One Sacred Effort: The Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists. By Chad Owen Brand and David Hankins. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2005. 240 pages. Softcover, $14.99.
It is very difficult to write a book review of a work by two men I know personally and respect highly. It is much easier to comment on a book written by a 19th Century author. However, I am happy to say that the read is worthwhile and I commend it to you.
The contributors divide the book into their respective areas of expertise. Brand is a practicing academician who serves in the local church. Hankins is a former pastor and current denominational leader with academic credentials. Brand’s chapters are easily identified as academy specific. He uses more technical language and illustrates his points with in-depth historical details. Hankins’ part shows his experiential knowledge of the inner workings of the denominational structure. Refreshingly, his nomenclature is that of a pastor relaying information rather than of a bureaucratic policy work.
The first five chapters (Brand’s work) provide the historical and theological rationale for Southern Baptists’ cooperative giving plan. He gives a theology of cooperation as the centerpiece of this section. Brand provides a strong argument for theological accountability in a minimalist statement. He says, “It is crucial that cooperation be based on a commitment to truth.” Concluding the first part of the book is a history of missions funding from the early days of Christianity to the formation of the Cooperative Program by Southern Baptists.
Hankins’ interpretation of the intricacy of the Southern Baptist system is masterful. He walks the reader through an annual meeting of the messengers. He explains the route Cooperative Program dollars follow. He shows how funding starts with an individual member, passes through several hands, and ends up impacting the world. Hankins is very careful to show the non-connectional polity of the SBC.
Chapter Nine is shared by the two authors. It is evident that Brand tackles the historical background of the development of Southern Baptist entities while Hankins supplies the current facts and figures. Hankins covered the Covenant for a New Century in Chapter Eight which could have introduced his section in this chapter. Hankins highlights the work of the Executive Committee in Chapter Ten. His time as vice-president of the Executive Committee enables him to elucidate on the vital role of the SBC entity that distributes the Cooperative Program funds.
Let the handwringing begin! Chapters Eleven and Twelve uncover some of the factors contributing to the crisis in Southern Baptist life as it pertains to giving in general and the Cooperative Program in particular. Give the authors credit for being willing to talk about the elephant in the room. Hankins illustrates how churches reflect the culture in their approach to giving. Believers encumbered with debt cannot be good financial stewards. Many churches have also borrowed their way out of the Great Commission. State conventions retain more for their ministries than in former days. The demands of expansion in missions and theological education outstrip the growth of the Cooperative Program. The desire of believers to be personally involved in their giving causes is pushing churches back to a failed societal method. All of these dilemmas are portrayed vividly.
Hankins and Brand also propose a few solutions. Some of the suggestions are structural. Some are public relations needs. The authors appeal for the material to be taught to church members in the belief that information will alter the downward trend. Ultimately the grassroots Southern Baptist will have to decide whether the Cooperative Program is worthwhile.
There are a few improvements that I think would make the book more readable for the average Baptist layperson. Unexplained theological terms may be too academic for some readers. There are historical and theological sections too technical and esoteric. Because of the ever-changing landscape in Southern Baptist life there is a short shelf life for “current” figures. Since the book went to press, GuideStone has relinquished their portion of the Cooperative Program pie, to cite one example. Finally, it may be asking too much of the authors to supply us with more concrete examples of how to solve the declining loyalty to the Cooperative Program. It would have been a relief to turn to the last page and find the answer.
James W. Richards
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention