Archives For Commentary

What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 16, 2019

Key issues in culture

IB Media Team Report

Gaining ground on old divides
The last few years have seen an increase in the number of public conversations Baptists are having about race. Sparked in large part by shootings of unarmed black men by law enforcement, churches have been confronted by an urgent question: How does the Bible call us to respond, both in the short-term and going forward?

In 2018, several state conventions answered by adopting resolutions on racial harmony. Missouri Baptists denounced the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined a freed slave was not an American citizen. In Charleston, S.C., South Carolina Baptists held one session of their annual meeting in the African-American church where nine people were killed by a self-proclaimed white supremacist in 2015. The meeting’s theme, “Building Bridges,” spoke to the convention’s commitment to healing racial divides.

In Illinois, IBSA President Adron Robinson urged Baptists in the state to overcome “growing pains” and feelings of superiority that can result in division. “Salvation has never been about race,” he preached, “but it’s always been about grace.”

Especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, conversations around race tend to land on leadership. Are SBC committees and trustee boards truly representative of the entire SBC family, when recent estimates show about one-fifth of SBC churches have non-Anglo majority memberships?

SBC leadership made an effort last year to increase minority representation on boards and committees. Another key area to watch in 2019: the filling of presidential vacancies at four Southern Baptist entities.

Debate raises larger questions
At face value, “social justice” doesn’t read like a particularly controversial term. It can ruffle feathers in church life, though, especially when connected to a social gospel that downplays repentance.

After the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission convened an April conference commemorating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., some Baptists expressed their opposition to social justice causes they said could water down the gospel. After that, well-known non-Southern Baptist John MacArthur and other leaders released a statement expressing concern “that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

Baptist reaction to the statement was mixed. With race and gender poised to remain key areas of challenge for the forseeable future, the opportunity for churches is to dive deep into a difficult question: How do we stay biblically faithful and still engage our community, and the larger culture?

Faith in peril
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world, according to watchdog group Open Doors. On average, 255 are killed every month, 160 are imprisoned, 104 are abducted, and 66 churches are attacked.

In 2018, more Christians were displaced by violence in Nigeria. In China, the government intensified its crackdown on churches. American awareness of persecution was heightened by the murder of John Allen Chau, a young missionary killed while trying to share the gospel on North Sentinel Island.

Chau’s death sparked a variety of responses among Christians regarding evangelism and appropriate missiology. While his approach was debated, his commitment to take the gospel to a difficult place served as a reminder of the call to pierce darkness with the light of Christ.

In letters before their arrests in early December, Chinese church leaders Li Yingqiang and Wang Yi encouraged their church to remember the words of Paul and rejoice in the midst of persecution, and not to count it strange. The letters also assured the church that “civil disobedience” is acceptable in order to “never stop testifying to the world about Christ.”

Their words, and Chau’s example, challenge American Christians to pray for the persecuted and to take a new look at their own calling in Christ.

What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 10, 2019

Key issues in politics

IB Media Team Report

Will the church embrace immigrants?
After illegal border crossings declined in 2017 to a more than 40-year low, the numbers began climbing again in 2018. This included a record-setting number of people from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico traveling in September in a caravan toward the border.

Earlier in 2018, when the Trump administration attempted to deter immigration, migration declined. The government’s zero-tolerance policy ramped up criminal prosecution of anyone entering the United States illegally. But when 3,000 children were separated from their arrested parents, the policy came under attack, including a public letter of protest written to the administration by evangelical leaders.

“As Christians, we should share the heart of Jesus for refugees and others imperiled,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Those escaping violence and persecution in Honduras and elsewhere bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and compassion.”

An executive order officially halted family separations in June, but immigration policy is still in limbo, a fact highlighted by a December court decision that grants those crossing the border illegally the right to seek asylum in the U.S. With its current trajectory, migration is expected to grow in 2019—increasing the challenge for the church to offer a biblical response to an increasingly volatile problem.

Is Pence courting evangelicals?
With the first Trump term at its midpoint, several questions face evangelicals: How do they view the president now, in light of increasing scrutiny over his ethical and legal behaviors and the pending special counsel’s report? And, in contrast to Trump, how do evangelicals feel about Vice President Mike Pence?

Self-described as both evangelical and Catholic, Pence has managed to stay above the fray mostly, while appealing to Republicans’ traditional faith-base. “We know that what you do in the ministries of your churches make an extraordinary difference in the life of our nation…” Pence told Southern Baptists in June. “You’re the cornerstone, not just of your communities but, in so many ways, of our country.”

Some wonder if Pence has his own presidential ambitions. In May, the New York Times reported while “[the President is] mostly uninterested in the mechanics of managing a political party” his “supremely disciplined running mate has stepped into the void.”

The Times also noted that while the two previous Vice Presidents “have played important roles maintaining the political coalitions of their ticket-mates, neither man wielded Mr. Pence’s independent influence over an administration’s political network and agenda,” referring in part to his networking with evangelicals on Trump’s behalf—and perhaps his own.

New justices differ on key issues
In a year that saw a vicious, partisan fight over a U.S. Supreme Court nominee with a pro-life record, many were surprised by that new justice’s decision in a life-related case.

The Court announced Dec. 10 it would not review decisions by lower courts in Kansas and Louisiana that require Medicare to remove Planned Parenthood as a patient provider. Controversial new Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined more moderately conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and liberal justices in refusing to consider the lower court rulings.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s previous Court pick, joined conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in filing written dissents of the High Court’s decision. Kavanaugh’s move has caused many to speculate that he may be a more moderate influence on the Court than originally thought.

In the nearly three months since Kavanaugh joined the Court, he and Gorsuch have differed on rulings concerning abortion, immigration, and the environment, USA Today reported. “There’s a pattern here that you can’t ignore,” Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice, told the newspaper. “It corresponds with our prediction for Kavanaugh, which is that he would be more like Roberts.”

Written by the IB Media Team for the 1/1/19 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 7, 2019

Key issues for the Southern Baptist Convention

IB Media Team Report

A season for reinvention
There’s no time in living memory when there have been so many vacancies at the top of key SBC entities. The election of Paul Chitwood to the presidency of the International Mission Board in November fills but one of five vacant posts. Two seminaries (New Orleans and Southwestern), the Executive Committee, and LifeWay Christian Resources are all engaged in president searches right now.

There was a period of turnover after World War II that stretched over several years, and, of course, the Conservative Resurgence that swapped out leaders and philosophies of SBC entities over more than a decade. But this shifting of leadership gears represents the greatest change in the shortest time in living memory.

What is the effect of all that change in executive leadership?

In any organization, changes at the top mean changes in philosophy and style, the departure of some second-tier leaders and rearrangement of others, and—in general—a season of optimistic uncertainty.

People are glad there’s a new leader but unsure where that leaves them, and they are wondering about the new direction of the organization.

Multiply that times five, and the ripple effect is felt across the Convention.

If we consider the last round of changes at the top of the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and LifeWay—and how long it took for the new leaders and their new plans to settle in—the SBC as a whole may be looking at two or three years of choppy water.

Making room at the table
Questions surrounding women in the church came into sharp relief in 2018 on the heels of #Metoo. Southern Baptists struggled through their own version of the movement, resulting in the termination of a seminary president and public investigations of pastors and missionaries accused of sexual abuse. Amid the scandals, women leaders denounced abuse and also prescribed preventive measures for churches and pastors.

In “A Letter to My Brothers” in May, Bible teacher Beth Moore called out misogyny of any kind among believers in Christ. “One of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life,” Moore wrote, is “Scripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women” among some key Christian leaders. “It was only the excuse. Sin was the reason. Ungodliness.”

Moore and others, including Texas Bible teacher Jen Wilkin, have called both men and women to more fervent Bible literacy, and to a reexamination of how men and women are called to build the church—together.

“The women e-mailing me regularly are not worried about winning the pulpit,” Wilkin wrote in 2015. “They are looking for leadership trajectories for women in the local church and finding virtually nothing. They watch their brothers receive advocacy and wonder who will invite them and equip them to lead well.”

As the dust settles on an unsettling movement, Baptists and other evangelicals still have questions to answer about what it really means for men and women to be made in the image of God, and treat each other as such.

The Greear Effect
The election of David Platt, then 35, to head the International Mission Board in 2014 prompted this question, but his departure this year means we have to ask it of another young leader, J.D. Greear, instead: What will be the impact of this young pastor on senior leadership in the SBC?

It’s probably too early to talk about his legacy, since he’s only six months into his first term as SBC president. It won’t be until the nominations for denomination committees are made in June that the presumed influence of Greear’s Reformed theology—as implemented by his likeminded peers—will be known. And we can only assume, based on a few comments he’s made, that his reluctance to embrace populist U.S. politics will mean an annual meeting with less public support for the Trump administration.

So far, we have only seen some public statements in support of Cooperative Program, and in November, a challenge to raise giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions by $10 million, surpassing IMB’s goal of $160 million. If giving reaches $170 million, Greear has pledged to engage in some kind of stunt in celebration.

The nature of the stunt is unknown, but Baptist Press reports, “suggested stunts include singing a duet with newly elected IMB President Paul Chitwood, arm wrestling Chitwood, performing a Broadway number, taking a pie in the face, and sporting a mullet at the SBC annual meeting.”

Signs are the Greear Effect seems, at this point, more youth-ministry than missional in nature. With four SBC entities still seeking head leadership (LifeWay, Executive Committee, and Southwestern and New Orleans seminaries), perhaps it will be in his second one-year term (if reelected) that Greear really makes his mark on behalf of a younger generation.

Written by the IB Media Team for the 1/1/19 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

In all circumstances

Lisa Misner —  December 27, 2018

By Adron Robinson

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, ESV).

We cannot control what happens to us in life, but we can control how we respond to what happens to us. The Apostle Paul knew this to be true, so he gives us three ways to live a thankful life.

First, be joyful. The apostles did not encourage believers to live in denial. We are never to deny the fact that trials, tribulations, and adversities bring us pain and grief, but the child of God must recognize that in the midst of trials, tribulations, and adversities, the presence of God through the power of the Holy Spirit gives us reason for joy.

We can rejoice despite our circumstances because God is in control!

Second, be prayerful. The second command to pray is the foundation for the first command of joy and the last command to be thankful. Paul knows that in order to obey either we have to be praying people. Oftentimes our circumstances can cause us to abandon prayer, but if you don’t feel joy, pray! If you don’t see anything to be thankful about, pray! Let nothing stop you from praying!

Finally, Paul tells us to be thankful. It is the will of God that Christians be thankful, but we aren’t commanded to be thankful for everything, we are commanded to give thanks in everything. We cannot control our circumstances, but whatever the circumstance, we have reasons to thank God.

PRAYER PROMPT: Father, we thank you for your promise never to leave us or forsake us. And because of your presence we can be thankful in all things. Thank you for salvation, thank you for life eternal, and thank you for the gift of today. Help us, Lord, to live thankful lives, being grateful for all that you have given us through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Adron Robinson is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

The gift of presence

Lisa Misner —  December 24, 2018

By Nate Adams

Not long ago, my wife, Beth, and I were discussing whether or not to try and attend a wedding to which we had been invited. It was a considerable distance from our home and required a couple of nights in a hotel, driving and meal expenses, and at least one vacation day.

Though we both wanted to go, and felt we should, I found myself asking, “I wonder if the couple would rather have the money that we would spend on travel as a wedding gift?”

It’s not the first time I’ve asked that kind of question, and it probably won’t be the last. I remember international missionaries once telling me that a church had spent $50,000 to send a large mission team halfway around the world to serve with them for a few days.

They were grateful for the help and encouraged by the fellowship. But they also shared with me candidly, “We couldn’t help but think how much more we could have accomplished here with $50,000 if they had stayed home and just sent the money.”
Experiences like these underscore the sometimes difficult question, “How much is someone’s physical presence worth?” Or, to state it more casually and commonly, “Shall I go, or just send something?”

And of course, when the question presents itself at the time of someone’s death, it often has the additional pressure of urgency, since there is often little advance notice and little time to make a good decision about going. I still remember fondly and with great appreciation the people who traveled distances to attend my dad’s funeral. And I remember a funeral from almost 40 years ago that I still regret missing today.

How much is someone’s physical presence worth? It’s an excellent, spiritual question to ponder during this Advent season. Could Jesus have just “sent” the gift of salvation, without coming personally? Could he have dispatched someone else to the cross, or was it supremely, eternally important that he be there himself?

I think we miss something incredibly important if we celebrate salvation without celebrating incarnation. On that holy night when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he chose not just to be present with us, but to become one of us. Through Jesus, God entered in to our condition not just with sympathy, but with immeasurable sacrifice.

At Christmas, we celebrate God’s love and amazing grace in choosing to become human, in choosing to embrace mortality for the sake of our immortality. How much was the physical presence of Jesus worth? It was worth everything. It was worth our eternal lives.

By the way, eventually my wife and I did decide to attend that distant wedding. We decided to do so after remembering some of the older adults that traveled distances to attend our own wedding. We remembered wondering, at the time, why they went to such trouble. But now, decades later, we remember very few of their wedding gifts. But we still remember their presence.

There’s a worship song that says, in part, “I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sins upon that cross.” That’s certainly true. And yet I wonder if we don’t reflect more on the gift of salvation than we do the very presence of “God with us” in the incarnation.

As great as the gift of salvation is, that gift is simply an expression of how much God loves us and is willing to sacrifice to be with us, both now on earth and throughout eternity in heaven. The value of his very presence eclipses even the value of his wonderful gift.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

By J.D. Greear

What do we mean when we talk about the “favor of God”?

The house you’ve always wanted goes into foreclosure and you buy it for a steal. Your kids bring their report cards home and it’s straight A’s. You find out that a long lost relative left you a tidy sum of money.

Many people may think that God’s favor is something like that. When life seems to break your way, it’s easy to think, “God is really smiling down on me now. He must really love me.”

When we turn to the New Testament, though, we get a splash of cold water. The favor of God doesn’t always line up with great circumstances. Case in point: Mary.

When the angel Gabriel shows up to announce the first Christmas to Mary in Luke 1, he tells her twice that she has God’s favor. But her situation sure doesn’t look like it.

Gabriel has just told her she is going to be pregnant out of wedlock in a culture where this isn’t just frowned upon but could have been punishable by death. The man she loves, Joseph, is probably not going to understand the situation or believe her bizarre explanation and might leave her. She’s already poor, and if Joseph rejects her, she’ll be destitute. She might have to beg for a living.

So here’s Mary — financially insolvent, with a ruined reputation, her most important relationship in tatters.

Maybe you can relate if you sense no joy or good cheer this Christmas season, but dread. Your life doesn’t look like one “blessed and highly favored.” For you, Christmas only reminds you of all the good you don’t have in your life.

If that’s you, then Mary’s circumstances are particularly relevant, because she supposedly has the favor of God in the midst of all her mess. How?

Because a Son is being born to her — a Son, the angel says, whose name will be “Jesus,” meaning that He will save His people from their sins. Like all of us, Mary’s main problem was a severed relationship with God. Jesus was coming to restore that.

But Jesus was coming to do more than merely save from sin. Gabriel points out that He’ll also rule from the throne of David (Luke 1:32). It’s easy to miss how big that promise is. David’s throne symbolized the restoration of worldwide peace and blessing — a condition called shalom.

Think of the promise in Joel where the prophet says, “I will restore the years that the swarming locusts have eaten.” Not just forgive, but restore. Bodies destroyed by disease will leap and run in perfect health. Reputations that have been ruined will be exonerated. Relationships torn apart by death will be mended, as we see, in Tolkien’s words, “all the sad things come untrue.”

We know that God will do this because He did this with Jesus. At the cross, Jesus went through pain that looked like a defeat. But the Father used that pain for our good. He reversed it and turned the devil’s strongest attack into an opportunity to redeem us and restore the world.

Mary isn’t the only one with a miraculous birth in Luke 1. Her relative Elizabeth also gets a visit from Gabriel, and even though she’s barren, she is promised a child. Barrenness has never been easy, but in those days it would have been devastating, the biggest disappointment a woman could imagine. The lead-up to Jesus’ birth includes an elderly, barren woman getting pregnant because the birth of Jesus is God’s promise to erase our deepest disappointments.

What that means is we don’t have to be frantic if we don’t get to everything on our “bucket list.” Many of us live with such an urgency to experience everything that life becomes worthless if we don’t. It’s not the glib stuff, like not seeing the Grand Canyon, that really leads us to disappointment. It’s not getting married, or having children, or being financially comfortable, or overcoming an illness. What we need to see is that in the resurrection, under the reign of the Son of David, every disappointment will be fulfilled.

We have pain; He will reverse it. We have disappointment; He will erase it. We yearn for justice; He will restore it. When we go through seasons of racial strife in our country, many people start to ask, “Will there ever be justice?” Or maybe the yearning for justice is more personal: You’ve been wronged and just can’t get past it. You want to cry out like the psalmist, “Will the wicked go unpunished?”

Unless we look to God’s perfect justice — instead of our judicial system or our own efforts — we’ll always be bitter. Perfect justice will be restored but only when Jesus rules from David’s throne. That truth gives us the hope to continue working for justice now while enduring the injustice in the world.

In the end, that’s what God’s favor is all about. It’s what Christmas is all about — hope. God’s favor isn’t always easy. Sometimes, as with Mary, it brings with it a lot of difficulties. But it’s always good because it brings us a hope in God’s promises and an assurance that His presence will be with us.

J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

By Eric Reed

Office hours signWhen I was in seminary in the early Bronze age, there was a lot of talk about how pastoral ministry was changing. The church growth movement had taken hold, and many aspiring pastors seemed called to build great seeker-sensitive churches like one of the two model megachurches in suburban Chicago and near Los Angeles.

The motivational leaders of the day told us how these pastors weren’t shepherds any longer; they were ranchers. In order to build a great church, the lead pastor (also a new term at the time) must give to others the time-consuming work of congregational care while focusing their own attention on leadership, prayer, and preparation of the Word.

That sounded biblical to me.

The first deacons were called so the apostles would be freed for their preaching and teaching ministries (Acts 6:3-4). And Paul was clear in his teaching to the leaders at Ephesus about setting up their ministry: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

It’s time to recover the lost art of pastoral care.

That message found a ready audience among seminary students who envisioned fielding a team of highly skilled deacons or elders to visit the hospitals and console the shut-ins. The saints would do the work; the pastors would prepare the saints and dispatch them. And when the budget allowed, we would all add one or two of those new degreed Christian counselors to the staff with expertise to handle the hard cases.

It was a beautiful picture of how it ought to work. Here’s the problem: It didn’t really work.

A philosophy of ministry that “frees” the pastor from contact with church members in their time of need ignores the model of Jesus himself, and it deprives the pastor of his best opportunity to bring meaningful spiritual help when people are hurting.

Jesus chose the word “shepherd” to describe himself. And in his teaching on “the good shepherd” delivered just before his death, the Lord’s heartfelt concern for his flock and his personal contact with them is clear. Jesus might have chosen other words, but he didn’t declare himself the chief steward or centurion or theologian. He didn’t call himself “lead” anything. He chose the simplest word and the humblest position to describe his personal work—and ours. The word often translated “pastor” is poimen in Greek; it means, literally, shepherd.

In separating the sheep from the goats, the outstanding characteristics of those closest to Jesus and most like him are these: They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, housed the stranger, and visited the sick and imprisoned.

Gone are the days when people stayed in the hospital for a week or two, and the pastor was expected to visit every day. Even major surgeries are outpatient or overnight events. And whether it’s in major metro areas or distant rural places, travel takes time—sometimes several hours roundtrip. People don’t have the same expectations for pastoral care today that they did a generation or two ago—until they really need it.

Even those who say they don’t want the attention will say afterward they were blessed by a visit from the pastor. These days, it’s one of those things you don’t know you need until you need it.

The recent news that Baby Boomers are returning to church is a two-edged sword. Hooray, they’re coming home! But there’s a lot of them, and they’re getting old. All these seniors will need spiritual care, and I think in a lot of cases, the pastorate is out of practice.

We’ve had the church-growth generation of ranchers—skilled in management and motivation. That has given way to a generation marked by a high view of theology, and their role as chief discipler and guardian of truth. What I hope we see next is the return of pastors, the men of God called to be shepherd, who enjoy caring for the sheep.

I remember during my first full-time ministry position, we got a call at the church office. A couple had suffered a miscarriage and they wanted the pastor to come to their house. The pastor was new at that church, a recent seminary graduate, and I was the youth minister. “Come, go with me,” he said. “I’m not sure what to do.”

When we got there, the couple cried. My new-to-ministry co-worker hunted for appropriate Bible verses and offered consoling prayers; I handed them Kleenex. Mostly we just sat there with our sorrowing friends. That’s all they wanted. Just be there.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.