Sunday, October 22, 2006

More on the Transformation Ministries Annual Meeting

On his blog, Glenn Layne did a good job of analyzing some of the "political" subtexts to the first Annual Meeting for Transformation Ministires (nee ABCPSW). For example, Ken Huthcherson, a dynamic African American mega church pastor from Seattle was selected as keynoter (according to Layne) to draw a line in the sand between TM and the old order.

Hutcherson has been EXTREMELY controversial in the northwest for going to war with Microsoft over homosexuality and for doing "in your face" celebrations of marriage. His presence was exactly the kind of speaker not "appropriate" for the exceedingly "PC" ABC but perfect for TM where celebrations of biblical authority, a traditional view of human sexuality, and evangelism are normative, not particularly controversial.

Also, on Saturday morning, a part of the program included short pieces by TM mega church pastors Tom Mercer (often ignored or put down by ABC leadership. After all there must be something wrong with anyone who grows a church from 200 to 6,000, don't you know? He must be doing something wrong or he would be small like everyone else) and Jim Carrington. Dr. Carrington is still remembered as the African American pastor from TM who precipitated a walk-out by nearly 200 AWAB supporters for comments he made in a sermon at the Richmond Biennial.

Don't misread my comment as indicating a negative cast to the meeting, quite the contrary. Unencumbered by the need to be careful not to offend people who take radically revisionistic interpretations, the meeting flowed like a celebration of Jesus Christ, biblical authority, concern for church health, support for one another, and everything evangelicals have missed in broader ABC life.

The selection of Alhambra FBC as the venue was also intentional. My home church is known for being one of the most ethnically diverse in the country. With 45% Asians (and simul translation into Mandarin on Sunday mornings), 30% Hispanic (with simul translation into Spanish), many African Americans, and the rest of us, FBC Alhambra provided exactly the kind of showcase for the kind of diversity TM wants to model. One Mexican pastor was overheard commenting to another that he felt as much at home in the TM meetings this year as he does in his own church.

It did not hurt that TM contracted with Atherton Baptist Homes across the street to provide food service for special meals. Accustomed to feeding large groups daily, the food was great and helped foster a good attitude during the conference. [In the interests of full disclosure, I am President of Atherton Baptist Homes ].

Salico also reiterated that we are not a "parachurch" organization (contrary to what some official voices in the ABC have been saying recently as a slander against TM), but are a group of BAPTIST churches desiring to ASSOCIATE together so that we may change our world for Jesus Christ.

My informal conversations with BIM's Stan Slade were very constructive and encouraging for future possibilities of partnership. He made it clear that BIM wants to continue relating to TM and assisting our mission boards in funneling money through their Go Global efforts. Similarly, Northern Seminary seems anxious to partner with TM in the area of theological education. Of all of the ABC related schools, Northern probably comes closest to aiming at the same target as TM.

For friends around the country, uncertain about the fearful world of withdrawing from ABC, well . . . it may not be for everybody, but . . . come on in, the water's fine.

[His Barking Dog loves his friends throughout the ABC, but welcomes the opportunity to quit chasing ABC cars and barking over secondary issues. Nevertheless, the opinions are mine alone, not to be confused with any of the people outside my doghouse.]

13 comments:

Bob Wilson said...

Dennis, I guess "perfect" is in the eye of the beholder. I have admired your efforts at balance, and Dale Salico's gracious pursuit of separation! But those o.k. with ABC/pluralism left. So why "send a messaage" and press more "lines in the sand" NOW? The Friday a.m.theme, how to make a lost "world fear the church" more grieved me. Many I care for fear it already, and need, as with the New Testament church,to be drawn by our love(cf. Jn. 17:23). Do we really need yet MORE "judging," or mockingly asking, "WHO said, Don't judge" (never mentioning it was our Lord's burden: Mt. 7:1! 1 Cor. 4:5)? Of course, such words have their proper place and nuance. But I saw no distinctions made. The refrain: "unity is based on no compromise" seemed equivalent to agreeing with Hutchinson's interpretations (on divorce, use of taxes, etc.), or else you're out. Such a calulated tone for the inauguration of a new movement arising from separation was truly disappointing to me.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Bob,

Ouch! Thank you, brother, for your thoughtful dissent from my cheerleading tone. It was good to hear from you. [Full disclosure: Bob is the person who trained me in ministry more than three decades ago].

roy said...

I was avoiding a comment here until I saw Bob's... I have to agree. I too was saddened when I read about a subtext which drew a line in the sand as opposed to the promised, "blessing one another as we go in different directions."

If TM really is a positive movement of God, then there is no reason to kick sand at those on the outside. If the sand kicking continues... then it tells us something about the spirit of those in leadership.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Roy,

Since it is you and Bob making the comments, I must certainly listen. You are both valued friends and your perspective means a lot to me. Bob trained me for ministry more than three decades ago for heaven's sake!

Frankly, I did not see the "line in the sand" as a direct attack on ABC. The emphasis was upon what WE were and what WE were committed to be. I don't remember any comments about ABC or VF other than the understated report by Dr. Salico on Saturday morning recounting the agreements entered into by Drs. Medley and Salico. And, even here, Salico downplayed any notion of TM as a victim and did not engage in cheap shots at ABC at all.

My references to a subtext were just that. By feting the kinds of people not welcome at an ABC meeting, TM established its own direction and tone. While I do not personally subscribe to everything that Hutcherson said, his comments did not strike me as negatively as they did to Bob.

And, without even mentioning the ABC, the celebratory tone of most of the meetings set the stage for what TM will become. It will NOT be a negative organization beating up on the ABC (hence, it does not seem to be a departure from the "bless each other and move on" ideal). Rather, it will move rather rapidly to stake out a vision for a positive future as an association of Baptist churches striving to change their worlds for Christ. In that sense, TM has already moved on. The vote on Saturday codified it in legal language.

Interestingly enough, while I have been unable to let go of the ABC after more than 50 years, not so the TM staff. They do not bring the subject up, seem rather uninformed on current moves, and do not encourage gossip about things ABC nor seem interested in it. They have, to a very large extent, already moved on.

Bob Wilson said...

Dennis! Thanks for giving us all a place to exchange views, even my own provoking eccentricites. For me, the discouraging tone was relishing the despising of supposed compromisers, namely those who don't draw the same severe lines in the sand toward an unbelieving world. I am coming from my perception that, in Jesus, God overthrew his own "religion," and that his devout today still often miss his core revelation (cf. Jn. 5:39f).

Hutchinson ridiculed a lost world as those "bound for hell in a hand basket," ones to be more boldly "judged," and intimidated by our "fear" and power (Cf. Jn. 3:16,17; Lk. 15; Mt. 7:1; etc.). When asked if such harshness omitted "love," he cited the Old Testament massacres for the Biblical outlook!! (Cf. "Show Them No Mercy--Four Views on the Canaanite Genocide)

I sense it's "anti-Christ" to deny God's essence in incarnate in Jesus (1 Jn. 2:22). He warned unmerciful exclusionist Bible devotees that THEY were the candidates for Gehenna. Isn't annulling Jesus' core values (my view of Hutchinson's approach)equal to rejecting His Great Commission (to obey His teaching; Mt. 28; cf. Willard's "The Great Omission"), much less His Great Commandment, upon which all the Law and Prophets hang? My obvious bias is that our OWN triumph could use a more humble fear.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Bob,

Retirement has certainly give you ample time to sharpen your theological saw. At the risk of sounding like the "unmerciful exclusionist Bible devotees" that are the real "candidates for Gehenna," I am not sure that TM was trying to send the signal that you heard. My take on it was that they wanted to bring in an enthusiastic communicator who would keep the energy flowing.

While Hutcherson would not have been my favorite choice for speaker, you seem to have camped on EVERY single possibly negative implication and ignored the rest. Did you hear the Friday night or Saturday sessions? I thought that the tone in both sessions was far more temperate than you represent.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Correction: I meant the Thursday night and Friday evening sessions. Neither of THEM seemed as negative to me as they did to you.

Amill-Presup said...

"His presence was exactly the kind of speaker not "appropriate" for the exceedingly "PC" ABC but perfect for TM..." Maybe there should be a committee to decide exactly what TM has to prove to the ABC and to determine when they've proven it. :)

I loved your comment a couple months ago how my having gone to a GARBC seminary and, in your words, being a "former fundie" explains everything (everything about me, I guess). I'm trying hard to find a difference between the stuff coming out of the hard conservative line of the SBC or the right wing of the GARBC and that which I hear drifting, joyously celebrated by you, from the ranks of "Transformation Ministries."

**Fear the church. We'll all judge. We like unity if it means uniformity and we determine the uniform! **

I appreciate the emphasis on Biblical authority, but at this point, it seems like the individual congregations involved in TM could choose a more fitting moniker, like "Bible Church" or "Independent Church..." The Baptist spirit (which I admit is quite twisted in the ABC) seems to be utterly absent in TM. (of course, I've got four or five people describing things from their own view, so perhaps I'm not getting an accurate picture).

roy said...

Dennis,

I was hoping that the subtext was more a sidetext that was as much coincidental as anything.

Obviously, I wasn't there and didn't hear the speaker so I can't speak to the tone that Bob refers to... but I hope the TM is a positive movement that resources churches to do their mission in significant ways. I continue to be saddened by the split, but worse things have happened. And the split will not damage any of the relationships that I have formed.

blessings my friend

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Evidently I have failed to communicate. Let me try one more time.

1. (Cute comment about the committee, BTW). It has more to do with celebrating a new identity, not dissing an old one. The "line in the sand" comment by Glenn Layne is misunderstood if it is taken in terms of fighting words. The point was, is, and will be that the leadership of TM doesn't want to spend time denigrating the ABC or any other organization, merely "joyously" celebrating a NEW identity and MOVING on. Dale's ONLY comments about ABC and Dr. Medley were completely courteous and, considering some of the backstory, overly gracious.

2. The spirit of TM is different from your GARB experience. Most GARB types do not permit the diversity experienced in TM (e.g., in eschatology which is overwhelmingly not pre-tribulational, a shibboleth in fundy circles) nor the general (albeit not universal) embrace of women in ministry (e.g., I'm told that TM sports a link to Christians for Biblical Equality on their web site), nor the amazing celebration of ethnic diversity.

3. As far as the additonal comments to my blog, one was made by someone who did not attend the Annual Meeting at all; the other came from someone who evdiently only attended a very small part of the three days. Frankly, ALL of the offensive comments interpreted, interpolated, and paraphrased out of the keynote speaker appear to be spoken at the ONE session out of his three that I missed. The other two were not my style, but neither were they offensive in any way either. However, since out of three days I did miss much of one address (the one being cited so negatively by Bob Wilson), I am limited to the impressions by people talking to me about it, including Bob.

4. The TM churches do not fit the mold of a Bible church or Independent Church. And, only by washing away virtually ALL of our first 300 years of history and the conservative dissenters during the last 100 years can you claim they do not carry on a Baptist spirit. I, for one, am not willing to cede to the left that Baptist history began in the first decade of the last century, nor that the mania for absolute autonomy is anyting other than a twisting of Baptist polity. Revisionists don't get to own the brand just because they own the bureaucracy.

5. Amill-presup, I had hoped to back out of the ABC conversations after the TM conference and the final vote to change our By-Laws. As one fellow on another forum said of me, "Now that he is leaving the ABC, why doesn't he just shut up?" However, considering my more than 50 years in the organization and the fact that my critics have often been out of the SBC for more than a decade or two and are still harping on SBC internal politics, chances are my plans will come to naught. In some sense, this blog is my public grieving over the loss of something very valuable to me. Forgive me if I keep touching the photographs, holding the mementos, and having an impossible time getting rid of all of the old ABC clothing from my closet. Grieving is a funny thing. Getting angry at the other party in this divorce is probably going to be with me for awhile.

Bob Wilson said...

My good brother, Dennis,

You're right. (1) I only heard the morning session ("Creating a more fearful church") and couldn't imagine how hearing more would ameliorate my poor reaction. Apparently, I missed the good stuff, you, the bad, other commentators all of it (limiting an ideal comparison of notes). (2)I plead guilty. It seems retirement frees some characters to identify their sharp perceptions! Given my extreme sense of the centrality of Jesus and his ministry to sinners, Hutcherson's style of pursuing conformity plainly pressed my buttons (though I'd like to think I'm commenting on its' themes, not just obscure details).

For context: my concern was NOT a felt attack on ABC, but over what the "energy" unleashed conveyed to attendees less enthused. At Friday lunch, several pastors expressed similar anxieties and concerns about an angry spirit in the meeting. So I asked an area minister if the message's point was to challenge too much Biblical compromise among those who remain in the region. He said, Precisely, that's a legitimate concern. So I asked if such a warning was purposely set at the inauguration of our newly thinned out movement. He said, a comment on the timing must come later. Someone pointed out that the speaker was booked before our current juncture, yet he was well known to the planner and must be the desired keynote.

When I later read Glenn's blog confirming that the timing was quite intentional, and you both waxed eloqent about the "perfect" choice for a "celebratory triumph" to "send a message" and "draw a line in the sand," I became more concerned that anyone out of step could feel unwelcome in the new "order." I agree that I probably over-reacted to cues that were not widely embraced or intended, and trust you are right that the desire at the top is not for more controversy or distraction, but uniting in mission that truly values sinners the way Jesus did. I know we all want Him to be at the center.

Amill-Presup said...

> Amill-presup, I had hoped to
> back out of the ABC
> conversations after the TM
> conference and the final vote to
> change our By-Laws.

Yeah, that's why I haven't been doing more than skimming HBD as of late. Quitting is boring to me. I understand how it could feel exciting and new from within, but yet another Baptist split makes me feel sleepy.

Still check in from time to time though, as there have been a few times I've learned very new (ABC) denominational news from this blog before it came via the normal channels.

BTW, your picture of the GARBC seems to be from the sixties or seventies. Even in conservative Grand Rapids, they don't fit your description. In fact, I was pre-mill pre-trib before I went to a GARB seminary (now, see the screen name...) and we had several women in our preaching class.

also BTW, I would suggest that the recent schismatics are the ones trying to forget the 17th-19th centuries of Baptist history...

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Gentlemen,

Thanks for all of your input and comments. Here is a very different take on the meeting by a pastor who heard all three of Hutch's presentations.

"When Hutch addressed how “the world isn’t afraid of the church like it used to be”, he used an example how, in the old days, no civic group would ever think of scheduling an event on a Wednesday Night because it would conflict with Prayer Meeting (Wed PM services). He’s right. The church in general has developed little influence in the community. His attempts to encourage TM to take their light from under the bowl and let it shine was a good message. He preached unity “for the right reasons”.

If we approached his talks “cafeteria style”, by taking the meat and leaving the bones, we would have a Fred-Flintstone-sized chunk of meat for an encouraged, hungry,evangelical association to feast on, and only a tiny, little wishbone for others to pick at. Figuring out biblical hermeneutics among much of African American style preaching is a big chore for academics. Black preaching uses tons of Old Testament imagery; but with that same measure they use with Hutch, I hope they use with feminist theologians and Welcoming and Affirming guest speakers too. I have read some of their leaders' manuscripts i.e. Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper (from previous posts) and am amazed at the biblical liberties accepted.

Hutch is a good guy and was a timely guest preacher for this fledgling new association of churches giving itself a desperately needed organizational make-over. I can think of no better keynote speaker to make TM laugh, think biblically, consider their witness, encourage diversity, and demand unity. As far as the small wishbone–“no thanks, you take it; I’m full”."