April 2010

Wake Forest divinity to be led by UCC scholar

April 29 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Bapist Press

WINSTON-SALEM — A female New Testament scholar and ordained United Church of Christ minister has been tapped to replace Baptist historian Bill Leonard as dean of Wake Forest University School of Divinity.

Gail O’Day, currently senior associate dean of faculty and academic affairs and the A.H. Shatford Professor of New Testament and Preaching at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, will become dean and professor of New Testament and Preaching at Wake Forest divinity school Aug. 1.

WFU photo

Gail O’Day

Leonard, 64, founding dean of the divinity school — one of 15 seminaries, theology schools or Baptist-studies programs that partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — is stepping down June 30 because of a tradition at the historically Baptist university in Winston-Salem, establishing a 10-year tenure for deans. He will remain on the faculty as chair of church history in the divinity school and the university’s religion department.
“The School of Divinity has had an impressive record of achievement in its first decade under the founding leadership of Bill Leonard,” O’Day said in a news release. “The divinity school’s combination of ecumenical openness and Baptist heritage, together with the university’s values of academic excellence, moral formation and service, positions the school to continue to move from strength to strength in making a unique contribution to theological education.”

O’Day is a world-renowned scholar for research on the Gospel of John, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, the Bible and preaching and the history of biblical interpretation.

“Gail combines an outstanding record of teaching and scholarship with strong experience as an administrator and a sense of pastoral leadership that makes her the perfect person to lead the Wake Forest Divinity School into its second decade,” said Wake Forest Provost Jill Tiefenthaler, who chaired the search committee for the new dean.

Opened in 1999 with 24 students and Leonard serving as the sole professor, Wake Forest Divinity School currently has 101 students enrolled.

The school has from the beginning been known for its interdisciplinary approach, described as “Christian by tradition, ecumenical in outlook and Baptist in heritage.”

Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch described O’Day — who holds an undergraduate degree from Brown University, a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate from Emory — as “the perfect leader to steward that balance.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)  
4/29/2010 6:12:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Bapist Press | with 7 comments

Merritt’s book urges going green for God

April 29 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

DULUTH, Ga. — Jonathan Merritt says he was both disappointed and pleasantly surprised by the response he received after organizing several hundred Southern Baptists in 2008 to issue a statement identifying the environment and climate change as moral issues.

Jonathan Merritt

“I was disappointed at how those who claim to represent us on political issues resorted to tactics that resembled Washington far more than Nashville,” said the 27-year-old national spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, referring to the headquarters city of many Southern Baptist agencies. “Few things are more un-Christian than threats and bribes.”

“On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised at the positive reaction I received from so many average, everyday Christians who are grateful that someone is breaking the wall of silence on this issue,” he said.

The faith-and-culture writer, who has been featured in national publications including USA Today and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, added that he hopes his first book will be an encouragement to the latter group.

Green Like God tells the story of Merritt’s green awakening in an unlikely setting — a theology class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. The official Southern Baptist Convention seminary is known more for theological and social conservatism than for issues, like environmentalism, typically associated with the political left. 

Merritt, son of former SBC president James Merritt, also works on the staff of his father’s suburban Atlanta megachurch. He said it saddens him that the issue of stewardship of God’s creation has become so partisan and divisive for people of faith. “Quite frankly, one of the reasons that liberals have claimed the moral high ground on this issue is because conservative Christians abandoned it long ago in their exclusive pursuit of other issues,” he said.

Merritt said that is beginning to change, as Christians across generations wake up to the responsibility to be instruments of God’s grace on a variety of issues. Christians in rising generations, he said, are particularly energized by interaction of the Bible’s message with what is going on in the daily news.

In the book, Merritt argues that caring for creation is not a right-left issue but rather a moral issue that God’s people have been called to address.

“If we remain true to God’s Word, Christians must with equanimity redeem the cause and make it our own,” he writes. “To leave these issues to secular environmentalists is to abandon our God-given responsibility to care for his planet.”

Merritt writes that forcing environmentalism into a left-right dichotomy harms both sides.

“If you consider yourself a conservative, you can remain a solid supporter of biblical values like the sanctity of life, but you should expand your political interests to include historically progressive issues like global poverty, human rights and aggressive care for God’s creation,” he counsels. “If you consider yourself more progressive, you can continue to support the political goals you find important while working with conservatives of mutual goodwill on issues like this one.”

He also challenges an objection sometimes voiced by Christians that devoting energy to “secondary” issues like the environment detract from the church’s main task of saving souls. “We aren’t forced to choose between sharing the gospel and creation care,” he writes. “It is a false dichotomy. Both are possible.”

“The very fact that the Bible tells us to do both indicates that evangelism and creation care can simultaneously be done well,” he writes. “A vital part of the Great Commission reaches beyond making converts to making disciples and teaching them to observe all God commands, including the very first commands to steward the Earth.”

Merritt said in an e-mail interview that Christians who claim fidelity to the Bible do not have the luxury of picking and choosing which parts to obey. “I am shocked that so many people who claim to ‘preach the whole Bible’ have sheepishly avoided the many passages that address creation,” he said. “It’s shocking really. You have people who would die on the sword of biblical literalism but refuse to acknowledge the clear stewardship mandates given by God in the Bible.”

Merritt acknowledges that the Bible doesn’t offer a Good Housekeeping-style list of everything a good Christian should do to protect the environment — recycle, drive a hybrid vehicle, support a specific piece of legislation and so forth — but he argues that every Christian should be on a journey toward a greener lifestyle. In an appendix, he offers several specific tips for energy reduction, simpler living, consumption, transportation and advocacy.

Merritt says one surprise he received after releasing the statement on creation care is that he started hearing from missionaries who said it helped them in parts of the world where they begin evangelistic conversations not with Jesus, whom the people there know little about, but with the creation and its Creator, which everyone understands. “Creation care speaks to people in developing nations where people have a greater connection to nature in everyday life,” he writes.

“Creation care is a bridge to the gospel in these places.”

Merritt says Christian lifestyles related to the Earth also affect an evangelical witness to the secular world.

“When the world sees the Christian community perpetuating systems of wealth and waste, it damages our witness,” he writes. “When they see us living compassionate, sustainable lives, our witness becomes authentic and convincing.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)  
4/29/2010 2:50:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

What’s God trying to tell us with volcano?

April 29 2010 by Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service

What do homosexuality, health care reform, and British advertising standards all have in common? They’re all things that have ticked God off, some religious leaders say, and he’s venting his frustration with the angry fires of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

Moscow’s Interfax newswire reported that the Association of (Russian) Orthodox Experts blamed the April 14 eruption — whose gigantic cloud of ash grounded transatlantic flights for more than a week — on gay rights in Europe and Iceland’s tolerance of “neo-paganism.”

Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, said God was angry over health care reform. San Antonio megachurch pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, said God was unleashing his wrath on Britain for deciding that Israeli tourism ads actually featured parts of the disputed Palestinian territories, not Israel.

The eruption is the latest in a long line of natural events to which some religious leaders attribute divine judgment. In short, God is using nature to channel his displeasure with human behavior — both the sinners and those who tolerate them — and that we had better shape up.

It’s an impulse that goes back thousands of years and still thrives in religious quarters that are generally skeptical of science and seek divine explanations for natural calamities:
  • Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi recently told his Shiite Muslim followers that immodestly dressed and promiscuous women are to blame for earthquakes.
  • In February, Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the Rabbinical Alliance of America warned allowing gays in the military could cause natural disasters to strike America. “The practice of homosexuality is a spiritual cause of earthquakes,” he said.
  • Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson blamed the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti on a pact between the devil and Haitians rebelling against French rule in the 18th century.
  • Both Robertson and Hagee blamed Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’debauchery and immorality.
  • Malaysian Muslim cleric Azizan Abdul Razak said the 2004 South Asian tsunami was God’s message that “he created the world and can destroy the world,” while Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said it was “an expression of God’s great ire with the world.”
So what is it about nature’s fury that attracts theological interpretation? For many religious leaders, scholars say, it’s an opportunity to win new believers.

“Natural disasters are disruptive. When there’s a disruption, people’s worldviews are shaken, and need to be repaired,” said Steven Friesen, a biblical studies professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Natural disasters are a prime time to repair people’s worldviews... It’s a long-running theme in American culture that God works to bring people into changing their worldview.”

Who accepts these proclamations and who doesn’t often depends on how a believer views God: benevolent, wrathful, active, passive, or maybe something less defined, like a cosmic force.

“This stuff attracts people with a strong authoritarian image of God, and who believe that he — it’s almost always a he — does in fact punish people who do not follow his rules,” said Wade Clark Roof, professor of American religion at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Another common thread among people who link disaster to divine judgment is that they tend to consider disasters as confirmation of already-held beliefs.

“They already think God is working in certain ways, and disasters become an example of that,” said Friesen, pointing to Hagee as an example. “There’s no logical connection (between Britain’s ad policy and the volcano), but because he is already convinced that God works to protect Israel, he believes that God made the volcano erupt to punish Britain.”

People who make such pronouncements are also claiming special power or authority, experts said. “They are claiming special knowledge of how God works in the world, and why he does what he’s doing,” said Friesen.

But many religious leaders reject linking disaster to divine judgment.

“It’s faulty theology. People take the personal consequences of sin, which are real, and project them onto natural disaster. That’s where things break down,” said Joel Hunter, a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals and a megachurch pastor in suburban Orlando, Fla.

“Speculating that disaster happens because sin has reached a certain level puts God in a really bad light.”

Rabbi Michael Lerner, president of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, agreed. “You start blaming the victims for a process that is a result of something that they had nothing to do with,” he said.  
4/29/2010 2:45:00 AM by Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

2 Christian journalists killed in Nigeria

April 29 2010 by Baptist Press

JOS, Nigeria — Continued ethnic violence in Nigeria has claimed the lives of two journalists working for a Christian publication in Jos. The April 24 killings continued the pattern of ongoing violence in the area following the March 7 massacre in which as many as 500 individuals of Christian descent were murdered in nighttime raids by ethnic Fulani Muslims.

The journalists, Nathan Sheleph Dabak and Sunday Gyang Bwede, were working for The Light Bearer, a newspaper published by the Church of Christ in Nigeria, according to news reports. The slayings came less than two weeks after the April 13 murder of a Church of Christ pastor and his wife in Bauchi state who were forcefully taken from their homes by Muslims.

Four other Christians were killed April 24, apparently in a revenge attack following the discovery of the corpse of a teenage Muslim who had been missing, the Compass Direct news service reported. The four reportedly died — three of them stabbed to death — when hundreds of Muslim protestors rampaged throughout the area. Their names are not yet available.

Compass Direct also reported that police also exhumed eight bodies from shallow graves in a predominantly Christian village near Jos, bringing to 15 the number of corpses found in the area during three days.

A press statement from the Church of Christ in Nigeria said the journalists were on duty, covering the violence when they were attacked by a mob. According to International Christian Concern, a human rights organization that focuses on the persecution of Christians worldwide, the Muslims stopped to take the pair’s cell phones and other belongings. When a friend of Dabak called his number, the person who answered the phone said, “We have killed all of them; you can do your worst,” the ICC reported.

The bodies of the two men were located the next day in the mortuary of Jos University Teaching Hospital by a search team led by Soja Bewarang, vice president of the Church of Christ in Nigeria, according to thisdayonline.com.

An ICC representative in Nigeria said the journalists were stopped by a mob and killed when it was learned they were Christians working for a Christian newspaper. During the March 7 massacre, attackers asked people “Who are you?” in Fulani, a language used mostly by Muslims, and killed those who did not answer back in Fulani, The Associated Press reported.

The Church of Christ in Nigeria declared April 26-27 to be a mourning period and the organization’s president, Pandang Yamsta, appealed for its members to not make reprisals.

“We call all our members to remain calm, although there are security lapses. They should not panic but trust God with their lives,” Yamsta said, according to International Christian Concern. “We must cry out to God and allow Him to take vengeance. The leadership will take the matter to appropriate quarters.”

An ICC spokesman said Christians abroad should contact Nigerian authorities to call for an end to the violence.

“We are deeply saddened by the continuous murder of Christians in Nigeria,” said Jonathan Racho. “The Nigerian government has failed to protect its citizens from killings. We urge the international community to put pressure on Nigeria to end the killings.”

A petition asking Nigerian officials to bring the attackers to justice and put an end to the violence is available online at http://www.persecution.org/suffering/petitions.php.

Tensions in the area are rooted in a complex set of ethnic, religious, political and economic factors.

Jos, a city of about 800,000 people, lies in a fertile “middle belt” of Nigeria where nomadic Fulani herdsmen vie for land against mostly Christian farmers. While northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim and the south is mostly Christian, “Jos is a mini-Nigeria. All segments of Nigeria are here,” Aduba told the Associated Press. Muslims are seen as “settlers” and are ineligible for political office, while the mostly Christian “indigenes” have more social and economic opportunity. The police and military, however, are dominated by Muslims. Christians mostly support the ruling party, while Muslims generally back the opposition party.

The recent violence in Jos dates back to September 2001 rioting in which mobs of Christian young men roved the streets, killing people who identified themselves as Muslim. More than 1,000 people died in that rampage, according to the Associated Press. In 2004, mob violence claimed 700 lives and more than 300 died during a riot in 2008.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.)  
4/29/2010 2:37:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Task force: Orlando will mark resurgence beginning

April 28 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Southern Baptists in the future will mark their annual meeting June 15 in Orlando as the beginning of a Great Commission Resurgence in the same way they refer to 1979 as the start of the conservative resurgence that changed the face of the Convention, according to panelists at a Great Commission Resurgence discussion at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary April 28.

And it may take as long to show similar results, they said, cautioning patience on the part of the seminarians in attendance and reminding them it took 20 years for the Convention to fully reflect the results of the actions that started in 1979.

Just five days before the release of the much anticipated update of their recommendations, Great Commission Resurgence Task Force members Danny Akin, J.D. Greear and Al Gilbert were present to answer questions presented by John Akin, representing Baptist21 which put the panel together. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and SBC President Johnny Hunt presented videotaped answers to questions they received earlier. Ronnie Floyd, GCR Task Force chairman, answered questions live via teleconference.

Panelists encouraged pastors to bring their maximum number of messengers to Orlando to vote approval of the task force recommendations, which will be presented after lunch June 15.

“We need you to join in on this force so we can make a difference,” said Hunt. “You can become a catalyst to lead change.”

John Akin, Danny Akin’s son and pastor of the Valley Station campus of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., moderated the panel and presented questions that had come from around the country.

After a brief description of the declining statistics in the SBC where the “evidence is overwhelming that we’re losing ground,” Danny Akin, president of host Southeastern Seminary, said Baptists must become “more aggressive, more efficient and more effective in reaching lostness in North America and around the world.”

That will require change, the panelists said. First, it will require “spiritual renewal through repentance” according to Floyd, who said the spiritual emphasis of the task force’s recommendations has been overlooked as people studied the structural aspects.

Ultimately the task force cannot instruct individuals, churches, Baptist state conventions or national entities, they said. They can only lay out a compelling vision, trust that Southern Baptists will stake their claim to it and believe that repentant, committed believers will give sacrificially to support it. At the same time, task force members expect the boards of agencies and institutions to respond structurally to the vision Southern Baptists adopt to free more resources to reach highly populated areas of North America and unreached people groups overseas.

Asked if task force recommendations simply rearrange SBC bureaucracies, Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Durham, said, “The cry of the conservative resurgence was ‘We don’t want to give money to liberal institutions.’ Now the cry is, ‘We don’t want to give money to bloated bureaucracy.”

He said Rome was neither built, nor unbuilt in a day, and the task force recommendations are a “first step that will need to be followed by many more steps.”

Several questions related to the potential effect of task force recommendations on Cooperative Program (CP) support. The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ voluntary giving method that provides the primary support for all missions, education and benevolence ministries.

Greear said younger churches are not as excited about giving through the Cooperative Program because they no longer look to Convention leadership as pastors did 20 years ago. “We live in a flat world with lots of other ways to communicate” and find resources than by going to a denominational knowledge broker, he said.

The task force report is sending a “clear message to institutions that there is a real heart in Southern Baptists to spend more money in missions,” Greear said. “The days of a bloated kind of centralized bureaucracy that leads the mission … those days are a’changin.”

Exactly what they are changing to “will take some time to figure out,” said Mohler. But the task force is sure Southern Baptists don’t want to use mission money simply to replicate a denominational structure in small state conventions, “but to create thriving congregations.”

“They want money deployed to planting gospel churches,” Mohler said.

Greear said CP needs to be more efficient in providing resources to the deep needs outside of Southern Baptists’ current strengths in the southeast. Even if churches are “very Southern Baptist” they are not going to give to CP at the same level as the previous generation, Greear said, and there needs to be acceptable ways to cooperate in missions beyond CP.

Mohler said “localism” or churches spending more on local ministries is one reason CP giving has been dropping.

“We do need a great example from the leaders of our Convention in terms of support for the CP,” Mohler said. He said churches that are “committed” are going to have to send more than six percent of their gifts to missions through the CP and individuals are going to have to give more if churches are to send more.

Keeping true to their pledges of confidentiality, panelists did not reveal any changes in their original recommendations that may have resulted from their final work session April 26 in Nashville.  

Local church focus
Gilbert, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and a former executive staff member of the International Mission Board, says wording in the recommendations coming May 3 “will talk about the local church being the global mission strategy center and the purpose of every board and agency is to facilitate the effectiveness of the local church.”

Denominational structure changes “need to be addressed over time,” Gilbert said. Danny Akin said “we will” ask boards of trustees to “rethink and reprioritize what they’re doing.”

Akin said individuals must be challenged as well, because increased giving is “vital, or none of this will happen.”

All panelists expressed strong support of the Cooperative Program. Danny Akin said he would be “an absolute idiot” not to support CP because more than half of Southeastern’s budget comes from CP.

Of the CP funds “that get to Nashville” (SBC headquarters) Danny Akin said 50 percent goes to international missions, 21 percent to the six seminaries and 23 percent to the North American Mission Board. “Guys, that’s good,” he said.

He believes, however, that state conventions should forward more CP money to the SBC. “The cry of this generation is they want to see more money going out of their state” to international missions and underserved areas of North America and Canada, he said.  

NAMB as strategist
For a half century the North American Mission Board has worked with Baptist state conventions through cooperative agreements to help fund mission efforts in various states. Task force recommendations would end those agreements in favor of something else not yet defined, that would give more money and strategic leadership to the national agency, as well as “direct supervision of their employees,” Mohler said.

Reaction to the task force’s initial report was fear that smaller state conventions would be devastated by losing NAMB funds that often comprise the majority of their budgets. Mohler said those fears are unfounded because the task force wants more work in those areas, not less. “But we want NAMB to bear the responsibility on behalf of all Southern Baptists to see their energies and investments are rightly employed and strategically placed for greatest impact.”

The criticism that NAMB cannot be a good national strategist from staff offices in Alpharetta, Ga., is invalid the panel said, because they are recommending that NAMB staff be decentralized and work closely with state convention partners in local strategies.

Such strategy will use money more strategically, Danny Akin said, and he advised those who fear they might lose their jobs in a strategy shift that “If you are doing a good job at penetrating lostness, why do you think we wouldn’t fund you? On the other hand if you are out there not penetrating lostness, why should we fund you?”

He said it is a new day at all levels of Baptist life, where each entity must demonstrate “why they are worthy of your support.”

We need to get resources out of the South and into other areas where there is “massive lostness and a paucity of resources,” he said. “If you’re doing a good job you’ll get more money, not less.”

Gilbert said change is necessary because the SBC structure was built in an industrial age. “We have an industrial model that is producing industrial age effectiveness,” he said. “This is the information age. We don’t need experts along the way who are the kingpins of knowledge. We need people who can facilitate movement.”

Acknowledging that change is painful and pain makes people reluctant to change, Danny Akin said Southern Baptists can take steps now, “or wait 10 years and you will face significant declines in CP giving and be forced to make those decisions in a more painful way.”

Floyd reiterated his conviction that the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force work will provide a “compelling vision” for Southern Baptists, the lack of which has contributed to the inertia of past decades.

“What happens in Orlando is critical to create a climate for future change,” Floyd said. He said change will not be up to the denomination, but to individuals and churches who “will stand and not tolerate certain things they are tolerating right now, regarding the lack of Great Commission activity in the SBC.”

“We’re voting on the future of the SBC,” he said. “We’re voting on whether the Great Commission matters, whether the SBC is willing to have a climate for change. It is imperative for the future not only of the SBC, but of the Great Commission.”

“This is step one,” Floyd said. “But it’s the most important step we’ll ever take.”

Floyd said the second version of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report will be released online at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time on May 3.  
4/28/2010 9:49:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 3 comments

Mo. Convention releases newspaper from lawsuit

April 28 2010 by Vicki Brown, Associated Baptist Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Attorneys for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) have voluntarily released the organization’s former official news journal from a long-running lawsuit against several agencies that removed themselves from convention control.

Word & Way, the historic Missouri Baptist news journal founded in 1896, has been dismissed from MBC litigation that has stretched over nearly eight years and had its roots in a successful attempt by conservatives to take control of the convention from moderates.

The convention, through its attorneys, filed a document in Cole County Circuit Court on April 23 voluntarily releasing the news journal from all claims against it.

The MBC filed legal action against five formerly affiliated institutions on Aug. 13, 2002, in an effort to force them to rescind changes in their charters.

The Baptist Home retirement-home system, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Word & Way, Windermere Baptist Conference Center and Missouri Baptist University each changed their corporate documents to self-elect trustees — the Home in 2000 and the others in 2001.

“We’re pleased with the dismissal and confident that it will put an end to litigation for Word & Way,” the news journal’s lead attorney, Jim Shoemake, said by phone April 23.

The MBC dismissed its legal action “without prejudice,” meaning that it would have the option to re-file the case. Windermere was the first of the five agencies to be released from the Cole County case.

Judge Richard Callahan ruled in Windermere’s favor on March 4, 2009, centering on two main aspects of the convention’s contention in the center’s case — corporate membership and a contractual relationship.

The judge ruled the MBC is not a member of Windermere’s corporation and that no contract exists between the two. Until August 2000, the MBC governed Windermere and Word & Way through its executive board.

Messengers to the 1999 MBC annual meeting approved a reorganization plan that included incorporation of the center and the news journal as separate entities. Drawn up in 2000, the charters for both the conference center and the newspaper noted the new corporations would have no members.

The other institutions involved in the lawsuit were already separate entities from the convention. In addition, Callahan had ruled that, taken together, Windermere’s articles of incorporation and the MBC’s governing documents — its constitution and bylaws, its business and financial plan, and the MBC Executive Board’s articles of incorporation and bylaws — do not create a contract between the two entities.

The MBC lost its appeal of the Windermere case, and the Missouri Supreme Court refused to review it last year.

“The trustees and staff of Word & Way are elated to finally have this lawsuit behind us,” Editor Bill Webb noted. “We lament that the Missouri Baptist Convention took so long to take this action.” Webb said that, given the parallels between the Windermere and Word & Way cases, the paper’s supporters have been hoping that the convention would take action to withdraw its suit for nearly a year.

The Missouri Supreme Court refused to hear the convention’s appeal of a lower court’s decision in Windermere’s favor on May 5, 2009, effectively ending the convention’s main suit against the conference center.

A separate MBC suit against Windermere regarding a land dispute remains active. Webb called the dead Winderemere suit “a mirror of the convention’s case and arguments against Word & Way,” but noted that both the paper and the convention “have incurred unnecessary legal fees because convention attorneys waited nearly a year to drop the lawsuit against us.” Webb added.

Michael Whitehead, legal counsel for the Missouri Baptist Convention, said in a statement quoted by Baptist Press that convention leaders remain convinced the newspaper’s breakaway was wrong but concluded it is in the convention’s interest to halt legal efforts to recover it.

Whitehead said assets owned by Word & Way, including a 2001 mailing list and some old computers, no longer warrant the cost of legal action to recover them.

Meeting ban continues
Although the case has been dismissed, Word & Way will still be excluded from in-person coverage of MBC committee and executive board meetings.

In 2003, convention officials cited the ongoing litigation as the reason for a presidential directive banning Word & Way from all meetings.

In a Nov. 19 letter that year, then-board president (and now MBC Executive Director) David Tolliver issued the directive, but apparently no official board action was taken to reiterate the directive.

At their April 13 session, board members officially voted to exclude Word & Way or its agents from attending meetings. The news journal has continued to send a writer, who remains outside the meeting room, since the 2003 ban.

In an April 16 letter to Word & Way, Tolliver indicated the newest action applies indefinitely. He gave no reason for the continued exclusion. A status hearing in the case against the remaining three entities is set for 2:30 p.m. April 27 at the Cole County Courthouse in Jefferson City, where both the paper and the convention are headquartered.

Attorneys on both sides will argue over the order in which pending motions should be heard. Lawyers will argue those motions at a hearing set for 10 a.m. on May 11.

Word & Way is part of the New Voice Media partnership along with Associated Baptist Press, the Baptist Standard of Texas, the Religious Herald of Virginia and Associated Baptist Press. Webb serves as a member of ABP’s board of directors.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Brown is associate editor of Word & Way. ABP Managing Editor Robert Marus contributed to this story.)
4/28/2010 7:01:00 AM by Vicki Brown, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Vivian McCaughan lived full life as missionary

April 28 2010 by North American Mission Board

ST. CHARLES, Mo. — Vivian McCaughan, a missionary who left a vast footprint on Missouri Baptist life, died April 18 at her home after a long battle with cancer. She was 62.

McCaughan, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary serving in Missouri was featured during this year’s Week of Prayer for North American Missions and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® emphasis.

As a NAMB missionary, McCaughan dedicated her life to sharing the gospel with those who’d not yet heard of God’s love for them. 

BP photo

Vivian McCaughan, seen here with husband Jim in this Week of Prayer photo, died April 18 after a battle with cancer.

“Vivian had a missionary heart from an early age and lived that out every day in the lives of those she encountered,” said Richard Harris, NAMB’s interim president. “Our hearts are heavy when we think of the ministry and encouragement that will no longer take place now that Vivian is absent from this world.

“We also share in the grief her husband, Jim, is walking through right now as his companion and best friend is no longer by his side. But we also celebrate with Vivian as she now knows the physical embrace of the Lord and Savior she so loved. The one to whom she dedicated her life’s work so that others could one day know that embrace as well.”

After previously serving as an international missionary with the Foreign Mission Board, McCaughan began her state missionary work in 1988. She used to joke about how hard it was to keep up with the numerous titles she held in her 22-year tenure, but Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Director David Tolliver said she managed to do it all with diligence, wisdom, and passion.

Leader of the MBC Missions & Evangelism team, McCaughan’s assignments included ministering to women, the hungry, and those living in multihousing. She followed in the footsteps of her father, former MBC staffer Billy Hargrove, and stayed true to her call to missions at the age of 13.

Among her many accomplishments was her effort with Missouri Woman’s Missionary Union (MWMU) and the MBC’s Women’s Ministry which helped produce the last four unified “M-Counter” events.

“It is taking five people to replace her,” Tolliver said. “We will go forward, but we will sorely miss one of the most effective members of our team.”  “We will greatly miss Vivian McCaughan,” Tolliver wrote in a recent issue of The Pathway, a publication of MBC.

“But it was God at work in His servant who made those ministries effective. Now God has called His servant to her reward. And, even as He rewards Vivian, our Lord will complete the work He began in her.”

McCaughan served as a journeyman in Ghana from 1969-1970. She then attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, where she graduated before returning to Ghana as a career missionary, where she served until the end of 1977.

Sent by First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, she was hired by the former Home Mission Board as a missionary in January 1988 when she began her multi-housing ministry in partnership with the MBC.

She then worked as a church planting strategist, a weekday ministries director and as state ministry evangelism director for the MBC from 1990 until May 2003. She served as a multi-housing church planting missionary and as a church multiplication specialist for the MBC from May 2003 until her death.

“She is irreplaceable,” said Lorraine Powers, former president of Missouri’s WMU, noting that McCaughan, as a former elementary school teacher, chose to emphasize children’s missions education as a key part of the whole.

McCaughan’s burden for multihousing ministry started when she was teaching at Calloway Hills Elementary. She started backyard Bible clubs in Holts Summit Mobile Home Trailer Park where several of her students lived and continued to lead the clubs for the 12 years she taught elementary school.

With 37 percent of the states population living in multihousing, she carried a burden for reaching people where they were.

In 2007, McCaughan was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and kept on going with her work, which involved serving as treasurer and Sunday School teacher at Parker Road Baptist Church, Florissant.

In 2010, she was one of eight NAMB missionaries featured in the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering prayer guide. A final tribute to her while she was battling cancer came April 15 at the Baptist Building when staffers viewed a 4-minute video of her life before MBC Associate Executive Director Jerry Field led in prayer.

She is survived by her husband, Jim, three stepchildren, her mother, Imogene Hargrove of Jefferson City and two sisters, Theresa Blanchard of Atlanta, Ga., and Karen Smith of Rolla.
4/28/2010 6:53:00 AM by North American Mission Board | with 0 comments

Researchers probe whether ‘free will’ exists

April 27 2010 by Amy Green, Religion News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. — Are people really responsible for all the things they do? Do they have what theologians call God-given “free will” to choose between right and wrong? Those questions are at the heart of a four-year research project underway at Florida State University that aims to determine whether, and how, free will exists.

Funded by a $4.4 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, the project will gather together scientists, philosophers and theologians around the question of what factors — free will, genetics, environment, God or something else — lead us to do all the things we do.

“Gathering evidence for it one way or another, it’s quite possible,” said Alfred Mele, a professor of philosophy at Florida State who will lead the project. “Scientists have been looking for evidence for and against free will since the early ’80s.”

The debate however, is much older. For instance: Do humans, through their own freely chosen actions and decisions, determine whether they will go to heaven or hell? Does an omniscient God already know how things will turn out in the end? Does God give humans the free choice to turn away?

In the early 1980s, neuroscientist Benjamin Libet conducted an experiment that found subjects’ brains registered the decision to flex their wrists roughly 300 milliseconds before the subjects themselves became aware of their decision to do it. Libet concluded “conscious free will never is involved in producing a decision, and you can see how there’s a quick road from there to `there actually is no free will,”’ Mele said.

RNS photo by David Jolkovski

A detail of Eve in a stained glass window depicted at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Eve holds the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden — a moment of human “free will” that orthodox Christian theology says transmitted original sin to future generations.

The research led some to believe that brain processes traceable to genetic and environmental factors, and not free will, determine our decisions. Others think that while people might not be immediately aware of the decisions our brains make, they still possess the free will to veto these decisions.

But Mele, the author of two books and more than 170 articles on the concept of free will, doesn’t discount the more common definition of free will — one used by the courts in determining guilt and premeditation.

“There really is nothing more to it than sanely, rationally assessing reasons and then deciding on the basis of those reasons, as long as nobody is pushing you around or forcing you,” he said. “In that view of free will, it’s pretty obvious there is free will.”

The “Big Questions in Free Will” research project will devote $3.4 million for projects around the world to explore the concept of free will from scientific, philosophical and theological perspectives.

Scientists will look for evidence proving or disproving whether free will exists.

Philosophers and theologians, meanwhile, will seek a better definition of the concept, helping scientists to know precisely what evidence they are looking for, Mele said.

While it is perhaps difficult to reconcile concepts such as fate and destiny with free will, it is possible for an omniscient God to coexist with the idea of free will, said Kevin Timpe, an associate professor of philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.

“There is a difference between knowing what someone is going to do and causing them to do it,” said Timpe, author of Free Will: Sourcehood and Its Alternatives.

“I know what my wife is going to order when I take her to certain restaurants just because I know her very well. But I also think my wife is freely choosing to order.”

What if researchers discover free will does not exist? Two studies portend a troubled future, Mele said. One found its subjects cheated more when they believed they were not responsible for their own decisions; another found subjects’ behavior growing more aggressive when their belief in free will was suspended.

Norman Geisler, the author of 70 books including several on free will, said the idea that free will does not exist is incompatible with the Bible and the doctrine of original sin, which refers to the sin inherited from Adam and Eve’s transgressions in the Garden of Eden.

If Adam’s decision was not made freely, then that presumably makes God responsible for evil in the world.

“The Bible constantly affirms that man is free, that he can choose his destiny, that he’s morally responsible,” said Geisler, whose books include Chosen But Free. “To say that we are pre-determined is to blame God for our choices. Secondly if all our actions are pre-determined, then why doesn’t God save everyone? Because if he can save everyone apart from their free will and he if really loves everyone then he would.”
4/27/2010 7:21:00 AM by Amy Green, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Church openings outpace closings

April 27 2010 by Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research

ORLANDO, Fla. — A newly released LifeWay Research survey of 1,004 Protestant pastors found only 3 percent of their churches served as the primary sponsor of a church plant (new congregation) during the previous 12 months, and only 14 percent gave financial support in partnership with other churches to help start new congregations.

However, a second study completed in partnership with Leadership Network revealed more churches open than close yearly. Only in recent years has the annual number of new churches in the United States outpaced the annual number of churches closing their doors. 

Twenty-eight percent of the congregations participated in some way, financial or otherwise, in church plants, LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer said today during the Exponential Conference, a church-planting seminar in Orlando, Fla. Among that 28 percent, roughly half partnered with other congregations in supporting the new church financially, while 12 percent took direct financial responsibility as primary sponsor of the new church.

“Although we see more church planting involvement, we need to see a much higher number of churches starting churches,” Stetzer said. “It is widely acknowledged that church planting is the most effective form of evangelism. It should be of great concern that only 28 percent of our North American churches helped start new congregations at all, including only 12 percent of those who took primary responsibility.

“For too long, churches have assumed that mission involvement and church planting is someone else’s responsibility,” Stetzer continued. “The ‘pay, pray and get out of the way’ mentality causes churches to pay someone else to do what God has called them to do — and that may be part of why so many have become cul-de-sacs on the Great Commission highway.”

Far more churches reported participating in missions than church planting, Stetzer noted. A full 85 percent of the pastors said their congregations prayed as a group for missionaries at least once a month during the previous year, and 74 percent said their congregations focused that prayer on a specific mission field or people group. Fifty percent said their congregations conducted one or more short-term mission projects during the past year, and 20 percent reported their churches sent out missionaries who served 10 weeks or longer.

“We’re glad to see these numbers; prayer is where a heart for missions and church planting begins,” Stetzer said. “If God’s people are praying, they eventually will hear Him telling them to get their hands working directly in the fields that are ‘white unto harvest,’ but we have to help our people transition from short-term hands-on involvement to longer-term investment of their lives.”

Some of the other survey results, however, do represent a cause for concern, Stetzer added.

Among all Protestant churches surveyed, 5 percent provided one-time direct financial support, such as a cash gift, for a church plant, and 4 percent provided tangible support, such as equipment or rent-free meeting space, Stetzer said.

Although most churches are not currently involved in church planting, there is evidence — increases in the number of church plants and the response to church planting events — to suggest a growing interest and involvement in church planting. According to new research reported in the recently released book Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers by Stetzer and Warren Bird, all types of church leaders can become movement makers. Citing several of the practical examples in Viral Churches, Stetzer challenged attendees at the Exponential Conference to adopt future church planters as short-term interns; co-sponsor a new church by loaning people and resources; and provide coaching, whether directly or indirectly, for the leaders of recently launched churches.

The LifeWay Research telephone survey of 1,004 Protestant senior pastors, ministers or priests was conducted with a randomly drawn list of churches in December 2008. Up to six calls were made to reach a sampled phone number. Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches, and the sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. The Leadership Network data determining a greater number of church openings than closings was compiled in 2007. Numbers were determined by analyzing church plants and closures from 13 denominations representing 46 percent of America’s 300,000 Protestant churches. 

4/27/2010 7:17:00 AM by Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments

NAMB’s ‘reinvention’ could change way it works

April 26 2010 by Martin King, Illinois Baptist

NASHVILLE — For nearly eight months prior to release of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) interim report, the most publically debated question was whether the task force would propose merging the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) International Mission Board (IMB).

The report does not make the suggestion, although GCRTF chairman Ronnie Floyd acknowledged in a Feb. 23 interview with four state Baptist newspapers, “We looked at it very seriously. We had conviction about it, but just did not feel it was the best thing for the SBC at this time.” 

Floyd recognized what denominational and mission leaders are well aware of: the two mission boards operate very differently.

The biggest difference in Southern Baptists’ two mission boards lies in NAMB’s commitment to work through partnerships with 41 state Baptist conventions, plus conventions in Canada and Puerto Rico, while the International Mission Board does its work independent of local or national Baptist bodies in the countries where it has workers.

Although the IMB has relationships with mission partners around the world, the agency itself decides what its strategy will be implemented in different regions and countries and with specific people groups.

And it fully supports its missionaries who are recruited, assessed, commissioned, trained, paid, and supervised at the direction of the agency.

Prior to the 1950’s, the SBC’s Home Mission Board (HMB), NAMB’s predecessor, operated much the same way to plan and fund its mission work in the United States. The HMB responded unilaterally to mission needs anywhere in the country.

But, in 1959, the Southern Baptist Convention, in an effort to eliminate duplication and competition between the national mission agency and state conventions, instructed the HMB to develop “a single uniform mission program for the United States” with various state conventions.

The HMB negotiated a written agreement of understanding with every state convention to define the partnership and each partner’s responsibilities.

Today’s cooperative agreements between NAMB and state conventions describe how the partners will “jointly develop, administer and evaluate an annual strategic mission plan on a cooperative basis.” 

The confidential agreements are brief, 5-7 pages, uncomplicated and fairly standard, despite assertions by some GCRTF members that they are complicated and difficult to understand.

On the other hand, the strategic mission plan developed with each state convention is a detailed document describing the strategies, ministries, personnel, goals, and funding for every cooperative endeavor between the partners.

Day-long conferences are held at least semi-annually between each convention and NAMB representatives to evaluate current plans and agree on changes for the next year. The state convention defines the needs in their state that align with NAMB-developed strategies and ministry objectives.

If approved as part of the mission plan, the state then recruits potential personnel who are interviewed by NAMB staff, and when approved are then trained, paid, supported and supervised by the state convention or association.

The strategic mission plan includes a negotiated funding ratio for joint mission projects. In larger state conventions, NAMB and the state usually share funding for ministry projects on an equal basis, while in states with fewer SBC churches, NAMB funds 60-90 percent of agreed-upon projects and personnel.

The GCRTF proposes current cooperative agreements, mission plans, and accompanying funding be phased out over the next four years so that NAMB can begin to plan and fund direct missions across the country, similar to the IMB strategy and funding model.

Task force member R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the cooperative agreements “outdated and confusing …”

“There is simply no way Southern Baptists can be more effective and faithful in this task if we retain the funding mechanisms of cooperative agreement,” Mohler said.

Mohler, Floyd and other GCRTF members have affirmed the work of state Baptist conventions and say they believe the proposed changes will make NAMB and state conventions stronger. 

Executive directors from smaller conventions say they will be dramatically affected by the loss of NAMB’s share of jointly funded missions personnel and projects.

“This will put the state convention and associations in Montana out of business,” said Fred Hewett, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention.

The convention currently has eleven missionary staff members, all of whom are funded by NAMB.

“I would lose them all,” if the GCRTF “progress report” is approved, Hewett said.

Joe Bunce of New Mexico agreed, calling the proposal “a death sentence for the western states.”

Although larger state conventions would appear to be in a better position to absorb the effect of losing between $500,000 to a million dollars of NAMB funding, Missouri Baptist Convention executive director David Tolliver said it would “devastate the missions and ministries of the MBC.” 

Alabama evangelism director Sammy Gilbreath told the Alabama Baptist newspaper the proposed changes would “change the face of evangelism in Alabama.” 

State director of missions, Gary Swafford, said they would “eliminate major ministries across the state.”  

However, some larger states believe their conventions should be able to assist their member churches in reaching their states without NAMB funding, including Don Cass, evangelism director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

“Texas has enough churches, associations and believers that we should and could reach Texas without assistance and could — and should — help other parts of our nation as well,” Cass said. “We should not depend on others to do our assignment.”

Other state leaders are taking a wait-and-see attitude, ready to adapt to whatever changes ultimately come about. 

In March, Floyd told associational leaders it was never the task force’s intent that NAMB should work independently of associations and state conventions.

“Our heart is that partnership continues,” Floyd said. “Whether they are called cooperative agreements or not, there will be some kind of commitment towards partnership.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — King was director of communications for the Home Mission Board and North American Mission Board for 14 years prior to joining the Illinois Baptist State Association in 2006 as associate executive director and editor of the Illinois Baptist.)  
4/26/2010 10:14:00 AM by Martin King, Illinois Baptist | with 4 comments

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