LifeWay’s Midlife Identity Crisis

September 3, 2013

by Dr. Rick Patrick, pastor
FBC Sylacauga, Ala.

The traits of a midlife crisis are easy to identify. Chasing the years, men of a certain age begin acting in an erratic manner. Almost overnight, they dress differently. To feel even younger, they purchase a new motorcycle or a hot red sports car. They grow bored with their faithful spouse and spend all their energies attracting the attention of new and much younger friends. They embrace an independent attitude, throwing off conventional ways. Their behavior is erratic, unfaithful and obsessed with a younger generation. They stop acting their age. Lifelong friends barely even recognize them anymore.

The Baptist Sunday School Board no longer exists. When it was replaced by LifeWay, Southern Baptist messengers were promised that nothing would change but the name. Messengers had in mind the exporting of Southern Baptist values into the broader evangelical world. We anticipated opening a door so that Southern Baptists could influence evangelicalism. Unfortunately, when we opened the door we found that the evangelical world was already at our doorstep trying to get in and influence us.

Is LifeWay still a Southern Baptist institution that just happens to provide resources to evangelicals? Or is it now an evangelical institution that just happens to provide resources to Southern Baptists? In which direction is the influence running? Is LifeWay making the evangelical world more Southern Baptist? Or is it making the Southern Baptist world more evangelical? Since most Southern Baptists in the pews have no idea about all of these inner workings, let me share a few examples of the identity crisis.

Non-Southern Baptist Media Strategist

In recent years, I have observed that Calvinists appear to be systematically pursuing a reform agenda within the Southern Baptist Convention. While this should come as a surprise to no one, since their refrain is semper reformanda, or “always reforming,” nonetheless my remarks were usually met with charges of wild conspiracy theories. Such charges by my critics often hurt my feelings, forcing me to put on my big boy pants. But when LifeWay hired Barnabas Piper, a Presbyterian* with a weak view of immersion baptism, my suspicions were vindicated. Friends, a line has been crossed.

No longer do I need to apologize for using the term Presbybaptist. No longer is it a wild accusation for me to speculate that Southern Baptists are engaged in a theological clash with reformed writers and thinkers whose positions are foreign to most Southern Baptists. They are being invited into our denomination not to serve at entry level posts,  but to fill major leadership positions that will influence the entire convention.

Why in the world would LifeWay give the reigns to its Ministry Grid project to the son of a non-Southern Baptist who is perhaps the leading Calvinist author in America? Such a move was bound to signal High Noon in the “time of tension” for Southern Baptists. Southern Baptists are now standing at a crossroads and must decide if we are going to insist that LifeWay remain Southern Baptist or if we are going to allow it to abandon its long standing identity in favor of this Young, Restless and Reformed Evangelicalism.

Non-Southern Baptist Creative Team

Much has been written about the creative team that put together The Gospel Project. Putting aside for now the issue of whether or not The Gospel Project possesses Calvinist overtones, its leadership team clearly includes many outside of Southern Baptist life. The list of those involved in The Gospel Project who are not Southern Baptists includes D. A. Carson, James MacDonald, Collin Hansen and Jared Wilson. It would be naive for us to think that outside influences on literature will not affect our denomination.

Most Southern Baptists in the pews assume that everything published by LifeWay is written by Southern Baptists. Since this is clearly not the case, it raises a few questions. How many non-Southern Baptists write, edit or serve on creative teams at LifeWay? What is the criteria for deciding who oversees LifeWay materials? If LifeWay is not completely Southern Baptist, how can we trust that the theological content will remain true to our Southern Baptist convictions over time? What safeguards exist to prevent the gradual promotion of this young, restless, reformed evangelical theology over time?

Non-Southern Baptist Small Groups Specialist

Mark Howell, LifeWay’s Small Groups Specialist, is on the pastoral staff of a non-Southern Baptist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. The now infamous training event originally scheduled to be held at prosperity gospel preacher Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church has thankfully been moved elsewhere. But the change in venue leaves a major issue unaddressed. With no slight intended at all toward Rev. Howell, why is it that LifeWay feels the need to move outside of the Southern Baptist Convention in making so many of its new hiring decisions? Are there no qualified Southern Baptists to lead in such training? What will be the practical result, over time, of hiring so many non-Southern Baptist leaders?

If one briefly glances at a LifeWay job description these days, one finds that the only church affiliation requirement for hiring is that a person be an active member at “an evangelical church.” While such a broad approach does not exactly forbid Southern Baptist hires, neither does it provide Southern Baptists any preference in hiring. One wonders why the millions of dollars Southern Baptists have invested in LifeWay historically and continue to invest today have not earned us such a privileged position.

Conclusion

LifeWay Christian Resources does not serve Southern Baptists exclusively, nor should it. We are the largest Protestant denomination in America and have every right to export our Southern Baptist influence throughout the entire Christian world. Unfortunately, our current strategy appears to be the reverse–importing the entire Christian world into our hiring, our literature, our training and our theology.

The Southern Baptists in the pews who pay the bills at LifeWay expect our publishing house to be uncompromisingly Southern Baptist. We will not allow our children to be led away by any pied piper. We must seal our borders and protect our house. Southern Baptist Churches may be old and traditional, but we have been faithful for many years. Mr. LifeWay must stop his flirting, act his age and reconnect with the love of his life.

*CORRECTION: Under the first of three sections detailing the current Non-Southern Baptist influence at Lifeway, Barbabas Piper was identified as a Presbyterian. Although Piper has publicly admitted to ATTENDING a Presbyterian Church as recently as two years ago, it is unclear whether he ever JOINED, raising additional concerns, of course, regarding the requirement for all employees to be active evangelical church members. Also, the phrase “give the reigns to its Ministry Grid project” may be less than accurate, due to the incredibly euphemistic title “Content Media Strategist,” which may or may not actually involve strategic decision making regarding media content.

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Joey

Amen! I am growing tired of Lifeway. I understand that Lifeway goes beyond the SBC in the audience that it brings in. However, we should be very concerned when Lifeway feels that there are no people in the SBC capable of leading areas of ministry in Lifeway. To say I am bothered by this would be an understatement.

Johnathan Pritchett

Lifeway has been a bit of a stinker for some time now. It is filled with mostly junk trinkets, silly self-improvement books, the occasional heretical authors or musicians on the shelves, lame music, and only has maybe a shelf or two worth of scholarly material with too a high a mark up to bother about when Amazon is around. Where it is headed in light of these developments Rick Patrick has detailed for us only makes it that much worse.

Robin Foster

Rick

Thanks for posting this. I have been concerned for some time dealing with the SBC moving away from our Baptist (not baptisitic) roots towards a softer evangelicalism. Church plants we support who also align themselves with Acts 29 (which lacks a Baptist view of congregational ecclesiology, and worse has a low view of baptism) are troublesome. This is something I wrote about years ago and was vilified for even bringing it up. Now we see all of this is coming to a head. One can make consolations for the training event being moved from the Lakewood location, but IT SHOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!! Lifeway sells “The Shack” and other heretical books. What ever happened to a strong ecclesiology and strong doctrinal stand in Lifeway? We might be seeing some cracks in NAMB, but it now it seems the dam has burst for Lifeway.

Tracy

I am a hard core Southern Baptist, who holds to the BFM 2000, yet I too was concerned about our LifeWay material. I taught Through The Bible and if it was an Old Testament series, there was never any mention of Christ. I don’t know, but I’m guessing it was written by SBC people – both laymen, professors and pastors. It was not good material. It was moralistic therapeutic deism at its best. Now we have the Gospel Project, which points the reader to Christ through every page of the Bible. I prefer that kind of material, no matter who writes it. If a Presbyterian points me to Christ while a SBCer points me to moralism, give me the Presbyterian. I also think that if you limit yourself to SBC authors only, you will be impoverished. There are so many good writers, teachers and pastors who are not SBC that are healthier than we are. Facts are stubborn things.
Grace and peace!

    Rick Patrick

    Tracy,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your viewpoint. It’s fair to say I am not nearly as concerned about so-called “moralistic therapeutic deism” as some people are today, primarily because I think it is a false dichotomy to say that we either give someone Christ or moralism, when if we are doing things right, in my opinion, we are both giving them Christ AND a Christian moral framework and worldview for obeying the law He came not to abolish but to fulfill.

    While generally affirming a Christocentric interpretation of Scripture, I must quibble just a bit with the “finding Christ on every page of the Old Testament” philosophy. If the passage does not mention Christ, or does not really allude to a clearly redemptive theme, I’m not sure I want to say all that much about Jesus during the exegesis and exposition. I’m thinking of wisdom literature here or even a few narrative chapters. Of course, the opportunity is present to focus on Christ near the conclusion of any lesson or sermon whenever an altar call is given or the opportunity to pray a sincere Sinners Prayer is offered as a means of helping someone repent and express their faith in Christ.

    Certainly there are outstanding Bible teachers in many other denominations, but I do not seek in my Sunday School curricula to present my congregation with a cafeteria style offering of Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopalian, Assembly of God and Church of Christ theology. I only wish to teach them Southern Baptist doctrine.

    As for your statement, “…give me the Presbyterian,” this is exactly what I am trying to do. If one likes Presbyterian doctrines and beliefs and literature, one can easily find all of this among the Presbyterians. I just don’t think all this Presbyterianism belongs in the pages of Southern Baptist Sunday School literature and in our ministry training, our small group training, and our hiring decisions.

      Tracy

      Thanks for the reply. I base the Christ in the OT by Luke 24.27. It all points to Christ – the need for a true prophet, priest, king, sacrifice, wisdom, etc. Take a narrative like Ahab, Jezebel and Naboth. This story points us to a king who does not pout over not getting what he wants, but though he is rich, becomes poor for our sake. He does not approve of the killing of men so his property can be enhanced, but gives his life so we become co-heirs with him. All the themes, kingship, inheritance, treachery, two witnesses – they all point to Christ. Preach and teach Christ from that passage, not moralism and therapy.
      The moralistic theme I am talking about is from my quarter of teaching 1,2 Samuel. The literature never mentioned Christ except for the evangelistic study and the study on 2 Sam 7. The rest of the entire quarter emphasized “do this, don’t do that”. When that is all we teach, we produce Pharisees – people who are doing this and not doing that – or people in despair, “I am failing at doing this and not doing this.” I speak from personal experience here. I have felt the self righteosuness of doing things and the despair of not doing what the pastor/teacher has said we need to be doing and not doing.
      People need to hear about Christ from the Old Testament – that he is the warrior king who defeats Gods enemies and gives the victory to God’s people – 1 Samuel 17 – and not that they need to face their giants, whatever they may be.
      I don’t condone all Presbyterian doctrine – I don’t believe in paedobaptism or elder rule, but there is a lot we Baptist can learn from men like Tim Keller, Sinclair Ferguson, Ligon Duncan, R. C. Sproul and others. These men are pointing me to Christ while in the past our SBC writers were pointing me to myself – do this, don’t do that.
      I’m not proposing cafeteria style material, just that whoever is writing give us Christ, and not moralism. The Gospel Project does that. I don’t know who all the writers are, but I doubt there are Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodist, ect writers in there. I have noticed some quotes by Wesley, but he is in our baptist hymnals. Keller and Sproul are quoted in there, but talking about soteriology, not ecclesiology. N. T. Wright and D. A. Carson are quoted. f we limit ourselves to only SBC quotes, we deny our people of a long and rich history of theology, since we have only been around for less than 200 yrs. The quarter I have on my desk has Mike Cosper, Ken Fentress and Geoff Ashley as writers – all SBC guys. I went to school at SBTS with the managing editor, Trevin Wax. Ed Stetzer was a former NAMB employee. Dr. Fentress taught at SBTS while I was there. All good Southern Baptist. Are they reformed? I don’t know. But what if John MacArthur wrote the lessons? He is reformed and not Southern Baptist. No one seems to mind his books, commentaries, and Bibles being on the shelves of LifeWay.
      My overall point is, there is more good in LifeWay – their curriculum, leadership etc than there is bad. It is a blessing to the SBC and the Christtian world. Books like The Shack – should they be in there? It’s fiction, not theology. Should Heaven is for Real be in there? In my opinion, as long as it is beside The Shack, in the fiction section. Don’t complain about fiction books. I live in an area of the mid west where there is no LifeWay – only Family Christian, who is definitely a cafeteria style provider. They sell the Olsteen, Jakes, Prince, Meyer and othr writers in the theology and Christian living section. I cringe every time I see someone looking at those books. Be thankful LifeWay is not like them. Don’t buy the fiction like The Shack and I won’t buy the fiction like Heaven is For Real. I will use the Gospel Project and others can use Through the Bible – which by the way is being revamped with some other guys I went to SBTS with – or other material. LifeWay is a blessing to the SBC. Let’s be thankful we have it.

        Lydia

        Tracy, I am confused. What exactly is moralizing?

        I do wish some moralizing was taught at SBTS. We might not have partnered with SGM

          Tracy

          Lydia,
          Moralizing tells me something to do – gospel preaching/teaching tells me what Christ has done. It iis when a preacher or teacher solely focuses on the dos and don’ts of the scripture. Be like Moses, don’t be like Jonah etc. As I noted above, people who sit under that kind of preaching tend to lean in two directions – self righteousness or despair. I feel self righteous when I do what the preacher says or don’t do what he says don’t do. I feel despair when I fail at doing what he says do or do what he says don’t do. I don’t live in the righteousness of Christ – I am living by my own righteousness – and the preacher/teacher is unknowingly encouraging this.. I sat with my teeth clenched as a youth pastor preached on purity – a good thing. But he offered no grace, no forgivness, no hope, no acceptance to God based on the purity of Christ. I know the kids in there felt despair because of their sexual past.Some of those kids left dejected because they felt they were not acceptable to God – which on their own they are not. But the guy did not tell them that they are acceptable to God through Christ, the only totally pure one.
          This kind of preaching/teaching is not Christian – because moralism is accepted by most people – Jews, Muslim, Bhuddist, etc. Even an atheist will agree on some dos and don’ts. This kind of preaching, even if it has an invitation tacked on to the end is simplly moralism, not Christian preaching. Christian preaching takes the same commands, and says, “You CAN’T do that – at least not perfectly, 100% of the time! No one keeps the law. No one loves God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. And you deserve God’s wrath for not keeping God’s commands. But, by his grace and for his glory, Christ has fulfilled that command in your place, (Mat 5.17) and now God counts you as fulfilling that command.”
          Some preachers tack on to the end of this kind of sermon, “You can only do this by the power of the Holy Spirit, so come to Christ.” But what does that say to the Christian who is genuinely struggling with a sin? It implants doubt about their salvation and despair – “Why even try? It is not working! Am I really saved?” Gospel centered preachiing tells us Christ has kept this command, so when I fail, my righteousness is found in him. When I keep that command, I am still only acceptable to God through the righteousness of Christ because my righteousness has not risen above that of a Pharisee (Matt 5.20).
          So do we preach/teach people to obey God’s commands? Yes, but with the knowledge that their keeping or failing to keep does not make them acceptable or non acceptable to God. They don’t lie? Great! Praise God! they are being conformed into the image of Christ. They lied out of fear or pride? Repent and receive the forgiveness and acceptance through Christ.
          Grace and peace.

volfan007

Will SBC leaders wake up and see this? Will Pastors and SB’s in the pews wake up and see this? I wonder if they even care, anymore? Until they do, then Rick Patrick and the rest of us are just coyotes howling to the moon out on the lone prairie. When Lifeway was selling Joel Osteen books, and the Shack, and TD Jakes books, I began to realize that it was probably all about money….doctrinal integrity was out the door. And now, we’re hiring people, who think our view of baptism is harmful. SMH.

David

    Norm Miller

    How can any believer, regardless of denominational stripe, see baptism as harmful when the One who bought our salvation with His blood and life modeled baptism and commanded us to do it? Is that not putting human preferences above divine example and edict? Baptism harmful? To our Anabaptist forebears it was fatal.

      volfan007

      Norm,

      Amen. It’s just incredible to me.

      David

      Max

      Norm – On a related note, young Piper is not a fan of “prayformiley” hashtags in social media. To do so, he implies, is to reduce prayer to that of Pharisees standing on street corners for all to see … http://www.worldmag.com/2013/08/are_we_trading_street_corners_for_social_media_with_miley_cyrus_prayer_pleas

      In his article, BP states “I try to imagine what Miley Cyrus would feel upon seeing all those #prayformiley posts. Would she feel loved and supported? Would she want to know this God to whom everyone is praying, or would she feel judged and stained?” Perhaps Mr. Piper needs to let Ms. Cyrus be the judge of that – the Holy Spirit is certainly not going to allow her to “feel loved and supported” in her sin!

      Whew! I smell trouble brewing at LifeWay if this is an example of what’s to come from our new “Content Media Strategist”. Good Lord, we need to use all the avenues we can to generate prayer these days. To broad-stroke such prayer requests as hypocritical is a little too judgmental of the hearts and intents of those who post such pleas. In his attempt to balance private vs. public prayers, he is essentially sending a hashtag “donotprayformiley” via social media pleas. I’m simply not content with this content strategy. If you will allow me to use the airwaves here for SBCToday readers: “Pray for Miley!” … a Southern Baptist who has wandered astray.

        Norm Miller

        The young B. Piper needs to understand that I believe I followed the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

        I think you have hit on something, here. He is negative toward announcing public prayer efforts for people, and he sees baptism as a harmful fence. I suspect he has a ‘retiring’ personality and wants to avoid confrontation. However, I do not know him, so I cannot say for sure. But what I do know so far gives me pause.

        I love the quote from Evangelist Billy Sunday, who was a hard, hard preacher. Someone suggested that his preaching style and content was rubbing the cat’s fur the wrong way. And Billy said that the idea was for the cat to turn around.

        Unlike B. Piper, I would say Miley’s feelings are not nearly as important as the fact of her condition before God. Further, I can say with as much surety as B. Piper’s opinion that God could use the public prayer effort to draw Miley back to himself. I don’t think the hashtag could drive her any farther away. One is either in the Spirit or not.

    Johnathan Pritchett

    Bro. Worley,

    Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had a coyote or two on the Calvinism Commitee so at least the howling would have been heard?

    I think it would have been nice.

    Max

    “Will Pastors and SB’s in the pews wake up and see this?”

    David – I’m convinced that the multiple millions in SBC’s 45,000+ church pulpits and pews don’t have a clue what is going on. Their silence is deafening. There are only a few hundred SB’s at best who participate in blogs such as this, most state Baptist papers avoid SBC Calvinization like the plague, local pastors who are in the know refuse to have “family talks” on the matter, and SBC leaders have advised those who are listening to agree to disagree, get along to go along, and allow theological wiggle room for everybody under one big tent. It’s enough to make me consider becoming a Pentecostal so I can have a different experience!

Lydia

Rick, I thought you knew. We are simply not cool enough anymore.

I did not know about the Mark Howell thing. The Barnabas Piper hire is “in your face” because they know they can. That is “unity”, you know.. But my guess is he is now or soon will be embracing believers baptism and a full fledged Southern Baptist convert full stop and we should just forget that flirtation with the Presbyterians. It really meant nothing.

But I was curious about Piper wanting to come to Lifeway. Don’t the Presbyterians need media “content” strategists? Perhaps we pay better?

    Rick Patrick

    Lydia,

    Thanks for helping me see how important the “cool” factor is in this situation. Thinking back, I was not really all that cool when I was younger, so it seems like an absolutely hopeless cause at this point. As to why Piper might want to work at Lifeway instead of Desiring God, another possibility is that this position will give him a platform from which he can spread Piperism into entirely new markets it would otherwise not reach.

      Max

      Rick – The Calvinism Committee did not sufficiently address the proliferation and impacts of “New Calvinism” in SBC ranks. I was optimistic while the committee deliberated, but that window is now closed. Count it all joy that you will never be cool enough to be Piperized; unfortunately, many of our youth are being influenced to head in this direction. LifeWay is doing their part to make that happen.

        Johnathan Pritchett

        Max, the Calvinism Committee produced a piece of paper. Were you really expecting something else? That question isn’t sarcastic, I am really asking.

          Norm Miller

          One of the good things in the Cal Report, aka T5, is that it called for conversation.
          However, those calling for conversation must understand it takes two to talk.
          Rick’s article will exceed 3,000 views today. But are Cals and Savabilists talking?
          Nope.

Paul Kullman

Volfan007 – I’ve asked myself that question for many years. It sends a rather confusing message to new Christians about what is theologically acceptable material in which to sell and promote. How can I teach and disciple others about the dangers of a “different gospel” when Lifeway is selling their heresy? Lifeway stores seem to be divided into two stores – theological/academic and merchandise. This leaves some gray area. I am sure the retail division has a group or department that supervises as purveyor of orthodox books? Just curious.

    volfan007

    Paul,

    I used to feel very good about sending new Christians to Lifeway to get discipleship materials….that was years ago….nowadays, I don’t tell them to go to Lifeway….that they can trust what they find in Lifeway…I can’t…sadly, I can’t….not when the Shack is on the bookshelf.

    David

Max

It’s increasingly clear that LifeWay is primarily targeting the 20s-40s crowd who are flocking to reformed churches (both SBC and non-SBC) in droves. They probably don’t give a big whoop what majority Southern Baptists really think – a business model geared at a young, restless and reformed generation is working for them. Long before The Gospel Project hit the press, LifeWay was producing materials with a reformed slant. Their young adult Sunday School literature has been headed in this direction for some time. Our church uses the Life Matters “Threads” material produced by LifeWay. A couple of years ago, I complained to LifeWay’s editor of these publications about the extensive use of marginal notations pointing students to sermons, articles, books, websites, and blogs by leading influencers of the New Calvinism movement. For example, in the Winter 2010/2011 Life Matter’s issue, I noted that students were referred predominantly to Calvinists for extracurricular readings/sermons, including: Joshua Harris, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, C.J. Mahaney, and others. There were frequent marginal notes highlighting Piper’s Desiring God website, as well as Driscoll’s Resurgence site. Visiting either of these will take you on a linked tour of who’s-who and what’s happening in New Calvinism … from the newest book to recommended conferences/events. However, it should be noted that recent issues of Life Matters appear to have addressed this subtle approach to introducing young adults to a reformed “thread” (perhaps others complained as well), as I don’t see as many marginal references of this sort compared to issues produced in 2010-2011 and perhaps earlier.

Regarding young Piper’s appointment at LifeWay, if the movers and shakers of SBC’s reformed movement want some of us to stop harping about silent revolutions, hidden agendas, and conspiracy theories, they need to stop giving us so much evidence! “Content Media Strategist” sounds like an important job at our publication house. Surely, there are capable card-carrying Southern Baptists to fill that spot without recruiting from a non-SBC entity. I’m sure the young man is talented, but haven’t we had enough Pied Piper going on already in our ranks?! Before you know it, the good folks over at LifeWay will recruit a team of exclusively reformed writers to prepare new Sunday School literature (oh sorry, wait a minute – they’ve already done that).

Bob Hadley

This ought to be no surprise to anyone. LifeWay can care less what anyone thinks and I am not really convinced that profit is the motive; LifeWay knows SBC churches will continue to order literature at least for the time being and they are interested in promoting the Reformed way to those who read the literature after all if LifeWay promotes something it is certainly SBC safe.

LifeWay needs to change their name to LifeNo-Way.

Pam Knight

Rick, …….THANK YOU !…… So thankful for you making a statement about this. My prayer is that all of us regular folks sitting in the pew will begin to notice these things .

Norm Miller

NOTE: All first-time commenters’ remarks go into moderation. After that, the first-timer receives our commenting guidelines via email with a request to affirm they have been read. Not until SBCToday receives a return email in the affirmative will the first-timers’ comments go public. — Norm

Holly

I’m a little confused about Barnabus. From what I’m able to read online by him and of him, he’s anything but Calvinist. I could be mistaken, but others seem to lament his bent towards ecumenicism, not calvinism.

Also, I’m a former employee of LifeWay from the 90’s. There were many non-SBC employees then as there are now, yet all still signed the baptist faith and message as their statement of faith, which I presumed has not changed (again, I could be wrong). enlighten me, please!

Finally, why should jobs be held to only SBC people if they are not as qualified as non-sbc but who can affirm the statement of faith? That seems erroneous and even borderline illegal, if not contrary to hiring policies at lifeway that I was hired under.

    volfan007

    Holly,

    If you’re talking about hiring a secretary, then being a SB would probably not be the highest priority. But, if you’re hiring a leader in Lifeway, then why would Lifeway hire someone, who is a Presbyterian, who has big problems with SB beliefs about baptism? Do you see the difference? I mean, if you’re hiring a janitor for the building, then it probably wouldn’t matter if the Janitor was a Methodist, Presbyterian, or a SB. But, if you’re hiring someone to be in a leadership position, then why would we hire a non-SB, who thinks SB beliefs about baptism are somehow “harmful?”

    David

      Tim Rogers (@Timothy_Rogers)

      David,

      I get your point but I have one question. Why not? I mean why not demand that even the janitor be a member of a SBC congregation? I understand that we can influence through our hiring. But, I don’t think that God intends for us to pay someone to come to Him. Don’t get me wrong I can live with your perspective and I can accept your point that the positions you have expressed do not really have that much influence on the leadership. But, the fact remains that LifeWay is a SBC entity and her employees have a very serious integrity issue if they sign the BF&M as an affirmation of their beliefs but attend a church that teaches diametrically opposing doctrine.

        volfan007

        Tim,

        I agree that we should try to hire only SB’s. Why not? is truly the question. We’re a SB entity, so why shouldnt we hire other SB to work in our entities? I guess I was just saying that I could see hiring non-SB’s for positions where there would be no leadership involved….in strictly help positions. But, I agree…..why not make every effort to hire other SB’s…..fellow SB’s, who need jobs?

        David

Kathy Curtis

Several months ago hubby and I passed a Lifeway store in the city and found ourselves at our favorite Christian Bookstore which was Mardels. Not only did we see the executive director of our Baptist Convention but also a leading DOM (director of Missions) of our state as well. Surprised? You should not be.

    Norm Miller

    Just so I understand, the exec and DOM were at Mardel’s?

      Max

      Well, if they were at Mardel’s, I hope they turned their eyes away from the HUGE selection of books by New Calvinist who’s-who … including Mark Driscoll’s porno “Real Marriage”.

Tim Rogers (@Timothy_Rogers)

Holly,

Just a few responses from one unqualified because I have never served at the denominational level. I went to my first church in 1990 and have been a pastor ever since. In every church I served I have adamantly defended our entities and the CP. In one church I had a Sunday School Director that I had to talk into leaving our curriculum alone because he wanted to change from LifeWay. While the material was much to be desired I supported the transition that was being made with Dr. Drapper’s retirement and Dr. Rainer taking over the reigns. As I look at LifeWay it is hard for me to understand how anyone that saw it make the transition it has made not believe it has become much less Southern Baptist and more ecumenical evangelical.

Something I am confused about is the fact that you say you are an employee from the 90’s and signed the BF&M. From what I remember the BF&M was not signed by any entity but the IMB before 2000. I can be wrong because as I said I have never worked for a denominational entity. I concede to your answer on this.

Concerning the BF&M and Barnabas Piper. He has said that baptism is a “fence that harms”. Now that he is hired at LifeWay to decide the public media that comes from a group that trains leaders, we have to ask the position he holds on baptism by immersion. He leading a group that trains leaders is tantamount to having Anthony Wiener to head up the Twitter accounts of our entity presidents. He does not believe in Baptism by immersion as the only valid biblical baptism. That is what the Baptist Faith and Message calls for: “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” If Bro. Piper signs the BF&M after making the statement he made we have a serious integrity issue unless some public repentant statement is made.

Your question about the hiring of only SBC people is fair. Thus, as I strive to answer this please remember that I am answering as a Pastor of a SBC church that has never been in a position outside of the SBC.

Your question seems to be one that negates the addition the SBC has made to Christendom. We have six of the best seminaries in the world. Are you seriously telling me we cannot find qualified SBC people? We have over 40,000 churches in the SBC. Are we willing to say there are not people within our churches that are not qualified to serve in these positions? Holly, let’s face it. The hiring in the denominational structure is based on the good ole boy network. We go outside of the convention because that is the relationships that certain of our leaders have established.

One other thing that you did not ask that I believe deserves a statement. When The Baptist Sunday School Board was changing her name we were told at the convention that it would not change our doctrinal position. Well, it is easy to see that it has. We are more enamored by the celebrity of the evangelical world than we are with the heart of God.

Jason

These new leaders, writers and consultants for Lifeway are answering the call of Reformed Southern Baptists. The SBC is recognizing the increasing number of pastors and churches who are embracing Reformed Theology, and they are responding to their requests. It is misleading to characterize Calvinist Southern Baptists as sneaky conspirators with an agenda to sway the SBC toward Calvinism. It is also misleading to use the phrase, “our denomination,” to refer to strictly anti-Calvinistic views. Calvinistic doctrines dominated Southern Baptist theology throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1791, Jeremiah Walker, a leading Arminian Southern Baptist preacher, and Silas Mercer, a Calvinist Southern Baptist preacher, held a series of public debates throughout the state of Virginia. Thousands gathered throughout the state, and the result was a decrease of Arminianism and an increase in the doctrines of Calvinism. In 1859 the first Southern Baptist Seminary was founded, and it adopted the Abstract of Principles, a Reformed confession, as her founding confession. In addition, the first three presidents of the first Southern Baptist seminary would continue this Calvinistic tradition through the end of the 19th century. The pendulum began to swing away from Calvinistic doctrine by the beginning of the 20th century and now seems to be gaining ground again.

This reformed movement is not a new movement, but a resurgence of an old movement—one upon which was instrumental in the formation of the SBC. And fortunately, there are organizations like Founders Ministries who work hard to preserve the Reformed Baptist roots that have undeniably helped to shape “our” denomination. Lifeway is not pushing an agenda of Calvinism upon unsuspecting people. They are simply recognizing the need to publish these materials—they are responding to the requests of thousands of pastors like me.

There is nothing sneaky, manipulative or deceitful taking place. There is no conspiracy. I am glad to see you stand up and defend “our” denomination, but you must do so with the understanding that reformed Baptists are not your enemy. We would be better served as a denomination to turn our attacks upon the disregard for holiness, Biblical illiteracy and unwillingness to die to this world that is rampant among professing Christians. Certainly Reformed pastors are “always reforming.” This is not the battle cry of Calvinists, but all evangelical Christians. The first missionaries (Paul and company) were accused of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), and as citizens of the Kingdom of God, we should all be considered as such. And the reformations must continue in our churches and living rooms.

It is also not helpful to dismiss this new generation of Calvinists as “young and restless,” as though we are irritating pests that must be done away with. We are defending our Particular Baptist roots and have the right to do so as much as you are defending your General Baptist roots and have the right to do so—both of which have mingled together to form the SBC. It is important to defend “our” denomination, but we must make sure we are fighting against the foe and not the friend—for “he who is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:40). It is unfair to describe Calvinism as the “pied piper” who is leading our children astray. I am not a Presbyterian, but I am pretty sure they would take issue with assessment.

One more thing. We use The Gospel Project and it has brought great depth to our Sunday School discussions, has nearly doubled our attendance, and has provided an overall renewed enthusiasm in Sunday School. It has been an invaluable resource to our church, and we are proud to say we that we use it preschool through Adults. Lifeway has answered the call of Southern Baptist pastors and churches, and I for one am grateful.

    Rick Patrick

    Jason,

    My concern in this article is not with the reformed Southern Baptists you spend three paragraphs defending. It is with the NON-SOUTHERN BAPTISTS being offered carte blanche to lead our convention in a direction different from those Southern Baptists like me whose identity more closely resembles the Hershel Hobbs – Adrian Rogers tradition.

    You take issue with the existence of a conspiracy. I have never believed in one. I have been CHARGED with believing in one, and then attacked for such beliefs. Rather, what I believe in is the existence of a clearly stated REFORM AGENDA by those who wish to spread Calvinistic Christianity to the whole world, including the Christians of the Southern Baptist Convention. And yes, they have the right to their reform agenda, but I also have the right to tell the rest of the convention what they are doing, and to oppose their views as strongly as they oppose mine.

    I’m glad you enjoy the Gospel Project. I wish Lifeway would put as much energy, creativity and marketing savvy effort into the promotion of their non-reformed literature. Finally, please do not fault me for the phrase “young and restless.” It was coined by Colin Hansen, one of your esteemed Gospel Project creative team members, and a Non-Southern Baptist. I’m simply using his terminology.

      Jason

      I can’t speak for all reformed Southern Baptist preachers, but certainly the ones I know personally, the ones whose books I read and sermons I listen to, as well as the ones under whom I was educated, do not have an agenda to spread Reformed Theology to the world. Certainly when we preach, our presuppositions and theological convictions inform and shape our sermons and methods of evangelism, but our agenda is proclaiming the Kingdom of God and making disciples—which I would suspect is your agenda as well. I do not have an agenda in my church to influence everybody to think more along the lines of Reformed Theology. There will certainly be some who would feel uncomfortable with some of it, and that is not an issue for me. I care about their souls, relationships, marriages, children, desire for godliness, Biblical literacy, love for God and neighbor, dedication to being discipled and making disciples—all things you care about for your people and desire for your people. In the same way, I do not have an agenda for all in the congregation to believe the same way I do about eschatology—there is room for disagreement within the confines of orthodoxy. The reason more Reformed guys are getting these positions is because the SBC is responding to the demand—these are the books many people are buying and the conferences many people are going to. There is no agenda by a few people to push Calvinism upon the whole. This resurgence of interest in Calvinism among Southern Baptist is what is leading the SBC to provide materials, leadership and opportunities for both sides.

      On something you wrote in the original article: I don’t have an issue with Lifeway selling/distributing non-Southern Baptist stuff. I do believe that they should only produce Southern Baptist stuff, but should be free to sell materials for other mainline Protestant denominations. However, I do take issue with some of the junk they sell in their stores that not only violates what Southern Baptists stand for, but what evangelical Christianity stands for—Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyers, Roman Catholic Bibles, etc…

        Norm Miller

        Jason: Whereas I may take exception to a portion of what you have written, I want to thank you sincerely for the tone in which you commented. I have said it several times, here, and I think you have demonstrated it: One can be as pointed as a knife without cutting.
        Thank you!

dr. james willingham

Dear Dr. Patrick: Here we are in agreement. I think Lifeway’s hiring of some one “weak as branch water” as they said in Kentucky really reveals a real problem with our denominational leadership, especially in the board of that particular institution. I wonder now what was the use of all my voting for Conservatives through all the years of conflict with the Moderates. Then we come to my situation and no real help, while they hire a person who is ready to throw down our fences and let the livestock out. Baptism as a fence is one of the few with Baptists that really make them a distinctly New Testament practicing church. The same could be said for congregational church government.

    Rick Patrick

    Dr. Willingham,

    You made my day, for I knew deep down in my heart a time would come when we would be in complete agreement about something. :-)

    Blessings,
    Rick

      dr. james willingham

      Dear Rick: Miracles never cease :-) Blessings to you, too. Jim

Tracy

Has anyone of the camp that is opposed to this hiring of Piper stopped to think – that if their wishes were granted, that no one but SBC people are allowed to work at LifeWay, and that only SBC authors are allowed on the shelves, and that no reformed authors are allowed on the shelves, that the beloved protestant pope John MacArthur would not be allowed? He is reformed, and he is not SBC.

    Rick Patrick

    Tracy,

    Is this some sort of trick question? No, I would not favor John MacArthur serving as a Media Strategist or a Curriculum Designer for Southern Baptist Sunday School material, although I have read a few of his books. The same would be true for Max Lucado. That which makes one a popular Christian devotional author does not necessarily make one suitable as a Baptist Sunday School Teacher or Lesson Writer.

      dr. james willingham

      Well, Dr. Patrick, since we got together on such a good basis earlier, how about me for a content evaluator or whatever the title is?. I have five degrees and work on number 6 plus years of research in Baptist History, have served as Chairman of the Historical Committee of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association, 1977-81, and Chairman of the Historical Committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and I am also a Sovereign Grace believer or Calvinist as they are commonly called. But I am a Congregationalist in church government and I do believe in Baptism by immersion, and holding to it made the SBC. Not insisting on it cost Baptists the Church of John Bunyan, which had a Presbyterian as pastor, at my last knowledge of it (and it began with Bunyan himself. In addition, one of my ancestors was a preacher in Alabama in 1840 and mentioned in Holcomb’s History of Alabama Baptists in that year (and I dare say he believed just like I believed), and I think his father was also a Holland Middleton who is named as one of the two men appointed to execute the will of Daniel Marshall who founded the oldest Baptist Church in Georgia, Kiokee ) and there was a Willingham in that congregation, when it was organized. Well, what do you say, Brother? I will say that I want every one to believe like I do or else I would not preach what I do. However, I recognize and respect the right to differ, as long as it is within the parameters set by Southern Baptists in 1787-1800 and the confessions since, though I don’t agree with the 2000 Confession on women and marriage.

        Rick Patrick

        Dr. Willingham,

        You are more than qualified to serve as a writer at LifeWay, not because of your significant accomplishments and education, but because you are a Southern Baptist and a skilled writer. Your only challenge would come in the area of word count. They have space limitations and you are something of a major prophet.

        If people are determined to reform the Southern Baptist Convention, I would rather it come from within than from without.

          dr. james willingham

          Dear Dr. Patrick: Alas! I am nonplussed. I prefer to be a minor prophet and get the job, but, unfortunately, I am rather on the heavy side, having been a weightlifter in the Heavy Weight class. One of my heroes was Paul Anderson, though I am not where as strong or as heavy as he. In fact, I have recently lost 10 lbs. Today, as an aside, I would mention that my wife and I will celebrate our 44th anniversary by going out to Dinner, compliments our Son and Daughter. It is a second marriage, and I am thankful to God for the great blessings He has bestowed upon me. Our Son is now our pastor, and has served this church for 14+ years. We went from 2 to 5 in 71, when I got my daughter and my mother-in-law came to live with us, and our son was born Sept.8. Rick, just think how you would feel to be shut out of the pastorate for 16 years and not even be able to get a regular full time job, when you had the credentials! I am not bitter, but I would know what the Lord intends by this crook in my lot. Wordy, I am, a grievous failing of historians and preachers for the most part. Might have had something to do with reading Douglas Southall Freedman’s Robert E. Lee (4 vols) and his Lee’s Lieutenants (3 vols), all when I was nine years old. O yes, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind that same year (not a short novel as you folks know). A friend of mine won Margaret Mitchell to Christ a few months before she died, a filippino woman, Mamerta de los Reyes Block (whose husband was a fellow student in seminary and a friend ever since, though his wife has passed away or as they say in Africa, she has arrived), who also won the man to Christ who supervised her torture in the Philippines for seven days a week, 8 hrs. a day, for two months and 28 days. Talk about the greatness of God! What a wonderful, awesome Sovereign He is. I don’t mind at all that He unconditionally chose me, one sidedly chose me, I might add, from one of the converts of one our missionaries to Japan, Worth Grant. I am kind of sneaky, aren’t I, Rick? I just had to slip that one in on you for a good laugh.

Brian

I am probably the least qualified to post here, but I will give it my best attempt. Seems to me that as Baptists, whether reformed in theology or not, we need to spend more time looking at what Christ said to His church than debating on who is writing what and who is right or wrong. The simple true that is not an either/or situation when it comes to this, but a both/and. In studying God’s word about topics such as His sovereignty and man’s ability to choose, the answer you see is undeniably both! Is God sovereign? None of us would doubt that because His word tells us so. Does God give man the ability to choose is own direction? Without a doubt, yes. Show me one Biblical character who didn’t choose to either follow God’s direction or choose his or her’s own direction. God is sovereign, AND we get to choose. We cannot explain it, but it is reality. Absolute reality!

The church I serve at currently uses the Gospel Project for our kids Sunday school through our young adult classes (Note: our Senior Adult classes chose not to use them basically because it wasn’t dated, not because of the content.) In nothing that my children are learning on Sunday mornings, or our adults for that matter, have I seen anything that is blatantly Biblically inaccurate. I do know that my 5 year old has a deeper grasp of BIBLICAL theology than I did at his age because each week they are taught it! I do know that my 8 year old and I have deep, meaningful, SPIRITUAL conversations after church on Sunday because of what he has learned that day in Sunday School!

I understand that denominations exist and require statements of faith. But the BF&M, no matter the year, is NOT the end all when it comes to Biblical authority. It is a document created by men under the leadership of the Holy Spirit (we suppose) to bring unity to the denomination of Southern Baptists. It is no different from any statement of faith created by any other evangelical denomination in the same manner for the same purpose.

As for the incessant going on about this author and that writer and why Lifeway is hiring them and not a “true” Southern Baptist, maybe its because the folks at Lifeway have come to grips with the fact that God’s sovereignty and man’s free will co-exist, in light of the fact that most of think you must choose a side. Maybe they realize that in the absence of teachers and writers to write and teach about this mystery, and in order to remain Biblically accurate, they must begin to include the writings and teachings of those who are more Reformed in theology because there aren’t any “true” Southern Baptists willing to recognize this dual reality and teach it!

Mary

I have been upset with LifeWay for about 2 years now. I refuse to purchase anything from LifeWay. I vote with my pocketbook, because my voice doesn’t seem to be heard by the leadership of the SBC. Maybe churches who are not reformed and do not want to be should stop purchasing things from LifeWay. (Besides the influx of Reformed material, I was upset to realize that at least one of their Sunday School publications is nothing more that one big commercial for books that LifeWay sells. Reminded me of an infomercial in print.)

    dr. james willingham

    Dear Mary: I am a believer in Sovereign Grace, and there has always been Sovereign Grace materials in Lifeway and the Baptist Bookstores that preceded it. Some of the materials even by so-called Sovereign Grace believers really should not be in the stores. I am not a reformed when it comes to elder rulership, being a Congregationalist which Baptists are by profession (rulership belongs to the Presbyterians and Reformed Churches – not Baptists). But what is worst about Lifeway is that they are handling the trinkets of the High Church folks, crosses, etc.

    Max

    Mary – my sentiments exactly. I’m old enough to remember LifeWay’s predecessor, the Sunday School Board. The SSB was a trusted organization which put training materials in the hands of Southern Baptists reflecting denominational belief and practice of SBC’s majority membership. Not so today. With 2,000 employees to support, LifeWay has become a book-seller, with a business model to publish and sell books in various Christian market segments. Books by reformed authors (both SBC and non-SBC) are very marketable items these days; thus, LifeWay promotes books to targeted buyers in the reformed movement. Makes good business sense, I suppose, but not a good driver when it comes to meeting the needs of SBC’s predominantly non-reformed members.

Aaron Turner

Praising God for the direction LifeWay is going!

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