Messed Up Missiology

“No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.” - Oswald J. Smith

I ran across this quote on a colleague’s website. I’m not sure who Oswald J. Smith is/was, and I’m not particularly interested. His sort of guilt-inspired, task-oriented, logic-based, marketing-ploy, pop missiology is exactly the sort of thing I was referring to in my last post. It has infected our understanding of what missions is, who God is, and how He works.

Let me be clear: My concern is not necessarily with current missions strategy, it’s with our missiology. What, you might ask, is the difference? It has to do with motivation; both ours- in what guides us in service, and God’s- in what He’s doing globally and why. Just as the practice of our faith is determined by our theology, our mission strategies are derived from our missiology. So I’m not talking here about whether we use tracts or Jesus Films or relational approaches to church planting. I’m not even talking about whether we should even be trying to plant churches. My contention is this: We have bad missiology.

For starters, we make an unnecessary distinction between “missions,” and, well, everything else. Why do we apply Luke 10:2 (“the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few”) to missions, but not Luke 10:27 (“love your neighbor as yourself”)? Where does our understanding of missions come from?

Take the quote above, for example: “No one has the right…”? What does that mean? Is hearing the gospel a right? Is it a privilege? I guess Mr. Smith would say that the first time is a right, and the second a privilege. What biblical support do we have for either?

Is the goal of missions that people hear? What about incarnation? Discipleship? Is missions nothing more than proclaiming the gospel, giving people “a chance to hear” it? Many missionaries approach their work as though missions was about spreading information. Surely we need proclaimers, and it is a vital part of missions, but I believe it is only a part.

(Another part, one that we rarely focus on, is worship as missions. John 12:32 -”I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” I get that He’s alluding to the cross, but I think that worship is underrated as a missional activity. Maybe that’s another post…)

Back to the quote: is it really ours to decide who should hear and who should not? Even after years of proclamation, are we ever in a position to say whether a person (or people group) has heard the good news in a way that they can understand and respond to? I believe that the Spirit should guide all of our evangelistic efforts, and that He should be the one to lead us in when to share, and with whom (and when to keep quiet!)

I cannot accept a missiology that essentially puts us on “auto-pilot” in terms of to whom we should go. The second we assume where and in whom God is going to work, we get ahead of Him and disqualify ourselves from full participation in what He’s doing. This missiology is essentially either/or; missions is either relating to those people that God leads us to, or it is targeting the next “lostest” people group according to our statistics and research. It cannot be both, because the second assumes a monopoly on the first. How else can we explain so many of our workers feeling called to work among “reached” peoples?

God is at work redeeming humankind to Himself. I believe that missions is crossing cultural barriers to be part of that. Until we seriously rethink our missiology, we will continue to build our strategies on a broken foundation.

Thoughts On The Task

Every six months or so, I have to post my thoughts on “the missionary task.” In my opinion, this is the single most important topic that no one is talking about. In another attempt to incite some discussion, I’ve also posted this to the Church Planting Forum.

Below is an outline of my current thoughts on “the Task.” Please forgive my over-use of quotation marks.

Since my appointment and move to Western Europe, I’ve wrestled with the conventional understanding of what has come to be known as “the Missionary Task.” I’ve prayed about it, read about it, googled it, and blogged about it, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of discussion on the topic. I’m sure this is due to the fact that most of us (Christians, that is) already have the thing clearly sorted out in our heads.

I begin by admitting that my current perspective on the subject is likely wrong and would certainly be improved by some honest discussion with brothers and sisters who are obediently participating in the task. My question is simple: what is the nature of “the task?”

The question is important because most of us are heavily involved in ministries that have been planned around a particular understanding of our calling, goals, and purpose. “The Task” is the missiological idea that has led us to concepts such as the “10/40 Window” and “Frontier missions.” It’s led us to move our focus and resources from “reached” areas (despite the harvest) to “unreached” ones. It’s led us to rely heavily on statistics and models for our missions strategies. I’m not sure we’ve got it right. Here’s why:

-The Great Commission is a call to Go and make disciples. Does it necessarily have to be a “finishable” task? When I was a kid, my mom was always telling me to make my bed and pick up my room and eat my vegetables. Turns out she wanted me to do it every day. It would have been silly of me to say (as I’m sure I did), “Mom, I’m almost finished with the task you assigned me.”

-Some of you will want to pull out your Greek lexicons and start chanting, “ponta ta ethne” or something like that. I see the use of the term “all nations” (Matthew 24:14, 28:19-20, Luke 24:46-47) as a descriptive term, not a prescriptive one. Here’s a blog post about this.

One verse that also uses the “all nations/every nation” terminology is this one that tells about the Day of Pentecost:

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nationunder heaven.” -Acts 2:5

I find it odd that this one doesn’t usually figure into the discussion. Does it mean that there were literally Jews in all nations? Or is it saying “of the nations in which there were Jewish people…” If the former is true, the “task” was completed at Pentecost!

-To me, the concept of a “Final Frontier” assumes a static world. I blogged about this here. There are new people groups being born all the time that have their own unique languages and cultures.

-It also seems to assume that once a nation is “reached,” it will always remain so. I work in Western Europe where in many ways, our work is to reintroduce the Gospel to people who are inoculated against it.

-As far as I can tell, “the Task” we’re called to is nothing less (and nothing more!) than a step-by-step following of the Holy Spirit. But the IMB has scrapped that for something more practical. It’s like we read the instructions Jesus gave in Matthew 28:18-20, and we say, “Okay folks, you heard Him: All nations. Let’s get the job done!” I address the question “What’s it gonna take?” here.

-It seems to me that we can fulfill the task (obediently going as God leads), but we’re not really going to “complete” it. I’m okay with that, because I think it requires us to be more dependent on Him, instead of developing some game-plan to finish something that He never assigned. A task of world evangelization isn’t enough, in my opinion.

These are, roughly, my thoughts on the subject. I’ve always wanted someone to discuss these things with me, and to clarify my thinking where possible. What do you think?

It’s Greek To Me

I may not know you, but I can pretty safely say that you do not speak ancient Greek. Maybe you’ve studied it, I’m sure you can define a noun, parse a verb, or analyze the grammar. You might even be clever enough to make a witty joke in the biblical language. But you don’t speak ancient Greek.

Don’t tell me that in no uncertain terms, you know what the original text means, because you don’t. Your understanding comes from popular interpretation (Or your Greek teacher, or a lexicon, or some fancy computer software.) Please stop using “panta ta ethne” as your basis for missions strategy. Please stop trying to trump everyone else’s argument by saying that you know foe certain that biblical “oinos” was weaker than modern wine.

Greek scholarship is important. Without it, we would have poor translations of the Scriptures, and we’d have little to go in in terms of the original context and cultural implications of the text. But you are not a scholar, you are a preacher. You are a blogger who took the same Intro to Greek course I took (and my professor was probably better than yours.) You are a seminary professor who thinks that no one should be allowed to question you if you quote the Greek. Stop it, please.

You treat Koine Greek like it’s some secret knowledge that gives you greater enlightenment and brings you closer to God. You act as though you are the keeper of all truth and wisdom because your theologies are built on God’s own language. But God doesn’t only speak Greek (Or Hebrew, or Aramaic).

So stop looking down your nose at me because you think that my understanding is founded in some misunderstanding of the original language. I’ve got the same interlinear Bible you’ve got.

Did I mention that you don’t speak ancient Greek? The language is no longer tied to a surviving culture. If learning a second language has taught me anything, it’s that all living languages are dynamic. A phrase has a literal meaning, a commonly used one, and a colloquial one, and all are “correct.” Meanings can differ from town to town, nevermind region to region. When you add to that Greek was imposed in multiple cultures who lived together, you’ve got layers and layers of meaning; layers that you weren’t around to observe.

So how about qualifying all of your pompous predications with “Many scholars agree…” Can we replace “The actual meaning of the original Greek is…” with “A possible meaning might be…”? Sure there is a right understanding and interpretation of Biblical text. But if that understanding doesn’t come from illumination of the Holy Spirit, we’re not going to get it from a dead language.

Relationality

Just for fun, I’ve addressed the disagreements raised by cafeaddict on my last post (Who, by the way, is challenging my post just for the sake of argument. He/she mentions that they actually agree with my post). If only cafeaddict could find the shift button for capitalization…

stepchild, since you no longer have any dissenters on your blog, (By the way, I have noticed that, and I intend to find some traditional thinkers and poke them with a stick or something in order to incite some kind of discussion. Maybe another post about alcohol…) i am going to play the devil’s advocate althougth i TOTALLY agree with you… (Here’s hoping people read this disclaimer!)

relational evangelism will never accomplish the task. The task cannot be (and was never meant to be) “accomplished,” “completed,” or otherwise, “finished.” The “task” (and I do hate that word) is a call to obedience, which entails making disciples, preaching the gospel, loving people, and worshipping with our lives.

it is too slow. If, in our rush, we get ahead of God, our work is in vein. god didn’t call us to make friends, he called us to make disciples. The teacher/disciple relationship is just that- a relationship. Have you considered that Jesus spent lots and lots of time with twelve guys over the course of three years? do you honestly think that every person jesus encountered was his best friend? No, and I’m not talking about becoming best friends with everyone. That would be time consuming, tiring, and get really expensive around Christmas time. he taught people sometimes for a day, sometimes for a minute and then moved on. he sensed those who were spiritually receptive and targeted them. Yeah, I’m not sure about this one. What qualifies a person as “spiritually receptive?” For me, anyone who would want to spend time with a foreigner who’s always talking about Jesus is obviously receptive to some extent. Did Jesus really “target” the seekers (or anyone, for that matter)? he didn’t waste time with the rich young ruler. he gave him a choice and when the money loving guy chose his riches, jesus chose another subject. Yeah, the RYR walked away. But what if he hadn’t? What do you suppose Jesus would have done if the guy had continued to follow Jesus around?

all you postmodern people say that everything is about relationships. you site jesus as your example, yet when i examine the evangelism techniques of jesus, they reflect the “street evangelism” approach more than your “i just don’t want to take a chance and offend someone” approach. I’m not sure Jesus used any “techniques.” It does seem to me that he was relational and personal with people, though. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were Jesus’ friends. The disciples certainly had profound relationships with Jesus, even Judas. Have you ever noticed how many different answers Jesus gave to the question, “What must I do to receive eternal life?” He met people where they were, and for me to do that, I have to get to know them.

As for offending people, I’m all for it. The Gospel is, after all, offensive. I’m just not convinced that people are being offended with truth very much these days, especially in Western Europe. It seems that they’re being offended by other things, such as the attitudes of the messenger, and way that the “message” is being delivered. Prepared, pre-packaged evangelism seems powerless and trite to the people I know here, and it seems that way to me, too. When Jesus addressed people, it’s obvious to me that in that moment, during that encounter, they felt like the most important people in the world. That’s what I’m going for in relational ministry. Not just to tell people that they’re loved, but to show them as well.

i get tired of hearing you guys say that it isn’t right to get into relationship with someone just to share the gospel with them, as if doing that were underhanded. well, i will have you know, that the most loving thing we can do is share the gospel with people. The problem is the conditionality of a relationship that is built on expectations. Anytime there are ulterior motives, the relationship is less than authentic. “I’m your friend and I want you to know the Lord” is different from “I’m your friend because I want you to know the Lord.” Unfortunately, the world knows Christians as “I won’t be your friend unless you come to know the Lord.” so the more people i meet with the objective of sharing the gospel, the more loving i am. how can it be a bad thing that i want as many people as possible to be in heaven with me? Wanting people to go to heaven is a good thing, but it’s hardly the goal of evangelism. The goal is reconciliation with the Creator. My problem with the idea of just “getting the word out” is that the Gospel is more than just information. If you’re just wanting to preach the truth, nevermind the context or people, you might just as well broadcast it live over the radio and go home. Add to that the idea that here in Western Europe, we’re not just introducing Christianity, we’re reintroducing it to an emerging culture.

we have so little time and our task is so enormous. The “task” is not overwhelming for God, is it? Will He return before His perfect timing? Woe to the people who’s eternity depends on you and me! we need to be telling people about jesus not going to the movies with them. Going to the movies with people is a great way to tell them about Jesus. A discussion afterward can provide excellent opportunities to share the Gospel explicitly, and to comment on the movie from Christ’s perspective. relational evangelism in my opinion is a cop out. As “drive by” evangelism is in my opinion. It’s much easier to “preach” a message and move on than it is to invest in relationships. we don’t want to do the hard stuff so we justify our disobedience with the fluffy relational excuse. The hard stuff? Passing out tracts is easy compared to long conversations in smoky bars at three in the morning. Going to parties, getting involved in people’s lives, trying to be a viable example of what life in Christ might look like for the people around us, that’s difficult.

what say you stepchild? That say I. Thanks, cafeaddict, for being the lone voice of dissent on this otherwise boring and unnecessary blog.

Relationalism

I hate buzzwords. One that is widely used in ministry is “relational.” What does that mean? I’ve heard people that do surveys and questionnaires describe their ministries as “relational.” Does a brief encounter on the street count as a relationship? Why does everyone feel the need to talk about relationships, even if they don’t (or can’t) build and maintain any?

Our team has a relational approach to ministry. We really think that God can use authentic relationships to build the kingdom here in Western Europe. We focus on our relationships with God, one another, and with nationals. Through these friendships, we can show the good news that we consistently share with the people that God brings to us. For us, relationships are the context for discipleship.

Our relational approach isn’t some attempt at relevance, or us trying to makes Jesus cool. For us, real relationships are what’s been lacking in our own spiritual journeys. We’re tired of shallow (“How are you? Fine, thanks. You?”) interactions that gloss over our struggles and only end up making us feel more isolated. We’re relational because it’s what we need. We know the power of the Gospel through our relationships with God. We know the Truth of scripture through our relationship to it. We know love through truly loving relationships.

Of course, some object to the idea of “relational ministry.” It’s too limiting, some say. Others contest that efforts toward building relationships with non-seekers would be better spent on those people who are “closer” to salvation. The problem with only building relationships with people who we see moving closer to faith is that the relationship is then conditional and motivated by results. It’s like the car salesman who’s your best friend until he realizes you aren’t really going to buy a car today.

Another reason people are skeptical about relational church planting is that we don’t have any great models of the transition from “friendships” to “churches.” So you’ve got a group (or a couple of groups) of friends. How do you lead those people to faith, and how can they then learn to be a body of believers?

I’ll let you know how it works out for us.

By the way, our team’s favorite passage of scripture that talks about relationships is Romans, chapter 12. On the subject of love, Paul writes: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” v.15

Get Out Of The Way

I’ve posted about this before, but I’ve been hearing and reading a lot about “contextualization”of the gospel. If you’ve every read my blog before, you likely know that I believe that we the church should do all that we can to minimize the cultural differences that hinder the communication of love and truth to the people around us. If that’s what you mean by “contextualization,” then call me a “contextualizer.” The more foreign we are, the more foreign our message will seem. Context is important.

The other day I spoke with a friend who was concerned after reading my post “The Uncanny Valley.” This friend thought that I might be too caught up in trying to make Christianity “hip” or “cool.” I clarified my opinion for him, and we agreed that “contextualization” in the sense of trying to make Jesus seem “cool” is really a bad idea. The reason it’s bad is simple: we’re not cool. Especially this friend I was talking to.

There is a difference, then, between cultural translation of the message, and assuming the cultural appropriateness of a model or practice of the faith.

That’s the problem with models of church or ministry or evangelism; they’re only good during the life of the cultural context for which they were designed (and usually, not even that long.) The rate of change is so great these days; subcultures and population segments are moving “targets” (forgive me for using the word). I believe we should model (insofar as we’re able) what life in Christ might look like in our cultural setting, but we’ve got to remember that the best people to decide what church might look like in any given culture are the people of that culture.

I have been targeted by many Christians. Churches tailor their programs to meet my needs without bothering to ask what they are. Bible study resources are written for my demographic in order to help my walk. Evangelism experts call me ineffective, and blame it on my laziness for not going, my fear for not being bold enough, or my ignorance for not figuring out the “5 Simple Steps to Effective Soul-Winning.” I identify with the people most of you call “targets” and “contacts.”

If you’re comfortable with your current expression of your faith, good for you. I’m not; but please don’t think I’m asking you for help with that. Stop trying to make church relevant to me. Teach me what the Bible says about church, and get out of my way. My friends and family will wrestle with the cultural implications. Teach me what you understand to be God’s directive concerning leadership, worship, gifts, and service; leave it to us and the Spirit to work out the practice. Train me in truth, but don’t expect me to look, act, dress, talk, or think like you.

Thank you.

Taking Advantage

Backyard Bible Clubs. Youth Camp. Sports ministries. If you do any of these as evangelistic outreach, I’ve got a question for you: are you taking advantage of children?

Yeah, I know- you came to faith through VBS when you were six years old. If it “worked” for you, it can’t be that bad, right?

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that a group of Muslims come to visit your town. They’re prepared with snacks and games and crappy little crafts with Popsicle sticks. They blanket your neighborhood with fliers announcing: Games! Clowns! Snacks! Crafts! Fun!

Or say you don’t see the fliers, but you’re at the park with your kids. There you are, minding your own business, eating your Chick-fil-a picnic lunch, and said group of Muslims approach your kids with balloons and puppets and invite them to participate in their Backyard Koran Club. You look around and see veiled women hanging around the playground. Young peachfuzz-bearded men picking teams for a game of non-competitive Red-Rover. How would you feel?

My European friends have convinced me: children’s “ministries” are a dangerous thing.
The problem is that we put children in a position to be overwhelmingly influenced by us. We orchestrate situations full of “positive” peer pressure. We give gifts and Kool-Aid and ask them to give their hearts to Jesus. Is this fair? What are the long-term affects of child evangelism?

You might disagree, and quote Mark 10 (Where Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.”) I’m just not sure that meant “Dupe the little kids into saying the Sinner’s prayer.”

Remember youth camp? We take impressionable 13-17 yr. olds out of their familiar surroundings, and keep them in a controlled, “Christian” environment, where they are taught by super-cool counselors. They get no sleep, they eat trash, and every evening we coax an emotional response out of them through hours upon hours of pep-rallies (“We love Jesus, yes we do, we love Jesus, how ’bout you?!”), guilt-trip sermons (“Come, nail all your sins to this cross.”), and endless “Just As I Am” invitations. Is this fair? These are children! We don’t want cigarette and beer companies to advertise to them, but it’s okay if we do?

You might say, “Yeah, but we’re right! Don’t you want to see children come to faith?” Of course I do. But I want everyone who comes to faith to do so without coercion. I want a generation of born-again believers, not “I-said-the-prayer” cultural Christians. I want parents to know that we care about them and their children, whether or not they become Christians. I want parents to know what we’re teaching their children, and how, and why.

I believe the word should be taught to children. We should be telling Bible stories, sharing difficult truths, and praying with and for our children. But I think child evangelism, and it’s commonly practiced, is wrong.

I guess I probably won’t be invited to speak at any youth camps when I’m home on furlough next year…

The Uncanny Valley

I live in the Uncanny Valley. No, this isn’t the name of a pseudo-luxury, prefabricated housing tract; it’s a techno-sociological theory proposed by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. The theory basically states that a robot that looks and behaves more realistically humanlike will evoke a more positive and empathetic emotional response from the human beings that interact with it. The “valley,” then, refers to a strange thing that happens when a robot is very nearly human, but not quite; at that point, the differences between robot and human behavior become magnified and obvious to the point of being repulsive. “Rosey” from the Jetsons was cute. Haley Joel Osment in Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film Artificial Intelligence:A.I. was just freaky.

Obviously, this theory normally applies to robots. Recent uses of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in television and film, however, has brought a whole new application to the Uncanny Valley theory. Back in the seventies and eighties, the “special effects” in the original Star Wars films drew audiences in to George Lucas’ fantasy worlds. The fake “polar bear” on last week’s episode of Lost just seemed cheesy. The funny thing is that Chewbacca was obviously a guy in a furry suit, while the bear was much more realistic.

You might have guessed that the Uncanny Valley theory applies to missions, too. When we first arrive to our places of service, few of us are going to be mistaken for locals. Our clothes, our language, even our posture, give us away and can be real barriers to positive interaction with nationals. It doesn’t take long, however, for the halfway intelligent missionary to realize that he or she can do a lot to minimize some of those differences. A change of clothes, an adjustment in habits, and a closed mouth will get one much further along in terms of being accepted by people. These efforts are usually noticed and applauded by the host culture. “Look, the silly little foreigner is trying to learn our language!” “Let’s invite the Americans over for dinner and watch them squirm when we serve them snails!”

But there comes a time when we become almost national. We reach a level of language and behavior that closely resembles the local culture, but we never fully arrive. In some ways, this is actually worse for our acceptance in society. When we approach a bank teller or shop keeper they expect us to be able to communicate and understand as a native would. At that point, when we stumble over a word or reach the limits of our vocabulary, our foreignness really stands out. Little things like lazy vowel sounds and eating with one hand in your lap suddenly become jarring to nationals. We might as well be wearing a baseball cap and white tennis shoes.

For this post, I borrowed heavily from Wikipidea, which has an excellent entry on the topic. The post there says of expatriates,

“…the transition from Western European culture to the culture of the United States might put a European in the middle of the uncanny valley, whereas if he or she had experienced an Asian culture, he or she would be instead at a point in the first curve, before the uncanny valley.”

This is the sort of thing they don’t teach in missionary training. We come to the field thinking that our hard work toward contextualization will pay off, and that we’ll become at the very least acceptable outsiders. Nobody ever told me, “Just wait until you’re nearly fluent- that’s when nationals will really start to make fun of your accent.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to minimize the differences between us and the people we minister to. I believe that our approach must be relevant and culturally appropriate. I just wish someone had told me about the Uncanny Valley- how frustrating it is to live there, and how hard it is to move out. I’m going to assume it’s because no one wanted to burden me with that potential discouragement, and not because so few of my colleagues ever integrate into to their host cultures…

Painting Ourselves Out of a Corner

I’ve mentioned before that our approach to ministry is essentially relational. The firmly established social structure where we live, however, has made it difficult for us to meet people and make friends. We tried walking up to strangers, consistently hanging out in the same cafes, and joining a local gym. None of these have opened any relational doors for us.

We’ve known for a long time now that people don’t like to feel like targets. We’re not to comfortable with targeting people anyway. So here’s a counter intuitive lesson we’ve learned: if you want to meet people, stop trying to meet people.

Just like the hard-to-love loners in high school that were nice enough, but so annoying no one could stand them for very long, we were trying too hard. Our focus on wanting to befriend the people around us was freaking them out. It wasn’t until we stopped trying that God brought us some significant relationships.

Of course, it isn’t enough to stop trying; we had to focus our efforts and energies somewhere else. We were a team of fairly creative and semi-artistic people anyway, so we poured ourselves into our art. Painting, writing, and photography are usually pretty solitary endeavors; but they don’t have to be. We started visiting galleries and studios, just as we had done before, but now as mostly-serious artists, not as outsiders trolling for “contacts.” We started taking art classes to improve our technique, not to try to find a captive audience to evangelize. We joined clubs and creative groups, we made arrangements to show our art and publish our work.

Guess what happened? We started meeting people. We’re making friends.

We’re moving beyond, “This is my friend from the fish stand at the market” to something more real. We’re beginning to move in circles with people with whom we have a lot in common, and our work is opening doors for spiritual conversations and open presentation of Good News. We’re being invited in to creative groups whose existence until now we only suspected. Art both shapes and reflects the culture. It’s exciting to come into contact with the people involved, and for them to welcome our participation.

Who would have guessed that the best way to meet people would be to stop trying to meet people?

Is There Room for Me?

These days, everyone is talking about the SBC’s recent steps (and ongoing trend?) toward narrowing parameters of cooperation. Denominational leaders are redefining what it means to be a Southern Baptist in order to “defend the faith” from liberalism. They seem to think that without them, we’d all be heretics.

Some bloggers are asking whether we’ve gone too far in restricting the parameters of who is “in” and who is “out.” Others are insisting that we haven’t gone far enough. Through all of the discussion, the boundaries are drawn and redrawn, and I get the feeling that I’m no longer welcome. I can’t help but wonder, “Is there still room for me?”

For many, it all comes down to the question of inerrancy of the scriptures. I affirm that the Bible is without error, but I also believe that many of our interpretations are in error (or at least incomplete.) Others show their allegiance to the SBC by stating their support for the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (which I signed), or by emphasizing their thankfulness for the “Conservative Resurgence.” While I agree with the doctrinal position of the “Conservative” players in the Resurgence, I believe that their “hostile takeover” tactics were unChristlike, and essentially negated the good thing they intended. I believe that we as a convention are suffering the consequences of the worldly and divisive approach both sides used in their battle for the “doctrinal purity” of the SBC. It’s true that most of us today affirm that the scriptures are without error, but many (most?) of us no longer trust our leadership. We are known for what we oppose. We are marked by division, gossip, and a need to be right. We act as though it is more important to demolish the people we disagree with instead of working to restore them.

My political views don’t follow the party line. I believe in the sanctity of all life (not just legally innocent life), so I’m against abortion and capital punishment. I do not believe that a preemptive war can ever be considered just. I believe that with our great material blessings come an obligation to help the people among us who are less fortunate (even if it’s their own fault). While many church leaders are excited about the political influence they think they might have, I think we need to be careful to retain a separation of religion and State; joining the two is only fun when you’re the favored religion.

I’m a fan of simple, organic churches. I don’t think we need professional clergy, buildings, or Sunday School programs. I don’t think “what works” is always good, nor do I think bigger is necessarily better. I believe in the autonomy of the local church, even if it means that I might have to associate with a body of believers that do things differently than I’m comfortable with.

I’m frustrated with the way money is handled in the SBC. Giving to the Cooperative Program is not, in fact, the same as giving to missions. I think that we’re going to have to make some major changes, because churches are not going to continue to pay for fancy denominational buildings or to support missionaries they don’t know.

I don’t think that theological training is the answer to all of our theological problems. I don’t care about denominational politics, or who knows who in the Convention. I disagree with the recent resolution against drinking. I think that the State Baptist “news”papers are a waste of time and money.

These are the differences that I continually run into between me and many outspoken Southern Baptists. You’ll notice that very few of the things I’ve outlined here are doctrinal. Nevertheless, these are things that we debate and discuss.

I’m not sure who gets to define the boundaries for “in” and “out.” I suppose it’s the men in positions of convention leadership and influence. I don’t think I’ve even met one of them in person, yet I get the feeling that they’re trying to get rid of me. Because of the differences I’ve listed here, they don’t want the money that they administer going to support someone like me.

My question is this: Is there room for me?