April 2009

Akin calls for streamlining SBC

April 20 2009 by Jason Hall, SEBTS Communications

WAKE FOREST (BP) — The lordship of Christ and the centrality of the gospel in Christian ministry must be the foundation of a Great Commission resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Daniel Akin declared April 16 in a chapel message at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Akin, the seminary’s president, has been spearheading a movement that he hopes will lead to a “Great Commission resurgence” in the SBC to follow the “conservative resurgence” of the 1980s and 1990s. Akin has said the natural outcome of a return to the authority and inerrancy of scripture in churches should be a renewed commitment to local and world evangelism that leads to partnership in ministry.
Akin opened his message with a reference to Acts 1, when the disciples asked Christ when He would restore the kingdom to Israel. This question, he said, was interesting; but Christ’s answer indicated that it was not the important issue of the time.
“Like the disciples, Southern Baptists today run the risk of being distracted from the main thing,” Akin said. “Many of the issues we are emphasizing and debating are interesting things, but they are not the most important things. They don’t line up well with the priorities we find revealed in Holy Scripture. The result is that we are fractured and factionalizing. We are confused, having lost our spiritual compass.”
Akin noted that his agenda for a “Great Commission resurgence” is positive and forward-looking, emphasizing the key doctrines of the faith that will call SBC churches to radical obedience.
Akin then outlined 12 “axioms of a “Great Commission resurgence.”
Axiom 1: Churches must be committed to the lordship of Jesus Christ in every area. To overlook this, he said, is to miss the point entirely.
“When the world thinks of us, they should think first, ‘those are the folks in love with Jesus. They are the people obsessed with Jesus. Those people talk and act and serve and love like Jesus.’ Southern Baptists are Jesus people!”
Axiom 2: Gospel-centeredness controls every aspect of any endeavor, for the glory of God. Being gospel-centered, Akin said, means being grace-centered, loving those who are scorned and rejected by others. It also means that everything Southern Baptists do should proclaim the substitutionary death of Christ and his victorious resurrection.
“Too many of our pulpits have jettisoned the proclamation of the Gospel,” he said. “Too many of our people have lost the meaning and therefore the wonder of the gospel. We must get it right once again if we are to experience a Great Commission resurgence. No gospel, no Great Commission resurgence. It really is that simple.”
Axiom 3: Southern Baptists must continue to stand on the firm foundation of the inerrant and infallible Word of God, affirming its sufficiency in all matters.
“Wonderful men of God like Jimmy Draper, Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines spilt their blood and put their ministries on the line because they saw what the poison of liberalism was doing to our Convention and its institution. These men are heroes of the faith and what they did must be honored and never forgotten,” he said. “A younger generation of Southern Baptists will eventually face this challenge, and you must not squander away precious theological ground that is absolutely essential to a Great Commission resurgence.”
Axiom 4: The pursuit of the Great Commission must be done in the context of the great commandments of Matthew 22.
“The ultimate motivation for the Great Commission is love of God and a passion to be on mission with him,” Akin said. “But flowing out of love for God also will be a genuine love for people, something too many of us have lost somewhere along the way. The results have devastated our witness.”
Among other things, the implications of this axiom are that a “Great Commission resurgence” does not depend on political activism.
“Governmental legislation will not stop the moral plunge of our nation and the world, but the gospel will,” Akin said. “Our hope is not in Republicans or Democrats, Congress or Capitol Hill. Our hope, the world’s hope, is in Calvary’s hill and a crucified and risen savior named King Jesus. Love for God and love for our neighbor demands that we not get sidetracked by political machinations.”
Axiom 5: Affirmation of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a healthy and sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, and a refusal to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract churches from the Great Commission. This means celebrating the many areas of agreement, he said.
But it also means that issues like the precise constitution of the human person, the exact nature of congregational church governance, the timing of the rapture and the number of tenets of Calvinism one claims, should not lead Southern Baptists to splinter.
“Our agreement on The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is an asset, not a weakness,” Akin said. “It is a plus and not a minus. If I were to pen my own confession it would not look exactly like the BF&M 2000. But then I do not want nor do I need people exactly like me in order to work together for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the building of his church.”
Axiom 6: A passionate pursuit of the Great Commission’s command to go to the United States and all nations, to disciple, baptize and teach. Starting at home, this means racial reconciliation in every Southern Baptist church and a commitment to reach those of every race and social class in their own communities and elsewhere.
“We must pursue a vision for our churches that looks like heaven,” Akin said. “Yes, we must go around the world to reach Asians and Europeans, the Africans and the South Americans. But we must also go across the street, down the road and into every corner of our local mission field where God, in grace, has brought the nations to us.
“This means planting authentically Bible/Baptist churches and filling them with authentic followers of Jesus, irrespective of nationality, race, economic or social status. Genuine discipleship is not negotiable.”
Axiom 7: A covenant among families to build Gospel-centered homes that see children as a gift from God and as parents’ first and primary mission field. Southern Baptists, he said, have bought into cultural lies about the nature of motherhood, the role of fathers and the blessings of children.
“Will you pray for God to call your children and grandchildren into vocational ministry?” Akin asked. “To go to the nations far away and to the hard places as an international missionary? Will you get a Godward perspective for life, for marriage, for family?”
Axiom 8: The need to rethink convention structure and identity to maximize energy and resources for the fulfilling of the Great Commission. Akin recognized that this point may generate some controversy, but he noted that it remains essential.
“We have become bloated and bureaucratic,” he said. “It is easier to move some things through the federal government than the Southern Baptist Convention. Overlap and duplication in our associations, state and national conventions is strangling us. We waste time and resources and many are fed up.
“The rally cry of the ‘conservative resurgence’ was, ‘We will not give our monies to liberal institutions.’ Now the cry of the Great Commission resurgence is, ‘We will not give our money to bloated bureaucracies.’”
Akin called on Southern Baptist leaders to rethink everything they do — boards, organizations, agencies, structures — in light of a Great Commission agenda that maximizes cooperation and minimizes bureaucracy in planting churches and getting the gospel to all people, everywhere.
Axiom 9: The necessity for pastors to be faithful Bible preachers who teach both the content of the scriptures and the theology embedded in the scriptures.
“Today I sense a real hunger in a younger generation for strong Bible teaching and Christian theology,” Akin said. “That is a wonderfully positive sign. With the waning of a cultural Christianity that cannot survey the attacks of a sophisticated and growing secularism, only faithful teaching of the Bible will equip 21st century believers to stand strong as defenders of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.”
Axiom 10: The need to encourage pastors to see themselves as the head of a gospel missions agency who will lead the way in calling out the called for international assignments and also equip and train all their people to see themselves as missionaries for Jesus regardless of where they live.
“Our churches do not exist to serve the Southern Baptist Convention,” Akin said. “The Southern Baptist Convention at all levels exists to serve the churches, end of discussion. The local church is to be ground zero for the mission of God. Here is the ‘spiritual outpost’ for the invasion of enemy territory as we reclaim lost ground for its rightful owner, King Jesus. A new vision that I pray will grip the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention is, “every church a church planting church.’”
Axiom 11: A renewed cooperation that is gospel-centered and built around a biblical and theological core and not methodological consensus or agreement. Among other things, this recognizes the need for different methods and strategies in different contexts.
“Cultivating the mind of a missionary we will ask, ‘What is the best way to reach with the gospel the people I live amongst?’” Akin said. “Waycross, Ga., will look different than Las Vegas, Nev. Montgomery, Ala., will look different than Portland, Ore. Boston will be different than Dallas. Memphis will have a different strategy than Miami. Various ethnic believers and social/cultural tribes will worship the same God, adore the same Jesus, believe the same Bible and preach the same gospel. However, they may meet in different kinds of structure, wear different kinds of clothes, sing different kinds of songs and engage in different kinds of ministries.”
Axiom 12: The need for churches and believers in those churches to “accept our constant need to humble ourselves and repent of pride, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, contentions, lying, selfish ambitions, laziness, complacency, idolatries and other sins of the flesh; pleading with our Lord to do what only He can do in us and through us and all for his glory.”
Akin said this means those younger leaders need to repent of their pride and refusal to learn from an older and wiser generation. Seasoned veterans of the faith, likewise, need to repent of their arrogance in refusing to let younger men speak and lead in a meaningful way.
“I would submit that there is plenty of sin for all of us to repent of,” Akin said.
Akin concluded by noting that God is about to do a mighty work through Southern Baptists in the 21st century.
“We desperately need the heart of Jesus,” he said. “We need the eyes of Jesus. If we can get to that, we will have what we need to move forward as a mighty Great Commission army going forth to do battle for the captain of our salvation and the Savior of souls. If not, we will find ourselves on the sidelines playing silly and meaningless games while God’s mighty army moves on without us. Brothers and sisters, I have found the army I want to fight with. It’s called the church. I have found the commander-in-chief I want to serve. His name is Jesus. I have found the enemy I want to destroy. It is Satan, sin, death and hell. Will you join me? There is victory for the taking!”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hall is director of communications for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Audio and video of Akin’s address is available free for viewing and download at www.sebts.edu.)
4/20/2009 7:43:00 AM by Jason Hall, SEBTS Communications | with 0 comments

Many pastors say global warming not man-made

April 17 2009 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Though many people insist global warming is real and man-made, Protestant pastors aren’t entirely convinced, according to a new study from LifeWay Research.

The telephone survey of 1,002 randomly selected Protestant pastors, conducted in October 2008, discovered that pastors are evenly split about whether global warming is real and man-made. It also found that views of pastors vary widely by denomination, location and even the individual pastor’s ideologies.

Pastors are split over whether global warming is real and man-made.

Asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statement, “I believe global warming is real and man-made,” pastors split down the middle: 47 percent agree either strongly or somewhat, while 47 percent disagree either strongly or somewhat. The remainder indicate “don’t know.”

The differences of opinion, however, are seen more sharply when analyzed in relation to a pastor’s denominational affiliation and geographic location. Fully 75 percent of pastors in mainline denominations agree global warming is real and man-made, but only 32 percent of pastors in evangelical denominations agree. Pastors in rural areas are less convinced than large-city pastors. Forty-three percent of rural pastors and 55 percent of large-city pastors agree. Pastors in the Eastern and Western United States are more persuaded, 60 percent and 53 percent, respectively, than pastors in the South (45 percent) and Midwest (40 percent).

When the pastors’ personal beliefs are factored in, the differences grow even more pronounced. Among pastors who consider their political ideology liberal or very liberal, 93 percent agree that global warming is real and man-made, and 79 percent of self-perceived moderates agree. Among those who identify themselves as conservative or very conservative politically, however, agreement is only 37 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Additionally, while 75 percent of pastors in churches affiliated with mainline denominations agree global warming is real and man-made, only 67 percent of those who consider themselves mainline agree. By comparison, 32 percent of pastors in evangelical-affiliated congregations agree, but 41 percent of those who consider themselves evangelical agree.

“Not all pastors who consider themselves mainline serve in churches in denominations that are traditionally considered mainline,” said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. “Similarly, not all pastors who consider themselves evangelical serve in denominations that are traditionally considered evangelical. Yet these denominational roots provide a strong indication of what a church’s pastor believes about global warming.”

Addressing the environment
The majority of Protestant pastors (52 percent) address environmental issues once a year or less, according to the research, but 25 percent say they speak on the subject several times a year. Eleven percent say they never speak to their church members about the environment, but 12 percent say they address the issue at least once a month.

These differences in frequency are also seen more sharply when analyzed in relation to a pastor’s denominational affiliation and geographic location. In mainline denominations, 61 percent of pastors speak on the environment several times a year or more, but only 23 percent of evangelical pastors say they address it that often. Fewer rural-area pastors (34 percent) than large-city pastors (45 percent) speak on the subject that often. Forty-eight percent of pastors in the Eastern United States and 41 percent in the West say they address the environment several times a year or more, while pastors in the South and Midwest speak about it less often, 32 percent and 35 percent respectively.

Again, when the pastors’ personal beliefs are factored in, the differences are more pronounced. Among pastors who see their own political ideology as liberal or very liberal, 75 percent say they speak to their congregations about the environment at least several times a year, and 62 percent of moderates say they address the subject that often. Among those who identify themselves as conservative or very conservative politically, however, only 25 percent and 18 percent respectively indicate they speak about it that often.

Sixty-one percent of pastors in churches affiliated with mainline denominations say they speak on the environment several times a year or more, but only 53 percent of those who consider themselves mainline say they do so. In another reverse twist, while 23 percent of pastors in evangelical-affiliated congregations indicate they speak that often on the environment, 32 percent of those who consider themselves evangelical say they address the issue at least several times a year.

Pastors speak to their congregations about the environment more frequently if they are convinced global warming is a real and man-made danger.

Sixty-nine percent of pastors who strongly agree that global warming is real and man-made speak to their churches about the environment several times a year or more.

Far fewer pastors who are less inclined to agree global warming is a real and man-made issue speak about the environment frequently. Speaking to their church on the environment several times a year or more occurs among 36 percent of pastors who somewhat agree that global warming is real and man-made and among fewer pastors who somewhat disagree (26 percent) or strongly disagree (17 percent).

“Protestant pastors are split on the issue of man-made global warming and their views impact their communication,” said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. “Mainline clergy answer the question with similar numbers to self-identified Democrats and liberals in surveys of the general public. Evangelical clergy answer the question in similar percents to Republicans and conservatives. At the end of the day, Protestant pastors are as divided as Americans are on the issue of global warming.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

4/17/2009 8:57:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

On BASS circuit, chaplain fishes for men

April 16 2009 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

GREER, S.C. — The guy in the flashy boat whips his arm forward, casting the sun-glistened lure through the spring air with a whistling sound. The lure splashes among the cattails lining the shallow banks of the lake. As the line is reeled in slowly, there’s the unmistakable jerk and a seven-pound bass explodes out of the water, ready for battle.

A seemingly idyllic life on the surface, the professional bass fisherman’s life is rife with pressure and temptation.

For every big-name pro like Kevin VanDam, Bill Dance or Roland Martin, plenty of guys finish out of the money or barely make enough to squeak by.

Addictions and issues with families and lonely lives also are common for an angler on the road. Chris Wells sees it all.

BP photo

Chris Wells, a popular speaker, evangelist and chaplain on the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament trail, speaks to a group of men at a dove shoot outreach at a farm near Athens, Ga., where Wells saw nearly 60 men pray to receive Christ.

Wells, 42, grew up in Summerton, S.C., near the Santee Cooper Reservoir, about an hour from Columbia. With a dad and brother who loved fishing, he had a bait-casting reel at age 6. His boyhood heroes were bass pros, not pro baseball or football players. Young Chris fine-tuned his fishing skills reading Bassmaster magazine and watching the Saturday fishing shows on TV.

As a student at Francis Marion College in Florence, S.C., Wells gave his life to Christ one night under a pecan tree. Today, he is a popular speaker, evangelist and chaplain on the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament trail for the Fellowship of Christian Anglers Society. The Bassmaster tour is owned by ESPN, the sports television network.

“I’ve never fished professionally and don’t now,” Wells said. “Bassmaster wanted a chaplain who knew competitive fishing but was not a competitor. The Bassmaster tour guys didn’t think the pros would open up to another competitor. Say a pro needed counseling or encouraging because he’s not catching fish, he wouldn’t admit that to a competitor and ask him to pray for him.”

Being a Bassmaster chaplain is just like pastoring a church, said Wells, who has studied toward an M.Div. degree first at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas and now at Liberty University in Virginia.

“They come to me with some tough problems. At a recent tournament at Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, one of the pros got a call that his dad had just died. He didn’t know what to do. If he chose to go home right then, he wouldn’t get any points for the tournament and wouldn’t make any money for his family. It was a tough call.”

And just like the pastor of a church, Wells has to minister to all kinds of guys — some wildly successful, rich and famous, others not so much. Some of the anglers need counseling for addictions to alcohol or pornography or for a struggling marriage.

“Some of the guys are millionaires,” Wells said. “When you go into Wal-Marts, you see their faces on packages of fishing lures. ... Then you have the guys who are eating peanut butter, sleeping in tents in campgrounds, trying to earn enough just to cover expenses and get to the next event.”

Professional anglers earn everything they get and laugh when they hear of the pressures on pros in other sports, such as NASCAR or golf, Wells said.

“Pressure is when there are only 10 minutes left in the tournament and you have to catch a five-pounder to earn enough money to get back home. The last-place golfer still gets a $25,000 check. The last-place pro fisherman goes home with nothing.”

Wells said the Bassmaster “season” normally includes 13 tournaments but because of the down economy, there will be only eight tournaments in 2009. Practice days are Mondays through Wednesdays, with 101 pros opening each tournament on a Thursday. That field is cut back to 50 and then to only a dozen the last day.

“Only the top 50 get paid,” Wells said. “This year, there will be only eight chances to win. While the winner of a Bassmaster tournament wins $100,000 and the next top 50 fishermen in a tournament win from $10,000-$25,000, 51 guys go home with nothing.” All Bassmaster contestants must pay a $5,000 entry fee per tournament and cover expenses related to their boat, lodging and travel.

“A lot of people think bass fishing is all about luck,” Wells said. “It’s all about giftedness, not just luck. I could practice my golf swing 14 hours a day but would never be a Tiger Woods.

BP photo

Chris Wells, a North American Mission Board Mission Service Corps missionary, serves as chaplain for the Bassmaster Elite Series, traveling to tournaments in his colorful pickup.

Kevin VanDam (four-time BASS Angler of the Year) is the Tiger Woods of bass fishing. He’s the most gifted fisherman on the planet. He can catch fish when no one else can. But he’s gifted, not just lucky.”

As a self-funded Mission Service Corps missionary with the North American Mission Board, Wells (www.chriswells.org) raises his own support for Wellspoken Ministries, a ministry he founded in 2004. When he’s not at Bassmaster tournaments, he’s much in demand — especially from January through October — on the church wild game dinner circuit.

“I arrive early on tournament days,” Wells said. “I don’t do hard-sell evangelism. I try to catch the guys in casual situations when they’re going out on the lake or coming off. I do servant evangelism and try to build relationships with them.”

As chaplain for the Fellowship of Christian Anglers Society, Wells also leads “FOCAS” meetings (Bible studies) the Wednesday night before a bass tournament begins. At the first 2009 tournament at Lake Amistad in March, he spoke not only to the pros but to tournament marshals as well. Nine prayed to receive Christ, Wells said.

“I always tell stories to get the guys hooked. Faith comes by hearing. I just don’t preach to them,” he said, adding that he typically works in the sinner’s prayer.

This coming summer, the North American Mission Board has signed Wells to speak at four World Changers events and one Power Plant event. Both aimed at students, Power Plant is a church-planting initiative for young people, while World Changer participants gather in cities across North America to repair and renovate housing in low-income neighborhoods.

Reflecting his hectic schedule, Wells recently left a Tuesday night preaching commitment in South Carolina, climbed into his colorful, bass-and-logo-”wrapped” GMC pickup truck and began the 14-hour journey to yet another pro bass tournament — this one at Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas.

Wells and Pam, his wife of 14 years, currently make their home in Greer, S.C., and have two sons, Stephen, 10, and Wesley, 6. They are members of Brushy Creek Baptist Church, where Wells has served as a student pastor and minister of evangelism.

Chris Wells is one of more than 5,600 North American Mission Board missionaries supported by Southern Baptist gifts to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and the Cooperative Program. To learn more about how NAMB missionaries share Christ through outdoor ministries, visit www.omxtv.com and click on the episode titled “Outdoor Sportsmen.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

4/16/2009 3:42:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Young adults consider themselves spiritual

April 16 2009 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There’s a surprising new description for unchurched young adults in the United States: spiritual. Despite popular reports that young people aren’t interested in spiritual matters, newly released survey data from LifeWay Research and the Center for Missional Research at the North American Mission Board shows the opposite to be true.

According to the study, 73 percent of unchurched 20- to 29-year-old Americans consider themselves “spiritual” because they want to know more about “God or a higher supreme being.” That figure is 11 percent higher than among unchurched individuals who are age 30 and older.

The survey data was released in the book Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them by Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley and Jason Hayes and released by the B&H Publishing Group, the publishing arm of LifeWay Christian Resources.

“Our hope is that this research will propel church leaders forward in their efforts to reach this generation,” said Hayes, a young adult ministry specialist at LifeWay. “(Young adults’) high level of interest in these matters provides us a great opportunity to connect them with the things of God. Much of what they are looking for can be found in relationship with Him and His church.”

The survey data also indicated that young adults have an openness to conversations about Christianity. Eighty-nine percent of unchurched young adults say they would listen to what someone believes about Christianity. That number is 14 percent higher than among those 30 and older.

Young adults also would react positively to invitations from friends to study the Bible. Survey respondents were asked to affirm the following statement: “I would be willing to study the Bible if a friend asked me to.” Sixty-one percent of 20-somethings responded, “Yes.” That’s about 20 percent higher than affirmative responses from older generations.

“It is a mistake to think that young adults, even unchurched young adults, are not interested in spiritual things,” said Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. “They are interested, but they are looking for spirituality often in every place except the church.”

The survey data also revealed opportunities for churches among 20-somethings: 63 percent said they would attend church if it presented truth to them in an understandable way “that relates to my life now.” Only 47 percent of respondents 30 years old and older agreed.

Unchurched young people also want to know the church cares about them. According to the survey data, 58 percent of 20-somethings would be more likely to attend if people at the church “cared for them as a person.”

“Christianity is built primarily on meaningful relationships with God and others,” Hayes said. “It’s the reality of our relationships that makes Christ believable to an unbelieving society. Churches can flourish when they show genuine love and interest toward those inside and outside their churches.”

Unchurched young adults also were more willing than older adults to join a small group in order to learn more about the Bible and Jesus. The survey showed 46 percent of unchurched young adults — compared to 27 percent of older adults — would attend such a small group.

“It is a mistake to say that young adults now are as connected to church as previous generations — they aren’t,” Stetzer said. “But it is a bigger mistake to think they are not open to spiritual things because they are.

“There are challenges and opportunities here, and our hope is that the church will recognize the challenge of reaching an increasingly post-Christian generation and seize the opportunity of their spiritual openness to proclaim a life-transforming and biblical gospel,” Stetzer said.

The national phone survey included 900 unchurched respondents between the ages of 20 and 29 and 502 respondents age 30 and over. The research was conducted during three separate projects from 2005-08.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Perry writes for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

4/16/2009 3:41:00 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Wildfire puts disaster relief leader in need

April 15 2009 by Bob Nigh, Baptist Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — For 10 years, Sam Porter has been responding to other people’s needs when tragedy strikes. In the early evening hours of April 9, however, the disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma found himself in an eerie role reversal as a wildfire came within a few feet of destroying his north Oklahoma City home.

That Thursday evening was supposed to be one of celebration and reflection as Porter was accompanying his wife Sheryl to a banquet sponsored by the Oklahoma Public Health Association at the Sheraton Hotel downtown. He was to receive the association’s 2009 Volunteer Service Award during the group’s annual conference.

Photo by Chad Kerrigan

The hay bale alongside Sam Porter’s barn burns in an April 9 wildfire.

As the Porters emerged from the hotel elevator about 5:30 p.m., his cell phone rang. A neighbor was calling to tell him the pasture and five-stall horse barn on Porter’s five-acre property was on fire. Embers from a blaze in the field had been blown by high winds onto a roll of hay Porter kept near the barn to feed several fallow deer he keeps on the property.

“With the humidity down to around 10 percent, the barn and hay were just like a tinderbox and burned rapidly,” said Porter, who quickly raced home with his wife before the banquet began.

Porter said he had a sense of calm as he drove home, not knowing if anything would still be there when they arrived.

“Once I realized my house wasn’t burning I was OK,” he said. “I go all over the world and see stuff everywhere but as we were driving home, Sheryl said, ‘We need to hurry. It may already be on fire.’ And I said, ‘It’s just stuff.’”

They were greeted in their driveway by five fire trucks and a host of Oklahoma City firefighters working to put out the barn fire and dousing flames a mere 10 feet from the Porters’ home.

Porter’s next door neighbor, Chad Kerrigan, noticed an ember had landed close to the house and alerted firefighters, who were intently focusing their efforts on the barn, which is about 25 yards away.

“Chad really saved the house from being burned,” Porter said. “I saw they had everything under control, so we went back to the banquet.”

Photo by Chad Kerrigan

Worried deer huddle as the wildfire burns nearby.

Because of the dry and windy conditions, wildfires were becoming a serious problem in eastern Oklahoma County, Porter said.

“After the banquet, I checked the barn one more time and then put on my DR (disaster relief) shirt and told the firemen, ‘You guys are doing what you’re supposed to do — taking care of property. I’ve got to go take care of people.’“

Porter drove over to First Baptist Church in Nicoma Park, where a shelter had been set up for fire victims. He was on his way back home about 10 p.m. when his wife called to say the barn was on fire again.

The firefighters came back and knocked down the blaze again.

“The next day, I drove down to southern Oklahoma to Vela and Fox and Ratliff City to survey the damage, and there were probably 40 to 50 houses burned down in that area,” Porter said.

State officials initially estimated that between 100 and 150 homes were destroyed by wildfires April 9-10 in Oklahoma and Lincoln counties in the central part of the state, and Stephens and Carter counties to the south.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Nigh is managing editor of the Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.)

4/15/2009 5:53:00 AM by Bob Nigh, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Is Christianity the one true religion?’

April 15 2009 by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press

NEW ORLEANS — A 2008 Pew Forum survey found that 65 percent of Americans believe many religions lead to eternal life — and that 52 percent of American Christians believe salvation can be found in at least some non-Christian religions.
At a time when American belief is shifting toward religious pluralism — the idea that all religions are equal in offering truth — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) annual Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum addressed the question: “Is Christianity the one true religion?”
“The topic is very important given the politically correct, tolerance-laden culture we find ourselves living in today,” said Robert Stewart, director of the Greer-Heard Forum and associate professor of philosophy and theology at NOBTS. “Ultimately we need to take a stand on the clear teaching of God’s Word, which teaches us that Jesus is the only Savior of the world.”
Evangelical Christians as a whole are not embracing pluralism, Stewart said, but some are drifting away from an exclusive view of salvation.
“Some Christians are probably more inclusivistic in their theology than pluralistic,” he said. “The recent Pew Forum survey found that a majority of American Christians believe that some non-Christian faiths lead to eternal life and that 37 percent of those Christians were evangelical Christians.”
The keynote speakers for the March 27-28 forum, Harold Netland of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Paul Knitter of Union Theological Seminary, presented divergent answers to the question of pluralism.
Citing the often-conflicting and contradictory views of various religions, Netland rejected pluralism as a viable option. He argued in favor of the evangelical position that Christianity is the one true religion. Knitter, who identifies himself as a Christian and disciple of Jesus Christ, argued that Jesus “is a way open to other ways.”
Netland opened the forum by acknowledging, “The assertion that Christianity is the one true religion for all people strikes many as hopelessly out of touch with current realities.” Such a claim, he said, “seems to display generous amounts of both intellectual naivety and arrogance.”
“Nevertheless, with proper qualification, I do believe that the Christian faith as defined by the Christian scriptures is true and that this sets the Christian faith apart from other religious traditions,” Netland said.
Affirming the truth of Christianity does not deem all aspects of other religions false; Netland said other religious traditions do contain beauty and goodness — often in the area of moral and ethical teachings. However, beliefs that are incompatible with essential Christian teachings must be rejected, Netland said.
Netland said he rejects pluralism in part because the major world religions tend to make often-exclusive truth claims. Religious adherents from most traditions are expected to regard the claims of their religion as true, he said. These truth assertions are not meant to be taken as personal or mythological.
“Each religion regards its own assertions as correct or superior to those of its rivals,” Netland said. “When we consider carefully what the religions have to say about the religious ultimate and the nature of, and conditions for salvation ..., there is significant disagreement.”
Netland suggested focusing on the essential or defining beliefs of a religion in determining its truth; a religion is true only if these essential beliefs are true.
“For Christianity to be true, the defining beliefs of Christianity, namely certain affirmations about God, Jesus of Nazareth and salvation must be true,” Netland said. “If they are true, Christianity is true.”
Netland said that some argue for “epistemic parity” among religions. Epistemic parity holds that no religion can claim rational superiority over another religion because the data is insufficient to prove one claim over another. Netland, however, sees epistemic parity as an argument for agnosticism rather than pluralism.
“For if there are not good reasons for accepting any single religious tradition as true, why should we suppose that all of them collectively are equally true?” Netland said.
On the other hand, Knitter claimed that true Christianity would never make an exclusive claim to truth. He offered a case for pluralism based on four categories: history, ethics, theology and Scripture.
“If we look at our history, there has been a change in Christian beliefs about this question,” Knitter said. “Although at one time, almost all the churches held firmly that Christianity is the only true religion, today many Christian churches do not.”
Knitter cited the 2008 Pew Forum study as evidence that many Christians are moving away from a belief in Christianity as the one true religion.
“The fact that our question has already been answered by a broad group of Christians ... we have to take (this) into consideration,” he said. “Our job as theologians is to work with what people are actually believing.”
Knitter said the shift away from an exclusive belief in Christianity has not diminished the commitment or discipleship of individual Christians. He argued that a further shift could be made — a complete shift to religious pluralism.
Knitter noted that viewing Christianity as the one true religion carries the danger of hindering dialogue among the religions.
“The religions of the world have a moral obligation to engage each other in a peacemaking dialogue,” Knitter said. “Dialogue is the mutual exchange to which all sides seek to help each other grow in the knowing and the doing of what is true and what is right.”
Dialogue is impossible, however, if one side makes an exclusive claim to religious truth, Knitter argued, saying it is a grievous error to hinder dialogue.
If dialogue is “a moral imperative,” he said, “what impedes a moral imperative looks to be immoral itself.”
Exclusive claims to truth not only impede dialogue, but such claims can foster violence, Knitter said. While rarely the cause of violence, he said exclusive truth claims can rally followers to a leader’s cause.
In his theological case for pluralism, Knitter appealed to God’s love. He said that “the God of Jesus is a power of pure unbounded love” and that the New Testament’s teachings show God’s desire to see all people saved.
“As my teacher back in Germany, Karl Rahner, insisted, ‘if God wants to save all people then God will act in a sure way as to make this a real possibility for all people,’” Knitter said. “Rahner went on to claim that the religions are among the most available and ready at hand ways in which God will make this offer of His saving grace. A God who loves all will offer that love to all.”
For his scriptural argument, Knitter claimed that the exclusive language of the New Testament is confessional language, or love language that was intended to be superlative, not exclusive. Statements such as “no other name,” “one mediator,” and “no one comes to the Father except by me” are meant to communicate something positive about Jesus, not something negative about other religions, Knitter said.
“I must confess my faith that Jesus is indeed the way that is open to other ways and that in order to be a faithful follower of this Jesus I must recognize and engage the truth that the Spirit may be offering me in my Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Native American and Shinto brothers and sisters,” Knitter said.
After the event, Greer-Heard director Robert Stewart said he hopes students learn to be “both properly charitable and properly critical in evaluating claims with which they disagree.” While he disagrees with the position of Knitter and other pluralists, Stewart sees value in engaging their ideas. He hopes exposure to scholars such as Knitter will help NOBTS students better defend the truth of Christianity.
“As a philosopher I don’t find the hermeneutical arguments that pluralists make on this point strong enough to overcome the case for the traditional reading of passages like John 14:6 and Acts 4:12,” Stewart said. “The purpose of the Greer-Heard Forum, however, is that we are training Christians for ministry in today’s world and must thus trust that we have given them what they need to interact critically with the wide range of opinions that they will encounter in real-world ministry.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/15/2009 5:51:00 AM by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press | with 6 comments

Zimbabwe crisis response hits three fronts

April 15 2009 by Baptist Global Response

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Southern Baptists are continuing to provide desperately needed relief to families suffering in Zimbabwe’s unprecedented economic disaster.

“The current unemployment rate is reported to be 94 percent and the annual inflation rate was estimated this past October at 2 trillion percent,” said Mark Hatfield, who with his wife, Susan, directs Baptist Global Response (BGR) work in Sub-Saharan Africa. “One expert put the rate in December at 516 quintillion percent — the highest ever recorded.”

The country’s new national unity government emerged from a weekend retreat April 6 with a visionary 100-day plan to bring Zimbabwe out of its downward spiral. The agenda focuses on five “clusters” — the economy, security, infrastructure, social services and interests and rights.

The challenge they face, however, staggers the imagination, Hatfield said. The only goods available in stores are priced in foreign currency that ordinary citizens do not have. Those who do have some money in the bank are limited to withdrawals to small to purchase food. Hospitals are hamstrung by a lack of medicines, water and electricity. Schools cannot function for lack of teachers and supplies.

“Overall, the situation in Zimbabwe is worse than I have ever seen it,” Hatfield said. “The lack of jobs, currency, water and food has collapsed the country’s economy. I am filled with appreciation for the way Southern Baptists allow me to represent them as we physically demonstrate the love of Christ to people in desperate need.”

Southern Baptists have responded on several fronts, including food distribution, school supplies and assistance to Sanyati Baptist Hospital.

Food distribution
A new phase of food distribution was launched in mid-March, sending 45-pound boxes of staple items to 5,000 of Zimbabwe’s neediest families, Hatfield said. Southern Baptist field partners are working with Zimbabwe’s 240-plus Baptist churches to identify the most vulnerable people in their communities.

“Many times that will include single-parent households, widows, orphans, people who are HIV-positive and households headed by grandparents,” Hatfield said. “Pensioners who retired years earlier with pensions that can’t even purchase one day’s worth of food also are given priority.”

BGR photo

Staple items were recently distributed to some of Zimbabwe's neediest families.

The new distribution continues a project that has been running since December 2007 and has delivered more than 2,500 food boxes to needy families. Each box includes food staples like rice, oil, salt, powdered milk, corned beef, beans, etc., to help families stave off starvation.
The $170,000 allocated from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund for the new distribution will be replaced as Baptist Global Response receives donations for the Zimbabwe food project.

Sanyati Baptist Hospital
Chronic shortages of water, electricity and essential medicine have hampered ministry — for many months at Sanyati Baptist Hospital, a high-profile ministry of Southern Baptist international missions since the 1950s, Hatfield noted. Of the two city water pumps serving the hospital compound, one was completely broken and the other was pumping at only half capacity — when electricity was available.

Southern Baptists responded with an allocation of $45,000 in relief funds to provide a supply of basic antibiotics, anti-malarial medicines, and other essentials to the hospital. Two deep wells were dug on site and replacements were ordered for the worn-out city pumps. Last fall, Hatfield also interceded with the district electrical supply office to give the hospital priority service.

“During my entire visit, there was no electricity,” Hatfield said. “They had been holding surgery cases but with no electricity and no water they were not able to sterilize instruments. It’s hard to do surgery without clean instruments and water to clean up!”

School supplies

BGR photo

Another much-needed distribution occurred with children's schoolbooks as well as school supplies.

Another crucial issue for Zimbabwe’s children is the lack of school supplies, Hatfield said. Basic necessities such as composition books are beyond the reach of most families.

“It would cost two months’ wages for a family with three children in public school to purchase exercise books,” Hatfield explained. “That’s impossible for the average family.”

Southern Baptists and their Zimbabwe Baptist partners used $125,000 in general relief funds to provide the composition books, pens, pencils and pencil sharpeners to needy families so their children could stay in school. The 250,000 exercise books that were distributed had stories on the covers that emphasized Christ’s love and communicated an AIDS-awareness message. One in four people in Zimbabwe are living with the virus that causes AIDS.

“Baptist leaders identified schools where trusted teachers, staff and headmasters work. Most of them were members of Baptist churches themselves,” Hatfield said. “They worked together to identify the most needy situations and determine how to distribute the supplies.”

‘Thank you’
The deputy headmaster of a school in Lozane wrote Hatfield in March to express her gratitude for the supplies, which were given to 146 orphans between the ages of 5 and 13.

“On behalf of the school, the community and all stakeholders, we want to thank you for the enormous help you gave to Lozane school orphans,” wrote Mercy Manyadza. “They are a disadvantaged group who are rarely thought of by most people, especially when they are in remote areas like our school.

“When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, he said, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’ I think he meant persons like you,” Manyadza added. “I am sure you will receive mercy in the heavenly kingdom. May God bless you immensely.”

“Those words of gratitude are for all Southern Baptists,” Hatfield said. “Their gifts for relief efforts made the project possible.”

Hatfield said he is amazed that Baptists in Zimbabwe care about needy people elsewhere in the world, in spite of the circumstances they face themselves.

“Last fall, I met with a group of Baptist partners who expressed deep appreciation to Southern Baptists for caring so much about them and their situation in Zimbabwe,” Hatfield said. “Then they spent the next 10 minutes expressing concern about people in the USA who were suffering because of the hurricanes that had hit the country. I am astonished that even under the conditions they are living in, they are concerned for others and want to hear how Southern Baptists are using resources to help in the USA.”

Hatfield asked Christians to pray that Zimbabwe’s new power-sharing government would succeed in the challenge they face and that God would pour out his compassion and provision on the country’s long-suffering people.

Hatfield also expressed deep gratitude for Southern Baptists and other Christians in the United States who continue to give faithfully to their churches, as well as to hunger and relief causes, in spite of the economic pressure many families are feeling.

“You are a people who care about people in need,” he said. “It would be hard to find a place where the needs are greater or more urgent than in Zimbabwe.”

4/15/2009 5:43:00 AM by Baptist Global Response | with 0 comments

Former SBC pres. Franklin Paschall dies

April 14 2009 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — H. Franklin Paschall, retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1966-68), died at his home April 10. He was 86.

Paschall served as pastor of First Baptist Church from 1956 until his retirement in 1983.

BP photo

H. Franklin Paschall

Frank Lewis, current pastor at First Baptist, reflected on Paschall’s contributions to Southern Baptist life, both in the local church and at the state and national levels.

“He was a preacher’s preacher representing an era of pulpit ministry that was not dependent on the use of PowerPoint to hold the heart and imagination of the worshipper,” Lewis said. “As an orator, he was second to none. With a flair for the dramatic, Dr. Paschall commanded the sanctuary quoting scripture long ago hidden in his heart with effectiveness and poignancy. He was overwhelmed with the conviction that the gospel should be shared with holy urgency every time he stepped into the pulpit.”

Lewis also described Paschall as a “peacemaker.”

“He gave significant leadership to the issues of racial reconciliation during the tumultuous times associated with the Civil Rights movement. With a steady hand he guided First Baptist and the entire Southern Baptist Convention to understand that racial prejudice was incompatible with Christianity.”

Paschall led First Baptist to remain a downtown congregation while others moved to the suburbs, Lewis said.

“He sensed that to do otherwise was less than what the call of Christ demanded,” Lewis said.

Paschall was born in Hazel, Ky., but was reared in Puryear, Tenn. He graduated from Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he earned his Ph.D. He also received honorary doctorates from Union and Nashville’s Belmont University.

“Franklin Paschall was a most influential Baptist leader and faithful preacher for a previous generation of Baptists,” Union University President David S. Dockery said. “Those of us at Union University are certainly grateful for his love for his alma mater. His faithfulness and generosity to this university were demonstrated over and over again. We offer thanks to God for the life and ministry of Franklin Paschall.”

In addition to serving as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Paschall served as a trustee of the Baptist Sunday School Board, the SBC Executive Committee and the SBC’s Committee on Boards.

Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said Paschall was a “faithful pastor, trusted denominational leader, and devoted husband and father” who “effectively served Kentucky Baptists, Tennessee Baptists and the broader Southern Baptist family for more than 65 years.”

Chapman noted that Paschall served the convention in a variety of roles and “gave specific and strategic guidance to Southern Baptists” during the 1960s.

“How fitting that a man who spent his adult life pointing men and women to the Cross was ushered into eternity on the very weekend we celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord,” Chapman said. “... We join with all Southern Baptists both in expressing gratitude to God for a life well-lived in the service of our resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and in offering our prayerful support for his daughters and their families.”

Paschall was active in the Kentucky Baptist Convention and was a member of its Executive Board while serving as pastor at Hazel Baptist Church and First Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky., before returning to Tennessee in 1956.

He was president of the Nashville Baptist Association Pastors Conference and served on the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. He was a former trustee of Baptist Hospital and Belmont University when both entities were part of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

James Porch, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, recalled how he first met Paschall following a worship service at First Baptist Church in 1962.

“As a pulpiteer he followed God’s calling to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Personally, through the years, I received the blessings of his friendship and encouragement in a Barnabas style and continued counsel over the years.”

Porch said the “Baptist family of Tennessee and beyond has lost a great Christian statesman. His path for Christ was well trod with a sense of direction and desire to be led of the Lord,” Porch said.

His wife, Olga, died in 1994. He is survived by two daughters: Sandra Kay Paschall of Nashville and Palma Paschall Freeman of Dallas, Texas.

Visitation was at First Baptist in Nashville Monday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., and continues today at 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. (all times Eastern). The funeral will take place at 3 p.m. today at the church.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Wilkey is editor of The Baptist & Reflector, representing the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

4/14/2009 3:07:00 AM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Dobson retires, but expected to stay in politics

April 13 2009 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson has resigned as chairman of the Colorado ministry he started 32 years ago, but will continue to host his daily radio broadcast and is expected to stay
involved in national politics.  

Both Dobson and his wife, Shirley, have departed from the board, the ministry based in Colorado Springs, Colo. The announcement was made Feb. 27.

The move is considered “the next step in a transition plan” that started in 2003 when James Dobson stepped down as president, the ministry said.

“One of Dr. Dobson’s objectives during the last decade has been to help identify the next generation of leadership for the ministry, and to see it established securely before he stepped away from administrative oversight,” said the board of directors in a statement. “That purpose has now been fulfilled.”

In addition to hosting the “Focus on the Family” radio program, Dobson will continue writing a newsletter that Focus says is received by 1.6 million supporters each month.

Dobson and his wife, who heads annual efforts to mark the National Day of Prayer, have been elected founder and chairman emeritus, and director emerita, respectively.

“One of the common errors of founder-presidents is to hold to the reins of leadership too long, thereby preventing the next generation from being prepared for executive authority,” Dobson said in a statement.

“I have wanted not to make that mistake with Focus on the Family, which is why I stepped back. ... Though letting go is difficult after three decades of intensive labor, it is the wise thing to do.”

Longtime Dobson colleague Gary Bauer, president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, called Dobson a “visionary pro-family leader” who still has contributions to make.

“At a time when few were sensitive to the struggles and pressures facing the American family, Dr. Dobson and Shirley saw that something had to be done,” said Bauer, a former senior vice president at Focus on the Family. “They have been warriors for faith, family and freedom, and I trust they will continue to fight the good fight for many more years to come.”

The new chairman of the Focus board is Patrick P. Caruana, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who has been a board member since 1996, and its vice chairman since 2006.

4/13/2009 6:39:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Exhibit offers meaningful experience

April 9 2009 by From staff reports

Two years ago, a “World Vision Experience” at a youth ministers’ conference had a profound impact on Jeni Martin.

“When I came through, I said, ‘Why is this for pastors? This is where our people should be,’” said Martin, who is now associate pastor of missions at First Baptist Church in Asheboro.

World Vision photo

Visitors will tour an interactive exhibit to mimic life in an African village for a child.

That desire will come to fruition May 3-10 as the church hosts the 3,000-square-foot “World Vision Experience: AIDS” in its Christian life center.

Martin said people who go through the interactive exhibit, which is called “Step into Africa,” get an MP3 player that invites them to assume the life of an African child.

“I can tell you all about the little girl I was and her life,” Martin said.

The event is free, but tickets are required. They can be found at www.worldvisionexperience.org.

Martin said the N.C. Zoo and the Randolph County Hospital are co-sponsoring the exhibit.

Hospital workers will give AIDS screenings.

Those going through the experience will be given information about sponsoring a child in Kasitu, Uganda, through World Vision.

Martin said she hopes Randolph County churches will develop a relationship with the Ugandan village.

Plans include annual trips to Kasitu by church and local community leaders. The N.C. Zoo already does work in Uganda, she said.

“The long-term goal is to create this sister relationship,” Martin said.

More information about the exhibit can be found at www.worldvisionexperience.org/randolphcounty.

4/9/2009 4:31:00 AM by From staff reports | with 0 comments

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