Friday, May 27, 2016

This election doesn't need to be about Calvinism...and I hope it isn't.

All the candidates were asked about Calvinism by B21. Here is what they said. Crosby gave a short answer so his is complete below. Gaines and Greear gave longer answers, so I have excerpted theirs. Click to see the whole interview.

J. D. Greear: I am pretty confident that if you asked the average person at the Summit whether we were “Calvinist” or “non-Calvinist,” they wouldn’t know what to tell you. I prefer the balance of the BFM 2000 here. We are committed to preaching the Bible, doing the work of evangelism, and giving God all the credit.

David Crosby: No one in the SBC is about to reveal a theological fix to this centuries-old theological conundrum. Anyone who thinks they have tied up all the loose ends is either self-deluded or a heretic. Therefore our solution must be found in the common ground we share in Christ and the work we do together, as it has always been. I don’t want to throw out anyone on either side of this theological discussion. We must focus on Christ and the gospel. We must fight the “party spirit” that always seeks to divide and weaken our work. We can do this work together. If we do it together, we will get more done for our Savior. He prayed that we would be one. Let’s cooperate with the Spirit in the unity he is bringing to the bride of Christ.

Steve Gaines: The SBC has always had Calvinists and non-Calvinists. I’m fine with that, as long as one side does not seek to dominate the other. Calvinism does not need to be taught as the exclusive, optimal theological viewpoint in our seminaries. Non-Calvinist students should not be subjected to Calvinistic professors who proactively seek to convert them to Calvinism. None of our seminaries should have a faculty of professors who are exclusively Calvinistic. Non-Calvinistic professors should be an integral part of each one of our seminary faculties because most Southern Baptists are not Calvinists, and they are the ones that fund our seminaries and pay the salaries of our professors.

While all of them call for working together and unity, only Steve Gaines goes to the specifics of "optimal theolog[y]" in the seminaries, students being subjected to proselytizing profs, and the warning against exclusively Calvinistic faculties.

Huh? Why go after the Calvinists and include all the detail warnings about seminaries and their faculty and practices?

Well, whatever it is, he repeats the same things in an interview with The Baptist Message:
Gaines said the Baptist Faith and Message is broad enough for both groups, but because the majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists, Calvinism should not be taught as the principal theological position of any SBC entity.
“I do believe that our students need to know about Calvinism. I don’t mind our seminaries teaching about Calvinism, but it should not be the exclusive theological position taught in any of our schools,” he said.
We should expect all leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention and all entities serving our denomination to affirm, to respect, and to represent all Southern Baptists of good faith and to serve the great unity of our Convention. No entity should be promoting Calvinism or non-Calvinism to the exclusion of the other. Our entities should be places where any Southern Baptist who stands within the boundaries of The Baptist Faith and Message should be welcomed and affirmed as they have opportunities to benefit from, participate in, and provide leadership for those entities.

I haven't heard a candidate for major office, or prominent SBC leader bring the matter up since the report was presented three years ago until Steve Gaines, twice now, tossed out the comments about SBC seminaries, faculties. 

Salient question not asked of Steve Gaines: Do you think that there is a problem in any of our seminaries or entities in regard to Calvinism? 


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Questions for NAMB, IMB, and seminary leaders

One feature of the annual meeting of our beloved Southern Baptist Convention is a time for reports from entity heads. These leaders usually leave a short time for questions from the floor. While I'm not planning to be in muggy St. Louis next month, if I were and could stake out one of the floor mics here's a question or two that I'd like to ask:

For David Platt, International Mission Board leader:

The locations of our overseas personnel has shifted over the past years to a greater proportion being in World A locations. I presume that these are more difficult and stressful places and would like to know some things about attrition rates:

  1. What is the attrition rate for our career personnel after 5 years, 10 years?
  2. Is there a difference in rates in World A countries and other locations?
  3. What is the IMB doing to reduce these rates?
  4. Has the IMB found that certain measures or methods of support from the home churches of personnel have reduced attrition rates.
What is the average cost of a career missions couple (single) from initial contact with IMB through appointment and the end of the first full term?

For Kevin Ezell, North American Mission Board leader:

NAMB uses "Strategic Cooperative Agreements" and "Strategic Cooperative Budgets" with state conventions to spell out joint work and funding for such work. Given that all of NAMB's funding comes from the churches and individuals, what is the reasoning behind the policy that these agreements not public information to Southern Baptists?

NAMB has been criticized for being heavy-handed in it's relationship with some of the non-southern states where NAMB provides much or most funding for many personnel. Why would it not be preferable to distribute funds to these state conventions as grants not tied to specific positions or goals and let local staff utilize them as they think best?

For Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary:

SBC presidential candidate Steve Gaines is quoted as saying, "Calvinism does not need to be taught as the exclusive, optimal theological viewpoint in our seminaries. Non-Calvinist students should not be subjected to Calvinistic professors who proactively seek to convert them to Calvinism. None of our seminaries should have a faculty of professors who are exclusively Calvinistic. Non-Calvinistic professors should be an integral part of each one of our seminary faculties because most Southern Baptists are not Calvinists, and they are the ones that fund our seminaries and pay the salaries of our professors."

Although Gaines did not name SBTS and SEBTS, others have made accusations about your two seminaries doing that to which Gaines objects. Are non-Calvinist students subjected to proactive conversion efforts by professors in your seminaries and does your faculty include non-Calvinistic professors?
On the questions for Platt, I don't know the answers and don't know that I've ever seen material published by IMB or by missiologists in our seminaries who have been given IMB data on which they have done research. This is perhaps the most critical personnel issue for IMB and I'd like to see these rates.

On the questions for Ezell, he has an article that generally explains the agreements and the reason they are not public. While I have an idea about the second question, being the troublemaker that I am, I'd just like to see how much explanation he would give.

On the questions for Al Mohler and Danny Akin, Gaines has laid down a marker by raising the questions and making specific demands. I don't disagree with him at all. He didn't name names but others have and have named SBTS and SEBTS. I'd like to seen Mohler and Akin have a chance to respond. Akin has responded specifically to such things in the past.

Of course, no one will ask these questions and there's not enough time to fully treat the subjects anyway. But, when Southern Baptists have questions, it's always good for our leaders to give answers. If this convention is like any of the couple of dozen I've attended, a lot of floor time will be expended on subjects much more trivial than these.

I trust that my SBC convention-going colleagues will have a grand time in St. Louis.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Does the SBC President make much of a difference?

I'd say, "no," that the SBC president doesn't really make much of a difference in the SBC.

Unless we return to some type of decades-long battle between various factions within the convention where several years worth if replacement trustee appointments are envisioned as putting one faction in control of the seminaries and mission boards, the person who is president doesn't make much difference. Any of the three candidates this year would do well. Each would probably bring something helpful to certain segments of the convention.

J. D. Greear would represent a generational and methodological change. If the energy in our convention is moving away from traditional megachurches and their leaders, and I think it may be, and towards a younger set of leaders who aren't tied to continuing things as they are and have been, Greear would be the top example of such.

As pastor of a church who has more people serving with our International Mission Board than any other single church in the convention (perhaps in history), what he and that church are doing ought to be examined and replicated. Greear sagely notes what ought to be obvious to every Southern Baptist, that "the Convention is a temporary tool that god uses to accomplish the Great Commission. It doesn't exist for itself."

Clearly, Greear's church is non-traditional in regard to missions support. Most of their mission giving is not through the Cooperative Program where most of the dollars would stay in North Carolina. The result of their autonomous decision to put funds where they will make the maximum impact on lostness around the globe is that about one in twenty-five of our IMB personnel is a Summit member. If the goal is reaching lost people, exposing unreached people groups to the Gospel, then Summit is doing something worthy of praise and of emulation.

Steve Gaines would represent something similar to Ronnie Floyd in that his church's has recently decided that the Cooperative Program is worthy of greater support. While Bellevue gives far below the average church CP percentage, they have increased it considerably the last few years. If megachurches and celebrity megapastors (and that makes up almost all of our SBC presidents for the past several decades) have some influence on the thousands of average churches and their pastors then I suspect that Gaines' church move to give greater support for the CP will have a marginally positive impact. But since most churches already give a greater percentage to the CP than Bellevue, I can't see much difference.

Gaines has laid out all the non-Calvinist markers and the usual Traditionalist sites and state Baptist news editors will be sure to make these known.

David Crosby, seems to me, would be a good choice. He isn't a megachurch pastor and it would be refreshing in a way to see such a pastor elected over the usual offering of more highly visible pastors of megachurches. Perhaps he would depart from the usual oligarchy in making key appointments.

Were I to be in sweltering St. Louis, I'd vote for Greear and strike a blow for the next generation, for the intensified focus on taking the Gospel to lost people worldwide rather than perpetuating our own, often sclerotic SBC institutions and programs. But, I don't see the SBC president as having much influence over the general direction of the Convention nor over the decisions and trajectory of our 50,000 or so individual churches.

Of the three candidates, I'd view Greear as having the most potential to exert influence. Let's be candid, the problem going forward isn't about convincing younger pastors to lead their churches to give an additional percentage point to the Cooperative Program, it's about convincing these people that our convention structure and entities still have relevance in the 21st Century.

J. D. Greear has stated that "I believe we are at a generational moment in the SBC, and if I can help lead a new generation to embrace the mission and vision of the SBC, and stand hand in hand with, and on the shoulders of, our faithful brothers and sisters who have gone before us, I want to do that."  I think that's where we are and what we need.

Steve Gaines is 59. I can't find David Crosby's age but he looks somewhere in that neighborhood. Ronnie Floyd is 60. J. D. Greear is 43. Al Mohler is 56, Danny Akin is 59, Paige Patterson is 74, Frank Page is 63. I'm feeling a bit old myself.

Consider that Adrian Rogers was 47 when he was first elected as SBC president. Time to pass the torch again.