On Lottie Moon’s 181st birthday

Each year around Thanksgiving, Southern Baptists around the nation are reminded once again of her name. Charlotte Digges (or “Lottie”) Moon’s name has been associated with the annual missions offering taken in December since 1918. She may be the most famous woman in Southern Baptist history. And yet, most of the people who write a check each year to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions have no idea who she was.

I think that’s how she would have preferred it. She didn’t seek fame or notoriety, though she certainly could have. She was born to a wealthy family in Virginia on December 12, 1840. (That’s right. Today would be Lottie’s 181st birthday.) How wealthy was her family, you might ask? She grew up on the “Road of the Presidents”— the old route that passed the homes of James Madison, James Monroe, and Thomas Jefferson. When Thomas Jefferson died — the author of The Declaration of Independence, the second vice-president, the third president of the United States, and the real star of the Broadway musical, Hamilton — when he died, Lottie’s uncle bought Monticello — the famous mansion depicted on the back of the nickel. She grew up playing in the fields and on the estate of a former president.

Despite the fact that young women weren’t encouraged to pursue education beyond a certain point—they were to be prepared for marriage instead— her family’s wealth enabled her to study with tutors on the family plantation before being sent to a girls institute, and then after that to a woman’s college, eventually becoming one of the first women to receive a masters degree in the South. She had studied Greek, Hebrew, and Latin and had become fluent in Spanish and French. John Broadus, who was the pastor of Charlottesville Baptist Church and who would later go on to co-found and serve as the second president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, claimed that she was best-educated and most-cultured woman in the South.

She could have sought to make a name for herself had that been her aim.

Three years before earning her masters degree, however, something in her life had changed. She had been a precocious and rebellious child. Her parents were devout Baptists, but she rejected their faith. When her cousin, Sarah prepared to go to Jerusalem with Lottie’s aunt and uncle as missionaries for the newly-formed Disciples of Christ — a new denomination that was forming as a break from the Baptists in America — Lottie scoffed.

All Christians do is argue, and the Bible is just a storybook. It’s a long way from Virginia to Jerusalem just to waste your time telling people fairy stories!

When classmates at her school noted that she was absent from church one Sunday during the school term, she replied that she was reading Shakespeare while lying on a haystack that Sunday morning. The bard, she believed, was much more to her liking than some dry, dusty ol’ sermon.

But in 1858, she was invited to attend a student revival, and in God’s providence she went for the purpose of making fun of it. But that night, the Holy Spirit would not relent. She was kept awake by a barking dog and discovered that she could not sleep. But the dog wasn’t her biggest problem. She began to worry about her spiritual condition and prayed. That prayer lasted all night. And eventually, she relented and trusted in Christ for salvation.

Lottie wasn’t able to sleep until she had found salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

She was baptized and was immediately drawn to the international missions effort. At that point, Southern Baptists had only ever sent one unmarried woman as a missionary and that had not gone well. In fact, Southern Baptists had determined never to do it again. If she wanted to go to the missions field, it seemed she would first need to marry.

Instead, she rode out the Civil War teaching her younger sister and helping her older sister — one of the first two Southern women to earn a medical degree — tend to wounded soldiers. After the war, she joined the faculty of a school in Kentucky and gave large portions of her income to missions through the Southern Baptist Convention. She taught in Georgia briefly, but in 1872, once the doors were re-opened for unwed women to serve on the mission field, it was only a matter of time before she took her opportunity.

For forty years, she made her home in Tengchow, China, teaching women and girls. But teaching was only her excuse. She wrote:

“Could a Christian woman possibly desire higher honor than to be permitted to go from house to house and tell of a savior to those who have never heard his name? We could not conceive of a life which would more thoroughly satisfy the mind and heart of a true follower of the Lord Jesus.”

Her gift was teaching. Her passion was evangelism — one-on-one, direct personal evangelism. She wrote letters — so many letters — to the president of what was then called the Foreign Mission Board (now the IMB) describing the life of a missionary in a foreign field, detailing the need for more workers, more teachers, more missionaries for the Gospel effort. But the board struggled with funding.

So Lottie took to her pen and wrote to encourage Southern Baptist women to organize mission societies in local churches to help support missionaries. It was her recommendation in 1887 that Christmas be designated as a special time for giving to the foreign missions effort.

“Need it be said, why the week before Christmas is chosen? Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”

The founding of the WMU — the Women’s Missionary Union — in 1888 was, in large part, due to Lottie Moon’s influence through her letters. That year, the first Christmas offering for missions was collected and over $3315 was raised — enough to send 3 new missionaries to China.

Her ministry gives us a helpful insight into the missions effort as a whole. She was studied in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin which were all beneficial in her study of the Bible. She was a gifted linguist in both Spanish and French, which were not necessarily helpful in her learning Chinese, but were beneficial in that she knew how to learn a language. And so, it’s unsurprising that she developed a keen command of the Chinese language that other missionaries and workers on the mission field envied. She become almost obsessed with honoring Chinese customs insofar as they were compatible with Christianity. She understood that the Gospel itself is an offense to the unbelieving. She did not need to be offensive in the manner in which she lived or behaved in their presence. And so she took on a posture of humility.

Along similar lines, she learned to live among the Chinese as the Chinese did. No doubt she had grown up accustomed to a particular way of life in the Virginia plantations, but she disciplined herself in such a way as to survive in primitive conditions among the lower-classes in China. She learned how to keep her composure under threats and confrontations and false accusations.

She exercised regularly in order keep her body strong. She ate a clean and balanced diet. She advocated that missionaries take regular furloughs to prevent burnout or premature death due to ill health and poor conditions and so extend their time on the mission field. The place she served in that particular part of China was known as a killing place. Numbers of missionaries suffered ill health and were taken home or died on the field.

Toward the end of her life, as she gained more influence among other missionaries in China, Lottie Moon cared for many of the missionaries and villagers who struggled out of her own personal expenses. It was a time of war and famine. She never carried much weight on her 4’3” frame, but in 1912, it was discovered that she was silently starving to death and weighed as little as 50 lbs., going without food in order to make sure others had enough. Fellow missionaries arranged for her to be sent home for medical care, but on December 24, 1912 she died in a Japanese harbor.

Had Lottie Moon sought to make a name for herself, she was well-equipped for the task. But her name is remembered specifically because she didn’t seek fame, but instead she was single-minded in one pursuit: “to tell of a savior to those who have never heard his name.”

This echoes the words of Isaiah 26, don’t they?

Yes, Lord, we wait for you in the path of your judgments. Our desire is for your name and renown (Isaiah 26:8, CSB).

More than fortune or fame, our aim and desire is for his name to be on our lips and etched on the hearts of those who have not heard. Whether your neighbors know the name of your church matters little. One hundred years from now, the only thing that matters is where they stand with Jesus. Do they know his name?

I could not offer you a better reason to give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Every penny of every dollar goes directly to the missionaries on the field. One hundred percent of your gift supports men and women who are living in foreign lands declaring the name of Jesus — the only name by which we can be saved — to those who have not heard. What did the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering accomplish last year?

Last year (in the midst of COVID!, mind you), Southern Baptist churches cooperated together and, through their generous giving:

  • sent 422 new missionaries to the field,
  • planted 18,380 new churches,
  • led 144,322 people to salvation in Christ,
  • baptized 86,587 new believers,
  • and shared the Gospel with 769,494 people.

So I want to encourage you to participate this year in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Pray about it. Ask the Lord what he would lead you to give for the sake of the Gospel in places where the name of Jesus Christ is not known.

In light of Lottie Moon’s life, I want to encourage you to participate in the missions effort in your local church. There are men and women and children in the neighborhoods around your church and around your home who do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior. As one of our church members shared with me just a few weeks ago, she told a boy she was going to church and his response was, “What is church?” Yes there is work to be done abroad, but there is work to be done here. That’s why I want to encourage you to continue returning the tithe and investing in the ministries of your local church, but also to be talking to your neighbors, your co-workers, your classmates, and anyone else you come into contact with. Explaining the difference that Jesus has made in your life should come as naturally as your next breath.

I used to think that talking about Jesus would come across as weird. As it turns out, it only came across as weird when I was being weird about it. It should be natural. And it will come more naturally if you’ll just speak freely about him. We find no difficulty speaking about our children or our pets or our favorite sports teams. Our words reveal our affections and our hearts. So speak of Jesus. It’s Christmas. His name is literally in the word. It’s all about Jesus!

Don’t shy away from telling others about the child in the manger. He is the Second Person of the Eternal Triune Godhead. He is the active agent of all creation — the one by whom and for whom all things were created — the one in whom all things are held together. And apart from him not one thing has been made that was made. He added humanity to himself and wrapped himself in flesh and was born, not as the king, but as the child of a young couple for whom there was no room in the inn. He would live a sinless life and die at the hands of sinful men. But in his death, he took the penalty of our sin and nailed it to the cross. He died, but on the third day rose again and ascended to the right hand of the Father. And there he intercedes on behalf of his children and invites every single person to experience forgiveness, redemption, and salvation through faith in him.

A (Very) Short Defense of Close Communion for Baptist Churches

For churches that have adopted the Baptist Faith and Message as their confessional document or statement of faith, there is a simple defense of close communion — the practice of restricting access to the Lord’s Table to those who have been baptized in accordance with Scripture.

Article VII reads as follows:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.

So, the defense consists simply of two lines from article VII.

  • Baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  • It is a prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

That’s it.

For clarification, these same sentiments are expressed in the initial 1925 edition and the 1963 revision.

Now, some may object that our shared confession does not bear the authority of divine Scripture and they would be absolutely correct in that assertion. In fact, the preamble of the confession itself states it most clearly: “the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Confessions are only guides in interpretation, having no authority over the conscience.”

Nevertheless, this confession represents the consensus of Southern Baptists as adopted in 1925, 1963, and 2000. This reality, at the very least, means that Baptists need to take its conclusions seriously and that those holding views contrary to those expressed therein must acknowledge their own views as outside of those most commonly held.

Author’s Note: I have offered a more fully-orbed defense in four parts here.

Ministry in the Dark Winter

It’s common knowledge that the holidays are an especially-sensitive time. As we approach late-November, families wrestle with increased stress and anxiety. Money gets tight. The schedule gets full. The days grow darker and the nights grow longer. For many, the holidays aren’t the most wonderful time of year. Instead, they’re a time of increased stress, anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

And that’s true in years without a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders.

And the very fact that we’re supposed to feel joyous and celebrate, for many, creates an increased dissonance—they feel more stress about feeling stressed, and depressed about feeling depressed. The cycle is as relentless as it is vicious.

In recent conversations and in my own experience, it seems somewhere between 35–40% of congregations are still worshipping at home in order to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Which begs the question:

What are you doing to help them navigate the dark hours of 2020?

How are you ministering to them?

How are you serving them?

How are you protecting them from the encroaching sense of loneliness and despair?

This week, I sent an email to those families that we’ve identified who are worshipping remotely at home and have not yet returned to on-campus worship services. The email was a simple invitation to let us know if they’d like to schedule a time to speak with me via Zoom or the phone. From a pastoral perspective, I want to take the initiative to reach out to those most susceptible to depression.

Here’s the text of the email. If you would find it helpful in your church, please feel free to copy and edit it for your church’s use.

GUEST POST: Preparing for Ministry in a Post-Truth World, Part Two

Having clarified what a post-truth society looks like and addressed some of the particular challenges inherent therein, we must turn our eyes to practical engagement with it.

Prepare for a long-haul

Stamina, energy, and strength are required for ministry in any environment; this doesn’t change when serving in a post-truth culture. At times, the challenges will be similar, but in many (perhaps most cases) very different. In order for one to prevail and endure the discouragements, depressions, difficulties, and desperate situations the strength required must be other-worldly.

Be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might. (Eph 6:10)

Sometimes you will feel as though you have reached the end of your tether.

Having done all, stand firm. (Eph 6:13b)

Ministry was never meant to be a beach on which to sleepily sun yourself; it’s a battleground on which to sacrificially spend yourself. With that in mind, if in or preparing for ministry in a post-truth society, be prepared for long-term investment. Some principles to have in mind:

  • People lack trust, so you must build trust and show yourself trustworthy.
  • People lack truth, so you must expose lies and exhibit truth in word and action.
  • People lack time (or think they do) so you must be flexible with yours for them.

If you desire to see work accomplished in a post-truth environment you must be prepared for an at times uncomfortable long haul experience. Think ultra-obstacle course run as opposed to 100-meter dash.

You will trust people as you desire to be trusted and will have that trust betrayed and brutalised. You will do all you can to expose lies with love and compassion and live out truth only to be rejected or ignored. Other people’s time is precious (how all that time is spent in any meaningful way is questionable), but your time will always be considered as up for grabs. Though you will set boundaries, there will be occasions that you have to suspend those boundaries. You will be used and abused at times, but at the end it will all be worth it.


If you are church planting in a post-truth environment, do not assume anyone you are reaching initially understands—much less accepts—basic Bible beliefs and behaviours. For some, the Bible hasn’t even appeared on their radar.

Assuming Bible knowledge of even the most basic sort in a post truth environment would be like someone assuming Bhagavad Gita knowledge in rural Arkansas (the place of my childhood). Such assumption would be rather foolish and probably fruitless. Unlike Bhagavad Gita devotees, Bible believers—Christ followers—have the responsibility to make the Bible’s truth claims known while calling people to actively trust the same truth claims with their lives.

By how does one go about this?

By preaching.

Paul reasons in his letter to the Romans:

And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? (Rom 10:14)

The message of salvation at the heart of preaching must always be the same and consider that which is of primary importance. Paul reminded the Corinth church of this primary message:

For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3–4)

As people come to faith and as they grow in the faith, then other matters can be addressed and more difficult passages and Biblical concepts expounded. This gradual process is at the heart of disciple making—where a person grows from learning the truth to believing the truth to following the truth to teaching the truth themselves (Heb 5:12).

It being clear that preaching is the means and the exclusive Gospel of Christ is the message it should be specified that preaching should not be approached using the same method in every instance. “Cookie-cutter” preaching, wherin you go to post-truth unbelievers in the same way you would cultural Christians or along the lines of giving a conference sermon, can certainly be used by God to show his strength through our weakness, but generally wouldn’t be considered wise or helpful. Make sure the message is simple, clear, and prepared with prayer and people in mind.

Chip away at underlying post-truth presuppositions

Preaching is not always accomplished in the pulpit. Conversations are a particularly effective way of discipleship and gospel communication. They provide a useful outlet to chip away at false ideas and attempt to lead people to see what is good, right, and true.

One feature of post-truth culture is how it champions diversity and inclusivity—often at the cost of moral and intellectual objectivity. With emotions and feelings overriding anything objectively true, religious pluralism—the belief that all religious beliefs and traditions are equally true and valid—is embraced, at least verbally. Any claim to absolute, exclusive truth is seen as bigoted, prejudiced, intolerant. In some cases, attempts will be made to shut down dialogue and discussion.

Doubtless, Jesus’s claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” is a claim to absolute, exclusive, objective truth, and does not sit well with a post-truth society. The best response is not to shrink back and offer border-line apologetic qualifiers or to attempt to steam-roll over others with the validity of Christ’s claim but graciously and clearly to attempt to reason and win over the individual or individuals being addressed.

For example, when dealing with the pluralism espoused by post-truth ideology one can highlight that:

  1. Post-truth pluralism is ideologically inconsistent. Pluralism proclaims tolerance and acceptance but cannot leave those who differ and uphold absolute truth alone, showing intolerance and hate.
  2. Post-truth pluralism is logically impossible. Truth does exist and must be absolute. It must be or society could not function. It must be or there would be no basis for morality. If truth exists, so does falsehood. There are different stories that claim to be true accounts of man’s creation, presenting different ideas concerning the purpose of mankind, the nature of mankind’s problems, and where to find help and hope. While there may be some common ground between these ideas, logically opposites cannot be considered the same. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all say different things about Jesus. They cannot all be correct.
  3. Post-truth’s pluralism is theologically incongruent. Hinduism believes in many gods. Buddhism believes there is no personal god and life itself is illusory. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all believe in one God. Judaism says Jesus is not the Christ. Islam says Jesus was only a prophet and one who certainly did not die on the cross. Christianity says Jesus is God made flesh who had to live and die to be resurrected so that we could be made right with God. These differing views are not equally rooted in historical, credible fact and, as such, cannot be equally true. The differing claims are completely incompatible. Like oil and water, these cannot coexist as one.

Chipping away successfully at these post-truth presuppositions occurs best in the course of organic person-to-person conversation (dialogue, not monologue!). Such conversation will usefully

  • Show a healthy toleration of other religions as consisting of adherents made in God’s image, seeking to find their way towards God.
  • Acknowledge elements of truth in other religions, while clearly and unequivocally indicating areas of difference.
  • Be honest about Christ’s teaching as the one and only way to rightness with God.
  • Be unapologetic in showing and proving how Christ and His way is better than anything else this world has to offer.

In the next post in this series, I will offer some practical issues pertaining to church planting in such a context.

Genesis: A Common Baptist Battleground, Part 1. The Elliott Controversy

This post is intended to serve as the first in a series that looks at prevailing points of contention among Southern Baptists. If there is a particular point of controversy that you would like to see addressed, scroll down to the bottom and leave a comment.

In 1961, a popular, young professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary named Ralph Elliott released a book published by Broadman Press. In it, he took a progressive view on the book of Genesis and demonstrated an acceptance of higher criticism.

He viewed the biblical narratives in a skeptical light, writing, “We must learn to think of the stories of Genesis—the creation, the fall, Noah’s ark, the tower of Babel—in the same way as we think of the parables of Jesus; they are profoundly symbolical stories, which aren’t to be taken as literally true” (emphasis mine).

Think through that carefully. Stories from the Old Testament—stories to which the New Testament refers to as historical—Elliott declared to be taken only symbolically.

He determined that the Hebrew word “Adam,” was not a personal name in the first chapters of Genesis, but rather “must have meant ‘mankind.’ . . . In all probability, the Priestly writer simply exaggerate the ages in order to show the glory of an ancient civilization.”

Elliott had embraced the documentary hypothesis—the view that it was unreasonable to think that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, but rather four redactors (the Jahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist, and the Priestly sources—categorized as JEDP) had pieced together the text, all the while integrating their own unique writing methods, agendas, and personalities into the text. While this interpretation was pervasive among theological moderates and liberals, it has been almost universally relegated to the dustbin of dismissed and abandoned biblical interpretation.

Perhaps most disconcerting, Elliott argued that in Genesis 22, Abraham didn’t really hear God, for God would never have commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice (contra Gen 22:2). Instead, “What had been a thought of meditation gripped the inner being of Abraham until he thought he heard it as a clear call from God.”

Unsurprisingly, the book was not received well by a large number of Southern Baptists. K. Owen White wrote a scathing review, titled “Death in the Pot,” which was published and reprinted in Baptist newspapers across the country. White’s critique served to notify Southern Baptists not only that which was deemed acceptable by Broadman Press and the Sunday School Board at that time, but what was being taught in Southern Baptist seminaries.

Rebutting the common argument that seminary professors should be granted academic freedom—the freedom to pursue the truth wherever it may lead without fear of reprisal—White wrote, “let it be said that we gladly grant any man the right to believe what he wants to—but, we do not grant him the right to believe and express views in conflict with our historic position concerning the Bible as the Word of God while he is teaching in one of our schools, built and supported by Baptist funds.”

In 1962, White took to the convention floor in San Francisco and made a motion that “the messengers of the Convention, by standing vote, reaffirm their faith in the entire Bible as the authoritative, authentic, infallible Word of God.” His motion was unanimously adopted.

Further, at White’s behest, the messengers approved a motion (despite significant opposition), stating,

That we express our undivided and unchanging objection to the dissemination of theological views in any of our seminaries which would undermine such faith in the historical accuracy and doctrinal integrity of the Bible, and that we courteously request the trustees and administrative officers of our institutions and other agencies to take such steps as shall be necessary to remedy at once those situations here such views now threaten our historic position.

The messengers’ concern did not rest merely in the historic Baptist position. They also approved a recommendation for the president of the convention, Herschel Hobbs, to gather presidents of their respective state conventions for the purpose of presenting a statement similar to that of the Baptist Faith and Message adopted in 1925. The intention of such a statement was made explicit—to serve as guidelines to the various agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Initially, a motion had been made by Ralph Powell naming Elliott and his book, which sought to “instruct the Sunday School Board to cease from publication and printing the book, The Message of Genesis, by Dr. Elliott, and that they furthermore recall from all sales this book which contradicts Baptist conviction.” (He withdrew his motion at the request of Earl Harding before messengers could vote on it.)*

The die had been cast and the lines drawn.

*Author’s note: This is fascinating history to me. The annuals of SBC yearly meetings are not intended to provide commentary on the events of the meetings, but instead, are written as a sort of play-by-play. This motion and subsequent withdrawal have piqued my attention. What this a power move from the platform? Was it something utterly innocuous? I’m planning to look into this a bit further, but would be happy to be relieved of the research if you already know. Drop it in the comments.

BOOK REVIEW and Giveaway: Philippians for Pastors by John Kitchen

Philippians for Pastors. By John Kitchen. The Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources, 2018. 530 pp. $32.99.

In 2019, I had the opportunity to teach a seminary course in conjunction with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Text-Driven Preaching Workshop. When developing the textbook list for the course, I included a commentary that I had found particularly helpful when preaching through Colossians—John Kitchen’s Colossians for Pastors. In it, the author engages with the more critical, exegetical commentaries in a helpful manner and brings the insights offered therein to a commentary that is equal parts scholarship and practical application.

It should not be of surprise that I found it helpful, considering my recommendation to my students. What increased my bullishness about this commentary and this author was that almost every student made the same observations I had made—Kitchen begins with the Greek, engages the major critical commentaries, and brings their insights together to form a brilliant, pastoral commentary—and one that, were the reader not familiar with the original Greek, instructs the reader in such a way as to benefit from the author’s analysis. His addition of “ministry maxims” throughout the commentary extend the influence of his work, establishing it as more than a sermon help, but a means of mentoring pastors.

So, when given the opportunity to review Kitchen’s latest offering, Philippians for Pastors, I was excited to put it to the test. Would it meet the standard I had found in his previous volumes on Colossians and Philemon and the Pastoral Epistles?

In short: yes.

Kitchen’s treatment serves as a trusted mentor coaching the reader through the interpretation and proclamation of Paul’s letter to Philippi verse-by-verse, phrase-by-phrase. Once again, he includes his ministry maxims such as “True unity comes from looking at Christ, not at one another,” in reference to Philippians 2:2 and “There is no apologetic for the gospel more effective than unity among those who claim to believe it,” in reference to Philippians 1:27.

Following each pericope (unit of thought), Kitchen offers questions for his reader. While they may be intended to help the expositor think through the application of the text, very often they serve as a devotional prompts. And that is, in my opinion, one of the tests of what makes a good commentary: does it help the reader understand the text AND does it lead the reader to walk more intimately with Christ?

Far too many commentaries fill the mind, but fail the heart. Kitchen’s offering, however, strikes both targets.

Win a Copy!

The author has generously provided a copy to be given away to one of the readers of Caffeinated Theology. If you’d be interested in winning it, share this post on twitter or facebook and be sure to follow @cafftheo. Drop a comment saying that you’ve done those things and you’ll be entered!

SBC Unity and the Unforced Error that was Resolution 9

On the heels of the controversial cinedoc, By What Standard?, which was itself a response to Resolution 9, voted upon and affirmed by the Southern Baptist Convention messengers at the SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, Baptist Press released a “Q&A with the 2019 Resolutions Committee about Resolution 9,” last week. For clarification, that’s just short of 8 months after the Annual Meeting.

The Founders’ video has proven itself the burr under the denominational saddle, as it were, and does not appear to be going away any time soon. Despite the dismissive waive of the hand by many prominent in SBC leadership accusing the Founders (and others who appear to be making plans to rescind the 2019 resolution), the groundswell seems to be growing.

So, in order to quell any concerns—to ameliorate Southern Baptists’ fear that Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality [CRT/I] have invaded the thinking of denominational executives and seminaries—the committee stated emphatically: “No one is claiming that CRT/I is Christian or that all of its cultural applications are in line with Scripture.”

While the committee should be praised for this clarification, the question deserves to be asked:

Why, then, was an amendment that made that statement unmistakable and explicit deemed an “unfriendly amendment”?

I don’t ask that question in bad faith. I have a number of friends on the committee who I consider wise and godly. These are men and women of whom I have the highest regard. But the issue remains.

Either CRT/I is a worldview foreign to holy writ and must be rejected as such, or it serves as an analytical tool available for proper use by shrewd believers.

CRT/I is not merely foreign to Scripture, however; it is directly contrary to it. The use of CRT/I dismisses any insight or wisdom gained from the alleged-oppressive class in order to adopt the interpretations and beliefs of oppressed classes. At times, the very concept of genuine truth itself is jettisoned, but generally, the movement does not progress that far. Instead, it is used to impress an aberrant interpretation, while buttressing it against critiques from the alleged-oppressors by claiming a privileged status as oppressed.

Truth, in this construction, is not found in the meaning of the text, but in the interpretation of the oppressed class. The Bible is no longer seen as authoritative; instead, the authority is given to a class of people.

And if different oppressed classes come to different conclusions, the victor is determined by which group is seen as most-oppressed. (And this is where intersectionality bares its teeth.)

As I’ve written elsewhere, discussing the Bible with those from different backgrounds and upbringings can be beneficial in winnowing away cultural biases and presuppositions that we bring to the task of interpreting Scripture, but this still acknowledges that Scripture carries real meaning, and the goal of the dialogue is to ascertain the meaning—the truth—of Scripture.

CRT/I is not an analytical tool used to identify the truth of Scripture; it is a weapon of war used to determine which group is granted the authority to determine truth.

Despite the language in the resolution that claims CRT/I to be mere analytical tools that can be disconnected from their common foundational worldview, such thought seems naive at best, and potentially dishonest. More likely, the tools may indeed act as a Trojan Horse, secretively deploying an unwelcome worldview among our fellowship of believers. Note my language here, as I’m being as clear as I can. The tools may serve as a Trojan Horse. I am not accusing anyone of intentionally or maliciously scheming to that end.

Where Do Southern Baptists Go from Here?

When asked in what manner the committee believes Southern Baptists should proceed, they call us to focus on the “common ground we share on the sufficiency of the Gospel.”

More upsetting is the committee’s calling upon “our leaders to lead us with biblical courage and conviction as we face various challenges to our cooperative mission.” If they refer to the challenges of the world in which we live, I can join them in that call.

If, however, they are referring to the Southern Baptists alarmed by the adoption of Resolution 9—if the challenges to our cooperation is a veiled reference to concerned pastors and laypeople—I fear the gulf between the committee and the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are further apart than once believed.

The Unforced Error

Ultimately, I think this article demonstrates that, while well-intentioned, the 2019 Resolutions Committee made the mistake of using Resolution 9 as a teachable moment, rather than—as is the purpose of a resolution—to express the will of the messengers.

In the article, they state their responsibility: “to help the Convention speak with biblical clarity on theological, social, and practical topics in order to advance our cooperative witness and mission.” In hindsight, it would have been better to have never brought the resolution before the messengers or to have presented it in the form submitted to the committee originally.

How Do We Recover SBC Unity?

As it stands, however, the committee’s intent to unify Southern Baptists failed and has only served to fracture our convention further. The path to unity will only be found as we commit ourselves once more to Christ our Savior and “the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.”

Our cooperation depends on a re-affirmation of the sufficiency of Scripture without any caveats, addenda, or analytical tools that undermine the very meaning of sufficiency by their very nature.

My hope is to vote for a resolution that offers such a corrective in Orlando.

Like a Broken Cup and SuperGlue

Each year, Southern Baptists gather before the annual meeting for the SBC Pastor’s Conference. During this time, Baptists are treated to some of the best preaching the convention (and often, the larger evangelical world) has to offer. This week, Baptist Press released the speaker list for the 2020 SBC Pastor’s Conference scheduled in Orlando.

But before considering the list of names published in Baptist Press, I think it’s worth considering that which is most-needed by the convention family during this time.

Our Southern Baptist family is not well.
We are wounded.

For some, the reports published in the Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram re-opened old wounds. For others, it served to cast light on some shadows that had been long-forgotten or had been willingly relegated to the past. Frankly, we’re still struggling to find our feet in light of the #metoo and #churchtoo movements—how do we demonstrate genuine loving concern to those raising allegations of abuse while also protecting pastors from false allegations?

No one is suggesting that we do nothing.

But there are no simple solutions here.

Simple solutions misfire. And sadly, we’ve seen some of that too.

And as the result, many Southern Baptists are struggling to discern the way forward. Many (from all sides) feel unheard. My social media feeds are chock full of voices from every corner of Southern Baptist life all feeling ill-treated, ignored, and marginalized.

So, what is it that our convention family needs most during this time?

Unity. We need someone to take the needed and pastoral step to draw us back to unity.

And this year’s pastor’s conference was a wonderful opportunity to draw Southern Baptists back together by pointing them to that which they have in common—to point them back to the centrality of Christ and his mission.

To put our eyes back on Jesus.

And yet, the speaker list for the pastor’s conference has managed to do the exact opposite. Our divide, our fracture, our broken fellowship is only exacerbated.

Many of the names offered by pastor’s conference president David Uth are familiar to Southern Baptists: David Platt and Vance Pittman and David Hughes, Joby Martin and Jimmy Scroggins. Others may be less familiar, but still recognizable: Emerson Eggerichs and Erik Cummins Sr.

Certainly, worship leader Phil Wickham’s name (if not his songlist) is not unfamiliar to those who listen to contemporary worship music.

But the big names that stand out are both foreign and familiar. Wayne Cordeiro pastors a International Church of the Foursquare Gospel congregation in Honolulu, and Jim Cymbala pastors The Brooklyn Tabernacle. Finally, the spoken-word artist, Hosanna Wong, is listed as a teaching pastor at Eastlake Church in Chula Vista, CA.

Now, it is one thing to invite non-SBC speakers to the SBC Pastor’s Conference. This practice is common and not surprising in the least. But it is quite another to invite those who hold significant theological differences with those affirmed in our common confession.

Wayne Cordeiro pastors a Foursquare church whose doctrine denies eternal security, believes physical healing to be purchased at the atonement, and holds to the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a second blessing. Moreover, his church employee a female in the role of Equipping Pastor.

What does this mean? It means he holds significant theological differences with our common confession of faith that would preclude him from our fellowship of churches. Yet David Uth says, “I feel like they [referring to the speakers as a composite] have a message for us. I feel like God wants to speak to us through them. So my goal and my hope was that we could hear their message, we could learn from them, and we could embrace it.”

Jim Cymbala’s name is familiar to a number of Southern Baptists, likely due to his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. In it, he shares stories of what Christ has done in The Brooklyn Tabernacle, and calls his readers to engage in serious devotion in prayer. That which is more concerning is the manner in which he pits prayer in opposition to preaching: “Does the Bible ever say anywhere from Genesis to Revelation, ‘My house shall be called a house of preaching?’. . . Of course not. . . . ” and “We in America have made the sermon the centerpiece of the church, something God never intended” (71, 84). While his emphasis on prayer should be commended, his determination to set it in opposition to the proclamation of the Word, rather than in conjunction with it, is troubling to say the least. Could he be said to be in harmony with the Baptist Faith and Message? His remarks diminishing the role of preaching are a cause for concern, in my view. But his church’s view concerning a second blessing of the Holy Spirit would lend the discerning reader to conclude that, No. He could not be considered in agreement to the Baptist Faith and Message.

Hosanna Wong is listed as a teaching pastor at her church. The very fact that she holds the office of “pastor” in her church puts her at odds with Southern Baptists’ common confession of faith, which states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” (article VI. The Church). She clearly cannot be said to be in harmony with the Baptist Faith and Message.

Why does this matter?

Friends, if we are unwilling to draw a theological line at the boundary of our common confession, who is given the authority to determine which differences are important and which are arbitrary? For Pastor Uth, his selections imply that he is willing to overlook theological differences over eternal security, the nature of the atonement, charismatic gifts (and correspondingly, the sufficiency of Scripture), and the pastoral office. But, these are not minor differences.

Maybe the argument could be made that Southern Baptists would do well to hear from those with differences on these matters if we were not already embroiled in these very controversies internally!!

But we are. Perhaps not concerning eternal security or the nature of the atonement—although the pentecostal teaching of healing seems to be growing in popularity in broader circles. But the 2019 Resolution 9 has brought discussions concerning biblical sufficiency to the fore and while we confess to be a complementation denomination, we’re still wrestling over what that looks like in practice.

Now is not the time to push boundaries.

Now is the time to circle the wagons.

Now is the time to direct every Southern Baptists’ gaze to the cross of Christ and his mission—to call us to devote ourselves wholly and entirely to see that the Gospel is proclaimed to the very ends of the earth.

Now is the time to spread the superglue over the fractured pieces of our denominational family and piece us together again.

As yesterday’s announcement made evident (and all-the-more-so by David Uth’s response to the feedback), David Uth had an opportunity to do this very thing at the pastor’s conference this year.

Instead, I fear that several of his choices will only prove to fracture and divide us further.

How to Read Authors and Theologians with Whom You Disagree

In light of recent conversations spurred on by the Founder’s cinedoc, By What Standard?, I thought it might be of some service to offer a brief post expressing my thoughts on reading authors and theologians with whom you disagree.

Frankly, I could be more specific in the title, I suppose. “How to Read James Cone,” or “How to Read Karl Barth,” or “How to Read Martin Luther King, Jr.” or even “How to Read Wayne Grudem” might offer a few more clicks, but my goal isn’t to get lost in the specifics. Instead, what I hope to impart are some thoughts on reading any author or theologian that the reader enters into the endeavor knowing that there will be major points of disagreement.

And I suppose that is where we should begin: Should you read authors and theologians with whom you disagree?

As the title of the post suggests, I certainly think so. Honestly, I think anyone who agrees with everything any given author writes (outside the boundaries of Holy Scripture) is doing so unthinkingly. So, in order to gain insight from those believers and scholars who have walked before us, we must learn how to read those with whom we disagree.

Read Broadly

We are all drawn to those with whom we agree. Each of us find comfort in the echo chamber. It’s safe. It’s cosy. So, we all share the tendency to read the same authors and theologians from the “approved list” of our own particular theological tribe.

But dialogue does not exist in the echo chamber.

Nor does growth.

In my studies, I was encouraged to read the best arguments available in order that I understood the argument in its clearest and strongest form. And as Dr. James Leo Garrett would regularly remind his students, “until you’re able to present the view of your opponent in such a manner that he would claim it to be his own, you are unprepared to engage his argument.” And so I read Gustavo Gutierrez’s Theology of Liberation; I read Scanzoni and Hardesty’s All We’re Meant to Be; I read Rogers and McKim’s The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible; I read Moltmann and Barth and Wesley and Calvin and. . . .

The list goes on and on.

I have found many authors to be extremely helpful. I have found others to be tremendously frustrating. But in order to understand the landscape of thought, it’s important that we read broadly.

Read Humbly

When I was a student at East Texas Baptist University, Dr. Bob Utley would describe the context from which we approach the Bible as a set of lenses (think eyeglasses) marring our interpretation. (In this case, the glasses hinder, rather than help, the clarity of the text.) My particular lens reflects the fact that I grew up during the end of the 20th century as a white male raised in a Christian home. As such, I may read and interpret certain passages of Scripture differently that would a Jewish girl raised in the 6th century on the opposite side of the world.

Does that nullify my reading of the text? No.

Does it nullify her’s? No.

Some scholars would rather I simply exchange my context for their’s—whether that be exchanging my color or nationality or socio-economic status for their own. But that is simply to exchange one biased reading for another. The problem is that, even were I to do so, I would still be looking at the text through a context foreign to Scripture in order to discern the meaning of Scripture.

It just doesn’t work that way.

The text has one meaning and it is not defined by my particular time and place. And by reading the insights and perspectives of others who may differ from my own, I am given a helpful means to discover the leanings of my own context and to seek to offset them—to mitigate the manner in which they influence my reading.

The goal, then, is not to exchange my context someone else’s perspective.

The goal is to rightly divide the Word of God.

The goal is to discover how my context influences my reading in order that I seek the meaning of the text apart from that bias.

So yes, you should read authors and theologians with whom you disagree, and you should do so humbly. But you should also read them critically—keeping an eye on God’s Word.

Read Critically

While we must read broadly and humbly, we need to subject every thought—every point—to the teaching of Scripture. (In order to do this, it is imperative that you are well-versed, as it were, in Scripture). Rather than submitting the text to the particular ideology of the author—or even his conclusion regarding theology—we must submit the author’s views to the text of Scripture.

One could even say that the Bible is a powerful “analytical tool” in discerning which authors and arguments are worth embracing. But I digress.

Personally, this means “prejudicing” the books I read. Whenever I read a book (that I own; don’t do this with a library book), I do so with a pen in-hand. I use that pen to underline points that I believe to be critical to the author’s argument or particularly insightful. I use the pen to emphasize points of disagreement I may have with the author. I often write notes in the margins, noting my disagreement and, sometimes, amazement with their argument. I’ll summarize their argument in logical form, to demonstrate the fallacy of their argument. Sometimes, I will just write questions raised by the author. Be warned, however, that if you practice this and loan your books to others, it can sometimes make for interesting conversations—especially if they view the author or the argument differently than you do.


Should you read authors and theologians with whom you disagree?

Unquestionably. But be sure to do so with a humble spirit and a critical eye.

Postscript: Read Charitably

While this is only tangentially related to this post and, were it long enough, I might offer it elsewhere on its own, I felt it worthwhile to tack it on to this post.

Don’t hate-read.

There’s a practice—and not one with which I am entirely unaccustomed to having done in the past—of reading a book or author about whom you have already drawn strong conclusions for the simple purpose of ripping it to shreds in a review or on social media. While this may have the appearance of a critical reading, in reality, it accomplishes little more than posturing to your echo chamber. It doesn’t approach the argument on its own terms, but merely seeks to disprove or discredit the author. It is often most clearly seen when a pastor or minister of a particular tribe or theological subset reads the work of someone of the opposite conviction—whether that be an ardent Calvinist reading an anti-Calvinist (or vice versa), an avowed cessationist reading a continuationist (or vice versa), a convinced dispensationalist reading a covenantal theologian (or vice versa), or any other major delineation of views.

Hate-reading accomplishes nothing more than signaling to those in your tribe or echo chamber that, at the very least, you think you belong there. But hate-reading is neither critical (in the positive sense) nor humble.

Frankly, it’s uncharitable. Don’t do it.

The Story behind Equip the Nations, Inc

As I (David) have already written and reflected upon, I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya this past year with my friend John Schultz on behalf of Equip the Nations. While traveling the countryside, I asked him to share the story behind the formation of Equip the Nations, inc because it reveals another avenue for ministry that most seminary students have not considered.

I was listening to the commencement address at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when news alerts began to popup on my smartphone. The headlines told the story of a lone gunman who entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, killing 26 people before ending his own life. Our nation stood in complete dismay at the cold-blooded and unusually heinous act of taking the lives of innocent children, most of which were between the ages of 6 and 7 years old. I marveled at the lostness of a sick and dying world where such tragedies as that of Sandy Hook occur on a regular basis.

Despite the sadness of the Sandy Hook tragedy on December 14, 2012 I was able to rejoice in graduating from seminary with a Masters of Theology (ThM) in Christian Ethics. I did not recognize then that God was putting into motion a larger plan for my life than what my finite mind was able to conceptualize. God divinely sat me beside Alem Longchar, an Indian national, who was also graduating from SWBTS.

“Why don’t you come to India sometime?” Alem said as he handed me his business card at graduation. I took the card as any God-fearing Christian who did not want to offend his neighbor and gently tucked it in my suit coat thinking, “Yeah that is never going to happen.” Nevertheless, I thought he was a nice guy and knew I could not realistically keep up with his business card so I befriended him on Facebook.

Back to the Nets

I knew when I graduated with a ThM it was time to look for a place to serve despite my desire to pursue a PhD. Five years of seminary had been very difficult on my family financially, physically, and emotionally. My family of 6 greatly struggled during our seminary years due to our unwavering commitment to keep my wife at home to school our children. My wife suffered a very painful miscarriage that would have killed her had she not been hospitalized. Emotionally we suffered due to me always being at either work or doing something school related. Seminary life was hard, and I knew something had to change for my family.

I prayed and sent my resume out to many different churches with the hope that between my education and four years pastoral experience I would be able to find a church large enough to support my family financially. Time after time I received a letter from different churches stating in essence that they had received my resume and though I possessed many qualities and talents they were looking for in a pastor, God had led them in a different direction. The churches that did show interest were all too small to support my family. I was discouraged to say the least that I had spent 5 years at seminary and unable to find a ministry position to where I could still take care of my family.

When the disciples were unsure what they needed to do for the Lord they returned to what they knew—fishing (John 21:3). So, I did likewise. I began to apply for jobs in the financial industry where I had worked prior to seminary after I had received many rejection letters from churches. I was able to find a job working for a large financial company through God’s providence in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There I was able to volunteer as a church missions minister and teach adjunctively for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. I still felt unfulfilled since I was not full-time in the ministry despite having places to serve. This lead me to prayer once again that God would show me what He wanted me to do.

Called to Serve

2015 was a life changing year for me. A family in our church invited my family to come to their home for “India night.” They served us with several delicious Indian dishes and showed the Bollywood movie, “Three Idiots.” “Three Idiots” depicted the Indian culture’s push for college students to wither become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. It emphasized the stress Indian students experience in pursuit of these professions, and the resulting high suicide rate. A week later my wife and I watched a documentary on the street kids in India and what they do to survive. I told my wife that I believed God was calling me to go to India.

I sent a note to Alem asking him if the offer was still open for me to come to India. He graciously invited me to stay with him at his home, and as the old adage says, “the rest is history!” I returned to India with my daughter a year later and had a meeting with the leadership of the Indian ministry. It was on that trip that they told me they were no longer able to receive their funding from a church in the United States as they had since their inception 19 years ago. And, they were concerned the Hindu fundamentalist ruling party in India would not allow them to receive support from a Christian church in the United States. So, they asked me if my family was willing to form an organization to collect their funds in the Unites States and transfer the funds to them monthly. This led to the birth of Equip the Nations Inc. in 2017.

Equip the Nations

Equip the Nations is a 501c3 non-profit organization. Our focus is to equip ministries worldwide through theological education and to discover ways to make ministries more self-sufficient. Our main ministry partner is based in India and ministers in their home country, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. We also have ministry partners in Honduras and Kenya. Praise be to the Lord our God for blessing us with a ministry that is able to combat lostness in eight countries worldwide and growing!

Note: More information about Equip the Nations Inc can be found on our Facebook page and our website at www.equipthenationsinc.com.