After perusing LifeWay‘s release of a survey concerning Private Prayer Language and the Gift of Tongues, I have some questions as to the timing of the report and its purpose . It appears that this survey was a result of a Round Table meeting where a letter went out from some pastors requesting such a survey. In the letter was this request;
Therefore, we are requesting that you consider employing the resources of Lifeway to conduct a survey of Southern Baptists, …. to discover where Southern Baptists are on the issue of tongues, private prayer languages, and the acceptability of their use within our denomination.
However, according to Dr. Brad Waggoner, this survey was conducted because “LifeWay Research is committed to studying issues and trends that impact churches. This is an issue that is being discussed throughout the Convention, and we wanted to determine the perceptions and opinions of SBC leaders.” This response brings me to my questioning of the correct findings concerning Southern Baptist.
According to the report there were 403 Southern Baptist Pastors and 602 other Protestant Senior Pastors along with 1004 Protestant Laity. 60% of the Senior Pastors surveyed did not claim to be Southern Baptist. Also, while the laity sample pool is listed as Protestant, it gives the appearance that none of the Laity surveyed claimed to be Southern Baptist. With this being the sample pool for the survey, it would appear that we are not receiving a clear understanding of Southern Baptist. Due to the fact that the entire sample pool consisted of only 20% of people who claim to be Southern Baptist.
I will not get into questioning the methods employed because this is not an area that I consider myself an expert in. I will leave the methods employed to the professionals at LifeWay Research. However, my limited understanding and memory from days taking Statistics in my undergraduate degree, lead me to question the lack of SBC Laity being involved. If, as some have reported, there was a pool of SBC laity, why were they not separated from the Protestant Laity in reporting on the PPL of Southern Baptist.
The low sample of SBC pastors in order to make up an oversampling seems to be inverted. The 20% less of SBC Pastors certainly does not seem adequate if this report is, as it reports to be, a survey of the SBC and what they believe about PPL.
Would anyone in their right mind not agree that the timing of the release of this report is strange? According to the report these surveys were taken between April-May 2007. Therefore the data had to be analyzed, the reports written, and a consensus of the research team had to be together before the report went public. All this was done in 30 days. I am impressed. It does seem that Dr Stetzer’s first official day on the job produced a huge item for him to explain. However, according to the pod cast, Dr. Stetzer was involved in the survey. He was involved even though his first official day was June 1 according to LifeWay’s news release. With the convention about to tackle this issue, and it has been on the burner for the past year, releasing this report now, is the epitome of “getting out the vote”. It seems that I remember hearing Dr. Rainer say at the Baptist Identity Conference that he was about Building Bridges. I believe that is his heart’s desire, but with this report coming now, I must question what bridges he is trying to build.
Cessassionist versus Continuationists
There is an interesting question posed for this survey.
Which one of the following three options best describes your belief about the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues publicly? Do you believe: 1. This gift is still given today to some believers, 2. This gift is still given today to all true believers, or 3. This gift was only given in the days of the Apostles
Dr. Brad Waggoner said
“We generally were surprised by the number of Southern Baptists who believe this gift is still operative today, but I was struck by the number of cessationists. I would not have thought that 41% of our pastors would hold to a strict cessationist view. The middle ground is gone, but you either have a strong belief that it is possible, or a strong belief that it is not possible, if that makes sense.” – Brad Waggoner
In this response, it appears, 50% are continuationist in their theology with 41% being cessassionist. I submit, this result is skewed somewhat in the way it is asked. Brother Robin Foster has clearly demonstrated in his presentation at the Conference on the Holy Spirit, there are more than two views in Southern Baptist life concerning the Spiritual Gift of Tongues. That is something, it appears, the Research Team never took into consideration. You can tell from their ipod interviews, they only believe in either a cessassionists or a continuationists view. The way this question is worded I would have chosen #1 and I am cessassionist in my theology. But, I do believe that God can gift some believers with the gift of tongues today in order to win someone to Christ.
My initial response to the survey was surprise. I really could not believe that Southern Baptist believed this way. While it appears to be a survey that places Southern Baptist in a position as those that believe in a Private Prayer Language, I personally believe the results are skewed. They are skewed for the simple reason the survey involved 80% more Non-Southern Baptist than Southern Baptist.
There are some questions that I would like to see the Research Team report answers to. How many of those recent graduates in the survey pool are in Southern Baptist Churches now and how many are Protestant? If the purpose of this survey was to find what Southern Baptist believe about the Spiritual Gift of Tongues, why were only 400 Southern Baptist Pastors surveyed? Also, if we are looking for pew sitting Southern Baptist, were there any surveyed? If there were pew sitting Southern Baptist Surveyed, why were they not identified in the sampling?