Before jumping into this post, I would like to thank Richard Land for the humility he displayed in his 5 part apology he made on May 9th. It was always our desire to speak the truth in love while giving Dr. Land the space to begin restoring broken fellowship. Land’s recent remarks show his desire to listen to those he offended and own the consequences. Now those who were hurt by Land’s remarks must respond to our brother with humility and accept this genuine apology. With the testimony of Christ as my example, I accept Dr. Land’s apology. Let’s learn from the recent past and move forward together for the Gospel’s sake.
The Trayvon Martin incident seemed to be clothed with the issue of race from the beginning, and once again awaked a sleeping giant in the American subconscious. The complexity of the race in America is paralyzing and the consequences are profound. On the one hand, African-Americans (myself included) are constantly frustrated with the non-inclusion of appropriate racial matters in cultural and public discourse. On the other hand, whites feel as though they are walking on eggshells whenever race is introduced into a conversation. I am convinced that both sentiments are justified, and are often intensified by careless interaction with the issue from both sides. This challenge has historically caused a stalemate, but at this juncture a clarion call must be issued to move forward with careful thinking and bold conclusions that are tempered with Christ-like compassion.
Over and under racializing, as well as tactless interaction with racial issues have contributed to the rifts in our cultural landscape. The aftermath of Treyvon Martin’s death is an example of both tactless interaction (see my blog Richard Land, Treyvon Martin and the SBC), and over-racializing an event (I will deal with the problem of under-racializing and the importance of diversity in the next installment).
The introduction of race into the Martin scenario is in no small part due to the contribution of nationally recognized Christian leaders. Soon after Martin’s death, leaders of every stripe should have heralded a cry for justice, no matter where the verdict fell. Instead, we immediately heard that “blacks are under attack!” Upon the publication of these words our nation was led to believe that this killing was, at its core, a matter of race. Onlookers never had the chance to grapple with the demands of justice, but were immediately forced to relive the racial history and progress (or lack thereof) in our country.
This is a subtle yet significant shift away from the motivation of Martin Luther King. MLK and his contemporaries incited public demonstrations and made speeches due to a passion for social justice that was deeply rooted in biblical convictions such as human dignity and the understanding that every human is made in God’s image.
At present, some Christian leaders over-racialize situations, not because of the healthy biblical vision, but because they operate from a posture of victimology. John McWhorter explains victimology as “an adaptation to victimhood as the core of one’s identity.” With racial victimhood as a starting point, actions by “outsiders” can only be understood as having a negative and racist motivation. Furthermore, due to the effects of victimology, the self-perception of the African-American will always be a socially constructed reality from America’s turbulent racial past, never graduating to a biblical self-image.
I am not dismissing the realities of systemic and individual racism. Rather, I am merely noting that there is an important difference between offering a solution that accurately accounts for victimization, as opposed to using victimization as a starting point. The former allows Scripture to act as the starting point, which provided real solutions. The latter will never lead to a solution, since the system constantly focuses on the problem.
Reclaiming the biblical centrality that fueled the ministry of MLK will provide the foundation that is necessary to move forward. The grand narrative of scripture (that can be summarized as creation, fall, redemption & new creation) is essential in describing the significance of ethnic race and the importance of race relations in the context of Christ’s redemption of all things.
The biblical story uniquely describes the restoration of the four-fold relationship that was broken at the fall of Genesis 3: The relationship between man and God, man and fellow man, man and self, and man and the created order. The restoration of these relationships through Christ is essential to progress in Christian thought on race. Moving forward, I will attempt to sketch a framework for a Christian engagement with race from the foundation of the grand narrative of scripture, highlighting the importance of unity and diversity rooted in the triune God.
As an African-American who has been spiritually nurtured by the men and women of the Southern Baptist Convention. I feel a deep sense of gratitude and indebtedness. Thankfully, more and more African-American brothers and sisters are joining the SBC ranks, locking arms for the cause of Christ.
I am grateful for the steps the SBC has taken toward the goal of racial reconciliation. This is a complex problem that requires leadership on multiple fronts, whether on the grass-roots level, in denominational strategies, or in SBC resolutions. Countless Southern Baptists have helped advance these critical issues, and I am encouraged by their continued work, and our steady movement in the right direction.
But we haven’t arrived.
The recent comments by Richard Land, president of the ERLC, regarding the death of Trayvon Martin are an example of this. The media and blogs have shown us in great detail what was said by Dr. Land and the extent of his apology. Because of this, I won’t be focusing on whether or not Land plagiarized, or whether or not the statistics are correct (although there is plenty that needs to be said and done). There is quite a bit of discussion on these issues already.
I simply want to say that in the wake of Dr. Land’s statements, apology, and the response from the ERLC, my spirit is broken for multiple reasons. First, my initial sorrow comes from the non-apologetic apology of Dr. Land and its acceptance by SBC leaders. I am aware that we will all make mistakes, but the journey toward racial reconciliation will be hindered without genuine confession and apologies. Admitting that you are sorry that others were offended is not a Christ-honoring apology. Real racial reconciliation depends upon real apologies for real mistakes.
Secondly, many African-American brothers and sisters in the SBC are being pressured to leave. It’s difficult to articulate the kind of uproar these situations cause for us. Many non-African-American Southern Baptists would be surprised at how routinely we have to defend our participation in the SBC, and our spirits have been shaken by the unfolding of these events.
Lastly, I am an enthusiastic advocate of the SBC to those beyond our fellowship. It is my joy to promote the SBC’s love for the scriptures, passion for missions, and advances toward racial reconciliation. Occasions like this continually place asterisks by all of the good gospel-work being done in our convention and it is increasingly difficult to convince African-American brothers and sisters to stay, much less encourage others to join.
The process of healing this wound begins with we as a convention holding one another accountable to make real apologies for real mistakes. Also, I’m hopeful that the SBC leadership will take steps to restore the shaken confidence of African-Americans in the SBC, granting us a leg to stand on both inside and outside of its fellowship.
Recently, I have engaged in several conversations with aspiring Church Planters about team planting and the mission of church planting. In these conversations I almost always bring up the book Trellis and the Vine. There has to be a tension in our mission to plant the gospel and form churches out of gospel communities between health of the body (structure put in place for healthy growth) and the going forward of the gospel (organic growth of new and growing disciples of Christ). This book gets to the heart of the matter and so I thought it helpful to post book review written some time ago by Walter Strickland, one of our B21 writers. In my conversations I have found that many have still not read this book, B21 would highly recommend it.
BOOK REVIEW TRELLIS AND THE VINE
Trellis and the Vine is a welcomed contribution to the literature of Christian leadership development. Marshall and Payne continue to challenge program-driven ministries that are led by “pastors” who, perhaps unknowingly, mistake the maintenance of ecclesial structures as tending to the souls of the church body. The constant pastoral tension of seeing to the church’s structure and simultaneously to its people is captured in the illustration of the trellis and the vine. Marshall and Payne are issuing a call to focus on vine growth (making disciples) as the goal of ministry, while seeing that the trellis (church structure) is maintained only for the sake of further vine growth.
I now offer two praises, a caution, and a critique. Trellis and the Vine reminds the body of Christ, especially Christian leaders, how easy it is to be swept away in the details of ministry although they are necessary. If we are not careful, filling out room request forms, chasing receipts from the latest event, and returning emails can monopolize our days and there is little time and far less energy to personally interact with those who are under our care.
Secondly, Trellis and the Vine should be lauded for its emphasis on the priesthood of the believer. Chapter four poses the question, “Is every Christian a vine-worker?” The answer is a resounding YES! The stress on this point is in response to the historical clergy/laity divide that has understood vine work to be done exclusively by clergy. Marshall focuses the reader upon the church-wide charge of Gospel proclamation and assisting spiritually younger believers in Gospel maturation (discipleship).
The ramifications of this book are significant for a great number of churches and para-church ministries, and can cause a significant paradigm shift in the mind of leadership. My caution is for ministers not to begrudge their current ministries because they are “trellis heavy” (i.e. they do not reflect the ideal picture painted in the book). The book itself does not give specific advice for retro-fitting these ideas into a church, but for the sake of your church, keeping your job, and the ulcer that you may develop amid hasty changes, please exercise wisdom when applying these ideas into an established ministry. I do not have enough space in this blog to offer guidelines for such a change, but if there are any leadership resources that have been helpful to you, please copy the link in the response section of this blog.
By way of critique, in the course of championing the priesthood of the believer, Trellis and the Vine overcorrected and left no room for the distinction of pastoral ministry and diaconal service as described in the Pastoral Epistles. The distinction between pastors and laity in this sense is not an absolute difference in function, but of being appointed by the congregation to execute additional responsibilities in accordance with Scripture. Moreover, it is the leader’s duty to be a vine worker, as well as tend to the maintenance of the trellis (the church’s structure and programs) to make sure it is neither bloated nor disintegrating under the weight of vine growth (Heb.13:17).
In the end, “Trellis and the Vine” is a challenging must-read, but one must be careful of reckless implementation of these ideas in an existing ministry, and running roughshod over the unique responsibilities given to leaders to tend to the trellis. In the end, it seems that Marshall and Payne would agree with me in saying that “trellis work” should not be demonized, but it is the overworking of the trellis to the neglect of the vine that should be guarded against.
It is a rare occasion that a biography consisting of academic degrees, along with previous and current job titles distract from one’s contribution to humanity, and in this case Evangelical Christianity in particular. R. Albert Mohler is a leading intellectual in the Evangelical movement in the United States, with appearances on national programs such as CNN’s “Larry King Live,” NBC’s “Today Show,” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” In addition, Mohler has written extensively for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.
Dr. Mohler hosts a daily radio program called The Briefing which enables Christians to think biblically by providing daily worldview analysis about the leading news headlines and cultural conversations. Another of the many helpful resources found at www.AlbertMohler.com is Thinking in Public which is an interview forum for intelligent conversation about frontline theological and cultural issues.
While maintaining the national spotlight, Dr. Mohler is a committed churchman, having served on the staff of several Southern Baptist churches as an ordained minister, and he currently serves his local church as Sunday school teacher. In addition, Dr. Mohler serves thousands of local churches in the Southern Baptist Convention as he is very active in denominational life.
Dr. Albert Mohler is a native of Lakeland, Florida, and serves as the President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He a Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University, and a Master of Divinity and the Doctor of Philosophy degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (in systematic and historical theology). Dr. Mohler is married to Mary, and they have two children Katie and Christopher.
About the B21 Panel SBC2011:
When: June 14th, during the SBC lunch break (roughly 12pm-1pm)
Where: Phoenix Convention Center (PCC), West Building in Room 301A
What: A lunch panel discussion on Mission, the SBC, and more…
Who: Danny Akin, Kevin Ezell, Albert Mohler, John Piper, and David Platt
- General Registration (April 26th – June 10th) – $15
Note: This $15 will include a lunch. We understand that $15 may seem high, but it is an average price at convention centers. We are not doing this to make money. In fact, we are attempting to raise money with sponsors to keep the cost at $15. Lunch in Phoenix downtown area will be costly, why not spend the time at a lunch listening to men like John Piper and David Platt talk about critical issues for the church. Thanks for considering this and we hope to see you there!!
We are excited to have Dr. Danny Akin participating in the b21 panel at the 2010 SBC. Register for the panel. Dr. Akin has been one of the leading voices calling for a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC (below check out the video of the original GCR Axioms message that Dr. Akin delivered last year). He is also a member of the GCR Task Force. It will be helpful to have his insight as the panel discusses the future of the SBC.
Dr. Daniel L. Akin, better known as “Danny” currently serves as the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Dr. Akin has previously held either administrative or teaching posts at Criswell College, and Southern Seminary. Beyond his professional endeavors Dr. Akin is a committed churchman at Wake Crossroads where he maintains a regular teaching ministry on Wednesday nights. Danny Akin has been married to Charlotte Akin for thirty-one years, and is the father of four sons. Each member of the Akin family is faithfully serving the Lord in various capacities around the globe.
Last year, Dr. Akin emerged as one of the leaders of the Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention with his Twelve Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence message. Dr. Akin’s intense passion for the nations to have a faithful Gospel witness has often driven him to tears in the seminary pulpit as he has encouraged men and women to take the Gospel to difficult places around the world.
Danny Akin is the author of a number of books and articles which include, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John (in the New American Commentary series), God on Sex, Five Who Changed the World, and the editor of Broadman and Holman’s recent systematic theology, A Theology for the Church.
Dr Akin received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Criswell College, a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Texas at Arlington. We look forward to hearing from him at this year’s panel.
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