Wednesday, March 21, 2007

We've Moved!

Hey, I just finished setting up my new blog site. Come check it out. I can actually organize it to do more of what I want without all of the frustration. It's at . Let me know what you think.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

There have been many questions as of late concerning the teachings of The Journey Church in St. Louis. Perhaps listening to the message preached by their pastor Darrin Patrick this past Sunday, March 11, may help to bring some clarity to what the church believes regarding the fundamentals of the faith. You can hear this message at the link listed below. Also, feel free to visit their website, . I don't claim to agree with everything the Journey does (frankly, I don't even know what all they do) , but I do think that it is important to understand where they are coming from before we engage in criticizing them for their work in ministry. Check it out for yourself.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Emerging Church and Southern Baptists

Below I am posting an article by Dr. Mark DeVine, Professor of Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. DeVine has done extensive research in the area of the Emerging church movement. This article is forthcoming in the Midwestern Journal of Theology. Thank you Dr. DeVine.

Fast Friends of Future Foes: The Emerging Church and Southern Baptists
by Mark DeVine

“What about that cussing, drinking, Baptistic preacher out in Seattle? Is he part of that emerging thing I keep hearing about?” Such an inquiry was my introduction to the emerging church movement. Or so I once thought. As bi-vocational pastor of a then declining urban Southern Baptist church, and faced with the sobering and depressing statistics tracking the prospects for such ministries, I cast about for answers. The preacher in Seattle was Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church where more than 6000 gather on a weekend to enjoy Indie Rock, hear sometimes sarcastic, calvinistic, humor-laced sermons, and to be led by a male only pastoral office within the urban core of one of the least Christian cities in the Western world. What is going on here?[1]
Little by little I discovered something called the emerging church movement, or is it the emergent conversation? Comprehension of contemporary, still developing phenomena often proves frustrating and elusive. But clearly, something is afoot. While it is impossible to gauge the size of the movement with great confidence, it is probably safe to say we are dealing with something quite significant—perhaps not a tidal wave, but not a mere trickle either. The volume of books and blogging alone indicate a movement involving communities of faith numbering at least in the hundreds in Britain and America and involving Christians from the full range of Protestant denominations from Anglican to the Assemblies of God, from Lutheran to Baptist.[2]
For a quasi-quick introduction to the emerging movement, I recommend two books and one article. The first book is Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures co-authored by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger.[3] Among the numerous and proliferating examinations of the movement coming off the presses, this volume provides a comparatively superior window into the phenomenon by virtue of its heavy dependence upon primary source materials. Gibbs and Bolger’s observations emerge inductively on the basis of extensive interviews with 50 actual leaders of emerging communities of faith in Brittan and North America. An appendix allows this same fifty to tell their stories in their own words.
The article I recommend appeared in the February 2007 edition of Christianity Today magazine; “Five Streams of the Emerging Church: Key Elements of the Most Controversial and Misunderstood Movement in the Church Today,” by Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois).[4] The second book is by Donald Miller, a young lay Christian raised in a Southern Baptist church in Texas, now a denizen of urban Portland, Oregon. The book is Blue Like Jazz, a college campus sensation that reached an Amazon ranking of “4”![5] This book offers a unique purview into both the “protest” mindset Donald Carson notes within the emerging movement as well as a conservative, orthodox, evangelicalish impulse discernible among some emerging types. I now know that Blue Like Jazz, not Mars Hill Community Church, was my actual introduction to the emerging church movement.
Learning the Lingo
Whoever wants to understand the emerging church would do well to spend a little time negotiating the nomenclature maze first. “Emergent” refers to the network of interested leaders and laity who converse through the website of Tony Jones, Jones is a Princeton Ph.D. student whose forthcoming dissertation promises to combine insights from the work of Gibbs and Bolger with that of Jones’s own research and extensive travel to engage face to face with emerging community leaders around the world. represents a “conversation” (their word) and not a church movement as such. The governing board of Emergent Village includes Doug Padgit (Solomon’s Porch, Minneapolis), Brian McLaren (formerly of Cedar Ridge Community Church, Baltimore-Washington D.C.) and Tim Keel (Jacob’s Well, Kansas City).
“Emerging” refers to the broader phenomenon of churches and religious communities about which participants within EmergentVillage converse but do not lead or control. These leaders and communities strive to create and nurture communities of believers found meaningful to the emerging generation, as they see it, the thoroughly postmodern generation. It is this broader more diverse and diffuse phenomenon that I am addressing in this paper.

What Exactly is Emerging?
So what defines this movement? Can we identify a set of indicators—theological, ecclesiological or otherwise that define the parameters of the emerging church movement? Well, many emerging leaders articulate a desire to “do local church” in ways that take postmodern culture into account. But no uniform, consensually accepted definition of “postmodern” unites the practitioners. How could it? The word “postmodern,” by its very nature, eludes final definition.[6] Serious attempts to comprehend changes suggesting some major cultural, epistemological, and historical watershed compels prerequisite classification of the term “modern,” which itself continues to resists consensus definition. Nor do the various emerging community leaders agree upon whether to embrace, oppose, or sift wheat from chaff when facing the ill-defined postmodern culture. What unites them is the conviction that culture may and should be taken into account where the making of disciples and the planting of churches is the goal. Some emerging leaders sound like Luther in contrast to Zwingli in defense of the freedom they demand where practical matters of church structure, evangelistic method, or worship style are concerned: “where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are free!”
Author Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Church in Santa Cruz California, represents a comparatively more conservative, doctrine friendly, self-consciously evangelical voice within the emerging movement. Note this title of Kimball’s, They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights From Emerging Generations. Kimball also authored The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for Emerging Generations which includes contributions from Brian McLaren and Southern Baptist author of the bestselling non-fiction hardback book in American history, Rick Warren. [7] Very sensitive to perceived, unfair stereotyping and caricaturing of the emerging movement, particularly where charges of doctrinal latitudinarianism arise, Kimball insists on his blog, “All the emerging churches I know believe in the inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, the atonement, the bodily resurrection, and salvation in Jesus alone.” Yet Gibbs and Bolger can conclude “Standing up for truth… has no appeal to emerging church leaders”[8] Go figure. The more I try to let the self-consciously emerging voices speak for themselves, the more obvious it becomes that, if something unifies them, it cannot be doctrine. Scot McKnight insists that the movement is about ecclesiology, not theology.
In their book Emerging Churches Gibbs and Bolger identify three core practices that define all emerging churches: (1) identify with the life of Jesus (2) transform secular space and (3) live as community. Because of these core activities, emerging Christians also (4) welcome the stranger (5) serve with generosity (6) participate as producers (7) create as created beings (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities.[9] We will touch briefly on a couple of these indicator activities as we go along.
Authentic Communities Sacralizing Secular Space
The emerging Christians Gibbs and Bolger survey tend to use the words modern and postmodern to designate alternative ways of understanding social and cultural reality. The modern world, they contend, created the division between secular and sacred space and relegated religion to the latter. Emerging believers reject such a division and seek to re-sacralize secular space. God’s claim applies to the whole world, thus his presence and lordship cry out for recognition and enjoyment everywhere and always. Futile modern attempts to keep God in His place, so to speak, invites attempts to turn Christianity into a strategy for personal happiness by believers who transition from the secular sphere into the sacred sphere and back again looking for help from God in the pursuit of their secular aspirations upon reentry.
When combined with the emerging quest for an intensely communal practice of Christianity, the sacralizing of secular space results in, among other things, aversion to “drive-in” suburban mega churches in favor of smaller, especially urban enclaves where Christ’s lordship has wrongly been neglected or denied. Surely the claiming of Lordship over the entire universe harmonizes with the Scriptures’ witness to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But does not the New Testament also recognize a certain legitimization (albeit perhaps proximate and provisional) of a distinction between secular and sacred realms in the time between the times in which we exist—Paul in Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2; Jesus’ “render to Caesar”; and the almost New Testament wide comprehension of the church, not as “Christianizing” the world as such, but as a witnessing persecuted pilgrim (resident alien!) people headed for that City of its lasting citizenship? In any case, the current re-energized quest of militant Islam to “sacralize secular space” on a global scale offers a sobering reminder of the dangers lurking where grandiose, utopian hopes for this world take hold among people one faith or another.
Orthopraxy Trumps Orthodoxy
That the three core and six derivative emerging church indicators involve activities reveals a strong suspicion of doctrine in favor of ethics, the prioritizing of orthopraxy above orthodoxy. What you do matters more than what you believe. “By their fruits [not their theology] you shall know them.” Fixation upon exacting precision in the articulation of an ever growing list of doctrines wastes energy better spent obeying God’s commands and following the way of Jesus. On this score, the emerging critique of evangelicalism mirrors many historic movements (e.g., monasticism (Francis), Methodism (Wesley), pietism (Spener), the Navigators) in which the life of the church and the walk of believers had, in the eyes of would-be prophets, fallen so far below formal confessional commitments that only moral (not so much doctrinal) repentance could rescue deliver believer and church from the judgment of God.
Missional and Welcoming
The identity of Gibbs/Bolger emerging churches is self-consciously missional. They understand the resacralizing of secular space through following the way of Jesus in community as a joining of God in His holistic, redemptive activity in the world. Thus, these emerging believers feel compelled to immerse themselves in the settings where they serve, relate to each other as brothers and sisters, and respond to the physical, social, and justice-related needs of their communities. In so doing, many of these emerging believers adopt a belonging-before-believing rather than an in-versus-out conception of church boundaries. Evangelical notions of conversion make them nervous. They tend not to use the phrase “being saved,” or to ask the question “are you saved?” They are much more comfortable with the historic language associated with progressive sanctification than with that associated with vertical, event-shaped, punctiliar conversion. They value sacrificial investment in the lives of those they would help and for whom they would model the way of Jesus and invite to join them in following Jesus. Where evangelism is spoken of as the proclamation of a message calling for decision, they tend to hem-haw and clam up.
Undoubtedly, the best window into the positive impulses shaping many of the emerging churches is found in the research provided by Gibbs/Bolger. But whether the core activities identified by Gibbs/Bolger truly illuminate the heart of the movement is not yet clear.
Brian McLaren
Donald Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church has been rightly criticized for reducing the emerging movement to matters of epistemology and largely to published writings of Brian McLaren.[10] Nevertheless Carson does, I think, accurately describe a major stream within the movement that Brian McLaren both represents and influences. McLaren, former pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in greater D.C Maryland continues to exert wide influence through his bestselling books and world wide speaking. Penetrating cultural insights together with a disarming personal style help account for McLaren’s continuing appeal. His books offer unique insights into the emerging psyche. But what also comes through and what Carson accurately uncovers is the strong protest character shaping much of the emerging movement and highly questionable treatment of the Bible McLaren models for them.
Are the Gibbs/Bolger Emerging Types Liberals?
Technically no, they are not liberals in the historic sense of the word. For example they do not contend for the separation of a supposed true gospel kernel from new Testament mythological husk. But they are liberalish in certain ways. Like the Protestant liberalism that developed between the appearance of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre in 1822 and the publication Adolf Von Harnack’s What is Christianity? in 1901, Gibbs/Bolger type emergers exhibit marked preference for the gospels as opposed to the epistles within the New Testament and chafe at theology-laced, seemingly ethics-devoid passages within the gospels. [11] At times, their Jesus tends to present as the blonde-haired, misty blue-eyed, group-hug seeking Nazarene carpenter of Hollywood fame. Predictably, the one acceptable object of Jesus’ ire tends to become the Pharisee dressed up and made to walk and talk strikingly like the conservative, evangelical, doctrine-loving, Bible-thumping target of the original emerging church protest.
Also like liberals, Gibbs/Bolger types are more comfortable with subjective views of the cross of Christ. Talk of the substitutionary atonement can be a turn off, and like liberals, they really despise calvinism and tend to articulate more weakened views of God’s governance of the universe, sometimes sounding Arminian, sometimes drifting into the language of Freewill Theism or even Whiteheadinan process thought. Typical of some anti-calvinists, they exhibit something of a congenital compulsion to keep incentives for “doing good” propped up securely.
But they are not identifiably liberal in other ways. They display a bit of a bad conscience at their marginalizing and neglect of Paul’s pulsating theology and Jesus’ separation of sheep from goats. At such inconvenient interpretive cul-de-sacs, they tend to retreat into talk of mystery and paradox and what not reminiscent of Bible-loving but arminianism-friendly handlers of election and predestination passages.—“Well I might not know what Ephesians 1 and 2, Romans 9, John 10 and the plethora of predestinarian passages from Genesis to Revelation mean, but I know what they don’t mean!” Manly liberals of the Harnackian type don’t talk this way. Instead they buck up and declare the Bible to be mistaken and just move on to passages that suit them. I do not think most of the left wing of the emerging movement has gotten there yet.
Ed Stetzer
No single source rivals the work of Gibbs and Bolger in terms of detailed, diverse, primary-source-based research on the emerging church phenomenon. Any attempt to understand the movement must reckon with their impressive effort. Gibbs and Bolger admit that they are friendly observers of the movement and welcome many of the critiques, protests and changes advanced by the communities they have studied. They are joined by other interested observers who bring, arguably, a more nuance eye and more critical distance to the task. Former church planter, Ed Stetzer, now Research Team Director and Missiologist at the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is one such observer. Stetzer, author of numerous books dealing with the relationship between church and culture and current trends in church planting, identifies three distinguishable streams within the emerging church movement; the relevants, the reconstructionists, and the revisionists.[12]

According to Stetzer, the revisionists not only embrace many of the cultural insights and ecclesiological innovations reviewed in Gibbs and Bolger’s work, they want to re-think many historic touchstone doctrinal commitments and moral convictions that have shaped evangelicalism such as the substitutionary atonement, the reality of hell and the gospel itself. Brian McLaren speaks one moment of his desire to nurture biblical communities and the next moment takes shelter in agnosticism where biblical teaching regarding homosexual behavior is in view. Stetzer applauds D.A. Carson’s thorough exposure of the revisionist stream’s heterodox doctrinal lapses but remains open to cultural insights to be gained by reading even McLaren.
The agenda of those Stetzer designates as reconstructionists focuses on radical critique of contemporary church structures. In pursuit of missional, authentic, incarnational, communal Christianity, these young emerging leaders seek liberation from the drag of buildings, budgets, and bureaucracies. They favor small house church settings, shared lay leadership, and freedom from distant unknown authorities disconnected from the missional context. Stetzer’s response?
. . . if emerging leaders want to think in new ways about the forms (the construct) of church, that’s fine—but any form needs to be reset as a biblical form, not just a rejection of the old form. Don’t want a building, a budget, and a program—OK. Don’t want preaching, biblical leadership, covenant community—not OK.

Stetzer’s “relevants” category designates doctrinally conservative, often calvinistic leaders within the movement who value their evangelical doctrinal identity but may reject the regulative principle often prized among reformed Baptists and who are open to innovative experimentation where evangelistic outreach is concerned.[13]
Included among the relevants are the Mars Hill Church mentioned earlier and The Journey, a Southern Baptist Church in St. Louis. Also significant within the relevants stream is the Acts29 church planting network based at Mars Hill which conducts boot camps at various sites nationwide for the training and assessing of church planters, supports the planting of churches, provides mentoring for newly deployed planters, and helps to raise financial resources.[14] Though Acts29 is non-denominational, according to vice president Darrin Patrick, who also serves as pastor of The Journey, around half of the church planters associated with the network are Southern Baptist. The theology is moderately calvinistic, elder leadership is male only, urban settings are targeted, and evangelistic fervor is front and center.
Leaders of these churches look to Tim Keller’s ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City as a model for the kind of thing they want to do. Keller, in his fifties, balding, and cutting a grandfatherly figure, preaches very straight conservative biblical, calvinistic sermons in a low key manner quite different from the rollicking, hip, sarcasm-laced preaching Driscoll sometimes produces in Seattle. Started in 1989, Redeemer now draws over 5000 to its church on Broadway in Manhattan. Key Southern Baptist leaders are understandably intrigued.[15]
The protest contingent of angry white dropouts from conservative mega-seeker churches so prominent among Stetzer’s revisionists, reconstructionists and many of the communities highlighted by Gibbs and Bolger make up a decidedly smaller fraction of these relevants churches. At Mars Hill, Redeemer, and the Journey, membership is dominated by new, young, urban believers who, as a group, do not seem to have much of an axe to grind against any particular tradition. The median age within each of these congregations is around 29.
If we attempt to list convictions or values shared by the relevants it might include these: missional focus, authenticity, community, recovery of mystery and the arts, critical cultural immersion, recovery of Biblical narrative, and, for the most “successful” (measured in numbers at least) congregations, embrace of the doctrines of grace and governance according to male-only elder rule. The missional focus and the cultural immersion mean that culture, while not viewed as benign, is not identified with purely negative scriptural notions of “the worldly.” Instead, emerging leaders take on the burden of biblical discernment as they attempt to sift wheat from chaff where culture is concerned. Dimensions of a community’s cultural landscape will be viewed variously as helpful, pernicious, or merely neutral. Getting this just right might not be easy but the task must be faced. Otherwise the erection of unnecessary stumbling blocks to the gospel could unnecessarily hinder evangelism and church growth. On the other hand, cultural factors incompatible with the gospel and holy living left uncensored may in fact obscure the gospel and drag the church into biblical “worldliness.”
Ideally, church leaders will be drawn from and thus be indigenous to the communities targeted for church plants. International mission agencies, including the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists Convention, learned this lesson decades ago. The most enduring contribution of the emerging movement could be its utter embrace and implementation of this principle of indigenous church planting here in the U.S., a nation increasingly characterized by multiple sub-cultures. Successful planting of a suburban church is no predictor of success in the cities. In most cases, city folk will have to plant city churches.
Ironically, Stetzer’s emerging relevants point to seeker and purpose-driven churches of the suburbs as sad examples of the marginalization of doctrine and a caving-into-culture displacement of the gospel not unlike the kind of thing David Wells has so ably described.[16] In many seeker churches relevants see expository preaching, preaching on whole books of the Bible and deep teaching on the great doctrines displaced by christianized Boomer values such as self-help, career advancement, fascination with the business world, the accumulation of wealth, and the psychology of self-esteem. Evangelical critics of the relevants point to crude language spewed from the pulpit and an almost giddy, delayed-adolescent pride in the consumption of alcohol in some quarters.
I suspect the shots fired between seeker and emerging churches of the relevants type are partly on target but also partly wide of the mark. For one thing the church growth movement, in both its seeker-sensitive and purpose-driven modalities, has some age on it, is not monolithic, and in many cases has listened to and learned from various criticisms leveled at it across the years. And people are being converted to Christ in these churches, often people who were not on the radar screen of the vast world of plateaued and declining evangelical churches, including Southern Baptist churches. In best case scenarios, seeker and purpose-driven churches have attempted to do exactly what the “right wing” of the emerging movement is now doing, plant churches indigenous to the community. As for critiques of the doctrine-friendly emerging churches, with a median age of 29 in many of them and with the leaders typically in their mid 30s (Keller at Redeemer is an exception), the blind spots and excesses of youth are to be expected—not excused, but expected.
Stetzer versus Gibbs/Bolger
I noted earlier that I “had thought” my exposure to Mars Hill marked my introduction to the emerging church only to realize later that Donald Miller’s bestselling book Blue Like Jazz had already brought me into that world. But not so fast. The taxonomy troubles where the emerging church is concerned go deeper. Gibbs and Bolger insist that Mars Hill is not emerging but Gen-X. About such churches Gibbs/Bolger contend:
. . . to generalize, the church services were characterized by loud, passionate worship music directed toward God and the believer (not the seeker); David Letterman-style, irreverent banter; raw, narrative preaching; Friends (the popular TV series) type relationships; and later, candles and the arts. The bulk of church practice remained the same as their conservative Baptist seeker, new paradigm, purpose-driven predecessors; only the surface techniques changed.[17]

So who is right? What we can say is that Redeemer Church in New York, Mars Hill in Seattle, and The Journey in St. Louis have been spectacularly effective at reaching precisely the demographic the heroes of the Gibbs/Bolger type churches insist will only respond to sufficiently postmodern-immersed and shaped ministries. Note the implied warning from Gibbs/Bolger:
We both [Gibbs and Bolger] believe the current situation is dire. If the church does not embody its message and life within postmodern culture, it will become increasingly marginalized. Consequently the church will continue to dwindle in numbers throughout the Western world. We share a common vision to see culturally engaged churches emerge throughout the West as well as in other parts of the world influenced by the Western culture.[18]

Gibbs and Bolger contend that young people now in their 20s and early 30s are thoroughly postmodern and will not respond to ministries shaped by “modernity.” Fine. How might we then identify ministries that “get it” and thus can help stem the ebb tide of dwindling numbers in the West? How about 5000 plus urbanites in their twenties and thirties streaming to church hungry for Bible preaching on the right and left coasts of America and 1600 in three locations in St. Louis? No, say Gibbs and Bolger. Yes, says Stetzer. Perhaps we should let the Stetzers and the Gibbs and the Bolgers duke it out on the nomenclature front. However the semantics “emerge,” we already see much that can inform evangelical church planting.
Barth Bultmann Debate Redux
A dispute between Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann of yesteryear with a little bit of Paul Tillich thrown in might help us here. Bultmann complained to Barth that he had no notion of changing the gospel message. His only aim was to translate the gospel message into contemporary language. Barth responded that he had no problem with that, as long as the translator remembers his first task—accurate comprehension of the original to be translated, in this case, the gospel of Jesus Christ.[19]
It is just at this point that the mischief enters in. Remember that Bultmann considered the question of the bodily resurrection irrelevant to modern men and women. Barth expected that once God got Bultmann out of the ground and to a standing position, the relevance of the bodily resurrection would likely lock in for Rudolf in short order. For his part, Tillich discovered that the word “God” had lost its relevance and so he proposed an alternative—“the ground of our being.” Oops! That didn’t catch on did it?
Once you set yourself up as the relevance police, the put-up-or-shut-up test becomes operative, nicht wahr? When your perceptions and prognostications don’t pan out, you find yourself running around frustrated that folks keep finding relevant what you just told them they couldn’t and shouldn’t. So, are Redeemer, The Journey, and Mars Hill emerging or not? The jury is out, but what we do know is that these communities of faith are concretely being found relevant by exactly the demographic deemed most resistant to church and gospel in the Western world. It is a fact that kids are dropping out of church in droves (especially from seeker and purpose-driven churches) when they reach their twenties. But churches like Redeemer, Mars Hill, and the Journey attract them! And they do so not with less Bible and theology compared to seeker and purpose-driven churches already ensconced within the Southern Baptist Convention, but with more!
Friend to the emerging movement Scot McKnight acknowledges the accuracy of Carson’s characterization of emerging (at least of the Gibbs/Bolger type) as a protest movement. The tie that binds the disparate sub-factions seems at times reducible to a plethora of conservative, evangelical seeker and purpose-driven church irritants that came to tick them off within the traditions from which they emerged. Of course protest can produce positive outcomes. For example, Protestantism. But protest alone does not a church make. In much of the emerging literature and on the emerging blogs (especially of the Gibbs/Bolger type) one senses the lack of ecclesial memory, a certain vacuity of ideas and a groping about for some connection to the wider Christian family. Preening, posturing, and pouting about the still elusive, still indefinable term “postmodern” cannot satisfy the yearnings for community, authenticity, and relevance that ostensibly prompted the exit of many emerging believers from their former churches in the first place.
Recognition that the call of our Lord must transform our lives is not new, is a good thing, and does undoubtedly inform significant parts of emerging church aspiration. Recognition that fixation upon doctrine can function as a letter that kills is also not new, is a good thing, and does shape the sensibility of many emerging church leaders. But here the “left wing” or theology-averse contingent of the emerging movement may suffer from more than a little naiveté regarding a certain prerequisite for the deep, authentic, sustainable community for which they yearn. That prerequisite is shared conviction. For over two millennia, various forms of formal, confessional, doctrinal articulation have proven necessary for the establishment, nurture, and protection of deep fellowship. Why? Because, the depth of fellowship depends, to a certain extent, upon shared beliefs touching both theology and practice. I may assess my relationship with my neighbor as peaceable, harmonious, even as affirming, especially if my knowledge of them remains scant and surfacy. But the moment I learn that they belong to a cult requiring the crucifixion of cats over a pyre on Saturday nights, I instruct my children to steer clear. “Familiarity breeds contempt” did not achieve aphoristic status for nothing.
McKnight may be correct that emerging is best understood as an ecclesiological/praxis movement, not a theological movement. Such a view certainly helps to account for the wide diversity of theological identities (or lack of a theological identity) represented within the movement. Still, as McKnight admits but seems to make little of, because the movement has to do with Christ, Bible, and Church, it is inevitably, though perhaps unwittingly, theological. For my money, unwittingly theological movements are the worst kind. They tend to wax whiny and persnickety defending the cherished liberation from doctrine and theology they are just beginning to wallow in. But exactly to the extent that Christ, Bible and Church animate their aspiration, so will doctrine and theology ineluctably insinuate themselves within their ranks.
SBC Controversy Redux
Happily, a recent attempt to make freedom from doctrine the heart of a sustainable ecclesiological vision is available for analyses—the now defeated moderate/liberal contingent of the late brouhaha within the Southern Baptist Convention. The conflict, having been construed by some as a choice between freedom of conscience and Islamic-like Christo-facism, the liberal protagonists suffered repeated shocks as messengers to successive SBC conventions gave them the thumbs down. Following a decade of defeat at the hands of democratic, denominational self-governance, the left-wing attempted to “sort-of” separate and sustain itself under the flag of freedom and doctrinal latitudinarianism; “Jesus is Lord,” would suffice as the confessional minimum for the new fellowship. Within one year, matters ranging from the role of women in ministry to race relations to matters of war and peace found their way into the growing ideological identity of the “freedom” folks. The longer people stay together, so it seems, the more convictions they turn out to have! Longtime sociologist of religion and liberal Baptist herself, Nancy Ammerman understood the distortions endemic to any comprehension of the Baptist conflict in terms of freedom versus dogma.[20] Both sides were always defined by rather longish lists of identifiable convictions; theological, ethical, political, and otherwise. And what’s more, these ideological proclivities turned out to matter to the liberals in just the same way as they had to the conservatives. Neither group would knowingly employ professors in their seminaries who could not affirm a hefty chunk of their own doctrinal and ethical biases.
What does this have to do with the emerging movement of the Gibbs/Bolger type? It suggests that the sustainability of its sub-factions will prove proportional in significant measure to their ability to face and know themselves as theological entities, and not as mere suggestive experimenters in praxis and things ecclesiological.
Perhaps more likely is that the influence of the Gibbs/Bolger contingent of the emerging movement will mimic (only on a smaller scale) that of the charismatic movement in relation to established churches and denominations. Thus, the emerging movement may not result in a denomination or even in many sustainable local churches, but will instead serve as a conduit for certain ideas, values and emphases back into established churches.
Aversion to Conversion?
Certainly the lack of evangelistic zeal and even distaste for evangelism on principle among some does not presage growth, strength or stability for the left-wing, doctrine-averse contingent within the movement. Scot McKnight rightly laments the absence of an evangelistic impulse among so many emerging communities:
The emerging movement is not known for [evangelism], but I wish it were. Unless you proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, there is no good news at all—and if there is no Good News, then there is no Christianity, emerging or evangelical.”[21]

And McKnight may even be underestimating problem. Note this from Ben Edson, leader of the Sanctus1community in the UK and featured in Gibbs/Bolger:
We had a guy from the Manchester Buddhist center come to Sanctus1 a couple of weeks ago and talk about Buddhist approaches to prayer. We didn’t talk about the differences between our faiths. We didn’t try to convert him. He was welcomed and fully included and was really pleased to have been invited.[22]

Gibbs and Bolger attempt to account for the mindset thus: “Christians cannot truly evangelize unless they are prepared to be evangelized in the process.”[23] Never mind that Buddhism is formally god-less—there is no god to pray to—but for a movement critical of the seeker church, Snactus1 sounds pretty seeker friendly for Buddhists!
Equally serious looms the simple truism that few things foreshadow more certainly the shrinking, weakening, and threatened demise of a would-be Christian movement than a bad-conscience about proselytizing. Witness the fruit of anti-evangelistic zeal among the mainline denominations that once dominated the religious landscape of America. Here in the Western world, we do not normally need to join anything or invest time, tithe, and talent for the sake of freedom of conscience—we have that already. If we choose to enter bridge-burning, covenant-shaped alliances at all it tends to be driven by the discovery of shared values, goals, and yes, theologies with likeminded believers. To the extent that this or that sub-species of emerging phenomena lacks these things, its viability will prove unsustainable. To the extent that emerging churches come to develop and own such old fashioned essentials of real and lasting communion, well then, the ephemeral sheen of abstract freedom and tolerance where core doctrines are concerned will have faded, and defining theological and ecclesiological parameters will land them smack in the middle of the rest of us.
Should Southern Baptists Care?
We Southern Baptists should care because we are already variously reacting to, being influenced by and participating in the movement. Like the charismatic movement, the emerging church movement seems bound to permeate the thinking and practice of significant cross-sections of every Christian tradition in the West and probably beyond, especially within urban contexts. And the free church structure of Southern Baptists ensures ease of experimentation and cross-pollination with even the flimsiest of passing trends; witness clown ministries, country music churches, fire engine baptisteries and preaching puppets.
Default construal of Baptist life by outsiders as hidebound and backward-looking will not stand too close scrutiny. Widespread adoption of seeker church methodologies alone bear witness to the profound influenceability of Southern Baptists church leaders. Wherever the lure of potential numerical growth dangles, numerous Southern Baptist knees go wobbly. For many Baptists, (and this points to a great strength and a great vulnerability among us) numerical growth covers a multitude of sins. The emerging movement is likely to be with us for awhile and to insinuate itself at both the ideological and methodological levels. We would do well to avoid quick and dirty caricatures that either naively embrace or dismiss this phenomenon.
Since 1994, Baptist statesman Jimmy Draper, now retired President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) and former president of the SBC has taken aggressive steps to highlight the need to listen to, reach, and develop young leaders for service within the SBC. After conducting nationwide meetings designed to connect with young leaders, Draper concluded that young leaders were disconnecting from the SBC. Through Draper’s influence and sponsorship, The Young Leaders Summit met in connection with the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2005 followed by a second meeting convened at the convention in Greensboro North Carolina in 2006. Draper continues efforts to understand and connect with younger Southern Baptist leaders. Commenting on the popularity of weblogs, Draper encourages young Baptist leaders: “Keep blogging,” and “Be nice. Don’t judge motives. Celebrate the diversity that we have . . . If you’re not careful, you’ll be as narrow-minded as you think some of us are.”[24]
I expect that many Southern Baptists committed to church planting and grieved at the continued resistance to the gospel within the sprawling megalopolises of our increasingly urbanized nation will follow the phenomenon known as the emerging church movement with keen interest. I hope that, along with Draper, many of us will listen carefully to the doctrinally evangelical young leaders with a heart for evangelism and church planting. I expect that the emerging church movement will yield much that Bible loving believers must reject. But I also believe it could yield much sound wisdom and practical insight that will help us reach new generations for Christ and plant healthy churches in the very heart of cities once given almost completely over to the devil. Time will tell.

[1] Visit and Mark Driscoll’s blog, See also Driscoll’s bestselling books The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004) and Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons From an Emerging Missional Chruch (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.)
[2] In addition to EmergentVillage and the Mark Dricoll blogs see also,,, Scot McKnight’s, and
[3] Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005).
[4]Scot McKnight, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church: Key Elements of the Most Controversial and Misunderstood Movement in the Church Today,” Christianity Today vol. 51, no. 2 (February 2007), pp. 35-39.
[5] Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003).
[6] For serious exposure of inadequate, hasty attempts to define postmodernism see Thomas Oden, After Modernity . . . What?Agenda for Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).
[7] Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus But Not the Church: Insights From Emerging Generations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007). Also see Kimball’s Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), and Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.) Kimball is comparatively more conservative theologically than many of the Gibbs/Bolger types and represents the tensions concomitant with the occupation of a kind of bridging position within the movement.
[8] Gibbs/Bolger, p. 124.
[9] Gibbs/Bolger, pp. 44, 45.
[10] D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005). McLaren’s significant bestselling books include A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004); A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey (San Francisco: Jossey-bass, 2001) and The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003).
[11] Friedrich D.E. Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986); Adolf Von Harnack, What is Christianity? (New York: Harper, 1957).
[12] Ed Stetzer, “First Person: Understanding the Emerging Church,” available at
[13]Simply put the Regulative Principle states this: True worship is only commanded by God; false worship is anything not commanded. This was the Puritan’s view of worship. Such a view insists that the church is meant to find direct justification for every facet of her worship. To go beyond scripture in matters is sin.
[14] Visit The Journey, Darrin Patrick pastor at and Acts29 at
[15] Visit Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Tim Keller pastor at
[16] David Wells, NO Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).
[17] Gibbs/Bolger, p. 30.
[18] Gibbs/Bolger, p. 8.
[19] See especially Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann: Letters, 1922/1966 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981) and Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Volume I (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 112-160.
[20] See Ammerman’s penetrating analysis of the controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention in Nancy Tatum Ammerman, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995). Ammerman drew praise from major protagonists on opposite sides of the conflict.
[21] Scot McKight, Five Streams of the Emerging Church: Key elements of the most controversial and misunderstood movement in the church today.” Christianity Today, (February 2007), vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 38.
[22] Gibbs/Bolger, p. 133.
[23] Gibbs?Bolger, p. 131.
[24] Available at

Thursday, March 8, 2007

A Spin That Would Make James Carville Proud

Times Which Try Men’s Faith & Character

These are indeed tumultuous times within the Missouri Baptist Convention. As of late, it has been increasingly difficult to remain silent and to trust that truth will prevail via “the system.” Nevertheless, I believe that God is still in control and at the end of the day it will be truth, not fabrication or innuendo that declares the victory. Our state convention finds itself currently in the midst of an internal investigation by a committee appointed by the Executive Board. This committee is charged with investigating the actions of the MBC Executive Director, MBC staff and the MBC Executive Board. I want to state for the records that I believe this committee will fulfill the purpose for which it has been organized because it consists of Godly members who are not out to please a particular side. In the end, I believe they will present their report fairly and accurately regardless of how painful it may be for anyone to hear.

I feel that I need to clarify that point up front because of the way in which statements made by associations and groups as of late have been maligned as “blatant attempts at politicizing and undermining the work of our review committee.”[1] According to the editor of The Pathway, the official newsletter of the Missouri Baptist Convention, in an article which appears on page 1 of the March 6 issue entitled Resolutions show support for state exec; some leaders say action inappropriate, on February 12 the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association Executive Board unanimously passed a resolution of support for Dr. David Clippard and the MBC staff. The motion is quoted in The Pathway as follows:

Whereas, Dr. David Clippard has given innovative leadership to Missouri Baptists and has sought to refocus the attention and resources of our convention on evangelism and missions; and
Whereas, Dr. David Clippard has by this leadership brought financial stability to the Missouri Baptist Convention; and
Whereas, Dr. Clippard has assembled as outstanding staff to lead Missouri Baptists; and
Whereas, Dr. Clippard and the Missouri Baptist Convention staff have been supportive partners with the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association staff; now therefore, be it
Resolved that we express our appreciation, encouragement, and support for Dr. Clippard and the Missouri Baptist Convention staff; and be it further
Resolved that we encourage all Missouri Baptists to support the leadership of Dr. Clippard and the Missouri Baptist Convention staff.”[2]

That there is an effort to see Dr. Clippard either controlled or removed from office is something that has been discussed for some time and was brought to the attention of the full MBC at the annual meeting in Cape Girardeau last fall by Dr. Gerald Davidson, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church Arnold, and Mitch Jackson, pastor of Miner Baptist Church in Sikeston, both past presidents of the MBC. In light of that information, it is understandable that some associations would feel a sense of urgency in expressing their support of their state staff and Executive Director. One association in central Missouri, Fellowship Baptist, passed a similar resolution last fall before the annual meeting and the Director of Missions requested specifically that their association’s resolution be printed in its entirety in The Pathway. To date that resolution has not seen the light of day. However, it did manage to prompt a small comment by The Pathway editor in a previous issue where the editor referred to the resolution as having been passed “amid circulating rumors” and that “such speculation proved untrue.”[3]

Spin, Spin, Spin
What seems even more troubling than this apparent desire to suppress or dismiss the views of his constituency is the slant from which The Pathway editor consistently writes and seems determined to marginalize any positive remarks concerning the MBC Executive Director and staff. It seems odd that when referring to the resolution passed by the St. Louis Metro Association, the editor is very clear to point out that this associational executive board represents “about 20 percent of the association’s approximately 135 churches and missions” as if to say that the board did not have the right to speak on behalf of every member of the 35,062 member association. This sounds like the rhetoric the liberals used when referring to the consecutive decisions of the MBC annual meeting messengers to move back toward a conservative base. In fact, one wonders from whence such tactics come. Ironically enough in the opening paragraph of the article the editor does not follow the statement that such resolutions “may be attempts to undermine the work of an Executive Board-approved committee” with such clarification as the fact that the committee was approved by 29 of the 54 Executive Board members representing 29 of the approximately 2000 Missouri Baptist churches or 29 of the 392,023 resident Missouri Baptists.[4]

The editor does the same thing again with an unprecedented resolution by the Fellowship of Directors of Missions which, according to The Pathway, was approved by “some members” on February 15. He states, “not all MBC leaders agreed with the actions taken by the St. Louis Association or the directors of missions (DOMs).” But since when was it a requirement that “all MBC leaders” needed to agree in order for an association or fellowship to speak its mind. Many Baptists do not require anyone to agree with them before speaking theirs (a rich heritage dating back to John the Baptist). For some reason, there seems to be more interest to The Pathway in finding a few individuals who disagree with the actions of corporate bodies than in simply sharing the actions of those bodies in an impartial and unbiased fashion. It would seem more prudent to operate with journalistic integrity and allow for a free-flowing exchange of perspectives and opinions than to become caught up in choosing sides on an issue which will eventually be resolved. But by that point, what damage will have been done to the influence of a paper that has shown an unwillingness to simply, as one past president put it, “print the Good News.”[5]

Perhaps the views of 39,097 resident members and 30 directors of missions who were speaking on behalf of their constituencies is trivial to The Pathway, but I believe that Missouri Baptists are interested in what their fellow Baptists are doing across the state and not about on which side of the political fence one stands. Equally as tragic are the remarks of the Chairman of the Administrative Committee of the Executive Board in essentially making an indictment before hearing the findings of the committee appointed by the Executive Board. He states, “there would be absolutely no reason to do this unless someone has something to hide.”[6] Perhaps this is illustrative of the need for an alternate list of members for the investigative committee which omitted the Administrative Committee. I suppose this type of disputation is what Mr. Moran was referring to when he said before the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that “the Missouri Baptist Convention is on the brink of a near civil war.”[7]

Somebody stop this spin and let me off!
Throughout the conservative resurgence we said that we were about truth, the total truth of God’s Word. I would suggest that we return to that truth now and allow it to be our guide. If there is a question about someone’s ability to be an effective leader, then let’s allow the proper channels to be utilized in order to either exonerate or else to enlighten us as to what the issues truly are; but let’s refrain from using our state newsletter as a forum for propagandistic spewing that result only in more provocation and less sensibility. These things might make for good print in the tabloids but they have no place in sincere and Christ-like journalism.

Palmeri, Allen. “Debate Intensifies Concerning Emerging Church in SBC.” The Pathway 5 Issue 4 (6 March 2007): 1–2.
Hinkle, Don. “MBC Exec Board Affirms Clippard, Moran, Nominating Committee.” The Pathway, 25 September 2006.
------. “Resolutions Show Support for State Exec; Some Leaders Say Action Inappropriate.” The Pathway 5 Issue 4 (6 March 2007): 1, 16.
[1]. Don Hinkle, “Resolutions Show Support for State Exec; Some Leaders Say Action Inappropriate,” The Pathway 5 Issue 4 (6 March 2007): 16 This comment is attributed to Jay Scribner, Chair of the Administrative Committee of the MBC Executive Board.
[2]. Hinkle, “Resolutions,” 1, 16.
[3]. Don Hinkle, “MBC Exec Board Affirms Clippard, Moran, Nominating Committee,” The Pathway, 25 September 2006, Online.
[4]. These figures come the the 2006 Annual Church Profiles and will be printed in the 2006 MBC Annual.
[5]. Challenge given by Jay Scribner during his presidential address to Bill Webb, editor of the MBC newspaper Word & Way, at the MBC annual meeting at Tan-Tar-A Resort 2000.
[6]. Hinkle, “Resolutions,” 16.
[7]. Allen Palmeri, “Debate Intensifies Concerning Emerging Church in SBC,” The Pathway 5 Issue 4 (6 March 2007): 2.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Integration or Isolation: Where's the Balance?

In recent days there has been a good deal of discussion over issues such as "single-alignment" and "missions partnerships." The underlying question seems to ask to what degree it is possible for Southern Baptists to work with other agencies or groups without compromising Scripture or our missions mandate. Indeed these are difficult, yet crucial issues to ponder.

Just reflecting back over the past few decades it is easy to see how we have arrived at such a dilemma. With all of the theological struggles facing Southern Baptists throughout our six seminaries in the 60's through the 80's, it was necessary to define essentially who we were as Southern Baptists and what exactly did it meant to be "on mission." Are we, in fact, evangelizing if we are perpetuating a teaching which is contradictory to the Scriptures we hold so fundamentally essential to salvation? Certainly we could not imagine ourselves "partnering" with a group of Mormon "missionaries" to further the cause of Christ because the theological rift is too vast. Neither would we dream of "associating" with the work of the "Moonies" because their views are not even remotely Scriptural. So it becomes easy to see that there exists a need, even yet today, among Southern Baptists to clearly identify just exactly who we can and should "partner" or "associate" with.

The obvious answer would seem to be that we could and would partner or associate with any organization that affirms our statement of faith as outlined in the latest revision of our Baptist Faith and Message. This has served as the statement of agreement among Southern Baptists throughout history and has even led some to the realization that they are not/no longer in agreement with basic Southern Baptist beliefs. Shortly after its 2000 revision, missionaries serving at home and abroad were called upon to affirm the BF&M 2000 or to at least state any objections and provide clarification. Those who were unwilling to affirm it were removed from their positions of service, and the work of Southern Baptists continued having once again shown that, while we may agree to disagree on certain issues, there are some doctrines which we hold to be fundamental to the faith and work of Southern Baptists.

However, in more recent days, there seems to be a strong push to move the convention beyond the accepted statement of faith ratified by the SBC toward an unofficial statement of faith held by those in positions of leadership. Issues which have not been addressed in the BF&M 2000 because they have never been considered "essential" Southern Baptist doctrines, have now been pulled to the forefront. Consequently, it is entirely possible, in fact it is entirely actual, that there are those who have faithfully served the Southern Baptist Convention under the umbrella of the BF&M 2000 only to find now that their service is no longer desired because of what are indeed secondary and tertiary issues. But the problem doesn't stop there, this slippery slope gets even more steep.

Most recently, new church starts that have shown themselves to be effective at reaching a lost world (something that at one time would have impressed most Southern Baptists) with the uncompromised and unadulterated Gospel message have come under fire because of their missiological views and/or their association with other organizations. Now, keep in mind that the churches of which I speak unwaveringly affirm the BF&M 2000 and are singally aligned with a state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. These are CP giving churches that hold to the infallibility of Scripture and even, in most instances, practice the Scriptural teaching of church discipline, something that few traditional SBC churches actively do. Yet because these churches either do not do church the way it has always been done, or because they are part of an organization of which we as Southern Baptists have no authority, they are being questioned and often times maligned. And this to such a degree that for the most casual of observers to admit a modest admiration for the accomplishments of such churches or groups instantly places them in a position of suspicion by those who hold to a far more traditional approach to missions.

And why? Are these groups teaching contrary to Scripture? No. Are they opposing the BF&M 2000? No, again. Are they competing with the Cooperative Program? Still, no. So what is the problem? I fear that it is much more subtle yet heinous. I believe it is the fear of the uncontrollable. What produces the greatest difficulty with anger management? A sense of being out of control. Those who throw the largest stones at these works quite often come from settings in which they are not getting it done in the area of missions/evangelism. Too often they pat themselves on the back stating what a great job they are doing in discipleship and teaching about holy living to their congregations, yet the only growth their church has seen has been through birth, adoption or the occasional church-hopper. Rather than addressing the problem in their own setting it becomes much easier to throw stones at those who are accomplishing a great deal.

It's not unlike the new guy at the factory who hasn't been around long enough to know that he needs to pace himself. Instead, excitedly, he comes into the place and works up a storm. He turns out more material in a day than some of the seasoned veterans turn out in a week. Why? He just doesn't know any better. I mean, if he actually realized the stress he was putting everyone else under, he would slow up. So, instead of picking up the pace, these old timers begin casting aspersions. "He's a ladder climber! He's just doing it for show! He'll learn!" They spend more time criticizing this new employee for the work he is doing than they do accomplishing the work which they've been hired to do.

Somehow, we have got to get past this mentality of control and suspicion for the sake of the Kingdom and for the future of Southern Baptists. I long for the day when we can say to one another, "Great job! Hey, I like that! Keep it up!" We don't need to compromise to reach this world, we just need to get to work!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

What Do You Do With A General?

"I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas . . ."

I know, I know . . . you're probably thinking, "You're Nuts! I want Spring!!" Well, I'm actually ready for some green myself, but all of this white has reminded me of the holidays. Every year around Christmas time, our family gathers around the living room to watch some old classics. Invariably these will include Little Lord Fauntleroy, Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life, and, of course, White Christmas. I could quote most of these movies by heart because I have seen them so often. In White Christmas, Bing Crosby sings a song on a television program in an effort to rally the former members of his platoon together to honor their one-time general. The song asks the question, "what do you do with a general when he stops being a general?" That's actually a really good question.
It seems that often those who have served as generals during times of war make poor peacetime commanders. Douglas MacArthur once said, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away." That didn't prove true for Patton, whose untimely death is still surrounded by controversy today. More recently, some newly retired generals have seized opportunity to criticize the leadership of their Commander-in-Chief with regard to military strategy in Iraq. Ironically enough, according to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, these generals never made mention of their concerns while they were serving their country in the military. It seems that opportunity was not at its peek in those moments.
"I'm in the Lord's Army . . ."
What does this have to do with our denominational situation? Sometimes those who have served faithfully as commanders have a hard time readjusting to "civilian" life. In fact, I don't believe that the struggle is always because of wrong motives or evil intentions. Sometimes, having lived their lives in a constant state of war, these generals are trained to take charge and to expect compliance with their decisions. However, when we are talking about the body of Christ, even pure motives can be used by the enemy to divide the body. Instead of utilizing whatever influence they have achieved to build up the body, they seem more interested in utilizing such influences to bring about their own perceived best plans.
Even parents have to learn this lesson. When their children grow older, the role of the parent changes. Yes, they are to always be an influence, but the desire to command or control the life of the child must come to an end in order for the child to stand on his/her own. This, undoubtedly, is the hardest lesson I have ever had to learn.
I sat across the table the other day from a seventy-something year old father who, with tears in his eyes, explained to me that he is currently seeking to rebuild bridges with a daughter because he never learned that lesson. Praise the Lord he is learning it now.
So what do you do with these types of generals? First, we should pray for them. Let's face it, change is tough even in the best of circumstances. Second, maybe they need to be reminded that it is God Who guides and God Who gives the victory and that it is okay to trust Him to fight our battles. After all, history has shown that He does a much better job than we do.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Suspicion! Suspicion!

My favorite musical of all times is Fiddler on the Roof. I'm not sure exactly how many times I have seen it in theaters or on my own television. There are multiple reasons for enjoying it. The humor that envelopes the film is amazing. The characteristic cynicism of Tevya and Golda has me holding my sides. Quite honestly, they merely voice what most people think but are too afraid to ever say. The realization of three young ladies that marriage might not turn out the way they had always dreamt it would; and the resultant fear of the ever-moaning matchmaker. It is a story of love, family, hope, faith, struggle, revolution and much more.
At the very beginning of the movie, Tevya is speaking of the way in which balance is maintained between faith and life and his sole answer is tradition. This is the way it has always been and this is the way it should always be.
Tradition Vs. Suspicion
Now, before I am castigated about the need for tradition, let me say this; in no way should we simply cast restraint into the wind and forget where we have come from. There are some traditions that, to borrow Tevya's phrase, "if [we] bend that far, [we'll] break." But at the same time, is it not true that there are times in which things need to change? Are we to still read from the Latin Vulgate because tradition dictates it? Should we still use horse and buggy because there were Godly people who lived a long time ago that travelled in that fashion? Should we do away with chocolate because it feeds the lust of the flesh? (Or perhaps it just provides more flesh to feed...something like that.)
Granted, there are some pretty hotly debated topics these days in ministry. I'm not that naive. But what troubles me is that instead of simply singing the Tradition song of Tevya, and debating their merits, it seems that many in the convention are singing the Suspicion song and debating Christian character.
It's as if we don't know how to discuss issues rationally or logically, let alone Scripturally. Instead, every debate becomes a question of personal character. An attack against perceived liberalism. Now let me yet once again set the record straight, I am completely opposed to any view that detracts from Scriptural truth. I find no reason nor room to compromise on this conviction. The Bible Must be our final authority. Having said that, the obvious question to me is, "where is the love of Christ?" It's as if we have to keep it vailed like Moses' face for fear. Instead, it is suspicion that governs the hearts of many. Suspicion that we will somehow return to those awful days of rampant liberalism in the seminaries, the agencies and the convention as a whole. And those who see themselves as the protectors of holiness and tradition have set themselves juxtaposed to their brothers in Christ even to the degree that they plead their case before the secuar media. What a travesty!
For Example
We have within our state a church that has increasingly come into the light over questionable methods of outreach. My desire is not to justify nor condemn this body of believers, because frankly, I don't have enough information. Nevertheless, the "scandal" is not being addressed via the Credentials Committee behind closed doors, but through the secular media. Perhaps those granting interviews believe themselves to be helping to resolve the issue, but instead they are succeeding in perpetuating the problem and destroying the witness we have within our state, nation and even the world. Why? To borrow again from Tevya, "That I can tell you with one word . . ." Suspicion!
Suspicion that if they don't handle things themselves, it won't get done. Suspicion that brothers and sisters serving on the appropriate committees will have their view skewed. Now some may ask how I know these things to be so, because I was approached about serving in my current capacity because of suspicion. I was asked by an individual of extreme influence in our state if I would be willing to serve on our Executive Board because he said, "We need guys on there who have enough backbone not to be a 'yes-man' to our Executive Director." Funny, the first time I bucked this guy's leadership within the board, I was put on the "no-call" list.
It seems to me that suspicion was one of the first plagues to fall upon King Saul when he realized that God was taking his kingdom away. I believe the Bible says that he looked upon David with suspicion. It tormented him almost constantly. It is the same characteristic of an abusive spouse toward their mate. It is a poison that devours the person, relationships, and even conventions.
In our case, the result is even worse. Not only does a lost world laugh us to scorn and our critics maintain that they were right all along, but we give fuel to the fire that is building against the work of Southern Baptists. We give credibility to the foolish remarks of past presidents and their conferences. Why? Because we are more willing to maintain a cloud of suspicion than we are to communicate truth.
At least if the media is going to blast the work of the body, let's make them do their own research and stop spoon-feeding them because it serves our purpose or our side of an argument. It's time we move past suspicion and on to victory for the cause of Christ!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dr. Page Addresses Missouri Baptists

It was our distinct honor and pleasure to have Dr. Frank Page speak at the Monday afternoon session of the Missouri Baptist Convention State Evangelism Conference held at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri. Dr. Page jokingly referred to a remark made about him by a friend who said, "You're not part of the Who's Who Among Southern Baptists, you're part of the Who's He?"
Well, perhaps to a degree Dr. Page is correct in that before being elected President of the SBC not many people knew of him nationally; however, make no mistake, he is proving himself to be God's man for the SBC at this time. His message consisted of one simple driving agenda, preach Christ, anytime, anywhere to anyone. He challenged Missouri Baptists and Southern Baptists alike to get beyond the petty bickering (my words, not his) and focus upon the furtherance of the Gospel.
He challenged us from 2 Kings 7 not to be motivated to share the good news as the lepers were, just from fear of consequence or guilt, but from love for God. He reiterated the need for the church to be uncompromising in its adherence to the total truthfulness, trustworthiness, sufficiency and relevance of the Scriptures. At the same time he challenged the church to recognize that apart from engaging the culture through Biblical methodology, this generation is lost.
I, for one, certainly appreciate the leadership he is showing at a very crucial time in our nation's life. He shared that he has received numerous phone calls from presidential candidates desiring to meet with him in an effort to gain either a direct or an indirect endorsement from the President of the SBC. One such candidate actually came to see him, Rudi Giuliani. They visited for two hours and Dr. page shared with Rudi the simple plan of salvation. Please keep Rudi in your prayers as he did not at that point accept Christ, but the hope is still there.
I'm so glad that we have a leader who is an example in personal witnessing. It is a challenge to me as a pastor to seize every opportunity. Dr. Page may or may not win a re-election in San Antonio this June, but I am convinced that just as God picked His man for this year, He will again pick His man for this coming year. Let us pray for whoever our president is/will be, that God grants him wisdom, discernment and a sensitivity to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
I'm reminded of the latter half of a statement Jesus made, "for apart from me, you can do nothing."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

One of the Boys

My family comes from a rather diverse background. My father is of German descent via Kentucky and my mother is Greek via Chicago. Her dad, my grandfather Constantine Bouzanis, came to the United States as the result of having watched his father and mother hanged to death on the front porch in their little village in Greece by the Nazis who had come to take my grandfather's sister along with the other young women of the village. Connie's (grandfather's) dad refused to allow his daughter to be mistreated and shamed in such a way and so, seeing no other solution, took a knife and ended her life. For that offense, he and his wife were hanged forthwith.

Connie's brother, my uncle Bill, left the village and came to the United States through Ellis Island and earned his citizenship. Bill then returned to Greece and brought Connie over. Connie joined the army and served our country faithfully throughout the duration of WW II, and for doing so, he receive his citizenship.

Upon leaving the army, Connie went to Chicago to start a supper club. Unfortunately, being an immigrant, obtaining a loan was an impossibility. So, Connie turned to the only people who would take him in . . . other immigrants. He obtained a "loan" from some local business owners who he called the Boys. From that meager start, Connie turned one super club into several of the finest in Chicago and became very close friends with area politicians and other business owners. In fact, Mayor Richard J. Daley became a close personal friend of Connie's, frequenting his supper clubs and granting Connie with an honorary position in the Port Authority. Connie had hit it big.

He would use his earnings to benefit society. He even sent money back to his home village in Greece to bring running water into the community for the first time. He would periodically bring family members to the states and help them get established in businesses of their own. He paid for one family member to come to the U.S. and go to medical school in order to return home and practice medicine in his own village.

At his funeral visitation in the early 1980's, shortly after everyone had left for the evening, a group of men came in through the back of the building to pay their final respects to Connie's wife, Estelle. They looked like something out of the Godfather movies. When asked who they were, I was told by my parents, those were the Boys. I had seen a couple of them at different times at the restaurant, but there they were, all together. They had come to say goodbye to one of their own.

Nice story, but so what? While my grandfather started off in the world's eyes as a nobody, he quickly became a somebody; not because of who he was, but because he was one of the Boys. Whenever he had any difficulties, the Boys would look after him. After he was gone, it was the Boys that made sure that Estelle was taken care of. They were a great group of guys. I would have been hard pressed back then to have seen any flaw with any of them. Why? Because they had done SO much for my grandfather. These guys were heroes! Some, even became legends.

Here's my point, this same "good ol' boy" group that took my grandfather in and provided for he and his family, blinded my young eyes to the wrongs committed by them. I could never think of them in a negative light because of all the "good" things they did for him, and ultimately, us. But the truth was that these men were wrong in many ways. I just couldn't see it because I felt as if I owed it to them to always speak of them in a positive fashion. After all, I wouldn't want to appear ungrateful.

Since having become involved in state and national denominational life I have seen much the same sort of blind loyalty to those to whom our conventions feel a sense of loyal obligation. It seems as if the fact that some individuals have taken a right stand on certain issues and led us correctly in a certain direction, demands a blind obedience that is never to be questioned. It seems as if issues always devolve into matters of personality rather than substance.

I hear so often statements made like, "we owe it to [so and so]", or "have we forgotten that without [this person] we wouldn't be where we are today." I am so glad that our conventions have had sound leadership in recent years that have helped us turn the tide of liberalism, but I question the wisdom behind granting Julius Caesar the title of King, even if it is behind the scenes.

Ask most anyone in denominational life, off the record of course, if they have not witnessed this firsthand. I've heard some of the kings in our state convention speak of exactly such evils on the national level while never recognizing the strangle hold they have upon their own convention. The unwritten rule is that you never speak against one of the Boys. To do so is to subject yourself to being labeled "moderate", "liberal", "Big Tent Conservative", etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Suggest that you support thinking differently about methodology in missions and you're an alcoholic. Indicate that casual dress might be more appropriate in some worship services and you're inviting strippers to your church. The rhetoric that is used to guard the ideas and personalities behind the status quo is appalling!

I have heard in committee meetings things said such as, "Well, [so and so] says they're okay, then that's fine with me. I figure if the higher ups approve them, then I should too." I know of an instance where one individual bucked a local king on an issue and ironically enough, our committee never received his nomination for service as a trustee even though the president of that institution assured me that his information had been presented. When I asked, I was told that no one ever saw the information.

Now here's what I'm getting at. I believe that if we are ever going to see God move in a Great Awakening sort of fashion in our state or nation, it will only happen if and when we can move past this mentality of blind loyalty to the Boys. If I may be so bold, it wasn't the Boys that brought these conventions around, it was God. To substitute one "good ol' boy" network which was liberal with one that is "conservative" is wrong.
I know that some have already called me Brutus, but I cannot with a clear conscience be a mute member of a machine that operates at the whim of an individual no matter how great they are rather than the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps I was just not cut out to be one of the Boys.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Whose Side Are We On Anyway?

With all of the recent turmoil over evangelistic methodology and general missiology, one could wonder if more time is not being spent waging war against the "brethren" rather than focusing upon the transformation of lives by the saving of souls. In my short stint on the Executive Board of the Missouri Baptist Convention, as well as my time spent on the Nominating Committee of the same, I have had more than my fair share of front line perspective. Perhaps one day I'll write a novel or more appropriately produce a soap opera entitled, "As the Stomach Churns."

Be that as it may, such experiences have led me to search the Scriptures again seeking the light of Divine wisdom to shine down upon the chaos of our human condition. And, once again, I turn to the writings of the Apostle Paul (Gee I love that guy!). In his letter to the Philippians, Paul addresses the issue of unity within the body. Philippi was noted as a veterans colony. Interestingly enough, it plays a very significant role in the history of Rome. Philippi was the site of the two greatest land battles in Roman history between Brutus and Cassius (the murderers of Julius Caesar) on one side and Marc Antony and Octavian (Julius' step-son, later to be known as Caesar Augustus) on the other. These two battles were known commonly as the "two works of Philippi." [The credit for this information, though easily enough documented through numerous other sources, belongs to Dr. Alan Tomlinson, Professor of New Testament at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who is without question the single greatest expert I know on the first century A.D. ]

This is essential to understanding the book, because when you keep in mind that the common understanding of the day in Philippi of the word "work" was a battle, then the entire letter takes on a new essence. Paul is writing to the Philippians about the "work" of the Gospel, the furtherance of the Gospel message. The problem was that in the church at Philippi there were two ladies whom Paul had at one time worked alongside in the furtherance of the Gospel, and these two ladies, for some reason, got crosswise with one another (Imagine that, I knew they were Baptist!). Anyway, Paul writes a strong letter of admonishment to the church to help these ladies be reconciled in their differences because their "personal problems" were spilling out all over the body at Philippi with the consequence that the Gospel was being hindered.

Isn't that interesting! That's exactly what happens every time that evangelism becomes the focus of the body, strife and division creep in and undermine the work which was once begun. Paul doesn't spend time telling the church how they can have greener lawns, better kids or a more meaningful quiet time with the Lord, he speaks to them about the greatest single issue plaguing the church at that moment, division. It is the cancer that will devour the Gospel witness of the body and ultimately the body itself.

A couple of months ago, a lady in our church came to me and told me that they had found a spot on her breast but that they did not believe that it was cancerous. She informed the doctor that she didn't want to take any chances (having already lost one breast to cancer); therefore, she insisted upon having a mastectomy. A couple of weeks later, the test result came back on the spot and it revealed a rapid growing malignant tumor. Had she not taken a radical step when she did, by the time they realized what was going on it may have been too late.

Paul was treating the Philippians the same way. They needed to take a radical step toward bringing reconciliation into the body. Why? Because lost people were going to a Christless eternity without hearing the Gospel while brothers and sisters were drawing lines and choosing sides. Notice that the solution was not that one of the two ladies had to leave, but rather that they needed to be reconciled.

Folks, the world knows how to fight without us giving them lessons in it. I pray that we can get past the pride that seems to pervade nearly every level of denominational life and turn our hearts back toward what we were called to in the first place...the furtherance of the Gospel.

Just my thoughts.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My Cold Birthday

Well, these last couple of days have been very interesting. We were overcome by an ice-storm, such as we have not seen since I have lived in Missouri (1987). As I watched the reports coming in from surrounding areas, I found that we were very blessed to have electricity. We had to cancel services yesterday as a result of the extreme conditions and so I spent some much needed time with my family.

Today I turned 38. What a blessing. I have determined to take a different approach toward aging than many of my peers. I have decided that I will embrace each year with its unique challenges and adventures trusting that God will give me the strength to do all that I need to in obedience to Him. How great it would be at age eighty-five to be able to say in the spirit of Caleb, "Give me that mountain!"

I do find that as I get older, sometimes it becomes much easier to be cynical. In fact, it's kind of fun at times. But I pray that the Lord will help me to never lose my heart for the lost or my love for His body. That he will protect me from growing bitter when I see Christian brothers/sisters acting in ways that are more akin to the carnal mindset of the world. And that when I do notice such behavior and attitudes, that I will have the sensitivity and wisdom to look at my own flaws and remember that we all need a Savior.

I pray that, should the Lord tarry, in the next 38 years I will finish both of my Masters degrees and perhaps even that long desired Ph.D.. I would like to finally be able to take my wife to the Florida Keys (hopefully that won't take 38 years). I would very much like to help impact this generation with a growing passion for God and a deep desire to, in the words of William Carey, "Attempt great things for God and expect great things from God." Our state has 250,000 college students in 198 degree ganting institutions. And most of them know little or nothing about the Jesus of the Bible. I want to be a part of reaching them. And not just evangelizing them, but training them to be leaders in the faith.

Well, I just thought I would pass along some thoughts as I reflect upon where I am in life's journey and anticipate where I am headed. I pray that the Lord blesses you with the fulness of the vision He has granted you until the day we see Him together in glory. Amen!