. Bloggers need to remember that change will only come to the convention as local churches change. Even the most influential blogs ultimately play a small role in convention life. Our convention is only as strong or weak as our churches, so while we should pray God uses our blogs for his purposes, let’s remember that whatever he does among us will ultimately need to take root in the hearts of the people in the pews.

I. Bloggers need to be willing to quit. I actually did it once—I blogged from December 2003 to February of this year, then pulled the plug before starting fresh in June. The break was good for both my soul and my time management skills! There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think about pulling the plug, not because I don’t like to blog, but because I like it too much. It is so easy to slip into the trap of believing that my *real* ministry—the one that has the biggest following—is the weblog. God forbid. I think this is a healthy tension to live in—to blog or not to blog—and I hope the Lord will use it to help me keep this little hobby of mine in proper perspective.

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.

Harry Potter: What Think Ye?

As you are probably aware, Harry Potter is all the rage these days. In the last couple of weeks, the final book in the series and the fifth movie have been released. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has, as of July 23, grossed $207,866,865 at the box office. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold 10 million copies in its first weekend. In other words, both are enormous financial successes and bona fide cultural phenomena. 

Evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, have enjoyed a somewhat awkard relationship with the world's most famous boy wizards. There are some who are huge fans of all things Potter. Others are afraid that the books and movies are spiritually dangerous, mostly because magic plays such a central role in the stories.

I am curious what you think about Harry Potter. Are you a fan, or are you uncomfortable (or even opposed) to the books and movies? I would love to hear your opinion, no matter what they are. A few ground rules are in order:

1. Keep it above-board. Although there is a lot of debate about Harry Potter among Christians, I am assuming that strong believers hold to all opinions on this issue. So if you are pro-Potter, please do not label others as ignorant or fundamentalist. Likewise, if you are anti-Potter, please do not assume those who differ from you are spiritual compromisers (or worse).

2. Please do not make an anonymous comment. I want names–at least handles–on this one. If you make a fly-by, idiotic comment, I will torch it. You have been duly warned.

3. Please tell me whether or not you have read and/or watched any Potter books/movies. Just to keep us all honest.

I will see how much discussion is generated, then will offer my own opinions in a few days. Promise. 

On the Atonement: Some Recommendations

Although I am an historian by trade, I enjoy reading theology. Of the classic "systematic theology" categories, the doctrine of salvation, and more specifically Christ's atonement, is the area in which I am most interested. My interest is both academic and experimental (or, for all of your whipper-snappers, "experiential"). I want to make some brief recommendations for those who are interested in studying the atonement, whether academically or devotionally (or even better, both!).

J. I. Packer, "What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution," available here 

J. I. Packer, "Penal Substitution Revisited," available at Reformation21

John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity, 1986/2006)

Charles Hill and Frank James, eds., The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Perspectives (InterVarsity, 2004)

Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Eerdmans, 1965)

Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance (InterVarsity, 1984)

James Beilby and Paul Eddy, eds., The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views (InterVarsity, 2006)

Also, like many of you, I look forward to the forthcoming US printing of Steve Jeffrey, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (InterVarsity, 2007)

Finally, our friends at Southern Seminary have dedicated the most recent issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology to the topic "The Atonement in Focus." You can read more here [HT: Jim Hamilton].

On “Landmark” Doctrines and Historical Ignorance

I spent a good bit of time today reading Baptist periodicals from the nineteenth century. One of the papers I read was The Baptist, based in Memphis, which was published by that most colorful of Landmarkers, J. R. Graves. I did find a couple of articles related to the perpetuity of Baptist churches, which constitutes a core conviction of all Landmarkers. But I also read other papers where I found articles about other doctrines that are often associated with Landmarkism, some quite erroneously. These allegedly Landmark doctrines were the topic of literally dozens of articles in at least seven periodicals covering a seventy year period of time. More than a couple of the articles predate Graves's birth, let alone the height of his ministry from the 1850s to the 1880s.

These articles got me to thinking: it is ridiculous how many contemporary Baptists have no clue what Landmarkism is but fashion themselves as experts on the subject. All one needs to do is perform a Google Blogs search of the word "Landmarkism" to be staggered by the ignorance of a great many Baptists who are otherwise quite intelligent.

To be fair, many Southern Baptists were handicapped on this issue from the beginning, especially those who graduated from an SBC seminary prior to the mid-1990s. Progressives carried out a systematic plan to redefine Baptist identity beginning in the early 20th century; by 1950 or so, most of the doctrines associated with traditional Baptist theology (save immersion, sometimes) were castigated as "Landmarkism," all in an effort to move the SBC in a more hierarchical direction. Interestingly, these were the same progressives who accused conservatives of rewriting Baptist history and redefining Baptist distinctives in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But that's another post for another day.

The point is, much of this ignorance can be chalked up to a poor theological education. This is just another reminder that it's incumbent upon every seminary graduate to educate himself or herself after walking across the stage; even seminary professors with doctoral degrees can get things wrong. Sometimes remarkably so.

Before I go any further, let me lay my own cards on the table. I am not a Landmarker. I do not agree with Graves or even a more "moderate" Landmarker like James Pendleton. I do not believe there have always been Baptist churches. I do not even believe (gasp!) that there is a biblical-theological necessity that there has to have always been Baptist churches. So while I am a convinced Baptist, I am not a Landmarker. Ask any self-confessed Landmarker.

Cards out, I want to dispel several myths about doctrines often associated with Landmarkism:

Myth 1: Closed communion is a Landmark doctrine. This is perhaps the most common myth, particularly in our present context where open communion is all the rage among many Southern Baptists. But the fact is closed communion (also called strict, close, and restricted communion) has been the consenus, though not unanimous, conviction of most Baptists since at least the mid-17th century. So while it is likely true that all Landmarkers affirm closed communion, it is not true that closed communion is a Landmark doctrine.

Myth 2: A rejection of so-called "alien immersion" is a Landmark practice. Wrong again! As with closed communion, a majority of Baptists (at least in America) have always been troubled by immersions that did not reflect the apostolic pattern. Pick up the minutes of virtually any association between 1707 and 1950 and you will be astounded at how often Baptists have debated what constitutes a valid immersion. Please note that J. R. Graves was not born until several years after 1707. 

Myth 3: Landmarkers deny the universal church. This is not true of all Landmarkers. As near as I can tell, Graves did not affirm the church universal. Pendleton did. B. H. Carroll affirmed the universal church in at least the eschatological sense (similar to the "all the redeemed of all the ages" phrase found in the BF&M). There is no uniform Landmark position on the universal church. That's right–Landmarkers can be diverse too!

Myth 4: Landmarkers invented the doctrine of the perpetuity of Baptist churches. Nope. There have always been Baptists who believed that there have always been Baptists (pun very much intended). Baptist stalwarts from Andrew Fuller to David Benedict believed that there had always been Baptist churches, which they understood to be New Testament churches. Primitive Baptists in the 1820s affirmed the perpetuity of their types of Baptist churches. Even perpetuity, the theological heart of Landmarkism, was not invented by the movement–it was adopted and propogated by Landmarkers.

Myth 5: Landmarkers do not believe in allowing non-Baptists to preach from their pulpits. Like the universal church issue, Landmarkers differ among themselves on this one. I know at least one Landmarker who would not object to a Presbyterian preaching to his church, though he would obviously ask his pedobaptist brother not to preach on his view of the ordinances. I also know of Landmarkers who would only allow Baptists–sometimes only Baptists in their particular group–to ascend the sacred desk.

Myth 6: Landmarkers believe only Baptists are genuine Christians. Try to find one Landmarker who believes this. Seriously. I bet you could round up all the Landmarkers who have ever claimed this and fit them in my living room. Maybe my coat closet.

The point of all this myth-busting is to clear up some popular misconceptions about Landmark doctrines. None of the doctrines associated with Landmarkism, whether accurately or inaccurately, were invented by Landmarkers. Rather, these doctrines converged in the Landmark movement. And with the possible exception of perpetuity, since the Landmark movement began there have been millions of Baptists who have held to so-called Landmark tenets who were decidedly not Landmarkers, and in some cases vocal anti-Landmarkers.

As Southern Baptists continue to debate important issues like alien immersion, closed communion, and the validity of planting self-consciously Baptist churches abroad, let's do our best to play nicely. Those who are uncomfortable with the above doctrines are welcome to their opinion, and they will surely find many Baptists from history who shared their convictions. But these critics should not disengenuously malign doctrines they do not like as "Landmark." That tactic failed progressives two decades ago. And it will fail again today.


On Church Planting versus Church Reforming

Nine Marks Ministries has recently launched a new group blog called "Church Matters." Not surprisingly, it has been a very active blog in the three weeks or so that it has been up and running. I have particularly enjoyed a recent discussion that took place at Church Matters concerning whether it is better to plant new churches or attempt to reform existing churches. See the posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I am torn on this question. On the one hand, I am a huge fan of church planting and have several good friends who are planting churches in various places. Furthermore, I teach at Southeastern Seminary, where we put a great deal of emphasis on North American church planting. I have heard Dr. Akin remark on a number of occasions that his advice to seminarians is to plant churches where there are few rather than pastor existing congregations, especially close to the area where you grew up. So I greatly appreciate church planting, particularly in areas that are in great need of a gospel witness like New England and the Pacific Northwest (see Greg Gilbert's post, which is the final link above).

On the other hand, as an historian I appreciate churches with longstanding traditions of gospel faithfulness, even if some of those churches have strayed from that heritage in recent days. The church I am a member of was an absolute mess as recently as 15 years ago, and it took two different pastors and several explosive business meetings to get the church to the place it is today. We are now a gospel-driven, Great Commission congregation. If the lay leadership of our church, circa 1988, had succeeded in making their agenda normative, we could have become a gospel-denying, leftist social justice outpost. So I have a great appreciation for reforming local churches according to God's Word.

What think ye? As you formulate your response, try not to equate "reform" with Calvinism. Though Nine Marks is committed to Calvinism, I understand many (perhaps most) of our readers would not consider themselves "five point" Calvinists. So in regard to planting versus reforming, consider the latter to represent whatever you believe constitutes proper church order and a biblical approach to gospel ministry. Unless of course your convictions look a lot like Nine Marks, in which case it is perfectly acceptable to equate "church reform" with "Reformed church!"