Author: Jonathan Howe

Dude Perfect star shares testimony of redemption in latest ‘I Am Second’ video

NASHVILLE (BP)—With more than 50 million subscribers, YouTube sensation Dude Perfect is one of the most notable names in social media entertainment.

Yet, for group member Tyler Toney and his wife Bethany, the success of the Dude Perfect subsequently led to the feelings of jealousy, bitterness and heartbreak within in their marriage.

It was only within the last couple years that Tyler found redemption, healed his marriage and began to see Dude Perfect as a gospel platform.

“Tyler just puts Christ at the center of everything in our family now, whereas before he didn’t do that” Bethany Toney said.

“He’s just a whole new person. I remember telling my Mom, ‘I feel like I’m married to a new person, and it’s weird, and I’m having to get used to it. Every decision he makes now, it’s a prayerful one. He’s leading our family, talking to our kids about Christ and just little things that make me go ‘ok this is worth the fight.’”

The couple shares their full story in the latest “I Am Second” video—a series featuring interviews with a variety of Christian celebrities about their personal testimony.

The Toneys were married in 2011, around the time Dude Perfect’s success began to take off.

Things began for the group of five former Texas A&M roommates when they simply uploaded a video of themselves making basketball trick shots to YouTube for other friends to see. The video went viral, and was shown on Good Morning America. Brands deals and opportunities started pouring in.

“That was unbelievable exciting for us, and at the same we just had absolutely no idea what we were getting into,” Tyler said.

After some initial hesitation from Bethany, Tyler and the group decided to all quit their jobs and pursue making video content as Dude Perfect full-time.

Dude Perfect’s success skyrocketed over the next several years. To date, the group has more than 50 million YouTube subscribers, putting them in the top 25 creators on the platform.

They have filmed videos with athletes and celebrities such as Aaron Rodgers, Paul Rudd, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Drew Brees and Serena Williams. Brands deals and sponsorships for the group include GMC, Bass Pro Shops and Nike.

One of their latest ventures featured a streaming broadcast of Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime.

But as Dude Perfect began to experience its success more than a decade ago, Bethany was back at home struggling with jealousy and infertility.

“His (Tyler’s) success really took off at a time when I felt God was calling us to start a family,” Bethany said. “We started trying for a baby, and I miscarried several times. It was just devastating to me, and heartbreaking.”

“I’m watching my husband be on top of the world doing all these really cool things, where I’m at home in pain, and just heartbroken and confused and angry. I was just so angry at God during that season of our life because I just felt like God was ignoring me, and that he wasn’t hearing my requests for things.”

Looking back, Tyler acknowledges his missteps as a husband and father.

“I very much had the attitude of, ‘ok we’ve got to make hay while the sun’s shining’ because there’s no telling how long these opportunities are going to last,” Tyler Toney said.

“I’m not sure that I managed it the best as far as a family perspective of making Bethany a priority. I think early on I put more emphasis on and more weight on these Dude Perfect opportunities. I think early on our families kind of got put on the backburner.”

The Toneys eventually had three children, but that did not stop the growing division and bitterness between them.

It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that the couple reached a boiling point.

After this particularly difficult season, Bethany said her husband approached her saying “I don’t think I’ve really ever had a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

“Hearing him say that kind of put everything in perspective for me because that was kind of the one thing we had been missing in our marriage was him being that spiritual leader and to put Christ first in our marriage. That shift alone kind of was the pivot for us moving forward.”

Toney began hosting a men’s bible study every week at his house, which he called “irreplaceable” in his Christian walk.

The next step in his journey was beginning to see Dude Perfect as a platform for not the group’s individual success, but for Gospel ministry.

Tyler describes a clear call from the Lord to preach the full gospel message to thousands on each stop of Dude Perfect’s next countrywide tour.

“I kind of wrestled with that for a couple days, and was like ‘are you sure that’s what you’re telling me?,’” Tyler said.

“I remember the very first show it was so uncomfortable and so outside my comfort zone. I got off stage and I just broke down crying because it was just that overwhelming sense of like ‘this is what you’re supposed to be doing. This is why I gave you this platform … this is why I’ve given you the talents and abilities and the success that you’ve had is for this.’”

With a renewed marriage and mission, Toney said moving forward the group wants to continue to spiritually influence the massive audience.

“I think at this point in Dude Perfect, we see it as just that—an incredible opportunity to reach a group of people, especially families, especially young boys who may not have a lot to look up to, or may not get a sense of community from anything else in their lives. We feel this immense amount of responsibility to them to kind of keep doing this and kind of take this as long as God’s allows us to have this platform.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Southwestern Seminary accepts City of Fort Worth offer for purchase of Carroll Park

FORT WORTH—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary accepted a non-binding agreement for an $11 million acquisition of 15 acres of the B.H. Carroll Park property from the Fort Worth Housing Finance Corporation, the housing development arm of the City of Fort Worth, during the Fort Worth City Council meeting on Feb. 28, Interim President David S. Dockery announced today.

“This agreement with the City of Fort Worth to move forward with its purchase of 15 acres of the Carroll Park property is not only welcome news for Southwestern Seminary, it is the next chapter in a 115-year partnership between the seminary and the city we call home,” Dockery said.

Mayor Mattie Parker said in comments provided to the seminary, “I am grateful for the historic partnership between Southwestern Seminary and the City of Fort Worth. The seminary’s commitment to serving our city has been made even more clear in the work it has taken to make this project possible.”

The partnership includes the City of Fort Worth and two primary non-profit organizations who will manage the project, One Safe Place and Samaritan House, with support from other philanthropic organizations including the Rainwater, Morris, Amon Carter, and Sid Richardson foundations, and the Paulos Foundation. The city plans to use the property to provide housing for 140 vulnerable families, including victims of domestic violence, and homeless members of the community.

“We are overjoyed that this property so many seminary families have called home over the decades can now be used to meet a critical need in our city—housing for the most vulnerable among us, including families experiencing homelessness,” Dockery said. “We remain committed to ensuring a smooth transition for our students who are still living at Carroll Park as we work with the City and other partners to finalize this historic transaction.”

Dockery noted plans to sell the property, which were announced at the seminary’s October 2022 board of trustee meeting, have been under consideration for a number of years. He said other housing on the main campus can better accommodate the needs of the institution than the Carroll Park property, which is not contiguous with the campus.

Since the board of trustee meeting, campus leadership has met in town hall meetings with Carroll Park residents to address questions and provide information for student housing.

In a press release from the city, Parker called the project a “perfect example” of Fort Worth’s “commitment to families and ensuring every child has the support they need to be successful.”

“As we face a crisis of family homelessness across the country, we are fortunate in Fort Worth to have nonprofit and philanthropic partners that are committed to working alongside the city to ensure we are investing in the needed housing and services for our most vulnerable,” Parker said.

SBTC’s Wolfe named as candidate for South Carolina exec position

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)—Ian Geimer, pastor of Kingstree First Baptist Church and the chairman of the South Carolina Baptist Convention executive director-treasurer search team, announced Monday (Feb. 20) that Tony Wolfe, associate executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, has been selected as the candidate to become the next executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

A special meeting of the convention to consider the recommendation of Wolfe has been called for Monday, March 20, at 1:30 p.m. at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C. If elected, Wolfe will succeed Gary Hollingsworth who is scheduled to retire at the end of April.

Wolfe currently serves as the Associate Executive Director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In his 23 years of ministry experience, he has served Southern Baptist churches in Texas and Louisiana as a denominational leader, interim pastor, pastor, worship leader, Christian educator and pastoral counselor.

Wolfe and Geimer will tour the state for meet-and-greet opportunities with South Carolina Baptists prior to the called meeting. Meeting times are as follows:

March 15, 2023, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Florence at 9 a.m.

March 15, 2023, at Summerville Baptist Church in Summerville at 3 p.m.

March 16, 2023, at Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors at 9 a.m.

March 16, 2023, at Lexington Baptist Church in Lexington at 3 p.m.

March 17, 2023, at First Baptist Church of Rock Hill at 9:30 a.m.

Greg Laurie says ‘Jesus Revolution’ portrays a gospel awakening still felt today

NASHVILLE (BP)—Pastor Greg Laurie said the spiritual awakening portrayed in the new movie “Jesus Revolution” is still making an impact today, including his own life and ministry. The basis of the movie is the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Now the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., the movie depicts a young Laurie (played by Joel Courtney), telling the story of both his conversion to Christianity and romance with his future wife Cathe (played by Anna Grace Barlow).

“I accepted Christ on my high school campus, and I went to a church called Calvary Chapel where the Jesus Movement was in full swing,” Laurie said.

“It was just such a wonderful time because there was an excitement. People were never late for church, he told Baptist Press.

Evangelism was a key component of the Jesus Movement, he says.

“It was not uncommon to see believers out on the streets talking about Jesus, sharing their faith. It was just a work of the Holy Spirit.”

He says the movie also cues up the birth of the Christian music movement that was born in those days.

Laurie admits that while there were many positive results of the movement, it was perfect as God used imperfect people to shepherd the awakening.

The relationship between a conservative pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Calif., named Chuck Smith and a charismatic street preacher named Lonnie Frisbee is an example of the tension.

Smith is portrayed by iconic actor Kelsey Grammer (“Cheers,” “Frasier”), while Frisbee is played by Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus in the wildly popular streaming series “The Chosen.”

While the two had their disagreements and shortcomings, Laurie says both were used by God.

“Lonnie Frisbee was a colorful character,” Laurie said. “He did have a dramatic conversion and he was used by God as a catalyst to attract young people.”

“But Chuck Smith sort of was like the stabilizer, sort of like the kids came for Lonnie and they stayed for Chuck because Chuck was a Bible expository and he put clear parameters around things,” he said.

“God uses flawed people. God uses ordinary people. Even as you read the book of Acts, these are ordinary people who fell short, people like us. I think one of the takeaway truths of the Bible is these were not perfect people that God worked through, but they were available people.”

Laurie said the impact of the revolution was important, but what is even more import is how this generation will respond to the film.

The Jesus Revolution is set to debut in theaters on Feb. 24.

“The undeniable fact is there was a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit that affected churches of every tribe, of every denomination,” he said. “And it was something that was felt around the nation and the world. We’re just capturing one aspect of it in this movie.”

Asbury revival: ‘A beautiful experience of seeking God’

WILMORE, Ky. (BP)—They came from far and near, from mothers carrying their infant children to senior citizens — all flooding into chapel at Asbury University Monday, Feb. 13, as a revival hit its sixth consecutive day with no hint of slowing down.

A whiteboard just inside the front doors of the chapel speaks to the impact of more than 120 hours of preaching, singing, testimonies and confession of sin. The approximately 4-by-5 1/2-foot board was jam-packed with praises and prayer requests, evidencing how God had moved during this extended revival time. One said, “pray for my family in Ukraine.” Others wrote …

• Salvation for our nation.
• Revival in Kodak, Tenn.
• Revival at Bethel University.
• Restoring marriage and future twins.
• Teen suffering with addiction.
• Dad saved.
• Isaiah set free.

At the 10 a.m. chapel service, the 1,500-seat chapel was filled — many of those seats occupied by Asbury students. After a message from Romans 13, Asbury students left to attend classes, being reminded that the next preaching service would be at 2 p.m. Those seats they vacated did not remain empty for long as people continued to stream into Hughes Auditorium, singing hymns of faith led by a small team of Asbury music students.

That worship time found young and old lifting hands and bowing heads in praise. The altar was soon filled with people bowing in prayer, often with one or two people praying with them. On the altar were numerous prayer requests written on sticky notes.

One young man was spotted in the rear of the chapel, jumping with joy as he sang. A young woman near him did interpretive movement to the songs. In the balcony, an adult male studied his Bible during the singing.

The revival fire began at last Wednesday’s (Feb. 7) chapel service, and word of it spread quickly on sites such as Kentucky Today as well as social media. Among those drawn to the service on Monday included:

• Susan Carson with her three children — Emma, 11, Cooper, 8, and Caleb, 6. They drove Sunday night from Brunswick, Ga., because Susan wanted her children, whom she homeschools, to experience the revival. She is a member of First Baptist Church in Brunswick.

• Carly Cawthon is an Asbury student who was there in February 2020 when the school celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Asbury revival. “I remember how amazing and exciting that week was, and praying so hard for a revival to fall again. I wanted so badly to experience the wonder and awe of the Lord in that way.

Little did we know what would come in just a month’s time and how the world was about to change.

“The revival at Asbury happened unexpectedly, just as the Scriptures say, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no heart has imagined what the Lord has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9). The revival crept up like a thief in the night, and there was nothing special about this week, no one could have imagined Tuesday or even Wednesday morning what was about to transpire in Hughes Chapel. And no eye has seen, no ear has heard the end of this. Revival is an ongoing process and my prayer for both myself and for this world in desperate need for a Savior, that the Lord will continue unfolding this and change the course of 2023 as we know it, changing us and our lives to be kingdom oriented. He’s truly the reason for living, and we are living out a glimpse of what eternity will look like.

• Hannah Dennison, from Akron, Ohio, read about the revival on social media and came alone — “everyone thought I was crazy,” she said. She left at 4 a.m. Monday to make the five-hour drive. “This is incredible — kids my age are repenting and getting connected with God. It’s so beautiful. You can see God is evident as soon as you walk in, you can hear His presence.”

• Jennie Allen, author and speaker and founder of “If: Gathering,” a Christian conference that gathers and equips women to live out their purpose, traveled from Dallas to “see a movement of God and tell the stories.”

• Amanda Adkins is an ICU nurse in Lexington. A native of Pikeville, Ky., she is part of the worship team at her church. She said there are many Asbury students and alumni at her church, and that her pastor encouraged members to attend the revival. “I came yesterday – I didn’t want to leave,” which prompted her to return on Monday.

• Emma Sparks from Ashland, Ky., was with a group of Boyd County High School students who received permission from the principal (and their parents) to be there Monday. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing — we took two cars and drove two-and-a-half hours.” She was one of five high school senior girls on the trip, with the other being a college student who is an older sister to one of the girls.

“God is moving — if we can bring this back home, maybe it will spread across our country.” She said she encourages those in her hometown to “go and feel the Spirit for yourself.”

• Allison and Adleigh Edwards drove from Scottsville, Ky., because they “wanted to be a part of the Holy Spirit moving. We saw videos (of the revival) and just started bawling,” said Adleigh.

The 10 a.m. chapel session focused on the theme of “Love in Action.” Students and attendees are told “our ultimate allegiance is not to this world, but to God. Paul said visible love to the whole world is what we see here. Anything we put our allegiance in, unless it is to God first, is misplaced allegiance.”

Campus chaplain Greg Haseloff said the events at Asbury provide “such a beautiful experience of seeking God — it is holy ground. It will continue to be a place of worship and prayer.”

Louisiana pastor to nominate Barber for second term as SBC president

LAKE CHARLES, La. (BP)—Trinity Baptist Church pastor Steven James announced Monday (Feb. 13) his intent to re-nominate Texas pastor Bart Barber for SBC president at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans this June. Barber was elected to the position for the first time at last summer’s gathering in Anaheim.

James and Barber know one another well due to their time together on the board of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“During our time together, I watched first-hand his genuine understanding of his role in that capacity,” James said in an email to Baptist Press. “I found him to be biblical in his approach to the responsibilities that were assigned to him, prayerful in the matters that were presented to him and forthright with the subjects that concerned him.”

Referring to Barber’s multiple media interviews including the one with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, James said Barber “has been true statesman in his evaluation of the condition of our Convention. When asked some very pointed questions He never compromised the Word of God or downplayed the problems that are confronting us as a Convention or a nation. At the same time, he expressed a very positive outlook about the future of the SBC.

“Having listened to Bart preach I know that he is conservative in his beliefs. Coupled with that he is consistent in his walk with the Lord. In addition to everything else over the past year, he has diligently and devotedly served us well as our president.”

In addition to chairing the Committee on Resolutions at the 2022 annual meeting, Barber served on the committee in 2021, preached at the SBC Pastors’ Conference in 2017, served as first vice president of the SBC from 2013-2014, served on the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention executive board from 2008-2014 (including serving as chairman and vice chairman), served as a trustee for Southwestern from 2009-2019 and served on the SBC Committee on Committees in 2008. He also previously taught as an adjunct professor at SWBTS from 2006-2009.

According to Annual Church Profile information, First Baptist Farmersville reported 14 baptisms in 2022 and averaged 320 in weekly worship. The church collected $1,014,990 total undesignated receipts, with $108,276 (10.67 percent) given through the Cooperative Program. The church also gave $64,713 to the 2021 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and a total of $191,952 to Great Commission causes.

Barber is a graduate of Baylor University and has both an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southwestern. He and his wife, Tracy, have two teenage children.

Barber is the only announced candidate at this time. If elected, he would be ineligible to hold the office again from 2024-25 due to term limits outlined in Article V.2 of the SBC Constitution.

Revival fires stir again at Asbury

WILMORE, Ky. (BP)—Revival fires may be stirring again at a small college in rural Kentucky near Lexington. Services, filled with preaching, singing and personal testimonies, have been ongoing at Asbury University and Theological Seminary since Feb. 8.

A capacity crowd of 1,500 gather on Friday, Feb. 10, at Hughes Auditorium on the campus of Asbury University to join services that have been ongoing since Feb. 8. (photo submitted by Alex Griffith)

According to university accounts, a similar 144-hour revival broke out at the campus in 1970.

Alexandra Presta, a student at Asbury wrote in The Asbury Collegian, the campus newspaper, on Feb. 8, “Peers, professors, local church leaders and seminary students surround me— all of them praying, worshipping, and praising God together. Voices are ringing out. People are bowing at the altar, arms stretched wide.”

She wrote that in the midweek chapel service campus minister Zach Meerkreebs led an invitation for personal confession and testimonies.

“Wednesday chapel speaker Zach Meerkreebs admitted to those in attendance he didn’t know what the call of confession would look like, but this morning he spoke about seeing God not only as a Father but as a friend. Someone who won’t abandon you. Someone who will be there when you need to cry, mourn, rejoice, dance or anything in between,” she wrote in the Asbury Collegian.

Bill Elliff, founding pastor of The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas, attended a portion of the services on Feb. 10.

“Within the first hour, I had moved from a spectator to a humble participant,” he wrote in a blog on his website.

“There are wise leaders from the University who are helping shepherd the moment. I’m sure they have learned from the past movements how to steward this best,” he wrote.

Elliff has been a student of prayer and spiritual awakening and has written more than 50 books on the subjects.

“In some ways, it is a worship-based, Spirit-led, Scripture-fed prayer gathering. It is just what we should be doing all the time: waiting before God, worshiping Him, praying to Him, listening to Him, responding to Him, and being shepherded by wise leaders who see themselves merely as facilitators of God’s activity,” Elliff wrote.

Elliff said the 1,500-seat Hughes Auditorium was full on Friday night (Feb. 10). Reports indicated it was overflowing on Saturday night (Feb. 11).

Eric Allen, Kentucky Baptist Convention missions team leader, attended a portion of Saturday’s meeting and reported a similar experience.

“Sherry (Allen’s wife) and I had only been there a few minutes singing music when we were both moved emotionally and in tears because the presence of God was so real in that place. We could feel it,” he told Baptist Press.

“There was genuine praise and worship. Everything pointed to God and was very Christ-centered,” he said.

He said that while there was freedom in the meeting, there was also order.

Revival services at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky have been ongoing since Feb. 8. (photo submitted by Alex Griffith)

“One of the things I noticed was that there was spontaneity and order to what was happening. It wasn’t a stifling or restricting kind of order because there was also a freedom for people to testify, sing or pray and the freedom was never wild or without order,” he said.

Elliff made similar observations.

“It is not weird. Everything is extremely orderly but vibrant, spontaneous, and powerful,” he wrote.

Graci Bradley, an Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) student from Shelbyville, attended the Friday night service.

“Seeing people from every nation, tribe, and tongue, and from all different generations, was a glimpse of heaven. It was very encouraging to see that everyone was there for one common goal – to give God glory,” she told Baptist Press.

“He is worthy of it all, and in Him we are united,” she said.

Bradley, an active member of the Baptist Campus Ministry at EKU said in written comments, “What is happening at Asbury is something pleasing to God, as His children are uniting to sing His praise.”

That is a similar theme to the 1970 revival at Asbury, where 2,000 witness teams were sent to 130 colleges to share of their experience. On Saturday afternoon, campus ministers hosted a dinner for college campus student leaders to hear of how they might share in a similar event at their campus.

Kenny Rager, church evangelism strategist at the Kentucky Baptist Convention, attended the service on Saturday night.

“I was encouraged to see the staff shepherding the revival movement,” he told Baptist Press.   “They are keeping order, giving instructions, and announcements but still encouraging the freedom of the spirit,” he said.

Rager said there were many testimonies shared while he was there, but there were also sermons.

“I was very encouraged that the preaching of God’s Word is happening. Lots of expressive worship and testimonies but there was also good preaching of the Word by the staff,” he said.

Ella Blacey and Lauren Powell pray during a worship service at Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky., on Friday, Feb. 10. Revival services have been ongoing since Feb. 8. (photo submitted by Alex Griffith)

He says he understands some people might be skeptical of the events taking place at Asbury.

“I understand why people may be skeptical. I was a little, too. We have seen a lot of movements fizzle out or even drift into heresy,” he said.

“Honestly, time will tell if this bears lasting fruit. But I went. I felt the Lord’s presence. I saw people worship. I saw people praying. I heard the Word preached. I met new brothers and sisters in the Lord and I felt the Lord speak to me about some issues,” he told Baptist Press in written comments.

A hunger for God permeates the people we’ve talked to who have attended.

“People are hungry to see God at work, and I think that’s what draws the crowds. They want to see God do something great in our lives and in our midst,” Allen said.

Bradley added, “…it’s my hope and prayer that it doesn’t stop at Asbury, but that it extends all over – we are called to be sent.”

“I believe these meetings are being driven by a desire to see a fresh outpouring of the spirit,” Rager said. “So many people want to see their churches wake up. Programs, plans, and strategic places can never fill the void of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Elliff called on other believers to pray for what is happening at Asbury and to pray that God would bring it to their church, campus, and city.

“As I spoke to the hotel receptionist this morning, she told me they were sold out of rooms. ‘We were not prepared for revival,’ she said. May it not be true of us,” he wrote.

King David’s reign confirmed in text on ancient stone, scholars say

PARIS (BP)—New readings of text on the Moabite Stone studied for 150 years give new evidence that the stone includes an extra-biblical reference to King David, scholars have announced.

The latest reading reveals previously illegible characters to complete the phrase “the House of David” on the 31st line of the 34-line inscription written in the ninth century B.C., scholars assert in the current issue of the Biblical Archeology Review.

Southern Baptist archeologist and theologian Jim Parker affirms the latest interpretation of the stone that records the victorious battles of King Mesha, who ruled in the mid-ninth Century B.C. what is now known as Dhibon, Jordan.

“While there will likely be a peer review of the work that has been done with the scanning, etc., it does seem that things look favorable that this does make reference to ‘House of David,” Parker, executive director of the Michael and Sara Moskau Institute of Archaeology at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press.

“It does seem that the context around Line 31 of the Mesha Stone, in which this appears, was speaking about the lands and peoples that King Mesha of Moab had defeated. That would lead one to the understanding that David (meaning Judah if the 810 B.C. dating of Lemaire is accurate), was one of those groups.”

The stele appears to document Mesha’s battles recorded in 2 Kings 3, scholars André Lemaire and Jean-Philippe Delorme said in interpreting the line written in an ancient Hebrew script. The scholars were able to transcribe three previously illegible letters or characters in reaching their conclusion of “House of David.”

“The term ‘House of David,’” Parker said, “can be a reference to the kings who were of David’s lineage that followed each other over consecutive reigns. The kingdom that the ‘House of David’ reigned over was Judah, so basically these two terms, especially after the split at the time of Rehoboam, became synonymous with one another. ‘House of David’ also meant that this Judean kingdom was founded by David.”

At least three scholars, Israel Finkelstein, Nadav Na’aman and Thomas Römer, have interpreted line 31 of the text to refer instead to King Balak, the Moabite King who consulted the prophet Balaam in an attempt to curse the Israelites, as recorded in Numbers 22. Their findings were printed in Bible History Daily in 2019.

But the interpretation as King Balak is problematic, Parker said.

“Israel Finkelstein has put forth the idea that line 31 of the Mesha stele should be translated Balak, however, most scholars disagree,” said Parker, who is also an NOBTS professor of biblical interpretation and archaeology, and associate vice-president of operations.

“It does seem that the stele is explaining a historical event … sometime between 840-810 BC. Since Balak was at least 200 years before, if not longer than this time, it seems that a reference to him would be anachronistic,” Parker said. “Therefore, most scholars would not accept this view in light of what is believed to be the context of the stele.”

The stele, on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, was publicized in 1868 when Bedouin attempted to sell the stone to scholars, according to Bible History Daily. After negotiations failed, the 3-foot black basalt stone was broken into dozens of pieces and scattered among the Bedouin, east of the Jordan River and north of the Arnon River.

Scholars recovered enough of the fragments in the 1870s to reconstruct two-thirds of the original stone, according to Bible History Daily. But a paper imprint that had been taken of the intact inscription allowed scholars to fill in the blanks.

This article originally appeared in Baptist Press.

George Liele legacy undergirds Black fellowship church-planting initiative

Editor’s note: Sunday, Feb. 5, is George Liele Church Planting, Evangelism and Missions Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.

MENIFEE, Calif. (BP)—African American Southern Baptists don’t always have the option of worshiping in churches that predominantly share their culture.

The legacy of George Liele, a formerly enslaved Black man who became the first Baptist international missionary from America, is driving an effort to address the disparity, said Greg Perkins, a pastor at the helm of the initiative.

“This is in keeping with his legacy of kingdom multiplication,” said Perkins, leader of the National African American Fellowship Church Planting Initiative launched in 2021 by the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention (NAAF). “Our charter was not to plant multiethnic churches, not to plant multicultural churches,” he said of the church planting initiative.

“Our charter was to plant churches in underserved communities where there might not be a predominantly African American church presence that is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Perkins, senior pastor of The View Church, a multiethnic and majority-African American church in Menifee. “We are defining predominantly African American as being led by an African American where the congregation is more than 50 percent who identify as African American.”

Perkins – who leads a congregation he describes as 62 percent African American and 38 percent white, Asian and Hispanic – said the initiative is not to segregate worshipers by ethnicity.

“It is to provide the broadest amount of opportunity,” he said, “for people to be able to worship in spaces that best meet their need for that season of life.”

NAAF partners with the North American Mission Board Send Network in the initiative, aided by Steve Canter, Send Network’s Northeast regional director.

Cameron Dobbins, left, at the launch of Redeemer Church planted through the National African American Church Planting Initiative.

“When I think of George Liele’s legacy, I am reminded that it’s all about the Gospel and people must first be reconciled to God,” Canter said. “Because of his faithfulness to preach the Word, many people surrendered their lives to Christ, and new churches were planted.

“Despite facing many obstacles, George Liele continued to make it all about the Gospel. The … initiative is also about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and overcoming barriers to plant new churches in cities where they are most needed.”

Six established African American pastors have mentored younger pastors in planting churches in the East, Northeast and West in the initiative’s first phase, Perkins said, and other potential new pastors are in training. The initiative’s second phase, in the planning process, will establish church planting residency programs aimed at planting between three and five churches in each region over the next three years.

Among the six established pastors are Brian Kennedy, senior pastor of Mount Zion Church of Ontario, Calif., and associate professor of preaching at Gateway Seminary; and Adron Robinson, senior pastor or Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, Ill., and a member of the SBC Executive Committee.

Kennedy sees in the initiative a safe and nurturing environment that encourages young pastors to faithfully live their purpose.

Kennedy nurtured Brian Wallace in planting City Connect Church as a Mt. Zion mission in North Fontana in January, commissioning Wallace on New Year’s Day.

“Through this particular initiative, we were able to bring more resources,” Kennedy said. He is already planning two additional church plants under the NAAF/NAMB initiative, one of the plants in partnership with another Southern Baptist church.

“Providing resources for other young ministers to do the work in other parts of the kingdom and expand the kingdom footprint is one of my greatest joys,” Kennedy said. “I could spend all of my energy trying to build Mt. Zion, but Mt. Zion is only in one geographic location,” he said. “But if we plant churches we can be in numerous locations, and we have pastors who are putting in the same kind of effort, and that’s called multiplication. And multiplication is much more effective than addition and subtraction.”

Robinson has provided African American mentorship and guidance for Cameron Dobbins in planting Redeemer Church in Greensboro, N.C., in cooperation with King’s Cross Church, Dobbins’ sending congregation. Robinson attended the assessment session for Dobbins and other church planters in the initiative and was later assigned to work individually with Dobbins.

“It’s been great walking alongside of him and his family and seeing what God is doing through Redeemer,” Robinson said. “I think it’s important for seasoned pastors to connect with younger pastors. We can learn from one another cross-generationally … and we both grow in the process.”

Robinson appreciates the African American presence the church planting initiative provides.

“Some of our young African American church planters did not grow up in the African American church experience,” Robinson said, “and so it helps them to connect with their roots, to see healthy biblical models of the Black church experience so they can be more effective in ministering to their communities.”

Robinson describes NAAF’s network of about 3,800 seasoned pastors nationwide as a benefit to emerging African American church planters.

Other pastors who helped launch the initiative are Jerome Coleman, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Crestmont in Willow Grove, Pa.; Richard Gaines, senior pastor of Consolidated Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.; and Marshal Ausberry, senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va.

Pastors working in the initiative praise Liele’s church-planting legacy birthed in the 18th Century in the U.S. and expanded through his work in Jamaica.

“George Liele was really the start of it all,” Robinson said. “He was the first missionary from America. His legacy of planting churches and starting churches is the foundation for everything that we do.”

Kennedy sees rich lessons for the church in Liele’s work.

“George Liele helps us understand that difficulty does not block our vision or our momentum,” Kennedy said. “This man was born in slavery and still pastored a church, and still became a missionary in another country, despite the brutal and the demonically inspired North American slave trade which Christians helped perpetuate.”

But in the midst of “one of the saddest moments in church history,” Kennedy said, “white brothers helped him.

“There were some white brothers who followed the Word of God, who spoke out and made changes, who risked their lives to follow Jesus and do what was right, despite slavery.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Lifeway trustees celebrate momentum, new initiatives

ORLANDO, Fla.—In their first meeting of 2023, the Lifeway Christian Resources Board of Trustees heard how the organization plans to leverage recent growth momentum and better serve the church in coming years.

During the Jan. 30-31 meeting, key leaders at Lifeway shared encouraging financial news and updates on new and upcoming ministry initiatives.

Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber participated in the biannual meeting and expressed gratitude to the organization for its commitment to serving congregations.

“Every Southern Baptist church and leader knows Lifeway because we interact with them in our local church ministry,” he said, “but it’s an extra blessing to see the people, the vision, and the processes behind all these products we depend on.”

Strategic focus

In his address to trustees, Lifeway President and CEO Ben Mandrell unpacked areas of strategic focus the organization will concentrate on for the remainder of 2023, including continued growth in ongoing curriculum, implementation of a management system to deepen customer relations, and improvements to

After noting ongoing curriculum was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mandrell reported ongoing Bible study curriculum shows strong growth over last year, and last year’s sales showed growth over the prior year. He said sales have “rebounded significantly, and the trend lines are encouraging, but we want to pour as much gas as possible on growing our ongoing Bible study business.

“Continued growth in ongoing is critical for Lifeway’s financial health, so we’re very grateful to see this trend continue,” Mandrell said, adding that Lifeway is “fiercely committed” to growing its three main curriculum lines: Explore the Bible, Bible Studies for Life and The Gospel Project. In addition, Lifeway recently unveiled a new, next-gen curriculum line called Hyfi, which is scheduled to be released this summer. Sharing quotes from church leaders who tested Hyfi, Mandrell expressed excitement at a new opportunity to equip congregations that are passionate about building relationships with previously unreached kids and students.

He told trustees that Lifeway is in the beginning stages of implementing a customer relationship management system that will “allow leaders across the organization to collaborate and personalize the marketing messages that are sent to the customer. As a customer interacts with Lifeway, we can keep track of what they are interested in and reach out with relevant material.” The goal, Mandrell said, is to provide customers with only the type of information and resources that are of interest to them.

Additionally, Mandrell spoke of continuing improvements to While the site was recently once again named to Newsweek’s “Best Online Shops” list, he said Lifeway leaders are continuing to find ways to upgrade the site. Mandrell highlighted multiple new features and enhancements coming to the site, including additional functionality and search optimization to make shopping at a better experience.

Lifeway trustee meeting, Connia Nelson, chief human resources officer, answers a question about the organization’s strategy to hire and retain employees who “want to work for God and His kingdom.”

During the plenary session, Mandrell gave trustees a financial update. He reported that through the first quarter, Lifeway is tracking right at its revenue budget, but well ahead of the bottom-line budget as a result of good expense management. He also noted several recent ministry highlights including the 10th anniversary of The Gospel Project, strong sales of the “Telugu Study Bible” in India and the “CSB Explorer Bible for Kids” charting on the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s bestseller list.

“We have so much to be thankful for,” Mandrell said, “and we look forward to seeing how God continues to bless these great resources designed for local churches.”

Mandrell also noted the priority the organization is placing on hiring and retaining the best employees. “I want Lifeway to grow in prominence as one of the premier places to work for God’s kingdom,” he said. In 2022, Lifeway had close to 15,000 new candidates exploring career opportunities with the organization, up 40 percent over 2021. Additionally, while the annualized turnover rate for resignations across all industries last year was more than 30 percent, Lifeway’s rate was less than 13 percent.

Other business and activities

On Monday morning, worship leader Doug Pierce led trustees in a time of worship, and Mandrell shared a message on leading with strength through weakness. Exploring 2 Corinthians 12, Mandrell discussed how a thorn in the flesh can counterintuitively serve as a blessing and presented three reasons why God grants suffering:

  1. To grow our witness
  2. To shrink pride and make us fit for ministry
  3. To create a deeper connection with God and others
  4. Trustees also heard from several Lifeway leaders during their two-day meeting.

Devin Maddox, director of the books ministry area, discussed how “with every Christian testimony, there’s a bibliography attached.” A sea of raised hands covered the room when Maddox asked who had personally experienced a book playing a key role in their journey to become a Christian.

“Books are a ministry multiplier that can accomplish something authors cannot do,” Maddox said. “Books can go places where others cannot. As a publisher, we can deploy books into homes all over the world.”

Chuck Peters, director of Lifeway Kids, introduced trustees to Hyfi – Lifeway’s new, next-gen Bible study curriculum. Peters called Hyfi a needed resource that will help “flip the script” for churches seeking to reach kids and students in an increasingly secularized society.

“The curriculum teaches 12 biblical truths that help kids know who they are because of who God is and who He says they are,” Peters said. Hyfi is grounded in Scripture and driven by relational activities that connect newcomers to church and pave the way for the Gospel message.

Brad Barnett, senior manager of student ministry operations, shared a recap of Lifeway’s 2022 summer camps. “We had an incredible summer serving 106,000 campers from 4,000 churches and saw over 1,800 kids and students give their lives to Christ,” Barnett said.

He relayed ministry stories from camp, illustrating how God works through student leaders and unique activities – like a silent disco – to reach kids and bring them into relationship with Him and others.

Trustees approved the establishment of a sales division within Lifeway to be managed by a new senior vice president at the Executive Leadership Team level. With the new position approved, Mandrell said the team would begin looking for a candidate to fill that role.

The board also recognized five trustees who are ending their board service in June: Marie Clark, Overland Park, Kan.; Tony McAlexander, Las Vegas, Nev.; Amy Mielock, Cary, N.C; Katherine Pope, Martinsburg, W.Va,; and Terenda Wyant, Belleville, Ill.

The next Lifeway trustee meeting is scheduled for Aug. 28-29, 2023.