Month: November 2006

Mind the pressure points, Bisagno tells pastors

AUSTIN?John Bisagno, retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Houston, told the crowd at the President’s Luncheon during the SBTC annual meeting at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin that there are ministry “pressure points” pastors must regularly monitor. Bisagno served at First Baptist Church from 1970-2000 and offered the crowd what he described as a primer course for pastor-leaders.

The first pressure point Bisagno cited was the “pressure over power,” which often manifests in struggles between deacons or other types of church leadership boards and the pastor over the church’s business or direction. “Truth of the matter is,” Bisagno said to pastors, “you’re not smart enough to make all the decisions.”

Regardless of what they are called?deacons, elders, laypastors?a senior pastor needs wise counsel to take the load off himself from every decision that arises. Bisagno said that under his pastorate, his deacons functioned as servants and “it just worked,” as most power struggles were avoided.

Also, “Leadership is not demanded. It is earned. ? When you have to start telling them, ‘I’m the pastor, you no longer are.'” “We as undershepherds, undergroomers, must relate to Christ’s bride in the same way.” Likewise, the deacons are to preserve the unity of the church, Bisagno insisted, noting their role in solving the contention over the serving of tables in Acts.

Also, Bisagno said, even though Christ is the head over self-governed congregations, “Help your people to understand: The New Testament way is not to vote on half the stuff we do. ? I have come to believe that the plague of smaller churches is micromanagement” by the congregation. In Scripture, Bisagno said, “the people did not make ultimate decisions on many matters” but “congregationally on a few important issues.”

“The problem is we don’t know where to begin and we don’t know where to stop.” Another contention, he said, is often over contemporary versus traditional music, with both styles having strong points. Younger people, Bisagno said, love the new music because “it’s sung to Jesus.” “It gives them a security and reality in a world of insecurity.”

Older people, on the other hand, love the hymns because it reflects the dignity and majesty of God, he said. “It’s important because many of us learned our theology from those old hymns,” he said. Nevertheless, endure one another with patience, he said. “What are you going to do if you get to heaven and you find out that God likes rap,” Bisagno quipped.

Finally, the “pressure point of purity” has ruined many gospel ministers, Bisagno said, because they lost their passion for God and for their wives. In the earthly realm, if a man is out of love with his wife, he should repent.

“Talk to your wife. Turn off the TV and spend time” getting to know her more intimately daily, Bisagno advised. “The only answer is early morning Bible study and prayer” and accountability with other trustworthy men.

Bisagno said King David got in trouble because he lost the discipline of turning his head.

“You can’t avoid birds flying over your head,” Bisagno said. “But you can keep them from nesting in your hair.”

Prioritizing one’s wife and family pays dividends, Bisagno said, even though “I missed a lot of meetings” because of little league baseball games or schoo

Crossover Austin’ effort yields souls

AUSTIN?Through six days of evangelism rallies, door-to-door surveys and a first-ever 5K race, Southern Baptists in the Austin area helped lead 85 people to faith in Christ. The annual SBTC Crossover evangelism effort preceded the SBTC annual meeting, held Nov. 13-14 at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin.

Michael Lewis, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church, said the evangelism rallies held Nov. 5-9 with former SBC president Bobby Welch were well attended and fruitful. The rallies were held at Anderson Mill Baptist Church in Austin, Andice Baptist Church in Florence, Oak Meadow Baptist Church in Austin, Hays Hill Baptist Church in Buda, and High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin.

Welch’s authenticity and warmth was evident as the two walked a neighborhood in northwest Austin, Lewis said. Welch, upon being greeted at a front door by a heavily tattooed man with an intimidating physical presence, told the man that between the two of them, Welch thought they could whip everyone in the neighborhood. Welch’s humor provided a rapport with the man, whom Lewis said broke down in tears when confronted with the gospel. Before they left the house, the man prayed to accept Christ, Lewis told the TEXAN.

At the inaugural “Race Against Time,” an officially timed 5k race coordinated with the City of Austin recreation department and held at Anderson Mill Baptist Church, two police officers prayed for salvation. The race raised over $13,000 for a Baptist AIDS/HIV ministry in South Africa and drew more than 300 runners.

SBTC Director of Evangelism Don Cass said: “I think Crossover Austin was a great success. And there were two main reasons. First, Michael Lewis was our chairman and he did a great job. He loves the pastors in the Austin area and they love and respect him. And Jack Harris (SBTC senior associate for personal and event evangelism) did a fantastic job. The ‘Race Against Time,’ which he helped coordinate with Austin-area pastors, drew more than 300 people who heard a clear and compelling gospel presentation after the race.’

“I think Crossover is gaining momentum and I pray we can see hundreds or even thousands more Texas Southern Baptists joining in Crossover each year, sharing the gospel with their neighbors.

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SBTC board fills staff vacancies, re-elects slate of board officers

AUSTIN?The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Executive Board, in its regularly scheduled fall meeting Nov. 15 in Austin, re-elected its officers and added two new ministry associates to fill vacant positions in the SBTC’s missions and minister-church relations areas.

The board also asked SBTC President Steve Swofford to include in a letter to Wal-Mart executives its gratitude for the company’s reinstated policy recognizing the Christmas holiday. Swofford will include the board’s sentiments in a letter he is to write citing the convention’s opposition to Wal-Mart’s corporate support of homosexual activist groups.

The board re-elected by acclamation Joe Stewart, pastor of First Baptist Church of Littlefield, as board chairman, Dale Perry, pastor of Friendly Baptist Church in Tyler, as vice chairman, and Kim Lawson of Sherman as recording secretary.

Tom Campbell, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Carthage, was elected as a ministry associate in the minister-church relations area, filling a vacancy left by Troy Brooks, who is now minister-church relations director. Brooks moved to that position after Deron Biles left the convention staff to become dean of extension education at Southwestern Seminary.

Campbell, an Oklahoma Baptist University graduate who holds a Ph.D. and master of divinity degree from Southwestern, told the board of growing up at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving under the preaching of the late Ron Dunn. Saved at age 8, Campbell said he was 19 or 20 when he sensed God telling him, “This is it. This is what you’re going to do.”

Barry K. Calhoun, missions director at North Garland Baptist Fellowship, was elected as a church planting ministry associate on the SBTC missions team. Calhoun’s election fills a vacancy left by Leroy Fountain, who is joining the North American Mission Board staff. Calhoun is a graduate of Dallas Baptist University. In addition to ministry experience, Calhoun spent six years handling sales and contract negotiations and has owned his own business.

In sharing his testimony of conversion as a youngster, Calhoun said: “I was afraid of going to hell, and that’s been a catalyst for many of the life decisions I’ve made since then,” he said.

SBTC Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis told the board that through October, the convention was $283,000 ahead of Cooperative Program budget receipts and had a net operating income of $1.275 million.

The board also referred to its administrative committee a request for up to $100,000 in 2006 budget surplus funds to go towards a new chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The $100,000 grant proposal comes from the board’s executive committee. The Southwestern trustees recently approved a master revitalization plan that includes construction of a 106,000-square-foot, 3,500-seat chapel.

“This project has been a dream and goal of many people,” said Mike Hughes, vice president for development at Southwestern. Hughes told the board that with the new chapel the school could hold graduation services on campus.

Currently, graduation is held at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

Be biblically faithful, culturally appropriate, NAMB missions researcher tells meeting

AUSTIN?Citing research that shows that about one in 10 Southern Baptist churches are experiencing healthy growth through conversions, the North American Mission Board’s Ed Stetzer told SBTC messengers that churches must be “biblically faithful and contextually appropriate” to reach their communities.

Comparing Paul’s approach before the Jews in Acts 13, before superstitious pagans in Acts 14 and before the intellectual Athenians in Acts 17, Stetzer said Paul began his messages differently before each group, but always took them to the same place: a bloody cross and an empty tomb.

Research from the Leavell Center at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary shows 89 percent of SBC churches are not growing through baptisms, Stetzer lamented.

“So in all probability your church is not growing in healthy evangelism,” he said.

Churches must be engaged in the culture to speak to people in the culture who need Jesus, Stetzer said.

Describing Paul’s troubled spirit at the idols he saw as he came upon the Areopagus in Athens in Acts 17, Stetzer noted how Paul began his speech to the pagans there.

“When we look at Acts 17 ? we see this description of this encounter with culture and we see how Paul models for us a biblical response to engaging culture. I want you to know culture is a scary thing to Christians and it should be. Many in the name of cultural relevance?they even used the same terms in the ’60s and the ’70s?many denominations in the name of cultural relevance decided that the key to get more people to come to their churches was to stop teaching hard things about morality, to stop teaching hard things about the Word of God. So they abandoned those things in the name of cultural relevance ? they did away with the hard things so people would come, and in an incredible twist of irony nobody came.”

“So there’s something more in engaging the culture than simply being like the culture,” Stetzer said. “Now the challenge, on the other hand, is there are whole ministries that exist among Southern Baptists and in evangelical life that tell us, ‘Don’t engage culture. Culture is bad.’ There are whole sermons that are preached, whole conferences that are planned, that preach against culture. Preaching against culture is like preaching against somebody’s house. It’s just where they live.”

Stetzer said Paul’s model in Acts 17 shows that he first acknowledged their spiritual questions.

“It’s so important that we recognize that there are questions being asked by people in culture all around us,” even if the questions are framed from wrong motives.

Stetzer said the Athenians probably asked their questions wrongly, but nevertheless the gospel was preached.

Citing statistics that show Baptist divorce rates that are equal or higher than the larger culture, Stetzer said churches must be a “biblically faithful, culturally relevant counterculture in the culture.”

Regardless of the culture, whether reciting Jewish history in Acts 13 or talking to pagan philosophers about creation in Acts. 17, Paul “comes back to a bloody cross and an empty tomb.”

Stetzer warned, however, that some “pursue cultural relevance as an end in itself ? Cultural relevance is a missionary strategy to reach people in culture.”

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Convention preacher: preach the cross

AUSTIN?Evangelicals are becoming increasingly willing to compromise the hard message of the cross to fill pews on Sunday mornings, a trend Houston pastor John Morgan said is troubling and unbiblical. In the convention sermon to SBTC messengers Nov. 14, Morgan, pastor of Sagemont

Church for 40 years, told pastors they need to have “rich young ruler experiences,” referring to Jesus’ encounter in Matthew 19:16-22 with a man who walked away after hearing Jesus’ call to

total surrender.

Morgan emphasized that Jesus did not run after the young man or change his answer to draw him back. Southern Baptists, along with other evangelicals, Morgan said, think they can persuade people into the kingdom better than Jesus could?with slick packaging and an often-rewritten gospel message.

“We’re able to make adjustments to get back on track” when there are troubles within a church and there are empty pews. Those adjustments come in various forms including staff adjustments (firing the preacher, for example) and hiring research firms to find out what will draw people to church.

“It seems,” he said, “our creativity will bail us out.” “We’ll do whatever it takes to get people

to come.” Morgan said one of the most troubling phrases in the Christian lexicon today is “seeker-sensitive church.” Instead, the first concern should be to present worship that is “Savior-sensitive,” Morgan said.

While he said has no qualms with churches designing ministries to meet community needs?he even said he would preach in Bermuda shorts if the Lord told him to?he said bristles when pastors water down the gospel and plan church services around what they think people want to hear.

When the pastor of the largest church in America?an allusion to Joel Osteen?says the word “sin” is not in his vocabulary and he does not know if Jesus is the only way to heaven, then that pastor’s congregation will not know the reality of those truths for themselves, Morgan said.

One of Morgan’s church members took him to task when he mentioned the pastor one Sunday. Morgan replied by offering to purchase for the woman all of the taped messages Osteen had preached on the cross, sin, the atoning blood of Christ, and repentance. When Morgan called the church to inquire, there were no such tapes to be found. That, he said, is why he so profoundly objects to twisting Scripture to make it more appealing.

When pastors get to heaven, they will not be asked how many pews were filled but rather, was the word of God preached?

He said churches need to be Savior-sensitive churches preaching the cross and repentance. If Jesus be lifted up, God will draw men to him. He said pastors should not be discouraged if their churches are not being filled when the uncompromised gospel is preached. It is the Holy Spirit who draws people in. Pastors simply need to hold firm to what they have been called to do so they can stand before God someday and hear him say, “Well done.”

Preachers should never shrink from the gospel message, he insisted, even if it is a difficult message for some to hear. Some of Jesus’ disciples left him because they could not accept what he was saying, Morgan noted

SBTC president: Press on regardless

AUSTIN?During his president’s address Nov. 13, Steve Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rockwall, encouraged messengers to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention annual meeting in Austin to press on for Christ regardless of circumstance.

With difficulties plaguing the ministry, Swofford asked Texas Southern Baptists “when people are like they are and the world is like it is, then what is the hardest thing to do in the Christian life?” The hardest thing for preachers, laymen and a young convention to do is to “press on regardless” in obedience to God’s Word and unchanging will, said Swofford, who was elected to a second presidential term.

“I believe with all my heart that the hardest thing to do in the Christian life is to press on regardless?to keep doing those things you know you are supposed to be doing,” Swofford said, noting that Paul admonished the early Christians to avoid growing weary in good doing.

“He wouldn’t have said that if it wasn’t hard to keep going. It is hard to fight the fight and keep the faith. It is hard to press on regardless. It is hard to stand up for what is right in a world that is falling down for what is wrong.”

“When we live in a day when Baptist churches are considering whether you should be baptized to be a member or not, when pastors are considering whether it is OK to drink, the conservative resurgence will never be over,” he said. “We need to press on regardless.”

Drawing parallels from the story of Peter fishing in the lake of Gennesaret in Luke 5, Swofford said Christians should press on despite failure.

With the crowds pressing Jesus to the water’s edge, Peter’s boat quickly took on the form of a “floating pulpit,” and the fishermen were given several lessons on how to follow Christ.

“[Jesus] said I want you to push back out there and let down your nets and press on regardless,” Swofford said, adding that Jesus requires the same obedience today. “He wants you and me to press on regardless. He wants us to press on first of all in spite of failure.”

Having fished all night without success, the fishermen’s failures are revealed in verse 5. “[Peter] didn’t say ‘we had a bad catch.’ He said ‘we didn’t catch anything.’ He wasn’t a weekend fisherman, he was a professional fisherman who took care of his family and made his living,” Swofford pointed out. “That day, the professional failed miserably. Yet Jesus said do it


Noting that each person in attendance has failed, Swofford shared one example of a personal past failure. Playing a football game against a team of district champions, the coach devised a trick play with Swofford as the key player. “I would stay in bounds, behind the line of scrimmage,”

Swofford said, adding that the play probably wouldn’t be allowed today. “There wasn’t a man within 30 yards of me. I was wide open, and the quarterback gave me a perfect pass. As that ball hit me, I could see cheerleaders hanging from my arms and all the glory.”

As Swofford spun around toward the end zone, he dropped the ball in front of his own bench. “I wish I could stand here before you and say after all those years that was the last time I dropped the ball in life, but it hasn’t been,” he said. “There is not a person in this room who hasn’t failed, but

Grace giving is a partnership

Paul’s letters to the Corinthian believers contain more about giving than any other segment of the New Testament. Paul repeatedly reminds the Corinthians of the need in Jerusalem. The poor saints were destitute and needed help. Corinth was far wealthier than the Macedonian churches that had given out of their poverty. The church at Corinth had some members who were relatively well off.

Paul challenged them to a partnership in grace giving. This year’s theme at the SBTC annual

meeting was “Grace Giving,” from 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. Partnership in grace giving has a denominational application. Awareness of the Cooperative Program is on the front burner in Southern Baptist life.

Commitment to the CP was a major decider in last summer’s SBC presidential election. A recommendation from state conventions on increased CP giving was approved at the SBC this summer. The Cooperative Program is a modern example of a partnership in grace giving.

There are several principles of this partnership. The first principle is participation in giving. The Corinthians boasted to Titus a year before that they would share in the special collection (8:6) but they did not keep their promise. This was not about money to support the church. It was about charity for the poor above and beyond regular gifts.

Paul said he was giving advice. He was trying to help them see that it was for their benefit to

participate, (8:8). Grace giving must come from a willing heart; it cannot be coerced or forced.

Every SBTC church that wants to reach Texas and touch the world is an Acts 1:8 church. This means congregational, continuous and cooperative participation in grace giving. Some people ask, “What does the convention do for me?”

I believe with the more than 100 ministries that the SBTC resources and networks for the local church, there is ample reason to be a part of the state convention. Value does not necessarily come from what a convention can do for you. Here is the real value: Cooperating with other churches of like faith and order for the good of others. Partnership in grace giving means participation without an expectation of benefit. Acts 20:35 tells us participation in giving itself brings the blessings.

The second principle of grace giving is proportionate giving. Paul endorsed it. Paul may have reflected Jesus’ parable of the widow’s mite. What she had left after giving is what impressed our Lord. God sees the portion and the proportion of our gifts. God looks on the heart and he looks in the wallet, too.

There is no set standard for CP giving. Some churches give large sums. Others give a large percentage of their operating budget. Just a small percentage increase through the CP would result in more churches, more ministries, and more missionaries to the unreached.

“Hands-on” missions are a valid expression of missionary activity, but slicing away a part of the CP in order to provide the funds hinders our partnership efforts. Don’t go down the failed path of direct or societal giving. I hope you see where the SBTC is worth your mission dollar investment through the CP.

Peace begins the battlefield of the mind, LifeWay author tells women’s luncheon

AUSTIN?A piece of candy serves as a reminder to Martha Lawley about the peace of God. “Now and Later” candies dotted the tables of the Women’s Luncheon at the SBTC annual meeting as a token from Lawley to emphasize her message that the perfect peace of God is for our present

lives and eternity.

That peace, as written in Isaiah 26:3, is promised to all Christians but not easily attained, she said. In the search for perfect peace, Christians often succumb to the deceptions of Satan, missing the peace of God that is before them or continually scurrying about trying to claim a promise that God did not make.

Martha Lawley is the author of the women’s Bible study “Attending the Bride of Christ: Preparing for His Return” and has written for LifeWay Christian Resources’ Women’s Ministry webpage. She also serves as a Women’s Ministry Multiplier for LifeWay.

The verse in Isaiah states: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Lawley said this verse is a “when/then” promise of God. When we keep our minds steadfast on the Lord our God, then he will keep our minds in perfect peace, she said. The search for that peace, she added, “begins in the battlefield of our minds. No wonder the enemy concentrates so much energy on attacking our minds.”

When Christians do not continually remain steadfast on the things of God, she said Satan can trick people into missing their perfect peace by creating confusion and false expectations of God. Those false expectations breed resentment toward God. “Perfect peace,” Lawley said smugly.

“That makes a great greeting card, God.” The reality of life defies the Lord’s promise of peace?or so it would seem. The “now” peace, Lawley explained, “is more about what is present in our lives, not what is absent from our lives.” It is the presence of Christ and not the absence of troubles that is the measure of God’s peace. John 16:33 tells the believer that there will be trouble in this world. It is a fact of life.

But, Lawley added, the verse goes on to say, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” Second Corinthians 4:7-10 speaks to the hardships that will come to Christians. But it also confirms the manifestation of God in the lives of his children as they walk through the fire. The “now” peace of God is not the promise of the absence of trouble in our lives but the promise of the presence of Jesus in the midst of our troubles, she stated.

There is a design, a purpose in our difficulties, Lawley said. “It is so our lives can be a display of his glory.” Christians fall into the trap of believing that God’s promises of peace translate to a trouble-free life and so they doubt God and loose faith at the onset of hardships. It is then, she said, that they miss out on the promise of peace and fall prey to the deceptions of Satan. Lawley said her life once reflected that misconception. She said she was so busy tying to avert difficulties that she missed out on the peace of God that was right in front of her.

It is the lie of Satan that life is something to be muddled through. “Do not,” she emphasized, “expect what God does not promise.”

The peace that comes without troublesand includes the presence of Jesus is thpeace that all believers will ultimately experiencein the “later peace.” The 21st chapter of Revelation gives Christians a glimpse of the peace they will experience when they are finally in the presence of their Lord and the pains and tribulations of their earthly lives are gone, she said

Lawley encouraged the women to remain steadfast in the faith, keeping their minds focused on the things of Christ and to not expect the “later peace” in the here and now.

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The right kind of unity

We’re often reminded that Jesus’ prayer for his disciples (including us) is that we would be one (John 17:21) and that we would love one another (John 15:12). The interpretation of these commands has led some to suggest that denominations should be done away with, that creeds and confessions are contrary to the mind of Christ, that doctrine divides. Interpret Scripture by Scripture, though. This is the same Lord who a few weeks later commanded us to: make disciples (evangelism, teaching), immerse those disciples in the name of a Trinitarian God, and teach these newly baptized believers all the things he has taught us, presumably by means of an authoritative Bible.

There is a lot of doctrine and denominationalism in that little passage, isn’t there? Our unity must be in service of something and not an end in itself. A good unity story is the burgeoning relationship between the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas and our own SBTC.

For about a hundred years the Baptist Missionary Association and the Southern Baptist Convention went their own ways in the specifics of missionary support. Southern Baptists have been more centralized in their support of various denominational causes than have Missionary Baptists. In Texas, at least for the past few years, we are once again finding ways to work together. On page 2, our annual meeting wrapup describes the latest initiatives between our two state fellowships.

The point is that we are once again finding unity for specific ministries with others who substantially agree with us regarding faith and practice. Without revisiting the reasons for our initial separation, the reasons for this growing unity seem biblical and godly. For the most part, it was movement on the part of Southern Baptists that strengthened our relationship. The fact that our convention has clarified its beliefs on significant matters of faith answered a lot of questions for Baptists of other bodies.

In other words, our confessional nature told them a lot about what we are and are not. It defined the meaning of cooperation so that biblical compromise was not sacrificed for the sake of unity. Maybe you’ll argue that compromise never was part of the deal. OK, but setting the parameters in unequivocal language makes a big difference for many within and outside our fellowship.

Here’s another example. Back in the early 1990s I served the Indiana state convention. We were about to host the SBC during a year when the convention was going to clarify its stance on homosexuality with an amendment to the SBC Constitution. At the same time the American Baptist Convention was being less clear, to put it nicely. Our state office received several calls that year from conservative ABC churches who were troubled by the stand of their own denomination. They called us because they were heartened by the stand our denomination was taking. A clarifying of our stance opened the door to greater unity among Baptists in Indiana.

Likely that same thing happened in other places across the Midwest during that year. It was doctrinal clarity, not vagueness that best served the cause of Christian unity. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has more clearly defined itself than any other Southern Baptist denominational body larger than an association. Of course this means that some will choose another affiliation for doctrinal reasons but it is mistaken to think that doctrinal firmness is only divisive. If we want unity, what’s the alternative?

Usually it’s to draw the circle larger with indistinct edges. Ecumenical movements have been trying that for years and for them, the circle is never large enough. Interfaith witness becomes interfaith dialog. “The way, the truth, and the life,” becomes “many roads up the same mountain” or “God is the judge, I wouldn’t dare claim to know who will and won’t go to Heaven.” Doctrines that define denominations, believers’ baptism, eternal security, local church autonomy and the like are downplayed until a generation has no idea what their own churches believe.

Is anyone who believes the Bible to any degree happy with the way that’s turning out? How is it then that some of us toy with other strange practices and beliefs that seem only meant to convince people that we’re tolerant?


Archaeologist aims at reviving, expanding seminary program

FORT WORTH–Steven M. Ortiz grew up in east Los Angeles, attending a Southern Baptist church with his then newly converted father and listening to sermons from a pastor who was always citing the background of the biblical text. The historical and cultural background of the Bible
intrigued him, he recalled.

“My personality is the type that I want to touch and taste it,” said Ortiz, reflecting on his journey from a curious kid to a Ph.D. archaeologist who has worked with some of the foremost scholars in his field.

The day the TEXAN interviewed him in his office at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, his adrenaline was just beginning to subside from the week before, when the seminary’s I. Ruth Martin Collection of archaeological artifacts, dating back to the Iron Age (1,000-586 B.C.), was “rediscovered” after being stumbled upon deep in the bowels of the climate-controlled library archives.

It seems the collection was inconspicuously marked, boxed and stored amid aging church music documents on the bottom of a shelf.

A week-and-a-half later, Ortiz was lecturing a handful of students in the newly minted seminar room that now houses the Martin collection. Many of the more than 100 pieces of pottery, including cuneiform tablet writings, jars, oil lamps, plus ancient coins were already displayed in glass cases.

The recovery of the artifacts, which join other artifacts in the Charles C. Tandy Archaeological Museum at Southwestern, gives students a tangible sense of biblical history, he said.

“For the program to have a dedicated seminar room for the students to get hands-on experience is very important,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz joined the Southwestern staff this fall as associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of the Tandy Museum, coming from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. After Hurricane Katrina sent the Ortizes to Grapevine to be near family, Ortiz found
support as a fellow professor at the Southern Baptist sister school in Fort Worth.

Eventually, that relationship developed into an opportunity to revive the archaeology program at Southwestern, which discontinued its program in the early 1990s. This fall Ortiz has been busy teaching several courses and designing a curriculum to propose to the school’s trustees at their spring meeting for the master of arts program in archaeology and biblical studies.

Eventually, the goal is to offer a doctoral degree in biblical archaeology.

Seminary President Paige Patterson told trustees at their October meeting: “Literally, there are only a handful of schools in this country that even offer a doctor’s degree in archaeology now. For us to be able to step into that vacuum at this time is absolutely beyond any thought that I would have had to hope for. … It’s terribly important as an accompaniment to Old Testament and New Testament studies.”

The revived M.A. program, the first step Ortiz said, will be one of only two among SBC seminaries–the other is at Midwestern Seminary–and one of the few programs at evangelical Christian schools where scholarship will include archaeological digs and exposure to some of the world’s leading scholars. Ortiz said most programs involve studying about archaeology; Southwestern’s program will be unusual among evangelical schools in that it will expose students to primary archaeological research as well as biblical backgrounds.

Ortiz said if all goes as planned, master’s-level students may begin the program next fall.

In its former work in the 1980s under the leadership of George Kelm, now retired and living in San Antonio, the seminary participated in a dig, known as a “tel,” at Timnah, Israel; some of the artifacts from that dig are stored in the Tandy Museum.

Looking at a map on a wall inside the museum, Ortiz noted that Timnah, where students worked on the Tel Batash excavation in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, is only three to five miles from Gezer, site of the current dig involving Southwestern and led by Ortiz and Sam Wolff of the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

Gezer is on a strategic path that led from the lower elevations through the mountains to Jerusalem, Ortiz said. By the late Bronze Age (1,500-1,200 B.C.), “Every time an Egyptian king marched through the Holy Land, they had to conquer Gezer [to get to Jerusalem],” Ortiz said.

Scripture tells of David driving the Philistines as far as Gezer, marking it a boundary point between Israel and Philistine lands, Ortiz said. Gezer is referred to in 1 Kings 9:15-17 as one of Solomon’s fortified cities. If armies were to get to Jerusalem from the east, they would pass near Gezer, he said. The passage tells that Pharaoh captured Gezer, killed the Canaanite inhabitants and then gave it as a dowry to Solomon for his daughter, who was one of Solomon’s wives.

This summer Gezer was re-excavated for the first time in 30 years by a joint archaeological expedition, led in part by Ortiz and Wolff. It will continue in 2007 with consortium members that include Southwestern, Lancaster Bible College, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Marian Eakins Archaeological Museum, Lycoming College and Grace Seminary.

In fact, Southwestern will co-sponsor the dig work at Tel Gezer, a shift that comes in conjunction with Ortiz’ move to Southwestern.

“The Tel Gezer excavations have the potential to be one of the few American excavation projects in Israel that is training the next generation of biblical archaeologists,” Ortiz said.

Regarding ancient Israel, Ortiz told the school’s trustees during their fall meeting that critical scholars have contended that literacy was very low in ancient Israel and that the Old Testament canon is a late document, perhaps revised and compiled after the Babylonian exile.

But due to an artifact uncovered at Gezer, “In the 10th century we already have a little schoolboy practicing a little poem, sort of like a farmer’s almanac,” Ortiz told the trustees. “It’s the agricultural cycle of the year. But it’s written in a hand that is not familiar with the language, somebody who is learning the text.

“One of the things that Gezer tells us is that somebody in the 10th century was already practicing how to read and write.”

There is an increasing public interest in archaeology, Ortiz told the seminary’s trustees as he pointed to a recent article in Newsweek magazine as an example.

“Because of archaeological research you can no longer deny the historicity of the Bible,” he said. “What you do is you change the historicity of the Bible. And so you’d find other Gospels. You just change it a little—Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene, etcetera, etcetera. In Old Testament [studies] there are similar trends there. You don’t deny the historicity of David and Solomon any more, you just change it a little—David and Solomon weren’t really ancient kings of Israel; they were small tribal chieftains. Or, we have all the dating wrong,” Ortiz explained, giving examples of how revisionists attempt to dismiss the biblical account.

“And this is where my work comes in. This is where it’s important. As you can see, David is a hot topic. Can a history of Israel be written? ‘The Mythic Past,’” Ortiz said, reading a book title. “These are textbooks used in major universities. ‘The Invention of Ancient Israel,’ ‘The Creation of History in Ancient Israel.’ If you go down the street to SMU, go down to the University of Texas, Texas A&M, these are the textbooks that are used in a basic Bible course.

“And so you must as pastors, as ministers, when you send out your college students and they come back, they’re asking you the question, ‘What do I do? Is the Bible true? I’ve been challenged in my Bible history course.’ And that’s one of the issues God has called me to in terms of apologetics and in terms of my research goals. The accounts of David: Are they historical or are they mythological? And this is the question that’s presented in most classes.

“The solution, naturally, is archaeological research, going and actually having evangelicals involved in archaeology. As you know, most evangelicals have abandoned archaeology for many reasons. One, it’s difficult. It’s hard to stay married. You leave your wife for two months. You get dirty. You deal with pottery. It’s not interesting. You get boring lectures in class. So, most people avoid archaeology.”

Ortiz caught the archaeology bug while a college student at Cal-State Los Angeles, he said. A double major in anthropology and sociology, Ortiz headed to Israel on a summer study program and was hooked.

“I fell in love with archaeology,” he said. “I fell in love with the land. I finished my undergraduate degree, and went to Israel to work on my masters.”

While there he was able to study under some world-renown archaeologists and earn a master’s degree in biblical history. From there, he headed to the University of Arizona, where he earned a master’s and Ph.D. in Near Eastern archaeology under noted scholar William Dever.

A committed Baptist evangelical in a field of many skeptics, Ortiz was able to use his unusual background when an offer to teach came from New Orleans Seminary.

“God brought both passions (archaeology and the Christian faith) together at New Orleans,” Ortiz said.

While there, Ortiz taught and directed the Center for Archaeological Research and brought the program into some level of prominence, bringing to campus speakers such as Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay. While excavating a burial tomb near Jerusalem in 1979, Barkay uncovered the oldest known copy of Old Testament scripture. The priestly blessing, recorded in Numbers 6:24-26, was discovered on two small silver scrolls dated to the 7th century B.C.

New Orleans Seminary’s archaeology program frequently began to draw attention from the city’s newspaper, the Times-Picayune, mostly because of a reporter who was intrigued by archaeology,“ Ortiz said.

In 2004, Biblical Archaeology Review called Ortiz a “prominent evangelical scholar” in the field.

At a Houston luncheon in 1994 hosted by the American Jewish Federation and the Anti-Defamation League that featured Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land, a Jewish host, in introducing Land as an alumnus of New Orleans Seminary, lauded the school for what he described as it fine work in biblical archaeology.

“That [Gabriel Barkay] lecture catapulted the program,” Ortiz recalled.

Patterson told the TEXAN in August: “The appointment of Dr. Ortiz and establishment of an Institute of Biblical Archaeology will make Southwestern Seminary one of the leading research centers of biblical archaeology.”

In addition to archaeology students, ministerial students should have a grasp of biblical archaeology, Ortiz said.

“It just elevates your preaching, because you’re putting it in the context of its revelation.”

Ortiz said donors such as I. Ruth Martin, a Southwestern alumnus and longtime professor at Pembroke State College in North Carolina who died in 1989, are crucial to building a top-notch biblical archaeology program, as are Christian philanthropists who can endow the school, scholarship students for overseas work or fund entire projects.

“I hope we will be the next training center for biblical archaeology, at least in the SBC and in the evangelical world, and to be a major player in our field of research and in training students. Part of my commitment to Dr. Patterson is to revitalize the institute for archaeology, and he wants us to train the next generation of professors for our seminaries.”