Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Al Mohler and the Nemesis of Liberal Theology

Yesterday, Robert Parham had a very good article on the financial problems that many seminaries and divinity schools find themselves in right now, particularly with our nation's economic crisis. You can find the article here:

Parham called attention to an earlier blog written by Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY in which Mohler essentially argued that the decline of mainline denominations and seminaries is due to the liberal theology embraced by such institutions. Here is the link to Mohler's blog:

Mohler echoes a familiar theme here. During the takeover of the SBC by the Fundamentalists, the mantra was always that the SBC was in danger of embracing liberal theology and if it did so, it would decline. Therefore, the Fundamentalists needed to "save" the SBC. Well, they saved it all right! Now, the SBC itself admits that it is in decline. See the story here:

Mohler wrote his blog in April, 2008. In December, 2008, Southern Seminary announced that it expected a budget shortfall of nearly 9%. Just a few weeks ago, Southern announced a layoff of 35 administrative staff positions.

Southern Seminary is not the only theological school in the SBC fold with financial problems. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is encountering a financial crisis of sorts in which the president has announced that he will take a 10% salary cut and require faculty members to follow with a 5% decrease. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, is cutting approximately $4 million from its budget and has closed the child care center on campus due to budget shortages.

Granted, the decline of the stock market and our nation's financial crisis have contributed to the crises that these schools are faced with. However, I believe that if I were the president of Southern Seminary, I'd write a blog retracting my earlier argument that the decline of mainline denominations and seminaries is due to an embrace of liberal theology. Perhaps there are other factors that need to be examined.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bibb County Georgia Public Schools and the Inauguration

It seems that when President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in as president tomorrow, there will be some school children in Bibb County, Georgia who will not be allowed to see it. There have been enough parents complaining about teachers' plans to have the children watch the swearing-in ceremony and Obama's inauguration speech that the school system is going to provide alternative learning activities for those children whose parents object. The story listed below indicates that the parents were concerned that seeing a new president sworn in and giving his inaugural address to the nation is not and "educational activity."

My friend, Amy Morton, in Georgia first blogged about this. You can see her blog here:

Part of me is suspicious about this. Is the concern of the parents really that the activity is not "educational" enough? Or, is there perhaps a bit of racism in the background? I would like to think that this is not racially motivated. But this is Georgia after all. And racism is still alive all over the nation, but especially is it still rampant in the deep South.

But perhaps it is best to think better of these parents. So, the concern that viewing the inauguration of a new president is not and "educational" activity seems to me to be very wrong. Tomorrow's swearing in of Barack Obama is historic. On the steps of the nation's capital, built by slave labor, the first African-American president will be sworn in. It is as historic as watching Neil Armstrong take that "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" step in
1969. In fact, it represents a cultural shift of epic proportions in our nation's history. That may make it even bigger than Armstrong's leap.

So, I hope that those good citizens of Bibb County, Georgia who are objecting to this activity will reconsider and allow their children to witness this historic moment tomorrow.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Dinosaur's Death

I've always been intrigued by the mystery of what happened to dinosaurs millions and millions of years ago. Did they become extinct as a result of some sudden cataclysm? Or, was their extinction a gradual process? I am not a scientist or the son of a scientist so I'll leave the speculation to my colleagues in the science department.

For some time now I have said to my Baptist history classes that the SBC is a dinosaur and it doesn't know it. We can now see that the SBC is truly in decline both in numbers as well as in giving. The SBC will never again be what it once was. Thank God!

The "Controversy" has taught many of us that God's tent is much, much bigger than Southern Baptists. The Baptist tent is bigger (Freewill Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Candadian Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Nationial Baptists, Hispanic Baptists, etc. etc.) But, beyond that, the Christian tent is larger than just Southern Baptists. I think it took the Controversy over the last 30 years to teach many Southern Baptists this valuable lesson. Sadly, however, there are still many, many Southern Baptists who just don't get it.

Robert Parham, director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has a great editorial today on analyzing the slow death of the SBC. It is worth the read. Thanks Robert for a great piece! I include it below:

New Leadership and Theological Transformation Might Reverse SBC Decline

Robert Parham
Reversing the Southern Baptist Convention’s decline and loss of influence will demand new leadership and theological transformation, two very unlikely possibilities in the next decade. The SBC’s numerical slide and besmirched image took some 30 years to achieve and cannot be undone by a quick makeover.

After a decade-long internecine war, fundamentalists defeated the feckless moderates and took control in the early 1990s of SBC agencies and seminaries. Their successful campaign was built on two promises.

One promise was that the SBC would enter a golden age of growth when Southern Baptists read the Bible literally and had conservative positions on issues like women and abortion.

Fundamentalists believed the decline in mainline Protestantism resulted from liberalism, such as the critical study of the Bible and ordination of women. A conservative worldview was the best defense against decline.

If the first promise was theological, the second promise was organizational. Fundamentalists claimed that conservatives were neither hired at seminaries nor appeared on convention programs. They said they only wanted parity in positions.

Parity soon turned to purity, driving out those who were neither theological conservatives nor supporters of the Christian Right.

Without a counterbalancing force, fundamentalists quickly marched into an anti-everything posture. The SBC launched a boycott against Disney. It adopted a faith statement against women working outside the home. One seminary president made anti-Catholic statements on national TV, saying the Pope preached a false gospel. Leaders made anti-public school declarations, calling for an exodus of Christian students from public education. Others implied that the Democratic Party was against God.

Purity and negativity had dire consequences. Churches backed away from the SBC; even conservative churches dropped Baptist from their name. SBC-affiliated state conventions turned toward their own priorities. Fearing fundamentalist control, Baptist universities, such as Belmont University, sought autonomy. Attendance at the annual SBC meeting plummeted. Attempts to rally Southern Baptists to baptize more converts and to grow churches flopped. The promised golden age never happened.

Even if rank-and-file Southern Baptists had the power to hold accountable those who presided over the denominational fall, reversing the situation would require fundamental theological changes.

Positive growth requires that an authentic inclusivity must replace a rigid exclusivity for women in leadership. Civil ecumenical and meaningful interfaith engagement must supplant arrogant theological purity. A genuine commitment to non-partisanship must be swapped for the claim that God’s Only Party is the GOP.

Finally, reversing the decline would require Southern Baptists to redefine how they determine God’s favor. The current measurement of success is numerical growth, which the SBC does not have, meaning the denomination is out of favor with God, according to the body’s own definition.

A broader theological definition of faithfulness and cultural engagement would go a long way toward reversing decline, something that a new generation of leaders might advance.

Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Requested by the editorial page of the Tennessean, this column appeared on Tuesday, accompanying the newspaper’s own editorial about the decline of the Southern Baptist Convention and another column by Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research.

Copyright © 2002-2008

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Century of the Gideons

As I write this I am sitting in the lobby of my hotel in New York City. I am attending the American Society of Church History winter meeting, which meets every year with the larger American Historical Association. I love NYC. But I also love being in the company of so many historians.

So, with history on my mind, I came across this story. The Gideons are one hundred years old. Here's the story:

The Gideons International is an organization of lay people devoted to distributing Bibles worldwide. I appreciate the fact that it is an effort of laity and not clergy. I have also enjoyed hearing the incredible stories told by Gideons of how the Bible has impacted the lives of those who have at times literally stumbled upon it in a hotel room. Even today, as I checked into my hotel and opened up the desk drawer, there was a Gideon Bible.

And so, here's a word of congratulations to the Gideons for their good work of distributing Bibles around the world for a hundred years.