Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Most Influential Man of the 20th Century

On a recent post I asked the question "The Greatest Man in the 20th Century is Who?" The post revolved around the practice of St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City, where church leaders chose the most influential man of each of the past nineteen centuries and honored them by placing a handmade statue underneath the communion table. Already knowing the men listed for the previous nineteen centuries, we called the church to ask them about their decision regarding the most influential man of the 20th Century. Reverend Harry Pritchett was the 8th Dean of St. John's in New York. He is now at The Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta. Barbara, my assistant, called Dr. Pritchett and disovered him to be a very gracious man who offered the following information.

At the turn of the century, Rev. Pritchett and his church committee chose to depart from listing a single person considered to be the most influential man of the twentieth century and decided instead to name individuals, male or female, whom they felt were the most humanitarian of that century. There was some disagreement on this departure, but eventually the committee came up with four names representing the greatest humanitarians of the 20th Century: Ghandi (advocation of peaceful protest for humanitarian rights), Susan B. Anthony (advocation of women's rights), Martin Luther King Jr.(advocation for peaceful protest for racial equality), and Einstein (for his contribution to technology and his writings).

These four individuals are memoralized like the men chosen for the first through the nineteenth centuries, with a carving near the others. This carving is approximately three to four feet high, just like the previous statues, but is unique in that four individuals are included in the single carving representing the 20th Century instead of each person being given their own figurine. Dr. Pritchett emphasized that the first nineteen individuals named were not necessarily chosen because of their faith, but for their influence in their respective century. Some were Christians, some were not. Of those who were Christians, sometime their influence was not necessarily due to their Christian faith. The same could be said of the four representing the 20th Century.

Many may not agree with Trinity's choice of individuals to represent the previous one hundred years, but nobody can fault the church's desire to recognize great men and women who have given of their lives to make our world a better place.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Divisions Reveal Those Approved For Leadership

For the last twenty-five years I have met every Tuesday morning with a group of men for discipleship purposes. These men come from all walks of life and are very astute in Scriptural matters. One of the men pointed out to us this week that the Bible has something very interesting to say about divisions and disagreements in the church, whether they be doctrinal, political or personal in nature.

1 Corinthians 11:18-19

18. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.

19. For there must (dei - "it is necessary") also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. NASV

The last phrase of these two verses gives us the reasons why divisions and disagreements are necessary in the church. " . . . so that those who are approved may become evident among you."

It seems quite clear that the kind of leadership that is approved of God, the kind of leaders that the church should follow, are those who are tolerant of other views, who graciously and lovingly accept people of different persuasions and opinions, and who place charity as the highest value within the church (I Corinthians 13).

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Issue Is Pushing Personal Convictions on All

When Dr. Thomas White spoke in the chapel service of Southwestern Theological Seminary earlier this month, he made several statements that sounded to me as if he believed the Christian's use of any form of birth control was "sin." I wrote a post entitled Personal Opinions Given as Mandates from God where I challenged not Dr. White's personal conviction that birth control is a sin for him (who am I to question a man's conscience), but rather Dr. White's seeming belief that all Southern Baptists should abstain from birth control. Legalism is NOT having personal convictions that exceed the clear teaching of Scripture; legalism is demanding that all others abide by your personal convictions and call those who do not "sinners." Dr. White's comments, which led me to believe he felt all Southern Baptists should follow his personal convictions, included the following (verbatum):

There is an entire industry that is built up on stopping or preventing children. We call it birth control, but we should call it contraception.

When my wife and I were married in 1999, whether it was because of my own selfishness or because of improper information, we were on birth control.

I made the mistake. I’m not standing here telling you anything other than this: I don’t want you to make the mistake.

We need to recognize that children are a blessing from the Lord. I confess to you this morning the reason that I was on - we were on birth control - I didn’t take it, but I was the spiritual leader of my house and it’s my fault that we did; the reason that we did it was my own selfishness. I wanted kids, but I wanted kids in God’s . . . not God’s timing, but my time.

Folks, you are not in control of your destinies, God is! And the sooner that we recognize that we are sinning when we say, “I’m going to control every aspect of my family,” and we’re not giving control to God, we don’t trust Him, we don’t believe that He knows better than we do, we think we know better than God does. And just like I did, some of you are involved in that exact same sin!

Society tells us that children will make a rich man poor, but the Bible tells us that children will make a poor man rich. And that’s the attitude that we need to have. It is the Lord who controls our life. He is God and we are not. He is the one in control, and we are not. If He gives you twelve kids, twelve blessings you have received. If He gives you three kids, three blessings you have received. It is not for us to plan our parenthood, it is for God to be the giver of life.

After I wrote a blog about Dr. White's message, WFAA Television in Dallas sent a copy of my post to Dwight McKissic and asked him to comment. The television reporter, probably desiring sensational ratings, posited that Dr. White believed all birth control was "murder." After the television report aired in the DFW area, Dr. White issued a clarifying statement which said, "I do not believe all birth control is murder."

I called Dr. White after he issued his statement and told him that I never heard him say "all birth control is murder," so his clarification was not helpful to me. I told him that what I heard him say was all birth control is a sin, because children are a blessing from the Lord, and birth control is simply trying to stop God from giving us blessings. So, I point blank asked Dr. White, "Is all birth control a sin?" He said that in some instances, for example the poor health of a wife, birth control would not be a sin. I then followed up by asking "Dr. White, what if a husband and a wife were in perfect health, and they both believed children were a blessing, but they chose to be on birth control, would that then be a sin?" After a pause, he said, "It is a sin for me, but I can't judge another person's heart in the matter."

I then explained that when I heard his message, I heard him communicate a personal conviction (i.e. "birth control is a sin for me") and follow up with a blanket statement that birth control was a sin for everyone else too. My offense with his sermon was not the fact that he said "all birth control is murder" because I never heard him say that, but rather I felt I heard him saying "all birth control is sin for all Southern Baptists." For him to express a personal conviction and then to seemingly make it a mandate from God for all Southern Baptists was my offense - and the title of my post.

By the way, if one wonders why this is an issue to me, all you have to do is look at the policies at the IMB that were pushed by trustees who have the personal conviction that praying in tongues is not of God, and they demanded all other Southern Baptists give obeisance to their personal convictions. Or, just think about those Southern Baptists who have a personal conviction that drinking a glass of wine or a beer is sin, and then force all other Southern Baptists to acquiesce to their personal convictions by passing policies or resolutions that forbid the drinking of an alcoholic beverage. Or, ponder those Southern Baptists that believe that the qualifications of the baptizer is as important as the character of the one being baptized, and then force all Southern Baptists to be baptized in a Southern Baptist "church." Or, think about those Southern Baptists who have the personal conviction that a woman "teaching" or having "authority" over a man is sin, and then force all institutions in the SBC to conform to their personal views, though the BFM is silent on the matter.

If we let Southern Baptists even THINK they have the ability to force their personal convictions on other Southern Baptists then we give up the principle of cooperation in the Southern Baptist Convention. I will, at all times, speak out. There are a few Southern Baptists who do not like the fact I do not hesitate to call our leaders to give an account for what they say, and so they make me the issue. That's fine. I'm more than happy to be the focal point of the anger of some if it prevents the ripping of the fabric of cooperation in the SBC.

Dr. White says that he did not intend to convey that all birth control is sin, though that is his personal view for himself. I accept that Dr. White has a personal conviction that birth control is sin, and I appreciate his acknowledgement that he may have unintentionally communicated in his message that birth control is a sin for all other Southern Baptists as well. I explained that this is precisely what I heard him say, and in my mind this is the problem in the SBC - personal convictions are being given as mandates from God.

Now, if we could only get other Southern Baptists to say that they unintentionally demanded all other Southern Baptists to comply with their personal convictions when they pushed policies and resolutions that exceeded the clear teaching of Scripture and the BFM then we would be a long way down the road in restoring the cooperative nature of the SBC. To whatever extent I misread or misheard Dr. White's remarks, I do sincerely apologize. To whatever extent, if any, my challenge to Dr. White's remarks caused Dr. White to backtrack from a position of holding Southern Baptists responsible to ultimately conform to his personal convictions, I am grateful. Either way, the chapel incident is another example of how all Southern Baptists should be careful about demanding conformity on matters of personal convictions. Our cooperation should be around the essentials of the gospel. Unity in the essentials, freedom in the non-essentials, and charity in all things - that should be our Southern Baptist motto.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fear of the Truth Leads to Trumped Up Charges

Last year Swiss lawmakers exonerated Anna Goldi. Anna had been executed by the Swiss government 226 years ago (1782) for allegedly causing a young girl to spit needles and convulse in seizures. The girls father, a man named Mr. Tschodi, accused Ms. Goldi of being a witch and of placing the needles by supernatural means in the bread and milk eaten by his daughter. After being arrested by authorities and enduring repeated torture, Anna Goldi confessed to witchcraft. After the torture ended, however, she withdrew her confession. Yet the damage had been done, and Anna Goldi was beheaded on June 18, 1782 at the age of 42. She became known as the "last witch" in Europe since witch-hunting came to an end after her death.

On September 20, 2007 the Swiss parliament publicly acknowledged Anna Goldi's case as a miscarriage of justice. The official exoneration, which was granted on August 27, 2008, was based on the fact that Anna Goldi was subjected to an illegal trial. The Swiss Parliament revealed that Jakob Tschodi, the man had initially accused Anna Goldi of using sorcery and witchcraft on his daughter, was a powerful Swiss politician at the time and a married man - who had been having an affair with Ms. Goldi. When she threated to make the truth of their relationship public, Mr. Tschodi appealed to his friends well connected friends to arrest, prosecute and convict Anna Goldi on trumped up charges of "witchcraft."

Though over two centuries have passed since Mrs. Goldi's illegal trial, it seems that human nature has not changed. Rather than dealing with the issues at hand in politics and religion, there is the tendency by those in authority to falsely accuse those who wish the truth to be told. In the end, however, hardball tactics never win.

Truth is a lion loosed and is her own defense.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Greatest Man of the 20th Century Is Who?

Located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue New York, NY is St. John the Divine Cathedral, shown to the left, which claims to be the largest Anglican church in the world. Construction on the Cathedral began with the laying of the cornerstone on December 27, 1892, otherwise known as St. John's Day. The foundation was completed at enormous expense, largely because bedrock was not struck until the excavation had reached 72 feet. For almost nine decades construction continued, often delayed because of world wars, the Great Depression, and other economic burdens for the Anglicans of New York. In 1979, at the dedication of the completed Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Mayor Ed Koch quipped "I am told that some of the great cathedrals took over five hundred years to build. But I would like to remind you that we are only in our first hundred years."

Throughout the century of construction worship services were still held every Sunday. Forty years into the work, sometime during the 1930's, leaders at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine decided to honor the great men of the Christian era. They commissioned an artist to handmake a collection of figurines which they housed for display under the communion table. Each figurine represented the greatest Christian man of each century in the Christian era. The men included were:

. 1st Century – St. Paul
. 2nd Century – Saint Justin the Martyr
. 3rd Century – St. Clement of Alexandria
. 4th Century – Athanasius
. 5th Century – St. Augustine
. 6th Century – St. Benedict
. 7th Century – St. Gregory the Good
. 8th Century - Charles Martel
. 9th Century - Charlemagne
10th Century – King Alfred
11th Century – Godfrey of Bouillon
12th Century – St. Bernard
13th Century – St. Francis of Assisi
14th Century – John Wycliffe
15th Century – Christopher Columbus
16th Century – Archbishop Cramer
17th Century – William Shakespeare
18th Century – George Washington
19th Century – Abraham Lincoln

I was curious as to which person leadership at St. John the Divine considered the greatest man of the 20th Century. My secretary has placed a call to the old cathedral and the receptionist said she was not sure who was chosen, but promised to get back with us shortly with an answer to our query. Until she does, it would be interesting to hear who you believe to be the greatest man of the 20th Century. Some may wonder the definition of the adjective "greatest," but without going into specifics of the criteria for the word, I would simply like you to answer with the name of the first man that comes to mind when you are asked the following:

Who, in your opinion, was the greatest man to live in the 20th Century?"

In His Grace,


P.S. As you can tell I am working on a new format for this blog. I am categorizing 700 posts and it will take me several weeks to complete the task. I lost most of my links to other blogs and am rebuilding them. If you would like for me to link with your blog, please send me an email with your blog address and I will be happy to link up.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The NFL's Rise Due to an Enid Man With Spurs

The National Football League is big business in the United States and it is difficult for some to comprehend her humble beginnings. Recently I discovered the story of a football player from Enid, Oklahoma who played a significant role in making the National Football League both respectable and viable in her early years. This post is an enjoyable diversion for me from the usual subject matter dealt with on Grace and Truth to You. Even if you don't enjoy football, you will enjoy the story of Steve Owen. Modern American football came into existence in 1869 when Rutgers and Princeton played a college soccer football game using modified English rugby rules. Over the next several years football would become a vital part of colleges and universities' athletic programs around the nation. In 1902 a few football clubs began forming in cities within New York, Ohio, and New Jersey. These football clubs used professional players, that is players that the clubs paid to play the game, and "professional" football was born. Within a decade other professional football clubs would be formed, including "The Pine Village Pros" in Indiana, a club that would later entice 1912 double gold Olympic champion Jim Thorpe, pictured to the right, to play for them. But professional football between 1910 and 1920 was in a state of confusion due to three major problems. First, players were demanding - and receiving - rising salaries, which placed club owners in financial jeopardy. Second, professional players continually jumped from one club team to another, usually following the highest per-game offer. Finally, clubs were in the habit of using college players who were still enrolled in school which caused conflict on several fronts. It was decided in 1920 that the creation of a professional football league in which all club teams would follow the same rules would solve the problems mentioned above. Two organizational meetings were held in August and September of 1920 in Canton, Ohio, and ten club teams from four states formed what would later be known as the National Football League. The Game That Turned the Fortunes of the NFL Around My maternal grandfather, Fred Cherry, began playing football for the University of Oklahoma in 1929. Fred scored a touchdown in the first-ever Oklahoma/Texas game to be played in the Cotton Bowl during the state fair of Texas. He would later earn All-Conference honors as a four-year letterman, playing at the tight end position for the Sooners. Most people don't realize that college football in the 1920s, the kind played by my grandfather, was considered far superior to the professional football of the day. Until 1930 most Americans questioned the quality of the professional game, claiming the college "amateurs" played with more intensity than the teams in the ten-year-old National Football League. It was widely believed that college players could defeat the best professional football team in America. However, in 1930 a game was played to change America's perception of the National Football League. In December of 1930 the New York Giants played a team of Notre Dame All-Stars at the Polo Grounds in New York to raise money for the unemployed of New York City. The stock market crash of 1928 had plunged the country into depression, and the National Football League felt a charity game with some "amateur" all-stars from Notre Dame would help raise money for those who lost their jobs in the Big Apple, but it would also raise the profile of the NFL. Nobody expected the Giants to win. Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne reassembled his Four Horsemen along with the stars of his 1930 Notre Dame College Championship squad and told them to score early, then defend the goal against the professionals. Rockne himself, like much of the public, thought little of pro football and expected an easy win. But from the beginning, it was a one-way contest. The Giants would win 22 - 0 with Giants running back Benny Friedman scoring two touchdowns and Giant quarterback Hap Moran passing for another. Notre Dame failed to score because of the bruising, brutal line play of New York, anchored by tackle Steve Owen of Enid, Oklahoma. When it was all over, Coach Rockne told his team, "That was the greatest football machine I ever saw. I am glad none of you got hurt." The game raised over $100,000 for the homeless of New York, and it is the game that is often credited with establishing the legitimacy of the National Football League and professional football in general. Steve Owen Becomes Head Coach of the New York Giants After the roaring success of the Giant's win over the powerful Notre Dame all-stars, Giants owner Tim Mara hired Steve Owen, his now-famous lineman, as coach of the Giants. Steve would coach the New York Giants for the next twenty-three seasons, coaching some of the greatest New York Giant players to ever play the game, including Frank Gifford, Emlen Tunnell (the first African-American NFL player to be voted into the Hall of Fame), and Gene "Choo Choo" Roberts. Coach Steve Owen's 150 career victories for the New York Giants will probably never be broken. His New York Giants went to the NFL title game eight times during his tenure, and Coach Owen was voted into the Canton NFL Hall of Fame by his peers. Steven Owen died on May 17, 1964, at the age of sixty-six. He is probably the most successful professional football player, in terms of reputation and wins, to ever come from Oklahoma - not to mention Enid. Yet, when Steve Owen is mentioned to people - even people from Oklahoma - most football fans think you are referring to Steve Owens, former Oklahoma Sooner and Heisman Trophy winner of 1969. Unfortunately, not too many people understand the significant role Steve Owen played in the tender early years of the NFL and the rise of the NFL's popularity among the American people. The Funny Story Steve Owen Tells On Himself There is a little-known story about Steve Owen that made me laugh out loud when I read it. Steve grew up on a farm about fifteen miles outside of town. The summer of 1914, the year Steve was to enter high school, Steve saw for the first time in his life kids playing "football." In those early years, player equipment was a little different than today. Leather "helmets" only with no face masks, a very light shirt with sewn-in shoulder supports (not pads), and breeches were all the players wore. I will close this post by letting you read the words of Steve Owen himself as reported in the December 31, 1945 edition of the Washington Post:
"I'm a-galloping along a country road one day, all dressed up in my cowboy boots and Stetson when all of a sudden I'm seeing a lot of kids all mixed up in the darndedst fight I ever did see. I whoa'd up, and got off my horse and moved into the pasture and asked a man what all the fighting was about. He says it waren't no fight. He says they were playing football. "He shows me a football and asks me if I ever seen one before and I told him no, cause I handn't. I seen him looking at me close. I'm 15 years old but I'm weighing 200 pounds even then, and he asks me where I live. I tell him I live 15 miles up in the counry and then he's real interested and he says I look like I could play football for his high school. Then he shoved the ball in my hand. "'WHAT DO YOU WANT ME to do with this thing?' I asked him, and he says 'You take this ball and start running for those goal posts and then I'll tell you some more.' "So he has all those other kids lined up and I start running, and it ain't no trouble for me to take that ball 60 yards and put it underneath the goal posts. Those other kids are falling all over themselves trying to get out of my way. Don't forget I'm a 200-pounder, even then. "It's just a breeze for me to carry that football and I bring it back to the coach and say 'Did I do all right?' "He says yes, I did pretty good, but he wasn't quite satisfied. He says, 'I want to see you do that all over again, and this time take your spurs off.'"
Only in Oklahoma. In His Grace, Wade Burleson

Monday, October 20, 2008

Personal Opinions Given as Mandates from God

This morning, in response to a question asked by one of this blog's readers regarding legalism in the SBC, I spent forty minutes listening to a message preached by Dr. Thomas White at the October 7, 2008 chapel service of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Two years ago, in October of 2006, Dr. White was elected by SWBTS trustees as the new SWBTS Vice President of Student Affairs. At 33, he was the youngest administrator ever elected to such a position at the seminary. Dr. White received his education, both his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy, at Southeastern Theological Seminary while under the tutelage of Paige Patterson. Dr. White is considered by his superiors to be one of the bright, young leaders of tomorrow for the SBC.

I have met Dr. White just one time. He introduced himself to me in San Antonio prior to the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention. He was extremely polite and had sought me out after the Sunday morning service at Castle Hills Baptist Church, a service we both had attended to hear Dr. Frank Page preach. I have nothing but positive things to say about him, his personal charm, and his ability to communicate his views.

The message he preached at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, however, precisely illustrates the trouble we are having in the Southern Baptist Convention. We have SBC leaders, including seminary professors like Dr. White, Southern Baptist agency Presidents, SBC trustees and other leaders who are preaching personal opinions as if they were mandates from God. This type of legalism will destroy not only the fabric of cooperation upon which our Convention was built, it will ultimately destroy the powerful message of the gospel because tertiary matters are elevated to a primary status of debate within the SBC, and people who disagree are excluded.

I listened to Dr. White's message from beginning to end. I would like to say I was shocked by what I heard, but frankly, my experiences these past three years have taken the edge of surprise off. One of our SBC missionaries who had been overseas for several years emailed me his concerns about what he heard Dr. White say in the message. The missionary confessed to me both shock and sadness. He wondered if Dr. White represents the direction our Convention is headed. I honestly believe that unless other conservative Southern Baptists besides myself begin to speak out and participate in Convention matters, Dr. White's opinions will shortly become mandated for the entire Convention.

The message he preached was about birth control. Can you imagine a policy requiring SBC missionaries swearing that they do not believe in birth control before they are appointed to the mission field? If you think that sounds far fetched, I simply remind you of other "doctrinal" policies being passed by Southern Baptist trustees infatuated with pushing their personal opinions on all others. Read carefully what Dr. White is saying about birth control and those who use it. The transcript begins at the 19:10 minute mark of the message.

"Behold children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward . . . Blessed is the man whose quiver is full” (Psalms 127:3,5a).

There is perhaps nothing in America that we have misunderstood as much as the fact that children are a blessing from the Lord. It says right here - “Behold children are a heritage from the Lord: the fruit of the womb a reward.” Think about what we do in our society, though, to undermine this one principle that’s taught here in Scripture. There is an entire industry that is built up on stopping or preventing children. We call it birth control, but we should call it contraception. We do not want to conceive and so we attempt to stop (it). In fact, we do this in so many different ways. We have sex education to teach our kids know how to do it properly. The newest survey was upset because the rising amount of people not on contraception had grown to seven percent rather than five percent. Think about those statistics. The nation is upset because seven percent of our population is not using contraception. We have the pill. We have the patch. We even have rods you can stick in your arm now that lasts for three years. We have all of these things built up to prevent children from being formed or born . . .

I’m not here this morning to go off on you, I‘m here to tell you something because I’ve made the mistake. When my wife and I were married in 1999, whether it was because of my own selfishness or because of improper information, we were on birth control. Birth control, they tell you, is not abortive in nature. But birth control has three functions. I won’t go into detail of those three functions because I don’t know how many kids we have (here), but the third function in that birth control is to prevent implantation on the uterine wall. And if it reaches that third function, that third function does not take effect until the seventh day. The seventh day is seven days too long, and its murder of a life. When the egg and the sperm meet, you have life. If you ask theologians they’re going to tell you that the egg and the sperm meet when the souls implanted. There’s no other time to say that God creates the soul and puts it in than that point in time. And so at that point you have life. You have at the moment of conception life, and yet the third aspect of birth control is to say that life cannot implant on to the wall as it normally would, and so that life is going to be flushed down, and that my friends is wrong.

I made the mistake. I’m not standing here telling you anything other than this: I don’t want you to make the mistake because of lack of knowledge. I want you to know that the third form of birth control known as the pill, that third form that it has is wrong – it is not correct according to Scripture.

Now I learned. We stopped. I also learned this: It was in 1956 that the pill was created by the person who founded Planned Parenthood. It was in 1976 that the definition was changed. And the definition was changed to say that life began not when fertilization took place, but that life did not begin until implantation on the uterine wall took place. That change in definition allows the doctors to tell you that the pill has no abortive feature. That change in definition allows them to print in their literature the pill is not abortive in any way. And so it markets and sells better to our nation. It eases our conscience. But the truth of the matter is our consciences do not need to be eased, we need to recognize that children are a blessing from the Lord. I confess to you this morning the reason that I was on - we were on birth control - I didn’t take it, but I was the spiritual leader of my house and it’s my fault that we did; the reason that we did it was my own selfishness. I wanted kids, but I wanted kids in God’s . . . not God’s timing, but my time. I didn’t want kids while I was in my M.Div. program where I was going to have another mouth to feed and it was going to inconvenience my ability to finish my course work and maybe move on and do a Ph.D. and all these type things. I wanted kids, but I wanted kids my way, my time, the way I wanted to do it so I could plan my family out. Folks, you are not in control of your destinies, God is! And the sooner that we recognize that we are sinning when we say, “I’m going to control every aspect of my family,” and we’re not giving control to God, we don’t trust Him, we don’t believe that He knows better than we do, we think we know better than God does. And just like I did, some of you are involved in that exact same sin!

I thought you could control it. I thought as soon as we made the decision to come off, we would have kids immediately. It wasn’t that way. My wife and I have never had natural children. We were married in 1999. The Lord is the giver of life. It’s not us. I’ll tell you more about that story later.

It continues on here after it says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord and the fruit of reward.” It says in verse four: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Now I tried to think who in the world around here would have a quiver full, and Dean Nichols came to mind. Dean, how many kids do you have? Three? Four? Five? Six? Seven? Now you can’t afford seven kids. Eight kids? Nine kids? Nine? Or Ten? Nine?

Do you have a quiver I could borrow? (A quiver with arrows is brought to the stage – laughter). How about that? Anybody needs a quiver you just go see Dean Nichols, he’ll take care of you. Now this is an interesting thing. “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full.” Nine kids? And he’s still alive, how about that? (Laughter) You see we joke, but this is the attitude that this verse is against. It’s my attitude too. I think about ten kids running around the house and I think to myself, “O Lord, is that really a blessing?”

That’s what His word says, “Children are a blessing . . .”

(Dr. Thomas White then goes on to explain the characteristics of an arrow and how they compare to our children. He describes how a warrior prepares an arrow by bending and curing the wood, and how that compares to parents training their kids. Dr. White then speaks of the sin of pushing kids off to daycare, public schools or youth groups, when it is our primary responsibility to train our kids, just as the biblical warrior would construct his arrows).

Society tells us that children will make a rich man poor, but the Bible tells us that children will make a poor man rich. And that’s the attitude that we need to have. It is the Lord who controls our life. He is God and we are not. He is the one in control, and we are not. If He gives you twelve kids, twelve blessings you have received. If He gives you three kids, three blessings you have received. It is not for us to plan our parenthood, it is for God to be the giver of life.

(Dr. White closes his message with a story of how he and his wife adopted a child in 2005 and a challenge to "let God be God" and acknowledge that we are not God by refusing to use birth control).

There are three sobering judgements I would like to make about Dr. White's message:

(1). When SBC seminary professors, SBC agency Presidents, and other SBC leaders preach their personal opinions as if they were mandates from God, then anyone who ever dares disagree or dissent is considered a sinner, or even worse, a liberal who denies the Scripture. This attitude by the legalists causes the pool of Southern Baptists deemed qualified to serve in leadership or cooperative missions ministry to shrink. This legalism also destroys the cooperative Southern Baptist ministry, and it is for this reason that these kinds of legalists must not be allowed to control the Convention. By the way, Dean Nichols, the man illustrated as having a 'quiver full' of kids is head of security of SWBTS and the husband of Mary Nichols, one of the International Mission Board trustees and member of the IMB trustee caucus who forced through other personal opinions as "doctrinal" policies that exceed both Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message.

(2). Dr. White seems to be unfamiliar with the teaching of our Baptist forefathers on this issue of the creation of the soul. The claim that "all" theologians hold to his view that the soul is created by God at conception is a claim either built on misperception or misunderstanding.

(3). Here's hoping that our preachers are being taught the primacy of the gospel at our SBC seminaries and not the primacy of birth control. What changes lives is not the claim that Christians taking birth control are sinners, but the claim that God sent His Son to die in the stead of sinners.

Thy Peace (one of this blog's readers and commentors), you asked me for an illustration of legalism in the SBC.

I hope this post helps you understand why I write what I write.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Legalism Is A Cancer on Both Ends of the Scale

This past Saturday at the O-Club before the Oklahoma University vs. Kansas University football game I ran into a former Southern Baptist minister, his wife, and two children. They told me that they had recently moved back to the Norman area after having served at a Southern Baptist church out of state. They have left the ministry temporarily, experiencing symptoms of a burnout due to the treatment they had received at the two previous Southern Baptist Churches where they had served. They are now attending a non-denominational church and, at least according to the wife, will have a hard time stepping foot back into a traditional Southern Baptist church because of the hurts they've experienced. When I asked them to be specific, they spelled it out for me in terms that made perfect sense.

Their battle in the churches where they ministered was with legalism. People in the SBC church had an image, or a standard, of what this couple should be as a family, minister, and friends. This standard was not the character qualities of Scripture, but one of their own creation. This Southern Baptist couple did not meet that standard, and the hurt, pain and rejection was more than they could bear, and so they have temporarily left the ministry. Then, in recounting to me the story, the husband made an interesting statement to me:

"I was saved from my sin and discipled to be a legalist myself. When I began to discover what it means to know Christ and the freedom of loving others where they are in their walk with Christ, I began to throw off the bondage of legalism. What that means is I started accepting people where they were in their journey. My confidence in the work of Christ in my heart, and in their hearts, increased. I realized that God was a far more abler Shepherd of His people than I. Yet, an interesting thing began to happen. The more I began to reject my former legalism, the more descipable I became to the legalists."

When I asked him about attending a Southern Baptist Church in the Norman area, he mentioned several churches they had visited across the theological spectrum in the area and then made an observation that caused me later to reflect on its profundity. He said,

"Legalism is not a problem of just the far right. It is as much a problem in those who pride themselves in theological liberalism. The spirit of legalism in its purest form is your rejection of people who do not meet your standard."

I do believe the cancer that eats away at cooperative ministry among Christians, whether it be at the local church level or the national denominational level, is the spirit of legalism. Would that God give us the grace to accept one another in the various ways He has created and gifted us to be a part of His body, and refrain from demanding everyone be like us.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Critique of Dorothy Patterson's Article in the Fall 2008 Southwestern News: "Is There a Biblical Paradigm for Womanhood?"

The Southwestern Theological Seminary news magazine devoted the entire Fall 2008 issue to the subject Modeling Biblical Womanhood. The magazine featured six articles on women, with one being a profile of Dorothy Patterson, wife of SWBTS President Paige Patterson. Another article, authored by Mrs. Patterson, is entitled "Is There a Biblical Paradigm for Womanhood?" The SWBTS news magazine used to be available online, but unless it has been moved to a location on the Internet of which I am unaware, the only way to now read the SWBTS news magazine is to subscribe to it or be an alumni of the seminary and receive it free of charge in the mail. This post is a critique of Mrs. Dorothy Patterson's article "Is There a Biblical Paradigm for Womanhood?"

I would like to begin by commending Dorothy Patterson for her clear writing style and the abundance of Scriptural references in support of her thesis. I found myself agreeing with the overwhelming majority of what Mrs. Patterson writes. I confess to having learned more about God's word through Mrs. Patterson's writing and believe Mrs. Patterson not only capable of teaching me the Word of God, she actually did teach me through her exegetically sound and expositionally superb interpretions of the Scriptures. Her exegesis of the Hebrew word banah (Gen. 2:22 - "to build") which was used by Moses to describe God creating woman, and her exposition of various Scriptures to show the equality of worth in both man and woman was indeed enlightening. I couldn't help but think Mrs. Patterson would make a great Hebrew or theology professor if SWBTS were ever to be in need of one.

However, I would like to point out three inconsistencies in Mrs. Patterson's article. These inconsistencies are revealed to prove that Mrs. Patterson's personal convictions of what a Christian woman can and cannot do, are not based upon the biblical paradigm she constructs in her article, but in fact exceed the teaching of Scripture and are based on her cultural, personal and comfortable preferences for women. Though Mrs. Patterson's personal convictions about "womanhood" are amoral, they become problematic when are they are called "biblical" and forced on all Southern Baptists.

Inconsistency #1

Mrs. Patterson writes her article with a spirit of authority based on what she calls the "clearly inspired written words of God," and constructs a broad biblical paradigm for womanhood from these clear words; however, Mrs. Patterson then goes further and writes that the biblical paradigm for womanhood can only be discovered through "meticulous exegesis," "deep study," "learning at the feet of one with the exegetical tools for deep study," in order to "ferret out" exactly what God is saying about His paradigm.

It would seem to me that if God's paradigm for women for all time is supposed to be clear, then He will make it clear. Mrs. Patterson does construct a clear biblical paradigm for women (see below) with which we all can agree, but she goes further and writes of her extra-biblical expectations for women that exceed the very biblical paradigm she constructs. All conservative evangelicals agree on the equality of men and women before God and the character of both Christian men and women as Mrs Patterson reveals. But the fact that evangelicals disagree on whether or not to limit the functions and roles of women in culture, society and the church, should be a clear indication that Mrs. Patterson's personal "paradigm" for women, which exceeds her own biblical paradigm, is based upon her own cultural and personal comforts. This inconsistency between the actually biblical clarity regarding womanhood and Mrs. Patterson's professed ability to "ferret out" God's true intentions about women should cause any Christian to pause and reflect on the appropriateness of demanding others to conform to personal convictions about women that go beyond the simple and clear biblical paradigm for womanhood.

Inconsistency #2

Mrs. Patterson's lays out a very clear Biblical paradigm for womanhood, a paradigm based on the character qualities of God's people, which could also be called a biblical paradigm for manhood; but Mrs. Patterson then reveals some of her own personal preferences, convictions and cultural comforts regarding women - convictions that exceed the very clear biblical paradigm of womanhood she herself constructs in the article.

Mrs. Patterson summarizes "A Paradigm of Biblical Womanhood" this way (my comments follow each point and are in parenthesis):

Who Is She?

(1). She is created "in the image of God"(Gen. 1:27). (But so is a man created by God in the image of God).

(2). She is assigned to be a "helper" (Gen. 2:18). (But so is a man called by God to be a servant).

(3). She is uniquely fashioned with a life-bearing womb and the capacity for nurturing (Gen. 3:16,20). (Here, alone, the woman is distinct from man as intended by God).

(4). She is identified as a "joint heir of the grace of life" (I Pt. 3:7). (But so is a man a joint heir of the grace of life).

What Does She Do?

(5). She "fears the Lord" (Pr. 31:30) (But so should a man).

(6). She develops a "gentle and quiet spirit" (I Pt. 3:4). (But so should a man be quiet and and gentle and not give full vent to his emotions as does a fool. Prov. 29:11).

(7). She honors her husband and the Lord through her diligence and creativity (Pr. 31). (But so should a man honor his wife through diligence and creativity).

(8). She is committed not only to human relationships but also to God (Ru. 1:16) (But so is a man committed not only to human relationships but also to God).

(9). She is available (I Sam 25:32-33) (But so is a man to say, "Here am I Lord, send me.")

(10). She does what she can, however humble the task (Mk 14:8) (But so should a man do everything with humility. Can you even imagine the opposite: "I will NOT change the baby's diaper, I'm a MAN!").

(11). She shares the good news of the Gospel(Acts 21:9) (But so does a man share the good news).

(12). She participates in mentoring and discipleship (Acts 18:26) (But so does a man disciple others).

(13). She accepts God-given boundaries and recognizes the authorities mandated by Scripture (I Tm 2:9-15) (But so should a man accept God-given boundaries, and interestingly, the boundaries in this I Tm 2:9-15 text, which include "women should not adorn themselves with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, etc . . ." are not even mentioned by Mrs. Patterson in her article, with good reason, as I will show momentarily).

I cannot think of one professing Christian, or one evangelical, or even one Southern Baptist who would disagree with the above Biblical paradigm. It basically describes all Christians - both men and women - except in the specific area of child-birth.

This, according to Mrs. Patterson is the Biblical paradigm for womanhood. That's it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Imagine if this were the actual paradigm within the Southern Baptist Convention. Can you imagine the cooperation among married women and single women? Can you envision the acceptance and love among working women and stay-at-home moms? Can you grasp the cooperative nature of families where men stay at home and raise the kids while mom works, and those families where mom stays at home with the kids and dad works? It would seem to me that in the above paradigm all Southern Baptists would be accepted as cooperative, evangelical Southern Baptists.

But Mrs. Patterson allows a few sentences in her article to reveal the true desires of those who wish a uniform "paradigm" for womanhood within our Convention - a "paradigm" that exceeds the Scriptures. It is a paradigm built on personal, cultural and comfortable convictions regarding women that some Southern Baptist conservatives, including Dorothy Patterson, wish to enforce on all others. Allow me to explain. Dorothy says that "evangelicals" propose a "biblical" feminism that is detrimental. She writes:

"The ever-confusing "double speak," even in the church, is an effort to accomodate the corporate agenda coming from spiraling feminism and the personal whims arising out of a postmodern culture." Dorothy Patterson, from paragraph one in "Is There a Biblical Paradigm for Womanhood?"

I would like to ask Mrs. Patterson a few questions about her statement above. Where in the biblical paradigm you delineate for us is a prohibition for a woman to work in a corporation or outside the home? Where in the biblical paradigm is there the possibility for "double speak" in the church? What Christian would ever disagree with your (13) descriptive qualifiers of the "Biblical Paradigm or Womanhood?" Could it be that what some Southern Baptists disagree with you over is not the biblical paradigm, but your cultural and personal paradigm you wish to enforce on all women?

"Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary must equip women to . . . disciple women for Kingdom service." Dorothy Patterson, from paragraph four in "Is There a Biblical Paradigm for Womanhood?"

Again, I would like to ask a few questions of Mrs. Patterson. I commend you for desiring women to teach women, but where do you and your husband assume that a woman cannot teach a man? You have done a great job teaching in this article yourself, but what causes your discomfort for a woman to teach a man Hebrew at your seminary? What causes you angst over a woman discipling a man in the things of God? Is it number (13) in your "paradigm" above? Are you basing your views the specific role of women, as vague and unspoken as they are in your article, on I Timothy 2:9-15, a passage that also seems to prohibit women from wearing "pearls," "gold," or "braids" in their hair? Could it be that the proper interpretation of this passage can only be arrived at when understanding the culture in which Timothy found himself at the time? In other words, do you believe that the only true interpretation of this I Timothy text is that a woman cannot ever teach or ever have "authority" over a man whether it be in culture, the church or the home? Is that your view? If so, just say it. If not, then I think you must allow for differing interpretations of this text. Interestingly, you yourself refrain from defining the boundaries of I Timothy 2:9-15 in your article. If they were important, it would seem to me that you would have listed them in your "paradigm."

Inconsistency #3

"Every woman serious about selfless service to Christ must ferret out the divinely appointed design from the Creator Himself even if that prototype does not appear palatable to contemporary standards and agendas." Dorothy Patterson, from the last paragraph, "Is There a Biblical Paradigm for Womanhood?"

The SWBTS news magazine goes on to profile women at Southwestern, including Mrs. Patterson, who are all homemakers, married, and committed to raising children in the home while the husband makes the living. I enjoyed reading all the profiles and commend each woman for following God's design for her life.

However, these Southern Baptist Theological Seminary women, including Mrs. Patterson, need to realize that there are some Southern Baptist women who are divorced or single, some Southern Baptist women who are living as a single-parents raising their kids alone, some Southern Baptist married women who work outside the home while raising their children as well, and some Southern Baptist women who are are missionaries, teachers, and corporate officers with authority over men - and they all are fulfilling God's design for their lives. I commend these women for following God's design for their life just as much as I commend the SWBTS women who stay at home, raising kids, while their husbands preach.

And, I have Scripture on my side as I commend both groups. The biblical paradigm for womanhood Mrs. Patterson gave in her article is fulfilled by each of the categories of women listed above. It seems to me that the real cultural dilemma going on in the Southern Baptist Convention is the pushing upon all women an extra-Biblical paradigm for women that reflects the 1950's "Leave It to Beaver" model of womanhood and has nothing to do with Scripture, but everything to do with middle class America a generation ago. Southern Baptists must learn that to believe in the inerrant, infallible, sufficient Scripture is the ability to lay aside all cultural biases and follow Scripture alone.

I believe Mrs. Patterson has been clearer in previous years regarding her personal convictions about womanhood. For instance, in the article she wrote in 2001 entitled Lies vs. Truth: The Question is Biblical Womanhood, she argues for Convention wide acceptance of her interpretations of I Timothy 2:9-15. I'm hoping that Mrs. Patterson's vagueness about her personal convictions regarding women in the SWBTS Fall 2008 newsletter reflects a more cooperative spirit with other Southern Baptists who do not share her personal convictions that exceed the clear biblical paradigm of womanhood. I hope so. However, if Mrs. Patterson's article is simply a subterfuge to hide the real paradigm for women that is held by Fundamentalists in our Convention, then I have a prediction to make. If we as a Convention do not resist demands that all Southern Baptist conform to an extra-biblical paradigm of womanhood, a paradigm that is often passed off as "biblical," we will find our growth and influence in the kingdom of Christ diminished for decades to come.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Don't Just Sit There in Church: Do Something

Bob Cleveland is my kind of Southern Baptist. Bob is seventy years young, having spent fifty years in the property and casualty insurance business in Alabama. Bob and his wife Peggy have raised two boys, Brian (48) and Brad (45), pictured here with their father, who each now have families of their own.

Bob is a teacher and leader at his local Southern Baptist Church. He also has a blog called Eagles' Rest. Bob made a decision a few years ago to be involved in the Southern Baptist Convention - not just on the local level, but at the national level. He has spoken to the Southern Baptist Convention from the floor of the Convention in each of the last three years, including providing one of the clearest articulations for why the Southern Baptist Convention should adopt the Garner Motion. His persuasive reasoning led our Convention to pass the Garner Motion by an overwhelming majority vote. It is because of people like Bob that the Southern Baptist Convention is now turning toward more of a cooperative attitude and away from an isolationist, separatist spirit that has characterized our Convention actions these last ten years.

Bob recently wrote me to explain why he decided to become involved in the Southern Baptist Convention and the necessary politics that go along with involvment at the national level of the SBC. His email should be mandatory reading for every Southern Baptist who is concerned about our future. I print it here with his permission:

I read a story nearly 50 years ago in Reader's Digest that I think you may find interesting. It explains a lot of things, one of which is why I speak up (even though I am, by nature, shy and insecure).

They ran a test, in NYC as I recall. The premise was that it would be helpful for people to be able to share their fears, vices, etc, anonymously in a group, without fear of reprisal, but just to know that others didn't think them weird etc. The format was to call volunteers in and give them a number and show them to a soundproof booth with mic & earphones. Then they would, in turn,by the numbersm share what it was that concerned them. They had groups stated from two people to ten people.

#1 was always a guy who'd had a gambling problem and got terribly in debt and had a heart attack. He'd recovered; the doctor said the next one would be fatal. The guy then said he'd gotten out of debt and settled down but had gotten back into debt, stole from his employer, was sick the auditors would catch him, hed' been having chest pains lately... then he starts screaming and they hear a thud. Then silence.

Now .... the kicker was that there was only ever ONE guy (at a time) in the experiment. Some of them thought they were in a group of two, some three, some four, etc on up to ten. Here's what they found out:

When a guy thinks he's in a group of two .. him and #1 .. he ALWAYS comes out of the booth yelling for someone to help guy #1

When he thinks he's in a group of three, him, #1, and someone else, he comes out of the booth one out of FOUR times.

When he thinks he's in a group of four or more, he NEVER comes out of the booth.

That's why more people will volunteer in a small group than in a big one. Why it takes longer to get a second in a meeting of 1000 then in a meeting of five.

And why ONE guy is carrying the visible load in raising the issues that are threatening to destroy the SBC.

There are, if course, what CB calls "baloney-eating boot-strappers" who will always defend the status quo powers. Others are intimidated by rank and power, etc.

In my case, I have known the thing about group response for so many years, it's second nature to get involved as I do. Knowing what I know, I cannot now hide in anonynimity. Even if I'd far rather do that. I had a chat with your father about that a couple years ago, in fact.

Thanks Bob.

May your tribe increase.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Semi-Arianism Masquerading as Orthodoxy: A Baptist Scholar on the Trinity Weighs in On "Eternal Subordination"

Contrary to the views of a handful of Baptist Identity bloggers, Southern Baptist blogs can be a source of beneficial debate within the Southern Baptist Convention. Evidence is in the the following email, sent to me after the writer read Growing Semi-Arianism in the SBC The email is from Dr. Curtis Freeman, Director of the Baptist House of Studies, Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina. His words, profound and direct, need no commentary from me.

October 8, 2008

Dear Wade:

Thank you for taking up this issue of the Trinity. Getting a Trinitarian conversation going among Baptists is more important than one might first expect given that most Baptists these days are, and for some time have been, functionally Unitarians. For example, in The Baptist Hymnal (1991) out of 666 hymns only 20 are Trinitarian (a ratio of 1:33), but 268 of these 666 hymns are Christological (a ratio of 1:2.5). Baptist worship in the South clearly tilts toward Unitarianism of the Second Person (i.e., a faith in Jesus alone to the near exclusion of the Father and the Spirit), just as on occasions in the past it has leaned in the direction of Unitarianism of the First Person (i.e. a faith in the Father alone with a subordinate role for the Son and the Spirit). To put the matter pointedly, most Baptists are Unitarians that simply have not yet gotten around to denying the Trinity. Non-Trinitarian faith is not necessarily anti-Trinitarian, yet it is reason for concern nonetheless.

All this may seem counter intuitive, but it's true. I often tell incoming students at Duke that they will hear the Trinity invoked more in the first week than in their entire life in Baptist churches. They later surprisingly tell me that they thought I was exaggerating at first, but after a week they came to see that I may have underplayed the way in which our community draws from the life of the Trinity in prayer, worship, study, and living. It has thus become one of my life goals to help the wider Baptist family retrieve a faith and practice grounded in the life of the Triune God in whom we live, and move, and have our very being. To the end that your conversation has served to raise that awareness I am grateful.

However, like you, I am concerned about embracing a Trinitarian doctrine that is not well grounded or tested. For several years now this new doctrine of the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) has been surfacing among Baptists and other evangelicals. As I've read some of the replies on your blog and other blogs criticizing you, I've encountered the very odd claim that ESS is the historic doctrine of orthodoxy. A simple fact check of the history of the doctrine of the Trinity will reveal that ESS is not a historic doctrine at all, but a very new one. Nor is it part of the received wisdom of the Christian tradition, but in fact is a matter of contemporary speculation. Doctrines do change, and sometimes innovations are received as wisdom. But ESS has yet to be tested and proved by any but a very small and unrepresentative group. The doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t belong to Baptists or Evangelicals. It is the faith shared by all Christians. And until ESS has been tested by the whole Church, it seems prudent to wait.

One of the major concerns about ESS is the supposed distinction between functional and ontological subordination. While it is true that the incarnate Son in his earthly life was submissive to the Father, the suggestion that this subordination extends to his eternal exalted state is worrisome. As Kevin Giles has argued, very persuasively I think, this appears to be a new iteration of Arianism. To be fair to the proponents of ESS, they are not Arians in one important respect: they believe in the Son’s eternal generation (the aspect or Origen’s thought appropriated in the Creed of the Council of Nicaea, “eternally begotten of the Father”), but they also believe in his eternal subordination (the aspect of Origen’s thought not appropriated by the Nicene defenders of homoousios). I suppose that makes them only semi-Arians. [Thanks to my friend and colleague Steve Harmon for this qualification.] The burden of proof, however, is on those proposing this new doctrine of ESS to show that it is not a new form of an old heresy. I’ve yet to be convinced. Until this is worked out it seems wise to wait until this new doctrine of ESS has been thoroughly examined and tested.

Beyond the question of the orthodoxy of ESS, which is still very much in question, I am suspicious of the not so subtle political agenda of ESS which is attracted to Trinitarian theology, not as an account of the life in which we live and move and have our being, but as an argument that underwrites complementarian views. I am just as suspicious of those who use Trinitarian doctrine to support the complementarian social agenda as those who engage in social Trinitarian speculations to underwrite feminist convictions. Miroslav Volf, one of our best Free Church theologians on the Trinity, has called for caution in the use of such speculative Trinitarian theology which can easily be co-opted by ideologies of the right and the left. His cautionary word seems wise regarding ESS. I am suspicious that the real energy behind this new ESS doctrine is really a thinly veiled attempt to elevate complementarianism to de fide orthodoxy, so that complementarian gender relations are set forth as the only acceptable model for Christians and that egalitarianism is heresy equivalent to denying the Trinity. This utilitarian use of Trinitarian doctrine is (in my opinion) based on dubious scholarship and bad theology.

I share the goal of helping our wider Baptist family retrieve the wisdom of the vast storehouse of orthodoxy. As bad as functional Unitarianism is, however, the possible embrace of a semi-Arianism masquerading as orthodoxy used for political ends may be even worse.

Yours in a common faith,


Curtis W. Freeman
Research Professor of Theology
Director of the Baptist House of Studies
Duke Divinity School
Box 90966
Durham, NC 27708-0966

The one sentence from Dr. Curtis Freeman's email that succinctly states the point I am making about the rise of eternal subordination in the Southern Baptist Convention is this one:

I am suspicious that the real energy behind this new ESS doctrine is really a thinly veiled attempt to elevate complementarianism to de fide orthodoxy, so that complementarian gender relations are set forth as the only acceptable model for Christians and that egalitarianism is heresy equivalent to denying the Trinity.

I shall allow Dr. Al Mohler's own words to frame Dr. Freeman's sentence above:
"The misjudgment of true Fundamentalism is the belief that all disagreements concern first-order doctrines. Thus, third-order issues are raised to a first-order importance, and Christians are wrongly and harmfully divided."
Amen, Dr. Mohler. When the "role" of women vs. men is set on an equal plane with the doctrine of the Trinity, then we Christians are wrongly and harmfully divided. May we resist any and all attempts to manipulate our understanding of the Trinity to justify our Biblical understanding of gender.

For further study on the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity, read Dr. Freeman's God in Three Persons: Baptist Unitarianism and the Trinity

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Fundamentalism's Fury Needs One Who Needles

The Christian Century, an evangelical magazine who once counted Reinhold Niebuhr as a contributing editor, has posted an article about LifeWay's decision to remove the Gospel Today Magazine from their bookshelves because of Gospel Today's October cover story.

In The Christian Century article, the writer quotes several sentences from my blog as I offered my opinion regarding the controversial LifeWay decision. What caught my interest was the phrase the writer used in introducing me:

Burleson, a pastor in Enid, Oklahoma, who often needles SBC officials, asked September 24 on his blog . . .

I paused for a moment to ponder the word "needles." A minute later I looked up the definition and found this:

Needle: To torment with persistent insult or ridicule

Someone once opined that perception is personal truth, reality is objective truth, and rare is the occasion when the two actually meet. I do not perceive myself as a needler of Southern Baptist Convention leadership, but I accept that The Christian Century, my Baptist Identity friends, and a handful of SBC leaders see me that way. I perceive myself a supporter of the SBC (I led my church to increase Cooperative Program giving last year), a defender of SBC missionaries, agency employees and administrators (we hired them to do a job, and we should trust them to do it well), and a Southern Baptist for the long haul (I've been a Southern Baptist my entire life, and I willingly continue my affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention).

To Question Stupid SBC Decisions Is Not Needling, It's Needed

My wife and I were rocking along the earlier part of this decade, raising a family, pastoring a church, loving Oklahoma and our Southern Baptist Convention, when we both were awakened to a radical change occurring within the SBC - a change that caught us by surprise.

We discovered missionaries were being fired. At the time we said nothing because, like most Southern Baptists, we believed the issue was a denial of the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God - and by golly, we want Bible believers on our mission field.

Then, when I became a trustee of the International Mission Board, I realized to my horror that the issue in the Southern Baptist Convention was not a battle for a belief in the the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I trust my moderate friends will be patient as I restate what I just wrote in the preceding sentence. Had it been proven to me at the grassroots level of the SBC that the problem with our Convention was a denial by some of the sufficiency, inspiration or inerrancy of God's Word, I would never have second thoughts about my involvement in "The Battle for the Bible." Some may wish to debate with me the propriety of using the word "inerrant" to describe the Bible, but The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy defines the word inerrant for me, and I have absolutely, positively, not one iota of a problem using the Chicago understanding of "inerrancy" as a descriptive adjective of the Bible.

But, I discovered as a trustee of the IMB that inerrancy is no longer the issue in the Southern Baptist Convention; we have a much worse problem we are battling. Frankly, because of the way I have seen some of my fellow Southern Baptists who hold to inerrancy treated in this new millenium by other Southern Baptists who also profess to hold to inerrancy, I now have doubts about the veracity of the claim that the issue in the Southern Baptist Convention was ever a battle for a belief in the inerrant Bible in the first place. Let me illustrate.

The Problem in the SBC Is a Rejection of Conservative Evangelicals Who Disagree With Fundementalist Interpretations of the Sacred Writ.

I have seen an excellent Hebrew professor fired from teaching Hebrew at Southwestern Theological Seminary (Sheri Klouda), forced to sell her own blood to meet expenses, all because of a Fundamentalist interpretation that a woman should not teach men. I have seen an outstanding female supervisor (Wendy Norvelle) at the International Mission Board promoted by Dr. Rankin to be the Vice-President, only to see Rankin's recommendation overturned by Fundamentalist trustee leaders who forced their Fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible that "no woman shall lead a man" upon IMB administration. I have seen IMB trustees force their Fundamentalist interpretation that certain spiritual gifts have ceased, a belief that exceeds the BFM 2000 and in some minds contradicts the inerrant Word of God, and so close the door on otherwise qualified Southern Baptist missionaries from serving on the mission field. I have seen IMB trustee leaders force their Fundamentalist Landmark beliefs on an entire board, and thus remove from the possiblity of missionary service any Southern Baptist church member whose baptism did not take place in a Southern Baptist church. I have seen Fundamentalist trustees fire a missionary couple in Africa because they refused to "cease and desist" from cooperating with another conservative, evangelical missionary couple - who happened to be non-Southern Baptist - in planting a church among the bush tribes of Africa. I have personally been witness to Southern Baptist Fundamentalist leaders spreading vicious rumors against people (other than me) who dared speak out to oppose their views. I have seen Southern Baptists threatened, Southern Baptists excoriated, Southern Baptists fired, Southern Baptists mistreated, Southern Baptists lied about, Southern Baptists dismissed - all because they dared to express an opinion different than the Fundamentalist interpretation of sacred Scripture on tertiary matters that have nothing to do with being Christian or even Southern Baptist. The best way to identify these Baptist Fundamentalists is with the label "Baptist Identity" for truly, the Fundamentalists would rather demand people conform to their interpretation of what it means to be Southern Baptist than to cooperate with people who view things differently than they do. In other words, their "Baptist Identity," as they interpret it, precedes any identification with Christ and His commandment to love one another.

That, my friend, is why I speak out. The people in leadership who are hurting Southern Baptists by their demands for conformity must be removed from Convention leadership. Let me say that again: Those who demand that all Southern Baptists conform to their Fundamentalist views of Baptist Identity must be removed from leadership. Why? The Convention is built on cooperation (i.e. "The Cooperative Program), and demands for conformity disqualify any man who is to lead out in cooperation. I will continue to speak out until the sleeping giant we call the Southern Baptist Convention wakes up and realizes that what began as a "Conservative Resurgence" somewhere along the line became a "Fundamentalist Fury." It's time the fires of Fundamentalism's fury be quenched.

If my writing plays any part in quenching those fires, and if in so doing, the Christian Century writes that I "needle" the SBC leaders who exalt Fundamentalism (Baptist Identity), then so be it.

I plead guilty.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Only True Authority that Comes from God Is a Result of Service, Not Gender

In March of 2000 The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood hosted a Conference for people interested in the subject of Christian submission. During a Conference forum entitled "How Submission Works in Practice" Dr. Paige Patterson was asked a question about how a Christian wife should respond to spousal physical abuse. The answer Dr. Patterson gave, in my opinion, reflects the danger of a any belief system that promotes the idea that the male in the marriage possesses an inherent authority to which the Christian wife must at all times submit.

My previous post contained the example of an African-American seamstress who was beaten by her master and refused to submit to the beating, but fought against it. A few commentors asked the question, "What does this have to do with Southern Baptists?" The answer to that question is clear to me. When anyone - whether it be Gothard, Patterson, Stanley, Mohler, Elliff, or any other Southern Baptist (Gothard is a member of a Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma City) - promotes submission because there is an inherent hierarchy of authority in relationships, then we have a warped view of both authority and submission. True Christian authority in marriage, church government, and any other kind of relationship among believers comes not from an office, gender, or title, but through service. Jesus said, "He that is greatest among shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:11).

Some within the SBC, including Dr. Patterson, believe that males have an inherent authority over females. This is why a woman cannot teach men in the Southern Baptist Convention. This is why a woman cannot lead men in the Southern Baptist Convention. This is why the ideal Southern Baptist woman, at least in Patterson's mind, is a woman who is a housewife and mother and supports her husband's authority and God-given role within society and the church. This is also why a Christian wife should be submissive to her husband - even when he is beating her.

Don't believe me? The following is the actual transcript from the audio of Dr. Patterson as he answered the question how a Christian wife should to her husband when she is being beaten by him. Please note: Dr. Patterson, like all of us, condemns any man who would beat his wife. That is not the issue. The issue within the SBC is this notion that there is some kind of inherent authority in husbands to which wifes must subject themselves while being beaten. It's this notion that there is some inherent authority within males to which women must subject themselves as Christ the Son subjected Himself to God the Father. It's the same kind of attitude within the heart of the Presbyterian minister who beat his slave, believing she had the God-given role of submitting herself to her master.

It is this attitude that must change within the Convention. The audio for this portion of the CBMW has been removed from the CBMW website, but I post it here to illustrate why this issue is an important one within our Convention. Patterson illustrates how he, as pastor, counseled a woman who was being beaten.

I had a woman who was in a church that I served, and she was being subject to some abuse, and I told her, I said, “All right, what I want you to do is, every evening I want you to get down by your bed just as he goes to sleep, get down by the bed, and when you think he’s just about asleep, you just pray and ask God to intervene, not out loud, quietly,” but I said, “You just pray there.” And I said, “Get ready because he may get a little more violent, you know, when he discovers this.”

And sure enough, he did. She came to church one morning with both eyes black. And she was angry at me and at God and the world, for that matter. And she said, “I hope you’re happy.”

And I said, “Yes ma’am, I am.” And I said, “I’m sorry about that, but I’m very happy.”

And what she didn’t know when we sat down in church that morning was that her husband had come in and was standing at the back, first time he ever came. And when I gave the invitation that morning, he was the first one down to the front. And his heart was broken, he said, “My wife’s praying for me, and I can’t believe what I did to her.” And he said, “Do you think God can forgive somebody like me?” And he’s a great husband today. And it all came about because she sought God on a regular basis.

And remember, when nobody else can help, God can. And in the meantime, you have to do what you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him.

In His Grace,


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

My Prayer For Miss Courtney Tarter: "That One Day, by God's Grace, You May Recover from Your Recovery"

Miss Courtney Tarter, a Southern Theological Seminary employee and theology student, wrote an article last September entitled Confessions of a Recovering Feminist. Tarter's article has been praised by Dr. Russell Moore who is the current Vice-President at Southern Seminary and the one Dr. Mohler is grooming to be the next President at Southern. Though I read the article when Miss Tarter initially posted it, I paid little attention to the content of it since I too am opposed to the liberal political feminist agenda of our culture. But, three events have occurred this week that lead me to pray for Miss Courtney Tarter's recovery from her alleged feminism recovery.

First, ABC News briefly interviewed Miss Tarter for a nationally broadcast news segment and I went back and researched Miss Tarter and her writings on The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website. It was then I realized her understanding of "feminism" was something way different than the typical Southern Baptist understanding of it. Second, my wife, who read my blogpost, was so intrigued that she ended up researching Miss Tarter's writings for herself - and told me that she was personally offended by Tarter's Confessions of a Recovering Feminist. Finally, I had the privilege this week of reading the personal memoirs of Elizabeth Keckly, an African-American seamstress who worked for Mary Todd Lincoln in the Lincoln White House, and came to the realization that the Southern Baptist Convention needs more women with the spirit of Miss Keckly and not Miss Tarter.

Drs. Mohler and Moore praise Miss Tarter's conclusions in her post, but my wife perceptively pointed out to me a couple of very serious doctrinal problems in Miss Tarter's writings. My wife of twenty-five years (Rachelle) is a conservative, evangelical Christian who has helped me raise four wonderful kids, graduated from Nursing School at forty three years of age with a 4.0 grade average, and is currently enrolled at the University of Oklahoma completing her Masters as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. She is also the sweetest woman you will ever meet, one who is rarely offended, so when she told me Tarter's article offended her, I took notice. Rachelle pointed out to me two statements in Tarter's Confessions of a Recovering Feminist that should send shivers up the spines of all Southern Baptists.

(1). "Feminism is in the core of our hearts apart from the saving work of the shed blood of Christ, and not simply because we are militant against male authority, but primarily because we are opposed to the greatest authority of all—our Creator." Miss Courtney Tarter

Feminism, according to SBC seminary trained Cortney Tarter, is opposition to male authority and God's authority.

As Southern Baptists, we keep hearing the pertinent issue in our Convention is "pastoral" authority. Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, and others keep hammering away at the "liberals" who are advocating female "pastoral" authority. I keep asking questions like "What does pastoral authority have to do with female Southern Baptist Hebrew professors?" "What does pastoral authority have to do with female Vice-Presidents of the IMB?" "What does pastoral authority have to do with missionaries at the Strategy Associate level?" "What does pastoral authority have to do with Southern Baptists refusing to endorse Southern Baptist female military chaplains?" I believe Miss Courtney Tarter has provided the answer to my questions, an answer that I have suspected all along, but Moore, Patterson, Mohler and other SBC leaders are careful not to state as bluntly as Miss Tarter.

The issue is male authority in the Southern Baptist Convention, or more precisely, females are to always be subordinate to males; at all places, at all times, and under all circumstances. The issue in the SBC is not about "women pastors" and don't let anybody continue to blow that smoke in your face - it is about certain SBC leaders who believe that women should submit to men - period. Again, the issue in our Convention is the attempt to demand everyone believe in male authority over women.

A handful of powerful SBC leaders in our Convention are pushing a very bizzare scenario of removing women from leadership positions, all the while attempting to mislead us regarding the reasons for their actions. These SBC leaders, including seminary Presidents, their friends who serve as SBC agency trustees, and other strategically placed SBC leaders believe that there should never be a Southern Baptist woman with with any authority over a man. Again, they say they are seeking to protect "pastoral" authority, but it is not about "pastoral authority." Their belief is in male authority.

(2). "Instead of seeing our gender differences as mere cultural constructions we must first admit that there was something far greater going on in the Garden than we now realize, and when Creation fell, it was distorted. In creating man and woman differently, God was pointing to the beauty of the Trinitarian relationship." Miss Courtney Tarter

Pointing to the Trinity in order to establish the "eternal subordination" of the female to the male is a new and growing phenomenon. Yet this heretical teaching is taking hold among some in our Southern Baptist Convention, particularly at our seminaries, as a theological basis to keep women eternally subordinate to men. Southern Baptists best wake up to this growing tendency to use a false understanding of the Trinity to justify the eternal subordination of women to men before the pastors of our Southern Baptist churches begin to accept this doctrine as "the norm." Not only is it not normal, it borders on bizarre. Just because we admire Mohler, just because there is fear that respected seminary administrators like Dr. Moore and Dr. Patterson may torpedo your chances to get a SBC church, you shouldn't be afraid to push back. Loyalty is a major value right now in the Southern Baptist Convention, but following fidelity to the fringe of foolishness will destroy our Convention.

The Gripping, Heartwrenching Story of Elizabeth Keckley

I titled this post, My Prayer for Miss Courtney Tarter: "That One Day, By God's Grace, You May Recover from Your Recovery. What Miss Tarter needs recovery from is her warped concept that a woman is to always be submissive to male authority. That bizarre view may actually cause a Southern Baptist to teach that a wife who is being beaten by her husband should submit to the beatings (more about the tape recording I heard where a Southern Baptist Seminary President actually advocated this on a later post). Our Southern Baptist women need to understand that nowhere in Scripture does God order a woman to be subordinate to a man because of gender. Let me repeat: There is not one scrap of evidence - not one jot or tittle of the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures - that should ever cause a woman to feel she is subordinate to a man because of her gender. To militate against a woman's subordination to a man is not feminism. It is respecting the equality of the man and the woman.

For my part, I wish Miss Tarter was more like Elizabeth Keckley. Elizabeth, an African-American seamstress for the Lincoln White House, was born into slavery in 1830. Her story is an incredible journey from slavery to the White House. Without comment, I will simply encourage you to read Keckley's own words as she describes her spirit while being beaten by a very poor North Carolina Presybyterian minister in 1850. At the time of this beating, Miss Keckly was the same age as Miss Tarter. She had been given to the minister as a slave gift, the minister and his wife being unable themselves to afford any slaves. Miss Keckley was unsure as to the reason for the beating described below, but believes it was because she fell asleep while rocking the Presbyterian minister's small child.

"My master was a good-hearted man, but was influenced by his wife. It was Saturday evening, and while I was bending over the bed, watching the baby that I had just hushed into slumber, Mr. Bingham came to the door and asked me to go with him to his study. Wondering what he meant by his strange request, I followed him, and when we had entered the study he closed the door, and in his blunt way remarked, "Lizzie, I am going to flog you." I was thunderstruck, and tried to think if I had been remiss in anything. I could not recollect of doing anything to deserve punishment, and with surprise exclaimed: "Whip me, Mr. Bingham! what for?"

"No matter," he replied, "I am going to whip you, so take down your dress this instant."

Recollect, I was eighteen years of age, was a woman fully developed, and yet this man coolly bade me take down my dress. I drew myself up proudly, firmly, and said, "No, Mr. Bingham, I shall not take down my dress before you. Moreover, you shall not whip me unless you prove the stronger."

My words seemed to exasperate him. He seized a rope, caught me roughly, and tried to tie me. I resisted with all my strength, but he was the stronger of the two, and after a hard struggle succeeded in binding my hands and tearing my dress from my back. Then he picked up a rawhide, and began to ply it freely over my shoulders. With steady hand and practised eye, he would raise the instrument of torture, nerve himself for a blow, and with a fearful force the rawhide descended upon the quivering flesh. It cut the skin, raised great welts, and the warm blood trickled down my back. Oh God! I can feel the torture now - the terrible, excruciating agony of those moments. I did not scream; I was too proud to let my tormentor know what I was suffering. I closed my lips firmly, that not even a groan might escape from them, and I stood like a statue while the keen lash cut deep into my flesh. As soon as I was released, stunned with pain, bruised and bleeding . . . I exclaimed "Master, what I done that I should be punished so severely?"

I would not put off thus. "What have I done? I will know why I have been flogged."

I saw his cheeks flush with anger, but I did not move. Without an explanation, he seized a chair, struck me, and felled me to the floor. I rose, bewildered, almost dead with pain, crept to my room, dressed my bruised arms and back as best I could and then lay down, but not to sleep. No, I could not sleep, for I was suffering mental as well as bodily torture. My spirit rebelled against the unjustness that had been inflicted upon me, and though I tried to smother my anger and to forgive those who had been so cruel to me, it was impoossible. The next morning I was more calm, and I believe that I could then have forgiven everything for the sake of one kind word. But the kind word was never proffered, and it may be possible, that I grew somewhat wayward and sullen. Though I had faults, I know now, as I felt then, harshness was the poorest inducement for the correction of them. It seems that (the pastor) had pledged himself to the Mrs. to subdue what he called "my stubborn pride." On Friday following the Saturday on which I was so savagely beaten, I was again directed to come to the study. On entering the room I found him prepared with a new rope and a new cowhide. I told him that I was ready to die, but that he could not conquer me. In struggling with him I bit his finger severely, when he seized a heavy stick and beat me with it in a shameful manner. The following Thursday, again he tried to conquer me, but in vain. We struggled, and he struck me many savage blows. As I stood bleeding before him, nearly exhausted with his efforts, he burst into tears, and declared that it would be a sin to beat me any more. My suffering at last subdued his hard heart; he asked my forgiveness, and afterwards was an altered man. He who preached the love of Heaven, who glorified the precepts and examples of Christ, who expounded the Holy Scriptures Sabbath after Sabbath from the pulpit refused to whip me any more."

Miss Tarter, keep your pride in being a female. Stay strong in desiring to follow the Word of God. I pray, however, that you will one day see, as did Miss Keckley, that it is not a sin to refuse to submit to the authority of a man - or even a pastor, or even a Seminary President, or even a boss.

You, Miss Tarter, are equal to them in God-given human authority.

In His Grace,