Month: May 2010

Vindication for Intelligent Design at Baylor?

Baylor University remains a proving ground for Baptist controversies. Former Baylor president Robert Sloan’s “2012 Vision” continues, at least for now. This vision rests on two pillars, seeking to establish Baylor both as a top research university and as a school faithful to its Christian heritage. Secularized faculty, who are in the majority at Baylor and forced Sloan’s removal (he is now president of Houston Baptist University), see Baylor’s Christian heritage as a liability and would like to make the university’s slide into secularization complete.

Ken Starr, who becomes Baylor’s new president June 1st, therefore faces a crucial test: will he continue the full Baylor 2012 Vision, advancing not just Baylor’s academic distinction but also its Christian faithfulness, or will he give up on this second pillar of the vision? Starr’s commitment to academic excellence is not in doubt. During his tenure as dean of Pepperdine Law School, he significantly raised its academic standing. The question is what he will do regarding Baylor’s Christian identity.

Starr, no stranger to controversy, seems poised to do the right thing. But good intentions are one thing, decisions and actions are another. Baylor will be sure to test Starr’s mettle. Indeed, his first test is likely to come from an unexpected source, an online college resource known as College Crunch ( Organizations like this draw traffic to their website (and thus earn their keep) by posting items of interest to prospective college students. One such item, first appearing on the site this March, lists “The 20 Most Brilliant Christian Professors.” On this list is Baylor professor Robert J. Marks II. Here is College Crunch’s description of him (

Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University. A founder of the field of computational intelligence (comprising fuzzy sets, neural networks, and evolutionary computing), Marks has published hundreds of articles on an very wide range of problems (everything from optimal detection of non-Gaussian noise to proper placement of radioactive inserts to treat prostate cancer). His work has enormous practical implications that are felt every day?all major North American utilities deliver energy using his work on neural networks. A Christian intent on understanding teleology in nature, Marks founded the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, which publishes peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting the controversial theory of intelligent design.

In appearing on this list, Marks finds himself in the company of such luminaries as Alvin Plantinga, N. T. Wright, Marilynne Robinson, and the SBC’s own Al Mohler. Everyone on the list is truly outstanding. The list seems well balanced and well thought out?it’s clear that the people at College Crunch gave it careful attention. Granted, such lists are not to be taken overly seriously. And if that’s where things stood, Marks’ appearance on the list would go no further.

But it has gone further. The local paper in Waco, where Baylor is located, reported on Marks’s newfound super-genius status and drew attention specifically to Marks’ Evolutionary Informatics Lab. As Tim Woods reported in the Waco Tribune (April 15, 2010), “In August 2007, though, Marks’ research led to legal wrangling with Baylor, which removed his Evolutionary Informatics Lab’s Web site from its server without notifying him.” (Source:

Marks’ research lab was expelled from Baylor because Baylor officials saw it as supporting intelligent design, a scientific theory that purports to dismantle Darwinian evolution (Baylor biologists enthusiastically teach and promote Darwinian evolution?see their “Statement on Evolution” on the Baylor Biology Department’s website: The expulsion of Marks’ lab from Baylor was reported nationally from World Magazine to the Chronicle of Higher Education. It was also a centerpiece of Ben Stein’s film Expelled, documenting the persecution that proponents of intelligent design endure from the academy.

It is naively optimistic to think that Marks’ appearance on the College Crunch list vindicates his research on intelligent design. Such optimism would be better justified if incoming Baylor president Ken Starr were to reinstate the Evolutionary Informatics Lab’s website on the Baylor server and to recognize intelligent design as a legitimate area of research for Baylor faculty. That would constitute a true vindication of Marks’ work on intelligent design. It would also constitute a true validation of Starr’s commitment to the full Baylor 2012 Vision.

Perhaps the College Crunch list is a foretaste of good things to come.

William A. Dembski teaches at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and was formerly on the faculty of Baylor University. His most recent book, co-authored with Jonathan Witt, is Intelligent Design Uncensored (IVP).

Disaster relief efforts continue in Haiti

Four months after the devastating earthquake shook their very foundations, the people of Haiti still struggle to deal with loss?loss of shelter and loss of security. Due to poor infrastructure and fear, people still live on the streets. They are either too afraid or unable to go back inside their homes.

When the earthquake hit, the government warned people that their houses were not safe. They told them to stay outside. Narrow roads became nearly impassable as families set up tents outside where they felt they would be safer. Fear has kept them there. One woman told a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer that her home used to be her source of comfort; now it is her enemy.

Others have no choice. Their homes were so damaged that they are not able to go back inside. People sleep outside, wash clothes outside and even worship outside. Many church buildings were so damaged that the congregation either set up a temporary shelter from sheets of tin and tarps or simply began to meet out on the street.


Disaster relief volunteers from SBTC churches have partnered with Haitian Baptist churches to rebuild church buildings, homes and a sense of security in their neighborhoods. Up to this point, volunteers have been involved primarily in assessment, feeding, and demolition projects. Their priority has been to make sure that they meet people’s most urgent physical needs. Starting this month, the focus shifts to rebuilding.

Teams will rebuild areas around Haitian partner churches. They will construct church buildings and homes in neighborhoods other disaster relief teams have scouted and prepared for rebuilding. The long and difficult job begins with cleaning debris from building sites. Once a site is cleared, the team will erect a 12×6 concrete block home.

In addition to building, SBTC Disaster Relief teams partnered with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma to provide hand-driven well pumps to be installed on Haitian Baptist church properties. Clean water remains scarce. The pumps will enable churches to provide clean water for the entire community. Along with delivering these pumps, volunteer teams will help reopen wells that collapsed during the quake.

While rebuilding teams do their work, evangelism teams will work with Haitian families to begin rebuilding of a different sort. In order to help people overcome their lingering fears, these teams will hold discipleship and evangelism lessons. Evangelism teams will encourage people to regain a sense of security by facing what they’ve been through. Those who attend will also receive the message of hope in Christ and a lesson in sharing that hope with others. In the evenings, the teams will reach out to the community through revival services.

Chaplains lead many to Christ

Since the work in Haiti began, chaplains and other disaster relief volunteers have led over 800 people to the Lord. Haitian Baptist churches have reported thousands of professions of faith. Chaplains have seen that God can use even the most difficult circumstances to bring glory to his name, said Darryl Cason, SBTC chaplaincy leader.

Every disaster relief team travels with two chaplains. Chaplains serve the spiritual needs of the teams?organizing Bible studies and devotionals?and of the people affected by the disaster. Cason said they are in an ideal situation to share Christ. In disaster situations, people are forced to reevaluate what is important. They have often lost most if not all of their possessions. Many have lost loved ones. Because of these struggles, they are more willing to talk about spiritual things and more open to hearing the gospel.

Most DR chaplains have received training in other areas. This enables chaplains to help out when they are needed, Cason said. They also know what the teams face and are better able to minister to them. The main priority of any chaplain, however, remains spiritual ministry, he added.

For more information on volunteering, contact <st1

The GCR task force report should be adopted

You’ve noticed perhaps that we’ve given a lot of space to the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and their work since last summer. I think it matters and beg the indulgence of those who are less interested in the process of denominational change while we run this trail until the end of the task force’s work in mid-June. Whether you are going to Orlando or not, this is an important moment in our history. I believe we are about to take a first step in a wise and productive direction.

Changing something can cause us to look at old things with new eyes?Now, I’m not suggesting we should change anything just to say we did. I am saying that the fact that we’re willing to consider common sense tweaks to our work is a morale boost. It feels like progress. Well-considered changes can also open our imaginations to new solutions. They have the added virtue of showing in concrete ways that our leaders do hear the revolutionaries among us and are capable of doing more than hand wringing in response.

The report’s specific changes make sense?To be sure, the report is pretty vague in places, and I’ll mention that later, but the recommendations of the task force are on the whole positive.

Great Commission Giving?This component is now weighted heavily in favor of the Cooperative Program. It even gives a very definite nod toward increased percentage giving by our churches. In that context, the idea sounds fine. If more of our churches will consider raising their percentage of undesignated giving through CP, then it will be easier to “celebrate” their designated giving. Besides, if state conventions are going to be the chief promoters of CP, I think we can count on them to keep the promotion in line with the GCRTF report?as I said, a very pro-CP report.

The North American Mission Board?The wording of the final report is decidedly more vague than the progress report released last February. This is a positive sign. The task force, particularly Chairman Ronnie Floyd, did listen to those who were concerned about some of the preliminary proposals. This openness raised the trust level among those who depend heavily on NAMB support. The vagueness of the current language also wisely recognizes that NAMB itself will have to work through the intricacies of implementation. The report leaves a lot of room for interpretation and personalized application. The exhortation to send more money to underreached areas of North America is also well-taken. How can a large state convention in a state that is about 50 percent lost complain when more money goes to a small state convention in which the percentage of lost people is closer to 90 percent?

The International Mission Board?Releasing IMB to reach underreached people groups in the U.S. is a very sensible idea. It also sounds like it might be complex to implement. I don’t imagine negative consequences of this recommendation but I can imagine this one as being hard to implement. It also raises questions about IMB’s ability to divert man hours to work within the U.S. This one might be small in its implementation.

More money to IMB, less money to the Executive Committee?This is a good idea and will likely be very popular. Over a million bucks may seem like a gesture to some but it is not a meaningless gesture. “More money to the IMB” has been a common watchword among many of us for the last few years. We are probably going to do that in response to this GCRTF recommendation. But it’s also less money to the Executive Committee. Fair or not, when most observers hear the word “bureaucracy” applied to the SBC, they think of the EC. The report’s commitment to “reduce denominational infrastructure” recommends that a very large portion of the EC’s budget should be removed and reallocated. The Executive Committee’s role has grown significantly broader since 1995. Many Southern Baptists believe the committee’s work should be more focused.

The SBC is difficult to change impetuously?Witness the Conservative Resurgence. It took eight years of conservative presidents and appointments to elect a conservative to the helm of a single SBC agency. It took 16 years to make such a change at all our agencies. It took that long with a string of interrupted victories, a real and clearly stated problem, and an undeniable, very specific mandate from the grassroots. Those concerned that the GCRTF report might impact our work negatively should know that scores, hundreds in some cases, of cooks will be in the kitchen when even the most modest of these recommendations takes effect. This is the frustrating thing about a large and successful denomination. This is also the comforting thing about efforts to change such a denomination; these changes will never be as glorious as its advocates hope nor as horrible as its detractors fear. I support implementation of the GCRTF recommendations because I think our process has enough safeguards to provide for reform without recklessness. If I believed the recommendations were going to orphan needy work in the U.S. or damage the Cooperative Program, I’d be writing a very different column today.<SPAN style="FONT-FAMILY: Trebuchet MS; FONT-SIZE:

SBTC Bible drill, speakers’ tournament winners

The state finals of the SBTC Bible Drill and Speakers’ Tournament were held April 24 at the convention offices in Grapevine. Bible drill finalists competed in one of two categories: youth and high school. The speakers competed across age ranges. Annually, students spend dozens of hours memorizing Scripture and practicing speeches in preparation for Bible drill competition.

Speaker finalists

Speakers’ tournament finalists, by judges’ scores in descending order, were: Josh Knoff, Galloway Avenue Baptist Church, Mesquite, (first place); Brandon Powell, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Arlington, (second); Rickey Wilson Jr., Cornerstone BC, Arlington, (third); Tiffany Newkirk, Cornerstone BC, Arlington; Mikaela Wilson, Cornerstone BC, Arlington; Rachel Haire, Tate Springs Baptist Church, Arlington; Brittnee Wyatt, Cornerstone BC, Arlington; Arielle Comer, Cornerstone BC, Arlington; Moneka Watson, Cornerstone BC, Arlington; Caleb Humphries, Brighton Park Baptist Church, Corpus Christi; Mary Bransom, Providential Baptist Church, Pearland; Rebecca Sanchez, Galloway Avenue Baptist Church, Mesquite.

High school Bible drill

High school Bible drill finalists were: Clara Boyett, Tanglewood Baptist Church, Jasper (first); Susannah Christopherson, First Baptist Church, Euless (second); Hannah Strebeck, First Baptist Church, Lavon (third); Minuet Balkon, First Baptist Church, Euless; Mary Bransom, Providential Baptist Church, Pearland; Samuel Christie, First Baptist Church, Euless; Owen Best, First Baptist Church, Buna; Justin Pell, First Baptist Church, Euless; Samantha Quick, The Church at West Mountain, Gilmer; Nathan Curb, New Hope Baptist Church.

Youth Bible drill

Finalists in youth Bible drill were: Hannah Boyett, Tanglewood Baptist Church, Jasper (first); Carter Lantz, Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano (second); Stephen Tung, Prestonwood Baptist Church (third); Victoria Wright, Lakeview Baptist Church, Ore City; Amber Andrus, Brighton Park Baptist Church, Corpus Christi; Landry Linn, Wildwood Baptist Church; Rachel Donald, Agua Dulce Baptist Church, Agua Dulce; Hannah Valles, Bethany Baptist Church, Breckenridge; Hannah Clay, Prestonwood Baptist Church; Lauren Olvera, Prestonwood Baptist Church; Kaylee Sutton, The Church at West Mountain, Gilmer; Emily Castleberry, Lake O’ the Pines Baptist Church, Avinger.

GCR Task Force report calls for greater North American church planting priority

Fifteen years after the adoption of a strategy called a “Covenant for a New Century” turned the Home Mission Board into the North American Mission Board (NAMB), the Southern Baptist Convention is once again considering recommendations from a national study committee to “reinvent” the North American missions agency.

In its final report, released May 3, members of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) called on Southern Baptists to liberate NAMB to “penetrate lostness” in North America by re-focusing the entity’s missions strategies, responsibilities, and partnerships toward a church planting priority.

The final report indicates NAMB leaders met with task force members to discuss shared concerns about “the priority of liberating NAMB to conduct and direct a strategy of reaching the United States and Canada with the Gospel and planting Gospel churches,” the final report reads.

The fourth of seven components suggested by the task force, the report addresses two basic questions about NAMB: what should the agency do, and how should it do that work?

What should NAMB do?

With the adoption of the “Covenant for a New Century” in 1996, NAMB was tapped with nine ministry assignments to assist churches:

• Supporting missionaries

• Evangelism

• Establishing new congregations

• Christian social ministries

• Volunteer missions

• Missions involvement and education

• Communication technologies

• Service to associations

• Disaster relief

According to the GCRTF final report, NAMB will be “unleashed for greater effectiveness” with a church planting priority targeting cities and unreached regions and people groups. The final report suggests NAMB focus on assisting churches in the following areas:

• Church planting

• Evangelism

• Mobilizing a missional movement among churches

The fourth component further elaborates that NAMB should help churches in disciple-making and it should be tasked with leadership development to become “a central engine for building missional momentum” among pastors.

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Platt, Greear: God’s will is evident

HOUSTON?David Platt clearly presented the choices: Comfort or the cross? Maintenance or mission? Indecisive minds or undivided hearts?

Speaking at the opening session of SENT, the annual missions conference of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., told the approximately 500 people gathered at Champion Forest Baptist Church April 16-17 that a passion for the mission of God springs from “a proper understanding of the glory of Christ.”

“Because if our view of Christ is low,” Platt said, “then our desire to take the message and the person of Christ to the ends of the earth will be weak, but when our view of the person of Christ in all his glory is high and we see him in his supremacy, then we will be compelled to give our very lives to take his gospel to the ends of the earth.”

Preaching from the Luke 9 account of Jesus and those who would follow him with exceptions such as guaranteed shelter, burying the dead or saying goodbye to loved ones, Platt said Jesus almost appears to be talking them out of following him?a contrast to some modern evangelism methods.

But what if Jesus asked the same things of us?

“This is where we come face to face with a frightening reality: Jesus has said these things to us,” Platt said. We want a “nice, middle class American Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism or nominal devotion,” Platt remarked. “We twist Jesus into our image, and this is where it is most frightening.”

Platt said Western believers must face three questions: Are we going to choose comfort, or are we going to choose the cross, are we going to settle for maintenance or follow a mission, and will our lives be marked by indecisive minds or undivided hearts?

The Great Commission obligation in the life of every believer “supersedes everything else in this life” with an urgency that says “this is most important.” Globally, approximately 645 people groups are unreached with the gospel while believers are asking, “What is God’s will for my life?” Not everyone is called to India or Africa, but all are called to carry the gospel forth, Platt argued.

“God’s will is not lost. We are sitting there asking, ‘What do you want me to do, God?'”

Like the man in Matthew 13:44 who sells all to buy a field with a treasure buried in it, our treasure in following Christ “is worth losing everything for.”

J.D. Greear

Speaking during the second-day plenary session, J.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., joked that college students in his church are mandated to serve overseas for two years on Christian mission “unless you have heard otherwise” from God.

“We call it the Mormonization of the Baptist church.”

Greear, a former International Mission Board church planter in Indonesia, got clarity about his calling one day while reading Romans and realizing that ev

CP prioritized in GCR Task Force report

After nearly three months of Southern Baptists voicing their enthusiasm and concerns about the initial report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, the ad hoc committee released its final recommendations on Monday with clearer priority given to Southern Baptists’ cherished Cooperative Program giving channel.

The report also extends the suggested timeline for phasing out “cooperative funding agreements” that send money from the SBC’s domestic missions agency back to state conventions, from four years to seven years, and ends with a list of challenges to individuals, families, churches, associations, state conventions, SBC executives, and national agencies.

The report of the 22-member task force?named by SBC President Johnny Hunt after SBC messengers last summer authorized the formation of it to study how the SBC could work “more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission”?spans 27 typed pages and has been amended slightly from the preliminary version unveiled in February, with the seven components described succinctly and with more moderate proposals on some of the controversial elements.

Titled “Penetrating the Lostness: Embracing a Vision for a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists,” the report was finalized April 26 in the last meeting of the GCR Task Force. Messengers to the SBC annual meeting June 15-16 in Orlando, Fla., will vote on whether or not to adopt the task force report along with seven motions related to the seven components outlined in the report.

Noting the need in every generation for a re-emphasis on the Great Commission mandate to take the gospel to the world and Southern Baptists’ identity as a “Great Commission movement of churches,” the reports laments that of nearly 7 billion people on earth, at best only 1 billion are professed followers of Jesus Christ and 3.5 billion have never heard the gospel.

In North America, “evangelical Christians are falling behind the level of population growth” and not reaching new immigrants, young adults and “the teeming millions in urban areas.”

The report also notes that the average Southern Baptist gives 2.5 percent of his income to the local church, the local church sends an average 6 percent of its undesignated receipts through the SBC’s Cooperative Program missions funding channel, and state conventions on average are retaining 63 percent of CP dollars.


The following summarizes the seven components:

?Component 1: Getting the Mission Right. This component calls Southern Baptists to adopt a mission statement that reads, “As a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.” The report adds: “Is this not who we are? Can we even think of settling for anything less? Our mission statement should be drawn directly from the words of Jesus. This missional vision must drive everything that Southern Baptists do, and reset every priority of the local church and the denomination.”