Among the growing number of Southern Baptist bloggers around 2006, when I first began this blog, was one written by an insightful, observant layman called Eagle’s Rest. I liked the title, but what attracted me more than that was the content. The writer approached subjects with common sense, in a homey, folksy sort of style with built-in credibility that rested on his credentials as a Southern Baptist blogger. He was untainted by the biases and presuppositions of most of the SBC bloggers because they had attended seminary, and he was a layman, Sunday School teacher, mainstream, grassroots Christian who had landed in the First Baptist Church of Pelham, Alabama.
Bob Cleveland bills himself as a retired insurance broker of no particular theological pedigree, but let me tell you, I pay a lot more attention to what he has to say than I do to all but a few of the preachers who are as long winded and prolific in their blogging as they are in the pulpit. Bob puts things forth honestly and succinctly, with the reason and thoughtfulness of a professional author, blending personal insights with sharp observations and well thought commentary. He’s a unique individual with a fantastic sense of humor. More than any other blogger I’ve read, he’s the epitome of a mainstream, grassroots Southern Baptist church member.
The first time I met Bob in person, he was sitting at a table in the fellowship hall of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, wearing a pink cap. Yes, pink. It was his choice to identify himself to other fellow bloggers and there were several of them sitting at his table, where I pulled up a chair and sat down. The event we were attending, a Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit, was hosted by Dr. Dwight McKissic, and a number of bloggers were present, including Dwight, and two others on the program, Ben Cole and Wade Burleson.
Thereafter, I would always look for Bob at the Southern Baptist Convention. I always knew he was there, because before I would meet him in the hall, I’d see him on the screen at one of the microphones. There aren’t a lot of prophetic voices in American Christianity these days, and not that many in the SBC either, but Bob Cleveland is a prophetic voice. His perspective, the depth of his understanding, and his reasoning are all good reasons to listen, but more than that, he speaks at the Holy Spirit’s direction and prompting. The SBC’s leadership can only benefit from listening to what he has to say, and giving it full consideration. I don’t know whether they have or not, but the fact that Bob no longer sees any benefit in attending the convention is something they need to consider. They need to read his blog, find out why he’s not going, and figure out what message that is sending.
If Bob isn’t going to the convention, then they are going to be missing a genuinely prophetic voice. If the Southern Baptist Convention is truly a denomination based on the cooperation of almost 50,000 independent, autonomous, congregational churches, then voices like those of Bob Cleveland can provide a real sense of direction. In all of the years I was a member of an SBC church, and attended the convention, I never got the feeling that its leadership was listening to the prophetic voices from within. Too much of the business was ‘cut and dried,” and too much of it was done beforehand, in the Baptist press, by statements from those who held reins of denominational power. If someone like Bob Cleveland feels that the convention body itself isn’t listening, and decides not to go to a convention that he’s attended for a number of years, then that is clear evidence that the SBC leadership is disconnected from its grassroots, and there’s a problem.
The SBC could learn a lot from Bob Cleveland. I certainly have. I know a lot of those who read his blog do also.