Friday, December 30, 2005

Paleoevangelical of the Year 2005

This year I read two of the saddest stories I can recall. The second was Reforming Fundamentalism by George Marsden, a zoom lens view of the demise of evangelicalism told via the history of Fuller Theological Seminary. The first was Evangelicalism Divided by Iain Murray, a wide-angle lens view of the demise of evangelicalism in the last half of the 20th century. Both stories were captivating to me, at least in the sense that a 10-car accident on the other side of the freeway is captivating. Marsden’s account was thorough and devastating, but he did not write with an agenda, or a specific thesis, as Murray did.

My purpose is not to review either book here, so I’ll not try to restate Murray’s thesis, but rather my response to it. After all, the Paleoevangelical of the Year award is about who influenced me most towards gospel-centered thinking and living. Without question, that person in 2005 was Iain Hamish Murray.

Murray tells the story of how ambitious evangelicals recognized the secularization of Western culture and the Church’s diminishing influence, and how they responded by repudiating their separatistic roots in order to partner with the mainline denominations. Their objective was essentially to evangelize the world through the person of a world-famous front-man (who was a player, not a dupe) and to revitalize those spiritually, numerically, and theologically bankrupt denominations.

They failed. Miserably.

But chances are, you knew that story. Murray’s unique contribution to me is two-fold. First, his documentation is impeccable. This is no screed laced with rumor and innuendo. I’ve looked for critiques from those who would have interest in knocking the blocks out from the foundation of his narrative. The only substantial factual disagreement I can recall of those that I read is tangential and only bolsters the integrity of those who are on his side of the battle. If any readers have encountered reviews that hold any substantial factual disagreement, I would be curious to know of them.

Murray’s second contribution is his tone. He tells the story in a voice that cannot conceal the heaviness of heart with which he writes—a heaviness sourced in two layers of sadness. The first is that the story took place. The second is that it has to be told, and he is the one telling it. Murray documents this slouch towards Babylon with none of the glee of which some past authors have been accused. His story is a burden that he is compelled to bear because of the gospel that demands a defense. I will grant that I may be reading too much into his tone because I heard him interviewed about the book before I read it. I heard a tentativeness and sadness in his voice that may not come across in the book, so I could have carried that presupposition into the reading. Regardless, I need to learn lessons from both of his contributions.

This book ought to be mandatory reading for all evangelical seminary students and pastors. It will not be, because too many seminary leaders are either in love with the aforementioned world-famous front-man, lead institutions with schools named after him, or are shackled by the fear of what their constituencies would say if they told the truth.


But thank you, Dr. Murray, for your courage, your thoroughness, and your willingness to tell a story that needed to be told.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Optimism of My Youth Is Dead and Gone

A long, long time ago I was wrestling with a desire to pursue vocational ministry, which had recently awakened in my heart. Not having much of any idea how to take those first steps or even how to make the decision, I went to a man who for a long time had been in vocational ministry and who had been a great help and encouragement to me. He gave me a gentle shove in the right direction, and he also said a few words that for some reason stuck like a treble hook in my mind. He said, “Ben, the politics you’ll see in ministry will break your heart.”

As I remember, he admonished me that my responsibility was simply to be faithful. Period. Back then I don’t think that I really knew what kind of politics he was talking about, but somehow I knew that he was right.

This was a great year. I will never forget 2005. I learned many lessons that I’ll never forget, just one of which is that my counselor’s advice was right—the politics in ministry really do break your heart. (If you think you know all that I have in mind, you’re wrong.)

The bottom line is that the optimism of my youth is now dead—but it needed to die. It was largely an optimism that was based on hope in flesh. Read any biography or history of an institution. It will either be a stark record of human failure, or it will fall short of objectivity and accuracy.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that my optimism is not dead and gone—just the optimism of my youth. The optimism that remains is a gift from God. It is a reinforced hope in His changelessness and His faithfulness to do as He has said. It is, by His grace, an optimism grounded in His eternal purposes, His sovereign plan, and His kind intention to bless His people. And somehow, he’s chosen me to share in those riches.

To be sure, there are questions and doubts in my mind. Will I be faithful? Will I persevere in my confidence in God? Will I set my ambition on becoming a political player? Time will tell. In the meantime, I’m glad for the lessons and the loss. I don’t think I'll be missing out on much at all.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Fundamentalists and the Original New Evangelicals: Some Curious Commonalities

George Marsden analyzes the methods for divining God's will as they were practiced by both fundamentalists and the founders of Fuller Theological Seminary—the fathers of the New Evangelicalism:
For all major decisions, Fuller and the other founders of the seminary spent much time in prayer and took seriously certain signs as messages from God as to whether to proceed with a given course. The dominant form of the twentieth-century fundamentalist version of this common Christian practice was the nineteenth-century holiness tradition, which emphasized particularly a personal walk with God and the leading of the Lord. These emphases were widespread in American revivalist Protestantism and had been reinforced in fundamentalism especially through the influences of Keswick piety. Even the practical-minded Carl Henry later wrote that "any statement of evangelical experience that does not include the possibility both of communion with God and the communication of the particularized divine will seems to me artificially restrictive."
George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, pgs. 57–58. (Quote from Henry is from his autobiography, Confessions of a Theologian, pg. 53.)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Inconsistent Secularists: An Unexpected Christmas Gift

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.

Those were not the words that I expected to be inscribed in stone above the entrance to the Moorhead Planetarium on the campus of the University of North Carolina. My Adult Bible Fellowship class (Sunday School for those of you who aren’t up on church growth lingo) went to the planetarium show on “The Star of Bethlehem” last weekend. Despite several positive recommendations from people who had seen the show in previous years, I expected a naturalistic presentation of non-supernatural explanations for the phenomenon with some religious window dressing.

What I saw instead was a careful look at some possible naturalistic explanations tempered with occasional referenced to the possibility of supernatural activity and tied together by the conclusion of Johannes Kepler, one of the first astronomers to investigate the origin of the star. The final word on the star in the planetarium show, spoken in a reverent tone, was that Kepler “believed it was a miracle.”

Even more remarkable was the attention the presentation devoted to the texts of Scripture that describe the phenomenon of the star. I’ve read evangelical commentators who go to far greater lengths to offer naturalistic interpretations of texts that are acceptable to the secularists. I’ve heard some sermons in my life that interacted far less with Scripture. I’ve even heard a whole pile of them that demonstrated far less interest in faithfulness to the authorial intent of the text.

So is the fact that a school in the North Carolina state university system would allow such faithfulness to the text of Scripture a miracle in itself? Could it at least be enough to make me question my cessationist leanings? Well, perhaps not, but it was an unexpected Christmas blessing, and I’m thankful for it.

If you're ever in the Chapel Hill area around Christmas, check it out. It runs through January 8th.

Go ‘Heels!

Nursing Home Staff

Today I went with my parents to visit one of their former neighbors who is in her 90's and has been in a nursing home for several years. Christmas Day in a nursing home isn't my idea of something I want in my future, but today it gave me a glimpse of God's common grace.

I expect nursing home staff to be pleasant, and despite working on Christmas, all but one that I saw seemed to be so today. The one who was not, was more than pleasant. She was bubbling. She was joy in a white uniform and a Santa hat. While we were sitting in the room with our friend, I heard her talking to a number of residents in their rooms or in the hallway. She sounded as though all the residents were her dear grandparents. I don't remember all that she said. I know there were lots of "Merry Christmases" and plenty of questions—not the "How are you today" stuff—conversational questions that demanded some time and thought on her part.

I don't know this woman. I didn't talk to her. I have no reason to think that she is a believer or that any of her conversations ever have anything to do with the gospel. I do suspect that some folks who had little or no contact today with family or friends outside the home were grateful to know that someone cared about them, and not just the kind of care that someone got paid to provide.

She made me think. Do I show people in my church, my neighborhood, and my workplace that I care—really care, not just "chatty conversation/how are you today?" care? Do I live the gospel in a way that gives anyone any reason to think that it really matters to me, or does playing church satisfy my soul?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Too Funny to Pass Up

I successfully avoided linking to the Emerging and Calvinism posts. This one on Dispensationalism was irresistible.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

My First Christmas Gift

Finding out that this is free.

"Can We Live Without God?": A Prime-Time Special Worth Watching?

I caught a brief promo this morning of a Fox News special that will air Christmas night at 9:00 ET. Titled, "Can We Live Without God," the special is hosted by morning news update anchor Lauren Green. The promo showed clips of Green interviewing an atheist and Ravi Zacharias. A year ago I would have been confident that Zacharias would be more loyal to his convictions than Ted Haggard. Anymore, I don't hold my breath.

What makes this worth watching to me, though, is not the guests, but the host. As Green chatted with the other morning hosts about the special, she commented that the conclusion is inescapable that both the theist and the atheist positions demand faith. I found that comment pleasantly surprising and insightful coming from a news anchor.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Paleoevangelical of the Year Awards (2000–2004)

1974–1999 awards here. 2005 to follow.

2000: A.W. Tozer and John MacArthur
Tough one here, not because there aren't candidates, but because I can't remember what I read when. Nevertheless, I know that it was during this year that I read John MacArthur's Ashamed of the Gospel, which cultivated my distaste for both church growth evangelicalism and her less-hip cousin, revivalistic fundamentalism. I also know that I read A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God this year, but I forget whether it was for the first or second time. Regardless, Tozer lit a flame in my heart that has only gained intensity as time has passed and the flame has found more fuel.

2001: Kevin Bauder
In the spring of this year, a couple of my friends took "History of Fundamentalism" from Dr. Bauder at Central Seminary and were overwhelmed. Although I was still in Wisconsin, I felt as though I was taking the class second-hand through them. Dr. Bauder preached in chapel at Maranatha and spent a great deal of time with prospective seminary students sometime during the year, and I visited Central in the fall. Somehow, the entire experience cultivated my desire for further discipline and training in a rigorous academical and spiritual environment.

2002: Garry Friesen
Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God transformed my thinking about how to make decisions that are not directly addressed by Scripture. A few years before I had listened numerous times to tapes of a series of messages on the subject taught at a college & career retreat by Dr. Greg Mazak of BJU, so the pump was already primed. Friesen's critique took me the next step by his thorough analysis of the traditional mystical view of God's will in light of biblical texts. His book also gave me the tools to apply biblical wisdom and prudence to non-moral decisions, which came in the nick of time for my seminary vs. ministry+seminary decision that summer.

2003: Frank Hamrick
This is an easy one. Dr. Hamrick began to tie together the questions in my mind that had begun to arise from reading Tozer and Piper. I had read bits and pieces of Piper over the years and had been profoundly affected. Tozer lit the flame, Piper fed it, and Hamrick helped me to use it. Seeing how Hamrick was attempting to apply God-centered teaching to the specific area of youth ministry was a priceless help towards cultivating a love for the gospel in my heart and life.

2004: Mark Dever
Ironically, everything that I've read by Dever, I read in either 2003 or 2005. What happened in 2004 is that I began listening to his 9Marks interviews. The interviews were a conduit for me to hear a variety of men (Piper, MacArthur, Duncan, Murray, Wells, Sproul, and others), most of them pastors, explain their passion and concern for the health of churches, the primacy of biblical worship, the centrality of expositional preaching, and the necessity to defend the purity of the gospel further reinforced my commitment to those values. I particularly appreciated their willingness to critique the faults in their own circles and to be honest about the destructive influences of evangelical heroes.

Note: Piper keeps coming up, but I can't peg him to a particular year. Perhaps when I'm old I'll start giving out lifetime achievement awards.

P.S. Anybody want to take a stab at 2005?

"Heaven is a place where you can eat what you want and never get heavy."

Thank you, Ted Haggard, for that nugget of wisdom, as well as for the insight that heaven is full of all kinds of pastries.

Haggard is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He appeard last night on Barbara Walters' special, "Heaven: Where is it? How Do You Get There?" I didn't watch the whole thing, but I did tune in for the portion when the obligatory evangelical leader shares his obligatory nuanced/know-nothing thoughts on heaven and who goes there. I didn't tape it. I'm not wasting time searching for a transcript. I tried to type a couple choice quotes as I listened to Haggard, so I'll be paraphrasing Walters and getting as close as I can to Haggard's quotes. I'm not using quotation marks because I don't want to imply that I got every quote exactly right.

TH: There is only one guaranteed way to go to heaven according to Scripture—Jesus Christ. If you don’t know Jesus you have no assurance [emphasis mine] of going to heaven.

TH: If you believe in another god or no god at all, there is no guarantee. Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths have to work out their own way to heaven.

BW: Do people who do not believe in Jesus Christ go to hell?

TH: I think so, unfortunately.

(To be fair, Haggard later said concerning the necessity of faith in Christ, "There’s no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.")

Paleo: Thanks, Ted, for being so dogmatic on the fabricated promise of a glutton-friendly heavenly buffet, but refusing to affirm with equal certitude the biblical teaching that those who do not believe are condemned. How very helpful to the advance of the gospel you were.

Can we really call the 30 million people and the 52 denominations he represents, "evangelicals"? Doesn't "evangelical" imply a belief that what the Bible teaches is true—even the parts our culture or even we ourselves don't like?

A Quote for You To Guess

It's been a while, so just a reminder that the one rule is no Googling the quote.
[I]f, by the author of sin [emphasis is the author's], is meant the permitter, or not a hinderer of sin, and, at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted, or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow; I say, if this be all that is meant by being the author of sin, I do not deny that God is the author of sin (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense), it is no reproach for the Most High to be thus the author of sin. This is not to be the actor of sin, but on the contrary, of holiness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Baptism Debate: Mark Dever on John Bunyan, Church Membership, and Today's Evangelical Leaders

Last month Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and Tom Nettles of Southern Seminary spoke at an Evangelical Forum hosted by Good News Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. When you see the session titles, my guess is many of you will think "naptime." You really ought to listen at the very least to Dever's session on John Bunyan. Audio for all four sessions are accessible here.

The reason Dever's session on Bunyan is so relevant is that John Piper and his fellow elders' decision to recommend to their congregation that immersion not be universally required for church membership is very similar to Bunyan's position on baptism and church membership. Numerous documents on this matter are available on the Bethlehem Baptist Church site (none of which I have read in full), including two from the lone dissenting elder. The primary document refers to Bunyan occasionally, though not always in full agreement.

Dever specifically mentions Piper one time early in the lecture, but afterward refers only to modern evangelical leaders broadly. In a biographical sketch of Bunyan, Dever says that Bunyan rejected infant baptism, but he also rejected limitation of church membership to immersed believers, calling Bunyan an “E-Free minister before his time.” Bunyan saw infant baptism as nothing at all and was immersed himself. Below are three selections that summarize the core of Dever's critique of Bunyan, Piper, and others:
Is disobedience to a command of Christ a mere lack of light to be born with as Bunyan maintained, or is it a disciplinable sin—an offence? . . . Do we teach our children to mean well or to act well? Do we teach them that they must not hit their brother, or that there must be no malice in their hearts when they do?
. . .
The best of motives notwithstanding, obedience to God is not in the eye of the beholder. And particularly in our subjectivist age, no evangelical leader should be teaching that it is. So in this sense, . . . [Presbyterians are] much better theologically, I think, to actually think infant baptism is legitimately baptism and to accept it, than to do as John Bunyan was doing and as other evangelical leaders are doing today, who do not think infant baptism is baptism and yet say “If you think you’ve been obedient to this, we will accept you upon that basis.” Friends, that’s to subjectivize what we understand of obedience to God in a way Scripture does not allow us to do.
. . .
My conclusion on Bunyan’s position on baptism is that he was editing Jesus. Not that he was intending to, but that effectively that’s what he did. The Lord Jesus commanded it, and Bunyan even saw and acknowledged that the Lord Jesus commanded this, and yet he said he would not enforce that in terms of discipline in his own church and therefore in terms of church membership.
The recording quality of this lecture is poor but audible. It's worth accessing as well for Dever's discussion in the last few minutes of the necessity of a doctrinal hierarchy. It is just too long for me to transcribe. He doesn't offer a clear taxonomy, but he does introduce some crucial but thorny questions.

This Is Not Your Father's Sunday School

Well, with a hefty dose of Andy and Barney, maybe it is after all.

I'm trying to decide whether this is better than the Youth Specialties MTV Video Music Awards Bible study.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Elaine Pratt on Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul

I referred last week to a former professor of mine, Jon Pratt. Over the weekend I learned of a book review that's just been published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that was written by his wife, Elaine. She breaks down the latest installment of chick lit/pop psychology/pseudo-theology published by Thomas Nelson.

By the way, you would do well to keep tabs on her church's newsletter, Vox Ecclesia, in which the review was originally published.

Ecclesiology Interview

Mark Dever interviews John Hammett (of Southeastern Seminary and author of Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology) and Phil Newton (pastor of Southwoods Baptist Church and author of Elders In Congregational Life: Rediscovering The Biblical Model For Church Leadership).

This is a great discussion of a broad range of ecclesiological issues, including the essential nature of the church, the disappearance of church discipline, multiple elders and senior pastors, the nature of the church's assembly, baptizing children, the relationship between preaching and teaching, and the danger of the gospel being reduced to a prayer.

Perspectives on Torture

Senator John McCain is trying to outlaw all forms of torture in all circumstances. A couple weeks ago, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer responded in a measured, thought-provoking piece that exposed some alleged hypocrisy (or at least blatant inconsistency) from McCain:
According to Newsweek, in the ticking time bomb case McCain says that the president should disobey the very law that McCain seeks to pass--under the justification that "you do what you have to do. But you take responsibility for it." But if torturing the ticking time bomb suspect is "what you have to do," then why has McCain been going around arguing that such things must never be done?
Now, evangelicals and non-evangelical religious leaders are responding to Krauthammer. Liederbach and Heimbach are professors at Southeastern Seminary, for any readers who may be interested.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Paleoevangelical of the Year Awards (1974-1999)

In the time that I've been writing here, I have had a lot of critiquing to do laced with some not infrequent praise for good ideas and commendable individuals. It's been pretty rare, however, that I've expressed specific appreciation for people who have had positive influence on me. They don't deserve the blame for my failures, but if there is anything good God is doing in me, there are human instruments involved for whom I am immensely grateful. I thought this might be a good time of year to express that gratitude in a public fashion. I thought it might be prudent first to recap who the winners of the awards would have been in years previous had it been in existence. So next week sometime I'll reveal the winners for 200–2004 and then announce the 2005 Paleoevangelical of the Year.

The criteria is simply this: the person or people that God has used most to incline my thoughts, affections, and life most towards the gosepl in any given year. So, here goes nothing.

1974-1994: Ken and Jean Wright, my parents.
There is no way anyone else could compare here. These were the years when I was a resident in their home. They deserve something just for putting up with my unregenerate heart, so this is small thanks. I can't even begin to describe how much I owe them for their unconditional love, unrelenting discipline, and unceasing prayer.
1995: Mike Manor
Evangelist Manor preached the service after which I was saved. This was during staff training week at Northland Camp, where I was serving (ironically) as a counselor. Without his watchful shepherding eye over the rest of the summer, I'm sure I would have melted down. He also gave me some tremendous help at the end of the summer with some major decisions.
1996: Bryan Tanis
Pastor Bryan was then the youth pastor at the church I joined after college. To make a long story short, he sacrificially invested a great deal of time and energy in me and poured into me his love for ministry, young people, and discipleship. I was fortunate enough to serve under him again for two years when he was the Dean of Men at Maranatha, before he later returned to the church where we had been.
1997: Larry Oats
I took two classes from Dr. Oats in the fall semester when I began grad school in Bible at Maranatha. Homiletics introduced me to the rationale for expository preaching. It seemed instinctive to me that this method was right, but I'm sure his teaching was responsible for that immediate conviction. A systematic theology class that semester lit a fire in me to understand and apply God's Word. He didn't even disagree with my main paper, which argued for a multiplicity of elders.
1998: John Pratt
New Testament Introduction and Romans with Dr. Pratt were definitive classes for me in my understanding of biblical studies, justification, and progressive sanctification. He had just written his dissertation on Romans 5–8, and this passage is still my favorite portion of the Word of God. These two classes probably stretched my theological mind more than any others. A high honorable mention for this year goes to Dr. Ed Williams for Hermeneutics.
1999: Jason Wredberg
After I finished my M.A., I started focusing more on coaching and started to take it easy academically and maybe spiritually, too. God was taking Jason, one of my close friends, through some circumstances that made him wrestle tenaciously on some theological issues. He started reading voraciously books by men who helped him deal with these issues by exegeting the Word. His new-found passion spilled over onto me (I couldn't let him get too far ahead), and by the grace of God it has never left.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Scots Wahey Christ Precious Review Part 3

I think I read too many books about theological issues and not enough about He Whom I ought to treasure more than I value being right on the issues. Part III of Angus Nicholson's thorough review of Christ Precious by John Fawcett reminds me why.

Ordering information here.

Angus, your complimentary copy will be in the mail right away. I'm not seeing your mailing address in my records, so e-mail it to me if you have a chance.

I'm expecting some more reviews to come in soon. I still have about five free books to give away if anyone else wants in on the offer.

Free Piper Books Online

I can't believe I had never heard of this before. Unfortunately (ok fortunately), I already own nine of these titles so I hope you'll benefit more than I. A Hunger for God may well be the most under-appreciated of Piper's tomes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Uh-Oh, Somebody's Thinking . . .

Tom Pryde has written a couple thought-provoking articles (1 2), with more apparently to follow.

I think the next question for someone to ask might be, "So, when does the 'Which way are their toes pointed?' logic become relevant—in a positive direction?" As in, what happens when people are actively heading the right direction? If the argument can't be applied consistently, then it's invalid.

Faith Promise

I may be struck dead for touching the ark of the covenant here, but I believe that it is wiser for a church to budget foreign missions giving rather than create a separate "Faith Promise" fund. On this eve of my church's annual budget meeting, I tried to listen to this sermon (only got about half-way through) from my pastor, Scot Shelburne, on which method is closer to the biblical model.

Our church had used the budget model for a long time, then switched to faith promise for a few years until we voted to switch back a year or so ago under the leadership of our pastor. He taught this sermon before we voted. I thought it might be interesting to some of you who may be thinking about the same issues. [Note: The link above is a direct link to the MP3 file. It would be a hassle for you to find it on our church site without the direct link.]

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

This Is NOT a Hoax

This photograph was taken by a real person whom I know and whose sibling sent it to me. Unfortunately, I am not permitted to post the location because I would be unable to do so without incorporating regional humor.

More Gospel-Centered Hurricane Relief: "We Feel More Love Here Than We've Ever Felt"

We can talk about ideas and theory all we want, but this is genuine ministry—the gospel at work. Dare I say it's more authentically gospel ministry than anonymously leaving a tract with a tip or writing a check to a missionary? This is down-and-dirty, grime-under-the-fingernails ministry, and I'm grateful to these friends who've challenged me.

I know that not everyone has high-speed internet, but do whatever you can to listen to the interview of the family Morning Star Baptist Church brought home from the Katrina-devastated region. It's at the bottom of the page linked above.

The SBC Cooperative Program: Overrated?

The big pro of the Southern Baptist missions program (the Cooperative Program) is efficiency. More or less, once a missionary has cleared the vetting process, he or she is funded and sent to the field—no deputation! The big con is that the distance between the missionaries and local churches can be much greater, putting accountability in the hands of the Convention than the local churches. (Of course, these pros and cons barely scratch the surface of whether the Cooperative Program model is consistent with the NT model.)

Regardless, now Tom Ascol is asking some great questions about the presumed efficiency of the Cooperative Program approach. I'm particularly interested in his observations about younger generations of SBC pastors. I hope he's right.

Monday, December 12, 2005

It Seems Like a Day for Clear, Reasonable Thinking

I've never visited Clearwater Christian College, but every graduate I have ever met has been a credit to the institution. I don't know of any other Christian educational institution for which I can make that statement. I have recommended the school to the father of a student who was considering two other fundamental/evangelical institutions but had reservations about both—for very good reasons. What I know about Clearwater made it seem like a good option for them to consider. Anyway, articles like this one by the wife of Clearwater's president make me likely to continue recommending it. The conclusion:
The men who have been greatly used to draw my attention to the Savior don’t sit in the sandbox or stand on the soapbox. They are men who have clearly and solidly established their permanent dwelling place at the foot of His Throne. They have planted the flag of Truth in their hearts, and there is a commitment to that Truth that supersedes man, movement and ministry. Though they are men who are passionately dedicated to, and fully convinced of personal responsibility for pure and holy living, they do not place false weights of guilt upon others that extend beyond the Word of God. Securely positioned at the foot of His Throne, they maintain a joy in His grace and a confidence in His intercession for His Children. Their joy and confidence is what God has used most to effectively adorn my life with garlands of wisdom.

The Lion, the Witch, and Some Evangelical Insight

Several months ago I complained a bit about the hype over LWW and the inevitable "this is the next great tool for the advancement of the kingdom" prophecies. So I guess it shouldn't surprise me to see well-intentioned folks expressing disappointment over some elements of the book that have been omitted in the film, to the supposed obfuscation of the gospel.

Suffice it to say that I was pleased a few minutes ago to see Steve Camp making some of those same points that I did:
I appreciate good writing, literature, and the use of allegory in story to drive home a powerful message. Lewis does that here… But as good as his imagery and allegory is throughout 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe' it is not the message of the biblical gospel hidden within the allegory.

As I have read through several reviews of this film by well respected Christian thinkers, bloggers, theologues and Biblicists, it’s stupefying how any one of them could think that Lewis’s allegorical story was 'an atoning death, retell the story of Christ's passion and resurrection. This story of salvation history is told with theological precision and with a continuous eye on the Gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus.'

Debunking the "Good Old Days"

Marvin Olasky writes (free registration may be required) in a recent issue of WORLD about common modern misconceptions about the spirituality or religiosity of 18th and 19th century America. Olasky summarizes his observations from two books by Rodney Stark, a Baylor University professor. According to Stark via Olasky, the "good old days" may just have been "old days" and not that "good" at all. Some of the statistics are pretty startling. Although the conclusions seem counterintuitive, passages like this one from Olasky's article make the thesis intriguing:
Mr. Stark notes that in early American seaports 'on any given Sunday morning there were at least as many people recovering from late Saturday nights in the taverns . . . as were in church.' Sure, we have in recent decades defined deviancy down, but the research I did while writing books on the pre-20th-century history of abortion in America leaves me unsurprised about this Stark conclusion: 'Single women in New England . . . were more likely to be sexually active than to belong to a church.'

Friday, December 09, 2005

Oprah's Pastor on the Oprification of America

I listened last night to a recent installment of Al Mohler's radio program titled, "The Church of Oprah Winfrey—A New American Religion?" I listened with interest to his analysis what another author calls the gospel according to Oprah. What really perked my ears was his quotation from Winfrey's pastor, Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. (Wright says Winfrey has not attended in some time, but she retains her membership there.)

Mohler quotes from a Christianity Today article that quotes a column written by Wright in another publication. Wright says, "A lot of us do not even like the word faith anymore," he wrote. "We prefer the more chic-sounding word, spirituality! We are caught up in an Oprah-generated mentality and a 12-step vocabulary that prevents us from using the very words and the very bridge that 'brought us over!' "

Watch the World Cup Draw Live RIGHT NOW!

Just click here.

The Deliberate Church

Read it, loved it, meant to blog about it, forgot. Not likely that I was going to do better than D.A. Carson's contribution to the foreword anyway:
One of the strangest dichotomies in contemporary evangelicalism pits theology against practical savvy. Many practitioners boast how little theology they know and amply demonstrate the warrant for their boast, while forcefully advocating a wide array of practical steps to foster church growth and discipleship. In response, many pastors and theologians bemoan the weightlessness of so much contemporary evangelicalism and advocate a sober return to Scripture and a broad grasp of biblical theology. The former group often leaves the Bible behind, except for remarkably superficial ways: nothing challenges the hegemony of their methods. But the latter group, whose theology may be as orthodox as that of the apostle Paul, sometimes gives the impression that once you know a lot of the bible and have read a lot of theology, everything will work out smilingly as if there were no need for the practical advice of pastors who are no less committed to theology than they, but who are equally reflective on steps that must be taken, priorities, pastoral strategies, and the like.

A few years ago, Mark Dever gave us Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (now in its second edition). Despite the feel of the title, this book was far removed from the kind of pop sociological analysis and managerial assessment with which we are often barraged. It was a book deeply embedded in biblical theology. Many pastors and churches have benefited from the faithfulness of its probing reflection. But suppose you live and serve in a local church that is far removed from the healthy profile developed in Nine Marks: what then? How do we get from here to there? Talking about the Nine Marks, and thinking through the biblical texts that warrant them, surely constitute part of the response. Nevertheless, The Deliberate Church goes beyond that simplification to help pastors and other leaders lead a church toward spiritual health and growth. Once again, this book, written jointly by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, is steeped in Scripture but it is also chock-full of wisdom, years of pastoral experience, and godly insight. No pastor who is struggling “to get from here to there” should overlook this slender but invaluable volume.
Buy it. Read it. Re-read it. If you want to see churches become more healthy, you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Gospel-Centered Hurricane Relief: Global Grace Update

I know everybody is bored to death now with Katrina news, and since we're bored, the problem must have gone away, right?

Nevertheless, I'm excited about the approach Morning Star Baptist Church has taken with Katrina relief that is distinctly gospel-centered, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it will play out in the future.

Joy McCarnan has posted a great update at SharperIron. You ought to make yourself read it, even if the whole thing feels like old news right now. The gospel is not old news.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Poor Frodo

I'll bet he had no intention or desire to get dragged into this.

Am I a Hypocrite?

Let me just save you 10 seconds of pondering and say the answer is "Yes. Absolutely yes." I'm a hypocrite every time I profess to care something about the purity of the gospel and then blow an opportunity to share it. I'm a hypocrite when I say that worship and church ought to be taken seriously and then check out in the middle of a hymn or a sermon. I'm a hypocrite when I criticise haughty judgmentalism and then assess someone's spirituality based on their appearance or whether I happen to like the person or not. So let's get the question out of the way; I am without question a hypocrite.

Now I've had three people, two of whom I already trust and respect (nothing personal Chris, I just don't know you yet) suggest in a wholly appropriate way that my post yesterday is inconsistent with my post from two days ago. I'm going to plead innocent on that charge, knowing that my heart is deceitful and wicked and that I might be justifying myself without reason.

But let me tell you about some points on which I'm not going to justify myself. First, I used extremely poor judgment in assuming that because I had divorced the ideas of my post from the specifics of the situation at hand, then the discussion could be about the ideas, not the personalities. I should have either stayed out of it or made my intentions to that effect crystal clear (of course, even that would not have worked because despite two protestations to make this about ideas, even this morning I see that another post has violated my request).

Second, I overestimated the obviousness of one key fact. In their comments, readers clearly made a connection to Bob; they did not make or discuss the equally valid connection between the "I" and GCC. Clearly, the "I" in my post is someone that I believe to have sinned, whether by action, inconsistency, or negligence. Some folks feel that that point is being forg and the debate is over the messenger. I do not think that either the offenders or the messenger should be overlooked, although every indication is that the offenders are responding wisely.

Finally, I used the term, "shepherding the universal church." A friend who is a friend because he's honest with me told me a few months ago that I "speak truth with a barb attached." Good call, SB. My choice of wording was my concise summary of Bob's stated intentions in his first post, but it was not a wise way to make my point. I don't agree with Bob's choice of method (and I've talked with him personally about that), but my choice to inject language capable of ratcheting up the emotion in the debate was wrong.

In these matters, I was wrong. I take James 3:1 seriously, and this time I blew it. I ask your forgiveness. (No need to post; I'll assume that you do unless you tell me otherwise.) And in the middle of the paragraph above I noticed that Bob has a new post, so I'm off to post a link to this apology there.

Thanks to all who were a help in this situation.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

When My Time Comes: An Appeal for Due Process

Inevitably, at some time in the future (or even the present), I am going to fail miserably in one or all of three ways: 1) I will sin publicly myself; 2) I will inconsistently overlook someone else's public sin and put him or her in a position of public leadership; or 3) I will indiscriminately put an unqualified person in a position of leadership through inexcusable negligence. I have no doubt done at least the first one already.

I do not relish the prospect of having my impending request fulfilled, but I'll ask anyway: When you see me sinning, whether by personal activity, inconsistency, or negligence, would you please communicate with me personally?

In the event that you feel compelled to use my sin to instruct the church universal, would you please do me the courtesy of giving me the opportunity to repent and address the sin myself before you make it into a public spectacle? (I draw a line between my sin and my ideas; if my ideas are bad, take your best shot. I'll probably learn something.)

Does that make me spineless? I hope not, but maybe I take the Golden Rule too literally. And then there's just something else in my mind that inclines me to believe that the universal church for which one might care so deeply will be better edified when I repent publicly and pursue retribution after private confrontation, than if my filthy laundry is dragged first through the cyber-mud through what could be perceived as some kind of power play. If I refuse to repent, then cut me to pieces. I'll need and deserve it.

But hey, I'll be the one sinning, and you'll have to give account for how you shepherded the universal church, I suppose. I guess you'll have to do what you'll have to do.

Monday, December 05, 2005

So This Is What Happens After the Tryptophan Wears Off!

I need to read Steve Camp more often.


Philip Ryken comments at Reformation 21 on a disturbing new promotional technique for "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe": the sermo-mercial.

Read the full text of the Philadelphia Inquirer article.

Here are the first four paragraphs:
Attention, pastors: You have just four weeks remaining to work a lion, a witch or a wardrobe into your next sermon.

Walt Disney Pictures is so eager for churches to turn out audiences for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which opens Friday, that it's offering a free trip to London - and $1,000 cash - to the winner of its big promotional sermon contest.

The only catch is that the sermons must mention Narnia, based on the hugely popular children's books about four British children who walk through an uncle's magic armoire into an enchanted kingdom.

Sermo-mercials are just one of the ways promoters hired by Disney and its production partner, Walden Media, are peddling Lion as a kind of Christian-themed Harry Potter.
I would say "I told you so," but this is more than I could have imagined.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Scots Wahey Christ Precious Review Part 2

Great thoughts from Angus.

Ordering information here.

Two Interesting Stories in WORLD

I think free registration is required to view these, but it's worth it to see these stories you won't find covered fairly in the mainstream media, and perhaps not at all.

1. On the University of California system's decision not to recognize high school classes taught with BJU and A Beka curriculum

2. On former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed's under-the-table work on behalf of gambling interests

Bauder on Narratives and the Message of Acts

This has been a great week, to me at least, for intruiging articles and discussions on the web. Unfortunately, it was also a busy one. Not only this week, but also just about every week provides a stellar contribution from Kevin Bauder, president of Central Seminary in Minneapolis. For any readers who think that all fundamentalists are fire-breathing nincompoops, I offer Dr. Bauder as Exhibit A for the defense. Subscribe to his weekly theological newsletter, which is always as thought provoking and valuable as Mohler's commentary, and often more so. His blog is wider-ranging but also interesting and occasionally entertaining.

This week's edition of the newsletter, titled "Acts as Transition," consists largely of an insightful analysis of the message of Acts, but his opening paragraphs are a concise summary of the purpose of narrative texts. His arguments for what narrative texts are not provide a needed critique of some all-too-common evangelical narrative hermeneutics.
Biblical narrative is always theological. The purpose of a story is never simply to interest us with the story itself, nor is it merely to furnish us with a source of moral maxims. Without exception, the narratives of the Bible arrange themselves into theological arguments. The story always makes a point beyond itself.

This is particularly true of the book of Acts. Luke uses the stories in Acts to make a significant theological point. He chooses precisely those episodes that walk the reader through the transition from gospels to epistles, from Old Testament ground to New Testament ground, and from Israel to the church. Transition is not merely part of the book of Acts, it is the main point.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Missions Questions with No Easy Answers

We talked about a thorny issue in my seminary missions class today. What would you do if a new convert on the field was married to multiple wives? Do you tell him to divorce all but the first one or maintain the status quo? Or is there another option?

My initial instinct was that only the first marriage was biblically valid because God created marriage to be one man and one woman; therefore, subsequent marriages were not actual marriages in God's eyes and divorce would be appropriate and not really divorce at all. Then it occurred to me that the OT seems to recognize polygamous marriages as genuine marriages even if they arose outside God's intent, so perhaps the marriages should remain intact.

If that's not tough enough, the answer and the reasoning also has implications for how we address the problem of homosexual marriage. If we do concede that polygamous marriages can be valid in God's eyes even if they are outside His creative intent, then how can we use the argument that "marriage is one man and one woman" to repudiate homosexual marriage? Both polygamous marriages and homosexual marriages are contrary to this divine intent, but we cannot use that argument to say homosexual marriages are invalid if we concede that polygamous marriages are valid (but wrong).

Of course, that does not mean that there is no other way to make the case that homosexual marriage is invalid, but it does take away a common argument. I don't have the answers, so as Ross Perot used to say, "I'm all ears."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Therapeutic Spirituality Without Transformational Faith: David Wells on Emergent Spirituality

David Wells recently spoke in Southeastern Seminary chapel for two days on the topic, "Emergent Spirituality." I was not able to attend, but I have now listened to both lectures, which are available online. They're not for the faint of heart (don't listen to them to stay awake while you're driving), but your dedication to wade in will be well-rewarded. Stream or download the files via the SEBTS chapel page.

Wells is certainly one of the premier deconstructors of modern and post-modern thinking and culture from an evangelical perspective. His central theme in both lectures is that in recent decades the Church has been infiltrated by a desire for spirituality apart from religion. By religion he refers, I believe, not to ritualistic trappings but to authentic faith. Wells describes this desire for spirituality as a tourist mentality—a satisfaction with a journey that peruses a variety of perspectives, rather than a pursuit for the singular prize of objective truth. Wells analyzes how both the Emerging Movement and the Church Growth Movement are ultimately oriented similarly towards a therapeutic or felt-needs spirituality at the cost of truth and doctrine.

He quotes B.B. Warfield who spoke presciently a century ago:
No one will doubt that Christians of today must state their Christian beliefs in terms of modern thought. Every age has a language of its own and can speak no other . Mischief only comes when instead of stating Christian beliefs in terms of modern thought, the effort is made rather to state modern thought in terms of Christian belief.
I was encouraged by Wells' closing remarks:
God draws near to us through His Word by the work of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with that Word. It is only through His Word that He lifts the fallen with His promises, and He fills the hungry, and He corrects the wandering, and He rebukes the self-sufficient. And every time He speaks, He leaves behind the fragrance of His grace. And so, may we be preachers of His Word.

De Facto Feminism in the Family

Russell Moore, professor at Southern Seminary and frequent substitute host of Al Mohler’s daily radio program, delivered a blow to evangelical political correctness at the recent Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting. Jeff Robinson of reports that Moore’s address confronted evangelicals with the fact that their oblivious de facto acceptance of egalitarianism in individual families is contributing to a disintegration of the Church’s understanding of the sovereignty and fatherhood of God. Read the whole article to receive a fuller understanding of his target. This small clipping is a pretty good sample:
Evangelicals maintain headship in the sphere of ideas, but practical decisions are made in most evangelical homes through a process of negotiation, mutual submission, and consensus. That's what our forefathers would have called feminism -- and our foremothers, too.
I think his overall argument is also similar to my contention that evangelical de facto acceptance of divorce is the foundational reason that we are losing the battle on traditional marriage. The fact is that we abdicated the battle when we failed to take divorce and church discipline seriously. Since marriage means very little, homosexual marriage is now only a small step. If the Church were serious about marriage, it might still be a great leap.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dripping with Irony

Philip Ryken blogs a PCUSA publication quoting Machen on contending for the faith and spurning neutrality—and the quote is from his final sermon at Princeton, of all things. (more info here)

Christ Precious Review #1

Angus Nicholson of Scots Wahey! and other valuable reference blogs has written Part 1 (of an anticipated 3) of his review of John Fawcett's Christ Precious to Those that Believe.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Things I Like About Being Back in Ohio

  1. The State Department of Transportation is educated in the ice-melting properties of NaCl and has snowplows that distribute it.
  2. The absence of wretched humidity makes it possible to see stars.
  3. It is the current location of my nephew and niece.
  4. People speak a pure version of the English language.
  5. It offers the opportunity to watch OSU-Michigan on an ESPN Classic Instant Classic with my whole family. Speaking of which, I must get back to the game.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Gospel-Centered Hurricane Relief

I first met Jeremy about ten years ago when I joined his church about the time he was starting college. A couple years later (if I remember right) he was a resident in the dorm I supervised. I haven't seen him in years and have only talked to him once in that time, but I give thanks to God for how He takes scrawny freshmen and their idiot dorm supervisors and equips them for gospel ministry in ways we never could have imagined.

Jeremy, if you're reading this, I'll be praying for you this week.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Saturday I ran the second 10K (6.2 mile) race of my life. I wasn't dreadfully dissatisfied with my time, and it didn't even bother me much that men twice my age beat me. I don't even think the humbling experience exempts me from reading C.J. Mahaney's new book, Humility: True Greatness. I must say, however, that I was less than pleased to have been beaten by a man pushing stroller . . . with two kids in it . . . by at least five minutes.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

For Our Readers from Select Regions in the U.S.

Lumpy (the Paleoinformant) directed me to a great online translation tool that will assist some readers in getting some of the subtle nuances of Paleoevangelical. Check out a sample of what this online dialect translation tool will do here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Friday, November 18, 2005

On Denominations and Militancy: What Was Adrian Rogers Supposed To Do?

By this time you are probably aware that Adrian Rogers passed away earlier this week. When Dr. Rogers was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979, he was the first of an unbroken line of militantly conservative* presidents that continues to this date. His election was the first victory for conservatives (pejoratively called "fundamentalists") in the long struggle to steer the SBC back to its orthodox roots. The ultra-condensed version of the story is that the election of militantly conservative presidents has been the decisive point in turning the convention towards conservatism. The SBC presidents have appointed militantly conservative people to SBC agency boards (missions agencies, seminaries, publishing house, etc.), and those boards have hired militantly conservative leadership for the agencies.
[* By "militantly conservative" I mean individuals not only whose personal beliefs were orthodox, but were also committed to appointing to leadership positions in the SBC only those individuals who were also orthodox. Previous "non-militant" presidents may have been orthodox themselves, but because they valued denominational unity over loyalty to truth, they appointed modernists and non-militant conservatives to key positions of denominational leadership.]
That story is not over yet. Just about every year the agencies are making more definitive steps towards thoroughgoing conservatism, but there are more steps yet to take. The pragmatic strategies that led to a healthier denomination do not apply to thousands of local churches that may be orthodox but are patently unhealthy. Over the long term, the health of the SBC is grounded in the health of the churches. I believe the primary denominational strategy is to churn out thousands of pastors from the renovated seminaries. Those young men will fan out into churches that have deteriorated theologically, spiritually, and numerically in order to infuse new life into them by the power of the preaching of the gospel. The secondary strategy is to continue to plant new churches in the Northeast and the West. Will it work? There is no way to know but to wait and see (and work, if you are in the SBC).

That brings us to the question of the day: Were Adrian Rogers and the other leaders of the conservative resurgence right to remain in the SBC, or should they have withdrawn and separated from the convention because of the presence of modernists and non-militant conservatives? I see three responses to this question that are rational and consistent with theologically conservative principles.
  1. The denominational incrementalist approach. This view is essentially represented by what did happen and what is still happening. Militant conservatives are winning the major battles but are proceeding in a measured fashion. They are trying to maintain a delicate balance by proceeding slowly and carefully so that they do not drive away churches (and their Cooperative Program contributions) that might be reformed in time.
  2. The independent separatist approach.This view says that by the 1970s militant SBC conservatives should have realized that the convention was beyond repair. They should have withdrawn from the convention to form independent agencies led by local churches. The implication of this approach is that the SBC, all its agencies, and many of the churches that have now been reformed would likely have been lost, but a new, much smaller fellowship of militantly conservative churches would have sprung up. From this perspective, the SBC will never be purified because even the leadership is still too tolerant. The overwhelming love in the SBC for all things Graham and Warren is offered as evidence to this view. Those who subscribe to this view grudgingly acknowledge the good that has been accomplished by the denominational reform approach, but are highly skeptical that it will go far enough.
  3. The denominational reformist approach. This approach says that what has taken place in the convention represents amazing progress but still falls far short of what needs to take place. I think this is a relatively small group. Individuals who hold to this view value theological purity over denominational unity, but they appreciate the pragmatic benefits of denominational cooperation. They do not share the independent separatist's understanding of secondary separation, but they share their distaste for the theology and methodology of Warren and Graham. Denominational reformists speak constantly about the purity of the gospel and say things like this:
    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.
I'm not here to say which view is biblical, best, or wisest. My independent streak makes me lean initially toward the second. I simply have no love for denominations or de facto denominations. I doubt that they are expedient even if they are pure. My realist streak (augmented by the fact that I am a student within—but not a member of—the SBC status quo) gives me some appreciation for the first, but it's way too soft for my theology and my convictions. The third is the most principled melding of the idealistic and the pragmatic, but that doesn't prove its superiority.

Regardless, I do see some irony. I'm an independent fundamental Baptist. Not the fire-breathing, fight-picking, KJV-only kind, but a fundamentalist nonetheless. Sort of like the kind President Carter was taking shots at, but without the tendency towards political power-grabs. I'm the kind that loves America but doesn't want an American flag in the church.

The irony is in the fact that separatist independent fundamentalists would, not surprisingly, advocate the "independent separatist approach," but when they talk about their fundamentalist heritage, they have to admit that the early fundamentalists did not follow this approach. They were at best denominational reformists. They cooperated with non-militant conservatives in the publication of The Fundamentals. Some of them even left the Convention and started a new group in willing cooperation with non-militant conservatives. Only later when this strategy failed did they become independent separatists.

Make no mistake, however. They did not leave because they could no longer in good conscience partner with non-militant conservatives. They left because they lost their battle with modernists for the purity of the Northern Baptist Convention. Had they won the same victories in the NBC that Adrian Rogers and friends won in the SBC, I wonder if the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship would be speaking Denominationalese. I'm glad they're not, but perhaps not for the same reasons others give thanks.

So was Rogers right to fight for the purity of the denomination? Should he have led a mass exodus instead? Will the SBC ever be reformed as thoroughly as it ought to be? I don't have the answers to these questions. But let's be honest. Northern fundamentalists lost their battles. He won his. The fact that we left denominationalism because we could no longer control it doesn't make our history more principled. On the other hand, the fact that Rogers led a resurgence that has won great battles does not prove Rogers was right, and it certainly doesn't mean the war is over.

As I said before, I'm not a Southern Baptist. I'm glad that I am not sending any of my money to support in any minute sense whatever vestiges of modernism remain in the Convention. Neverthless, I'm a bit queasy when I hear independent fundamentalists take men like Rogers, Patterson, and their successors to task for not being militant enough.

I have experienced precious little persecution for being an independent fundamentalist—little more than occasionally having people assume I'm KJV-only and paying double tuition at Southeastern (which does sting a little, I promise you). Some living fundamentalists have payed a far greater price than I, but I'm having a hard time imagining that they have paid a heavier price for their militancy than Adrian Rogers did. If you doubt that, do a little research and read the slander.

One might rightly say that Rogers should have been more separatistic—that he should have gone further—but I'm having a tough time swallowing allegations that he was not militant. All too often, the friends who say these things have sacrificed comparatively little for their principles. Rogers and many others paid dearly for theirs. Rogers did battle royal for the fundamentals of the faith, and he deserves my respect. I think we all owe him the same.

NASCAR and Crisis Pregnancy

I think NASCAR is unwatchable, but I don't make fun of the people who watch it . . . well, not when they're around. They're bigger than me, and so are their guns.

This article in WORLD Magazine won't make me watch the sport, but it will make me appreciate some of the major players some more. The short version is that Interstate Batteries ("a distinctly Christian firm whose mission statement begins, 'To glorify God' ") has partnered with with Joe Gibbs Racing Team (yes, the Redskins' Joe Gibbs—his kids went to a Christian school with my brother-in-law years ago) to place an advertisement for Care-Net, a network of 900 pregnancy centers that offer "women facing unplanned pregnancies compassionate alternatives to abortion."

To Dennis Brown, a Care-Net board member, the matter is personal:
Mr. Brown's involvement with Care-Net has given him an opportunity to "be more of an adoption advocate," he said, noting that the group's emphasis on life gives more women the opportunity to make the same decision [his daughter] made. "It's not the kind of thing I wore on my sleeve before, but working with Care-Net allows me to talk about compassionate caring for women, and about adoption as a viable choice."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Blog for a Free Book

My employer, Positive Action For Christ, has just published a reprint of John Fawcett's classic work, Christ Precious to Those that Believe: A Practical Treatise on Faith and Love. Fawcett, an 18th century English Baptist pastor, is perhaps best known for authoring the hymn, "Blest Be the Tie that Binds." Christ Precious is less well-known, out of print, and almost impossible to find in a decent quality reprint.
If you, like me, are convicted by the need to read more works by dead authors, this exposition on the incomparable treasure believers possess in Christ is a great place to begin. If you'll read the book and blog your thoughts or review, we will send you this beautiful hard-bound reprint for free. Here's the deal:
  1. Send me an email at paleoevangelical [at] gmail [dot] com.
  2. Include a link to your blog.
  3. Agree to do a review of the book on your blog.
I'll then send you a PDF of the entire book. Once you do your review, just send me the link, along with your snail-mail address, and we'll send you a complimentary printed copy of the book. Thanks to all, especially Justin Taylor, from whom I ripped off the wording for this offer. We have a limited number of freebies to give away, so drop me a line soon.

If you don't have a blog and just want to buy the book, it's a great deal at $14.95 for a hard-cover.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Why I Read Footnotes: Piper on Doran on Missions

One of the texts for the Missions class I’m taking this semester is Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper. The primary theme is that the ultimate purpose is to increase the fame of God’s name by calling more people to worship Him. Salvation of souls is the means, not the end. I think there is one secondary theme that rises above the other secondary themes: God wants the priority of missions to be the penetration of all the people groups of the earth, not the application of missions strategies that seem to convert the largest number of people. In other words, reaching all the people groups of the world with the message of the gospel is more important than flooding the fields that are likely to be most responsive and return measurable results.

Although I’ve written about how moving this book is (and I could have written much more), a question arose in my mind. Is Piper overemphasizing “people groups”? Can we be obedient if we reach people groups but fail to go to the ends of the earth to do it? If we reach individuals who are from people groups that are primarily remote in their geographic concentrations, but we only reach those individuals who have taken residence in population centers, have we really “reached” that people group? Have we really obeyed Acts 1:8?

When I finished the book recently, I read the last footnote to Piper’s contribution. (He wrote the overwhelming majority of the book, but the afterword was written by another pastor at Piper’s church.) I’m quoting this footnote in full because it was quite interesting to me:
David Doran, in his book, For the Sake of His Name: Challenging a New Generation for World Missions (Allen Park, Mich.: Student Global Impact, 2002), 131-154, has written a chapter called “The Territory of the Great Commission.” In it he gives a corrective to a lopsided emphasis on the people-group focus in missions at the expense of the geographic focus. In spite of our interaction, I do not think it necessary to change anything I have written. But I do alert the reader that Doran interacts with me in his book and so may provide a perspective that I am neglecting.
Obviously, you’ll need the second edition of Piper’s book, published in 2003, to get the footnote. I do not know whether Doran’s analysis is remotely similar to mine. If there is similarity, his thoughts and exegesis is clearly far more developed than mine. I plan to order For the Sake of His Name soon, but I don’t know when I’ll dive in. I plan to post an update when I get there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

When Ex-Presidents Attack

I offer my apologies if Al Mohler's discussion of President Carter's screed on fundamentalism is old news to everyone. Today has been a busy day, and I've devoted my blog-thinking time today to a couple larger projects that aren't ready for publication yet. I offer one piece of semi-original thinking: Mohler said in a recent radio program that Carter has announced that he is no longer a Southern Baptist. In light of that revelation, I'll agree with Mark Dever that the SBC can add by subtraction (see the first quote in my recap).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Free Stuff for Ministry

I'm convinced that one of the means God used to draw me to repentance and faith during staff training as a camp counselor was the many godly, committed young people around me. Seeing them overflow with joy to give of themselves to serve families and young people and carry their spiritual burdens pierced my hard heart with conviction about the absence of this spirit in my life.

Flash forward more than ten years to the past two weeks of my life. In these two weeks, I've been able to be a small part of a youth ministry training conference and to exhibit for Positive Action Bible Curriculum at an educators' convention in Pennsylvania. I'm privileged to be a part of an organization that views both of those events as opportunities for ministry, not merely for marketing. One of the ways that we have done that is to provide free-of-charge several God-centered resources to pastors, teachers, and school administrators that will help them foster love for and worship of God in the hearts of those to whom they minister. This love and worship ought to be the motivation for our obedience.

Some of these resources may be beneficial to you, as well. Whether or not you are a teacher or a pastor, you ought to be discipling someone. I hope these resources, which are just a sample of what we often give away, encourage and equip you in your ministry. They are yours to download or order online.

"A Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry" MP3 CD, a look at what three biblical authors had to say about discipling young people.

"Encourage a Passion for God," a message for Christian school educators on the purpose of Christian education

"Bolts and Nuts," a look at the basics of discipling young people in the local church

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Best Stanza You May Never Have Sung

The fourth stanza of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" made me smile from ear to ear when I sang it for the first time Friday night. I haven't been able to track down the story on this one, but apparently it was not written by Robert Robinson, the author of the first three stanzas, but was added later (recently, perhaps?—it's not in the Majesty Hymnal) by Bradford Brown. I hope it makes you smile as well.
Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of God's unchanging love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Friday, November 11, 2005

You Might Be a Paleoevangelical If . . . (#8)

. . . the reason you will never wear a CoolFaith t-shirt ("clothing even your pastor will agree with") is not because you are ashamed of the gospel, but because you value it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have Another Fundamentalist

Freddy Adu's season ended in shame. Harriet Miers is yesterday's news. So just in time Kim Jong-Il reminds us that there is still a future for fundamentalism in the world.

The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail

Maybe I'm still running on adrenaline from last week, or maybe I'm just in an uncharacteristically positive mood. Call it what you want, but I was thrilled to hear earlier this week from a crdible source that in the past twelve months, 1,200 Muslims have professed Christ in one overwhelmingly Islamic country. Of that number, at least 24 are imams. I would give more documentation of names and places, but that would probably be unwise. And although I am inclined, for better or worse, to view second or third-hand accounts of professions from lesser-developed countries skeptically, professions of faith in Muslim countries are not to be taken lightly.

Go ahead. Call me an optimist. I dare you.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

On Bob Bixby and Goldfish-Swallowing

Yesterday’s post brought to mind this salient quote from one of Bob’s sessions last week: “Hyles and Hybels are the same philosophy, but without the ‘b,’ which stands for ‘bull.’ “

I almost agree. The only point on which I differ is that if “b” stands for “bull,” then “Hyles” is missing at least two or three consonants.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Retrospective on the God Focused Youth Ministry Training Conference

Very seldom in my life have I been immediately conscious of being a part of something overwhelmingly important. I don't think that is because God has seldom given me anything worthwhile to do; it probably has more to do with the fact that I have blown far too many opportunities for service because I wasn't tuned in to their eternal significance.

My small part in the God Focused Youth Ministry Training Conference was simply overwhelming to my soul. None of the credit for anything good that happened goes to people, and if it did, very little of the credit would have been mine. I am indescribably grateful for the work that God did in my spirit as He exalted His name through the ministry of the speakers and conference leaders and servants.

I think the reason this training conference is so important is that it caused several dozen church and ministry leaders to take a hard look at our personal character and devotion, our view of Scripture, our approach to ministry, and our methodology for discipling other believers. It is patently easy for us who profess to be biblical to cast stones at churches that never cease to find new ways to compromise the gospel. Last week denied the opportunity for stone-casting because we were directly challenged not just to look at what the Bible says about how we are to live, but to test our motivations for why we live the way that we live to ensure that those motivations are focused on exalting the name of our God. My recent post on gospel-centered parenting is a good example of this distinct emphasis.

I've been fortunate to attend a pretty fair number of ministry-related conferences, almost all of which have been beneficial. I have never attended or even heard of one in which the focus has been more about helping pastors exalt the name of God before the eyes of His people. I've also never attended any kind of conference at which I was more directly reproved about the condition of my own spirit and built up in my dependence God alone.

The Positive Action leadership team spent most of the day today directing a critical eye on the past week and making some plans for the future. We found ourselves talking so much about what we want to improve for next year (tentatively set for November 6–9) that it was easy to forget about how grateful we need to be to our gracious God for how He worked in our hearts and those of the attendees despite our deficiencies. May His name alone be praised!

Chickens and Eggs of Ecclesiastical Deterioration: Which Comes First?

One of the panel members at the ACCC Convention discussion forum (I think it was Dr. Colas) said in reference to the institutional influence on contemporary evangelicalism, "As go the schools, so goes the movement."

Is this true? Do educational institutions really drive the bus, or do churches? Did the denominations of the 19th and 20th century fall into disrepair because the schools hired modernist faculty, or because churches were in such disrepair that they failed to lead and exercise oversight? Is the SBC conservative resurgence succeeding because the seminaries changed, or because churches rose up and began to fight for the gospel and purge the seminaries?

This raises an interesting question. Fundamentalist leaders decry the the trend of younger men who are leaving "the movement." Is this because fundamentalist seminaries are unhealthy, or because fundamentalist churches are? I'm only one dude, but I'm pretty sure it's the latter.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Ecclesiastical Identity and Gender Identity

The modern perversion of so-called "gender change" procedures has created confusion in culture about the basis of gender identity. Believers who understand and submit to the authority of Scripture understand that God made people "male and female" and that such procedures are merely cosmetic, not real.

Similarly, some fundamentalists would argue that certain individuals cannot be fundamentalists because they reject the label. I have no interest in arguing whether or not these folks are fundamentalists. I do have some interest in seeing people use valid argumentation.

The point is that we are what we are because it is what we are, not because it is what we say we are. We cannot cease to be what we are merely because we say that we are not what we are. Likewise, we cannot deny that someone else is what they are simply because they reject the name for themselves.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Rick Holland on Gospel-Centered Parenting

What a week! If you're a newcomer to this blog, this week my employer, Positive Action For Christ, sponsored the first-ever God Focused Youth Ministry Training Conference. I plan to post a report in coming days, but I'm not sure I have the distance yet (or the energy) to do a great job of it. And on that energy note, please pray if you are so inclined for the physical recovery of the speakers. Frank Hamrick carried an exhausting load as a primary speaker and the individual ultimately responsible for all that occurred. Bob Bixby will be speaking three times at my church Sunday, and Rick Holland flew back to California today, where he was to spend some time in the office still this afternoon, lead in a college ministry function tomorrow night, preach Sunday, and leave for a pastors' conference in Italy next week.

Now to the point of this post. Much of the theological/philosophical message of the conference was familiar to me since I spend time every week with Frank Hamrick. Frank is not the originator of God-centeredness (God is), but he is a pretty good articulator of it. One concept that was not familiar to me but was one of those "Aha!" moments was Rick Holland's discussion of Gospel-centered parenting. I hope my paraphrase from memory does it justice. I will post a link to MP3s when they're available.
Children are responsible to obey. Parents are responsible to teach their children, not to obey, but that it is utterly impossible for them to obey. That is the point of the gospel. We cannot obey. We cannot meet God's standard of righteousness. Gospel-centered parenting teaches children that although they are responsible to obey, they cannot fulfill this responsibility. Only the righteousness of Jesus Christ applied to their accounts can remove sin's penalty and reconcile them to God. Parental discipline is a tangible reminder that they cannot please God by their own efforts.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Southern Baptists to Debate Doctrines of Grace

Tom Ascol's Founders blog talks about the planned debate between Al Mohler and Paige Patterson over the Doctrines of Grace. Ascol makes two great points. The first is that it matters less who "wins the debate" than the fact that the SBC is willing to grapple publicly with these issues. Second, young Southern Baptists will be on this debate like stink on a monkey (my words, not his) because they are more interested in theology than denominational programs and politics. I expect this to be a fierce clash of views in the context of a mutual desire for unity within the Convention. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this debate will be how successful they are in encouraging denominational unity in the face of a stark clash of ideas (and whether that unity is, in fact, a good thing).

Thoughtful independent Baptists are ahead of the game in that they had this conversation several years ago in the context of the Leadership Conference at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary. I found Tim Jordan, Dave Burggraff, Dave Doran, Jeff Straub, and others' willingness to discuss these theoological issues openly, directly, and irenically quite refreshing as I listened to the recordings a few days later. I expect that those recordings of the sessions are still available from the seminary.

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.