Month: December 2015

Making a difference

It was the beginning of the summer when I first heard of the horrendous videos about Planned Parenthood. For months, I would see them posted and mourn for the children affected, for the moms who were so grievously deceived. I would cry for the atrocities, and then my mind would go to the facility that is literally across the street from the hospital where my own children were born. It grieved me that on the days when I gave my children life, the lives of other babies were being brutally taken away.

Finally, I realized that my mourning, although justified, was doing nothing to save any children. 

It was at that moment when I began praying that God would give me direction in how I could help my community be a city of life and not death. God places each believer in a particular location, not for them to hide their light in the security of their own home, but so they can greatly affect those around them. A city where there are Christians should be better off for it. However, the problems seem too big, so many of us stay silent, frozen by lack of direction.

At the end of this summer, God placed an opportunity before me to take a step to make a difference. And, because of his power and direction and the faithful obedience of many others, a large step was made to encourage others to work and help stand for life in my city.

Maybe you are wondering what you can do to affect your community for Christ. What can one person do to inspire change, stand for Christ, and fight against evil right where you are?

1. Pray and seek the Lord’s direction for a specific opportunity. It would not be wise to simply join every group or volunteer every time there is a need. You will become burned out, and your family will feel neglected and frustrated. However, if you pray specifically for the Lord to show you how you can become involved in the community where he has placed you, he is faithful to give you direction. As you are praying, speak to your spouse about getting involved in the community. It will more than likely be a team effort, so you need to make sure your spouse has the same desire to get involved.

2. Understand your talents and stage of life. While God has called you to impact your community for him, he has also called you to be effective in the stage of life where he has you. It is not wise to neglect one calling for the other. In the same vein, think about the talents you have. Are you a gifted teacher, seamstress, painter, encourager, organizer? Think about using those talents to benefit the community. It will only lead to frustration if you jump into something that does not suite your stage or giftedness. God created you specifically with certain talents and passions. Using those, along with your availability, you can make a difference to God’s glory.

3. Be available. Opportunities to impact your community will more than likely not come at a convenient time. If you wait until you have free time or extra money or additional resources, the time will hardly come. But what you can do is use the resources you do have to make an impact. Yes, it might be inconvenient. Yes, you might have to sacrifice. Yes, you might have to reorganize and reprioritize. However, if you can change one life for God’s glory, it is worth it.

Finally, realize God works in the macro and the micro. For example, when we talk about the cause of fighting abortion there are many battles raging. There is a battle in the legislation of the laws of our country. In Congress, laws are made that affect people on a grand scale, nationwide. If we are involved in our community, then we must be involved in the election process that puts the people into place who make those laws. However, the opportunity does not end on the macro level. The battle to fight abortion happens on the local level. It also includes volunteering to encourage or counsel those who are hurt or scared in an unplanned pregnancy.

Sometimes we are fooled into believing that because we cannot help the masses that we are ineffective. But this is not so. God can work in ministering to the masses, but he can also lead you to be greatly effective in reaching one individual. God has created us to impact those around us with good works by using our talents and resources in whatever opportunities he lays before us. 

Melanie Lenow is the mother of four children with Evan Lenow, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This column first appeared at the Biblical Woman website, biblicalwoman.com, a blog of Southwestern Seminary. 

Family testifies to sanctity of life by caring for brain-injured son

CROWLEY The annual observance of Sanctity of Life Sunday couldn’t have been a better day to reintroduce Peter Helms to his broad circle of friends at Rock Creek Baptist Church in Crowley. His mother wondered if people would see him as their good-natured and strapping 6-foot-4-inch son or as the invalid who had experienced a traumatic brain injury.

“Would people be able to look beyond the wheelchair to see the dignity and value of my son’s precious life?”

Selah Helms

“Would people be able to look beyond the wheelchair to see the dignity and value of my son’s precious life?” she asked herself as the family entered the church.

A car wreck on July 29, 2010, took away the dreams and hopes that Doug and Selah Helms had for their son who was weeks away from entering college. Peter was on his way to work for an elderly church member when his car was broadsided as he crossed an intersection.

After months of hospitalization and intense therapy, Peter was released to the care of his parents who moved from nearly empty-nesters to round-the-clock caregivers. Siblings, grandparents and friends from their church and homeschooling community joined in the effort.

In her new book, That Your Faith May Not Fail, Peter’s Sermon, Selah Helms encourages readers to gain a vision of heaven to fortify them to walk gracefully through life’s most difficult trials. She also guides them to love their families more by investing in the lives of their children and to attach themselves to their own church families who provide strength during suffering and loss.  

Describing their family’s transition to assuming the care of their son, Helms wrote, “We had learned to suction a trach, to put a meal through a feeding tube, to crush ten pills at a time, and to administer breathing treatments.” 

At night they listened for signals that their son needed help. “We had learned to turn him every two hours and to give bed baths. We had learned passive range-of-motion exercises and upper airway anatomy for effective speech therapy. And we had learned how to place objects in his hands and cognitively challenge him to move the object we named,” she added.

Peter could not speak nor control his muscles, and his eyes didn’t always focus on the person speaking to him. And yet he would need the support of his church family to continue making progress. They had known the boy who had printed and folded church bulletins, helped clean the church building, fixed breakfast for the men’s book studies and watched after a 9-year-old whose parents did not attend church. With their prayerful support and practical ministry, they shored up the pastor’s family.

Recalling that day of returning to the church her husband had pastored since 1999, Selah Helms wrote of the affection shown to her son. One mother told of missing him playing basketball in her driveway, another elderly woman assured him of her frequent prayers, and men took turns shaking his hand and filling him in on the news of their own lives.

“We belong to a hardy church family that responded to Peter and his needs with dignity and love,” she wrote. “Even as an invalid—especially as an invalid—Peter would need the support of his church family. We would all, as a church family, have a front-lines role in the battle for the dignity of human life.”

As care is extended to those who are weak and cannot speak for themselves, Helms offers encouragement to treat every person with “the dignity due God’s image-bearers.” In doing that, she shared, “We shout to the world, seen and unseen, the sanctity of the lives God has entrusted to us.”   

Upholding life’s sanctity to the end

As political activists champion assisted suicide bills in state legislatures with euphemistic terms like “right to die” or “death with dignity,” some healthcare professionals are calling attention to an often neglected weapon in the battle for the sanctity of life—true, compassionate end-of-life care. 

The day after California legalized assisted suicide last fall, leading public advocate for palliative and hospice care Ira Byock took to the airwaves of NPR’s Diane Rehm show to discuss the need for health care focused on improving the quality of a patient’s life. 

In his books on the subject and his website, Byock asserts that palliative care “is the biggest advance in medicine that most people have never heard of” that has improved quality and length of life while also reducing health care costs. 

Byock believes the nation is best served by addressing the root of the end-of-life crisis—the narrow focus on the physical care of a terminally-ill patient. As a result, the emotional, social and spiritual needs of the patient and his or her family are nearly excluded from end-of-life discussions, he said. 

Lou Sharp spent more than 40 years working as a home-health nurse and hospice caregiver. In 1992, Sharp helped found Circle of Life, a hospice program in Northwest Arkansas. Patients with a prognosis for less than six months to live can be referred by their doctor to hospice care, typically covered by Medicare, Medicaid and some private insurers.

Circle of Life Hospice provides patients and their families with a team of hospice caregivers, including nurses, social workers and chaplains. Nurses administer palliative care to keep patients comfortable and attend closely to physical needs either in their homes or in a home-like setting. 

Every human life, regardless of age or utility, is of equal worth. We equally bear the image of God.
 

“A chaplain can come in and talk to them one-on-one to ask the spiritual questions. Those are hard questions for a family member to ask. Chaplains really open up a lot of communication sometimes. It is often hard to admit you are afraid,” Sharp said. 

Social workers support both the patient and family members in coping with stress by listening, helping them express their needs and providing needed guidance and resources.

Sharp retired several years ago to care for her own mother in her declining years. She has experienced the value of hospice care from both sides—as a provider and a receiver. She believes this level of holistic care is important for both patient and family members.

The Circle of Life website, nwacircleoflife.org, dispels several “myths” about hospice, clarifying that hospice is not “where you go when there is nothing more a doctor can do” but rather that hospice is “a philosophy of care providing medical, emotional and spiritual care focusing on comfort and quality of life.”

Terry Sutterfield, a board-certified hospice medical director, has served as a family physician of more than 25 years. As chief medical director for Circle of Life, he oversees the center’s daily operations, makes home and in-patient visits, and prescribes the palliative care medications and treatments. 

Sutterfield explained that about 95 percent of Circle of Life patients receive hospice in their personal homes or in a nursing home, which involves several visits each week from a regular hospice team—people with whom they develop relationships. For those whose symptoms cannot be controlled well in their home, Circle of Life provides an in-patient hospice facility with round-the-clock care.

When asked what he observes in the lives of patients and their families, Sutterfield said, “The main thing we hear from families is what a relief it is to enter hospice. We can’t add days to life, but hospice can add life to days. Many have been in and out of hospitals and cannot improve, and their pain and symptoms are not being controlled. In hospice, we not only care for their physical comfort but also for their spiritual and social needs.”

Similar support programs operate in some critical care hospitals. 

Rikki Hester has worked 10 years as a social worker, currently at Methodist Dallas Medical Center in the neuro critical care unit, where she works closely with patients and family members through assessment and ongoing communication to identify if and when choices will be made for palliative care, hospice or withdrawal of life support. 

Hester is present when patients in her unit are declared brain-dead by a brain-flow study and the physician meets with the family to inform them of the test results. “As you can imagine, that is an incredibly difficult time for the families, and having the social worker present to offer emotional support is very important,” Hester said.

Hester also provides support to family members in emergency code blue situations—cardiac arrest. 

“There is something very special about having the families trust you with their loved ones at the most crucial times in their lives. Even as a social worker, I may not have a direct impact on the outcome of their medical prognosis, [but] the families want anything to cling to and hope for during this time,” Hester told the TEXAN.

Through people like Sharp, Sutterfield, and Hester, end-of-life and critical care services offer compassionate care to those suffering with terminal illnesses and also provide resources and emotional support for their families. Regardless of those strides in end-of-life care, recent events have impelled a resurgence of the euthanasia debate. 

On Oct. 5 California became the fifth state to de-criminalize physician-assisted death for certain terminally ill patients. The End of Life Options Act—which takes effect in January—came about, in part, due to the case of 29-year-old terminal cancer patient Brittany Maynard, a California wife and mother who in 2014 relocated to Oregon in order to obtain physician assistance to “die with dignity.”

Advocates for physician-assisted death assert that it is merciful to end a patient’s suffering because it increases personal autonomy. This argument is strategically linked to their choice of language to describe euthanasia: death with dignity.

Legalized euthanasia opponents, however, argue that a patient’s decision to die may be influenced by his perceived need to release families from care-giving burdens, thereby actually decreasing autonomy. 

As a practicing physician in a non-right-to-die state, Sutterfield said “sporadically” patients request assistance to hasten their death. “Many times patients who bring that up have seen family members or loved ones pass away in unpleasant circumstances. These patients and their families do not understand what is available in hospice. Studies have shown that patients often live longer in hospice care. We are asked [about physician-assisted death] occasionally, and we explain that it isn’t something we do, and then explain what is available to them in hospice.”

According to Sutterfield, research indicates that less than 50 percent of acutely terminally ill patients utilize hospice care. “Many die not receiving this kind of care,” he said. 

Sutterfield agrees with Byock’s assertions that the public discussion typically focuses on only two options for the terminally ill: suffering or suicide. “In our culture we look at the hot issues. But there is so much that can be done in hospice and palliative care that can make the patient comfortable.” 

Criswell College president and ethicist Barry Creamer told the TEXAN that the issue of euthanasia can be complex. 

“It is okay for people to refuse medical care, but there can be a conflict of interests because other people are also invested in the decision of the patient—people who could make money, people who stand to inherit money,” Creamer said. “But when continuing care becomes unreasonable, saying no to medical care is an option to anyone.

“On the other side, it is simple. Every human life, regardless of age or utility, is of equal worth. We equally bear the image of God. When you make a decision about care, it should be the same whether dealing with Steven Hawking or with any disabled individual. We don’t have the luxury of devaluing human life.” 

To guide family members and caregivers facing end-of-life decisions for loved ones, Creamer noted that while refusing medical care is an option to anyone, “people are not just valuable because of what they can experience. People are valuable because they are here, and we have the privilege to care for and love them.”   

Life and death, blessing and cursing

The Bible is a pretty absolutist book. All through it you have uncompromising contrasts between the God who is and gods who aren’t, obedience and sin, life and death, blessing and cursing, light and darkness, faith and works, flesh and spirit, belief and unbelief … heaven and hell. To our modern ears, it sounds harsh to offer no third way to blessing and life. But those who find a third way to respond to God must torture the Scriptures to do so. It was not God’s intention to offer a third option. 

So yes, pro-life Christians are pretty hard to understand in the context of modern ways of thinking. FBC Jacksonville, Fla., pastor Mac Brunson recently quoted Proverbs 8:36, “But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; All those who hate me love death,” applying the verse to Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and others who profit from abortion. Those who believe the Bible have a hard time quarrelling with the application, understanding that love and hate, regard and disregard, are two more biblical absolute contrasts. If you prefer the death of some or profit from death in some way, “love” is the proper word in this verse; if you disregard God, “hate” is the proper word. Pastor Brunson may be accused of intemperate language by some gentle souls, but I think “prophetic” is a better understanding of what he said. 

But it’s not nearly an exclusively Planned Parenthood problem. We have created a whole culture that has stumbled into hate (disregard, disobedience) for God and love for death. Abortion would not have taken hold in a culture that loved life. Neither would physician-assisted suicide have been thinkable or legalized in any U.S. state if we loved the God who is himself the source and Lord of life, the one who ascribes value to each individual. Biblical precepts regarding sexual purity are considered quaint by many. Many women and girls are thus pregnant too early, too often and at inconvenient times. We do not honor our elderly as the Bible instructs and rather consider them to be a drain on limited medical resources. We do not consider God to be the Lord of all our days and hours and prefer an early departure than an undignified and dreadful terminal illness. What we believe is seen by what we tolerate, encourage and do.  

There is also a culture of life in America. Thousands of churches and millions of Christians do understand that their neighbors, even the inconvenient ones, bear the image of our Creator. For that reason, we support adoption services, foster care for needy children, hunger relief, ministry to refugees, taking the gospel to the lost of every tribe, support for those facing a pregnancy they cannot handle alone and a host of institutions and ministries aimed at keeping our neighbors alive while making them whole. 

These things we do are counter-cultural, certainly in their motive, but flow from characteristics against which “there is no law,” as in Galatians 5:23. That means that we’ll always find acceptable ways to help the helpless even in a society that scorns our motives and even hates our God. 

Part of that acceptable means in our day is that we can still affect the decision-making process of our communities and nation. Our service to the God of life means that we should do so. You are likely reading this as we turn the corner into an unusually complex election year. Upon what values will you base your political involvement for 2016? 

I guess first you’ll have to determine that you will be involved, registered to vote, informed and fortified with convictions worthy of your heavenly citizenship. This last point matters, friends. I have more than once seen pundits wondering at how middle-class heartland voters vote “against their best interests,” meaning of course that we don’t always fall for promises to give us free money and instead try to vote with values both political parties find relatively trivial. Most opinion makers do not understand my “best interests.” A candidate who believes that some people have less worth than others or who panders to those who love death will not be my candidate for any office. And yes, the presidential race is starting to paint me into a corner as the leading candidates in both parties (there are only two) seem to spectacularly fail this test. 

But I do not have the option of sitting this one out. I continue to work alongside those who love life and will try to be one of that earnest number, but such work takes place in an amazing variety of contexts. As I said, there is a culture of life in our world, and it operates openly in America. We don’t need popular acclaim or even permission to live out the life that has been born in us by the Spirit of God. It’s as urgent as it’s ever been in our world, and our enemies remain the same as in past generations—paganism, idolatry, our old fleshy selves, and the father lies and death himself. 

We must not be timid to reflect the light and life and truth of our Creator. Some will be saved from darkness and death as we do so.  

Uprooting Evil: Why the pro-life movement must grow deeper roots to see lasting fruit

ANALYSIS

New technologies and embattled pro-life legislative victories have contributed to the lowest annual number of abortions in the U.S. since 1975. Yet, even as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirms the trend of falling abortion rates since 2008, threats to human dignity continue to flourish in the West.

A 2015 report published by the National Right to Life Committee found a nearly 8 percent increase of abortions among women ages 40 and older from 2008-2011, speculating about a possible link to the increased usage of prenatal genetic testing in detecting a negative diagnosis. Similarly, abortions are becoming an increasingly anonymous affair with drugs like RU-486 and the “Abortion Pill” (methotrexate and misoprostol) now prescribed via web cam or at home. In 2011, chemical abortions accounted for 22.6 percent of the 1 million abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute (AGI), originally founded by Planned Parenthood.

In order to see lasting fruit in its fight against challenges to human dignity—euthanasia, human trafficking, the refugee crisis—the American pro-life movement will need more than sonogram machines and legal restrictions. Calling for evil to be eradicated at its root, Christian leaders are urging the church to cultivate a broader understanding of what it means to be pro-life and how the culture grew to be anti-life in the first place. 

For many, the starting point for understanding the current state of human dignity in the West is Francis Schaeffer, an evangelical thinker and catalyst for the modern pro-life movement.

Much of Schaeffer’s writings, particularly his books How Shall We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (co-authored with renowned pediatric neurosurgeon C. Everett Koop), helped the American evangelical church connect the dots between their ideas about the world and their ethical consequences for living in it. 

In an interview with the TEXAN, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore called Schaeffer’s writings on the dehumanization of humanity in American culture prophetic. 

“When Schaeffer was talking about issues such as abortion, there were very few evangelicals speaking up about these things and certainly very few speaking about them as forcefully as he did,” Moore said, noting that the biggest success of the pro-life movement is that there still is a pro-life movement 42 years after Roe vs. Wade. 

“The assumption was that history would move on and that abortion would simply be received as just another medical treatment. Yet, that hasn’t happened. The American conscience is still being addressed by a vibrant pro-life movement, and I think Schaeffer is one of many that we have to thank for that.” 

Schaeffer’s most enduring legacy is the alarm he sounded against the slow creep of materialistic humanism—the fundamental idea that man can begin from himself and derive the standards by which to judge all matters—as the dominant Western worldview. Adding in the naturalistic philosophies of modern science, which declare man to be mere matter, Schaeffer cautioned, would result in complete cultural poverty.

“Schaeffer was 30-40 years ahead of his time when he wrote about determinism,” said Evan Lenow, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s assistant professor of ethics and chair of the seminary’s ethics department. “We are at the point of genetic or biological determinism that he discussed.” 

Still resonating 30 years after his death, Schaeffer’s books reveal that ideas indeed have consequences; decaying roots produce nothing but rotten fruit. And his prophetic arguments for a cultural engagement hinged on a true exchange of ideas—an uprooting of evil thought systems by replacing them with a biblical view of truth—stand the test of time.

“It was the materialistic worldview that brought in the inhumanity,” Schaeffer wrote in Whatever Happened to the Human Race. “It must be a different worldview that drives it out.” 

 

FROM DECAYING ROOTS TO ROTTEN FRUIT: WHY WORLDVIEWS MATTER

Far from being a solely academic endeavor, worldviews shape an individual’s everyday values and ethics. One’s worldview impacts every aspect of life, Lenow told the TEXAN.

“When it comes to issues of human dignity, a worldview will impact the way we view other people and the value we place on their lives and our lives,” Lenow said. “If we have a biblical worldview, we will recognize that all humans are made in the image of God and that we have inherent value and worth in the eyes of God. Therefore, we should treat all people with dignity and respect as a response to how God made us.”

The prevailing cultural worldview says the opposite, Lenow explained. “Humanism has left our culture with no concept of the eternal. Many people in our culture have no concept of God nor any desire to know him. Therefore, they are left with the perspective that this life is all there is. As a result, they are focused on maximizing pleasure during this life with little or no concern for the future, much less eternity.”

According to Lenow, humanism is a driving force in the abortion industry’s culture of death. “It tells us that life is not worth living unless pleasure and happiness can be guaranteed,” Lenow said. “In addition, humanism drives the focus on the individual, resulting in our failure to see the value and dignity of the unborn because we are so focused on the pleasure and happiness of the adult making the decision to abort.”

This clash of worldviews between materialistic humanism and biblical Christianity creates challenges for churches advocating pro-life causes, Lenow noted.

“Religious arguments are not tolerated by humanists, so we must be prepared to make rational, logical arguments,” he said. “In much the same way as Schaeffer did, we need to be prepared to ‘take the roof off’ someone’s worldview through logic, natural law and rational arguments in order to expose them to the truth of what God has revealed about himself and us.” 

 

UPROOTING EVIL: WORLDVIEWS, CONSCIENCES, & KINGDOM VISIONS

“Secularism has influenced Christian churches in many ways,” Moore told the TEXAN. “Unless we are aware of it and constantly confronting it with Scripture and with the power of the Spirit, then we can think in terms that are very alien from the way that the Bible thinks. We tend to think of human beings as not being living images of God but as obstacles to whatever our agenda is.”

But it is not enough to champion Christian values or herald the return of the so-called “moral majority” in America, Moore believes. To see a culture in which life flourishes, Moore advocates for a deeper approach to engaging the culture on human dignity issues. 

While Schaeffer bemoaned the loss of the Christian consensus for keeping Western society free from chaos, Moore focuses on the church’s role in reshaping Christian conscience. 

“The conscience is something that the Scripture speaks to repeatedly as the mode of moral decision making in every person in which is embedded the law of God, and in the case of the believer, it is also indwelled with the Spirit of God prompting us toward conformity with Christ. And so I think that on the life issues, and other issues, the first step is to have a conscience that is well formed to recognize that which is good and that which is evil.”

For Moore, the key to this type of deeply rooted, pro-life conviction is two-fold: the church must re-tether its activism to the gospel while actively seeking to persuade “people on the other side” of biblical truth.

“The pro-life movement has taught evangelicals much over the last 40 years, primarily because the pro-life movement could never be simply a resentment lobby or a vehicle for outrage,” Moore said, noting he was encouraged that the pro-life movement in America grows younger each year.  “So the pro-life movement has reminded Christians what it means to not only hold our convictions but to speak those convictions in ways that are persuasive to those who disagree with us.”

In his new book, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, Moore builds on Schaeffer’s call for social action by outlining a framework for cultural engagement called “engaged alienation”—a type of Christianity that “preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel” without retreating from loving neighbors and citizens. And it begins in the church, the place where the loss of the Christian worldview is increasingly conspicuous.

The church must possess a “theological vision of what it means to be the church in the world, of what it means to be human in the cosmos,” Moore says in his book’s introduction noting that previous generations were more apt to anchor their cultural battles in the public square to morals over the good news. 

“Success means a gospel-anchored engagement that is transmitted from one generation to the next,” he writes. 

“We must equip a new generation for different days,” Moore writes. “They must know how to fight for doctrinal orthodoxy and for public justice. An almost-gospel won’t do; a cut-rate righteousness won’t either.”

The church must contend for the culture with “voices shaped by the gospel, with a convictional kindness that recognizes that winning arguments is not enough if one is in a cosmic struggle with unseen principalities and powers,” Moore says in his book. “If we do no surrender to the spirit of the age, … we will be thought to be culture-warriors. So be it. Let’s be Christ-shaped, kingdom-first culture warriors.” 

Making the History of the Future

In a recent foreword to a book on Baptist church doctrine, James Leo Garrett Jr. offers a somber word. He says, “The twentieth century was not the finest epoch in Southern Baptist history with respect to ecclesiological practice.” Referencing decades of emphasis on efficiency and unchecked church growth, Garrett laments a century that largely “found that ecclesiology was a weakness.”

While I do not agree fully with Garrett’s bleak assessment, I do think that Baptists in the twenty-first century have an opportunity to recover how believers should understand what the Bible says about churches—and that is a hopeful task. In short, regardless of the past, what matters most for the future is what we do with the time that is given to us. 

In 1994, the now late Baptist philosopher and seminary dean, L. Russ Bush, gave an address titled “The History of the Future.” In it, he gave a helpful reminder, “We are living and making the history of the future. What we teach and do today will be what future Christians consider to be their heritage.” 

Bush counseled against novel theological innovation “merely for the sake of newness,” for what we establish in the present will become the doctrinal foundation of the future. With this in mind, I am encouraged when I think about the present state of those working in Baptist theology. For many writing and teaching these truths today are engaging in the task of biblical recovery rooted in tradition rather than contemporary rootless invention. 

“ If the twentieth century left some ground uncovered in terms of faithful church practice, then those of us in the twenty-first have all the more reason to recover faithful practices to build a strong foundation for future churches.”

For example, just this year we saw the arrival of The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement by Anthony Chute, Nathan Finn and Michael Haykin. This wonderfully engaging introduction to the work of God among people in Baptist churches is as enjoyable to read as it is informative. 

The authors write with refreshing conviction and humility and yet attempt not to use “history to pressure others into conforming to a particular position” but rather to “provide a history that informs the reader of how Baptists have reached their conclusions.” The authors brilliantly achieve their goal, which makes this book a strong asset for laying a historically conscious foundation for understanding how believers have gathered in Baptist churches and why that matters. The story of the Baptists in history is a story that requires regular retelling.

Also this year, Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman edited Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age. Designed as a basic textbook on Baptist polity for students, pastors, and church leaders, this book is unique in that it makes the case for the vitality of church leadership and structure at a time when many believers dismiss these matters as largely unimportant. Dever and Leeman are joined by a short-list of veteran pastors and accomplished Baptist scholars who show why churches should recover bygone yet biblical doctrines of church practice. 

For example, in a chapter on the need for regenerate church membership and church discipline, Thomas White concludes, “Without meaningful church membership, discipline will do more harm than good. Without the proper execution of discipline, meaningful membership can never be maintained. Without both of these practices, our churches will not properly reflect the glory of God or bear a strong testimony for the gospel. And our members will not take church seriously.” 

Therefore, as I reflect on the present state of the recovery of Baptist theology for the future, I am encouraged by publications like these because they are representative of the following trends:

First, the present discussion of Baptist theology understands that the Baptist ship is not the only group of churches who have set their sails in a Great Commission direction. Many today would agree with Carl F.H. Henry’s description of the single strength of Baptist identity—its “Bible-relatedness.” That is, Baptists have long been those who desire to conform the core of their tradition to the Bible and the Bible’s mandates for mission. Joyfully, these Baptist churches seek to work, wherever possible, with other traditions that desire to do the same. 

Second, there is no presumption that Baptists articulate or practice their tradition with perfection. Chute, Finn and Haykin conclude their volume this way. “The entire Baptist story consistently comes back to three key interrelated themes: promoting liberty of conscience, following Christ’s will in our individual lives and churches, and proclaiming the gospel everywhere. Baptists have not always lived up to these ideals, but when we have been at our best, we have embodied them.” Baptist theology built upon this kind of humility will serve future generations well. 

Third, these two books are a part of a larger and growing Baptist conversation that could not come at a better time. John Broadus, founding faculty member of Southern Seminary in the latter half of the nineteenth century, remarked that even in his own day there was “a widespread and very great ignorance as to Baptists.” That was saying something in a day when Baptist theologians roamed the nation like Marvel’s Avengers—defending their distinctives wherever they were threatened. Thankfully, today we, too, have a growing cadre of superheroes, like the authors of these two new books and many others preparing to join them, able to give us a helpful guide to combat our own ignorance as to the Baptist tradition.

Finally, the task of recovering a healthy understanding of church doctrine is not the end but merely a means to the end. When J.L. Dagg, another nineteenth-century Baptist theologian, said, “Church order and the ceremonials of religion, are less important than a new heart,” he was right, but he also did not mean that recovering doctrines of the church has no value. 

Indeed, the establishment of healthy churches only serves to ensure the potential of the regeneration of many more new hearts around the globe. For as churches are strengthened and seek, in cooperation with other churches, to fulfill the Great Commission, we will see even more the knowledge of the glory of God among all peoples as the waters cover the sea. This is the end of any recovery of Baptist theology.

Baptists today are living and making the history of the future. If the twentieth century left some ground uncovered in terms of faithful church practice, then those of us in the twenty-first have all the more reason to recover faithful practices to build a strong foundation for future churches. Making the history of the future in the present is an encouraging and hopeful task.  

Book seeks to restore the glory of “normal Christianity”

In recent years, several books have been published regarding the radical nature of the Christian life and how Christians should navigate the waters of faith and everyday life. Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, steps into this discussion with his book Risky Gospel, which challenges believers to understand that “Christianity is about risk. It is not about safety.” The following is an interview between the TEXAN and Strachan about the book.

How would you summarize the book Risky Gospel

Risky Gospel is a call to recognize, per the Parable of the Talents, that Christianity is about risk. It is not about safety. It is about going “at once” and despite fearsome odds to give God maximal glory in our lives (see Matthew 25:16). We have been taught that gospel faith revolves around getting what we want, when in truth it is centered in death to self and abandonment to the way of Christ.

This truth enfranchises every believer’s life. It summons us to sacrificially support missions and churches, but it also draws every single believer into a life of meaningful service in God’s kingdom. We’re tempted today toward a new sacerdotalism, to gaze in awe at celebrity leaders, when what we all need is a fresh baptism into a life of priestly labor for God. The church is pressed on every side by a secularizing, pagan culture. In response, we should not play small ball. We should swing for the fences.

How is Risky Gospel similar to and different from books like David Platt’s Radical and Francis Chan’s Crazy Love?

It is a part of the “new radicalism” in that it calls Christians to a sold-out walk with Christ. The particular emphasis of my book is on building a dominion-taking, talent-making existence in numerous spheres: family, church, vocation, evangelism, and more. The Bible doesn’t condemn “ordinary” Christian living; it celebrates it. I’m trying to restore the glory of so-called normal Christianity, to lift the hood up and show folks that to be a sacrificial Christian is an exhilarating undertaking.

How have American Christians confused the idea of an “ordinary Christian life”?

We’re in a situation similar to that of pre-Reformation Europe. We Christians too often think that what really matters is having your name in the bright lights. In truth, what matters is knowing Jesus by faith in his cross-work and then finding immense joy and confidence in that theological reality. Start here, go anywhere.

Believers too often fear the world. As a result, we get discouraged and believe our lives don’t count for much. But any Christian who is willing to stand against Satan is a dangerous individual indeed. When you put a bunch of us together in local churches, we can do some serious spiritual damage to the kingdom of darkness. We don’t need to fear the devil and the world. The worst, as I say in Risky Gospel, has already happened to us. Our sin has been exposed by God. We have been washed clean. Now, we are blissfully free to march under the banner of God.

It’s not that we need more super-leaders to go on ahead. We need more “ordinary” believers to confess Christ without shame wherever they are. We do not accept secularism’s bargain. It calls us to sand down our Christian edges and be as harmless as possible. The call to Christ is a call to unapologetic, convictional, and loving witness, come what may.

Must Christians sell everything and move to a closed country to glorify God?

In a word, no. Now, we need many more believers to do so. I call for that in the book. But this isn’t an either-or situation. Paul didn’t call all the Roman Christians to missions; he instructed them to “live quietly” with their neighbors (Rom. 12:18). We need to sanctify quietness today.

But quietness does not mean harmlessness in a spiritual sense. It means leading a normal existence that avoids giving needless offense.

So let’s be greedy: let’s send a ton of missionaries to the farthest corners of the earth, sacrificing creature comforts to do so, even as we fan into flame our own small, quiet, ordinary lives. Every Christian a missions-supporter; every Christian a priest unto God.

How do home, work, and church fit into living out a Risky Gospel?

The home is the first institution. Before God created the church or the state, he created the family, the home. Clearly God richly loves marriage, childraising, walks in the forest, wrestling on the carpet, devotions around the breakfast table, well-intentioned if ultimately-neglected jewelry gifts from husband to wife, forgiveness from an aggrieved sister to a repentant little brother, popping popcorn to watch “White Christmas,” and 10,000 other unremarkable but glorious aspects of family life. We too should love the family and build it up.

Adam was working before the world was groaning. Work rightly understood is glorious. Too many of us punch the clock and forget that God rules over the hours of 9-5 on Tuesday as much as he does the hours of 10-12 on Sunday. Believers should glory in their God-given field of work, their “vocation” or calling as the first Protestants called it. Men should rise from their position of cultural inferiority to reclaim the nobility of provision. Providing for your family as a man is glorious and ennobling. Similarly, women should spot the cultural lie about value being only in wage-earning work and recognize that there is nothing more humanly valuable than creating, raising, loving, and investing in little children. Now more than ever, the church needs to be a counter-culture to the world, one that stands for godly priorities.

Lastly, we want to build healthy churches. This requires risk and investment. It means you can’t sit on the sidelines of your congregation. You need to pray and find some place of service in the body. This alone will give satisfaction. This line of thinking counters the worldly idea that the assembly exists to serve you. No. You exist to build up the body.

In these and other pursuits, spend your life. Don’t play it small. Whether called to go far or stay near, make more talents for Christ like the faithful servants of Matthew 25. That will involve risk in this life, but in God’s marvelous providence, risking in this life for Christ means reward in the life to come. 

23 states increase CP percentages

NASHVILLE (BP)—Twenty-three state conventions voted to increase the portion of Cooperative Program receipts being forwarded to Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries in the coming year, continuing a trend inspired by passage of the Great Commission Task Force recommendations five years ago. This year, Florida Baptists made the largest shift, moving from 41 to 51 percent allocated to SBC causes.

“This epic, pacesetting decision will set a precedent in the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Michael Tatem, president of Florida’s State Board of Missions. “We are doing what the Southern Baptist Convention was called to do in 1845—to take the gospel to the nations.”

Iowa Baptists celebrated an 11 percent increase in giving to the Cooperative Program after messengers voted last year to boost the SBC portion from 20 to 50 percent, while Nevada Baptists reported a 13 percent increase after moving from 35 to 50 percent for SBC causes last year.

“Several Iowa churches have significantly increased their financial support to missions through the Cooperative Program,” Tim Lubinus, Baptist Convention of Iowa’s executive director/treasurer, said. “I think it is likely that our decision last year to increase our giving to the Executive Committee from 20 percent to 50 percent provided us with momentum and incentive to give through the Cooperative Program.”

In addition to Florida, other state conventions voting to increase by more than 1 percent the portion of their budgets sent beyond their borders include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Maryland-Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah-Idaho.

Meanwhile, state conventions in Arkansas, California, Dakotas, Kansas-Nebraska, Mississippi, New England, New Mexico, Northwest, Pennsylvania-South Jersey and West Virginia voted to increase the SBC portion in amounts ranging from .005 to 1 percent.

The four conventions that forward half or more to the SBC without a “shared ministries” calculation are Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (55/45), Florida (51/49), Iowa (50/50) and Nevada (50/50). State conventions in Florida and New England quit designating any items providing dual benefit to the state and national convention. While 15 state conventions continue to use the classification, five reduced the portion designated as shared.

Two state conventions—the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia—let churches customize what they label Texas Cooperative Program or Cooperative Missions Giving. BGCT’s preferred giving plan retains 79 percent of undesignated receipts from affiliated churches for in-state use and 21 percent for one of three worldwide partners—the Southern Baptist Convention, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or BGCT Worldwide. Churches may customize further by specifying the portions for in-state and out-of-state allocations. BGAV has pre-set giving tracks that a church can customize to fund causes of the SBC and/or CBF. The BGAV giving plan World Mission 1 allocates 34 percent of gifts given through this plan to SBC worldwide missions and ministries.

The actual dollar amount of a state convention’s allocation fluctuates annually depending on how well cooperating churches in the state are able to fund their respective budgets. On the positive side, more than 4,400 Southern Baptist churches met or exceeded the 1% CP Challenge last year, increasing their CP giving by at least 1 percentage point of their budgets from undesignated gifts by their members and visitors.

The total undesignated CP receipts received by the state conventions are projected to decrease by $5 million as total giving to churches remains in decline, and yet, with more than half of the state conventions increasing the SBC portion, the national allocation is likely to increase by more than $5 million.

Analysis of financial data is based on information supplied by Baptist Press and state convention reports with projections for 2015 calculated or in some cases estimated by SBC Executive Committee staff.

Each state convention elected officers to leadership for 2016. Those serving as president are:

ALABAMA—Travis Coleman Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church, Prattville

ALASKA—Todd Burgess, pastor of First Baptist Church, Eagle River

ARIZONA—Bret Burnett, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church, Tucson

ARKANSAS—Gary Hollingsworth, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, Little Rock

CALIFORNIA—Randy Bennett, a member of Daybreak Baptist Church, Bakersfield

COLORADO—Mike Routt, pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church, Colorado Springs

DAKOTAS—Doug Hixson, pastor of Connection Church, Spearfish, S.D.

FLORIDA—James Peoples, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Keystone Heights

GEORGIA—Thomas Hammond, pastor of First Baptist Church, Alpharetta

HAWAII/PACIFIC—John Endriss, pastor of Engage Church, Hilo, Hawaii

ILLINOIS—Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church, Rochester

INDIANA—Darin Garton, pastor of Oak Creek Church, Mishawaka

IOWA—Ken Livingston, pastor of First Grace Baptist Church, Sheffield

KANSAS/NEBRASKA—Joe Stiles, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Lawrence, Kan.

KENTUCKY—Kevin Smith, teaching pastor of Highview Baptist Church, Louisville

LOUISIANA—Gevan Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Church, Haughton

MARYLAND/DELAWARE—Bill Warren, pastor of Allen Memorial Baptist Church, Salisbury, Md.

MICHIGAN—Charles Turner, a member of Kaleo Church, Lansing

MINNESOTA/WISCONSIN—Paul Fries, pastor of Blue River Valley Church, Muscoda, Wis.

MISSISSIPPI—Doug Broome, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Natchez

MISSOURI—Neil Franks, pastor of First Baptist Church, Branson

MONTANA—Darren Hales, pastor of Big Sky Fellowship, Helena

NEVADA—Greg Fields, pastor of Nellis Baptist Church, Las Vegas

NEW ENGLAND—Gary Rowe, member of Island Pond Baptist Church, Hampstead, N.H.

NEW MEXICO—Jonathan Richard, pastor of First Baptist Church, Estancia

NEW YORK—Scott Gillette, pastor of Amherst Baptist Church, Amherst

NORTH CAROLINA—Timmy Blair, pastor of Piney Grove Chapel Baptist Church, Angier

NORTHWEST—Steve Bryant, member of Highland Baptist Church, Redmond, Ore.

OHIO—Jeremy Westbrook, pastor of Living Hope Baptist Church, Marysville

OKLAHOMA—Hance Dilbeck, pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church, Oklahoma City

PENN/SOUTH JERSEY—Brian King, pastor of Ezekiel Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pa.

SOUTH CAROLINA—Tom Tucker, pastor of Sisk Memorial Baptist Church, Fort Mill

TENNESSEE—Roc Collins, pastor of Indian Springs Baptist Church, Kingsport

TEXAS (BGCT)—René Maciel, president of the Baptist University of the Américas, San Antonio

TEXAS (SBTC)—Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Baptist Church, Humble

UTAH-IDAHO—David Kite, pastor of four cowboy churches in Idaho

VIRGINIA (BGAV)—Nancy Stanton McDaniel, pastor of Rhoadesville Baptist Church, Rhoadesville

VIRGINIA (SBCV)—Bryan Smith, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Roanoke

WEST VIRGINIA—Ron McCoy, director of missions for the Upper Ohio Valley Baptist Association, Moundsville

WYOMING—David Grace, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Laramie.

Four Considerations as We Enter a Presidential Election Year

Immigration, gun rights and response to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage are just a few of the wedge issues among Christians. Even Southern Baptists are not immune to disagreement on these issues. As a matter of fact, it seems Baptists like to find things to argue about. There is nothing wrong with robust debate, but when the discussion becomes counter-productive for gospel advance, it is unacceptable.

We are entering a presidential election year in 2016. This may come as a shock to you, but no candidate (even the one I like) is going to bring revival to the churches. No president will be in the forefront of evangelism even if he is a committed believer in Christ. This doesn’t mean we should not participate in the process. Based on Romans 13, believers have an obligation to be good citizens. In the American context that means we should register to vote and cast our ballots.

As you consider candidates this year, I would like to propose some considerations.

Be informed. Select a candidate who has high moral character. This is a tall order because all of us are sinners; no one is perfect. It is impossible to find a candidate who has no blemishes, but David was a flawed man and still had redeeming qualities, such as humility before the Lord. Politicians will say anything to get your vote. Research the best person for whom to cast your ballot. Character matters.

Be convictional. Biblical issues are important. God is pro-life from beginning to end and in between. A candidate or party that holds pre-born babies as mere tissue is outside the biblical ethic. Euthanasia is taking God’s place in the process of death. Racial discrimination is unacceptable to the Christ follower. All people are to be treated with respect and dignity. The Bible speaks to economic systems. There are virtually no public policies that are untouched by God’s Word. Find out where the parties stand on these issues. Vote for candidates that more closely represent a biblical ethic.

Be a patriot. There is no conflict between being a Christian and an American. Perhaps one of the most controversial subjects is patriotism itself. I believe some have created a false dichotomy by saying, “I’m a Christian first, an American second.” Every Bible-believing Christ follower should say, “Amen” to that statement. However, being a Christian first doesn’t mean you can’t be a good American. The United States has provided evangelical Christianity with greater opportunities to present the gospel to the world than any country in modern times. Why would Christians want to weaken our nation? A strong America enables the gospel to be furthered to the ends of the earth. Whether it is reducing our national military defense or allowing illegal immigration, it is self-destructive to our nation. We should pursue peace, but we are not pacifists. We should love those who are in our land illegally without perpetuating the crisis.

Be a witness. America has experienced a shift in culture that will never be reversed by politics. Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists have a completely different worldview from our founding fathers. Secularists seek to eradicate the Christian witness from the public square. The only way we will ever see an America that is based on Judeo-Christian principles is to win people to Christ and teach them a biblical worldview. God doesn’t need America, but we need him. Only the gospel, not public policy, can change people’s lives. They need our Savior to save them from hell.

As you go to the ballot box this year, remember it is important to be a Christian first, then an American second. If you do that, you will cast a vote pleasing to our Father. May God bless America!

Empower Conf. to emphasize gospel urgency

LAS COLINAS—Just as Jesus challenged his disciples in John 4:35 to “lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest,” this year’s Empower Conference hopes to reawaken pastors and church members to the urgency of the gospel. The three-day conference will be held at the Irving Convention Center in Las Colinas Feb. 29 – March 2.

“We believe that God is going to do great things through the Empower Conference,” said Nathan Lorick, SBTC director of evangelism. “Texas is overwhelmingly lost, and this conference will serve as a great reminder that we must bring intentional evangelism to the forefront of our ministries.

“At this year’s conference we will once again have a call to action for the One in A Million campaign. We want to see SBTC churches join together in one massive cooperative effort to reach one million homes with the gospel. I believe we can drastically impact the lostness across Texas through our efforts together.”

The conference kicks off Monday afternoon from 1-4 p.m. with a variety of breakout sessions, the Conference of Texas Baptist Evangelists (COTBE) session, and a ladies session. Participants can choose from seven breakout sessions at two different time slots that address such topics as evangelism, missions, multi-ethnic ministry, and engaging millennials. The COTBE session will feature messages from Johnny Hunt, Eric Fuller, and Michael Catt along with music by Luke Garrett.  The ladies session includes speakers Jennie Allen, Shari Rigby and Jennifer Rothschild as well as musical guests The Gettys.

Main conference sessions will take place Monday evening; Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening; and Wednesday morning. Conference attendees will hear challenging messages from David Platt, president of the International Mission Board; Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas; J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; H.B. Charles Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.; Matt Carter, pastor of The Austin Stone Church in Austin; Derwin Gray, former professional football player and pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, S.C.; and others. David Gentiles, Stacy Perkins, and The Gettys will lead music during the main sessions.

For more information on Empower Conference, including schedule, lodging, breakout sessions and a promotional video, visit sbtexas.com/ec16.