Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Giving up Lent for Gospel Clarity

All the cool evangelical kids are starting to tell us again this year why we should recover the Christian calendar and give Lent a try. I'd like to suggest that perhaps we should first consider how Lent has in many cases been misunderstood to merit favor from God—simply in the [not] doing of the act. In light of its checkered past, I wonder if the very worst time of year to fast from something might not be the time of year when it's most likely to be misunderstood.

I read a blogpost yesterday arguing that Lent provides an opportunity to disengage from a culture in which all our needs can be effortlessly satisfied to the point of excess. That's a valid concern. But when in the year is that opportunity not available to us?

I really have no desire to fight anyone over this. Surely that wouldn't help anybody. If you choose to observe it in some way and it's helpful to you, I'll rejoice. Think of this as food for thought. Unless that's what you're giving up.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Finney's Ghosts and the Furtick Fiasco

I have to assume that any reader here has already heard about and been instinctively nauseated by this and this. (They have pictures!) In light of that assumption, I have just one comment about Furtick, but three about some associated ironies.

1. I'm hesitant to criticize a guy simply for having a huge house. There are all kinds of explanations for that, some of which are legitimate. My beef is with the attitude, the crafted celebrity image, the lack of internal accountability and transparency, and the deceptive, manipulative methodology.

2. As much as I agree with the general sentiments expressed here, I could do without the scoldings from the Baptist-turned-Presbyterian. As a member of a less-personality-driven-Presbyterian-denomination has pointed out, Presbyterians are not without their baptisms under false pretenses. Though I might like to insert a personal footnote that the plastic dolls were every bit as baptized as any live baby.

3. This morning, when I started plotting a post, I vaguely remembered stories of Billy Graham crusade organizers encouraging counselors to step out immediately at the invitation to "prime the pump." As I began to brainstorm what Google search terms would dredge up the facts, one Baptist leader tweeted just what I was looking for. So Furtick is no innovator. Though his antics may be more theatrical than Graham's, the difference is largely a matter of degree. Graham was no Furtick, but I'm struggling to understand how one could be intellectually consistent while criticizing Furtick on this particular point without similarly criticizing Graham.

4. Lest our independent friends find too much glee, is there really cause for rejoicing in the fact that the slick evangelical horror houses manufacture better reproductions of Finney's ghosts than their separatistic cousins'? What year was it when a particular University's drama teams stopped prowling the pews during prolonged invitations to compel closed-eyes-hand-raisers to relent and walk the aisle?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Negligent Pastors, and Their Enablers

The longer I serve in pastoral ministry within a functioning, healthy (and always pursuing further growth) body of elders, the harder it is for me to understand why any pastor would not make every effort to identify qualified men and equip them to share leadership, teaching, and shepherding responsibilities. It's equally incomprehensible to me why anyone who trains pastors would in any way minimize or marginalize this responsibility, let alone build a case intended to excuse those who do not. Why do you think a pastor would want sole responsibility to shepherd a congregation? Why would a pastor disregard his biblical responsibility to identify and train qualified leaders? Why would anyone want to supply an excuse to them? I have a few ideas, but I'm curious what you think.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Crusaders, Hopefully for the Last Time

Two brief reflections on this article.

1. "Crusaders" has always been a dreadful mascot for any Christian institution, most particularly a Baptist Bible college. The article suggests that abandoning the Crusader moniker is due to an increasingly global society rather than Baptist theology and history. I prefer the principled argument over the pragmatic.

2. Wheaton College went through a similar switch several years ago. Then-President Duane Litfin framed the issue rather helpfully, as a clear matter of principle:
It was not until I became aware of how offensive the image of the Crusades is to large segments of the world that I was forced to take another look at these historical events, and what I discovered was anything but ideal. Christians massacring Muslims; Muslims massacring Christians; Western Christians killing Eastern Christians and vice versa. We are hard-pressed to find anything in these disastrous waves of fighting that our Lord might have approved, despite the fact that the conflict was ostensibly carried out in His name. Try, as I did, reading up on the Crusades, searching for anything with which you would be willing to identify; you will find it an eye-opening exercise. It is little wonder that so many view these unfortunate historical episodes so negatively...

[Some might respond that] that the cross is offensive too; are we going to abandon that? To which, of course, the answer is no. We will stand or fall with the scandal of the cross. But we must not complicate that scandal by introducing our own scandals into the equation, scandals that may block others from seeing Jesus in our midst...

I have become convinced that making this change is a simple matter of faithfulness to Christ.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The SBC and Cedarville's Return from the Brink

How ironic would it be if SBC influence turned back Cedarville University from the sharp leftward drift that began and progressed when it was tied to the GARBC? Read <a href="">this story</a> for details on some of the early tremors in the turnaround that's only beginning.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Imagine There's a Heaven...

A few days ago a thesis congealed in my simmering pot of mental stew. Maybe it was the serendipity of listening to a performance of a Christian musical group from the Caribbean at the same time I was reading D.A. Carson's Christ and Culture Revisited. I'm just na├»ve enough to imagine that this thesis might be widely affirmed—perhaps even reach consensus—but my latent inner realist reminds me that I'll be dispossessed of that notion in the comments section. Here's my thesis:
The cultural expressions that emerge from any given culture will invariably reflect the strengths and weaknesses of that culture. In other words, every culture will reflect an image of God that consists of a unique combination of fidelities and distortions.
The panel discussion embedded below, recorded by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches at its recent Worship of God conference, has opened a conversation about matters related to that thesis. I'm grateful for that conversation, but I'm unconvinced that the present direction of the conversation will be productive.

In my judgment, most of the comments in the panel were ignorant, irrelevant, indefensible, or unsubstantiated. Those arguments that were true and helpful are so tainted by their immersion in and apparent indifference to folly that they've been rather easily dismissed. Again, I haven't read everything, but I've seen enough blog responses, tweets, and reader comments on the blog of one of the participants to see one particular theme emerge: Our cultural differences are inevitable, and that's okay. Except I don't think it is.

In other words, many responses say that as long as God can use a form to advance Christian mission, our cultural preferences are matters of indifference. After all, they're just preferences. One theologian both affirmed and denied that cultural forms are neutral. In the same paragraph. One group says, "Rap is bad because I said so." Another says, "Form doesn't matter. It's all good."

I'm arguing that those approaches—reductionism, shame, misrepresentation, slogans—those approaches are way too easy. I'd like to think we could choose the more demanding, narrow path. That would require us—assuming we could embrace my thesis or something better—to shine a bright light of scrutiny on all our cultural expressions. Dissect Johann Sebastian Bach, Isaac Watts, Fanny Crosby, Mac Lynch, Chris Tomlin, Keith Getty, Scott Aniol, and Shai Linne. Every one of them. Not to mention all the men and women across the centuries and around the globe who likewise deserve to be mentioned.

Each of those individuals produced(es) works of art intended for Christian worship, and each of those works of art emerged from a complex and unique cultural milieu. What's more, each individual artist produced works of varying quality in different phases of their own artistic and spiritual maturity.

So what if old, godly, theologically astute white men from Grand Rapids sat down with young, godly, theologically astute black men from Philadelphia? (And yes, the black men are godly. Godly enough not to impugn the character, courage, and motives of people just because they disagree on musical form.) What if everybody at the table agreed that every culture represented at that table (along with all the rest) both reflects and distorts the image of God? That every culture is better suited to communicate certain aspects of Divine truth than it is others? And that no human culture produces optimal cultural expressions, because no human being or human culture is yet fully conformed to the image of Christ?

What if those old white guys and young black guys really tried to listen to and understand one another, and then—instead of simply singing an ecumenical "kum ba yah"—they helped each other understand the aspects of the other group's culture that are incompatible with Divine truth? (I have in mind more or less how Thabiti Anyabwile and Doug Wilson interacted extensively on slavery, race, and history.) And what if the forms that different cultures find accessible and meaningful were refined as a result, increasingly capable of reflecting the image of Christ? I actually think it'd be a good thing for us white people to hear from some non-whites how our idealized cultural forms might actually undermine aspects of the gospel in ways we'd never have perceived.

My guess is that one of these two groups would welcome a conversation with that purpose and tone. I'm not so sure the other would see any such need, let alone display genuine desire to listen and learn. I'd love to discover that my cynicism is unfounded—merely an illusion created by my culture, or perhaps my own sinful heart.

Will we praise Jesus' name in heaven in a variety of styles reflecting diversity of human culture? Or will the consummation of Christ being formed in us mean that we find a musical center that is accessible and meaningful to all his Church, and worthy of his Name? I don't profess to know. Despite what some say, I'm not persuaded that Revelation 21 is decisive. But I'd like to think we could learn to speak to our brothers and sisters with respect and affection, this side of heaven, even if we aren't yet sanctified enough to sing together.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Very Special Black Friday Offer

If I can buy this spatula that will "pop open a bottle of beer" while I flip my burgers, why can't I buy Randy Jaeggli's The Christian and Drinking? I feel like we need a panel discussion to address this burning question.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Just Lookin' Out for Ya

If you're a leader in a very conservative, separatistic slice of American evangelicalism, and you spin a narrative of Al Mohler, Southern Seminary, and the Southern Baptist Convention that omits or distorts the content of this reflective essay, these talks (part 1 part 2), this article, or this documentary (video embedded below), then you really need to know that you're simply destroying your own credibility. You know what they say about half truths, right?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Stranger Fire

For more comprehensive reflections on John MacArthur's "Strange Fire" conference and book, I would direct you to Doug Wilson and Tom Schreiner. I'd just like to hammer home one particular point.

Some of you are members of cessationist churches. Some of you are cessationist pastors. I'll wager that most of you have used or heard used in your churches or camps or Christian colleges the language of "God told/spoke to/led me."(As in, "I was going to preach X sermon, but a few minutes ago God told me I needed to preach Y instead.")

So if you call yourself a cessationist and you've used that language or you welcome into your church those who use it, just know that you're affirming an even stranger fire than what's found in charismatic circles. Charismatics believe God continues to offer new revelation. You deny that he does, but you practice it anyway. I think that's pretty creepy.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Is It Time to Join the SBC?": A Rather Friendly Rejoinder (Part 2)

See part 1 for background to this post. What you read below interacts with this article.

1. Research into the history of the Northern Baptist Convention (NBC) provoked Bauder's piece, at least in part. I very much look forward to reading whatever publications emerge from that research. One of the most interesting tidbits he shares is his observation that "Initially, the convention operated purely as a coordinating body, but with the creation of the General Board of Promotion in 1919, it became a controlling body," "engineered by theological liberals" . . . "an opportunity to seize the whole denominational machinery, including the churches."

Just six years later, the SBC Cooperative Program (CP) launched. Now, as to whether the SBC CP was likewise engineered by liberals to seize denominational machinery and churches, I must confess both some ignorance and some skepticism. Bauder seems to imply strong parallels when he says, regarding those who left the NBC and considered the SBC model, "[T]he risks inherent in the system were just too great." So while I'm not familiar enough with the dynamics in the SBC in the 1920s to comment confidently whether it was a liberal strategy, I can say that I've never encountered anyone who's attempted to make that case. I'd be interested to read it. What I can say is that if the CP actually was such a strategy, it failed miserably. Independent separatists might say that liberals succeeded for a few decades in the mid-20th century. I'd argue that they obviously didn't. Though liberals and indifferentists controlled most agencies for a time, the success of the Conservative Resurgence has clearly proven that loopholes in the system prevented denominational machinery from being seized. There's not much we Southern Baptists like more than a pitchfork rebellion, and now we know we can make one happen.

One more historical note before I move on: There were some battles over church property when churches attempted to leave the SBC. For several years, I was a member of a church that existed because people who voted to separate from the SBC lost their property in a courtroom fight. A strong majority had voted to disassociate from the SBC, but the minority sued, and some Southern Baptists testified on behalf of the minority. Unfortunately for that majority, the process of disassociation didn't conform to the governing documents of the church. I suspect the outcome might have been different had the disassociation been handled properly. Regardless, this was not a matter of convention ownership of local church property, as in recent Episcopalian/Anglican disputes, but of which faction of members held control.

All that to say this: The SBC cooperative structure may be a terrible idea for one reason or another, but I'm not at all convinced that it was a liberal idea. I'd suggest that the history of the NBC is far less relevant evidence to the issue than the history of the SBC. That, of course, remains a story in progress, but the present plot line of that story is surely not less encouraging to me than the plot line of the descendants of the separatist refugees from the NBC.

2. I appreciate Bauder's analogy between the CP and the Patriot Act: "In the hands of principled people, it can be both comforting and productive. In the hands of the unprincipled, or, worse yet, the wrongly-principled, it is bound to be devastating." Of course he's right. Unfortunately, I think that's the nature of institutional partnerships. The same could be said of an independent Baptist mission board, a Baptist Bible College, or Central Seminary. If I'm pastoring a church that's considering contributing $5,000 per year to any one of those agencies, I have to ask myself, "Am I comfortable making this investment, 1) realizing that this institution may not use the money precisely as I would, and 2) realizing this institution may change direction in the future as its board determines, but 3) expecting that the investment will bear fruit at least in the near term that justifies the investment, and 4) knowing our church can terminate the investment whenever we choose? Churches that partner with the SBC and/or Central Seminary answer that question, "Yes." We just have to be prepared and committed to walk away from our dollars that turned into bricks and mortar when and if we need to.

3. I am moderately skeptical of the SBC mantra, "We can do more together than we can do separately." Time will tell. (Interestingly enough, I heard GARBC National Representative John Greening embrace that language at their recent annual meeting.) But I do think we want to ask how—whether cooperatively or independently—we're going to get the gospel to places like Central Asia. (I'm assuming we want to.) These are Muslim countries. Highly inaccessible, unstable countries. Given the growing number of my friends and family members who serve as church planters in that part of the world and how they're getting there, I do wonder whether the mantra might prove true.

4. I'm unfamiliar with the mechanism that Bauder's classmate referred to when he told Bauder, "[The SBC] can get me a church if I need one. They have a good retirement program. And their insurance program is really great.” It is true that Guidestone offers retirement savings and insurance products, but to my knowledge the SBC does not subsidize those products. (Though I did make a note to put in a call to find out if I'm missing some windfall.) I do receive $17/month in a retirement savings match, but that's from our state convention, and I doubt that's what Bauder's friend had in mind. By the way, anything I save via Guidestone is my property, whether I eventually separate from the SBC or not. I'm also happy to report that we voted last month to permit Guidestone to expand its ministry assigment in order to provide insurance and investment products to like-minded individuals. So friends, what's ours is about to be yours.

So is it time to join the SBC? I don't know. Your call. Just count the cost.