Dr. Yarnell is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Director of the Center for Theological Research,
Editor of the Southwestern Journal of Theology,
and Director of the Summer Oxford Study Program
at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
SBC Today: What do you think are the greatest challenges and opportunities confronting the Southern Baptist Convention?
Dr. Yarnell: The challenges and opportunities we face as Southern Baptists are seen at three levels: they begin at the personal level, then manifest themselves in the local church as well as in our cooperative relations with one another. These challenges and opportunities find their crisis point in one place, where the Word of God functions, or ought to function.
At the personal level, there have been shifts among our people away from both personal Bible reading and personal evangelistic witness. These shifts have been noted among younger evangelicals but they afflict every generation. We are reading our Bibles less and sharing our faith less. These two issues, moreover, are not unrelated. God speaks to us in Scripture. If we read Scripture less—and we ought to be reading Scripture consistently in the church, in the family, and on our own—then we are less likely to know what to share with others. God speaks infallibly through the biblical text to us, and He speaks powerfully through us when we speak His Word to others. We each need to renew our personal commitments to reading and hearing the Word of God and then sharing Him with others. Scripture is every Christian’s personal responsibility and opportunity.
Likewise, at the local church level, there has been a move away from the centrality of the Bible in worship. Where once many Baptist congregations would set aside a portion of the service for Bible reading or responsive reading of the biblical text through the hymnal, these worship practices have fallen away in favor of demonstrative human spectacles. Where once the pastor saw his responsibility as expositing the biblical text to the people, now he has been encouraged to preach to the felt needs and therapeutic concerns of the congregation. As a result, although the biblical text is still read in the typical sermon, it may serve as a touchstone in a talismanic way in order to launch the sermon onto other platforms. Even in conservative congregations that affirm biblical inerrancy, Scripture has been subtly displaced from the center. The greatest challenge for the local church is to return itself to the regular focused proclamation of the Word of God. If we continue to construe the church’s role as that of attraction rather than bearing bold testimony to Christ through Scripture, we will diminish. Conversely, the greatest opportunity for the local church is to see what God will do through the proclamation of His Word! The regular public reading of the biblical text, covering the entirety of the Old and New Testaments, and the regular passionate, soul-winning proclamation of every part of the biblical text is the means to our renewed success.
SBC Today: Dr. Turner, what do you think are the greatest challenges confronting the SBC?
Dr. Turner: An organization as large and as diverse as the SBC will face a number of challenges on different fronts or areas of ministry. In my opinion, we face two great challenges. Our greatest external challenge is reaching the vast number of urban poor people in America. Our greatest internal challenge is our loss of focus on cooperation as a means of reaching them.
SBC Today: What do you see as the greatest opportunities opening to the SBC?
Dr. Turner: The economic crisis in our country opens the door to effective ministry by many of our churches. To capitalize on this opportunity we need to enlist our members and the lost people under our influence to meet the needs of disadvantaged people. In Arkansas, we have found that these “church to community” type ministries not only reach their specific target groups with the gospel, they also reach those who want to help but have no reliable way to do so. Many of these are lost and unchurched, and can be reached as we serve those with needs.
SBC Today: What are some of the best things happening in the Arkansas Baptist Convention?
Dr. Turner: A number of churches have experienced a special movement of God in the past few years: FBC, Beebe, AR, and Central in Bald Knob, AR. This is exciting to see. In addition, we are beginning to see some progress in planting Southern Baptist African American churches. This has been slow, hard work, but we are seeing encouraging results. Our young church planters seem to have caught a vision for cooperative ministry and this is encouraging. Our convention has effective ministry through partnerships around the world. Arkansas is a great place to serve the Lord.
An Interview with Dr. Frank S. Page
President and CEO of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention
SBC Today: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the SBC?
Frank Page: I think the challenges confronting the SBC today are different than they have been in decades past. I think one of the issues which is a tremendous challenge for us is the theological divide of Calvinism and non-Calvinism. Everyone is aware of this, but few want to talk about this in public. The reason is obvious. It is deeply divisive in many situations and is disconcerting in others. At some point we are going to see the challenges which are ensuing from this divide become even more problematic for us. I regularly receive communications from churches who are struggling over this issue.
I believe we face serious methodological challenges. There is an increasing divide between those who are more traditional, more contemporary in mindset, programming, and funding methodologies. Sometimes this division is between age groups, but more often between people of various philosophical positions. This is leading to deep questions about what we should do, what we should not do, and how we should do what we decide we should do. I believe this is the area of greatest challenge concerning the SBC at this present time.
There are also cultural challenges which are facing us. Demographics are shifting dramatically in many ways. Culture is affecting our churches far more than it should as far as mindset, understanding, and acceptance of certain lifestyles. Instead of us dramatically affecting our culture, I am afraid it is having an opposite influence.
SBC Today: What do you think are the greatest opportunities opening to the SBC?
Frank Page: I believe there is a great opportunity opening to the SBC right now. Having gone through the GCR Task Force, I can assure you that for the first time in a long time, people are seriously evaluating all that we do as Southern Baptists. Personally, I think this is good. I think we have an opportunity to do better than what we are now doing. I believe we have an opportunity to effect Kingdom change for Kingdom issues. I believe for the first time in a long time, we are seeing a change in how people perceive the Cooperative Program. I believe there is a window of opportunity for the building of relationships, the rebuilding of trust that will allow us a great ministry future together. While I may sound like a denominational servant expressing hope for a program, I have hope for the Kingdom!