Seminary faculty and trustees adopt proclamation on open theism

Members of both the board of trustees and the faculty at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously adopted a resolution affirming “God’s exhaustive definite foreknowledge” and condemning open theism as “an egregious biblical and theological departure from orthodoxy.”

Trustees acted on the resolution at their fall meeting on Oct. 14, adopting a statement penned by a committee of seminary faculty members. The faculty unanimously passed the resolution earlier this month.

The statement reaffirms the historic Christian teaching on God’s foreknowledge as set forth in both the seminary’s confession of faith, the Abstract of Principles and the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message. Proponents of the so-called “openness of God” deny that God exhaustively knows the future, and that God can know only possible future outcomes.

Scripture clearly teaches otherwise, seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said. If open theism is correct, then the plan of salvation through the person and work of Christ only took place through God’s “good intentions” and not as His saving act, he said. It also undermines biblical prophecy, he said.

“When Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin and Peter in his day of Pentecost sermon, he made clear, ‘these things happened by the plan and predetermined will of God in order that Christ would die,’” Mohler said.

“If you take this position of open theism seriously and begin to look at it, the entire plan of salvation comes down to God’s good intentions rather than His saving act.”

The resolution reads as follows: “Open theism’s denial of God’s exhaustive definite foreknowledge constitutes an egregious biblical and theological departure from orthodoxy and poses a serious threat to evangelical integrity. In accordance with our confessional documents—the Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message—the Board of Trustees of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary affirms God’s exhaustive definite foreknowledge including the knowledge of all future free choices and actions of his creatures, and thereby denies that open theism is a viable evangelical view.”

Faculty members wanted to make a statement on open theism in light of a pending action on the issue at the upcoming meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS).

At the society’s annual meeting set for Nov. 19-21 in Atlanta, the membership of ETS—composed of scholars and theologians from across the evangelical world—will likely vote on whether proponents of open theism may remain within the society.

Southern faculty members have been active in the debate over open theism with theology professor Bruce Ware publishing two major books on the subject. In 2001, the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology devoted an issue to the topic.

“I think [it is] an extremely powerful statement from an institution to have a unanimous action by the faculty and by the board affirming this,” Mohler said.

“It’s not as if this is an open question for us, the answer is absolutely and explicitly given to us in the Baptist Faith and Message and the Abstract of Principles. So it’s not like we are coming up with a new doctrinal statement. This is a specially-timed resolution addressed to an issue that is not, by name of course, mentioned in our confessional documents.”


Trustees approve master plan to meet seminary growth

To accommodate continuing growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the school’s board of trustees Tuesday approved a revised master plan that will add classrooms and parking spaces within the next year.

Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., told trustees the seminary’s growth requires difficult decisions regarding campus facilities. Because of the need for classroom space, Southern will renovate and reassign two existing buildings for academic use.

Rankin Hall, which now houses the seminary’s Child Development Center, will be transitioned into a classroom facility for Boyce College, Southern’s undergraduate school. The center, which provides daycare to 72 student, faculty, staff and community children, is scheduled to close at the end of the academic year in May 2004.

The seminary will also convert a 76-year-old gymnasium into two high-technology classrooms.

Mohler said the changes are necessary because the seminary must keep its mission of preparing Gospel ministers as the main priority.

“The moves reflect a concentration on our core assignment,” said Mohler. “We are forced by enrollment gains to make difficult choices and must look to other options for child care needs. We are very concerned for the well-being of the children and families currently using the Child Development Center. We will work with staff and families over the next several months to develop a transition plan.”

Southern Seminary’s enrollment exceeds 3,500, including more than 600 students at Boyce College.

Mohler told trustees that Southern must remain on a “wartime footing” because of the urgency of its call to proclaim the Gospel amid a culture that is becoming increasingly secularized, he said.

“An institution that is called to a wartime footing will make different decisions than an institution that thinks we are at peace with the world and our future is secure,” Mohler said.

“It means as we look to the future and as we are operating in the present, we have got to insure that we are doing what the churches have called us to do. Actually, our assignment is not just to mobilize students. It’s not just to build a seminary. You need to re-conceive this seminary as a West Point or an Annapolis [whose purpose is] to train those who will go out and lead the church for the battle.”

The master plan includes several projects, totaling more than $3.2 million in the first year. The entire revised Master Plan is scheduled for completion by December 2006. Under the plan:

* Levering Gymnasium, built in 1927, will be converted into two high-technology classrooms in 2004. Each of the two classrooms will seat 160. The gym currently serves as an auxiliary to the Honeycutt campus center, which features a modern gymnasium facility.

* Rankin Hall, which houses the school’s Child Development Center, will be converted into eight new classrooms for Boyce College.

* Parking capacity will increase with the addition of 136 spaces in 2004 and an additional 86 in 2005.

* Twenty-four residential units will be added to Fuller Hall in 2005, along with cosmetic improvements, a sprinkler system, and other amenities.

* Alumni Memorial Chapel will receive an upgrade in technology.

* Sprinkler systems will be installed in Carver and Mullins halls. Mullins will also receive a cosmetic renovation.

* Boyce Library will receive improvements including high-density book shelving and floor-by-floor refurbishing. Dated or worn aesthetics will receive a cosmetic facelift.

* Village Manor Apartments will be sold to a “friendly buyer” in 2004. The private entity buying Village Manor will renovate the 251-unit complex and maintain it as a low-income facility. The renovated apartments will continue to be available for student occupancy under private ownership.

Mohler said the master plan’s current projects are only the beginning of changes the seminary will undertake to allow continued growth. The changes will not only allow more students to benefit from the seminary, but will also increase Southern’s ability to carry out its stewardship in the way it uses campus space, Mohler said.

Churches are seeking ministers from Southern Seminary at a rate that exceeds the number of graduates annually going out from the school, Mohler said. The master plan is aimed at meeting that demand, Mohler said.

“We’ve had the opportunity over the last several years, in a number of very different ways, to make certain we are doing what the churches want us to do,” Mohler said.

“But the proof is always in the pulpit. And the good news is that churches demand our graduates. We have no trouble placing our graduates. We have more requests for our graduates than we yet have graduates.

“The time is short. We need to do everything possible to equip those who are currently studying at Southern Seminary to be readied in every way that we can possibly make possible for them to go out in the churches to be faithful servants of the Word and under-shepherds of the flock.”

In other business, trustees:

* Elected with tenure Duane Garrett to the faculty. Garrett presently serves as Old Testament professor at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. He will begin as professor of Old Testament at Southern in the fall of 2004.

* Unanimously approved a resolution denying that open theism is a viable evangelical view. Open theism contends that God does not have exhaustive definitive foreknowledge (see accompanying article).

* Approved the repair of Southern’s swimming pool. The pool has been out of service since earlier this year and will undergo extensive repairs. The project will cost $215,000 and is expected to be completed by summer.


Conference focuses on vision for youth ministry

More than 250 youth workers attended a day of intensive youth ministry training Sept. 20 at the fifth annual Vision Conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The conference featured 26 speakers from 6 states speaking on topics ranging from high school ministry to counseling and missions. The Vision Conference is hosted each fall by the National Center of Youth Ministry, a group that seeks to recruit, train, place and network local church youth leaders.

The conference “exceeded our expectations and was the best heretofore,” said David Adams, professor of youth ministry at Southern and executive director of the National Center of Youth Ministry.

Jay Strack, founder of Student Leadership University in Orlando, Fla., was the featured speaker. Preaching from Habakkuk, Strack told conference attendees that a fresh vision from God is the greatest need in youth ministry today.

“I promise you, the greatest need we have is a fresh vision from God,” Strack said. “But no one ever tells us how to have a vision. ... How, in heaven’s name, do we get a fresh vision for your ministry, for your life, for your family from God?”

To discover a fresh vision, believers must follow the example of Habakkuk by moving beyond negative attitudes and actively seeking God, Strack said.

Pursuing God’s truth is of paramount importance in ministry, he said. In fact, one reason why ministers loose sight of God’s vision is that they depend too heavily upon sources of inspiration other than God’s revelation.

“You’re never going to get it from a conference or from a speaker or from a book or from a tape. Now I can hopefully make you thirsty for a vision. My heartfelt desire [is] to be practical, to motivate you to seek a vision and to remind you: how dare we go about His work without His fresh vision for your life,” Strack said.

The widespread desire for vision in both religious and secular arenas, Strack continued, evidences a hunger for the Lord. People may claim to seek “vision” generically, but what they truly seek is a word from God.

“I’m not going to be able to help you much with vision unless you realize that only the One who made you and only the One you’re going to stand before and only the One who loves you, the Creator who knows you best can give you a vision,” he said.

When the Lord finally grants a sense of vision to His followers, they have a responsibility to receive that vision and share it with others, Strack said.

“We know that God speaks. We know he answers. We know vision comes from Him. ... Please don’t settle for anything less than that as a result of having been here today.”

Strack concluded, “Write [the vision] down so that others can get the vision.”

In addition to hearing Strack’s keynote addresses, the Vision Conference presented awards to two youth ministers for their outstanding service. Barry Shettel, youth pastor at Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Ga., was awarded the “CYM Lifetime Achievement Award” for 34 years of youth ministry service. Gene Dodson of Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan., received the “CYM Founder’s Award” for 24 years of youth ministry service.

Next year’s conference is scheduled for Sept. 11, 2004. It will focus on counseling youth through problems including addiction, pregnancy and rebellion.

With reporting by Jeff Robinson


Hemphill exhorts seminarians to kingdom-focused prayer

God-honoring prayer is not about merely informing the Lord of our need but is about enjoying God and committing to the expansion of His kingdom, Ken Hemphill said Oct. 2 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Preaching from Matthew 6, Hemphill, who served as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for nearly a decade, told students and faculty that the Lord’s Prayer models kingdom-focused prayer. Hemphill is National Strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG) for the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Somehow we’ve come to the notion that prayer is about informing God or even convincing God to be on our side,” Hemphill said. “Listen, God is so on your side that while you were yet ungodly, He sent His Son to die for you. ... Prayer is primarily an issue of enjoying God and [discovering] His priority for your life.”

From its opening phrase, “Our Father who art in heaven,” the model prayer teaches believers to shift their focus from self to God and His church, he said.

“‘Our’ is the nature of the community focus itself. I began to notice that we tend to pray ‘me’ and ‘mine’ prayers, whereas Jesus prayed ‘our’ and ‘Thine’ prayers. Prayer’s not so much about me. It’s about Him and it’s about us,” Hemphill said.

Subsequent phrases specifically teach us how to focus on God’s priorities, he said. “Hallowed be Thy name,” for instance, represents a commitment to honor God’s name with all of our actions.

The Lord desires for His people to live by “[His] Word in such a way that your behavior and your character become a showcase for the authority of God,” he said. “I want people to be able to see what God could do in the lives of a yielded people.”

In fact, hallowing God’s name before the world is the focus of the EKG emphasis in Southern Baptist life, Hemphill said.

“We’re asking the question, ‘What remains in terms of Southern Baptists and evangelicals evangelizing the world?’ ... The first issue is our holiness, that God proves Himself holy among us in their sight, that there’s an obvious salty character about our lifestyle, that there is a flavor of our life, that people see us and in us they see the Father’s image so clearly reflected that they know we’ve been with Him and that we are His,” he said.

“Thy kingdom come” is a prayer for God to show believers His daily activity and allow them to participate in it, Hemphill said.

Christians often don’t know what God is doing around them because they don’t ask, he said. “His activity isn’t just here on campus. It’s not just in chapel. It won’t be just in your church on Sunday morning. God is at work all the time everywhere around us, and the problem is we’ve never asked Him to let us see.”

Hemphill told chapel attendees that one encounter in the hallway at Southwestern Seminary provided him with an unexpected opportunity to join God’s kingdom activity.

On his way to preach in chapel one morning, Hemphill struck up a conversation with a student only to learn that the student’s wife had experienced a serious health crisis. Hemphill was able to pray for the student and offer financial help to his family.

“You know what I’ve began to realize?” he asked. “A lot of your kingdom moments are going to be in the side ditch. They’re not going to be things you’ve planned. ... What we’re praying is, ‘God, give me kingdom vision. Help me to see the world as You see the world. Help me to see needs as You see needs.”

“Thy will be done” then is an expression of willingness to participate in God’s work when He reveals it, Hemphill said.

“You cannot pray, ‘Thy kingdom come,’ without praying, ‘Thy will be done.’ It’s a fa├žade. It’s a lie if you’re saying, ‘I hope somebody else does the kingdom, just not me, Lord.”

In conclusion, Hemphill said that the benediction of the Lord’s Prayer defines man’s purpose for living.

“You know why you’re here? Here is it: to advance His kingdom through His power for His glory. That’s it. Bottom line, why did God create you? Why did He redeem you? So that you could advance His kingdom through His power for His glory.”


Forum presents varied Christian views of church-state relations

How high a wall should separate church and state?

Four panelists attempted to provide a Christian answer to this vital contemporary question in a Sept. 18 symposium at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The panelists argued four different views ranging from a strict separation of church from the state to the government’s acknowledging and actively working with the church.

The symposium was co-sponsored by Boyce College and the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement and featured seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr., Richard Land, Hollyn Hollman, Tom Nettles, and E. David Cook. Russell D. Moore, executive director of the Henry Institute, and Boyce College Dean Jerry Johnson moderated the discussion.

More than 500 students listened as the panelists interacted and debated their views. Hollman, who is general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee on Public affairs, was impressed by the overall presentation of the symposium.

“The turnout was impressive,” she said. “The symposium was well-planned and promoted. It was refreshing to participate in a forum where the time restraints were not so strict as to reduce important points to slogans.

“It offered a good opportunity for the students to hear different perspectives and to begin exploring the important concerns behind those differences. The relationship between religion and government deserves continuing, thoughtful attention. This forum was a positive step in that direction.”

Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention presented the accomodationist view, arguing that Christians have a responsibility to offer a Scriptural perspective in public policy debates.

Christians should not, however, advocate state-sponsored religion because state-sponsored religion inevitably compromises the Gospel message, he said.

“We believe that as Christians that we have a worldview that is informed by Holy Scripture. We have a right to express our religious convictions in the public square, and we have a right to bring our religious convictions to bear on the public policy issues of the day. And if we can convince enough Americans that we’re right, we have the right to have that legislated,” Land said.

When believers engage the culture with a Christian worldview, he said, they have the potential to impact society powerfully.

“Every major social evil in our society that has been corrected has been corrected because people of profound religious faith took their religious convictions into the public marketplace and said, ‘This is wrong. This is sinful. This should be illegal,”‘ Land said. “That was true with the abolitionists. It was true with child labor. It was true with labor reform. And in the lifetime of many of us, it was true with the civil rights revolution.”

It is important though, to draw a distinction between Christians impacting culture and government-sponsored religion, Land said. Government-sponsored religion inevitably will corrupt the Gospel and run contrary to the consciences of some citizens.

Sharing the Gospel is the responsibility of individuals, not the government, Land said.

“It’s our job to teach the Bible. It’s our job to propagate the faith. And when people are then changed, they have the right to bring their religious convictions into the public marketplace of ideas and to express their faith,” he said.

“Religion is too important, faith is too important to let government get its hands on it. It will always squeeze the life out of it. It will always foul it up. I can guarantee you that it will never be the Gospel as we understand it that is proclaimed.”

Ultimately, Christians must recognize that appropriate church-state relations involve Christians impacting culture through the democratic process, Land said.

Representing the strict separationist position, Hollman, argued that Christians should seek to uphold both the free exercise and the anti-establishment clauses of the First Amendment.

By advocating both a free church and a state that maintains neutrality toward religion, Christians can assure maximum protection of religious liberty, she said.

“For theological reasons, we believe in a free church and a free state,” Hollman said. “Of course, this is at the core of who we are. We are created in God’s image, free and responsible to God. We believe that the freedom of the individual to exercise choice in religion is essential, and the separation of the institutions of church and state is indispensable for ensuring liberty.”

Because of the free exercise clause, it is perfectly acceptable for religion to interact with government on many occasions, she said. Examples of appropriate interaction between government and religion would include Bible clubs in public high schools and students expressing Christian viewpoints in class.

The anti-establishment clause, however, prevents the government from lending any support to religion, Hollman said.

“Some suggest that government support for religion should be permitted so long as no religion is favored over another and no citizen is forced to participate. But the weight of the evidence suggests that the framers considered that approach and they rejected it,” she said.

In fact, Hollman said, state support of Christianity—such as that advocated by Alabama Supreme Court justice, Roy Moore—tends to undermine evangelism.

“I think we could look at the Ten Commandments debate as a prime example ... Have you ever met anyone who came to know Christ because they saw a monument that was of the government where the government had decided what monument to promote and to put Scripture on it? Maybe you have, but I don’t think that is the way we promote evangelism and real religion.”

But Mohler said Christians must beware of any state that claims to be neutral toward religion.

“There is no such thing as religious neutrality,” Mohler said. “There never has been such a condition, there never will be such a condition. It is because the worldview is always religious or irreligious in whatever mixture of the individual conscience.

“There is either allegiance to or hostility to the truth claims of the various spiritual, religious, theological arguments being made at any time.”

Mohler cited the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey as an example of the lack of neutrality. In that case, justices admitted that the definition of life is an inherently theological concept and therefore had no warrant to take a position.

Mohler pointed out that by not taking a position, the court took a position. Christians must be willing to argue their worldview on such issues in the public square even in the face of charges that they are attempting to establish Christianity as the dominant religion, he said.

“The problem is, there is no neutrality and so, if for instance, to say that marriage means a man and a woman, not a man and a man or a woman and a woman, if that is to claim a special privilege for Christianity, hear me making that claim,” Mohler said. “Because I am going to make that argument in the public square.”

Nettles, professor of historical theology at Southern Seminary, took the separationist position, arguing that, above all else, the church should guard the deposit of Gospel truth God has given it.

The law of God—the 10 Commandments—should not be used as an external symbol or historical monument in the vein of Moore’s controversial display in Alabama, because God did not give the law for that purpose, Nettles said.

Instead, the commandments should be proclaimed by the church as a standard of righteousness that reveals sin and leads sinners to see their need of a savior. It also serves as the standard of sanctification for the believer, he said.

Russell D. Moore said an important part of the church-state argument being made by Roy Moore and other Christians is that U.S. law is built upon the 10 Commandments. Russell D. Moore is executive director for the Henry Institute and serves as assistant professor of theology at Southern Seminary.

“The argument that is being made is that the 10 Commandments are indeed foundational to the American system of justice, that you don’t have an American system of justice that is simply being created ex-nihilo, it is based upon something,” Moore said.

“That is one of the arguments that is being made for, not only a monument in the state house in Montgomery, which may or may not be wise, but other monuments...[such as the monument of the 10 Commandments] in the [U.S.] Supreme Court building itself.”

Cook argued for the acknowledgement view of church and state relations. According to this understanding, the church and state may work together to bring about the betterment of society. Cook is professor of Christian Ethics at Southern Seminary and lives in England, where the Anglican Church is the official state church.

Cook asserted that the church and state should work together, that the government may look to the church to find the impetus for teaching morality and religion in public schools. In answer to the question “how high the wall of separation between church and state?” Cook answered, “Let’s break down the wall because Jesus is Lord of all.”

“That’s why at the heart of British education, there is religious education,” Cook said. “There is religious worship at the very heart, an opportunity for believers to take that formal (religion) and make it real, to make it living, to make it vital [and] transforming.”

Cook said the Christian voice must be heard loud and clear in the public square including the arena of government.

“I believe it is vital for us not to withdraw from the world, not to live in a bubble, not to create a ghetto mentality, but to be engaged to be salt and light to show the Lordship of Christ really at work in society,” he said.

Mohler issued a closing challenge to pastors on the issue of church-state relations. The debate is a critical one and must be handled thoughtfully and with intellectual and biblical integrity.

“[As Christians] we ought not to speak about the Constitution if we have not read it,” he said. “Christian ignorance is an abysmal sin. I hope that what has begun tonight is a conversation and a process of learning and study that will lead you to the sources, lead you to read, to investigate, to debate this.

“...I hope it begins a debate in the public square of America and in our churches as well where we desperately need to have a reasonable, intelligent, illuminating conversation about these things so that we can be faithful Christian citizens.”


Mohler: Church must remain supreme concern in church and state discussion

Baptists must relate issues of church and state by understanding the supremacy of a believer’s church over all other concerns, R. Albert Mohler said during a Sept. 18 symposium at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Mohler detailed 10 principles—which he called “radically Baptist”—that should govern the argument of the relation of church and state. Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, made the presentation during a symposium on the separation of church and state held at the seminary.

The principles that Christians in general and Baptists in particular must use when wrangling with the interaction of church and state include:

* The concept of citizenship. Believers are citizens of both this world and the world to come, Mohler pointed out, but a Christian’s heavenly citizenship must take first place. “But at the same time, we are to render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s,” Mohler said. “But Christians must be ever mindful that...we are aliens wherever we may find ourselves and there are thus limitations on Christian allegiance to any political structure, political ideology or even nation or king.”

* The autonomy of the church. The church is a spiritual entity and derives its power from God and not any government or human authority, Mohler said. The charter for the church is not the U.S. Constitution or any other human document, but the inspired Word of God, he said.

* The gift of freedom. God has endowed humans with certain freedoms such as liberty of conscience, speech, worship and assembly. However, the word ‘liberty’ must not be loosely defined, but must be understood as a “positive good that is given [by God] as our birthright,” he said. God-given freedom means freedom of religion, he said. “We believe that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be legislated,” he said. “It cannot be coerced [or] mandated. It is a matter of the individual soul claimed by the sovereignty of God. The question is obedience or disobedience...regeneration or the absence of regeneration and the state cannot be that agent.”

* A free church in a free state. The church can only be free when the state is free, Mohler said. For the church to be free, the state must allow it the liberty to assemble and worship according to the mandate of the Gospel, he said.

* The recovery of constitutional sanity. Mohler argued that the establishment clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has begun to eclipse the free exercise clause. Free exercise of religion as established in the First Amendment has been undermined by the current Supreme Court’s commitment to a radical understanding of the separation of church and state, he said. The court sees most any governmental acknowledgement of religion as a violation of the First Amendment contrary to the founding fathers’ intent, he said.

* The First Amendment must be rescued from Thomas Jefferson’s metaphor of “a wall” separating between church and state. Most Americans think of Jefferson’s famous words—which he penned in an 1802 letter—rather than the actual words and meaning of the First Amendment, Mohler pointed out. The meaning of Jefferson’s metaphor is uncertain because Christian services continued to be held in government buildings after Jefferson’s metaphor became public. Even Jefferson’s own practices did not adhere to the radical separation advocated by the modern courts, Mohler said.

* A secular state is profoundly dangerous. This is true because there is no such thing as religious neutrality and a secular worldview is opposed to Christianity, Mohler said. Every worldview is religious or irreligious, he said. “There is either allegiance to or hostility to the truth claims of various spiritual, religious, theological arguments being made at any time,” he said. “We need to be rid of the notion of a neutral state. No state has ever achieved neutrality. Those who have most vociferously claimed neutrality have often demonstrated the greatest tyranny over the human soul.”

* The church must be protected from the state. The church must refuse to take government money or support even when it is constitutionally legal, Mohler said. The church must maintain its autonomy by giving its allegiance to the Jesus Christ alone, he said. “Where Caesar’s money goes, so do his accountants, so do his lawyers and his rules,” Mohler said. “We must not take Caesar’s coin.”

* Chartered liberty, governmental respect and negotiated pluralism provide the answer to the church-state dilemma. Mohler argued that the constitution should define liberty as its framers intended. This would best protect the liberty of all Americans and would promote a governmental respect for religion that has been a reality throughout American history, he said. Every president in U.S. history has given some statement of respect for religion and the modern-day judiciary should do the same, he said. American citizens should then be able to negotiate and define pluralism—within constitutional boundaries—through the legislative process, he said.

* Christianity must be recognized as a public Christianity. Christians must be ready to clearly and cogently argue their worldview in the public square, he said. They should use their worldview as a foundation for arguments focused on changing public policy, Mohler said. “The law is not a neutral thing,” Mohler said. “Abortion will either be legal or illegal. Homosexual marriage will either be recognized or not recognized and there are serious theological arguments on both sides of that issue. Both need to be articulated, both need to be acknowledged and we need to be vociferous, faithful, aggressive, respectful agents of the Christian Gospel to make this case in the public square.”

The symposium was co-sponsored by the seminary’s Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement and Boyce College, Southern’s undergraduate school.


Gospel receptivity among unchurched surprisingly high, new book says

Eighty-two percent of unchurched people in North America (more than 130 million) are at least “somewhat likely” to attend church it they are invited, according to a new book by a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor.

In “The Unchurched Next Door” (Zondervan), Thom Rainer draws upon two years of extensive research in all 50 U.S. states and Canada to profile five different “faith stages” among non-Christians and to suggest strategies for reaching people at each stage.

“... [R]eaching lost and unchurched people is not always best accomplished with some cookie-cutter strategy,” writes Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern.

“The unchurched are different in how they respond to the Gospel. We want you to be aware of these differences so that you can reach out to the unchurched in the most effective ways.”

This book is particularly relevant for Christians today because many believers do not realize that their unchurched friends and neighbors may be just one conversation away from committing their lives to Jesus Christ, Rainer said in an interview.

“This is written for lay people to help them realize that most unchurched people are not some type of fire-breathing monsters with whom we can have no relationship. They’re more like our next door neighbors,” he said.

“After researching over 300 unchurched people across America, including Canada as North America, we have found that they’re much more receptive to the Gospel, much more friendly to the church, much more positive toward ministers and Christians than conventional wisdom would have us to believe.”

“The Unchurched Next Door” classifies non-Christians according to a scale of receptivity toward the Gospel, labeled the “Rainer Scale of Faith Stages.” The Rainer Scale ranges from a U1, someone highly receptive to hearing and believing the Gospel, to a U5, someone highly antagonistic and even hostile to the Gospel.

Surprisingly, only five percent of all unchurched people fall into the U5 category—a finding that should drive Christians to tell their non-Christian friends about Jesus Christ, according to Rainer.

“I plead with you to ask yourself if lost people really matter to you,” he writes. “I urge you to look at your life’s priorities and be brutally honest. Do your priorities really reflect a concern for lost people?

“If this book becomes but another nice research project, I will have failed. If it remains on your bookshelf and you have little change in your heart, I will have failed.”

In addition to profiles of unchurched people, Rainer offers insights into how Christians can most effectively reach the unchurched people around them. Among these insights, Rainer counsels believers to speak with the unchurched about the Bible, build relationships with them and not assume that resistance is permanent.

Perhaps most importantly though, Christians must remember the vital role of personal evangelism, Rainer writes.

“Here is a fascinating lesson from the formerly unchurched: One of the most effective ways to communicate the Gospel to lost people is to tell them about Jesus. If my comments seem a bit sarcastic, it is because the formerly unchurched often helped us to see the obvious. ... The formerly unchurched in our study left little doubt as to the importance of direct personal evangelism in reaching the unchurched,” he writes.

The goal of “The Unchurched Next Door,” said Rainer, is to “discern as much information as possible about the world of the unchurched with a prayer that you, the Christian, will be better equipped to reach your friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members and acquaintances with the gospel of Christ.”


SBTS publishes new Gospel tract

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has published a new witnessing tract that gives full and robust treatment to the Gospel of God’s grace.

Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. unveiled the tract during Southern’s chapel service on Sept. 25. The tract, which was developed by evangelism and church growth professor Timothy Beougher and two students in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, uses the acrostic “G.R.A.C.E.” to outline the Gospel. It is titled “Experiencing God’s Grace.”

“It is so rich in Scripture,” Mohler said. “It is so clear in its Gospel presentation, it uses the right vocabulary, it defines and explains the right vocabulary and it leads person to the cross. It is a very effective Gospel presentation, is theologically correct and I believe it is evangelistically potent.”

At 28 pages, the work is meaty. It begins by asserting God as the Creator and Lord of the universe. It fleshes out God’s moral character and His claim upon human beings whom He has created in His image.

The next points in the acrostic sequence include “R” which stands for “rebellion” and addresses the fall and man’s sinfulness, followed by “A” which speaks of Christ’s atonement, “C” which speaks of the necessity of repentance and faith in conversion, and “E” which deals with the reality and meaning of eternal life. Each section contains numerous Scripture verses and sections of text that explain each Gospel precept.

The idea for a new tract arose in the fall of 2001 while master of divinity student Bryant Glisson was taking Beougher’s personal evangelism class. Glisson proposed using the acrostic G.R.A.C.E. as a means of summarizing and presenting the Gospel.

Beougher and Glisson worked together and developed the first draft of the booklet and doctoral student David Bell assisted in writing and editing. The tract was then circulated among 25 members of the Southern Seminary faculty for comments and suggestions.

The tract intentionally begins with the character and attributes of God. A weakness of some tracts is that they risk confusing the reader by beginning their Gospel presentation at a place that leaves the reader confused as to why he needs forgiveness, Beougher said.

A person does not understand his sinfulness and need of redemption until he has first grasped the holy and righteous character of God.

“Richard Baxter, the great [Puritan] pastor of the 17th century made an interesting analogy of this truth,” Beougher said. “If a messenger from a king were to come with a pardon to a convicted criminal, about to be hung on the gallows, that man would receive that pardon gratefully and humbly. He knows he deserves to die but the king has pardoned him.

“But if that same messenger from the king were to deliver a message of pardon to an innocent bystander in the crowd, that person would be confused, perhaps even angry. That person would not see himself as in need of a pardon [he would say] ‘it is the man on the gallows who is guilty, not me.’

“I believe God must be the starting point for people to see the full picture of sin and salvation. There is a strong emphasis on God’s character of holiness and love, and on our necessary response of repentance and faith.”

Students attending chapel each received two copies of the tract and Mohler challenged them to give away the booklets within seven days and to disseminate 52 additional copies within the next year.

“I think of this tract as a pocket-sized Power Point presentation of the Gospel,” Mohler said. “It will help you share the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe the Lord will bless this.

“And what better representation can there be of our determination to be evangelists for the Gospel than we are willing to put it into form where we will put it into hands and put it into voice and put the Gospel to feet.”

Anyone wishing to obtain a free copy of “Experiencing God’s Grace” may send a self-addressed stamped envelope along with 60 cents postage to: The Billy Graham School, SBTS, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY, 40280.


Commentary: Song of Songs celebrates husband-wife intimacy

The Old Testament book Song of Songs celebrates the joys of physical love between a husband and wife, Daniel L. Akin argues in a new commentary.

Akin is co-author of the commentary with David George Moore, who is founder and president of Two Cities Ministries. The volume, which is part of the Holman Old Testament Commentary series (Broadman & Homan), also covers Ecclesiastes, which Moore handles.

“The Song of Songs is an important part of the Bible because it displays the beauty of human love in freedom and spontaneity,” Akin writes. “Its neglect has been the church’s loss. At a time when marriages are struggling more than ever to survive, its recovery and study would be a significant move forward.

“The speakers in this beautiful Song are dramatic and captivating throughout. The highly figurative phrases of the work have caused much disagreement concerning interpretation, but it is best to understand the Song as the dialogue between two lovers with all their feelings and emotions for each other.”

Readers of the Song of Songs must take interpretation of the book a step further, Akin said. While it applies to a love relationship between two persons, the message of Song of Songs also illustrates the love union between the believer and Christ in His redemption, Akin points out.

Akin authored a book that was released earlier this year based on Song of Songs entitled, “God on Sex: The Creator’s Ideas About Love, Intimacy, and Marriage” (Broadman & Holman). “God on Sex” is similar to the commentary in focus.

The commentary demonstrates how particular passages are directly applicable to the contemporary husband-wife relationship. For example, in applying Song of Songs 2:10-14, Akin poses a question to the husband: “Is he tender with his words?” Akin lists three things one might listen for in a potential lifelong spouse: praise, particulars, and passion.

In the same passage, Akin unpacks the importance of a mate carefully choosing his or her words while conversing with theirs spouse.

“How we say things can be as important as what we say,” Akin writes. “A kind attitude and a tender tone will foster receptive ears on the other end. For the third time Shulammite referred to Solomon as her ‘beloved,’ her ‘lover.’ With gentleness and tenderness in his voice, he spoke and she listened.”

In dealing with 3:6-11, Akin unfolds God’s word on a Christian’s wedding day. Contrary to the extravagance and man-centeredness of most modern weddings, Akin argues that the day is to be God-centered. A great wedding will be a celebration, should contain a promise of protection, a pledge of commitment and the approval of others, he says.

Akin defines Christian marriage as “a divine covenant between God, a man, and a woman...a time of celebration and commitment...the covenant is a binding commitment for life testified to by a public ceremony (Song of Songs 3:6-11) and a private consummation (4:1-5:1).”

Writes Akin,”Marriage, after all was [God’s] idea. He has a pattern. He has a plan. Marriage can be different when we invite the holy Trinity to honor the wedding and direct the marriage. Our expectations, hopes, and dreams can and will be radically altered and transformed, and all for the better.”

The commentary concludes with a teaching outline, an example of a marriage covenant and a number of discussion questions.


Ministers must order their ways before the Lord, Johnson says

Building godly character is an essential part of a minister’s college education, said Boyce College Dean Jerry Johnson.

Preaching at the Boyce’s opening chapel for the fall semester, Johnson told students that a minister’s effectiveness hinges upon the extent to which he orders his ways before the Lord. A minister who orders his ways before the Lord in college, Johnson said, will develop character that pleases God and prepares him for a lifetime ministry.

“You’re here studying for ministry, preparing for ministry, planning for ministry. And if the call is genuine and sincere, I‘m sure you don’t want to be just an average professional,” he said. “We don’t just want (you) to be a minister, but hopefully an anointed, blessed, mighty, greatly used minister.”

Using the life of King Jotham in 2 Chronicles 27 as a model, Johnson highlighted several ways that ministerial students should order their ways before the Lord.

First, students must not let youthfulness hinder them from serving God faithfully.

Though students often view college as a time of preparation rather than active ministry, Johnson cautioned against such an attitude. Serving in a local church during college, he said, is actually an important step to a lifetime of faithful ministry.

“I want to remind you that [Charles Haddon] Spurgeon pastored the largest and most influential church in London when he was a teenager. Dr. [W.A.] Criswell, one of my heroes, pastored his first church when he was 18.

“Probably at least two of the disciples that Jesus picked were teenagers,” Johnson said. “I want to encourage you, if you know God has called you to ministry, not to wait. Don’t let your youth keep you from serving right now.”

Another step students must take is to do right in the sight of the Lord, Johnson said.

Newfound freedoms in college make it imperative that students set godly personal standards and resist temptations to stray from the Lord’s commandments, he said.

“Are you going to resolve to do what’s right in the sight of the Lord?” Johnson asked. “I’m talking about what you look at on your computer. I‘m talking about academic integrity as you write a paper. No one else will know some of these things but you and God. And you need to resolve today: with God’s strength and God’s help [to say], ‘I’m going to seek to do what’s right in His eyes and live before an audience of one.’”

Remembering the godly example of parents and other Christian mentors can be an encouragement in the process of character development, he said. Just as Jotham followed the godly example of his father and grandfather, Boyce students should look to their own Christian relatives for encouragement to follow God.

“It means a lot to us to think about our godly heritage and to honor that, a heritage which is defending the faith, studying the Scripture, giving ourselves to knowing the Word and preaching the Word,” he said.

Over the next 20 years, faithfulness in ministry will become increasingly difficult to maintain, Johnson said. As religious pluralism and sexual promiscuity escalate, the temptation will increase for ministers to deviate from Scripture.

Boyce graduates, however, must stand firm amid cultural chaos, he said. And they must draw strength from godly character—character that they will develop during their time in college.

Said Johnson, “If you are going to be a minister of the Gospel, if you are a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s going to mean that you don’t let your age keep you from serving, that you do what is right in the sight of the Lord. You are a Christian. You have the name of Christ. What your Lord thinks is the most important thing.”