Friday, September 25, 2015

Joe Biden, Life at Conception, and Afghan Pedophiles

“I’m prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there’s human life and being,” Biden said. “But I’m not prepared to say that to other God-fearing, non-God-fearing people that have a different view.”

Biden's moral reasoning is the sort that facilitates not just abortion, but ultimately instructions to American soldiers to accommodate Afghan pedophiles:
A 45-minute scripted presentation given to Marines as part of their pre-deployment process doesn't say that they shouldn’t report sexual assaults in the countries where they’re serving. But it explains that laws and norms about sexual relations vary from country to country, and that in Afghanistan in particular, sexual assault is a “cultural” issue, and not a purely legal one.
In other words, Marines ought to understand how they're expected to treat children, but they shouldn't hold to the same standard other "God-fearing, non-God-fearing people that have a different view."

Laws protect us from evil people who "have a different view" that the strong can exploit the weak. That's what laws are for, and that's what lawmakers like Biden do. Biden spent 26 years in the Senate, and now more than 6 as its presiding officer. It's unimaginable that he doesn't comprehend the incoherence of his statement.

But Biden isn't worse than most of our elected officials. He's just more honest.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Concerns, Substantiated Edition

Perhaps many of you already listen regularly to Al Mohler's Thinking in Public podcast [iTunes link]. Those who don't may still want to catch his May 18, 2015, installment, "Evangelical Titan: A Conversation about Billy Graham with Historian Grant Wacker." Below are two of Mohler's comments that I suspect will interest most readers here. One is fairly early in the conversation. The other is from Mohler's reflective monologue after the interview has concluded.
20:00: The theologian in me, I'll admit, has a great deal of difficulty imagining how Billy Graham in 1957 could have included some of the people he included on that [New York City crusade] platform. And I have to tell you, just speaking as honestly as I can, I find myself at many points wondering if Dr. Graham would do now what he did then, knowing where mainline Protestantism went after 1957, and where I would argue he should've seen where it was going even then.
And later:
1:01:21: When it comes to the theological inclusiveness that marked at least some of the early decades of Dr. Graham's ministry, it is now even more clear that American Protestantism was moving in two very different, and eventually contradictory, directions. One towards an explicit accommodation with modernity—the course of Protestant liberalism—and the other in the direction of a very counter-cultural stance, made necessary by the theological convictions that are essential and central to what it means to be a Christian, and in particular what it means to be known and self-identified as an evangelical. 
In that sense, looking with full sympathy at the decisions that were made by Billy Graham then, we can understand that we face no opportunity of having such illusions now. We come to understand that the theological options that present us in the early decades of the 21st century are not between an establishment Protestantism that still retains some form of allegiance to historic Christian doctrine, and to a more conservative variant that is more precise. We are now looking at two movement that are now separated by a great theological chasm, and it is now not possible to look at the situation as Billy Graham confronted it in the 1950s, and believe that in any way it now represents what we know to be the theological options in the 21st century. 
I know from first-hand knowledge that many of those who were the conservative critics of Dr. Graham's ministry during its public years, that many of those critics were motivated by a very sincere theological assessment that forced them to create distance between themselves and Dr. Graham. Over time, many of those concerns were substantiated, certainly by the leftward trajectory of mainline Protestantism. But many of those conservative critics also had, underlying that distance that was created between themselves, a basic gladness in the fact that Billy Graham was preaching the gospel. And they were glad to hear the gospel preached. And they were glad to see so many people respond to the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Church Discipline, Abraham Lincoln, Jim Crow, and Religious Freedom

Ethnic tension, religious liberty threats, and the anniversaries of the end of the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination have stirred up my mind to ask a few "what if's":

What if Bible-believing, gospel-preaching churches in the antebellum American South had 1) exercised discipline on members who participated in the evils of slavery and 2) proclaimed a biblical theology of all people created equally in God's image?
  • Would the Civil War have ever happened?
  • Would the size and power of the federal government have exploded exponentially, as it did through the events and aftermath of the Civil War?
  • Would Jim Crow laws have ever gained traction? Would the Civil Rights movement have even been necessary?
  • Would the 14th amendment have been enacted? Its "equal protection" clause vastly expanded the power of the federal government over state governments. That amendment is a key reason the federal government, particularly the Supreme Court, is able to overrule state provisions on abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious freedom. What if that amendment never made it into the Constitution? Could Roe v. Wade have even become a federal issue?
  • Would theological liberals, who often opposed slavery and racial discrimination sooner and more forcefully than theological conservatives, have gained less credibility and moral influence in American society?
  • Would African American pastors have had access to theological training in conservative schools, rather than only liberal institutions? Would African American congregations be more theologically healthy today?
  • For that matter, would there even be "African American congregations," or would churches be far more ethnically integrated than they are today?
  • Would gay rights activists be able to make the case that discrimination against homosexuals is as morally repugnant as the Jim Crow South?
  • Would we be staring in the face the precedent of the Supreme Court's Bob Jones University v. United States decision as a threat to churches' tax exempt status
And here's the kicker: Is it possible that threats to religious freedom have ultimately and ironically emerged from the widespread failure of churches to practice church discipline and recognize that all people are created in the image of God?

Of course I can't answer those questions with any real certainty. But this much I will say:

Don't tell me that ecclesiology is peripheral, or irrelevant, or simply a matter of what works best.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

(in)Frequently Asked Questions About the SBC (excursus)

One friend suggested that I address the question: When can we expect the formation of a Log Cabin SBC?

Some of you may have encountered consternation regarding comments reported by various media outlets and attributed to some SBC leaders in the ERLC's "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage" conference held last week. Huffington Post, WSJ, MSNBC, and One News Now all report some sort of shift within the SBC on matters related to homosexuality.

A couple of them purport to quote Al Mohler–or someone else purportedly quoting him—repenting for "denying that homosexuality was legitimate," or something similar. None of them actually agree on his exact words. Actually, they all get them wrong. See for yourself. You can access all the videos of the conference talks and panels here. Here's Mohler's keynote:
And this link should take you directly to the most relevant portion of the talk, though I'd ask that you watch the entire video for full context if you want to quibble over minutiae.

This panel discussion includes an exceptional answer from Rosaria Butterfield to a question about problems in the term "sexual orientation":
Here's a direct link to that relevant portion as well.

Now, I don't like to admit that I'm surprised, but I really wouldn't have expected Mohler to be presumed guilty of "serious compromise" based on reports from socially liberal media outlets. Granted, I've made mistaken comments based on false reports on occasion, but let me ask one question: Shouldn't we be a bit more skeptical of media outlets with a vested interest in creating an illusion of SBC softening than we are of someone like Al Mohler, who's been crystal clear for years on a whole array of issues related to biblical morality?

And whose credibility really ought to suffer here?

Monday, October 27, 2014

(in?)Frequently Asked Questions About the SBC (part 2)

Here's the second installment in a short series, for consideration in light of Northland's imminent adoption into the SBC. Read part 1 here.

Is the SBC a denomination?

Depends what you mean by denomination. I remember a couple SBC leaders argue that the SBC isn’t a denomination, only to refer—one of them within a couple paragraphs—to “our denomination.”

Is it a denomination in the sense that there’s an authoritative hierarchy or an organic linkage among the churches? (Think Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians.) Not in the slightest. In the sense that all SBC churches would identify as Baptists? Well yes, but that’s hardly what most people mean.

When people who understand the SBC call it a denomination, I suspect that they mean that there’s a strong, structured partnership among SBC churches that fosters a cohesive identity. And that's largely true.

Are SBC churches autonomous?

Yes. Yes. YES. I’m always puzzled when independent Baptists claim that SBC churches aren’t autonomous? Can anybody really explain this to me? Do independent Baptists think that denominational officials exercise improper influence over pastors and churches? Is that really different from what IFB college presidents and evangelists have done, or what IFB churches have relinquished to them?

SBC churches own their property, choose their leaders, and exercise full control over every dime of their money. If they want to leave the SBC, they’re entirely free to do so. There would be a pitchfork rebellion among Southern Baptist churches if they thought for a moment that some suit in Nashville was robbing them of their autonomy. Think I'm kidding?

By the way, some of you may have heard stories of churches getting sued for leaving the Convention back in its less conservative days, and perhaps even losing its property. For a few years I was a member of an independent Baptist church that existed because it had tried to leave the Convention, got sued (by the minority of the original church that wanted to stay), and ultimately lost its property. But the ultimate issue in that situation was that the church disregarded its own governing documents in the process of leaving. That was the source of the legal battle, not a lack of autonomy.

What do SBC churches have to believe? What can get you kicked out?

The SBC has what’s more or less a confession of faith—the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, a strengthened revision of earlier versions. But SBC churches don’t have to adopt or affirm it. Rather, the BF&M defines the parameters of the cooperative ventures of the convention.

Here’s what the SBC constitution says about membership in the Convention: An SBC church is one that is:
“In friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”
In other words, there is some possibility that the Convention may refuse to seat messengers (similar to delegates) from a church at the annual meeting for matters other than affirming homosexual behavior. On several occasions the Convention has refused to seat messengers or withdrawn fellowship from churches for that reason—most recently last month—but I’m not aware of similar action for other reasons. State conventions have refused to seat messengers for a broader range of reasons.

Up next:

  • What does it mean to be an SBC church?
  • How does the Convention work, and what’s up with the state conventions?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

(in?)Frequently Asked Questions About the SBC

In light of the imminent adoption of Northland into the SBTS family in the SBC tribe, I thought it might be useful to add a bit of my own misinformation to all the rest that's swirling around certain crannies of the internet. Now I should admit, I'm going to over-simplify some of the complexities. So if you'd prefer official, vetted information to some yayhoo (it's a Southern term) blogger, this is your place.

What is the SBC?

The Southern Baptist Convention is a partnership arrangement for roughly 45,000 churches in the United States. Through established agencies, governing documents, and theological parameters, these churches cooperate to spread the gospel, plant churches, and train pastors throughout the United States and to the ends of the earth.

Technically, the Southern Baptist Convention exists for a couple days out of the year to conduct Convention business during the annual meeting. I’m not sure whether it’s still the case, but for a long time the annual meeting was the largest deliberative body in the world. In the interim between annual meetings, the Executive Committee manages operations for the Convention, and various agencies carry out the mission.

What are those agencies?

In addition to the Executive Committee, the International Mission Board (IMB) focuses on international evangelism, church planting, and pastoral training. David Platt was recently elected its president. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) performs similar functions in North America.

Six seminaries train pastors, missionaries and other Christian workers, listed here in order of size: Southern (Mohler, 2,000), Southeastern (Akin, 1,588), Southwestern (Patterson, 1,497), New Orleans (Kelley, 1,335), Midwestern (Allen, 507), and Golden Gate (Iorg, 433). (Incidentally, it might be interesting to compare the size of the smallest SBC seminary with the total full-time equivalent enrollment of IFB seminaries at BJU, PCC, DBTS, CBTS, VBTS, FBTS, BBS, and MBU.) The SBC operates no colleges except those that function under the umbrella of some of these seminaries.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) trains churches to engage with issues related to ethics and policy both internally and in the public square. It also serves as the public voice for the Convention on those same issues. Guidestone Financial Resources manages insurance products and retirement savings. Lifeway Christian Resources publishes curriculum, performs research, and provides training resources. The Woman’s Missionary Union mobilizes churches for missions.

The SBC president (presently Ronnie Floyd) serves no more than two years. This role is largely ceremonial, similar to British royalty, though its appointment powers were pivotal in the Conservative Resurgence and remain crucial to the long-term fidelity of the Convention. The Executive Committee president (Frank Page) exercises administrative oversight of the Convention's year-round operations. In other words, he’s really the most powerful person in the Convention. Russell Moore’s leadership in the ERLC makes him the functional spokesman for the Convention. He’s the guy you’re mostly likely to see speaking on behalf of the Convention in the media.

Just a little prediction I can’t resist. And let me say first that I have zero—repeat, ZERO—inside information. When Ronnie Floyd’s second term as president ends in 2016, watch for Al Mohler to be elected the next president. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Frank Page announces his retirement from the ExComm about the time Mohler’s presidency ends in 2018. Then, well, you can see where I’m going with this.

More info on the SBC agencies here, and again, that stuff is all fact-checked and official.

Lot's more questions to come (though no promises on when), including . . .

  • What does it mean to be an SBC church?
  • Are SBC churches autonomous?
  • Is the SBC a denomination?
  • Should I lead my independent Baptist church to join the SBC?
  • What was the Conservative Resurgence, and why was it necessary? Is the Resurgence over?
  • Are there liberals in the SBC?
  • And much more…

Feel free to suggest questions in the comments. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

What Fundamentalism Taught Me About Culture, and Cultural Legalism

Some months ago I heard a sermon in which a pastor explained his understanding of legalism and critiqued some erroneous teaching in the contemporary evangelical landscape. I agreed wholeheartedly with most of his argument, but I want to hone in on how he framed the issue. Here's an important portion of what he said:
Today, the problem is not so much actual legalism. The problem is accused legalism. And those who argue for accused legalism basically say that rule-keeping in any form will somehow equal a walk with God. And so they make the case that anyone who has rules in their home or in their school or in their church of any kind is essentially an accused legalist. So if you have personal standards or institutional standards, then they accuse you of legalism. 
But I don't know of anyone, frankly, who has institutional standards or personal standards that would ever advocate that the keeping and maintaining of standards somehow obtains our justification or maintains justification or, frankly, even obtains or maintains sanctification. Now, I've known a lot of fundamental pastors all my life. I have never heard a pastor say that, ever. And so I think it is a red herring and a false accusation.
Now, if there's one thing fundamentalism has taught me, it's that culture matters. How we interact with or consume culture shapes what we love, treasure, and believe. Often subtly, even imperceptibly. If that's true, then it's also true that rules in our homes and churches and schools create cultures that shape what we love, treasure, and believe. Pastors can say all the right things, but we need to be alert to how rule systems create cultures. Could anyone who believes that culture matters deny that the power of a culture could undermine even the most sound theology?

Rules aren't bad. I don't know how a Christian could deny that we are obligated to obey, at the very least, the imperatives in the New Testament. (Granted, dispensationalists will want to exclude lots of the imperatives in the Gospels, but that's another conversation.) And I'm highly doubtful that even the most tenacious antinomians really practice their principles consistently in their parenting.

Nevertheless, my experiences have led me to believe that homes and churches and schools with lots of rules far too often undermine the gospel and cultivate legalistic thinking. I've seen them lead people to believe that they can merit favor with God by keeping his rules or ours—to believe that sanctification is fundamentally contingent on personal effort. And I've seen people grow frustrated with the inevitable failure of that conclusion, give up, and grow embittered. Do you think there's any possibility that these sorts of institutions have even sown the seeds for the antinomian backlashes we're dealing with these days?

So what should we do? Maybe a part of the solution could be to evaluate whether our institutional rules might actually be counterproductive. Maybe some of them should be discarded and replaced with more heart-oriented, relationally-grounded discipleship systems. But at the very least, leaders of families, churches, and schools with robust rule and discipline systems will need to redouble their efforts to reinforce the foundation: Our standing with God is acquired and maintained by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And sanctification will never progress without the initiating, motivating, enabling ministry of the Spirit. I'm not at all convinced that the conservative streams of American evangelicalism have laid that foundation well, or even tried.

That's what fundamentalism taught me about culture. A certain kind of culture. It just took me a long, long time to realize it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Science Doesn't Even Know What It Doesn't Know

What if scientists already knew they could be deceived about the foundational nature of the universe? Do you think that would inject a bit of humility into a scientific worldview, particularly when it purports to speak about things that no human directly deserved?

Read below a jaw-dropping admission from a reputable physicist, professor Brian Greene of Columbia University, delivered in a 2012 TED Talk. (A bit of background: In 1929 Edwin Hubble realized that universe was expanding, not static. In 1998 two teams of scientists discovered that, contrary to what everyone believed, the expansion of the universe isn't slowing down over time. It's actually speeding up.)

Here's what Greene said:
Because the expansion [of the universe] is speeding up, in the very far future those galaxies will rush away so far and so fast that we won't be able to see them—not because of technological limitations, but because of the laws of physics. The light those galaxies emit—even traveling at the fastest speed, the speed of light—will not be able to overcome the ever-widening gulf between us. 
So astronomers in the far future, looking out into deep space, will see nothing but an endless stretch of static, inky, black stillness. And they will conclude that the universe is static and unchanging, and populated by a single central oasis of matter that they inhabit—a picture of the cosmos that we definitively know to be wrong. 
Now, maybe those future astronomers will have records handed down from an earlier era like ours, attesting to an expanding cosmos teeming with galaxies. But would those future astronomers believe such "ancient knowledge," or would they believe in the black, static, empty universe that their own state-of-the-art observations reveal? 
I suspect the latter.
Now, if you delivered that talk, what would be the next words out of your mouth? Would you immediately conclude that we stand at a unique moment in history when our knowledge it near its zenith? Or would you raise this question: What might we think we know with absolute, incontrovertible certainty, that may not be true at all? Of what factors are we oblivious that would turn our conclusions on their heads? What do we not even know that we don't know?

To find out what Dr. Greene had to say, you'll have to watch the end of the TED Talk embedded below.

But I bet you can guess.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Seeking Clarification from Non-Calvinists

Two questions from anyone who would not consider yourself to be a 5-point Calvinist:

1. What would you call yourself?
2. Would you agree with this language?:

Jesus Christ died at Calvary's cross, taking all the penalty of all the sins of all the world—everyone that's ever been born or ever will be born. Jesus Christ bore all their sins in that transaction there between him and his heavenly Father, when he paid the debt for all of us, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Does Presbyterian Church Government Really Provide Superior Accountability?

Removing Tullian Tchividjian's blog was a big win for TGC's credibility regarding the "G" in "TGC." I'm inclined to agree with PCA pastor and Ref21 blogger Rick Phillips when he argued recently that Tchividjian's truncated (at best) understanding of sanctification constitutes "false doctrine."

I'm grateful for Phillips' bold, clear words, as well as several others' at Ref21. But I was intrigued by his concluding frustration with TGC's apparent reluctance to remove Tchividjian's blog.

Obviously, we know that TGC has taken this action, so that that point is now essentially moot.* But what seems to me to be a very live issue is the fact that Tchividjian pastors a PCA church—a church in the same denomination as Phillips, and not merely a denomination, but a Church—a capital-"C" Church. Now, I don't understand everything about PCA polity—not by a long shot. But I understand from a recently-ordained PCA pastor (converted from the Baptist/baptistic world) and Ref21 blogger, Todd Pruitt, that Presbyterian polity has an established process in place to deal with doctrinal error and abuses of authority. Not long ago, in reference to the Steven Furtick fiasco, he asked Southern Baptists, "Is there no mechanism in the Southern Baptist Convention that can provide oversight and correction to such abuses?"

Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the mechanism available to Baptists is the local congregation. Congregations sadly run amok, but local church autonomy is one of the areas in which we allegedly-but-inconsistently "Bible people" have stuck to our story. But on the other hand, no, in the sense that we don't have a governing body sovereign over local churches that's empowered to hold them accountable. Unlike the PCA, we're merely a Convention organized to cooperate in pursuit of our mission, not a capital-"C" Church. Scripture teaches that we need to deal decisively with false doctrine, and it speaks most specifically to false doctrine within a particular church—or Church, as the case may be. Granted, another PCA pastor has proposed a debate with Tchividjian, but wouldn't "false doctrine" require a Church to respond with more than debate? Perhaps that might be a first step.

So having said all that, I'm quite interested to see how a PCA pastor's accusation of "false doctrine" internal to the PCA plays out in PCA polity. I wouldn't have been surprised if an inter-denominational parachurch ministry created to foster evangelical unity had struggled to reach consensus or take decisive action. And I'd expect a Paper Presbyterian denomination to minimize doctrinal error. But that's not what I think the PCA is. And I don't think it's what the Ref21 PCA men think it is either. I pray they find wisdom and success, for the sake of the gospel.

*In fact, it appears from Tchividjian's messianically-titled post ("I've Come to Set the Captives Free") that TGC made the decision no later than Thursday. TGC's post corroborates the timeline. Phillips posted on Friday. Perhaps he, a Council member, already knew the action had been taken. Or perhaps it matters little either way.