Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Is It Time to Join the SBC?": A Rather Friendly Rejoinder (Part 2)

See part 1 for background to this post. What you read below interacts with this article.

1. Research into the history of the Northern Baptist Convention (NBC) provoked Bauder's piece, at least in part. I very much look forward to reading whatever publications emerge from that research. One of the most interesting tidbits he shares is his observation that "Initially, the convention operated purely as a coordinating body, but with the creation of the General Board of Promotion in 1919, it became a controlling body," "engineered by theological liberals" . . . "an opportunity to seize the whole denominational machinery, including the churches."

Just six years later, the SBC Cooperative Program (CP) launched. Now, as to whether the SBC CP was likewise engineered by liberals to seize denominational machinery and churches, I must confess both some ignorance and some skepticism. Bauder seems to imply strong parallels when he says, regarding those who left the NBC and considered the SBC model, "[T]he risks inherent in the system were just too great." So while I'm not familiar enough with the dynamics in the SBC in the 1920s to comment confidently whether it was a liberal strategy, I can say that I've never encountered anyone who's attempted to make that case. I'd be interested to read it. What I can say is that if the CP actually was such a strategy, it failed miserably. Independent separatists might say that liberals succeeded for a few decades in the mid-20th century. I'd argue that they obviously didn't. Though liberals and indifferentists controlled most agencies for a time, the success of the Conservative Resurgence has clearly proven that loopholes in the system prevented denominational machinery from being seized. There's not much we Southern Baptists like more than a pitchfork rebellion, and now we know we can make one happen.

One more historical note before I move on: There were some battles over church property when churches attempted to leave the SBC. For several years, I was a member of a church that existed because people who voted to separate from the SBC lost their property in a courtroom fight. A strong majority had voted to disassociate from the SBC, but the minority sued, and some Southern Baptists testified on behalf of the minority. Unfortunately for that majority, the process of disassociation didn't conform to the governing documents of the church. I suspect the outcome might have been different had the disassociation been handled properly. Regardless, this was not a matter of convention ownership of local church property, as in recent Episcopalian/Anglican disputes, but of which faction of members held control.

All that to say this: The SBC cooperative structure may be a terrible idea for one reason or another, but I'm not at all convinced that it was a liberal idea. I'd suggest that the history of the NBC is far less relevant evidence to the issue than the history of the SBC. That, of course, remains a story in progress, but the present plot line of that story is surely not less encouraging to me than the plot line of the descendants of the separatist refugees from the NBC.

2. I appreciate Bauder's analogy between the CP and the Patriot Act: "In the hands of principled people, it can be both comforting and productive. In the hands of the unprincipled, or, worse yet, the wrongly-principled, it is bound to be devastating." Of course he's right. Unfortunately, I think that's the nature of institutional partnerships. The same could be said of an independent Baptist mission board, a Baptist Bible College, or Central Seminary. If I'm pastoring a church that's considering contributing $5,000 per year to any one of those agencies, I have to ask myself, "Am I comfortable making this investment, 1) realizing that this institution may not use the money precisely as I would, and 2) realizing this institution may change direction in the future as its board determines, but 3) expecting that the investment will bear fruit at least in the near term that justifies the investment, and 4) knowing our church can terminate the investment whenever we choose? Churches that partner with the SBC and/or Central Seminary answer that question, "Yes." We just have to be prepared and committed to walk away from our dollars that turned into bricks and mortar when and if we need to.

3. I am moderately skeptical of the SBC mantra, "We can do more together than we can do separately." Time will tell. (Interestingly enough, I heard GARBC National Representative John Greening embrace that language at their recent annual meeting.) But I do think we want to ask how—whether cooperatively or independently—we're going to get the gospel to places like Central Asia. (I'm assuming we want to.) These are Muslim countries. Highly inaccessible, unstable countries. Given the growing number of my friends and family members who serve as church planters in that part of the world and how they're getting there, I do wonder whether the mantra might prove true.

4. I'm unfamiliar with the mechanism that Bauder's classmate referred to when he told Bauder, "[The SBC] can get me a church if I need one. They have a good retirement program. And their insurance program is really great.” It is true that Guidestone offers retirement savings and insurance products, but to my knowledge the SBC does not subsidize those products. (Though I did make a note to put in a call to find out if I'm missing some windfall.) I do receive $17/month in a retirement savings match, but that's from our state convention, and I doubt that's what Bauder's friend had in mind. By the way, anything I save via Guidestone is my property, whether I eventually separate from the SBC or not. I'm also happy to report that we voted last month to permit Guidestone to expand its ministry assigment in order to provide insurance and investment products to like-minded individuals. So friends, what's ours is about to be yours.

So is it time to join the SBC? I don't know. Your call. Just count the cost.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Is It Time to Join the SBC?": A Rather Friendly Rejoinder (Part 1)

Perhaps you've seen Kevin Bauder's recent article, "Is It Time to Join the SBC?" from his In the Nick of Time series. If you don't already subscribe, I'd strongly encourage you to do so via the link on the right-hand side of the page. Even when you disagree with his conclusions, you'll benefit from his command of history, his interaction with Scripture, and his relentless logic.

I've shared some of my perspective on affiliation with the SBC not too long ago. If you're interested in that, you'll find it there, not here. Frankly, I have no desire, let alone expectation, to convince anyone who's content and fruitful within their present partnerships to affiliate with the SBC. But from time to time I do encounter people at a crossroads who perceive opportunities and threats in their future, regardless of which route they choose. In my previous post I primarily addressed heart issues in that decision. My objective now is to help that sort of person make an informed decision.

Before I do that, one of my friends commented to me online about my previous post that I was speaking at a macro level and ignored micro-level choices. In other words, the points I was making about the sort of partnership the SBC is leaves out the local decision: "Which local church is going to be more spiritually beneficial for my family and me to covenant with?" That's an important question, just not the one I was addressing.

That's enough background. In the next post we'll dive directly into the matters at hand.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Off My Meds

Last weekend I had the opportunity to listen to David Murray of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary talk about his book, Christians Get Depressed Too. I haven't read the book, and I don't intend to summarize his talks. I do want to call attention to one particular point he made:

The brain's chemistry & electricity have been damaged by the Fall, just like our other bodily organs and everything else.

Some streams in the counseling profession want to medicate just about every problem. Others insist that mental illnesses and psychological disorders are fabrications, perhaps smokescreens for spiritual problems. Now, I assume it's true that we understand less about brain chemistry, the nervous system, and psychiatric medications than we do about the relationship between upper respiratory infections and amoxicillin. Nevertheless, I think we actually do know something about the extent of the curse, and we naïvely deny the complexity of the human condition if we exclude the physical processes of the brain from its effects.

Perhaps we could say that every self-respecting Calvinist ought to acknowledge that not every problem that has spiritual implications can be resolved exclusively by spiritual means.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Dallas, 1985: "Turn Around and Go Back!"

One of the pivotal moments in the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention was the annual meeting in 1985 in Dallas, where 45,519 Southern Baptist messengers descended on the city.

This year in Houston at a "9Marks at 9" event, Danny Akin and Al Mohler discussed that annual meeting briefly, and Mohler told an extraordinary story of what happened on the interstates outside the city.

Audio available here. Context starts at 22:53.