Preparing SEBTS Students for the SBC Annual Meeting

As many readers will know, the SBC Annual Meeting will gather in Houston on June 11–12, 2013. In conjunction with the Convention, I teach an elective travel course at Southeastern Seminary titled The Southern Baptist Convention. The course is divided into three components. First, we meet on campus for one full day to discuss Southern Baptist history, theology, and polity, as well as specific information related to the upcoming annual meeting. Second, the students read several books and articles and listen to numerous audio resources related to these themes. Finally, the students attend the SBC Annual Meeting itself. While at the Convention, the students attend most of the proceedings, meet a couple of times with key SBC leaders, hobnob at the SEBTS booth, and attend the SEBTS Friends and Alumni Luncheon. Most also attend auxiliary events such as the Pastor’s Conference, Baptist 21 Luncheon, and 9 Marks at 9 events, among others.

I thought I would pass on to you some of the resources I use to prepare students for the SBC Annual Meeting. Obviously, we spend quite a bit of time walking through the Convention program, which, along with numerous other helpful resources, is available online. In addition to my lectures and guided class discussions, the students also watch or listen to several lectures, sermons, and panel discussions. This year, I’ve required them to watch the various Baptist 21 panel discussions from previous years (available at the B21 website), which are a helpful gauge of the “hot topics” in the SBC in recent years. I also required the students to watch one of the panels from last year’s 9 Marks at 9. The panel, which included Mark Dever, Al Mohler, and Danny Akin, discussed Fred Luter’s presidential election, the nature of SBC cooperation, and Calvinism, all of which remain important topics a year later.

I also point the students to four lectures or sermons. They watch David Dockery’s fine sermon “Participants and Partners in the Gospel,” which was preached in SEBTS chapel back in February. The sermon is vintage Dockery, calling for denominational unity around the gospel and basic Baptist orthodoxy for the sake of the Great Commission. Students also listen to Dockery’s lecture “The Southern Baptist Convention since 1979,” which helps to orient them to recent Baptist history. The final two lectures are Timothy George’s “The Future of Baptist Identity in a post-Denominational World,” which remains a timely topic, and Al Mohler’s “The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” an address that every Southern Baptist needs to listen to at least once.
The students read two books and over a dozen journal articles or book chapters. The first book is Roger Richards’ History of Southern Baptists (Crossbooks, 2012), which is the most recent history of the SBC. The second book is a helpful collection of essays titled The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time (B&H Academic, 2010), edited by Chuck Lawless and Adam Greenway. The latter volume touches upon most of the current tension points in the SBC from a perspective that advocates unity for the sake of gospel advance.

Unfortunately, for reasons of copyright I can’t make most of the additional essays I require available outside of the class. The students read chapters, articles, and booklets written by SBC leaders and thinkers such as Danny Akin (on the Great Commission Resurgence), David Dockery (on Baptist theology), Nathan Finn (on Baptist identity, Calvinism, and the future of the SBC), Timothy George (on Baptist theology), John Hammett (on regenerate church membership and the ordinances), Chuck Lawless (on Calvinism), Al Mohler (on Baptist identity), Paige Patterson (on the Conservative Resurgence), Ed Stetzer (on missional churches), and Malcolm Yarnell (on the priesthood of all believers).

One resource that I can make available to you is Dr. Patterson’s e-booklet “The Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence: The History, the Plan, the Assessment ” (Seminary Hill, 2012). In this booklet, was which was originally published as three separate articles in The Southwestern Journal of Theology, Dr. Patterson offers a first-hand account of the Conservative Resurgence. It is a helpful look at recent Baptist history from one of the most important shapers of that history. It is also a reminder that Dr. Patterson needs to publish a volume that brings together his collected articles and essays, a topic I have pestered him about in the past. (And again, now, on a public blog . . .)

Anyway, I hope you find these resources helpful. And I hope that many of you will consider attending the 2013 SBC Annual Meeting in Houston. Perhaps I will see many of you there.

(Note: This post was cross-published at Christian Thought & Tradition)online game car

Post-SBC Reflections

The SBC is over.

It really is. The “convention” is a meeting that meets once a year and that meeting has closed. Now, we will all go back to our locally autonomous churches and work to fulfill the mission of God. Hopefully what was accomplished at this year’s annual meeting will help that work press forward. But ultimately, the Great Commission is given to believers and the church, not denominational structures, entities, and employees.

But, because I am hopeful about our tribe and what denominations can accomplish together, here are some observations:

1. There was not the massive turnout that many predicted.

I heard talk of 18,000 messengers. We were not even close. It was larger than some of the meetings from the last few years because of the issues at hand, but it was not the meeting many expected. The same thing happened at the 2006 convention in Greensboro and the 2007 San Antonio convention, and neither materialized into massive attendances.

On the other hand, I do think it encouraging that in the midst of our ongoing sluggish economy there was an uptick in attendance rather than a drop-off. But, the fact that the masses did not show is worth noting.

2. This was not as big of a battle as many had predicted.

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report passed by a 3-1 margin. I think the amendments helped (and made the report better), but they did not change the substance of the report. Southern Baptists voted overwhelmingly for the report even though many key SBC leaders were vocally opposing the report.

But, that is the past. The convention has spoken, now the implementation discussion will begin.

3. Bryant Wright’s election is an interesting surprise and worth considering.

I am friends with Bryant Wright, Ted Traylor, and Leo Endel. (Full disclosure: I do not know Jimmy Jackson well, but he seems like a great man. I have spoken for Leo Endel multiple times in Minnesota / Wisconsin and consider him a friend. Ted is a close friend of many years and I have preached at his church. I preached for Bryant just recently at Johnson Ferry. I did not endorse any candidate for SBC president.)

At LifeWay, we are not permitted to endorse candidates or motions (something I would suggest for all agency employees), but I can tell you my perceptions. I do not think that the votes were a statement about the men running. They are all good men who share the theological values of our convention of churches. But, as I see it, they represented “degrees” of change.

Jimmy Jackson and Leo Endel both represented a position that might be called, “Little Structural Change / Focused on Spiritual Change.” Each wanted a resurgence of the Great Commission, but not the restructuring they saw evident in the GCRFT report. Jimmy was most widely supported by those who valued working with and making the current system better.

Ted Traylor was the candidate most closely tied to the GCRTF. His position might have been, “GCR-Sized Structural Change / Focused on Spiritual Change.” He valued the Cooperative Program and was a clear candidate to help exhort the SBC into the implementation of the GCRTF recommendations.

“Beyond GCR Structural Change / Focused on Spiritual Change” would have been the best way to describe Bryant Wright’s position. Had he been leading the GCRTF, the changes would have been more radical. He has called for a dramatic increase in funds going directly to the global field, has led his church to restructure its Cooperative Program funds to contribute directly to IMB projects, and he clearly communicated that the GCRTF report was a start, not the conclusion.

And, the convention chose Bryant– he received the most votes in the first round and the majority in the second. I have no interpretation of this apparent dualistic vote of the convention choosing to strengthen the CP language of the GCR, yet electing Bryant Wright as president whose church has redirected its cooperative giving to the IMB. Johnson Ferry was the picture of Great Commission Giving which was of so much concern that the convention went on record to amend the GCRTF report around such giving. Perhaps someone has an idea about it but, as of now, I do not.

I do not believe that Bryant Wright was elected by name recognition alone.. He has been president of the SBC pastors conference (and did a fine job). But, it appears to me that Ted Traylor is better known. Ted is loved by Southern Baptists, particularly in Florida, and just about everywhere else. (I can truly say I do not know anyone who does not like Ted Traylor.)

The fact that Southern Baptists would elect Bryant and overwhelmingly endorse the GCRTF report appears to demonstrate a desire for more change. And, I anticipate that Bryant will communicate that in the days to some.

I believe that Bryant will do an excellent job as SBC president. Most importantly, we can be assured of a round of quality trustees at our agencies. Also, I would expect Bryant to use the pulpit of the SBC to encourage a greater commitment to global missions and domestic church planting-and those are two emphases on which we all can agree.

More tomorrow…mobi online

Toward a Unified SBC

The SBC annual meeting is rapidly approaching and, as it does, the back and forth across the Internet seems to have accelerated pace. Pastors and denominational leaders have rushed to publish their views, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently, but publish they have. If the secular press decides to take a gander at blogs, news sites and Twitter feeds, they will likely have no shortage of evidence to substantiate their long held belief that Southern Baptists not only cannot get along with the rest of society, we cannot even get along with ourselves.

But in truth, a full-blown fracture is improbable and unwanted. More likely, we will leave Orlando the same way we arrived: one convention comprised of many, many parts.

Since the beginning of the Great Commission Resurgence conversation last year, there have been several things that have happened that I consider good and profitable across the SBC. First, people are engaged in a productive debate over ideas. By and large, and with some well-known exceptions, we are not debating personalities, but issues. This is good and healthy, as it has been throughout church history. We will never have a hope of a unified SBC unless we retain the ability to present ideas, mull them over, shoot at them, rework them and ultimately accept or reject them.

Many denominational leaders have stepped into the conversation publishing strongly held opinions on differing sides. This can be a good thing. No movement of God was ever birthed through the power of indifferent compliance. In fact, the early church grew through two major problems that required meetings of the minds: the formations of the office of deacon and acceptance of the Gentiles as full believers. Let’s not forget the face-to-face confrontation between Peter and Paul, the latter of whom seemed pretty comfortable throwing the word “hypocrite” around! There is nothing wrong with passion, as long as personalities take second place to purpose.

Second, people are talking about and working toward fulfilling the Great Commission. This would be a bad thing how, exactly? Right-it is not a bad thing.

Our current discussion has brought to the forefront a sometimes neglected topic-how to get the gospel to those who need it in all parts of the world. We can be assured: churches + discussions about the Great Commission = greater gospel impact. Over and over, from every corner and from those who ultimately disagree about the means, the ends are being kept in the forefront. Perhaps like no point in recent convention history, the conversation has revolved around the reason the convention actually exists: to do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission.

Another good thing that has happened is that people are praying more. I dare not suggest that people were not praying prior to the introduction of the GCR discussion, but it is obvious that many people are praying with a new or renewed focus. Surely we can at least hope that God, as He has promised over and over in His word, will respond to the cries of His people.

When we walk in the Spirit, two needed mindsets are humility –that my way may not be the best way–and prayer–that God’s will be done and that I will recognize it when it is. The SBC has no present or future hope for being unified if we neglect these two things. If we attempt to move forward with the brash arrogance that we are somehow indispensable to the purposes of God, we run the risk of finding out first-hand just how many other tools God has in His toolbox and, with our vantage point from the shelf, will have a very nice, albeit unwanted, view.

The Southern Baptist Convention, despite uncertainty within and without, still has great things in its favor. We do theology well, we do missions well, and we have learned to cooperate on a very large scale. We are imperfect in each of these, yes, but we have made a lot of progress in recent decades and have the ability to make considerably more progress. Unless we believe the best course of action is to outright jettison all God has done through us, then we must admit that we need to focus on unity in the midst of our Great Commission discussions and decisions.

As I have said before, I’m not impressed by denominations, including my own. I am impressed by the church. The denomination is a tool; not the goal. The church is the instrument of God’s agenda (Ephesians 3:10). The church should impress us and the denomination should assist us in doing the mission of the church. Never should the two be reversed.

Now is the time for Southern Baptists to pull together. As we think about how we can do things better, we need to be sure that we do them together-through partnership, through the Cooperative Program, through better relationships, but most importantly, through deeper love for God and each other.

To borrow from Malcolm Gladwell, we are at a tipping point.

If we can effectively unify during the next few years we may be able to obtain the best allocation for where our finances go. We will be more focused on global missions, while church planting in the United States will become more efficient and effective. Yes, it is true that each of these decisions is monumental on its own and implementing them may bring difficult challenges, but the alternative–doing nothing–will eventually bring decisions that neither we, nor our descendants, want to make.

Yes, we do need change, but I have great hope in our convention. Now is not the time for pastors, churches, and denominational leaders to get upset and to pull their resources out of the SBC system; now is the time for us to engage that system so its weak hands may be strengthened and its feeble needs made steady, and the glory of God may cover the earth as the water covers the games