Many of my regular readers know my past history with the Southern Baptist Convention. A few years back, I went into a self-imposed exile of sorts, having been informally and unofficially ousted by a denomination that had covertly changed its convictions from its once stalwart resurgence. Still, I have a deep love and a not-so-deep hope for the denomination that gave me so much in terms of my personal faith development and professional preparation.
I find myself still following the happenings of America’s largest protestant denomination, bound to this love-hate relationship of a man and a convention that espouse rather significant differences in biblical convictions. The latest angst I’ve experienced is from the current edition (April 2011) of Facts & Trends, a publication of Lifeway, the publishing arm of the SBC. Lifeway is probably my least favorite entity of the SBC for several reasons. First, Lifeway isn’t very discerning about the books they sell. One would think they’d be rather rigid in peddling books that support Baptist doctrine and foster fundamental Christianity. Not so. While the shelves aren’t littered with bad books, they’ll sell the popular stuff even if it has a bit of a rub against traditional Baptist beliefs.
Second, Lifeway also makes money, lots of money. Long ago, they were the Baptist Bookstore of the Southern Baptist Convention, committed to serving the local church. In these later decades, they’ve reinterpreted their identity to appeal to the larger Christian family. The trade off is their service to the local Baptist church isn’t all that great. When I was pastoring local Baptist churches, one of the highest budgeted items was our literature from Lifeway. But hey, they do give money to the Cooperative Program!
And while I’m pontificating, why not give a third critique. Lifeway’s major face of Biblical teaching is Beth Moore. While she does hostess only woman’s conferences (though I’m sure men attend) and seems to teach orthodox beliefs, it seems ironic that a denomination that believes in male-only Biblical offices, wouldn’t also have a male face hosting conferences and writing studies.
Be that as it may, my most recent conflict is that Facts & Trends is currently debuting one of Lifeway’s newest training modules: “Game Plan for Life.” One headline reads: “Football, NASCAR champion helps guys develop a “Game Plan for Life.” Did you catch that? Yeah, read it again. It isn’t the Bible that’s helping men develop their game plan. It’s football and NASCAR.
Joe Gibbs, head coach of the Washington Redskins and NASCAR owner, is at the center of the new discipleship module. Maybe he’s the author. Maybe he’s the sponsor, I’m not sure. The whole promotion rubbed me wrong. Here’s a new module off the presses designed to help the local pastor train his men in Biblical discipleship and the dominant graphics, words and ideas are football, superbowl, NASCAR, etc. Lots of glitz, but very little substance.
The accompanying article was the most troubling. Entitled “Football and NASCAR captured men’s imagination, led to Bible study” (yes, you read it right again…it’s football and NASCAR that are capturing Christian men, not the Holy Spirit or the Bible), it focused on the module’s usage by Riverbluff Church in North Charleston, South Carolina. The summation of the article was that this is a great study because it draws men together via the sports theme and gets them talking with each. Hmmm. And I thought we men were supposed to be learning the Bible.
Now to be sure, I’m quite convinced that the men of Riverbluff Church did talk about the Bible. My problem is that in reading the article, you come away with this dominant idea that the Bible alone is insufficient (and even absent!) in attracting men. It must be repackaged. And the wrapping needs to be pretty. The Bible wasn’t in the spotlight. Joe Gibbs, football and NASCAR were.
Two realities are staring at me.
The first, is that in the modern church age, there is a demand to repackage the Bible. Common churchmen and women aren’t committed to studying the Bible on its own merits. They don’t want to abide with Christ, learn of Him or be sanctified by His truth. They must be enticed by bells and whistles. They need allurement and excitement.
The second reality is that church leaders and church entities are catering to this immaturity. It brings to my mind God’s scathing rebuke in Ezekiel 34. Verse 10 states, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I [am] against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.” Lifeway needs to stop focusing on what sells and what is attractive, and start focusing on what matters and what is needful.
The church is weak. We don’t need chats stemming from the backdrop of football championships and roaring stock cars. We need men (and women) who recognize their great need of God’s Word and will “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).