*This interview was originally posted in two parts at SBC Voices. The author, Brandon Smith, has graciously allowed us to repost both parts of the interview in their entirety. We will post the second part on Wednesday. You can find more of Brandon’s writings at Project TGM where he serves as editor.
Ed Stetzer, Vice President of the Insights Division at LifeWay and phenomenal researcher/writer, was kind enough to take the time to answer some of my questions regarding SBC life. I hope this will encourage us all!
BRANDON: Electing Fred Luter as SBC President was a monumental step toward racial unity and reconciliation in the convention. In what ways, on the “ground level,” can SBC churches contribute to reaching diverse cultures?
ED: Fred Luter’s election as president of the Southern Baptist Convention was and is a big deal. Southern Baptists should celebrate this decision as an important step of progress. It’s great news that 100 percent of the presidents of the SBC are currently African-American—but let’s keep in mind that still only 7 percent of Southern Baptist churches are identified as predominantly African-American. The best news will come when rank and file Southern Baptist churches are seeking to be more intentionally multicultural by building bridges across racial, ethnic, and socio-economic divides. Though Southern Baptists have made substantial racial progress over the last few decades, we must continue to take steps toward improvement.
In order to grow continually toward racial reconciliation, Southern Baptist churches should intentionally teach people the values of reflecting the kingdom of God. In God’s kingdom, men and women from every tongue, tribe, and nation stand together in worship for the name and fame of Jesus. When churches seek to reflect that reality in their congregation, not only are more people reached for the gospel, but also giant leaps are made toward racial reconciliation.
In addition to growing more multicultural, Southern Baptists should procure and employ a passionate voice in the world concerning issues of racial intolerance and justice matters. Sadly, Christians are often blamed for intolerance and racial hatred. Were Christians to stand up to injustice and help protect the innocent, the world might recognize the gospel message of hope being lived out! Ultimately, Southern Baptists should serve on the front lines, modeling the necessity of racial reconciliation in order to provide an opportunity to show the world what the kingdom of God should look like.
BRANDON: Will the election of an SBC blogger, our very own Dave Miller, as 2nd VP of the SBC be helpful or harmful in anyway?
ED: Who is Dave Miller? Just kidding. Of course, I am very familiar with Dave and his ministry, and his election to be the greatest thing since the beginning of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1848. (Again, just kidding)
Seriously, I believe many people voted for Dave out of a desire for unity since Dave ran as a unity candidate. Therefore, I find Dave’s actual election as less important (sorry, Dave) than the fact that Southern Baptists are continually demonstrating a desire to move on from constant fighting. They see that a denomination at perpetual war with itself cannot survive. They affirm the SBC battle for the Bible is over and won, and they are tired of individuals trying to bomb the rubble.
Now, let me add that I would not agree that other candidates were driven by a negative or nefarious agenda—I think that is a misperception. However, Dave ran as a unity candidate, and people want unity. I am encouraged by that. The people who want division are loud on blogs, but the messengers want unity and mission.
Furthermore, as an SBC blogger, Dave’s election demonstrates the influence of blogs. Southern Baptists have come a long way from when blogs were preached against on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention. One SBC president said Southern Baptists would be doing a lot more baptizing if they were doing a lot less blogging. Now, however, blogs are a mainstream communication tool used by many to advance the Kingdom. Clearly, Dave’s influence and the influence of SBC Voices were felt at the Convention.
That, and he had a really bright green jacket.
BRANDON: You are the general editor for The Gospel Project, which has already been garnering acclaim. How it is different than other LifeWay material and why should churches implement it?
ED: We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the widespread affirmation of what we are doing—thousands of churches, many SBC and many not, signing up in the pilot project. It’s a different foundation, or starting place, makes The Gospel Project unique. Rather than starting with books of the Bible, as in Explore the Bible series, or with application, as in Bible Studies for Life, The Gospel Project starts with a theological, Christological focal point built around the grand narrative of Scripture. While all of our materials have a Christ-centered focus, this study is particularly designed to ask, “how does the grand narrative of Scripture come together in the person of Christ?”
For example, rather than view the story of David and Goliath simply as an example of how to be brave, The Gospel Project examines how this narrative points to trusting in God as the provider and victor. Then, in a hermeneutically responsible manner, we point people to how God has provided salvation in Christ. People are excited about this, and we are too. We believe The Gospel Project would be helpful to churches interested in going deeper and being connected into the big story of God’s redemptive plan.
I was just looking over the orders for The Gospel Project, and they are far exceeding our expectations. We are pretty excited. We’ve been pleased with how Southern Baptists have responded– thousands of churches are ordering hundreds of thousands of resources.
However, we’ve also been surprised with how many non-SBC churches have ordered as well. It’s been a great interest for a lot of people, and from a fascinating mix. I think part of the reason is that people value the theological depth but also appreciate the fact that we use our confessional statement (the Baptist Faith and Message) as our standard. Simply put, we are thrilled at the response—it has been far beyond our expectations. The more people look at it the more they like it!