Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Foy Valentine and Phil Strickland - Their Prophetic Voices Still Sound the Call

Two of our great Baptist statesmen shared a conviction that all believers are called to be prophets.

In November 1987, Foy Valentine, longtime executive director of the SBC Christian Life Commission, accepted the first T. B. Maston Christian Ethics Award with a ringing address entitled Crying in the Wilderness: Streaking in Jerusalem: The Prophethood of All Believers.

In November 2005, Phil Strickland, longtime executive director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, prepared an address for the annual Texas Baptists Committed Breakfast in Austin. Phil's illness prevented him from attending; his friend and pastor, George Mason, Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, delivered the speech on Phil's behalf. It was entitled Where Have All the Prophets Gone?

Foy and Phil are both gone now, but their stirring messages are needed just as much today as then.

Following are a few excerpts that I chose for the blog, because I think they help to summarize the critical points embodied in these speeches. To read the full text of Foy Valentine's speech on the Maston Foundation Web site, click here. To read the full text of Phil Strickland's speech on the TBC Web site, click here.

Crying in the Wilderness: Streaking in Jerusalem: The Prophethood of All Believers
by Foy Valentine
"Even the Lord’s anointed are subject to temptations related to . . . pleasure, materialism, economic determinism, and love of comfort. When the winnowing and harrowing of Fundamentalism started among Southern Baptists, Baptists were not lean and mean, ready for the war, but soft and satisfied, flabby and floppy."

"At the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, there were 36,270 seats in all three auditoriums; there were 45,049 messengers registered; and there were 44,248 ballots allegedly cast (with 98.2% of the registered messengers allegedly present and allegedly voting) in the presidential race between Charles Stanley and Winfred Moore; the denominational news services and the editors of state Baptist papers chose not to report those curious statistics. Let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may, tell‑it‑like‑it‑is prophethood did not ring their journalistic bells."

"Our world needs few things more now than prophetic words and prophetic deeds. The churches now need few things more than the prophethood of crying in the wilderness like brave John the Baptist, streaking in Jerusalem like courageous Isaiah. By these words and deeds, the demands of God are understood to be not obscure or ambiguous, but understandable and doable, practical and specific, clear and concrete, relevant and redemptive."

"The prophet is the priest who is taking the longer look, listening to a different drummer, and feeling the fire in his baptism as it burns to become fire in his belly."

"As we speak of the priesthood of all believers, we may also rightly speak of the prophethood of all believers. There is nothing that would do more to revive authentic Christianity in our time than for us to find the ways and devise the means to press successfully for the prophethood of all believers."

"That incarnational witness of God in Christ puts the streaking of Isaiah in Jerusalem into perspective. Isaiah’s witness was but a pale portent, a mere shadow, of the power of prophecy when presented by the Prophet of prophets, Jesus Christ."

"The prophethood of believers can smash idols. . . . Gentleness and facile optimism sometimes need to be balanced by justice and hard reality. The prophethood of believers can foster repentance; and repentance, it is to be remembered, is the keynote of the New Testament message. . . . Voices crying seize interest . . . demand attention."

"Oh, there is one other little matter. With the prophethood of all believers recovered and then taken seriously, failure is assured. . . . rejection, loneliness, scandal, stoning, banishment, scorn, hatred, and crucifixion go with prophethood. . . . The prophet’s pay may be spit in the face.
"But the prophet’s reward is God’s 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant. . . . Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord' (Matthew 25:21).
"As we believe in and practice the priesthood of all believers, so let us believe in and practice the prophethood of all believers."

Where Have All the Prophets Gone?
by Phil Strickland

"One-half the world is living on $2 a day.
"Twenty-five percent of our Texas children [are] living in poverty. 
"Religious liberty is . . . oozing away through our fingers like a fist full of sand until we open it all too late to discover there is not much of it left in our grasp. 
"Then there’s the dramatic and continuing shift of the world’s wealth away from the poor and the middle class to the largest corporations and the wealthiest people. 
"Environmental regulations are disappearing every day. 
"What about another tax cut of $70 billion that will be funded by $50 billion of cuts to children?"

"Pretty much all of us are called to have an element of the prophet in us. . . . The title of prophet might even apply to laymen. . . . ready and willing to confront the principalities and powers, whether they be school boards, city councils, the legislature, Congress, or even our own Baptist institutions."
"Should [denominations] take risk and speak prophetically or declare that [their] only real role . . . is meeting the needs of the churches . . . ? To me, the answer is easy. Meeting the will of churches, vital as it is, comes in behind one other: listening for and meeting the will of God."

In his speech, Phil also quoted a paragraph written by Joe Haag and published in a CLC flyer. I honestly don't think I've ever heard the challenge and demand of Christian prophethood summarized as "aptly" (to use Phil's description of it) as Joe Haag sets it forth in the following:
"To follow Christ means that we allow his life to gain leverage against our lives. Against our lust for power, he endures the cross. Against our pride and arrogance, he washes the disciples’ feet. Against our upward mobility, he preaches good news to the poor. Against our self-absorption, he has compassion on the multitudes. Against our tight circles of family and friends, he reaches out to strangers. Against our safe noninvolvement, he confronts the powers. Against our violence and hatred, he demands that we love our enemies. Against our self-righteousness, he welcomes sinners. Against our bigotry, he tells us about a Good Samaritan. Against our frenzy, he invites us to trust God. Against all the lies which enslave us, he tells the truth which sets us free. How can we be transformed into the image of Christ? . . . as we surrender our lives to God’s purposes, God changes us."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

OPINION: Growing up Baptist in a pluralistic world

NOTE: This article was originally published on June 10, 2011, on the Associated Baptist Press Web site.

Written by J. Zachary Bailes, an M.Div. candidate at Wake Forest University Divinity School and editor of the blog Crazy Liberals . . . and Conservatives

In his Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, George Washington wrote in 1790: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Growing up Baptist, if someone had told me that Washington had written a letter assuring safety of a “Hebrew congregation,” I’m not sure I would have believed it. This is because I was either explicitly or implicitly taught that Christians and Jews are not to mingle. Yet in Rhode Island, it was Baptists who created the space for Jews to worship as they pleased.

Today, fundamentalist viewpoints have conflated Israeli identity with Zionist belief. As the record will show, Israel does not demonstrate the most tolerant attitude when it comes to other religions. And, yet, it was Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission this past week that advocated for America to “bless the Jews” so that God will “bless America.”
Land’s words are neither constructive for the Middle East peace process, nor do they reflect the highly held value of religious liberty. Land’s thought conflates theology with public policy in a disastrous manner. Indeed, his words stir the boiling pot of militant activity. His theological belief creates political action that demeans the religious identity of Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

It is at this point Land stands against his Baptist heritage . . . . . .

Click here to read the entire article.

OPINION: Don't try to ‘fix’ women in ministry

NOTE: This article was originally published on May 11, 2011, on the Associated Baptist Press Web site.

written by Laura Rector, a Ph.D. candidate in Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California

I’m in the bookstore at an egalitarian seminary. Unfortunately, not everyone there is an egalitarian. An older gentleman waylays me, finds out what I do, and starts telling me I’m sinning for feeling called and for being one kind of Baptist and not another kind, and that I’m wasting my education by not using it to disciple only other women. All I really want to do is get my cup of coffee and get back to my schedule, but I try to be polite so he feels heard.

Later, I’m at a conference. I’ve just presented my first professional academic paper (totally unrelated to women’s leadership). I’ve been traveling non-stop for two weeks, because a grandparent died just before the conference. I’m relieved the paper is over and, frankly, just ready to rest, yet a casual hello to a fellow conference participant somehow turns into listening to a long monologue in which the man takes the opportunity to make sure I know, among other things, that "There’s absolutely no way a woman can be a church leader if you look at Scripture."

As a woman in ministry, I walk away from such all-too-common experiences wondering, "Is there any such thing as good manners left in this world?" More importantly, where is the Jesus who said to love our neighbor?

Frankly, it takes a special kind of narcissism to engage a total stranger and question her love for her Savior -- to imply or openly assume . . .

Click here to read the entire article.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost Yields an "aha" Moment

This morning, we observed Pentecost Sunday in our church. The lectionary Scripture passage was from Acts 2. As it was read aloud from the pulpit, I was struck by one verse in particular. After the author (Luke, according to tradition) tells us that the apostles were "filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues" (NIV), he says in verse 6, "a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language."

From that point on, my mind fixed on that verse. The apostles had been filled with the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit had enabled each person in the crowd to hear them speaking in his/her own language.

Today the challenge to the church . . . the challenge to Christian institutions . . . the challenge to Texas Baptists Committed . . . is daunting. Perhaps the biggest challenge is persuading people that our mission is relevant to their lives.

I'm convinced that one of the most significant obstacles we face in meeting this challenge is our insistence on speaking to others in our language rather than theirs. It may be across racial lines or cultural boundaries. There is often a wall of misunderstanding across gender as well. And one of our biggest challenges is first becoming relevant - and then communicating our relevance - to younger generations.

We will fail in our mission if we keep insisting on using "insider" jargon and focusing on long-past events for which others have no context. We need to stop preaching long enough to listen to them and learn their "language" - the context of their lives, their experiences, their concerns. We will not truly be relevant until we let the Holy Spirit fill us with understanding and speak through us in language to which the hearer can relate. It's the only way we can expect to be heard.

But even then, let's not forget that it was the Holy Spirit who enabled the hearers to understand what they were hearing. A few months ago, I did a Baptist Briefs video series on the Youth Revival Movement that started at Baylor in the 1940s. What most impressed me about the students involved in that movement was their complete dependence on God - spending hours in prayer every night as they prepared for revival.

The story of Pentecost is ultimately not about the apostles. It's about God's Holy Spirit. As we try to engage and involve people in our mission in 2011, the lesson of Pentecost is to learn their language, ask God to speak through us in their language, and pray that God will move them to hear, understand, and respond.

God has met us where we are. We need to do the same for others. Faithfulness to God's call demands it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Of Slippery Crowns and Wobbly Thrones

Last week, a prominent Baptist leader called Barack Obama "the worst president of the United States that Israel has ever had." But that was only one of what I consider to be a series of careless, thoughtless proclamations.

Here are a few of them:
  • "The reason I am a social conservative is because I believe the Bible."
  • "President Obama and his policies are pro-Palestinian."
  • "America and Israel are founded on the same basis, the word of God."
  • "If we want God to bless America, then we have to bless the Jews."
  • "God blesses us when we obey him, and he doesn't bless us when we disobey him."
Some of you are probably asking, "So what's wrong with that?" And that's fine - if we all agreed on everything, then there wouldn't be any reason for a blog . . . a dialogue . . . a conversation. In fact, if we all agreed on everything, then we wouldn't be Baptists!

On the other hand, before you take me to task, please consider carefully the basis of my concerns with these pronouncements.

  • "The reason I am a social conservative is because I believe the Bible."
The speaker allows no room for disagreement. If we disagree with his brand of "social conservatism," then we simply don't believe the Bible.

The members of our Sunday School class constantly challenge each other. We disagree widely over the meaning of practically every passage of Scripture. But we never question that everyone in that class "believes the Bible"; we just have different understandings of it, and we learn from each other. 

  • "President Obama and his policies are pro-Palestinian."
The speaker allows no room for compromise. The accusation that the president is "pro-Palestinian" is likely based on Mr. Obama's reported call for a return to pre-1967 borders. Yet what he really called for was "mutually agreed swaps" - in other words, compromise, a position that every U.S. president for the past 20 years has taken. So why does the speaker single out Mr. Obama?

Compromise is at the heart of Mr. Obama's position - the point that, as long as rigidity rules on either or both sides, peaceful coexistence will be impossible to achieve. Between nations, if there is no compromise, there is only one ultimate solution: war. To tell you the truth, I'm weary of old men stubbornly resisting compromise, then callously sending young men and women to die on their behalf.

  • "America and Israel are founded on the same basis, the word of God."
No, these United States were joined together on the basis of the Constitution, a secular document binding us together under common understandings, one of which is religious liberty for all people, even those who reject belief in any supreme being. Years ago, Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty listed the arguments made by the "Christian America" crowd and explained - clearly and definitively - why each of those arguments is without any basis in fact. To read Brent's essay, click here.

  • "If we want God to bless America, then we have to bless the Jews."

  • "God blesses us when we obey him, and he doesn't bless us when we disobey him."

  • The speaker is promoting a works-based relationship with God, in which blessings from God are merited; we receive them only because of our obedience. My experience - and my understanding of the Bible - tell me that God blesses us because He loves us, not because we deserve it. Furthermore, we should seek to bless all people - without regard to ethnicity or nationality - because God has blessed us, not to earn God's blessing.

    That's not to say that our obedience doesn't bring us closer to God. Of course it does, and the blessings are surely greater and deeper when we are close to Him.

    But he who says "He doesn't bless us when we disobey Him" has put himself on the throne (and apparently deposed God from it). I guess that's what you get when you combine unerring biblical interpretation with obedience that has earned showers of blessings.

    But he'd better watch out - his crown is slipping, and his throne is wobbling!

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Sometimes Just Being a Dad Is Enough

    My Father's Day gift came a couple of weeks early this year - our son, Travis, got married last night, and I got a beautiful, sweet daughter-in-law, Christy. And the gifts just keep on coming, because our daughter, Alison, will be delivering our second grandchild right around Father's Day.

    I daresay none of you fathers will top those gifts!

    But today I'm dealing with a lot of different - and, to some degree, conflicting - emotions and feelings. Fatigue, to start with. My wife, Joanna, and I have put a lot into this occasion, and we're tired - getting home at 1:15 this morning, after a long day, not to mention several months of intense planning, organizing, and anticipating.

    And then there's relief - to finally have all of the work and preparation behind us, and to know that everything went off without a hitch. It was beautiful and wonderful, meeting all of our expectations (and theirs, too, we hope).

    Sadness for those who were missing, and whom all of us are missing - especially Christy's dad, Steve, who passed away a few months ago. But I also thought about my parents, as well as Joanna's dad, who would have been so proud of their grandson last night. I'm glad that my dad got to meet Christy a few times and know her. And I'm also thankful that Travis and Steve got to know each other so well and had such a great relationship.

    But joy even moreso - joy at seeing our son happy and having a wonderful daughter-in-law who long ago became a part of our family in our hearts if not in the eyes of the law. During the past 7 years, they have supported and encouraged each other through various challenges and times of sorrow, but they have also shared their joy throughout those years. As many remarked last night, their love for each other is evident in everything they do.

    Joy at watching my brother-in-law, Palmer, perform the ceremony just as thoughtfully and beautifully as he did for Alison's wedding a few years ago. Fifty years ago last Thursday evening, we were together at another wedding - his marriage to my sister, Patsy (unfortunately, I'm old enough to remember it very well). They are very special to me, and it was wonderful to share this night with them.

    Joy, as well, at visiting with my favorite cousin, Lawana, at the wedding - she was one of the hardy souls who stayed through the entire reception!

    Joy at celebrating with my niece, Stephanie, and her family. Stephanie's remarks at my dad's memorial service 4 years ago - about the faithfulness of my parents, her grandparents - continue to inspire, challenge, and encourage me every day.

    Joy at being with many members of Joanna's family - including her mom - who traveled from Hong Kong and Toronto to celebrate with us. Their eagerness to travel so many miles to share this occasion means more to Joanna and me than they could ever imagine.

    Joy at sharing this evening with many treasured friends, including my best friend for almost 40 years, Bob. He was Best Man in our wedding in 1976. David Currie was there last night as well - David has been a great friend to me and has never failed to ask, "How's Travis doing?" It was so good to get to visit with him last night.

    And just sheer tears and lumps in the throat. Where do they come from? Joy, I guess, but also from the realization that this little boy - whom you've nurtured from birth through childhood through adolescence, from birthday parties at Sportsplex to countless baseball, basketball, and soccer games, through all these many years of school (he finished his college degree work just last week - whew!), and on and on and on - this little boy is now going to make his home with someone else and is up there pledging for the rest of his life to love and cherish till death . . . for better or worse . . . for richer or poorer . . . through sickness and health . . . this woman standing next to him and pledging to him as well. Lumps in the throat.

    And, finally, pride, in a son who understands the importance of family and the importance of loving with a love that is faithful, sacrificial, and at times even "mushy." A son who has met a lot of challenges in recent years and has learned, grown, and persevered.

    Well, each of us plays a lot of roles in life. For me, a key role right now is right here at Texas Baptists Committed. It's a role I've taken on because it's important to me that Texas Baptists stay Baptist - in the truest sense of that word. Anyone who has worked with me in this enterprise can tell you that I have a passion for Baptist principles . . . for communicating those principles . . . for preserving our Baptist heritage . . . and for encouraging today's Baptists to stay true to that heritage. And I'll give every bit of time and effort needed to further TBC's mission.

    But I have to confess to you that I have a passion that's even greater - a passion for my family. Joanna and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage in September, and she has truly made my life complete. We've raised two wonderful kids - when Alison pledged her love to Adam in that ceremony 6 years ago, I had the same lumps in my throat as I had last night. Their daughter, Avery, who is 3-1/2, was the flower girl last night, and the highlight of the evening was when Avery reached the front, and Travis bent down to call her to him. That hug between Travis and his little niece brought a lump to every throat and a tear to every eye.

    And my family well knows that, as passionate as I am about the work I'm doing, when they need me I'll drop everything to make sure they're taken care of. And I know that they would do the same.

    So each of us has a lot of important roles to play in life, but believe me - God will find someone to do His work. Serving God is a privilege that He gives us because He loves us and our service for Him will draw us closer to Him, not because we're indispensable to that service. Where we are truly indispensable, though, is to our family. We can be replaced at work, but we can't be replaced in our family.

    So I really enjoy all of my different roles in life, but when all is said and done, sometimes just being a dad is enough . . . and a husband . . . and a granddaddy . . . and a father-in-law . . . and a brother and brother-in-law and cousin and uncle . . . and so on. Nice work if you can get it!