David Platt represents a generational change in major Southern Baptist institutional leadership and is a logical choice for the International Mission Board.
Platt is 36 which means that he was born about the time I started seminary. I'm feeling a little old. His election by trustees, most of whom I speculate are far closer to being long in the tooth as I am than to his generation of Baby Busters or Millenials, should be seen as making sense if we value our task of carrying out the Great Commission.
A few observations:
- Platt has a track record of church growth and heavy commitment to taking the Gospel to places where it is not ubiquitous as it is here in the states. More on how his church expresses this in their spending below, but his preaching, writing, and speaking express his taking seriously the Great Commission.
- It may not be noted prominently elsewhere but while other Southern Baptists address liberalism, postmodernism, secularism, or any of a number of favorite complaints du jour, Platt is among the few among Southern Baptists and American evangelicals who speak seriously about materialism. The idea of carrying out the Great Commission while spending considerable sums of our resources as Christians on personal consumption is, well, radical. Southern Baptists need to ruminate on our levels of personal and denominational consumption in the light of the needs of the world. Platt has street cred on this. Most other prominent Southern Baptists do not.
- Considerable numbers of younger Southern Baptists are highly engaged by leaders and pastors like David Platt and J. D. Greear in ways that they are not by older, more traditional megapastors like Johnny Hunt or Ronnie Floyd.
- While critics think a leader who can boost the Cooperative Program to earlier levels is preferable, realists recognize that the challenge has moved from that to the more fundamental task of retaining and enlisting a new generation in Southern Baptist mission efforts. Platt, whatever his critics say about his view of the Cooperative Program (see below), has to be commended for doing the latter.
- The IMB is dead in the water in regard to the levels of overseas field personnel. The cry has not been for God to send workers into His harvest fields but for workers already called and prepared to just be patient to see if we can scrape up the funding to put them where they believe God has called them. Someone who thinks we can just fiddle with the funding formulas is not going to motivate Southern Baptist churches and individuals to do much more than they are doing.
Platt is not without critics.
- He's a Calvinist. Well, I haven't read a lot of his material but I suppose so. Based on what I have heard and read, would to God that we had more like him whatever label one might feel justified in applying. I don't see the rabid, destructive Calvinistic bent in him that is present in some others among us. Critics are calling for parity in major SBC hiring decisions. OK, here you are - an entity leader who is not a Southern Seminary grad and who has, so far as I am aware, has not worked for Al Mohler.
- He doesn't support the Cooperative Program. He does, but at a token level. Figures about his church's giving show a small amount given through the traditional CP channel, the state convention, but much larger amounts given directly to the Executive Committee for distribution to the mission boards, seminaries, and other SBC level entities. Southern Baptists as a whole have not been serious about the limitations of our almost century old giving system, the venerable and beloved Cooperative Program which is mainly a state convention funding mechanism. While Platt doggone sure ought to support it as IMB head, it puts $100m in their budget every year, let's be honest and face up to the reality that we are in the fourth decade of declining CP church support. Platt and others like him didn't cause this and cannot cure it. Platt is representative of a broad subsection of Southern Baptists who have looked at the Great Commission, looked at the money distribution of the Cooperative Program, and thinks it makes little sense to try and advance the Great Commission by giving to the traditional CP where most of the money stays in the southern state conventions.
- He lacks administrative experience. Not exactly, his church is a megachurch with a megastaff; however, the IMB is our largest entity, has the largest budget and the most personnel. The IMB has it's own universe, its own sub-culture, its own institutional personality. Some of this no doubt needs to be changed. I presume that he is sensible enough to rely on the abundance of administrators already employed by the board and respect the wisdom of some of the graybeards and wizened old hands wandering around Richmond as he works through the issues facing the organization.
Being elected as a trustee of the International Mission Board is the plum trustee assignment for the Southern Baptist Convention and there are about 100 of these trustees (far too many but that's another topic). I think it not unreasonable that those who are nominated and elected are the best connected Southern Baptists around, the most committed to our convention and work. If this group, collectively, is willing to take a risk in the most visible and important hiring decision in the SBC, then it stands to reason that they believe the reward, the potential for such risk, is sufficient to steel them in their decision in the face of criticisms they know will come.
We sometimes take a decision like this, one that we have subjected to considerable prayer and seeking of God's will and justify it on the basis of subjective, rather vague spiritual giddiness about God communicating His will for the choice we make. Fine. I understand the spiritual shorthand used to explain our decisions; however, I am far more impressed by the concrete record of David Platt's character, commitment, and past leadership that whatever feeling search committee members may have had.
They made a good decision.
God bless him in his task.