There are times when the Baptist way of doing things just makes you wonder what is going on.  This is one of those times.

Surprise!  This week comes an announcement from the BGCT that it has established a new position on its staff, that of “Theologian-in-Residence,” and has opened a new “Center for Informed Faith.”  This is a surprise because, to my knowledge, there was not much advance announcement made of its establishment.  Through the entire state convention meeting last year, I did not hear so much as a peep made about such a position being added to the staff, nor of the creation of a “Center for Informed Faith.”  I’m guessing that such news, coming at a time when the budget belt was being strained, and in the wake of declining Cooperative Program receipts, would have met with a whole lot of questions about the necessity for such a position and institution. 

I did take notice that Denison’s salary is being funded by donors.  That’s fine, except, once again, during a time of financial cutbacks, it seems just a bit irregular to put funding into something like this when essential mission ministries have taken a hit, the entire building is operating on 90% of what it was budgeted to receive last year and people who work there are genuinely worried about their jobs. 

The question that is the elephant in the room here is simple.  Why do we need a theologian-in-residence and a Center for Informed Faith? 

Baptist churches are independent and autonomous.  The last thing we need is a state convention setting up an organization to provide “guidance” related to theology.  Though the descriptive language in the news reports is couched in terms to make it seem benign, this is a step that a state convention, or even a national body, does not need to make.  We do not need a theologian in residence, nor an institution connected to a state convention to “help” churches with theological issues.   This could easily be interpreted as a veiled attempt to influence theology in the BGCT in a particular theological-denominational-political direction, and I don’t think it would be wise to leave that impression.

How did this all come about?  Did the BGCT seek candidates for the position?  I did not see it advertised.  I have absolutely nothing against Dr. Denison.  He was one of my favorite seminary professors at Southwestern, in the area of apologetics, teaching while he was a doctoral candidate.  I’ve read all of his books on the subject and am waiting for more, but if this is a BGCT position, then I have to ask if the opportunity was afforded for any interested party to seek the position if they felt led to do so.  Likewise, was the same opportunity afforded to others with regard to the jobs that the Center for Informed Faith will provide?  Obviously, opportunities were made available to staff at one church in particular.  It seems that the way this was handled certainly opens the door for speculation and questions, and in the news releases that have come out so far, I don’t see many answers.

It would seem to me that in a time of financial difficulty and austerity, the wisest course of action would be to say thank you to the donors, and if they could not be convinced to assist in another way, to politely decline the offer at this time.  Either that, or do the courtesy of bringing this proposal to the messengers at the convention to decide whether such a position or center is needed.

Advertisements

About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

23 responses

  1. Ken Coffee says:

    Lee, you have to read the announcement very carefully. This Center would likely exist with or without the BGCT. Frankly, it appears to me that the BGCT has joined forces with this Center and is merely providing office space and perhaps some bookkeeping services to the center, at least as regards Dr. Denison. At least that is what it appears to me. Denison’s former associate is the exec. of the center and there is no mention of his officeing at the BGCT. Not sure about that, though.

  2. Lee says:

    I did see that the funding to support this center is not being contributed by the BGCT. Obviously, someone wanted to set this up and get Dr. Denison to head it. But I’m still troubled by the BGCT connection. They seem to be rather enthusiastically endorsing it, Dr Everett made it clear that he was glad to have Dr. Denison on the staff of the BGCT, and it is not clear whether the center will be paying rent to the BGCT for the space.

    As I said before, I don’t have anything against Dr. Denison, and wouldn’t have any objection at all to his being employed as theologian-in-residence to a Center for Informed Faith. I just don’t see the need for such a position or center to be connected to the BGCT, especially not at this particular time. I wouldn’t even object to their having office space at the Baptist Building, provided they paid a fair rental amount for it. But the implication here is that this is a BGCT initiative. Frankly, I don’t see the need for the BGCT to be connected to it.

  3. Colby Evans says:

    In the political atmosphere that currently exists in the BGCT, the timing of this might not be the greatest and I can see where there might be a tendency to see this as some kind of paternalistic move to “help” churches see the theological light, so to speak. What I am having trouble figuring out is why Dr. Denison would want to leave Park Cities for a rather nebulous, privately funded position like this. And I must agree, I do not see this as something a state Baptist convention needs to get involved with, especially not when they are cutting budgets and seeing a drop off in giving and investment income, whether it is privately funded or not.

  4. Ken Coffee says:

    Unless it has changed since I retired, a part of every department’s budget is designated for “rent”, an amount set by the CFO, and non-negotiable. It is based on the square footage of each department’s space. This “rent” goes to building maintenance, security, etc. So, unless they get some sort of special dispensation, the Center For Informed Faith will pay rent. BTW, Dr. Denison is not the head of the center. His former associate is. However Dr. Denison is surely the funding appeal for those who wish to help fund it.

  5. David Lowrie says:

    Lee,

    You are always so insightful and thoughtful in your comments and responses. I suspect a connect to Dr. Everett or to Dr. Denison would be in order. I think they could share with you the timing and the development of the idea much better than me.

    As you noted this “center” and the work of Dr. Denison grows out of his passion to speak to the issues of our day and to speak life into the churches of our convention. As this dream was birthed in his heart, God brought to his side a handful of bold, generous Baptist leaders who wanted to enable Dr. Denison to pursue his sense of calling. The marriage with the BGCT was born out of a close personal friendship with Dr. Everett and a vision that the BGCT would become leaders in the area of Christian education from the preschool to the school of theology.

    I am not privy to all the negotiations, but I do believe everything is above board, and follows the directives laid out in our constitution. As I suspect you are aware the Executive Board staff of our convention serves under the oversee and direction of our Executive Director in cooperation with our Executive Board. This may explain why it was not a convention vote matter.

    I am not trying to muddy the water, and I may have been better served to be quiet, but I believe this is a positive step for the BGCT. When you can add someone of the caliber of Dr. Denison to your team, and his salary is funded from other sources it seems to be a “win/win” in any economy. Clearly we are going to have to embrace new paradigms as we move together into the future. I believe “open systems” will survive as they adjust to the changing environment, while “closed system” will wither as the world moves away.

    Lee, keep you eye on us. We are better with you watching and keeping us thinking through all our decisions.

  6. David Lowrie says:

    Lee,

    Please ignore some of my grammar errors. Sadly my typing and thinking are not always in step.

    David

  7. Lee says:

    Ken, David, Colby
    I appreciate your comments.

    No doubt, Dr. Denison is gifted with a passion to speak to the issues of our day, and his writing, preaching and teaching, all of which I know very well, certainly give evidence of that. I am not questioning Dr. Denison’s intentions, calling, or motives.

    But we are Baptists. I hold two degrees from Baptist related institutions of higher education, and spent a lifetime in Baptist churches where, from a very early age, I was discipled in the scriptures and in basic Baptist principles. An institution such as this is, in my professional and personal opinion, much better suited to being attached to a college, seminary, or even a local church than it is to a state convention. Aside from the financial situation in the BGCT at the moment, I think the bigger issue here is that this makes the BGCT look paternalistic. Granted, the funding is not coming from the convention, but all my Baptist training tells me that this is not the work of a Baptist state convention. The invitation for someone to “speak into” the churches of our convention needs to come from the independent, autonomous churches, not the other way around, and I don’t see that our churches have invited the BGCT, through Dr. Denison, to speak to them regarding their theology.

    In light of the recent past history of the BGCT and its previous executive director, I don’t think there can be too much caution exercised when making such arrangements. As David mentions here, there is a close personal friendship between Dr. Everett and Dr. Denison and that was where the connection with the BGCT came from. I don’t doubt that everything here was above board, but with the denominational-political atmosphere that exists at the present time, the memory of Valleygate in which personal friendships with the executive director were used to bypass existing policies, appearances are crucial. There are many in the BGCT who do not trust the executive board, and are waiting to see what transpires related to the new executive director with regard to the direction they will go in terms of relating to a state convention. The independent establishment of a Center for Informed Faith is one thing, but a connection to the BGCT via a friendship with the executive director is quite another. No doubt, Dr. Denison is a highly qualified and extremely desireable person who would be an asset to the BGCT staff, but I’m not sure creating a privately funded position for him is the way to go about it.

    My concerns expressed here are not just my own. I’m in an area where I have contact with several pastors and churches who are giving serious consideration to their continued support of the BGCT and the possibility of affiliating with the other convention, and these are the kinds of things that they are concerned about.

  8. Ronald says:

    I’m concerned about this being done through anonymous donors. Who controls this operation? To whom is Denison ultimately responsible? If this group is connected to BaptistWay, then it is certainly connected to BGCT. Who funds whom? Where do monies go? Why is all of this being kept in the closet?

  9. David Lowrie says:

    Dear Lee and Ronald,

    I would encourage you to share your concerns and questions with Dr. Everett. I have found him to be open to inquiries and willing to share.

    I can check into the financial dealings in terms of how the funds are collected and released.

    I can see your point about a “paternalistic” role of a theologian in residence. However clearly our convention is into a “teach role” through our colleges and seminaries. As I see it the “Theologian in Residence” idea is another innovative approach to offering Christian education and instruction.

    Concerning the dangers of friendships and decision making, we must remember the Kingdom revolves around relationships. Our lives are interdependent and interconnected in so many ways.

    Lee, concerning your friends that are considering leaving our convention. I would value their insights and concerns.

    David Lowrie

  10. Ken Coffee says:

    Lee, I cannot believe anyone would use this as an excuse for leaving the BGCT. Sounds to me like they were already looking for a way out. It is just absurd to think that this agreement with Jim Denison is in any way paternalistic. Sorry, my friend. I disagree with you on this one.

  11. Lee says:

    I think the questions Ronald raised are good ones. I don’t know that anyone would specifically cite this particular move as the “straw that broke the camel’s back” so to speak. But until the announcement was made, and this appeared to be a done deal, nothing was said at all. No plans for a “Center for Informed Faith” were discussed at the last convention, and while I get that this is an anonymously and privately funded venture, I also get that Dr. Denison is now considered a valuable member of the BGCT staff. Personally, I don’t dispute that he is exactly that, and that he will not take a “paternalistic” tone with the churches.

    But look at it from this perspective. How many “done deals” involving “prominent” pastors with close connections to BGCT leaders (the Standard used that exact word in its headline) have taken place in the past that were either sprung by surprise, or discovered to have existed later without above-board communication? Valleygate comes to mind immediately, but there have been others.

    I have no doubt that Dr. Denison will not approach this in a “paternalistic” manner. However, think of it this way. The BGCT has entered into an agreement with some anonymous donors which allows Dr. Denison to become a member of the BGCT staff (Dr. Everett’s words) as a “theologian-in-residence.” Someone, therefore, decided that the churches of the BGCT need theological advice and counsel enough to be convinced to lay down a large enough chunk of change to fund several salaries and rent. Both the center director and the theologian come from the staff of the same prominent, large, moderate BGCT congregation which also happens to have several of its members on convention boards and committees. Can you see where that might raise some legitimate questions as to how this came about, how the people involved got the jobs, and where the accountability lies? As Baptists, our churches are independent and autonomous, so when a state convention appears to make a determination that the churches need something they haven’t asked for, and haven’t issued an invitation to receive, it has the appearance of being top-down denominational interference. It is exactly the sort of thing the BGCT’s leadership has criticized the SBC for doing for thirty years now.

    I have long been a voice of support for the BGCT. I have openly advocated that conservatives can be affiliated and in full cooperation with the BGCT and set aside the denominational political differences in order to cooperate within the context of a state convention. I’ve told people when they have raised questions about particular theological positions taken by convention-related institutions, or when specific events have occurred involving convention leadership that the correct approach to dealing with this in a Baptist organization is to get in touch with people and express your view in a gentle, respectful yet firm manner. In response, people have told me that I am naive, that my ideas are a pipe dream, that all this stuff is locked down by the people who have their hands on the power switch, that the well-connected, prominent and influential leaders don’t listen, do as they please, and relish the thought of using their power to help their friends. So how do you explain that something like this, which looks like more of the same, is different?

    My Baptist training causes me to raise a red flag when a state convention takes on something like this. I would have been very excited about it had it been attached to Houston Baptist University and operated from there, or even one of our other universities, perhaps Hardin-Simmons and Logsdon. A theologian-in-residence and a Center for Informed faith, doing the work they are planning, would be entirely appropriate in that kind of setting. But among independent, autonomous Baptist churches, it is not a state convention’s mission to take on the role of theological educator and advisor, at least, not under the direct supervision of the executive leadership.

  12. Tim Dahl says:

    “Why would we need such a center?”

    My answer to that would be another question: Why are our lay people and ministers so theologically ignorant? Its as if we dumped all of our theological training, and installed management/conflict resolution/leadership software into our brain. Our people are products of what we teach. Perhaps having this isn’t such a bad idea.

    “Appearances are important!”

    Yes, yes they are. And, if I was a politician I would care more about that.

    “I hold two degrees from Baptist related institutions of higher education, and spent a lifetime in Baptist churches where, from a very early age, I was discipled in the scriptures and in basic Baptist principles.”

    Yes, and we are still dying. Most of our Baptist Ministers share these same traits Lee. And, we’re continuing in decline, in continued Kingdom irrelevance. Something has to give. No?

    “Who is Jim Dennison to do this?”

    I have no idea. I’ve met him a couple of times, and he seems to be a really nice guy. I’ve made it a habit to listen to his sermons online, and enjoyed them immensely. But, David L. mentioned that this is something that Dennison feels is a call from God. That is hard to argue with, in my opinion.

  13. rick davis says:

    I was arguing for a deeper theological/practical education for our pastors and churches before Jim stepped up to commit his next 10,000 hours to this calling. I hope he does well.

    Nor is this any reason to leave the BGCT, not when there are so many other good reasons to keep one’s money at home, under more direct control. In fact, the way Jim is funding his new ministry is exactly that kind of independent, privately funded and so privately controlled model of ministry that will become more and more the norm for us. It is acceptable in this case because of the heavy weight name carrying it into the arena, that of Jim Dennison.

    I would be more concerned if I were still a baptist building employee about the next ministry that takes up private funding to answer some felt need and the next one after that and the next one after that. No, no one can deny the need for better theological training for our pastors and churches, since seminaries seem more indoctrination centers now than seminaries. What should concern the central authority that adopted this new ministry so readily is this; no one asked for it, studied it or put it forward. It was born full grown but no one seems to question the need for such a work, particularly if it costs nothing out of budget (for now).

    Simply put, what else is the convention failing to do that some well placed outsider could raise some funds and put himself forward to supply? I can think of some things; ministerial mentoring, actual church planting (n0t the phantom churches of the Wade administration), relational evangelism training, technological support for small membership churches.

    Jim saw a need, raised some support and stepped up to give his next 10,000 hours. Good for him and may his tribe increase. The fly in the ointment is this; no one denies the need but no one stepped up to provide for it in the budget planning.

    What else are we not getting?

  14. dave says:

    Lee,

    We are Baptists and have a voice. I agree with David L. and appreciate the accountability. I’m trying to follow your logic. If I hear you right, our leaders are to wet their finger and hold it up to the wind…if the wind blows slightly against us, cower to the closest corner. On the other hand, could it be that we need to try things that have not been tried before – take risks in spite of breezes.
    Dr. Everett has done the things in the early days of his tenure that do not need “votes”. (Calling us to our calling as Christians) Evangelism has become the word of today in BGCT. The discussion has changed. We are to reach our state for Christ. Of course, the breezes still blow saying we can no longer reach our state with “this kind” of Evangelism. Personally, I like the bold move of going where we haven’t gone before. I have never met Dr. Dennison but have read his words often. It might be that he can help our churches – especially those in your area that are trying to reach people who are moving to America – never having heard of Jesus.

    We do face tough times economically. This is no excuse to hunker down to see what everyone thinks we should do next.

    Just my thoughts…

  15. Lee says:

    You didn’t hear me right, Dave.

    I do not see that the establishment of a “Center for Informed Theology” is an evangelistic move. Don’t confuse that with Dr. Everett’s emphasis on Texas Hope 2010 and evangelism, because it is not the same thing.

    Theological education falls completely within the ministry domain of the local church as far as Baptists are concerned. Conventions have helped by supporting theological schools, but they themselves are not delivery systems for theological education. Nor should they be. Put this center, and Dr. Denison at HBU, which I think is his alma mater, or Hardin Simmons/Logsdon, and you’ve got a win-win situation. Put it at the BGCT, and it appears that the convention is attempting to interfere in local church autonomy.

    Other than the assistance that will be provided to Baptistway press literature, which is not exactly a major player even in the BGCT, I don’t see this being a venture in which many churches will participate.

  16. dave says:

    Lee,
    Southwestern has a Theologian in Residence…Paige somebody, isn’t it?
    From outward appearances it does sound as if he “speaks into” the lives of students, faculty and to hear him tell it – all of us. How is that working for us/me/you? The Southwestern I went to is now a third rate Bible College modeled after that other great Theologian-in-residence from Lynchburg. Let’s see, he has a college/seminary, too?

    Maybe placing Jim Dennison there isn’t such a good idea.

    I do appreciate that you have a voice – although you might not at SWBTS.
    We can agree to disagree – I hope.

    Dave

  17. Lee says:

    The convention is here to serve the churches. It is not a top-down heirarchy. I see no demand from the churches, nor any expressed need, for a Center for Informed theology, nor for the BGCT to have a Theologian in Residence.

    What Southwestern does or what Liberty does is irrelevant to this discussion.

  18. dave says:

    Sorry Lee – you are the one with the bright idea? of putting a Theologian-in-Residence at HBU or where else did YOU say? Logsdon. I agree with you in the irrelevance of that idea. I think your words were: “Put the Theologian IR (Center)at HBU etc and you have a win-win situation…” I disagree with your assessment. Put it at HBU and you eliminate 90% of the state. Put it at Logsdon or Truett and you have people who say, “It’s gone too Liberal, its too exclusive, its too whatever.”
    (That was my mention of Southwestern/Liberty – based on YOUR idea of TIR at a seminary)

    I also disagree that Jim’s work cannot be seen as a help to us/you on the frontline of ministry in relation to Evangelism. I could be mistaken, but Jim is recognized as a premier writer, perhaps an expert in areas of beliefs of Muslims, Hindu and other faiths that are moving to Houston and Dallas and throughout Texas. Would a Center for Informed Faith help me/you to know better World Religions in order that we might more effectively carry on our calling to share our faith in Jesus with such a people? I took a few world religions in college and seminary – but it has been a few years.

    Just some thoughts. As I mentioned I have never met Jim, but have received his daily e-mail for years now and it is some of the best stuff I receive.
    Maybe he can help us/you in some areas. I’m open for that.

    Dave

  19. Chuck says:

    Lee and others correctly spell the last name, “Denison.” Dave and Rick, take note–one “n”.

    Dave, you’re 0-for-3. Southwestern and Liberty are hardly third-rate institutions. I went to the former–perhaps we were classmates–and my money is now going to the latter for my son’s bachelor work in Worship. Tuition is decreasing while enrollment is growing at LU–how about that!

    It seems rather obvious that Lee’s point makes sense. Theologians-in-residence belong in educational institutions, not conventions.

  20. dave says:

    Chuck,

    Man, if I’d known this were a competition I’d have untied the other hand from behind my back. You win! You win! Southwestern now has a Theologian in Residence. Her name is Dorothy and she teaches Christian Homemaking(very spicy)…sure glad I hold one of their degrees! Kind of makes us all proud, huh?

  21. Lee says:

    Well, well, we may have all been classmates at Southwestern. I am glad I hold one of their degrees (1989) and will shortly be in the process of getting another one from there.

    Denominational initiatives and programs, passed down from up above, rarely work. In Baptist life, a denomination is there to facilitate cooperation between churches in ministry of a limited scope. I was always taught that initiatives come about as a response to the expressed needs of the churches, and are not “top down.” Perhaps there were churches that expressed a need for this sort of thing, and some of them helped raise the funding for it, but it was certainly never discussed as part of the BGCT long range plan or agenda. I always thought that open discussion and messenger approval were the primary means of operating a state convention, but events of the past few years in the BGCT have certainly proved that we don’t do things that way in Texas. An exclusive club runs the show and calls the shots, and they do as they please. One of our convention presidents told us that at a meeting in Dallas a couple of years back when he overuled a motion that the executive board had to correct the following year.

    So when will the BGCT begin writing the sermons they want the pastors to preach?

  22. Jack Matthews says:

    This sounds like the “create a job for a friend” machine we had going here in Tennessee for a while. Did you get fired from your church? If you have a friend on the convention board, get them to find a job for you. If one doesn’t exist, create a new one. The private funding aspect is a new twist, though.
    Churches and church groups in this country seem to find no end to the ability to create bureaucracies and find ways to spend money creatively. Our executive headquarters and educational institutions are stuffed with people making good money, while our missions efforts often lack for adequate resources, yet those mission works are doing a far better job at evangelism and discipleship than we are.

  23. dave says:

    Lee,

    You’re not in the same homemaking class with me are you? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    I do think you have an idea that sounds interesting. Someone could write sermons for you, for me for us. We could maybe call it, “The Baptist Hour”. Maybe we could dig up some old sermons from Herschell Hobbs and Frank Pollard and Joel Gregory and Richard Jackson. Come to think of it, someone already did those…let’s see, was that some Baptist Convention somewhere? They were a little top heavy now that you mention it.