Thursday, October 12, 2006

Criswell, Cowboys, and Papaw

I happened to be a few months shy of 6 years old in May of 1988. Although I heard my grandfather, especially, talk of them, I was unaware of this tribe called "liberals" in an organization called the Southern Baptist Convention. I did not realize what was at stake in the battle, or even that there was much of a battle raging. The only battle I faced was trying to stop sucking my thumb because it would make my teeth look crooked. However, my grandfather at that time spoke of a greater battle than my ascetic, thumb-sucking struggles, and he spoke of a hero called W.A. Criswell.

It was on May 13th of 1988 that Criswell delivered a sermon that still echoes in the hearts of the conservative Southern Baptist. The address is, "The Curse of Liberalism." I first saw the video after I began working at the music and audio/visual library of SBTS. I remember taking it home and playing the tape after a long day, and I felt like I was watching a western. I can only imagine what it was like to be in that room, but I got a good taste of the atmosphere during the cheering after he announced his sermon title.

To my grandfather, he was a cowboy hero, unabashedly standing for what was true and right. As I grew older, I realized what was at stake. I didn't quite avoid those long, drawn-out conversations with my grandfather about theology and the state of the SBC anymore. I saw a passion in those rants that let me know that he wouldn't put up with anyone tampering with the nature of the Word of God.

One of the last coherent conversations that I remember us having occurred after I made the decision to enroll in Boyce College. He was wary of me coming to SBTS, for he was a pastor in Kentucky for many years and knew where the school had been. I kept telling him that things had changed. I went home for a visit on that Labor Day of my first semester, and he told me about a recent portion of D. James Kennedy's program that he saw where Kennedy was lauding Dr. Mohler and the SBC for its return to its biblical roots. My grandfather was content when he heard that, and he was satisfied with me attending a school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I think it put his mind at ease in those last few months of his life.

He passed away the same year as his hero, W.A. Criswell. Thinking of these two men being laid to rest, I give thanks for my heroes, those who stand upon the truth of the Word of God and do not retreat in the face of opposition. I thank God for Russell Moore, the man who was instrumental in my conversion and who baptized me. I thank God for my pastor, Dr. Mark McClellan, and for his example of humble, wise pastoral leadership and compassion for the flock. I thank God for my mentor in the faith, Todd Crosby, who meets weekly with me to discuss very practical areas of ministry, and who has shown me how to preach with boldness and clarity while rightly interpreting the Scripture.

I encourage you to thank God for the "cowboys" that He has put in your life.

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