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Reflections on SBC 2009

June 29, 2009 by Jeff Wright

The 2009 Southern Baptist Convention was the most edifying denominational convention I have ever attended. I came away more encouraged and optimistic about not only the SBC but the state of the local churches tied to the SBC than I have in either of my previous conventions. With that in mind here are my thoughts on what took place in Louisville .

I. The Great Commission Resurgence

If you haven’t read the GCR document please take a moment to do so. In all honesty I initially paid little attention to the GCR buzz, thinking that it was likely the most recent example of denominational falderal that generates much noise but little impact. Thankfully I was wrong. Again, read the document. What is there in the GCR with which to disagree (assuming you aren’t a denominational cog working a redundant job that might get axed)? If the local churches of the SBC and the national Convention itself follow this paradigm we are looking at a future of greater emphasis on spreading the Gospel, greater cooperation between churches/pastors/generations, and greater health across the board. No, that future is by no means guaranteed. In fact, it is still very much up in the air (because of the if qualifier two sentences prior). Still, the Convention is now aimed in the right direction. Could you really say that leaving San Antonio/Greensboro/Indianapolis?

The GCR managed to not only provide a healthy way forward for cooperating Southern Baptists but also revealed the unity that already existed in the convention but went unseen. Years of disagreements between Calvinists/Non Calvinists and Old Guard/New Leaders gave the impression that our convention was divided theologically and generationally. That impression was wonderfully swept away when the yellow ballot covers were raised to ratify Dr. Mohler’s motion. An estimated 95% of messengers – including those from different generations, theological positions, and cultural backgrounds – jointly expressed their commitment to a more efficient vehicle for fulfilling the Great Commission. At this year’s Pastor’s Conference Ed Stetzer spoke of the great need for Southern Baptists to practically express here on earth the unity that we already have in Christ. While the vote on Dr. Mohler’s motion hasn’t brought Stetzer’s call to completion it was an appetizing taste of what he had in mind.

My church still receives most of their denominational news from me. Because of my ignorance of the GCR’s significance our members were unexposed to the GCR document as well as what it represented for our denomination. Imagine my joy as Sunday night (when our messengers traditionally report to the congregation) our church members expressed excitement over the ten articles of the GCR. Even more, a discussion about how our church can be more active and efficient in our missions giving spontaneously developed. Talk about a happy pastor. If something like what happened at Welchland Sunday night takes place in other churches around our Convention I have no problem saying our best days are yet ahead of us as Southern Baptists.

II. Leadership

This year’s Convention also benefited from the leadership of fresh voices from within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. Al Mohler is, of course, the head of a vitally important SBC entity. The value of his leadership within the SBC and Evangelicalism cannot be over estimated nor is it particularly new. However, it was his action as a messenger from his local church that brought to life the most significant change I have witnessed at a national Convention. Furthermore, his participation in the Baptist21 panel discussion was both gracious and prophetic (more on that to come). Dr. Mohler’s explicit instruction to those in favor of the GCR before the vote and his Twitter comments following the discussion of the motion (in which some Calvinist-straw men were stuffed and flogged) engendered a peaceful yet direct approach to steering the SBC in a more healthy direction. My hope is that Dr. Mohler’s influence only grows in the SBC; I can’t imagine a man more qualified for the task.

One anecdote about Dr. Mohler: at the Baptist21 panel, facing a group who could be described as “young leaders” (young, anyway) Dr. Mohler spoke gently yet prophetically. Dr. Mohler reminded those assembled that if you want an opportunity to lead you then need to put yourself in the environments where opportunities to lead present themselves. A simple statement perhaps but needful for the audience. Dr. Mohler didn’t show up one day at Southern and become President. Rather he labored there for years, even in obscure positions (I think he said he spent a year as an R.A. doing nothing but filling out forms), before eventually earning his opportunity to lead. Mohler told us that no one likes meetings but you have to go to them in order to be available when opportunities to serve present themselves. I found it a very helpful check to a prevalent attitude that doesn’t understand that leadership is first and foremost earned.

Dr. Danny Aiken’s contribution to what took place at the 2009 SBC cannot be overstated. If you follow the timeline you will see that it was Dr. Aiken that gave voice and direction to the grassroots movement calling for reform in the SBC. His labors in crafting and promoting the GCR funneled the energy of all those dissatisfied by the lack of efficiency within SBC agencies a healthy expression. Furthermore, he conducted himself as a true statesman in dealing with the accusation and innuendo raised during discussion of Dr. Mohler’s motion rather than lowering himself to the level of his opponents. Dr. Akin also found time to participate in the Founders Ministries’ Breakfast, the Baptist21 Panel, and the second 9 Marks @ 9 session. I personally appreciate Dr. Aiken’s work to reconcile the Calvinist and Non-Calvinist camps within the convention. Blessed are the peacemakers and Danny Aiken is a peacemaker. South Eastern Seminary is in good hands.

Dr. Mark Dever is obviously a man with influence that goes beyond the Southern Baptist Convention. This is seen not only in his work with 9 Marks but particularly in Together for the Gospel. I appreciate very much that Dr. Dever took the time to make the trip to Louisville as well as invest the time there with events as rich as 9 Marks @ 9. The discussion sessions and following Q&A times were as interesting and edifying as anything else that took place in Louisville. And the books…oh, the books! You really couldn’t get in the vicinity of a 9 Marks guy without having a book stuck in your hand. This strategy, generous to a fault, spreads the influence of 9 Marks far and abroad. Kudos to Dr. Dever for his involvement with SBC 2009.

Two anecdotes about Dr. Dever: (1) During the first 9 Marks @ 9 session Dr. Dever opened with a call to those in attendance to decide if they would remain faithful to a Biblical ministry of instruction which relied on the text or capitulate to “the spirit of the age” that called for visual learning. Considering that the pastors gathered for the session are facing just such a pressure to leave Word-based ministry I appreciated Dr. Dever drawing attention to the issue. (2) At the Baptist21 panel discussion the subject of theological/cultural blind spots (example: Jonathan Edwards, a great man of God, owned slaves) came up, particularly how to avoid them. One of the things that Dr. Dever mentioned was the need to be “suspicious” of creativity. His point was that for many of the young pastors, ministers, and laity gathered at Baptist21’s discussion “creativity” as a category is not often examined critically. We tend to think of creativity as sanctified entirely when, as Dr. Dever pointed out, the fact that fallen people are the ones doing the creating means we must be discerning about creativity. Considering how fascinated my generation is with creativity – not to mention the church in which the discussion was being held when Dever made his comment – this was a prophetic check.

Dr. Johnny Hunt performed wonderfully not only at the annual meeting but through his entire first term as President. When I first heard that Dr. Hunt was elected I confess I was troubled, suspicious that his election was evidence that the good-ol-boy network of Southern mega church pastors was being continued. I also expected Dr. Hunt’s presidency would serve to deepen the divide between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists in the SBC. I am so very thankful that I was wrong. Dr. Hunt worked hard – and succeeded I think – at bringing together the various divisions in the SBC. His partnership with Dr. Aiken in promoting the GCR brought about momentous change toward the good. His reaching out to Dr. Akin and Tom Ascol helped bridge the divide between Calvinist and Non-Calvinist and Dr. Hunt was even so kind as to buy lunch for the young SBCers at the Baptist21 panel. Dr. Hunt wisely worked in specific and practical ways to bring relational healing to the SBC. God has been glorified and served in Dr. Hunt’s work. May his second term be as productive as his first.

III. Personal Conversations

This last heading has little to do, really, with the formal Convention but rather took place around it. Still, it was one of the richest aspects of my time in Louisville. I was able at various times to connect with family (Chase and Cheryl Vaughn), old friends (Matt and Julie Sliger, Steve and Gretta Weaver, Tim Ellsworth, Scott Lamb), and new friends (Brad Vincent). I also was able to meet and/or shake the hands of some of my heroes – Dr. Dever, Dr. Akin, Tom Ascol, and Dr. Haykin – which is always thrilling for me. I’m not far from carrying an autograph book really.

IV. Special Activities

I would like to say thank you to:

1. Founders Ministries (particularly Tom Ascol) – I hope that you were able this year to enjoy the fruits of your patient work within the SBC. I know that not everyone associated with your group has conducted themselves in a peaceful manner and you have been hit with guilt by association. I know too that you have represented the best of the historic Reformed tradition within Baptist life and history. Again, I hope you enjoyed this year’s convention.

2. Baptist21 – Thank you. Thank you for the forum, thank you for the pre-convention promotion of important issues, and yes – thank you for the books. That was a great panel and I hope the men you chose to set on it (well, except for that guy who pastors Sojourn) continue to gain a broader and broader hearing.

3. 9 Marks – Thanks to you as well for much the same reason as Baptist21. Thanks for being at the SBC, thanks for getting your materials into so many hands, and thanks for providing not only discussions and Q&A sessions but also for giving access to the men who were involved in the 9 Marks & 9 sessions.

V. Going Forward

Some bullet points I think are worth discussing as Southern Baptists go forward from their most recent national Convention:

* All of the good associated with the GCR won’t mean anything if the vision it presents doesn’t settle in to the local churches of the SBC.
* Much was made in recent days about how little of what is dropped in the offering plate actually makes it to the International Mission Board. True, refining the National Convention will do much to rectify this problem. We need to also remember that our State Conventions represent an equally great drain on Cooperative Program giving. The work of reform must be done in our state conventions as well – not to do away with them (at least in my opinion) but to work for similar efficiency in the state institutions/agencies as well. If you are serious about getting money to the mission field you will be active in your state convention, bottom line.
* I don’t know if the pandering to “young leaders” is all that healthy. I heard or read much pleading for young pastors not to leave and great expressions of thankfulness that so many of the younger generation turned out. Being 27 I still fit somewhere in the “young” demographic of the SBC and I know that my generation tends to be self-important and more than a little arrogant in regards to our ability to do ministry. While I agree that the SBC doesn’t need to loose this age group I am suspicious that hearing how important we are might actually make us think we are important.
* I think that on the whole our Convention understands the importance of planting churches, based on the amount to talk and publication church planting generates as well as the amount of money being spent in this area. I think that perhaps it is time to begin talking about the importance of revitalizing established churches as equally important to the kingdom. I also think it is high time that NAMB starts putting money into this endeavor (perhaps starting with churches having less than 100 members).

VI. Books

I thought some of my fellow bibliophiles might be interested in seeing what books I accumulated at the SBC (with no cost to myself I might add). Those I have to thank for the book are bracketed.

Baptist21 – What does it mean to be Baptist in the 21st Century? [Baptist21]
Danny Aiken – Five Who Changed the World [Baptist 21]
Hayken, Duke, Fuller – Soldiers of Christ [Founders Ministries]
Mark Dever – What Is a Healthy Church? [9 Marks]
Mark Dever – 9 Marks of a Healthy Church [9 Marks]
Mark Dever – The Deliberate Church [9 Marks]
Mark Dever – Twelve Challenges Churches Face [9 Marks]
Mark Dever – By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life [9 Marks]
Mark Dever – The Gospel & Personal Evangelism [9 Marks]
Ed Stetzer – Comeback Churches [Baptist 21]
Johnny Hunt – Building Your Leadership Resume [Baptist21]
Christopher Bass – That You May Know: Commentary on 1 John (NAC) [Founders Ministries]
Al Mohler – The Disappearance of God [The Legacy Center]
Al Mohler – Atheism Remix [The Legacy Center]
Al Mohler – He Is Not Silent [Baptist21]

I also landed the latest issues of the Founders’ Journal and Table Talk Magazine (courtesy of Founders Ministries).

Now quit acting like you don’t have any good reasons to come to the Southern Baptist Convention. If for no other reason come for your library.

VII. Other SBC 2009 Reflections

Denny Burke
Tom Ascol
Alan Cross
Timmy Brister
iMonk
Greg Gilbert
Alvin Reid
Shawn Bergen
Danny Akin


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