Dr. James Duncan has published his response Furtick’s sermon last Sunday. You can read his whole post here. I commented on this post asking him what he thought of the information coming out that the plants were volunteers for baptism, not merely shills like the original How-To document implied. His very insightful comment is reproduced with permission below:
First, I enjoyed your review of the sermon on Sunday, and recommend it for others to read, too.
While I’m recommending links, I’ll second JohnBrian’s recommendation to read up on Baptist denominational structure, especially as it relates to the likes of Steven Furtick and Perry Noble. It’s similar to what I’m planning to write myself.
Second, the Elevation comments about the people who were first out of the auditoriums are still kind of murky, but I think it makes sense if we assume there were two groups who were primed to be the first out. The first is the guide’s Groups of 15 who never got baptized at all. The second is a group of people who had expressed a desire to be baptized, either directly to campus pastors like Joel Delph, or through their eGroups. Late last week I kept running across people claiming to have been in the group ready to move and who actually did get baptized. How many were in these groups is unclear, and it probably varied across campuses and service times, meaning that it was always safer to have the 15 volunteers ready to go as well.
I was expecting that Furtick would make the same claim on Sunday, that all of the 15′s were actually first-time baptism candidates. It would have been the most effective refutation of one of the claims in my original article, though, as you point out, it still left the manipulation in place. That he didn’t make that claim surprised me, especially with the Twitter chatter that had been leading up to Sunday.
That’s why I think we’re hearing from and about two distinct groups: genuine candidates who would have been baptized weeks earlier if they’d been given the chance, and appointed volunteers, as described in the guide.
As I argue in this post, Furtick and Corbett acknowledge that the 15′s were not candidates for baptism. Not many have put their hands up to acknowledge their roles in the Groups of 15 — at this point you can understand why — though one Elevation member, who describes himself as Pastor Stuart, has described his participation as a non-baptized responder:
The reason there are selected volunteers to stand up at the invitation and start walking is SO THAT those who are responding to the Gospel message in obedience in baptism will not be walking alone. I was one who walked with several, even though I wasn’t being baptized…. I wouldn’t call that manipulation, I would call it planning with a purpose.
So I believe Delph and other Elevation Tweeters that there were some people ready to stand who did really get baptized.
I also believe Furtick, Corbett, Pastor Stuart and the guide itself that there were also 15 people in each service who responded without getting baptized.
Thinking about this as involving these two groups is helping me make the most sense out of what we’re hearing from them.
Thanks to Dr. Duncan for his thoughts.