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DULUTH, Ga. (BP)--When Southern Baptist pastors huddle together, whether at Starbucks or Cracker Barrel, the conversation these days generally gravitates toward the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and the work it has undertaken.
Consequently, there is a lot of speculation that has surfaced as a result of these coffee klatches. A certain amount of speculation is good. It shows keen interest in the denomination, its leadership, the impending report of the task force and the future of the convention.
Since members of the task force have been asked to keep their deliberations a secret and since the meetings are closed to the public, speculations are running rampant in just about every corner of the convention.
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and task force member, is doing Southern Baptists a great favor by dispelling perceived myths about the things that are incubating in those meetings. While he is apparently not breaching any confidential information, he is free to at least let us know what that task force will not recommend. (Akin's columns can be read at http://betweenthetimes.com.)
Now, some would contend that there is a distinct difference between speculations and myths. "Speculation" is a hypothesis or an opinion that may be based on incomplete information. However, a "myth" is an invented story, idea or concept that may be commonly believed, but is without any basis for truth.
A myth might well be propagated as the truth, while speculation fits more into the category of fanciful contemplation or the articulation of an opinion. I would tend to think that the Southeastern president is dealing with speculations rather than myths. Nevertheless, Akin is trying to help us understand what the task force will not recommend by rising to the role of Myth Buster.
Here is myth No. 1:
"The goal of (particular members of) the Task Force to get more money to the nations is only a smoke screen to get more money to the seminaries."
I have heard this mentioned in the highways and backroads of Georgia and this "myth" probably evolved as the result of some deductive reasoning. For six years the SBC Funding Study Task Force (of which I was a member) vainly endeavored to find more money for our seminaries and failed ingloriously in our attempt to do so.
Due to our inability to provide the necessary financial aid to the seminaries it would be easy for some to conclude that with not one, but two, seminary presidents on the Task Force there may be some effort to channel more money to theological education.
Then if you add to that the emphasis Akin placed on theological education in GCR Axiom IX you might be led to think more funding for the seminaries would be on the agenda. By the way, Axiom IX reads, "We believe that North American church planting, pioneer missions around the globe, and theological education are three priorities around which most Southern Baptists will unite."
However, Akin has banished any further thoughts about seminaries getting more funding in his first Myth Buster. He emphatically states, "Dr. Mohler and I publicly and repeatedly have stated we would oppose any report or recommendation that would financially benefit the seminaries."
The Southeastern president then added, "The GCR is not and has never been about getting more money to the seminaries."
The second myth Akin answers is:
"The goal of (certain members of) the Task Force is to turn North American church planting over to Acts 29 or to at least enter into a formal partnership with them."
This second myth may have surfaced because Southeastern Seminary hosted the co-founder of the Acts 29 Network, Mark Driscoll, at various seminary functions in recent years. The Acts 29 Network exists to start churches that reproduce themselves by planting other churches.
Akin dispels this myth by stating, "Would I support a formal partnership (with the Acts 29 Network)? No! Would I support turning North American church planting over to them? Never! I am quite confident my feelings would reflect the sentiments of the rest of the GCRTF were our discussions ever to turn to Acts 29."
While I have not heard of this second myth, I have heard that the task force may very well recommend that the convention transfer the North American Mission Board's church planting endeavors and funding over to the seminaries. I have no idea as to whether that is a myth that can be eliminated or not.
Akin valiantly takes on what he calls Myth No. 3, which is:
"The GCR Task Force is attempting to influence and even control the search committee process at the Executive Committee, the IMB and NAMB."
On May 5, Baptist Press reported, "The trustee chairman of the North American Mission Board believes the Great Commission Resurgence declaration creates an opportunity for dialogue about an issue he believes needs to be addressed: a merger of the SBC's two mission boards."
Then the trustee chairman stated, "The way we structure, fund and administer our work is overly bureaucratic and bloated. If we combine our efforts and funding, we could be much more effective and become better stewards of God's resources."
The language of the NAMB trustee chairman sounded strangely familiar to some of the language in the original GCR declaration. Anyone connecting the dots could, with some slight imagination, conclude that with the resignation of the NAMB president and the forthcoming retirement of the IMB president and the president and CEO of the Executive Committee, that there just might be some grand scheme to restructure the various entities by controlling the presidential search processes.
Once again Akin dispels this myth by stating, "We, and again I believe I can speak for the whole Task Force, will not be calling any of the search committees asking for a meeting. We will not be writing, emailing, texting or tweeting trying to interfere with or do their job."
The fourth myth debunked by Akin deals with the Cooperative Program: "The goal of the GCR Task Force is to dismantle if not destroy the Cooperative Program."
It is possible that this myth emerged from an interview of the Southeastern president by Trevin Wax posted on Wax's website on June 10. In that interview Akin said, "If you, for example, wanted to be a church planter right now, and you wanted to work through the system, you would be interviewed and would seek funding from your local association, from the state convention where you want to go and plant a church, and from the North American Mission Board where you want to go and plant a church."
Akin continued, "There is a three-tiered -- not duplication -- but triplication in this system that is only going to provide nominal funding for you to actually accomplish what you need to do." Later in the interview he surmises that church planting can be better accomplished "without partnering with a state convention."
Some have interpreted these statements to suggest that CP money should be redirected around state conventions or that state conventions should receive less consideration or less funds than they receive at the present time.
In addressing this myth Akin wrote, "The GCRTF believes the CP is well. We believe it is effective and that it is working. We believe it has a wonderful past and pray it has an even more wonderful future."
I would interpret his comments to indicate that societal giving is off the agenda and that the CP will remain the viable source of funding available to Southern Baptists for the foreseeable future.
Myth No. 5 has now been exposed and laid to waste by Southeastern's president:
"The GCR is actually a grand Calvinist plot to infiltrate the SBC and gain control or at least greater influence in the Convention."
This notion, as foolish as it may seem to some, may have surfaced because 1) Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., an avowed Calvinist, made the motion at the SBC annual meeting to authorize SBC President Johnny Hunt to appoint the Great Commission Task Force and, 2) because of the rumor, whether true or not, that one of our seminaries is hiring Presbyterians to teach our theology students.
Thankfully Dr. Akin squashes this myth by stating, "Does the GCRTF want a 'Calvinist SBC?' Not at all."
Then he specifies that the greatest danger to the SBC getting after the Great Commission with greater fervency and passion is not Calvinism, but carnality. I wholeheartedly agree. So, many thanks go to my seminary president for allaying our fears and setting the record straight.
I personally am greatly comforted by these assurances provided by Dr. Akin. I suppose speculations (or myths) will continue to surface, but hopefully they will continue to be effectively addressed as Dr. Akin continues to set the record straight.
However, one way to eliminate such speculations and remove the rhetoric that can naturally be expected prior to a great convention gathering is to allow for open meetings of the task force.
After all, on June 8 Baptist Press indicated that President Hunt endorsed an appeal from Baptist state paper editors that meetings of the prospective task force would be as open and transparent as possible. Hunt was then quoted as saying, "I would be real open to say that we look forward to every meeting that there will be a state editor there to be able to document the meeting. We have nothing to hide."
Actually, that has not been the case. The meetings have been closed to the public from the beginning and editors are not allowed to observe the process first-hand as the eyes and ears of Southern Baptists.
Rather than having our leadership spend time serving as myth busters, why not have open meetings? The U.S. House of Representatives has met in secret only three times since 1830. The U.S. Senate has met in secret more often, but cited national security or impeachment proceedings as the motivation for their closed sessions.
Since it is unlikely that the task force will be dealing with either of those matters, perhaps they should consider not meeting behind closed doors. Surely, it would reduce speculations and create a healthier environment for Southern Baptists.
The saying, "You are only as sick as your secrets" is well known in the field of addiction treatment. If that statement is true it stands to reason that the converse is also true: "You are only as healthy as your transparency."
Gerald Harris is editor of the Christian Index, the newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention.