The Criswell College

I have received a few phonecalls in the last two weeks about a meeting to occur at the Criswell College in Dallas, TX, in the next few days. The Criswell College is a subsidiary ministry of First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX, and was formerly led by Paige Patterson, who was fired for alleged financial irregularities and an inordinate focus on convention activities to the neglect of the school. Patterson was succeeded by Rick Melick, who was fired for holding a posttribulational eschatology. Melick was succeeded by Richard Wells, who left in the wake of an impasse with his governing board. Johnson, himself a Criswell graduate, was hired away from Boyce College at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, a few years ago.

If I was making a list of potential participants at this meeting, which would be organized to save/ensure the “future of the conservative resurgence,” I would probably invite, among others, Gen. T.C. Pinckney of Virginia and Judge Pressler. I would try to invite key leadership from the 1980s from across the convention, and I would try to keep the meeting as tight-lipped as possible. I might invite some of graduates of the Criswell College from Patterson’s days, and I would certainly invite the Red Bishop himself. I might invite Jerry Sutton of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville.

I would not invite SBC President Frank Page, nor would I invite Morris Chapman. Ed Young, Sr., would be kept out of the loop, as would Jim Henry and Jimmy Draper. I would probably try to get Jack Graham there, and I would certainly invite Jim Richards from the SBTC.

Of course, I would want to keep it quiet that the Criswell College was hosting such a meeting because any such meeting would be judged immediately as “politically partisan.” Years ago that would not have been an issue because the school was not the recipient of Cooperative Program funds. But since SBTC’s annual budget now includes the Criswell College, I wouldn’t want such a meeting to be very public for fear that churches who support the Cooperative Program would question that use of mission-dollar resources.

Then again, I’m just speculating.

Barry Goldwater on Southern Baptists?

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November 1994.

“Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.” 1964 Republican Nomination Acceptance Speech.

“However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.'” September 1981.

Pampered pooches and the public trust…

WFAA News 8 in Dallas has broken a story about an elementary school principal in Coppell, TX, that has used school funds to groom, immunize, and hospitalize his fanciful French poodle, Buddy.

Parents are frustrated. Taxpayers are outraged. And school officials are circling the wagons to defend the principal’s outrageous slush fund as an essential benefit to Lakeside Elementary.

It never ceases to amaze me when ethical boundaries are crossed by popular educators and their lapses are routinely dismissed or defended against honest questions by those who pay the bills. Though, I suppose, the political environments of government-supported institutions are appropriate venues for such shenanigans. Theological education for Southern Baptists, however, should have higher standards of fiscal responsibility.

During my early days in seminary, I paid little attention when friends of mine were awarded jobs watching, walking, and waiting on the presidential pooches. As time passed, however, I began to think that the seminary-funded job of dog-sitter, complete with tuition scholarships, was far beyond any reasonable allocation of institutional resources.

Of course, when you ask those questions about an elementary school principal, people understand. When you ask them about a seminary president, you get nowhere. No accounting. No questions answered. Just counter-accusations and obfuscations.

WFAA’s story can be found here.

Reflections on the Executive Cmte Meeting

This past Monday and Tuesday marked the first meeting of the SBC Executive Committee since Frank Page took office in June. I arrived in Nashville on Monday morning, and checked into one of two hotels hosting trustees, convention executives, and visitors. The Executive Committee meeting is like a micro-convention of Southern Baptists. Everybody who is anybody is there, as well as a few nobodies like Art Rogers, Marty Duren, and me. Mingling around the hotel lobbies are presidents of SBC institutions, their vice presidents, and Executive Committee trustees.

When I pulled into the porte cochere of the desperately dated Holiday Inn Express, I observed the chairman of the NAMB trustees standing at the entrance, talking on his cellular phone. I’ve always liked Bill Curtis, ever since my earliest days at Southeastern Seminary. Our first and only visit occurred on the evening I was to preach for my homiletics course. My professor and Patterson son-in-love, Mark Howell, was absent on the night of my sermon. His replacement, and thus the man who graded my sermon, was Bill Curtis, who was working at that time on his PhD at the seminary. After the evening was over, Bill asked that I walk back to his office with him, and along the way offered extra encouragement and advice for honing my preaching art. We have not visited since that night, but one has a way of remembering such investments.

The first session of the Executive Committee meeting began with a preaching challenge offered by ExComm Vice President Kenyn Cureton, followed by a roll-call of trustees in attendance. Most seats were full, though a few convention notables were absent. Jack Graham (TX) was absent due to a preaching assignment. Georgia pastor Earnest Easley of Roswell Street Baptist Church was absent his first meeting, and Roger Moran of Missouri stayed home to be with his son, who has suffered serious injuries from a horseback riding incident.

All but one of the entity executives were there, and some came with more than adequate representation. Phil Roberts and Danny Akin, Al Mohler and Jeff Iorg all came to the meetings without their wives. Chuck Kelley was accompanied by his wife, Rhonda Harrington Kelley. Paige Patterson was joined by the behatted first lady of Southwestern, Dorothy, as well his provost, Craig Blaising, his Vice President for Development Mike Hughes (who also was joined by his wife), Malcolm Yarnell, a professor and dean at the seminary, and his personal attache. Richard Land was there, invoking God’s blessing on America, as was Roy Fish, the interim president at the North America Mission Board. Thom Rainer took a seat in the very back of the room, sitting alone and quiet for most of the meeting. Jerry Rankin was in Korea, doing the work of an evangelist and busying himself in the harvest fields.

Frank Page was there, of course, joined by his 2nd Vice President, Wiley Drake of California. At the beginning of the meeting, Page invited Wiley to sit by him, which he did…for the rest of the week. In fact, while most observers in the gallery seating were afforded the comfort of both armrests, Frank Page was obliged to sit with his arms folded for most of the meeting because Wiley understood the invitation to “sit by him” to mean “right by him.” Of course, I teased Wiley at length about his suffocating our convention president.

I didn’t notice any African-Americans or Hispanics among the trustees. There were a few women.

When the plenary sessions began, it was immediately clear that the Executive Committee knows what it is doing. The trustees run the meeting like a well-oiled machine. Absent are the parliamentary gaffes and lapses in decorum that I observed last year at the IMB under Chairman Hatley’s leadership. Votes are clean and neat. Motions are clear and concise. Trustees are demonstrably aware of the weight of their responsibility.

There are no trustee forums at the Executive Committee used to harrangue the staff or discuss pertinent convention business behind closed doors. There are no executive sessions used to shield the board’s activities from public scrutiny. All committee meetings are open for observers, and the trustees are approachable and open to dialogue between sessions.

In the coming months, the Executive Committee will have to determine how best to respond to the McKissic letter requesting a study of the BFM2000. However they respond, Southern Baptists may have the confidence that the committee will do its job with an open ear and a steady hand. Seminary presidents are already positioning themselves for opposition to any tinkering with the BFM2000. Some of them are intentional about efforts to pin the whole McKissic matter on yours truly, about which assertions I shall post in short order.

The only person I had hoped to visit during the trip to Nashville that I did not get to visit is a new trustee from North Carolina, replacing former NC convention president Greg Mathis of Hendersonville. Stephen Rummage was my professor for an advanced homiletics course, and I had the privilege of serving as his grader during my final semester in seminary. He serves currently as the preaching pastor at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC, and he is the chief organizer of a meeting scheduled to occur in a few days in Orlando, FL. This meeting of “next generation” Southern Baptist leaders could become newsworthy in the next week, so I had hoped to ask him about it. Rummage is an incredibly gifted preacher with an affable disposition and a keen mind. He has been kind to me over these many years, even going an extra mile to defend me on occasions when I needed it most. Without a doubt, he is a true “younger leader,” which is more than can be said for many who claim the moniker or disparage those who are thus described.

The Executive Committee

I hope to publish some reflections on this week’s Executive Committee Meeting in Nashville, TN, by tomorrow. Today, however, I thought I would republish for new readers some thoughts I posted in April on the role of the Executive Committee.

Of the many political treatises that have come down to us from antiquity, perhaps the most enduring and influential are the works of the Athenian philosopher, Plato. Ordinarily a student of political theory or philosophy first meets Plato in The Republic, a work that is long on lofty proposals for a model society and short on the nuts-and-bolts implementation of those proposals. That is where Plato’s other monumental work, the Laws, comes in. Written in the 4th century B.C., the Laws consists of a series of dialogues between an Athenian, presumably Plato himself, and one of his interlocutors concerning the nature of a well-formed political system that respects the gods, honors its leaders, and maximizes the social, moral and economic welfare of its citizens. While re-reading the Laws this past week, I became acutely aware that some sage counsel from a pre-modern pagan philosopher might better inform Southern Baptists about the nature of our denomination as, for better or for worse, a political entity. Ranting that Southern Baptists are too political may make for impassioned posturing at a variety of post-denominational venues, but it does little good to change anything. Realists rather than idealists are the men who pull the oars of any organization, thus steering its course toward the ends idealists envision but lack the wherewithal to achieve. In truth, a shot of healthy realism is needed if emerging Southern Baptist leaders are going to have much impact on refocusing our Kingdom work and rebalancing our denominational structure. In this respect, Plato’s Laws is a straight-line drip of realism expedient to assist Southern Baptists in the art of generational self definition. I will examine five sections of Plato’s Laws, paying careful attention to how those sections are immediately germane to Southern Baptist life. I will consider these sections in the ascending order of their pertinence to our current denominational system rather than in the order that they appear in the original text. The order of our examination will be as follows: On the failure of monarchial regimes; on the importance of theology; on abuse; on the executive committee; and on the subjugation of leaders to laws.
Book Three of Plato’s Laws incorporates an extensive analysis of the pre-Athenian political regimes under Darius, Xerxes, Cyrus, and Cambyses. This Persian Empire was weakened for a variety of reasons, Plato observes, chief of which was the intrinsic debility of monarchial regimes. As the reins of power were passed from one man to another, each in turn felt the burden to establish a name for himself by the sweat and toil and upon the backs of his subjects. In time, these subjects learned that the glory of the leader rather than the glory of the gods was the real object of political and military campaigns. Disheartened and disillusioned, they stopped fighting the king’s causes and the empire fell under the weight of its own top-heavy structure. Corruption increased year by year as unchecked and unbridled autocrats threw off the accountability afforded in more democratic societies. The reason Plato assigns for the corruption of such political systems is that “they were too energetic in introducing authoritarian government, so that they destroyed all friendship and community of spirit in the state. And with that gone, the policy of rulers is not framed in the interests of their subjects the people, but to support their own authority.” So long as the people believed they were serving a higher purpose than the personal political whims of their leaders, they would fight to the death to preserve the kingdom and defend the king. If questions arose, however, regarding the king’s political objectives, then common fealty diminished and the king found himself having to “hire mercenaries to ensure his own safety.” Finally, the judgment of the king was ultimately perverted as he became “so stupid that [he] proclaimed by his very actions that as compared with gold and silver everything society regarded as good and valuable in his eyes was so much trash.” The Southern Baptist Convention is not, thank God, even a modified monarchy. A congregational ecclesiology has informed every level of our denominational bureaucracy; and it is the people who hold ultimate authority in the convention rather than the elite few who, for various reasons, have attained influence-wielding positions as entity executives. The danger is ever present, however, that a generation of the people will grow lax in their attentiveness to the affairs of institutional governance. Year by year the authority to govern our denominational agencies could slip from the trustees elected by the convention to a plutocratic few who are far too eager to run things without the meddlesome nuisance of trustee oversight. In order for the seizure of power to occur, such an executive must first turn trusteeship into a perk, complete with immaculately appointed banquets and silly presentations about things unrelated to the primary institutional mission. He must fill the trustee calendar with tea parties and walking tours and sideshows, then shrug off the actual governance of the institution by tapping his watch when it’s time for the trustees to go back home. I’m not suggesting that the trustees of any SBC agency have completely abandoned their authorized prerogative of oversight, though I think a few have come dangerously close. Try to correct the trend, and you’ll soon discover how many mercenaries the king has conscripted. When this happens, the handwriting is already on the king’s wall. His kingdom, like that of the Persians, is weighed, found wanting, and divided before midnight. So fell the Persian Empire, and so can the Southern Baptist Convention falter if we fail in our vigilance to withstand the subtle temptations of autocratic efficiency. The SBC should think twice before acquiescing institutional governance to even the noblest of denominational servants. If men were angels, James Madison argued at our nation’s founding, the only viable political system would be monarchial. Both Scripture and experience, in the recent and distant past of our denominational history, demonstrate the contrary.

Second, the importance of theology for a solvent political system is non-negotiable in Plato’s Laws. Theology, the Athenian argues in Book Seven, is “surely one of the finest fields of knowledge . . . [and] supremely important to appreciate.” Political viability is dependent upon the diligence of a nation’s leaders to “master every theological proof there is.” The common man in the streets may be forgiven if he “simply follows the letter of the law,” but rulers must not be granted the same lenience. It is incumbent upon democratic societies, therefore, to carefully scrutinize the theological commitments of its leaders and to hold them to the highest standards of biblical comprehension; a man who is not “preternaturally gifted or has not worked hard at theology” must not be awarded the distinctions of leadership.

Theology, above all things, must be important for Southern Baptists too. We expect that those who lead our institutional agencies – especially our seminaries – show respect for the subtleties of biblical theology and appreciate the history of the church as it informs our contemporary ecclesial milieu. Men who, for instance, cannot understand the many tensions in Scripture – like that between human responsibility and divine sovereignty, for instance – must never be elevated to the highest offices of denominational service. Because a man is a great speaker, or a great innovator, or even a great contributor to the Cooperative Program, is not sufficient reason for his name to be placed in nomination for convention president or the executive offices of our many agencies and institutions. Skill with the sacred text of Scripture, the ability to rightly divide the Word of Truth, and the balanced exegetical dexterity necessary to recognize the rich complexity of God’s inerrant Word must be foremost in our considerations when it comes time to elect our leaders. Passion should never be mistaken for prudence in these matters, and the man who yells the loudest and sweats the most in the pulpit is not always the man for the hour. Wisdom is the chief thing, and in all our getting as Southern Baptists we should get leaders who possess healthy doses of it.

Third, the Laws devotes a considerable amount of time discussing the dangers that abusive behavior and speech present to society. There are, in any given political system, “men with a natural irritability, made worse by poor discipline, who in any trivial quarrel will shout their heads off in mutual abuse.” “Such a thing,” the Athenian insists, “is highly improper in a well-run state . . . [and] a single law should apply to all cases of defamation: no one is to defame anybody.” In every argument, “one should listen to his opponent’s case, and put his own to him and the audience, without making defamatory remarks at all. When men take to damning and cursing each other and to calling one another rude names in shrill tones . . . these empty words, even though they are empty, soon lead to real hatreds and quarrels of the most serious kind.” A man who cannot master his speech in debate is a man devoid of any guiding principle. For this reason, Plato suggests, “no one must ever breathe a word of ridicule in a temple or at a public sacrifice or at the games or in the marketplace or in court of any public gathering.” When such offenses do occur, “the relevant official must punish them.”

In three recent online columns, the president of the SBC Executive Committee, Morris Chapman, has outlined the nature and dynamic of spiritually abusive systems. Not only are Chapman’s words salient, but they are timely. As the rhetoric heats up in our denomination, we all need a reminder that defamatory comments and ungracious speech are unbecoming of Kingdom servants. Already the name-calling has commenced. One state executive director has referred to those who disagree with the IMB policies on tongues and baptism as “neo-orthodox” and “existential” without much appreciation for the actual meaning of those inflammatory epithets. An associational director from the same state has referred to the “self serving ingrates” who are preparing to address their concerns at the coming convention in Greensboro. The degree to which these men and those who share their perspective will prevail upon the convention to further ostracize Southern Baptists who voice principled dissent is uncertain. The Lord knows that I’m not afraid of tough talk and intense, pointed debate. But the name-calling and misrepresentation of others’ ideas, opinions, and concerns had better get under control on all sides by the time we converge on Greensboro if we are not to make fools of ourselves before the watching world.

Fourth, Plato discusses the practical need for an Executive Committee in Book Seven, almost foreseeing the very body to which Southern Baptists commit our convention oversight in between annual sessions. “The state is just like a ship at sea, which always needs someone to keep watch night and day as it is steered through the waves of international affairs. It lives in constant peril of being captured by all sorts of conspiracies, hence the need of an unbroken chain of authority right through the day and into the night and then on into the next day.” A large body, like the Southern Baptist Convention, “will never be able to act quickly enough,” and therefore it is essential to have an Executive Committee overseeing the political society on a day to day basis. Such a committee must “be available promptly, whenever anyone from abroad or from within the state itself approaches them wishing to give information or inquire about those topics on which a state must arrange to answer the questions of other states and receive replies to its own. They must be particularly concerned with the constant revolutions that are apt to occur in a state; if possible, they must prevent them, but failing that they must see that the state gets to know as soon as possible, so that the outbreak can be cured.”

It is not hard to see the immediate applicability of Plato’s Executive Committee to that of our own denomination. When questions arise about the stewardship of denominational institutions and the use or misuse of Cooperative Program dollars, or when disharmony occurs within the convention whereby one entity head is meddling in the affairs of another entity’s administration, then it falls to the Executive Committee to act on behalf of the Convention proper and resolve the matter. There is much talk in the Baptist grapevine that questions such as these will be asked at the coming convention, and if they are, our convention should see the wisdom in charging our Executive Committee with the responsibility of assessing the validity of any allegations, working to coordinate the resolution of inter-agency conflict, and reporting back to the convention the following year about the progress that has been made. If our convention bylaws are not sufficient to prevent conflicts of interest on trustee boards, or nepotism within convention agencies, or to keep the balance of convention authority between agencies, then the Executive Committee is responsible to propose bylaw amendments to blockade the avenues of undue influence and bureaucratic impropriety from those who have chosen such paths of political manipulation.

Finally, Plato envisioned a political society in which rulers would be subject to the laws rather than capricious makers of the law. “When offices are filled competitively, the winners take over the affairs of state so completely that they deny the losers and the losers’ descendants any share of power. Each side passes its time in a narrow scrutiny of the other, apprehensive lest someone with memories of past injustices should gain some office and lead a revolution.” Such an arrangement, the Athenian argued, “is very far from being a genuine political system.” The laws of society, therefore, are not to change from administration to administration, bending and twisting at the whim of temporary lords. Furthermore, the laws are to be universally enacted and enforced. Laws without general applicability – when one is given the harshest penalty while others are rewarded for similar offenses – are “bogus laws, and when they favour particular sections of the community, their authors are not citizens but party men.” The highest offices of political influence are to be held by men who have mastered themselves under the authority of the law rather than by those who would be appointed because of their “wealth or some other claim like that, say strength or stature or birth.” Rulers who bend the laws for their allies and with the same laws whip their enemies are illegitimate leaders. Such men should be afforded no further opportunities of service in any office anywhere. If a political society is to remain solvent, and if its leaders are to maintain the trust of the people and the authorization to continue in their offices, then laws must govern all men impartially rather than a few men governing others, all of whom are prone to fits of partiality and legislative bias.

Likewise, the Southern Baptist Convention must be led by men who respect the bylaws governing our denomination, in addition to our confessional statement. It is quite useless for a man to require the allegiance of his employees to a statement of faith, which has no governing authority in the denomination, and himself disregard the actual governing documents of the Southern Baptist Convention. A man who is elected to serve as an entity head, for instance, must restrain himself from dabbling in the affairs of his sister agencies because our convention is legally bound to respect the rule of trustee governance. We have different agencies and different boards overseeing those agencies, and this system of governance is explicitly codified in our convention bylaws. Agency heads must further refrain from interfering in the trustee selection process. Our convention authorizes the convention president – and only the convention president – to appoint the Committee on Committees. That committee, in turn, appoints the committee on nominations, thus establishing a check and balance on any one man, or any one committee for that matter, from controlling the appointment of denominational trustees. Even the nominations committee is carefully comprised of representatives from a broad cross-section of Southern Baptist life. There has developed, however, a trend among seminary boards in recent years to fill their own interim vacancies, anticipating that the convention will confirm the interim appointment at the next annual meeting. But even this is problematic, given the well-defined and time-tested processes outlined in our convention bylaws.

On another count, institutional executives are duty-bound to respect the Cooperative Program, the convention-authorized means of supporting the work of our many ministries and agencies. They must, therefore, refrain from using their influence to solicit funds for their own pet projects when denominational funds are inadequate to underwrite their grand visions for capital improvement. The laws that govern our institutions are intended to govern our institutional leaders as well, and any man who feels like the rules for the gander are irrelevant to the desires of the goose is unfit for continued service. Our convention bylaws are modest and precise. They must be scrupulously observed even when they frustrate the administrative objectives of institutional executives. When those bylaws are not observed, trustees are duty-bound to intervene posthaste. As difficult as this intervention is – as in the recent accountability measures adopted by the North American Mission Board – it is both necessary and honorable. The process of accountability may be painful, but the rewards are worth the effort. As Plato ended his discussion on this matter, “if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state.”

What hath Athens to do with Nashville, you ask? Enough, I suggest, to warrant a more careful scrutiny of the political system working in the Southern Baptist Convention lest we suffer the distresses of history faced by others who failed to resist the threats of autocracy, spiritual abuse, diminished theological awareness, and antinomian impulses. If my thoughts help in some small way to build a bulwark against these threats, then so be it.

The election of Jerry Rankin

Tonight I called Joel Gregory, a man whose counsel and friendship have been invaluable to me since I first sought him out in 2001, nearly a decade since his departure from First Baptist Church of Dallas. His book, Too Great a Temptation, was published during my undergraduate days at Baylor University, and I quickly devoured its pages. Soon thereafter, I began collecting every sermon I could find that was preached by Joel, and to my delight I discovered a box of sermon tapes being thrown out at the Criswell College library in the Fall of 1995. It took me several years to meet him in person, but by the time we eventually sat down for a visit I had listened to every sermon he’d ever preached at FBC Dallas, which was no small feat due to the fact that his sermons were not — at the time — available for purchase from the church’s media ministry.

Last October, our church had the privilege of hosting Joel for a day. We sent out letters. We made fliers. Some of my church members who attend Southwestern Seminary distributed them on campus. During the Fall trustee meeting, those fliers were distributed to a few trustees in an effort to discredit me for having a “known adulterer” in my pulpit.

I remember the day that something snapped inside me about Paige Patterson. The day I knew he was no longer my hero. The day I realized he would destroy people and lie about them.

Near the end of my studies at Southeastern Seminary, Patterson preached a sermon series on 1st Samuel. I had already stopped going to chapel by that time, choosing rather to spend my time with my pastoral responsibilities or just relaxing at home with a book. Very soon into Patterson’s series, he preached a sermon on the sex-sick sons of Eli and their sensual slip into sin.

I hate alliteration. Really I do.

After chapel that day, my phone rang. On the other end of the line was a friend of mine from Brazil, a fellow student, who was quite insistent that I get a copy of Patterson’s sermon for that day. Patterson had blasted Joel Gregory, he said, knowing of my friendship with the man. I quickly obtained a copy of the sermon and listened as Patterson proceeded for ten minutes or more to denounce Gregory in the harshest terms possible, using his personal pain as an occasion to illustrate the text regarding Eli’s sons. At one point, Patterson announced the title of Gregory’s book, telling students that he would require its reading if “it didn’t mean putting money in that man’s pocket.” Toward the end of his tirade, Patterson told the chapel audience that Gregory had “in the end” stopped believing the Bible.

I was disgusted. Angry. Frustrated.

Later, when I arrived at Southwestern Seminary, I was informed that Patterson had sent a directive to the Public Relations office that “no coverage” would be given in the alumni news to Joel Gregory.

I couldn’t help but think of Yul Brenner’s portrayal of Pharoah in “The Ten Commandments.”

“Let the name of Moses be stricken from every obelisk…”

Last fall I invited a group of SWBTS students to have lunch with Joel Gregory and me at Pappadeaux’s Seafood Restaurant in Arlington. For nearly two hours we sat around a table and listened as Gregory offered advice about pastoral ministry and preaching. At one point Gregory told the group the same thing he’s told me many times.

“I’m not able to be a pastor any longer,” Joel said. “But I can tell you some pitfalls and give you some pointers to make you better servants of Christ.”

“Lash yourself to the local church,” he told us. “The Kingdom of God is not built on the backs of anything other than the small-membership church.”

With all of this commotion about Patterson’s very clear opposition to Jerry Rankin’s presidency at the IMB, I thought it would be interesting to talk to Joel Gregory about it. So I called him, and we talked for 30 minutes tonight.

Joel Gregory, you’ll remember, was the chairman of the search committee that brought Rankin’s name to the board. At the time of Rankin’s election, Gregory had already resigned from FBC Dallas and was living in a small apartment on the outskirts of Ft. Worth selling cemetary plots. One night, Gregory told me, he received a phonecall from Charles Stanley, Adrian Rogers, and Paige Patterson. All three men were insistent that Gregory blockade Jerry Rankin’s candidacy.

Stanley, Gregory told me, explained that “Jerry Rankin is the most Christ-like man” he’d ever met. “But,” Stanley said, “he’s not one of us.”

It was at that moment that Gregory determined to buck the powers that be and allow Rankin’s name a fair hearing by the committee. When the 1992 convention rolled around, the IMB trustees gathered at Second Baptist Church in Houston, TX, for a closed meeting called for the purpose of electing Jerry Rankin.

The search committee was unanimous, but opposition to the recommendation was mounted.

With the committee members seated on the dais, Houston Judge Paul Pressler stood on the floor and raised opposition to Rankin’s candidacy. Every possible argument was raised. Every possible allowance was made by Gregory to let Pressler continue his speech.

In the end, only seven trustees voted against Jerry Rankin in a roll call vote. Once the vote was taken, Pressler made a motion to make the vote unanimous and report the unanimity to the press.

Rankin ascended to the presidency of the IMB, though his leadership has been frustrated at every turn by some of those who opposed him from the beginning. Joel Gregory retreated to the shadows of denominational life, his ministry and witness repeatedly victimized by rumor-mongering from some of the same men.

I remember the night in Patterson’s class on the Doctrine of the Church, back in the Spring of 2001, when the issue of divorced pastors arose. At a point in his lecture, Patterson spent considerable time addressing the pastoral qualifications of Charles Stanley, whose divorce difficulties had become well-known.

Patterson told us about a “conference call” he had with Stanley and Jerry Vines and a few others. On the call, Patterson explained, they had “agreed” that Charles Stanley could remain as pastor at FBC Atlanta so long as he kissed dating goodbye. I remember wondering who Patterson thought he was to interfere in the autonomy of a local church like that. And then I thought about Patterson’s interference with the IMB, and some things crystallized in my mind.

I think I could live with a Deist version of Paige Patterson, an architect or a clockmaker if you will, who wound up the conservative resurgence and then stepped back and let it run by itself. Instead, Southern Baptists have been left with an unmoved mover, an unseen hand, whose capricious tinkering has left the convention unable to define words like “autonomy,” “priesthood,” “competence,” and “liberty” in ways that our Baptist forbears would recognize.

Make ’em laugh

Wade Burleson and I are busy these days. For the past month we have been together for a week of days, crisscrossing the state of Texas and meeting with pastors and laymen, having lunch and playing golf, all in an effort to encourage a surge of new blood into our convention’s work. One day last month we were in a car for almost ten hours, riding along with another Texas pastor who kept us in tears with laughter at his dry wit and observational humor. With malice toward none, I wanted to post some of the one-liners that almost caused wrecks on two Texas interstates:

1. “Aw, that lady. She’s awful horsey.”

“What does horsey mean,” asks Wade.

“Well, it means she likes to bray.”

2. “That guy is as mean as a cut worm.”

3. “Have you read Pressler’s book, ‘A Hill on Which to Kill?'”

4. “That guy teaching theology makes as much sense as Idi Amin running a Jewish nursery.”

5. “He’s a pretty smart guy. But his wife, well, she’s pretty dim. Come to think of it, her favorite word is ‘huh?'”

6. “Southern Baptists are scared to death that somebody will be soft on gays. Well, I’ve always been pretty soft when it comes to gays.”

7. “Dwight McKissic has the guts of a daytime burglar.”

Reflections on a Thursday morning…..

This past Thursday was an eventful day for me. Waking up at 6:00 a.m. is unfamiliar territory for a late-nighter such as I, and a morning commute to Fort Worth from Dallas is unspeakably grueling. Around 7:30 a.m. I called Wade Burleson on his cell phone to find out how far out he was from our 8:15 a.m. rendezvous location. To my surprise, Wade answered and explained how terrible airline delays had put him home in OKC at three that morning, and without his luggage, he decided to drive to Enid rather than come to Ft. Worth. Ever suspicious that God is sovereign, Wade confessed to me that the Lord clearly did not intend for him to be at chapel that morning, and we agreed to visit after the service was over via telephone.

I arrived at the Tarrant Baptist Association parking lot around 8:15 a.m., where I parked my car and walked over to the Leadership Development Center to wait for SBC President Frank Page, who was scheduled to meet me at 8:50 a.m. in order to walk over to the Tarrant Baptist Association building for a morning fellowship with Ft. Worth area pastors. While there, I had the remarkable and blessed opportunity to meet Dwight McKissic for the first time, and we visited briefly about our shared ministries. Dwight and his church, Cornerstone Baptist, are planning some bold evangelistic and church-planting strategies for the Arlington area, and I enjoyed hearing his ideas. We also visited about Baptist history, and I shared with him some passages from a book I had brought to read while passing the time. Dwight is among the sharpest minds in the Southern Baptist Convention, and I cannot express the degree to which he is an asset to our shared evangelical work. He is, quite truly, a rarity as a pastor-theologian, competent in the Scriptures and generous in both gracious disposition and Christian courtesy.

At 8:50, on the mark, Frank Page joined us in the LDC lobby and together we walked across the street to the Tarrant Baptist Association building. For the better part of an hour, our SBC President shared stories with the pastors who had gathered, and it was encouraging to see men from such diverse denominational perspectives joined together to pray for him and listen to his heart for the SBC. Frank Page is a man of courage and kindness. His words are well chosen. His countenance is friendly and warm. His charisma is authentic and unrehearsed.

At 10:00, Dr. Page left alone to walk to the presidential suite at SWBTS, while McKissic and I passed through the Lifeway Christian Store with a member of the North Texas media who fell into step with us. Once inside SWBTS, we were joined by TBA staff; when the chapel doors were opened, we made our way to a quickly-filling auditorium.

While standing in the foyer, I saw the unmistakable mug of Jeremy L. Green, a man who has carved a niche for himself in the blogging world with his resolute support for all things Pattersonian and his exuberance to pigeon-hole me as someone working to undo the conservative resurgence. At the first chance I had, I walked to where JLG was sitting and introduced myself. I greeted men like Drs. Thomas White, Malcolm Yarnell, Emir Caner, and several students whose days at SWBTS overlapped my own. For the entirety of the service I sat next to the TBA executive director, Dr. Tom Law.

I have to confess a sense of mischevious glee at watching the increasingly bald and portly Paige Patterson descend the western aisle, leading our convention president, a man whom Patterson worked diligently to defeat this past June in Greensboro. I felt a certain pride at the thought that Patterson had lost, and we had won. I also enjoyed seeing Dwight McKissic, resolute and unmoved, stand near the front of the room where his sermon had been censored just a few short weeks ago. The sense of boastful pride continued, even throughout the singing, until a few moments into Frank Page’s sermon.

It was then that I realized only God could have orchestrated the irony of that day. Frank Page, more than anyone else in that room, perhaps, was humble and gracious. Dwight McKissic, forgiving and joyous. My sense of joy was political. Theirs, spiritual.

This has always been my besetting vice, to mistake my personal political savvy for God’s sovereign hand. It is idolatry of the worst order, and I hate it in myself. Somewhere in the middle of Frank Page’s sermon, I was reminded of my great need for God’s redeeming grace; and for a moment, I loved Paige Patterson again.

Patterson’s charm is undeniable. He is both winsome and witty. Usually, in any given room, his personality will dominate, and watching the people who hover around him like moths to a flame reminded me of my earlier infatuation with the man. Standing at the front of the chapel, waiting for his arrival, were the men who admired him most. If they didn’t, the chances are they wouldn’t have the jobs they have. There were Oxford dons like Malcolm Yarnell, a sizeable man of remarkable intellect. There were budding Baptist historians like Thomas White, whose affinity with crisp, white pocket-squares betrays his approachable demeanor. There were men like Dean Nichols, loyal and tenacious. Men without whom the conservative resurgence could not have happened. Dorothy was there, red boots and all. And there was a palpable awareness in the air of something historic.

When Frank Page spoke, there was a sincerity to his face and an urgency to his tone. Standing in a pulpit where most men are quick to express accolades for Patterson and subtle acknowledgements that they owe their pulpits to him, it was clear that Frank Page owed his ministry, his position, and his moment to speak to God alone.

And Frank Page spoke to us about the dark days of our denomination. There were no fireworks. There were no shopharim. There were no bus tours and confetti. There was only time for a cautious word of warning, and an earnest plea. When a man who draws his paycheck from the Cooperative Program tells you that the convention needs saving, you can usually shrug it off as job security. When a man who owes nothing to the bureaucracy recognizes that the convention needs saving, there is an ethos that all the pomp and circumstance and thunder and Bible-thumping cannot produce. Frank Page believes that the convention is in trouble, but that it is worth the effort to save. For this cause he has put his name on the line, his hands to the plow, and there doesn’t seem any hint that he intends to turn back.

After the service was over, I stood around and talked with a handful of people, most of whom wanted my immediate “take” on the days events. Some wanted me to introduce them to Wade. Others wanted me to visit with them “off campus” at some point so they wouldn’t be seen talking to me. Later I would enjoy lunch at Southwestern’s student center, approached every few minutes by some kind soul wanting to thank me, or just to say hello. When you walk into a room expecting to feel like a leper, and folks treat you like a brother, it uplifts the spirit and refreshes the soul. For me to be thus received was Baptist equivalent of Gustavo Guterriez’s reception at the Vatican. Everybody knows what you’ve written, and they know what the boss thinks about it. But they also, somewhere inside, recognize that this little man might be doing and saying some things that need done and said.

When I walked back to my car, a moment of humor struck me. Ambling alongside the behemoth and exceedingly broad Dwight McKissic, accompanied by his youthful and strikingly lovely wife, we were met in the middle of the street by a shiny, blue Cadillac Escalade. Patterson’s SUV, had its driver wanted, could have solved a few personal headaches with a sudden failure in the braking mechanism. Never before, I thought to myself, have I been more thankful to have a 6’5″ 300lbs black man beside me. If the Escalade hit me, it would barely scratch the hood. If it hit Dwight, the impact would split the engine block in twain.

These are not the thoughts of paranoia. They are just the funny little things that run through my head at those strange moments of providence.

I called Wade on the way back to Arlington, as well as the seven or so people who had either called or text messaged me during the service. I sat in my office and wrote a letter to Keith Eitel that I will not send.

Of all the painful wounds of collateral damage from this current crisis, none has saddened me more than the distance between my beloved professor and me. I rejoice only in the thought that one day, when the dark stain of sin is erased from our natures, our reunion will be sweet before the throne of Christ eternal. Until that day I rest in the comfort that a man now leads our convention who, above and beyond what any of us can expect, has the chance to pull the family together again for final charge on the gates of Hell.

Church Planting Movements and the Crisis of Power in the SBC, Pt. 6.

Locked away in the archives of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, was evidence that concerns on the part of Patterson, Eitel and others that doctrinal compromise had run amok within the International Mission Board were justified. In September of 2003, I was given access to the dissertation by the dean of libraries and an associate dean at the Fort Worth campus. I made copies of key pages, and disseminated them to approximately twenty trustees of the IMB, to Keith Eitel, and to a number of field missionaries. It was undeniable that Curtis Sergeant’s thought and research had an enormous influence upon the methodologies employed by Southern Baptist missionaries, as he readily admits in the introduction to his dissertation. (34)
Sergeant’s major premise is that, in church planting, “one passes on a genetic blueprint by modeling.” If churches are going to reproduce quickly, therefore, it is important that the “DNA material” of the churches follow a pattern – his pattern – marked by abbreviated training cycles, women in key leadership positions, and openness to the Pentecostal experience. I will consider each of these in turn.

Church planting movements, by Sergeant’s criteria, are rapidly reproducing phenomena. In order for this reproduction to occur at a rabbit’s pace, leaders in new churches must be trained quickly and placed in positions of key leadership almost from the moment of conversion. Through a process of “shadow pastoring,” field missionaries are to model principles of church leadership, assist new believers in duplicating those ministry objectives, and then leave the new convert to continue the work unassisted. In order for discipleship to occur in this manner, “a person need be only one step ahead of the person whom he or she is discipline.” Sergeant clarifies: “For instance, a believer who has been in the Lord for ten weeks can disciple others who have been believers for only eight weeks, who could in turn disciple others who have been disciples six weeks.” (35)

Sergeant recognizes that this particular understanding of discipleship and church planting are counter-intuitive, and may, indeed, “run counter to other missiological approaches which are commonly taught.” They might seem, “illogical or disorganized or not to follow commonly accepted practices of evangelizing discipling, and forming new believers into local congregations.” (36) Thus, Sergeant shifts a focus from planting churches – the older missionary strategy – to fostering church planting movements. Sergeant continues:

As a CPM facilitator, one does not necessarily do things the same way as he would if he were concentrating just on evangelism or just on church planting or just on discipleship. If one is thinking of the process as a whole and if his endvision includes the possibility of a CPM, then all his effort must be focused toward the stimulation of a CPM. This means that he will likely respond to opportunities and situations in ways that in the short term, may seem counterproductive, but which, in the long term, will be more likely to bring about the desired results. (37)

Church planting strategies, under Sergeant’s scheme, adopt the principle of pragmatism, therefore, and become results oriented in a way that might raise suspicion in those who are more concerned for doctrinal fidelity. And while Sergeant is willing to admit that “church planting movement[s] are a sovereign act of God . . . there are things one can do
. . . to pave the way for God to work in this way, and there are things one can do to hinder or slow down the possibility for His working in this way.” (38)

The way, therefore, that field missionaries can reduce the reproduction cycle – and thus facilitate God’s work – is to “immediately place local believers in leadership positions in planting a church in a pioneer area.”(39) Failure to do so means that “it could take years for local believers to view themselves as competent to replace someone from outside who may have significantly more training or experience.”(40) This, it seems, in spite of clear statements in the New Testament about not putting new converts into positions of church leadership too soon.(41) Nevertheless, the kind of church that Sergeant “endvisions” is one without offices. In fact, such a church is minimalist.(42) Some missionaries who have followed Sergeant’s training have not even considered baptism by immersion as a necessity for the churches they plant. When asked by Sergeant about the mode of baptism, the missionary responded:

There was not one way . . . . Sometimes people would rent a hotel room and locals would baptize them. Sometimes they would go to the river. On occasion they would do it in their apartments. Sometimes they would sprinkle instead of immerse. There were lots of ways to do it. (43)

Other missionaries who learned Sergeant’s church planting methodology found no place in their definition of a church for the ordinance of baptism at all. (44)
For Sergeant, a minimalist church is one that “does not include anything extrabiblical,” such as buildings, offices, etc., or apparently baptism by immersion .(45) “Any believer,” Sergeant insists, “can plant a church,” though one is left with the distinct impression that he actually means that any believer who follows Sergeant’s training is able to plant churches. Yet Sergeant does, in fact, talk about church offices. And when he does, he presents a picture of church leadership that strikes many critics as theologically compromised.

When it comes to church leadership, Sergeant is at times unclear and at others quite beyond the confession of Baptist theology that he purports to endorse. His openness to seeing the biblical office of apostleship in a new way is confusing, and his apparent support for women as elders and pastors is disturbing. First, Sergeant sees a “plurality of leadership” whereby every church member has some type of leadership position, among which he lists as “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.” To this list, Sergeant adds the office of “shadow pastor” that most commonly was held by “schoolteachers, housewives without children at home, or retirees, because it required a period of two months when they could serve.” There was to be “no artificial distinction between clergy and laity,” and there was not any “minister class . . . separate from other believers.”(46) In other places, Sergeant notes that “if someone was an elder or leader in the church, then he or she was free, and in fact encouraged, to attend the weekday services of multiple congregations.” Again, Sergeant asserts that “in terms of effectiveness, there is no question that it is advantageous to utilize all potential leaders rather than less than half since more than half of the church worldwide is compose of women…” (47) Such statements validate a concern that practicality rather than biblical principles have shaped the church planting methodologies at the IMB. (48)

When it comes to Pentecostal theology, miracles, the use of the sign gifts, and power evangelism, Sergeant’s research reflects an openness that might concern generous portion of the Southern Baptist constituency. When asked by Sergeant about any “signs and wonders” in their work, field missionaries gave the following responses:

Signs and wonders were involved in an area of rapid growth in the southern part of the province. In the north central region two churches were started as a direct result of a dramatic and high profile exorcism . . . . There have also been some dramatic power encounters with Qigong in our area. These power encounters have been in opposition to direct demon possession or countering signs and wonders done by Qigong practitioners. These have positively affected the work as well since Qigong is so highly revered by the Exwyzeese people. (49)

The most effective [method in evangelism] is miracles. Several of the evangelists work has been accompanied by signs and wonders. When the evangelist performed miracles, people believed. (50)

It is commonly reported that two-thirds of believers in our area are there due to a healing (or other miracle) in their own life or in the life of a friend/family member. Every church leader I know tells stories of healings and miracles.(51)

[Signs and wonders are] still in the beginning stages, but all our church planters pray for healing and cast out demons when they begin working in an area. In several situations they are seeing very miraculous results. This has emboldened people to believe, if not convinced them outright. Often it is part of the overall witness that shows that the gospel is true. (52)

Signs and wonders have been very important in the work in the city. Healings are a major cause for Christian growth especially in the countryside. In our personal work, we have seen signs and wonders used to strengthen new believers faith. (53)

Other concerns about the possible influence and implementation of Pentecostal theology – whether signs and wonders, or ecstatic utterance, or forms of “spiritual warfare” that appropriate territorial spirits, animism, and possible instances of Manichaeism have been raised in the days since Sergeant’s work was first made available to a wider readership in Southern Baptist circles. The concerns continue to be the source of controversy within the board of trustees, and the source of suspicion and rumor about Rankin on the part of men like Patterson and Eitel and the trustees with whom they dialogue.

By November 2003, the trustees were becoming aware of Sergeant’s research, and the IMB administration launched an investigation into the allegations about Sergeant’s doctrinal compromises. Within a few months, Sergeant was replaced at the board and moved to begin working with the Saddleback Church in Southern California, leaving the board to wrestle with how to address some of the methodologies Sergeant had injected into the arm of Southern Baptist missions. I must give Rankin credit, because subsequent to Sergeant’s transition out, he has listened at every turn to my critique of Sergeant’s work. I have emailed him several times, and each time he has graciously responded with openness and honesty. Nevertheless, questions about the place of demographic, anthropological, and sociological analysis when that data conflicts with guiding Baptist confessions of faith remain difficult. These two – practical experience and theological parameters – remain in tension at every level of Baptist life, and trying to determine when and how such research can best be used is beyond the scope of this essay. I wish to conclude, however, with some reflections about the political conflict that has clouded the judgment and rendered more difficult the task of international missionary work for Southern Baptists.


(34) Sergeant writes: “Due to the highly interactive approach of the [training] sessions, there are ample opportunities to glean insights from each of the participants. The live-in nature of the training also lends itself to one-on-one interviews and discussions at meal times, and before and after class sessions. The maximum allowable class size is thirty individuals. The author [Sergeant] had extensive opportunities over the course of 1997-2001 as he was a primary co-trainer for 727 [strategy coordinators] and a resource person for the training of more than 150 others.” Sergeant, 14. In Sergeant’s own assessment, his instruction made for a “watershed event in the progress of the East Asia region.” Ibid., 16.

(35) Ibid., 28.

(36) Ibid., 39.

(37) Ibid., 42.

(38) Ibid., 43. Elsewhere, Sergeant makes a startling claim: “Finally, there is eschatological import to taking the gospel to all peoples. If believers are interesting in hastening the return of the Lord, then they must be about taking the message where it has not been heard.” Dissertation Absract, March 1997, 16.

(39) Ibid., 57.

(40) Ibid., 57-58.

(41) See above at note 23.

(42) Sergeant includes in his research a definition of the church that meets his criteria: “If there are baptized believers and who are concerned for outreach then we consider it to be a church. The size of the group or form of leadership do not figure into our criteria.” Ibid., 156. Other missionaries whom Sergeant interviewed stated their approach to defining a church: “First, let local people decide what a church is. If they are followers of Jesus Christ and followers of the word and wanted to call themselves a church, I would agree.” Ibid., 226.

(43) Ibid., 228.

(44) Ibid., 249.

(45) Ibid., 72.

(46) Ibid., 95.

(47) Ibid., 117.

(48) One of the field missionaries whom Sergeant interviewed for his research had this to say about women in leadership: “Typical church leaders share responsibility with at least one other person in the congregation. They may be either male or female.” Ibid., 157. Another missionary noted that “75-80 percent [of church leaders] are women.” Ibid., 227.

(49) The terms Qigong is undefined, and the people group “Eywyzeese” is an obvious obfuscation to “protect the identities” of field personnel. The degree of cloak-and-dagger secrecy at the IMB is useful for a strategic purpose, but quite ridiculous from an academic perspective. Ibid., 164.

(50) Ibid., 227.

(51) Ibid., 280.

(52) Ibid., 328.

(53) Ibid., 553.