Author Archive | Denny Burk

The history of slavery and racism at SBTS

In late 2017, Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. appointed a committee of six persons to prepare a report on the legacy of slavery and racism in the history of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Today, that report was released.

We all know the sad history of slavery and racism in the SBC, and we know that SBTS has been part of that story going back to 1859. Still, it is heart-breaking to read the particulars, and this report has those. I am grateful for my colleagues who worked for the last year to produce this report—Curtis Woods, John Wilsey, Kevin Jones, Jarvis Williams, Matt Hall, and Greg Wills. Well done.

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A drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge has a startling conversation with the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley. Jacob is damned in death for his misdeeds in life, and he appears to warn Scrooge that he is headed for the same fate. Scrooge resists the suggestion that Jacob’s life was damnable. Scrooge understands that if Jacob’s life is damnable, then so is his own. So this exchange ensues:

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Well done, Mr. Dickens. Well done. Lord, help us to understand what is the comprehensive ocean of our business.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

Sex and the false gods of the marketplace

Peter Jensen has a wonderful review of Glynn Harrison’s new book A Better Story: God, Sex and Human Flourishing (Intervarsity, 2017). I haven’t read the book yet, but I want to point out two paragraphs from the review that are important. Jensen writes:

We frequently hear from Christians who sigh about our apparent obsession with sex and advise us simply to get on preaching the gospel. This superficially attractive advice is, in fact, untenable. The world we live in is sex-saturated. We can hardly avoid addressing the subject if we wish to apply the gospel, challenge people to live in a godly way, and protect the faithful. At a deeper level, when we consult the Scriptures themselves, we see that the whole business of sexual relations is very much connected to our humanness. At any period of human history, it would be right to give attention to this subject if we wish to understand who we are and how we are to please the Lord. Since there is a close biblical connection between the abuse of sexuality and idolatry, if we wish to analyse the false religions of humanity, we will need to talk about sex. Continue Reading →

Faithful biblical typology or unbiblical Marian devotion?

Earlier this week, Joe Carter tweeted his skepticism about a popular image depicting Eve and Mary (see above). That one tweet led to spirited debate on social media about the proper meaning and interpretation of this picture. One side argues that the image depicts an unbiblical form of Marian devotion. The other side argues that the image represents a biblical view of Mary’s place in the gospel story—one that is completely friendly to the Protestant tradition of scriptural interpretation. Continue Reading →

When President Bush addressed the Southern Baptist Convention

On the anniversary of D-Day in 1991, President George H. W. Bush delivered an address to the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Atlanta, Georgia (listen above at 4:47). The speech is fascinating on a number of levels, not least of which is the part where he praises Southern Baptist military chaplains who reported over 1,000 conversions among U.S. service members during Operation Desert Storm (8:26). Continue Reading →

Another harsh assessment of John Chau’s mission

Lyman Stone wrote an essay for The Federalist last week criticizing John Chau as an unprepared adventurist who recklessly threw his life away trying to reach the Sentinelese people with the gospel. Among other things, Stone writes:

Chau was killed while serving as a missionary. But he was not killed on account of the gospel. He was killed on account of his unpreparedness. This may seem a harsh assessment, especially so soon after his death, but for the protection of the church’s mission, it must be said.

It is vital that we understand what went wrong with Chau’s mission, and what it says about mission work today…

He recklessly endangered himself for a project he wasn’t qualified for, and in the process endangered others.

Stone’s article is one of the harshest critiques I’ve read of John Chau—which is jarring to see coming from a fellow Christian. Stone criticizes Chau for being “unprepared,” but I think Stone is the one who is unprepared even to write this critique. He builds his case on several errors related to Chau’s training and preparation. I will mention just a few.

Stone writes, “It appears he had learned about Sentinel Island on a previous adventure-tourism-evangelism trip to India.” Wrong. Chau had felt called to the Sentinelese since he was 18-years old. The New York Times and other news outlets have reported that Chau initially learned about the Sentinelese online, and his call developed from there.

Stone accuses Chau of being “a 27-year-old adventure junkie with… very little formal training” Wrong. Christianity Today reports that Chau had been preparing for many years to reach the Sentinelese people and had been doing so long before he joined the All Nations missionary group. Chau had received training from SIL in cultural anthropology and linguistics (SIL is the gold standard for missionary linguistics).

Stone claims that Chau had “no plan for long-term involvement in the culture.” Again, wrong. Really wrong. According to Christianity Today, the point of Chau’s initial contact was the hope of establishing a long term relationship with the people so that he could learn their language and bring the gospel to the people. Someone needed to make initial contact, and Chau prayed to be the one to do it in hopes of a longer term relationship with the people. Chau was prepared to be there among the Sentinelese for many years.

There are many more errors in this piece that could have been cleared up just by reading the available reporting on Chau’s mission, especially CT’s interview with Mary Ho, executive leader of All Nations.

As I’ve said before, mission strategy is a legitimate item for debate and reconsideration. Nevertheless, John Chau died trying to reach the Sentinelese people with the gospel. We owe him more than erroneous criticism based on caricatures of his training and preparation.

Mission agency clears away some false assumptions about John Chau’s missionary work

I’ve been dismayed this week by the amount of criticism aimed at John Chau’s mission to the Sentinelese, not because his mission is above criticism but because critics seem to be operating on assumptions rather than on facts. My question has been how so many people feel that they have the requisite information to weigh-in definitively on the strategy that John Chau was pursuing. It may be that what we have read in news reports is all that there is to know about his strategy. Or it may be that there is more to the story that we haven’t heard yet.

It turns out that there is a lot that we haven’t heard yet. In an interview with Christianity Today, the director of John Chau’s mission agency gave quite a bit of information that would suggest that many of Chau’s critics have jumped the gun. Mary Ho is the international executive leader of the All Nations missionary group that sent John Chau to the Sentinelese. Among other things, she clarifies a number of questions that have been raised about Chau’s mission in recent days: Continue Reading →

Be careful about making snap judgements about John Chau’s mission

Missionary John Chau was killed only ten days ago, and yet there has been no shortage of Christians publicly criticizing the strategy he employed in order to reach the Sentinelese people with the gospel. I just read another such article today, this time in Religion News Service.

I have said before and will say again that mission strategy should be open for debate and reconsideration. Jesus himself taught us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves in the midst of our mission (Matt. 10:16). I do not question the wisdom or the necessity of such conversations—although it does seem a little strange to hear Christians so quick to criticize a man who lost his life trying to spread the gospel. In any case, we can all agree that such conversations are necessary and right at some point. Continue Reading →

Slain missionary John Chau’s mission is not white colonialism; it’s the great commission.

Last night, I read the news of missionary John Chau’s death. He was killed last week by the very people he was trying to reach with the gospel. He knew the risks, and he went anyway. There are several items from Chau’s letters and journal that have pierced me to the soul, perhaps this one most of all:

“God, I don’t want to die. WHO WILL TAKE MY PLACE IF I DO?”

There is a common thread that runs through the voice of the martyrs going all the way back to Jesus. Here is a small sample. See if you can detect the common element. Continue Reading →

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