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Tim Keller Defends Doug Birdsall, 'Perplexed and Grieved' over Bible Society Firing

(UPDATED) American Bible Society tells Keller, Leighton Ford, Skip Ryan and others not to disrespect either side.
Tim Keller Defends Doug Birdsall, 'Perplexed and Grieved' over Bible Society FiringCourtesy of American Bible Society

Editor's note: This post has been updated with the American Bible Society's full response to the open letter from Tim Keller and 10 others.

One month after the American Bible Society (ABS) unexpectedly fired its new president weeks before his inauguration, a group of 11 Christian leaders including Tim Keller has released an open letter in defense of Doug Birdsall—and ABS has responded in kind.

"As Christian leaders who have known Doug over the entire course of his ministry, we are perplexed and grieved by this action," write Keller, Leighton Ford, Skip Ryan, Ram Gidoomal, and seven others regarding the release of the former Lausanne Movement leader after six months on the job.

They note Birdsall's "reputation for integrity and record productivity," explain they will support his family due to the lack of a severance, and share their dashed hopes:

Those of us in New York City were thrilled to hear Doug champion new opportunities and challenges for Bible Engagement in the 21st Century. He spoke enthusiastically and worked tirelessly on the vision to partner with churches and Christian organizations across the country to get the Bible into the hands, the minds, and the hearts of the next generation. We have heard many reports from so many who had enthusiastically embraced the nature and scope of Doug's compelling vision.

We grieve for our friends, Doug and Jeanie Birdsall. And we grieve for the loss of what we believe would have been a great future for the work of the American Bible Society under his leadership.

In response, ABS board chairman Pieter Dearolf issued his own letter, stating that Birdsall had actually declined ABS's offer of severance. He writes:

As in the book of Acts, it is clear that even those with the best of intentions and faithfulness simply do not always agree. It has been and continues to be our hope that neither Doug and Jeanie nor American Bible Society would be disrespected in this separation of service. Our prayer is that we can all agree on this. The wider reach of global Christian mission continues to be our shared goal.

The full text of both letters is below.

CT previously reported how Birdsall and ABS both cited "significant differences" over how to get more people reading the Bible, and ran the full text of the announcements on both sides.

Full text of today's letter from Tim Keller et al.:

November 5, 2013

Dear Friends of the Birdsalls:

We are writing to you in support of our friends, Doug and Jeanie Birdsall. Most likely you have heard that the Board of Trustees of the American Bible Society (ABS) recently released Doug as President and CEO after just six months in this role. As Christian leaders who have known Doug over the entire course of his ministry, we are perplexed and grieved by this action. In the aftermath of a distressing few weeks, we wish to tell you of our deep appreciation and support for Doug.

1. Doug's reputation of integrity and record productivity

Doug is one of the most widely known and highly respected mission leaders in the world. The impact of his work was globally visible at Cape Town 2010, one of the most representative gatherings of leaders in the 2,000-year history of the Christian movement. Prior to his leadership for the Lausanne Movement, Doug served for sixteen years as the President and CEO of Asian Access, a ministry where he also provided revitalizing leadership for growth across Asia.

His leadership is characterized by godliness, vision, energy, and integrity. Doug is known for his ability to inspire, to recruit gifted people, and to enlist significant financial support from a wide variety of sources. He is legendary with his ability to remember the names of thousands of people from around the world.

Doug's public ministry is perhaps most convincingly validated by exemplary family life. Jeanie is the unsung heroine of the story as a trusted advisor and life partner of 38 years. Their three extraordinarily accomplished children are all committed followers of Christ and are active in churches and ministries in New York, Cambridge, and London.

Those of us in New York City were thrilled to hear Doug champion new opportunities and challenges for Bible Engagement in the 21st Century. He spoke enthusiastically and worked tirelessly on the vision to partner with churches and Christian organizations across the country to get the Bible into the hands, the minds, and the hearts of the next generation. We have heard many reports from so many who had enthusiastically embraced the nature and scope of Doug's compelling vision.

We grieve for our friends, Doug and Jeanie Birdsall. And we grieve for the loss of what we believe would have been a great future for the work of the American Bible Society under his leadership.

2. Our Commitment to Doug and Jeanie

We have confidence that God has something greater in store for Doug and Jeanie. We believe they will grow deeper and stronger in character as they discover God's redemptive purposes. That notwithstanding, this is a deep and painful blow that comes on top of a demanding season of life. They need to be replenished physically, emotionally and spiritually. These recent events come on the heels of two surgeries for lung cancer, from which, we are thankful, Doug is recovering well. They are now back at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, a place they call home with a community of students and scholars they love.

As they will not be receiving severance from ABS, we are also taking initiative to ensure that they will be well cared for during this season. Senior Executives at Asian Access, the National Christian Foundation and the Lausanne Movement are providing leadership in this area.

Thank you for your concern for Doug and Jeanie. Please keep them in your prayers. They would be happy to hear from you by phone or e-mail. We would also ask you to pray for the American Bible Society and for the global cause of the Bible through their partners in the United Bible Societies. God bless you.

Sincerely in Christ,

Dr. Tim Keller, Senior Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church; New York Times best- selling author

Mr. Bob Doll, Chief Equity Strategist, Nuveen Asset Management; Chair, The Lausanne Global Executive Leadership Forum; Former Vice Chairman and Chief Equity Strategist, BlackRock; Former President, Merrill Lynch Investment Managers

Dr. Terry Douglass, Chairman and CEO, ProNova Solutions; Chairman, Provision Foundation

Dr. Leighton Ford, President, Leighton Ford Ministries

Mr. Ram Gidoomal, Chairman of Global Board, The Lausanne Movement

Mr. Dale Jones, President, Diversified Search; Former Vice Chair, Heidrick and Struggles; Trustee, Princeton Seminary; National Board, The Salvation Army

Mr. Ron McMahon, Chairman of the Board, Asian Access

Mr. Peter Ochs, Chairman of the Board, First Fruit, Inc.; Founder and Chairman, The Fieldstone Group of Companies; Former Chair of the Executive Committee, Prison Fellowship Ministries; Founding Chair, The Seed Company; Former Chair, Wycliffe Bible Translators, US

Dr. Joseph "Skip" Ryan, Chancellor, Redeemer Seminary; Founding Pastor, Park Cities Presbyterian Church, Dallas

Dr. Ken Wendling, Friend and Mentor to Doug for thirty-three years

Mr. David Wills, Esq., President, National Christian Foundation; Co-Founder, Generous Giving

Full text of American Bible Society response:

November 5, 2013

Dear Friends of Doug & Jeanie Birdsall,

I received a copy of your November 5th note and wanted to thank you for your ongoing support for Doug and Jeanie. We join you in affirming their talents and commitment to kingdom service. We likewise underscore the importance of transition.

This is why we were disappointed when Doug declined our offers of severance as well as other direct support. We wanted to further support Doug and Jeanie in this way, however we respect their decision to decline.

As in the book of Acts, it is clear that even those with the best of intentions and faithfulness simply do not always agree. It has been and continues to be our hope that neither Doug and Jeanie nor American Bible Society would be disrespected in this separation of service. Our prayer is that we can all agree on this. The wider reach of global Christian mission continues to be our shared goal.

Thank you again for this note and all that each of you do in your ongoing kingdom service.

Yours Faithfully,

Pieter Dearolf
Chairman, Board of Trustees American Bible Society

Posted:November 5, 2013 at 11:39AM
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