Conventional Thinking Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. discusses current issues facing the SBC Tue, 20 May 2014 18:20:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight — The 2012 Southern Baptist Convention Thu, 21 Jun 2012 22:23:06 +0000 Southern Baptists came to New Orleans to make history, and history is what we made. The Southern Baptist Convention will forever be changed by the events of the New Orleans meeting, and the world will be watching to see if we really meant what we said as we elected Fred Luter as the first African American President of the Southern Baptist Convention. The following are my reflections on the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention and its meaning.

1. The importance of meeting in New Orleans. The Southern Baptist Convention came to New Orleans almost seven years after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. This great historic city has been important to the Convention from its founding in 1845. One of our six SBC seminaries is located here, built upon the work established as the Baptist Bible Institute in the early twentieth century. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary made an important commitment to the city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, and the seminary has a great witness within the city and far beyond. New Orleans is also where Southern Baptists were historically engaged in important hospital and charitable work, and much of that work continues still. Southern Baptists came by the thousands for the 2012 convention, and the city of New Orleans was a gracious host. Its people were incredibly friendly. For several days, the French Quarter was selling more ice cream than cocktails, but what the city suffered in alcohol sales it made up in meals sold. We came, we saw, we ate.

2. The importance of electing Fred Luter as President. Slavery was not the only precipitating issue for the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention, but it was the central issue. The SBC was forged in the bitter and humiliating defense of slavery and institutionalized racism. For more than a century beyond its founding, that institutionalized racism continued, with the majority of Southern Baptists resisting the Civil Rights movement. And yet, in 2012, that same convention elected an African-American man as its President. That action was a demonstration of God’s patience with His people, and it was a moment of unmerited grace for our denomination. Fred Luter is a man of great conviction, presence, and leadership. He has been tested by fire and found faithful. The respect of the entire Southern Baptist Convention is his, and he will lead well. The test ahead is for the Southern Baptist Convention. Even as twenty percent of our churches are now identified as ethic and minority, we still lag far behind the nation in terms of racial and ethnic diversity. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that America will be a “majority minority” population by the year 2033, if not before. Southern Baptists will become a marginalized people holding to a quaint folk religion if we do not seize the moment and see racial and ethnic diversity as a gift, and not just a fact to which we have to reconcile ourselves. We leave New Orleans with great hope.

3. The importance of leadership. President Bryant Wright led with great grace and character. His calm and gracious personality was extended to the way he presided in the Convention’s sessions. It is virtually impossible to dislike Bryant Wright, and his grace and kindness in the sessions were great gifts. He was open, generous, and happy — traits that should characterize all Southern Baptists. Other leaders also served well, particularly Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, who provided stellar leadership for the Committee on Resolutions. He demonstrated statesmanship and mature confidence under pressure, and the Convention appreciated the hard work of his committee.

4. The importance of our name. The Southern Baptist Convention is not going to change its name — not this year and not anytime soon. The reasons for this are many and they are enduring. The motion adopted by the SBC in New Orleans allows churches to identify themselves as “Great Commission Baptists” without denying the SBC in any way. This will help churches that are not located in the South more than others, but the descriptor, “Great Commission Baptists” is worthy of our acceptance and eager use. It also establishes an identity we must now serve and fulfill.

5. The importance of doctrine. There have been meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention that, in theological terms, have been nothing less than determinative. The most recent of these was 2000, when Southern Baptists adopted a revised statement of “The Baptist Faith & Message,” our confession of faith. Other meetings of the Convention have been, at times, less explicitly theological. The 2012 SBC was marked by talk about theology, and the issue of Calvinism in particular. At this point, the reality is more like talking about talking about theology, but the talk will become more organized, partly through a process to be led by the SBC Executive Committee. In the meantime, Southern Baptists need to be kind, open, generous, and truthful. We should expect the best of each other, and extend understanding in every possible way. The three weeks prior to this year’s SBC did not find Southern Baptists at their best in terms of this kind of discussion, but we can and must have the right conversations in the right way. This conversation will marginalize those whose influence should be marginalized — those who have a party spirit, who play into tribalism, or who want to divide Southern Baptists from each other. We will stand within the “Baptist Faith & Message” and we will learn how to talk in a way that will help each other to be more faithful and biblical, not more hardened and bitter.

6. The importance of our mission. The Southern Baptist Convention was established for the purpose of reaching our nation and the nations of the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The SBC dreams mission dreams and bleeds missionary theology. When the Convention’s messengers heard reports and testimonies of people coming to faith in Christ, their hearts quickened and their joy was evident. The SBC will instinctively gravitate to anything that serves the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the reaching of the nations. Messengers loved the reports of peoples reached and churches planted in the United States and around the world. If your heart does not resonate with that, you need to attend some other meeting, and join a church of some other denomination.

7. The importance of the total event. The Southern Baptist Convention is a two-day business meeting, but it is also a multi-day gathering of Southern Baptists, who meet for the Pastors Conference and a host of other meetings. Among my favorites was the Baptist21 luncheon on Tuesday, organized by a group of bright, creative, and convictional young Southern Baptist leaders. The panel discussion featured, among others, Dr. Paige Patterson talking about the importance of the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. It was a worthy and important conversation, especially crucial since so many in that room had not even been born when the so-called “Battle for the Bible” was launched. The “9Marks at 9″ meetings Monday and Tuesday nights under the direction of Dr. Mark Dever also brought together a generation ready to be sent anywhere in the world. Their love for the SBC was as clear as the energy they are ready to deploy and the convictions they hold.

8. The importance of getting to work. Southern Baptists come to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention and then go home. The Southern Baptists who gathered in New Orleans this week will leave praying in a new way for the Baptist work in that great city and beyond. As we go back home, the real work begins anew. The annual meeting is both necessary and important, but the work of the Convention is not at the meeting, but out in our churches and on the fields of mission. Now is the time to get back to work, to celebrate the history made together in New Orleans, and to be determined to make it count.

It is a new day in the Southern Baptist Convention, and we must be exceedingly thankful for the light of this new day. As we leave Louisiana, we will show the world if we will make the most of this opportunity, or let it pass and bear the judgment of God for our failure.


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Will the CBF Really Pay Churches to Consider a Woman as Pastor? Mon, 03 Oct 2011 05:23:48 +0000 It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Associated Baptist Press reports that a state Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is now offering financial incentives in order to encourage pulpit search committees to consider women candidates.

According to the report, “The CBF of Missouri offered Sept. 17 to pay interview, travel and other expenses incurred by search committees willing to ‘include a woman candidate in the process … treating her as a top candidate even if she isn’t actually one of the top candidates,’ CBFMO Associate Coordinator Jeff Langford explained in a handout distributed at a Coordinating Council meeting at Memorial Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo.”

No, I am not making this up. Langford added: “Even if the church isn’t ready, the search committee may discover a remarkable candidate along the way that changes their perspective, either for the current search or for a future one.”

The motivation for the concept is clear — those who are offering these incentives are frustrated that few churches are calling women as senior pastors. According to the ABP report, the idea to offer financial incentives came out of a meeting in which several other ideas were also offered. This is the idea that made headlines.

Though the CBF promotes women as pastors, a 2005 study indicated that few of its own churches had called, or had even considered calling, a woman as pastor. The authors of that study stated their findings in clear terms:

Never before have so many Baptist women officially served as pastors and co-pastors, and yet statistically the great majority of Baptist churches affiliated with the Alliance, BGAV, BGCT, and CBF have not called women to serve as pastor.

Even within the ranks of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where the leadership sincerely supports women as senior pastors, their churches are still very unlikely to call a woman as pastor. There are a few highly visible women who do serve in senior pastor positions, but they are rare exceptions to the general rule.

My point is not to accuse the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or its leadership of hypocrisy, for there is no reason to question the sincerity of their beliefs. I believe that their convictions are wrong, not that their stance is insincere. Indeed, their frustration at the slow pace of change in this regard seems authentic — thus this new policy in Missouri.

And yet, the policy does seem clumsy, at best. Paying search committees to consider women as top candidates? That is awkward enough. But, paying them to treat a woman “as a top candidate even if she isn’t actually one of the top candidates”? That seems absolutely desperate, and one can only wonder if women seeking pastorates would consider this a step forward.

Kathy Pickett, moderator-elect of the Missouri CBF and pastor of congregational life at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, voiced her own concerns that women might be harmed by the proposal. She was especially concerned about young women graduating from seminaries, who might be misled by the policy. “There is a hopefulness that something is going to change when it likely isn’t going to,” she said.

The Missouri proposal, though hard to believe at first glance, is also deeply revealing. Those who believe that women should be senior pastors believe that the slow progress toward the acceptance of female pastors is rooted in enduring prejudice against women. Those of us who believe that the Bible precludes women from serving as pastors, on the other hand, believe that this pattern reveals the endurance of a biblical instinct, even among those who believe, at some level, that women should be pastors.

The theological distance between the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention continues to grow. This development out of Missouri makes that point in an unmistakable way. It will not be the last development to do so.


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Vicki Brown, “CBFMO Offers Incentive for Churches to Consider Women as Pastors,” Associated Baptist Press, Tuesday, September 27, 2011.

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Will the Southern Baptist Convention Change its Name? Tue, 20 Sep 2011 07:49:28 +0000 Southern Baptist Convention president Bryant Wright has launched an effort to change the name of the Convention, or at least to give the issue serious consideration. He announced this intention as he presented his report to the SBC Executive Committee last night. Instantly, energy filled the room.

The idea of changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention is not new. Convention committees and task forces of the past had considered the question, and the Convention voted not to consider the question in 2004, when Dallas pastor Jack Graham, then the Convention’s president, proposed a similar process.

Bryant Wright made his announcement after speaking of the energy and unity within the Convention after the SBC annual meeting this past June in Phoenix. A consideration of the name change, he said, would be “another move forward” for the Convention.

The question of the SBC’s name and possible alternatives emerged soon after World War II, when Southern Baptist leaders recognized that the Convention was no longer satisfied to contain its witness within the historic southern and southwestern states of the United States. Nevertheless, the Convention’s messengers have never faced any formal proposal for an alternative.

Clearly, changing the name of the SBC will not be easy. There is tremendous value in the established name and reputation of the Southern Baptist Convention, especially when the denomination has put itself on the line again and again in defense of biblical truth and theological orthodoxy. The name emerged from a historical context that is central to the denomination’s history and identity. Of course, the Convention’s population distribution is still mightily weighted by concentrations in the South and Southwest.

There may be significant legal and economic factors to consider, especially when the SBC’s founding was almost 170 years ago. The legal name of the Southern Baptist Convention is woven throughout SBC life — not to mention its 40,000 member churches. This would be no simple re-branding effort. Much is at stake.

What international implications might a name change hold? Those must be considered. In a global context, “southern” does not imply the American meaning. So, what does it imply? That question must be asked. How much international recognition might be lost by changing the name?

On the other hand, there are powerful reasons to consider changing the name. The SBC is not driven by a southern agenda nor a southern vision, but by a passionate commitment to the Great Commission. In the context of the United States, “southern” refers to a region. That region gave birth to the Southern Baptist Convention, but it no longer contains it. To many in regions like New England and the Pacific Northwest, the “Southern Baptist Convention” sounds strange, if not foreign. On the other hand, how much does this really mean anymore?

Furthermore, there is a legacy with which we must continue to deal. We were established as an association of churches that would appoint slaveholders as missionaries. There is so much to celebrate in the heritage of our beloved denomination, but there is also a deep stain that is associated with slavery, the nation’s sectional division prior to and during the Civil War, and the legacy of racism. If these issues can be resolved, even to any significant degree, by a name change, a Gospel-minded people would never hesitate to consider such a proposal.

Many church planters and mission strategists have openly called for a name change and have celebrated the call for a study and proposal. Many influential pastors and denominational leaders have joined in support — but at this point the support is for an ordered process of asking the question, and this is healthy and responsible. No Gospel-driven movement of churches would want to retain any preventable barrier to faithful and effective evangelistic and church planting efforts.

Bryant Wright is not alone in believing that now is the time for the SBC to consider this question in a serious and timely manner, driven by a sense of evangelistic and missiological urgency. Those members of the SBC Executive Committee who spoke against the idea on Monday night are not alone in their concern about what might be lost by such a name change, as well as what might be gained.

The discussion on Monday night was not the finest hour for the SBC Executive Committee, nor its worst. It was a sign that this is a highly-charged issue that holds great potential to divide the Convention if not handled well and responsibly. The task force must act in a way that unifies Southern Baptists and helps us all to gain a much-needed understanding of what is and is not at stake.

I have known nothing but the Southern Baptist Convention in terms of my own personal identity for the entirety of my lifetime, now over the half-century mark. For almost twenty years, I have had the privilege of serving as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

To be honest, I am personally traumatized by the very idea of changing the denomination’s name. I feel an almost physical loss at the very prospect. It is a deeply and unavoidably emotional question for any Southern Baptist whose life is intertwined with the Convention, its work, and its churches.

At the same time, our commitment to the Great Commission and the urgency of the Gospel must exceed our emotional attachments and fears. A responsible movement of Gospel churches — of Baptist churches — must be ready to ask this question and face it fearlessly. We can and will do this together.

President Wright appointed a task force to be led by SBC elder statesman Jimmy Draper, a former SBC president, beloved pastor, and former president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. I, along with several others, have agreed to serve on this task force. This is not a task force that is poised to make an irresponsible or precipitous proposal. There is much hard work ahead.

This decision will not be made by any task force. The name of the Convention belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention and will ultimately be settled by its messengers. The Convention has shown great wisdom and strength of character and conviction in its past. We must trust that it will rise to that same wisdom and strength in the present hour.

During the discussion Monday night, President Wright demonstrated a strength of character that served the denomination well. Those who spoke to the issue with such passion and concern sent a clear and honest signal of how difficult the task may be. Family discussions are often difficult, but this is what healthy families do — they work through the challenges rather than run from them.

There are good arguments to be made on both sides of this question — so let’s make them. There are important questions to ask — so let’s ask them. There are emotional issues that pull at our hearts — so let’s talk about them. There are generations of the past to whom we owe so much and a generation of those now living we desperately want to reach — so let’s bridge them. There are legal and financial issues to consider — so let’s consider them. There are so many Southern Baptists from which we need to hear — so let’s listen to them.

Most importantly, there is a world desperately in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — so we must not allow this question to divert our energies from the Great Commission task. It will not matter what we call ourselves if we lose sight of the one great cause that has brought us together.


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Wright Announces Task Force to Study Possible SBC Name Change,” Baptist Press, Monday, September 19, 2011.

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Looking Back, Looking Forward: The 2011 Southern Baptist Convention Fri, 01 Jul 2011 08:54:12 +0000 imageserverasp-300x200We came. We met. We went home. In one sense, the Southern Baptist Convention is like a large family reunion, complete with colorful cousins. The 2011 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention made history, but it may take some time to measure the full consequence of the meeting.

Some thoughts:

1. The fact that just over 4,800 messengers registered, the 2011 convention is the lowest-attended in 67 years. That fact might be explained by any number of factors, but it is not good news. Phoenix was a most friendly host city, and it was good for Southern Baptists to be reminded of the work of the denomination and its churches in the West, but the city is not well placed for a large drive-in registration. Furthermore, the 2011 convention was not expected to be a contested presidential election year, nor did any matter of great controversy serve to attract messengers. Still, such a low registration is not an encouraging sign.

2. The presidential leadership of Bryant Wright produced a warm and healthy spirit to the convention sessions, and his focus on unreached and unengaged people groups brought a needed Great Commission vision to the entire convention. Southern Baptists appreciated his demeanor, fairness, and character.

3. The convention welcomed three new leaders to present their first reports — an unprecedented development. Frank Page brought his first report as President of the SBC Executive Committee, stressing the need for unity and selflessness. He invited other SBC leaders to join with him in affirming “Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation,” a statement of common purpose. He called other SBC leaders to stand with him on the platform in a public display of unity. The action was symbolic, of course, but it served as a helpful sign of Page’s leadership style and commitment to unity among SBC leaders. Never disparage a display of honest unity.

4. The mission board reports were truly inspiring. Tom Elliff was in full enthusiasm as the new president of the International Mission Board. Holding a commissioning service as part of the IMB report was really inspiring, as was the call for each Southern Baptist church and entity to “adopt” one of the more than 3,800 unengaged people groups. Kevin Ezell broke all precedents in bringing his first report as president of the North American Mission Board. He spoke with a much-needed honesty about the need to redirect the agency he leads and he spoke with bracing candor about the need for Southern Baptists to plant real Baptist congregations that reproduce. His report was a display of courage and trust in the convention and its churches.

5. The ethnic diversity statement recommended by the Executive Committee was both right and important. The action included ten very specific steps that are “designed to foster conscious awareness of the need to be proactive and intentional in the inclusion of individuals from all ethnic and racial identities within Southern Baptist life.” The points were clear, bold, and necessary. Our Creator takes ethnicity, language, and culture seriously — even describing the assembly of heaven in these terms. Our nation is becoming more ethnically diverse by the day. The Southern Baptist Convention must do the same, lest we become a mere enclave that looks like the America of the past, rather than of the present and the future.

6. The Committee on Resolutions, led by South Carolina pastor Paul Jimenez, brought a brave report that included a resolution on immigration — an issue that was sure to attract discussion. The resolution produced the most intensive and controversial debate of the entire convention. In the end, the resolution was adopted, calling for the nation “to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” More importantly, the resolution emphasized the Great Commission and Gospel priorities of the Southern Baptist Convention’s churches in addressing the millions of immigrants that now represent such a large and growing evangelistic challenge.

7. The convention also adopted–overwhelmingly–a resolution on the New International Version of the Bible [NIV]. This resolution, which “expressed profound disappointment” with the recent revision of the NIV, did not come from the committee, but from a messenger who appealed to the convention for his resolution to be considered. In not bringing the resolution to the convention, the committee was following established precedent, whereby the convention does not repeat previous actions. In 2002, the convention adopted a strongly-worded resolution against a previous revision of the NIV known as the TNIV. The committee did its job well.

The NIV resolution demonstrated both the glory and the risk of our democratic system. The glory was seen in the fact that the resolution clearly expressed the concerns held by the overwhelming majority of messengers present. The SBC sent a clear message of its proper and valid concerns — and a message that will be heard far and wide.

The risk is also evident in the fact that the concerns expressed about the NIV would apply in equal or even greater terms to several other modern translations as well. Russell Moore, a member of the committee, expressed this fact clearly when he told messengers that the NIV is “just one of many Bibles out there [with] similar language.”

The risk involved in adopting a resolution right from the floor of the convention was also revealed in the fact that the statement called for LifeWay to discontinue sales of the NIV in its stores. As a matter of established precedent, convention messengers do not send messages or directives directly to the entities of the SBC. The resolution couched the language in terms of a respectful “request,” but the action represents a very difficult challenge for LifeWay and its leadership. Removing the NIV from LifeWay stores is no easy matter. Just consider that the New American Commentary series, encouraged by direct action of the SBC in the 1980s, is based upon the NIV translation. This series was intended to showcase conservative SBC scholarship. Is LifeWay now to remove its own prize product? There is no way that the series can be shifted to another modern translation without rewriting every volume. The NAC is but one example of the quandary now set before LifeWay, but the larger issue is moral — consistency. How can LifeWay justify removing the NIV and leave even more problematic translations on its shelves? Many of those translations are also deeply invested in the very study and devotional materials that Southern Baptist churches demand and desire.

In the end, Southern Baptists will have to trust that LifeWay will be faithful to its charge and stewardship from the Southern Baptist Convention. We should all pray that LifeWay president Thom Rainer and the LifeWay board will be granted wisdom to know how best to serve the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention in light of this resolution.

In the end, I think it is healthy and good that the SBC sent such a strong signal through this resolution. I only wish that the resolution would have avoided some of the difficulties it now creates on the way to making its main point.

8. There were the moments of unpredictability, proving that Southern Baptists bring some colorful relatives to the family reunion. Wiley Drake nominated himself as President of the SBC, receiving 122 votes (presumably one of them his own). This recalled the self-nomination offered by evangelist Anis Shorrosh at the 1988 SBC in San Antonio. Shorrosh nominated “our dear friend” … himself. Questions and responses during entity reports (including my own report for Southern Seminary) offered moments of unpredictable energy.

9. In the end, the Phoenix convention reminded Southern Baptists that we are facing a huge season of generational transition. This will almost surely be the greatest test the SBC will face in coming years. Will we handle this well? The road from Phoenix to the future will answer that question.


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Photo credit: Baptist Press, 2011.

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Why Southern Baptists Need Kevin Ezell as President of NAMB Mon, 06 Sep 2010 21:14:59 +0000 The news that the search committee looking for the next president of the North American Mission Board had unanimously chosen Dr. Kevin Ezell as their nominee is great news for the Southern Baptist Convention. I have known Kevin Ezell for the last 15 years, and I know why Southern Baptists need him in this crucial role.

FIRST, because Kevin is a man of such stellar character. This comes first, of course, and it is paramount in any leadership position. I have seen Kevin in situations of trial, stress, challenge, and turmoil, and he demonstrates the most genuine Christian character throughout. He is a man who has been tested and tried, and his experience has revealed a strength of character that we all will need and depend upon at the helm of the North American Mission Board. Given my experience with Kevin, I would entrust him with anything — including my wife and family.

SECOND, because Kevin is a truly gifted pastor. The Mohler family joined Highview Baptist Church in Louisville in 1994, soon after our arrival in the city. Those were very troubled times, given the stature of the Seminary in the Louisville community. Highview was a warm congregation that welcomed us generously and graciously. It was really a large neighborhood church in the Fegenbush area of Louisville, and it was well-known for its conservative biblical convictions and passion for evangelism.

In 1996, Kevin came to Highview as pastor in a time of great and unexpected trial for the church. He was very young, but he already had a well-established reputation as pastor of First Baptist Church, Marion, Illinois. Kevin and Lynette and their young family moved to Louisville and quickly became a part of our lives.

Very quickly, we learned that Kevin Ezell is a gifted pastor who gives everything he has to his role and office. He has a wonderful sense of humor, a keen pastoral touch, and a real feel for the congregation. He feeds, leads, and encourages with skill and dedication. I have also seen him do the hard work of ministry, confronting sin and dealing with it biblically.

THIRD, because Kevin is a born leader. Where you find Kevin, you rarely find him alone. He mentors, leads, and energizes constantly. He has tremendous leadership skills that are desperately needed in the Southern Baptist Convention and at the North American Mission Board. A host of younger men all over this denomination will tell you of the impact Kevin has made on their lives and ministries. The evidence of his leadership is not only evident in the remarkable growth of Highview Baptist Church, but also in the growth of the leaders within and beyond the church. Just ask men like Dr. Jimmy Scroggins, senior pastor at First Baptist Church, West Palm Beach, Florida. We need his leadership at the North American Mission Board.

FOURTH, because Kevin is a true visionary. When he came to Highview Baptist Church, Kevin found a large neighborhood church. Within a matter of just a few years, Highview was a large regional church with a ministry to the entire city and beyond. The successful establishment of additional campuses and an entire range of ministries is testimony to his strategic vision — and his ability to turn a vision into a reality. Nothing stays the same for long around Kevin.

FIFTH, Kevin is a man of tremendous Great Commission passion and commitment. He is a personal evangelist, a leader of evangelism, and a pastor of a church that models evangelism. He is a man of world mission vision, having led Highview to see itself as a world congregation. He has led mission trips around the world, and Highview now points with pride to a large number of former members who are now serving around the world with the International Mission Board — with more in the pipeline. Highview has worked with the North American Mission Board in establishing new churches around the United States. A sense of Great Commission zeal permeates Highview as a church.

SIXTH, Kevin is deeply committed to the Southern Baptist Convention and its work. When I first met him, he was serving as President of the Illinois Baptist Pastor’s Conference. Just this last year, he served as President of the SBC Pastor’s Conference. He has served as a trustee at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and he is a graduate of both Southwestern [M.Div.] and Southern [D.Min.]. He and his wife Lynette are also graduates of a state Baptist institution, Union University, where two of their daughters are now students. He has mentored many into deeper involvement in the SBC, and his leadership is truly needed now. He has taught many young ministers through his role on the Southern Seminary teaching faculty. You find great loyalty to the SBC in his wake.

SEVENTH, Kevin is a man of great conviction. He has taken stands for the full authority, truthfulness, and inerrancy of the Bible. He has defended the faith, and he holds fast to biblical truth. He can be trusted to do the same at the helm of NAMB.

FINALLY, Kevin and Lynette Ezell are a team. Their marriage glorifies God and encourages all. Lynette is a gifted woman who has committed her life to Christ, her husband, and her family. Their family, rounded out with children Anna, Shelly, Taylor, John Michael, Libby, and Micah Lyn, is a testimony to the redemptive love of God and the example of a family fully devoted to Christ. Southern Baptists will find great pride in them.

I am losing a pastor, but gaining a tremendous SBC colleague. I can’t wait to see what God does through the leadership of Dr. Kevin Ezell as President of the North American Mission Board.

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A Moment of Decision: Will Southern Baptists Face the Future, or Will We Flinch? Wed, 09 Jun 2010 08:32:12 +0000 A great sense of historical importance looms as the 2010 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention fast approaches. The messengers to the SBC meeting in Orlando will cast many important votes, but one exceeds all others in significance, and that is the vote on the report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.

Southern Baptists have faced such moments before. In 1845, those messengers who founded the SBC took a great step of faith as they created a convention of Baptist churches called by and committed to a Great Commission vision. Southern Baptists faced another moment when they revolutionized the denomination in 1925 by adopting the Cooperative Program as the unified means of supporting our Great Commission efforts, established the Executive Committee, and adopted our first confession of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message.

Throughout the years from 1979 to 1990, Southern Baptists showed up in force to reclaim the denomination for the full authority and integrity of the Bible and the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Each of those conventions was a moment of historical consequence. The same was true in 1995, when Southern Baptists adopted the Covenant for a New Century, streamlining the convention as it celebrated its 150th anniversary.

Now, once again, Southern Baptists will convene for a meeting that will make history. Messengers to the 2009 convention in Louisville overwhelmingly adopted a motion calling for a task force to report this year concerning how Southern Baptists may work more faithfully and effectively together in service to the Great Commission. A generation of younger Southern Baptists is gripped by a vision for a Great Commission Resurgence, and Southern Baptists of every generation are reminded again of the reality of a lost world and of Christ’s commission to His church — the command to make disciples of all the nations.

The Southern Baptist Convention is a massive denomination. No task force or committee can review the totality of the convention’s work and reach. Nevertheless, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force dedicated itself to making the greatest Great Commission impact as Southern Baptists face the future.

The Task Force’s report will be presented to the Convention on Tuesday, June 15, and that day will go down as a turning point in this denomination’s life and work. This is true, not only in light of the report and recommendations presented by the Task Force, but in light of the attitude and passions that will be revealed in the deliberation and vote.

I am convinced that the recommendations we are presenting are both right and reasonable. They are not a revolution in themselves, but they point to the future with a statement that we are determined to be far more serious about reaching the nations and our own continent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The report is honest in setting the reality of lostness before us, and calling us to a renewed commitment to make disciples of all the nations. The report respects our Baptist polity and is based in gratitude for all that Southern Baptists have done in generations past. The recommendations are constructed with care to preserve the bonds that hold us together, and also to propel us into the future determined to do more, not less, in faithfulness to Christ.

Change is never easy, and change merely for the sake of change is a charade. Nevertheless, God’s people are called to make whatever changes are necessary in order to obey the commands of Christ. Southern Baptists are a people committed to the Great Commission. That commitment will be shared by every messenger who arrives in Orlando ready to do the Convention’s business. The future of the Southern Baptist Convention will not rest on this vote alone, but who can calculate what it will mean as a watching world and a rising generation watch to see if we are serious about emboldened Great Commission faithfulness in the future?

The looming question in Orlando is this — will Southern Baptists face the future with boldness, eagerness, and faithfulness, or will we choose business as usual? In other words, the real question is whether Southern Baptists will face the future, or flinch. So much rests on the answer to that question.

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Cooperative Missions and the Great Commission Resurgence Wed, 03 Mar 2010 23:07:11 +0000 Reaching the people of North America with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been a primary purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention since its beginning in 1845. Over the last 150 years and more, Southern Baptists have been working together to evangelize and plant churches throughout this continent.

Of course, reaching North America is a far larger task in terms of both geography and population than it was in 1845 – and far more complex as well.  Looking to the future, Southern Baptists must make the adjustments that will focus our work in order to make maximum impact on this land.

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has this very much in mind as we hope to assist Southern Baptists to be even more faithful in this task. With that in mind, we are recommending changes in the assignment of the North American Mission Board and changes in the way the board works with the state conventions.

Beginning in the 1950s, Southern Baptists began working with the state conventions through what were known as “Cooperative Agreements.” These agreements were undoubtedly a good idea, and they served well for many decades. The idea of the Cooperative Agreements is simple – the North American Mission Board (and originally, the Home Mission Board) established agreements with each state convention in order to avoid overlap, confusion, and duplication of work.

So, why is a change needed now? The answer is really very simple – the Cooperative Agreements are now outdated and confusing to Southern Baptists. When the Great Commission Task Force recommends the phased elimination of these agreements, we are calling for the North American Mission Board to rethink how it should relate to the state conventions so that the mission board retains a more focused ministry of assisting Southern Baptist churches to reach North America.

In the year 2009, about $50-million dollars was routed through these Cooperative Agreements. Many of these dollars were spent on the salaries of workers in the state conventions and associations. The monies are allocated and channeled in ways that are difficult to trace, much less to prioritize.

We are calling on the North American Mission Board to focus its energies on reaching North America, with a strategic concentration on unreached and underserved people groups, the cities, and the planting of healthy, reproducing churches. There is simply no way that Southern Baptists can be more effective and faithful in this task if we retain the funding mechanisms of the Cooperative Agreements.

Much of the impetus for this came from leaders of the North American Mission Board and others who have been hard at work in this task. The purpose is not to weaken relationships with the state conventions, nor to cut funding to effective programs and partnerships. The purpose is simple, and well recognized by anyone who leads an enterprise – NAMB must have the ability to focus its energies and strategic mission funds on efforts that truly match the priorities of the board, as it serves Southern Baptists.

We are calling for the North American Mission Board to concentrate on its task assigned by the Southern Baptist Convention – and to do so through the direct appointment of missionaries and church planters who are accountable to NAMB and deployed according to its national priorities. This echoes the call made by the Convention when it adopted the Covenant for a New Century in 1995. This is the necessary next step.

This does not mean that Southern Baptists will abandon pioneer areas and underserved regions. To the contrary, we are calling for even greater efforts in these areas of our mission and work. But we do not believe that Southern Baptists expect NAMB to be primarily engaged in replicating state convention structures and personnel.

The North American Mission Board will continue to work with state conventions, and to do so in partnership. But now is the time for a new partnership structure – a structure that liberates NAMB to do its work, while respecting the important work of the state conventions.

Will this mean change? Of course it will. But this is the kind of change necessary for Southern Baptists to step boldly into the future, and to reach North America with the Gospel. This is not the 1950s, and the challenges of reaching North America in the 21st century will require far more of us than the current structures will allow.

The North American Mission Board and the state conventions both have essential roles to play in this, and we need a new spirit and structure for the partnerships that will take us into the future. With this step, the North American Mission Board will be ready to make the most of these partnerships, and to move into the future with greater flexibility, strategic focus, and stewardship of mission resources.

In other words, we need something better than the Cooperative Agreements if we are to cooperate to the fullest. We are not living in the 1950s, and North America is waiting to see if Southern Baptists are serious about reaching this continent. I believe we are, and I can’t wait to see how the North American Mission Board will lead us in this great task.


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Heresy is Not Heroic — Is Crawford Howell Toy a Baptist Hero? Wed, 13 Jan 2010 07:59:49 +0000 Something deeply disturbing recently appeared at, the Web site for the Baptist Center for Ethics. Tony Cartledge, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and former editor of the Biblical Recorder, recently contributed an article that makes the astounding claim that both Lottie Moon and Crawford H. Toy should be considered “Baptist heroes.”

The article is breathtaking in its argument — that a man who abandoned the Christian faith was “no less devoted to Christ” than Southern Baptists’ most famous missionary.

In “Lottie Moon and Crawford Toy: Two Baptist Heroes,” Cartledge begins by noting the recent news that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth has secured a large collection of memorabilia from the house of Lottie Moon in P’ingtu City, China. Included in the 35,000 pounds of material are remnants of what is believed to be Lottie Moon’s rented home.

Cartledge took issue with comments made by Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, who noted that Lottie Moon was a defender of biblical orthodoxy. Patterson also cited Miss Moon’s breaking of her engagement with Crawford H. Toy over the issue of biblical authority. Indeed, there is ample evidence to suggest that Lottie Moon broke her engagement with Crawford Toy precisely over this question.

Nevertheless, Cartledge writes, “while there is evidence for a broken engagement, I’ve seen nothing to substantiate the motives Patterson attributes to Moon.” That statement seems especially odd given the fact that Cartledge cites an essay by the late Dan Gentry Kent of Southwestern Seminary — an essay that substantiates those motives.

The most troubling section of Cartledge’s article has little to do with Lottie Moon, however. After stating his admiration for Lottie Moon’s “willingness to suffer deprivation because of her devotion to Christ and to missions,” Cartledge then states, “Increasingly, I have also come to admire Crawford Toy, who was no less devoted to Christ, and was willing to suffer rejection by Southern Baptists rather than surrender to the narrow-minded demand that he forgo scholarship and limit his teaching to popularly accepted notions.”

The admiration of liberal Baptists for Crawford Howell Toy should be a matter of both amazement and genuine concern. It is also a telling indication of how many of those identified as “moderates” in the Southern Baptist Convention controversy actually view the Bible. To celebrate Toy is to celebrate his beliefs about the Bible. Those beliefs were not heroic.

Crawford Toy was a man of unquestioned brilliance. As a young man, he came to the attention of John A. Broadus during the time Broadus was pastor of the Charlottesville Baptist Church in Virginia. As a student in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s first class, Toy established his reputation for scholarship. He joined the faculty of Southern Seminary in 1869 as Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Oriental Languages. Prior to his election at Southern Seminary, Toy had studied at the University of Berlin for the years 1866-1868. As later became clear, Toy drank deeply from the wells of theological liberalism and Biblical criticism during his years in Germany.

In his inaugural address as a professor at Southern Seminary, Toy argued that the Bible has both a human and a divine element. As his theological pilgrimage revealed, Toy would use this hermeneutical distinction in order to argue that the Bible contains nothing but truth in its divine element, even as its human element shows all the marks of human fallibility. The human element contains both errors and myths, but the Bible’s “religious thought is independent of this outward form.”

Concerns about Toy’s teaching led to his eventual resignation from Southern Seminary — a resignation pressed upon him by the institution’s founding leaders and accepted by the vast majority of its trustees. Prior to his resignation, Toy had been warned by Broadus that his trajectory was headed toward serious theological error. Broadus also expressed his concern that Toy might eventually become a Unitarian. Eventually, Broadus’s worst fears were realized.

After his resignation from Southern Seminary, Crawford Toy accepted a professorship at Harvard University, where he taught for many years and established a reputation for scholarship. By all accounts, Toy was an esteemed member of the faculty. Nevertheless, Toy’s theological trajectory did indeed take him not only out of the Southern Baptist fellowship, but out of the Christian faith altogether. During his time at Harvard, Toy eventually became a Unitarian — a faith that denies the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. He also accepted an evolutionary understanding of religion which accepted religion as a purely natural phenomenon.

In other words, Toy became what Christians throughout all the centuries of church history and in all the major traditions of the Christian Church would rightly identify as a heretic. He abandoned faith in the deity of Christ and abandoned the Christian faith. Yet, moderates in the SBC controversy often celebrated Crawford Toy as a hero and as a theological martyr for academic scholarship. Tony Cartledge continues this tradition by expressing his admiration for Crawford Toy, going so far as to claim that he “was no less devoted to Christ” than Lottie Moon. “There’s more than one way to be a hero,” Cartledge concluded.

I can only hope that Tony Cartledge either does not understand or does not mean what he writes in this article. To declare Crawford Toy and Lottie Moon to be equally devoted to Christ defies both common sense and theological sanity.

As Old Testament scholar Paul House, now of the Beeson Divinity School, has argued, the roots of Toy’s later heresies were found in the presuppositions of his hermeneutic as he set forth his thought in his inaugural address at Southern Seminary. House does not question Toy’s personal integrity, noting his honesty in presenting his own beliefs. Toy himself recognized that his beliefs changed even during the years he taught at Southern Seminary. The key issue is that Toy’s understanding of the Bible left him completely vulnerable to every heresy and doctrinal aberration. Broadus rightly warned Toy of this danger at the time of his resignation.

We should grieve the example of Crawford Howell Toy and learn from it, even as we are inspired by the courageous and Gospel-centered witness of Lottie Moon. The story of Crawford Howell Toy contains a cautionary message for every Christian teacher, seminary, church, and denomination. The elevation of Crawford Toy to the status of a hero alongside one of Christianity’s most famous Gospel missionaries is both tragic and scandalous. Heresy is not heroic.


For more on Crawford Howell Toy and the history of Southern Seminary, see Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

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Younger Pastors and the Hope of a Future Thu, 12 Nov 2009 08:54:17 +0000 Tonight I spent a really encouraging few hours with a group of younger pastors — men who are being greatly used of God to reach their own generation and far beyond. That experience made me really thankful, and also led me to think about why Southern Baptists should be especially thankful for the rising generation of young pastors.

1. They are deeply committed to the Gospel and to the authority of Scripture. They are men driven by conviction and the ability to “connect the dots” theologically. They understand the threat of theological liberalism and want nothing of it. They love the Gospel and have a firm grip on it. They are animated by a biblical theology that brings them joy and grounds them in truth.

2. They love the church. They have resisted the temptation to give up on the church or to be satisfied with a parachurch form of ministry. They love people, love the church, and see the Body of Christ in terms of God’s redemptive purpose. They like the gritty work of the ministry and are not afraid. They understand the joy of authentic Christian community and they give their lives to it. They are recovering a biblical ecclesiology in its fullness. They affirm and practice church discipline. They see the glory of God in an inter-generational congregation of believers growing into faithfulness together.

3. They are gifted preachers and teachers. They rightly divide the Word of Truth and they make no apology for preaching the Bible. They are dedicated to expository preaching and they actually know what that means. They may not use pulpits, but they do have something important to say when they get before a congregation.

4. They are eager evangelists. They are driven by an urgency to see lost people come to know Jesus and become both believers and disciples. They are innovative in methodology and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They affirm that Jesus is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and they know that there is no other Gospel that saves.

5. They are complementarians who affirm the biblical roles for men and women in both the church and the home. They love God’s gift of marriage and the blessing of children, and they make clear that Christian discipleship requires faithfulness in marriage, family, parenthood, sexuality, and they embrace the Bible’s teaching concerning the roles of men and women. They motivate younger men to embrace God’s plan for their lives and lead. They talk openly about their joy in their wives and children. They change diapers.

6. They are men of vision. They apply intelligence and discernment to the building up of the church and the cause of the Gospel. They see and seize opportunities. They are planting and building churches that glorify God by reaching the world, preaching the Gospel, and changing lives. They are innovators and churchmen. They love a challenge. They would be embarrassed to aim low.

7. They are men of global reach and Great Commission passion. They long to see the nations exult in Christ. They know nothing of a world with fixed borders and nationalistic aims. They eagerly send, go, and give. They refuse to let their congregations fixate on themselves. They look at unreached people groups and hear the call.

8. They are men of joy. To be with them is to sense their joy and their lack of cynicism. They are not interested in complaining about the church. They are planters and fixers. They scratch their heads as they look at many denominational structures and habits, but they have not given up.

Most denominations now look to the younger generation and wonder if there will be any pastors, or if the younger pastors will love the Gospel, preach the Word, and commit themselves to the church and the Great Commission. Southern Baptists are now blessed to look at the rising generation of pastors and see so much that should bring satisfaction, hope, and joy. The younger you go in the Southern Baptist Convention, the more conviction you discover. There is reason for great hope.

I go to bed tonight having been encouraged by my time with these young pastors. I get to see this rising generation every day on the campus of Southern Seminary. I also know that none of this would be happening here if a generation of SBC pastors and leaders had not fought the good fight and recovered this denomination for the cause of truth, the authority of the Bible, and the furtherance of the Gospel.

All this will send a man to a thankful sleep.


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Danny the Demythologizer — Akin on the Great Commission Resurgence Tue, 27 Oct 2009 00:11:00 +0000 Rudolf Bultmann, one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century theology, was known for his program of “demythologization.”  A committed theological liberal, Bultmann was convinced that modernity meant the end of supernaturalism. As he explained, modern people who use electric razors and electric lights (both fairly new in his day) do not believe in a literal Heaven and Hell, he advised. He called for modern interpreters of the New Testament separate a continuing existential message from the “mythological” supernatural elements.

Bultmann called this method of stripping the supernatural from the New Testament “demythologization.” Dispel the myths, Bultmann commanded.

Well, theologically speaking, there is hardly a figure more oppposed to Rudolf Bultmann than Danny Akin, President of Southestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Dr. Akin is a staunch defender of the inerrancy of Scripture and a defender of the faith. When it comes to the supernatural claims of Scripture, Dr. Akin stands firm. Yet, in his own way, he knows a myth when he sees one.

In a series of short articles, Dr. Akin has recently responded to various myths about the Great Commission Resurgence. He gave leadership to framing many of these issues, and his article series is well worth the reading. Danny the Demythologizer sets the record straight.

GCR Myth #1: The goal of [particular members of] the Task Force to get more money to the nations is only a smoke screen to get more money to the seminaries.

GCR Myth #2: The goal of [certain members of] the Task Force is to turn North American church planting over to Acts 29 or to at least enter into a formal partnership with them.

Myth #3: The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force is attempting to influence and even control the search committee process at the Executive Committee, the IMB and NAMB.

Myth #4: The goal of the Great Commission Task Force is to dismantle if not destroy the Cooperative Program as we know it today.

Myth #5: The GCR is actually a grand Calvinist plot to infiltrate the SBC and gain control or at least greater influence in the Convention.

Myth #6: Many members of the GCRTF are fundamentally opposed to the work of local associations and state conventions.

Myth #7: The GCRTF is about diluting our Baptist identity and distinctives so that we begin to look more like the American Evangelical Convention than the Southern Baptist Convention.

Myth #8: The GCRTF plans to abolish NAMB or dissolve it into the IMB.

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