February 2006              Vol. 5  No. 2

A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists
Yesterday and Today


Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University
Visit The Center for Baptist Studies' Web Site at

Walter B. Shurden, Executive Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Bruce T. Gourley, Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Table of Contents



I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden

         "The Mercer Baptist Tradition"

The Baptist Soapbox: Phil Strickland

         "Where Have All the Prophets Gone?"
The Baptist University in the 21st Century
Thomas E. Corts

         "10 Future Trends in the Life of Baptist Universities"
Creative Ministries in the Local Baptist Church
: Rick Wilson

         "Imagine That! The Parchment Club"

Baptists, the Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole

         "Judgment Day"
In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley

         "Albert Mohler on Singleness and Childlessness"
Dates to Note

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I Believe

"The Mercer Baptist Tradition"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .

            that most readers of The Baptist Studies Bulletin know that Mercer University, the institution that sponsors The Center for Baptist Studies, has been in the Baptist news recently. Much of this publicity is due to the initiation of the Georgia Baptist Convention to discontinue the 173 year old relationship with the University. Also, Mercer made the news when the Mercer trustees recently elected Mr. Bill Underwood as president-elect of the University. Underwood will follow R. Kirby Godsey, the longest serving president in the history of the school.
            Without claiming too much, it is safe to say that in at least one way the Mercer Baptist tradition is similar to the biblical tradition. The Mercer Baptist Tradition includes both a profound sense of living in tradition and a courageous commitment of refusing to let tradition freeze out the dynamics of change. 
            So what IS the MERCER Baptist Tradition?

                        ● It is a tradition named for Jesse Mercer, a mostly self-educated Baptist preacher who lived during the turbulent Baptist years from 1769 to 1841. I underscore: these were TURBULENT years for Baptists in America.

                        ● It is a tradition in which the Bible is central, even though Baptists of Jesse Mercer’s time furiously debated its meaning. Piety was a key word for Jesse Mercer. To this very day, the Christianity Department of Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts requires courses in Old Testament and New Testament, of its majors.

                        ● It is a tradition that affirms the Christian faith and its missionary task, though some Baptists of Jesse’s day vigorously and sincerely opposed the missionary enterprise. Mercer has, over the years, made a significant contribution to the Baptist and Christian missionary enterprise.

                        ● It is a tradition that celebrates liberal education, though Baptists of Jesse Mercer’s day were radically polarized on this subject as well. It is not different today. Some Baptists of yesterday and today have been fortunately pro-educational but tragically anti-intellectual. The Mercer Tradition is both.

                        ● It is a tradition that encourages denominational cooperation, even creating associations and conferences and conventions through which that cooperation could occur. Some Baptists, however, made a fetish out of local church autonomy, and they opposed these new fangled structures. As one member of the Mercer community, I hope that Mercer University will create some new “dotted-line” alliances with non-fundamentalist Baptist groups. This will help us maintain The Mercer Baptist Tradition without ever again hard-wiring the school to a Baptist convention.

                        ● It is a tradition that advocates religious liberty and freedom of conscience. Jesse Mercer wrote the section of the Georgia Constitution guaranteeing religious liberty. Kirby Godsey has been a leading Baptist advocate of intellectual freedom in our time. Bill Underwood will continue that tradition.

                        ● It is an ecumenical tradition that encourages cooperation among all Christians, not just Baptists. I am glad that the Board of Trustees of Mercer University has non-Baptists serving on it. Serving on the presidential search committee with mostly trustees, I saw the appreciation of some of these non-Baptists for the Mercer Tradition. I would, however, like to urge the trustees to consider, if necessary, revising the charter so as to guarantee that a majority of trustees and all future presidents of Mercer University will be Baptists who are in synch with the Mercer Baptist Tradition. Likewise, I want to register that some of the best friends that the Mercer Baptist Tradition has on this campus are its non-Baptist faculty members. Would I like to see more Baptists on the Mercer faculty? You bet! But my preference is for Baptists who embrace The Mercer Baptist Tradition, not simply people who carry the brand name.

                        ●It is a tradition that stresses God’s grace, the belief that at the heart of this universe is Cosmic Generosity. Jesse Mercer was a Calvinist who stressed God’s grace. Kirby Godsey, an unapologetic non-Calvinist, places grace at the very center of his theology.

                        ● It is a tradition, I repeat, that refuses to let tradition freeze out the dynamics of change. It is a tradition, unsurprisingly, characterized by conflict.

             If you held a gun to my head and said that I had to come up with one word to describe the Mercer Baptist tradition, I would quickly say that the Mercer Baptist Tradition is a Progressive Baptist Tradition. I sincerely hope that the Mercer trustees, the Mercer administration, and the Mercer faculty will work to keep that tradition alive and healthy.
             If you think this emphasis on a Progressive Baptist Tradition is a “reading back into” history, I urge you to read the history of Baptists during the early nineteenth century and check to see if the Mercer Tradition was not on the side then of what you today would generally call “progress.” Indeed, if you read the Baptist history surrounding the founding of this university, you may be surprised to learn that Jesse Mercer was as much a liberal for some of the Baptists of his day as Kirby Godsey is for some of the Baptists of our day. This is certainly not to say that Jesse Mercer and Kirby Godsey would agree on all matters. My guess is that when Kirby Godsey gets to heaven Jesse Mercer will severely chastise him for his lack of doctrinaire Calvinism and his congenital bent toward Arminianism. And knowing Kirby Godsey, when he arrives on the heavenly portals, he will doubtless confront Jesse because of Mercer’s pro-slavery views. But each of them, rooted in the Baptist heritage and concerned for the life of Baptists in their respective cultures, symbolizes an open, progressive stream within Baptist waters.
             I believe . . . that tradition deserves to live among Baptists and at Mercer University.

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Baptist Soapbox

The Baptist Soapbox: Invited guests speak up and out on things Baptist (therefore, the views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of The Baptist Studies Bulletin, though sometimes they are). Climbing upon the Soapbox this month is Phil Strickland, until recently the Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission. Phil Strickland was certainly one of the Baptist prophets. Phil died on February 11, 2006, in Texas. He gave us permission to use this piece several weeks ago, and we gladly publish it now because we requested it and also as a tribute to him.

"Where Have All the Prophets Gone?"
Phil Strickland

(The speech was delivered to the Texas Baptists Committed breakfast at the Baptist General Convention of Texas meeting, Nov. 14, 2005, in Strickland's absence by George Mason, Senior Pastor, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas.)


    “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various tongues … "(1 Cor. 12:27-29).

   Prophets! I thought we got rid of them a long time ago. Actually, I haven’t seen many around lately. Where have all the prophets gone?

   You may remember the Pete Seeger song made popular by Peter, Paul and Mary—Where Have All the Flowers Gone. Well, I think we need new words to that tune. On any given Sunday morning in a Baptist church there are plenty of flowers in front of the pulpit, but not a prophet to be found behind it.

   Where have all the prophets gone?

   Lord knows we need them. Consider:

   • One half the world living on $2/day. But that’s the other half, right? They are used to that;

   • 25% of our Texas children living in poverty. But that’s other people’s children, right? Figure that’s the way God thinks of them?

   • Religious liberty is being lost without our seeming to notice. It’s oozing away through our fingers like a fist full of sand until we open it all too late to discover there is not much of it left in our grasp;

   • And then there’s the dramatic and continuing shift of the world’s wealth away from the poor and the middle class to the largest corporations and the wealthiest people. But not to worry, we can trust them to do the right thing with all that money, right? After all, the marketplace evens everything out in the end. Isn’t that where we can depend upon the “invisible hand” of God to work? Or was that just Adam Smith’s hand?

   • Environmental regulations are disappearing every day. But we are given by God the right to have dominion over all the earth, aren’t we? Well, something like that;

   • And what about another tax cut of $70 billion dollars that will be funded by $50 billion dollars of cuts to children? That proposal will probably be passed by the House this week and is supported by the administration. 300,000 people will lose food stamps and another 300,000 will lose access to daycare. The bill cuts Medicaid by $45 billion when we already have 45 million people who have no health insurance. Something tells me that’s not what Jesus meant by “Suffer the little children ….”

   Where have all the prophets gone?

   Have they all disappeared? Or is it possible that some of them are around but aren’t doing their job? Is it possible that God is still appointing them, but not many of us want the job? I mean, we know what happened to Jonah, and the belly of a whale doesn’t sound like fun, does it?

   Walter Brueggemann is one of our best Old Testament scholars. In books like his wonderful work, The Prophetic Imagination (and Finally Comes the Poet), he doesn’t let us relegate prophecy to biblical times. Prophets are not obsolete, although they seem rather rare these days, despite the great need for them in our churches and in our world.

   I want to suggest that pretty much all of us are called to have an element of the prophet in us. Yes, I understand that is not the primary role for many of us, but I’m thinking that being overcrowded with prophets is not our problem right now.

   I’m suggesting that for pastors, for example, as we call them to the role of pastor/preacher, we might also want to add the word prophet —pastor/ preacher/ prophet. Such pastors will value our values and will fight for them. The title of prophet might even apply to laymen, or, God forbid, to a denomination! These groups, with a little prophetic imagination, could become the cutting edge of the prophetic in our society, rather than the six to eight “prophets” we hear on TV whose prophetic imagination is limited to Armageddon. These genuine prophets would be ready and willing to confront the principalities and powers, whether they be school boards, city councils, the legislature, Congress, or even our own Baptist institutions.

   But seldom do I go to churches and hear prophetic, or even strong ethical preaching. And the brave pastors that want me to preach for them often say a word to me before I go. It goes something like this: “Now, Phil, our church is not really in a place where it can deal with anything controversial.” Which tells me that they don’t want to do anything that involves risk. Which tells me that no prophecy is happening there since prophecy always contains an element of risk!

   Back to our $70 billion tax cut currently being considered, funded partially, as I said, with $50 billion being cut from programs that are used for poor children. If the pastor as prophet wanted to point out the injustice of that, how would that go over with some of the members of the church?

   Well, I think I can answer that for Phil. They would cry “Politics!” They would suddenly become strict church-state separationists. Of course, what they really are saying is that they don’t want God and government to go together if it’s not their brand of politics. I’ll also tell you that there’s a widespread feeling in many church pews that has to be challenged. People think government is by nature always bad and needs constraining. They think government is lousy at caring for the poor and that that’s really the church’s business. But I can tell you that I have never once seen a line of those folks forming at my door begging for ways to give the church more money to care for the poor or eager to start new ministries that would do it better than the government.

   So what is happening to prophetic voices? What is the juggler that trumps the pastoral voice? Is it lack of courage? Or ambition? Courage and ambition seldom hang out together. Or is it just the desire not to rock any boats?

   When John F. Kennedy was in Berlin in 1963 for the birth of the German Peace Corps, he cited a passage from Dante’s Inferno in his speech. “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintained their neutrality.” It was actually a liberal paraphrase. What Dante actually singled out were “those disembodied wretches who were loth when living, to be either blamed or praised.” He said that Heaven cast them out for fear of losing its beauty; and Hell didn’t want them either, lest the wicked should glory over them (Canto 3).

   Prophecy requires the capacity to grieve about injustice, to quit pretending that things are all right, to imagine that things could be different, and courageously to say so to the people, risking the consequences. It requires confronting the principalities and powers.

   For compassion to move to action requires an alliance of love, power, and justice. As Paul Tillich said: “In both interpersonal and political relationships, love, power and justice are inseparable. Without love, power becomes tyrannical and justice is only a name for the rule of strong. Without power, love is reduced to sentimentality and justice to an impotent ideal. Without justice, love is a perverse dance of domination and submission.”

   Always, the prophet must be imaginative. One does not prophesy about what is but about what ought to be. Which usually makes prophecy sound absurd to the common ear.

   Let me give you an example. A pastor mentioned to me that he did not like the beginning of our Christian Life Commission flyer, that it could cause controversy in his church. Here are the words, aptly authored by Joe Haag, so I’ll brag about his work:

   “To follow Christ means that we allow his life to gain leverage against our lives. Against our lust for power, he endures the cross. Against our pride and arrogance, he washes the disciples’ feet. Against our upward mobility, he preaches good news to the poor. Against our self absorption, he has compassion on the multitudes. Against our tight circles of family and friends, he reaches out to strangers. Against our safe noninvolvement, he confronts the powers. Against our violence and hatred, he demands that we love our enemies. Against our self righteousness, he welcomes sinners. Against our bigotry, he tells us about a Good Samaritan. Against our frenzy, he invites us to trust God. Against all the lies which enslave us, he tells the truth which sets us free. How can we be transformed into the image of Christ? One answer is that as we surrender our lives to God’s purposes, God changes us.”

   That pastor did not like the words “our pride and arrogance” or “against our self absorption.” He said, “I’m not going to say either one of those about America.” Which means, what, that he accepts the Lordship of America? Who will be left to speak a word for the Lordship of Christ?

   I was amazed yesterday to meet one of our church’s first time messengers in the hallway outside the meeting. She was running to and fro trying to find a way to resolve her anger. She is Iranian by birth and has been in this country only seven years. She is a Christian convert from Islam and is now in seminary. She asked me breathlessly, “Did you see it? Did you see that flag processional? Can you believe they brought the American flag in ahead of the Christian flag and all the other flags of nations after that? And the American flag was higher than the Christian flag. That is idolatry!” She is right, and I am embarrassed that it took someone so new to the faith and to our country and to us Baptists to even notice. She didn’t know whether she needed to bring a resolution or a motion, but since a motion calls for action, I hope we move that that never happen again in a Baptist meeting.

   We need more laypeople like that. Mercy, is there any possibility that this prophecy notion might even apply to them? What’s happened to those laity with a prophetic word? What is trumping the laity’s ability to discern the differences in the present culture and the Kingdom of God? Could it be that we are so consumed by consumerism that we have little power to believe or to act. Do we live in this cultural imagination rather than a Kingdom imagination?

   Consumerism, the thing that tells us to go shopping to solve all our problems, must be addressed in our churches. The barnacles of consumerism grow on us day after day until our hope of hearing Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” is slim indeed.

   Now here I need to start with confession time. The boat is used and the motorcycle is several years old, but I do not lack for toys. This applies to all of us.

   And we need to remember that for many of our Baptist brothers and sisters, consumerism is not the issue. It’s survival. Like the fellow we met outside the Dixie House where we had just had dinner with our friends Bob and Judy Coleman. He was asking in his wheelchair how to find the nearest homeless shelter. People like these are often invisible to us. We have to intentionally put ourselves in places where we can see them. Prophets have that kind of vision. They see things and people we otherwise do not see, and they tell us about them.

   We desperately need a “theology of enough.” We are stewards, not owners, of what we have, at least in Christian teaching. So do we have any walls around what we will spend on ourselves? Do we have any sense of enough for ourselves? That’s where the prophets will emerge.

   Ah, but what about one more—denominations. Should they take risks and speak prophetically or declare that the only real role of the denomination is meeting the need of the churches who are a member of the BGCT? To me the answer is easy. Meeting the will of churches, vital as it is, comes in behind one other: listening for and meeting the will of God.

   What trumps the prophetic role in denominations is fear of financial loss, and the lack of understanding what crosses they are willing to die on, if any. What is so compelling that a denomination will stand there and ignore the consequences? Do we know the answer to that question? The question must be asked of laypeople and pastors and churches.

   A half century ago in this very city some of the brightest lights of Baptists shone in church pulpits. One of the brightest was Blake Smith, pastor of the University Baptist Church. One Sunday morning he stood tall in that pulpit and declared that it was past time that the University of Texas open its doors to all Texas citizens. The time for integration had come. What’s more, he said to his all-white church, the time had come for University Baptist Church to open its doors to all for whom Christ died.

   Well, right after the benediction the predictable took place. An emergency deacons meeting was called for that afternoon. For hours those men grumbled on about what the preacher had said that morning, about whether he had the right to say those things, about the autonomy of the local church to decide who would and who would not be its members, about whether Blake Smith ought to be their pastor at all. After a long while, the moderator looked to the back of the room where an old respected judge was sitting quietly. The man said, “Judge, we haven’t heard from you on this matter. What do you think?” The judge rose to his feet and said solemnly, “Well, boys, you know I don’t like what our pastor said this morning any more than any of the rest of you. But I think Jesus liked it a lot.” Motion to adjourn.

   Where have all the prophets gone?

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The Baptist Studies Bulletin Recommends:

Robert Richardson's "Bytes of Baptist History"

Robert Richardson is Professor Emeritus of Mercer University and a former volunteer staff member in the University’s Center for Baptist Studies.  Dr. Richardson has written a four-part series entitled, "Bytes of Baptist History." The Center for Baptist Studies provides links to his two published addresses–"John Leland: Pious Preacher and Religious Libertarian" and "13 Killed in Riots Over Public School Bible Reading"–in our Local Church Resources section.

Dr. Richardson has presented "Bytes" in a number of churches in middle Georgia, including First Baptist Church of Christ, Macon; Vineville Baptist, Macon; First Baptist, Hawkinsville; and First Baptist, Griffin. You may wish to contact him regarding a speaking engagement.

Baptist Univ.

The Baptist University in the 21st Century:  This special series explores the role of Baptist universities in contemporary Baptist life, from the perspective of Baptist university presidents.  This month's contributor is Thomas E. Corts, President of Samford University.

"10 Future Trends in the Life of Baptist Universities"
By Thomas E. Corts

           Every Baptist university will struggle with identity and mission during the 21st century. How Baptist and how Christian should the institution be? By whose judgment? Is the Baptist influence to be perceptible, or is it only an institution’s heritage? Much concern will depend upon the character of Baptist state conventions, themselves.

(1) Charters will be re-stated, funding formulae will be changed, trustee nominees will be challenged, expectations will lower and conflict will not be uncommon. State conventions will have less control over colleges.  Competition, sometimes called an "arms race" mentality, where institutions vie for rankings, status and "branding," will motivate change–not always in desired directions. Published rankings have lent credibility to comparisons among the nation’s 4,000 colleges.

(2) With competition for rankings, status, and "branding," Baptist colleges and universities will be pressured to change, grow, and conform to pace-setters and market-leaders, thereby becoming more secular.  Faculty and administrators who understand the distinctives of Baptist universities are essential to their effectiveness. Yet, most Ph.D.s are awarded by state universities, where integration of faith and learning is not accommodated, and where cultural pressure is in a secular direction.

(3) With the increasing difficulty of identifying and enlisting credentialed, committed Baptist Christians for faculty and administrative posts, Baptist institutions will be compelled to appoint persons with minimally acceptable religious backgrounds and qualifications.  Competition is keen in attracting voluntary gifts. State universities now have huge gift-soliciting staffs. Large foundations and major donors often support better-known institutions, feeling their gift achieves greater recognition at a larger, high profile university.

(4) The quest for voluntary contributions will become more competitive, with Baptist donors sensing less obligation toward Baptist causes, and greater willingness to support higher profile institutions. Many devout Baptists do not encourage their children toward Baptist colleges. Either faith development is not a significant priority, or Baptist colleges are not perceived as more effective at inculcating faith and values.

(5) Baptist colleges and universities will enroll a smaller percentage of Baptist students. The number of persons entering ministry is down. Baptist colleges enroll significantly fewer preachers-in-training. Ministerial students do not seem to get needed encouragement and support in their decisions–from colleges, home churches, parents and family.

(6) Baptist colleges and universities will graduate a smaller percentage of students destined to enter full-time, vocational ministry. The emphasis upon diversity as a primary societal value has been wildly embraced by educators. But the commonality sought by seriously Christian colleges, in having a core of committed students and faculty dedicated to the Christian mission of the institution, can be taken as opposition to racial, cultural, religious and lifestyle diversity for diversity’s sake–a value advanced by educational leaders and by society. Baptist colleges have affirmed racial diversity. However, pressure to accept homosexual conduct and lifestyle as a point of diversity will accelerate.

(7) Baptist higher educational institutions will have increasing difficulty resisting society’s tendency to value diversity over and above Christian commonality; they will also have difficulty dealing with homosexual profession and practices among students and faculty. Baptist institutions depend upon government financial aid to students, which has facilitated significant student fee increases. For some, congressmen and senators have secured "earmarked grants" for campus projects. Whether Baptist universities accept federal funds, considering Baptists’ historic stance on separation of church and state, is a debate seldom heard.

(8) Baptist colleges and universities will be more dependent than ever on direct and indirect support of the federal government. Colleges have raised fees rapidly. The high cost of higher education and some well-publicized scandals, have sparked Congress’ scrutiny of non-profits. More information is required and published by the federal government. Sarbanes Oxley and other laws will impact Baptist colleges’ policies. Recently, Congress has threatened to install price restraints on colleges.

(9) Baptist colleges will be subject to increased federal laws and regulations concerning their governance, business practices, salaries, and charges. Tuition discounting, reducing the cost of a student’s college by foregoing part of the expected tuition, calling it a "scholarship," is widespread. Non-need-based, unfunded student aid is a financial strain. And what about the ethical dilemma of charging a low-income family’s student the full price, and granting a tuition discount "scholarship" to a high-income family’s student?

(10) Tuition discounting will become even more prevalent and will lead Baptist colleges and universities into deep financial difficulty.

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Local Church

Creative Ministries in the Local Baptist Church:  This series highlights local churches who are intentionally creative in their approach to ministry.  This month's featured local church ministry is The Parchment Club at the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.  Members of The Parchment Club have been reading and discussing books for twenty years.  Rick Wilson, the "Pope" of the club, is Chair of the Christianity Department at Mercer University, Macon.

"Imagine That! The Parchment Club"
By Rick Wilson

        Imagine anywhere from twelve to thirty Baptist laypeople gathering in a "secret place" to discuss for an hour or more a book they recently had read. Imagine that the group meets to discuss a different book four times a year. Imagine that the group has been assembling for such activity for twenty years.
       What you have imagined is an accurate short history of The Parchment Club at the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. The "secret place," by the way, is the Fellowship Hall.
       The Parchment Club met for the first time in April, 1986. Walter Shurden started the group and named it after a line in 2 Timothy 4:13: "Bring ... the books, and above all the parchments." Walter also set the tone for a loyal group of readers of good books. With some whimsy Shurden declared himself "Pope Walter I" and laid down the law for the club: buy the book, read the book, mark up the book, and come ready to discuss the book. First Baptist Church embraced this innovation in adult Christian Education and, for twenty years, has included The Parchment Club in the budget (providing a meal at each meeting and also purchasing books in bulk and passing on a discount to club members).
       "What book?" you might wonder. "Whatever book the Pope chooses!" is the only possible reply. Since 1986, The Parchment Club has bought, read, marked, and discussed seventy-five books. The small library of TPC books would be an excellent starter collection for any Christian eager to broaden her horizons and deepen his understanding of Christian perspectives on our world and its history.
       Parchmentites (yes, it is a tight group!) have read an impressive array of works spanning history, theology, fiction, spirituality, pastoral care and more. Authors have included the likes of Simon Weil, Frederick Buechner, Paul Tillich, Wayne Oates, Anne Tyler, Stanley Hauerwas, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Chuck Poole, Philip Yancey and too many more to mention.
       Over the years Parchment People have been quite loyal. There are members who have not missed a session in fifteen years. Some members of the club have special bookcases where they keep the Pope-selected works. Ms. Ruth Cheeves, recently retired as the church librarian, has kept a meticulous record of all of the "study guides" prepared by the The Parchment Club Popes.
       About those Popes and study guides: Pope Walter I served The Parchment Club for a decade. In 1996 the scepter was passed to Pope Richard Francis I (your humble reporter). For a brief time when Pope Richard Francis I was on sabbatical leave there was Stunt Pope Gregory I (D. Gregory Sapp) for six months. Since the Popes select the books the Parchmentites have reason to demand some guidance. The usual pattern is that the Pope announces a book and club members buy it, read it, and mark it up. Two or three weeks prior to the meeting the Pope sends a letter and a "study guide" that gives some biographical information about the author, an overview of the book, and a short list of questions designed to get a conversation started.
       For twenty years The Parchment Club has thrived at Macon's First Baptist Church of Christ. Baptist laypeople reading and talking about books that matter. Baptists engaged in nontraditional Adult Christian Education. And Baptist Popes more interested in equipping the saints than exercising power.
       Imagine that!

Note: You may download the list of Parchment Club books by clicking here.

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The Baptist Studies Bulletin Recommends:

“Negotiating Conflict in the Congregation”
McAfee Institute for Healthy Congregations
McAfee School of Theology
Atlanta, Georgia

March 20, 2006

Featuring: Dr. Dennis Burton, Workshop Leader, Certified Conflict Consultant
Director of Missions, Union Baptist Association, Monroe, North Carolina

Dr. Burton is a former North Carolina pastor, trained in Clinical Pastoral Education and certified at advanced levels by a variety of conflict training organizations, including L.E.A.D. Associates and the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center.  He has served as Director of Missions for the Union Baptist Association in Monroe, North Carolina since 1994 and has led numerous workshops and served as consultant to congregations in conflict negotiation.  He holds the Doctor of Ministry degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and has completed management training programs at Wake Forest University, University of Richmond and Duke University.

Workshop Registration:  The program will be in the Stetson School of Business, room BE-113, from 9:30 - 3:45. To register, mail a check for $39 made out to McAfee School of Theology to:  Dr. Larry McSwain, 3001 Mercer University Drive, Atlanta, GA 30341 by March 10, 2006.  Registration at the door:  $49.

Complimentary Presentation for Laity and Church Staff
“Stresses in Congregational Life”

This program also features Dr. Dennis Burton, and will be held in Day Hall, Monday, March 20, 2006, from 7-9 PM.  


Bible and Poor

Baptists, the Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole is a Baptist minister with Lifeshare Community Ministries in Jackson, Mississippi where he delights in ministering alongside the poor. "Chuck" Poole, a provocative preacher and servant pastor, served Baptist churches for twenty-five years. Among the churches he has served are First Baptist Church, Macon, GA, First Baptist Church, Washington, DC, and Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, MS.

"Judgment Day"
By Charles E. Poole

When Judgment Day comes, the only thing that will matter is how we have responded to people in need.  If we help those who struggle and suffer, we will go to heaven. If we don’t, we won’t. End of story. Clear as crystal. Simple as that.
At least, if Matthew 25:31-46 was the only passage in the Bible, it would be as simple as that. After all, that is what Matthew 25:31-46 says. To those who fed the hungry, clothed the poor, welcomed the stranger, visited the prisoner and comforted the sick, the King said, “Come and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But to those who did not feed the hungry, clothe the poor, welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner and comfort the sick, the King said, “You that are accursed depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Those who helped go to heaven and those who didn’t go to hell. End of story. Its that simple.
            Its that simple in Matthew 25:31-46. But, of course, Matthew 25 is not the only chapter in the Bible. There are other chapters and verses in the Bible, and once you read those other chapters and verses, you soon see that it really isn’t quite as simple as that.
            For one thing, there is Ephesians 2:8, which says, “By grace you have been saved through faith; It is the gift of God, not the result of works that we have done,” but Matthew 25:31-46 indicates that our eternal destiny hinges entirely on our works, works of kindness done on behalf of the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner and the sick. Then there is John 3:16-18, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life…Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” That says that our eternal destiny depends entirely on whether or not we believe in the name of Jesus, but Matthew 25:31-46 says that our eternal destiny depends entirely on whether or not we fed hungry people, put clothes on cold people, and carried water to thirsty people. Then there is the so-called “Roman Road.” Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” followed by Romans 6:23 which says, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord,” followed by Romans 10:9 which says, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” I was always taught that this is it; the Roman Road, the one and only Plan of Salvation. Follow the Plan, go to heaven. Refuse the Plan, go to hell. End of story. Simple as that. But today’s gospel lesson pictures people marching off to heaven or hell based not on confessing or believing anything, but based, rather, on how they responded to the weak, the vulnerable, the outcast, the prisoner, the poor.
            This is the bothersome sort of result we get when we do the hard work of reading a single passage of scripture in conversation with, rather than in isolation from, the rest of the Bible. If I read Matthew 25:31-46 in isolation from the rest of the Bible, I can say that the only deciding factor on Judgment Day will be how we responded to the poor, the weak and the vulnerable; simple as that. On the other hand, if I read John 3:16-18 in isolation from the rest of the Bible, I can say that the only determining factor on Judgment Day will be whether or not we believed in Jesus, simple as that. Or, if I read Romans 10:13 in isolation from the rest of the Bible, I can say that whether we are saved or lost will hinge entirely on whether or not we confessed Jesus as our Lord and believed in the resurrection; simple as that. Or, for that matter, if I read Romans 11:32, “God has included all in disobedience so that God can be merciful to all” in isolation from the rest of the Bible, I can say that, ultimately, all will be saved because God will ultimately be merciful to all; simple as that. However, once I read each of those passages in conversation with the rest of the Bible rather than in isolation from the rest of the Bible, even this most fundamental question of how a person will finally be judged is not as simple as that. “Oh sure it is. We’ll finally  be judged by whether or not we accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. All that stuff about helping the poor in Matthew 25 is just to determine what kind of rewards we’ll get if we go to heaven, but whether or not we go to heaven is all about whether  or not we accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior.” (That’s fine for a person to say, just so they acknowledge the fact that the phrase “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” never appears in the Bible and that Matthew 25:31-46 does not treat our response to the poor and vulnerable as an extra-credit, star-in-your crown bonus question, rather it says that those who help the poor and sick and imprisoned will enter the Kingdom and those who don’t won’t.)
            It’s just a fact, and we may as well say it out loud: When we read Matthew 25:31-46 in conversation with the rest of the Bible, even the fundamental issue of the final judgment becomes not so simple and clear. When you read Matthew 25:31-36 in conversation with the rest of the Bible, the only thing that is absolutely clear and simple is that the people of God are called to care about, and to care for, whoever is weakest, poorest and most vulnerable. When you read Matthew 25:31-46 in conversation with the rest of the Bible, what you find is one consistent biblical call for us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and care for those who struggle. Read Matthew 25:31-46 in conversation with the rest of the Bible and this is what you will find: “If you lend money to the poor you shall not charge them interest.” (Exodus 22:25) “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the edges of your field…you shall leave the edges for the poor.” (Leviticus 19:9-10) “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor…The poor will always be with you. Therefore, open your hand to the poor.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11) “Share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your home. When you see the naked clothe them. (Isaiah 58:7) “I know how great are your sins, you who push aside the needy” (Amos 5:12) “Those who have two coats must share with anyone who has no coat” (Luke 3:11) “Give to anyone who begs from  you (Luke 6:30) “Remember those who are in prison as though you were in prison” (Hebrews 13:3) “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has this world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help them?” (I John 3:17)
            That’s what you find when you read Matthew 25:31-46 in conversation with the rest of the Bible. When you read Matthew 25:31-46 in conversation with the rest of the Bible, what it says about Judgment Day is not so simple. But when you read Matthew 25:31-46 in conversation with the rest of the Bible, what it says about caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the poor and the prisoner is as clear as crystal: God has called us to give comfort and relief to whoever struggles and suffers, plain and simple.
            When it comes to ultimate judgment, we’ll have to leave that to God. It’s that mysterious. When it comes to helping the poor, God has left that to us. It’s that simple.

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In Response To ...

"In Response To . . . Albert Mohler on Singleness and Childlessness"
By Bruce T. Gourley

            Albert Mohler continues to demonstrate that he is not content to let the Bible be the Bible.  In a December 2005 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Mohler defended one of his more interesting authoritative pronouncements in recent years, a discourse on the “moral rebellion” of adult singleness and willful childlessness.
            The problem, according to Mohler in an
editorial piece published in the Louisville Courier-Journal, is that there is a “left-wing” “pattern of childlessness” (referring to trends of singleness and married couples choosing not to have children) in modern America.  Responding to a childless woman’s comment about choosing to “focus those motherly feelings elsewhere,” Mohler declared that the “worldview [of intentional childlessness] is sick …. Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God’s design.”
            Come again, Al?
            “The church should insist that the biblical formula calls for adulthood to mean marriage and marriage to mean children …. Willful barrenness and chosen childlessness must be named as moral rebellion,” declares Mohler.  He continues, “Marriage, sex and children are part of one package. To deny any part of this wholeness is to reject God's intention in creation–and His mandate revealed in the Bible.”
            This new revelation would certainly be a surprise to the Apostle Paul, who declared in no uncertain terms that celibacy is preferable to marriage and family in regards to focusing on serving God.  Obviously Paul was in “absolute revolt” and “moral rebellion” against God when in 1 Corinthians 7 he wrote, “he who does not marry does even better” than he who does marry.   
            Mohler seems truly convinced that without the added assistance of his self-appointed theological revelations that tell the Bible what it should say, the written Word of God is weak, wimpy, defenseless, and vulnerable to the horrors of anyone (read, “liberals”) in the world reading it and daring to interpret it for himself or herself.
            Mohler is certainly not the only religious fundamentalist who claims to know what the Bible should say, rather than what it actually does say.  However, what separates Dr. Albert Mohler from other fundamentalists is his position as president of Southern Baptists’ oldest seminary, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  For a theologian and academic of Mohler’s stature to issue a public and scathing edict on the “moral rebellion” of singleness and chosen childlessness within marriage, in direct opposition to the Apostle Paul’s teaching, is no small matter.
            One would presume that Mohler’s bold stance indicates that he has the weight of biblical testimony on his side.  Oddly enough, however, he directly references only one scriptural passage (Psalm 127:3-5) in condemning adult singleness and willful childlessness.
            Although I have yet to meet a Baptist who would deny that children are a blessing from God, as the Psalmist declares, I also know godly Baptist singles and couples, both young and old, who purposefully chose childlessness.  And whereas Paul argues that such persons are freer to serve God without additional family responsibilities, Mohler is adamant that in order to be found righteous in the sight of God, one must first marry and then procreate (although he is gracious enough to excuse infertile couples for not procreating).
            Frankly, this new revelation sounds like thinly-veiled Mormon theology, in which large families are a sign of godliness and child-bearing and raising are part of the salvation equation.  At the very least, Mohler’s revelation is in the tradition of the New Testament Pharisees who substituted their opinions in the place of scripture and condemned anyone who disobeyed their proscriptions.
            In the end, one cannot help but wonder: does Albert Mohler truly believe the Bible listens when he speaks?

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Dates to

Dates to Note

February 21-22, Harry Vaughan Smith Lectures, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.  Topic: "Signs of the Times: Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective." Featured Speaker: Bill J. Leonard. Click here for more information, or contact Nancy Stubbs at (478) 301-2755 or

February 24-25, Mainstream Baptist Convocation, Richmond, Virginia.  Topic: Religious Liberty in America. Featured Speakers: Welton Gaddy, Fred Anderson and Richard Groves. Click here for more information.

March 3-4, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship/Georgia General Assembly, Athens, GA. Featured Speakers: Jim Dant. Click here for more information.

April 17-20, 2006, Wait on the Lord, Spiritual Formation Conference, Orlando. For all clergy and lay ministers. Presented by American Baptist Churches USA More information, including registration instructions, is available online.

April 21-23, 2006, Alliance of Baptists, 20th Annual Convocation, Southside Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama. Theme: Race: "We Have This Ministry–Reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). Visit the website.

May 4-5, 2006, "The University Campus: Tomorrow's Moderate Baptists."  First Baptist Church, Decatur, GA.  Sponsored by National Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, and The Center for Baptist Studies.  For more information, click here.

July 12-15, 2006, International Conference on Baptist Studies IV, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The Fourth International Conference on Baptist Studies will help to mark the centennial celebrations of the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches.  The theme is "Baptists and Mission," which includes home and foreign missions, evangelism, and social concern. For more information, contact Professor D. W. Bebbington, Department of History, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4TB, Scotland, United Kingdom (e-mail:

June 21-24, 2006, National Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, GA.  For more information, go to

For a full calendar of Baptist events, visit the Online Baptist Community Calendar.

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