Saturday, August 25, 2007

"What it is [that] we do to grow such men"?

Peggy Noonan asks a great question in her tribute to America's servicemen and women. Would that more people considered this question and grasped a bit of the answer, as well as why her question may well not always be asked.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Two Good Thoughts (From People Who Probably Don't Care Much for One Another)

From dissidens:
The future of the Gospel is not in the hands of the people running these religious institutions which can not and will not change; it rests in the soul of the person you ask to pass the butter.
From Bob Bixby (in a post titled "Dissidens is Shimei"):
Of course, Shimeis will say they love the Body. Of course. But what Dissidens loves is an abstract, non-existent ideal. (Whether his ideal is even biblical is another topic to debate). Loving an abstract ideal is not love. Saying you love your wife while imagining a fantasy is not love. The reality is that the Church of Jesus Christ is comprised of fallen people.
As I see it, both of these men say many true things. Both of these men have made enemies for saying some of the true things that they've said. (Some might also say it has to do with the way those things have been said.) That doesn't make them moral equivalents. Far from it.

What's most interesting to me is that both of these men, for all their differences, seem to recognize that the foundation so many problems in the Church today is, well, our understanding of the Church itself. Dissidens reminds us here that discipleship takes place first in the home and then in the church. The educational institution isn't equipped for the front lines of that battle.

Bixby actually believes that there is hope, but its reality will be realized on a micro level—one church at a time. He expresses a love for the Church in its current, deformed, malnourished, filthy, adulterous condition—the condition in which Christ himself betrothes and loves her. But that's not altogether surprising. Bob's a pastor. Dissidens is a philosopher (and I don't mean that as a cheap shot).

I think we can draw one lesson from both of them, despite the contempt they may have for one another. Amid all our frustration with the contemporary state of affairs in Christianity; amid all our cries for reform and consistency; amid all our intentions to pursue both unity and purity around the gospel; let's not make the same mistakes that have been made before. Let's not hope in educational institutions or T4G or influential theological personalities or, heaven forbid, the blogger community. Genuine, meaningful, persistent, pervasive reform, renewal, and revival begins at home. It arises within the Church. And that means your church.

More to follow on that point. Hopefully soon.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"The church is rushing nowhere at an incredible rate of speed."

Dave Black, professor at Southeastern Seminary, offers a thought-provoking discussion of the condition of contemporary churches within the context of his gratitude for the Anabaptists.

Although I'm not enough of a historian to make declarations about exactly how much rehabilitation of the Anabaptists needs to take place, I appreciated in particular this final post in the series. Its main thrust reminds us of the radical commitment to Scripture that authentic obedience demands, even when this obedience is incompatible with deeply entrenched church structures and traditions. In other words, the Anabaptists seem to have suffered comparatively little from fear of man or lust for credibility and security.

As Black writes:
I suspect that church institutions as they are now known are incapable of thoroughgoing renewal. It is my view that new church plants are the most likely bodies to reflect early Christianity rather than the proud establishments of Christendom . . . In the Anabaptist perspective, the leaders of the Reformation were no less tyrants than Constantine because they also enforced religious conformity by civil power. The pomp and display, the ambition and the pride of Christendom, seen in both their Roman Catholic and Protestant forms, were the precise opposite of the submissive humility that characterized Anabaptism. One does not have to be a biblical scholar to recognize the parallels that exist with today’s American form of God-and-Country evangelicalism.
It seems that the contemporary relevance of Black's point about the Anabaptists is this: We need to exercise ourselves to examine self-consciously the religious or ecclesiastical culture of which we are a part. Our purpose is to identify how our accumulation of tradition has skewed our understanding of God's Word. We then need to extricate ourselves from that culture and tradition, regardless of the personal cost.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Total Depravity

Or perhaps complete obliviousness. I walked this route several times, never noticing the sign until someone pointed it out to me.

Friday, August 17, 2007

How Do You Know Your Organization Really Needs Reform?

When a Christianity Today editorial is questioning your "gospel integrity" and musing that you may have chosen to "implement programs that will boost the bottom line, regardless of their biblical warrant."

Seriously, it's great to see CT make this case. (And as a pastor friend of mine points out, it's no joking matter.) It's just confusing when it's found in the same issue of CT that extols the development of religious imagery in Bruce Springsteen's music and says he "resembles an evangelist on stage."

Oy vey.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ladies, you didn't hear this from me, but . . .

. . . Noel Piper is the speaker for a women's conference at Capitol Hill Baptist Church October 12-13. Clicking on that link won't give you any more information, but it'll at least prove I'm not making this up.

No more details are public yet, and registration hasn't opened. I just thought that any women who happen to visit here might like to start saving the date.

Good Books on Pastoral Ministry: An Oxymoron?

Most of my seminary reading in this genre was pretty frustrating, but I've read a few of these books, and they're a different breed. Excellent deals, too.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Casablanca, Washington, Providence, and Bringing Life to Dying Churches

Fourteen years ago, almost to the day, I discovered my favorite movie. It was the summer before my junior year of college, and I was interning for a family values lobbying organization in DC with Shawn, a college friend.

April, another college friend, had arrived in DC a few weeks before us to intern with a Senator, and she had found a run-down, small, aging, traditional, Bible-preaching church on Capitol Hill. So a couple days after I arrived, Shawn, April, and I visited Capitol Hill Metropolitan Baptist Church. As best I can remember, I went there every Sunday during my stay, and as I've been able to reconstruct the timeline, that would mean that my second Sunday at the church was the first visit by the future pastor, who had recently finished his PhD at Cambridge and was then serving as an associate pastor in England. This man was entertaining several teaching offers in both the U.S. and Britain, and was also visiting CHMBC as a favor to Carl Henry, an acquaintance and prominent CHMBC member.

After church on Sunday evenings we hung out with the small group of 20-something interns and Hill staffers. With the exception of one evening, when we watched Casablanca on a tiny TV in some church-owned housing, that meant going to the putt-putt course on Hains Point.

A bit over nine years later I had just started a terrific job and my first semester of seminary. A work trip took me to DC on a Sunday evening in November, and out of nowhere the week before the trip the thought struck me that perhaps I ought to check out CHMBC, if for nothing more than to see if it still existed. With the help of Google I quickly learned that it did, and in fact had a pretty professional website.

My immediate conclusion was that the data pointed to some sort of seeker strategy that had managed to attract a crowd and managed to keep the church afloat. Nevertheless, my curiosity led me to drive up to DC that afternoon. To my shock, a crowd filled the hall on a Sunday evening that was twice as large and half as old as the congregation I had seen on Sunday mornings years before. My expectations of the atmosphere were shattered when the music was sung in a shockingly simple style with hymns reaching back several centuries. As the service progressed, people were talking about Puritan writers and Reformed soteriology. I think I knew deep down that at some point this would be my home. I needed to know what had transformed this church.

Now I think I know.

This is already too long, and Matt Schmucker tells the story better than I possibly could. Now I hear him tell the story 2 or 3 times a year. Every time I hear him say the words, "We're here for the people who will come," my heart is full. Sometimes my eyes are too. He spoke those words no more than a few months before my visits in the summer of 1993. You may not have the emotional attachment that I do, but perhaps the story Matt tells, and perhaps the brief history here, might encourage you in some way nevertheless.

To tie this up, last night a big group of us walked down from the Hill to the Mall to watch this week's "Screen on the Green." A record crowd turned out for Casablanca. And in some silly way, it felt particularly satisfying to me—as though everything had come full circle.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Pastoral Counseling and the New Technologies

I had no idea the world described in this WSJ article existed. Thankfully, though human lusts find new ways to express themselves in every generation, Scripture speaks to the root sins--things like idolatry, self-centeredness, and pride--in a way that is eternally relevant and transformational.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dear Mormons and Roman Catholics: Please Proselytize Baptists

I wonder whether the greater threat to the Christian faith is not that people believe the wrong things, but that they believe nothing . . . or everything.

Of course, that thought is not original or profound. It's just on my mind after reading this story from today's Washington Post. Now, apparently, we need a code of ethics for "evangelism" that ensures we're not stealing sheep from one another.

I think what's most appalling about this notion to me is the thinly-veiled cynical partitioning of humanity into kingdoms for the world's religious elite. It strikes me as the kind of political pragmatism that would've happened in 1940s Berlin.

Oh well, I know I'm preaching to the choir here. I'm just not much for mixing politics with faith, which I suppose is why my reaction to the Pope's recent pronouncements that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church was a bit more like Al Mohler than Ian Paisley. Though I think I'd agree with both of them theologically, there's a sense in which I'd prefer the Pope's dogmatic error to the fuzzy ecumenical drift of both Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism over the past several decades.

[Edit: Listen to an NPR conversation with a WCC official here. The closing discussion of Christianity and Islam is horrendous.]

Monday, August 06, 2007

"Four Is the New Two": The New Fashion Trend of Competitive Birthing

I certainly don't think larger families are a bad thing. They seem to teach some really important skills and attitudes. But this just seems a bit ridiculous. Listen to the audio to get the full effect.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Pastors and Pride

Good words and warnings from Rick Phillips Carl Trueman on the ambition to teach that can subtly undermine a biblically appropriate desire to teach the Word:
[W]hat concerns me most is that students may simply desire to be teachers. If that is their motivation, then they have already abandoned a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, and their theology, no matter how orthodox, is just a means to an end and no sound thing. It is why I am very sceptical [sic] of the internal call to the ministry as a decisive or motivating factor in seeking ordination. Nine times out of ten, I believe that the church should first discern who should be considering the Christian ministry, not simply act as a rubber-stamp for a putative internal call which an individual may think he has.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Political Victories and Cultural Failures"

I don't claim to know whether all that's in this editorial true, and it certainly doesn't strike me as very objective. It does offer an interesting perspective on the theological underpinnings of the rise of evangelical/fundamentalist ecclesiastical engagement* in politics. The conclusion—that such efforts fail to transform culture—seems virtually irrefutable. Whether or not they are actually counterproductive to cultural transformation and, more importantly, to the spread of the gospel, is a worthwhile question.

*By engagement, I don't mean the personal involvement of individual believers in politics, but rather involvement by churches and religious leaders that blurs the churches mission.

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