Although this is late in comparison to many of my friends and colleagues from around the convention I thought it might still be appropriate to jot down a few thoughts about this year’s annual meeting. These are not intended to be comprehensive, but rather something of a snapshot from my mind – which has great potential to be terrifying, I’ll grant you, none the less here we go.
First, let’s start with what I viewed as good or even great parts of the convention.
Pastor’s Conference Preaching:
I have never been so encouraged as I was this year concerning the passionate, Gospel centered, expositional preaching that was delivered over and over again. Standing out in my mind were the messages delivered by J.D. Greear, & David Platt. Certainly there were many more that I was excited about, but none more than those two. Both showed an excellent skill at faithfully exegeting God’s Word, and both showed an amazing capacity to do so in an inviting, yet challenging manner which was humble in nature and yet so thoroughly convicting. David Platt’s message in particular, will go down as one of the best messages, if not the best, I’ve ever heard. I heard that one former SBC President remarked that it was the greatest message in the history of the Pastor’s Conference. That’s some high cotton, but it’s deserved in my opinion. If those two are indicative of the men being produced by our SBC seminaries, our convention’s future is significantly brighter than I might ever have imagined.
Gospel Centered Unity:
One of the characteristics of the younger generation seems to be a great commitment to theology driven practice, much more so than I’ve seen in many, many years. The popularity of men like Mark Dever, Ed Stetzer, Danny Akin, Al Mohler and more seems to have fostered a great desire for a methodology that is driven by a Gospel centered theology. This convention represented that like no other that I’ve ever attended. While there was certainly powerful opinions that were expressed on various sides of various arguments, when it came to voting there was remarkable unity and it was encouraging to see it seemingly motivated by a passion for the centrality of the message of the Gospel. In fact, aside from the election of officers, I don’t believe ever used our ballots other than to raise or lower than in votes. Every vote was overwhelmingly clear. That’s new for me at an SBC meeting.
The Great Commission Resurgence:
For quite some time I’ve been fairly open about my excitement concerning the potential for a GCR. From the moment I heard Dr. Akin espousing a commitment to a GCR I found myself gravitating towards that call. A providential opportunity to spend half of a day with Pastor Johnny Hunt two months ago only confirmed my commitment to the GCR, particularly under the leadership of two men that I respect and trust. Heading into the convention I was fairly confident that the Task Force motion would pass with a significant majority – and had shared as much with a number of friends. However, knowing Southern Baptists my idea of a significant majority was around 65%. Imagine my absolute shock, then, to see it pass with 95% of the vote. I spoke to another friend who was on the platform when the vote happened and he was of the opinion that 95% was actually a conservative count. His thought was that it was even higher than that. Amazing.
Pastor Johnny Hunt’s Leadership:
If you would have asked me a year ago I would have probably offered an opinion that Pastor Johnny was another SBC insider who would probably be satisfied to maintain something of a status quo. I really had never had any interaction with him and I have never been more thankful to have been wrong. I was shocked, to be honest with you, when he told me that prior to serving as SBC President he had never served in SBC life in any capacity other than as a preacher at various events. His passion to serve as pastor of a local church, and his willingness to reach people with the Gospel was evident and on display as he lead our convention during the week with great graciousness and yet firm resolve. We need more men like Pastor Hunt in our denomination.
Whether it was due to the convention being in a large seminary town, or due to interest in the GCR there was undoubtedly a younger hue to the convention this year. It’s the first time I have not felt decidedly out of place and something like 20 years younger than the average participant. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve actually felt a bit like I was older than a significant number of those in attendance. The fact that the convention offered such good preaching, Gospel centered unity and a passion for the future probably bodes well in helping bring many of these young Baptists back which is certainly a good thing for our convention.
The opportunity to attend meetings like the Baptist 21 panel on Tuesday afternoon was invigorating as I worshipped with 600 other Southern Baptists at Sojourn Church in downtown Louisville. The guys who run B21 did a phenomenal job of putting together one of the best, most helpful meetings I’ve ever attended at an SBC.
I continue to be amazed at the men in our convention who love to pour themselves into younger guys. I know that I long for the mentoring and wisdom that comes from years of experience. God has blessed me with relationships with a number of these guys, and others I don’t know personally but love watching their ministry and this year was no different. Men like Dr. David Dockery, Dr. Danny Akin, Dr. Al Mohler, Dr. Mark Dever, Dr. John Marshall, Dr. Frank Page & Dr. Johnny Hunt continue to encourage and motivate me. Dr. Marshall’s convention message was particularly inspiring and encouraging. After he finished, all I knew to do was tell him “thank you”. We are a blessed convention to have their wisdom and guidance.
Now, it wouldn’t be a fair assessment if I didn’t mention a few of the things that were not quite as encouraging. I’ll try not to be as long here because I want to focus more on the strengths of this meeting, but there certainly were a few disappointing moments.
Almost without a doubt the Executive Committee report by Dr. Morris Chapman had to be the most disappointing moment of the entire meeting. His report was anything but a report and instead appeared to be his own personal vendetta against all things that he found troubling in convention life. His drive by’s included the Great Commission Resurgence, those who embrace a Reformed soteriology, those who used contemporary methodologies to reach people with the Gospel. I felt quite disturbed after it was over. Evidently I was not the only one. Dr. Mohler, from Southern Seminary, apparently found Dr. Chapman’s report troubling and Dr. Danny Akin, of Southeastern Seminary, called it “shameful”. It was a sad misuse of time and power, in my opinion, for him to use his position to take shots at Southern Baptists across the denomination who embrace conservative theology but whom he personally finds disturbing. While he has every right to hold those positions, that was not the time, nor the place, to express them.
I’ll have to admit that I was pleased when I heard that Mike Huckabee was asked to speak. As Huckabee is a former Baptist pastor, and I knew that Huckabee is a good speaker, I was encouraged about the idea of hearing him preach. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got. Instead we heard what appeared to be a political stump speech where Huckabee said that the cure for America was morality. While I pray that we become a more moral nation, morality is not the answer. If that’s true the Mormon’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses & even the Muslims are the great hope for our country. In a moment when he had the floor, and could have established a new tone as a politician who embraced his faith and clearly communicates its truths in no uncertain terms, Huckabee let us down in my opinion. As I’ve told my own church, politics are not the hope for America, the Gospel, and righteousness through the Gospel, is the hope for America. Unfortunately Huckabee appeared to take the politically expedient route in dealing with those concepts.
Leading up to the convention we heard from Baptist Press that the convention was really not in decline. Instead, we were told, we were just looking at the numbers all wrong. Instead of being in decline, we just didn’t have people to reach out to. In fact, since the convention, the author of those previous articles claimed in an interview with Christianity Today “I hate to use these terms, but you can’t reach people if there isn’t a market”. It is seriously discouraging to me to hear people on our convention staff, paid by our convention dollars, who are trying to wish away the obvious and act as if no problems exist. It’s concerning to me when the population is growing strongly as a whole, and the argument being offered is simply “there isn’t a market” to be reached. Wow.
In conclusion, however, I’ve got to be honest that it was the most encouraging SBC I’ve ever been to. Sure there were some discouraging components, but in retrospect, they were insignificant in comparison to our Gospel centered unity and our commitment to the exposition of God’s Word. This convention marks the first time that I’ve left convinced that our future is bright if we keep moving in the current direction. After previous conventions I’ve felt as if the future could be bright, if necessary changes occurred. This year is altogether different, and for that I’m grateful!