This past Wednesday (Aug. 27) the IMB announced the election of David Platt as its new president. I have some friends who know David, but I have never met him. I have listened to a number of his sermons, heard him preach in person on a few occasions, and have interacted with some of the missions staff at Brook Hills, his soon-to-be former church.
Platt’s election has generated some debate, mostly about his soteriology and his church’s giving towards the Cooperative Program. (For example, see Bart Barber’s post here. Note that Barber wrote a gracious follow-up after Platt was elected.)
A number of people have spoken to these questions. For example, Hershael York writes about Platt’s soteriology:
Furthermore, isn’t the most common objection to a high view of election that it undermines missions? Can anyone reasonably cast that stone at David Platt? The man breathes missions. No one I have ever known is more passionate or strategic about reaching the lost than he. Forgive my historical reference, but I say of his Calvinism what Lincoln said when Grant was accused of imbibing whiskey: “Find what he’s drinking and send it to the rest of my generals!” If Platt’s soteriology drives him to reach the nations with the gospel for the glory of Christ, then may we all get a dose of it!
Regarding the issue of giving to the Cooperative Program, J.D. Greear asks:
Here is the question that David’s presidency prompts for us: Are younger Southern Baptists more likely to give to the CP when they know the man at the helm of the IMB has proven his willingness to do whatever it takes to free up more money for the field, and who shares their concerns about CP money not getting to the field?
These debates are important, but as a field worker with the IMB for 16 years, other questions are just as important for me. The biggest, of course, are: Who is David Platt? and How will a pastor who has never lived overseas lead the IMB? Since I do not know David personally, I can only assess based on what I see of him in his preaching, pastoring, writing, and what others who know him have said about him. I’ll list a few impressions that seem relevant for his role as IMB president. The final two are probably the most significant.
First, David is clearly a gifted communicator and passionate advocate for missions. This short clip is what I’m talking about:
This gift of communication and passion for God’s glory among the nations can only be a good thing for the IMB.
Second, David has led his church to make serious changes in its use of financial resources to free up more money for missions and ministry. Maybe the most well known example is depriving his son of Goldfish crackers in the children’s ministry at Brook Hills. (See chapter 1 of his book Radical Together.) If David leads in the same way at IMB, it may mean tightening the belt. That might hurt, but it could also be a good thing in terms of how he leads the IMB itself but also for how God might use him to challenge the broader SBC.
Third, David’s preaching is rich in biblical and theological content, and I look forward to David leading IMB as a deep biblical and theological thinker. I say this for two reasons. First, like other ministries, for far too long missiology has drunk too deeply from the wells of pragmatism and drawn too uncritically from the field of anthropology. I am grateful that this is not true of many of the IMB personnel with whom I have personally worked, but in an organization as large as ours, we would be naive to think that it doesn’t exist. Second, in my opinion a strong desire to get the gospel quickly to as many people as possible–which in itself is a good thing–has at times led to an overemphasis on rapidity and an insufficient emphasis on biblical and theological depth. (I hope we can emphasize BOTH, by the way.) It is difficult for me to imagine David would not challenge either of these as president of the IMB.
Finally, perhaps the biggest debate regarding any potential candidate is whether he should be a pastor or a field worker. I admit that I have always been partial to field workers serving as president, but I also see the value in having a pastor serving in the role since one of the main tasks is leading SBC churches in missions cooperation. However, a pastor who has never lived overseas simply cannot know–by experience–many of the challenges and issues involved in cross-cultural missions. I have seen two things since last Wednesday that give me significant hope this will not be a major hindrance for David. First is his humility. I see it in his preaching, and it is one of the first things mentioned about him by his friends. A humble person is willing to learn from and lean on others. Second, in an interview conducted right after his election, David acknowledged his need to draw on experienced field personnel in leading the organization (see his comments on the senior leadership team towards the end of the interview).
I am looking forward to the days ahead. David, if you happen to read this I have one request. My youngest son loves Goldfish crackers. Can you bring him some when you come to visit?