Saturday, March 15, 2008

Interview with Dr. Malcolm Yarnell

Dr. Malcolm Yarnell (D.Phil, Oxford University) is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Editor of the Southwestern Journal of Theology, Director of the Oxford Study Program, and Director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Yarnell's interests are in Systematic Theology (Trinity, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology), Historical Theology (Reformation), Baptist and Free Church Studies (17th Century Origins, Southern Baptists), and Political Theology. He contributes to academic scholarship in all four areas. He is the author of The Formation of Christian Doctrine, and is under contract for the publication of his doctoral dissertation, Royal Priesthood in the English Reformation, as well as a new Baptist Heritage text. He also writes for denominational publications and generates several academic articles per year for peer reviewed and other academic journals. Although he has been offered major leadership positions over other academic institutions, Dr. Yarnell feels that he is called to disciple future leaders of the churches of Jesus Christ; therefore, his goal is to edify the local churches through Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a frequent guest speaker to academic, denominational, and local church audiences.

1. What do you see as the greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] has been, is now, and always will be the faithfulness of her local churches to Jesus Christ our Lord as revealed in His Word. It is only as the local churches surrender entirely to Jesus Christ as Lord that our churches may be considered healthy. Furthermore, it is only as these same churches set the agenda for the various church-authorized entities of the SBC that those entities have any possible reason to exist. If the SBC, her entities, or her leaders ever consider themselves independent or even partially independent of the local churches, they will one day discover that they have no real authority. Unless it recognizes and honors its entire dependence upon and assigned service role to the local churches established by Christ, the SBC will go the way of every usurping organization, whether such a supra-local denomination is based in Rome, Canterbury, Geneva, or Nashville.

2. What do you see as the greatest weakness or problem in the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The greatest weakness in the Southern Baptist Convention of the last few years has been our forgetfulness of what it means to be New Testament churches devoted to following Christ. We have too often taken our eyes off of Christ and His Word, and put them upon the world and her words. Our motives have not been evil in themselves; indeed, usually, we have been driven by an appropriate evangelistic zeal. Unfortunately, zeal without knowledge is a recipe for spiritual disaster. When we forsake the biblical means or methodology in a thoughtless rush to adopt a seemingly successful worldly means or methodology, we have forsaken what Christ established for His church.

As a pastor, I was constantly bombarded with appeals to listen to this or that organization promoting a new method, a new program, or a new theology. All of them boldly promised that they could make my church better, bigger, and/or more relevant. And these typically “evangelical” alternatives usually came well-packaged, appealing to the commercial and pop culture mindset of America. What I discovered was that these alien paradigms too often borrowed from worldly means, and that if followed, they inevitably weaken a church because worldly methods take a church’s eyes off of the Lord. If you try to reach the world with worldly means, you will subvert Christ’s plan for the churches to reach the world.

3. What do you think is the greatest threat or challenge to the Southern Baptist Convention right now? span>

It is difficult to fold the multiple threats facing the Southern Baptist Convention into one concept. Several of our White Papers at have detailed a number of such threats. However, if I could choose one word to describe the common nature of the many threats that we face, it is “forgetfulness.” We pastors, educators and missionaries, young and old alike, this preacher-professor included, are forgetting our former rootedness in biblical soteriology and biblical ecclesiology.

First, consider recent attempts to bury the biblical doctrine of salvation under the sometimes bizarre teachings that emanate from Minneapolis and southern California. Rather than being satisfied with a simple biblical soteriology, we are becoming attracted to the latest fads that repackage and propagate those old extrabiblical and needlessly complex systems known historically as Calvinism and Wesleyanism. When I have listeners who become offended because I have spoken the truth about the rationalistic excesses of Reformed theology and have pointed them to Scripture instead, that is a fairly good indication that some of us are more concerned to keep faithful to Presbyterian soteriology than to Scripture’s witness. When I have listeners become offended because I tell them that a private experience of “speaking in tongues” or some other personal experience has no spiritual validity if it is not based in the explicit witness of Scripture, that is a fairly good indication that some of us are more concerned to follow a modified Wesleyan experientialism than the salvation taught by Scripture. Finally, with regard to our forgetfulness of biblical soteriology, Southern Baptists have not yet fully considered the severe challenges posed by the implicitly pluralist or inclusivist soteriology of a missiological system that seeks to use authoritatively the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita in evangelism, even under the guise of using such only for “pre-evangelism.” The Word of God, the Bible of the Old and New Testaments, has sufficient power to convert the world—indeed, it alone possesses such saving power. It is that Word alone that we must proclaim, and it is that Word alone that we must teach our people, and it is that Word alone by which we must disciple the peoples of the world. Let us leave the Calvinists and the Wesleyans, Christians though they are, to teach their own extrabiblical systems. Let us leave the Muslims and the Hindus, and Christians they definitely are not, to teach their own profane texts. Let us not just give lip-service to the Bible by glibly chanting “inerrancy” in order to prove an increasingly incredible claim to be a conservative Southern Baptist; let us treat the Bible as the inerrant and all-sufficient text that it truly is. I was saved because somebody gave me God’s Word, and I know of no other way anybody can be saved, other than by God’s Word inscripturated, the Holy Bible.

Second, consider recent innovations and lapses of memory among our churches with regard to a biblical understanding of the church. If I were to point out seven truths that every church must embrace and keep central as a coherent whole in order to consider itself faithful to the New Testament, it would be these: the Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church discipline, prayer, the Great Commission, and congregational governance. First, It is the Word of God that the church must proclaim, and it is the Word of God that is the Christian community’s guide for discipleship. If one cannot find a church practice commanded by Christ and exemplified by the apostles, it is simply not that important. We must put our emphasis upon Scripture and what it teaches. Second, baptism is commanded by Christ and exemplified by the apostles.

According to the Scriptures, baptism is for believers only, by immersion alone, the first means of personal confession of Christ, a symbol of death and resurrection, a means of identification with the Triune God, and the form of entrance into the church. Third, the Lord’s Supper was established as a meaningful celebration of the atonement that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross for all humanity, and the Lord’s Supper was to be celebrated only among those who are Christ’s disciples. The Lord’s Supper must not be flippantly demoted to become a periodic addendum to worship, nor may it be elevated beyond a meaningful symbol into a sacrament that magically introduces the fleshly presence of Christ. Fourth, church discipline is simply not an option for the church; it is a command. At one time, Southern Baptists were adamant about regenerate church membership; now, we coddle and provide a disservice to the morally or theologically lapsed in our midst by neglecting to practice redemptive church discipline. We thereby treat Christ’s commands as merely options. Fifth, the church must be about prayer. When the church leaves off praise in order to engage in spectacle, it undermines biblical worship. Sixth, the church must be obedient to the Great Commission, and it must be noted that the Great Commission is more than going and evangelizing. The Great Commission is fundamental to the existence of a biblical church, and any church that neglects to send preachers, disciple the nations, baptize new disciples, and teach all things that Christ commanded is disobeying their Lord. Seventh, New Testament ecclesiology is without a doubt congregational in form. Papalism, Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism, and the way of the independent mystic are not biblical forms of the church.

4. What do you believe is the greatest opportunity for the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The greatest opportunity for Southern Baptists is to embrace the Bible as God’s inerrant and sufficient Word and the Great Commission as God’s sufficient will for our churches. It is by returning to the basics of our faith that we will bring glory to God and prosper our witness to Him. He doesn’t want our burnt offerings; He wants our obedience; and He will honor our obedience.

5. Some have suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention is likely to decline in the near future. What is your assessment of the future of the Southern Baptist Convention?

I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, it should surely go without saying. However, if Southern Baptists neglect to preach God’s Word and obey God’s Word, we will be a failure. Ultimately, we will not be measured by the world’s measures of success—and this is why we should be less concerned with sociological research than we currently are. Ultimately, we will be measured by how faithful we were to hear and obey His Word. Therefore, let us turn our hearts and minds again to reading the Bible and proclaiming the Bible we read.

6. What would you say to a young (or old) pastor who is considering leaving the SBC? Why should they stay a Southern Baptist?

I would say, “Let us sit down, my friend, and talk and see why you want to leave.” Now, if a pastor is not comfortable with traditional Southern Baptist worship patterns, I would encourage him to make sure his proposed alternative is truly biblical. We should humbly recognize that worship styles do change over time and with changes in culture, and we should allow room for various styles among biblically faithful churches. However, there is no room for churches that intentionally neglect or subvert the ordinances of Jesus Christ. Now, after a period of time and conversation, I would encourage that pastor to be true to his principles, whatever they are, and to allow his church to be true to its principles, whatever they are. If a pastor wanted to leave the SBC because he has forsaken the revealed ways of God for the church as we have discerned them and described them in our confession, I would try to persuade him to see the truth as we see it. If he finally remains adamant, for instance, by saying that baptism is an indifferent thing, or by saying that he can practice a form of church government incompatible with the New Testament, or by importing a non-Baptist soteriology, then I would encourage him to find a different communion of churches with which he is comfortable. After all, Southern Baptists are open to many things, but unbiblical beliefs and practices historically have not been countenanced.

7. The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC has been a controv3ersial issue in some ways. What is your perspective on the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC?

As you know, I am not considered part of the Calvinist party in the SBC. However, I gladly participated in the “Building Bridges” conference on Calvinism at the Southern Baptist Convention, both to recognize that there is a place for Baptist Calvinists in the SBC and to express concerns about the speculative and distracting system of Calvinism. A number of sermons and articles have also relayed my views of the issue. I will refer your readers to those publications:

8. The issue of elder rule has been controversial in many churches. What is your perspective on ruling elders as an expression of Baptist church polity and ecclesiology?

Well, you do ask the easy questions, don’t you?! Please allow me to summarize my position thematically, for there have been different castings of the idea of “elder rule”: First, let us remind ourselves that “elder” is one translation of presbyteros, and that Scripture equates presbyteros with episcopos in order to describe the office of the one that, today, we typically call “pastor.” If a person means by “elder rule” the denial of congregational governance under the direct Lordship of Jesus Christ, then I would say that elder rule forsakes the New Testament pattern of the church. Moreover, I seriously wonder how long a church that adopts this understanding of elder rule can remain Baptist. Second, if a person adopts a distinction between ruling elders and teaching elder, then I would disagree with his exegesis of 1 Tim. 5:17. Third, if a person argues that churches must appoint multiple elders in every church because elder is used in the New Testament in the plural, then I would say that he is forcing a corporate meaning upon what might merely be, and most likely is, a collective plural. Fourth, if a person argues that some churches may have multiple elders while others may have single elders, then I would identify this as a minor issue that should not disrupt fellowship among Baptists. Finally, if a person argues that “elder rule” means the leadership of a pastor in a congregation that governs itself under Christ, then I would just encourage him to use different language, for we actually agree with one another.

9. What is your perspective on the emergent church movement?

Technically, “emergent church” is a misnomer. First, the so-called emergent church is not a “church,” biblically defined, for the modern term typically refers to a supra-local movement and not to a particular local church. The Bible knows only of two uses of “church:” the local churches that gather now and the universal church that gathers at the end of days. Christian movements, regional entities, national entities, curias, synods, presbyteries, invisibilities, and other such human inventions are not biblical churches. Second, the so-called emergent church is not all that “emergent,” for we used to call some of the teachings associated with the emergent movement, “liberal.” Most emergents refer to their movement as “postmodern,” which is arguably only a radical form of philosophical modernism or liberalism. Historically, old errors may adopt new names under which to hide. Third, there are several branches in this movement, and we must be careful not to paint all of them with the same conceptual brush. Some proponents are closer to the Baptist faith and message than others, as some claim with regard to Mark Driscoll and Acts 29. However, when I hear Driscoll treat our Lord’s command regarding baptism flippantly, or when I hear him repeatedly refer to our Lord’s mother as a “lying whore,” even if while ostensibly defending the virgin birth, I do wonder whether his branch of the movement can find a permanent home in the SBC pace repentance. My hope is that Driscoll will repent of his foul mouth and flippant attitudes regarding dominical institutions.

I do appreciate the emergent movement’s desire to reach people who live in various radical sub-cultures, but I worry about some of the ways that have been adopted. Let it be remembered that every culture has its sin, for cultures are composed of sinful human beings. Because culture is not neutral, we should be careful before adopting new ways in the name of “building bridges,” for human ways inevitably involve sin. The Great Commission does not excuse one from obeying Christ’s call to personal and corporate holiness. Emergent movement proponents have, of course, adopted some very troubling practices, from a traditional biblical perspective. The use of recreational alcohol or sexually-suggestive themes in church or outreach events, much less personally, strikes me as inappropriate and dishonoring of the holy Lord we seek to proclaim.

10. What would you say is the most significant theological issue confronting Southern Baptists in this generation?

Let me end with one question, in answer to your last question: Are Southern Baptist churches and institutions going to become more faithful to Jesus Christ as revealed in His Word, or will we surrender our New Testament distinctives in the emotive and tempestuous rush to declare ourselves emergent, evangelical, and ecumenical?

Friday, January 25, 2008

An Interview with Dr. Nelson Price

Dr. Nelson L. Price is Pastor Emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta , Georgia and former pastor of Oak Park Baptist Church in New Orleans , Louisiana . Dr. Price, a native of Osyka , Mississippi , has faithfully served SBC churches and entities in a ministry spanning five decades. His service to Southern Baptists has included appointments such as First Vice President of the SBC (1991), President of the SBC Pastor’s Conference (1990), President of the Georgia Baptist Convention (1982-1983), and memberships and accolades with a number of other Southern Baptist and Evangelical entities and institutions. In addition to this service, Dr. Price formerly served as the Chairman of the National Board of Trustees for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (1999-2005). Dr. Price holds degrees from the University of Southeastern Louisiana (B.S., 1953), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Mercer University (D.D., 1984), and Hannibal-LaGrange College (D.D., 1990). He is also the author of sixteen books, including, How to Find Where You Are, I’ve Got to Play on Their Court, Shadows We Run From, and many others.

1. What would you say to a young (old) pastor who is considering leaving the SBC? Why should he stay a Southern Baptist?

Don’t even consider leaving as an option. Faced with this decision as a young pastor I reasoned that if I were not willing to stay and help address issues of which I disapproved I would forfeit my right to criticize those inequities. Furthermore I would weaken support for my beliefs in the convention by however little that might be. If I stayed I had the right and responsibility to address these variances. Staying eventuated in having the privilege of helping draft “The Baptist Faith and Message” statement of 2000.

2. The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC has been a controversial issue in some ways. What is your perspective on the resurgence in the SBC?

The school of doctrine is one thing. The method of introducing it into a local church and the contentious spirit of many current advocates are other matters of concern. Calvinism has been a nonissue issue among Southern Baptists for so many years most laypersons were not indoctrinated or even aware of its consideration in our ranks. Therefore most pastor search teams have not known to ask a potential pastor about it. Many pastors predisposed toward Calvinism have practiced a policy of don’t ask, don’t tell, and have come in fully aware the church was not committed to the doctrines of Calvinism. They conduct home cell study groups of confidants until they feel they have enough support to introduce it into the mainstream of the church. This has been highly disruptive to many local churches. It is a destructive deception. A potential pastor should be open and clear regarding the issue. The warrior spirit of many young Calvinists in attacking the integrity and intellect of those with whom they disagree is appalling and un-Christ like. Address principles and don’t attack personalities. Don’t try to defend a principle by attempting to destroy the reputation of a person.

3. The issue of elder rule has been a controversial in many churches. What is your perspective on ruling elders as an expression of Baptist church polity and ecclesiology?

In the early church the terms “elders” (presbyteroi) and “bishops” or “overseers” (episkopoi) are used interchangeably as to functions not as titles or offices. The Bible gives clear insight regarding the roles of bishops and deacons but does not for elders leading many scholars to conclude it was not a separate office in the early church. There is no Scripture that teaches a church has to have a board of elders.The term “elder” has gone through an evolution since the Bible times. The present meaning and role is based on the role that evolved in subsequent years of the first century. Biblically the service of elders was to be performed by older individuals who related to the spiritual life within the church not the business affairs. Changing the of church governance can be traumatic for a congregation. If a church has a form of governance that works in place following a current trend is not advantageous.

4. What would you say is the most significant theological issue confronting Southern Baptists in this generation?

Calvinism is foremost, but glossology is emerging once more also. There are so many different schools of Calvinistic thought that no matter what is said to be a belief there are those of other schools who deny it. There are many admirable aspects of Calvinism with which most Souther Baptists agree. A high regard for the authority and integrity of Scripture, the belief that salvation is by grace alone, the atonement of Christ, and the belief that everything should be to the glory of God are broadly held concepts among Baptists. However, irresistible grace which teaches those predestined to be saved cannot resist salvation and limited atonement which says Christ died only for those predestined by God to be saved is where the road forks. This is where the introduction of the doctrines of Calvinism into a traditional Southern Baptist church becomes divisive.

5. What do you think of the plans of former Presidents Carter and Clinton regarding a potential new religious movement of denomination?

Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are undertaking the establishment of a new religious denomination.I am a member of the imperfect denomination they are leaving in order to establish a more perfect world order. They say their “all inclusive” denomination will fight poverty, work on health care, environmental issues, and eliminate religious and racial conflict. Both of these men have been critical of Southern Baptists, and we deserve some criticism like most religious bodies. I say most because I met the pastor of one and have his calling card with the name of his church in Atlanta: “The Perfect Church.” I always wanted to meet his wife to see what she had to say about that! In addition to criticizing Southern Baptists they should take time to observe some of the good the denomination is already doing in the areas they propose to address. They have been so preoccupied with criticism they have failed to take note of attributes and assets with which they could ally and achieve far more than by starting another denomination.

In noting areas in which Southern Baptists are making progress I want to readily admit much progress is yet to be made. In 1995 Southern Baptists issued a resolution of repentance. The lengthy document stated in part, “...we apologize to all African Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systematic racism....” Implementation of the commitments to work for racial reconciliation are ongoing. Peter Wagner of Fuller Theological Seminary, not a Southern Baptist, wrote, “At the top of the list in ethnic ministries in the United States are Southern Baptists.... Southern Baptists are the most ethically diverse denomination, worshiping in 87 languages in more than 4,600 language-culture congregations every Sunday.” It should be noted the denomination works with many diverse racial groups, especially Native Americans. The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, of which Southern Baptists are a part, has done work in the area of the environment which “would improve the lot of the poor more surely and effectively” than that proposed by many environmentalist groups. Their proposals are believed to be potentially more effective in reducing high rates of disease and premature deaths and have a more positive impact on the poor.

Another area the presidents propose to address is world hunger. Southern Baptists are at the forefront of denominations seeking to provide relief. Much help is needed in that 16,000 children worldwide die daily from hunger-related causes. That is one child every five seconds. The former Presidents need to understand that more can be done more immediately by working in programs already in place than by reinventing the wheel. By doing so time, money, and lives can be saved. Unfortunately, the former Presidents have said nothing about such spiritual ministries as Christ commissioned His church to fulfill: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you...”

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Interview with James Rudy Gray

A senior pastor of Southern Baptist churches for over 30 years, James Rudy Gray is Pastor of the Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, South Carolina.

He earned the associate degree from Anderson University; the Bachelor of Arts in Bible degree from Southern Wesleyan University, the Master of Arts in Counseling degree from Liberty University, and the Th.M. and D.Min. degrees from Luther Rice Seminary.

Dr. Gray has been actively involved in the Southern Baptist Convention and the South Carolina Baptist Convention in a number of ways. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, as the Parliamentarian for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and as a Trustee for Anderson College.

A prolific writer, Dr. Gray serves as a regular columnist (the “At Home” column) for the Baptist Courier, and the “Counselor’s Corner” column in Pulpit Helps. He is the author of the recent book Marriage that Works is Work.

He and his wife Anne have been married for over 30 years and have three adult daughters. For the past 20 years the Grays have led marriage and family conferences, retreats, and seminars. He is a National Certified Counselor with the National Board for Certified Counselors, a Board Certified Christian Counselor with the International Board of Christian Counselors, and a charter member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.

What do you see as the greatest strength of the SBC right now?

The Cooperative Program system of giving and support seems to be the strongest point in the opinion of many. Along with that is our strong identity as a Bible-believing people. Our greatest strength, however, is our churches. We have outstanding institutions, ministries, and mission boards, but without our churches cooperating together for a Great Commission purpose, we would be weak and ineffective.

We still have a strong and positive identity in the country, especially the south. Our Disaster Relief Ministries have allowed us to have a presence and opportunity for witness on a national scale that was not as strong in years past.

What do you see as the greatest weakness?

The growth toward a more centralized denominational structure is a great weakness because it reverses what has made our denomination strong: the churches. When the Executive Committee or any other entity seeks to keep our institutions in a hierarchical structure where they are submissive to the Executive Committee, we have created a relationship that will not work. When our State Conventions rule over the churches, we have created a situation that will not work. All of our institutions, mission boards, and agencies exist because of the churches. They exist to help the churches carry out the mission of Christ.

The Cooperative Program and Southern Baptist identity does not seem to be a feature of most of the new and emerging churches today. They do their own missions and raise up their own ministers from within their congregations often bypassing seminary education. This may be a reaction to the perception of centralization and exclusive religious politics that leaves too many churches out of the loop. Control of the SBC belongs to the churches of the SBC. This seems to me to be less and less the case today as power cliques and denominational structures becomes more and more self-perpetuating.

What do you think is the greatest threat or challenge to the SBC?

We must find a way to place our churches at the top of the convention food chain. Otherwise, more and more divisions among us occur among us. Simply keeping the churches together in some common commitment may be the most significant challenge we face. The mega-church model or even the purpose-driven model is not what will keep us together. Our denomination has been and continues to be a denomination of small to large churches, but not mega-churches. We need to find a way to help these churches which are the backbone of the SBC become more involved in the SBC. We need leaders who will listen to and respond to these types of churches.

What do you believe is the greatest opportunity for the SBC right now?

To strengthen churches and to help new church starts develop an appreciation for the commonly held Baptist beliefs (i.e. Baptist Faith and Message). If this can occur, we can continue to build a strong and fruitful discipleship and mission’s ministry in the future. If new churches choose to bypass the denomination, our history, and our proven cooperative methods of working together, we will experience more and more splintering within our ranks. We have the opportunity to reach the world with the Gospel in a greater way than ever before. However, unless we know who we, know the Word, and find a way to reach the world without compromising the truth, we will likely miss our great opportunity.

From the foundation of a sure Biblical and Baptist identity, we have almost unsurpassed opportunities to reach people all over the world. However, we must first reach America.

Some have suggested that the SBC will decline in the future. What is your assessment of the future of the SBC?

The SBC is already declining in many areas. Within the next 20 years we are likely to see many older and aging congregations cease to exist. Some believe that the Baby boomers may be the last generation to experience a large and powerful denomination.

Unless we are able to reach and disciple the 40 and under age group, we will see a slow progression downward. I believe and I pray there will be a committed movement to reach this age group without compromising Biblical doctrine. That endeavor will be a tremendous task requiring the wisdom of God. It will require real prayer. I hope we will utilize new methodologies in the future but preach, teach, and live the same truth. I hope our future will find us growing strong churches rather than simply building attendance numbers. In the future, I believe we need to have membership requirements and become more concerned about the kind of Christians we have in our churches rather than the number of members on our church rolls.

Some decline may actually be a sign of integrity and health. When we boast about having over 16 million members and yet less than 8 million are actually involved in church, something is wrong. In the future our numbers may decline some, but our spiritual vitality could actually increase.

What would you say to a pastor who is considering leaving the SBC?

I would first listen to him so I could try and understand what he is thinking and feeling. Depending on what I learn from that exchange, I would counsel him to leave the SBC only if he had the witness of the Spirit in His heart and the confirmation of the Word in his life.
It may be that a pastor who is considering leaving simply needs encouragement to stay. He may need to know more about our history and heritage or about the many ways we can minister the Word to the World through Cooperative Program Ministries. He may even have an unrealistic view of the new denomination or church he is moving toward. In the end, the decision to leave would, of course, his to make.

The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC has been controversial for some. What is your perspective on this resurgence?

I believe it is a natural response to a return to a belief in an inerrant Bible. It is in many measurable ways a return to the theology of most of our founding fathers. I personally do not call myself a Calvinist although I do believe in the doctrines of grace. My pastor of history is Charles Haddon Spurgeon who was also called a Calvinist. I want to be like Spurgeon in this regard: He knew doctrine and he was committed to evangelism and missions. Someone once asked him how he could give a call for people to believe since he believed in the doctrines of grace. Spurgeon replied that if God had painted a yellow stripe down the back of the elect, he would walk up and down the streets of London pulling out shirt tails. When he found a yellow stripe, he would witness to that person. Since God had not done this, Spurgeon said he would continue saying, “Whosoever will, let him come!”

The key issue in our convention is not the teachings of one single man (like John Calvin) but the doctrine contained in God’s Word. The issue is whether or not we get our beliefs from a genuine and careful study of the Word of God. For me and many of my friends in the ministry, our beliefs do not originate with John Calvin but in the Scriptures themselves.

The issue of elder rule has been controversial in many churches. What is your perspective on elder rule, Baptist Church polity and ecclesiology?

I believe a local Baptist church is autonomous. If they want elders, they can certainly have elders. My understanding of the Scripture equates pastor, elder, bishop as the same person. Baptists, by and large, have had a pastor or pastoral staff and deacons. Quite often, the pastoral staff functions as the administrators and leaders of the congregation while the deacon body serves a servant leaders meeting the legitimate needs of the membership. Frankly, in practical terms, I believe pastors (pastoral staff) are elders.

Elders/pastors do not rule. They lead. They are servants of Jesus who lead according to the teachings of the Word. Ultimately the final decision lies with the congregation itself as a body.

What is your perspective of the emergent church movement?

As I understand the term, the emergent church is an attempt to build a postmodern church for a postmodern culture. Apparently, different streams of thought and belief flow into this hard to define movement. I believe there are some common traits, however. Experience trumps theology. Dialog replaces dogma. Conversation is valued over preaching. Change is to be embraced while tradition is relegated to the past. The authority of the Bible is virtually disregarded while the feelings of the individual are highly regarded.

I believe it is a movement dependent on the culture. As the culture changes, it changes with it. While there is some merit in this approach (no one can live in a culture and remain unaffected by it) there is also danger. G. Campbell Morgan once observed, “It is not the job of the preacher to catch the spirit of the age but to correct it.”

At its heart, the emergent church movement, I believe, is a reaction against what its adherents believe is the failure of the institutional or established churches.

Institutional and established churches do need to make some changes to reach out to the culture surrounding us. However, we must reach out with the Word of God and not with relational, emotional, or even environmental substitutes.

What would say is the most significant theological issue confronting Baptists today?

The conservative resurgence has led us to a place where we accept the Bible as God’s inspired and inerrant Word. Now, the issue that is before us is how we interpret that Word of Truth. Biblical exposition is woefully needed in the pulpits of our churches. Some of the practices that were flatly opposed during the resurgence are now being revisited by another generation of Baptists. Many of the newer Baptists of today sound much like the moderate Baptists of 25-30 years ago. I believe the most significant issue is again the doctrine of infallibility and inerrancy. Any interpretation that disregards the Bible as truth without any mixture of error is bound to be flawed.

Calvinism is a term that the media and many others want to be the major theological issue among Southern Baptists. It may become the issue. If it becomes our major point of theological focus, let us pray it gets in that position because we have fervently prayed and diligently studied the Word. Then, again, if we do that, Calvinism will probably not be a major issue at all. What we believe must be based in the Word of God. How we interpret the Word must be centered in our belief that it is indeed the Word of God.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Interview with Founders Executive Director Tom Ascol

Tom Ascol has served as Pastor of Grace Baptist Church since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. His major field of study was Baptist Theology. He taught two years as an adjunct professor for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in their SW FLorida extension.

Tom serves as the Executive Director of Founders Ministries, an organization committed to reformation and revival in local churches. He edits the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written numerous articles and contributed to several books. He regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. He also authors the Founders Ministries Blog.

1. What do you see as the greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The greatest strength of the SBC that I see is our unashamed declaration that the Bible is God's infallible, inerrant Word of God. Without commitment to this formal principle of reformation, the many other good things that the SBC does would be undermined and eventually eroded completely. The convention has in place a wonderful structure that is ready to engage many spheres of culture through various ministries (NAMB, IMB, ERLC, Seminaries, LifeWay, etc.). For that structure to serve kingdom purposes as faithfully as it ought, the doctrinal and spiritual advanced that have been taken place over the last 25 years must be strengthened.

2. What do you see as the greatest weakness or problem in the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

Our failure to take seriously the sufficiency of Scripture. We have affirmed the authority of Scripture, but we are far from believing or teaching that it is enough to guide and form life and ministry in the church, as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches. Too many of our leaders seem satisfied to stop with the recovery of the formal principle of reformation and appear to be uninterested or unwilling to recover the material principle--the actual content of the Bible's message. Consequently, in many ways the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been lost and left unrecovered in many sectors of denominational life. If this is true, and I believe that it is, then it does not finally matter how loudly we proclaim our commitment to inerrancy if we remain unwilling to recover and reaffirm the biblical Gospel.

3. What do you think is the greatest threat or challenge to the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

Pride. If you believe what many prominent SBC pastors and denominational leaders say then you would conclude that Southern Baptists are the greatest group in the kingdom of God. That kind of attitude is a breeding ground for a myriad of spiritually fatal diseases. Two of the most potent of these are the inability to be self-critical and spiritual presumption.

Too many of our conservative leaders in the SBC have repeatedly demonstrated over the last ten years an unwillingness to receive criticism of anything related to "the cause" (the conservative resurgence). Questions and warnings from fellow conservatives have been dismissed as disloyalty or worse. Too often pragmatic responses have been offered for actions which, according to the Bible, are inexcusable.

This mentality further calcifies the deadly assumption that we all know and agree on what the Bible means when it mentions the Gospel, conversion, and church. Many Southern Baptists see no need to reexamine these basic, essential ingredients of the Bible's message, yet it is overwhelmingly clear that the vast majority of our church members in the SBC have little if any biblical understanding of these life-and-death matters. Indeed, simply raising this issue is judged by some leaders to be a waste of time--time that could be better spent spreading the Gospel, seeking conversions and growing churches. But if we are mistaken in what these spiritual realities are, then it is disastrous to go on promoting them as if we are doing the Lord's will. I have written more on this here:

4. What do you believe is the greatest opportunity for the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The opportunity to repent of our pride and blatant disobedience to God's inerrant, infallible Word. When over half of our church members cannot be found and our Lord's teachings in Matthew 18:15-18 and Paul's instructions to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 5 are blatantly ignored by the overwhelming majority of our churches and pastors, the table is set for an honest admission of our desperate condition and a sincere expression of repentance.

5. Some have suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention is likely to decline in the near future. What is your assessment of the future of the Southern Baptist Convention?

I am fearful that it might become increasingly irrelevant to more and more churches and pastors. I do not think that this is inevitable, and I sincerely hope that it does not happen, but I do fear that the current trajectory we are on may lead us that way. God has given the SBC some leaders who are models of faithfulness in spirituality and integrity. If those leaders do not speak up plainly and loudly in calling for honesty and integrity throughout our denominational structure, then I do not think that we will find the spiritual strength to deal with our problems in a humble, Christ-honoring way.

I am hopeful, however, that there is a growing number of pastors and churches who recognize that the SBC, for all of its good and potential usefulness, has some serious problems which must be addressed if we are going to move forward into the future with making a positive impact for Christ's kingdom. If those with these convictions can be united to deal honestly and forthrightly with our denominational problems, then there is reason to hope that our future can be full of greater blessing than we have seen at any time in our past. If the serious problems are ignored, I think the SBC will simply decline into kingdom irrelevancy.

6. What would you say to a young (or old) pastor who is considering leaving the SBC? Why should they stay a Southern Baptist?

I don't think everyone should be Southern Baptist. However, I am concerned by the number of pastors (especially younger pastors) who are talking about leaving the SBC. From my vantage point what seems to be motivating many of them is the lack of spiritual authenticity that they see in many of the denominational programs, promotions and emphases. Here is what I typically say to someone who is thinking of leaving the SBC. "Ask yourself two questions: 'What can I do tomorrow that I cannot do today if I were to leave the SBC tonight?' Then, 'What can I do today that I could not do tomorrow if I left the SBC tonight?' When the number of positive answers that can be given to the first outnumber the positive answers to the second, it is time to leave. Until then, hang in there and work for reformation and revival."

7. The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC has been a controversial issue in some ways. What is your perspective on the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC?

The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC is a type of theological homecoming. It is beyond dispute that the theological consensus of the SBC our our founding in 1845 was Calvinistic. As Timothy George has noted, every one of the 293 delegates who attended the constitutional meeting in August, Georgia in 1845 came from churches or associations that held to the Second London Confession of Faith (in some cases in its Charleston or Philadelphia expressions). In the early decades of the 20th century that consensus broke down and soon was overtaken by strong emphasis on pragmatism, perhaps most notably demonstrated in the "Million more in '54" campaign. The shift of theological commitments from the center of our identity to the periphery resulted in denominational amnesia. We simply forget who we were.

The conservative resurgence was the first stage in our denomination's doctrinal recovery. With the reestablishment of a clear confession of Scripture's full authority as the Word of God written, it is inevitable that there should follow a recovery of the message of Scripture as historically understood by those who founded the Southern Baptist Convention. That is what is happening. We are witnessing a return to the faith of our fathers.

I see that as a very healthy thing, though, just as was true with the conservative resurgence, it has not been without its problems. Some have used their newly recovered understanding of the doctrines of grace as an excuse to become pugilistic in their treatment of those with whom they disagree. Others have mistakenly allowed their recognition of the absolute sovereignty of God to diminish their full commitment to the absolute responsibility of people. Still others have regarded commitment to truth as a license not to love. None of these are justified and all are to be roundly condemned as sinful. Fortunately, such follies have been a minority report among those who are returning to the evangelical Calvinism of our Southern Baptist forebears.

What is equally and perhaps even more troubling is the intensity and frequency of hostile opposition to those who have come to believe what James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, P. H. Mell. W. B. Johnson, R. B. C. Howell and other founders taught and believed. Some denominational employees at every level have misrepresented the views of many of their fellow Southern Baptists when speaking against Calvinism. Occasionally these misrepresentations have taken the form of attacks and have resulted in stirring up considerable trouble for pastors and members of local churches.

What I find most grievous and offensive are the inexcusable misrepresentations of historical and theological views on this subject that have come from many academicians in the SBC. Those is such positions should know better than simply to recite an old, erroneous party line about Calvinism. Fortunately, with the ready access to many sources of information today, church members and pastors no longer have to take theological and historical assertions as fact simply because they are cited by a reputed scholar. In fact, some supposed scholarship in this area has been exposed as being very suspect, at best.

Tom Nettles' newly revised book, By His Grace and For His Glory, forcefully demonstrates the preeminence of the doctrines of grace in our Southern Baptist heritage and convincingly argues for their biblical validity. His book, though first published more than 20 years ago, has never been seriously engaged much less refuted.

So I see the resurgence of the doctrines of grace in Southern Baptist life as a good thing and as a movement of God that is continuing to grow. I believe that it could well be the beginnings and foundation of the revival that we so desperately need.

8. The issue of elder rule has been controversial in many churches. What is your perspective on ruling elders as an expression of Baptist church polity and ecclesiology?

I don't think that Baptist churches should necessarily have "ruling elders" per se. I do believe in a plurality of elders, as did many Baptists in history. However, Baptists--especially Southern Baptists--have never made this a test of fellowship. I would not want to make it that either. A plurality of leadership in a church is a good thing, as well as being supported in the New Testament. This form of church government is completely consistent with congregationalism and need not become a form of Presbyterianism. It saves the church from the pastor becoming a little pope, and it also saves the pastor from becoming any church member's puppet.

9. What is your perspective on the emergent church movement?

As I understand it, it is far from a monolithic movement. Many of the things that they are protesting, I also protest (a dead liberalism and superficial or legalistic Fundamentalism). But much of what I see being proposed as the cure strikes me as being worse than the disease.

10. What would you say is the most significant theological issue confronting Southern Baptists in this generation?

Well, as I have already said, I believe that in many respects we have lost the Gospel. Nothing is more important than that. Perhaps the most significant, observable manifestation of that for us is the large number of unregenerate church members that we have. In that sense, ecclesiology will be a vitally important issue for Southern Baptists to confront honestly in the next few years. We must be willing to define simply what constitutes a church on the authority of the New Testament. Then we must apply that definition to forty-two thousand assemblies that we call churches within the SBC.

John Dagg, the first writing Southern Baptist systematic theologian said that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it. If he is correct, then many of our churches are in far worse shape than most of us want to admit. Jesus' words to the churches in Asia from Revelation 2-3 give me reason to remain hopeful, however. He is a patient High Priest and, as Lord and Head of the church, has promised to build His church throughout history until the new heavens and new earth appear.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Meet Jim Richards...

Dr. Jim Richards serves as founding Executive Director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. A native of Louisiana, Richards earned the M.Div. degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the D.Min. degree from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He has been honored as a Distinguished Alumnus by both seminaries. Before coming to SBTC, Richards served for 21 years as a pastor in Louisiana, and then as a Director of Missions in Bentonville, Arkansas. He is a popular preacher, and has helped guide SBTC to unprecedented success. The SBTC will be hosting the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio this month.

Interview with Jim Richards

1. What do you see as the greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The vast number of people in the churches who love the Lord Jesus with all of their hearts provides the greatest strength of our convention. While there are many challenges, Southern Baptists still have a wonderful resource in tender hearts surrendered to God’s will.

2. What do you see as the greatest weakness or problem in the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

Voices of criticism seem to be getting more attention than they should. While injustices call for prophets, problems should be dealt with in a Christ-like spirit. Disagreements should be handled in Christian dialogue, not derogatory accusations.

3. What do you think is the greatest threat or challenge to the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The greatest challenge for the present is to provide for the future. Cultural shifts in attitudes about denominations have influenced the current emerging generation of leadership. There is an ignorance of, ambivalence about or antagonism against the Cooperative Program. Advocates other than denominational employees must testify about the quality investment for missions and ministry provided in the Cooperative Program.

4. What do you believe is the greatest opportunity for the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

Southern Baptists could provide the leadership for the Evangelical community. While Evangelical Ecumenism is a threat to Baptist Distinctiveness, Southern Baptists can seek a spiritual awakening without compromising our identity. Let us give a call to all who share Baptist Distinctives to join us in touching North America and the World.

5. Some have suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention is likely to decline in the near future. What is your assessment of the future of the Southern Baptist Convention?

This may be correct if you count nickels and noses. Our church rolls are bloated with non-attendees and unbelievers. We are not as large as we say we are. I would not view a more accurate reporting of numbers as a weakness but a strength. If God does not move upon us with a spiritual awakening, revival or whatever you want to call it, we will decline. The future of the SBC is as bright as the promises of God.

6. What would you say to a young (or old) pastor who is considering leaving the SBC? Why should they stay a Southern Baptist?

There are two reasons a person should be a Southern Baptist. Although the SBC is not a confessional fellowship, there is confidence in what is being taught in seminaries classes and presented on the mission field. Secondly, there is no greater funding vehicle than the Cooperative Program for missions and ministry. When an affinity group cranks up, they devise a system very similar to CP to focus on a particular type of ministry. Minimizing bureaucracy is a good goal, but oftentimes there are gaps in accountability, quality or security. No other evangelical denomination has the strength of the SBC coupled with the doctrinal integrity.

7. The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC has been a controversial issue in some ways. What is your perspective on the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC?

I think it is historical amnesia to pretend that most of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were not Calvinists. As someone said, all Southern Baptists are Calvinists it is just a matter to what degree. The threat to the SBC is not Calvinism but “Hyper-Calvinism”. Adding an “S” for soul-winning on the end of TULIP cures the concern about Calvinism. The question is what kind of Calvinist will be involved in SBC. If they are like, Broadus, Boyce, Graves, Dagg and Johnson we will be fine. If they get more evangelistic about Calvinism than Jesus, the SBC will have a problem.

8. The issue of elder rule has been controversial in many churches. What is your perspective on ruling elders as an expression of Baptist church polity and ecclesiology?

The New Testament clearly teaches congregational autonomy. No one person or group can lord over God’s flock. However, as long as a congregation retains the right to choose leadership, then delegation of authority seems acceptable. In a lot of cases, when a group (lay and\or full-time vocational) is selected it becomes the final authority. The church should always have recourse never surrendering their autonomy.

9. What is your perspective on the emergent church movement?

Ed Stetzer has characterized the emergent church well. He divides the movement into three groups, Relevants, Revisionists, and Reconstructionists. The first group is faithful to doctrinal truth but seeks to be more contemporary in their approach to reach people. The Revisionists are a mixed bag. While experimenting with various approaches to doing church, some are abandoning doctrinal truth. The final group are in doctrinal error and do not present the gospel truthfully.

Being biblically faithful is non-negotiable. Being culturally relevant is fine. Being culturally immersed is not. When being relevant causes you to jettison biblical positions, then you are on the wrong side of the emergent church movement.

10.What would you say is the most significant theological issue confronting Southern Baptists in this generation?

Biblical Sufficiency is a term that may take on different meanings. Let me give you mine. The Bible is sufficient to lead us into all truth. Accepting the inerrancy of the scriptures enables us to find the biblical application for every doctrine and practice.

Biblical sufficiency is the umbrella for a number of issues. What we believe about the nature of the church, evangelism, missions, and practical Christianity must all be based on the Word of God.

The church is a body of baptized (immersion) believers covenanted together to carry out the teachings of Christ and His Word. When we believe in Biblical sufficiency we will accept that a New Testament Church will have certain characteristics:

It will teach salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. This will include security of the believer. There are many fine Christian groups who love the Lord and are going to heaven but they do not affirm the security of the believer. That group forfeits the right to be called a New Testament Church.
Baptism by immersion of believers only. This is a church ordinance. The Great Commission was not given to every believer but to the church. Otherwise any pre-teen girl who is saved could baptize her newly converted friend in the swimming pool.
The Lord Supper is non-sacerdotal. There is no saving grace in the elements. The Supper is a church ordinance.
The church is autonomous as a Theo-democracy. The body may empower smaller groups or individuals to make decisions, the church retains the ultimate decision making ability.
The Bible is the final rule of faith and practice. This means that no extra-Biblical revelation takes precedent over the Word of God. All experiences are filtered through the grid of the Bible.

When we believe in Biblical Sufficiency we will seek to win people to Jesus Christ. Different methods should be employed to win people to Christ. I believe we need to put as many different hooks in the water as necessary in missions and evangelism. What is missing is a real belief in the eternal damnation of the ever-living soul.

Practical Christianity is based upon principles from the Word of God. The use of alcohol as a beverage, gambling and viewing lewd sexual content as entertainment are clearly in violation of principles from the scriptures.

We say we believe the Bible. The world is watching to see if we are going to live it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Meet Wade Burleson....

Wade Burleson has served as Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma since 1992. A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Burleson served as President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma from 2003-2005. Burleson has sometimes stirred controversy, however, as a trustee of the International Mission Board, and in issues he has raised on his “Grace and Truth to You” blog site. He was a signer of the Memphis Declaration, and is sometimes cited as a leader among younger pastors known as the Reformed Relevants.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Q & A with Wade Burleson

1. What do you see as the greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The Southern Baptist Convention came into existence with a desire to take the gospel to the nations. Some are under the mistaken belief that Southern Baptists separated from Northern Baptists over the issue of slavery, but in reality, Baptists in the south did not like the mission boards excluding God-called missionaries who were slave owners. Missions and placing missionaries on the fields ‘white unto harvest’ drove the founders of our convention, and though our views of ‘slavery’ ultimately changed, our passion for missions has remained the same. Without a doubt, our evangelical zeal evidence through a passion for the glory of God through missions is our greatest strength.

2. What do you see as the greatest weakness or problem in the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

Similar to the early 1840’s we are confronted by a desire in the hearts of some to exclude certain Southern Baptists from cooperative missions and ministry based upon opinions, beliefs and convictions that go far beyond the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. This has been called ‘the narrowing of the parameters of cooperation’ and though it may have been occurring for many years in the SBC, only recently has it come to my attention. The removal from missionary service those Southern Baptist missionary candidates who affirm the BFM 2000 but possess a private prayer language, the removal of highly educated and acclaimed Southern Baptist professors from our institutions of higher learning simply because they are women, and the attempt to make every Southern Baptist conform to a particular doctrinal interpretation on non-essential issues prior to trustee service at our agencies are just three examples of this narrowing. There will be Southern Baptists from now until Jesus comes who disagree on soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, church polity, and other areas of doctrine and theology not addressed by the BFM 2000. We are a convention built upon cooperation and the greatest weakness we have right now in the SBC is the quiet acquiescence of many to the demands of doctrinal conformity by a few leaders. In other words, too many Southern Baptists are not paying enough attention to what is going in our convention. But that weakness is now being addressed and soon the participation level in the SBC by younger leaders and pastors will significantly increase.

3. What do you think is the greatest threat or challenge to the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The greatest threat we face as Southern Baptists is losing sight of the gospel. The gospel is the story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. We as Southern Baptists must join together to proclaim the good news that God's Kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord and Messiah, in fulfillment of the Word of God. When we become focused on demanding conformity from Southern Baptists on those doctrinal issues that are not essentials of our faith, we lose sight of the gospel and become a religious organization focused on ourselves, rather than the people of God who put our emphasis on others.

4. What do you believe is the greatest opportunity for the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

We have the opportunity to make several important decisions at our conventions in the next few years that will send a resounding message to the world that Southern Baptists are focused on spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, and we are united for that purpose. I think it will be refreshing to issue a statement reflecting that for which we stand together, rather than multiple pronouncements about those things we are against.

5. Some have suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention is likely to decline in the near future. What is your assessment of the future of the Southern Baptist Convention?

The SBC will decline both numerically and financially in the future if we don’t begin asking the question ‘how do we keep the young men and women committed to the cooperative mission efforts of the SBC?’ We are losing young people by hundreds to other non-denominational, evangelical conservative churches. Some are young, God-called pastors and missionaries who are writing to me and saying that they are not sure if they ‘fit’ in the SBC anymore. If Southern Baptist leaders don’t get clued in to what it will take to reach a young generation of Southern Baptists we will wake up one day and ask ourselves where all the people have gone. This is the age of communication. The old method of doing business in the Southern Baptist Convention is gone. It’s time we recognize that this new generation demands information, transparency and accountability. We are poised as a convention to meet all three demands, but it takes Southern Baptist leaders to push in this direction. I am personally optimistic about the future of the SBC. My life has been invested in Southern Baptist work and I believe we know how to adopt to meet the challenges we face. It is not always easy, but it can be done.

6. What would you say to a young (or old) pastor who is considering leaving the SBC? Why should they stay a Southern Baptist?

I have said it many, many times over the past year – “Don’t leave! There is far too much good taking place, and with your help, the future will only be brighter for the SBC.” I have been to several regional headquarters of the International Mission Board this past year, and the excellent work that is being accomplished around the world is really hard to comprehend by a person who has never been on the field. Our church will be increasing our Cooperative Program percentage this year. We believe what is happening in the SBC, and we are excited to be a part. Though many think of us as a people who always fight, when I think of the SBC I think of people who always cooperate. In fact, even those issues which have thrust me, unwillingly, into the center of controversy this past year, each of them has been because of a desire on my part to narrow the parameters of cooperation. I say to anyone who is thinking of leaving the SBC – “Don’t! – Our best days are ahead, and you can be a vital part of our cooperative ministry.”

7. The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC has been a controversial issue in some ways. What is your perspective on the resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC?

I am not nearly as concerned about Calvinism as I am legalism. Our church is full of one, two, three, four and five point Calvinists. We all get along, love each other, and work together in ministry. Our church is free of the curse of legalism and the fellowship is sweet, the cooperation is great, and the results are amazing. We have baptized over one hundred people each of the last four years. We are starting our third Sunday morning service and are now reaching close to seventeen hundred people each week in small groups. All this with what some might say ‘Calvinistic’ leadership. We never make this system of theology a matter of fellowship. Years ago Dr. Hershel Hobbs and I wrote editorials for the Baptist Messenger, the state Baptist paper of Oklahoma, regarding the resurgence of Calvinism. In my editorial made it very clear that I, unlike Charles Spurgeon, never wanted to be called a “Calvinist” simply because I think there are too many misperceptions of this system of doctrine, it puts an emphasis on a man rather than Christ, and it lessons the focus on the gospel. My emphasis in ministry is the gospel, and though I think it is difficult to clearly articulate the gospel without an understanding of the great doctrines of grace, I am convinced that you don’t have to be a systematic theologian to have an impact on a lost world. So, to answer your question, I’m not sure that the ‘resurgence’ of Calvinism has had any negative effects on the SBC, it certainly has not at our church.

8. The issue of elder rule has been controversial in many churches. What is your perspective on ruling elders as an expression of Baptist church polity and ecclesiology?

Our church is congregational for major decisions, but we are led by a group of pastors or shepherds, some who are full time paid pastors and some who are not. I definitely believe the Bible supports a plurality of pastoral leadership, but I am not convinced that what you must call them ‘elders’ or ‘bishops’ or even ‘pastors.’ Also, most would not consider us an ‘elder’ led church because we have congregational votes on major decisions and place all important documents in the hands of members for proper accountability. I would say we have a blended approach in this area of church polity.

9. What is your perspective on the emergent church movement?

I frankly am not familiar enough with the movement to make a comment regarding it.

10. What would you say is the most significant theological issue confronting Southern Baptists in this generation?


I personally believe there is an attempt by some to narrowly define ‘the church,’ far beyond the definition of the Bible and our confessions. When that happens there is always the danger of cooperative ministry suffering. Why? When somebody sets out to define what a ‘pure’ church is, and then tells you that you don’t have one, then there are attempts by those same people to separate from you. In other words, some will try to define who is, and who is not, a true Southern Baptist church, and then tell you --- you are not a part of one.

I believe that the decision of what a church should look like, according to the great Baptist tradition of local church autonomy, must be made by the church herself – and not outside influences.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Meet Morris H. Chapman

Dr. Morris H. Chapman serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, Nashville , Tennessee . Chapman previously served two terms as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1990-1992), along with several other prominent posts in SBC leadership. Chapman’s ministry experience includes over three decades of pastorates in SBC churches, including his thirteen-year run as senior pastor of the historic 7,700-member First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls, Texas. A native of Kosciusko , Mississippi , Chapman is a graduate of Mississippi College . Following college, Chapman earned both Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Chapman is married to Jodi, and they have two children and seven grandchildren.

Q&A with Morris H. Chapman

1. What do you see as the greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The passion for, experience with, and funding of world missions has been and is the greatest strength of the Southern Baptist Convention. In Southern Baptist churches, God continues to stir the hearts of increasing numbers of church members of all ages to go wherever He leads to witness to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has stirred the hearts of still others who remain at home to give joyfully and generously to world missions and our missionaries through the Cooperative Program.

Because of our strong biblical convictions, the world tends to characterize Southern Baptists as narrow-minded, unengaged in today’s culture, and apathetic to the world’s needs. Nevetheless, no denomination is better positioned to demonstrate the love of Christ and His power to save mankind than Southern Baptists.

2. What do you see as the greatest weakness or problem in the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

Our greatest weakness is the tendency to “defend” our faith with a degree of severe and unforgiving dogmatism that in part creates a negative view of the Convention and helps perpetuate the idea that we are little more than a denomination of prohibitions. The truth is, we do stand unapologetically against those things of the world that grieve the heart of God. We are stouthearted in our doctrinal convictions. Nevertheless, we should and we must seize the initiative to trumpet the wonder working power of Jesus Christ our Lord to the world.
Jesus was courageous and unafraid to challenge the most powerful of men who served other gods, but He also spent hours on end speaking the truth in love to the lost while assuring them their sins would be forgiven if they would trust in Him for their salvation. We are doing ourselves, our denomination, and our Lord an injustice if we let the world see only our dogmatism without seeing the love of Christ.

In the Convention there appears to be a growing fondness for casting stones at each other, judging one another, and building our reputations at the expense of others. A divisive culture has been sown among Southern Baptists that does not honor Christ when measured against the Word of God. His love for us conquered sin through the sacrifice of His own life. We are to be like Him. His expressions of righteous indignation while He was on earth were real, but rare.
He came to die for us and in so doing let mankind know that God loves the world, period. God’s wrath is the consequence of man’s insistence upon sin, disobedience, hatred, and bitterness. Jesus preached the reality of hell from a heart of love, not hatred. Among the brethren, He sowed seeds of love, not dissension.

3. What do you think is the greatest threat or challenge to the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

The greatest threat to the Southern Baptist Convention is bound inextricably to the greatest weakness of the Convention. I believe the greatest threat is the gradual deterioration of the collective heart that at one time beat steadily and strongly with a sacrificial love for Jesus and the unsaved. But that heartbeat seems to be weakening. When the heart stops beating, the Convention’s physical infrastructure, its wide-flung missions enterprise, its educational excellence, and its religious liberty defense will collapse with the flutter of falling dominoes.
A lessening of interest in cooperative missions and theological education among Southern Baptist pastors is a direct threat to the Convention’s long-term existence. The Convention is not hierarchical in its polity (government). The Convention is a network of churches that voluntarily bands together for the principal cause of world missions. This common commitment to missions is the primary reason the Baptist Faith and Message focuses only upon core beliefs of Southern Baptists. If we insist that every doctrinal nuance debated among Southern Baptists is a core belief, sooner or later, our missionary force will be depleted and the unsaved will be abandoned.
Our greatest challenge is, once again, to become a powerful spiritual force, empowered by the Holy Spirit, cooperating together and showing the world that Jesus lives! Although cooperation is not one of the doctrinal or missiological underpinnings of the Convention, it is an operational component based upon biblical principles that describes the methodological attitude and spirit with which we are to work together for God’s glory and the advancement of His Kingdom on earth. Cooperation in the Convention cannot be forced and at the same time be effective. The desire to cooperate is born of the heart. It is more than a willingness to cooperate. It is a matter of wanting to cooperate.

4. What do you believe is the great opportunity for the Southern Baptist Convention right now?

Our greatest opportunity is to prepare heart, soul, mind, and organizational infrastructure to revolutionize the world spiritually in the 21st Century. In the first three questions, I spoke about preparing the heart, soul, and mind. Now I will address the issue of organizational restructuring. While restructuring as a subject may seem somewhat trite and boring, don’t overlook the fact that savings in one area makes possible funding for another area of greater priority.
In 1997, upon the recommendation of the SBC Program and Structure Committee, Mark Brister, Chairman, the Southern Baptist Convention completely dissolved seven (7) agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention, reducing the total number of entities from 19 to 12. The Home Mission Board was the linchpin of the study. The legal entity known as the Home Mission Board was dissolved and an entirely new corporation named the North American Mission Board (NAMB) was formed bringing together the ministry assignments from the Home Mission Board, the Radio and Television Commission, and the Brotherhood Commission.
The magnitude of the committee’s assignment made it impossible to expect Southern Baptists to assimilate possible changes in all SBC entities at once. The decision to recommend no other changes was the result of deciding that the overwhelming nature of the assignment was too big to accomplish all at once.

The question now is, “What are the pressing needs in the Convention that would set us free to be more effective in the coming years?” Possibilities include (1) improving the flow of information from SBC entities to rank and file Southern Baptists, (2) developing a SBC national strategy for providing theological education to future pastors, missionaries, evangelists, associate ministers, and directors of missions, (3) planning and executing the most aggressive and successful church planting strategy ever seen in the United States, (4) extending a study of the SBC infrastructure to entities not previously studied in depth, and (5) encouraging state conventions to study their infrastructures with the intent of prioritizing ministries, dissolving any that are ineffective and inefficient, thus freeing a greater percentage of Cooperative Program funds to be forwarded to the SBC. Aggressive efforts to reach the 50-50% division of CP funds, a recommendation by our forebears upon granting the state conventions the assignment of being the collectors of CP receipts from the churches, I believe, would be applauded by the churches in every state convention.

5. Some have suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention is likely to decline in the near future? What is your assessment of the future of the Southern Baptist Convention?

The Southern Baptist Convention is a loose network of churches voluntarily bound together by basic Southern Baptist doctrine (Baptist Faith and Message) and a common commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission. The Convention shall not decline as long as the members of our churches continue to engage in soul-winning mission projects around the world. Neither shall the Convention decline due to any failure on the part of our churches or Convention if we continue to stand courageously upon the Word of God and obediently and courageously go to the ends of the earth proclaiming the Gospel. The decline will come only if we are distracted and encumbered by infighting about second and third-level issues; only if we continue to cover our eyes and ears while self-appointed political leaders wrestle for control of the Convention and attempt to unduly influence every major decision; and only if pastors of any given generation cease to lead their churches to see the worth of giving through the Cooperative Program to cooperative missions and theological education. It’s the choice of the churches. The choice of the pastors and the people who worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords Sunday after Sunday. The churches are not in the hands of the Convention. The Convention is in the hands of the churches.