Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Polity Matters (Part 9): How High Is the Fence for Membership?

John MacArthur said during a QnA session at Shepherd's Conference this past March that he is sometimes asked, "What do people have to believe to get into your church." His response:
If you can get into God's Kingdom, you can get into our church. We have no higher standard. "Well, don't people have to sign a doctrinal statement to get in?" No. "Well, don't they have to believe certain things?" No. If God lets you in His Kingdom, we'll let you in our church. It's that simple. We'll take the responsibility then to do our best to train you and grow you up and shape your thinking and your theology and your understanding of the Word of God. That's why we're here. We're not here to wait for you to perfect yourself somewhere else.
When I first heard that statement, there was something attractive about it. Who are we, after all, to put stricter standards on church membership than God puts on His Kingdom? For a moment I wondered if it is really a good thing that we Baptists are growing increasingly demanding about affirmation of things like doctrinal statements and church covenants prior to church membership. Then it dawned on me. In a church like Grace Community, where leadership and decision-making is so centralized in the eldership, there is comparatively little need for the congregation to be of one mind. The congregation simply does not have the power to dilute the theological purity of the church as they would in a congregational church.

When I say that leadership at GCC is centralized in the eldership, I'm referring to the interaction between Mark Dever and MacArthur in a 2002 interview in which Dever asked concerning the polity at GCC, "Can the congregation at Grace Community ever override the elders?" MacArthur's reply
No. The only way they could do that would be every year—every year, all elders' names are posted, and if anyone in the congregation knows any reason why they believe that man should not be an elder, they have the responsibility to go to that man first before they would tell somebody else that they know—to go to that man. If they can't resolve it at that point, then they can go to another elder, and the two or three can endeavor to resolve that and then the congregation will affirm—at the only congregational meeting we have in a year—they affirm by standing in affirmation of that group. My name's on that every year. So we give the individual person that might have a problem an opportunity.
"But the congregation could remain seated?"
They could . . . [But] if one guy stood up and said "You know, I don't like this," people would look at him like this guy must be a mental patient, because the process is so open.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Tom Cruise: NANC Certified?

Tom rips into Ritalin and psychotherapy.

From the video interview:

There is a hormonal thing that is going on [with postpartum depression], scientifically, you can prove that. . . . But when you talk about emotional, chemical imbalances in people, there is no science behind that.
I'm going right after psychiatry and these false labels and this pseudo-science.
Am I making people aware of it by discussing it openly and saying what a fraud psychiatry is? You bet I am. I feel a responsibility because I care.
SAT (exam) scores have gone right down the toilet. The parents are blaming the teachers, the teachers are blaming the parents and the psychs are putting everyone on drugs.
And no, I don't watch Access Hollywood. Pray for this friend of mine who apparently does.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Why Blog? (Part 1)

Here's one reason:
"There is nothing so fretting and vexatious, nothing so justly TERRIBLE to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as a FREE PRESS."
Samuel Adams in the Boston Gazette, March 7, 1768.

Is the Piper About to Be Paid?

No, not John Piper (probably fooled some of you into thinking this might actually be interesting—sorry to disappoint). Actually, I'm referring to today's WSJ editorial on the potential for a devastating housing bubble in the San Francisco Bay area.

It caught my eye because in February I was in the Bay area and read a SF Chronicle article on the boom in housing prices. I'm working from memory here, but the average single-family home price was somewhere in the $600–700K range. These are ordinary homes, not mansions.

That number is shocking enough to a resident of eastern North Carolina, where you can get a brand new, 3-bedroom, 2-bath house for $130K pretty easily. But what really dropped my jaw was the fact that in the past 12 months, housing prices in the Bay area have increased more than 20% on average. That means the average home in the Bay area increased in price far more than my house is worth. In other words, if I had bought a house in San Francisco in February, 2004, I could have sold it in February, 2005 and bought my current house in Rocky Mount with the profit plus bought a 2005 Mustang and still had thousands of dollars left over.

What say y'all move down here and put a charge in our property values?

Mr. Narcissus Goes to Washington

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Et Tu, Lindséy?

Last November amid the Republican evangelical euphoria over the election results, I corresponded with some friends speculating that the next four years would be the last days of the evangelical love affair with the Republican party. Last night's Senate deal on judges may not mean that the divorce has arrived 3.5 years early, but it will certainly be a very large portion of the burden that will eventually allow a straw to break the camel's back.

And it's not because of John McCain, either.

Evangelicals know by now what McCain is all about. He may have fooled Gary Bauer in 2000, but he's not fooling anyone now.

Not anyone, that is, except for the person who I believe will be seen as the true villain by evangelical voters: Lindsey Graham. This is the Lindsey Graham who received an honorary degree from evangelical bastion Bob Jones University in 1999, not long after Graham served as a House prosecutor in President Clinton's Senate impeachment trial.

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Evangelicals might deny that statement theologically, but in practice, well, they may not be so orthodox. Defections from McCain, Collins, Snowe, Warner, Chafee, and even DeWine were disappointing but not unexpected. Evangelicals could have used their defections as motivation to work even harder in the 2006 mid-term elections.

But Lindsey was one of us.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Debunking a Myth About the U.S. Senate

On this eve of an apparent showdown in the Senate over the filibusters of federal judicial nominees, an anecdote has been making the rounds that purports to put George Washington on the side of the Senate obstructionists. An ACLJ article relates the story.

What this line of argumentation overlooks is a significant historical point that, to my knowledge, has been forgotten. The plain truth is that the Senate serves a different purpose from what the founders intended due to the 17th amendment to our Constitution that was enacted in 1913. This amendment changed the mode of senatorial elections.

Prior to 1913, the Constitution called for the state legislatures to elect Senators. Because bicameral state legislatures often failed to agree on a candidate, states' Senate seats often stood vacant. The 17th amendment was intended to solve that problem by moving the power to elect Senators to the people directly. This system reputiated the founders' intent as expressed by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 60:
The House of Representatives being to be elected immediately by the people, the Senate by the State legislatures, the President by electors chosen for that purpose by the people, there would be little probability of a common interest to cement these different branches in a predilection for any particular class of electors.
In other words, George Washington was commenting to Jefferson about a design for the Senate that has been abrogated by the 17th amendment. Now the Senate serves to a far greater degree merely as a mirror image of the House of Representatives. Except, that is, for the filibuster, which until now has been applied to legislation, not judicial nominees.

Ironically, the trend has been towards a higher degree of democratic majority rule, through the expansion of voting rights, the direct election of Senators, and more recently through the movement to abolish the Electoral College for presidential elections. Perhaps this is straining out a gnat, but these revisionistic arguments supporting filibustering judicial nominees based on historical preservationism and alleged Senate traditions are growing tiresome.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Adoption: A Picture of God's Grace

Close friends of mine expect soon to be adopting a baby from China that will add to their already-well-armed quiver. Shaohanna's Hope, an organization founded by Steven Curtis Chapman to encourage and assist in overseas adoption, has provided both inspiration and substantial financial assistance to my friends. The husband and father in this family not long ago brought to my attention this video of the Chapman family's experience. Although the video is obviously heart-warming, its greater impact on me was to remind me of the unconditional love and grace that God has so freely and richly bestowed on me.

An article by Mark Bergin in a recent issue of World Magazine offers more information (free registration required).

Friday, May 20, 2005

Before You Decide to See Star Wars

One of the refreshing traits of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was the unmistakable message that good and evil actually do exist. Although the coincidence of this theme with the U.S. response to terrorism perked our curiosity, Peter Jackson, director of the films, disavowed any intent.

Apparently the political message of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith was not so unintentional.
When the Ottawa Sun asked Christensen if the flick “takes metaphoric shots at the war-mongering politics of U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and the two George Bushes” the star answered: “Absolutely.”

He went on to say that he thinks that some people who weren’t American allies in the Iraq war will love “Revenge of the Sith” because of it.

“I think for that reason the French will be really responsive to it,” Christensen said. “I think they’ll get it. They’ll get the political commentary and the subtext. Anakin says: ‘If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy!’ I think they’ll love it.’”
full text

Today's WSJ editorial isn't so sure about the lead character's opinion, quoting instead director George Lucas' noncomittal hedge:
Asked at Cannes about the meaning of his movie, Mr. Lucas has been rather coy. Perhaps reluctant for commercial reasons to let the Bush-administration analogy be taken too seriously, the director keeps insisting that he wrote the basic "Star Wars" saga decades ago. He was thinking of Hitler, Vietnam, Watergate and Nixon, he has said at various times; and if recent events have proved him prescient, that just shows that history keeps repeating itself. Though he couldn't resist adding in Cannes that "the parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable."

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Illegal Immigration: The Untold Story

You won't see this on network news:
Bud knows what he's dealing with. He has had a truck stolen, found bales of drugs on his land, and routinely has illegals approach him demanding beer. It used to be that one or two would ask a local resident for water and a sandwich, and, once fed, be on their way with a polite "Gracias, Señorita." The new breed now comes in groups of 50. They demand to be driven to their pickup spot, and if you refuse they flip you off. Sometimes they poison barking ranch dogs or cut their throats to quiet them. How long do you suppose such outrages would go on in Fairfield, Conn.? Or Greenwich? It'd be a day and a half before some kumbaya-liberal flipped sides and founded the Merritt Parkway Minutemen. Or the BlackBerry Brigade.
Full text from WSJ editorial page.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Polity Matters (Part 8): Bait and Switch

Last weekend was one of the most encouraging weekends in my memory, as I had the opportunity to spend it in D.C. at a 9Marks Weekender. I'll develop some more thoughts on this later, but one theme seemed to run through the observations of the 45-50 attendees. We went because we were committed to reformed soteriology and a church polity that includes plural elder leadership and congregational rule. When we introduced ourselves to one another formally and informally this trend was clear.

By Thursday morning it seemed that our "groupthink" had changed. Although we went thinking about elders, we left musing on church membership. This essentially means that we saw how crucial it is to show that membership means something in our churches. This happens through our requirements for entrance into membership, through genuine commitment to a church covenant, and through a vibrant body life in which members give of themselves to build up one another.

So "Bait and Switch" sounds like an underhanded agenda, but I don't think anyone left complaining. For me, at least, it had a great deal more to do with my personal misperception than anything. I hope to develop these thoughts a little more, but I do not want to try to do it all. It will be utterly impossible for me to transfer a Weekender to you in a blog. If I have gained any credibility with you at all, I will gladly spend it all if I can convince you to make attending a future weekender a priority. Go this September so you can make it to Together for the Gospel next spring.

Liberal Fundamentalism

Read this WSJ editorial and you'll think it was written yesterday. It's really from 1984.
If some liberals are now afraid that certain Christian fundamentalists will reintroduce new forms of intolerance and excessive religious zeal into American political life, perhaps we should concede the possibility that they know what they're talking about. But they might also meditate on the current election and why there has been an apparent rightward shift in political sentiment in the U.S. It could be that a great many voters have taken a good look at the fundamentalists on the religious right and the fundamentalists on the political left and made up their own minds about which pose the greater threat to their own private and public values.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The CBS Evening Ruse

A couple years ago I was responsible for the "entertainment" at our Positive Action staff Christmas party. A couple of us had the idea to interview everybody on the staff, trying to get them to say less than complimentary things about public figures on video. Then we taped me asking questions about people on our staff at Positive Action. We then spliced the two tapes together, editing it to appear that the derogatory statements were actually made about our co-workers. It may sound mean, but it was actually pretty funny since everyone obviously knew what was going on.

Well, apparently that kind of creative editing now passes for mainstream journalism. Wednesday Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity reported to their dismay and mine that former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr said this about Republican attempts to circumvent judicial filibusters in an interview on Tuesday's CBS Evening News:
This is a radical, radical departure from our history and from our traditions, and it amounts to an assault on the judicial branch of government. It may prove to have the kind of long term boomerang effect, damage on the institution of the Senate that thoughtful senators may come to regret.
Then yesterday Limbaugh reported that CBS had actually pulled the same stunt I did—they edited Starr's comment to make it appear that he was criticizing the nuclear/consitutional option, when he was really criticizing the Democratic strategy of filibustering judicial nominees.

For more on Limbaugh's documentation, click here. As of yesterday afternoon, Hannity was anticipating an interview with Starr on today's show.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Narnia, the Trailer, and Taylor, the Blogger

Maybe you've seen those placards in the Christian bookstores—"If you like 'X' pop artist, you'll like 'Y' CCM artist."

I hope I don't sound quite that pandering when I say that if you like anything about this blog, you'll probably also like Justin Taylor's blog, Between Two Worlds. The main differences are that Taylor's work is bigger (more posts per day), better (superior quality), and broader (He obviously scans a wealth of material and has his fingers on the pulse of broader evangelicalism much more than I do.). Aside from that, we deal with a similar mix of theological, political, and cultural issues.

His recent post linking to the Chronicles of Narnia movie trailer (not a full trailer, just a tease for the time being) gave me a good excuse to plug you all into his blog.

Some other interesting discussion of the Narnia movie at Karagraphy.

Monday, May 09, 2005

What Is Paleoevangelical?

In June of 2004 I decided to take the plunge into the blogosphere, generated my first post, then lapsed into nine months of silence save for one political rant that I promptly deleted. During the several weeks prior I had pondered naming my blog "Paleoevangelical," and I was surprised at how few references to the term existed on the web at that time. Although I have no recollection of where I first heard the term, I am quite certain that it was not an original thought. Not until spring of 2005 did I once again see the term published, but I am again at a loss for its source. Perhaps all this background is quite irrelevant to the greater questions of what paleoevangelical means and what a paleoevangelical is, but it seemed prudent to provide some explanation for the historians.

Elsewhere I have made it quite clear that I do not consider myself an historian. So, if the impressions that I am about to describe in the form of statements of fact are less than accurate, I stand open both to correction and forgiveness.

It seems clear to me that Evangelicalism is not what it once was. Likewise, the subset of Evangelicalism that calls itself Fundamentalism has changed substantially since the term was coined in 1920. Paleoevangelical is a term I like to use to describe what I imagine both Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism might have been a long time ago—before both diffused to encompass a distorted morass of aberrant doctrine, pragmatism, personality politics, and materialism (along with remnants of the earlier forms).

I have a theory. It is similar to one plausible view of Baptist history. This view suggests that throughout church history, local assemblies of believers have existed in diverse locations, demonstrating in their body life a commitment to the Baptist distinctives. My theory is that the paleoevangelical idea represents a similar tradition of believers who have maintained pure teaching of the gospel—the evangel—and have been willing to do battle royal to defend it. This tradition has not yet perished, and I am convinced it will not. My hope is that it will grow.

I intend for Paleoevangelical to represent that spirit by the grace of God alone (with some occasional politics, humor, and maybe even sports tossed in). Whether this view of the past is accurate and this hope for the future is realistic is not the immediate point. It's my dream world; please let me enjoy it.

Polity Matters (Part 7): The Sufficiency of Scripture

As part of the assigned pre-reading for Capitol Hill Baptist Church's Weekender that, Lord willing, I'll be attending beginning Thursday, I read Pastor Mark Dever's pamphlet, A Display of God's Glory: Basics of Church Structure. The very foundation of Dever's elder-led congregational polity is the sufficiency of Scripture. This concept is increasingly in vogue on matters of counseling, but to this point it is much more sporadically applied to polity. Dever writes:
As Christians, we strive to found our lives on the teaching
of Scripture. The question, though, must be asked: Does
Scripture deal clearly with questions about the polity, or
organization, of the church? And if so, what exactly does
Scripture teach about it? Of course, we Christians believe
that Scripture is sufficient for our preaching and discipling,
for our spirituality and joy in following Christ, for church
growth and our understanding of evangelism. But is
Scripture even meant to tell us how we are to organize our
lives together as Christians in our churches, or are we left
simply to our own investigation of best practices? Is our
church polity a matter indifferent? Is it a matter to be determined
simply pragmatically, by whatever seems to work
best and to most effectively avoid problems?

I believe that God has revealed in His Word all that we
need to know in order to love and serve Him, and this
includes what we need to know even about the organization
of our churches. This has been the assumption of the
confessions of Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians,
and many others in years past, and it has been assumed by
those men whom God has called to fill our pulpits. Let me
be clear. When we say that church polity can be found in
the pages of the New Testament, that does not mean that
we assume the correctness of our own practices and then
go in search of ways to justify them biblically. Rather, our
goal must be to look at the Bible, recognize some basic
aspects of structure and organization that are taught there,
and then organize our churches according to the Bible’s
This small clipping from the introduction is developed with thorough biblical evidence and argumentation throughout the pamphlet. I will merely summarize and perhaps take his point to its logical end.

Essentially, Dever makes the case that God intended to reveal in the text of the NT a pattern for church polity, and He gave us ample evidence to draw sound conclusions, even if the specific details are fuzzy in places. On the other hand, some argue that because Scripture does not teach a specific model for church polity comprehensively, modern churches are therefore free to choose a structure based on what they believe is most efficient.

Whether a given model of polity is most efficient or most effective or most beneficial in any other area is a matter certainly open for debate. What is not open for debate is that a choice of polity based on these concerns is rooted in pragmatism, not Scripture. To affirm both the sufficiency of Scripture and the prerogative of a church to establish its polity from pragmatic concerns is inherently contradictory.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Piper's Next Books

If you haven't delved into The Swans Are Not Silent series, you're missing a great opportunity to be overwhelmed with guilt for not reading enough biographies. This Volume IV will no doubt pierce my heart again. I strongly suspect that the title of the second, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on the Love of God as the Gift of Himself, speaks powerfully for itself. For John Piper's fuller description, click on the link in my title.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Disappointment with One Verse in the ESV

I've been a pretty strong proponent of the ESV, but I just found out about a really disappointing decision the committee made on Daniel 9:25. The NASB translation:
Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
And the ESV:
Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.
The problem is not necessarily in the words, but in the punctuation. The ESV (following the RSV and NRSV) separates the initial 7 weeks from the subsequent 62. The result is that Cyrus becomes the natural historical fulfillment, and the arrow pointing directly to Jesus as the Messiah is eliminated. In addition to the NASB, KJV, NKJV, NIV, and (I am told) HCSV get it right.

The articles linked here and here explain several reasons why this may have taken place. Perhaps the most plausible to me is that the Masoretes weren't big fans of identifying Jesus as the Messiah, so they manipulated the accents to eliminate the connection in this verse. (Of course, vowels and punctuation were not present in the original Hebrew texts, but were added much later.) Interestingly, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT that dates to 2 or 3 centuries B.C.) supports the NASB reading.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

There Really Is a Difference, But It's Not What You Think (Part 1)

Back in the early days of this blog—way, way back over a month ago—I promised more on my readings in OT theology from John Sailhamer's books. It's finally here, for those of you who haven't been able to sleep nights.

My guess is that most of my readers have experienced one of those "Edison moments" in class or church when the light came on. Two that I remember clearly in my days in grad school at Maranatha were in ecclesiology when I realized that the typical Baptist church's polity bears little resemblance to the biblical pattern (albeit more than the other denominations) and when in Romans we hit chapters 6–8, which promptly demolished all I had ever heard preached in my life about the necessity of a dedication/surrender decision subsequent to salvation.

Well, incorporating Sailhamer's Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach into my thinking has created a constant stream of those Edison moments. I hope to blog on some of those in a series that should stretch over some time as I continue to digest these thoughts and delve into The Pentateuch as Narrative over the summer. As I progress, I will be trying to rebuild my own OT hermeneutic in light of what I have learned.

You may be thinking, "Why should I read what some guy has to say about the OT? We're no longer under law. We're under grace. The OT was for Israel."

That's precisely why you should be reading.

I seriously doubt that I am alone in experiencing gnawing frustrations with the dispensational system that I have learned. By any account, I am and will continue to be a dispensationalist, but my dissatisfaction crystallized when I was teaching through Romans in Sunday School about four years ago. When we got to 4:13-18, my brain overheated.
13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.
14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified;
15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
16 ¶ For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,
17 (as it is written, “A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.” [NASB]
I will probably deal more extensively with this passage later, but for now suffice it to say that this passage supplies evidence of a greater continuity between believing Israel and the Church than I had seen or heard before. Stunningly, none of the required (and classic) texts on dispensationalism from my academic career dealt with this passage. I'm talking about Ryrie's Dispensationalism, Showers' There Really Is a Difference, and McClain's Law and Grace and The Greatness of the Kingdom. (McClain does briefly allude to verses 15 and 17 three times in his two books, but the allusions are completely irrelevant to the dispensational implications of the passage.) Now, I know these men are familiar with the book of Romans, because they cite chapter XI frequently to defend their distinction between Israel and the Church.

All that to say this: Sailhamer's work has supplied missing pieces to the dispensational puzzle. It has been caulk to stop up the leaks in my mind (at least the ones related to Dispensationalism). I will not be his most skilled defender. My purpose is simply to whet your appetite and hopefully convince you to read his books for yourself. And I'm not alone. In the past three months I've talked to three brilliant minds in independent Baptist institutions of higher learning who expressed substantial appreciation for his work, and I've heard second-hand of two more.

Lord willing, more explanation will be forthcoming. In the meantime, check out his NIV Compact Bible Commentary. It's a very handy pocket-size book that will give you a great reference for some of the passages I'll mention.

Until later.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Polity Matters (Part 6): Closer Than You Think

Another example of congregational rule with multiple elder leadership: Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, SC. Mark Minnick, Senior Pastor.

There is some variety in the details among churches that are moving toward the biblical pattern, but the core elements of the pattern seem increasingly clear.