Friday, June 30, 2006

Left Behind: The Video Game (Kill a Guy= -1 point. Save a Soul= +2 points.)

I'm not surprised by much these days, but I have to confess that "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" is beyond anything I ever would have expected. Be sure to watch the trailer, but Al Mohler's discussion of this development is even more enlightening. Here are a few choice comments from the game description on the game website:
  • Conduct physical & spiritual warfare using the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world.
  • Recover ancient scriptures and witness spectacular Angelic and Demonic activity as a direct consequence of your choices.
  • Control more than 30 units types - from Prayer Warrior and Hellraiser to Spies, Special Forces and Battle Tanks!
And from the FAQ page:
Have you made any efforts to tone down the violence in the game?
We expect our game to be rated “T” and be widely accepted by the mainstream and Christian marketplaces, just as they have accepted Star Wars games which are “T” for teen rated. Think of the “T” rating in games like the “PG-13” rating in movies.

Why does this game have to contain violence at all? Why is it necessary for a fun and successful game?
Violence is not required to make a fun game. However, it is required to make a game about the end of the world in the Left Behind book series. We have taken great care to make certain that there are real consequences for poor gamer behavior, unlike most games in the market. For instance, unnecessary killing will result in lower Spirit points which are essential to winning.

Are you concerned that the Christian community won’t want a game in their home where lives are taken and people get killed?
Absolutely not. How often do you hear about the Christian community up in arms about PG-13 movies? I suppose there might be a very small number that do, but we do not expect this represents the majority of the mainstream and Christian marketplace.

How does your game compare to more widely known games such as Grand Theft Auto or 25 to Life?
LEFT BEHIND: Eternal Forces was developed to provide an alternative form of entertainment to those desiring more positive game content, while still engaging core gamers in battle. The difference is that our game features fictional battles set on the stage of an apocalyptic world. Our game includes no intestines, no blood spatter, no severed limbs, no vulgar language, no sexual conduct, no morally reprehensible conduct – such as cop-killing, prostitute-bashing, or other criminal behavior, no Bible-bashing believers, no Bible thumpers, no radical extremists killing in the name of God, no abortion clinic stalkers…or other such content in the games you mention.

Are guns used by Christians against non-Christians? Why or why not?
The storyline in the game begins just after the Rapture has occurred – when all adult Christians, all infants, and many children were instantly swept home to Heaven and off the Earth by God. The remaining population – those who were left behind – are then poised to make a decision at some point. They cannot remain neutral. Their choice is to either join the AntiChrist – which is an imposturous one world government seeking peace for all of mankind, or they may join the Tribulation Force – which seeks to expose the truth and defend themselves against the forces of the AntiChrist.
It's pathetically easy (and getting easier) to take shots at the state of 21st century evangelicalism. But here's the point. Many things that masquerade under the name of Christianity or under one of the popular brand names in evangelicalism have very little to do with the Christian message. For that matter, they have very little to do with the Christian God. And I think that's being generous.

So if you recoil in horror at this—one more step in the church's purpose-driven slouch towards Laodicea, consider seriously what is the motivation behind Left Behind video games. I see little evidence that it is anything other than niche marketing to materialistic, entertainment-driven Christians. Just because it's in a religious bookstore or a religious catalog, it's a novel with religious characters, or it's music with religious words, does not mean it's Christian.

Sometimes people protest that Christian/church culture critics are too harsh and strident and hyper-critical. Sometimes they are. Sometimes I am. My sense, however, it that there are more people being duped by this drivel than there are people going too far in exposing it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Driscoll Interviews: "Do You Lead with Your Theology or Do You Lead with Your Pragmatism?"

By now many of you have probably heard the theme of this fall's Desiring God National Conference: "Above All Earthly Powers: The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World." You may have even seen the video trailer, which seems to have been unusually intriguing for some reason, even to those who have made the rounds of similar major conferences.

Perhaps part of the reason for that intrigue is the inclusion of Mark Driscoll in the speaker lineup. I suspect that Piper has taken some significant criticism for this inclusion because of some of the unfortunate things Driscoll has said and written. On the other hand, watch the below clips from interviews with Driscoll, and you'll see some off his terrific insights that may explain why Piper has been willing to take the risk.

Seeker vs. Missional (part 1): winning market share and pleasing a constituency vs. theological faithfulness (contains this post's title quote)
Seeker vs. Missional (part 2): the seeker "bring them in" model vs. the missional "go out and tell" model; shifting the responsibility for evangelism from church programming to believers being salt and light with everyone they meet
Emergent vs. Emerging: an explanation of the facets of the movements from a guy who's seen the best and worse

Send This to Your Favorite Camp Counselor

Here is some perspective from Nik Lingle that I wish I had grasped during my three summers in a camp ministry:
The second lesson is that pride often spurs me to attempt to produce spirituality in order to exceed the spirituality of others. For instance, I just arrived at Northland Camp to serve as a counselor for the next nine weeks, and I’ve spent this week in training with about 150 other staff members. Upon arriving I immediately found myself trying to gauge the spirituality of others with one intent: to compare myself to them and decide if I was ahead of them or behind them. This comparison tendency leads to insecurity, and for me, it also leads to an attempt to beef up my own spirituality in order to exceed theirs. But at that point my attempt at spirituality becomes inevitably fruitless. The pursuit is motivated by pride, sustained by pride, and is bound to end only in a spiral of more pride.

Here's one other way I see pride in my life. In the camp atmosphere, with highly competitive teams and various ad hoc groups organized to complete various tasks around camp, leadership is highly valued. So in a supposedly competitive atmosphere, I’ve found myself inching my way past others in search of positive, public recognition, and hopefully, great prominence and leadership. It may be hard to understand what I’m saying outside of the camp context, but basically, I’ve found myself envying the leadership of others (meaning I crave it so badly that I wish they didn’t even have it). But I get so busy doing mental gymnastics about how to maneuver my way ahead of others that I’m blinded to that fact that it’s not about competition. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. My purpose ought to be to serve them, not to lord over them with the intent of self-exaltation.
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Anybody up for Some Kayaking?

Purpose Driven Synagogue Update: Rick Warren's New Liberalism?

Thabiti Anyabwile provides an update on Rick Warren's contribution to synagogue health. Apparently Warren has now concluded that it's possible and desirable to invite those who deny that Jesus is the Messiah to participate in Christian "worship."

Can anybody make the case for me that Warren isn't just peddling a new liberalism?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"The Church of Jesus Christ Is Not American"

Here's a thought-provoking post from Bob Bixby on why his church isn't having a patriotic service this Sunday.

In other words, when we gather to worship, what should we be worshiping? When we sing, about what should we be singing? For whose name should we declare our love? To whom should we be singing? Our country?

You Might Be a Paleoevangelical If . . . (#9)

. . . when you hear someone say, "Now I don't want to spiritualize this text, but . . .", you know you're about to hear someone spiritualize a text.

Fuller Seminary, World Magazine, and Evangelical Naïvete

Casablanca is my favorite movie. It's mostly because of the cynical idealism, but I also like all the great lines. One of those great lines occurs after the German officer orders the French prefect of police, Captain Renault, to shut down Rick's (Humphrey Bogart) Café Americain, trumping up false charges if necessary. The corrupt Renault immediately follows orders, and Rick protests:
Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[The casino operator hands Renault a wad of money.]
Casino operator: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [aside] Oh, thank you very much.
Captain Renault: [aloud] Everybody out at once!
On that note, I'll reproduce here the letter that I wrote last night to the World Magazine editors in response to its article, "Relativism at Fuller" [subscription now required]. This article exposes accepting attitudes toward homosexuality in seminary classrooms and bewails the abandonment of biblical authority. I'm glad World published the article. I just don't get its tone of surprise.
Dear Editor,

I'm shocked . . . shocked! to hear that Fuller Seminary fails to uphold the Bible as our final authority. Thanks for the article, but seriously, is this news? George Marsden already told this story almost twenty years ago in Reforming Fundamentalism, his sympathetic history of Fuller that was commissioned by the seminary itself. Why is it that we are so slow to expose relativism in "evangelical" institutions until the acceptance of homosexuality offends our sensibilities?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Who Is To Blame for the Current State of Fundamentalism?

Here's one answer:
Separation can easily degenerate to the level of the superficial and the external. It is very easy when dealing with this matter to shift the focus from a Spirit-filled heart where Christ reigns supremely, to a code-keeping mentality where self is applauded regularly. As a matter of fact, I am convinced that this is what has happened over the past couple of generations within Biblical Christianity. Two generations ago there lived a group of Christians who, for the most part, fleshed out their Christian lives under the lordship of Jesus Christ and in the fullness of God's Spirit. The natural by-product of such inward integrity was outward morality, consisting of both dedication to certain practices which were pleasing to Christ and abstention from those things which were not.

Unfortunately, the next generation, the one immediately preceding ours, tended to focus on the externals of outward morality, which had characterized their parents; and seemed to overlook the essentials of inward integrity, which were the real roots of their visible life style. This glaring oversight was further complicated by the fact that their parents tended to pass on the external standards without explaining the Biblical principles. In an authoritarian era, it's not difficult to see how this could happen. The effect was the development of a classical form of legalism (conformity to an outward code as the sign of spirituality), which corrupted true spirituality by shifting the focus from the internal to the external.

Today's generation has in large part forgotten the principle of lordship, which characterized their grandparents and reacted to the practice of legalism which characterized their parents. The result has been the development of a classical form of libertinism, which buys into an unprincipled and standardless form of Christianity, and which is very much like the world, while remaining very much unlike Jesus Christ. This tragic slide, over two generations of time, from lordship (where Biblical principles were understood and external standards were implemented) to legalism (where Biblical principles were ignored and external standards were exalted) to libertinism (where Biblical principles are forgotten and external standards are despised) has produced a scandalous variety of Christianity which is incapable of either confronting the culture or restraining its evil. We shall have to guard ourselves against such degeneration in our lifetime and seek to recover the Spirit-filled, Bible-based, heart focus of our grandparents, if we ever hope to be authentic fundamentalists.
Douglas McLachlan, Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism, pp. 137-139 (emphasis added)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Can Calvinists and Arminians Be Together for the Gospel?

Mark Dever thinks these theological differences are less important than how we put our theology into practice.
Consider what you and I will do to the Gospel message in our churches if we continue to change the "presentation" of the Gospel until we begin to get a response.

Pursue faithfulness and relevance. Know that the Gospel is always relevant. NEVER assume the Gospel.
I think there's certainly truth in his observations, but I'm wondering if the Arminian view of God is so fatally flawed that it invariably affects the presentation. On the other hand, I've heard professed anti-Calvinists preach (apparently by accident [Or should I say "by providence"?]) thoroughly God-centered evangelistic messages.

What do you think?

Relevant College Ministry

Filling in as host of Al Mohler's radio program last week, Russell Moore hosted a great show on college ministry, emphasizing the importance of biblical depth over relevance.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

More to Modesty Than Meets the Eye

It's about the gospel (if you can believe that), not just standards.

Holly Stratton's essay on "Graceful Modesty" offers some valuable insight. I started to paste some quotes here, but you really must read the whole thing. The concluding paragraphs really drive the point home by showing the connection between modesty, grace, righteousness—and the gospel. Here's one paragraph to whet your appetite:
If we have grown up in a Christian community where a strongly defined code of dress has been established, we have been exposed to a visual programming of comfort that can easily cause us to equate that specific dress code with godliness. Even our judgments about which clothing choices best identify us as believers can become skewed to that code, prompting us to make assumptions about the messages our clothing send—assumptions that may not match reality.

I Love Irony

Christianity Today on evangelical deterioration:
While evangelical leaders craft statements on global warming and torture, hoping that they're finally being listened to in the halls of power, will the temptation to appeal to a broader audience—and to be liked by cultural gatekeepers—cause them to dilute their evangelical message?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Washington Post on World Cup and Evangelism

"Churches across Germany have seized on the world's biggest sporting event as a chance to reach those indifferent to religion."

Full article here.

World Cup Converts an Old School Football Guy

Jack Kemp says, "I’m hereby publicly acknowledging that soccer can be interesting to watch."

New Mohler Blog

Conventional Thinking will be devoted to current issues in the SBC. It could be difficult for an agency head to address some issues because of ramifications with various constituencies. Nevertheless, it will surely be interesting to see what issues he addresses and how he interacts with the mushrooming cloud of SBC bloggers.

Besides, he surely needed something to do with all his spare time.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Idol Called Evangelism

A couple years ago someone sent me a link to this talk by Roy Hargrave of Riverbend Community Church, an SBC church in Florida.

This talk came back to mind over the weekend, so I thought I might post the link and some quotes. Hargrave is addressing a range of issues related to evangelism as it is manifested in the SBC, but you'll find appropriate applications for the full spectrum of evangelical churches. Some of Hargraves primary targets are decisionism, dishonesty, manipulation, man-centeredness, prestige grounded in statistics, and "Baptist" infant baptism (Hargrave quotes a great comment from Paige Patterson on this point). These paragraphs are from the same context near the conclusion, but they're spliced together:
Why are we so determined to go down this road? Is it power? Is it prestige? Is it money for our institutions? I don't know the answer. But it seems that we continue to promote everything from The Prayer of Jabez©, The Forty Days of Purpose©, The Passion of the Christ©, the who-knows-what, in the place of the clear, constant exposition of the Holy Scripture, which declares the greatness of God and promotes a passion for souls.

I believe we are reliving a down-grade that is likened unto the down-grade of Spurgeon's day, and America will pay even as Great Britain paid in the last century for our failure as a denomination to right the ship according to the Word of God and not the latest fad that works.

"The prioritization of evangelism over the glory of God is the very thing that has caused such a loss of passion for both God and souls in our ranks. . . . We have more programs for training and motivating our people in evangelism than any time in church history. But what is the fruit of it? The greatest passion of missions and evangelism has always followed on the heels of bold proclamation—the proclamation of God's sovereignty, the proclamation of man's responsibility.

Does CCM Erode Theology?

There are bad arguments in favor of the use of CCM. There are also bad arguments against it. One of those bad arguments against it is that (all) CCM is doctrinally minimalistic.

In a rather lengthy article on the popularity of reformed theology among young people, Weaver and Finn document the theological agenda that is prevalent in some CCM circles. Here's the relevant portion:
Like most evangelical college students, Baptist collegians listen to CCM; and like evangelicalism itself, artists of numerous theological and liturgical expressions have appeared on the CCM scene in this post-denominational atmosphere. Among collegians and other young adults, many of the most popular recording artists/acts are Calvinist in their theology and worldview. Artists who are strongly Reformed or influenced by Calvinism such as Bebo Norman and groups such as Watermark and Caedmon's Call are enormously popular with college students. Bebo Norman's act was the first to be signed by Watershed Records, a Christian recording label. (33) In Norman's lyrics, the Reformed emphasis is evident in small doses. His song, "Big Blue Sky," subtly affirms total depravity, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints:
I'm coming alive
Nothing is good apart from you
I'm coming alive ... with you

I may not have a lot to give
This broken world can make it hard to live
I may have nothing left to say
But I know that you will never go away. (34)

Norman's popularity with collegians seems poised to increase. He received seven Dove Award nominations in 2003, the annual "evangelical grammys" awarded by the Gospel Music Association. (35)
Clearly, the most popular CCM group that promotes Calvinist theology is Caedmon's Call. The band, formed in 1991, made an immediate splash on the college scene. Reportedly, they developed large followings on campuses all over the country, from "Boston's Harvard University to Malibu's Pepperdine University on the California's coast." (36) CCM, the magazine of contemporary Christian music, put the group on its cover in 1999 because they "turned the Christian music industry upside down in 1997." (37) Originally from Houston, Texas, Caedmon's Call's founder and vocalist, Cliff Young, is the son of former SBC president and mega-church pastor, Ed Young, of Second Baptist Church, Houston. (38) In this computer-driven era, numerous Websites about the rock band are visited and managed by collegians.
Caedmon's Call is clearly committed to Calvinist theology. Derek Webb, one of the band's lead vocalists and principal songwriters, lists Reformed theology as "an obsession." One of his favorite books is Chosen by God, written by conservative Presbyterian theologian R. C. Sproul. (39) Keyboardist (and Belmont University student) Josh Moore also lists Sproul as his favorite theologian. (40) This strong commitment to Calvinism is clearly evident in the band's lyrics.
Their 1999 album, 40 Acres, preaches Calvinist perspectives. On the album's second track, "Thankful" (written and performed by Webb), the Reformed emphases on total depravity, unconditional election, and irresistible grace stand out:
'Cause we're all stillborn, and dead in our transgressions
We're shackled up to the sin we hold so dear
So what part can I play in the work of redemption
I can't refuse, I cannot add a thing

I am thankful that I'm incapable
Of doing any good on my own

It's by grace I have been saved
Through faith that's not my own
It is the gift of God and not by works
Lest anyone should boast. (41)

Like many CCM acts, Caedmon's Call has capitalized on the popularity of "praise and worship" choruses by producing an album of worship songs. (42) While most of the music on the album was original to the band, two of the songs, "I Boast No More" and "Laden With Guilt," were modern renditions of hymns originally written by Puritan pastor and prolific hymnist Isaac Watts. (43) Calvinism is implied in many of the album's other tracks.

Reformed theology is not only found in the lyrics of some CCM artists, but many "praise and worship" songs and modern hymns are written from a self-consciously Reformed worldview as well. Sovereign Grace Ministries (formerly PDI) is a popular music recording/distribution company among Calvinist college students. Sovereign Grace songs--like the name of the company--are heavy in theological content, and the theology is often overtly Calvinist. The lyrics of "How High and How Wide," for example, explicitly affirm total depravity and irresistible grace, and the doctrines of election and perseverance of the saints are strongly implied:
No eye has seen
And no ear has heard
And no mind has ever conceived
The glorious things that You have prepared
For every one who has believed
You brought us near
And You called us Your own
And made us joint heirs with Your Son

Objects of mercy who should have known wrath
We're filled with unspeakable joy
Riches of wisdom, unsearchable wealth
And the wonder of knowing Your voice
You are our treasure and our great reward
Our hope and our glorious King

How high and how wide
How deep and how long
How sweet and how strong is Your love
How lavish Your grace
How faithful Your ways
How great is Your love, O Lord (44)

Also popular among Calvinist collegians is the "updating" of classic hymns. Many of the great hymns are set to more upbeat music to make them accessible to markets that prefer contemporary worship music. Among the most popular recording acts to use this revised hymnology is Indelible Grace, based out of Nashville, Tennessee. Kevin Twit, who serves as both college pastor at Christ Community Church (PCA) in Franklin, Tennessee, and campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship at Baptist-affiliated Belmont University, organized Indelible Grace. (45) The group has updated classic hymns by such writers as Isaac Watts, Augustus Toplady, and Charles Wesley. Ironically, Wesley was a staunch Arminian, though his lyrics are sung by some collegians as though his Calvinist friend and fellow evangelist George Whitefield could have written them.

Other modern hymns and "praise and worship songs" deal broadly with the theme of God's sovereignty and glory. Although Calvinists are not the only Christians to affirm these theological concepts, songs with these emphases are particularly popular with Reformed students because of Calvinism's emphasis on God's sovereign control over all of life and his concern that God's glory be known among all the peoples of the earth.

Contemporary Christian music is not exclusively bound to Calvinism or any theological perspective (and some students clearly listen to the music without digesting any theology). Nevertheless, Caedmon's Call and other popular Reformed CCM artists have introduced many collegians to and nurtured them in Calvinism. Baptist collegians are often attracted to emotional informal worship, and CCM fills that need. Consequently, the worship styles of post-denominational young people is clearly a gateway to the growth of Calvinism. The most influential avenue into Reformed theology for college students, however, is found in the immense popularity of several contemporary speakers/authors.
As anecdotal evidence, I recently met a pastor friend who cited Caedmon's Call's "40 Acres" album as the defining influence in his conversion to the doctrines of grace.

Friday, June 16, 2006

This Year's SBC Annual Meeting: The Short Story (Updated)

This video interview with Don Hinkle of a Missouri Baptist newspaper is a fascinating perspective from a frank SBC insider on why this year's SBC annual meeting was different from any other. He specifically addresses the rising anti-establishment sentiment and the influence of bloggers in an annual meeting that elected a non-establishment president and that dealt (or deliberately chose not to deal) with some real theological issues. Tom Ascol's post today also provides a summary of most of the highlights.

[Update: Interesting Washington Post op-ed here, and comments from the losing presidential candidate endorsed by many convention leaders here.]

McLachlan on Succeeding Miserably

This is from Doug McLachlan's chapter on "Hindrances to a Balanced Fundamentalism" in his book, Reclaiming Authentic Fundamentalism (p. 20):
For more than a quarter of a century, we have labored under the false assumption that bigness equals greatness and that success can be measured quantitatively. We are much more effective at counting numbers than weighing ideas. This is a form of secularization and an indication that we have bought into the affluence mentality of our day. We seem always to be thinking in terms of numbers, numbers, numbers! How much? How many? How big? This push has led to the disintegration of ethics in reporting statistics and represents a tragic failure to recognize that invisible spiritual growth cannot be accurately gauged by mechanical measuring devices. Moreover, it forms the ground of pragmatism which has invaded so much of Christian ministry. The trouble with pragmatism is that it works: it attracts large crowds. But under its influence, we end up "succeeding miserably" because we are not succeeding Biblically.

In many cases the result has been the development of a philosophy of ministry which revolves around a celebrity focus (the star of the show who attracts the crowd) who functions as a corporate executive manipulating and then discarding his people in his relentless advance toward statistical superiority. All too often, evangelism in this context has been reduced to humanism as the Spirit and the Word are set aside while the Gospel is packaged and marketed almost as though it were a plastic toy.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rick Warren to Help "Revitalize Synagogue Life"?

Thabiti Anyabwile of Capitol Hill Baptist Church discusses Rick Warren's appearance tomorrow night in a Los Angeles synagogue. Warren's appearance is part of the efforts of a group that "empowers congregations to create sacred communities that are compelling moral and spiritual centers of Jewish life." Anyabwile's questions:
I wonder if Warren's talk in the synagogue will earn him the same treatment Jesus received for his talks in synagogues? Or will only produce some good ol' purpose-driven schmoozing?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


My cousin sent me this picture. I thought perhaps a couple of you might appreciate it.

Have a nice day everyone. I'm heading home to work from there the rest of the day because flooding from Alberto is about to cut off our escape routes from the office.

Baptists Who Don't Believe in Regenerate Church Membership?

Today at the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries attempted to bring to the floor a resolution on integrity in reporting church membership statistice. The truth is, this resolution is about far more than statistical reporting. It also has a great deal to do with how churches ought to view members who don't attend and have no intention of doing so. In other words, it's about the gospel.

Ascol had to work through a parliamentary procedure that required a supermajority because the resolutions committee chose not to present this resolution to the convention. Other resolutions about U.S. Constitutional amendments, Darfur, and alcohol were more important than the witness churches give that uninterested members are believers in good standing and fellowship with the church.

The motion to bring the resolution before the convention failed to achieve the supermajority required, and it died. Stunningly, the chairman of the resolutions committee spoke against Ascol's resolution, saying that churches that remove non-attending members from church rolls would be "throwing away a prospect list" for evangelism.

You can read more on this story in Ascol's summary and in the comments to his earlier post on the convention.

Ironically, the next item on the agenda after Ascol's proposal was Al Mohler's report on SBTS, in which he said a number of right and true and helpful things. He did say one thing that is apparently not true: "Southern Baptists are the people who believe in regenerate church membership."

You can watch the video of this morning's session in the archives here.

So here's a question: What does your church do with members who never attend?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mystery Quote

Remember, only one rule: No Googling.
Perhaps the greatest contradiction in Fundamentalism has been this dialectic of embracing the highest view of inspiration while failing to practice the highest level of communication. In fact, in some sectors of Fundamentalism it might be accurate to say that we have degenerated to the lowest levels of communication. It's too easy to take a text and "take a fit." If Scripture were only a compilation of human thoughts about God composed by religious men, such an approach to preaching would be pardonable. But since Scripture is a revelation of divine truth from God revealed to holy men under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, such an approach to preaching is unpardonable. The humble task of the preacher is to spend his life telling his people what somebody else said, namely, God! Too many men who are loyal to the task of defending the inspired word are traitors to the task of proclaiming it. God has not called us to invent our messages out of our own minds but to discover them in His Word. This will require a discipline which is prepared to endure the tedium of careful exegesis and diligent study so that we can speak God's Word with authority.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Ten Questions to Ask Before Your Church Relocates

More than twenty years ago, a church in a deteriorating neighborhood was advised to move to a different location. It didn't. Less than two years ago, attendance had dwindled so far that the church closed its doors.

The story of that church has been used as evidence that some churches can't survive in some neighborhoods. My suspicion (based on evidence) is that the church in question died, not because the city lost control of the neighborhood, but because the church lost the gospel.

This discussion that I observed got me started thinking about what kinds of questions a church should consider when a relocation seems like a desirable option. These questions are certainly not comprehensive, but I believe they are worth answering.
  1. What are we doing right now to evangelize our current community?
  2. What makes us think we will do a better job of evangelizing our next community?
  3. Who will evangelize this community after we are gone?
  4. Are there greater internal obstacles to our church's ministry than the limitations of our facility?
  5. Do we want to move to enhance the depth or the breadth of our ministry?
  6. Do we want to move because the people in our neighborhood aren't the same color as we are?
  7. Would the money we would spend on relocating more effectively advance the spread of the gospel if it were used in some other way?
  8. Should we plant a church instead?
  9. Are we motivated more by a desire to spread the gospel or by a desire to stabilize our church's future?
  10. Do we think that people will come just because we build?

Bush and Arena

You can listen to the phone call this morning between the President and U.S. coach Bruce Arena here. Note: The President uses the name for the location of the place prepared for the devil and his angels when he tells Arena what he wants the U.S. team to give the Czechs. Consider yourself forewarned.

Friday, June 09, 2006

When Did We Get the Idea That the World Is Supposed to Like Us?

You'll have to forgive me if this doesn't surprise me or send me into a conniption.

More T4G Bloggers on Gender Issues, Plus an Intriguing Observation

Ligon Duncan's post is pretty thick, but worth the mental energy. I think he connects with the point Ryan Martin was making in the comments of my previous post.

Al Mohler
analyzes Dever's recent discussion of the generation gap in evangelicalism, with particular attention to the militancy of the younger evangelicals:
I see this as part of the larger pattern visible in the church today. I can see it in the students at the seminary and I can sense it among younger, seriously-minded pastors. Put bluntly, this younger generation has been, of necessity, ready to assume a counter-cultural posture and then to find a way to contend for their convictions in the context of hostility, derision, and worse. In a very real sense, this generation has been swimming upstream all their lives. They know nothing of the cultural Christianity their parents took for granted. Even in pockets like the deep South, where cultural Christianity still remains a factor, young Christians soon find themselves facing a very different context when they go to the university, move to a large city, or enter the professional world.

Their parents, on the other hand, may find a counter-cultural posture to be strange and difficult. They may share the same convictions concerning God's gift of gender and sexuality, but they are less enthusiastic about standing apart from the dominant culture. When they went to seminary and graduate school, egalitarianism appeared to be ascendant.

Game On!

Here's a link to a simple, concise World Cup schedule and bracket, courtesy of the Washington Post. Every American needs a good bracket.

Just a little note. In the event that any World Cup conversation goes on here, please don't post results on the on the same day a match is played since many people (myself included, except for USA game days) may be watching games on tape.

Finally, for any other serious fans or those who want to get a behind-the-scenes look at the players, has a pretty interesting daily video blog, Studio90. Today's edition shows that Germans seem to know more about David Hasselhof than their beloved sport.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Perspective on War Casualties

No death of any American soldier is insignificant. At the same time, I believe it is helpful to understand how our current war on terror compares to previous national conflicts.

A recent World Magazine article does exactly that. Unfortunately, the graphic that was included in the print edition was included online. Fortunately, World published a similar article last year, and that online version does include the graphic.

For up-to-date comparison, you'll need to replace the figures for the Iraq war with the following figures from June, 2006:
  • Conflict duration (in days): 1,160
  • Total number of deaths: 2,460
  • Deaths per day: 2.1
  • U.S. population (in millions) 298
  • Rate in comparison to current population: 2.1

My Heart Bleeds

Sniff, sniff . . .

Does Your Temperament Limit Your Usefulness?

Great post from Dan Phillips of PyroManiacs on how God intends to use you to accomplish his purposes. Here's the conclusion:
It does not matter what kind of heart we have -- bold or timid, extroverted or introverted, naturally happy or naturally somber. Each mindset, each temperamental cast, has its strengths and its weaknesses. The always-positive, always-certain man may get a lot done -- but he needs to learn to judge himself, to suspect his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9), to distinguish his plans from God's, and his ideas from Scripture. He needs to humble himself before God and others.
. . .
None of us should subscribe to a cookie-cutter mold of personality development, or of leadership style. It does not matter so much what kind of hearts we have. What matters is what we do with our hearts.

What matters is that our heart be wholly God's (Deuteronomy 6:5f.; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 86:11; 1 Peter 3:15).

Then the cut of the instrument will matter far less than the skill of the Musician.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

My World Cup Preview (Part 2)

I'm simply overwhelmed by the response to my World Cup preview, and I'll comment when I can. I thought of one other thing I wanted to do, and since I've been challenged, I'll also make a couple predictions.

USA results:
I think we get a tie against one of Italy and CR and lose to the other. I think we narrowly beat Ghana to finish with 4 points and fail to advance on goal differential because CR and Italy score more than we do or Ghana pulls a big upset to throw the whole group into turmoil.

World Cup Champion:
I'd take Italy, but they could struggle advancing out of a tough group. The same is true of the Netherlands. That also reminds me that I overlooked France a little because of the age of some key players, but they should advance easily out of a patsy group. Brazil is the easy choice. Germany is attractive since they are the host, but they have a serious problem if Ballack's not healthy. So I'm taking Italy despite some health concerns there as well.

Matches to watch:
Obviously, as the Cup progresses, certain games will rise or fall in significance. Still, these matches would be on just about any football fan's list:
  • Germany:Costa Rica (6/9—Friday!): just because it's the opener with the host country
  • England:Sweden (6/20): classic matchup of two nations with rich history
  • Netherlands:Argentina (6/21): possibly the best matchup of the group stage; who could forget their 1998 quarterfinal matchup with red cards on both teams, won by Dennis Bergkamp on an 89th minute, absolutely ridiculous golazo?
  • Italy:Czech Republic:USA: The three matches played between these three teams pit a historic world power, some world-class talent, and an upstart team-oriented nation in a complete free-for-all, and no one knows what will come out of it. I think the world is beginning to realize that the USA is already pretty good and still has terrific potential for growth as a global soccer power. This should add to the intrigue of this group.
Narrowly missing the cut:
  • Brazil:Croatia (6/13)
  • Spain:Ukraine (6/14)

C.S. Lewis on the Danger of the "Inner Circle"

In a recent editorial for World Magazine, Andrée Seu quotes C.S. Lewis on the human lust for access to the inner ring. Speaking to the University of London's King's College in 1944, Lewis said:
I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods . . . , one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local ring and the terror of being left outside. . . . Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life. . . . Any other kind of life, if you lead it, will be the result of conscious and continuous effort.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

My World Cup Preview

Four years ago this month I set my alarm at 3:20 a.m. for about two weeks straight. It was the most fun I ever had waking up in the middle of the night.

The morning the Cup opened for the USA a friend came over to my place for the 3:30 kickoff of USA vs. Portugal. When John O'Brien scored early in the game to put the USA on top to stay, Joel and I started screaming and jumping around so much I can't believe the neighbors didn't call the police.

I've been waiting 3 years and 11 months for this day to arrive once again.

Knowing that so many of you are die-hard soccer fans, I just wanted to share my prognostications, as much to see if I'm right as for any other reason. Here are a few questions Americans may be asking, along with my answers.

Who does the USA play?
The Czech Republic (6/12), Italy (6/17), and Ghana (6/22).

Is it on TV?
USA TV schedule here. Full TV schedule here.

How good is the American team?
This is the most talented and deepest team the USA has ever sent to the Cup. By far. Team chemistry seems good, but that's the kind of thing you tend to hear more about after the results are in. The team is as healthy as it has been in a long time. The team has a nice mix of defensive stability and attacking talent, along with a balance between youth and experience. In fact, the USA will be one of the teams with the most Cup experience. Several players are heading to their third cup, and goalkeeper Kasey Keller is the only player in the world with experience from the 1990 Cup.

How is the USA going to do?
Conventional wisdom is that the USA's group is the toughest in the Cup. Good arguments can be made that the Czech Republic, Ghana, and the USA are all the best teams on their respective continents. And the fourth team is historically better than all of them. On the other hand, this is Ghana's and the CR's first visit to the World Cup (Czechoslovakia did qualify before the breakup), Italy is in some internal turmoil. The USA is healthy.

Bottom line: Because of the difficulty of this group, advancing to the knockout phase would be at least as great an accomplishment as advancing AND beating Mexico in the knockout phase was in 2002. The USA could play very well and still not advance, which would be a disappointment but not an embarrassment. And if the USA does advance, it's first knockout phase opponent would likely be Brazil, which leads us to . . .

Who is going to win?
Brazil has won 2 of the last 3, and this team is generally believed to be stronger than the one that won in 2002. But the one Brazil lost was played in Europe, where European teams dominate. On the other hand, Brazil is the only non-European team ever to win in Europe. Oh, but that was in 1958 and Brazil had this dude named Pelé. I think it's safe to say that the winner will be one of Brazil, Germany (the host country advantage), Italy, England, and the Netherlands. My dark horse choice is Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). I'd take the USA if they were in any other group.

Happy watching. I think I'm sensing a strange illness coming on that will hit next Monday morning.

Straight Dope on Choice in Education: Tax Credits vs. Vouchers

Here's another really simple, straightforward summary that explains why tax credits are better options than vouchers. Look for the sidebar article at the bottom, "Fighting on Better Ground."

If you're interested in school choice, read this short piece. It shows how many advocates are using time and political capital poorly.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Why Would an Independent Fundamental Baptist Preach in a Reformed Presbyterian Seminary?

This is a terrific address delivered by Kevin Bauder at the commencement ceremonies of Geneva Reformed Seminary. I can think of nothing to which I've linked that I would commend to you more.

Bauder asks the question in the title. Here's his answer:
  • Because of our unity
    • In the gospel
    • By the gospel
    • For the gospel
    • Because of the gospel
  • Because we understand the limits of our unity
Sound familiar?

Here are a few of the particularly salient quotes stitched together (warning) with very little context. And by the way, my regurgitation of the above outline is probably not comprehensive.
There is a kind of popular philosophy within contemporary Christianity that seems to believe that unity or fellowship are all-or-nothing. I believe that is a disastrous philosophy. It has been disastrous both for evangelicals and for some fundamentalists . . . No one can implement that philosophy consistently.

Not every aspect of the faith is equally important.

There are certain activities and certain forms of fellowship that are not affected by the differences between us . . . It’s lamentable that we do not yet experience complete unity in the faith, but it is not nearly as lamentable as if we were to try to bury some aspect of the faith in order to achieve some sort of a contrived unity. You see, we are not only committed to the gospel. We are committed to the whole counsel of God.

I would not want you to stop being Presbyterians [while you believed in Presbyterian distinctives] just so we could enjoy some greater level of contrived unity. That would be wrong for you to do.

I love you too much to ask you to surrender or sacrifice your obedience to Christ . . . I love you enough that I want you to obey the Bible as you understand it, because you are going to have to give answer to God for your understanding of the Scripture someday . . . We love each other too much to let errors go unchallenged.
Near the conclusion, Bauder also addresses the point that has been kicked around on this blog recently—the need for people from different orthodox theological perspectives to listen and learn from each other.

Amen and amen.

Unbeatable Price on MacArthur NASB Study Bible

I don't think you could beat this deal with a stick. The hardcover is $10 cheaper than on Amazon. I'm guessing it's a limited time offer. The leatherbound editions are waaaaaay cheaper too, but they seem to be listed as paperbacks on Amazon.

Secret Service Uses Power to Stop Evangelism!!!

I don't want to encourage this kind of strategy, but I have to confess that this seems like a compelling argument why using tracts that look like $1,000,000 bills does not constitute counterfeiting:
I'm not going to stop printing them," Comfort said. "How can you possibly counterfeit something that is not real – a $1 million bill?
Here's the follow-up story.

OT Narratives: Are They Theology or Examples for How We Should Live?

I hope this article on preaching OT narratives is not the last from Randy McKinion of Shepherds Theological Seminary.

Straight Dope on Gas Prices: Problems and Solutions

It's a few weeks old (I'm behind), but World Magazine has a nice summary piece by Gene Veith on who's to blame (and who's not) and why there's a little light at the end of the tunnel.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Church Members as Spectators

Some great thoughts from John MacArthur here:
One of the most disturbing side effects of the seeker-sensitive fad is something I haven't said as much about: When one of the main aims of a ministry philosophy is to keep people entertained, church members inevitably become mere spectators. The architects of the modern megachurches admit that they have deliberately redesigned the worship service in order to make as few demands as possible on the person in the pew. After all, they don't want the "unchurched" to be intimidated by appeals for personal involvement in ministry. That's the very opposite of "seeker sensitivity."

Such thinking is spiritually deadly. Christianity is not a spectator sport. Practically the worst thing any churchgoer can do is be a hearer but not a doer (James 1:22-25). Christ himself pronounced doom on religious people who want to be mere bystanders (Matthew 7:26-27).

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Gender Issues and the Gospel

This post on the T4G blog addresses some questions I've been pondering: Why did the T4G statement address gender issues? What does this have to do with the gospel? Why are gender issues more important than differences on theological issues like paedobaptism and cessationism?

Dever's summary:
Of course there are issues more central to the gospel than gender issues. However, there may be no way the authority of Scripture is being undermined more quickly or more thoroughly in our day than through the hermenuetics of egalitarian readings of the Bible. And when the authority of Scripture is undermined, the gospel will not long be acknowledged. Therefore, love for God, the gospel, and future generations, demands the careful presentation and pressing of the complementarian position.

Peggy Noonan on the Republicrats

Actually, I think I like the term "Demolic(i)ans" better. It sounds worse.

Anyway, Noonan talks about the possibility of the rise of a third party. It's interesting conjecture, but here's the real point of the editorial:
Partisanship is fine when it's an expression of the high animal spirits produced by real political contention based on true political belief. But the current partisanship seems sour, not joyous. The partisanship has gotten deeper as less separates the governing parties in Washington. It is like what has been said of academic infighting: that it's so vicious because the stakes are so low.

The problem is not that the two parties are polarized. In many ways they're closer than ever. The problem is that the parties in Washington, and the people on the ground in America, are polarized. There is an increasing and profound distance between the rulers of both parties and the people--between the elites and the grunts, between those in power and those who put them there.

For Those of a Kinder Disposition Than I

I know there are many folks who are frustrated by the critical thinking that is directed towards various popular personalities in American Christianity—the best-selling authors, the popular evangelists, and the TV preachers who are easy on the eyes and the ears. Certainly folks are right to point out that these personalities do have some good thigns to say.

On the other hand, these words from none other than Charles Spurgeon provide an important reminder:
Avoid a sugared gospel as you would shun sugar of lead. Seek the gospel which rips up and tears and cuts and wounds and hacks and even kills, for that is the gospel that makes alive again. And when you have found it, give good heed to it. Let it enter into your inmost being. As the rain soaks into the ground, so pray the Lord to let his gospel soak into your soul.
As the Apostle Paul reminds us, widespread popularity, particularly among unbelievers, ought to serve as a warning of a diluted message.