So far as I can tell, I was the first caulk mark on the board expressing concerns toward the 2011 SBC Pastors’ Conference. In a piece entitled, “Is the 2011 Pastors’ Conference over the top for grassroots Southern Baptists?,” I queried aloud:
"One must wonder if the platform Pitman handpicked is the appropriate channel through which the Holy One of Israel—the Lord God of Hosts—desires to breathe. Understand: God is God and He may choose to exhale His Spirit’s breath through any means He so desires. The question is, do we have any solid reason (biblical or otherwise) to believe that at least some of the choices Pitman made will breathe life into Southern Baptist pastors rather than breathe death upon the Southern Baptist Convention?"
Now, in a Baptist news agency, Vance Pitman publicly responds to raised concerns>>>
In a piece entitled “SBC Pastors’ Conference slate raises ire,” Associated Baptist Press (ABP) writer, Norman Jameson writes:
“The Pastors’ Conference has long been a barometer for Southern Baptist theological weather patterns and a launching pad to the SBC presidency for its leaders. Consequently, although it is not an official organization of the SBC, its direction is closely monitored.”
Jameson is not ignorant of unwritten Southern Baptist polity. He nicely captures the significance the Pastors’ Conference has historically maintained in influencing the Southern Baptist politico. It is not that the Pastors’ Conference has been merely political. Such reductionism is completely unfair and misses the heart-throbbing, soul-stirring, faith-growing inspiration the conference has also provided. Indeed for many Southern Baptist pastors, the only conference they will attend all year will be the SBC Pastors’ Conference.
Nevertheless, Jameson rightly observes the Pastors’ Conference has been the “launching pad” for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention as well as to speak to the issues the present leadership desires to influence. One needs only think of 2010 Orlando when the Pastors’ Conference was characterized by some as one gigantic commercial for the GCRTF agenda.
In fact, it is because of this historic contribution of the Pastors' Conference that I find hardly adequate the platform defense by Pastors’ Conference President, Vance Pitman. Jameson writes:
“The president of the 2011 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference defended a program he’s put together for June 12-13 in Phoenix, Ariz., saying critics who find it outside the convention’s mainstream hold too narrow a worldview. [In Pitman’s words:] “The main intent of our conference is to communicate the big picture of the Kingdom of God… God is alive and at work all over the world. We as the Southern Baptist Convention are one very small part of that.”
One surely must concede Pitman’s concerns. Who denies either the “big picture” of God’s Kingdom and whether God is active all over the world, or that Southern Baptists are but a single part of the "big picture" Kingdom? Neither I nor anyone about whom I am aware has publicly raised any such issues. Hence, one has to wonder about whom Pitman is referring. Perhaps he is referring to the hundreds of protests he allegedly received through private correspondence. We do not know, and therefore his assertions at that point remain frustrating.
More disconcerting is Pitman’s implication that those of us who have expressed concerns about some personalities on the platform have done so more from a “judgmental spirit” than careful "discernment":
“Pitman, exasperated at what he feels is unmerited criticism for a conference lineup that will inspire pastors and give them an encouraging view of God’s work in the world, agrees it is important for believers “to be defenders of the faith.” There is a difference, however, “in being discerning and in having a judgmental spirit.”
Again, we are not sure what (or whom) Pitman is referencing, so it is very hard to understand his concern. While I happily agree with Pitman’s distinction between a “judgmental spirit” and proper "discernment," precisely how Pitman knows the difference--or properly discerns the difference himself rather than just being judgmental in spirit toward those who publicly raised concerns--we are not told. Nor are we informed that if any questions at all were publicly raised, how such questions would not fit his understanding of projecting a “judgmental spirit.”
Unfortunately, the more Pitman “defended” his conference decisions overall, the more questions we think are raised whether clarity concerning the choices he made dominated the invitations he offered.
Defending Jamar Jones’ invitation, Jameson describes Pitman’s response:
“People Pitman trusts tell him “Jakes is not a modalist.” Besides, Pitman said, his books are for sale in SBC bookstores. “How ridiculous is it that we can sell his books but his music guy can’t play piano at our meeting?” he asked.”
I am unsure why this is supposed to answer the concern many have in affiliating with those who, at minimum, possess difficulty not in just explaining the Triune nature of God (who among us is worthy of such) but also difficulty in historically embracing the Triune nature of God. The concerns are real whether Pitman accepts it or not.
Nevertheless, even if Lifeway sells T.D. Jakes’ books as Pastor Pitman maintains, what does such have to do with whether the author of the Lifeway book (or his staff member) is an appropriate choice for the Pastors’ Conference platform? Lifeway sells The Shack. Is, therefore, William Young an appropriate choice to address the Pastors’ Conference? Could Pitman conclude how ridiculous it is that we can sell William Young’s book but William Young himself can’t speak at our meeting? Indeed if selling books through Lifeway becomes an automatic vetting to getting on the Pastors’ Conference platform at the SBC, I’m afraid we’re in for a gargantuan jolt at future conferences.
In addition, Pitman termed accusations that he put together a “Calvinist” conference “beyond [his] wildest imagination.” While some may have suggested such (though I do not know off hand who explicitly has), my initial commentary was not directed toward a Calvinist line-up, but one heavily leaning toward Acts 29 guys.I wrote:
…Darrin Patrick, Vice President for Acts 29 Church Planting Network is scheduled to speak. Acts 29 is the network run by Mark Driscoll, the controversial pastor in Seattle, WA. We’ve had our knocks at SBC Tomorrow for contending with his infatuation with explicit sexual themes not to mention the '”cussin pastor” controversy and “Bible and beer” church plants. The Missouri Baptist Convention squeezed Acts 29 out of its funding protocol a few years back. Why Pitman would invite Patrick is an enigma. Unless, of course, it’s a way to reintroduce Acts 29 back into Southern Baptist pastors’ good graces”
To my knowledge, Pitman did not reveal why he would invite a speaker affiliated with an organization that an entire state convention has historically experienced severe problems—so much so, the convention stopped any type of fiscal support going to Acts 29 affiliated church-starts through its headquarters. How is having this organization so prominent on the Pastors' Conference platform supposed to inspire missions as Pitman suggested was his goal?
Even so, since Pitman himself publicly breached the issue of Calvinism, the fact is, Acts 29 Network is exclusively Reformed in theology (non-Calvinists who make up the over-whelming majority of the SBC would not be welcomed into their network) and Reformed in ecclesiology (at least so far as ruling elders are concerned). Acts 29 online documents make this very clear. Nor do most Southern Baptists realize that Acts29 churches encourage missions giving primarily through their network not the Cooperative program .
Hence, the real issue concerning missions support is not that the Pastors' Conference platform does not support missions funding. To the contrary, Acts 29 affiliates are encouraged to give heavily and generously to missions. Rather the issue is, Acts 29 affiliates are encouraged to support the Acts 29 Network, making its missions endeavors the predominate missions strategy. Consequently, the Cooperative Program is by-passed, and funds are given to Acts 29 Network. And, recall: the GCRTF agenda specifically noted that the Cooperative program would remain the core, superior missions giving strategy for the Southern Baptist Convention.
When all of these concerns are connected together, one only wonders why Vance Pitman would not anticipate questions--serious questions--to be raised by concerned Southern Baptists. And, frankly, no amount of Pitman's characterizing the legitimate concerns publicly raised to be indicative of a “judgmental spirit” will halt nor hinder our sincere inquiry. Regardless of being implicated as "judgmental in spirit," we will continue to raise the questions we feel are important for all Southern Baptists.
With that, I am...
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