Remember the Alamo
RELIGION: Is the battle for the Bible really over?
It was America's bicentennial year, but not all the fireworks were about the nation's birthday. That same year, Harold Lindsell, then editor emeritus of Christianity Today, lit a fuse of his own with the publication of The Battle for the Bible.
Lindsell's book was an exposé of a spreading liberalism within evangelicalism-and with special reference to the Southern Baptist Convention. "At this moment in history the great bulk of Southern Baptists are theologically orthodox and do believe that the Word of God is inerrant," he advised. Even still he warned that if Southern Baptists committed to inerrancy did not act soon, "the rougher the battle will be, the more traumatic the consequences, and the less obvious the outcome in favor of historic Christianity."
Southern Baptists did not hesitate. In 1979 they elected Adrian Rogers, pastor of the famed Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, as president-and the battle was joined. What later became known as the "Conservative Resurgence" in the SBC began in earnest, and conservatives eventually captured the boards of all of the denomination's national institutions. The "Battle for the Bible" was won by those who insisted that biblical inerrancy is so vital to the health of the church that it was worth dividing the Convention over the issue if necessary.
This week the Southern Baptist Convention convenes for its annual meeting in San Antonio. The last time the Convention met here, the voting "messengers" elected Jerry Vines of Florida as president-by 692 votes out of 32,727 cast. Those were days of constant controversy and contested elections.
This year's convention will be different. SBC President Frank Page, a prominent South Carolina pastor, is expected to be elected to a second term without opposition. Page represents a new generation and is marked by a low-key style. There will be no long lines of buses from across the Convention idling outside the convention center, waiting for decisive votes to be cast.
So much has changed. Adrian Rogers died in 2005. Jerry Vines retired last year as pastor of Jacksonville's First Baptist Church.
The SBC's seminaries, now under the control of conservative trustees and presidents, enroll a record number of young ministers, drawn to the conservative theology. But most of these students were not born when Adrian Rogers was elected in 1979. They were toddlers when the Convention made history in San Antonio in 1988. They are the generation without a living memory of the controversy and what was at stake. To them, the election of Jerry Vines in 1988 is almost as remote as the struggle of Davy Crockett and the brave Texans at the Alamo.
A group of younger pastors and bloggers is now openly asking the question, Is the "Battle for the Bible" over? Some go further, arguing that the theological issues are settled, health has been returned, and the SBC should move on from theological preoccupations. Are they right?
The SBC is certainly in no danger of an organized liberal takeover. The more liberal elements have largely moved on to other groups and have little to do with the SBC. There will be no re-match on the question of biblical inerrancy in San Antonio.
Still, all is not well. The denomination is losing many of its young people, especially at the crucial transition between adolescence and adulthood. New controversies have emerged even as older fissures have been reopened. A generation that was playing Little League as the "Battle for the Bible" raged now includes some who loudly claim that the Conservative Resurgence has gone too far.
Not hardly. The incipient controversies of the present serve to remind Southern Baptists of what was at stake when we last met in San Antonio-and of where we would be if the Convention had headed in a very different direction. The issue of biblical inerrancy is as important today-and as in need of defining and defending-as it was then.
Southern Baptists will do well to remember what every Texan remembers when reminded of the Alamo: There are some battles worth fighting, some stories worth remembering, and some causes that never die.
- R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Ahead of a G8 summit in Germany this week, President Bush urged 15 major nations to agree by the end of next year on a global target for reducing greenhouse gases. Each nation then would have to decide on how to achieve the goal, White House officials said. The announcement marked a move away from Bush opposition to global targets on emissions, including the Kyoto Protocols, but drew expected criticism from environmental groups who said it was a stall tactic.
"If we wanted to put things off further, you'd have annual meetings at the UN for the next five years. If you want to accelerate it, we do a lot of groundwork in between the UN meetings so we can bring the work product to the UN meetings," said James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Apparently earning frequent flier miles and getting married in Europe were more important to Atlanta attorney Andrew Speaker than following doctor's orders. The 31-year-old personal injury lawyer knew he had tuberculosis, a contagious, airborne respiratory disease, when he boarded a flight for Paris last month, but once there learned from doctors that it was an extensively drug-resistant strain considered especially dangerous. Despite warnings from federal health officials not to board another commercial flight, Speaker took four flights within Europe-from France to Greece to Italy to Czech Republic-before boarding a flight for Montreal, exposing dozens of passengers and crew members to the deadly disease, including about two dozen University of South Carolina students who sat near him on a flight home and now must undergo testing (anyone know a good personal injury lawyer?). Federal officials placed Speaker under quarantine in Atlanta, the first since 1963.
"The rich and the poor meet together and the Lord is the maker of them all. . . . Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it," read Desire Street Academy senior Jonathan Rochon, quoting Proverbs 22. Despite two Hurricane Katrina--related relocations and flash floods in New Orleans' 9th Ward on graduation day, the inner-city school for boys held its first commencement May 23. Fourteen young men, most the first in their families to finish high school, received diplomas as rain fell and water rose-again-in 9th Ward streets outside.
Two deadly helicopter crashes in less than a week show militants coordinating more ground-to-air attacks on U.S. forces. In Iraq a helicopter with two pilots aboard was shot down near Baquba May 29. As a quick-response team arrived on the scene, one of its vehicles hit a roadside bomb, killing eight U.S. soldiers altogether. In Afghanistan, Taliban militants shot down a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, killing five U.S. soldiers, a Canadian, and a Briton. NATO said troops going to the crash site in southern Helmand province were ambushed, and the unit called in an airstrike "to eliminate the enemy threat." At least nine U.S. helicopters have been shot down this year, killing 30 military personnel.
For four years, Fort Hood, Texas, the nation's largest military installation, has operated as a virtual revolving door for Iraq, its major units on second and third deployments into combat. The base has suffered nearly 400 casualties in Iraq this year, and its military community continues to absorb the most war fatalities. "People have begun to face the fact that not everyone comes home," said recently widowed Wendy Weikel. "I saw that at Memorial Day last year. A soldier came up to me and said, 'I used to think Memorial Day was for barbecues. Now I get it.'"
Despite the threat of riot police armed with live ammunition, tear gas, and water cannons, Caracas demonstrators continued street protests against President Hugo Chavez. Protests began when Chavez refused to renew the license of a popular independent TV station, RCTV, open since 1953 but critical of Chavez. At midnight May 27 a new state-run channel took its place. About 180 protesters were arrested, mostly university and high-school students. Chavez also began warning another independent channel, Globovision, over its protest coverage: "I recommend that you take a tranquilizer, because if not, I am going to do what is necessary."
Visitors to the new, presidential-style museum in Charlotte, N.C., honoring evangelist Billy Graham enter and exit the building through crosses as tall as 40 feet high, part of a controversial project that has at times even divided the Graham family. But a May 31 private dedication included former Presidents Carter, Clinton, and George H.W. Bush among 1,500 well-wishers. Billy Graham, 88, suffers from fluid on the brain, prostate cancer, and Parkinson's disease, and is largely confined to his home in Montreat, N.C. After Graham toured the museum himself, his only complaint, according to son and successor Franklin Graham: "Too much Billy Graham."