Friday, December 31, 2010

Six Statements You Didn't Often Hear Six Years Ago

A couple weeks ago a friend reminded me of Herr Zeller's line from "The Sound of Music," referring to life in Austria after its 1938 annexation by Hitler's Germany: "Nothing in Austria has changed. Singing and music will show this to the world. Austria is the same." (In an odd twist of fate, "Herr Zeller" was played by the actor, Ben Wright. And this author currently lives on "Zeller Lane." Weird.)

I don't want to get too philosophical about change, but I want to make one point: Change often isn't best assessed by the people who are taking it mainstream in the moment they're effecting it. That's not a critique or a deliberate, vague reference to any one person.

As we wrap up another year of a particular sort of change within fundamentalism that, in my opinion, is for the better, I thought I might leave us with a few things that have been said more than once over the past year, in most cases by more than one person. I wonder if that might offer a bit of historical perspective on the present developments, or even whether there are new developments.

That's not to say they weren't being said six years ago. I think all of them were actually said six years ago. But I'll contend that they weren't being said as publicly or as forcefully by as many people in positions of perceived leadership with as broad a receptive audience. I'm curious to see what sorts of statements you might have observed. Here's what leapt to my mind:

  1. I have more in common with some conservative evangelicals than much of the fundamentalist mainstream.
  2. Let's invite a particular sort of conservative evangelical to be our guest speaker.
  3. We need to apply separation just as aggressively towards people to the right of us as to the left of us.
  4. We need to recognize that some of these issues are complex judgment calls, not all of us are going to see all the issues the same way, and we need to grant one another the freedom to apply biblical principles in the ways their consciences dictate.
  5. Platform fellowship doesn't imply full mutual endorsement.
  6. All of us are "disobedient brothers" in one way or another.

400 Years After a Very Sad Day

As a committed 1560 Geneva Bible Only (GBO) advocate, I mourn this last day of the last year before the New Age Bible (Per)Versions gained ascendancy in the English language. In 1611 dawned a day when a "bible" produced by Anglican, gospel-compromising, Erastian, Puritan-hating, monarchists changed God's Word and displaced a TR-dependent, nonconformist-influenced, divinely designated Word of God in English produced in the REPUBLIC of Geneva.

But as a wise man once said, "I speak as a fool." We merely kid. But we kid because we love. Because we love the truth. And sanity.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Are the "New Calvinists" the New "New Evangelicals"?

I'm not sure there's a consensus definition of the Neo-Evangelicals of the latter half of the 20th century. Clearly, they consciously rejected the separatism of the fundamentalists of the first half of the century, as well as its perceived cultural isolation. Clearly, they possessed a robust optimism in their capability to recover biblical fidelity in mainline denominations and gain a voice in culture.

But as I read more of their story, often in their own words, I'm struck most of all by their indefatigable pursuit of credibility—whether credibility in the academic sphere or in the public square. They believed that they needed better scholarship to win a hearing from apostate academics, and better cultural engagement to win a hearing from unbelieving society. I can't get past an irony I sense—that many of them understood themselves to be textbook Calvinists. I don't mean mischaracterize them, but their strategies seem to imply that unconditional election and irresistible grace needed a little turbo boost.

Today's Neo-Calvinists seem to be cut from much the same cloth. Granted, they don't have the same optimism for the mainline denominations. In large part, they're non-denominational—often detached from and pessimistic towards denominations, whether liberal or conservative. And they're not particularly interested in academic credibility.

What they do share in common with the old Neo-Evangelicals is a commitment to cultural engagement. They call it a missional mindset, or a missional life. To many, "missional" means not just a life committed to proclaiming the gospel, but meeting the needs of society in a way that demands a hearing for the gospel and enhances its credibility. Ultimately, this all cultivates a transformed or "redeemed" culture.

I'm sure I'm oversimplifying, and I'm not suggesting that acts of mercy are the pathway to gospel compromise. I'm simply arguing here that we should see a crucial point of continuity between two prominent movements in two different generations. Darryl Hart's concerns expressed in this essay aren't exactly identical to my point, but I think they're relevant:
I have said many times that the prefix “neo” is more important for understanding neo-Calvinism than the noun. But the more I read neo-Calvinists, I wonder if they actually read Calvin or simply make up what they contend to be the Reformed faith. [and later] Charles Finney and John Calvin have joined sides.

The Dynamics of Religious Controversy

Sean Lucas offers some thought-provoking analysis at the Ref21 blog. Here's his most penetrating point:
We often want to say that we are arguing over "principle"; and sometimes we are. But more often, what drives our commitments to those principles are the underlying loyalties to people and even institutions. For some, where one went to seminary will tell you a great deal about his loyalties; not so much for specific theological commitments as for the general loyalty to a place that was formational for their Christian life and practice.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ring Around the Rosy

Hypothetical question: If you run a website that recommends churches, and one of those churches hosts an evangelist who speaks in a Free Will Baptist Church that's part of a fellowship of churches, some of which teach that a genuine believer can lose his salvation, have you compromised the gospel? After all, you're holding hands with someone who's holding hands with someone who's holding hands with someone who's holding hands with someone who's holding hands with someone who teaches false doctrine about the gospel.

Not that I have anyone in particular in mind. I'm just curious.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Amusing Christianity

As far as I can remember, I first started thinking about how our culture of amusement has shaped our culture of Christianity several years ago when I had a free Saturday night while I was traveling, and decided to drop in on a particularly influential megachurch. Though the time devoted to the pastor's speaking (it would be a mistake to call a social justice/economics lecture "preaching") was close to an hour, it was interrupted three times—twice with music and once with something about chicken coops. Though the segments were longer than you'd find in prime time, the commercial breaks were unmistakeable.

It wasn't until later that it struck me how much our culture of amusement has also shaped more traditional preaching, particularly the sort that travels around the country and pauses for the summer in a few special locations. Thanks, Finney.

All that to say this: The recent panel discussion at Southern Seminary on Neil Postman's book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, is well worth a listen. Particularly if you don't want to, you know, take the time to read the book. Surely Postman would be particularly pleased if you watched the video:

And yes, I do catch the irony that I'm writing about Postman on a blog.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

I Repent

Thanks to Jim Peet and Phil Johnson, I've learned that I've affirmed, possibly formally and unquestionably by my silence, a Roman Catholic theology of the Mass. Now, I certainly didn't mean to, but all the same I feel compelled to express, formally and publicly, my repentance. As we all know, ignorance and good intentions are no excuse. And I'm particularly embarrassed and dismayed that I acted as an unwitting pawn in an ongoing campaign against John MacArthur.

It all started when I traveled with J--- C------ in his Toyota pickup with a sweet fiberglass cap from Wisconsin to the 1999 World Congress of Fundamentalists in Greenville, South Carolina. (Actually, he picked me up in Ohio, as I now remember.) Anyway, I offer as evidence of this trip a photo of a Congress mug, taken this morning in our kitchen. (The kitchen I share with my wife, not J---.)

Johnson quotes a resolution passed at the 1986 Congress, which affirmed the (at best) extra-biblical notion that:
The precious Blood is indestructible. It cannot be anything else because of its permanence. The Blood is eternally preserved in Heaven.
But worse, it:
Rejects every attempt either to deny the literalness of the Blood or to minimize its efficacy and the necessity of its shedding in Christ's death on the cross. Such denial is a dangerous and devilish deception.
As Johnson points out, that assertion demands a Roman Catholic interpretation of John 6:54-56—one which I'm now informed enough to repudiate.

Looking back, I'm not exactly sure what happened. I do remember that Congress being a bit of an eye-opener for both J--- and me in various ways, but I assume that we both affirmed all the resolutions, including the one that reaffirmed all the resolutions adopted at previous Congresses. Including the 1986 Congress. And therein lies my guilt. I'm not sure what I should have done. I could have done several things: Vote no. Speak up. Walk out. At the very least, separate from all the people who identified with this false doctrine, as any good fundamentalist would have done.

But. I. Didn't. And I'll always have to live with that.

Yet, I now repent.

We Always Hurt the Ones We (Almost) Love

In a lecture on available through iTunesU (paste this link into iTunes and I think you'll get it), Carl Trueman makes a provocative observation about a common tendency to distinguish ourselves most stridently from those who are most like us, just a little bit different. Speaking about the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western branches of the medieval Church over a relatively obscure point of theology inserted into a historical creed, Trueman comments:
[M]ore often than not, certainly in religious and political circles, [you] fall out with the people you are closest to rather than the people you are furthest away from. And you do that by emphasizing the boundaries—by emphasizing the small things that distinguish you from the group that might be mistaken for you if you don't emphasize them.
Context begins around 27:00 into the lecture.