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Index editor’s interview with Jerry Vines

A former SBC president signs ‘Great Commission Resurgence’ ‘with caveats’


Editor’s note: Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index, newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention, interviewed former SBC president Jerry Vines concerning his affirmation of the “Great Commission Resurgence” declaration “w/caveats.” The interview which appears in the June 4 issue of the Index is reprinted here with permission. Vines, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, was among several prominent SBC leaders who recently signed the GCR statement with caveats—including Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and former SBC president; Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Theological Seminary; and Malcolm Yarnell, associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Seminary. In comments to Florida Baptist Witness, Yarnell praised Johnny Hunt and Danny Akin for permitting affirmation of GCR with caveats as “not only a gracious move, but a profoundly unifying one. These men should be lauded for their willingness to broaden the tent of a Great Commission Resurgence by allowing such well-meaning caveats.”

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Signers of any document, whether the Baptist Faith and Message or Great Commission Resurgence, frequently affix their signatures but are unable to explain which portions they agree with and which portions give them concerns. A lack of total agreement on anything is part of what makes Southern Baptists who they are.

When former SBC President Jerry Vines signed the GCR he added the notation “with caveats” to register his general acceptance of the document but also to note that he wanted to clarify how he interpreted some of the items.

Index Editor J. Gerald Harris talked with Vines and asked him to explain his understanding of the document.

INDEX: Your signature is affixed to the document “with caveats” which means “to qualify with a warning or clarification.” Can you explain your reasoning for making that distinction?

VINES: Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I use “caveats” in the sense of clarification, as the dictionary says, “explanations to prevent misunderstanding.”

INDEX: What are your primary concerns?

VINES: I am certainly not concerned about the sincerity of Drs. Hunt and Akins. I totally trust their intentions and desire for our convention to be about the Great Commission. There are several areas of the document about which I want there to be no misunderstanding as to what I have signed.

In Article II I understand Gospel centeredness to include that Christ died for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2).

In Article V I understand the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 to be a minimal guide, not a maximal one.

INDEX: Since you were a pivotal figure in the Conservative Resurgence are you satisfied with Article IV regarding biblical inerrancy and sufficiency?

VINES: I don’t see anything there with which I would disagree.

INDEX: Article VI addresses biblically healthy churches, calling upon all Southern Baptists to build churches that are “thoroughly orthodox, distinctively Baptist, and passionately committed to the Great Commission.” Do you want more specificity about what a “distinctively Baptist” church is supposed to look like?

VINES: A document such as this can’t include all [that is] meant by “distinctively Baptist.” However, I believe our Baptist Faith and Message 2000 gives us a good understanding that we are a “distinctively Baptist” convention of churches.

INDEX: In Article VIII the writers of this document speak of “a healthy, biblically informed diversity in our methodology.” Some have said that we should hold our theology tightly in our right hand and our methodology loosely in our left hand. Can one’s methodologyand theology be treated as if they are not closely tied together?Is it naive to assume that methodology is neutral? Are you concerned that some of our methodologies are not healthy and biblical? Would you like to see something more specific than a general call for diversity?

VINES: I understand that methodology and styles of worship must be subject to the biblical teachings of holiness and separation. We must be sure that our methodology is informed by our theology. They really can’t be separated. I do not understand this article to affirm that any methodology or style of worship is acceptable. I would never affirm profanity, sexually crude language, etc., as acceptable in our worship services.

INDEX: Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin indicated that Article IX would create more controversy than any other part of the document. What do you think the framers of the document meant when they called for a restructuring of the convention agencies? They can call for state conventions and associations to go through a self-evaluation process and restructuring, but if the SBC President forms a committee to study a restructuring of convention agencies and institutions that can only impact the national SBC agencies and institutions—is that correct?

VINES: I believe you are correct. I understand Article IX to mean that we recognize that the SBC has no authority over state conventions, associations or local churches.

INDEX: There has already been a call to combine the two mission agencies (NAMB, IMB) into one agency. Do you suppose additional thought will be given to combining our six seminaries into three or four seminaries?

VINES: These are areas where those much closer to the agencies and seminaries are better able to make assessments than am I.

INDEX: This same article suggests that state conventions should consider moving more CP dollars beyond their respective states. Does that assume that the national convention spends money more effectively than state conventions?

VINES: I would certainly not assume that.

INDEX: If state conventions should move more money to the national convention is it not also true that churches should move more money to the Cooperative Program?

VINES: I have stated repeatedly that we all ought to give more. That applies to members of our churches, our associations, our state conventions, and our national SBC Convention. And at every level, as I am sure is presently taking place, there needs to be a constant and continuing evaluation of how we utilize the funds our people provide.

INDEX: Is this document more about the Great Commission or more about reshaping our denomination? Denominations do not fulfill the Great Commission, churches do.We had a kind of restructuring in our denomination 15 years ago with the Covenant for a New Century. Are we better off for having done so?

VINES: I believe those who have set this document before us are primarily concerned about winning people to Christ. As to how effective we have previously been in restructuring our convention, others have a better vantage point than I do for judging that. And a thorough evaluation must be made before further changes in our structure and programs are implemented.

INDEX: How does all this impact the average Billy and Betty Baptist? Does it raise their suspicions that their CP money is not really being spent wisely?

VINES: I believe it is the responsibility and opportunity of our pastors to communicate these matters to Billy and Betty Baptist. I remember an axiom of Dr. Homer Lindsay, Sr. when he used to say, “Trust the Lord and tell the people.”

INDEX: Do you believe that this Great Commission Resurgence will accomplish what is needed in our Convention, or do you think we are living in the Laodicean age and that only a revival can change the course of our Convention?

VINES: It is my earnest prayer that it will. I totally agree with you that we are living in the days of apostasy. However, this does not mean we cannot have a revival in the hearts of our people, our churches, and in every area of Convention work. I believe a revival of love for the Lord Jesus, godly living, and fervent soul winning is our greatest need. Also, we must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We must not allow Satan to cause us to condone neither unbiblical doctrines, nor carnal, worldly methods, causing us to be more like Laodicea than Philadelphia.