Southern Baptist Convention President Bailey Smith was thundering through his sermon in the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center only hours before the 13,000 Baptists seated before him would cast ballots for either him or his opponent.

Then, Smith hit an emphatic point and suddenly something unexpected happened: the crowd responded with a standing ovation. Smith glanced down to his right where the heads of the Baptist agencies and state newspapers sat—a group which, on the whole, was skeptical of his first year’s presidency. But they were on their feet too, clapping. Bailey Smith thought he was in.

And he was—but just barely. For the first time in 124 years of Southern Baptist national conventions, an opponent was out to deny a sitting Southern Baptist president the second, one-year term of office permitted him. But when the computer counted the ballots late that afternoon, Smith had bested Baylor University Chancellor Abner McCall, 60 percent to 40 percent.

The strong challenge showed how concerned the denominational establishment has grown with respect to the conservatives who believe they have detected modernist theories of Bible scholarship in some of the denomination’s six seminaries. The conservatives set out two years ago to stem the trend by preaching the inerrancy of the Bible, accusing the “liberals” by name, and reminding Baptists that those Protestant denominations that have lost their trust in God’s Word have shrunken in size and missionary zeal. The SBC, with 13.6 million members, is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, and growing.

So far, the conservative campaign has been successful—which is not surprising, since, according to a Gallup Poll (CT, June 6, 1980, p. 32), 94 percent of Southern Baptist pastors believe the Bible is inerrant.

The most important organizational authority the SBC president has is the selection of a committee on committees. That panel appoints a committee on boards, which appoints trustees to the numerous Southern Baptist schools and agencies. Last month’s convention voted in about 90 conservatives to trustee vacancies, the nominees coming from appointments made by another conservative, Adrian Rogers, when he was president two years ago. Next year another group of conservative trustees is expected to be elected, the result of Smith’s committee appointments last year. Following that, still another group of conservatives is likely to be nominated resulting from Smith’s reelection this year. Leaders of the conservative campaign acknowledge that it will take 7 more years of conservative presidencies—10 altogether—to replace all 900 trustees at Baptist institutions and give the denomination a solidly conservative cast.

Alarmed by the trend, the moderates of the Baptist establishment prevailed upon a distinguished member, Abner McCall, the just-retired president of Baylor University, to run against Smith. They viewed his surprising strength as a clear warning shot across the conservative bow, and were further encouraged when four trustees, bumped by the zealously conservative committee on boards, were returned to office by vote of the convention. Two of those trustees were from the Baptist Home Mission Board, one was from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and one from New Orleans Theological Seminary. The convention also rejected one of the conservative nominees to the Southern Baptist executive committee.

Two others who left Los Angeles in a pleasant frame of mind were leaders of the conservative campaign: Paul Pressler, a Houston state appeals court judge, and Paige Patterson, president of the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies in Dallas. They were glad to escape Los Angeles with Smith as president again, believing it will be easier to see a conservative successor elected at next year’s convention in New Orleans.

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For the fourth year in a row, the Baptists reaffirmed their 1963 “Faith and Message Statement,” which declares in part that the Bible “is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” Conservatives claim that some seminary professors find room for teaching liberal, noninerrantist Bible theories by interpreting the statement to mean that whatever truth the Bible contains has no mixture of error.

Herschel Hobbs, who chaired the committee that drew up the statement in 1963, affirmed from the podium in Los Angeles that the words mean the entire Bible is without error. That left the conservatives happy. The moderates were happy as well, because Smith, in the sermon that drew the standing ovation, asserted that Southern Baptists need go no further in their allegiance to the Bible than that 1963 statement. Some moderates find room in it for genuine differences of opinion about the Bible, and have feared that the conservatives, led by Smith, would try to drive the denomination to a much narrower, creedalistic view of inspiration.

With both factions appeased, the rancor that had engulfed the last two conventions did not develop in Los Angeles, answering the prayers of many attenders. The term heard most often from leaders on both sides was “reconciliation,” and the convention focused on matters nearer to the heart of the pastors who comprised the bulk of the 13,000 convention “messengers.” That focus was on winning lost souls to Christ, and, in particular, reaching every human being with the gospel by the end of the century.

They also enjoyed Los Angeles. Several groups contacted a booking agent that provides audiences for network television shows. The agent, though dubious about funneling Southern Baptists into the “Mike Douglas Show,” “Match Game,” and others, did it anyway. The jovial Baptists made a hit with the networks, and on the last day of the convention the agent was back at the convention center, trying to give away 500 more free tickets to taping sessions.

The issue that plagued Bailey Smith during his first year as president was his statement last August that God does not hear the prayers of Jews. While it swirled into a tornado outside the Baptist camp, it did not appear to be a factor at the Los Angeles convention. The divisive inerrancy issue and the one-sided appointments that Smith made to his next committee on committees last April that prompted the Abner McCall challenge were what seemed to bring the large vote against Smith.

Because Baptists on both sides of the inerrancy issue have tried hard not to be seen as divisive, the matter was not aired openly during the convention, although it was boiling underneath. Consequently, the arguments about inerrancy have played mostly in the pages of the press. In fact, it was the Religion Newswriters Association that organized a debate before the convention between Paige Patterson and Kenneth Chafin, a Houston pastor and chairman of the board of Southwestern seminary in Fort Worth.

Chafin did not argue against inerrancy itself, only that it was not an issue crucial to the survival of the SBC. He said the convention was not organized to build walls around the Bible with creeds, such as inerrancy, but to engage in spreading the gospel through missionary outreach. Chafin denied that Southern Baptists are divided about the Bible, and he declared that “we don’t have a single institution where the fact of the authority of Scripture is questioned. This doesn’t mean there is total agreement about the Bible.”

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Chafin called the campaign by the inerrantist conservatives “a naked, ruthless reach for personal power that acts in a way to say any means are justified. I have a real problem with the anger in my heart toward the people who are doing this thing.” He predicted that at the first convention in which the issues are made clear and a representative group of Baptists attend, the conservatives will be defeated.

Patterson called Chafin’s charges against his group “emotional opinion,” and told the audience that Chafin brought no facts to back up that opinion. On the other hand, Patterson said he and others have on many occasions brought out facts to show that some Baptist seminary professors hold and teach views foreign to most Baptists in the pews. “We say that what goes on in the seminaries ought to reflect what the people in the churches think,” he said. Patterson also made these points:

• Inerrancy is the historic posture of most Southern Baptists.

• “Language games” played by neo-orthodox theologians make it imperative to stand up for the term inerrancy.

• The Bible claims inerrancy for itself.

• If Baptists believe in the lordship of Christ, whatever he said about Scripture ought to be believed by Baptists.

The Los Angeles convention marked the third year in a row that one of the conservatives who believes in an inerrant Bible was elected president, despite the ruckus raised about them. Adrian Rogers, a Memphis pastor, was elected in 1979. When he declined a second year, Smith was elected in 1980 to replace him. If there were a single reason for the success of the conservative campaign, it might be that the sinister motives that moderates are trying to attach to Patterson and his group are not going down easily.

One tired Tennessee preacher, relaxing on a bench outside the convention hall on the last day of the meeting, said he voted for Bailey Smith. Asked why, given all the nasty things being said about the leaders of the inerrantist camp, he replied, “I believe what Bailey Smith believes about the Bible. But that doesn’t make me a bad person. I’m a good person.”

The Inerrancy Issue
Tev Translator Bratcher Quits Bible Society Post

In a further development since his controversial criticisms of biblical inerrancy, Robert G. Bratcher last month resigned his post with the American Bible Society.

Bratcher, an ABS research associate who had headed the translation team that produced the society’s popular Good News Bible, aroused the ire of conservative Southern Baptists some weeks ago. At a meeting in Dallas of the Southern Baptists’ Christian Life Commission, he said, “Only willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty can account for the claim that the Bible is inerrant and infallible.” (He later apologized for the tone but not the content of his remarks.)

The ABS also felt uncomfortable. Only a day after Bratcher’s resignation, the society issued a statement calling the Bible translator’s remarks “ill-considered and intemperate.” The society said Bratcher’s remarks violated one of its “basic rules,” and completely disassociated itself from them.

The ABS release, sent out in the name of its general secretary, Alice Ball, said the society shuns theological debate or comment on the doctrinal positions of the churches it serves. The society’s sole purpose is promoting “the distribution of the Holy Scriptures without doctrinal note or comment,” said the release, and it “historically had a clear guideline known by all its staff that they should refrain from making public statements which might be interpreted as official ABS policy in such matters.”

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Ball would not say whether the society asked Bratcher to resign, but stated, “We’ve been in constant touch with him since this whole thing started.” Bratcher declined commenting to reporters about what he said in his resignation—that the “Bible cause” would “best be served by my resignation from the ABS.”

The society feared adverse reaction from conservative constituents, such as Bratcher’s own Southern Baptists. The Southern Baptist Convention contributed more than $290,000 to the ABS last year—by far more than any of the other 90 denominations, churches and agencies supporting the ABS.

The ABS distributes many kinds of Scriptures: 6.5 million of its Good News Bibles in the U.S. since publication in 1976, more than 40 million of its New Reader Scriptures in 1980, and various kinds of Scripture portions. A paid staff of 450 and 39,000 volunteers coordinate the ABS work, which has a $34 million annual budget.

The ABS’s U.S. and overseas distribution of Scriptures dipped sharply between 1979 and 1980: from 259 million to 188 million Scriptures, or a 27 percent drop. Secretary Ball attributed this to fewer large contracts with certain church bodies in 1980, and to various internal reorganization moves.

World Service Fund Issue
Dismissed Umc Clergy Are Denied Church Trial

In a case likely to raise eyebrows, two United Methodist Church ministers were dismissed without the trial they had asked for. John Finkbeiner, Jr., and Alexander Ufema II, were terminiated last month by an overwhelming vote of 600 ordained UMC clergymen in an executive session at the annual meeting in Grove City of the denomination’s Western Pennsylvania Conference.

Finkbeiner and Ufema, who between them pastored six Fayette County, Pennsylvania, UMC congregations, were suspended this spring after telling parishioners they could not in conscience support the UMC’s World Service Fund (CT, April 10, p. 60). (The fund supports most UMC program agencies, including its Board of Global Ministries, and the two pastors complained some of their dollars were going to Marxist and leftist causes.) Effective March 14, the UMC’s 45-member Board of Ordained Ministry placed the pair on “involuntary leave.” The men were informed they would have to vacate their parsonages within 30 days—at which time their salaries would cease.

The board gave them two alternatives: resignation or ecclesiastical trial. The two pastors, both aged 34 and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary graduates, chose the latter, hoping to clear their names. They complained that the vagueness of the charge against them—“disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church”—placed them under a cloud, even evoking suspicions of moral turpitude.

Conference Bishop James M. Ault agreed to their request. In a pastoral letter dated May 3, he stated, “Since [Finkbeiner and Ufema] have elected trial which is their constitutional right … it is my responsibility as the Presiding Bishop to make certain that the procedures set forth in the Book of Discipline … be followed and that both men be guaranteed due process.”

But three weeks later a new denominational ruling decreed, “The Annual Conference alone, acting through their ministerial members in full connection shall have final authority over the Conference relationships of its ministerial members.” This judicial ruling was interpreted as rendering a trial irrelevant, and formal charges were dropped.

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The Board of Ordained Ministry then summoned the probationers to the annual conference and recommended dismissal for five reasons:

• Ufema and Finkbeiner had incorporated a nonprofit corporation known as Christian Brothers and Sisters without consultation with the officials of their churches. They held Sunday evening services under the auspices of this new organization, incorporated for the purpose of “Christian evangelism and social action.” This new corporation was becoming a competitor to the United Methodist churches in which the men were appointed. After removal from their United Methodist churches, they held religious services on a regular basis under the auspices of their new organization. They advertised themselves as “Methodists in Exile” and competed aggressively with their former churches.

(Finkbeiner and Ufema insist their purpose was to supplement, not compete with, church programs, and that increased commitment and church growth resulted from the radio broadcasts, family night movies, men’s breakfasts, and other activities sponsored by Christian Brothers and Sisters. They denied that they had lured members from their former congregations to their “exile” meetings.)

• Before the ministers were removed, they administered their churches in ways that largely disregarded the role of the laity and the administrative board. (Finkbeiner explained that this was not their intent, but admits that the complaint has some validity.)

• Their ministries were creating confusion and disunity, not only within the churches but within the larger communities. Ecumenical activities were discouraged or abandoned. The superintendent of the Connellsville District, Samuel Allaman, received letters and telephone calls from members over a period of months complaining of the manner in which the churches were being handled. (Finkbeiner rejects as false the charge of noncooperation. He states that he was elected vice-president of the local ministerium, was actively involved in the Salvation Army, and participated in interchurch programs. While not denying the possibility of complaints, he stated that none had been submitted in writing to the pastor-parish relations committee as required by church law.)

• Both ministers created divisions within the memberships by attacks upon the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and the World Council of Churches. (What they considered positive criticisms were interpreted by church officials as “attacks,” Finkbeiner explained.)

• The district superintendent and committee of conference ministers met with Ufema and Finkbeiner on several occasions [and] were met with a total lack of cooperation. (Both men said they assured the committee of their full cooperation in all matters permitted by conscience.)

Each man was given seven minutes in which to respond to the list of complaints. Both felt disadvantaged by lack of prior opportunity to review the statements. The ministers voted overwhelmingly to discontinue Finkbeiner and Ufema. According to an official statement, “This they did with heavy hearts but with the conviction that the ministries of Ufema and Finkbeiner were disruptive and counterproductive.”

Finkbeiner and Ufema feel that authorities acted unjustly in denying them the promised trial. They point out the UMC Book of Discipline clearly specifies due process, with right to trial, in cases of “involuntary termination.” But church officials justify their action by citing another section of the Book of Discipline that states: “Probationary members may request discontinuance of [probationary membership] or may be discontinued by the Annual Conference, upon recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry, without reflection upon their character.”

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In a June 22 open letter to Bishop Ault, a task force of the UMC’s evangelical Good News movement protested the denial of the pastors’ trial. Listing five ways the pastors’ due process was allegedly violated, the letter called upon Ault to reopen the case and “make possible the trial these men were assured they had the right to request or at least provide an opportunity to appeal to the Judical Council.”

The task force, composed of several top Good News officials, formed in April to monitor alleged “harassment of clergy over the matter of World Service giving,” said member Virgil Maybray. He charged that an increasing number of pastors are being told to “pay World Service or leave”—this, he said, because a change last year in the UMC’s Book of Discipline is being interpreted as making mandatory a church’s payment to the fund. Ewing T. Wayland of the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration has stated publicly that the World Service payment is not mandatory. To this, Maybray replies, “If what he [Wayland] says is true, then somebody had better be telling the district superintendents and bishops [who are enforcing it].”

A ministerial sympathizer, the Reverend Donn Chapman of Derry, Pennsylvania, believes the executive session followed the path of expediency, not justice—and added his concern that the appointment system (as practiced in the UMC) breeds fear. He said those who dare to think and act independently must be prepared to pay the price of their nonconformity.


Presbyterian Church in Canada
Women’S Ordination Still At Issue After 15 Years

It has been 15 years since the Presbyterian Church in Canada approved the ordination of women ministers and elders. But the 170,000-member body still has not decided how to treat male ministers who don’t share in that approval.

This year’s PCC general assembly debated for an unprecedented six hours what to do with male ministers who believe the ordination of women is irregular and unscriptural. At the Ottawa meeting, the assembly finally took two actions:

• The assembly declared that all persons entering the ministry, from seminaries or other churches, will be required to participate in the ordination of women until new legislation is enacted. The assembly’s action, approved 138 to 78, served as a temporary ruling to clear the air.

Problems had crystallized two years earlier, when Westminister Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) graduate Daniel MacDougall told the East Toronto Presbytery’s licensing committee that he could not in conscience ordain women. The 1980 assembly set a 10-year time limit, or so it seemed, after which all ministers and ministerial candidates would have to conform. However, an exception was made for MacDougall. East Toronto was ordered to license him, and he went into the ministry.

• This year’s assembly abolished the 10-year limit on conformity. It appointed a special committee to make a “study of liberty of conscience in this particular context and bring to the 1982 General Assembly material basic to a declaratory act or legislation to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act.” That means even if a majority of the 44 presbyteries approve, new legislation cannot be enacted until 1983.

Forty-five overtures, memorials, and petitions on the women’s ordination issue were submitted to the assembly by Presbyterians, local church sessions (boards), and individuals. Some of these asserted that the biblical principle of liberty of conscience, as described in the Westminster Confession of Faith, applies in all matters not clearly supported from Scripture, and that the ordination of women falls into that category.

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The RCA and the CRC
Reformed Bodies Diverge Over Women’S Ordination

A woman may soon rule as Supreme Court judge, but there is still a split decision over her role within the church.

Delegates to two separate church meetings in June, the Reformed Church in America General Synod and the Christian Reformed Church in North America Synod, reached different conclusions about women in ecclesiastical office.

After eight years of controversy over the issue, the RCA general synod, meeting in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, officially approved an amendment to its Book of Church Order permitting the ordination of women as ministers. The ruling included a guarantee of freedom of conscience for those in the church whose personal convictions made participation in such ordinations difficult.

“It’s a compromise decision,” said John Stapert, publisher and editor of the RCA’s Church Herald magazine. “The United Presbyterian Church’s struggles with this issue were very much in mind.” He said that by permitting church members to decline participation in women’s ordinations or to move to other churches or classes (church districts) without penalty because of this issue, the ruling encouraged the ordination of women but did not force it on those who objected.

By contrast, the CRC synod, meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan, rejected recommendations of a study committee that proposed conditions under which women might serve as deacons. Choosing to table all motions rather than bring church leaders to a vote, the synod asked for another year of study to determine specifically the meaning and scope of headship in the Bible relating to the relationship of husbands and wives as well as men and women.

“Probably [it is] the best thing,” said William P. Brink, stated clerk of the CRC, of the decision. “Our church isn’t ready to have women in office yet. To allow them to become deacons while distinguishing that office from that of elder [one recommendation] is to demean the office of deacon. Yet we are by no means ready as a denomination to permit or endorse women as elders.”

The 211,000-member CRC separated from the RCA in 1857, but since 1976 it has been in “official fellowship” with the Reformed church. This provides for pulpit and fraternal delegate exchange, intercommunion, membership transfer, and joint efforts to promote Christian unity.

But it is obviously not a relationship close enough to issue a unified statement on the role of women in the church.

In other synodical action, the RCA approved expressing to President Reagan its opposition to continuing military aid to El Salvador. General synod delegates also rejected a proposal to support the human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution, choosing instead to uphold their 1973–74 statement on abortion. This statement emphasizes the sanctity of human life but states that sometimes a choice must be made between two evils.

The CRC synod adopted a ruling on capital punishment affirming the states’ right, but not obligation, to institute or practice capital punishment, and that when exercised it be done with restraint. The synod also voted to continue ecclesiastical fellowship with the Reformed Church in the Netherlands (the Gereformeerde Kerken) despite its liberal stance on homosexuality, to which many Christian Reformed members object.


Christian Action Council
Antiabortion Group Adds Crisis Pregnancy Centers

“Christians can be more committed to the prolife movement because we know life is not temporal, but eternal,” said Harold O.J. Brown, chairman of the Christian Action Council (CAC), at its 1981 Convocation on the Sanctity of Human Life in Atlanta, Georgia, last month.

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Brown told the group of nearly 300 prolife enthusiasts that although there is the “possibility of real success in the near future for the prolife/antiabortion movement,” Jesus Christ requires one’s being faithful, not necessarily successful. However, as participants from 29 states, the District of Columbia, and Ontario, Canada, met for training, the feeling circulating within the group was that the prolife movement is a winning cause.

Senator John P. East (R-N.C.) shared the optimism as he received CAC’s 1981 Outstanding Legislator Award for his performance during recent hearings on the proposed human life bill (S. 158). East chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Separation of Powers and has held five hearings on the topics of when life begins (CT, May 29, p. 30).

The six-year-old CAC formed primarily to reverse the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions. It calls itself the country’s largest Protestant prolife organization. The CAC’s full-time lobbyist, W. Douglas Badger, led a conference session concerned with working to reverse the court’s decision, plus workshops on private citizens, advocacy and using voter identification surveys. It was reported that 9 million abortions have been performed since 1973.

John Perkins, who recently resigned as president of Voice of Calvary Ministries of Jackson, Mississippi, to become its minister-at-large, called upon those attending the gathering to affirm human dignity wherever they are able. He said, “If we are against taking human life, we have to decide what we are going to do with these human lives [once they are saved from abortion].” Perkins warned the group against being a “single issue” movement.

Besides acquainting conferees with the new tools for their work—slide shows, films, and booklets—the convocation was a time of pepping up and inspiration for newcomers as well as oldtimers of the prolife movement.

The CAC has 10 Crisis Pregnancy Centers around the country and plans to have 10 more functioning by the end of the year, says CAC executive director Curtis J. Young. A “crisis pregnancy” is when the woman must face whether to abort or keep the child, says Young, 28, who has served with the CAC for three years.

The crisis pregnancy ministry will be a growing one for churches in this decade, Young predicts. (It counteracts criticisms that prolifers spend all their time fighting abortion, while not helping women through the emotional trauma before and after they do give birth from an unwanted pregnancy.) In fact, CAC is developing videotape training packages (all Atlanta sessions were taped) and workbooks to aid churches in training their volunteers. At the Atlanta convocation, Young unveiled a two-inch-thick resource manual for prolife workers.

Attenders received a listing of historical enemies of the prolife movement. The list included Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Medical Association, and the National Public Health Association. Brown, a Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor, claimed Christians are too passive when they are attacked by such groups.

As a gesture of support and “demonstrating a concern for the sanctity of human life in all its stages,” an offering of $350 was received at the closing session of the convocation. The offering went to the Help the Children Project in Techwood (an Atlanta neighborhood).


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North American Scene

Inflation outpaced the generosity of Protestants for the first time in five years, according to figures released from the 1981 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches just published by the National Council of Churches. At the same time, total membership in U.S. churches remained almost the same. So-called mainline Protestant churches continued a downward trend, offset by gains in conservative denominations and in the Roman Catholic church. Yearbook editor Constant Jacquet has said it will be difficult for churches to expand or even maintain existing programs in the face of rising costs and salaries.

Divorce in America is on the rise, more than tripling the number of broken marriages 20 years ago, according to a recent government study. About 1.8 million divorces were granted in 1979, the largest national total ever recorded in the U.S. In 1959, 395,000 marriages were dissolved. Although the average number of children per divorcing couple has declined, an increasing number of children were involved in broken marriages, says the National Center for Health Statistics.

Thanks to a computer, Zondervan Publishing House has produced a concordance in less than a year. The 1,039-page concordance to the New International Version might have taken 20 to 30 years or even a lifetime to produce by hand. It alphabetically lists 12,800 principal words in the Bible and a total of 259,947 phrases in which those words are used.


Pastor David Jeremiah of Blackhawk Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, will replace Tim La Haye at the 3,000-member Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego in September 1981. La Haye, pastor of the Scott church for 25 years, is pleased with his replacement. “David Jeremiah is, in my opinion, the most dynamic 40-year-old, Bible-teaching Baptist minister in America today,” he said. La Haye resigned as pastor to devote more time to writing, conducting Family Life Seminars, and exposing Christians to the dangers of atheistic humanism.

David M. Howard joins the staff of D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion III International in September. Howard, former director of two Inter-Varsity Urbana conferences and most recently director of the 1980 Consultation for World Evangelization in Thailand, becomes senior vice-president and director of international ministries for the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based group.

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