Please stop whatever you are doing and pray right now for First Baptist Woodstock pastor and current SBC President Johnny Hunt. Many of you know that Bro. Johnny was diagnosed with prostate cancer a couple of months ago. His surgery is this morning at 11:30. Please also remember to continue to pray for other Southern Baptist pastors and leaders with cancer, including O. S. Hawkins, Jack Graham, and Matt Chandler.
On October 8 I had the honor of speaking at Union University at the “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and Future of Denominationalism Conference.” The meeting was held in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement. Several blogs and media outlets have reported both on the conference and the paper I delivered. The full manuscript may be accessed at http://apps.sebts.edu/president/?p=1471 . However, to fit the paper into the “blog world” I will post 10 entries that break up the paper in more edible bites. The blogs will differ only slightly, if at all, from the paper delivered at Union. It is my hope and prayer this series will promote healthy and helpful conversation as Southern Baptists look to the future.
As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Southern Baptist are clearly at a crossroads. We find ourselves in the midst of seismic changes all across our Convention of churches. This particular moment in history is unprecedented. Consider the following 4 events that have unfolded in just the past few months:
- 1) The Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Louisville, KY in June 2009, by a 95% vote, empowered the president of the SBC, Dr. Johnny Hunt, to appoint a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force to study our Convention and bring back a report with recommendations as to how we can more efficiently fulfill the Great Commission. This occurred in spite of serious opposition in a number of places, especially from those who work for the denomination.
- 2) In August Dr. Geof Hammond under pressure resigned as president of the North American Mission Board.
- 3) In September Dr. Jerry Rankin announced his retirement as president of the International Mission Board (effective June 2010).
- 4) In September Dr. Morris Chapman announced his retirement as president of the Executive Committee (effective September 2010).
The import of these four events alone is enough to get anyone’s attention. Add to this the decline in baptisms, churches and membership of the Southern Baptist Convention in recent years, bizarre attempts to justify and paper over these declines, false rumors about and sustained opposition to the whole idea of a Great Commission Resurgence, distrust and a passion for the status quo on the part of some leaders, and it would not be difficult for one to be less than optimistic about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The fact is I am not optimistic. However, I am hopeful. And, I am hopeful not because of my confidence in Southern Baptists, sinners saved by grace be we all, but because of my confidence in our God, His Word and His promises. He has promised in Revelation 7:9-10 that there is coming a day in heaven when there will be “a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” God has promised this will happen and praise His Name it will. Now, the question that stares Southern Baptists in the face is this: will we join hands with our great God in seeing this awesome day come to pass or will we find ourselves sitting on the sidelines watching? Will we, as Pastor Al Jackson of Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn (AL) has well warned us, make the wrong investment (treasures on earth rather than treasures in heaven), have the wrong perspective (the temporal rather than the eternal), and love the wrong master (money rather that God)? The spiritual stakes are high. Of that no one should be in doubt.
Interestingly, this is the 4th time I have addressed some aspect of the future of the Southern Baptist Convention in the past five years. I have some embarrassment at this point because I am not a prophet nor am I all that smart. There is no false humility here, just an honest self-evaluation and admission. Still, I will do my best to share my perspective on where we are and what we must do to have a “viable future” that will allow us to be a part of God’s great and glorious plan of redemption. I will intentionally draw on these previous addresses, particularly “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence.” I do so because 1) I believe they chart a hopeful and positive agenda for the future and 2) nothing has transpired since I delivered these addresses that would cause me to change my perspective. I will also draw on conversations and experiences over there past several months that have only highlighted and made even more clear where the dangers to our future lie.
It is possible years from now that we will look back on the 2009 SBC in Louisville and see it as a historic watershed moment in our history. It is possible that on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence (CR), we will have witnessed the natural and hoped for outcome of the CR in the genesis of a new movement of God among His people in a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) that signaled a new day in the advance of the gospel across North America and to all the nations of the earth. I know this is my heart’s cry and desire.
Southern Baptists recently concluded what I thought was one of the most encouraging annual meetings we have had in years. I believe there are many reasons Southern Baptists should be excited about the direction the SBC is heading. I thought it would be appropriate to offer my personal reflections on the Louisville Convention and note some of the highlights of this year’s meeting.
I believe the Pastor’s Conference was one of the best in recent memory. Many people expressed similar sentiments to me. Southeastern was ably represented by evangelism and student ministry professor Alvin Reid and by adjunctive professors J. D. Greear and Ed Stetzer. David Platt brought one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever heard at a denominational meeting. One former SBC president told a friend of mine that David’s sermon was the best he’d ever heard in his four-plus decades of attending Pastor’s Conferences.
I am pleased with the way my dear friend (and SEBTS alum!) Johnny Hunt presided over this Convention. Bro. Johnny is a godly husband and father, a fervent evangelist, a faithful expositor, a model pastor, and a denominational statesman. All Southern Baptists should be thankful for the way he is leading us. I was also pleased to see another SEBTS alum and former faculty member Stephen Rummage elected to serve as our Second Vice President.
I am very encouraged by the number of younger faces I saw in Louisville. No doubt part of this was due to the close proximity of Southern Seminary, but I talked to many young pastors and seminarians who came to Louisville because they are excited about a Great Commission Resurgence. I was thrilled with the attendance at the two “Nine Marks at Nine” sessions and the Baptist 21 Panel Discussion, both of which attracted hundreds of young Southern Baptists. This bodes well for our future.
I am thankful that my close friend Al Mohler felt led to make the motion that President Hunt appoint a GCR task force to study the denomination and bring a report to the 2010 Convention in Orlando. I am thrilled that the messengers voted by an overwhelming majority (at least 95%) to approve Dr. Mohler’s motion. I am also humbled that Bro. Johnny asked me to serve on the task force with some of the godliest, most gifted Southern Baptists I know. Pray for us as we get to work with the important job the Convention has assigned us.
I am glad to see Southern Baptists are reaching across generational and theological differences to unite around the GCR. I heard messengers of many ages and backgrounds share their enthusiasm for the SBC’s future. I personally spoke before gatherings of younger ministers and SBC Calvinists who are longing for a GCR. I believe the tribe of Carey, Judson and Spurgeon type Calvinists is growing. That is a good thing! I was delighted to see former Convention president Frank Page publicly speak in favor of Dr. Mohler’s motion, despite their differences concerning particular details of theology that should not divide us. That’s a picture of the type of Great Commission unity we need in the SBC!
Before closing, I do want to address some of the criticisms of Southeastern Seminary and my leadership of the school. I think this is something I need to do. A number of motions and proposed resolutions expressed concern about my relationship with Mark Driscoll and Acts 29. Many of these concerns were based upon information that has been circulated around our Convention in the last six months in the form of Baptist Press articles, blog posts, and position papers. Some of that information was erroneous or outdated. Some of it is accurate, but my opinion usually differs from those raising the concerns. So, let me speak plainly and from my heart.
I appreciate Mark Driscoll and Acts 29. Southeastern has no formal relationship with either, but I am thankful for many aspects of both ministries. I think there is much that our students can learn from them. Mark and I have become good friends, but I do not agree with everything Mark says or does. In particular, I disagree with some of the language he has used in the pulpit in the past (though not in several years!) and I am uncomfortable with his position on beverage alcohol. I do appreciate his courage to tackle the difficult book The Song of Solomon and to address sexual issues with the adults in his congregation who have serious and important questions needing answers. Many of you know I have had a similar ministry through Marriage and Family conferences for years. I also wrote a book on the Song entitled God on Sex. Now it is the case I have chosen to address these issues in a different manner than has Mark, and at certain points I think he might have addressed some sensitive sexual issues in a more careful manner. But, I believe we can learn from those with whom we differ, and on the whole I believe Mark has much to teach us about missional living, theology-driven ministry, and culturally relevant expositional preaching. I also think our students, and Southern Baptists in general, are mature enough to treat Mark Driscoll (and every Christian leader) with appropriate discernment.
I want to remind our readers that good seminaries continually expose their students to diverse opinions, including the opinions of those with whom we disagree. There are few textbooks, guest lecturers, and even chapel speakers with whom I am in 100% agreement! Several times in the last decade the SBC annual meeting has been addressed by speakers who differ with Southern Baptists, including Condoleeza Rice (a Presbyterian who describes her views on abortion as “mildly pro-choice”), James Dobson (a Nazarene) and Bill Bright (another Presbyterian). Individual Southern Baptists also learn from others every time they read a book by Augustine, C. S. Lewis or John Stott and every time they listen to a sermon by John MacArthur or Chuck Swindoll. It is a healthy thing to interact with and appreciate fellow Christians with whom we have theological differences and even strong disagreements on secondary and tertiary matters.
Let me invite any of our readers who have concerns about Mark or Acts 29 to do three things. First, make sure your criticisms are up-to-date rather than rehashing issues that were settled several years ago. Second, acquaint yourself with the doctrinal convictions of both Mars Hill Church and Acts 29. Finally, please note that all of the Driscoll addresses are available online at our website. I would encourage you to listen to them as well as an interview David Nelson conducted with Mark last spring. I think you will be blessed and encouraged by what you hear. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to email me or call my office. I would be happy to talk with you, listen to your heart, and hopefully put your concerns to rest.
I remain very hopeful about the future of the SBC. I hope you will join me in praying for a Great Commission Resurgence among all Southern Baptists.