Monday, October 31, 2005

Polity Matters: Part XII: On Polity and Ecclesiastical Movments

G-Harmony is the star of the blog today. In an insightful comment yesterday, he wrote about one potential benefit of a theological movement:
"There are other issues to consider as well for my flock- for instance, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, my church would have at least some idea where to begin looking for a new pastor- because of who I have encouraged and led us to fellowship with."
Here's my question, and it's strictly that: Has single-pastor polity fed ecclesiastical movements because in the sudden absence of a pastor, congregations have no pastoral leadership structure remaining other than deacons, who may not possess a shepherding mindset or burden? I can think of many reasons why my hypothesis may not be true. If it is true, chalk up one more pragmatic argument (in addition to the exegetical one) for multiple elder-led, congregational polity: its contribution to the obsolescence of the movement mentality.

P.S. G-H, is that a Glamourshot photo?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Bad Reasons to Remain in a Movement

Because an alternative movement has greater problems. Whether or not an alternative movement is worse is largely irrelevant. There may be other alternative movements, one might start a new movement, or perhaps there may be no need to associate with any movement at all.

Because of the ancient landmarks. The reasoning goes something like this: “You are young, and you need to be cautious. You do not yet possess the wisdom that comes only with years. Other men have thought these same thoughts and faced these same frustrations. Be patient, be faithful, and you will understand better in time.” This reasoning is persuasive because there is wisdom in caution and in measured steps. Nevertheless, those who use it must practice it consistently. Would those who rely on this argument counsel a young Southern Baptist frustrated with the doctrinal diversity in his denomination to exercise caution and stay in his movement? I suspect they would not.

Because it is a movement.
There is something magnetic about something big. Everyone wants to be on the biggest, fastest bandwagon, but big is not equivalent to great or right or true.

Because of your career.
Abandoning a movement might make it harder to climb the ministry career ladder. You might lose all your contacts, and your résumé might become worthless. Big deal. This gutless selfishness is the same attitude that in decades past held back conservative pastors with fat pension funds from separating themselves from liberal denominations.

Because of the fear of man.
Have you chosen a milieu for ministry by default—because you are because you dread what people would think or say about you if you were to move to a different circle? Chances are, those people are already talking about you behind your back about one thing or another. You might as well live in the open and give them reason to say what they have to say to your face.

Because you crave affirmation.
Are you crafting your life’s ministry in order to get a speaking engagement or honorary degree from your alma mater? Please, don’t just leave your movement: leave vocational ministry, too. There is plenty of mutual admiration in the world of Christian ministry without you adding to it.

Because you like the trappings of a movement.
I do not perceive this to be a prevalent point in the conversation of the day, but I wonder how many people—pastors and laypeople alike—are where they are because they feel comfortable where they are. They like the environment—the accepted attire, music, and preaching style. They like the standards or the lack thereof. They like the transparency or the anonymity. They like the people and the culture. They like to be comfortable. They want to “be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease.”

Because you might lead the movement someday if you play your cards right.
I hope the Machiavellian essence of this strategy is obvious. To attempt to fly under the radar in a movement in order to hijack later it is theological terrorism. (Sweet mixed metaphor, huh?)

So, why should you stay in a movement? The only remaining option in my mind is that you believe in what the movement is all about. One might see some ways in which the movement could better manifest what it is all about. One might see some glaring weaknesses in how the movement is pursuing what it is all about. Ultimately, however, in its very spirit the movement must be about what is most important—what is undeniably essential. I cannot comprehend how it can be ethical or wise to participate in a movement when one rejects its core ideas. Stand for something because it is true, not because people want you to believe it is true or because you want people to believe that you believe it is true. The Pastoral Epistles have continually challenged me and encouraged me in these matters. First Timothy 4 and Titus 2 are particularly helpful.

But then there is that slippery question about what you should do if you are in a movement that does not consistently define its very essence. (I suspect that most of them do not.) And that question just . . . won’t . . . go . . . away.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Resolution That Didn't Make the Cut

From the "Resolution on Rick Warren" adopted by the American Council of Christian Churches at its annual conventon this week:
[Warren] repeatedly takes verses out of context as proof texts misapplying the Word of God to fit his own ideas and beliefs. There is very little if any exegetical study of the verses quoted.
I'll be looking forward to the resolution skewering fundamentalist preachers who mishandle the text next year.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Miers' Withdrawal: Krauthammer Got It Right

Maybe I need to let Charles Krauthammer handle future Paleoevangelical predictions. Here's what she said today, and below is the conclusion from Krauthammer's editorial from last Friday, "The Only Exit Strategy."
Hence the perfectly honorable way to solve the conundrum: Miers withdraws out of respect for both the Senate and the executive's prerogatives, the Senate expresses appreciation for this gracious acknowledgment of its needs and responsibilities, and the White House accepts her decision with the deepest regret and with gratitude for Miers's putting preservation of executive prerogative above personal ambition.

A Quote Game with a Prize

I will send my spare copy of Future Grace by John Piper to anyone who can get the source of this quote without Google in the first five guesses. After that, you'll just have to guess for the love of the game.
The associations of music are very important, and everyone understands that . . . Christian music that is supposed to convey an authentic Christian message should be free from associations with that which is antithetical to Christianity.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Pat Robertson: The Rest of the Story

Remember how Robertson popped off about assassinating Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez? Here's the story on the fallout from his comments that you won't hear in the mainstream media:
In a nationally televised speech from a village in the southern state of Apure, Mr. Chavez announced he would expel missionaries from New Tribes Mission (NTM), a Florida-based organization that has provided Bible translation and humanitarian relief in remote regions of Venezuela for nearly 60 years.

Calling NTM a "true imperialist infiltration," Mr. Chavez accused its missionaries of "colonialism" and of spying for the United States: "We have intelligence reports that some of them are CIA." Mr. Chavez also accused NTM staff of living in "luxurious camps," and said the group's ouster was an "irreversible decision that I have made."

The president's announcement came less than two months after U.S. televangelist Pat Robertson suggested that Mr. Chavez should be a candidate for assassination. Mr. Robertson later apologized for his remarks, but within four days Venezuelan authorities had frozen all missionary visa applications and placed restrictions on some evangelical pastors.

Marsden on Big Tent Fundamentalism.

Unknowing cites a thought-provoking selection from Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Mind If I Vent?

In the three years since I enrolled at SEBTS, tuition has increased about 60%. SIXTY PERCENT! In-state tuition at public colleges and university increased 7% this year, 9% last year, and 13% two years ago.

Was this unavoidable? Maybe. Are there reasonable explanations? Probably. Is my comparison with public college tuition like apples to oranges? Certainly.

Does any of this make me happier? Not hardly.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Piper on the Battle for Culture

I posted this link as a comment to a previous post, but I thought Piper's recent thoughts deserved some more attention in light of our recent discussions of impacting/winning/redeeming "culture." I think this statment is the heart of it:
But Christian exiles are not passive. We do not smirk at the misery or the merrymaking of immoral culture. We weep. Or we should. This is my main point: being exiles does not mean being cynical. It does not mean being indifferent or uninvolved. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. And where it can’t, it weeps. And the light of the world does not withdraw, saying “good riddance” to godless darkness. It labors to illuminate. But not dominate.

Highlights from the SharperIron Interview of Mark Dever posted today an audio interview of Mark Dever. Below are what I believe to be just a few of the highlights, both the serious and the witty.

On the modern church, Mark Dever, and the gospel:
6:01—"I am concerned that the gospel would go forward better if most Southern Baptist churches in America were closed down. So I think most of the churches I am familiar with—many evangelical churches—are not good witnesses for the gospel.

6:58—The community of the church is to make visible the gospel that our sermons make audible.

7:05—Q: If I could to boil down Mark Dever to two or three hot-button passions, what are you passionate about?
Dever: God, the gospel, the church
On the pitfalls of incorporating visuals into preaching:
33:14—I think our eyes are hungrier than our stomachs. I think God made us that way. I think we're dissatisfied at not being able to see God. We want that immediacy and certainty that we get through visuals, and yet I think at the that is precisely what God has denied to us. And I think the great climax of the Bible in Revelation 22:4 is that we get to see God again . . . Therefore, I want to be very careful about doing faux things to satisfy it.
On the gospel and professing Christians:
35:52—I think one of the hardest groups of unreached people on the planet have to be nominal Christians—people who have the gospel right maybe propositionally . . . People may have those propositions correct but yet may themselves have so communicated them to others that others have given mental assent but without really fully engaging their heart in any way that represents their true person . . .
On discipleship and church programs:
41:50—Q: Do you have a one-on-one discipleship program?
Dever: Well, we have not a program but a culture.
On associations and the gospel:
58:51—Q: Do you feel more at home with the Alliance than with Southern Baptist Convention?
Dever: Well, more at home? I mean, some of these [Alliance] guys are in sin because they haven't even been baptized.
I've barely scratched the surface. These quotes are merely designed to whet your appetite. Interestingly, I'm told that nearly 20% of the September Weekender attendees were alumni of independent fundamentalist institutions.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Fundamentalists Everywhere!

Not just Freddy Adu; Harriet Miers too!

At least I assume she is after reading her biography file in World Magazine:
Church membership: Valley View Christian Church, but the church is in the middle of a split that began when Pastor Ron Key did not go along with the decision of the board of elders that he reduce his leadership role and agree to emphasize a contemporary worship service so as to attract more members. Ms. Miers is apparently siding with the group that will stick with Mr. Key and form a new church that will give half its revenues to mission work; Valley View has cut back its missions support.
I mean, how can a person leave a church over contemporary worship and not be a fundamentalist?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Intriguing Mohler

Listening to the Albert Mohler Radio Program while I'm jogging sort of takes the edge off the pain. If I skip through the first news segment, it's the perfect length for my shorter route. Last night I listened to his program from October 13th, "Who Was the Greatest Leader of the Past Century?" He opened by talking about a few people he considers among the greatest leaders of the 20th century (Reagan, Churchill, Thatcher), then opened the lines for his listeners to opine.

It was immediately apparent that Mohler's audience is fairly broad. Well, maybe it's just a bunch of avangelicals (spelling intentional). Listeners' suggestions were:

1. Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
2. Mother Theresa
3. Billy Graham
4. Martin Luther King, Jr.
5. Reagan
6. Eisenhower
7. Gandhi

I wasn't particularly surprised by what he said. I was quite surprised by what he hinted at and what he didn't say. You'll have to listen to form your own impressions.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Freddy Adu Is a Young Fundamentalist

I know this for two reasons:

1. I've seen him play. He is the most fundamental soccer player I've ever seen for his age. He thinks all the fundamentals are important, not just the big five (passing, trapping, shooting, heading, and hmm, I forget the fifth).

2. He complains that the authority figures in his life don't respect his game.

If anyone is actually interested in Adu and his situation, Mike Wilbon of PTI and the Washington Post wrote a great piece for today's edition.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Big Tent Fundamentalism [or] Has the Movement Ever Been Serious?

Kevin Bauder believes that fundamentalism needs to get sober if it is to be worth saving. Fundamentalism must be serious about doctrine, the human condition, learning, meaning, piety, and separatism.

He’s made a believer out of me, and it seems that his ideas rang true with a healthy number of others from backgrounds similar to mine. He influenced me enough that I began to apply myself more seriously in some of the areas he outlined. Now, I still have quite a long way to go. Praise the Lord for His patience and His promise of progressive sanctification.

Nevertheless, in the first steps of my move toward seriousness, I’ve given some thought and study to fundamentalist history, and one big question has taken root in my mind: Has the fundamentalist movement ever been serious in the way that Bauder advocates? I have no doubt that there have been individuals who fit his criteria, but the movement as a whole seems to have been a constant mish-mash of diverse sub-groups.

For example, the early fundamentalists differed substantially in a wide variety of doctrines and practices, including (but I suspect not limited to) immersion, premillennialism, church government, denominationalism, tolerance of Pentecostalism, use of alcohol, hermeneutics, soteriology, secondary separation, and Finneyistic evangelistic methodology. The authors of The Fundamentals were not even unified in their willingness to combat theological liberalism in the denominations.

This information was largely new to me. It destroyed a vision in my mind of a fundamentalist utopia from decades past in which leaders agreed on the better part of their theology and attacked a false gospel with a unified voice. I now learn how ignorant I was. I’ve become increasingly aware that early fundamentalism was trying to respond to a specific threat (modernism) in a specific historical context, not trying to define the full range of New Testament Christianity. Their agreement and cooperation were far more limited to the immediate enemy of modernism than I had perceived.

Now, those of you who have read Bauder’s article may be thinking that his standard for seriousness about doctrine recognizes that not all doctrines are of equal importance. I’m looking forward to seeing further discussion of the proper rubric for prioritizing doctrine. To this point all I’ve seen is Bauder’s general reference to what is “essential to the gospel itself,” and what has been offered by the self-professed-but-not-approved fundamentalist Phil Johnson. (Phil is not approved because he associates with MacArthur who associates with Mohler who associates with Graham who associates with all kinds of apostates. If it matters, I’m typing this with a smile, not a sneer.) As I'm writing this, Phil's blog, Pyromaniac, is down, but I hope to provide links to his thoughts when it is up again.

Bauder’s point about a hierarchy of doctrine is well taken, but many people in Bauder’s general segment of fundamentalism would not tolerate nearly so much diversity as the early fundamentalists. If sober fundamentalism demands a reasonable hierarchy of doctrine that puts the gospel at the top of the pyramid but allows for differences on other doctrines, they do not qualify.

So, has fundamentalism ever been serious about doctrine and meaning? If it has been authentically serious, why has diversity on unconditional election been more tolerable to many than diversity in musical styles and the timing of the Rapture? How can unconditional election not be “essential to the gospel itself”? If fundamentalism as a movement has never been serious about the gospel in this way, then Bauder’s call is not for a return to something old but for a pilgrimage to something entirely new. This new think, as he describes it, certainly seems to me to be a good thing, but it is not a thing that seems ever to have existed before, at least in the movement that has called itself fundamentalism. Were one to suggest otherwise, it would seem to me to be revisionist history.

The inescapable implication of the big tent fundamentalism of generations past is that co-belligerence made for some strange bedfellows in the battle against modernism. If fundamentalism is to convince rising generations that its ideas are right, some of these uncomfortable sleeping arrangements that were tolerated for decades will face radical upheaval. Twenty-first century fundamentalism will need to define its doctrinal hierarchy with a primary emphasis on a sound definition of the gospel if on that basis it is to formulate a refined fundamentalism. Only through that process will we improve on the big tent fundamentalism of the past hundred years.

A Bombshell Quote for the Guessing Game

I've been sitting on this one for a while. Michael C. (a reader) made a special request for a quote game, and this was all I had handy. Blame him if you don't like it. And remember, googling the quote is not acceptable. Severe Paleoevangelical retribution will result. This quote has two speakers, and you have to get them both to receive any credit. My guess is that this one is way too easy. Here goes:
Person 1: I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ. And I don't think that we are going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that—the Apostle James in the first Council in Jerusalem—when he said that God's purpose for this age is to call out a people for his name. And that is what he is doing today. He is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.

Person 2: What, what I hear you saying, that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they have been born in darkeness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you are saying?

1: Yes, it is.

2: I'm so thrilled to hear you say this: "There's a wideness in God's mercy."

1: There is. There definitely is.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Marsden on Culture vs. Faithfulness

Not long ago I finished reading George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870–1925. It was not a light read, but it was definitely far more intriguing than you might guess from the title. I've not heard as much comment on Marsden as I might have expected. Perhaps I'm just too young to have read many of his books when they were fresh and under discussion.

I doubt that I will ever delve into blogging about the book, mostly because I'm an admitted church history dunderhead, and I don't feel qualified. (I should admit that most of the quotes in my guessing game were from this text.) Perhaps, however, some of you might appreciate the final few sentences of the book. If I ever were to write a book, I hope I could sum up my thesis as well as he has.
Christians' trust in God may be mingled or confused with some culturally formed assumptions, ideals, and values. Inevitably it will. The danger is that our culturally defined loves, allegiances, and understandings will overwhelm and take precedence over our faithfulness to God. So the identification of cultural forces, such as those with which this book is concerned, is essentially a constructive enterprise, with the positive purpose of finding the gold among the dross.

Do the Math: A Stunning Guide to Your Social Security Statement

This must be the time of year when the Social Security Administration sends out its annual statement of estimated benefits; mine came in the mail yesterday. Usually I read it and am disgusted at how little I'll be receiving when I'm 67. Yesterday I did the math, and I was absolutely flabbergasted. You really need to do your own math for yourself. Here's why:

Based on the information in the statement, it will take me more than 11.5 years to receive Social Security payments that equal merely what has been paid into the system on my behalf! Let me say that again in a different way. If you add up all the money that I and my employers will have paid for my Social Security taxes over the course of more than 50 years of work, I will have to live until I'm 78 just to get back the principal! And when I die, nothing is left for my beneficiaries.

I'll try to explain a formula for you to follow. On page 2 of your statement, you'll find a dollar figure for the estimated monthly payment you will receive if you retire at your "full retirement age." My retirement age is 67. At the bottom of page 2, look for another dollar figure that represents "your estimated taxable earnings per year after 2004." This is your salary from 2004 that was subject to Social Security (SS) taxes. It is also the salary that SS is using to estimate what your benefits will be when you retire. Then on page three near the bottom, look for two more numbers that represent the total amount of SS taxes that you and your employer(s) have paid on your behalf. Remember, 6.2% of your salary (up to $90K) is SS tax, but your employer pays another 6.2%. That's the data you need. Now here's the formula.

1. Multiply your annual salary by .124 (12.4%). This represents the amount of tax you and your employer will pay into SS every year. (This formula assumes that your salary will stay constant every year until you retire. It probably won't, but your benefits will increase if your salary increases, so it is a reasonable assumption. The Social Security Administration bases your estimated benefits statement on this assumption.)

2. Multiply your annual tax by the number of years remaining until your full retirement age. This is the total amount of tax you and your employers will pay into SS from now until your full retirement age.

3. Add the number from step 2 to the amounts from page 3 that you and your employer have paid into SS up until now. The sum of these amounts is the total amount that you will pay into SS by the day you reach full retirement age.

4. Multiply your estimated monthly benefit at your full retirement age (found on page 2) by a factor of 12. This will provide an estimated annual benefit that you'll be paid at retirement age.

5. Finally, divide the total amount you pay into SS in your lifetime (the answer to step 3) by your estimated annual benefit (the answer to step 4). The number that is staring you in the face is the number of years it will take for you to receive the principal (no interest) if you start drawing SS at your full retirement age. For me, that number is 11.55 years.

That, friends and neighbors, is highway robbery. The only way to change this system is for young people to start getting obnoxious about how our SS taxes are being stolen from us to pay for Congressmen and Presidents wasting our money on projects that bloat their power base. You do the math, and then let your voice be heard. Your elected representatives can say whatever they want about pros and cons of different plans, but they can't run from these numbers if you won't let them. I'll be contacting my Congressman and Senators. Visit and to obtain your legislators' contact information.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Music: A Serious Question of Very Little Consequence

Does anybody have an explanation for the prevalence of songs written in a three-beat meter (sorry if I'm butchering the lingo) about the second coming of Christ? I just noticed yesterday how many there seem to be:
1. "Is It the Crowning Day?"
2. "Jesus Is Coming Again"
3. "Some Golden Daybreak"
4. "What If It Were Today"
5. "One Day"

I might have thought there was a connection between the time period when both this genre of song and this musical style was popular, but these songs seem to span about 100 years. Is this a coincidence? Am I making something out of nothing? Is a calliope the instrument that will signal our Lord's return? Will we ride into the sky on merry-go-round horses? But I digress . . .

More Prescient Reagan

This clip from Reagan's speech at the 40th anniversary of D-Day also struck me in my visit to the presidential library as an appropriate perspective in light of current events and controversies:
We in America have learned bitter lessons from two world wars. It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We've learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.
Read the full text or access the MP3 here.

All the News That's Fit to Fake

This is one of the reasons I no longer watch network news. I love the irony in the lead-in story too.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Staying Silent About a False Gospel

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. That's the approach many evangelicals take in the face of the gospel compromise of their college buddies, their co-belligerents, or their denominational colleagues. (And for those who think, "I'm a fundamentalist, not an evangelical," I'm talking to you too.)

Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries is not one of those evangelicals. I find more that's interesting to read and essential to the gospel on his blog than on any other, and he takes a lot of pot shots for doing it. Two recent posts responding to the audacious claims of one prominent modern evangelist are fascinating. Here's the first. Here's the second.

The SBC Landscape: An Outsider Analysis from the Inside

I found this to be an interesting read on the SBC. Some might argue that it's inaccurate, or too broad-brush, but my limited experience gives me the sense that a lot of it rings true.

HT: Founders blog

The Lion, the Witch, and the Evangelical Hype

A couple days ago I wrote:
Remember all those predictions that “The Passion of the Christ” would change the world? Yeah, me too. I think everyone remembers them but the people who pronounced them. You’ll remember who they are because they’ll be the same ones saying the same things about “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”
Well, I found out yesterday that on that same day Gene Veith of World Magazine was writing this. Here's a summary: LWW is the next big thing, and oh, by the way, here are some excuses for why "The Passion" didn't meet up to its evangelistic expectations. I wonder what the excuses for LWW will be two years from now.

I appreciate Gene Veith's writing, I like World, and I'm looking forward to this movie. I hope that it's good. I hope that people think about the gospel because of it. But it's not the gospel or even an explicit gospel witness. Let's not pretend that it is.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Uneasy Conscience of a Modern Paleoevangelical

During my recent trip, I heard the beginning and ending of an address by Nancy Pearcey to a group of Christian day school teachers. Pearcey is the co-author of Total Truth (which I am sure makes some excellent arguments) and is recognized for her insight into confronting modern culture with a Christian worldview. She began her lecture by relating a recent e-mail conversation with a self-professed “fundamentalist, dispensationalist seminary professor” who said he “didn’t even believe in all this worldview stuff.” She did not offer much detail about the professor’s point, but it was immediately clear that she viewed his argument with some incredulity and that it would serve as the foil for her discussion of misconceptions about worldview.

Although I don’t have enough context to know exactly what the professor was intending to communicate, I suspect that I would agree with much of it. All this trendy talk of “worldview” is well-intentioned, but, I believe, misguided.

The Christian mantra is that we are “in the world, but not of it.” We ought to invade the world, not evade or pervade it. Yet it seems that a variety of factors springing from the fundamentalist/neo-evangelical controversy of past decades have pushed many Christians to one of two extremes—world evasion and world pervasion. Too many professing believers either run from unbelievers or simply act like them. I have heard youth leaders and young people themselves say, “I don’t know any unsaved teenagers.” That kind of reality reduces conviction of the responsibility to invade the world in order to conquer it with the gospel to mere theory.

Those who have made “worldview” a buzzword among evangelicals are critical of this state of world evasion, and their criticism is just. When she says, “We are still coming out of this fundamentalist era when we isolate ourselves rather than bringing Christianity into the world,” Pearcey is wrong to suggest that fundamentalism is equivalent to isolationism, but she is right to the degree that fundamentalists do isolate themselves.

Adaptation to or conciliation with modern culture are not the alternatives I’m suggesting. Seeing evangelicals jump predictably on the every cultural bandwagon that rolls around the bend grows wearisome. Remember all those predictions that “The Passion of the Christ” would change the world? Yeah, me too. I think everyone remembers them but the people who pronounced them. You’ll remember who they are because they’ll be the same ones saying the same things about “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

The worldview alternative purports to strike a balanced view, ambitiously setting forth to win culture. “We are called to have an impact on culture,“ Pearcey said. Now, it is impossible to deny that if all Christians lived like first century Christians, our culture would be impacted. But is impacting culture what we are called to do? How do we “win culture”? Through politics? By infiltrating Hollywood with Christians? By creating a separate culture that tracks a couple decades behind the culture of the world? I cannot remember much in Scripture about winning culture, but battling spiritual powers and evangelizing unbelievers seems to be a fairly consistent theme. Maybe I’m missing something, but political influence, movie production, and even slick apologetics strategies do not strike me as promising platforms for proclaiming the gospel and bringing in the kingdom. It seems as though worldview in this mindset has ceased to be something that results from the work of the gospel, and has become the gospel itself.

So I’m uneasy. I’m uneasy because the distasteful options that have been most common—isolation from the world and solidarity with it—are now augmented by a third that seems just as misguided. As C. S. Lewis said it, “We will never save civilisation if civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.” What do we want? A nice, shiny, Christianized culture? Yikes, I’m scared to think what a mess we would make of that project. Or maybe it's more important to win Christ or those who need to know Him. We can and must find beachheads to invade.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Wise As Doves, Harmless As Serpents

Why does it seem that every time an "Evangelical leader" opens his mouth about politics, he does more harm than good? The latest installment:
The issue arose from remarks made on a syndicated radio show by James Dobson, founder of the conservative advocacy group Focus on the Family. Dobson said last week that he had spoken in confidence with Rove about the Miers nomination and that their conversation convinced him to support her.

"When you know some of the things that I know, that I probably shouldn't know, you will understand why I have said ... that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice," Dobson said.
Read the full story here.

Rick Holland Interview

Rick Holland is the student ministries pastor at Grace Community Church and will be a keynote speaker at the God Focused Youth Ministry Training Conference sponsored by the organization where I work.

During my West Coast swing I visited GCC and its Crossroads College ministry that Rick pastors last Sunday. On Monday Rick made time for an interview that is now posted on

It's amazing for me to think of what God must be doing on college campuses like USC, UCLA, and many others when more than a thousand college students are sitting under Rick's preaching every Sunday. If my memory serves correctly, more than 200 students showed up at the first UCLA on-campus Bible study of the school year.

Rick's ministry has been personally challenging to me. Download some of his sermons and subscribe to his weekly RixMix commentary. I'm told that podcasting will be available soon. The Crossroads philosophy of ministry is also a great resource for anyone in youth work or any aspect of local church ministry.

An EBay Story

The last thing I remember doing before I left my hotel room last Saturday to fly to Los Angeles was winding up my cell phone charger to pack it in my luggage. Somewhere in the three feet between where I was standing at the time and where my bag was resting, my brain apparently ceased to function, resulting in a missing charger when I opened my bag in L.A. I hoped to survive the rest of the trip by shutting down power to the phone except for a few times daily to check my voice mail. My laptop-sized phone/PDA combo, a Kyocera 6035 Smartphone, has above-average battery life, but by Wednesday the phone was dead and I was about to lose all my PDA memory.

Because the 6035 is about five years old (an anthropological artifact in the wireless world) and has been replaced by an upgraded model, Kyocera no longer sells its accessories. That made finding a new cord in a retail store a hopeless cause. Enter eBay.

Tuesday night I checked eBay for any sales in progress with a “Buy it now” option in the Sacramento area. I found one 20 miles away for a reasonable price, but the obvious question was how to arrange for delivery. I e-mailed the seller and he sent his mobile number, but he was out of town until Thursday. After we connected over the phone, he agreed to meet me in a SafeWay parking lot in Folsom at 9:00 p.m., and he threw in a couple extra chargers for free and was friendly enough to chat for a half hour or so in the parking lot despite having been up all night in Vegas the night before.

All that to say this: “traderjmf” told me to tell all my friends that not all California folks are bad guys. I owe him big time. If you ever have need for any of his items for sale, you can count on 5-star customer service. This story warms my heart more than any "baby story" or "wedding story." If it doesn't warm yours, then I feel sad for you.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The 1

Perhaps there is three-hour drive somewhere in America that is more visually captivating than the Pacific Coast Highway ("the 1") from San Luis Obispo to Monterey. If so, please tell me what it is. The Blue Ridge Parkway simply cannot compare. Somewhere in the Rockies might have a chance, but there is something about looking down over breakers in the bright blue Pacific 200 yards to the west and up into 2000-foot hills not much further to the east sets a pretty high bar.

I drove this stretch of two-lane windy (WINE-dey and WIN-dey) highway Wednesday morning. A funny thing happened though. After about an hour my appreciation for the stunning beauty of the scene faded. Not even the sensory orchestra of the rich and changing vistas, the sound of breaking whitecaps, and the mixed aroma of a salt water breeze and hillside vegetation kept my attention from drifting to a radio discussion of a Supreme Court nomination.

I think I was jolted out of my daze by the adrenalin shot of taking a hairpin curve a bit too fast. Not long after, I realized how much my progressive sensory insensitivity is like my too-frequent spiritual insensitivity. Just as an incomparable view of God's creation became commonplace when my attention drifted to vain temporal affairs, so my heart's fixation wanders from the incomparable majesty of the knowledge of God sourced in His Word and the indwelling Spirit. When the initial captivation of God's grace wears off from time to time, I need the spiritual discipline to focus my attention on Him so that my awe is infused with renewed energy. I've exchanged all the treasures of the kingdom of heaven for a pocketful of pennies—and the pocket has a hole.

There is poetry in this concept. I will not be the one to mine it. I think Keith Green got pretty close in the lyrics to "Grace By Which I Stand":
Lord, the feelings are not the same.
I guess I'm older, I guess I've changed.
And how I wish it had been explained
That as you're growing you must remember.

That nothing lasts except the grace of God
By which I stand, in Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away
Except for grace, by which I'm saved.

Lord, I remember that special way
I vowed to serve you, when it was brand new.
But like Peter, I can't even watch and pray
One hour with you, and I bet I could deny you too.

But nothing lasts except the grace of God
By which I stand, in Jesus.
I'm sure that my whole life would waste away
Except for grace, by which I'm saved.

But nothing lasts except the grace of God
By which I stand, in Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away
Except for grace, by which I'm saved.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

What's the Matter with Dictation?

During the past three days I've been reading in bite-sized pieces through the famous self-proclaimed theological liberal Harry Emerson Fosdick's "sermon" titled "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?"

[Warning: Paleoevangelical rabbit trail to follow! I call Fosdick's oratory a "sermon" because its content is only tangentially related in any remote way to the text, and the connection between the authorial intent and the content is even more tenuous. Kind of like a Jack Hyles sermon. Quote a brief text, then proceed to the personal opinion portion. Hyles was more entertaining than Fosdick though. But this has little to do with the point of my post.]

Fosdick, like many modernists and today's "moderates," scorns inerrant divine inspiration of the Bible, calling it dictation or mechanical inspiration. I've often heard theological conservatives distance themselves from the dictation theory by using the term "verbal plenary inspiration," defined as divine inspiration that fully extends to all the words of Scripture. Is this a distinction without a difference? If God breathed the writings, is that different from Him giving the writers the words?

Two points are well-taken. First, Scripture does not explicitly teach mechanical dictation. Verbal plenary inspiration defines only what the Bible defines. Second, Scripture offers us indications that the distinct personalities and vocabularies of the human authors are present in Scripture and that these people used existing written sources to compile their writings.

Still, for those of us who believe in the supernatural, would it have been impossible for God to have dictated words that were consistent with distinct personalities and vocabularies? Is it inconceivable that God could have dictated Moses' epilogue to him before his death? I think not. It may be unlikely, but unlikely is not impossible. I'm wondering if defending verbal plenary inspiration requires nuances that sound suspiciously like well-intended obfuscation (i.e. Augustinian dispensationalism). Perhaps the benefits of these nuances might be outweighed by the drawbacks, one of which is that few laymen know what "verbal plenary inspiration" means, let alone how to defend it.

On Future Judicial Nominations

Just thinking out loud here. I wonder what impact this newly-discovered virtue of judicial anonymity will have on the decisions and opinions of otherwise conservative judges with Supreme Court ambitions.

On top of that, confirming Miers will open the door for the next liberal President (Clinton II?) to nominate stealth justices of his/her own. Maybe conservatives can trust Bush to nominate conservatives, but would anyone doubt that a liberal president's stealth nominee would be a reliable leftist?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Trust Me: The Smirk Edition

Maybe there really was something behind the President's smirk at Tuesday morning's press conference about SC nominee Harriet Miers' stance on abortion. These three articles (1 2 3) shed some new light. I'll believe it when I see it.

Prescient Reagan

Today I spent about three hours in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Among many things, I was struck by how many of Reagan's statements about freedom, democracy, and America's role in advancing it are so fitting for our current struggles with Islamic terrorism. I suspect that Reagan might regret today that despite his firm stand against communism, he did not do more to recognize and curtail the early indications of the terror outbreak that was to come.

On the occasion of a 1987 memorial service for American servicemen killed in an Iraqi missle attack on the U.S.S. Stark (apparently Iraqis mistook the ship for an Iranian target), Reagan said these words:
It's a summons that, as a nation or a people, we did not seek, but it is a call we cannot shirk or refuse -- a call to wage war against war, to stand for freedom until freedom can stand alone, to live for liberty until liberty is the blessing and birthright of every man, woman, and child on this Earth.
Full text here.

The photo is from my favorite exhibit—an actual portion of the dismantled Berlin Wall.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

California Drivin'

Can anybody enlighten a country boy? Why are roads in the Midwest and South called "I-75" or simply "43," but in California everything is "the 5," "the 101"? As in, "Yeah, take I-75 south to 43 south to 64 east" vs. "Take the 405 north to the 101 north to the 118 east." This is a minor question, but it vexes me. Anyone who can explain the cultural origins of these oddities will be the Paleoevangelical visitor of the day.

Other fun experiences in the west have been looking into some dark mountains at night and seeing where the Hollywood sign is and finding out for the first time that it is not lit at night, having "California snow" (ash from the fires) fall on me, and seeing a couple (apparently on a date) within 30 yards of my motel room door standing literally inside two garbage dumpsters picking out the good stuff and putting it in a shopping cart.

Trust Me

No, not me. I blew it on the Janice Rogers Brown pick. I have zero credibility. "Trust me" is all President Bush can offer now to conservatives who took him seriously when he campaigned on a promise to appoint Supreme Court Justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. So after two appointments, no one has any idea whether he has kept his promise or not.

No doubt many Washington conservative advocacy groups will glean positive clues from Harriet Miers' presence at some Texas Right to Life fundraisers and a couple other indicators (like the President's smirk when asked at today's press conference if he knew Miers' stance on abortion). After all, those vague clues are the kind of things that convinced willing conservatives to fall in line behind the Roberts pick. But for crying out loud, she donated to Al Gore. I can hear them saying now, "But that was for the primary . . . but Gore's campaign chairman is the guy who is now the Republican governor of Texas . . . but this was in 1988 and Gore hadn't entered full wacko mode yet . . . yadda yadda yadda . . ."

Ok, fine. Do what ya' gotta do. Say what ya' gotta say. I hope we can at least agree that if these two picks blow up a la Souter and Kennedy, this love affair between the ideological right and the Republican party has to end.

So the President wants us all to trust him. Well, I'm going to ask you one question. Do you feel lucky, punk? DO YOU?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Quote Game Is Back

This may be my favorite yet. Just as a reminder, no Googling the quote.

Who said it?
If you turn hell upside down, you will find "Made in Germany" stamped on the bottom.
Anybody brave enough to take a shot?