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!

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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.