Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Two Faces of the SBC

I had to put this in a seperate post. David Allen is bothered by pep-rally preaching. The man can flat preach. He was my favorite preacher last year by a long shot. He has already scored another winner this year. If you're not familiar, he is the Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern. This little firebrand of a man is enough to make a guy think of moving to Texas. He is a giant among preachers, if I may judge him from the few times I have been blessed to hear him. Let me overview his sermon, the two that followed him, and make a few observations.

Jeremiah 10:21 was his text. "For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lord; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered."

His message, by his own intent, was both a tribute to Dr. Vines and an urgent call for expository preaching. He began by saying that we are in a crisis when it comes to preaching and cited such things as topical, narrative, and therapeutic preaching as examples. This was the jist of the message. Preachers today, like prophets in Jeremiah's time, have become "stupid", like brute animals, and without sense. They have become so because they have not sought the Lord in His word.

"To seek the Lord," says Allen, "means to seek Him in His word, not apart from His word." Dr. Allen asks the obvious question, if scripture is God speaking, then why do we think we have anything better to say? He asserts that todays preachers are largely using the text as a resource and not the source or as a footnote to some plagerized outline.

He gives two consequences for not seeking the Lord. The first is that preachers will not prosper. The second is that their flocks shall be scattered. He took a moment to make sure everyone in the room knew what Jeremiah intended when he said "prosper" by talking about "success" and the current measure of it in today's pulpits. I liked his three-fold effect of the loss that comes from not seeking the Lord.
  • Preachers will have personal loss - they will become stupid.
  • Preachers will have professional loss - they shall not prosper.
  • Preachers will have pastoral loss - their flocks will be scattered.

His passionate call for the man of God to preach the word of God literally moved me to tears. He spoke to those in the room that were already preaching expositionally and implored them to "hold the line", to which I immediately went to pieces.

One last parallel he drew and I will move on. He said that in Jeremiah's day, King Josiah had removed the idols that were killing Judah and replaced them with the word of God. He said that Josiah had replaced the visual with the verbal. In today's climate, Dr. Allen points a finger at the Emerging movement as the next attempt to replace the verbal with the visual. He said that the message of the Emerging church is the logical next step to what we have created with our weak preaching and that we must stand as the shepherds of God and seek His word in order to replace the visual (idolatry) with the verbal (expository preaching). I encourage you to get a tape.

Of course, as is common at this conference, the crowd gave Dr. Allen an empassioned standing ovation. Dr. Vines called it "the message of the hour" and said that he "wished all preachers had a copy of that sermon." It truly was remarkable.

Yet more remarkable I think is how people respond to this message. The two speakers that followed this afternoon were John Sullivan and Bailey Smith. John Sullivan preached a topical sermon in which he read a text and then preached a sermon outline that was gleaned from a word pulled from the text. The words which he spoke weren't untrue, just not textual. It was an example of what David Allen had just this morning spoken against. Still, the sermon focused on giving praise to God for His creation, providence, and redemption. So the fact that it was at least pointing to the work of God and giving Him due praise made it worth listening to. But then there was Bailey Smith.

Bailey Smith preached from Hebrews 11:39-40. "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receieve what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." His sermon was an emotional call for us to carry on in such a way as to not make the sacrifice of those who came before us be in vain. He gave several quick illustrations of "effiminate preachers" lacking the integrity to preach against moral laxity and rebellion. His assertion was that the current condition of the church was bad and that it was, in fact, dying. Then he said, "I wonder if Jesus wanted to die for that which is dead."

He set this whole thing up by telling a story about his uncle who lost his wife and child in the same day. His wife, while still alive but knowing she was about to die, handed him his daughter and commented that it was all worth it because of their daughter. Just hours later, the daughter then passed and the father was heard wondering if his wife would have thought it was all worth it if she had known the child would die so quickly. Hence the whole "I wonder if Jesus..." satement.

I think this underscores the deep rooted misunderstandings that Bailey Smith has of the ministry of reconciliation. It is hard for me to believe that he thinks that Jesus could indeed die in vain, but that seems to be what he was saying. At any rate, this is what I understood him to say. The church, if she does not remain faithful, will render useless the dying and suffering of the saints who have gone before and possibly render the death of Jesus Christ a vanity. He imagined the saints feeling this way: "If all that they have given us has produced this [sic]. Then they would say, 'What a waste.''

He finished with another imaginary situation in which Jesus stands before us with all the martyrs and sufferers behind Him. Jesus then motions to those behind Him and asks, "Do you have the heart to waste all that?" And then, showing us His nail-peirced hands, asks, "Do you have the heart to waste this?"

Of course, at the conclusion, there was thunderous applause and another standing ovation.

Here is my question. Why do these men and women at this conference applaud both Dr. Allen and Bailey Smith? Do they not see that the word of God has clearly indicted such preaching. I find it disheartening to hear applause for both men coming from the same assembly. I believe that it is simply further proof that we are here simply for a pep-rally.

I am going to wait until the end of the conference to post my thoughts on everything. I want to be gracious and fair. And for your sakes, concise.


Anonymous said...

Where is today's update? What have you been doing all day? Eating?

Splenda Man

Anonymous said...

That is a good point. I too was at the conference and believe that David Allen preached the most important message of the entire conference. I also agree with Dr. Vines that every preacher in America needs to listen to that message. Dr. Smith's message was horrible.