Monday, February 26, 2007

Mohler on CNN Tonight (2/26)

Al Mohler is scheduled to appear on Larry King Live tonight to discuss the discovery of what has been purported to be the place where Jesus was buried along with Mary and assorted family members. James Cameron, producer of a documentary about this discovery, is scheduled to appear with Mohler along with some other folks.

LKL airs at 9 p.m. Eastern, and if I recall correctly it re-airs at midnight. Somebody please do me a favor and upload it to YouTube.

Friday, February 23, 2007

"Amazing Glaze"

In recent days leading up to the release of Amazing Grace the movie, I've been able to see the evangelical marketing machine in high gear from a vantage point that's a little more up-close-and-personal than usual. Prominent evangelical leaders seem to be saying that this is a great movie and that we have a moral obligation to go see it this weekend to show Hollywood that clean, Christian-themed films can be profitable and to encourage a wider release in coming weeks.

I certainly wouldn't argue with anyone who would prefer to see more movies produced like Amazing Grace and fewer like just about anything else currently in the theaters. But I'll toss a little thought out there. When a secular publication like the Wall Street Journal is arguing that Hollywood has emasculated the evangelical core of the story, should evangelicals be cheering? Should we be less discriminating than secular newspapers? Are we so addicted to feeding at the table of American culture that we'll treat scraps like a feast?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

BJU and Liberty: Reconciled?

I'll venture to say that very few news pieces in the student newspapers of educational institutions about updates on their accreditation status carry anything resembling broad theological significance. I believe this recent release from Liberty University is an exception.

The vast majority of the story is pretty garden-variety, containing significant but not surprising information that would be of interest only to the immediate Liberty family. But this little paragraph near the end caught my eye:
Liberty is also accredited through another agency. The Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) has been accrediting schools since 1991, and some historically unaccredited schools, such as Bob Jones University, have recently been accredited through it.
The question that immediately entered my mind was, "Why in the world would folks at Liberty want to refer to BJU in a story about its own accreditation?" Obviously, I don't have the answer, but it seems clear that the students at Liberty want to highlight their school's new relationship to BJU that's been generated through BJU's recent TRACS accreditation.

So what? Well, I know a few BJU alumni who don't even like to talk about their relationship with BJU too much, but to my knowledge those alumni were never called "the most dangerous man in America," as Bob Jones Jr. is widely reported to have spoken about Jerry Falwell, Liberty's President back in 1980. The upshot is that it seems clear to me not only that BJU has something to gain from its new relationship with TRACS, but also that Liberty believes it has something to gain from its new relationship with BJU. I think it's fair to say that in many fields, BJU is the gold standard for academic achievement and polished professionalism among Christian colleges and universities. Apparently, there are motivations for Liberty to exploit this association for its own benefit, and as best I can tell, students or alumni or administration have every right to do so. I think this is evidence for the point that I made almost two years ago:
What is not surprising is that TRACS has seen fit to extend candidate status to BJU. There can be no doubt that the academic reputation of BJU will actually increase TRACS' own credibility rather than vice versa, which would seem to be a more conventional objective of academic accreditation. At least two knowledgeable sources said that TRACS lobbied BJU to pursue membership in the 1980s, but BJU was not interested. What is so surprising is the fact that BJU pursuing accreditation at all. This development presents the opportunity to consider accreditation as a case study in the changing face of ecclesiastical separation.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Advice for Women: Before You Marry a Guy . . .

. . . make a point of being around when he's helping someone in your church move. As in carrying boxes and furniture onto trucks and into a house. You won't learn everything, but you'll learn some pretty important things. Is he showing initiative to find out what's next or hanging around waiting for instructions? Does he find creative ways to use cargo dollies to move stuff more quickly and efficiently? Is he a quiet hard-working loner, a benevolent team-oriented organizer, or a loudmouth boss? Or is he really more like a stationary piece of furniture himself?

Here's the most important one: Does he always seem to be conveniently available but not quite on the business end of the couch when it's going up the stairs?

And buy the way, try to act like you're not paying attention. Stay busy helping pack or clean the kitchen and sneak a peek every now and then. Otherwise he'll be picking his moments to try to impress you.

[This concludes today's public service announcement.]

Do We Really Need to Love Christ?

My sense is that a lot of folks are uncomfortable, to say the least, with the provocative way John Piper articulates some of the central concepts in his teaching. I believe one of those points of emphasis is his call for a wholehearted love for and devotion to Christ as the chief responsibility and mark of a genuine Christian. Whether or not one accepts the form of Piper's articulation, I think it's absolutely essential that we grasp the absolute necessity of this genuine, vibrant relationship with and love for Christ.

So if you don't like the way Piper says it, perhaps you'll accept and be challenged by Dave Doran's discussion from about the 7th minute to the 20th in this sermon on Jude 20-21. Here are a couple brief quotes:
I think it's not just this kind of radical apostasy that Jude would be concerned about. I think as well, he would be concerned about any approach or system to "Christianity" that denies or downplays genuine love for God—that does not recognize that real relationship with God is always marked by love.

. . .

Genuine Christianity involves love for Jesus Christ—rejoicing and joy in Jesus Christ because we have faith in Him. We believe in Him. Even though we do not see Him, we love Him. And it is always a great danger to Christianity that people substitute external, mechanical, intellectual Christianity for the real thing. There must be some genuine work of God's grace in the heart, which causes a person to love Jesus Christ if it's the real thing.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Should Baptists Adopt Episcopalian Logic?

Last week I was engaged in an online discussion with another Baptist about church polity. I was arguing that the pattern for church leadership we see in the NT is plural elder-led congregationalism.

[This is different from what is common in Baptist circles, which is typically some form of single pastor-led congregationalism, often in conjunction with a strange juxtaposition of diaconal leadership and the relegation of assistant or associate pastors to sub-diaconal levels of leadership. But that's another conversation.]

In any case, my conversation partner made this statement:
[P]lurality of elders is not mandated. In fact, I would suggest that when it comes to polity, any structure that produces faithful disciples is fine.
Obviously, I disagreed. But not long after, I encountered the exact same logic while reading Iain Murray's The Reformation of the Church: A Collection of Reformed and Puritan Documents on Church Issues. Murray reproduces in this compilation a Petition pleading for the preservation of the Episcopalian form of government, which was presented to the English Parliament in 1641. Among its several arguments, I found this one, which sounds strikingly similar to the Baptist comments noted above:
[T]he Government by Episcopacy is not only lawful, but convenient for edification, or as much, or more conducive to piety and devotion than any other, it appears because no modest man denies that the primitive times were most famous for piety, constancy, and perseverance in the faith, notwithstanding more frequent and more cruel persecutions, than ever have been since, and yet it is confessed, that the Church in those times was governed by Bishops

For All Lovers of Irony

Tue Feb 13 2007 19:31:25 ET

The Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality hearing scheduled for Wednesday, February 14, 2007, at 10:00 a.m. in room 2123 Rayburn House Office Building has been postponed due to inclement weather. The hearing is entitled “Climate Change: Are Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Human Activities Contributing to a Warming of the Planet?”

The hearing will be rescheduled to a date and time to be announced later.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Does Love = Mental Illness?

The Wall Street Journal says maybe (and they're pretty much always right). Sad to say, you can't read the full text unless you have a subscriber account, but since I happen to know a wealthy and influential person who does, I was privileged to read the whole thing.

Suffice it to say that MRI brain scans show similarities between people brokenhearted from love and those who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs) and addictions. Studies of the blood levels of the brain chemical seratonin also show similarities between the lovestruck and those afflicted with OCDs.

And here's the news you already knew:
Using brain scans to study emotional changes is still a new science. But the images signal the potential toll of relationship problems. "It's not a good combination," notes Dr. Fisher. "You're feeling intense romantic love, you're willing to take big risks, you're in physical pain, obsessively thinking about a person and you're struggling to control your rage. You're not operating with your full range of cognitive abilities. It's possible that part of the rational mind shuts down."

Monday, February 12, 2007

God "Cannot Bear to Live Without You"

Just when you think it can't get much worse . . . ick. Here are some more gems.

The Fundamentals: 17th Century Style

In 1697, the English Baptist Benjamin Keach published The Glory of a True Church, and its Discipline display'd. Within his detailed discussion of discipline, Keach admonishes churches on how to deal with "hereticks and blasphemers." I thought his description of fundamental doctrines might be interesting:
Heresy is commonly restrained to signify any perverse Opinion or Error in a fundamental Point of Religion, as to deny the Being of God, or the Deity of Christ, or his Satisfaction, and Justification alone by his Righteousness, or to deny the Resurrection of the Body, or eternal Judgment, or the like. Yet our Annotators say, the Word signifies the same thing with Schism and Divisions; which if so, such that are guilty of Schism or Divisions in the Church, ought to be excommunicated also. Heresies are called Damnable by the Apostle Peter; without Repentance such cannot be saved, as bring in Damnable Heresies, denying the Lord that bought them.

Two things render a Man an Heretick according to the common signification of the Word. 1. An Error in matters of Faith, Fundamental or Essential to Salvation. 2. Stubbornness and Contumacy in holding and maintaining it. A Man that is an Heretick, after the first and second Admonition reject. [Quotation from the reprint of Keach's work in Polity, ed. by Mark Dever, p. 75]
A few observations might be worthwhile. First, many of the issues to Keach were the same as those that eventually crystallized more than 200 years later in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, such as the deity and resurrection of Christ and substitutionary atonement. That's surprising to me since Keach was writing before the rise of critical theology and the modernistic denial of the supernatural. Perhaps there's an obvious explanation I'm missing. Second, he doesn't seem to believe that these points were a comprehensive statement of all fundamentals of biblical doctrine. Third, he seems to identify doctrines as fundamental relative to their proximity to the gospel. Finally, he demands the excommunication of heretics. Although the wording might sound a little different from historic 1920s fundamentalism and the separatist terminology we use today, it seems to me that the essence of Keach's approach is the same that was advanced in the early 20th century.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Maybe I'm a Postmodern After All

I've found that it's very difficult for me to grant credibility to folks who profess biblical ideals such as, say, the sufficiency of Scripture, when those same folks elevate other things, say, tradition and constituency, above those ideals. I believe we would all do well to heed this advice from the final chapter of David Wells' Above All Earthly Pow'rs:
The postmodern reaction against Enlightenment dogma will not be met successfully simply by Christian proclamation. Of that we can be sure. That proclamation must arise within a context of authenticity. It is only as the evangelical Church begins to put its own house in order, its members begin to disentangle themselves from all of those cultural habits which militate against a believe in truth, and begin to embody that truth in the way that the Church actually lives, that postmodern skepticism might begin to be overcome. Postmoderns want to see as well as hear, to find authenticity in relationship as the precursor to hearing what is said. This is a valid and biblical demand. Faith, after all, is dead without works, and few sins are dealt with as harshly by Jesus as hypocrisy. What postmoderns want to see, and are entitled to see, is believing and being, talking and doing, all joined together in a seamless whole. This is the great challenge of the moment for the evangelical Church. Can it rise to this occasion? (p. 315)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What Is "Reducing Lostness"?

Read about it here. Surely this is not some therapeutic new way to talk about evangelism without using those nasty terms that actually imply that there's a coherent message that comprises the gospel. That's completely implausible, right?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail

By now I imagine that most of us have heard reports of massive number of conversions in China. Estimates of professing believers range above 100 million. A common explanation is that government persecution is contributing to the numerical increase because size of the churches is so limited that all believers contribute to the life of the church and the spread of evangelism.

What you may not have heard is the spread of faith in Islamic countries. Last week I had the opportunity to get to know an Asian man who has been instrumental in spreading the gospel, training pastors, and planting churches in Iran. For security reasons, my ability to share details is limited, and I'm going to err on the safe side of what he permitted. Although estimates are very difficult, it appears that there may be as many as 2 million professing believers out of an Iranian population of 70 million. That's about the same percentage as in Great Britain. About 75% of those new believers have come to Christ in the past three years. House churches typically have 8 to 15 people, and Chinese believers are helping Iranian pastors learn how to organize and network these churches.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Time Interviews Mohler: A Calvinist Facing Death

Here's a tremendously engaging and timely interview with Al Mohler. It's incredible not only that the interviewer opens the door for Mohler to talk plainly about trust in the sovereignty of God, but that the editors would find this newsworthy. I'd be curious to hear background info on the interviewer if anyone knows of it.