Sunday, December 31, 2006

Paleoevangelical of the Year 2006

It's a cliché to talk about what a difficult decision this was, so I'm not going to dwell on how much I'm grateful to God for the influence of the two "runners up" in my life this year. If things continue as I expect, both will be named here in years to come.

This year it came down to a professor, a pastor-professor, and a pastor-blogger. And in spite of all the articles I've read over the course of the year that demean blogging, in this venue the pastor-blogger wins.

This year's recipient is probably best-known (or despised, or hated, or condemned) for his Calvinism, but his soteriological system isn't what makes Tom Ascol the 2006 Paleoevangelical of the Year. Ascol serves as the director of Founders Ministries, whose purpose is "the recovery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the reformation of local churches." Founders believes that "the promotion of the Doctrines of Grace" is intrinsic to that purpose, but no doubt many Baptists would disagree.

Frankly, it matters little to me whether or not they agree and even less whether or not they consider themselves 5-point Calvinists. What matters a great deal to me is that American churches—whether they consider themselves evangelical or fundamentalist—recover the gospel. That will mean abandoning and repudiating Finneyistic theology and methodology, valuing spiritual depth over shallow breadth, and cultivating a discipleship culture in which membership and discipline actually mean something.

But many people believe all this stuff. What sets Ascol apart? Simple. I'm sick of "incrementalism." Both Southern Baptists and independent fundamentalists talk about gradual progress toward these goals. One hears from time to time about back-room conversations between influential individuals in which these concerns are acknowledged to be both widespread and serious concerns.

Yet it seems to me that for many, the status quo of incremental progress is good enough. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists are so married to the mixed multitude of their constituencies and their associational relationships that they dare not expose the elephant in the room, much less try to kick it out.

For many of these men, this course of action is no doubt wise and prudent. I thank God that Tom Ascol has charted a different course. In both his blog and his efforts at the SBC Annual Meeting, particularly that of 2006, Ascol has smacked that elephant on the rump and made it snort.

To top it all off, Ascol has done all this in a gracious, even-keeled tone—always optimistic, and always exhorting the less patient among his allies. Not surprisingly, in the midst of the leadup to and fallout from the Caner-White-Ascol debate controversy, Ascol was the only party who, to the best of my knowledge, publicly acknowledged and sought forgiveness for his own words. The irony is that it's difficult for me to imagine that any impartial observer could have identified a more Christlike voice in that controversy. (Search his blog if you really want the whole story.)

My interaction with Ascol has been quite limited. I met him in person for the first time early this year, and that was for a brief moment. I hope that will change so that one day I will be able to count him not only as as an example of faithfulness, courage, grace, and wisdom, but also as a friend.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cal(vinist) Thomas

Here's his response to the question posed at the Newsweek OnFaith blog, "Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God? If so, what exactly does that mean? If not, who was he?"

Revivalists and apologists will not be amused.

This Is the Kind of Drama That Has a Place in the Church

As I remember, everyone recognized Ryan's giftedness in college. I can't imagine a better use for it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Update: Historic D.C. Area Episcopal Churches Vote To Withdraw from ECUSA

Here's the follow-up to a post from a few weeks ago. This is the short version from the Washington Post:
At least seven Virginia Episcopal parishes, opposed to the consecration of a gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions, have voted overwhelmingly to break from the U.S. church in a dramatic demonstration of widening rifts within the denomination.

Two of the congregations are among the state's largest and most historic: Truro Church in Fairfax City and The Falls Church in Falls Church, which have roots in the 1700s. Their leaders have been in the vanguard of a national effort to establish a conservative alternative to the Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion.

The result of the week-long vote, announced yesterday, sets up the possibility of a lengthy ecclesiastical and legal battle for property worth tens of millions of dollars. Buildings and land at Truro and The Falls Church are valued at about $25 million, according to Fairfax County records.
You can see the actual vote tallies here. At least two of the churches will place themselves under the oversight of a Nigerian bishop, with plans to form a Fairfax, Virginia, mission base of the Nigerian Church.

Regardless of the degree to which Episcopalian ordination of homosexual bishops factored into this ultimate decision, I'm grateful that the official Falls Church resolution and news release included the following rationale for the separation:
The Episcopal Church has departed from the authority of the Holy Scriptures and from historic Christian teaching on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior of humankind.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Please Forgive a Little Reminiscing (and Thanksgiving)

Not quite nine years ago I went skiing at Cascade Mountain in Portage, Wisconsin, with three guys--Paul, Steve, and Titus. Paul and I were in our first year of grad school at Maranatha, and Steve and Titus (whom I barely knew at the time) were juniors or so in the undergrad biblical studies program. The details of that evening are still a little fuzzy since I whacked my head pretty good on a mogul (it was in the shadows), but I'm pretty sure back then that Steve and Titus were set on heading to seminary eventually, and Paul and I were desiring vocational ministry but not yet too sure how it was all going to come together.

Two or three years later, Paul had started his MDiv at Central in Minneapolis, Steve and his wife were in China, and we had all completely lost track of Titus. About that time, I made plans to head to Central myself, and I thought Steve would be there in a year or so.

Things changed for me when the opportunity arose to join the staff of a North Carolina Bible curriculum publisher, about an hour from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had virtually no knowledge of the institution, but three or four older and wiser people in my life knew enough to say it seemed like a good option for my situation.

I entered the Southern Baptist world one Tuesday evening in August for a class in church history, and I have to admit that I felt a little anxiety, having no idea what I was getting into. To make matters worse, I showed up later than I intended and really had to hoof it to class. As I used my best trans-BJU-campus walk-run gait to head toward the Binkley Chapel basement, I passed another guy casually strolling along, furtively made eye contact with him, and gave him the standard "how ya' doin' " nod. Then I did a double-take, because the very first fellow-student I had spoken to on campus was that very same long-lost Titus we'd gone skiing with years before. He was heading to the same class, so we grabbed seats in the back of the large hall and probably spent more time that evening catching up than listening to the syllabus lecture. (I think Dr. Hogg forgave us.)

I can't give Titus enough credit for helping me adjust to a world I knew nothing about and for giving me the inside scoop by telling me which classes and teachers I had to take and, well, you can guess the rest. Since I commuted from an hour away, I never really infiltrated the campus culture, so he was my eyes and ears.

Titus graduated three semesters later, but I think it was the next semester that Steve (also from the ski trip) and his wife transferred into SEBTS from another program. By that time I was getting to the point in my program when I could pick off some choice elective classes, and he and I shared several of them. Some of them were tremendously formative, and Steve's presence was another great gift to me since we could compare notes from our similar educational background and talk about how what we were learning fit with what we had learned at Maranatha.

Today, as providence would have it, Steve and I walked across the platform during the commencement ceremony at SEBTS with just one other MDiv grad between us.

Tonight, my heart is full. I don't know exactly what to make of the strange "coincidence" that two of the three guys I went skiing with in 1998 were used by God to sharpen me and make my seminary education immeasurably more valuable than it otherwise would have been. Perhaps the skiing thing is completely irrelevant to the rest of the story, but it's a little spooky that those two guys formed the bookends of my seminary career, and I've talked to Paul a couple times today.

Regardless of all that, it's simply inescapable to me that God has poured out his grace on me once again. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. If I were a poet, I might call it something like "the lead of love."

And if that's not enough, I'm also grateful for Dr. Akin's charge to the grads from Psalm 23. One of the marks of a great preacher is the ability to get to the heart of a familiar text in a way that's entirely fresh. You can listen to it for yourself here.

P.S. For the two of you who (pretend to) care, I'll post a photo or two here in a couple days.

UPDATE: Just posted a photo with my sister, niece, and nephew. I think he was still afraid of the man in the black dress and the weird cap at this point. Hopefully I'll get one with Steve and Jason soon too.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Just for Fun: How Far Would You Travel . . .

. . . to witness a day-long panel discussion with Bauder, Dever, Doran, Jordan, MacArthur, Minnick, Mohler, and Piper? Assume there's no recording and no one can take note-taking devices into the room.

"We Preach Culture When We Should Be Preaching Christ."

Today I started listening for the umpteenth time (but the first time in a long time) to a message preached by Tim Jordan at the 2003 Heart Conference at Northland Baptist Bible College. Jordan is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church and chancellor of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. His message wrestles with the appropriate methods for speaking and applying biblical truth to contemporary culture (contextualization).

While addressing the prevailing mindset in fundamentalism, he made the statement quoted in the title of this post. Jordan explicitly opposes the seeker mindset, which hands over control of the church's worship to unregenerate people, but he speaks boldly to the culture of fundamentalism with statements like these:
We need to begin a process of exegeting our beliefs, because some of what we believe, God didn't say. . . . A lot of the stuff isn't against what God said. It's just not what God said. So is that valueless? It might have great value. That's not the point. The point is, it's not what God said. . . . We are afraid of the truth.

We think if we can get people to live like the Cleavers, then they will be holy.

We [pastors] are really not mad that our people are different from Christ. We're mad that they're different from us.

We somehow glorify error to the right like it's better than error to the left.
If you can order this message from Northland, it will be well worth the investment.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Who's Your Paleoevangelical of the Year?

I've been thinking about this year's recipient, and I'm finding myself torn between two really deserving individuals. Then the thought struck me, "Wouldn't it be great to hear what Paleoreaders think? Who would they come up with?"

So here's your opportunity. Just tell me your rationale in 2 or 3 sentences (more if you want). The criteria? Established not quite a year ago, the Paleoevangelical of the year is . . .
. . . the person or people that God has used most to incline my thoughts, affections, and life most towards the gospel during the past year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Guess This Quote of the Weekend

No googling. My last TNIV goes to the winner. Here it is:
"Humility comes before honor."
The correct answer is not Solomon.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Here's How You Know You've Been in a Great Class

After the final exam is done, all the students want the professor to lecture through the end of the allotted time.

What's Right with the Emerging Church?

Phil Johnson offers some insight in the final installment of his series at the Pulpit Magazine blog. My perspective is less informed than his, but I agree with all his observations. I think this one is the most salient:
They are right to point out that millions of American evangelicals live lives of gross hypocrisy and narcissism, ignoring the needs of the poor while indulging themselves with entertainments and luxuries while the church struggles, and many pastors live barely above the poverty level (if that), and our Christian brothers and sisters struggle in many parts of the world because they don’t even have clean water or basic medical care. We have the resources, and yet we are too prone to spend them on ourselves. I often think American evangelicals will have a lot to answer for when we are called to give account for our stewardship.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Youth Ministry as the Incubator for the Emerging Church

Here's a provocative portion of Phil Johnson's post at the Pulpit Magazine blog yesterday:
I have friends who have suggested that the emerging church idea is the predictable fruit of churches that tailor their youth ministries to whatever style is currently fashionable, hold alternative church services for the youth in a separate building (”the youth building”) and never incorporate them into the actual life of the church itself. They’ve grown into adulthood while their styles and preferences were catered to in a special “church” service all their own. The actual church service was something they weren’t expected to like. Many of them were never really exposed to worship in the context of the actual church, with real adults. They were deliberately entertained instead, and thus they were conditioned to think that way. They grew old, but they never grew up, and now even as adults, they want to continue to play at church, but outside the mainstream of the historic church. (My friend characterized the emerging church worship style as “Church services for the ADHD generation.” Read the Christianity Today account of Emergent’s national convention and you will understand why he said that.)
So keep on building your youth ministry on the sand of entertainment and excitement if you must. Warm the kids up to worship with skits and games. Dream up grosser and more outlandish spectacles. Keep on denying that what you reach them with is what you reach them to. And maybe one day you'll have your own little heretical kingdom that rises from the ruins of the Emerging Church.

Just don't forget to use your sermons to scorn all the small-minded people who said this was a bad idea. (Ha! Silly me. Sermons are so first century.)

"As If They Had Not Done Their Job Hard Enough"

Here's a gut-wrenching story on the last reunion of the survivors of Pearl Harbor.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Which Came First: The Chicken or the Social Gospel?

I'm wondering whether allowing universalist exegesis in your pulpit leads to the social gospel, or whether adopting the social gospel leads to allowing universalist exegesis in your pulpit. Any help for me here?

Speaking at Saddleback Church's Global Summit on AIDS and the Church, Senator Barack Obama delivered these remarks:
Or we can embrace another tradition of politics - a tradition that has stretched from the days of our founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another - and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done for the people with whom we share this Earth.

. . .

Corinthians says that we are all of one spirit, and that "if one part suffers, every part suffers with it." But it also says, "if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."
I think this video will give you everything you need to know about Warren. Just because you say you're about more than the social gospel doesn't make it true. Judge for yourself. (HT)

"Fundamentalists Have Altered Radically"

It shouldn't come as news to anyone that much of the fundamentalist movement has for decades been rather inconsistent (at best) regarding its ban on movie theater attendance. What is news to me is the historical background to the rise of this inconsistency, which Kevin Bauder has most helpfully sketched. Apparently, many "historic fundamentalists" aren't quite as historic as they would like to think.

But amid all the SI comment chatter (some of which is comical . . . at best) about things he hasn't even begun to address, I fear that the point will be lost—at least the point that jumped off screen to me. Here it is: It's less significant that fundamentalism now accepts theater than how it arrived at that conclusion. Sure fundamentalism kept some (not all) of the external moral standards for appropriate content, but it's a hollow M&M—a bit of air covered by a thin candy shell (at best). For in the sweeping consignment of Tertullian, Augustine, Pascal, and Tozer to the trash heap, fundamentalism eviscerated itself of thoughtfulness in this matter.

I really don't know what these men said, and I surely don't know whether they were right or wrong. I'm looking forward to finding out what I believe. And at the risk of losing my Young Fundamentalist membership card, I'm open to hearing and embracing objections to the medium as a whole. But in spite of what I don't know, what seems patently obvious to me is this: Once again, Bauder has demonstrated that fundamentalism as it exists today is not serious.

By the way, has anybody out there come up with an authoritative decision yet on whether it's ok to see a "film" in an IMAX theater while it's showing in ordinary theaters?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Piper on the Kind of Faith That Saves

I hate to rip quotes from context when they could be misconstrued apart context, but this comment from John Piper's recent sermon on Romans 7:1-6 is worthy of some reflection:
It is possible to receive things you do not like. It is possible to believe in things you do not admire and esteem and treasure. And I want to make sure you understand, saving faith is not a believing in something you don't like. Saving faith is not believing in a person you don't cherish and treasure and love. Saving faith is a believing in and a receiving of a treasure, or it does not save.

Oh, that's so important to make plain in our easy-believism age where people are just called to make this or that decision or the other, and nothing ever changes--Christ just tacked on to their American Way.
For some reason, this quote does't appear to be in the transcript, but I'm listening on the podcast, and the date matches. If someone figures out the apparent discrepancy, please let me know.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Most Influential Person You've Never Heard Of?

This is heavy stuff for a weekend, I know. But I hate to let the death of Milton Friedman without comment. Even though the American economy is still largely socialistic, it would be far more so were it not for Friedman's influence. Thomas Sowell wrote a respectful tribute that included this high praise:
Milton Friedman may well have been the most important economist of the 20th century, even if John Maynard Keynes was the most famous. No small part of Friedman’s achievement was rescuing economics from the pervasive and virtually unquestioned Keynesian orthodoxy that reigned in many places.

Ironically, Friedman began his career as a believer in both Keynesian economics and in the liberals’ vision of the world with which it was so compatible. Yet, in the end, no one did more to dethrone both. It is doubtful whether Ronald Reagan could have been elected president in 1980 without the changes in public opinion produced by Friedman’s work in the previous decades.
Just after Friedman's death I caught part of a rerun of his interview from a couple years ago on PBS' Charlie Rose show. At that point he was already into his 90's but was more sharp and articulate than I could ever hope to be.

Friedman made a point I've wondered about for a few years: The best arrangement of power for a balanced federal budget is a Democratic president and a Republican-controlled Congress. (He didn't say anything about how it works out for judicial appointments.) I wonder if that makes what we're about to have the worst. Take it for what it's worth.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Do Yourself a Favor This Christmas Season

I like sappy Christmas music as much as anybody else (check that . . . no I don't), but please find a way to hear Handel's Messiah this Christmas, on CD if you must. And if you listen on CD, resist the urge to skip over the long solos (recitatives, if memory of high school music apprec serves correctly) to the "good part." It's far too easy to forget the richness of Handel's text (or should I say libretto? [I'm on a roll now.]) in those solos. If the Messiah doesn't stir your religious affections, please let me know what does.

I was listening yesterday with Chris Anderson's discussion of congregational vs. special music in mind. Along those lines, I don't particularly appreciate the performance aspects of the recording I have (trilling the r's, heavy vibrato, etc.), so I'd be grateful for someone to suggest a more straightforward recording. Thanks in advance.

Enjoying It While It Lasts

Pop quiz: Name the three NCAA DI institutions that have simultaneously been ranked #1 in football and men's basketball.
Time's up. Try Notre Dame, UCLA, and, for at least this week, THE Ohio State University. Read the details here.

I'm not kidding myself. Heading into Chapel Hill tonight without Greg Oden doesn't leave much room for long-term optimism, but I'm going to kick back and enjoy the history . . . at least until 9:00 tonight.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Historic D.C. Area Episcopal Churches To Vote on Withdrawal from ECUSA

This Washington Times article reports on decisions by the governing bodies of Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church in Falls Church to recommend withdrawal from the ECUSA to the congregation. Statements from the two churches say that the pending split is motivated by fidelity to the authority of Scripture and the doctrine of salvation through Christ alone. Although the church statements that I've read do not refer to it directly, the 2003 consecration of homosexual bishop Eugene Robinson in New Hampshire clearly helped to spark this action.

A blog post supplies some additional information and a wealth of links to comments from both sides of the controversy, including links to the church websites. Wrangling seems poised to begin over the church property. Ecclesiastical disputes have a long history of creating sticky legal issues over whether the local church body or the denominational hierarchy holds valid title to church assets. Although the churches contend that a protocol agreement for dealing with the property had been reached prior to this action, the denominational diocese denies such an agreement.

Two additional facts are worth noting: 1) Former SharperIron and fundamentalist blogosphere regular poster David Gustafson serves on the governing body that recommended the change at The Falls Church. 2) I'm not too familiar with Episcopal polity, but I was surprised to read that the final decision on the withdrawal will be made by a congregational vote.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rick Warren Repudiates Syrian News Reports

Last week I linked to reports from Rick Warren's trip to Syria. Ken Fields has now posted an e-mail distributed by Warren. Here's the meat of it:
As we left, the official state-controlled Syrian news agency issued some press releases that sounded like I was a politician negotiating the Iraq war by praising the Syrian President and everything else in Syria! Of course, that’s ridiculous, but it created a stir among bloggers who tend to editorialize before verifying the truth. Does it seem ironic to you that people who distrust Syria are now believing Syrian press releases?
I'm grateful for four things:
  1. That the original reports of Warren's statements were distortions of the Syrian news agency, as I suspected.
  2. That Warren has realized his need to respond, as I suggested.
  3. That the dissipation of eternal truth in evangelicalism has been accompanied by a dissemination of technology that empowers pajama-clad (not that I am right now) bloggers to combat this downgrade and expose its perpetrators.
  4. That Warren (or someone close to him) reads blogs. Obviously, Rick doesn't like them much since many of them have exposed the shallow gospel in his sermons and writings, but perhaps reading a valid critique on a blog will strike a chord of truth in his mind.
In any case, I find the fact that this situation was so quickly repudiated by both bloggers and by Warren to be a healthy development. However, my doubt still stands that engaging in a conversation with Muslim political and religious leaders with Muslim media present is ever likely to advance the gospel. But then, who ever said the gospel is at the heart of Warren's international mission? Seems to me it has more to do with *P.E.A.C.E.

*"Saddleback Church’s “P.E.A.C.E. Plan” to train local churches to attack poverty, disease, corruption, illiteracy, and spiritual emptiness in cooperation with businesses and governments."

Saturday, November 18, 2006


First of all, let me open the comments section as a forum for Michigan fans to whine about the turf. Since three of them were already whining to me within 10 minutes of the end of the game, surely this must be a sore spot. I know I shouldn't be letting the secret out, but the Ohio State players were given maps of the field telling them where the good spots on the turf were. Antonio Pittman took clay court tennis lessons from Rafael Nadal to learn how to slide, stay upright, and change direction, a skill he put to good use late in the game to pick up a few extra yards and a first down.

Second, props to Troy Smith for saving us all hours of debate as to who should win the Heisman. If he's not the unanimous choice, then someone who runs political elections in Chicago or New Orleans must be handling the Heisman balloting.

Third, thank goodness Notre Dame now has to be out of the conversation. If everybody else loses and ND wins out, I can't see any way you can take ND over UM when UM lost by three on the road to the clear #1 and ND got shellacked at home by the Wolverines. I want UM to lose one game every year (maybe two this year), but I want ND to lose them all every year. I hate and respect Michigan. I disdain ND.

And finally, I haven't wanted a rematch all week. I thought this one should be for all the marbles, but after seeing it I'm more convinced than ever that somebody else needs to prove they deserve a shot--Rutgers, Arkansas, Florida, or USC. Unless one of these teams does something spectacular in their remaining games (not just wins, but big blowout wins), then UM and THE Ohio State University need to line it up again in 50 days. I don't like it, but the best two teams need to play.

And besides, I'd love to start spelling LLWLLLoyd Carr's name with one more L and make it LLWLLLLoyd Carr.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Do You Think You Worshiped Because You Enjoyed the Service?

From Dave Doran's recent sermon on one of my favorite passages, John 4:23-24:
When you leave a service where God has been worshiped, is your barometer of worship whether or not you liked it? Whether or not you enjoyed the songs? Or is it, "We did what God called us to do this morning. God explained how He is to be worshiped, and we did that, and we trust that God was pleased with it."

But you know, too much of our world has become so consumerist and it's filtered into the very fabric of our lives that we filter everything from the standard of our ideas and preferences, not from what God said. "Did we do what God said to do today, and was God pleased with it?" is really what matters. It must be driven by the Scriptures.
It seems likely to me that the traditional worship advocates will be quick to apply this admonition to the form used by the contemporary crowd, and the contemporary advocates will use it to critique the staleness of the traditional crowd. But as Doran points out immediately after this quotation, what we really need to be attentive to is the condition of our own hearts.

Doran on Mechanical Christianity

From this sermon:
Anytime we start to exchange external formalities for internal realities, then we are at the edge of the apostasy that Israel committed. When we begin to think that the sum of our Christian life can be measured by a bunch of routines that we follow—a bunch of places that we happen to end up at the right times. We do a certain number of things.

The minute that we start to think that knowing God is actually a mechanical relationship, we begin to find our feet parked on slippery slope because we are halfway toward abandoning God because we no longer delight in the Lord. We no longer desire Him. So we really don't know him. Because you can't know the true and living God and not delight in him. You cannot know the true and living God and not have some kind of internal response which draws you to him. The fact is that it is already the mark of a heart grown cold that we don't rejoice in Him like that.
I was just typing some editorial comments for this post about how it can be easy for those of us who hear statements like this to pay lip service of agreement because after all, my heart is right even if no one else's is. I'm God-centered. And I'm a biblicist. Well, just as I was typing, Doran said some very similar things in the last 5 or 10 minutes of the sermon.

Everybody agrees with this. Some people actually understand is. Fewer still really live it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

At the Risk of Sounding Like a Complete Idiot . . .

I'm used to it, I know. Save the jokes.

So I've been following this story (other perspective and some video here) about the North Carolina Baptist State Convention (BSC) enacting a provision that will empower the BSC to expel churches that "knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior." I'm no expert in SBC politics of any kind, let alone those of a specific state, even if I do attend an SBC seminary in the state.

But even if I don't understand all the history and politics, I'm at least bright enough to find the BSC's articles of incorporation, which includes this provision on membership in the Convention:
A cooperating church shall be one that financially supports any program, institution, or agency of the Convention, and which is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work.
That is it. No more requirements for membership. Zip. Nadda. Nil. Nothing. Think I'm crazy? Download the file and read it for yourself.

Now, there's a sense in which this policy isn't altogether new, even if it wasn't ever incorporated into the organizational documents. Baptist Press, the daily news service of the SBC, has an archived story of the expulsion of a North Carolina church from the state convention after baptizing and admitting into membership two homosexual men. The final paragraph briefly chronicles three previous church expulsions because of toleration of homosexuality. A pro-homosexual site corroborates and adds additional details to this account.

Call me crazy, but I think I would have voted against this new provision. In fact, I probably would have attempted to speak against it on the convention floor. Not because I think the BSC's requirements for membership are adequate. Not because I wouldn't like to see a lot of the current member churches expelled. And certainly not because I think churches should tolerate homosexuality.

I simply can't understand why this one issue is the hill worth dying on.

The BSC has tolerated for years—decades even—churches that have wholly abandoned the inspiration and authority of Scripture. It has overlooked putrid abominations at convention-funded colleges. It has never made other biblical commands tests of fellowship—commands like, say, church discipline. And last but not least, it has winked at rampant racism in BSC churches. Within the past five years, former Southeastern Seminary president Paige Patterson claimed that an average of one seminary student per month was fired from the pastorate of area churches for evangelizing African Americans.

And yet we don't see anything in the BSC articles of incorporation about any of those issues. I wonder why.

Could it be that the conservative resurgence has only now re-established a strong enough majority to enact more restrictive provisions? Perhaps, but I really doubt it.

Could it be that the advance of the homosexual agenda on the national level has revealed an immediate need to address this matter within the BSC? Surely this is a factor, but it still doesn't explain fully why homosexuality is a higher priority than racism and church discipline and oh yeah, say, the authority of the Bible.

Listen, I'm sure the vast majority of people who proposed and voted for this amendment are well-intentioned, godly folks. I'm glad they were willing to stand for something. But I just can't help but wonder why we (because this isn't just a BSC problem) pick and choose certain sins to elevate for judgment above others that are equally clear and far more prevalent. Is it just because homosexuality disgusts us—the socially conservative evangelicals? Are we less offended by churches that dilute or ignore God's Word or by churches that wallow in racism? Are we simply lazy—content to lop off decisively the visible manifestation of a disease rather than do the dirty work of digging out its cancerous roots?

May God grant us the grace, the courage, and the wisdom to take the hard road—the only road that leads to real church reform and the re-establishment of an authentic gospel.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Rick al-Warren?

The Syrian Arab News Agency reports on Rick Warren's trip to Syria, including the appreciation he expressed for the Syrian government and American disagreement with the Bush Iraq policy and his hope for tolerance between Christians and Muslims.

ChristianNewsWire is taking the SANA reports at face value, which seems more than a tad naïve. Still, one wonders what gospel purpose is served by rubbing shoulders and posing for photo-ops with the leadership of a regime that is the sworn enemy of Jesus Christ. Perhaps Warren will offer some explanation.

In any case, it's rather difficult not to think of similar excursions into communist countries in decades past by prominent Western Christians to commiserate with the apostate, state-endorsed churches—excursions that godless governments used to polish their image when Western Christians proclaimed that communists believed in religious liberty and would never persecute Christians behind the Iron Curtain.

Yeah, right.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Manless Churches: A New Problem?

My close friend, Ken Barbic, reviews Cortland Myers' Why Men Do Not Go to Church in the latest issue of the 9Marks newsletter (PDF).

When you read quotes like these below that Ken cites, you might expect that the book was written in 1999.
Society, business, politics, home, and everything have undergone a marked change within the last quarter of a century. The church has lost her grip upon these times if she does not move with them (15).

The old truth is sacred; old methods may not be. Truth cannot be changed; methods must always be changing. Aggressive inventiveness is the greatest factor in success from the human side (15).

The church for the times must meet the needs of the time. It must be of the Columbus spirit, and, with consecrated determination, discover the new world. It will find the discord in the music of modern life, and bring it back to key-note and harmony. It will brave any storm, and sail any sea to reach the great continent of man’s needs, and to satisfy the longings in his heart (19-20).
The reality is that Myers wrote in 1899. And just as the problem is not new, neither is the methodology that says, "Find out what men want and then give it to them." This is the soil of religious culture in which much of evangelicalism and fundamentalism has been rooted for more than a century. May God grant us the grace to prioritize getting the gospel right over getting the method right as we seek appropriate and effective means to make disciples.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

On Dead Skunks and Republicans

Here's a great editorial by Dick Armey, former House Republican majority leader. This is the real crux of it:
Eventually, the policy innovators and the "Spirit of '94" were largely replaced by political bureaucrats driven by a narrow vision. Their question became: How do we hold onto political power? The aberrant behavior and scandals that ended up defining the Republican majority in 2006 were a direct consequence of this shift in choice criteria from policy to political power.

The Laziness that Masquerades as Biblical Discernment and Standards

Holly Stratton hits another home run. Please ponder the implications.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

On Ecclesiastical Separation and BJU Obtaining TRACS Accreditation

Here's a link to some old-school Paleo--an article from 2005 on TRACS accreditation and "The Changing Face of Ecclesiastical Separation."

NOTE: I've left the original article unedited. Some links may not work. I know that the link to the Google cache is not available, but I'm sure the book that contains the quotes is still floating around in the BJU Campus Store if not on Amazon. And if not, I've got one for sale to the highest bidder.

Read the whole story on BJU receiving TRACS accreditation here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 5: DMLJ Resources)

Iain Murray's Life of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is not what you'd think of as a bargain, but it's highly recommended.

More economical (free) resources include:
  • Downloadable DMLJ sermons
  • Audio interviews with his daughter and son-in-law (1 2)--really fascinating stuff to hear first-hand perspective
  • A lecture by Iain Murray comparing Lloyd-Jones with Spurgeon (As I remember, Lloyd-Jones comes up a good bit in this discussion of Murray's Evangelicalism Divided, as well. Murray tells stories that I could listen to all day long.)
  • A wide variety of DMLJ links

Piper: Divide for the Sake of Unity

Piper's recent sermon from Romans 16 sounds rather like what fundamentalists advocate:
[F]or the sake of unity—that is, truth-based unity—Paul calls for truth-based division.
Read, watch, or hear the whole thing here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Finding the Gospel in the Midst of Scandal: Challies on Ted Haggard

Great words from Tim Challies. Read the whole post, but here's the heart of it:
And then realize that, as we explored earlier this week in a discussion about total depravity, there is really no difference between you and Haggard or between myself and Haggard. We are all totally depraved with our sin extending to every aspect of our being. There but for the grace of God go I. There but for the grace of God go you. While I would not expect a reporter to approach me if I were to fall into similar sin, I can only imagine the pain of having to sit in front of my children, my wife, and answer questions about whether or not I have had sex with a man or admitting that I purchased illegal drugs. It's horrible. It's terrifying. That could be my wife, wondering how I could do this to her, wondering if she can ever trust me again, wondering if she can ever love me again. Those could be my kids, hearing the lurid details of dad's depravity. Those could be my kids, trying bravely not to cry as they walk into school on Monday morning, knowing that everyone knows, knowing that life will never be the same.

I went from wanting to know details, to feeling pity to feeling terror to pleading with God to continue to extend His grace to me that I would not fall. Jonathan Edwards, in his most famous sermon, spoke about God's sovereignty and how, at any given moment, it is only the sovereign grace of God that keeps Him from ending a person's life. Marsden writes, "The subject of the sermon is that at this very moment God is holding sinners in his hands, delaying the awful destruction that their rebellion deserves." Edwards said, "You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his price: and yet 'tis nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment: 'tis to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night...but that God's hand has held you up: there is no other reason to be given why you han't gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship: yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you don't this very moment drop down into hell. Oh sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in." What is true of eternity, is equally true of the temporal. Just as nothing but God's hand keeps both Christian and non-Christian from death at any given moment, the same hand is all that restrains any of us from falling into sin as dreadful as Haggard's, or sin that is far worse.

Paul's exhortation of 1 Corinthians 10:12 has been much on my mind this weekend. "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall." Oh, that God would keep me from relying more on my effort and less on His grace. I pray and beg and plead that His grace would continue to extended to me that I would take heed, that I would continue to fill my heart with His Words of life.
Al Mohler makes a similar point about the gospel on today's Focus on the Family program (HT).

Think (Biblically) Before You Vote (or Don't)

Stephen Davey's radio broadcast began today what I expect to be an outstanding 4-part series, "I Pledge Allegiance: Politics for Citizens of Heaven."

Justin Taylor provides links to some thought-provoking perspectives from John Piper.

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 4: On Christian Culture and Politicians)

This is where Carl Henry really gets warmed up:
Q: Let's grant that the regenerate church is the New Society and the only enduring society, that the world as such can never be Christianized and turned into the New Society, and that apart from regeneration there is no participation in the kingdom of God. Having said that, does not the church nonetheless have a mission of light and salt in the world? Even if the institutional church is not to be politically engaged, does not Christ wish to expand his victory over evil and sin and all the forces that would destroy him, by penetrating the social order with Christians to exemplify godliness and justice? Are they not to work for good laws and a just society, even though they cannot hope to Christianize society?

A: Certainly. Such effort prevents the world from putrefying. But I regard it as entirely negative. I do not regard it as anything positive.

Q: Is it not possible that here or there at some points Christian effort might bring about what in quotation marks might be called "Christian culture"?

A: No. It will never come. All Scripture is against that. It's impossible. In the present world situation—surely it has never been more critical—all civilization is rocking, and we are facing collapse, morally, politically, and in every other way. I would have thought that surely at this time our urgent message should be, "Flee from the wrath to come!"

Q: Would you therefore encourage young people to consider the pulpit ministry or a missionary call above every other vocational call?

A: No. That's something I have never done and never would do. Such a decision must be a personal call from God. But seeing the critical danger of the world we must surely urge people to escape. It's amazing that any Christian could be concerned about anything else at this present time.

Q: Would you be happier if Sir Fred Catherwood, your son-in-law, were in the Christian ministry rather than in his present political work in the European Parliament?

A: No, I wouldn't. In fact, I was glad he resisted when pressure was brought upon him to go into the ministry. I've always tried to keep men out of the ministry. In my opinion a man should enter the ministry only if he cannot stay out of it.

Q: Did you indicate to him the remarkable contribution that he could make in the political arena?

A: Yes. But I also said that he should never—speaking as a Christian—claim that "this is the Christian political view." That approach was the mistake of Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper placed himself in a compromise position: a Christian minister becoming prime minister and then needing to form a coalition with Roman Catholics and claiming Christian sanction for specific political positions.

"This Generation Is Really Aching for Truth"

Al Mohler discusses the growing trend towards a serious approach to youth ministry that elevates substance over sugar-coating his radio program Friday. His conversation with Grant Layman of Covenant Life Church of Gaithersburg, MD and Jimmy Scroggins of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville exposes how more and more churches are emphasizing teaching parents to disciple their own children and de-emphasizing fun and games.

Here's the Time Magazine article that spurred the conversation.

By the way, the first segment is devoted to the Ted Haggard scandal.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 3: On Christians and the Social-Cultural Mandate)

This is my favorite part. I think the reason will be obvious to any regular readers.
Q: What do you think Christianity ought to say to the economic situation today?

A: I think the great message we must preach is God's judgment on men and on the world. Because man is a sinner, any human contrivance is doomed to fail; the only hope for the world is the return of Christ—nothing else. It amazes me that evangelicals have suddenly taken such an interest in politics; to do so would have made sense 50 or 100 years ago, but such efforts now seem to me sheer folly, for we are in a dissolving world. All my life I've opposed setting "times and seasons," but I feel increasingly that we may be in the last times.

[Discussion of the Jewish return to Jerusalem and the imminence of the end time omitted.]

Q: Would you agree that even if we might have only 24 or 48 hours, to withhold a witness in the political or any other arena is to withdraw prematurely from the social responsibility of the Christian and to distrust the providence of God? Might he not do something even in the last few hours that he had not done before? The closer we get to the end time, isn't it that much more important to address public conscience? Must we not press the claims of Christ in all the arenas of society and remind people, whether they receive Christ or not, of the criteria by which the returning King will judge men and nations?

A: No; I'm afraid I don't agree. It seems to me that our Lord's own emphasis is quite different, even opposed to this. Take Luke 17 where we read, "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. The did eat, they drank, they married wives . . . until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came . . ." You can't reform the world. That's why I disagree entirely with the "social and cultural mandate" teaching and its appeal to Genesis 1:28. It seems to me to forget completely the Fall. You can't Christianize the world. The end time is going to be like the time of the Flood. The condition of the modern world proves that what we must preach more than ever is "Escape from the wrath to come!" The situation is critical. I believe the Christian people—but not the church—should get involved in politics and in social affairs. The kingdom task of the church is to save men from the wrath to come by bringing them to Christ. This is what I believe and emphasize. The main function of politics, culture, and all these things is to restrain evil. They can never do an ultimately positive work. Surely the history of the world demonstrates that. You can never Christianize the world.

Hold Your Nose If You Must . . .

. . . but please vote next Tuesday.

Here's a good reason why you should. And here's another: "Love thy neighbor." I am yours, and I don't want to live under the regime described in that link.

And here's a voters' guide for some key races.

Strategies for Spiritual-Mindedness

These thoughts from Piper are worth more time than they're likely to receive in the electronic media, but I offer them for your edification. They've certainly been such to me.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 2: On the State of Evangelicalism)

Q: What great emphases do evangelicals too much neglect?

A: To me, the missing note in modern evangelicalism is the matter of godliness, or what was once called spirituality. We evangelicals are too smug, too self-satisfied, too healthy. The notion of being humbled under the mighty hand of God has gone. We live too much in the realm of a pseudo-intellectualism and an emphasis upon the will. The heart is being ignored. I see no hope until we return to the great emphasis of Jonathan Edwards who, though a brilliant intellect and outstanding philosopher, put ultimate emphasis upon the heart. By the heart I mean the whole man, with special emphasis on the emotional element. Today a vague sentimentality has replaced deep emotion. People are no longer humble; there is little fear of the Lord. Modern evangelicalism is very unlike the evangelicalism of the eighteenth century and of the Puritans. I'm unhappy about this. The genuine evangelicalism is that older evangelicalism.

Q: Was it not also intellectually and theologically powerful?

A: Tremendously so. But today we have a pseudo-intellectualism that is theologically shallow. We need both brilliant theological comprehension and the warm heart. When I first came to England evangelicalism was nontheological, pietistic, and sentimental, and I stressed engaging the intellect to its maximum. But now many evangelicals are far too conscious of their intellects; some are preoccupied with secondary things like the Christian view of art or of drama or of politics.

Q: You would surely want the Christian intellectual dimension to be strong enough to expose the shallowness of all speculative alternatives to the great truths of revelation?

A: Of course. But that alone is not enough. The most important chapter in the Bible today from the standpoint of modern preaching is I Corinthians 2. Without the demonstration of the Spirit's power, all theology leads to nothing. My key verse, in a sense, is Romans 6:17, "Ye have obeyed from the heart the form of sound words delivered unto you." While truth comes primarily to the intellect it must move the heart, which then, in turn, moves the will. Today many people go no farther than having the form of sound words; others place their emphasis upon decision. Both approaches ignore the heart.
This interview gets better every time I read it. Here's part 1 if you missed it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 1: On Evangelistic Campaigns)

In February, 1980, Christianity Today published an interview of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, conducted by Carl F. H. Henry. Lloyd-Jones died a year later.

Although I've known of the interview for a while, today I tracked it down in the seminary library and read it. To the best of my knowledge, it's not available online, but I'd encourage you to make a note to yourself to find the issue next time you're around a seminary or church library with back issues. I think you'll appreciate the way his steel convictions just refuse to bend under Henry's questions that seem at times to well with incredulity.

I'm not going to reproduce the whole article. I would like to post some of the parts I found most significant in a brief series. I think you'll find some points of contact with the kinds of things we've been talking about here. On to part 1:
Q: You and I met in 1966, I believe, to discuss the prjected Berlin World Congress on Evangelism. You declined to be either a participant or observer. You were also, I think, the only minister of a major church in London that did not cooperate in the Graham crusades? What kept you on the sidelines?

A: This is a very vital and difficult matter. I have always believed that nothing but a revival—a visitation of the Holy Spirit, in distinction from an evangelistic campaign—can deal with the situation of the church and of the world. The Welsh Presbyterian Church had roots in the great eighteenth-century evangelical revival, when the power of the Spirit of God came upon preachers and churches, and large numbers were converted. I have never been happy about organized campaigns. In the 1820s a very subtle and unfortunate change took place, especially in the United States, from Azahel Nettleton's emphasis on revival to Charles G. Finney's on evangelism. There are two positions. When things were not going well, the old approach was for ministers and deacons to call a day of fasting and prayer and to plead with God to visit them with power. Today's alternative is an evangelistic campaign: ministers ask, "whom shall we get as evangelist?" Then they organize and ask God's blessing on this. I belong to the old school.

Q: What specific reservations to you have about modern evangelism as such?

A: I am unhappy about organized campaigns and even more about the invitation system of calling people forward. Mark you, I consider Billy Graham an utterly honest, sincere, and genuine man. He, in fact, asked me in 1963 to be chairman of the first Congress on Evangelism, then projected for Rome, not Berlin. I said I'd make a bargain: if he would stop the general sponsorship of his campaigns—stop having liberals and Roman Catholics on the platform—and drop the invitation system, I would wholeheartedly support him and chair the congress. We talked for about three hours, but he didn't accept these conditions.

I just can't subscribe to the idea that either congresses or campaigns really deal with the situation. The facts, I feel, substantiate my point of view: in spite of all that has been done in the last 20 or 25 years, the spiritual situation has deteriorated rather than improved. I am convinced that nothing can avail but churches and ministers on their knees in total dependence on God. As long as you go on organizing, people will not fall on their knees and implore God to come and heal them. It seems to me that the campaign approach trusts ultimately in techniques rather than in the power of the Spirit. Graham certainly preaches the gospel. I would never criticize him on that score. What I have criticized, for example, is that in the Glasgow campaign he had John Sutherland Bonnell address the ministers' meetings. I challenged that. Graham replied, "You know, I have more fellowship with John Sutherland Bonnell than with many evangelical ministers." I replied, "Now it may be that Bonnell is a nicer chap than Lloyd-Jones—I'll not argue that. But real fellowship is something else: I can genuinely fellowship only with someone who holds the same basic truths that I do."

Monday, October 30, 2006

"Church Discipline Is the Canary in the Coal Mine"

This BPNews article reports on a conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Greg Wills made the case that when church discipline goes, disaster in that church is not far behind. But as Mark Dever argued, although the absence of discipline is a clear indicator of a problem, reinstitution of discipline isn't the essence of the solution.

It wouldn't be difficult to survey the ecclesiastical landscape to find evidence that Wills' assertion is true. What is disturbing is the widespread indifference to biblical church discipline, even among fundamental churches. My sense is that the tide is turning, and folks with a broader awareness than I have said the same. But which is easier, reinstituting discipline or revitalizing a church's fundamental understanding of membership (which Dever argues is a precursor to discipline)?

HT: Founders

Let's Beat This Hermeneutical Discussion to Death

In two previous posts we've batted around the possibility that modern Bible-believing interpreters of Scripture have abandoned their professed conviction of the sufficiency of Scripture by using extra-biblical information (history, geography, culture, literary genre) to inform their understanding of the biblical text.

Another question crossed my mind over the weekend: For those of you who believe that it's appropriate, yea necessary, to interpret the Bible in light of extra-biblical information, why would you not also interpret the Bible in light of modern science?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Together

Greg Linscott (a.k.a. G-Harmony) reports on his trip to the Ockenga Institute. My one question: Is "warrior" a way of saying in code that someone "earnestly contends for the faith"?

Should Christians Fast from Politics?

I enjoyed listening to Al Mohler's thoughts on this question discussed on his radio program during a leisurely jog a couple nights ago. He discussed David Kuo's book on the Bush administration (recent related post here). Best of all, I think Mohler more or less says what I believe. We ought to vote, and it's reasonable to attempt to exert influence. But we shouldn't trust in politics to transform culture, and we certainly shouldn't let cultural and political involvement distract the Church in any way from its mission of evangelism and discipleship.

The most interesting part to me was his question, "Is it possible [as Kuo asserts] that this White House has duped and seduced American evangelical Christians?"

I can sum up his answer in two words: "Well, DUH!"

If you want more, here it is:
[A]ny Christian who would be so seduced either doesn't understand Christianity or doesn't understand the political process. . . . I'm not shocked by [the low priority moral issues sometimes get] because I expect that. I don't just assume that that means all of a sudden I should get cynical about either this administration or the political process. The only way you can be newly cynical about this is if you were horribly naive before, which, by the way, has to explain David Kuo. Either he was dishonest in this book or he was just extremely naive.
This part of the discussion starts around 15:00 in. Listen further for his discussion of the seduction of evangelical leaders.

On a related question, I'm wondering why folks associated with Reformed soteriology vary so widely on the role of the Church in politics and culture. People like MacArthur, Doran, and Mohler minimize the Church's role. People like Carl Henry, Tim Keller, and Paleo commenter "Keith" make politics and culture a much higher priority. My initial instinct is that it comes down to the premillennialism of the former versus the amillennialism or postmillennialism of the latter, but then there are scads of evangelicals who vehemently reject Reformed soteriology who are into politics and culture up to their eyeballs. I would genuinely appreciate a plausible explanation.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Phil Johnson Critiques Mark Driscoll

Read the post here. This is the heart of it:
I have appreciated his defense of the atonement and his willingness to confront the neo-liberalism of other Emerging leaders honestly. But I don't think his perpetually coarse language in the pulpit and his apparent preoccupation with off-color terms and ribald subject matter are merely minor flaws in an otherwise healthy ministry. It is a serious shortcoming.
On a related note, a friend made an observation to me today commenting on the similarities between Driscoll and a prominent deceased fundamentalist, as chronicled in a recent post by Tom Pryde. If Driscoll had said in a sermon, "That's just a bunch of bull stuff," would he get a pass? And should he?

Surely there are different levels of crass. There are different levels of intent. And there are different levels of repetitive behavior. Those comparisons are to some degree subjective. But I wonder whether we're really talking about apples vs. oranges or apples vs. (perhaps) bigger apples.

Quote Game Volume XVIILXV (or something like that)

No googling. TNIV on the prize table if anyone gets it without hints.
There may be a danger in getting too involved in partisan politics—there are many potential snares. I am somewhat concerned when we get specific political issues intertwined with the gospel . . . ; this confuses people about the essence of the gospel. It could also have the tendency to dilute the gospel. I think this was one of the errors I made in my early ministry, and it is one I am seeking to correct. I am trying desperately to stay out of partisan politics, although sometimes it is rather difficult. The whole matter, of course, is a complicated issue. Christians have always debated exactly how they should relate to secular and political issues, and there certainly are many social and political issues that have a moral dimension. We need great wisdom to know where our responsibilities are in this area.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Here's a Little More on That Hermeneutical Discussion

While reading in How to Read Genesis by Tremper Longman III, I encountered a perfect example (among many) of what I'm talking about. Here's a clipping (pp. 24-25):
Question 4. What can we learn about Genesis from comparable ancient Near Eastern literature?

The stories of Genesis have analogues from the other Near Eastern cultures. Israel was not the only people from this general area and time period to present an account of creation or even a devastating flood.

There are many dimensions to comparing ancient literature, but the main point that becomes obvious as soon as we become aware of literature written in other Semitic (e.g., Akkadian and Ugaritic) and non-Semitic languages (e.g., Egyptian, Sumerian and Hittite) of the Near East is that God did not create a unique form of literature any more than he created a unique language to communicate his truths.

However, we must tread carefully here. Too often the similarities have lured scholars and others into thinking that the Bible is just a superficial re-working of, say, Mesopotamian literature. They fail to see the significant differences between rival creation accounts—that is, between the biblical account and those from the ancient Near East. As we study ancient Near Eastern literature, we will remain attentive to both the similarities and the the differences. We will also inquire into the reasons for both. The important point that comes to the fore through theis kind of study is that the Bible is a literature of antiquity and not modernity. This truth will have a great impact on our study. For instance, we will come to realize that the biblical creation accounts were not written in order to counter Darwinism but rather the Enuma Elish and the other ancient ideas concerning who created creation.
Clearly, the author's belief is that extra-biblical literature sheds valuable light on the authorial intent of the biblical text. That doesn't mean I disagree with everything he says. For example, I agree that many Christians read Genesis 1-2 as little more than an apologetic against Darwin. Clearly, it is far more than that. But the conclusion simply seems inescapable to me that if we need to understand extra-biblical literature to understand Scripture, then the very foundation of our professed commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture crumbles.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Attraction: The Elephant in the Room

No one really likes to talk about the role of attraction as a foundational component of a marriage relationship or a relationship potentially leading to marriage. I think we all feel a little guilty that we're still human. I also think (let the pontification begin) that most of the people who say it doesn't matter are people to whom it mattered a great deal before they were married.

In any case, Scott Croft has done a great job of presenting a balanced view with biblical reasoning. I loved this anecdote:
I once counseled a Christian brother in his dating relationship with a great woman. She was godly, caring, and bright. She was attractive, but not a supermodel. For weeks I listened to this brother agonize over his refusal to commit and propose to this woman. He said they were able to talk well about a lot of things, but there were a few topics he was interested in that she couldn't really engage with, and sometimes the conversation "dragged."

He also said that, while he found her basically attractive, there was one feature of hers that he "just pictured differently" on the woman he would marry. I would ask about her godliness and character and faith, and he said all those things were stellar (and he was right). Finally, he said, "I guess I'm looking for a 'ten'."

I could hold back no longer. Without really thinking, I responded, "You're looking for a 'ten'? But, brother, look at yourself. You're like a 'six.' If you ever find the woman you're looking for, and she has your attitude, what makes you think she would have you?"
HT: Carolyn McCulley

Phil Johnson on PreTribbers and the Gospel

Phil Johnson's series on how he got drawn into the lordship debate is a fascinating narrative. Justin Taylor provides links to all eight parts of the series here.

He made a rather scathing comment in the final installment posted yesterday:
In short, it seems many leading dispensationalists are more concerned about the timing of the rapture than they are about the purity of the gospel message.
I'm a PreTribber myself, though I don't fit neatly into any of the stereotypical dispensationalist camps. Frankly, I couldn't possibly care less if that brings me scorn as an anti-intellectual. But I wholeheartedly, unequivocally agree with Johnson. This statement describes the vast majority of my experience with dispensationalism. It doesn't make dispensationalism wrong, but it speaks volumes about the dispensationalist movement.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

MacArthur on Politics and Christianity

John MacArthur is in the middle of a series, "Christians and Politics" at the Pulpit Magazine blog. The scathing comments below are from part two posted today:
Throughout Protestant history, those segments of the visible church that have turned their attention to social and political issues have also compromised sound doctrine and quickly declined in influence. Early modernists, for example, explicitly argued that social work and moral reform were more important than doctrinal precision, and their movement soon abandoned any semblance of Christianity whatsoever.

Today’s evangelical political activists seem to be unaware of how much their methodology parallels that of liberal Christians at the start of the twentieth century. Like those misguided idealists, contemporary evangelicals have become enamored with temporal issues at the expense of eternal values. Evangelical activists in essence are simply preaching a politically conservative version of the old social gospel, emphasizing social and cultural concerns above spiritual ones.
MacArthur has not yet directly addressed whether his concerns are directed at the involvement of individual Christians in politics or the involvement of the church as an institution. My personal concerns relate almost exclusively to the latter. We'll see how the series develops.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mohler Critiques John Stott

Read Mohler's post here.

Praying Pawns

Time Magazine publishes some selections from former White House staffer David Kuo's new book on how the Republican Party uses evangelical pastors and voters rather cynically. Here's Kuo's conclusion:
George W. Bush, the man, is a person of profound faith and deep compassion for those who suffer. But President George W. Bush is a politician and is ultimately no different from any other politician, content to use religion for electoral gain more than for good works. Millions of Evangelicals may share Bush's faith, but they would protect themselves—and their interests—better if they looked at him through the same coldly political lens with which he views them.

Phil Johnson and John MacArthur Chat about Election

Listen to this two-part series online here, or subscribe to the podcast. You can also contact Grace to You, and they'll send you the CD for free.

Make sure you listen to MacArthur's analysis of Charles Finney in part 2. He argues that Finney "defined American evangelism," and that the new seeker church and emerging brand of evangelism is just a new form of Finneyism.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The "Calvinist Jihad"

If you have not followed the story of the demise of the debate on Baptists and Calvinism between Ergun with Emir Caner and James White with Tom Ascol, I would encourage you not to do so. Although it's rather instructive, in that you'll learn a great deal about four individuals and their sharply contrasting spirits and veracity, it's also rather frustrating and likely not wise stewardship of your time.

Here's the point that seems relevant to me: I've quite frequently heard 5-point Calvinists publicly admonish and rebuke the "CalviNazis," as one of them put it—arrogant, obnoxious young Calvinists or hyper-Calvinists (yes, there is a difference) whose spirit and life contradicts the glory of God that they claim to exalt. I'm grateful for those admonitions. On the other hand, I've not heard any of the anti-Calvinists rebuke people like Ergun Caner, who posted this on his website:

A: Yes, absolutely. For a small portion of these people, just daring to question the Bezian movement is heresy. They will blog and e-mail incessantly. I call it a “Calvinist Jihad,” because just like Muslims, they believe they are defending the honor of their view. They can discuss nothing else. I have even had a few call for my head! Dr. Falwell and I have laughed about it, because they are so insistent, and they miss the point completely. There are plenty of schools to which the neo-Calvinists can go, but Liberty will be a lighthouse for missions and evangelism to the “whosoever wills.” Period.

The difference is, Muslims know when to quit - for these guys, it is the only topic about which they can talk.
I'll not link to Caner's post. You can find it quite easily if you must. For those of you who know young people interested in attending a Christian university or a Baptist seminary, you might want to find out where this individual is employed. I must admit that I find great irony in the failure of reasonable anti-Calvinists to rebuke the radicals, just as the allegedly peaceful Muslims fail to stand against the terrorist Muslim sects.

Stay Home in November . . .

. . . go home sooner. (Title HT: JS in DC)

An evangelist is saying that Republicans are delaying the Second Coming. Shoulda' known this was Bush's fault.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Dogs on a Plane

Here are a few semi-random observations based on a couple weeks I recently spent on the road:
  1. People like to talk about themselves. Trade show exhibitors like to talk about themselves more than anyone.
  2. It's more fun to watch Ohio State dismantle a conference opponent in a big road game when you're in Ohio with Ohioans (preferably family) than from any other location.
  3. Joel Tetreau is the most huggable fundamentalist I know.
  4. It's only humid in Phoenix when I am there.
  5. Whoever came up with the bright idea that people should be allowed to take pets on planes in carry-on luggage ought to be wrapped in bacon and tossed in a cage with starving Dobermans.
  6. This video is just downright cool. HT: an exhibitor in the booth next to mine (who was NOT obsessed with talking about himself) Oh, and it checks out with Snopes.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Does John MacArthur Really Believe in the Sufficiency of Scripture?

If memory serves correctly, I’ve heard John MacArthur speak in person on seven occasions. On at least three of those occasions, he specifically affirmed his conviction of the sufficiency of Scripture. And since two of the other occasions were part of a three-lecture series on “The Unintended Consequences of Non-Expository Preaching,” he was clearly advocating the concept even if he didn’t specifically articulate it.

In light of that conviction, I read with interest and a churning mind his recent post, “How To Enjoy Bible Study,” on the Pulpit Magazine blog. In the second main portion MacArthur outlines four major areas of “distance” that we must overcome if we are to understand the message of the Bible—language, culture, geography and history.

My question is this: If we have to understand things about culture, geography, and history in order to understand the Bible fully, can we really say we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture? Obviously, language distance is an obstacle to understanding the text itself, but if we have to master a knowledge base external to the text in order to interpret the text, then is Scripture really sufficient in and of itself to provide all that is necessary to bring the man of God to full completion? If previous generations did not possess our modern grasp of ancient culture, history, and geography, then did God really give them all things that pertain to life and godliness?

I believe the answer to those questions is no.

That doesn’t mean I’m equipped to argue against MacArthur’s hermeneutical approach. In a debate with him or pretty much any professor of hermeneutics, I’d get resoundingly shredded. But I am making two points. First, there are some who are fully capable of making the case that the authors/Author of Scripture gave us everything we need in the text of Scripture itself in order to interpret Scripture. Second, we can’t say that we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture if we have to study archeology and extra-biblical ancient history and culture in order to understand it.

The reality is that this isn’t solely a John MacArthur issue. Far from it. It isn’t a fundamentalist/evangelical issue. It isn’t even a dispensational/covenant issue. I recently perused the program of this fall's ETS Annual Meeting, and it's chock full of papers being presented on how to interpret Scripture in light of extra-biblical culture, geography, and history.

Rather, what I'm talking about is a foundational question of how we interpret the text of Scripture that cuts across all of these party lines. It seems to me that it’s a question worth considering. For example, does this modern hermeneutic that requires investigation into ancient culture, geography, and history fit the nature of the text? Does a close examination of the text give us reason to believe that the biblical authors intended to give later readers all the data they would need to interpret the text? What is the historical precedent for extra-biblical investigation as a grid for interpretation of the inspired text? How did NT authors read the OT? For that matter, how did later OT authors read earlier OT authors? Simply put, these are questions I believe we’ve largely neglected, to our hermeneutical detriment. For a couple examples of people wrestling with these issues, check out the series on OT hermeneutics and preaching OT narratives here, and read the section on text vs. event in this book.

Whether or not you agree with their hermeneutics, a conclusion seems unassailable to me. When we say we need things outside the text to understand the text, we can no longer claim to hold a consistent position of affirming the sufficiency of Scripture.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Minor Doctrines

Some worthwhile thoughts here:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Wherever the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that one point.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Independent Fundamentalists and Southern Baptists: Are Their Toes Pointed the Same Direction?

A few weeks ago I met a dear brother who is currently serving as the senior pastor of an SBC church. He gave me permission to share his story without identifying his church, so I’ll provide all the details I can.

He moved to the United States from another continent several years ago to further his education, having already received some theological training and having served as a pastor in his home country. He was soon hired to serve as an associate pastor in what would have been considered a “moderate” Southern Baptist church. From what he told me, it seems that this church was not so much explicitly denying the authority of Scripture as it was simply ignoring it. This approach revealed itself in a shallow, therapeutic pulpit ministry, a de-emphasis of the gospel, and egalitarian gender roles in the church’s leadership.

My friend established a pattern of expositional preaching in the youth ministry, which fell under his oversight, and he invested his life into shepherding the young people under his care. To his surprise, he was called to be the church’s senior pastor when the previous pastor left a couple years after my friend’s arrival.

Since entering the senior pastorate, he has employed the same approach to the Word of God in his pulpit ministry, and he’s taken a painful and costly stand on gender issues. When I asked him about the makeup of the congregation when he arrived compared to what exists now, he said that some of the original members left in anger, some became genuine believers, some began to grow beyond spiritual infancy, and perhaps a few remain members in rebellion. In any case, the current congregation is significantly larger than it was when he first arrived, the gospel has been recovered, and on top of that, he’s pastoring a multi-racial congregation in the South.

I say all that to say this: Some fundamentalists criticize the SBC’s toleration of some moderates within the convention and argue that these churches ought to be expelled. Although I’m not entirely sure the SBC is constituted in such a way as to adopt that approach, particularly for churches that do not send messengers to the SBC annual meeting, I’m somewhat sympathetic with that critique.

On the other hand, it seems simplistic to suggest that the SBC is not contending for the faith when it has clear strategy is to recover churches for the cause of the gospel. The strategy is to infiltrate these churches with conservative pastors who will unreservedly and unapologetically preach and stand for the Word. Sometimes we forget that churches are made up of people. Some of these people in some of these moderate or liberal churches are genuine believers who are starving to death in their spiritual infancy for lack of the mild of the Word. Some of those people are now growing spiritually, and others have now trusted Christ for salvation because they now have a pastor who preaches the gospel.

Clearly, that’s an argument soaked in pragmatism. But that doesn’t mean it consists solely of pragmatism. And while pragmatic arguments can’t prove a strategy is right, they just might not mean that it is wrong either. For years independent fundamentalists have used the “Which way are your toes pointed?” argument to cast suspicion on individuals or ministries who built relationships outside the fold. Sometimes they were proven right. But perhaps it’s time to apply this mantra consistently and to recognize that many people in the SBC have pointed their toes far more in the same direction of the fundamentalists than is easy for fundamentalists to admit. Check out this video (HT: Founders blog) if you want to hear a couple speakers at an SBC conference for younger leaders who sound strikingly like fundamentalists—both for good and ill.

I’m grateful to be able to say that I’ve heard a number of independent fundamentalists begin to acknowledge the healthy changes in the SBC over the past 25 years. They’re also right when they say that the SBC has a long way to go. But what I wonder is whether it’s possible that some independent fundamentalists might have something to learn from some Southern Baptists of conviction. And fundamentalists will not be slow to assert that Southern Baptists have something to learn from them. Perhaps it would be beneficial to the cause of the gospel if individual fundamentalist pastors developed personal relationships with individual SBC pastors. Perhaps that would be preferable to the (two-way) culture of mistrust and misconceptions that still causes many fundamentalists to offer broad-brush criticism and place SBC churches—even the leaders in advancing Baptist conviction, separatist principle, and authentic evangelism and worship—under the designation of anathema.

But hey, I’m just daydreaming.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Mohler-Patterson Calvinism Discussion

Audio from this conversation that occurred in June is now available online here.

Youth Ministry: Some Evangelical Introspection

Christianity Today surveyed "114 leaders from 11 ministry spheres about evangelical priorities for the next 50 years," and is publishing some of those observations, one area of ministry at a time. Here's what they report about the comments from youth ministry leaders.

The first paragraph contains these words from Mark Oestreicher, president of YouthSpecialties:
There are a lot of people who've had this nagging sense that we're missing the mark somehow. That kids seem happy and willing to attend, and engaged in our ministries, but five years from now, when they're in college or post-college, they just really aren't connecting with real faith, let alone church.
Now, if you're familiar with YouthSpecialties, you're probably aware that the mark they seem to be aiming at is attracting young people to church (or perhaps we should say, the church's "youth ministry") by making it fun, entertaining, hip, and exciting. Perhaps it's a good thing that Oestreicher is beginning to recognize that the market-driven strategy of fun and excitement draws a crowd, but does not make a church.

Oestreicher's comments are followed by others from people at places like Princeton and Fuller seminaries, some of which are rather insightful and sound.

I'm not holding my breath that this is the beginning of some revolution for the better in evangelical youth ministry. But it does bring to mind the statement I've heard Frank Hamrick make, and that others have told me Les Ollila has made: "What it takes to reach them is what it takes to keep them."

If broadly evangelical churches are suffering a dearth of post-college young people, so are many fundamentalist churches. I wonder if fundamentalist churches don't often employ the same "fun and exciting" strategy for youth ministry (just without the rock music) and experience the same departure of those young people when they're transitioned into big people church after high school or college. After all, isn't it fair to say that after high school, many fundamentalist young people "really aren't connecting with real faith, let alone church"?

Here's my question: If your church uses candy or prizes as a primary motivational techniques in your children's ministry or youth ministry, what do you think those strategies accomplish? And if they accomplish something of value, do you use the same strategies with your adults? If not, why not?

What it takes to reach them is what it takes to keep them.

"Above All Earthly Powers": MP3s and Perspectives

Although the official site for the 2006 Desiring God National Conference says that messages are coming soon, I downloaded them earlier here. Transcripts are also available. You can also read summaries and reviews from conference attendees: Challies, Mahaney, Aniol.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Will Evangelicals Vote for a Mormon?

Here's an interesting and entertaining conversation on Al Mohler's radio program. I laughed out loud when Mohler responded to a self-proclaimed "right-wing fundamentalist Christian zealot" with the line, "Someone who calls himself a zealot usually isn't."

"Young, Restless, and Reformed" Now Online at CT

You may have heard of this cover story published a few weeks ago by Christianity Today. Discussions of Piper, Harris, Mahaney, Driscoll, Mohler, Dever—all the usual suspects. Read the full text here.

***Edit: Add link to sidebar article.***

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Death or a Pinch of Incense?

David Wells argues that today's Christianity wouldn't have shed much blood in ancient Rome:
The kind of Christianity that is being nurtured in our churches is one that does not have the sort of fiber to take people through the great conflicts of life.
Watch the video, "Suffering and the Church," here.

Piper on Islam and the Pope

John Piper suggests ten ways Christians should respond to Islam, particularly in light of the pope's comments and the subsequent controversy.

Akin Chapel QnA Follow-Up

After I posted a link to Dr. Akin's chapel QnA last week, he took the time to e-mail the student body answers to several questions that he hadn't had time to address in chapel. Both of the ones that I asked were among them, although in somewhat modified form. I'll reproduce the answers to those two questions here since I mentioned them in the previous post. The original versions of the questions are available via the above link. The wording that appears below corresponds to what was distributed in the e-mail, not to how the original questions were worded. Modifications presumably reflect the combination of related questions or perhaps prudence in public answers to public questions.
Q: What can we learn from the ministries of those whom we might not completely agree? (e.g.: Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, Erwin McManus, etc.)
A: I believe we should learn from as many people as we possibly can, including those with whom we disagree. These particular persons are very good at engaging the culture, and Mark Driscoll is a solid expositor though his use of profanity in the pulpit is inexcusable. Each of these men provides insight for us in how we can sense the heartbeat of the culture. My counsel is though as we study these men, and we should, and as we learn from these men, and we must, we will always filter what we see and hear through the purifying waters of the Word of God. We are to be culturally sensitive but scripture driven.

Q: What should be our response and relationship to those who affirm that people can be saved through false religions or without even hearing the name of Christ?
A: I believe that we must confront such persons as propagating a false teaching. We must point out that though they may be brothers in Christ, and aligned with us in many ways in terms of theology, in this particular area they are simply out of bounds and their view does not line up with scripture. One certainly can not affirm universalism from the Bible. I believe one also can not affirm inclusivism from the scriptures either. For those who reach an age of moral consciousness, or as is popularly known the age of accountability, I believe they can only be saved through a conscious faith commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In that context, Al Mohler and I several years ago wrote an article and are on record as affirming that we do believe that those who die as children who never reach that age of moral discernment, or those who through some mental handicap never reach an age of moral discernment, are objects of God’s saving and electing grace and that they will indeed be in heaven. This by the way is also the view of John MacArthur, and has been a consistent position of the church throughout her history including most reformed thinkers.