The dozen or so other bloggers who wrote about the conference have provided sufficient play-by-play, and I will not repeat what has already been said. Quite simply, this conference provided the kind of forum that Southern Baptists need to move beyond the impasse. The day for Memphis Declarations and Joshua Convergences is over. The day for a rising generation to talk together, openly and honestly, has come, and it is apparent that men like David Dockery, Timothy George, Thom Rainer, Frank Page, and Mike Day are able to foster such dialogue.
So instead of instead of offering my reflections on the content of the presentations, I’m going to give a sort of color commentary of various thoughts that popped into my head as the meeting occurred.
- David Dockery needs to be the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Well, I guess I should rather say that the Southern Baptist Convention needs David Dockery. I’ve been beating this drum since last year, and I am hopeful that Dockery will allow his name to be placed in nomination at the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis. Time and again at the conference, Dockery showed skilled statesmanship, poise, and gentleness. He’s brilliant and brave, kind and courteous. Frank Page is doing an excellent job at assessing the problem Southern Baptists are facing. Dockery will be able like few others to move our convention forward without regressing into theological uncertainty or cultural indifference.
- Thom Rainer is a genuinely likeable soul. He’s both honest and earnest, with a healthy dose of good humor. We shared a few laughs about blogs and bureaucracies, and people get the impression that Rainer means business when he talks about institutional accountability. He comes across as a servant of the truth, of the convention, and of the Lord. The fact that he’s been a successful pastor makes people listen to him. The fact that he doesn’t tell you he’s been a successful pastor makes people like him. Rainer also has the sense — unlike our former SBC President — to realize that you don’t increase baptisms by promoting baptisms and hocking F.A.I.T.H. paraphernalia across the convention. This, in itself, is a breath of fresh air.
- Greg Thornbury was able to take a tense subject and lighten the room. This takes the skill of a gifted communicator and a careful scholar. Professors can seem bookish, but Thornbury overcomes the stereotype with a harmonious blend of critique and comedy. Oh, and he uses “finger quotes” far too frequently. Watching students swarm around Thornbury reveals the degree to which Union’s Dean of Christian Studies loves his job. College kids can read through a professors’ feigned < finger quote >love< / finger quote > for them, when all he really loves is hearing himself talk about his own writing projects. Thornbury’s a class act, and probably the next president of Southern Seminary.
- Mike Day makes associational missions worth saving. Quite possibly the best presentation at the conference, Day’s honest appraisal of the state of the Southern Baptist Convention was sobering — and it takes a lot to sober me up, you know!
- Union University has a female provost (eeep!), a female associate provost (gasp!), and a female dean of students (choke!). David Dockery recognizes the nuance between the academy and the church when it comes to women’s roles, much like Danny Akin does. The men on the faculty treat their female superiors with respect and every appropriate deference. Over lunch on Friday, Dwight McKissic and I had the chance to visit with SWBTS professor Malcolm Yarnell and Union professor Gary Smith. The four of us shared in good-natured ribbing about the issue of females teaching biblical languages, and discovered that we have mutual interests in seeing bureaucratic corruption in the SBC addressed sooner rather than later. Good thing I tape-recorded the whole conversation from under the table. ;)
- Timmy Brister has cajones, a conclusion I have reached without any potential liability for his filing assault charges. While I tried to dance around my critiques of certain SBC leaders, Timmy busted out and announced that we had “too many liars” in the Southern Baptist Convention.
- Joe Thorn and Steve McCoy are dangerous, but in a good way. They are removed from the mud and blood of SBC politics; and while it gives them both a certain idealism at times, men like that are the best chance the SBC has of surviving. Not because they “believe in the convention,” like those who have nursed on the nipple of the Cooperative Program, but because they aren’t worried about “saving the denomination.” They are pastoring churches, reading and teaching theology, and trying to pour their lives into the lives of others. While some of us were politicking around tables, they were off to talk church with groups of Union students. The surest way to kill the SBC is to focus on the SBC. The surest way to save it is to conclude that God can kill it if he wants, and go about local church ministry. Joe and Steve figured that out before most of us caught on.
- Some bloggers are better suited for the Jerry Springer show than for a conference of such theological and denominational importance. One blogger in particular has confessed over on Les Puryear’s site that he was disappointed that Paige Patterson and I didn’t fight it out face to face. He’s told the world that he lingered at doorways and lurked in hallways to see if we would confront one another. The kinds of people who like to gather around a fight to watch it happen, and then complain when it doesn’t, are a nuisance to me and an obstacle to authentic rapprochement.
- Russell Moore is able to engage a tense dialogue without becoming nasty. I confessed during our public conversation that I got hot when he speaks or writes. I realize that his reaction to me is similar at times. When I questioned him vaguely about the appropriate means of addressing bureaucratic corruption, Russ pegged the issue at hand and spoke to it. “You can’t go around building a coalition of people who hate Paige Patterson,” Moore responded, suggesting that the conservative resurgence was never marked by a motive of “liberal-hating.” I think Russ’s absolving of the way resurgent movers-and-shakers went about building their coalition is naive, but I understand his point and am willing to ponder his not-so-subtle reproof.
- Timothy George’s assessment of the dangers in retrieving an alleged Anabaptist tradition for Southern Baptists is as stinging and convincing a critique as I’ve heard. Sectarian isolation and confessional eccentricity are awaiting Southern Baptists at the end of Paige Patterson’s programme for Anabaptist indoctrination. George spelled this out clearly, and I appreciate his willingness to jump into the fray with equal doses of passion and prudence.
- I would rather have heard Steve Gaines.
- The chocoloate chip cookies at the Doubletree Hotel are yummy. Dorothy Patterson should get that recipe for her homemakers-in-training at Southwestern Seminary.
- I realize we were in Tennessee, the home of Davy Crockett, but did anybody else think the coon-skin hat was
- The tendency that men have to shy away from personal conflict is frustrating to me. Over the past few months, I’ve been told to “beware” of Wade Burleson. Wade Burleson has been told to “separate himself” from me. This isn’t all that surprising, but when you discover that men who have glad-handed you and exchanged pleasantries are the same people who berate you when you’re not around, it can make you angry. Every inclination toward the kind of cowardice that compels men to be duplicitious, two-faced, and hypocritial must be ripped out of our convention root and branch. A man who shakes your hand and smiles, then walks away and rips you to pieces deserves to be shamed for his duplicity. Meaningful dialogue can only commence if brethren are committed to honesty in person, and consistency in private.
- C.B. Scott is the truest friend any man can have. He’s got a spine of steel and a heart of gold. When my own conscience fails to provide the necessary impediment to a particular action, C.B. is there to calm me down, fire me up, or box my ears and break my jaw.
- Dwight McKissic is as sharp-minded as any Ph.D. in the room. He listens attentively to what is being said, and he synthesizes information faster then most professors I had in seminary. Few people are naturally able to intuit what I’m thinking, but when Dwight and I get into a conversation, he can almost read my mind. It’s incredible to spend time with somebody who reads a room with the acuity and speed of my colleague in Arlington.
- Blog-lurkers are an amazing group of people. The past few days have afforded me a chance to meet some of the people whose IP addresses have pushed my readership to near 200,000 since October. A tremendous number of pastors and laymen are reading blogs, processing the information, and forming some very profound conclusions about the state of affairs in the SBC. I wish more of them would comment and provide the rest of us with a more regular helping of their insight.
- The student choir at Union University is quite impressive. The complexity of the arrangements was surpassed only by the excellence of their performance.
- Chicken soft tacos are the best reason for having good ventilation that I know.
- Southwestern Seminary should be more careful about leaving their exhibit booth unattended.
- Funniest moment: Ed Stetzer explaining that the only reason he attends annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention is that when he’s there, he feels both young and thin.