Reflections on My First SBC Annual Meeting: 10 Lowlights

At the SBC 2009 in Louisville, there were far more highlights than there were lowlights, as seen in my previous post.  However, there were some significant moments and observations I came away with from my first SBC Annual Meeting that were rather discouraging.  Here are some that I jotted down:

1.  Morris Chapman

What Morris Chapman did as a part of the Executive Committee report should be enough to bring about his resignation.  It was that bad.  Seriously.  Whether he claims ignorance or spoke with such ill-informed knowledge, the level of incompetence and grandstanding for political agendas as the most influential bureaucrat in the SBC is appalling. There is too much power and pulpit for one man among a convention of autonomous, local churches to continually say such things without accountability to the convention he is positioned as the Executive Committee CEO.

2.  Motions & Moralism

It has been pointed out already by several that motions can be made by any credentialed messenger at the SBC and that the motions do not necessarily represent the common voice of the SBC populace.  While that is true, I do believe the motions reveal a lot about the ongoing need for the recovery of the gospel in the SBC.  The Pastor’s Conference centered a great deal on gospel unity, passion for mission, and a commitment to seeing renewal in our local churches.  The motions, however, focused on education, boycotts, homosexuals, drinking, cussing, flags, etc., all of which leads me to the next lowlight.

3.  Cultural Fundamentalism

The Southern Baptist Convention has embraced the religious forms of the South in many ways that has pushed cultural fundamentalism at odds with gospel-centered churches.  This fundamentalism emphatically embraces the culture war and bemoans the sinful actions of secular society, calling for radical separation and denunciation of things aforementioned in #2 (homosexuals, drinking, cussing, etc.).  More attention is paid to the cultural imperative than the gospel indicative, thereby leading to a moralism or religion that fights for cultural values and even sometimes elevates them to a higher degree than the gospel.  Although I agree that some of the issues are important, the presence of this cultural fundamentalism is quite disconcerting, especially as this past convention revealed the level of importance placed upon them.  I would much rather see us deal with being “of the world but not in the world” than being “in the world but not of the world.”  We need the fight the war with sin the camp before we fight the war with sin in the culture.  And for the record, I have never had an ounce of alcohol in my life, nor smoked, nor do I cuss – but that’s besides the point. 😉

4.  Roger Moran & Anti-Driscollism

For those who do not know who Roger Moran is, he’s the guy in Missouri who was after Darrin Patrick and The Journey, crusaded against dually affiliated Acts 29/SBC churches and eventually got them de-funded, and served in the past on the Executive Committee of the SBC.  It was announced prior to the convention that Moran was going to pass out his hit piece against Driscoll, Acts 29, and SEBTS, calling out specific Southern Baptists (e.g., Ed Stetzer and Dr. Danny Akin) for their affinity for gospel-centered church planting within the Acts 29 network.  When Moran was not allowed to pass out his propaganda on the convention floor, Dr. Emir Caner, President of Truett-McConnell, opened his booth to spread the information. I predicted among some of my friends that Moran would take the MO crusade national at the SBC meeting, but I did not expect that he would have such an elaborate game plan.

In all, there were five motions made against Mark Driscoll, making him the most influential and most talked about person at the SBC meeting.  What most people do not know is that this was in large part staged by Moran and his supporters.  It was an attempt by a select few to win over the masses by talking about drinking, cussing, and talking about sex in church–all of which cultural fundamentalists can rally around.  Fortunately, The Committee on the Order of Business (COOB) not only rejected the particular motions but also rebuked the attempts to smear Southern Baptist leaders in such an illegitimate way.

I agree with my friend Tim Ellsworth who rightly pointed out,

We have lots of churches where nobody could possibly be saved because they’re not hearing the message of salvation, and yet we have messengers at the SBC annual meeting who want to launch a personal crusade against Driscoll because they’re uncomfortable with his language.

Give me the choice between Driscoll and his emphasis on the gospel (despite his faults) and many Southern Baptist churches where the language is perfectly appropriate and pristine and yet devoid of the gospel’s wonderful words of life, and I’ll take Driscoll every time.

For other helpful takes, consider the words of Danny Akin and Michael Spencer, or better yet, take some time to listen and read the man himself who, unlike some Southern Baptists conferences, puts everything out there for FREE.

5.  Anti-Calvinism

There were three instances of anti-Calvinism, none of which I believe were well-received by Southern Baptists (Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike).  The main occurrence, of course, was Morris Chapman’s diatribe which was supposed to be an entity report.  The other two occurrences came during the discussion about motions, most notably during the GCR Task Force debate where Calvinism was blamed for the decline in evangelism and said would split the convention.  Dr. Frank Page winsomely and plainly spoke against the anti-Calvinism as a non-Calvinist in favor of the GCR Task Force, and I had the privilege of catching him the convention hallway to express my appreciation for his leadership and irenic spirit. The good news is that anti-Calvinism rhetoric is losing ground in the SBC, in large part through the increasing influence and involvement of younger Southern Baptists who are more Calvinistic as well as the non-Calvinist leadership who are tired and increasinly intolerant of the misrepresentations and straw men leveled against their Reformed brothers.

6.  White Convention

There’s no way of getting around it, not even by color-coordinated choir outfits.  We are a white convention.  While there may be work done among ethnic minorities, they are clearly not involved or interested in Southern Baptist life on a national level.  Again, I think this to some degree goes back to the Southern enculturation that we have assumed in our methodology and not carefully critiqued in light of our calling as Christians in racial diversity and outreach.

7.  Doughnut Sales

I know this may sound silly, but it needs to be mentioned.  A couple tweeps (here and corrected here) found out that over 20,000 doughnuts were sold at the SBC meeting.  Recently, I read how one blogger was proud that the bar at their hotel had to be shut down due to slow business (presumably because Southern Baptists occupied the majority of the rooms) and this is good, but no one seems to wonder why we can’t cause the doughnut shops to close down.  Southern Baptists have much more to be concerned when it comes to our waistline than being able to “walk the line.”  I appreciate the example of men like Ed Stetzer who, through a disciplined lifestyle and eating healthier, lost over 120 lbs. in the past year.  May his example inspire many other Southern Baptists to do the same.

8.  Music without Transcendence

There was some good times of worship through song at the convention, but what surprised me was that there were no modern hymns sung by any of the worship leaders (at least that I could recall).  Many if not most of the songs were testimonial with very little transcendence, little about who God is and what He has done.  Instead they were about who we are what we are going to do.  I just like singing about Jesus more than I do me, and I would have liked to have been able to do that more with my fellow Southern Baptists.

9.  Baptist Press

While I plan on writing about the role of Baptist Press soon, they should be included in the lowlight section of the SBC meeting because it’s agenda in making the news rather than reporting the news.  The four-part series by Will Hall just prior to the convention coupled with the Mark Driscoll article by Don Hinkle was really disappointing.  It is very hard not to see that Baptist Press has an agenda, one that is quite contrarian to the direction of many SBC leaders today.

10.  Makeup of GCR Task Force

I put the GCR Task Force in the lowlight section not because I disagree with it (!) but because I think the makeup of the 18-member group could have been better comprised.  When I first heard the names, it sounded like a lot of megachurch pastors and “insiders”–kind of like the “king-makers” in pre-Frank Page days.  I believe Southern Baptists would have been better served with more diversity in this task force.  Nothing huge, but a disappointment no less.

All in all, I left Louisville greatly encouraged.  I know that the negatives tend to get more press than the positives (just look at the front page of any newspaper), but it is evident from the testimony of many elder brothers who have attended these things for decades that this was the best, most hopeful convention they have ever attended.  I do believe there is a new day dawning, and I look forward to praying and participating in the efforts to focus on the gospel, the mission, and the local church for the glory of Christ and His fame among the nations.

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28 Comments on “Reflections on My First SBC Annual Meeting: 10 Lowlights”

  1. Bill Says:

    Very good post. I am just a layman that likes to stay informed and I appreciate you honest evaluation of this years meeting. Could you please, for the simple-minded like myself, clarify what “gospel unity” is exactly, and an example of where we may not be unified? Thanks for all that you do.


    • Bill,

      What I (and I believe others) mean by gospel unity is agreeing together on the things that make us believers in Christ. We may not all agree on unconditional election, but we can and should agree that salvation is “of the Lord” and all of grace. We may not all believe in particular redemption, but can and should all believe in substitutionary atonement. The gospel essentials are those related to the person and and work of Jesus Christ, the matters “of first importance” as Paul described in 1 Cor. 15:1-5.

      I hope to write more on the centrality and sufficiency of the gospel more in the days and weeks to come. I hope to elaborate on this and other matters pertaining to gospel unity as well.

  2. Heath Lloyd Says:

    Thank you for the post. I was not able to go to the SBC this year, but I hope you will share some highlights as well as your lowlights.
    I do have a concern with your comments concerning “cultural fundamentalism.” Holiness seems to be the missing note in modern evangelicalism. What do we do with the call to come out and live seperate lives? Do we forsake reverence for being relevant to culture? I pray that we will think about, seriously, the biblical call to holy living.


    • Heath,

      Regarding highlights, I shared those a couple of days ago in a previous blogpost. Here’s the link:

      http://timmybrister.com/2009/06/26/reflections-on-my-first-sbc-annual-meeting-10-highlights/

      When I’m speaking about cultural fundamentalism, I in no way am slighting holiness, rather arguing for it. Holiness by grace flows from the application of the gospel in one’s life as they regularly repent and believe the gospel. Our conformity to Christ in all aspects of life is possible when we understand what God has done for us in Christ. Cultural fundamentalism takes an approach to holiness that I find superficial in that it focuses on the desired fruits of holiness without focusing on the Vine that produces that fruit. Furthermore, there are far more weightier matters in holiness than the typical things cultural fundamentalists trumpet from their fortified castle of separation.

      Jesus calls us out (ekklesia) to live sent into the world. Discipleship and personal holiness is never divorced from mission, which is often messy and causes you to be misunderstood by those who have never gotten their hands dirty for Jesus. Jesus was the Lamb of God without spot or blemish but was so involved in the culture where He lived that it was scandalous to the cultural fundamentalists (Pharisees) of His day. He was fine with that because He knew what His mission was and who He was seeking to honor (His Father). A God-centered focus and resolve to live on mission in the same manner our Savior has sent us will cause us to be misunderstood and even maligned. However, we should be suspect of the cultural fundamentalist’s understanding of holiness to the same degree that it was those who thought they were doing a holy act by nailing Jesus to the cross as an attempt of vindicating God’s law.

      • Heath Lloyd Says:

        Tim – Thanks for responding to my comment. I will be sure to go back and read your highlights. As to holiness of life, indeed, may we abide in Jesus Christ. And may we walk circumspectly.

  3. kim davidson Says:

    I love your thoughts 6-9. SO TRUE! Especially the one about the doughnuts. I often think the meals that we serve convention wide – do not line up with Guidestone or any other doctor’s recommended eating. we often rant about the sin of alcohol but not that of over-eating. I heard a great sermon by my fmr pastor JD Greear on gluttony – good stuff.


  4. Very, very good comments. I like the part about doughnuts…would not have eaten any if I had been there but some folks sure know how to glutton out on them (in Florida it is called “pigging out”).
    I am looking forward to the SBC coming to Orlando next year.
    Anti-Calvinism sure was not preached from the pulpit of Charles Haddon Spurgeon or George Whitfield. I am not a member of SBC and I love a strong Calvinist toned sermon.

  5. sam Says:

    I dont see where the anti-calvinism of the SBC is on the wane. I am sure we will see more John 3:16 conference types in the future from those within the SBC. Chapman’s talk just shows you what is going on in the undercurrents among some within the SBC. I still think when the newness and the buzz around the GCR dies down, Calvinism will be a dividing factor within the SBC. there is just too much ignorance and hostility that exists within the SBC towards Calvinism for it just to be quelled and dispensed by the GCR.


    • Sam,

      I would have to respectfully disagree. For one, the hype and banter on the internet from bloggers is not always indicative of what is going on broadly in the SBC. The applause and affirmation on the convention floor in disagreement with the anti-Calvinist rhetoric was encouraging, some have even said to be a significant change from just a few years back.

      The John 3:16 conference anti-Calvinism might continue, but it will not under the leadership or approval of non-Calvinists like Johnny Hunt or Danny Akin. There are some who are doing everything they can to blame Calvinists for all the problems in the SBC and eventually force a divide; however, I am seeing more healing, understanding, and maturity than in the five years that I’ve been blogging and involved in SBC life.

      No one in the GCR, Calvinist or non-Calvinist, is saying that you should lay aside your doctrinal convictions or have a mushy sentimentalism; rather, we are saying let’s pursue the Great Commission together and allow the theological differences to be discussed in an honorable and respectful way. I encourage you to watch Dr. Akin’s message from the Founders Breakfast, in particular the latter half where he speaks of encouragements and cautions, along these lines. The kind of non-Calvinists leading the conversation should be men like Danny Akin, and the kind of Calvinist leading the conversation should be men like Tom Ascol. Both are committed to the Great Commission, both are great theologians, both have differences, and both love each other and share mutual passion to make Christ known. We could all learn from them.

      • Les Puryear Says:

        Timmy,

        You said, “The John 3:16 conference anti-Calvinism might continue, but it will not under the leadership or approval of non-Calvinists like Johnny Hunt or Danny Akin.”

        I know you haven’t forgotten that the John 3:16 conference was held at Johnny Hunt’s church. Do you honestly believe he has changed that much?

        Les


        • Les,

          The John 3:16 Conference was not Johnny’s deal. It was Jerry Vines’ who is a member of FBCW. Hunt allowed him to use the facilities which is in no way an endorsement of Vines’ antagonism towards Calvinism. Hunt’s message at the conference was not bad, and I believe God has stretched and challenged Hunt over the past couple of years through the books he’s read and particular influences in his life. There’s a lot more going on than what gets blogged about, and I believe that all of it has been in a positive direction. It would not be appropriate to delve into details, but yes, I do honestly believe Hunt has changed, as have Calvinists (myself included) for the good of the gospel and love for another.

          • Les Puryear Says:

            Timmy,

            I have heard others attempt to exonerate Pastor Johnny of any culpability in the John 3:16 conference with the same remark that it was Jerry Vines’ conference. Perhaps so, but as a pastor myself, I can assure you that a member of my church would not be allowed to use our facilities for a conference with which I had major theological disagreements.

            I’m not sure which is worse, that Johnny Hunt supported the John 3:16 conference or that he allowed a major conference in his facilities that he had to know would be divisive in the SBC.

            Les


            • Les,

              I will simply encourage you to listen to what Dr. Akin says at the close of the Founders Breakfast message. I don’t think it is my job to exonerate Hunt of anything or convince you of things I personally believe.


  6. “Waistline”—“walk the line.” Funny stuff, but no less true for its comedic value.


  7. […] advantage of a free microphone to rant against Calvinists in the SBC.   While Tim Brister at Provocations and Pantings has stated that Chapman’s actions should “bring about his resignation,” it seems […]

  8. Greg Alford Says:

    Concerning Chapman’s comments…

    In the face of a young Calvinist movement in the SBC that is absolutely on fire for evangelism and missions these were most unfortunate comments coming from the President of the Executive Committee of the SBC, and in my opinion I think that Chapman has seriously misjudged the current mood of cooperation in the convention between Calvinist and Non-Calvinist.

    The politics of division have run their course in the SBC and it’s time for Chapman to step down and make way for Consensus builder.


  9. If I might be allowed a moment of personal legalistic pride, I ate no donuts nor barbecue at the convention. I left physically hungry every day. And I won’t be mistaken for a guy who is “in shape.” 😉

    After this convention I am starting to really believe the future belongs non-Calvinists like myself, Danny Akin, Ed Stetzer and others where the Calvinism issue is involved. That is to say, I believe within the next few years the only people who will care will be isolated and unheeded. While we are moving on with our lives and getting busy with the mission together as Jesus commanded, the anti-Calvinists will dwindle into nothingness as is appropriate.

    But once you remove that issue, oh what a sweet time it was! Unity was the buzzword and prevailing attitude, wasn’t it?

  10. pjrhc Says:

    I appreciate your comments; you articulate well what concerns me as an SBC pastor in WI. I was saddened when I read Chapman’s address (thanks for the link). I so, so agree with your distinction between cultural fundamentalism and gospel-centered churches. May God help us to labor to and persist in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and trust Him alone to save and to sanctify us through His Word.


  11. Tim,

    I’m not in any way connected with anything remotely SBC, but want to thank you for putting into words by one of your points here something I’ve been trying to express but didn’t know how. That being the tendency of testimonial worship music rather than transcendent. I even had to do a
    blog post on it!

    Thanks for your words and ministry and commitment to the gospel.

  12. Terry Lange Says:

    As someone who is not a Southern Baptist, but watching from the sidelines.

    Is there a way that you SBC’ers can get Morris Chapman out of the CEO role? If not, you are going to be in sad shape if he is allowed to make statements and there seem to be no checks and balances in place.

    I agree that there is a wing of the SBC that does almost mimic the weird, legalistic side of Fundamentalism (We have our own weird side as well) but it seems like they do not carry much influence?

    Mark Driscoll will be a polarizing issue both inside and outside the SBC. Unfortunately, this will continue probably until Jesus comes. I for one, do not agree with Driscoll’s conduct and speech, but no sense in making a big deal out of it.

    I am interested to see what will take place this year within the SBC…


    • Terry,

      The only way I know Chapman can be removed from the role of CEO of the Executive Committee is if the members of that committee vote him out (which I don’t think is an impossibility, especially after last week). His job does seem quite insular from critique and accountability, but when other entity heads apologize for your shameful and disingenuous remarks while others offer to create a support group for your shenanigans, no executive office is so fortified to silence the voice of a growing number of Southern Baptists.

  13. Allen Mickle Says:

    Hey Tim,

    I wasn’t there but from what I heard I agree. But, anti-Calvinism is alive in many SBC churches because they do not understand it or alternatives. You know I was turned down as a pastoral candidate because I am a Calvinist (in a SBC church) even though they could not even clearly comprehend what Calvinism was. They had never even heard of TULIP. They are against Calvinism in their ignorance of it.

    Allen Mickle


    • Allen,

      Sadly, what happened to you brother is not uncommon. I wish it weren’t the case, but Calvinism is shrouded in layer after layer of caricatures, straw men, and historical revision that to even bring it up requires definition of all terms, and even then the deck is stacked against you. Keep pressing on brother, and know that I am praying for you.


  14. […] of Timmy’s lowlights was: 3.  Cultural […]


  15. […] Brister (of Provocations & Pantings fame) offers his highlights and lowlights.  As always, this is well-written and offers a unique, well-thought out […]

  16. Joe Carr Says:

    I happen to agree with you on the make-up of the GCR taskforce. Larry Wynn, pastor of Hebron Baptist in Dacula, Ga led his church to give $1,000,000.00 to the CP several years ago while building a new $6,000,000.00 facility debt-free! He would have been a better choice than Ronnie Floyd, in my humble opinion. There were no pastors ot laymen selected from churches averaging less than 500 in attendance. When 90% of SBC churches average less than 200 each week, are there not any of those men qualified to serve? I do support the GCR, just thinking like you that there could have been some better choices.


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