Since the brouhaha about the 2011 Pastor’s Conference hit the blogs, there has been a somewhat surprising silence from Vance Pitman, the president of the PC and the one responsible for the slate of speakers. Associated Baptist Press has an article up in which Pitman responds to some of the criticisms that have been made.
There have been three primary criticisms.
1) The inclusion of Jamar Jones as pianist raised theological hackles. He is part of TD Jakes’ church. Some have labeled Jakes a modalist. I did some research, though I have to admit that it was not extensive or exhaustive. Jakes is from a Oneness Pentecostal background and has retained some of the language the Oneness folks use to describe the Godhead. If he is a Trinitarian, he did not do a good job of clarifying that.
Jamar Jones has decided to withdraw his participation so as not to create controversy and division.
Dwight McKissic has responded with strong words (on his own blog and on this one) for those who called out TD Jakes on this issue. You can read his post here. In the ABP article, he called the opposition to Jakes and Jones, and Jones subsequent removal from the ministry, “a casualty of not so friendly fire from fellow Kingdom soldiers.” He is sure that Jakes is not a modalist, and labeled the events, “tragic, sinful and shameful” and indicated that Southern Baptists “missed an opportunity to bridge an obvious racial divide and to fellowship with a Kingdom saint who is not of the SBC fold.”
Pitman seems to agree with McKissic and says that people whom he trusts have assured him that Jakes is not a modalist. He also points out that Jakes’ books are for sale in Lifeway Christian Stores.
“How ridiculous is it that we can sell his books but his music guy can’t play piano at our meeting?”
I think that many who raised questions about this issue would agree that the fact that Lifeway sells Jakes’ books is a problem.
2) Some have criticized the Calvinism-heavy nature of the speaking list.
The article quotes Ron Hale, who comments at this blog periodically.
“We are wandering in a wilderness in our current SBC life,” said blog writer Ron Hale. “Our leaders are hyper on Piper; LifeWay materials encourage our people to visit Mark Driscoll’s website to download his sermons … and we have a couple of ACTS29 guys preaching.”
Pitman defends his selections and calls these accusations, “beyond my wildest imagination.” He points out that Johnny Hunt and Rick Warren are both on the podium. He claims that his selections were made for more practical reasons.
“The vein that unites all of them is that they are all practitioners,” Pitman said. “They are all engaging nations and planting churches.”
Pitman agrees that it is important that we be discerning in theology, but reacts to the criticisms by leveling an accusation of his own, claiming that there is a difference between being, “discerning and in having a judgmental spirit.” It would seem to me that he is classifying the criticisms as being more from the latter than the former.
Actually, the criticism is broader than just the Calvinist issue. Some have felt that there is too little Baptist representation in the SBC Pastor’s Conference this year. It has been pointed out that most give nothing or very little to SBC causes and that there are a lot of speakers from other denominations.
Pitman addresses this in the ABP article.
“The Kingdom of God is bigger than Southern Baptists. The main intent of our conference is to communicate the big picture of the Kingdom of God. God is alive and at work all over the world. We as the Southern Baptist Convention are one very small part of that.” (NOTE: It is not clear whether this quote is one continuous statement or separate sentences. I have linked them here.)
That is a legitimate question on which we can disagree. How Baptist should the SBC Pastors’ Conference be? It seems clear that Pitman’s view would disagree with the views of some of our commenters here. I think he makes a reasonable point. I also think that reasonable people can disagree.
3) There is criticism of the costs related to the Pastor’s Conference
Frankly, this thing has confused me. I made a suggestion that we run a “regular guy” as Pastor’s Conference president, and Bart Barber commented that one real problem with that was that the president had to pay large amounts of the costs, and that whomever we nominated would go broke. Others have complained that since the Cooperative Program underwrites costs of the Pastor’s Conference, there should be a greater Baptist representation on the podium.
I’m not sure I understand the whole process yet, but there is a discussion of that in the ABP article.
Pitman explains that he has raised sponsorship to cover all the costs this year and that the entire offering will go toward the mission that is advertised (reaching a UPG).
My Response to Pitman’s Response
1) I am glad he finally made a statement. I wish he had gotten in front of all this instead of remaining quiet. Had he come out a statement that said, “People I trust say that Jakes is trinitarian,” I would have been satisfied. I don’t know if others would have been, but I would have. I am glad he is giving his side.
2) I affirm the value of theological discernment. The Jones/Jakes controversy has brought criticisms about “stingy orthodoxy” in the SBC. We have been accused of making mountains out of molehills theologically. I accept the fact that we may sometimes overreact and drop the H-bomb when it is not appropriate. However, it is crucial that we maintain theological integrity. It is not a petty pursuit, even though we may sometimes do it badly.
3) We’ve all made our points, now lets go and listen to the speakers. I never had a problem with the lineup, so its easy for me. But honestly, even if you are not a Calvinist, doesn’t a sermon by John Piper bless you a little? You don’t have to support Acts 29 to enjoy and learn from Darrin Patrick.
I think its going to be a good conference, regardless of all the controversies.
One last thing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, why do we have to go to ABP for articles like this?