Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Mother Of All Baptists

Baptists like to trace their history back to New Testament days. The unbroken line of baptistic groups is called “The Trail of Blood.” Recently, as I read my Bible, I discovered the actual origin of Baptists. No, it was not John the Baptist, or the Apostle Paul. I am convinced the roots of Baptist life can be found in Martha, sister of Lazarus and Mary; the Mother of All Baptists.

First, she was more comfortable with working for Him than waiting on Him. While Mary, probably a proto-charismatic, was sitting at the feet of Jesus basking in His presence, Martha was in the kitchen frying the chicken, and getting the Styrofoam plates and plastic forks ready. We have always been an active bunch, we Baptists. We are the worker bees of the Kingdom. Often, like Martha, we are more comfortable working for the Lord than walking with Him. As one denominational leader said, “Get out there and do something for God. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Just do something.”

But notice something else in John 11:24. Martha’s brother Lazarus was dead and buried four days earlier. Finally, Jesus showed up. Martha thought he was running late, but Jesus was right on time. She gently remonstrated him, “If you had been here, he would not have died.” Then Jesus told her that her brother would rise again. She nodded and said, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

The mother of all Baptists. She believed in Jesus, and in His power to save souls and raise the dead. She just did not believe He would do it today. We believe in the finished work of Christ for the salvation of souls, and in the certainty of heaven, the resurrection, and eternal life. We have charts detailing the end times. We just struggle with believing that God will work His power in our lives today. We are great with the beginning and the ending of the Christian life, but can be a little challenged in between.

But, wonder of wonders, Jesus still loved Martha the Baptist. He told her who He was, and she believed Him. “I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” The Mother of All Baptists knew the Word, and confessed Jesus without shame or doubt.

But she was still the Mother of All Baptists. When they got to the tomb, Jesus told them to roll the stone away. “But, Lord,” Martha said. “That’s not the way we do things.” As the King James says, “Lo, he stinketh.” It is hard for us to step out of the normal and expected, the proper and respectable, to follow Jesus in a walk of faith. Jesus gave them a strange command. Roll away the stone. Sometimes, Jesus calls us to strange and difficult things. There is always that difficult step of obedience. We want God to open the door, then we will walk through. God calls us to walk through the door, trusting Him that it will open before we run into it. God told Israel to walk into the Jordan and then He would stop the river. We stand on the banks saying, “God, if you will stop this thing, I will walk through it.”

But God still worked. He showed His awesome power to the Mother of All Baptists. Is there any miracle greater than the raising of the dead? God raised Lazarus from death, and showed Martha that His power is still real. May we know His awesome power, and His presence.

Like our Mother, Martha.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jonathan Merritt is Right! Unfair Attacks from Baptist Bloggers

It is my opinion that Jonathan Merritt has been the subject of unfair and unwarranted attacks by a few Baptist bloggers. He drew their ire, and subsequently their “friendly fire” because of an article he wrote that was printed in USA Today on April 20, 2009. In that article, he called evangelical Christians to task for their unloving, dismissive and un-Christlike treatment of homosexuals. He was careful to state that he regarded homosexual behavior as sinful and did not support gay marriage. He advocated loving actions to demonstrate to homosexuals the love that we Christians claim to have when we say that we “hate the sin and love the sinner.”

I only read the article after I had read a couple of blogs that had dealt pretty harshly with his article. I was disappointed that the son of a respected SBC leader would write the kind of compromising, unbiblical things that he evidently wrote. Then, I read his article. It is my opinion that what Jonathan Merritt wrote is godly, biblical and true. It is my further assertion that his rebukers (one in particular) have either willfully or negligently misread his statements and have leveled unwarranted and unfair attacks on him. I believe they should honestly and openly reread what Mr. Merritt has written, revise their false statements and apologize to him for misrepresenting what he said.

I do not know Jonathan Merritt and have certainly do not speak for him. I suspect he is well capable of defending himself. However, I have seen the tendency among some bloggers to attack without understanding, to fail to understand doctrinal or ethical subtlety and to level false charges based on their misunderstandings. I believe that such has happened here.

We cannot avoid the subject of homosexuality. We must deal with it biblically – both in our stand for the truth and in our response to those who are tempted by this sin.

One thing I found particularly interesting is that Jonathan Merritt’s view is very similar to Tim Guthrie’s (Welcome to SBC Today) and to Wes Kenney’s (SBC Today) viewpoints. They all expressed essentially the same thing. I share the viewpoints that all three expressed. We believe that homosexual behavior is a sin. We all believe that we must learn to stand for truth clearly and without compromise while demonstrating love to those who struggle with this sin. The only reason that Mr. Guthrie and Mr. Kenney leveled charges against Mr. Merritt is because they misread and misunderstood what he said. They are, essentially, attacking Mr. Merritt for holding the same viewpoint that they have, because they did not read what he wrote carefully, misunderstood, and jump to condemnatory conclusions based on their misunderstandings.

I would like to examine what all three have said. By the time I get this up, perhaps others will have weighed in. But I will deal first of all with what Jonathan Merritt said, then with what Tim and Wes said about his review. Each title will be linked to the original article. I would encourage you to read the originals, to see that I am fairly representing the thought as I make my points.

“An Evangelical’s Plea: Love the Sinner” by Jonathan Merritt

The offending article appeared in the Opinion section of USA on Monday. Mr. Merritt is described as a faith and culture writer and as a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative. Tim Guthrie rightly states that it would have been helpful if Mr. Merritt had made it clear that he did not represent or speak for Southern Baptists, an impression that his designation as a spokesman for an organization with the words Southern Baptist in the title could falsely give.

He makes the following major points:

1) That older evangelicals leaders engaged in harsh, even unkind rhetoric toward homosexuals. He asserts that evangelical opposition to the homosexual agenda has been “vitriolic and unbalanced by a message of love for our gay neighbors.”

2) He asserts that the rhetoric and behavior of American Christians is in stark contrast to that of Jesus Christ, who was a “friend of sinners.” He states that many Christians “live in opposition to the teachings of our Lord.” He uses 1 Corinthians 13 as a definition of love and claims that our actions toward homosexuals have often not met that standard.

3) He makes it very clear that he does not and will not compromise biblical truth. He believes that homosexual behavior is sin and that he opposes redefinition of marriage to accommodate homosexual marriage.

4) He does advocate non-discrimination against homosexuals in legal matters not involving marriage. Should secular workplaces be allowed to discriminate against gays and lesbians? Should homosexual partners have visitation and inheritance rights? Merritt would say yes.

His point, I think, is that we have put homosexuality into a special class of sin. We would not discriminate on the basis of heterosexual immorality in these things. Why should we make homosexual orientation a special class?

It is this point (and, I believe, the misunderstanding of his point) that opened the door to many of the attacks against his position.

5) He makes the point that younger Christians, more likely to have homosexual friends than older Christians, also demonstrate a greater tendency to show love to homosexuals.

His concluding paragraph includes these words: “Now is the time for those who bear the name of Jesus Christ to stop merely talking about love and start showing love to our gay and lesbian neighbors. It must be concrete and tangible. It must love beyond cheap rhetoric.”

It is clear that he is challenging evangelicals to a new attitude toward the homosexual community, but that he does not advocate changing our basic beliefs about homosexual behavior being a sin.

“SBC Today” Hate the Spin, by Wes Kenney

Wes Kenney wrote an article professing to hate the “spin” that Mr. Merritt put on the issue, while still loving the “spinner.” I always respect a good play on words, but I am afraid that Wes demonstrates a tendency (also seen in Tim’s articles) to misinterpret what was written and to draw false inferences from that misinterpretation, then to criticize Merritt based on his own misunderstanding of Merritt’s points.

Wes writes a forthright criticism, written in a graceful spirit, with one exception. My biggest problem with him is that I think he fails to understand what was written. He just needs to make an effort to read and understand before he criticizes.

I would point out the following about Wes’ article.

1) Again, he affirms the same view of homosexuality as Jonathan Merritt. His criticisms are directed more against his own misunderstandings than against what Merritt wrote.

2) Wes engages in pejorative in an unacceptable way. He describes Merritt’s writing as “spin.” That implies, deceit, false presentation of facts, designed to lead people away from truth. That is a harsh criticism. He also accuses Merritt of a willingness to “compromise biblical definitions of sin and salvation.” That is serious!

3) He criticizes Merritt for the quotes of evangelical luminaries.

4) He bases his second criticism on a factual error. Merritt quotes a Barna statistic that 80% of Christians are confusing. Kenney adds the words, “on this issue” to the statistic, then criticizes on that basis. This is, to me, indicative of his tendency here to jump to conclusions and not to read carefully. His criticism can only be described as spin, on that basis.

5) He insinuates serious and significant heresy (or doctrinal failure, at least) on Merritt’s part because he advocates non-discrimination against homosexuals in employment and other issues. He calls that normalization and implies that Merritt is helping to make the commission of homosexual sin easier by his viewpoint.

I would ask some questions of Wes Kenney. Do you believe that it will help our mission to homosexuals to maintain laws that would discriminate against homosexuals in matters of employment, housing, visitation rights, etc? Should we apply those same principles to heterosexual immorality?

I believe that anyone who reads Merritt and clearly understands him will read Kenney’s criticism and recognize it as unfair.

Again, I state that if you gave a series of questions about homosexuality to Kenney and Merritt, their answers would be very similar. Their viewpoints are remarkably similar. Kenney misunderstandings led to false inferences and unfair accusations.

“Welcome to SBC Today” Merritt and ACLU on the Same Page, by Tim Guthrie

The graceful spirit of Wes Kenney is largely absent in Tim’s post. He grossly misrepresents Merritt’s position and engages in a common tactic, “guilt by association.” It is not a post worthy of a preacher of Tim’s quality. Tim levels four specific charges against Merritt. Again, I make the following points about the article.

1) The whole “Merritt and the ACLU agree” argument is ridiculous, absurd, even shameful. The ACLU would in no way support Jonathan Merritt’s viewpoint that homosexuality is a sin. This is guilt by association at its worst. It is a shameful smear. Enough said. He also tends to engage in pejorative, labeling Merritt’s views as “dangerous” in terms of biblical understanding and application.

2) The first charge, again, is a complete misunderstanding of Merritt on Guthrie’s part. He criticizes Merritt for something he just does not say. He accuses Merritt of advocating that “Love should cause us to defend the normalization of the homosexual agenda.” Merritt doesn’t say that. Again, all he says is that gays and lesbians should receive basic protections under the law, something I imagine that Guthrie would support if he was willing to understand what Merritt was saying.

3) His second criticism is of Merritt’s view of the law. It is another misunderstanding of what Merritt was saying. I suspect that Merritt would agree with Tim’s point about Jesus fulfilling the law, not negating it.

4) Tim’s third criticism is a blatant misquote and factual misrepresentation (I will assume it is based on misunderstanding, not intentional deceit.) Tim says, “He seems to equate our command to love with a mandate to ‘affirm or endorse.’” He leaves the idea that Merritt advocates the affirmation of the gay agenda. That is simply not true. All you have to do is read the quote that follows to see that Tim got it wrong.

Merritt advocates that we “begin looking for ways to affirm, rather than undermine, our claims to love our gay neighbors.” He is not talking about affirming the gay lifestyle, but letting our actions affirm our claim to love gays.

Tim’s criticism therefore is unfair because his analysis is flawed.

5) His last criticism is of the byline I mentioned above, which might give the idea that Merritt represents the SBC in his opinions. I wish that Merritt’s opinion was universally held in the SBC, but Tim is right that the byline might give a false impression. All of us should be careful to make issues like this clear.

Again, I consider Tim’s use of the ACLU article inaccurate and a shameful smear of a brother in Christ, one that cries out for repentance, not critique.


Again, I think if you had Tim Guthrie, Wes Kenney, Jonathan Merritt and Dave Miller in one room and asked us a series of questions about homosexuality, we would give the same answers in unison.

Is homosexual behavior a sin? Four voices answer yes in unison.
Should the church treat homosexuals with love? Four voices answer yes in unison.
Should Christians be mean, demeaning to homosexuals? Four voices answer no in unison.
Should the church uphold truth even in the face of cultural opposition? Four voices answer yes in unison.
Should gays and lesbians be singled out for discrimination in matters of employment and other basic civil rights? Four voices answer no in unison.
Should we redefine marriage to include two men or two women? Four voices answer no in unison.

Why, then, do we have this debate? Because Wes and Tim failed to read carefully and understand what a brother wrote. They jumped to false conclusions and therefore made false accusations.

NOTE: I just noticed another voice chiming in to criticize Merritt (again, for the nomenclature issue). At some point, aren’t we just piling on?

That’s my read. What say you?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Patterson, Burleson and the CR: Answering a Thoughtful Question

Ron West asked a long and thoughtful question on my last post. Instead of answering it with a lengthy comment, I will respond with a new post. If you are interested in this, you might begin by reading both my previous post and Ron’s question (comment 11). I am going to answer his questions directly. I invite Ron and others to respond – hopefully in the same spirit Ron has exhibited.

First, Ron, thank you for the opportunity to dialogue. I know that you and I have some completely different perspectives on some of the CR issues, but the way you asked questions and responded to what I wrote deserved a response.

I will be as direct as I can be and brutally honest in answer to your question. I suspect that I will have no friends left among those who read this post.

Perspectives on the CR

As to the CR, it is probable that we will never agree on the facts of the CR. History can almost always be interpreted multiple ways. I look at the fall of the Berlin wall and think, “Ronald Reagan was amazing.” Liberals credit Gorbachev or other factors. It’s the nature of historical debate. I would offer the following perspectives.

1) The main difference between us, I think, is that I believe there was a real theological drift in the 70's, and you do not. Therefore, I believe the CR was necessary. You do not. Would you agree?

I went to a Baptist college and seminary. I saw the leftward drift firsthand. The Hebrew prof at my college said that Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed were just “different flags under which God flies his name.” When my school pushed him out, he went to teach at Midwestern. Belief in the substitutionary death of Christ, the existence of Satan, the supernatural nature of the Bible – all these were not just denied, they were ridiculed. I remember one of my profs leaning over my desk shouting at me, “You mean you actually believe that?” (So much for the vaunted “academic freedom.”) He went on to be a leader in founding of moderate seminaries as the CR progressed. My preaching prof at SWBTS’s doctoral thesis was written against the doctrine of inerrancy.

I lived it. I saw liberalism firsthand. I cannot speak for Paige Patterson, but for me, the CR was about doctrine. I did not want what I learned in my Baptist education to continue to spread.

2) I think that moderates have done a fair amount of historical revisionism looking back at the CR.

The “myth of the mean fundamentalists” is a great example. The rhetoric of the moderates, their political acumen, was no different than the conservatives. The only difference is that there were more of us, so they spent the next 20 years painting themselves as the victims of the conspiracy of the power-hungry mean-spirited fundamentalists. I see that as a myth.

Another myth was that Russell Dilday was a conservative. I went to school during his tenure. He was advocating something called “limited inerrancy.” What on earth is that. The Bible is either errant or inerrant. How can there be any such thing as a limited inerrancy? He was not a classic liberal in the general theological world, but he was hardly a conservative either.

3) The biggest flaw I saw in the CR was the tendency to judge people’s theology on the basis of how they voted in the CR. On this one, you and I agree totally.

I think there were three general groups of people. First, there were conservative Southern Baptists who supported the CR. Second there were liberals and true moderates who were undermining the doctrines we have held dear. One conservative leader estimated that at only 5% or less of the denomination. The third group was made up of biblical conservatives who would not support the CR but sided with the moderates politically.

My quarrel with the CR was that we should have reached out to the Winfred Moores, the Dan Vestals, the Richard Jacksons and made a place for them. They were conservative men who for one reason or another did not join the conservative cause. Many in the CR called their THEOLOGY into question because of their denominational POLITICS. I thought that was wrong (and said so then).

You mentioned Dr. Cauthen and Keith Parks. Dr. Cauthen was pretty much out of the way before the CR. Dr. Parks was in charge during the CR. Without saying too much, my father was heavily involved in the FMB at the end of the Parks era. Dr. Parks’ problems with the board were not so much theological as they were practical. It was a power-struggle.

However, he would be a good example of the kind of man I am talking about. Conservative, but politically-aligned moderate.

On the other hand, it is natural for the leaders of the CR to be a little reluctant to work with men like Dilday and Parks and others who said harsh, belittling things about the CR and engaged in what I consider to be character-assassination of its leaders. Should they have been more gracious when they came to power? Yes. But was it natural for them to want leaders in boards and agencies that were supportive of the cause? Yes.

So, on that point, I think we are in complete agreement, except that I would see the problem as two-sided, not just one-sided.

4) God uses flawed people to do his work. If it were not so, his work would never get done. I do not say that Adrian Rogers was perfect. Or Paige Patterson. In fact, I am sure they had their flaws.

I have a theory about megachurch pastors. You can’t be a successful megachurch pastor without some kind of ego, or self-confidence, or messianic complex or whatever. Those men are driven, self-confident, CEO-types. From what heard and read, so were the moderate men I mentioned above.

Throughout the Bible, God used flawed men to do his work and I think that is what he did with the CR. Our denomination needed theological reformation and God accomplished that using men who were there. Not perfect men. Sinful, flawed men.

But, see #2 above. The idea of the godly, innocent, couldn’t-care-less-about power moderate leaders is a myth, in my understanding. They acted to protect their power and crush the CR.

5) All of us need to learn that in Kingdom work, the means is as important as the end.

I said that often at conventions (never publicly, I was a young, nobody, Virginia pastor). I wish that the CR leaders had checked their tongues and been as careful about their means as they were of their ends.

6) The CR got off track when we won. I think that since 1995 or so, Paige Patterson has had an overall detrimental effect on the SBC. I do not like his campaign to rid the SBC of Dr. Rankin or his promotion of what I consider to be extreme doctrines such as Malcolm Yarnell advocates.

7) I view the GCR being advocated now by Danny Akin and others largely associated with the SEBTS to be the corrective, restoring the noble purposes of the CR. Dr. Patterson and some powerful leaders may have gotten off-track, but the GCR is putting us back where we need to be. Too little, too late? I hope and pray not.

Regarding Wade Burleson

It can hardly be argued, Ron, that Wade has not drifted to the left in terms of convention politics. He was a firebrand political conservative at one point. He now spends every blogging moment he has trashing (well, er...defending us against the evil of) SWBTS, Paige Patterson, and anyone else in power in the SBC.

Has he drifted in terms of theology? I don’t know. I would guess there would have been a day when the author of “The Shack” would not have been given his pulpit. I don’t really know Wade’s theology. Wade has spoken of his own evolution on certain issues. I think there is ample evidence to assert that theological shift has occurred.

Here’s the plain fact, Ron. I don’t care. You are thankful for him and see hope in the SBC because of him. I would, of course, disagree. Wade has made himself meaningless in the SBC debate. Outside of the few people who comment anonymously on his blog, I know of no one who really respects him or takes him seriously. He has made himself popular among the remnants of the moderate movement, in the CBF, and among those who feel disenfranchised by the CR.

For a long time, I supported him. I defended him. I wrote letters to John Floyd and Tom Hatley asking that they reverse their policies and their persecution of Wade. But I came to the point where I could no longer support him. I will not give my reasons on a public blog, but suffice it to say I do not believe he has either noble motives nor means in what he is doing.

I tried debating with him on his site. But the champion of “dissent” does not really foster open debate. He questions the spiritual motives and character of those who disagree with him. His gallery of anonymous hit-bloggers attacks anyone who disagrees with Wade. I honestly tried to engage on his site, but reasonable discussion is impossible on that site, if you disagree with Wade.
So, I just disengaged. I do not comment there and deleted his blog from my Google reader. It is amazing how much more enjoyable blogging is when you just leave “Grace and Truth to You” behind. By the way, I did the same thing with the anti-Wade BI sites. I see no difference between the moral quality of what Wade is doing and what they do. Its all the same blogging mud-slinging to me. And blogging is so much more fun when you just ignore both sides in that nonsense.

Is he conservative? I do not know and really don’t care anymore. I am trying to move into a Wade-free blogging world. I only gave this response because you asked about previous comments I had made.

Honestly, there was a time two years ago when Wade was a key figure. Had he chosen a different course and tactic, I think he could have substantially and positively impacted the SBC. But now, I think he is essentially irrelevant to any discussion of the future of the SBC.

Again, Ron, thank you for your questions and comments. I look forward to an honest dialogue with you. I have been as brutally honest as I could be. I encourage you to do the same. I will enjoy the dialogue.

I would love to meet you. I think you and I would probably agree on far more things than we disagree on.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New Leaders for a Resurgent SBC

I got involved in blogging several years ago because I was concerned about what was happening with some of our SBC leaders. I am a big fan of Jerry Rankin and I did not like what I perceived to be an orchestrated move to push him out with the new (and silly) policies that were adopted there. There was a momentum for change among some of the young pastors and leaders in the convention. I do not qualify as young but I supported the need for reform in the SBC and the need to oppose the wrong direction many were forging - what has come to be known as Baptist Identity. There are noble proponents of that philosophy (as well as some stinkers) but I am convinced their direction is wrong for our convention.

The problem is that the "reform" movement didn't really have a noble leader. When it was time for the Conservative Resurgence, God raised up Adrian Rogers to lead us. He was neither perfect nor divine, but he was a statesman, a leader who seemed to have more than building a name for himself at heart, a leader who inspired others to follow, a leader who remained relentlessly gracious in the face of opposition. The reform movement had no such leader. It fractured and dwindled.

The biggest problem with the reform movement was that some of its leaders quickly subverted the conservative resurgence. I (and I think many others) wanted to reform the conservative SBC. However, many of the reform leaders have rejected the CR and denigrated its purposes and effects.

I will always be thankful for the leadership of Dr. Patterson in the CR. I think his leadership at SWBTS has been questionable at best. I think there are a lot of us who have this nuanced view - that we appreciate the CR but are suspect of the extremist views of some BI proponents. We want a conservative, but not rigid, legalistic, landmark or extremist denomination.

The reform movement floundered because there was no inspirational, motivational leader to rally us.

But, in recent months, there has been a new awakening. I read Alvin Reid's article "Tipping Point" on Between the Times. I can only hope and pray that the vision he articulates will win the day in the SBC. It seems that Southeastern Seminary is being raised up as a place for those of us who do not want to reject the CR but also do not want to buy into the BI movement. Instead of railing against each other about Calvinist/non-Calvinist idealogy, they did something unique. Nathan Finn and Alvin Reid wrote a series of articles on how a committed Calvinist and a committed non-Calvinist could co-exist. Southeastern is living that. They do not have a hard-core Calvinist Abstract, nor the militant anti-Calvinism that Dr. Patterson sometimes seems to exhibit. They are living together, modeling how it can be done.

Dr. Akin has spearheaded the "Great Commission Resurgence" movement which is providing some direction for our denomination as it faces the future.

My hope is that this movement to reform the SBC along committed conservative lines will continue to gather steam. They are committed to building up the SBC, not tearing it down as some blogs seem committed to doing. They are committed to focusing on reaching the lost, not on replicating one view of Baptist Identity.

I wish I was younger and could attend SEBTS. What a blessing that would be. I am so encouraged that God is raising up men such as these I have mentioned, and several others, who may be putting the SBC back on track to being the noble Great Commission denomination that it can be.

I am more hopeful about the future of the SBC than I have been in a long time.