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The Significance of Holy Week
What is Advocacy--and Why
    Should We Care?
Chaplains Help Others Grieve,
    and Learn to Grieve
    Themselves

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Tony W. Cartledge | Blog

Tuesday
Jan132009

GWU mourns untimely death

It shouldn't happen this way, but sometimes it does.

Daniel Goodman, professor and Bob D. Shepherd Chair of New Testament Interpretation at the M. Christopher White School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University, died unexpectedly January 13.

Goodman was just 40 years old. He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Goodman came to Gardner-Webb in 2003, from Palm Beach Atlantic University. He was a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and had a special interest in Baptist-Jewish dialogue, as evidenced by an article he contributed to the December issue of Baptists Today. Goodman was also actively involved in church work, having served as an interim pastor in four different states, as well as being a frequent preacher or teacher in area churches.

The cause of death is unknown. A memorial service will be held at Boiling Springs Baptist Church (Boiling Springs, N.C.) at 11:00 am on Thursday, January 15. The family will receive friends prior to the service from 9:00 - 11:00 am. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that gifts be made to a scholarship fund for the Goodman children.

Multiple families mourn, and we mourn with them.

Monday
Jan122009

Biblical criticism, when the new becomes old

When I introduce the Old Testament to my students at Campbell University Divinity School, I begin by explaining why they must grapple with methods of Bible study that go beyond what they've picked up in Sunday School or a straightforward devotional reading of the Bible.

I then introduce them to methods of Bible study that generally fall under the term "biblical criticism," in which the unfortunate term "criticism" simply means "analysis," rather than implying pejorative judgment.

I spend time on things like text criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, and rhetorical criticism, the basic toolbox of one who wants to dig deeply into the meaning of the biblical text. I also point to newer, postmodernist approaches such as structuralism, deconstruction, and reader-response criticism from various gender, ethnic, cultural, or political points of view. I personally find the postmodernist approaches to be less helpful, as they are considerably more subjective.

Yet, adherents to the postmodernist approaches hold that their views own the day, while the traditional biblical criticism that seems so jaw-droppingly new to my students is hopelessly old fashioned. While writing a review of John Barton's The Nature of Biblical Criticism (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), which defends the value of biblical criticism, I was struck by the dichotomy. The same approach that strikes many students as a mind-blowing new method of study is considered by many contemporary scholars to be not only outdated, but defunct.

I like Barton's book, in which he insists that the aim of biblical criticism is to arrive at the "plain sense" of the text. In doing so, he sets forth ten theses related to biblical criticism and then fleshes them out. If I have any criticism of Barton’s approach, with which I have much sympathy, it is that he works so hard at clarifying and qualifying the “plain sense” that the result is less than plain.

Adherents to postmodernist critical methods may find Barton’s work to be little more than the recycled detritus of a long-dead methodology, but the book effectively demonstrates the considerable and essential contributions of biblical criticism to an informed understanding of the Bible. Biblical criticism may not be the last word in understanding scripture, but for responsible readers, it is the foundational word.

Friday
Jan092009

The IMB's numbers game

A longstanding (un)believability issue with results reported by the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board has resurfaced. At least two recent blogs have questioned the reliability of baptisms and church starts reported through the auspices of IMB missions efforts.

Former IMB trustee Wade Burleson began the new year by suggesting that the IMB make a resolution to put some integrity into its numbers. On its website, the IMB cites statistical reports claiming that in 2007, IMB mission efforts resulted in 609,968 baptisms and 25,497 new church starts.

Burleson points out that such numbers would require that each of the IMB's 5,500 or so missionaries would have to be responsible for five new church starts and about 120 baptisms, and George Frink picked up on that discussion, pointing to an Ethics Daily post from 2005 that cited several international Baptists who dispute the way the IMB takes credit for baptisms and church starts that are unrelated to its work.

Since a large number of the IMB's 5,500 claimed missionaries are partly self-supporting, and a significant number are in orientation, language school, or on furlough at any given time, the numbers seem even more extravagant. The IMB provides little information about how its statistics are compiled, but it seems evident that the process must include results from national Baptist bodies in countries where the IMB works, even if its own personnel had nothing to do with their work.

I learned years ago that the IMB's reticence to be specfic about its claims is often veiled in claims of security needs. The IMB has quite a few missionaries in countries where they are not welcome, and declines to talk specifics lest the presence of those missionaries be revealed.

It's not a secret, for example, that the IMB has many related personnel in China. In years past, I have heard reports of such exponential growth in the underground church there that if they were true, Christianity would be the dominant religion by now.

Burleson expresses both kindness and support for the IMB leadership and its missionaries, but decries a convention mindset that puts an inordinate amount of emphasis on numbers, one reflected in the SBC's own determination to continue claiming 16 million members, which no one regards as realistic.

It's a sad fact of life that numbers reported by many Baptist organizations (and not just Southern Baptist) must be taken with a large grain of salt.

In reviewing the blogs, the most striking thing to me was a bit of insider information that Burleson pointed out: the IMB builds and maintains its support by cultivating intense loyalty in its trustees, and does that in part through travel perks. The IMB has 89 trustees, each of whom gets all-expense paid trips to six meetings each year, and according to Burleson, each trustee was allowed one expense-paid overseas trip to visit missionaries in 2008. Since most trustees serve for eight years, that amounts to about 50 all-expense paid trips. Altogether, that could add up to an annual expense of well over half a million dollars. Before Burleson was booted from business sessions at the board, he recommended reducing the number of meetings, but his common sense got a cold shoulder.

Whether it's the IMB or any other mission sending organization, integrity is important. I believe the missionary enterprise is important and worth supporting. In doing so, however, those who send their hard-earned dollars to support missionaries should have confidence that their money is wisely spent, and that the reports they hear are truthful.

Tuesday
Jan062009

Looking for better leaders?

Participants at the Jan. 5-6 North American Baptist Fellowship executive retreat heard a lot about leadership. The event was hosted by the Duke University Divinity School, which has used large grants form the Lilly Foundation and the Duke Endowment to create a program called Leadership Education at Duke (LEAD), attracting Dave Odum from N.C. Baptist Hospital's Center for Congregational Health.

In describing the event, Duke Divinity dean Gregory Jones (right) said the church faces significant leadership challenges that the LEAD program hopes to meet. "What we’re trying to do is develop educational offerings that cultivate thriving communities that are signs, foretastes and instruments to the reign of God," he said, to be "cultivating congregations and communities that thrive in ways that allow Christian discipleship to flourish."

Jones said the program's philosophy has three main components: the development of traditioned innovation that helps to recapture the spiritual imagination and social entrepreneurship of the church, transformative leadership that cultivates leaders who can "draw people together into a new trajectory through storytelling in a compelling way," and vibrant institutions "that are incubators of transformative leadership to lead thriving communities."

He and Odum described ways the program hopes to promote effective leadership through special events and consultations, and through an interactive website and blog (due at the end of the month) designed to generate dialogue around church leadership issues.

In other leadership related sessions, George Bullard of The Columbia Partnership previewed a new book called Real Denominations Serve Congregations, in which he describes "seven practices of denominational excellence." While denominations are organizations, churches are more like organisms, he said, a factor that denominational leaders should recognize. Many organizations are "over-managed and under-led," he said, calling for a better denominational understanding of congregational needs.

Gary Nelson, director of Canadian Baptist Ministries, previewed his new book, Borderland Churches. He described "borderlands" as "The place where faith, other faiths, and unfaith intersect,” a place that is frightening to many pastors, and emphasized the need for "border crossings" if pastors are to be effective.

Steve Lewis, regional director of "Calling Congregations" with the Fund for Theological Education, talked about the importance of involving churches in leadership development, calling out and cultivating leaders. He called on churches to invest both money and time in inviting, apprenticing, and providing opportunities for youth and adults "to explore their gifts and try on mantles of ministry in its various forms."

In a business session, current NABF general secretary Alan Stanford (left) announced that he is leaving the position he has held for the past eight years, much of it while serving as development director for the Baptist World Alliance. Participants expressed appreciation to Stanford and approved a process for seeking a new leader for the largely volunteer position. Nominations for the position may be sent to nabf@bwanet.org.

Participants learned that several new Baptist bodies have affiliated with the NABF since the New Baptist Covenant meeting in January 2008, for which the NABF was a sponsoring partner.

To encourage cooperation and improved mission, member bodies were encouraged to report any ministry activities their bodies have going on in the Gulf Coast, along the U.S.-Mexican border, and in Toronto, for the purpose of coordinating and facilitating service opportunities for North American Baptists.

[Photos courtesy of Yutaka Takarada, president of Southern Baptist Japanese Baptist Churches of America]

Monday
Jan052009

Tradition and traditionalism

One of the more intriguing things I've heard today, during a meeting with leaders of the North American Baptist Fellowship, came in a presentation about a new leadership initiative ("Leadership Education at Duke University") associated with the Duke Divinity School. Dean Greg Jones, in describing various aspects of the program, talked about an effort to promote something he called "Traditioned innovation."

In the course of his presentation, he cited a quote from Jaroslav Pelikan, author of The Vindication of Tradition. Pelikan said:

Tradition is living faith of the dead.
Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.
Now that's worth some pondering ...