by Shawn Hendricks
NASHVILLE (BP) — In a year where scandal, tragedy, political strife and one too many devastating hurricanes dominated the headlines, some might be surprised this year’s most-read Baptist Press story was about a movie. The release of the “The Shack,” based on a bestselling book by the same title, sparked debate over its depictions of the Trinity as well as fictional references that conflict with Scripture.
This list of most-read stories for the year, drawn from the web-traffic tracker Google Analytics, also includes the spiritual journey of a woman who lived for nearly a decade as a transgender man, a column on death and angels, the forced resignation of Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze and an inauguration day challenge to pray for President Donald Trump.
Following is a list of the top 10 stories.
1. ‘The Shack’ film stirs debate as did preceding book
In February, Baptist Press ran a story on the film “The Shack,” based on William Paul Young’s New York Times bestseller. Both the book and the subsequent film, released March 3, have stirred ongoing debate regarding the story’s portrayal of the Trinity. “We need to be clear. This depiction of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, of the Gospel is profoundly unbiblical,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. told Baptist Press. “The Bible warns against any false depiction of God and calls it idolatry. Making that into a compelling story just compounds the theological danger.” Eugene Peterson, the author known for “The Message” Bible and who was the subject of another story on this list, has praised the book as comparable to the classic “Pilgrim’s Progress.” LifeWay Christian Resources no longer offers The Shack.
2. From transgender to transformed
In August, Baptist Press ran a story on the testimony of Laura Perry of Bartlesville, Okla., who lived as a transgender man for nearly a decade of her adult life. Perry, who was known by most during that time as “Jake,” would later surrender her life to Christ, be baptized and become actively involved at First Baptist Church in Bartlesville. “God opened my eyes to the truth,” she said. “He made me realize that the transgender life was not His will for my life, that it was a dead end … I am living proof that God’s love is greater than the devil’s lies.”
3. FIRST-PERSON: Death & angels
In June, Baptist Press ran a column by Shane Pruitt on the topic of death and angels. Pruitt wrote about the difficult experience of officiating a child’s funeral and took issue with a particular phrase people sometimes say to those mourning the loss of a loved one. Too often, Pruitt wrote, people will try to comfort others by saying “God gained another angel today.” Instead of searching for the right words, Pruitt suggested, it is better to simply “hurt with them, hold them and just listen.” Drawing from Scripture, Pruitt noted “humans are humans, and angels are angels,” which remains so in eternity. “God does not gain another angel,” he continued. “Rather, God calls another worshipper to come home.”
4. Ole Miss coach resigns amid scandal, requests prayer
In July, Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze resigned amid scandal involving a “pattern of personal misconduct inconsistent with the standards we expect from the leader of our football team.” Freeze’s phone records, according to the report, indicated he had placed a call to a female escort service from his university-issued cellphone. “I truly believe that [Freeze] is a good man,” Mississippi pastor Clarence Cooper, a friend of Freeze’s for two decades, told Baptist Press. “And he has been overtaken with a fault. In his text to me was, ‘I love you. Please pray for me. Please stand by me and pray for my family.'”
5. Eugene Peterson’s homosexuality views draw Baptists’ focus
In July, bestselling Christian author Eugene Peterson, known for “The Message” paraphrase of Scripture, reportedly said in an interview with Religion News Service he does not believe homosexuality is sinful and that he would perform a same-sex wedding if asked. A couple days later, Peterson retracted his previous statement and clarified his beliefs about homosexuality. “I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman,” said Peterson, who noted he would not perform a same-sex wedding. “I affirm a biblical view of everything.”
6. Inauguration day: The Christian response
In January, Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines urged Christians to pray for President Trump and his family on inauguration day. This is the right thing for them to do, he wrote in a first-person article for Baptist Press, whether someone supports the president or not. “Does this mean we cannot disagree with President Trump’s policies or actions? Of course not,” Gaines wrote. “But as followers of Jesus,” he noted, “when we disagree with anyone’s actions and/or words, we must do so without being mean-spirited and without maligning them personally. It is incumbent on all our SBC leaders to set such a standard of maturity for all Southern Baptists with genuine, Spirit-filled behavior.”
7. Prestonwood escrows CP funds, cites ERLC actions
In February, Dallas-area megachurch pastor Jack Graham announced Prestonwood Baptist Church’s decision to escrow Cooperative Program funds temporarily in order to evaluate future support of Southern Baptist Convention causes. Baptist Press reported that the congregation took issue with what it called “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Following two months of evaluating its support of Southern Baptist missions and ministries, Prestonwood announced on April 26 it would resume giving through the Cooperative Program. “We are grateful for the Southern Baptist Convention and our longtime ministry partnership and look forward to fulfilling the Great Commission together in the days ahead,” Prestonwood said in a statement.
8. Ala. coach finds Christ, renews football zeal
In September, former University of Alabama football coach Mike DuBose shared with Baptist Press the ups and downs that came with leading one of college football’s winningest programs. The university hired DuBose as its head coach in 1996, where he led the Tide to a 1999 Southeastern Conference title and an Orange Bowl appearance. That year he also earned SEC Coach of the Year honors. Yet despite his successes, reports surfaced in 1999 of personal misconduct. Following a 3-8 record in 2000, the university forced DuBose to resign. But DuBose went on to strengthen his commitment to Christ and use his talents to impact young athletes on and off the field. Today he is a volunteer linebackers coach at Opp (Ala.) High School, his alma mater. “I was given a passion” for football, DuBose said. “And I think if you’re given a passion, it’s a calling of God on your life to do it. I see football as a ministry.”
9. TX shooting: SBC leaders to visit grieving pastor, church
In November, a lone gunman opened fire on a rural congregation at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. When the shooting stopped, 26 people at the small-town church were dead and 20 others were injured. Local pastors and field personnel with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention began providing grief counseling within hours of the shooting. SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards, Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page arrived in Sutherland Springs to offer prayer and encouragement to the church and community. On behalf of the SBC, the North American Mission Board covered funeral expenses for shooting victims in coordination with the SBTC. “Christ is the one who’s going to be lifted up,” said pastor Frank Pomeroy, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Annabelle in the shooting. “Whatever life brings to you, lean on the Lord rather than your own understanding. I don’t understand, but I know my God does. And that’s where I’ll leave that.”
10. Platt apologizes for ‘divisive’ IMB amicus brief
In February, International Mission Board President David Platt apologized to Southern Baptists for any division caused by an amicus brief the IMB joined last year in support of a New Jersey’s Islamic society’s right to build a mosque. “I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said Feb. 15 during a meeting with Baptist state paper editors in Ontario, Calif. “I can say with full confidence,” he said, “that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”