A message for Bobby Welch…

Dear Bro. Bobby:

I know you have been wondering why I have been negligent in posting to Baptist Blogger this past week. Surely you have been concerned that I was dead, or hospitalized, or that my fingers had fallen off and I had not yet learned how to nose or nub the keyboard.

Nevertheless, you have expressed your concerns on numerous occasions that “blogging boys,” such as I, are too concerned about their computers and too unconcerned about souls.

Cue the shofar.

Over the past two weeks our church has welcomed a significant number of new visitors. We have also been preparing for another baptism — to occur this coming Sunday morning — that we hope will help you inch one soul closer to your million mark.

I’m consumed with a morning sermon series on the Gospel of Matthew, and Sunday evenings have been dedicated to a series I have entitled “Everything I needed to know I learned in the book of Genesis.” We’ve had a death in our extended church family, and all our retirement community members are coming down sick. I’ve been trying to help one lady in our church get her electric bill paid, and another lady in our church get new underwear and socks for her son to start school. We are preparing to affirm two new deacons, and last Sunday we observed the Lord’s Supper, wine and all. And now I’m reading over the latest article on prayer from our newly elected SBC president, Frank Page.

Needless to say I’ve been busy with the real ministry of Parkview Baptist Church, and now that I’m catching my breath, I’ll be back to blogging in short order.

Just wanted to let you know that I’m running the wheels off to do what “Everyone Can” since “I’m it.”


Blogging boy

Church Planting Movements and the Crisis of Power in the SBC, Pt. 5.

In March 2003 I attended missionary training sessions sponsored by the IMB at its Rockville, VA, international learning center. Until that point, access to the actual materials distributed among IMB missionaries-in-training had been rather inaccessible to Eitel and others. In the sessions on Church-Planting Movements taught by Curtis Sergeant toward the end of the training, missionaries were given a course notebook that contained ideas and strategies/methdologies that further raised concerns about the new CPMs. These materials highlighted the degree to which anthropological research, sociological analyses, and corporate business models were informing the missionary enterprise in a way that Patterson, Eitel and others who critical of Rankin’s administration alleged were undermining key Baptist distinctives as adopted in the BFM2000 Below I have excerpted some sections from the Sergeant’s training handouts:I. Curtis Sergeant on the models for Church Planting Movements:

“Secular sociologists have identified several characteristics which are common to movements which diffuse rapidly through societies. We will briefly examine some of these characteristics to see how Christianity can fit the bill in regard to these characteristics . . . .

The first of these characteristics is cellular organization with diffused leadership. A secular example of this would be the Communist Party in East Asia or Eastern Europe about fifty years ago . . . .

The second characteristic of movements that diffuse rapidly through societies is personal recruitment which is carried out through existing relationships. A secular example of this would be Amway. . . .

The third characteristic is personal commitment which is tied to an act or experience. A secular example of this might be the admission that one is an alcoholic in Alcoholics Anonymous. . . .

The fourth characteristic of movement that spread rapidly is a shared ideology which forms the basis of unity among a network of groups. Perhaps the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of America would provide an example of this. . . .

The fifth characteristic of rapidly growing movements is that they have real or perceived opposition from the society or another group. For some reason, business examples come to mind here. I think about Pepsi, whose enemy is Coke. I think of Avis and Hertz, Macintosh and IBM.”(27)

II. Curtis Sergeant on the training of new church leaders:

“Once there are baptized believers in an area, they should be the ones providing the leadership up front.”

“It is best to send the less experienced leaders with new converts to keep the gap between maturity levels to a minimum.”

“It is important to share leadership on a rotating basis through the entire group so each individual has opportunities to develop his leadership skills.”

“Another way to reduce the reproduction cycle [of new churches] is to immediately place local believers in leadership positions in planting churches in a pioneer area.”(28)

III. Curtis Sergeant on gender roles:

“If you will follow the suggestions made in this book, what will the churches which are planted look like?

. . . They primarily meet in small groups, in many settings operating covertly. They usually have ten to twenty people. They are led by ‘laymen’ rather than by ordained, professionally educated clergy . . .. They frequently have women in key roles in the church. Women are viewed as ministers, as having spiritual gifts just as men, even in patriarchal societies.”Once I shared these materials with Eitel, we began sorting through Sergeant’s work, which we found to be surprisingly similar to a book published in 2001 by Operation Mobilization Publishing entitled Houses that Change the World. This book, by missiologist Wolfgang Simson, was readily endorsed by IMB personnel, and was required reading for missionaries preparing for service in East Asia.(29) In Houses, Simson makes the following statements:

“If you want to build an organization, use men. If you want to build the church, use women . . . . It seems clear that God’s Spirit is challenging women to get out there and save the country, as we men still sit and feel the need to discuss some more theology and strategy.”(30)

“No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional ‘holy man’ doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive, religious consumers, Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from Old Testament examples.”(31)

“If the traditional system of church does not allow for [women to be ‘right in the centre’ of the church], we should not change the women, but change the system.”(32)

With the resources I had gathered, coupled with rumors and reports from the field, Keith Eitel began formulating his critique on the Church Planting Movement strategy, and Dr. Patterson began disseminating that critique to IMB trustees. Before too long, the conflict between Patterson and Eitel on the one hand, and Rankin and Sergeant on the other, reached the field missionaries, who began taking sides. At a regional leaders meeting of the International Mission Board in Georgia, Rankin distributed Eitel’s paper. Many of them felt personally attacked. Others began writing their own concerns about the new mission strategies of the IMB to those of us who were known adversaries. On September 29, 2003, I received a letter from a career missionary serving in Thailand that validated at least some of Patterson/Eitel’s suspicions:I have lived in East Asia for 5 years now and am now home doing the quick turnaround and have just been accepted to go thru career appointment this fall. When in the career process application, I went through the BFM to make sure I believed that it was good doctrine, and I can say that I believe it is and I signed it with no problem. When confronted by the current CPM methodology, however, it just didn’t seem to go along with what I signed. My Strategy Coordinator, my regional staff, and most of the missionaries on the field in East Asia have bought it hook line and sinker as the ‘only way to do church planting.’ I have tried to voice my concerns before but I was always met with ‘But thousands are being save’ and was made to feel like I was personally against this in some respects. I sometimes feel as if this thinking has allowed for a viable reason to promulgate bad theological practices . . . I am familiar with [Curtis] Sergeant’s CPM manifesto and have pulled it off our regional website, so I know about it and have sat through several seminars on the field about aspects of his methodology.

What really put me out with this methodology was at a seminar in Thailand titled ‘how to take a Bible study to a church.’ Pretty much all it consisted of was telling them ‘OK, you’re a church now reproduce.’ An example was given of fruit sellers in Asia who were all women and considered a church by everyone in the room except me when asked. When I brought up the issue of women leadership and asked about the qualifications listed in the [Pastoral Epistles] and how this was addressed, I was told that they were all character issues, and that they were not gender specific. I then asked if the ‘husband of one wife’ could also be interpreted as the ‘wife of one husband.’ To my shock, I was told ‘yes’ by the leader of the group.

The reason I have used [an alias on the IMB’s bulletin board] was to protect my identity because I am sure I would catch flack for my convictions and would be seen as not being a team player.Up to this point, I had continued a regular dialogue with a group of trustees including conference calls with select board members who comprised a “caucus.” Trustees gathered in individual members’ hotel rooms for these conference calls and planning sessions, one of which was organized by Texas trustee Wyndham Cook. In August of 2003, I began pursuing a master’s of theology degree at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, an institution under the newly-hired leadership of Paige Patterson.(33)

While at Southwestern, I was given access to the secretly archived research project of Curtis Sergeant by the dean of libraries – all 500 pages of it – which I quickly culled for more potential evidences of uncritical reliance on anthropology and sociology rather than Baptist theology and confessions as the primary guiding tool for strategic missionary methodologies at the IMB. A professor of theology, Malcolm Yarnell, gave me his personal copy of the Sergeant dissertation over one weekend, during which time I made multiple copies and prepared them for mail-out to select trustees. Yarnell, at the time, was concerned about possible instances of plagiarism in Sergeant’s work, which, if discovered, would prompt a committee investigation and the possible revocation of Sergeant’s doctoral credentials. Yarnell asked that I highlight and note any potential instances of plagiarism to facilitate this process. By the end of the weekend, no reasonable instances of plagiarism could be found.

It is now to Sergeant’s research and writing for a doctor of ministry degree at Southwestern Seminary that we shall turn.


(27) These quotes are lifted verbatim from the notebook entitled “Planting with Passion” that was disseminated among all missionary trainees. The notebook was supposed to be returned when the sessions were over, but I kept mine, and it became a source of concern among several trustees of the IMB with whom I was in regular conversation and conference calls during the days immediately following my departure from the learning center.

(28) This, in spite of biblical admonitions to do the exact opposite. See 1 Tim 3:6, 10 et al. Rather than affirming the biblical offices of the church as clearly outlined in the Baptist Faith & Message, Sergeant opts for a new model – one that rejects the biblical offices and radically redefines gender roles within church-planting contexts.

(29) Dr. Eitel confronted Curtis Sergeant with the apparent instances of plagiarism in an email dated, ominously, September 11, 2003. Eitel wrote: “You show an amazing dependence on a published source entitled “Houses That Change the World: The Return of House Churches” by Wolfgang Simson. As a matter of fact you have lifted sections verbatim out of that source and claimed that the research was your own while giving no footnote credit or source credit to the author at all . . . . I know you’ve recently completed a DMin project at Southwestern. I don’t know about their standards, but here at Southeastern we’d call that plagiarism and you would never receive a degree with that level of academic research integrity here. I hear you helped edit Simson’s book, so maybe you got too familiar with it or conveniently neglected providing proper documentation regarding the use of someone else’s ideas. Either one creates a problem of integrity in my mind.” Sergeant protested any charge of plagiarism, insisting that it was Simson that employed his research – which was kept confidential due to “security concerns” – rather than vice versa. During the entire exchange, I was blind carbon copied on the emails that Eitel forwarded to Patterson and NC trustee Bill Sanderson to apprise them of developments.

(30) Wolfgang Simson, Houses that Change the World. OM Publishing, 2001. 102, 103.

(31) Ibid., xix.

(32) Ibid., xxxiii.

(33) Patterson was elected as the president of Southwestern Seminary in the Spring of 2003, and he assumed the post in August of that year. Since his time there, he has hired Keith Eitel away from Southeastern, and awarded Jerry Rankin the “distinguished alumnus award.” Patterson often refers to Rankin as “the most important man of the face of the globe,” though such feigned words of endorsement undoubtedly ring hollow in Rankin’s ears. Indeed, the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Proverbs 27:6.

Mohler on Booze

A transcript of Mohler’s comments yesterday on his call-in radio show:I’m committed to a total abstinence policy. I don’t drink alcohol. The institution I serve, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College, holds to a total abstinence policy–no alcohol whatsoever. The Southern Baptist Convention–our denomination–made a statement this summer committing itself also to a total abstinence policy. By the way there’s no news there. That’s not a new policy, just a reaffirmation. And yet I will tell you up front that I know there are believing, faithful Christians who enjoy a glass of wine or do drink some beverage alcohol. And I cannot say in all persons in all circumstances it is sin for them as Christians to do that. There’s no verse in the Bible that says ‘thou shalt not drink alcoholic beverage, period.’ So intellectual honesty … demands that we say there’s no proof text in the Bible that says thou shalt not ever drink an alcoholic beverage. So why would I hold to that position? Because No. 1, a couple of very important biblical and theological reasons. The Bible warns consistently against drunkenness. How much alcohol is necessary for drunkenness? For different people, different levels. But I don’t need anything altering my mind. I don’t need to be any more confused than I otherwise might be. I don’t need to bring that into my life. And by not drinking at all I never have to defend myself against the charge that I am drinking too much. That just never comes up. Drunkenness is an awful thing, and all you have to do is look around this country and you will see families, communities and others just wounded, grieving and destroyed by the misuse of alcohol. If you never take that first drink, you don’t have to worry about it. Another biblical issue here is just a clarification that in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, there is the drinking of wine referenced there, but as very credible scholars such as Robert Stein have demonstrated, that’s not wine in its highly fermented state, much less the kind of hard liquor or beer in its highly fermented state that is available today. This was wine that was allowed to ferment just enough to kill bacteria so that it was safe to drink. You could not drink the water during that day. I just have to say I believe the safest position for a Christian is total abstinence. Now there are those who are going to come back and say, ‘Now my Christian liberty means that I have the right to drink.’ Well if you’re part of a church that holds to that understanding, and you are very careful, monitored in mutual accountability, that you do not drink into drunkenness or into excess, then I’m not going to say that you’re not a Christian and you’re not faithful. I’m going to say I couldn’t be in that circumstance, and I belong to a church and denomination, and I serve as president of an institution that before God believes that the best position to hold is a total-abstinence position, in accountability to other Christians, and in accountability to the churches. Our own witness is very important in this, and our credibility, so that’s our position, and I hold it without feeling that I am constrained or repressed in any way.

Billy Graham and the grace of growing old…

This article from Newsweek, touches upon a theme that I’ve been tossing around for several months now. Some excerpts:
“As his days dwindle, the man whose heyday was consumed with preaching and with presidents is increasingly reflective. In interviews with NEWSWEEK in recent months, [Billy] Graham has made it clear that partisan politics and the culture wars feel far away. He will not offer opinions on stem-cell research, for instance, and he has stopped giving political counsel to the powerful, a habit that began with Eisenhower. He was tempted to call President George W. Bush in the run-up to the Iraq war to advise him on the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, but decided against it.

You can see more from a mountain, and from the perspective of years. Graham believes both the right and the left in America have sometimes gone too far, elevating transitory issues when, in Graham’s view, the core message of the Gospel, and the love of God “for all people” should take priority: “The older I get, the more important the eternal becomes to me personally.” His mind is on the heavenly more than the temporal, on the central promises of Christianity more than on the passing political parade…”

“…Others relish the battlefield; Graham now prizes peace. He is a man of unwavering faith who refuses to be judgmental; a steady social conservative in private who actually does hate the sin but loves the sinner; a resolute Christian who declines to render absolute verdicts about who will get into heaven and who will not; a man concerned about traditional morality—he is still slightly embarrassed that he kissed “two or three girls” before he kissed his wife—who will not be dragged into what he calls the “hot-button issues” of the hour. Graham’s tranquil voice, though growing fainter, has rarely been more relevant…”

“…He does not believe that Christians need to take every verse of the Bible literally; “sincere Christians,” he says, “can disagree about the details of Scripture and theology—absolutely.”

“I’m not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and tittle is from the Lord,” Graham says. “This is a little difference in my thinking through the years.” He has, then, moved from seeing every word of Scripture as literally accurate to believing that parts of the Bible are figurative—a journey that began in 1949, when a friend challenged his belief in inerrancy during a conference in southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains. Troubled, Graham wandered into the woods one night, put his Bible on a stump and said, “Lord, I don’t understand all that is in this book, I can’t explain it all, but I accept it by faith as your divine word.”

“Now, more than half a century later, he is far from questioning the fundamentals of the faith. He is not saying Jesus is just another lifestyle choice, nor is he backtracking on essentials such as the Incarnation or the Atonement. But he is arguing that the Bible is open to interpretation, and fair-minded Christians may disagree or come to different conclusions about specific points. Like Saint Paul, he believes human beings on this side of paradise can grasp only so much. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,” Paul wrote, “then we shall see face to face.” Then believers shall see: not now, but then.”Comments?

What I believe about Bobby Welch

1. Bobby Welch loves to see lost people come to faith in Christ.
2. Bobby Welch served commendably in Vietnam.
3. Bobby Welch has pastored one church faithfully for many, many years.
4. Bobby Welch was a fair-minded, even-handed moderator for floor debate at the SBC.
5. Bobby Welch believes what he preaches.
6. Bobby Welch is genuinely concerned about the future of the SBC.
7. Bobby Welch did not intentionally misrepresent the facts in his recent SBC Life article.
8. Bobby Welch truly hopes to foster holiness and righteousness among Southern Baptists.
9. Bobby Welch does not live his life trying to make enemies.
10. Bobby Welch will have a blessed retirement because of his faithfulness.
11. Bobby Welch does not like nepotism, cronyism, or favoritism to infect denominational work any more than I do.
12. Bobby Welch is his own man, owing allegiance to Christ alone.
13. Bobby Welch is a sinner in need of God’s grace like the rest of us.
14. Bobby Welch realizes he is a sinner in need of God’s grace like the rest of us.
15. Bobby Welch would not intentionally adopt a condemning tone against another human being.
16. Bobby Welch would seek forgiveness with humility if he had ever knowingly offended a brother in Christ or mischaracterized his beliefs in any forum, public or private.
17. Bobby Welch will be making several phonecalls very soon.

Church Planting Movements and the Crisis of Power in the SBC, Pt. 4.

While it is true that any convention of the size and scope of the “world’s largest Protestant denomination” will require, to some extent, immense political savvy, and that some men will master the art of politics as a necessary evil for the convention, other men are consumed by it. Denominational politics is like surgical ether: it can either make the convention’s work painless and productive, or it can burn and kill you. It can either grease the gears of evangelistic initiative, making sure that money and personnel are allocated most prudentially, or it can serve to distill power into the offices of a Machiavellian few. I have seen both of these results from watching others become entangled in a web of political deceit and from experiencing it firsthand.

In 1997, I began my graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, an institution led, at that time, by a man who has put almost as many denominational employees out of work as he has mounted wild African game on his wall.(17) Almost immediately, I became consumed with the gossipy tidbits and who’s-in-who’s-out trivia of denominational power-brokering. Of those petty squabbles, none interested me more than the emerging conflicts over mission strategy and personality differences between the seminary’s president, Paige Patterson, and Jerry Rankin at the IMB. I knew little of Rankin, as we had never even met. Patterson, on the other hand, was a mentor and role model – for a time. Before long, I came to understand that Patterson operated as a one-man doctrinal watchdog within the convention.(18) In fact, Patterson moves with a deft political skill that would make Karl Rove salivate like old Pavlov’s dog. One of Patterson’s former bosses has aptly noted that “when it comes to politics, [Patterson] makes [former President] Lyndon Johnson look like a candy striper.”(19) For a season, I was personally close to Patterson and able to observe firsthand the degree of quid pro quo that he employs with regularity when achieving his political ends in the denomination. This is not to say that Patterson’s motives are altogether ignoble, but neither is it correct to reckon him faultless. Proximity to greatness exposes great flaws. I have seen a good many of them up close.

During the course of my seminary training at Southeastern, I befriended Patterson’s missiologist and confidant, Keith Eitel, who offered me the chance to serve in the seminary’s Great Commission Center as a student worker. For several years, Eitel and Patterson had jointly pioneered a new training model for career missionaries in which students would study at the Wake Forest based seminary campus in a crash-course two year curriculum of theology, history, and missiology followed by two years of field assignment under appointment with the International Mission Board. The program required that students were under both the academic supervision of the seminary faculty and the field supervision of the IMB’s career personnel. This arrangement put students into a position to observe firsthand implementation of the new paradigm Rankin’s administration brought to the mission board. It also put Patterson and Eitel in a position to get reports from those students about what they saw, heard, and experienced. With hundreds of students spread out across the globe, Patterson was able to monitor more acutely how Rankin’s policies were in accord with the Baptist Faith & Message and the degree of compliance that field missionaries showed within the tighter doctrinal constraints. Soon, the reports came rolling in. This is not to suggest that the 2+2 program of seminary/mission training was planned for the purpose of diffusing likeminded students throughout the International Mission Board and coaching them in the finer arts of denominational espionage, but the effect was the same. Before long, the rift between Patterson and Rankin widened as students were instructed how to pass through the mission training process quietly, keeping logs of what they saw and heard and sending them back to Eitel, who would in turn share them with Patterson and IMB trustees.(20) Rankin responded by warning his administrators in Richmond about the incoming “moles,” terminating the missionary service of some Southeastern students(21), and by threatening to end the relationship with Southeastern Seminary altogether.(22) Never one to surrender the last word, Patterson responded by forwarding to every IMB trustee a paper by Eitel that was critical of Rankin – a paper that accused Rankin of continuing the trends of neo-orthodox theology set by his predecessors at the board, and of belittling the importance of a seminary education.(23) To each of these charges Rankin responded with understandable offense.

By 2003, I had traveled to four continents and met with numerous field missionaries as a part of my studies and work with the Center for Great Commission at Southeastern. During the summer of 2001, I met with five missionaries in Ankara, Turkey, only to discover firsthand that field personnel were being given exemptions from signing the statement of faith. One missionary leader in particular protested with considerable hostility that he “resented” having his doctrinal beliefs questioned by “a bunch of trustees.”(24) On a trip to East Africa in 2002, I visited with a regional leader of the IMB who explained to me and my colleague, Ed Pruitt, that the signing of the BFM 2000 had been a headache because of the numbers of folks who were writing explanations of why they disagreed with key provisions of the doctrinal statement. Their exceptions were granted. Their written responses were kept in field offices. The headquarters in Richmond was only notified that they had “signed.” Thus the signing of the BFM 2000, while appearing to be a crackdown on doctrinal nonconformity complete with a few dozen related terminations seemed to be, to those looking for excuses to criticize Rankin, a charade – a bureaucratic document shuffle – for some regional leadership teams of the International Mission Board.(25) Again, while there is no evidence of which I am aware that Rankin was informed about these discrepancies, the reports we were getting from field missionaries led us to press the point that sweeping changes were needed at the mission board. Patterson’s plan was, at least, to secure a top administrative post for Keith Eitel at the IMB, or to get rid of Rankin and replace him altogether. Rankin, however, proved more politically nimble than anyone could predict.(26)


(17) Surely some will read this sentence and think that I am using rhetorical flourish to conceal an inadequate factual basis for my assertions. This paper is not concerned, however, with tracing the political power that Paige Patterson wields within the denomination. Time enough will afford me opportunities to publish biographies and histories that will examine my thesis. Suffice it to say, that those who wish to explore the truth of this claim will find a wealth of investigative fodder along the way, and more than a few willing interlocutors who are able to point fingers toward fruitful fields of research. In the meantime, interested persons should look up the names Steven Kovach, Paul Brock, Linda Rogers, Bruce Corley, David Crutchley, C.B. Scott, David Sinclair, and a host of other names that you will be able to read about in a forthcoming book entitled, “The Red Bishop,” by yours truly.

(18) The size of the staff required to facilitate Patterson’s and his wife’s correspondence is quite impressive. Through a well-honed network of deputies, many of whom are on convention payroll, Patterson is able to keep his finger on the pulse of most trustee matters of the agencies and institutions of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information on all the Patterson connections at the IMB alone, see below.

(19) Joel Gregory, Too Great a Temptation, 100. Gregory also notes that Patterson “always told [him] the truth, but not always all of it.” I shall leave it, for now, to the unencumbered intuition of Christian ethicists to determine the moral consequence of such half-truth telling.

(20) In an email dated July 3, 2003, and copied to IMB Trustee Bill Sanderson, Keith Eitel instructed a team of student missionaries about the church-planting sessions at the missionary training center in Virginia. Eitel explained: “There seems to be a series of lessons on Church Planting Movements that are given during which a highly questionable ecclesiology is presented. The ‘mock’ or ‘practice’ house churches done in the quads where you’ll be staying are also reflective of this questionable ecclesiology. The ordinances, in particular, may be an issue for you, i.e. the way they will be conducted or taught about and the role of ladies in the places of house church leadership.”

The letter continues: “I am going to suggest the following to help navigate you through this experience. 1) Try your best (and ask God to aid you) to simply be compliant, listen to the folk that may say or do these things, don’t raise questions or try to resist things you may hear that you know are blatantly and biblically wrong; 2) Instead, keep a daily journal or log of events. In your log, provide the date, time, place, person involved where you hear these things that you know are incorrect. Write out, as nearly as possible verbatim, what was said and provide any clarifying observations or comments you may wish; 3) When you’re finished up and your tie at MLC [Missionary Learning Center] is done, Email or snail mail me a copy of your log.”

(21) Ibid. “If, or when, these things crop up, I wanted you to be informed and advised as to what to do. These things have caused some of our graduates and even 2+2/3 students to encounter problems and be sent away. We don’t want that to happen anymore.” This reality was further confirmed to me when I was approached by Marilyn Stevens, a Richmond associate (recently retired, name changed) of the North Africa/Middle East region of the IMB during my time at the Missionary Learning Center. Marilyn asked me, quite bluntly, during the first of several visits if I was “one of those students from Southeastern who had a problem with women in leadership.”

(22) In a letter to Eitel dated October 30, 2003, Rankin responded to many of Eitel’s concerns. The letter ended with Rankin raising questions about the long-term viability of the IMB’s partnership with Eitel. Rankin wrote: “It is difficult to understand how you could nurture a positive partnership between SEBTS and the IMB if you truly believe the slanderous and misleading statements you have written.”

(23) Patterson is a master of doublespeak, if not duplicity. While he states in his cover letter that “without a doubt, the keenest thinking in missiology occurs on the staff of the International Mission Board,” his purpose is clearly not to affirm that thinking. Rather, he wished to give trustees the “benefit of [Eitel’s] thinking” – thinking that was, without a doubt, quite critical of Rankin. I obtained a copy of the letter, dated September 24, 2003, from a mission board trustee who felt, “caught in the middle.” It is true that there was another issue playing out between Eitel and Rankin as a group of trustees were putting Eitel’s name forward to replace Rankin’s right hand, Don Kammerdiener. Rumors abounded at the Wake Forest campus that Rankin was blocking consideration of Eitel’s name and that false reports of Eitel’s disinterest in the position were being disseminated. Rankin maintains in his possession a copy of confidential correspondence that shows how Patterson intended to block Rankin’s choice for Kammerdiener’s replacement and push Eitel as a stalking horse candidate. In recent months, I have received copies of email correspondence between a group of trustees that explained the strategy to get Eitel into a top post at the IMB to “implement Paige’s vision.” It is clear to me that Patterson has demonstrated considerable insincerity. If the purpose of forwarding Eitel’s paper was to open the trustee’s access to Eitel’s thought and thus gain him a hearing for Kammerdiener’s post, then Patterson’s letter does not reflect that. Whatever the case, the reasons behind any involvement by Patterson in promoting a candidate, let alone his own close confidant – for a sister agency’s vice presidency is inscrutable, other than to solidify further personal power in the convention, of course.

(24) Because this particular missionary is still serving overseas, I am choosing not to mention him by name. There are two others, however, who participated in the conversation and are able to corroborate.

(25) Rankin has assured me in writing that the regional committees of trustees met and reviewed each exception that was granted.

(26) I have obtained copies of correspondence between IMB trustees and the president of Southwestern seminary in which Patterson suggests outright that the IMB would be served well by a vacancy at the top. In time, these emails will be made available to the IMB investigation committee.

Church Planting Movements and the Crisis of Power in the SBC, Pt. 3.

During the Parks years, the Foreign Mission Board began utilizing a subsidiary organization known as Cooperative Services International (CSI) to access countries where traditional missionary platforms were unwelcome. Essentially a humanitarian enterprise on the surface, CSI missionaries would enter “hostile” areas of the world with a “platform” of non-proselytization such as well-digging, abstinence education, civil service consultation, English-tutoring, and the like. Once inside the country for a legitimate and governmentally authorized purpose, Southern Baptist missionaries would seek to evangelize the lost and plant churches. When Rankin launched “New Directions” in 1997, key components of CSI were implemented in every region of the Foreign Mission Board’s structure, and CSI was phased out as a stand-alone subsidiary of the mission agency. Top regional leadership changes were made to facilitate the new direction, and new ways of measuring missionary success were inaugurated.(8) In September of the same year, trustees unanimously implemented the final stage of “New Directions,” and approved the new leadership structure of the mission board, which had been renamed the International Mission Board in a larger denominational reorganization earlier that June. The new strategy would focus on people groups rather than geopolitical boundaries for determining where missionary personnel were most needed, and missionary deployments would increase to areas of the world like the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and East and Southeast Asia.(9) Missionary applications poured in, Lottie Moon offering totals skyrocketed, and the board struggled to catch up with the surge in personnel and the needs for housing, training, and deploying an unprecedented number of missionary candidates.

Three years after the implementation of New Directions, the International Mission Board broke ground on a $23 million dollar building expansion to train and equip the swelling numbers of candidates for foreign mission service. The missionary training was undergoing a change as well, and a new focus on fostering church planting movements was streamlined into the curriculum. An additional $13 million was spent on renovating the agency headquarters in Richmond, an unprecedented and allegedly unauthorized amount that threatened trustee support for Rankin and his leadership team.(10) Retired Texas Appeals Court Judge Paul Pressler, who along with fellow Texan Paige Patterson engineered the denominational takeover, was persistent in pushing a review of Rankin’s management of the renovation, though the trustee subcommittee’s review never turned up any evidence that unauthorized expenditures had occurred. Rankin survived the attacks, though some of his detractors continue to whisper about the charges of financial mismanagement.(11) That same year, concerns that the new church planting strategies were not sufficiently Baptist in character began to emerge.

At their July meeting in 2000, IMB trustees heard reports from regional leaders that the word “Baptist” was not employed overseas when its usage would invite governmental reprisal or connote narrow ethnic identification. In other contexts, the trustees were told, Baptist denominations had a particularly “liberal” character inconsistent with Southern Baptist doctrinal commitments. To use “Baptist” in such contexts could misrepresent the conservative theology of Southern Baptists. In response, trustees authorized the continued emphasis on church planting movements so long as models for discipling new converts were regularly evaluated to assure doctrinal uniformity to the convention’s articles of faith.(12) The same year, Southern Baptists had amended those articles of faith, known as the Baptist Faith & Message, to narrow any ecclesiological latitude by proscribing women, in particular, from pastoral leadership.(13) In January of 2001, the IMB trustees adopted the new statement of faith as the “standard for carrying out the [mission board’s] program ministries” For many years Southern Baptists had required their missionaries to state whether or not they were in agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message. New missionaries would be asked to carry out their missionary work “in accordance with and not contrary to” the new statement of beliefs. In time, and under pressure to crack down on egalitarian elements within the mission board, Jerry Rankin would require the entire mission force to affirm the BFM 2000. Some would resign, others would sign with explanation, and others wholeheartedly affirmed the statement.

With the new mission paradigm in place, Rankin moved to elevate some of its key architects to positions of greater influence in the board. Curtis Sergeant, a missionary who had been serving in the “restricted access” country of China since 1993, was appointed to the associate vice presidency of global strategies.(14) Previously, Sergeant had already been conducting training sessions for missionary personnel, both at the Virginia Missionary Learning Center and on the field. Sergeant took his post at the Richmond headquarters on June 26, 2002, and became the one of the chief strategists and trainers for more than 5000 foreign missionaries serving in 185 countries and working with 1,923 different ethno-linguistic people groups.(15) Later that year, Sergeant was awarded a doctor of ministry degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, for his research on church planting movements in Asia. His project report, entitled “A Model for Evaluating Applied Church-Planting Strategies Among Unreached People Groups,” was never placed in general circulation at the seminary’s library, and access to his project was restricted to those who had Sergeant’s written permission. For nearly a year, a seminal piece of research that buttressed the new church-planting strategy of the IMB was inaccessible and under-reviewed.(16) We shall return to a consideration of Sergeant’s research and its influence in strategic board policies later in this paper. For now, it is important to understand that (a) Southern Baptists had tightened its gender-qualification for pastoral offices, (b) the International Mission Board had required all overseas missionary personnel to sign the new statement and to conduct their mission work within its parameters, (c) new administrators at the IMB were enlisted and empowered to implement strategic shifts in missionary paradigms, and (d) the raw data behind those paradigms were closely guarded and persons wishing to familiarize themselves with the sociological analyses and doctrinal observations of the church-planting strategies were kept from doing so.


(8) See “FMB trustees approve restructure principles,” in Baptist Press, April 10, 1997.

(9) See “IMB trustees affirm agency’s vision, organization for 2001” in Baptist Press, September 9, 1997.

(10) While the executive minutes of the board’s trustee meetings are unavailable, this information has been checked in phone conversations over the past several years with board trustees. For more details on the properties expansion, see “IMB reviews ‘New Directions,’ breaks ground for MLC expansion,” in Baptist Press, May 24, 2000. It should also be noted that Rankin is not alone. Some of his chief critics, interestingly enough, are now famous for expanding their own private living quarters and maintaining them with denominational funds.

(11) Again, I have not personally reviewed the minutes of the trustee subcommittee investigation. In my personal correspondence with Jerry Rankin and in telephone conversations with two of those involved in the review and ongoing charges against him, I have satisfactorily confirmed my own suspicion that Rankin did nothing wrong. If he did, then he should have been fired. If men who had evidence of his wrongdoing refused to present it yet continue to repeat unsubstantiated rumors, then they should be rebuked. The fact that Rankin is still at the IMB, however, demonstrates that a majority of trustees were unconvinced that he had compromised his ability to lead the board. The fact that some continue to circulate such charges against Rankin — as in the case of a trustee calling Wade Burleson prior to his election to the IMB board and telling him that Rankin had “buried money” at the board — only reveals the degree to which small people with little else to do desire to discredit Rankin and either force his ouster or limit his influence.

(12) See “IMB trustees affirm ‘New Directions;’ policy focuses on world’s people groups,” in Baptist Press, July 18, 2000.

(13) Article VII of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message reads: “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” (italics added).

(14) In my personal correspondence with Jerry Rankin, he has explained that Curtis Sergeant had little to no influence in the development of New Directions. While Sergeant may not have been directly involved in the development of the strategy, it is clear that his research was both consonant with and supplementary to the original plan. And while his dissertation was not published until 2001, any person familiar with doctoral research is aware that the year of publication is the final stage in the process, usually preceded by years of analysis, revision, and editing. Sergeant did not strangely appear on stage at the IMB in 2001, unknown and untested by those who appointed him. It seems that he was elevated because of his tremendous influence and effectiveness, though it is likely that Rankin was unfamiliar with some of the more questionable parts of Sergeant’s thought. Rankin neither supervised Sergeant’s research, nor was he availed of its contents until late 2003.

(15) See “IMB names Curtis Sergeant to strategy coordination post,” in Baptist Press, April 24, 2002.

(16) In personal conversations with the seminary librarian, Berry Driver, I learned that the project had bypassed the usual process for binding and cataloging. The work was never put in the seminary’s searchable database, and few knew of its existence. Only after it had been bound and archived was the librarian even made aware that it had become a part of the library’s holdings. The normal procedure for dissertations and D.Min projects required review and authorization by the dean of libraries.

Church Planting Movements and the Crisis of Power in the SBC, Pt. 2.

In 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention began in Augusta, Georgia for the purpose of creating two mission boards – one to serve on foreign mission fields and the other to serve in the frontier regions of the United States. One year later, the Foreign Mission Board(3) was commissioned and began the process of assisting churches in the deployment of foreign missionaries, the first of whom were sent into China and other regions of East Asia. National stresses related to the Civil War and Reconstruction slowed the pace of expansion at the Richmond-based mission agency for many years, though the post-World War II boom birthed a reemphasis and renewed strategic focus on foreign missions for the Southern Baptist Convention. Under the leaderships of M. Theron Rankin and Baker James Cauthen, who together served for a combined thirty-three years, the Foreign Mission Board grew to over 3,000 missionaries in 94 countries.

Owing in no small part to awakened premillenial eschatology, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a new mission emphasis in 1976, entitled “Bold Mission Thrust,” with the goal of evangelizing the world by the year 2000. Three years into Bold Mission Thrust, the convention would be tossed into a twenty-five year battle over the inspiration of Scripture between theological moderates and conservatives. Up to that point, a “grand compromise”(4) had kept the denomination tethered together around missions, but an increased concern about doctrinal compromise expressed by conservative pastors and theologians redefined the basis of denominational cooperation. In time, inerrancy – the view that the original manuscripts of biblical texts are without historical, scientific, or theological error – would become the litmus test for participation in denominational agencies and institutions. For a time, those who wrested control of the convention from their moderate forbears were satisfied to leave the mission agencies alone and focus on the seminaries and denominational publishing house as the hotspots of their reforming zeal.

During the height of the controversy, Keith Parks led the Foreign Mission Board to implement new strategic initiatives and update its missionary paradigms. Among the new strategic initiatives Parks employed were the mission-planning techniques and theological innovations of David Barrett, the author/editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia who came to the board with an Anglican background.(5) With a new openness to ecumenical partnering in foreign missions, the mission board was “cross-pollinated” with ideas that some Southern Baptist missiologists found problematic. Among the concerns expressed by missiologists and theologians unsympathetic with the Parks’ administration were an apparent allowance of charismatic practices, particularly in the form of Third Wave Pentecostalism(6), a de-emphasis on distinctively Baptist ecclesiological models, and a reduced appreciation for traditional modes of theological training for Southern Baptists. The degree to which these influences were diffused throughout the agency is unclear, though it is certain that some key leaders of the Foreign Mission Board had, at least privately, practiced the sign gifts of tongues and their interpretation.(7) By and large, however, most Southern Baptist missionaries had continued going about their church-planting work without embracing components of charismatic theology and ecumenism. At times, this commitment strained relationships with other Christian missionary groups working in similar areas, and the tension concerning how and when transdenominational cooperation is appropriate continued.

Keith Parks chose to take an early retirement once it became apparent that the trustees of the Foreign Mission Board would tolerate almost no doctrinal differences within the agency on matters of Scripture authority and interpretation. In 1993, trustees elected Jerry Rankin to lead the mission board, and Rankin began a strategic reevaluation of the paradigms for foreign mission work and the strategies used to foster church planting movements among unreached people groups. In 1997, Rankin unveiled a strategic administrative, methodological, and organizational shift for the Foreign Mission Board – a plan appropriately entitled, “New Directions.”


(3) Before 1997, the agency was known as the Foreign Mission Board. During the denominational reorganization, the name International Mission Board was adopted. I will use FMB or IMB depending on the time frame under consideration.

(4)Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest Divinity School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is responsible for coining the phrase “grand compromise” to characterize the nature of denominational cohesion around missionary enterprise during earlier days of doctrinal tension. Essentially, the notion on the part of most denominational leaders was that differences in doctrine should not inhibit the shared desire to see the world evangelized with the Christian gospel.

(5) For a more critical analysis of the influences of David Barrett on the Foreign Mission Board, see “Vision Assessment” by Keith E. Eitel, referenced later in this paper, or the book by Eitel, “Paradigm Wars.”

(6) “Third Wave” is a phrase that refers loosely to the renewed emphasis on the sign gifts of tongues, and prophecy, as well as the casting out of demonic spirits, for the purposes of attesting to the power of the Gospel in unevangelized, pagan contexts.

(7) At the election of Jerry Rankin as president of the Foreign Mission Board, concerns that he had a “private prayer language” and had, on occasion, interpreted the public use of tongues nearly doomed his candidacy. Rankin was able, however, to assure the board’s trustees that his openness to charismatic practices was limited and that he would not endorse or encourage Southern Baptist missionaries to employ the sign gifts. Within two years of his election, Rankin put muscle to his promise and terminated his former colleagues in Asia, Charles and Sharon Carroll, for “going too far” in their openness to Third Wave Pentecostalism. See “Southern Baptist agency nixes controversial charismatic practices for new missionaries,” in Associated Baptist Press, Nov. 30, 2005. The entire story can be found at http://www.abpnews.com/700.article. Recently, Rankin has given more detailed interviews with Baptist editors about his own view on tongues. For more information, see articles at http://www.floridabaptistwitness.com/5826.article and http://www.mbcpathway.com/2006archives/article-1999906135.htm.

Church Planting Movements and the Crisis of Power in the SBC, Pt. 1.

(Over the next several days I will be posting a series of excerpts from a paper I have written entitled “Church Planting Movements and the Crisis of Power in the Southern Baptist Convention. This paper was originally written nearly eleven months ago, before the Wade Burleson fiasco, and it was presented to a seminar at Baylor University. During that presentation, mouths were agape at the contents, documentation, and argumentation provided about the inner-workings of the “World’s largest Protestant denomination.” Since that time I have had occasion to make minor revisions to the paper to reflect the changing dynamics at the International Mission Board and certain epicenters of political manipulation in the Southern Baptist Convention. I offered the opportunity for two men to review the paper, Jerry Rankin and Keith Eitel, before I published it. Over Christmas 2005, Dr. Rankin read and reviewed the paper, sending me seven pages of observations and factual corrections along with a commendation. His courtesy and insights were most helpful. His willingness to listen sincerely to a critique of a portion of the IMB’s strategy for church-planting was exemplary. Dr. Keith Eitel, who I must hasten to add was a close personal friend prior to his moving to Ft. Worth, originally agreed to read the paper. Within 24hours of initially agreeing, however, he emailed me to reject my offer. It seemed inappropriate to Dr. Eitel for him to read anything critical of Paige Patterson that had not been first given to the president of Southwestern Seminary. The reasons that I have not distributed this paper until now will become obvious as subsequent posts are revealed. The reason I did not submit it to Paige Patterson for review will be immediately apparent to many who have worked for and studied under him, or even to some who now serve in our convention’s highest elected offices. Such professional and academic courtesies, for Patterson, are one-way streets. So without further ado, here is the introduction to the paper, with multiple parts to follow in the next several days.)

In 1997, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention implemented a complete strategy reassessment, changing the foreign mission paradigm for the world’s “largest Protestant denomination” and its leading mission-sending agency.(1) This paradigm shift was welcomed enthusiastically by many, though reluctantly by a few powerful, bureaucratic elites within the denominational hierarchy. At its heart, the new missionary paradigm – entitled “New Directions” – was an attempt to foster the rapid expansion of indigenous church planting movements, especially in those areas of the world labeled “World A” and among those people groups described as “unreached.”(2) Once the new paradigm was implemented, the great majority of Southern Baptist missionaries were retrained and redeployed to plant churches in Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu population centers. As this retraining occurred, concerns about diluted doctrine and unbiblical strategies erupted within the denomination, especially at a few Southern Baptist seminaries, forcing an impasse that has continued — to some degree — until today. At some points during this impasse, a concerted effort on the part of administrators at the International Mission Board included limiting access to the research of the men who became the chief advocates of New Directions. Audio-recordings were prohibited during some mission-training sessions, missionaries who received handouts and workbooks were required to return their notes and workbooks after the sessions, and key research projects and papers authored by mission board leaders were removed from seminary libraries and archived under lock and key. All of this substantially limited the degree to which the new church planting movement strategies could be evaluated by theologians unsympathetic with New Directions. Many of these materials were discovered and accessed in 2003 by the author of this paper and served to open key elements of the church planting movement strategies to more rigorous academic scrutiny. There were, however, political processes at work that have undermined any fair hearing of theological concerns. Moreover, an atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion, and rumor was cultivated by some denominational leaders about the administration of Jerry Rankin at the IMB.

This paper will explore some of the sociological and anthropological research conducted by advocates of the International Mission Board strategy and explain why a conflict arose within the denomination concerning foreign missionary training. I will first give a historical framework within which the new paradigm surfaced, and then I will discuss the chief points of contention between the missionary strategists and the doctrinal watchdogs of the Southern Baptist Convention. Finally, I will reflect on my own personal experience as a participant in the conflict and as an observer of how the new strategy was being implemented on the ground in East Africa, and Central and Eastern Asia. The purpose of this paper is three-fold. First, I hope to reframe the discussion in our denomination around actual evidences of past theological concern at the International Mission Board, providing evidence to sustatiate my claim that the administration of Jerry Rankin has been victimized by false accusation, rumormongering, and a concerted effort to stack his trustee board with ideologues and political hatchet-men. Second, I hope to offer a necessary corrective to the accusations that have been hurled at good men like Jerry Rankin and Wade Burleson without substantiation. Third, I hope to expose the truth as I have chronicled it regarding the high-handed political manipulation that threatens to undercut the hopeful aspiration of Southern Baptists to evangelize the world.


1. Southern Baptists are notorious for doing things big. In its own publications, the various institutions and agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention regularly employ the superlatives “largest,” “biggest,” “best,” etc. with varying degrees of honesty. As of the writing of this paper, there are approximately 5700 persons employed by the Southern Baptist Convention serving as full-time, salaried foreign missionaries.

2. World A is roughly that area of the world between the 10th and 40th parallel in Africa and Asia, hence the name 10/40 window.

On designing a religious arena

Designing a church as religion arena
By David Dillon
Architecture Critic of the Dallas Morning News
Sunday, June 27, 1999

PLANO — “Prestonwood Baptist [is] on the cutting edge of how church is done in the 20th century and early 21st centuries.”

That breezy description from the architects catches the spirit of North Texas’ newest megachurch. Phrases such as “doing church” and “cutting edge” come from entertainment and marketing rather than Scripture. They emphasize performance and staying ahead of the competition, which, with 16,000 members, Prestonwood Baptist has done extremely well.

On its planning team are a theatrical art director, audio and lighting consultants and a traffic specialist, along with the usual complement of architects and engineers. Prestonwood features an atrium lobby, food court, broadcast studio, and “electrical service equal to any large shopping center.” Its monumental scale — 7,200 seats, 400,000 square feet — prompts members to compare it to the cathedrals of Europe, even though Prestonwood’s architectural roots are strictly New World and secular — the mall, the convention center and the sports arena. It represents entrepreneurial religion raised to the power of 10.

“Baby boomers and Generation X’ers grew up with rock concerts and sports spectaculars,” says David Shanks, design director for HH Architects of Dallas. “They’re comfortable in those kinds of settings, so churches are going in that direction, too.”

Much has been written about megachurches, with their five-figure congregations and eight-figure budgets that support everything from Bible camps to aerobic classes, prison ministries and job training for seniors. Yet Prestonwood is to other megachurches what Walmart is to a conventional supermarket.

The first phase costs $47 million, a corporate headquarters sum; the completed project will cover 138 acres of former prairie with a school, fitness center, 1,000 seat dining hall, amphitheater, prayer garden, retirement village and parking for 5,000 cars. The site is organized like a shopping center, complete with loop drive and convenient exits to the tollway. Estimated total cost: $150 million.

Prestonwood dominates its surroundings not with a cross or spire but with a curving metal roof that recalls nearby EDS headquarters with which the church is sometimes confused. Except for a row of stained-glass windows in the atrium and a single window behind the choir loft, it contains little religious iconography. Instead of a a narthex, it offers a monumental porte-cochere leading to an arc of metal doors reminiscent of Reunion Arena. Immediately inside is a two-story “fellowship atrium” with a box office for special events and a religious bookstore the size of a small Borders.

The contractor who built the Ballpark in Arlington also built Prestonwood, using a similar combination of red brick and Austin stone for the exterior. Inside, he added terrace and balcony seating — with excellent sight lines — but no luxury boxes.

“It’s not nearly as nice over there as it is here, in God’s stadium,” senior pastor Dr. Jack Graham reassured the congregation on opening day.

The heart of Prestonwood is the worship center, an immense, fan-shaped room containing 7,200 seats — more than three times the number in the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center or Bass Performance Hall. With its rear view projection screens and computerized light and sound system, it is more like a Broadway theater than a traditional sanctuary. During services, these screens beam close-ups of the ministers, the choir and the various soloists, along with the texts of hymns and inspirational messages, which appear like supratitles at an opera. At one point, the church considered installing theater seating (no cupholders) instead of pews, but discovered they would have reduced the seating capacity substantially.

All of this high-tech wizardry represents a dramatic change for a church that started in 1977 with 28 members meeting at Fretz Park. By the late 1980s, Prestonwood had expanded to 10,000 members and a new home at Hillcrest and Arapaho roads. But nonstop growth coupled with chronic battles with neighbors over parking eventually forced Dr. Graham to cast his eye even farther north, to the fertile and largely unplowed ground of Plano, where three-quarters of the residents are reportedly “unchurched.”

As he told the congregation before the move, “We are planning to take the territory and blaze new trails as we conquer the land and this community for the glory of God.”

Not leaving anything to chance, he also advertised the move on billboards and television spots.

It is hard not to be impressed by the range of programs at Prestonwood Baptist or by the enthusiasm of the congregation, who, despite referring to their church as “Fort God,” insist that it is intimate and inviting.

Yet even for true believers, this is a stretch. Prestonwood’s architecture provides an anonymous background for the music, altar calls and religious pageantry. The interiors are mostly gray, beige and white; the spaces coolly efficient rather than uplifting. The church defends this neutrality as allowing “the audience to become the show,” which it does. But when the crowd is gone, the building dies, like an arena on an off-day.

As farfetched as the cathedral analogy may be architecturally, it illuminates the dramatic convergence of religious and secular power found in the megachurches.

Chartres, St. Peter’s and Westminster Abbey are representations of both the glories of the heavenly city and the secular ambitions of their makers, who understood market share. A great cathedral could be an economic and political boon to its community, attracting pilgrims, merchants and artisans, and enhancing its image before the world. Bishops competed with one another to build larger and larger cathedrals, with the victor sometimes vaulting all the way to the papacy. On the other hand, an ill-conceived and poorly constructed cathedral could sap the resources of its community for generations. Overbuilding was a problem then as now.

But the great cathedrals are neither neutral or acrimonious. Their heroic scale and richness of detail remind us that God is great and that man needs help. They are as powerful empty as full, and when we enter them, we always know where we are — which is not “God’s stadium.”