Friday, June 13, 2008

Somewhere Between Jesus and John Wayne (Part 2): Why I Came Down from a Ledge in the RCA Dome

Just before I finished the previous post, messengers to the Convention had cast their first ballot for the presidency, and the results had not yet been announced. I don’t think anyone expected one candidate to gain a majority on the first ballot. But if anyone had a chance, it was Johnny Hunt, and he did.

Hunt was not the candidate with whom I would have the most in common, but folks who’ve heard him more than I say he’s consistent in his emphasis on the gospel and he’s crystal clear in his explanation of it. Although I sense that several of the candidates would have made good presidents, I’m not sure than any is more likely to maintain the SBC’s trajectory of further entrenching a conservative foundation. Hunt is a self-professed Native American who grew up in the projects of Wilmington, North Carolina. The work of God’s grace in his life has been profound. And like I said earlier, this man who used to take shots at Calvinism quoted A.W. Pink in his sermon. Others know him to be, as all pastors should be, a growing student of theology. I’ve never read a word of Pink in my life, which means he’s kicking my tail on that point. So that’s the first reason the third 24-hour period at the Convention was more enjoyable than the first two.

The second is that the group I was with was given the great gift of a couple hours with two leaders who gave us a great deal more context to think about what was eating at us. One emphasized the positive theological developments under the surface (contra the “public face” I talked about in the previous post. The other shed a bright light on the history of the SBC, particularly on the past nature of its public meetings, why some of the most frustrating parts are the way they are, and why they might get better soon.

Third, a resolution on regenerate church membership passed overwhelmingly, after being barred from the convention floor the past two years. Even this year, the Resolutions Committee presented something of a Frankenstein resolution that emerged from four that had been proposed. Unfortunately, it gutted some of the most important parts, including Tom Ascol’s call for corporate repentance for widespread dishonesty in reporting membership figures due to bloated membership rolls that exist because so few churches practice meaningful discipline.

Fuller accounts of the resolution’s passage are available elsewhere, but here’s the bottom line: A fine resolution became a stellar resolution with the attachment of two amendments, including one from Ascol that draws attention to the statistical dishonesty and the need for repentance. These amendments took the Resolutions Committee to the woodshed a bit for their emasculation of Ascol’s initial offering. Perhaps it might also expunge from the record the opposition to the resolution offered a couple years ago by the committee chairman that we shouldn’t remove non-attending members from church rolls because we need the names for evangelistic efforts.

In any case, the passage of this resolution and how it reached its final form renewed some belief in the wisdom of the rank-and-file membership of the SBC (again, in contrast to its “public face”). It also impressed upon me the differences between the different kinds of bloggers in the SBC. Ascol, the theologian-blogger failed for a couple years, but his cause gained momentum and ultimately triumphed. Others, who may have played a crucial role in electing the previous SBC president, were eventually rebuked by him for the vicious nature of their personal attacks and now seem to be marginalized. It’s still early to draw historical conclusions, but I wonder whether the end of the story won’t point toward the power of a meek and gentle argument over the blogposts of personal destruction.

Fourth, Al Mohler’s SBTS report always seems to follow providentially some momentous event on the Convention floor. This year he immediately followed the regenerate church membership vote, and he used it well. As he does year after year, Mohler pointed out that the SBC was discussing regenerate church membership while other denominations this summer will be debating homosexual marriage and other issues that are dominated more by contemporary culture than biblical fidelity.

Fifth, on Wednesday the Gaithers were replaced by the Gettys. ‘Nuff said.

Sixth, Al Gilbert’s sermon was excellent. It was expositional. It had direct, relevant application. And he busted the state conventions in the chops. He was a breath of fresh air. I wish he’d pushed a little past Ephesians 3:2-6 to the later verses that show how it’s ultimately the church that displays God’s wisdom to the world, but that’s niggling around the edges.

Seventh, on Wednesday I attended the Southeastern Seminary (my alma mater) alumni and friends luncheon. I cannot begin to express all the reasons that I respect and appreciate Danny Akin. In the course of his five years or so as president of Southeastern, he’s said and done quite a few things people didn’t like, and he took quite a bit of heat for it. Even though there may have been a time or two I disagreed myself, I think he was dead on the vast majority of those times. And of course it’s quite possible I was wrong when I disagreed. Akin is one of those rare kinds of individuals who will confront serious issues that everyone else wants to ignore, and he can do it with the kind of spirit that doesn’t create unnecessary offense. His main point at the luncheon is that he intends for SEBTS to be a “missions monster,” essentially an arm of the International Missions Board. My sense is that the foundation for that mission existed when I was a student, and it’s only advancing as his presidency matures.

Johnny Hunt also spoke. What stuck out most to me were his reservations about the regenerate church membership resolution. He said, “If we spend all our time tidying up the ship, we might arrive at port with no one on it.” My hope is that at some point, the message of Ephesians 3 will take root. The church is a display of God’s glory to the world. SBC hand-wringing about falling numbers and ineffective evangelism is a reflection of the fact that SBC churches (and the public face of the Convention as a whole) don’t yet grasp what the church is all about. Without healthy churches, all the evangelism cheerleading in the world will only lead to more failures.

Clearly, what needs to happen is that people who not only recognize the problem, but also perceive the solution, need to become the public face of the SBC. They need to be the ones who are teaching pastors how to get their churches on track. My guess is that anyone who’s still reading this pretty much knows who those men are. At the same time, we all can and should respect and appreciate the present leaders who were the foot-soldiers of the Conservative Resurgence. What they accomplished with theological instinct and the Holy Spirit, without the benefit of a sound, conservative theological education, ought to direct us younger folk towards a bit of humility and dependence on God.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that Pink is mentioned/quoted. While he was a better theologian than the "Biblical Theology of Altar Calls" guys you've had to endure, he was worse at participating in the life of the church. He gave up attending/belonging to any congregation, fellowship, or denomination because none were sufficiently on-track in their theology or worship. Different motivation from the separatism of American fundamentalists but same (or, if possible, worse) end result. I don't think Pink would have stuck around beyond your post 1. Even though I think you'd be better off joining a Presbyterian group, kudos to you for sticking with the convention long enough to write Part 2.


Anonymous said...

"self-professed Native American?"

But maybe I'm just bitter because you stopped liveblogging before the good stuff started.


JakePorter said...

Great account of the convention. My thoughts were similar. I pray for our convention, our president, and the churches to take seriously the resolution on discipline.

Anonymous said...

Excellent reporting on the Convention, and great thoughts on the issues facing the Convention. I think you are right on and wish that I could have articulated it as well.