Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Cooperative Missions and the Great Commission Resurgence

Reaching the people of North America with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been a primary purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention since its beginning in 1845. Over the last 150 years and more, Southern Baptists have been working together to evangelize and plant churches throughout this continent.

Of course, reaching North America is a far larger task in terms of both geography and population than it was in 1845 – and far more complex as well.  Looking to the future, Southern Baptists must make the adjustments that will focus our work in order to make maximum impact on this land.

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force has this very much in mind as we hope to assist Southern Baptists to be even more faithful in this task. With that in mind, we are recommending changes in the assignment of the North American Mission Board and changes in the way the board works with the state conventions.

Beginning in the 1950s, Southern Baptists began working with the state conventions through what were known as “Cooperative Agreements.” These agreements were undoubtedly a good idea, and they served well for many decades. The idea of the Cooperative Agreements is simple – the North American Mission Board (and originally, the Home Mission Board) established agreements with each state convention in order to avoid overlap, confusion, and duplication of work.

So, why is a change needed now? The answer is really very simple – the Cooperative Agreements are now outdated and confusing to Southern Baptists. When the Great Commission Task Force recommends the phased elimination of these agreements, we are calling for the North American Mission Board to rethink how it should relate to the state conventions so that the mission board retains a more focused ministry of assisting Southern Baptist churches to reach North America.

In the year 2009, about $50-million dollars was routed through these Cooperative Agreements. Many of these dollars were spent on the salaries of workers in the state conventions and associations. The monies are allocated and channeled in ways that are difficult to trace, much less to prioritize.

We are calling on the North American Mission Board to focus its energies on reaching North America, with a strategic concentration on unreached and underserved people groups, the cities, and the planting of healthy, reproducing churches. There is simply no way that Southern Baptists can be more effective and faithful in this task if we retain the funding mechanisms of the Cooperative Agreements.

Much of the impetus for this came from leaders of the North American Mission Board and others who have been hard at work in this task. The purpose is not to weaken relationships with the state conventions, nor to cut funding to effective programs and partnerships. The purpose is simple, and well recognized by anyone who leads an enterprise – NAMB must have the ability to focus its energies and strategic mission funds on efforts that truly match the priorities of the board, as it serves Southern Baptists.

We are calling for the North American Mission Board to concentrate on its task assigned by the Southern Baptist Convention – and to do so through the direct appointment of missionaries and church planters who are accountable to NAMB and deployed according to its national priorities. This echoes the call made by the Convention when it adopted the Covenant for a New Century in 1995. This is the necessary next step.

This does not mean that Southern Baptists will abandon pioneer areas and underserved regions. To the contrary, we are calling for even greater efforts in these areas of our mission and work. But we do not believe that Southern Baptists expect NAMB to be primarily engaged in replicating state convention structures and personnel.

The North American Mission Board will continue to work with state conventions, and to do so in partnership. But now is the time for a new partnership structure – a structure that liberates NAMB to do its work, while respecting the important work of the state conventions.

Will this mean change? Of course it will. But this is the kind of change necessary for Southern Baptists to step boldly into the future, and to reach North America with the Gospel. This is not the 1950s, and the challenges of reaching North America in the 21st century will require far more of us than the current structures will allow.

The North American Mission Board and the state conventions both have essential roles to play in this, and we need a new spirit and structure for the partnerships that will take us into the future. With this step, the North American Mission Board will be ready to make the most of these partnerships, and to move into the future with greater flexibility, strategic focus, and stewardship of mission resources.

In other words, we need something better than the Cooperative Agreements if we are to cooperate to the fullest. We are not living in the 1950s, and North America is waiting to see if Southern Baptists are serious about reaching this continent. I believe we are, and I can’t wait to see how the North American Mission Board will lead us in this great task.


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Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Heresy is Not Heroic — Is Crawford Howell Toy a Baptist Hero?

Something deeply disturbing recently appeared at, the Web site for the Baptist Center for Ethics. Tony Cartledge, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and former editor of the Biblical Recorder, recently contributed an article that makes the astounding claim that both Lottie Moon and Crawford H. Toy should be considered “Baptist heroes.”

The article is breathtaking in its argument — that a man who abandoned the Christian faith was “no less devoted to Christ” than Southern Baptists’ most famous missionary.

In “Lottie Moon and Crawford Toy: Two Baptist Heroes,” Cartledge begins by noting the recent news that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth has secured a large collection of memorabilia from the house of Lottie Moon in P’ingtu City, China. Included in the 35,000 pounds of material are remnants of what is believed to be Lottie Moon’s rented home.

Cartledge took issue with comments made by Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, who noted that Lottie Moon was a defender of biblical orthodoxy. Patterson also cited Miss Moon’s breaking of her engagement with Crawford H. Toy over the issue of biblical authority. Indeed, there is ample evidence to suggest that Lottie Moon broke her engagement with Crawford Toy precisely over this question.

Nevertheless, Cartledge writes, “while there is evidence for a broken engagement, I’ve seen nothing to substantiate the motives Patterson attributes to Moon.” That statement seems especially odd given the fact that Cartledge cites an essay by the late Dan Gentry Kent of Southwestern Seminary — an essay that substantiates those motives.

The most troubling section of Cartledge’s article has little to do with Lottie Moon, however. After stating his admiration for Lottie Moon’s “willingness to suffer deprivation because of her devotion to Christ and to missions,” Cartledge then states, “Increasingly, I have also come to admire Crawford Toy, who was no less devoted to Christ, and was willing to suffer rejection by Southern Baptists rather than surrender to the narrow-minded demand that he forgo scholarship and limit his teaching to popularly accepted notions.”

The admiration of liberal Baptists for Crawford Howell Toy should be a matter of both amazement and genuine concern. It is also a telling indication of how many of those identified as “moderates” in the Southern Baptist Convention controversy actually view the Bible. To celebrate Toy is to celebrate his beliefs about the Bible. Those beliefs were not heroic.

Crawford Toy was a man of unquestioned brilliance. As a young man, he came to the attention of John A. Broadus during the time Broadus was pastor of the Charlottesville Baptist Church in Virginia. As a student in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s first class, Toy established his reputation for scholarship. He joined the faculty of Southern Seminary in 1869 as Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Oriental Languages. Prior to his election at Southern Seminary, Toy had studied at the University of Berlin for the years 1866-1868. As later became clear, Toy drank deeply from the wells of theological liberalism and Biblical criticism during his years in Germany.

In his inaugural address as a professor at Southern Seminary, Toy argued that the Bible has both a human and a divine element. As his theological pilgrimage revealed, Toy would use this hermeneutical distinction in order to argue that the Bible contains nothing but truth in its divine element, even as its human element shows all the marks of human fallibility. The human element contains both errors and myths, but the Bible’s “religious thought is independent of this outward form.”

Concerns about Toy’s teaching led to his eventual resignation from Southern Seminary — a resignation pressed upon him by the institution’s founding leaders and accepted by the vast majority of its trustees. Prior to his resignation, Toy had been warned by Broadus that his trajectory was headed toward serious theological error. Broadus also expressed his concern that Toy might eventually become a Unitarian. Eventually, Broadus’s worst fears were realized.

After his resignation from Southern Seminary, Crawford Toy accepted a professorship at Harvard University, where he taught for many years and established a reputation for scholarship. By all accounts, Toy was an esteemed member of the faculty. Nevertheless, Toy’s theological trajectory did indeed take him not only out of the Southern Baptist fellowship, but out of the Christian faith altogether. During his time at Harvard, Toy eventually became a Unitarian — a faith that denies the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. He also accepted an evolutionary understanding of religion which accepted religion as a purely natural phenomenon.

In other words, Toy became what Christians throughout all the centuries of church history and in all the major traditions of the Christian Church would rightly identify as a heretic. He abandoned faith in the deity of Christ and abandoned the Christian faith. Yet, moderates in the SBC controversy often celebrated Crawford Toy as a hero and as a theological martyr for academic scholarship. Tony Cartledge continues this tradition by expressing his admiration for Crawford Toy, going so far as to claim that he “was no less devoted to Christ” than Lottie Moon. “There’s more than one way to be a hero,” Cartledge concluded.

I can only hope that Tony Cartledge either does not understand or does not mean what he writes in this article. To declare Crawford Toy and Lottie Moon to be equally devoted to Christ defies both common sense and theological sanity.

As Old Testament scholar Paul House, now of the Beeson Divinity School, has argued, the roots of Toy’s later heresies were found in the presuppositions of his hermeneutic as he set forth his thought in his inaugural address at Southern Seminary. House does not question Toy’s personal integrity, noting his honesty in presenting his own beliefs. Toy himself recognized that his beliefs changed even during the years he taught at Southern Seminary. The key issue is that Toy’s understanding of the Bible left him completely vulnerable to every heresy and doctrinal aberration. Broadus rightly warned Toy of this danger at the time of his resignation.

We should grieve the example of Crawford Howell Toy and learn from it, even as we are inspired by the courageous and Gospel-centered witness of Lottie Moon. The story of Crawford Howell Toy contains a cautionary message for every Christian teacher, seminary, church, and denomination. The elevation of Crawford Toy to the status of a hero alongside one of Christianity’s most famous Gospel missionaries is both tragic and scandalous. Heresy is not heroic.


For more on Crawford Howell Toy and the history of Southern Seminary, see Gregory A. Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Thursday, November 12, 2009
Younger Pastors and the Hope of a Future

Tonight I spent a really encouraging few hours with a group of younger pastors — men who are being greatly used of God to reach their own generation and far beyond. That experience made me really thankful, and also led me to think about why Southern Baptists should be especially thankful for the rising generation of young pastors.

1. They are deeply committed to the Gospel and to the authority of Scripture. They are men driven by conviction and the ability to “connect the dots” theologically. They understand the threat of theological liberalism and want nothing of it. They love the Gospel and have a firm grip on it. They are animated by a biblical theology that brings them joy and grounds them in truth.

2. They love the church. They have resisted the temptation to give up on the church or to be satisfied with a parachurch form of ministry. They love people, love the church, and see the Body of Christ in terms of God’s redemptive purpose. They like the gritty work of the ministry and are not afraid. They understand the joy of authentic Christian community and they give their lives to it. They are recovering a biblical ecclesiology in its fullness. They affirm and practice church discipline. They see the glory of God in an inter-generational congregation of believers growing into faithfulness together.

3. They are gifted preachers and teachers. They rightly divide the Word of Truth and they make no apology for preaching the Bible. They are dedicated to expository preaching and they actually know what that means. They may not use pulpits, but they do have something important to say when they get before a congregation.

4. They are eager evangelists. They are driven by an urgency to see lost people come to know Jesus and become both believers and disciples. They are innovative in methodology and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They affirm that Jesus is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and they know that there is no other Gospel that saves.

5. They are complementarians who affirm the biblical roles for men and women in both the church and the home. They love God’s gift of marriage and the blessing of children, and they make clear that Christian discipleship requires faithfulness in marriage, family, parenthood, sexuality, and they embrace the Bible’s teaching concerning the roles of men and women. They motivate younger men to embrace God’s plan for their lives and lead. They talk openly about their joy in their wives and children. They change diapers.

6. They are men of vision. They apply intelligence and discernment to the building up of the church and the cause of the Gospel. They see and seize opportunities. They are planting and building churches that glorify God by reaching the world, preaching the Gospel, and changing lives. They are innovators and churchmen. They love a challenge. They would be embarrassed to aim low.

7. They are men of global reach and Great Commission passion. They long to see the nations exult in Christ. They know nothing of a world with fixed borders and nationalistic aims. They eagerly send, go, and give. They refuse to let their congregations fixate on themselves. They look at unreached people groups and hear the call.

8. They are men of joy. To be with them is to sense their joy and their lack of cynicism. They are not interested in complaining about the church. They are planters and fixers. They scratch their heads as they look at many denominational structures and habits, but they have not given up.

Most denominations now look to the younger generation and wonder if there will be any pastors, or if the younger pastors will love the Gospel, preach the Word, and commit themselves to the church and the Great Commission. Southern Baptists are now blessed to look at the rising generation of pastors and see so much that should bring satisfaction, hope, and joy. The younger you go in the Southern Baptist Convention, the more conviction you discover. There is reason for great hope.

I go to bed tonight having been encouraged by my time with these young pastors. I get to see this rising generation every day on the campus of Southern Seminary. I also know that none of this would be happening here if a generation of SBC pastors and leaders had not fought the good fight and recovered this denomination for the cause of truth, the authority of the Bible, and the furtherance of the Gospel.

All this will send a man to a thankful sleep.


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