The Spirit of St. Louis: What This Year’s Annual Meeting Can Teach Us About the SBC

The Southern Baptist Convention ended a week ago, and SBC pastors and messengers have now settled back into our churches and lives all across America. But there are several things that we all took away from St. Louis. In general, this year’s convention gave a great display of who we are as a denomination – all of our glory and all of our warts – and a few critical moments captured the essence of this display.

First, the central moment of this year’s meeting was the election of a new president. The president of the SBC is allowed to serve two consecutive one-year terms, and Ronnie Floyd’s second term was expiring. We had three nominees heading into the annual meeting: David Crosby, senior pastor of First Baptist Church New Orleans, Steve Gaines, senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, and J.D. Greear, senior pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, this election began to represent a growing tension in the SBC. Greear represented a growing group of young, energetic, more theologically reformed leaders in the denomination. Gaines represented the older, more traditional group of Southern Baptists. And, perhaps, even Crosby represented the group of Southern Baptists that find themselves in neither camp.

After the first ballot, Greear and Gaines went into a runoff receiving 45 and 44 percent of the vote respectively. And in something I have never seen before, the runoff (between only two candidates) failed to produce a winner. Roberts Rules of Order say that while all ballots may be used to calculate a majority, only legal ballots (meaning they were filled out properly) are eligible to count for a candidate. In the runoff vote, Gaines received 2,410 votes or 49.96 percent, and Greear received 2,306 or 47.80 percent with 108 illegal, or improperly filled out, ballots. The election was heading for an unprecedented third ballot the next morning when J.D. Greear humbly and graciously bowed out. Greear’s resignation from the race brought a standing ovation from all who were in attendance — an enormously unifying moment for all Southern Baptists.

This election tells us so much about our denomination of churches. First, it tells us that there really is a divide in the SBC between the “young, restless, reformed1” Baptists and the older “traditional2” Baptists. Even ten years ago, this more reformed group in the SBC was thought to be a small minority, but now as this election proved, it represents about half of all Southern Baptists. Second, this election showed that at least 2.23% of Southern Baptists aren’t very good at listening to instructions, even simple “fill in the circle” instructions. But third, and most importantly, this election showed us that our unity in the Gospel and for the Great Commission is stronger than our differences. In the end, I believe God’s kind providence prevailed, and, despite our differences, the messengers left St. Louis more unified than ever.

A second telling moment in this year’s Southern Baptist Convention was the passing of a resolution to renounce the display of the Confederate Battle Flag. The Confederate Flag certainly gained a lot of attention in the summer of 2015 after the horrible, racially-motivated shooting of nine churchgoers in Charleston, SC. In response, many SBC leaders spoke into the Take It Down movement. This resolution passed overwhelmingly — a great moment of solidarity and repentance for a denomination with a past marked by racism. This resolution reminded us of the incredible, transformative grace that God gives through repentance and faith. It signaled the power of the Gospel to change, correct and heal.

As complicated as the SBC is, we praise God for enabling us to send more resources to missions, plant more churches, and train more pastors and missionaries than ever before. The International Mission Board reported that the 2015 Lottie Moon Christmas offering was over $165 million, nearly $12 million more than the previous record.

I pray that moving forward, God would continue to give us grace to move forward by opening our eyes to sin. I am so grateful to be connected with so many people who are passionate about the word of God and the advance of the Gospel. I left the convention with a sense of gratitude for all the work that is being done, but I also left with a greater sense of urgency for the work yet to be done. I look forward to next year’s convention in Phoenix and pray with expectation that God will do immeasurably more in my heart, in our convention, and around the world.

[1] Collin Hansen coined this phrase in his 2008 book and in other articles.  It has come to describe the revival of reformed theology among younger evangelicals.

[2] In 2012 Eric Hankins published “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” in response to the growing movement of reform theology in the SBC.

SCOTUS and the Bible; A Christian Primer

00scotusmarriage-web00-master675With the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage coming down this morning, I have had several Christian friends ask about how to respond biblically to questions about gay marriage. This is an important question and one that all Christians will likely have to address in conversation with family and friends. It is an interesting time to be a Christian, it seems that we are all of the sudden hateful bigots for holding a position that the church has held for 2000 years, and for holding a position Barak Obama held just 4 years ago. The world has certainly shifted its view on homosexuality and gay marriage, but if God is there and if he has spoken, then his word is very clear on how he has designed marriage and sexuality. The following are four challenges to a Christian view of Marriage and Sex that I often hear with biblical answers that I hope will be helpful my fellow believers:

1. If Christians are going to use the Old Testament to condemn Homosexuality then shouldn’t the consumption of shellfish, pork, work on Sundays, wearing clothes made from mixed material, etc. also be condemned?

Understanding Old Testament Law can be very big and nuanced, but it can also be understood very simply. So simply put, God saved Israel out of bondage to be his own people, and through the Law, God was shaping, or building them into a holy people in order to display his glory. When Jesus came he didn’t abolish the law, he fulfilled the law, so that Christians could be made holy apart from the law through faith in him. The law however is still very useful in terms of understanding the patterns and rhythms of God. So while Christians are free from the Old Testament law, the law is still helpful in terms of understanding the character and design of God. So for example, while Christians are free from the dietary laws of the Old Testament, we are still given a stewardship of our bodies and so followers of Christ should eat food that is good for our bodies, food that is clean, and healthy. A person who cannot control his unhealthy dietary appetites is in sin in the same way that a person who cannot control his unhealthy sexual appetites. Therefore, the Old Testament is very instructive for the Christian in determining God’s design for marriage and sex, and helpfully God’s ethic for marriage and sexuality are repeated in the New Testament, or in the New Covenant.

2. The New Testament doesn’t condemn Homosexuality…

It is interesting to me that this is so often said, as the New Testament very clearly and explicitly speaks directly to homosexuality in several places, and defines a biblical position for marriage and sexuality that excludes homosexuality in several other places. Specifically the New Testament condemns Homosexuality in three places. In Romans 1:18-32 the apostle Paul talks about the corruption of culture and in the middle of this passage (v. 24-27) he mentions homosexuality calling it dishonorable, impure, unnatural, shameful, and deserving of punishment. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul says of those who practice homosexuality (listed among other sins) that they would not inherit the Kingdom of God. In 1 Timothy 1:8-11 Paul again lists homosexuality with other sins and calls the practice sinful and ungodly. So very clearly throughout the New Testament the practice of homosexuality is condemned, and any fair reading of any of these passages makes that truth undeniably clear. There are many points of doctrine and theology that have been disputed through the centuries, but this point has been virtually undisputed in the church for 1950 years and only in the last 20 years or so have people questioned the meaning of these passages.

3. If Paul had known what we know today, his writing would have been different.

This statement calls into question the Christian doctrine of inspiration, which is foundational to the church. Christians don’t trust the bible because we admire Paul and his earthly wisdom, rather Christians believe that the Bible was ultimately written by God through inspiration. We believe the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, inspired, in a supernatural way, the biblical authors to write the very words of God. Therefore we believe that in the original autographs of scripture every word recorded by the biblical authors was the exact word that God intended for them to write. Therefore to challenge the bible isn’t to challenge the wisdom of Paul, but rather it is to challenge the wisdom of God.

4. Jesus never condemned homosexuality.

It is true that Jesus never directly “condemned” homosexuality, just like he did not directly “condemn” beastiality, or pedophilia. What Jesus did do is give a positive definition of what marriage and sex are in Matthew 19:4–6 where he said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” In this passage Jesus defines the permanence of marriage, the nature of the one flesh union of marriage, and the fact that by definition marriage is the union of one man and one woman. He is also referencing Genesis 2 wherein God created the institution of marriage, after he created the woman to be a “suitable” spouse for the male.

The bible is so clear on this issue, that it isn’t a question of “what does the bible say?” but rather it is a question of, “is there a God and has he spoken?” Christians of course believe that God has spoken, and what God makes even clearer than sexual ethics is that we are all sinners in need of salvation. So whether we struggle with sinful homosexuality, or sinful heterosexuality, all of our sin separates us from God. And the problem with sin is that when we try in our own strength to renew ourselves, or to rid ourselves of sin, we become self righteous and puffed-up like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, who he condemned more harshly than anyone struggling with homosexuality. But thankfully, the bible is also clear that God has offered a way of salvation from sin through his son Jesus. Jesus came to earth to live as a man and he never sinned, he always followed the rhythm and design of God, but then on the cross he willingly took on our sin, becoming guilty on our behalf and died in our place. The good news of the bible is that after he died, Jesus rose from the dead and offers forgiveness and life to everyone who believes in him. What the bible is clear on, is that we are all sinners and that we all need Jesus. I was born with a propensity for pride, lust, greed, and a long list of other sins but through my faith in Jesus I have been given a new identity – not one of a sinner but one of a son, and God offers the same kind of forgiveness and new identity to anyone struggling with homosexuality. If this is true of you, you don’t need to change the Bible, you just need Jesus. And if you have him he will lead you in all truth, in all righteousness, and in all love before God.

Reliability of the New Testament


Image by Ryk Neethling / CC BY 2.0

This week’s Think Through It question asks, “How do we know that the New Testament is reliable?”

There are many reasons to believe in the reliability of the New Testament, but perhaps the most compelling evidence is that the New Testament books that make claims about the miracles of and resurrection of Jesus were written during the time of eyewitnesses and even appeal to the testimony of those eyewitnesses. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul is writing on the resurrection and then makes an appeal to a group of 500 people that Jesus appeared to after the resurrection as if to say, “If you don’t believe me, go ask one of them.” If these New Testament claims weren’t true they would have been easily dismissed, but because they were true and verified by witnesses many people believed.

I’m Jason Dees, encouraging you to think through it.

Jackie Robinson


Image by Paul Lowry / CC BY 2.0

Sixty-eight years ago today on April 15, 1947 America was changed forever. On that day Jackie Robinson ran across the line in Dodger Stadium becoming the first African American to ever play Major League Baseball. When Herbert Aaron of Mobile, Alabama saw this, he said to his 13-year-old son Hank Aaron, “Son, you can do anything you put your mind to in life.” Jackie Robinson was given this chance to break the racial barrier that had existed in baseball by Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey whose belief in racial equality was fueled by his biblical understanding of the sanctity of every human life. And, he used his influence as a Major League Baseball manager to influence the world for the glory of God. Like Branch Rickey, all of you have influence. Are you using that influence to serve the Lord, or are you letting it go to waste?

I’m Jason Dees, encouraging you to think through it.

Religious Liberty


Image by Kim Davies / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In light of the controversy in Indiana and Arkansas I have been asked this week about religious liberty in America. It is important to remember that there is a difference between the freedom of religion and the freedom of worship. The First Amendment of the Constitution says that there shall be no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. While worship is something that is typically done privately in one’s home or in a church building, religion is something that informs a person’s everyday life. How people conduct their business, raise and educate their children, and interact with their community is all informed by their religion. As Americans we must all protect this fundamental right. Even a quick reading of the Constitution will show that our founders were much more interested in protecting a person’s religious identity than they were in protecting a person’s sexual identity.

I’m Jason Dees, the pastor of Valleydale Church, encouraging you to think through it.

Who Is Jesus?


Image by John Wright / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Love your enemy.”

“Blessed are the poor.”

“If someone strikes you on one cheek, let him strike you on your other cheek.”

As strange and as counterintuitive as these things may sound, these are all things that Jesus said – a person that more than 2 billion people believe to be God. Who was Jesus? What did He really teach? And how does a man who lived for 33 years in a distant land more than 2000 years go have anything to do with our lives today? The answers may surprise you.

I’m Jason Dees, encouraging you to think through it.

Progressive Christianity


Image by Wally Gobetz / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Unfortunately Christianity has been politicized. Some politicians will tell you that we need to get back to our Christian values, while often other politicians will tell you that Christianity is a backwards way of thinking and is the enemy of true progress. But, what if I told you that neither of these groups is presenting the real Christianity? What if I told you that Christianity is actually the most progressive way of life, and if we lived out a biblical Christianity we would have a society full of unity, love, acceptance, and peace? Christianity is not a list of traditional truths, nor is it the absence of absolutes. Real Christianity is truth. Real Christianity is a rescue from all evil and hate. Real Christianity is the pathway to living life as it was designed to be lived.

I’m Jason Dees, encouraging you to think through it.