Strict//EN" ""> EAGLES' REST: Book Review: HARDBALL RELIGION: <i>Feeling the Fury of Fundamentalism</i>

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book Review: HARDBALL RELIGION: Feeling the Fury of Fundamentalism

THE BOOK: Hardball Religion .. Feeling the Fury of

THE AUTHOR: Rev. Wade Burleson, Pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Enid, OK

THE PUBLISHER: Smyth & Helwys, Macon, GA

In "Hardball Religion", Wade Burleson recounts the story of his involvement in, and how he was treated as a member of, the Board of Trustees of the International Mission Board; treated by those in positions of authority on the Board, as well as by fellow Trustees. His original differences with the Board concerned the "narrowing of parameters" for qualification as an IMB Missionary, and all the ramifications Burleson sees as flowing therefrom (i.e.: requiring re-baptizing of candidates whose baptism met their SBC churches' standards, but not the IMB's new standard, which Burleson sees as an infringement on the local churches' autonomy).

The format of the book is the simple telling of his story, from the run-up to his appointment to the IMB BoT, through to the time following his censure and resignation. And, it is interspersed with observations as to other symptoms of, and the effects, in human terms, of the restrictive changes made by those in leadership positions of the institutions involved.

One of those inclusions is the trail of events which, taken together, speak of an organized effort to oust IMB President Jerry Rankin; another is the concerted efforts to get rid of women in positions which some people, in positions of power, want to fill with men.


CREDIBILITY: This, frankly, may be a hindrance to some folks who read this book. Those who oppose the "Landmark characteristics" of the new guidelines of the IMB, or who differ with the opinions of those identified as "B.I" people, will tend to agree with the story in toto; others will probably disagree with Burleson's more subjective observations, such as the motivations or intentions of those opposing his efforts, and what those people are trying to accomplish.

As for me, I find his story credible. I say that for more than one reason. EXAMPLE: In Chapter 18, Burleson recounts his presentation of a particular motion at the Annual Convention in Greensboro, NC. His motion called for an ad hoc committee of the SBC itself (not just the IMB) to investigate certain practices at the IMB, and their BoT, including (among other things) practices in appointing trustees hand-picked to alter the directions of the involved organization. The Committee on the Order of Business simply referred his motion to the IMB, to investigate and report back next year (I said at the time, that was like asking the class bully if he's bullying people). As I recall, someone moved that Wade's motion be acted on by the convention as a whole, so it was scheduled for discussion in the evening session.

By way of explanation, it's necessary to include herein the fact that I spoke to that motion. I told the convention that the allegations (narrowing parameters, "stacking" boards, etc) were so serious that, if the SBC itself didn't address them, and do it now, that we're apt to come back a year later and find that the Holy Spirit had departed (much as He did King Saul, who went right on being King, since he'd "learned how"). I said Burlesons's allegations were such that, if they were true, there was a BIG problem, and if NOT, there was still a BIG problem!

The motion to bring it back out for a vote failed, and that was that.

After the meeting, my wife Peggy and I went to the Convention Hotel; as we were approaching the door, someone shouted "Hey ... isn't he the guy that spoke up for Wade?" That was, in fact, IMB Trustee Bill Sutton, a pastor from McAllen, TX, prominently mentioned in the book. I told him yes, I'd addressed the motion, and he proceeded to lambaste Burleson in a manner I thought reprehensible for any Christian, let alone a pastor!. And he divulged factual, behind-closed-doors information that he never should have said to a stranger from Alabama.

During the encounter (Peg had fled inside the hotel, to pray), Burleson walked up behind Sutton. Although I'm sure he'd heard some of what Sutton had said, Burleson was completely friendly and irenic, putting his arm around Sutton and saying "We're going to get through this, brother..". Unfortunately, Sutton did not return the friendliness, that I could see, and in fact continued his attacks after Burleson had gone on into the hotel.

That's necessary to explain, as it validates, for me, Burleson's statements about Sutton's actions (Sutton had even verified to me, what Burleson reports Sutton said to him in the hallway). And Burleson's demeanor in that personal encounter also leads me to believe that Burleson actually did conduct himself in a gracious courteous manner in dissenting, which he claims to have done.

My thoughts are also supported by what I have seen and heard, from many of the friends I've made in the SBC, since my first involvement in 2006, at Greensboro.

BOTTOM LINE: For me, the book is credible. Hence, the allegations are believable.

READABILITY: It was an enjoyable read, almost like Burleson sitting there telling a story. I think readers will find it interesting, if only from the standpoint that surprising and outrageous behaviors .. especially for a bunch of religious folks .. seem to keep cropping up every few pages.


I AGREE WITH BURLESON'S PREMISE .. about the narrowing of what it means to be a Southern Baptist. As a Baptist who holds to the doctrinal system described as "Calvinistic", and one who also has what's described as a "Prayer Language", efforts to achieve "extra-BFM" uniformity are objectionable to me. Burleson's ideas on principled dissent also seem correct and appropriate, to me. And I've personally talked to people whose lives have been affected, not to say devastated, by the trends and actions Burleson decries.

IS THE BATTLE WORTH FIGHTING? Not mine to say. One of the cornerstones of my Calvinistic leanings is that I'm not responsible to bring about the results of my efforts: that's up to God. I'm not supposed to teach or witness based upon my estimation of whether those around me will learn or get saved. So I cannot deny the appropriateness of Burleson's actions, as described in the book. His seems a noble battle in these matters.

HAS HIS ADDRESSING THESE ISSUES HAD AN EFFECT? This one's easy. Peg and I and another blogger were sitting at a restaurant at Riverwalk in San Antonio. during the 2007 SBC Convention. We were approached by two young people who called me by name; they'd recognized my picture from my blog, and had read it, as well as seen my comments on Burleson's blog. They were IMB missionaries, and said they wanted to thank us for what were were doing .. that we were, in our blogging, helping their cause!

DO I THINK THE REFORMS HE SEEMS TO SEEK .. THE GOALS HE SEEMS TO PRESS TOWARD .. WILL HAPPEN? No, I don't think so. And for my reasons, consider some of what I see as some of his "money quotes".
  • Page 19: "Sadly, many times the majority simply doesn't care about the integrity of its leaders".
  • Page 57: "The Southern Baptist Convention needs and demands transparency, the free flow of information, the ability to dissent, and cooperation in the midst of differences on tertiary issues".
  • Page 69: "I still cannot understand why the average Southern Baptist, not to mention pastors and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, are all remaining silent as they watch a small nucleus of Southern Baptists rotate from one trustee board to another -- all placed there by an oligarchy of Southern Baptist leaders led by Paige Patterson."
  • Page 77: "If we're not careful, we are going to lose a younger generation of pastors that are disillusioned with the SBC because all they see is the continuing narrowing of the parameters of fellowship within our convention".

Taken as a whole, therein lies the tale. The Convention needs openness and transparency, but the pastors in the pulpits, and the people in the pew, don't seem to care. So they deal with their own monsters where they are, and send their money off to Lottie and Annie and the CP, and "leave well enough alone".

The younger generation? I don't think I have the time to count the ones who have checked out.

So who's left to care? Read the book, and get acquainted with a few.

Including a too-lonely pastor from Enid, OK.

NOTE:"HARDBALL RELIGION; Feeling the Fury of Fundamentalism" by Wade Burleson is now available for purchase: you can order a copy direct from Smyth & Helwys HERE.


At 11:45 AM, March 25, 2009, Blogger Kevin Bussey said...

Great review Bob,

I'm reading it now.

At 11:53 AM, March 25, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob: I agree with Kevin. Good review. I was especially struck with this and I too question:

"I still cannot understand why the average Southern Baptist, not to mention pastors and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, are all remaining silent ss they watch a small nucleus of Southern Baptists rotate from one trustee board to another -- all placed there by an oligarchy or Southern Baptist leaders led by Paige Patterson."

I unfortunately agree with your conclusion on this statement.

At 1:11 PM, March 25, 2009, Blogger Paul Burleson said...



Of course there are two or three reasons WHY I would say that.

#1 I agree with the premise of principled dissent and believe that was not allowed in Wade's case in a very unhealthy if not unchristian way.

#2 You are a discerning reader and an articulate guy in expressing your own ideas.

#3 I'll let you guess... :)

At 10:12 PM, March 25, 2009, Blogger Chris Ryan said...

A good review.

I was happy that you acknowledged your baises (something others haven't done) and then defended why you could possibly still agree with Wade beyond that bias. Very articulate, very discerning.

I pray that you are wrong in saying these reforms cannot be made (but my worst fear is that you are correct for the very reasons you give). I'm one of the "young guys." I don't want to jump ship, but it is hard to see a place at the table. I don't feel the tactics that purchased Patterson and Pressler a spot at the table are ones to reimplement. I leave the "official" SBC for seminary, but I intend to come back. How long I will be allowed to stay...

At 10:23 PM, March 25, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...


We have never met, but I want to say that I enjoy your writing and level presentation in the things that I have seen you post over the last few months.

This book review is well written. I expect that it will result in people reading the book.

I hope that we get to meet sometime.


At 6:11 AM, March 26, 2009, Blogger Tim Marsh said...

Excellent review!

It is amazing how irrelevant the SBC is becoming. Go for the doctrinal is far from pure! Any doctrine worth making uniform would emphasize the importance of ethics, integrity, impeccable character, and love.

When the end becomes so important that the means to the end no longer matters, then you see the beginning of the demise of the denomination.

At 7:33 AM, March 26, 2009, Blogger Ramesh said...


Good review Bob. Thanks.

At 8:39 AM, March 26, 2009, Blogger Lin said...

Thanks for your review, Bob. Hopefully, my copy is coming soon.

After reading your comments over at Wade's blog for a while now, I trust your review.

But, I also agree with Tim Marsh above that the SBC is becoming irrelavent. Rarely do huge organizations change unless there is some crisis to force change. So far, they have ignored the crisis.

At 9:05 AM, March 26, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Your statement "...but it is hard to see a place at the table" says it all, with reference to the references to the younger generation of pastors. And that dilemma must be laid entirely at the feet of leadership, whether they acknowledge it, or even see it.

Tim, Lin, our church's Lottie Moon offering the past 2 years has been enough, each year, to support a missionary family on the field. And we've started a church ourselves, do our own domestic (and foreign) mission trips, and can find plenty of good Sunday School material outside of Lifeway. The SBC is really relevant (IMPO) to our church only because we choose it to be.

All: thanks, and read the book.

At 12:03 PM, March 26, 2009, Blogger Tim Marsh said...


Thanks for your reply. I think that my sentiments match more those of Chris Ryan than to imply that I do not see the SBC making an impact for the Kingdom of God.

I think the SBC is becoming "irrelevant" in the since that the take over is less about purity in doctrine and ethics and more about preserving a culture (i.e., revivals, southern gospel, "praying the sinner's prayer" and such, of which things like the "Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" finds fertile ground in which to grow). I think that is the point that Wade is making in his blogs.

Young ministers will not put up with power plays and politics in denominational matters. They will not submit to powerful stakeholders and be in awe of these "godly" men.

Young ministers and young Christians will not plod through a "moderate resurgence." They will leave in droves. They will find churches that communicate authentic discipleship to Christ above denominational loyalty. They will find churches that emphasize ethics on par with doctrine. They will find churches that read and teach scripture, not merely believe scripture.

Will the Chris Ryan's of the SBC actually "return" after seminary? Would they want to?

That is the reason that I see the SBC becoming irrelevant. They are preserving a culture, and many people are aware of it.

At 8:54 PM, March 26, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's amazing what occurs in people when they find out they can indeed question.

At 9:26 PM, March 26, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Yes, indeed, and TO them when they actually DO.

At 9:10 PM, March 28, 2009, Blogger Rex Ray said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:03 PM, March 28, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


I don't understand your comment, and it looks like a put-down of someone, so I took it down. That's not going to happen here.

If you can share what the last sentence meant, I'll put it back up.

At 7:54 AM, March 29, 2009, Blogger Rex Ray said...

Sorry Bob,
I didn't make a file of what I said, and I can't remember one word.

Being 77 has it's problems, but you are probably right.

At 8:00 AM, March 29, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Rex; there is one things I really like about your comment and one I don't:

1) You show a very nice spirit. Thank you for that.

2) I'm only 70 and I ALREADY have problems like that.

Boy, life is one great big amusement park ride, huh?


At 7:34 AM, April 09, 2009, Anonymous Lee said...

My copy is on its way, and I can't wait to read it. It will give me something to do on the plane to St. Louis and back in a couple of weeks.

You quoted this passage:
Page 69: "I still cannot understand why the average Southern Baptist, not to mention pastors and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, are all remaining silent as they watch a small nucleus of Southern Baptists rotate from one trustee board to another -- all placed there by an oligarchy of Southern Baptist leaders led by Paige Patterson."

I don't think there is as much silence in the SBC over these kinds of things as it may appear. The problem is rooted in the way we do business. When the "Patterson-Pressler" coalition succeeded in winning the reins of power in the SBC, the convention processes themselves contributed to their ability to do so. Since then, bylaw and procedural changes that have come about have been designed to lock the power structure in place. There was an oligarchy in place prior to the Patterson-Pressler coalition and it was replaced with another one. It is hard to vote out because only a small percentage of Southern Baptist pastors and churches are ever represented at any particular convention. Participating in the convention as a messenger is cumbersome and expensive. The average "Joe the Baptist" (sorry, couldn't resist that) is usually not able to take the vacation time required to attend a middle of the week convention, so the crowd is overwhelmingly senior adult. We are a convention of small churches, so many pastors weigh the value of attending the convention against other, more pressing budget needs. The resistance to finding a high tech solution to declining convention participation comes partly from the fear that if the convention and its processes were opened up to a larger segment of Southern Baptists, the oligarchy of the self-appointed, "prominent" leadership would be dissolved and the convention would fall back into the hands of its grass roots.

Then there is the problem of the cities chosen as convention sites. There is the occasional "gem" like San Antonio, or Phoenix and its array of fabulous golf courses, and if you can stand the sweltering humidity, the dumpy, overpriced hotels and paying $20.00 for a burger and fries Orlando offers a lot to do, but in between, the attraction of places like Greensboro, Indianapolis, Louisville and unless you're big in country music, Nashville isn't much either.

And if someone wasn't paying attention, it might seem like having the convention in Indianapolis and Louisville in successive years was a deliberate move to make it easy for Al Mohler to be elected president.

At 7:52 AM, April 09, 2009, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


I think the answer is within your comment. Pastors push the importance of convention attendance down on the priority list, to where they just choose not to go. I seriously doubt that, out of 40,000 + churches, that only 2,000 or 3,000 or 4,000 pastors are so pressed that they cannot attend, or are so impoverished that they have to stay home. We're retired, and we go!

And I don't have a problem with that, but it does show (me, anyway), that the great masses don't care.

Oh .. the matter of destinations .. if you have to pick a "destination spot", you're fighting a losing battle. That's tantamount, to me, to having "high attendance day" as some special reason to come meet with the risen Lord. It just doesn't fly with me. And I've been in on planning a number of successful conventions, never in any kind of resort city.

Good to hear from you; thanks for commenting.

At 4:56 PM, April 09, 2009, Anonymous Lee said...

My copy of the book arrived today, and I got started on it and was through the second chapter before I could put it down. I'll have to find something else to read on the way to St. Louis next week, I'll be done with this one.

If what Wade has to say here is true, and he's substantiated it with evidence and I have no reason to doubt it, then we have some trustees who have abused their power and the trust placed in them, and they should be removed from office. I think a motion to do so might be in order in Louisville. I wonder how many votes something like that would get.


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