By Jerry Pierce
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Encouraged by attendance exceeding 8,600 registered messengers on the first day of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 23 — twice as many as he expected — SBC President Johnny Hunt said there is a “sense of urgency” among the brethren.
Hunt attributed much of the interest at this year’s meeting to his Great Commission Resurgence initiative. In a news conference following his re-election to a second term, he also addressed questions ranging from his opinion of controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll to his view of Calvinism among Southern Baptists.
“I feel there’s a lot of energy in the halls,” said Hunt, pastor of Atlanta-area First Church in Woodstock. “Everybody’s talking the same talk: ‘We need this Great Commission Resurgence.’
“We are saying times have been desperate,” Hunt added. “Now I really do sense fellow Southern Baptists are saying we need to get serious.”
Asked about Driscoll, Hunt responded: “I don’t know him, never met him. A lot of young men like to follow his blogs and podcasts. It’s just been interesting.”
Referring to motions from the floor placing Driscoll and the network he founded, Acts 29, in a bad light, Hunt said, “he entire premise of being a Baptist is sort of thrown under the bus when you start telling someone who they can or cannot fellowship with.” He said it is a matter that it should be left to the conscience and the priesthood of the believer.
About church methodology, Hunt said the SBC is a “great family fellowship” using varied methodologies which provide a healthy balance.
Hunt said it might be that some of the perceived tension across generations of Southern Baptists is rooted in several things, including methodology, dress and music.
Encouraged by what he said is the turnout of younger Southern Baptists, Hunt said, “f we can move beyond our perceptions” and begin to “listen to heart of some of these young leaders,” Southern Baptists might be encouraged “to catch their passion.”
Hunt relayed his experience at a recent International Mission Board appointment service in Denver where 101 mostly young missionaries were sent out, with the “majority going to extremely hard and dangerous places.”
“With that type of commitment to Jesus Christ that they’re willing, many of them, to write their will before they leave with the understanding some of them will probably never return, I have a very difficult time spending my time talking about their jeans, whether hair is spiked or colored” or their musical tastes, Hunt said.
By building relationships with younger leaders, “if we see some areas of concern, at least we have earned the right to speak into them.”
On the continuing banter between Calvinists and those critical of the doctrine that attempts to describe God’s work in salvation, Hunt said the debate has raged for more than 400 years and is part of Baptist history.
“We have wonderful men and women on both sides. I think the Baptist tent is large enough for both,” he said.
Asked by a reporter if an invitation was made for President Barack Obama to address the SBC, Hunt said he knew of no such invitation.
But Hunt, the first known Native American SBC president, said, “I feel like we will have a resolution to really honor our president, especially in the context of being the first African American to be elected. We have much to celebrate in that.”
Hunt said he had ample opportunity to invite Republicans to speak, “but we felt that would send a wrong signal because we wanted to send prayer support to the new president and we are mandated to pray for our president.”
Speaking to proposed federal hate crimes legislation that some say could infringe on biblical preaching, Hunt said he was not overly worried as long as pastors “stay in the context of preaching biblical truth. And if the day comes that we would be imprisoned for the proclamation of the Gospel becoming that much of an offense, we would join about two-thirds of the rest of the planet.
“God forbid that I would travel to the Middle East to encourage those already in hostile settings while at same time being afraid to proclaim the message that I encourage,” Hunt said.
Returning to the Great Commission Resurgence, Hunt answered a question regarding media access to the meetings of the proposed GCR task force. He said media presence would be “counterproductive because we want people to be at liberty to share their heart.”
It could be “embarrassing where we’re just seeking wisdom,” Hunt added, “but we would love to have any and all of you at the meetings and as soon as it is over we’d be delighted to share what we came to by way of context.”
Hunt said he has “no desire whatsoever to touch the structure of the SBC and the truth is, I couldn’t if I wanted to. It would violate policy.” Hunt said perhaps more clarity in his early statements about the GCR document could have helped ease fears of drastic change.
Even if the GCR task force were rejected, traction already has been gained by efficiency studies at the Georgia and Florida conventions and at the Southern Baptist mission boards, Hunt said.
In responding to the first question asked at the news conference, Hunt predicted if the GCR were to pass that evening, he likely would name the members of the task force June 24 and it would include several seminary professors, a college president, an associational director of missions, pastors of churches of varied sizes spanning the country and ethnically diverse members.
“I don’t have all the names so I’d probably miss some,” Hunt said. “But I’d be quick to say it will be a very fair committee.”
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. With additional reporting by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, TEXAN news editor.