LAS VEGAS — The president of the 2011 Southern Baptist
Pastors’ Conference defended a program he’s put together for June 12-13 in
Phoenix, Ariz., saying critics who find it outside the convention’s mainstream
hold too narrow a worldview.
“The Kingdom of God is bigger than Southern Baptists,” said
Vance Pitman, 2011 Pastors’ Conference president
and pastor of Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas, a church plant in partnership
with First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., and the North American Mission Board
of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
“The main intent of our conference is to communicate the big picture
of the Kingdom of God,” Pitman said in a telephone interview March 18. “God is
alive and at work all over the world. We as the Southern Baptist Convention are
one very small part of that.”
The Pastors’ Conference has long been a barometer for
Southern Baptist theological weather patterns and a launching pad to the SBC
presidency for its leaders. Consequently, although it is not an official
organization of the SBC, its direction is closely monitored.
Negative reaction has included placement on the worship team
of Jamar Jones, executive director of music and fine arts at the Potter’s House
Church of Dallas. That is because he is on the ministerial staff of T.D. Jakes,
who critics claim holds to the heresy of “modalism.”
Modalism, a non-Trinitarian view that Father, Son and Holy
Spirit are three different aspects, or modes, of one God rather than three
distinct, co-equal and co-eternal persons, was first condemned as heresy in the
fourth century but is held by some Pentecostal and Apostolic churches today.
Dwight McKissic, an African-American pastor in Arlington,
Texas, and former trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who
advocates greater inclusion of minorities in convention life, said that even
though he doesn’t think Jakes is a heretic that the pastor was the real target
and Jones “a casualty of not so friendly fire from fellow Kingdom soldiers.”
Jones, a boyhood friend of Pitman’s worship arts pastor,
withdrew to avoid controversy, a move that McKissic called “tragic, sinful and
shameful” because Southern Baptists “missed an opportunity to bridge an obvious
racial divide and to fellowship with a Kingdom saint who is not of the SBC
People Pitman trusts tell him “Jakes is not a modalist.”
Besides, Pitman said, his books are for sale in SBC bookstores. “How ridiculous
is it that we can sell his books but his music guy can’t play piano at our
meeting?” he asked.
Others have protested inclusion of speakers who are
prominently recognized as Calvinists and the fact that the Pastors’ Conference
is heavily subsidized by the SBC operating budget.
While Calvinism is now the de facto systematic theology of
Southern Baptists’ oldest seminary, and the favored perspective of an
increasing number of young pastors, the majority of Southern Baptists reject
the “particular” nature of Calvinism that says Jesus died only for those
“elected” for salvation before the dawn of creation and not the “whosoever
will” that Baptists traditionally hold dear.
Included among speakers is Acts 29 Vice President Darrin
Patrick. Acts 29 is a church planting network linked to the “emergent church,”
a movement that presents the gospel in culturally relevant ways that critics
call theological compromise. Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Baptist Church
in Seattle and Acts 29’s founder and leader, was the target of eight negative
motions at the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Louisville, Ky.
Also on the docket is John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem
Baptist Church in Minneapolis, not affiliated with the Minnesota-Wisconsin
Baptist State Convention or the Southern Baptist Convention. His writings have
been a strong influence among young Calvinists.
“We are wandering in a wilderness in our current SBC life,”
said blog writer Ron Hale. “Our leaders are hyper on Piper; LifeWay materials
encourage our people to visit Mark Driscoll’s website to download his sermons
… and we have a couple of ACTS29 guys preaching.”
Pitman termed accusations that he has put together a
“Calvinist” conference “beyond my wildest imagination.” He pointed out the
lineup includes well-known non-Calvinist preachers like former SBC President
Johnny Hunt and nationally prominent pastor Rick Warren.
“The vein that unites all of them is that they are all
practitioners,” Pitman said. “They are all engaging nations and planting
Pitman, exasperated at what he feels is unmerited criticism
for a conference lineup that will inspire pastors and give them an encouraging
view of God’s work in the world, agrees it is important for believers “to be
defenders of the faith.”
There is a difference, however, “in being discerning and in
having a judgmental spirit.”
Other questions have been raised related to conference
expenses. While the public image is that the independent organization pays its
own way, and offerings are collected each session to “cover” conference
expenses, in fact the SBC heavily subsidizes the meeting, first held in 1935.
The Pastors’ Conference reimburses the SBC $38,000 — as it
has since 1992 — to reimburse expenses for additional use of the meeting hall,
shuttle buses, audio visual expenses and security. In 2012 that amount will
increase to $50,000.
SBC Executive Committee records show that the SBC operating
budget covered $141,549 of Pastors’ Conference related expenses in 2010, in
addition to the $38,000 reimbursement received from the conference
Pitman says in a series of video presentations at www.sbcpc.net that this year’s “expenses”
already are covered by sponsors. All offerings received at the meeting will be
dedicated to translate the “Jesus” film for evangelistic use in the Arabian
Peninsula and to start pastor’s conferences on two other continents, reaching
and training pastors in as many as 20 countries.
“Diamond level sponsorships” costing $10,000 each are listed
at the site. They include through March 21 the North American Mission Board,
Crossway and LifeWay, three SBC entities. Others are LOGOS Bible Software, Maranatha
Tours, Dayspring International, Ministry Partners Investment Co., CCL
Associates real estate development and investment, Life Action Ministries
ConnectionPower.com, Institute for Creation Research and ImpactStewardship
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Jameson is reporting and coordinating
special projects for ABP on an interim basis. He is former editor of North
Carolina’s Biblical Recorder.)
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