Sunday, February 28, 2010

You Are Never Too Old, Nor Is It Ever Too Late, To Change

The old saying "you can't teach old dogs new tricks"--though possibly challenged as to its veracity by The Dog Whisperer--is a common assumption by most. Many feel that the older a person becomes, the less likely he will ever change. Cynicism only deepens when an older person faces imminent death and "comes to Christ." Many Christians feel that "jailhouse" or "fox-hole" conversions can't be real. Professed changes of character late in life, or minutes from death, seem to create cynicism.

But we who believe that the grace of God is often given in different seasons of life point to "the thief on the cross." Just hours before his death, he was converted to faith in Christ. However, even we who believe it's never too late to change don't fully understand the dramatic change that occurred in the thief within the last few hours of his death. We often point out that of the two thieves crucified beside Christ, one mocked Him and was condemned, and the other one believed on Him and was taken to paradise upon death. But we don't see how bad off both were in the last hours of their lives.

When both thieves were initially hung on the crosses beside Christ, BOTH mocked him. Mark 15:32 --
"And they that were crucified with him reviled him"
Something happened to one of the thieves. He who had mocked Christ at the 9:00 a.m. hour (Mark 15:32) came to the place by the afternoon where he rebuked the other thief for his mocking of Christ, saying:

Do you not fear God, seeing that you are experiencing the same condemnation? And we deserve our sentence of condemnation, a just punishment for our actions. But this man has done nothing wrong. Then he turned to Jesus and said, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
The story of the TWO thieves on the cross, who both mocked Christ at the beginning of the crucifixion, is testimony to us all that one is never too old, nor is it ever too late, to change.

In His Grace,


Friday, February 26, 2010

To Question Our Leaders Is Not Only Morally Right, It Is the Essence of Christian Integrity

Nearly four years ago I wrote a post entitled The Cult of Personality in the SBC where I questioned how a large Southern Baptist Church in Florida could call a man who had repeatedly lied about his past to be their pastor.

Steven Flockhart, pastor of FBC West Palm Beach, resigned his post after a secular newspaper revealed the lies he had told the pastor search committee. The resume of "Dr." Flockhart claimed he had several theological degrees, but the newspaper revealed he had fabricated all his educational credentials.

Interestingly, in the very last line of Steven Flockhart's resume, there was this statement:
"(I) have been accepted at Liberty University to obtain a second doctorate."
When I initially read about his fabricated resume, I wondered if Pastor Flockhart was also lying about his enrollment at Liberty University.

It seems The Palm Beach Post may have had similar questions. A reporter called to question Liberty's registrar's office about Flockhart's enrollment for a "second" doctorate.

In an article published on August 26, 2006 The Palm Beach Post reported that the registrar's office initially said that they had never heard of Mr. Flockhart, but then they called the newspaper back later and said they had discovered that Flockhart was enrolled and had paid the registration fees directly to seminary President Ergun Caner. The paper then quoted a Liberty official:
"The pastor (Flockhart) is enrolled and has paid in advance," said Ron Godwin, executive vice president and CEO of Liberty University. He added, "I love those kind of students."
Granted, the Palm Beach Post could have misreported the initial response of Liberty, as well as the words of Ron Godwin, but the newspaper's published report caused many of us to ask several questions about what seemed to be a peculiar financial arrangement. While several of the financial questions were ultimately answered by Dr. Caner himself, there were two main questions that went unanswered at the time:

(1). Was Steven Flockhart enrolled in an actual doctorate program at Liberty University?
(2). If so, what safeguards were in place to prevent Liberty from accepting a doctoral student who had fabricated degrees?

Though questions to our Christian leaders may bring some discomfort, asking them is not a bad thing. It is not attacking someone's character. It is not assuming someone is evil or wicked. It is a legimitate process through which we Christians can hold each other accountable.

For example, Darrell Gilyard was a rising star among Southern Baptists. He preached at Pastors' Conferences, including the Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference in Las Vegas, and his eloquence in the pulpit was unmatched. However, it was discovered that his story of growing up homeless, sleeping underneath bridges, and being converted to Christ out of the rough streets of Jacksonville was all a lie. Baptist Press reported that the Dallas Morning News, in an exclusive July 28, 1991 story, reported that:

Gilyard actually was brought up in a comfortable north Florida home by a woman who reared him as if he were her son. The article included an interview with Barbara Davis, the 65-year-old Palatka woman who said she helped to rear Gilyard from age 8 months until he left home at age 19. The paper also reported Gilyard misrepresented his academic background; accepted a $10,000 "love offering" from Falwell's ministry under false pretenses; and lied about repeated traffic offenses and a suspended drivers license in Florida.

Gilyard is now in prison, not for lying, but for multiple sexual crimes. One wonders why Southern Baptists never asked the tough questions of Darrell Gilyard while he was a Southern Baptist and before he became involved in criminal behavior? Why does the secular press have to do what we ourselves seemed unwilling to do?

It's not hard for anyone to find story after story about Baptist pastors who have lied about their past. Baptist youth pastor Randy Lee Morrow lied about being in a biker gang. He lied about serving prison time. He lied about having terminal cancer. "I lied a lot more than I should have," he says. Why was there nobody asking the tough questions of Randy Lee Morrow?

Now some Christians are asking tough questions to Ergun Caner about the representations he has made to others about his past. These questions are not accusations--they are legitimate queries of a Christian brother to ensure accountability and integrity of Christian ministry. To ask them is not to accuse. To not ask them, however, is inexcusable--particularly when the words spoken publicly are those of Dr. Caner himself. There are some bloggers, like Peter Lumpkins, Tim Guthrie, and others who personally blister anyone who asks tough questions of Dr. Caner. One of these days they will learn that attacking the character of those who ask legitimate, tough questions of our leaders will only ultimately backfire on their intended purpose.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Website Is Now Down, But Will It Be Back?

Over the course of the past three years I have written a few times about The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). Southern Baptists, including Dorothy Patterson, Al Mohler, Danny Akin and others, serve on the Board of Directors of the Council. Randy Stinson, Dean of Church Ministries at Southern Seminary, has served at times as either the Executive Director or President of the CBMW. I have written about CBMW teaching various forms of patriarchy, calling Irving Bible Church elders' decision to allow a woman to teach the Bible "a grave moral concern" (comparable to homosexuality), advocating the eternal subordination of women to men, encouraging abused women to merely "pray for their husbands," and stating that opposing "male authority" is the same as opposing Christ's authority.

The CBMW website is now down. For the past ten years donations to CBMW have averaged between $315,000 to $340,000. In 2004, the payroll for CBMW was $57,000, with the President of CBMW (Dr. Bruce Ware) receiving no salary and Executive Director Stinson receiving $57,000. By 2008 the payroll for CBMW was $245,000 with then President Randy Stinson receiving $30,000 yearly and Executive Director David Kotter earning $70,000. In 2008, CBMW was in the financial red by $36,000. In years past, CBMW provided some wonderful expositions of Scripture from scholars who hold to a complementarian viewpoint. In recent years, CBMW moved more toward a uniform advocacy of eternal male authority and eternal female subordination. CBMW began "Gender Blogs"--men writing to men/women and women writing to women--lest men actually, and immorally, learn something of Scriptural truth from a woman. One wonders if the financial decline is directly related to the changes at CBMW over the past few years. John Starke, a former staff CBMW blogger, has left CBMW and is now writing for the Gospel Coalition as a book reviewer. There have been questions on his Twitter account, from friends and acquaintances, asking John about leaving Southern/CBMW. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood also has a Facebook site. It, too, has not been updated for several weeks. Staffers usually manned the Facebook account. If now understaffed, updates on Facebook would be one of the first things to end. The CBMW official website was down for a couple of weeks this month before an "under construction" logo appeared. The Internet service provider for CBMW has also been changed, with CBMW moving to a cheaper provider, but the website continues to remain down. Again, one can't help but wonder if finances have necessitated a downsizing of staff and a change of service providers.

Regardless, CBMW's website more than likely will come back in some form or another. Hopefully, it will be an improved site. That will happen if there is a reversion to the old practice of providing scholarly exegesis on the site and a greater restraint in placing papers on the site that open the Southern Baptist Convention to patriarchal charicaturization by the conservative evangelical world at large.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When Child Training Leads to Abuse and Murder: Pearls of Wisdom for Concerned Parents

Butte County (California) District Attorney Mike Ramsey confirmed last Thursday that he is exploring a possible connection to a Web site that endorses "biblical discipline" to the murder of a seven year old girl. Kevin Schatz, 46, and his wife, Elizabeth Schatz, 42, were arraigned in Butte County Superior Court and could face two life terms in prison if convicted. The Schatzes were arrested Saturday morning, February 6, 2010 after their adopted daughter, Lydia, age 7, stopped breathing. She was subsequently pronounced dead. Her 11-year-old sister, Zariah Schatz, remains in critical condition at a Sacramento children's hospital, though she is showing some signs of recovery. The two were adopted at the same time with an infant girl, now 3, from the same African orphanage about three years ago.

Salon is reporting that the Schatzes followed closely the popular, child "training" practices of Michael and Debi Pearl. The teachings of the Pearls and their Tennessee-based No Greater Joy ministry, which brought in $1.8 million last year in sales of books, DVDs and the like, are widely known across many conservative Christian churches and home-schooling communities. The Pearls advocate a specific program of even-tempered "chastisement" designed to bring about total obedience -- even by infants -- to their sovereign parents. Their website proclaims "A length of quarter-inch plumbing supply line is a real attention-getter."

It is with such an instrument that sisters Lydia and Zariah were punished. The Pearls cannot be ultimately blamed for the death of Lydia, but there is a growing concern among Christian groups that the mindless following of Old Covenant discipline principles taught by the Pearls, based upon a Jewish covenantal system that ultimately called for the death of continuously rebellious children, is misleading many Christian parents.

For more information on this tragic murder one may read the following sites:

Tragedy in a Homeschooling Family
The Course of Our Lives
I Speak of the Unspeakable
A Terrible Event
When Parenting Kills
Does the End Justify the Means?
When Parenting Kills: An Update
Hold Them Down, Defeat Them Totally
Sharper Iron

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

History is the Prologue to the Future: The 1843 International Indian Council

This photograph of me was taken on Goat's Ridge on the eastern side of the Illinois River about 10 miles north of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. I've been speaking at FBC Tahlequah this week and Pastor Buddy Hunt and a few friends went touring with me through the historic area on Monday. Tahlequah is the capital of the Cherokee Nation, and beginning with the Trail of Tears in 1839, the city has played an important role in Oklahoma and United States history. When the Cherokees and four other "civilized" Indian tribes (Choctow, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) were removed by the U.S. federal government from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and other eastern states, they were forcibly marched to Oklahoma to live in the land given them by the United States "as long as the waters run." The U.S. would eventually break their promise after the five civilized tribes sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War, but for two decades prior to 1861, the Indians had other problems of their own in Indian Territory.

When the largest number of Cherokees arrived in northeastern Oklahoma in 1839 at the end of their Trail of Tears, they discovered they weren't welcome by other Indians. The Osage Indians had fished and hunted the rivers and woods of northeastern Oklahoma for centuries, and other wild "Plainsmen" Indian tribes had hunted the land for migrant buffalo and other wild game and considered it their land. By 1844 the wars between the various Indian tribes were numerous and fierce. The United States government built and staffed a few forts in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) to try to protect the "civilized" Indians from the native Indians, but the troops were largely unsuccessful. If something wasn't done, and soon, the Indians would fight and kill themselves out of any meaningful existence. It was the Cherokee Indians who proposed what ultimately became the solution.

In September of 1843, the International Indian Conference was held in the capital square of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. It was, and is to this day, the largest official pow wow and peace conference among Indians held on this continent. The agreements that came out of this conference formed the basis for a lasting peace among the Indian various tribes. It just so happens, that an American artist named John Mix Stanley, had accompanied a couple of tribes to the 1843 conference. His painting of the event, entitled "International Indian Council," is displayed at Smithsonian American Art Museum.

One of these days, hopefully soon, there should be a similar conference among Southern Baptists. The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has issued their report. It is a difficult challenge to find common agreement among Southern Baptists in 2010, and I commend them for trying. But as long as some groups see other groups as the enemy (and want them gone from the SBC), it will be difficult to focus on the Great Commission. No group is able to expand her mission while the focus and energy is on fighting tribes of the same heritage. Someone has said that history is the prologue to the future. I would be thrilled for Southern Baptists to model the Indian nations of 160 years ago and actually sit down together and come to some kind of mutual understanding for a peaceful co-existence.

Then, the Great Commission can come into focus.

In His Grace,


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Walking Worthy: Graced People Live Gracious Lives

The Royal Law of Christ is to love one another as He loves us (John 13:34). The apostles wrote to followers of Christ to help us understand what a life characterized by agape love looks like. The Apostle Paul writes the first half of a letter (such as Romans, Ephesians, Galations, etc...) to help us comprehend God's incredible love for us, and then he uses the last half of the same letter to give specific steps on how we can love others like Christ has loved us. Through Paul's writings we better understand the vertical love we receive, as well as the horizontal love we give--fulfilling both elements of the Royal Law of Christ (Christ's love for us and our love for others). For preachers who do not see the significance of the Royal Law of love, there is the potentential to misinterpret certain New Testament passages, and as a result, burden hearers with unnecessary laws and expectations. For example, read the following verse from Paul's pen, translated in the King James Version:

Ephesians 4:1 -- I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called ...
Most Southern Baptists will hear preachers wax eloquent about what it means to "walk worthy." Usually it is interpreted to mean that Christians are to have quiet times, read the Bible diligently, attend church regularly, tithe, share your faith, live "godly" lives, and do all things for Christ really well. In other words, to "walk worthy" is interpreted to mean DOING well the things a Christian is supposed to DO in terms of religious activities. But is that what "walking worthy" as a Christian really means?

No, it is not. Paul uses the Greek axios, which is translated "worthy" in this passage, but translated "consistent" or "as becometh" in other New Testament passages. For example, in Philippians 1:27 Paul writes "Only let your conversation be as it becometh (axios) the gospel of Christ." Axios is the Greek word from which we get the English word "axiom" or "axiomatic." An axiom is something "that is widely accepted on its own merits." What Paul is saying is clear: I beg you--live the kind of life and be the kind of person that when someone observes you there is no doubt that the calling of God is on your life.

Take a look again at Ephesians 4:1 ---
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called ...
Anytime you see the word "therefore" in Scripture you should ask "what is it there for?" Therefore is a connecting word, and you will never understand what follows the word until you know what was written before it. In the first three chapters of Ephesians Paul has been describing God's effectual call of us. What is true about a our salvation? Well, if one reads Paul's words in the first three chapters, one learns that God's calling of sinners is all of grace! God loved us when we were unlovely, died for us while we were His enemies, and effectually calls and regenerates us when we had no desire for Him. His call is pure, unmerited grace. After describing this gracious call of God, making his customary transition to articulate how we are to live in relation to others by writing :

"Let your life be as gracious as the gracious call which you have received" (Ephesians 4:1).

A Christian without graciousness may very well be a person without grace. One may declare he is a Christian, or one may profess before the world that Christ is His Lord, and not know Him as Lord and Savior. The axiom that Christ has saved us is lifestyle that is consistent with His calling of grace. We, too, are gracious people. We are different from the world. To put it simply: Graced people live gracious lives. If you cannot be gracious to people, then more than likely God has not been gracious to you.

Paul describes gracious living in the next few verses of Ephesians 4. Graced people "endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit" "Endeavor" could be translated "working hard," Notice, Christians are not called to create this unity, but to maintain it. Paul goes on to reveal five characteristics of a gracious Christian who endeavors to keep the unity of the Spirit:

(1). There is humility --- translated "lowliness" in the King James Version. Humility is the ability to be honest with oneself and about oneself. A humble person does not try to keep people from revealing his weaknesses, but is at the forefront of acknowledging his own faults and frailties.
(2). There is meekness --- could be translated "controlled strength." A meek person is one who has power under control. There is never any "exerting power" or "grasping authority," but rather, a spirit of servanthood toward people. Show me a pastor who is kind to the custodians, I will show you a pastor who isn't exerting authority.
(3). There is longsuffering --- could be translated "patient." This literally means a Christian should be willing to suffer long and be patient with others, in a manner similar to Christ's longsuffering for us.
(4). There is forbearance --- which means the willingness to "bear up" one another. When another Christian struggles we shoulder a burden for him .
(5). There is love --- the willingness to meet the needs of those around us with the kind of spirit that Paul describes in I Corinthians 13.

This is what it means to "walk worthy of your calling." God called you by His grace, and now you live consistent with your calling of grace. You live a gracious life. To be gracious does not mean you refuse to confront. You confront like Christ's confronts. You love like Christ loves. You care like Christ cares. You live unselfishly like Christ lives unselfishly. Your life, when observed, is an axiom of the truth of God's grace through Christ.

People see Christ in your life as much as your words.

In His Grace,


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Jesus Fulfilled the Old Testament and Became a New Lawgiver Better than Moses

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished" Matthew 5:17-18.

These two verses are sometimes used to prove that everything in the Old Testament (the Law and the Prophets) is as binding on Christians as it was binding on the Jews in the Old Covenant. From the Sabbath law written on the tablets of stone, to the “storehouse tithing” laws, to the discipline and punishment of rebellious children, to the dietary and civil laws in Leviticus--some say all of these biblical laws of the Old Covenant are as binding upon Christians as they were the Jews. Jesus, however, is clearly teaching just the opposite. Jesus reveals to His disciples how He came to fulfill (plerosai) the Old Testament (the Law and the Prophets). He then proceeds to boldly declare that "the Law" will pass away when "heaven and earth" pass away because the Law will have been completely fulfilled ("accomplished" NAS).

Western Christians think of "heaven and earth" as the sky and the terrestial ball we call earth. But when Jews would refer to the establishment and/or fall of governments or covenants, their prophets would employ the language of creation and/or destruction of "heaven and earth." For example, God describes His agreement with the Jews in the Old Covenant in this manner: "I have put my word in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of my hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, 'You are my people'" (Isaiah 51:16). The Old Testament prophets said God promised to destroy "the heavens and the earth" because Israel "broke my covenant" (Isaiah 24:5). "Heaven and earth" in the context of Isaiah's writing is not the literal heaven or the literal earth, but the Jewish economy and the Jewish age. Jesus, the apostles and the early Christians were all Jews, and they would be familiar with the "heaven and earth" language employed by prophets to describe the judgment of God on nations or ages.

The great theologian John Owen writes about Peter's prediction (pre-70 AD) in II Peter 3 regarding the end of the "heavens and earth:"

"I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state".
The early Christians clearly understood that God was coming in judgment to end "the Jewish age" (Matthew 24:3). Jesus plainly told His disciples that "not one stone" would be left upon the other at the Temple in Jerusalem. He said that "the Jewish age" would be destroyed, and He used language of the destruction of the "heavens and earth" (Matthew 24:29) as the nomenclature for the end of this Jewish age. Within a generation of Jesus speaking these words (Matthew 24:34), Jerusalem, the Temple, the age of the Jews, and the destruction of the "heavens and earth" occurred (in 70 AD), fulfilling the prophecies of Matthew 24 and Isaiah 24 regarding the end of the Jewish age. Thus, the LAW OF THE OLD COVENANT WAS ABOLISHED--precisely the way Jesus said it would be in Matthew 5:17-18, because "heaven and earth" (the Old Covenant) passed away. All the Old Testament laws (613) associated with Israel's covenant with God were now gone. Why? Because Christ had fulfilled them. He was the Anti-type, fulfilling the types. He was the Substance, predicted by the shadows. He fulfilled completely what the Law and the Prophets declared. Nobody disagrees that the idea of "the Law" passing away or being abolished, even for Christian Jews, would be a drastic change for the age in which they lived. For "the Law" to pass away means there would be no more Temple, no more feasts, no more sacrifices--the world as the Jews knew it would be forever different. But it had to pass away--because Jesus fulfilled it.

Summary: When God established His covenant with the Jews, He described it as the establishment of "heaven and earth" (Isaiah 51:16). When Israel broke their covenant with God through unfaithfulness to His Law, God described the impending judgment as the destruction of "heaven and earth" (Isaiah 24, Matthew 24, II Peter 3). The destruction of "heaven and earth" occurred in 70 AD when the Temple and the Jewish age were destroyed by the Roman army, and the "Law" was abolished, just as Jesus predicted it would be in Matthew 5:17-18.

The question then becomes, post 70 AD, what "Law" is established and in effect for Christians to follow?

Matthew presents Jesus as the New Lawgiver

(1). The early Christians saw Matthew's writings to be five books, similar to the Pentateuch of Moses.
The first book (Matthew 1-4), tells the narrative of Jesus' birth and early years and has remarkable parallels to the narratives of Israel's forefathers and Moses the Lawgiver as God led His people out of the bondage of Egypt. The second book (Matthew 5-7) parallels with the teaching of Moses on Mt. Sinai etc… as found in the book of Exodus. The third, fourth and fifth books in Matthew point us to the instructions of Jesus to His followers and parallel the teaching of Moses to Israel in the books of the law called Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
(2). The Sermon on the Mount is preceded by baptism in water and forty days in the wilderness. Again, the whole narrative of Jesus (childhood, exodus, baptism, wilderness, mountain, law) is precisely the narrative of Moses and Israel (childhood, exodus, Red Sea, wilderness …). The parallel between Jesus' life and that of the old lawgiver Moses is clearly seen in the book of Matthew.
(3). Matthew calls Jesus greater than Moses (i.e. "hear HIM" not Moses 17:5), “greater than Solomon” (12:42), “greater than the Temple” (12:6), “greater than Jonah” (12:41), and the “Lord of the Sabbath” (12:8).
(4). It is disobedience to the Words of Christ that defines “lawlessness” (anomia) in Matthew (see 7:23-24).
(5). In the Great Commission, Jesus instructs to teach all that “I have commanded” (28:18-20).

The idea that we do not have "Law" as believers in Jesus Christ is ludicrous. Our Law is His Law. Our desire is to do His will, to hear His commands, to be His bondslaves, and to do as He bids. The Royal Law (James 2:8) of Christ is "to love one another as He has loved us" (John 13:34). Jesus, gospels writers and others of the apostles all write to help us understand how this agape love works itself out in our lives.

But now, when we read the Old Testament, we see Jesus. Our concentration is not obedience to Old Covenant "commands" or laws--we see Christ. We see Him in the narratives of creation and exodus, in the laws of sacrifice and festivals, in the prophets and the psalms--all the Old Covenant Scriptures point to Him. We, however, are not "bound" to any Old Covenant laws--including any alleged "Sabbath" day, because we are inlawed to Christ (I Corinthians 9:21). Every day is a day of rest. For those who cringe at the thought of no "Ten Commandments" for believers, we remind them that it is hard to commit adultery when you aren't lusting in your heart (Jesus' command in Matthew 5:28), or to commit murder when you don't hate (Jesus' command in Matthew 5:17), or to steal when you see a need and give to meet it (Jesus' command in Matthew 6:4), etc... It's also hard to keep any special day as a Sabbath day because every day is a day of rest in Christ (Colossians 2:16).

The Law that we follow is Christ's Law--and we willingly, cheerfully, and fully pledge ourselves to keep it as His bondslaves. But we reject any notion that our Lord's law is Moses' law. "Heaven and earth" has passed away, and a "new heaven and earth" (the New Covenant) with a new Lawgiver, a new age, a new people, and a new agreement with better promises has dawned (Hebrews 8).

In His Grace,


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Teat of the Doctrinal Conformity Cow at SWBTS Will Not Be Milked Today

For five years I have encouraged Southern Baptists to resist the narrowing of the doctrinal parameter of Southern Baptist fellowship and cooperation. My mantra has been that some Southern Baptist leaders have been pressing for doctrinal conformity on all tertiary doctrines of the Christian faith. Many may remember that SWBTS trustee and SBC pastor Dwight McKissic was unjustly censured at Southwestern Theological Seminary for admitting, while preaching in the SWBTS chapel service no less, that he had a "private prayer language." This past week the President of Liberty Theological Seminary, a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the evangelism strategy of the International Mission board "heresy". Of course, it has been SWBTS professor Dr. Keith Eitel and President Dr. Paige Patterson who have sought to prove to all who will listen that the IMB administration has been full of theological error, writing letters years ago to IMB trustees to prove it. It's been stated publicly in the past by SWBTS President Paige Patterson that five-point Calvinist professors would not be welcome at SWBTS, by saying, "Southwestern will not build a school in the future around anybody who could not look anybody in the world in the eyes and say, "Christ died for your sins." We already know that Dr. Karen Bullock and Dr. Sheri Klouda were removed from faculty at SWBTS because trustees and administration hold to the belief that women should not teach a man anything in a seminary classroom. I could go on with illustrations of attempts to bring doctrinal conformity on all tertiary issues at SWBTS, but you get the picture.

However, it does seem there is now one issue that has been moved off the doctrinal conformity list at SWBTS. Both Bart Barber and Peter Lumpkins write on their blog that Dr. Paige Patterson has written a preface to an article defending his one of his professor's belief in an ancient earth. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Research Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Cultural Engagement, Dr. William Dembski, has written a book entitled The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World. Bart believes Dr. Patterson's defense of his professor's right to publish a book arguing for an ancient earth construct, while Dr. Patterson himself believes in a young earth. Dr. Barber, a trustee and employee of SWBTS, writes:

You may have read on occasion the allegation—the deliberately dishonest allegation—that Dr. Patterson or other much-maligned Southern Baptists require that people agree with them on every point of theology or else they will not cooperate with them. Here we have a perfect test case to see whether this is or is not true. Dr. Patterson bluntly states that he "[does] not agree" with Dembski, and even that Dembski has authored a book "highly [critical]" of Dr. Patterson's own system of belief. Understand me plainly: A professor at SWBTS, working for Dr. Patterson, has authored and published a book that Dr. Patterson (rightly) perceives as highly critical of Dr. Patterson's own theological viewpoint.
Peter Lumpkins chimes in with this colorful comment over Dr. Patterson's paper:
Bloggers like Wade Burleson have for the last several years milked the absolute conformity cow dry, insisting anybody who does not agree with Paige Patterson in even the smallest detail is marked. However, Dr. Dembski is an old-earth creationist and Dr. Patterson is a young-earth creationist ... Yet, in spite of the diversity, we see some very explicit unity portrayed here.
I agree with both Bart and Peter about Dr. Patterson on this issue. I also commend him. I, too, believe in a young earth--but I am thrilled to see the freedom for SWBTS professors to publish books representing different views than the President of SWBTS. This is a step in the right direction away from ideological and doctrinal conformity demands. It's good for SWBTS and the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole.

Now, if SWBTS would give Dr. Klouda and Dr. Bullock their jobs back ... maybe the teat of the doctrinal conformity cow won't need to be milked much more at all. Whether or not this happens, at least SWBTS and Dr. Patterson have taken a step in the right direction, and I don't mind saying so.

In His Grace,


Monday, February 15, 2010

No Matter the Tar Tossed at Ken Starr, He Is Most Certainly a Coup for Baylor U.

This afternoon I visited with Brooks Douglass, former Oklahoma Senator and Special Assistant in the Oklahoma State Attorney General's office, about the hiring of his friend, Ken Starr, to be President of Baylor University. Brooks and I were across the hall dorm acquaintances at Baylor University in the early 1980's. Brooks spent his early years in Brazil with his International Mission Board missionary parents, Richard and Marilyn (Sue), and his younger sister, Leslie. Brook's father left the IMB to become pastor of the Putnam City Baptist Church, in suburban Oklahoma City. On October 15, 1979, two men, Glen Ake and Steven Hatch, entered the Douglass home, bound Brooks and his parents with rope, robbed the home of valuables, and then raped Brook's twelve year old sister. Finally, in order to leave no witnesses, the two men shot all four family members as they lay bound hogtied on the floor. Southern Baptist pastor Richard Douglass (43) and his wife Marilyn (42) were both killed. Brooks and Leslie were severely injured, but survived. The murders gripped the nation for weeks while law enforcement sought to capture the killers. Both Ake and Hatch were eventually captured. Hatch has been executed, and Ake has been denied parole four times.

Brooks and I visited on the set of Heaven's Rain, a feature movie about the murders and the power of forgiveness, being filmed this month in Oklahoma City. Brooks wound up getting his law degree and working in politics and law enforcement out of a desire to protect the weak and defenseless victims of criminal activity as the perpetrators of those crimes made their way through the criminal court system. While in California pursuing some additional legal training, Brooks become well acquainted with Ken Starr and his wife Alice while Ken served as Dean of the Law School at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. I informed Brooks Douglass that his friend had been named President of Baylor University. There was a look of shock on Brooks face, and then a broad smile.

Brooks was thrilled--for his alma mater Baylor. Why? It seems that the Ken Starr is a down to earth, conservative evangelical Christian with a brilliant mind and some pretty powerful connections throughout the United States. Unlike the media's portray of Ken Starr during the Clinton era, Ken is no conservative ideologue. He has a legal mind second to none. He has demonstrated an ability to raise enormous amounts of money at Pepperdine, and the students and faculty love him. Brooks told me that two current United States Supreme Court justices had clerked for Starr, and if it had not been for the Lewinsky debacle, Ken Starr would be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court today. Brooks said Ken Starr's Christian values, established connections, and track record of superb leadership makes Ken Starr a five star hire by Baylor University. I was pleased to hear such a strong recommendation from a man I respect.

Then I begin to read the blogs of Southern Baptist religious ideologues about Ken Starr's hiring at Baylor. Most of them are not happy. Why?

Ken Starr is not Baptist enough. Though Ken and his wife are devoted followers of Jesus Christ, that is not enough. Though he and Alice were longtime members of McLean Bible Church, a conservative evangelical church in Washington, D.C.-- that still isn't enough. The fact that he has been baptized upon his profession of faith in Jesus Christ isn't enough, for he hasn't been "baptized in a Baptist church." The fact that he will be "joining" a Baptist church upon arrival in Waco doesn't quite cut the mustard either. That's just a "farce," according to Bart Barber, a trustee and employee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ken Starr is not a true, blue-blood Baptist. He shouldn't be President of Baylor University because being a Baptist is more important than being a Christian. {Edit: Bart Barber says that I have misunderstood the point of his blog. He writes in his post: "If you will no longer require that your presiding officers (at Baylor) actually BE Baptists, please stop coercing them into joining Baptist churches." I freely admit not always comprehending things correctly, and apologize to Bart if I have misunderstood he was inferring Ken Starr wasn't Baptist enough to be an approprate choice for the office of President of Baylor University.}

Listen to this quote from a Southern Baptist pastor named David Worley:
"Sooooooo, I wonder what (Baptist) Church might receive Starr and his wife without requiring them to be baptised first? Or, will they both willingly get baptised (sic) in this Baptist Church? Interesting, huh?"
That kind of thinking reminds me of the trustees at the IMB who said they would rather pay thousands of dollars to fly a Southern Baptist pastor from the United States to China to baptize a convert than to allow a SBC missionary who was not "properly credentialed" to perform it.

I think that we Southern Baptists, unfortunately, are becoming more and more known for being Southern Baptists than devoted followers of Jesus Christ. When we are more concerned about the President of Baylor University being baptized in baptist waters than we are the spiritual condition and maturity of the man who takes the office, then we have sacrificed our "Christian" heritage on the alter of religious ideology. Soon, there will be little difference between the ritualism of us Southern Baptists and that of Mormons who must baptize in special places, wearing special underwear, at the hands of a special under... er, well, you get the idea.

Take it from a person with the same last name as the first President of Baylor University in Waco, Texas--Ken Starr is a great hire.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Decision Based on Conviction Enables One To Embrace Any Disgrace

Last week I published on this blog an email written by a fellow Southern Baptist pastor to Southern Baptist seminary administrators. The pastor suggested in the email that it would be "helpful" if two professors were removed from their respective faculty positions because they published a scholarly article on "tithing" that took a view contrary to "the majority of Southern Baptists." That email, interpreted by some friends of the two professors as a call to remove the professors from their faculty positions, caused one of those friends to inform me that there was pressure being placed on seminary administrators to remove the professors. I called the author of the email to ask him if this allegation was true. He denied it. But then a friend of the professors sent me the pastor's email and it was clear the author of the email was being less than forthright with me. It has been the tactic of Southern Baptist ideologues to publicly act as if SBC employees had their support (think Russel Dilday, Ken Hemphill, Al Shackleford, Dan Martin, Sheri Klouda, Karen Bullock, and a host of others), while at the same time privately bringing about pressure behind the scenes to have these people removed from their positions of SBC service for doctrinal differences that have nothing to do with the essentials of the faith. Though in this last's weeks instance, the pastor in question had neither the authority nor the pull to bring about the termination of the two professors, the principle at play remains the same--the private, secret attempt by an ideologue to intimidate and/or bring pressure to remove a Southern Baptist from cooperative ministry because of a disagreement over a tertiery biblical doctrine.

I had a decision to make.

Do I make public the email to expose the tactic used to intimidate Southern Baptists who had dared to publish a paper with a doctrinal viewpoint different than that of the majority? Or, do I remain quiet? It was not an easy decision. Our church's Cooperative Program gifts pay the salaries of seminary professors. They are our employees too. I have a responsibility to be involved if I am aware that someone is being pressured by ideologues to conform to one view (i.e. "the ideologue's view") of a tertiery doctrine over which Christians often disagree. Personal considerations, including a vow I made to never again be silent when I saw employees of the Southern Baptist Convention under attack, were thought through carefully. I knew that if I chose to publish the email that a number of Southern Baptists would consider my action unethical, that many would not be able to comprehend my view that all Southern Baptist cooperative ministry business should be public and transparent (particularly efforts to remove SBC personnel over questions of doctrinal integrity), and that a few Southern Baptists would even question my personal integrity and Christianity. I knew all that before making the decision.

I chose to publish the letter because of a greater good than my reputation. People in the Southern Baptist Convention must be willing to cherish and protect the freedom needed by our SBC professors, pastors, teachers, leaders and/or laymen to believe, teach, preach, write, and publish different interpretations of the sacred text without fearing repercussions or intimidation from ideologues who demand absolute conformity. We are a Convention built on cooperation. By the very definition of the root word cooperate, demands for conformity must be resisted. It's time that we Southern Baptists push back against those who want everyone to look like them and believe like them; and my decision to publish the email was part of that push back. The decision to publish the email was thoughtful, intentional and convictional.

When a Decision Is Based on Conviction, One Is Enabled to Embrace the Disgrace

I do not begrudge any criticism or strong condemnation that comes my way as a result of my decision. I neither fault, nor desire to discourage, any of my fellow Southern Baptists from publicly questioning my integrity, my honor, or even my Christianity.

When Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigo defied the king's law, there is no record of them yelling and screaming at the king for putting them in the fiery furnace. They walked into the fire calmly because they lived on the basis of conviction and made their choices on principle. When Daniel defied the king's order and continued to pray, he quietly went to the lion's den. His decision to defy the law, based on a conviction, led him to not whine about his punishment. When Peter defied civil authorities and preached Christ, there is no record of him complaining about the jail term that came his way. He sang in jail rather than passing notes around about how he shouldn't be there. When John the Baptist was sentenced to capital punishment, you have no testimony that the Baptist bemoaned the fact he spent his life bowing his knee to the Lordship of Christ rather than kissing the ring of the king. When you do what you do because of conviction, then you embrace any disgrace that comes your way because of your decisions. Likewise, you pay little attention to any praise, which is easier, since most convictional choices are countercultural and bring little praise. Convictional people do not make good politicians. There's never any finger up in the air seeking the wind direction of public opinion. Our chosen path comes from within, as we are led by the Holy Spirit. And if the Holy Spirit leads us down an unpopular, unlawful (think Hitler's Germany, modern Iran, the rescue of orphans in Haiti, etc...), or difficult path, then we above all people should never complain when others seek to shame us or disgrace us.

Let me illustrate how this plays out for me in practical ways these last couple of days.

(1). The author of the email I published writes that he is receiving supportive and encouraging emails at the rate of 50 to 1. For his sake, I can wish it were a million to zero in support of him. Nothing in me is affected or changed by any ratio of support.

(2). One man wrote that Wade Burleson was "a pile of human excrament (sic) with the integrity of belly button lint." If I remember right, Paul called everything in his life "dung" (reputation, career, etc...) for a greater cause. To me, that's pretty good company. In other words, no offense taken with this man for his words. He feels them; I receive them.

(3). One SBC lawyer opined "It is a serious ethical breach for lawyers (which I am) to receive mail from other people like this. Ah, if only you preachers would live up to the standards set by the bar associations. I freely acknowledge that my decision does not live up to the ethical standard of attorneys, and were I one, I would welcome any censure or punishment handed out.

(4). One SBC pastor charged I had a self-perceived messianic complex. Others have alleged I desire adulation or want to be a hero. I admit a tad bit of confusion on those charges since it's been indicated support is running 50 to 1 against me. Messiah's and heroes usually have the 50 on their side. Of course, those pastors' charges actually go to the motive, not the results, of my decision to publish the letter. I feel quite comfortable knowing God and I are the only ones who can know my true motives, and even I am sometimes blind to them. For my motives to be considered suspect or sinful because of my decision is something I accept.

(5). Others have weighed in with their opinion that "they would not have done it the way Wade Burleson did it." That's absolutely true. Nor should they have. Were the whole world to choose a different path, that would not change any decision I make based on conviction.

Back when I saw the same pattern of forcing a specific ideology on all Southern Baptists through new doctrinal policies at the International Mission Board, I made the decision to make public my concerns. Trustees at the IMB were backdooring the new doctrinal requirements by bypassing a vote from the Convention, and then trustees were removing from service anybody who disagreed. In addition, trustees in charge changed the trustee guidelines in an attempt to keep me quiet. They passed a policy that stated any trustee of the IMB who publicly criticizes a board approved policy will be censured. I voted against the "no dissent" policy, and at the time stated that "it was the worst policy ever passed by any Southern Baptist board of trustees in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention," violating the no dissent policy within five minutes of its passage. When I chose later to continue my criticism of the new doctrinal policies implemented by IMB trustees, policies that exceeded the BFM 2000 (see The Garner Motion), trustee leaders moved to publicly censure me. When a reporter asked me how I felt about the censure, I responded in this manner:

The board of trustees have every right to censure me, and should--because their new trustee guidelines call for it. I welcome their censure and any future censures. I am choosing to criticize these new doctrinal policies publicly because I believe a greater good will come from my criticism. We must cease narrowing the doctrinal parameter for Southern Baptist cooperative mission efforts by refraining from demanding interpretative conformity on biblical doctrines that are not essential to our salvation. Southern Baptists must be free to disagree."
I've not changed my views on this in the last five years. When I come across secret attempts to intimidate or threaten fellow Southern Baptists for disgreeing over tertiery doctrinal matters, I will contact the person who initiates the intimidation privately, but if there is no remorse or repentance, the intimidation will be publicly exposed and publicly opposed--every time. The attitude "you must agree with all my interpretations of the Bible or get out of the SBC" is neither historically Baptist or essentially Christian. I will at all times, and on all occasions, publish any private emails or written communications from SBC ideologues that seeks to intimidate into silence any Southern Baptist employee who believes, teaches, or publishes a contrary or dissenting doctrinal viewpoint.

Ideologues in the SBC need to know that any and all attempts to intimidate other Southern Baptists who view things differently will continue to be exposed and opposed. Nobody who intimidates, bullies or threatens others in the Southern Baptist Convention--a Convention built on cooperation-- gets a free pass.

Lord willing, Southern Baptists will once again experience the true measure of Baptist identity--the freedom to believe, teach, preach, write and serve others as God leads. Our willingness to work with other Southern Baptists with whom we disagree is the essence of SBC cooperation. Those who can't cooperate, or won't cooperate, shouldn't be allowed to lead the SBC or determine who will be employed by those of us who pay the bills.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mission Accomplished

Dr. Andreas J. Kostenberger and Dr. David A. Croteau are the product of Southern Baptist theological education. These men, working on the faculties of Southeastern Theological Seminary and Liberty University respectively, have published many scholarly articles. One joint project, entitled “Will a Man Rob God?”, focuses on the abolishment of the Old Covenant law of storehouse tithing and the establishment of the New Covenant practice of graceful, cheerful and generous giving as believers are led by the Holy Spirit. Both men, inerrantists to the core, clearly display their love for the sacred text in the aforementioned article.

However, Southern Baptist pastor Les Puryear had never heard of these men or their published writings until someone mentioned them both in the comment section Les' post entitled Dangerously Close to Antinomianism. After it was mentioned to Les, he went to the site where the professors' article “Will a Man Rob God?” is posted. Les read it and by his own written testimony Les was "shocked." What was he shocked about? I will let Les' words on his own blog on Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 answer for him:

... "I am shocked by the prevalance of antinomianism in our convention!"
... "Andreas Kostenberger and David Croteau document does need to be addressed. I will say that I have somewhat shocked that professors at SEBTS and Liberty University would advise our churches not to teach tithing."
...."If (someone) goes beyond the boundaries of his local church and seeks to persuade others (that tithing is not biblical), that's when a response is warranted. Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. You can rest assured that action is underway to address these issues at every level of the SBC."
Notice, Les' objection is over the issue of "tithing"--nothing is mentioned about Kostenberger and Croteau denying the veracity and inerrancy of the Word of God. The stated issue for Les is the teaching of Kostenberger and Croteau on the subject of Old Covenant storehouse tithing and NOT their view over the nature of Scripture. Specifically, Les is expressing his consternation that seminary scholars are teaching something different than what he believes on the subject of tithing.

The next day, I received an email from someone very upset about Les Puryear calling for the removal from seminary faculty two professors who taught a view of tithing that was different than "the majority of Southern Baptists." I immediately called Les and then left this comment on his blog:


I received information this morning that you contacted the supervisors of a couple of men who are employed at one of our SBC seminaries. You expressed to a supervisor your disappointment that the professors do not teach "storehouse tithing." The person who contacted me indicated that you sought to bring about accountability by expressing a desire that these men be fired from their positions of service.

I have placed a phone call into your office to confirm if this is indeed true. Please feel free to delete this comment after you read it, but know that I am attempting to contact you to confirm the veracity of the information given me by my seminary source.

I think you know, Les, that if this is true, you will be doing the very thing that has caused me to speak up, and speak out, against the principles of certain individuals in the SBC. You will be demanding conformity on tertiery issues and threatening removal from fellowship and leadership those who do not conform to your particular (and some might say peculiar) interpretation of "storehouse" tithing. I can guarantee you that the sword you have drawn will be used to sever your own connection to SBC local churches because of your Calvinism, a system of thought deemed "peculiar" by many SBC leaders.

I look forward to hearing from you, but please know I will do everything within my power to stop men like you from accomplishing your goals of demanding conformity on tertiery issues.

In His Grace,


Shortly thereafter Les called and told me that he was NOT seeking the removal from faculty of these two men. He wanted to know what I knew and how I knew it. I told him that I would not tell him my source, but I vowed after the Klouda incident that I would do anything to protect our professors from ideologues who demanded everyone believe the same as they. I thanked Les in the following comment on his blog:

"Les, I appreciate knowing you were not seeking the firing of any professor for published papers that reflect a different view from yours regarding Christian stewardship."
So, it's over, right?

No, it's not.

It was then that my source sent me the email Les' had sent to the supervisors of these two men. He told me that Les had been less than forthright with me because Les HAD called for the removal from faculty of these two men for teaching something contrary to storehouse tithing. You may read Les' email to the seminary supervisors in its entirety on Les' blog. Please notice, that in the email, Les only addresses the professors' views on tithing. Not once does he express a concern that these men do not "believe the Bible." Also, Les suggests that these men might need to be removed from seminary faculty for teaching a position on tithing that is not the view of most Southern Baptists. Again, nothing is written by Les' that he was concerned about the professors' possible "liberalism"--he only mentions their different interpretation on the subject of tithing. The email is clear. Les wanted the supervisors of these men to stop the professors from influencing other pastors with their interpretations of storehouse tithing and suggested it would be helpful to possibly remove them from their faculty positions.

It was after reading Les' email that I knew Les was not being forthright with me on the phone. I chose to publish the email to protect the professors. My rationale for publishing Les' email, sent to me by someone concerned for their livelihood, ministries and families was made clear on Baptist Life in a comment to Les after he chastised me for making his email public.

"Your email, Les, was only made public after you denied to me privately, both by phone and in a written email that you published on your blog, that you DID NOT seek the termination of SBC professors who believed differently than you on "storehouse tithing."

My source, after reading the denial on your blog, wrote to me and said you were being less than forthright. He then provided the email, cited Mal 3 and the locusts that destroyed the crops of Israel and included an observation that you were seeking to take away the income of these men while ensuring your own. One of the professors is about to publish a book on the subject, based upon his own dissertation paper while at SEBTS.

Frankly, Les, after reading the email from my source it became evident that:

(1). You were not honest with me.
(2). You were trying to "sound the alarm" in the SBC by seeking the termination of professors who believed differently than what you allege "the majority of Southern Baptists" believe.
(3). Your doctrinal dogma on Old Covenant "storehouse tithing" is not even in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
(4). The secret, behind closed doors pressure is precisely what I saw happen at the International Mission Board on tertiary doctrinal issues that eventually became post de facto policy in the SBC--backdooring the demands for doctrinal conformity through the individual SBC agencies and not through a convention wide change in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
(5). The only way those types of things can be stopped is to make public what is happening.

I realize that the issue for you is the publishing of the email you wrote to administrators at seminaries. Please know that I have sources in every agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. Many of these folks are flat out scared. They are afraid to excercise their God-given spiritual gifts and mental acumen to publish scholarly pieces that may reflect different and nuanced views from the Fundamentalist establishment. They are concerned that nobody has their back or will protect them if they get in a pinch with Fundamentalist leadership. Many of them are leaving looking elsewhere to serve, and the scholarship drain at our institutions can be almost audibly heard. That is why these folks contact me. I don't ask for it. They seek me out. They know I know how to handle folks like you. I do not mind my character or my integrity being attacked for a greater cause.

The greater cause is to stop the unbelievable demands for doctrinal conformity that is causing our Southern Baptist Convention to out Mormon the Mormons and out Jehovah Witness the Jehovah Witnesses. When we get to where we are exegeting the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 to figure out the original intent of the authors on "storehouse tithing," we have abandoned sola sciptura and have turned the BFM into The Pearl of Great Price or the Watchtower Magazine. And further, when we seek to remove scholarly and published professors from their faculty positions for disagreeing even with the majority of Southern Baptists, we have sacrificed our true freedoms for intellectual pursuit at the altar of creedal Fundamentalism. I will do everything within my power to not let that occur in the SBC while I pastor a church that cooperates under the SBC umbrella.

Hopefully, this little episode will keep you from ever again seeking to intimidate Southern Baptists who view things differently in a private and secret manner while at the same time denying publicly what others involved in the intimidation know to be true"
Of course, Les is now saying his only motive in writing the email to the seminary supervisors is his concern that these men possibly didn't believe the Bible and we Southern Baptists are in danger of homosexuals and abortionists overtaking the SBC if we were to let men like this continue to be on the faculty of our seminaries. He now says he was only checking out to see whether or not his concern over these men's liberal denials of the sacred text was a legitimate concern. It was my making public his email that stopped his ability to have his concerns addressed. He never, not ever, wanted these men removed for teaching something different on the subject of tithing. The issue, to him, was something bigger.

Hmm. I submit Les words for Southern Baptists to read. My take on it is that Les, like most ideologues, doesn't know how to fellowship with Christians who believe differently than he on tertiary doctrinal issues. The exposure of him calling for the removal of SBC seminary faculty members over interpretative differences on tithing seems to have embarrassed Les. Though this has historically been the tactic by ideologues in the SBC who wish doctrinal conformity within the SBC, I think Les has been awakened to the fact that it won't work anymore.

I have grown accustomed to attacks directed at me personally. Without hesitation, I say that I love Les as a brother in Christ and fellow minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want only the best for him and his church. However, when he or anyone else takes upon himself the task of demanding doctrinal conformity in the SBC on all tertiery matters, they will have to answer to those of us who have had enough. Les, in my opinion, has learned a lesson. I do not believe he will ever again ask for the removal of someone in SBC leadership and ministry who disagrees with him on the subject of tithing.

Mission accomplished. It is definitely a little mission in the big scheme of things, but our Southern Baptist Convention will never become truly cooperative and tolerant of differing interpretations of the sacred text without small steps like this one.

In His Grace,


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Preventing the SBC from Becoming the One View Baptist Convention

In my library I have several books that cover various viewpoints regarding tertiary doctrines over which Christians have historically disagreed. For example, I have read and enjoyed The Meaning of the Millenium: Four Views, and taught the people at Emmanuel all four viewpoints during a Wednesday night study. I taught each of the four millenial positions as if I believed it, and only at the end of the entire series did I give the members of Emmanuel my personal views on the subject of the millenium. I also admitted I could be wrong in my personal view and told those in the Bible study they should search the Scriptures for themselves to arrive at their own conclusions. Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom is another book in my library. We have used it in various small group studies in our church. There has never been a demand that people at Emmanuel hold to one particular view on this subject. Interestingly, all four viewpoints on God's soverereignty are represented by different Sunday School teachers in our fellowship. But all of our members understand that we are never to make disagreement over this tertiery doctrine a test of fellowship. Another book, entitled Are Miraculous Gifts For Today? Four Views , is an excellent summary of the different viewpoints Christians hold regarding spiritual gifts. Again, all four views on the gifts of the Spirit are held by various people within our 4,500 church membership. I'm excited that an agreement has already been reached with Broadman and Holman for another four view book to be published in 2011 called Perspectives on Tithing. A Southern Baptist will serve as the main editor and there will be three other contributors, with Southern Baptist Ken Hemphill providing one view on the subject. There are a number of other books that take handle biblical doctrines by presenting four views on the subject in question. The ability and freedom to learn, discuss, and debate various views on tertiary doctrines is a sign of health and strength for any church or convention. Demands that everybody believe the same thing on tertiery matters is a sign of dysfunction.

Unfortunately, some within the Southern Baptist Convention would like to demand that all Southern Baptists conform to ONE VIEW on every tertiary doctrine. This week one Southern Baptist went so far as to write administrators at our cooperative seminaries and suggest that any professor who taught a different view on "storehouse tithing" than that held by "the majority of Southern Baptists" should be removed from faculty. The International Mission Board trustees removed from prospective missionary service any missionary who believed that "a private prayer language" was a legitimate spiritual gift. Certain Southern Baptist ideologues who believe that a woman cannot teach men in a classroom setting, and wishing to push that singular view on all Southern Baptists who cooperate in the support of our agencies, removed Hebrew professor Dr. Sheri Klouda and Dr. Karen Bullock from their classroom responsibilities at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Southern Baptist pastors and leaders should feel the freedom to hold firm convictions on tertiary issues. They should believe, preach, and defend their views with conviction. But nobody within the SBC should even begin to think about threatening, ridiculing or seeking the removal from leadership or service any Southern Baptist who believes, teaches, or publishes a contrary view. Once we Southern Baptists allow ideologues with intentions of demanding doctrinal conformity to proceed unchecked and unchallenged, our Convention will lose all sense of true Baptist identity. We Baptists, out of all the Christian people in this world, should cherish and protect freedom for our people to hold to various views and interpretations of tertiery Biblical doctrines.

Each of us who care about the future of cooperative mission effort should take a collective stand to prevent the Southern Baptist Convention from becoming the One View Baptist Convention.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Christian Liberal Ideology and Christian Fundamentalist Ideology Are Brothers from the Same Mother

Classical Liberalism and classical Fundamentalism within Christianity, at first glance, seem to have nothing in common. The former makes figurative the historical narrative of Scripture while the latter makes literal the figurative, poetic and apocalyptic language of Scripture. Classical Liberalism denies, or removes from, truth in the sacred text, while classical Fundamentalism affirms all, and adds to, truth in the sacred text. Classical Liberalism turns salvation into something not needed, while classical Fundamentalism turns salvation into something not heeded. Classical Liberalism affirms the Bible to be sufficient for next to nothing, while classical Fundamentalism affirms the Bible to be sufficient for absolutely everything. At this moment, the Southern Baptist Convention is overwhelmed by the latter group (classical Fundamentalists). Grateful as I am that classical Liberalism is not at home within the SBC, it behooves us all to recognize the similarity between classical Liberalism and classical Fundamentalism in order to focus on a Gospel Resurgence within our Convention. We have no hope of the gospel being our priority if we don't see that Liberalism and Fundamentalism share the same DNA.

Both ideologies find it difficult to allow the freedom to express disagreement.

Or, to put it more bluntly, classical Liberalism wants only Liberals to be heard, and classical Fundamentalism wants only Fundamentalists to be heard. Adherents to both ideologies remind me of weak, insecure Chief Executive Officers who can't let their boards ever question their decisions--out of fear they may move in the wrong direction. Of course, the wrong direction is any direction opposite of the views of the CEO. Rather than being open to dissenting views, all dissent is ridiculed and stifled. Stifling and silencing opposing views is as prevalent in the university, institution, classroom or church controlled by classical Liberals as it is by those conrolled by classical Fundamentalists. Since classical Fundamentalism is the struggle within the SBC at this moment, allow me to show the danger of Fundamentalism silencing all dissenting views on various subject matters. We have seen Fundamentalists remove missionaries who disagree over the cessation of spiritual gifts, professors who disagree over women being able to teach men in a classroom setting, and a host of other examples of silencing and removing dissenting viewpoints in the SBC these last few years; but now the SBC is being given another example of the prevailing ideologists clamping down on any opposing view.

An Attempt to Remove Professors Who Do Not Teach Storehouse Tithing

An excellent biblical presentation on the Old Covenant practice of "storehouse tithing" is found in an article entitled “Will a Man Rob God?” This study on tithing in the Old and New Testaments by Andreas J. Kostenberger and David A. Croteau, who at the time the article was published served as professor and Ph.D. student respectively at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is an excellent argument for pastors and teachers to cease their emphasis on "the tithe" and encouraging their members to give "cheerfully, generously, and regularly" as led by the Holy Spirit. Dr. Kostenberger remains a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. David A. Croteau is now a professor in the religion department at Liberty University.

I received information that Southern Baptist pastor Les Puryear, a small church pastor who ran for President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008, contacted the supervisors of these men at the respective seminaries where they are employed. I was told Les was seeking their termination for teaching giving and Christian stewardship in a manner contrary to "storehouse tithing" and the practice of the Jews in the Old Testament. I contacted Les to ask if this was true, and he both called and wrote a written response which he published in the comment section of his blog. He wrote:

-- "Thanks for your email. I returned your phone call as well but your assistant said you were in a staff meeting.

First, I don't know who your seminary contact is, but rest assured that I will raise the issue of private information being leaked to you, to seminary officials.

Second, your source is wrong. I have not asked for anyone to be fired, nor will I ask for anyone to be fired.

Third, I appreciate your concern with tertiary issues, however, I believe that this issue goes beyond tertiary and to a foundational issue of our convention and that is the role of Holy Scripture in the life of the Christian. That is the issue I am addressing. If you think the validity of scripture is a tertiary issue, then we have a true disconnect." --
I took Les at his word and thanked him for not seeking the termination of the professors who disagreed with his views on "storehouse tithing."

But then, after my conversation with Les, I was given excerpts of the letter Les sent. Pay close attention to what Les writes to the seminary supervisors:

1) -- "It has come to my attention that one of your professors has written a document that is available online in which he states that the biblical command to tithe is no longer applicable."

2) "I do not believe that (professor’s name) position is the typical position among SBC pastors. My concern is the influence which (professor’s name) may have upon future pastors who may teach this unbiblical position."

3) "I am completely shocked and surprised that in the years following the Conservative Resurgence, (school name) would employ a professor who teaches that tithing is not necessary."

4) "… do you think it is helpful to the SBC to keep this professor on the faculty of (school name)?" --
I will accept that Les didn't mean what it sounds like he meant. Asking the supervisors of the respective professors "is it helpful to keep this professor on faculty?" may not, at least technically, be a call for the professors' terminations. But let me turn the phrase around to maybe help Les understand the signficance of such a letter from the perspective of those who are being pressured to be silent about their beliefs in order to continue as seminary faculty members. Suppose one of the members of the church where Les pastors wrote to the chairman of his deacons and said the following:

"Do you think it is helpful to our church to keep Pastor Les on the payroll when he is publicly teaching (blank)?"

I would think that the impression given by the letter would be, "Les, stop teaching (blank) or you may be fired!" I honestly don't believe I am the only one who believes the letter Les sent is indicative of an inability for Fundamentalists to handle dissent. There are some people in the SBC who still don't seem to get the problem we are facing as a Convention. The struggle within the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer over the Bible. We are in as much trouble today as we were years ago when Southern Baptists were shouting "Liberalism! Liberalism! We must throw out the Liberals!" Though some doubt the extent of Liberalism within the SBC in the late 1970's, there can be no doubt the spread of Fundamentalism in the SBC in the early 2010's. We have substituted one ideology for another ideology--and the brother of the former has the same DNA.

Both can't stand dissent or disagreement.

Well, if we threw out adherents to the Liberal ideology in 1979, then we better get ready to throw out the adherents to the Fundamentalist ideology of the present or apologize for what was done to the people we Southern Baptists called "liberals" in the late 1970's.

In His Grace,


Monday, February 08, 2010

Lukewarm Churches Are Those That Neither Heal Nor Refresh

I believe one of the most misunderstood passages in Revelation comes from the words of Jesus as He speaks to the church at Laodicea saying, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16). Most Christian teachers who speak on this passage compare people being "hot" to being on fire for the things of God, and those who are "cold" to being calloused and cold toward the things of God. Of course, "the things of God" are usually made to mean those matters important to the preacher or teacher. These Christian leaders then conclude with an encouragement that God hates "lukewarm Christians," and if the listeners won't get on fire about serving God and getting "sold out" to Him, then they might as well turn their backs on everything associated with God and be "cold" toward spiritual things and go to hell. God likes us either "hot" or "cold," but He can't stand lukewarm Christians. The remainder of the teaching time is usually used by the teachers of this text to get the hearers to "recommit," or "to be more active in the church," or "to repent of not doing enough for God."

That is such an unfortunate interpretation of a beautiful text. The people at Laodicea knew exactly what Jesus was saying to their church. Laodicea was a city situated at the crossroads of the aquaduct system of Rome. Aquaducts were open, above ground troughs that carried the water throughout Asia Minor. Fifteen miles north of Laodacia was the Roman city of Hierapolis where people from all over came for the healing found in the hot water springs of that city. Ten miles east of Laodacia was the Roman city of Colossae where the incredibly cold springs brought refreshment to weary travelers on their way to other regions of the world. Both Hierapolis and Colossae sent their water to Laodacia via aquaduct, but the cold water of Colassae and the hot water of Hierapolis became lukewarm water--good for nothing--upon arrival at Laodicea. With this knowledge, "cold" in the context of 1st Century Rome and Jesus' letter to Laodicea represents something "good," not "evil."

So what Jesus was saying to the people of Laodecia was simple, yet profound:

"I want you to be like the "hot" water that comes from the springs at Hierapolis. That is, I want you to be a people who bring healing to those hurting, wounded people that come your way. I also want you to be like the "cold" water that comes from Colossae. Be a people who bring refreshment to those who are tired, weary and full of despair. As it is, you are now neither "hot" nor "cold." Those who come into your midst find neither healing nor refreshment. I know your works. They are "lukewarm" and good for nothing. As it is, I spit you out of my mouth.
Might I propose that churches and church leadership that bring neither healing nor refreshment to sinners are "poor," "blind," and "naked?" Might it also be true that churches who work hard to build an empire but lose sight of helping those who are spiritually wounded, oppressed and needy are "miserable and wretched?" I personally think this is the proper intepretation of Jesus' words to the church at Laodicea.

How do we know if we are a people that bring either healing or refreshment to sinners who come in contact with us? I think Paul Burleson gives us a keystone in his post The Kind of Group To Which I Belong on how to measure our success in this matter.

In His Grace,


Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Place of Worship for Wiccans and Witches at the Air Force Academy

Jeff Rogers, a friend and former member of Emmanuel, has sent me the following information. He is employed by the United States Air Force and lives in Colorado Springs, CO. He tells me that the Air Force Academy has now provided a “worship circle” for wiccans, and pagans. They call themselves “Neo-Pagans” but there is nothing new about paganism. The place of worship is being called the “Stonehenge of the Rockies”. Links to internet articles below the picture

See Fox News and The US Air Force Military News for additional information. We've come a long way since the days of our Founding Fathers.

In His Grace, Wade

The Wisdom of Leading by Example Rather than By Denigrating Opponents Personally

There is much to really like about Sarah Palin. Her values, her charisma, and her outside the beltway background makes her politically attractive to many. Whether she has a future in national politics is yet to be seen, but Saturday night she gave all of us in leadership a valuable lesson. According to the Huffington Post, Palin "mocked" President Obama for using teleprompters in speeches, even to students in school. Yet, Palin herself would often glance at her hand where she had written several notes as talking points for her speech. The words "Energy", "Tax" and "Lift American Spirits" are clearly visible. Sarah Palin will weather the criticism that comes her way from her faux pax Saturday night, but the lesson that seems evident to me is that one would be wise to build support on the basis of clear enunciation of principles rather than denigrating an opponent's personal idiosycrasies (like using a teleprompter). If an opponent is to be challenged, let it be on matters of principle. All of us have personal idosyncrasies. When we build support by mocking our opponents personal habits, we invite scathing criticism of our own. Again, it seems to me that civil discourse and discussion should lead us down the path where we only point out the differences of our opponents policies and principles, choosing to leave out our observations of his or her perceived personal faults. What's the difference between attacking another's policies rather than his or her personal idiosyncrasies? The former seems to lead to effective and needed debate on the issues, the latter to personal ridicule and denigration of other people. Of course, Sarah Palin has been the recepient of the latter by those who oppose her since she was thrust into the national limelight. I have not heard her speak often, but I am hoping that her advisers and speech writers will not lead her down the same path the liberals have taken when it comes to denigrating her personally. She has enough material on policy issues alone to build a huge support base. All of us who comment on blogs, or lead others, would do well to simply and clear enunciation our principles rather than personally denigrating those who disagree with us.

In His Grace, Wade