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SBC DIGEST: Center for Baptist Renewal launches; legendary coach Ken Sparks dies

New center focuses on Baptists in Christian history

SHAWNEE, Okla. (BP) — Two professors, one from Oklahoma Baptist University, the other from California Baptist University, are at the forefront of the new Center for Baptist Renewal, which aims to equip pastors and leaders to incorporate perspectives and practices of the historic church within their local congregations.

Serving as executive directors of the online CBR are Matthew Y. Emerson, OBU assistant professor of religion and Dickinson Chair of Religion, and R. Luke Stamps, CBU assistant professor of Christian studies.

Brandon D. Smith, who is part of the Christian Standard Bible team at LifeWay Christian Resources, is the center’s editorial director, and Winston Hottman, Criswell College’s director of institutional effectiveness, is the operations director.

The center, which launched March 13 at www.centerforbaptistrenewal.com, sets forth the concept of “Baptist catholicity” to help Baptists understand their place in Christian history.

“We are not just Baptists playing Anglican or Roman Catholic. That’s not what we mean by Baptist catholicity,” Stamps said. “Instead, what we are trying to do is to help Baptists better situate ourselves within the broader body of Christ and the historic Christian tradition.”

The center began to take shape at the 2014 Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting when Emerson and Stamps presented a paper on the topic of Baptist catholicity. Emerson recounted how it sparked the idea for CBR: “Brandon and Winston encountered Baptist catholicity at Criswell, and when Brandon heard of our paper he asked if we’d be interested in starting a center. He and Winston drafted a proposal, and we then sent it out to potential fellows.”

The CBR’s fellows are a group of pastors and scholars who embody and support the center’s vision, mission and values. Among the center’s inaugural fellows are Baptist leaders such as Timothy George, David S. Dockery, Michael A.G. Haykin and Nathan Finn.

“We need to be convictional Baptists who are shaped first and foremost by Scripture,” Finn said, “but we also need to learn from the wisdom of the ancient church, the medieval church, the Reformation, evangelicalism and, of course, our own Baptist tradition.”

The center’s leaders aim to foster unity despite denominational differences, with Stamps noting, “At times, we will need to critique other Christian traditions. But at other times — and in many ways this is the more treacherous and neglected path — we need to state our appreciation for the insights of other traditions and more importantly for the great tradition of Trinitarian orthodoxy that we all share in common.”

The center intends to hold its first event at the ETS annual meeting in November in Providence, R.I.


Ken Sparks, among winningest college football coaches, dies

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. (BP) –– Ken Sparks, legendary football coach at Carson-Newman University, died Wednesday (March 29) after a five-year battle with cancer. He was 73.

Sparks, who announced his retirement Nov. 14 after 37 seasons, finished his Carson-Newman career with a winning percentage of .7699 — fourth highest in college football history, while his 338 victories stand at fifth best nationally.

However, those numbers — including 99 losses and two ties -– “mattered little to Sparks,” according to a news release from Carson-Newman, which is affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. “The Eagles’ head man was far more likely to ask a player, colleague or coach how their heart was and to guide them to a life in the light of Christ.

“Sparks himself lived his life at the foot of the cross, doing everything in his power to honor his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at every turn.”

Carson-Newman President J. Randall O’Brien said Sparks “leaves a legacy that has influenced, and will continue to impact, the lives of Carson-Newman student-athletes for years to come. Ken’s devotion to seeing that his players develop on the field was secondary to seeing them develop as Christian young men off the field.”

O’Brien added that Sparks “inspired us in the way he so bravely fought his battle with cancer — with courage and full of faith. Our hearts are saddened, but we know that Ken is with his loving heavenly Father. Our prayers are with his dear wife Carol and his family.”

Sparks grounded the Carson-Newman football program in a yearly theme rooted in a Bible verse, the C-N news release stated.

For the 2016 team, Sparks’ “me 2 We for HE” theme was based on Philippians 1:27 — “Just one thing: live your (me) life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (He), so (We) will be seen standing firm in one Spirit, with one mind, working side-by-side (we) for the Gospel (He).”

“For a Sparks-led practice, it was a common sight to see the session open and close with a prayer, led by players wearing Carson-Newman gear not adorned by C-N slogans, but with Bible verses,” the university release said. A video tribute to Sparks can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACoFb9JAeEg.

Under Sparks, the Eagles won five NAIA national title games in six appearances. A move to NCAA Division II didn’t hamper his Carson-Newman squads as the Eagles played for the D-II national title three times and were a semifinalist in 2009.

Sparks’ teams recorded 21 South Atlantic Conference Championships, 25 NCAA or NAIA playoff appearances and 104 All-Americans. Most recently, a street was renamed after him that runs through the middle of Carson-Newman’s campus in Jefferson City, Tenn.

Sparks was inducted into the inaugural NCAA Division II Hall of Fame coaches class in 2010 and is a member of the South Atlantic Conference Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the NAIA Hall of Fame. He has been honored with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Lifetime Achievement Award and National Coach of the Year.

Sports columnist Brett Maragni, also a Florida pastor, noted that when Sparks ended his coaching career last fall “people talked more about Ken Sparks the man of God than the successful coach. Everyone who knew him, myself included, had zero doubts that winning on the field, as important as it was, was not the most important part of his job. No, his main goal in coaching was to impact young men with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Maragni, online at www.pastorbrett.com, reported that Sparks said in a January interview with WBIR in nearby Knoxville, “I don’t want to have a legacy,” noting, “Let me tell you what I want, I want an investment in the Kingdom of God that’s lasting. That’s what I want.”

Sparks’ son Chad, now the teaching pastor at Providence Church in Knoxville, chose to play for his dad at Carson-Newman even though he received attention from larger schools in higher divisions of college football, Maragni recounted.

“It was a great experience for me,” Chad said. “I had always wanted to play for my dad. He was and is my hero. When I was growing up, other coaches were about winning. For Dad, winning is priority No. 4, behind No. 1 – bringing players and others to Christ, No. 2 – teaching players how to be good people and No. 3 – teaching players to play great football.”

Chad Sparks said he is proud of the impact his dad had in the lives of thousands. “Not a week goes by when someone does not ask me if I’m related to Coach Ken Sparks when they hear or see my last name,” he told Maragni. “When I tell them that he’s my dad, I am often treated to stories of how their son or brother or cousin — or how they themselves — came to Christ because of him, sometimes with tears in their eyes.”

In addition to his wife and son, Sparks is survived by a daughter, Chandra Childress; stepson Tim Bobo: stepdaughter Kim Hines; and 14 grandchildren.

The Sparks family will receive friends at Manley Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., from 2-6 p.m. Friday (March 31) followed by a service open to the public. In accordance with the family’s wishes, the burial will be private.

Watch a tribute video for Ken Sparks:

    About the Author

  • Contributing Writers & BP Staff

    Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston from reporting by Cody Barnhart, a writer in Maryville, Tenn.; Carson-Newman University; and Brett Maragni, sports columnist and senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Jacksonville, Fla.

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