ARTICLES

30 Years Ago, A Southern Baptist Atonement Debate

At the height of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Inerrancy Controversy (1979-2000), SBC theologians Paige Patterson and Fisher Humphreys consented to a debate over the nature of the atonement at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on October 19, 1987.

Often overlooked by those who examine the doctrinal skirmishes within evangelicalism in late twentieth century, the Humphreys/Patterson debate reveals some of the depth of what was in play in SBC theological life. While somewhat an intramural contest among Southern Baptists, the arguments volleyed were well known to the watching evangelical world. Indeed, the essence of the discussion remains and therefore a worthwhile exercise exists in the examination of this dispute.

Therefore, to mark the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Humphreys/Patterson debate, the Midwestern Journal of Theology is making available today a special preview of an article I wrote for the forthcoming Fall 2017 issue, due out later this year.

The article, “Humphreys/Patterson—1987: A Southern Baptist Debate on the Atonement,” seeks to provide the historical setting of the events that led to the debate, the content of the debaters’ arguments on the atonement, and an analysis of the significance of the debate both for the SBC in 1987 and for evangelicals inside and outside the SBC in the present day.

You can find the special preview of my article here: http://www.mbts.edu/journalpreview.

Content with Carrying the Pegs

And the appointed guard duty of the sons of Merari involved the frames of the tabernacle, the bars, the pillars, the bases, and all their accessories; all the service connected with these; also the pillars around the court, with their bases and pegs [pins] and cords. (Numbers 3:36-37 ESV)

Focusing on the detailed description of this Levite clan, Andrew Bonar (1810-1892), pastor in Scotland, mentor of Robert Murray McCheyne, crafted a sermon titled, “The Pins of the Tabernacle.”

Therein, Bonar reflects on God’s design and plan for the designation of someone specific to carry the pins (or pegs) during the days of the Israelites wanderings. A potential source of discontent, Bonar sees where the sons of Merari might say, “Why do our brethren the Kohathites carry the Ark while we carry the pins?” Bonar’s response:

Because God said it; that is all. He that serves most is the greatest in the kingdom. He who carries the pins may get the greatest reward …. Do not say, ‘I want to get out of the rut into another place.’ If you get out of the rut of carrying pins when God put you there, you will not be blessed. Are we in the camp with God? That is the great thing.[1]

Decades earlier, another Scot, Claudius Buchanan (1766-1815), faithfully lived out the kind of service Bonar would describe. Though largely forgotten today, Buchanan was a friend of William Carey who carried the “Tabernacle pins” of missions advocacy among his contemporaries to the degree that historian Wilbert Shenk noted Buchanan’s influence in “playing the decisive role in opening India to Christian missions in the early years of the nineteenth century.”[2]

Through his memoirs, field reports, and sermon collections, Buchanan labored persistently to inspire others to the task of global evangelization. Yet, while he made a number of significant contributions in his own lifetime toward the expansion of the missionary task, it was a single sermon, an ordinary “Tabernacle pin,” if you will, that God used to direct the heart and mind of the pioneer American missionary, Adoniram Judson at a time when he needed a word from God the most.

After Judson’s dramatic conversion culminated in 1808 while at Andover Theological Seminary, Judson began to “reflect on the personal duty of devoting his life to the cause of missions.”[3] The idea of consecrating his life to go to the ends of the earth, though perhaps an abrupt concept for his family, was not a novel development in 1809 New England.

Jonathan Edwards’ Diary and Journal of David Brainerd appeared on the reading list for all students, and, in New England, especially among evangelicals, there existed a wide following of William Carey. Judson’s reading of Brainerd and awareness of Carey prepared him to respond to a sermon he read in September 1809 by Claudius Buchanan.

On February 26, 1809, Claudius Buchanan, preached the sermon The Star in the East, in Bristol, England on Matthew 2:2, “For we have seen His Star in the East, and are come to worship Him.”[4] In his biographical essay, Shenk relates that Buchanan, an Anglican priest and a chaplain in the East India Company, was first discipled by John Newton and later Charles Simeon while a student a Cambridge. Following Cambridge he served in India in the chaplaincy. There Buchanan met William Carey and soon his passion became missions and missionary strategy.[5]

While Buchanan and Carey’s tedious labor of Scripture translation could be compared to the carrying of “Tabernacle pins,” so also could Buchanan’s service as a publicist. Shenk tells of Buchanan’s persistence, often during times of ill health, of writing and finding ways of “stimulating others to write in support of the cause of missions.”[6] This started in journeys throughout India to gather research on the state of Christianity in various regions and concluded in the publication of his sermons upon his return to England. Buchanan would die at age 49 in 1815. One of his most widely read sermons was The Star in the East.

In The Star in the East, Buchanan took the account of Jesus’ birth and emphasized the uniqueness of the Gentile visitors, the wise men following a star, as “representatives of the whole heathen world.”[7] The star’s eastern location, Buchanan noted, is significant because “millions of the human race inhabit that portion of the globe.” Therefore, just as in the day of the arrival of God’s Son, the East once again was bearing witness to the Messiah, “not indeed by the shining of a Star, but by affording luminous evidence of the divine origin of the Christian Faith.”[8] Buchanan then proceeded to give evidence for the spread of Christianity in the East and the need for men to take the gospel to that region of the world.

A copy of The Star in the East appeared in the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine in September 1809 just at the time of Judson’s missionary reflections. [9] The result of Buchanan’s influential sermon was a decision finally by Judson to break with home and country and set out with the gospel for Burma. Since that day, Judson has been held in memory for two centuries and Buchanan has been forgotten. Yet, Buchanan’s faithfulness to carry his Tabernacle pin served Judson and thousands more.

For most of us, our life and calling will be that of the Merari and Buchanan—contentedly carrying the pegs of the Tabernacle in historical obscurity while others carefully and prominently carry the “Ark of God.” For the shared task of world evangelization both are vital, and only in eternity will we see how God used us or even just one of our sermons. That we get to serve Him and walk with Him as we do is the greatest reward. For as Bonar reminds and teaches us the secret of contentment (Phil 4:11-12),

“Are we in the camp with God? That is the great thing.”

 

[1] Andrew Bonar, “The Pins of the Tabernacle,” in Marjory Bonar, ed., Reminisces of Andrew A. Bonar, D. D. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1895), 287-88.

[2] Wilbert R. Shenk, “The Legacy of Claudius Buchanan,” in IBMR (April 1994): 78.

[3] Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company, 1853), 1:29.

[4] Claudius Buchanan, The Star in the East (New York, NY: Williams & Whiting, 1809). For further context for this and other of Buchanan’s sermons see Karen Chancey, “The Star in the East: The Controversy Over Christian Missions to India, 1805-1813,” in Historian (Spring 1998).

[5] Shenk, “The Legacy,” 78-79.

[6] Shenk, “The Legacy,” 80.

[7] Buchanan, The Star in the East, 4.

[8] Ibid., 5-6.

[9] See Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine (Sept 1809): 202-206.

The Value of the Reformation Anabaptists

One man’s noise is another man’s symphony.

Indeed, the Anabaptists are more often thought of as clanging nuisances of history many have sought to mute or dismiss—sounds of history that are more noise than melody, more cacophony than symphony. In the years following Martin Luther’s first strides toward reformation, the sirens of the Anabaptists concussed in strident discord to Ulrich Zwingli and the Swiss Reformer’s idea of a Magisterial Reformation.

Often these and later Baptists were thus stamped with the label of Münster revolutionaries, a mischievous sect, who many solemnly swore were up to no good. Yet, as William Estep argued, “Anabaptism might well be, outside the Reformation itself, the most influential movement the sixteenth century spawned” for religious liberty and the separation of church and state.

G. H. Williams identified three groups of Anabaptists: revolutionary, contemplative, and evangelical—with the latter most theologically close to the Magisterial Reformers in terms of their doctrines of the sole authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone.

Herein, then, lies the value of the Reformation Anabaptists for contemporary Baptists. The Reformation Anabaptists show how one can hold gospel unity with the rest of the Protestants while pushing for further reformation in local church doctrine and practice.

>>Read the rest of “What do Reformation Anabaptists have to do with Contemporary Baptists?” published October 2, 2017 in the Texan.

Is this a dream? No, it’s worse … and better

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this (and all is mended)
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear.

–Puck’s Epilogue, A Midsummer’s Night Dream

It was only a dream.

This is how Shakespeare decided to reconcile the chaos he created in the wonderfully entertaining tale of a different kind of star-crossed lovers in A Midsummer’s Night Dream.

In his play, devious fairies deceive and manipulate a cast of would-be spouses causing confusion and mayhem—and the tumult is what makes this a comedy. Just when you think it cannot get any worse, it does. With so much upheaval, the reader wonders how, of if ever, restoration of order will occur.

In the end, order does come, but not through careful exposition or reconciliation, but rather through Shakespeare pressing a literary reset button—it was all just a dream.

In our day, as we watch as our culture disintegrates into what David Brooks calls, in Shakespearean fashion, weaponized buffoonery, we know that this tumult doesn’t come with any reset button. We may hope and wish that it is all just a dream, but it isn’t and that kind of hope is always misplaced.

Believers in Christ Jesus, however, need not ever wring our hands and wish to dream away reality. Instead of escaping, we are to engage, and not with louder rhetoric or weaponized trivialities, but rather with hope rooted in truth.

In the midst of the physical destruction of Jerusalem, centuries ago, the author of Lamentations rightly lamented with sorrow the turning upside down the city of the people of God.  Yet, at the core of his somber despair, he remembers what is true, and that ray of sunshine in the darkness makes all the difference.

Just before Lamentations gives us the hymn-worthy and life-giving words of the greatness of God’s faithfulness and the constancy of daily grace and mercy from Him (Lam 3:22-24), the author explains that his hope amid destruction exists because he remembers these things that are true about God:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” (Lam 3:21)

God, then, as now, is and was the same (Heb 13:8). He does not change (Jam 1:17).

Yet, the same is true of humanity and the culture we inhabit. Without the intersection and intervention of God’s new mercies, both redemptive and restraining, we are desperately sick (Jer 17:9) and prone to wander and to war. The nations will always rage and plot (Ps 2). Yet, God still laughs—and we should too.

Into these days, Christians should speak truth. These are times for crafting and signing statements. These are days for determining what it means to stand first with brothers and sisters in Christ (Gal 6:10) and our culture of comforts second. As heirs of Carl F. H. Henry, our consciences should remain uneasy, and not content, as we carry out this confronting work.

Yet, even Henry, seventy years ago now, as he called evangelicals to lament the downgrade of society, he thought they should do so with a smile:

“The message for a decadent modern civilization must ring with the present tense. We must confront the world now with an ethics to make it tremble, and with a dynamic to give it hope.[i]

We live In dark and uncertain days, where Mr. Shakespeare’s literary reset button does not exist. Yes, the world is wrong-side up and our hearts naturally along with it. But, as we lament these things, we should also call this to mind: God has not changed and his mercies are still new every morning even as we await our Blessed Hope, the Lord Jesus, who gave himself to redeem us (Titus 2:13-14). Believer’s in Christ uniquely and always have this message to share.

So as we find ourselves asking, “Is all this a dream?” We need to smile more as we say “No, it is far worse … and better.”

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

[i] Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Wheaton: Crossway, [1947], 2003), 53-55.

 

 

 

 

Rich Mullins and the Gospel Preached to Abraham

September 19, 2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the untimely death of one of the 20th century’s finest poets, Rich Mullins. As a college student, and new believer in Christ, the words to his songs helped personalize my faith and provide a guide for how to express my gratitude to God in worship, both corporate and private.

One example of how this poet helped me was where, in his song “Sometimes by Step,” he said,

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me
[1]

I can remember thinking about those 15 words for an extended time and asking, “Is there a connection from Abraham to me?” And, even more, had God known about me long before I knew about Him and my need of Him? Following that, then, what about those throughout the earth who have not yet heard of Him?

As I would come to discover, these questions have glorious answers for, as in just one verse, the Bible declares,

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Galatians 3:8 ESV)

Here, Paul explains that God has always had our salvation and the salvation of the nations in mind. From the beginning, he conveyed to Abraham his plan. In what is often called the centerpiece of the first five books of the Bible, God says to Abraham,

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV)

At the age of 75, Abraham obeyed God, and he and his wife left their country. After a period of travel and time, God met with Abraham, took him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And [Abraham] believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6 ESV)

After Abraham believed, God made a covenant with him promising that he would be “the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:3). Now, Paul tells us in Galatians 3:8 that in this event—Abraham looking to the stars—the gospel was preached to Abraham. Yet, we are still right to wrestle with this as we might think, “How is this possible, as the name of Jesus Christ is not mentioned?”

What, then, was the gospel preached to Abraham? In short, the gospel preached to Abraham was God’s promise to him that through Abraham and his offspring, all the nations would be blessed. Or, simply that Gentiles, non-Israelites, will be justified by faith.

In Romans 4, Paul explains that “the purpose was to make him the father of all who believe” and that “the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:11, 23-25).

The gospel has always had the doctrine of justification at its center. Reconciliation of sinful humanity to a holy God, and the removal of his just condemnation, is the core of gospel truth. Yet, to be gospel-centered is to recognize that the gospel was intended for Abraham in the Old Testament-past all the way to you and me in post-New Testament future.

Again, Paul explains that the gospel was “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son” (Romans 1:2-3). Or, as Rich Mullins put it in that way that helped me,

Sometimes I think of Abraham
How one star he saw had been lit for me

Yet, Mullins’s words should drive us to see the larger point of Galatians 3:8 as well. Not only are we connected to Abraham by faith, we should remember that, as with Abraham, the gospel has always contained an intrinsic element of blessing the nations.[3]

Rich Mullins came to perform at our campus in Rudder Auditorium at Texas A&M University in 1996. and I am glad I saw him then, for he would die just a year later. More that that, though, I am grateful that his words remain and still prove helpful for pointing us to the Bible and then to God in worship. As we think about Mullins’ legacy and influence, may his words propel many to the nations, so those who have not heard the good news about Jesus Christ can join in praising God and worshiping him in thought and song too (Ps 67).

—–

 

This article is an adaptation of a portion of my chapter, “Pastor as Missionary,” that was my assignment in the new book edited by Jason K. Allen, Portraits of a Pastor (Moody Press, 2017). My hope in my chapter is to make one thing clear: The pastor as missionary is the pastor centered on the gospel. The pastor as missionary is not another garment or tool or lens he wears or uses, but rather is the natural, healthy outworking of what it means to have a gospel-centered focus. To explain further what I mean by this, in the chapter I seek to answer these three questions:

  1. What does a pastor need to know about missions?
  2. Why should the pastor be a missionary?
  3. How can the pastor most faithfully be a missionary?

Here is more information about this new book:

Portraits of a Pastor: The 9 Essential Roles of a Church Leader

Jason K. Allen, General Editor
Moody Press, 2017.

 

 

Foreword – Thom S. Rainer
Introduction – Jason K. Allen
Pastor as Shepherd – Jared C. Wilson
Pastor as Husband and Father – Daniel L. Akin
Pastor as Preacher – Jason K. Allen
Pastor as Theologian – Owen D. Strachan
Pastor as Church Historian – Christian T. George
Pastor as Evangelist – John Mark Yeats
Pastor as Missionary – Jason G. Duesing
Pastor as Leader – Ronnie W. Floyd
Pastor as Man of God – Donald S. Whitney
Conclusion – Jason K. Allen

Thanks to Moody Press, you can read a complimentary copy of Jared C. Wilson’s chapter, “Pastor as Shepherd,” here.

[1] Rich Mullins and Beaker, “Sometimes By Step” (Edward Grant, Inc., 1991).

[3] Because of this, we can say that Muslims and Jews are not the true successors to Abraham. Salvation only comes through the One, namely Jesus, in whom this faith is placed and through whom we are justified. John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!, 3rd ed. (Baker, 2010), 191-192, explains, “What we may conclude from the wording of Genesis 12:3 and its use in the New Testament is that God’s purpose for the world is that the blessing of Abraham, namely, the salvation achieved through Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham, would reach to all ethnic groups of the world. This would happen as people in each group put their faith in Christ and thus become ‘sons of Abraham’ (Gal 3:7) and heirs of the promise (Gal 3:29). This even of individual salvation as persons trust Christ will happen among ‘all the nations.’”

 

 

 

The Pastor as Missionary

In recent years our family survived our “Angry Birds” season of life. For a period of time our kids could not get enough of this game, to the extent that we even had an Angry Birds birthday party along the way. If you have played this game, you know that the key to advancing is trajectory. How you aim the angry bird makes all the difference for achieving maximum effect. While hopefully not angry, the key for the pastor as missionary also is trajectory. In what direction the pastor points, the church follows.

That said, it isn’t enough for a pastor to herald the importance of missions. He must underscore its importance biblically and encourage his people to be world Christians just like him. So, more than merely pointing to the ends of the earth, the pastor should also go there and take others with him.

In short, the pastor as missionary is an exemplar of one who champions the end goal of the gospel and those called to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Yet, this is not another hat he must wear but is the natural outgrowth of his dedication to the gospel and his desire to see the nations reached.

Inevitably, when the pastor is leading in the trajectory of missions, well-meaning church members will ask why it is that we need to emphasize and fund long-range global mission efforts when there are so many lost people right here at home. This is a question of stewardship and deserves a good answer, and the pastor as missionary should readily give it. Here is just a start:

1. First, we should seek the unreached because the Great Commission expects disciples to be made of all people groups—large or small, easy or hard to find, with or without printed languages—all groups. The clear heart of the Bible is for God’s people to desire “all the peoples” to praise God and for him to “let the nations be glad and sing for joy” (Ps 67:3-4).

2. Second, the earliest Christians were themselves compelled to take the gospel to where Christ had not yet been named so that, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand” (Romans 15:20-21).The churches that formed first after Pentecost clearly saw the need to plan to send those carrying the good news beyond their local communities. Even though those local areas were in gospel need, they organized their ministry with a view to supporting those who were sent to all who had yet to hear and understand.

3. Third, is the simple issue of effective use of manpower. When Nehemiah set out to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, he stationed people in the lowest parts and in the open spaces (Neh 4:13). He did not stack them all in one part or in one place. When looking to reach the nations with the gospel, yes, sufficient workers should stay and labor in the fields at home for there is much work to be done, and those traveling to the unreached cannot do so without their support. But more and more workers should also be sent and equipped to reach areas where no work has ever been done.

This analogy bears striking resemblance to worldwide realities today. The Joshua Project documents that among the 60 percent of the world that is reached or within reach, more than 90 percent of the global evangelical missionary effort serves.[1] This means that only 10 percent of our missionary force is working among the remaining 40 percent who have never heard the gospel or have little access to the gospel.

Further, each year Open Doors International generates their World Watch List to determine the top 50 countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is worst. For 2017, the top five countries include: North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan.[2] When you look at that list in light of where the current evangelical missionary force is deployed, we can draw the following conclusion.

In all of those are places where persecution of Christians is the greatest, most people are unreached, and the fewest evangelical missionaries are working. That is an easy-to-see mismatch, and pastors serving in reached areas are in the best position to do something about it.[3] The areas of greatest neglect are the areas of greatest need.

Often, we think that only missionaries are the ones who need to give thought, time, and vision to missions. Our view of the world beyond where we live is often uniformed—truly foreign. We are much like the Narnian Prince, Caspian, who asks the boy, Edmund, from England, “It must be exciting to live on a thing like a ball. Have you ever been to the parts where people walk about upside-down?”[4]

Yet, the call to serve and reach those who have not heard requires qualified messengers but does not require any further command or calling. Our Lord Jesus has already said to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19), and there are many nations who have not heard His name.

As model missionaries, pastors should lead their churches to go and to support the ongoing work of missionaries all over the globe—especially in the parts most in need of the gospel.

To put it another way, as shepherds of churches seeking to fulfill the Great Commission, pastors should lead in seeking and finding people from all the nations that seemingly “walk about upside-down” and help make the task of missions not so foreign.

Thinking through this idea of “Pastor as Missionary” was my assignment for a chapter in the new book edited by Jason K. Allen, Portraits of a Pastor (Moody Press, 2017). My hope in my chapter is to make one thing clear: The pastor as missionary is the pastor centered on the gospel. The pastor as missionary is not another garment or tool or lens he wears or uses, but rather is the natural, healthy outworking of what it means to have a gospel-centered focus. To explain further what I mean by this, in the chapter I seek to answer these three questions:

  1. What does a pastor need to know about missions?
  2. Why should the pastor be a missionary?
  3. How can the pastor most faithfully be a missionary?

Here is more information about this new book:

Portraits of a Pastor: The 9 Essential Roles of a Church Leader

Jason K. Allen, General Editor
Moody Press, 2017.

 

 

Foreword – Thom S. Rainer
Introduction – Jason K. Allen
Pastor as Shepherd – Jared C. Wilson
Pastor as Husband and Father – Daniel L. Akin
Pastor as Preacher – Jason K. Allen
Pastor as Theologian – Owen D. Strachan
Pastor as Church Historian – Christian T. George
Pastor as Evangelist – John Mark Yeats
Pastor as Missionary – Jason G. Duesing
Pastor as Leader – Ronnie W. Floyd
Pastor as Man of God – Donald S. Whitney
Conclusion – Jason K. Allen

Thanks to Moody Press, you can read a complimentary copy of Jared C. Wilson’s chapter, “Pastor as Shepherd,” here.

——–

[1] “Status of World Evangelization 2017,” Joshua Project.

[2] “World Watch List,” Open Doors.

[3] In addition to a mismatch of sent personnel, there is also the mismatch of resources. In my own missions focused denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, for example, in 2014-2015 the 46,793 churches reported total resources of $11.5 billion. Of that number a total of $227 million was reported as money designated to fund global missions. What that is an astounding number and reflective of a heart for the peoples of the world, it remains only 2% of our total resources.

[4] C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, (Harper Collins, 1952; 1998), 225.

 

 

 

 

Why I Stopped Worrying About In Class Media Use

The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.

⁃C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

In the 1980s, one of my television heroes was the debonair Alex P. Keaton. My admiration for APK centered not just for his quick wit and conservative politics, but mostly because he had a watch that was also a calculator. I don’t recall at what age I first acquired the same watch, but when I did I remember some anxiety about whether my teachers would allow me to wear it to school or in class–lest they think I was covertly doing pre-calculus on my wrist.

How to handle media use in the classroom has been a topic of discussion among educators at all levels for the better part of the last two decades, or more. And, when our culture entered an era of annual technological upgrades and the condensing of multiple devices into fewer things to carry, the collective academic fretting only increased.

When I first started teaching and was not much older than the students, I resisted the trend of allowing more and more devices and sought to control and limit all use of non-class-related technology by professorial fiat. However, some time ago, I changed my thinking and chose instead to embrace this brave new world and try my best to redeem it for constructive (or at least entertaining) purposes.

Usually a few times a year, in academic journals or other outlets, the discussion resumes with various studies drawing conclusions related to the effects of media use in the classroom. In 2013, the Journal of Media Educationreported the findings of the survey, “Digital Distractions in the Classroom: Student Classroom Use of Digital Devices for Non-Class Related Purposes.” The conclusion: almost 92% of the 777 student respondents indicate that they have or do use a digital device during class for non-classroom related activities.

Since then, there have been thoughtful arguments for how to address these diversions, some that even go so far as making a case for banning laptops from the classroom. Depending the grade level and maturity of the students taught and the institutional mission and setting, I think there is some merit to these ideas, but in the end, I still think it comes down to the professor leading the class and what he or she does with the time and students before them.

The students I teach are adults in a seminary setting. Over the years, I have found it far more enjoyable and productive to treat them like adults and then expect them to act in like manner. Plus, given the fact that I have a propensity to serve as a cause, though unintentional, for campus-wide chatter (i.e. ask about the time I fainted in class and started quoting Ronald Reagan jokes), I find it easier to go along and enjoy whatever social media attention may come rather than build the reputation of “The Gloomy Professor.”

What I have found is that appropriate balance has settled to serve as the norm. Yes, there are always some students who sit in the back of a large class that are hard to reach and seek distraction whether paper or digital. But, overall, my current approach has led to more student engagement and even outside of class interaction. In some cases it has led to the recruitment of students who are considering my school as their virtual observation of in class banter or actual content has helped them see what life is really like on campus. Overall, I would say in my classes we have more fun and less actual distraction than one would think possible in the current technological climate.

Here is how I address the matter in my statement from my syllabus on “In Class Media Use”:

Computing devices are permitted during the lecture hour for the purpose of taking notes. Use of these devices to access the Internet, make telephone or video calls, text messaging, updating social network statuses, etc. is discouraged unless something really funny, historic, life changing, or unusual happens in class. If there is an emergency requiring the use of a cell phone, the student may take the call and leave the class, but out of respect for fellow classmates, not return until the break.

In short, as long as a living, breathing student with a mind ready to learn is present, laptops are welcome. Alex P. Keaton and his calculator watch, of course, are welcome too.

 

Why a National Denomination?

In my Baptist History classes, I am often asked whether denominations really are necessary.

Students, averse to what they perceive as staid institutionalism or red-tape bureaucracy, want to categorize denominations as a generational matter and thus look for something new for the present. These motives are not entirely uninformed or born from ignorance as there are plenty of generational traditions that every new generation discards. We’ve done it and so did our parents and grandparents.

However, in this case it is always a delight to inform students of the primary reason Baptists in this country ever saw the need to form a national denomination.

For at least a century, Baptist churches had cooperated locally and even regionally, but it took a truly unifying purpose to organize at the national level.

Baptists in the nineteenth century were burdened by something they called their “one sacred effort,” that is churches of all sizes cooperating together for the purpose of global missions.

And, I quickly argue, that is the number one reason why we should have, support, build and be proud of a national denomination today.

This question especially comes to mind at this time of year when the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention prepare to gather for their annual meeting. But, it is also relevant because this time of year marks  that start of the first Baptist denomination in America, the Triennial Convention, over 200 years ago.

Formed in May 1814, the Triennial Convention would serve as the forerunner to the Southern Baptist Convention that would originate, sadly, in 1845 over a disagreement among Baptists in the North and South over the tragic and evil practice of slavery–the ramifications of which the SBC is still feeling, but thankfully working though.

The early Baptists officially called their denomination “The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America, for Foreign Missions” clearly not yet arriving at the penchant future denominations have for simple and repeatable acronyms. In fact, as this new Convention set out to meet once every three years, the more natural “Triennial Convention” rose as the agreed nomenclature instead of GMCBDUSAFM.

So, why did Baptists first form a national denomination? Here is the actual wording from the Triennial Convention’s first Constitution:

We the delegates from Missionary Societies, and other religious Bodies of the Baptist denomination, in various parts of the United States, met in Convention, in the City of Philadelphia, for the purpose of carrying into effect the benevolent Intentions of our Constituents, by organizing a plan for eliciting, combining, and directing the Energies of the whole Denomination in one sacred effort, for sending the glad tidings of Salvation to the Heathen, and to nations destitute of pure Gospel-light.

Simply put, this shared idea of marshaling the energies of churches “in one sacred effort” to take the Gospel of Christ to “nations destitute of pure Gospel-light” served as the primary motive for early American Baptists to organize and gather on a national level.

As Southern Baptists prepare to meet, some are sure to ask again, “Why a national denomination?” May this cooperative example of early Baptists in America remind that the Great Commission remains a good, right, and needed reason around which churches should still gather to do more together for the glory of God than we could ever do apart.

Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention

Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention
by Jarvis J. Williams and Kevin M. Jones

“The Southern Baptist Convention has a big, dark, historical stain on it: racism. Evident by the SBC’s affirmation of slavery, its failure to repudiate this sin until 1995, and the numerous segregated Southern Baptist churches, this stain continues to hinder Southern Baptist churches from embracing the one new man in Christ outlined in Ephesians 2:11-12 and from participating in the new song of those saints from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation referenced in Revelation 5:9.

The gospel of Jesus Christ requires and demands all Southern Baptists to do their parts to erase this stain from the SBC–or at least to make the stain less apparent. This act requires a relentless commitment to Christian unity. An Christian unity requires us as a denomination to make the necessary sacrifices and to take the necessary steps to experience this unity in every aspect of Southern Baptist life sooner rather than later.

This book, edited by and written primarily by African-American voices in the SBC, is one small effort to help erase the stain of racism from the SBC in pursuit of unity in our beloved denomination ….

The editors inclusion of white Southern Baptists alongside a majority of African-American contributors symbolizes the kind of partnership we as African-American editors believe must take place within the SBC if the stain of racism is to be removed once and for all. The historical stain of racism in the SBC exists in part because of the participation of many white Southern Baptists in the marginalization, oppression, and exploitation of black and brown people.

As editors, we do not believe racism necessarily will be removed if more black and brown Southern Baptists are in leadership over the white majority in the SBC. Neither do we believe racial discrimination is a sin committed only by the white majority. Black and brown people discriminate too! We mean the ethnic status quo in the SBC, which has historically privileged the white majority over black and brown people, can no longer remain the status quo if the stain of racism is to be removed from the SBC.”

Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention: Diverse African American and White Perspectives

Jarvis J. Williams and Kevin M. Jones
B&H Academic, 2017.

 

 

 

 

The Wittenberg Door of American Evangelical Missions

In the summer of 1806, several dedicated young men attending the Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, began to gather regularly to pray and read reports of the burgeoning work of Andrew Fuller, William Carey, and the new Baptist Missionary Society in England.

On one occasion, while meeting in a field adjacent to the college campus, the students, trapped by a thunderstorm, took shelter in a haystack. Haystacks in 1806 were not the manicured and tightly bound variety that are arranged neatly as viewed from the 21st century roadside.

Rather, these were the versions piled as high as a human could assemble with only a pitchfork and a sundown deadline. Thus, like a quickly assembled snow fort, the young men of Williams dove into and carved out a hay-lined shelter to continue their meeting. What they found, though, was far more rewarding than had they discovered a missing needle.

The “Haystack Prayer Meeting” resulted in the dedication of these young men to personal participation in the global missions task, and the ensuing years led to the entry of a formal American participation with the sending of Adoniram and Ann Judson along with several others to the East.

Herein, we can see a dotted line from 1806 to the present, for the Haystack Prayer event is, in many ways, the Wittenberg Door of American evangelicalism’s awakening to the need and universal call for all believers to support, organize, and send many for global gospel proclamation.

Famously, the Judsons would change from Congregationalists to Baptists en route to Burma, and through them and the aid of Luther Rice, the Baptist Board for Foreign Missions was formed. Now mobilized toward sending and supporting world evangelism, Baptists in America saw and had a need to form a national denomination, and did so in 1814, in what would become known as the Triennial Convention.

This is no small point for our denominationally averse age to miss: the reason why Baptist churches sought to cooperate at a national level, with all of its necessary machinery, politics, stresses and strains, was for the purpose of uniting to send the gospel to those who have never heard (Rom 15:21).

Three decades later, due to the tragedy of many Baptists in the South defending the practice of slavery, this national denomination divided in two, and the Southern Baptist Convention began and, eventually, also the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board). But, even through tragedy, the connection to the Haystack remained.

Likewise, many other evangelical denominations can trace their entree into global mission advocacy back to that meeting in the fields behind Williams College, and that is what makes that location and that moment in 1806 so meaningful. For, in that sense, it is right to connect the sending today of any American evangelical missionary to those college students praying during a thunderstorm 211 years ago.

Recognizing the significance of that 1806 prayer meeting, later missions supporters dedicated in 1867 The Haystack Prayer Monument on the grounds of Williams College, where it still resides in the College’s Mission Park. [1]

And this week, the Midwestern New England Study Tour convened in Williamstown to see the monument and to reflect on the 1806 event and to consider the idea of the Haystack Prayer Meeting as the Wittenberg Door for Amercian Great Commission engagement.

This year we are rightly remembering the 500th anniversary of the actual Reformation events the door in Wittenberg helped to launch, events that would encourage the later formation of Williams College and many Protestant churches in New England.

Therefore, in the spirit of the Reformation’s gospel recovery, it is good and right also to consider the impact of a group of praying students, heirs of Wittenberg themselves, on the modern missions movement of global gospel proclamation.

Here we stand (and pray) with them.

Photo: Dr. Owen Strachan, Midwestern Seminary, speaks to Midwestern students at Williams College, May 22, 2017.

[1] The monument reads, “The Field is the World. The Birthplace of American Foreign Missions.” The selection of the phrase, “The Field is the World,” is an intriguing one, but not unique given the time and missionary context. Taken from Matthew 13:38 and the Lord Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Weeds, the correlation of the harvest field to the world appears first as merely background information, a description of the stage on which the parable would take place. However, as many would rightly note, the acknowledgement that the boundaries for the proclamation of the gospel are global is good and significant news for all dwellers in time and space distant from the land of Israel in the era of the New Testament. An example of how a missionary minded preacher interpreted and applied Matthew 13 in the mid-nineteenth century is Gardiner Spring (1785-1873), and his sermon “The Extent of the Missionary Enterprise” (1840).