A Response to Peter Lumpkins
Peter Lumpkins’ blog, SBC Tomorrow, recently posted an excerpt from my message at the 2013 Reformation Montana Conference. Entitled “Modern Day Downgrade,” I drew the parallels between the doctrinal ‘downgrade’ in Spurgeon’s day to what we are seeing now in American evangelicalism. The excerpt, which was cut and pasted and then re-posted onto Lumpkin’s own YouTube channel (and currently has a whopping 254 views), includes audio of me saying that given the amount of email Reformation Montana had received, asking in advance that the audio from the Modern Day Downgrade audio be released, I was aware that the message would be listened to by thousands of Southern Baptists.
Apparently, Lumpkins was humored by that projection, and so he posted the video with a subtitle meant to be ironic or sarcastic, “Small Church Pastor Preaches As Thousands Across the Southern Baptist Convention Listen.” At first, I thought that Lumpkins was making fun that only thousands have heard the Downgrade message. Perhaps, my line of thinking suggested, the number has to be in the tens of thousands or millions for it to be a notable discourse. Thankfully Lumpkins’ comments to follow the post clarified what he considered funny about my claim; that the message would be listened to by ‘thousands throughout the Southern Baptist Convention – a projection he thought ridiculous:
“Either produce the evidence that thousand’s of Southern Baptists listened to JD’s message or drop the righteous anger bit. I specifically noted JD’s claim of ‘thousands of Southern Baptist’ listeners. ‘Thousands of Southern Baptist’ listeners is published right on the soundbite picture. Now, either demonstrate thousands of Southern Baptists listened or drop the point. Clear enough?”
“Then if it is impossible to know as you claim don’t pop off about knowing. And don’t claim it as a fact. And when somebody challenges it, concede the point with something like–‘You’re correct. It was a bit of a stretch to claim 1000s for sure.”
“It remains all but impossible to prove thousands of people across the SBC actually listened to Hall’s sermon.”
“Unfortunately, just like JD, [this commenter] fallaciously presumed and without sufficient warrant pronounced a completely unknown listening audience as a demonstrated fact. JD did not know then nor does he know now that ‘thousands’ across the SBC actually listened to his message. Good heavens. How absolutely dense are people willing to be?”
“I happen to think JD, like most of us, is capable of being both arrogant and too big for his britches and his claim in the opening words prior to his sermon demonstrate nicely his making a claim far beyond empirical evidence could substantiate.”
“And one of the points he wanted to make was that thousands of SBCers would listen, a supposition neither he nor you with all your “apologetic circle” backing you up is able to demonstrate.”
The message, “Modern Day Downgrade” was played on Chris Rosebrough’s Fighting for the Faith program on Pirate Christian Radio within two weeks after the message was originally given. Pirate Christian Radio, by the way, is the #1 web-based Christian talk station in the world. Rosebrough logged the following comment onto Lumpkins’ blog:
“I just worked out the math via my traffic logs and the May 24th, 2013 episode of Fighting for the Faith, which featured Jordan’s Downgrade speech has been downloaded 46,362 times. Granted, I don’t know how many of them are Southern Baptists but my audience is very diverse. Also keep in mind that Brannon Howse’s also featured Jordan’s downgrade lecture and his audience, which does have a higher percentage of Southern Baptists than my own, is significantly larger than the audience of Fighting for the Faith…Based upon these figures I’d say it is safe to say that Jordan Hall’s Downgrade speech has been heard by 10’s of thousands of Southern Baptists.” – Chris Rosebrough
Rosebrough later added that Howse’s program – hosted by a Southern Baptist with a strong Southern Baptist audience and broadcast on 50 terrestrial radio stations – has a listening audience of 3-4 times that of Fighting for the Faith and that it wouldn’t be an unsafe projection that upwards of two-hundred thousand have heard the Modern Day Downgrade message.
Lumpkins refused to concede the probability that at least one percent of listeners to Rosebrough and Howse’s programs were Southern Baptists, making my assumption that the Downgrade message would be listened to by thousands not unreasonable and least of all – not funny. Also not considered by Lumpkins were the hundreds upon hundreds of Montanan Southern Baptists among whom the message was circulated in the weeks following its delivery, the thousands who have downloaded the message from the Pulpit and Pen Podcast on iTunes, from Sermon.net, from the Pulpit and Pen website and from the various places it’s posted in both audio and video form on YouTube.
As the evidence became pretty overwhelming that not only thousands have heard the Modern Day Downgrade message, but hundreds of thousands, Lumpkins had to drawn a line on the issue of how many Southern Baptists, in particular, heard the message. And although the radio waves of Howse’s 50 radio stations don’t project only to Southern Baptists and there’s no way of knowing how many of the 46 thousand who have heard it from Rosebrough’s program are Southern Baptists and the same goes for the many thousand who’ve downloaded it from other sources, I have kept track of other data.
In an email I sent to both Howse and Roserbough in June earlier this year, I gave them some statistical data relating to the message. At the time, I had received over 700 emails from people around the country in regard to the Downgrade message. As I told Rosebrough and Howse in an email on June 6, nearly 80% were from Southern Baptists. At the time, I was startled because 506 of those emails had authors who were considering leaving the Southern Baptist Convention for similar reasons as what I presented in the Downgrade message (you can find a link to this document by clicking here). One would be hard-pressed to believe that less than two thousand Southern Baptists have heard the Downgrade message if 563 Southern Baptists had emailed me about it. But by Lumpkins’ logic, this is still not good enough evidence to reasonably assume two-thousand have heard the message (after all, maybe every single person who listened to the message was inclined to respond, meaning only 563 had heard it). Please keep in mind, these statistics were from three weeks after the message was delivered; many more have emailed me since then.
What’s the point? Honestly, I have no idea what Lumpkins’ point was. It becomes pretty obvious throughout the thread that Lumpkins did not know when he made the YouTube clip and posted it, that not only thousands have heard, but tens of thousands. And not only tens of thousands have heard, but hundreds of thousands. And so, Lumpkins quickly steered the conversation toward whether or not we could accurately guess that at least two thousand out of two hundred thousand were Southern Baptists. My take is that not only is it possible, it’s likely. It’s not only likely, it’s probable. Lumpkins’ take apparently is that you can’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that thousands were Southern Baptists, and so he’s right. You can only prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. But one thing is for sure – it’s not “funny” that I projected thousands would hear the message as the title of Lumpkins’ clip suggests. I don’t think Lumpkins is laughing now that he’s seen the data, although the ‘unconquerable ignorance’ which Rosebrough later accused him of might make him let out a half-hearted ‘Georgia hoot.’ It’s significantly less hilarious now that he knows the facts.
But I ask again, what’s the point? Have we become two camps bickering about the percentage of Southern Baptists in two international radio show listening audiences?
In the Modern Day Downgrade message, I laid out – through specific examples – various symptoms in the SBC that accurately diagnose a Downgrade controversy that is not unlike what Spurgeon experienced. It’s with great tears and solemn pleading I spoke – and continue to speak – to my own denomination. There’s nothing about this controversy that makes me gleeful – not even objectively winning an argument on statistical probability with a tabloid blogger in Waco, Georgia. At the end of the day, we need to look at the substance of concerns and not only the periphery. The usual commentators on Lumpkins’ blog can make fun of my cowboy hat all they want – people know that the SBC is in big trouble. And the trouble that we are in is quite bigger than the Calvinist/semi-Pelagian divide. As I pointed out in the Downgrade message, it’s bigger than the Ordo Salutis. It’s about the sufficiency of Scripture.
When I believe that the power of the Gospel is being muted in our Convention by the works of human hands, I don’t care about statistical probabilities or petty arguments about numerical influence. There is a cancer of man-centered religion that is eating away at the SBC. Doctrine is being derided. Theology is being ignored. Our methodologies have more to do with pragmatism that Biblicism. Yes, there are lots of things to get worked up about, including the content of the Modern Day Downgrade message. How many thousands have listened to the message (or not) isn’t one of them.
If you would like to listen to Modern Day Downgrade, please click here.
UPDATE: Brannon Howse had this to add…