Southern Baptist Convention

Sanctity of Human Life

This Sunday is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention. In addition, this month marks the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that opened the door for legalized abortion in the United States. At this time each year, Southern Baptists and other pro-life organizations take a moment to reflect on the tragedy of abortion in our society.

Roe v. Wade is one of the few Supreme Court decisions that most Americans know by name. While many of the more famous decisions represent crucial moments in American history for the rights of the oppressed (Brown v. Board of Education, etc.), Roe v. Wade stands as a blight on American history for the resulting carnage of the abortion industry since January 22, 1973.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 22% of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion. Eighteen percent of women who have abortions are teenagers, and more than half are in their twenties. Between 1973 and 2008 (the most recent year for reported statistics), nearly 50 million legal abortions have taken place. In 2008 alone, there were 1.21 million abortions.

The Guttmacher Institute also reports some of the reasons for abortion, stating:

The reasons women give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.

The number of abortions in the United States is staggering—50 million in 39 years. These are 50 million lives that were ended. These were 50 million individual persons whose opportunity to develop, live, and thrive was taken from them all in the name of a right to privacy.

In an interesting turn of events on the political spectrum, the Guttmacher Institute reports that states enacted more provisions restricting abortion in 2011 than in any other year. Ninety-two legal provisions placing some level of restriction on abortion access were implemented in 24 states. These restrictions include waiting periods, limitation on insurance coverage, and the requirement to show an ultrasound before an abortion. In Texas, a law was passed requiring that doctors shows patients a sonogram of their unborn babies prior to performing an abortion. Even though opponents are challenging the law in court, a federal appeals court ruled that the law can be enforced while facing further legal challenges.

Perhaps the most fundamental issue in the abortion debate is the question of personhood. Proponents of abortion rights often define personhood in an operational sense, whereby an individual human being is a “person” when he can perform specific functions. These functions typically include conscious awareness of surroundings, reasoning, communication, and self-awareness. The problem with this type of definition is that it not only denies personhood to the unborn, but it also denies personhood to infants, those severely incapacitated by injury or disease, and some individuals at the end of life. By such standards, those individuals could be eliminated because they are not “persons.”

In contrast, personhood is best understood in a substantive sense. In this type of definition, personhood is granted based on the existence of human life. If human life exists, then personhood is established. From a theological standpoint, we can view personhood as an extension of the imago Dei (Genesis 1:26–27). Therefore, since all humans are created in the image of God, then all humans are persons. Since new human life begins at conception, personhood is present from the earliest stages of life.

As we reflect on the sanctity of life, consider the following verses. In Genesis 1:26–27, God declares, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Jeremiah 1:5 states, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” In Psalm 139:15-16, David writes, “My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”

May we treasure life in the womb and work to show how these tiniest individuals are persons—made in the image of God.

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Guttmacher Institute, “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States,” August 2011.

Guttmacher Institute, “States Enact Record Number of Abortion Restrictions in 2011,” January 5, 2012.

Chris Tomlinson, “Texas abortion law can be enforced, court rules,” Star-Telegram, January 10, 2012.

For more study on the issue of abortion, the following resources are helpful:

“Issues at a Glance: Life,” Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, www.erlc.com/life

Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, 2nd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010)

*This post was first published at www.theologicalmatters.com.

MacGorman Chapel Opens at Southwestern Seminary

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a nice article on yesterday’s grand opening of the new MacGorman Chapel on the Fort Worth campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The article was accompanied by a front page photo and description. It was a wonderful day of worship and celebration at the chapel yesterday. I had the privilege of singing with the Birchman Baptist Church choir in the morning worship service (If you look closely in the picture of the choir on the Star-Telegram website, you can even see me). Students, faculty, staff, and visitors brought life and vitality to the dedication service through their worship of our Savior.

For those of you unaware of the new chapel on our campus, it is a 3,500-seat auditorium that will serve as the location for our regular chapel services, graduations, and other campus events. It is also available to be rented by organizations. In a couple of weeks, we will hold our first indoor graduation on campus in 34 years. In the summer, it will be the location of our Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.

These are exciting times at SWBTS, and I am thankful to be here.

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Terry Evans, “Fort Worth seminary opens 3,500-seat concert hall,” Star-Telegram, December 2, 2011.

Photo Credit: Star-Telegram/Joyce Marshall

Why I Attend the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

I am preparing to go to Phoenix this weekend. Under any other circumstances, I really have no need to travel to the desert. The Texas Rangers are not playing the Arizona Diamondbacks this summer. The NFL lock-out will probably prevent the Cowboys from playing the Cardinals. And I have never traveled to watch professional sports teams play anyway. If I want hot weather, all I have to do is step outside on a blistering summer day in Fort Worth (yes, I’ve heard that Phoenix is a dry heat—dry like an oven). The reason I am going to Phoenix is for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Earlier today I received a phone call from a vendor who specializes in marketing to religious groups. She wanted to schedule a time to talk in more detail about the “greatest marketing idea ever” that could help the Riley Center, and she preferred to do so next week. I told her that next week was not an option because I would be in Phoenix for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. She replied, “I would like to go to that one day. It sounds like fun.” I retorted, “It’s basically one long business meeting. I don’t know if I would call it fun. But I enjoy it anyway.” After hanging up the phone, my response to the vendor made me start thinking about why I attend the SBC annual meeting each year. I didn’t grow up in the home of a pastor who planned family vacations each year around the location of the meeting (don’t laugh, there’s a good reason why the Orlando convention last year was one of the better attended conventions in years). I had never been to the meeting prior to the Nashville convention in 2005. I missed the 2006 convention in Greensboro and have been to everyone since then. I don’t serve on a board or committee whose attendance is required. So why do I go? Here are a few reasons.

1) Fellowship

This is an easy one. I enjoy the fellowship at the SBC Annual Meeting. I have received all of my post-secondary education at Baptist schools. For fourteen years, I attended Baptist institutions of higher learning. I sat in classes with fellow students who now pastor churches, serve denominational entities, or simply have an interest in attending the convention. Each year, I have standing lunch/dinner/dessert appointments with classmates from college or seminary. I look forward to those times each year.

In addition, I have served as an administrator and professor at Southwestern Seminary for over four years. It was probably last year that I had my first run-in with former students. I have officially taught long enough here that my students see me and come tell me what they are doing in ministry since graduating from SWBTS. The funny thing about that is I still do the same with some of my former professors at Mississippi College and Southeastern Seminary.

Even though I am on the low end of the age scale at the annual meeting (I turn 33 on the final day of the convention), I find the fellowship with both the younger and older pastors, students, messengers, etc to be a motivating factor for wanting to attend. Contrary to popular opinion, the annual meeting is not simply composed of “gray-hairs.” There are those of us younger folks who like to attend as well.

2) Encouragement

The next reason to come to the annual meeting is the encouragement I receive. This comes in a few different forms. The first is related to the fellowship mentioned above. I am encouraged to hear what my friends, classmates, and students are doing and how God is using them. I typically come away from those conversations energized.

Another form of encouragement is found in the sermons that are preached during the pastors’ conference and as part of the convention. Typically, this is an opportunity to listen to some of the greatest preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention. Now my standards are pretty high since I was privileged to hear Adrian Rogers preach multiple times a week growing up. Certainly, the preaching does not always live up to his standard, but rarely am I disappointed. Most people bring their “A-game” to the Southern Baptist Convention.

The last form of encouragement comes from various reports. Yes, you can be encouraged by listening to reports that take up the majority of the time at the convention. Listening for the nuggets about what God is doing in different places gives me encouragement that we are trying to reach the world for Christ.

3) Conviction

It is hard to attend a meeting full of pastors, professors, and others interested in the life of the church without stepping back and evaluating your own spiritual maturity and commitment to serving God. It sometimes feels like Joshua addressing the people of Israel in Josh 24. In v. 14, he tells the people, “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” The people express their agreement to Joshua’s challenge, and then he responds in v. 19-20, “You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you.” So what’s the deal? Why challenge them if they can’t do it? They could not serve God on their own. I think the same holds true for us. We cannot serve God effectively in our own power. We must depend upon the Holy Spirit working in and through us. The conviction I receive at the convention is much the same. I hear how God is using others, and I begin to ask why I don’t see the same in my life. Upon reflection I am then convicted that perhaps I am trying to serve God in my own power. This is a helpful reminder each year.

4) Relevance

I don’t really care what people say, the Southern Baptist Convention is still relevant. Any student of Baptist history will see that the SBC has changed, adjusted, and morphed through the last 166 years. We don’t look the same. We don’t act the same. But we do have the same message—the unchanging message of the gospel built upon the inerrant, infallible Word of God. The gospel message never loses relevancy.

The question for the Southern Baptist Convention this year (and every year) is: Are we effectively communicating that gospel message to the world? The baptism numbers in the Annual Church Profile seem to suggest the answer is no. Of course, numbers are numbers—they can say lots of things. However, the future of the Southern Baptist Convention and the church is dependent upon the proclamation of the gospel (Rom 10:14-15).

How will we best utilize our collective resources to proclaim the gospel? Those decisions will be made at the annual meeting of the SBC. And that is why I attend. I hope to see you there. If not this year, hopefully we will meet at one in the future.

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