Thursday, August 31, 2006

This Is Quite Helpful

I really can't say this is what I've been trying to say all along. Certainly it offers far more than that, and I'm still too dumb to know exactly what I believe. But it certainly adds a great deal of light to the discussion. Thanks to Dr. Burggraff for permitting publication and to Bob Bixby for tracking it down.

Mohler on Today's Preaching Trends

Interesting thoughts from Mohler. I think I share his perspective. Two statements from his section on "An Evacuation of Biblical Content" stand out:
In far too many cases, it seems that the text becomes a point of departure for some message--no doubt well intended--which the pastor wishes to share with the congregation. Beyond this, the text of Scripture is often evacuated of biblical content when, regardless of a passage's textual form or context, the content is uniformly presented as a set of pithy "points" that come together in a staple outline form.
. . .
Another problem that leads to an evacuation of biblical content is a loss of the "big picture" of Scripture. Far too many preachers give inadequate attention to the canonical context of the passage to be preached and of its place in the overarching story of God's purpose to glorify Himself through the redemption of sinners. Taken out of context, and without clear attention to biblical theology, preaching becomes a series of disconnected talks on disconnected texts.
I have no way of knowing whether Mohler would agree, but I'll add a disturbing trend of my own. Too much preaching today seems to preach only half the duty of man. We focus on explaining God's commandments and motivating people to keep them, but we never explain the foundation—why and how they should fear God.

For two good examples of what I'm pleading for, check out Will Galkin's sermons this week at Maranatha and Dave Doran's lengthy series on God's character.

9Marks Reviews Driscoll and Bell

Mike McKinley has written what gives evidence of being a well-balanced critique of Driscoll's The Radical Reformission and Confessions of a Reformission Rev.

See also Greg Gilbert's review of Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Say What?

Another pastor's secret sins have been revealed. It doesn't make me happy. It certainly doesn't surprise me.

This is what made me almost fall out of my chair:
The only part of Flockhart's résumé that checked out was his assertion that he had been accepted at Liberty Theological Seminary "to begin working on a second doctorate."

Officials there initially told The Post he was not enrolled. Later, they said they discovered he paid his registration fees directly to seminary President Ergun Caner.

"The pastor is enrolled and has paid in advance," said Ron Godwin, executive vice president and CEO of Liberty University. "I love those kind of students."

He said Flockhart did not turn up in university records because Caner apparently recruited him. A Turkish-born Muslim, Caner converted to evangelical Christianity, then set off a firestorm in 2002 by describing the prophet Mohammed as a pedophile possessed by demons.

"Dr. Caner has a wide outreach to church leaders all over the United States and, as president of the seminary, enrolls a number of pastors individually," Godwin said.

Besides, Godwin said of Flockhart: "He's a good friend of our chancellor, Dr. Jerry Falwell."
[comments deleted]

Full story here.

The Perspective of a Proud Former Fundamentalist

[D]espite my former fixations on all the externals and rigamajig of devoted churchianity, I would do it all again. If I could reboot my life, I would still opt to grow up on the fundy track. (For a few years, at least.)
My confidence in the Bible hasn't waned an ounce in all these years. But I am now what you'd call an evangelical, committed to changing the world through the Gospel and my best human efforts. And therein lies the reason for today's column.
Full article here.

Making Evangelism Offensive

Mark Dever thinks you ought to:
One part of clarity sometimes missed by earnest evangelists, however, is the willingness to offend. Clarity with the claims of Christ certainly will include the translation of the Gospel into words that our hearer understands, but it doesn’t necessarily mean translating it into words that our hearer will like. Too often advocates of relevant evangelism verge over into being advocates of irrelevant non-evangelism. A gospel which in no way offends the sinner has not been understood.

Look at Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2. He wanted to be relevant. But that relevance gave his words more bite, not less. How did Peter witness to those he wished to see saved? He said to them, among other things, “let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ,” (Acts 2:36).

Relevant? Yes. Pleasing? No. Clear? Undoubtedly.
Full post here.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fox News on Rick Warren

Unfortunately, I missed the FOXNews special presentation on Warren. Perhaps some of you can fill me in.

I was quite interested to read the perspective of the FOX reporter, David Asman, available here. One statement in particular caught my eye:
FOX News’ view into a revolutionary way to help poor countries become as rich as they deserve, is something that everyone who’s interested in Rick or his mission will want to see.
What a statement.

I visited Saddleback on a Saturday night about a year ago. I wrote an article on the flight home, but it's been sitting in the can ever since. I was there for week three, "A," of the P.E.A.C.E. plan. If you want to know what that's all about, watch Warren talk about it here.

For now, suffice it to say this: Rick Warren amazed me. Rick Warren is brilliant. He amazed me with his brilliance—as an economist.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Couple Updates: Mark Noll, the KJV, and the Tribulation Video Game

Online video is now available of Mark Noll's address on the Bible in public life. (Original post here.)

The Washington Post published an article Thursday on "Left Behind: Eternal Forces."
In multiplayer mode, players can choose to command the Antichrist's armies. . . . Sending one's holy warriors into a bloody battle can hurt their morale; having them pray first can bolster their faith.
Good to know.

Original post here. By the way, if you visit that original post, you can read a comment from a man claiming to be the Messiah. Who knew he was a blogger?
I prove to you in the first chapter of this book–beyond disproof–that I am indeed the long-prophesied “Lion” of the tribe of Juda (Yehuda) the Root of David and the “Lamb.” I am the individual long symbolized as the Branch, the Stem, the Shoot and the Rod from the Stump of Jesse (King David’s father), as symbolized in the Hebrew Book of Isaiah, The Apocalypse, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and elsewhere. I am the reincarnated Teacher sought after in the “East” and by the ancient Hebrews who were headquartered at the outpost community of Damascus (Qumran), of Dead Sea Scrolls fame. I am the one called the Teacher of Righteousness by the Dead Sea Scrolls, whom the so-called Christian fathers have fraudulently recast as “Saint ‘James’, the Lord’s Brother.”

Nashotah House in the News

This may have little meaning to anyone besides the few dozen MBBC grad students and undergrad Biblical Studies majors who made the half-hour trek to Nashotah House, the small Episopalian Seminary in the middle of nowhere with the sweet periodicals section that so graciously allowed us Baptists to profit from their abundance. (Actually, I think we drove through nowhere on the way there.)

Anyway, I was quite surprised to find an article about Nashotah House on the front page of the religion section in Saturday's edition of my small-town local paper. You can read the original publication of the article in the Washington Post here.

Gordon-Conwell seminary is attempting to reach out to conservative Episcopalians who have few places to turn for seminary education in light of the growing rift in that denomination. Apparently, GCTS will invite professors from Nashotah House and another Episcopal seminary to teach in their new elective concentration in Anglican-Episcopal studies in the master of divinity program.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Who Is Speaking Unpopular Truth to the Fundamentalist Denomination?

Bob Bixby's post yesterday on Mark Dever's open rebuke of dangerous theology in the SBC cited a great quote from George Whitefield about speaking unpopular truth to one's own denomination about its particular areas of sin and deficiency. I just checked my own copy of Iain Murray's Evangelicalism Divided (Bob's source for the quote), and not at all to my surprise the same quote is underlined and accompanied by a brief note of personal application in the margin.

So what's the answer to the question in the title? It's certainly not a rhetorical question. I can think of several answers and specific examples off the top of my head. I've linked to and/or quoted some of them.

But I'm interested in which sermons, articles, books, or other exhortations have stood out to you. A collective effort might be helpful to many. Links would be great, but don't let any unavailability hold you back.

Thanks in advance. Perhaps after the weekend I'll share the list of what leapt into my mind.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Some Food for Thought on the "Debtor's Ethic"

I recently finished reading Piper's Future Grace. At the risk of being accused of carrying a "boyish crush" (just a little jab there, Chris), I'll share a concept from that book that I've been thinking about and to which I plan to be attentive in the Scriptures:
There is an impulse in the fallen human heart—all our hearts—to forget that gratitude is a spontaneous response of joy to receiving something over and above what we paid for. When we forget this, what happens is that gratitude starts to be misused and distorted as an impulse to pay for the very thing that came to us "gratis." This terrible moment is the birthplace of the "debtor's ethic." . . . God meant gratitude to be a spontaneous expression of pleasure in the gift and the good will of another. He did not mean it to be an impulse to return favors. If gratitude is twisted into a sense of debt, it gives birth to the debtor's ethic—and the effect is to nullify grace. (32)
Is it just my perception, or does this run contrary to a broad spectrum of evangelical and fundamentalist teaching?

The Five Points of Fundamentalism: What Are They Good For?

Kevin Bauder's recent article, "The Importance of Separation," got me thinking. Before I delve into one narrow aspect of that helpful article, I thought some clarification might be beneficial as to what exactly are the "Five Points of Fundamentalism," where they came from, and what they were intended to do. This Wikipedia entry is obviously accessible and contains some worthwhile links, but my summary depends on the more reliable sources, David Beale's In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850, and George Marsden's Fundamentalism in American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925. These two authors reflect a high level of agreement.

In fact, I'm going to quote Marsden (omitting his extensive bibliographical documentation), just to cut to the chase:
In 1910 the Presbyterian General Assembly, in response to some questions raised about the orthodoxy of some of the graduates of Union Theological Seminary, adopted a five-point declaration of "essential" doctrines. Summarized, these points were: (1) the inerrancy of Scripture, (2) the Virgin Birth of Christ, (3) his substitutionary atonement, (4) his bodily resurrection, and (5) the authenticity of the miracles. These five points . . . were not intended to be a creed or a definitive statement. Yet in the 1920s they became the "famous five points" that were the last rallying position before the spectacular collapse of the conservative party. Moreover, because of parallels to various other fundamentalist short creeds (and an historian's error), they became the basis of what (with premillennialism substituted for the authenticity of the miracles) were long known as the "five points of fundamentalism." (117)
Marsden footnotes that paragraph, which I'll quote here, albeit without the ellipses for omitted bibliographic information:
The usual form made "the deity of Christ" point no. 2 and combined the resurrection with the second coming as point no. 5. Ernest Sandeen exposes the error of the first historian of fundamentalism, Stewart G. Cole, who attributed this form to the Niagara Bible Conference of 1895. During the 1920s "the five points of fundamentalism" sometimes referred to the Presbyterian points and sometimes to the Presbyterian points with the premillennial return of Christ substituted for the miracles as point no. 5. (262)
Beale concurs and expands:
As a safeguard, however, from anyone falsely assuming that Christianity could be reduced to five assertions, the 1910 Assembly added that other biblical truths were "equally" important. (149)
From this documentation, three conclusions seem appropriate:
  1. The five fundamentals were a specific response to specific theological problems in a specific time period targeted at a specific practical matter—ministerial licensing.
  2. The five fundamentals were never intended to serve as an exclusive summary of essential doctrines.
  3. The five fundamentals are more significant for their demonstration of the timeless, theologically-faithful response to false doctrine than they are a timeless statement of which doctrines matter.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fundamentalism Embraces Social Action

My case isn't that this is right, simply that it is. And yet sometimes social action is perceived to be an innovation of liberalism and/or neo-evangelicalism.

A recent sermon from fundamentalist evangelist Tom Farrell offers an example of the use of social action in missions. Speaking of a missions trip to Thailand with an optometrist, Farrell said that the work of the doctor "gives us an opportunity to share our faith."

My sense is that fundamentalists more consistently connect social action with the proclamation of the gospel message than folks in the neo-evangelical stream, but that's simply my perception based on no scientific data. I think that's the mission Farrell is describing here:
What God is allowing us to do with our ministry and with Operation Renewed Hope is touch the body to touch the soul. And we're convinced of this: If we can touch the body of these dear folks, they will be open to the presentation of the gospel.
Listen to his message, "Let's Be a Barney," here.

"Doctrines Need To Be Differentiated"

Dan Wallace, well-known Greek scholar, responded to a minor kerfuffle at Pyromaniacs over his view of inerrancy. His article explains that he holds to inerrancy largely because of his Christology. It's a thought-provoking piece worth reading, but I'm not going pretend I'm remotely equipped to interact with the deeper epistemological issues.

What caught my interest was his discussion of how we each need to wrestle with a hierarchy of doctrine. We've discussed that issue here in the past (among other places), but Wallace's approach seems innovative and helpful to me. He asks four questions:
  1. What doctrines are essential for the life of the church?
  2. What doctrines are important for the health of the church?
  3. What doctrines are distinctives that are necessary for the practice of the local church?
  4. What doctrines belong to the speculative realm or should never divide the church?
Here's Wallace's conclusion to this discussion:
One can easily see how this approach to one’s credo can be helpful when it comes to baptism, spiritual gifts, communion, gray areas in the Christian life, eschatological positions, etc. The list is endless. But at bottom, we should recognize that doctrines need to be differentiated. If one is so inclined to break fellowship with others, valid reasons need to be given. For my take on things, fellowship cannot occur unless the core doctrines are affirmed by both parties. For my money, I cannot have genuine fellowship with someone who denies the deity of Christ or his bodily resurrection, because I do not believe that such a person is a Christian. These are not the only issues, but they are absolutely category one beliefs.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More on Baptists Promoting UNregenerate Church Membership

Mark Dever has now weighed in on statements made at June's SBC annual meeting that opposed removing non-attending church members from church rolls because they are a "prospect list" for evangelism.

If you want the short version, here it is: He thinks this would be a bad thing. But he asks an interesting question:
How could such an answer have been given? I'm sure in well meaning sincerity. But how could it have been soberly accepted by thousands of messengers? I can only conclude that it must have been due in part to our cheapened understanding of conversion, debased practices of evangelism, worldly attitudes about being "judgmental" and an addiction--a drunkeness, if you will--to numbers.
Perhaps even more significant is the point Dever makes about pastors' responsibility to their flocks:
All of them will die, many of them without returning to church. Some of those will be our brothers and sisters in Christ who were in sin. I fear that many of them will not have been our brothers and sisters in Christ, and so they will slip into a Christ-less eternity, face a good and just God while they are still pleading their own merits for salvation, and fall under God's deserved penalty forever. We could have helped them, like the man in I Cor. 5 who was caught in sin (and may have repented II Cor. 2?), or like the man in Gal. 6:1. But we didn't.

Instead, we met their actions of disobedience with continued formal approval. They remained members. We continued to teach them that church membership was their own private business, not the business of the congregation. We continued to meet their absence with our silence.
For background info and links, see my previous post.

This is one of those matters that is easy to view as "someone else's problem." After all, we would never have said something so blatantly contradictory to historic Baptist distinctives. But here's a question: How many non-attending members does your church have?

Monday, August 14, 2006

More Machen on Christianity and Culture

I don't really have any comments to add (please hold your applause), but since some of the conversation here recently delved into Machen's view of the church's responsibility in culture, I thought I might post his comments on social concerns that I encountered over the weekend in his Christianity and Liberalism (pp. 158-159):
It is upon this brotherhood of twice-born sinners, this brotherhood of the redeemed, that the Christian founds the hope of society. He finds no solid hope in the improvement of earthly conditions, or the molding of human institutions under the influence of the Golden Rule. These things indeed are to be welcomed. They may so palliate the symptoms of sin that there may be time to apply the true remedy; they may serve to produce conditions upon the earth favorable to the propagation of the gospel message; they are even valuable for their own sake. But in themselves their value, to the Christian, is certainly small. A solid building cannot be constructed when all the materials are faulty; a blessed society cannot be formed out of men who are still under the curse of sin. Human institutions are really to be molded, not by Christian principles accepted by the unsaved, but by Christian men; the true transformation of society will come by the influence of those who have themselves been redeemed.

Thus Christianity differs from liberalism in the way in which the transformation of society is conceived. But according to Christian belief, as well as according to liberalism, there is really to be a transformation of society; it is not true that the Christian evangelist is interested in the salvation of individuals without being interested in the salvation of the race. And even before the salvation of all society has been achieved, there is already a society of those who have been saved. That society is the Church. The Church is the highest Christian answer to the social needs of man.

Evangelical King-Makers '08

Here we go again.
"If you're running for President," said a close associate of President George W. Bush's, "it is the place to go."

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Real Story Behind the Film

Many of you are no doubt aware that Oliver Stone's World Trade Center opened this week. Here's the gripping real-life story, written nearly four years ago, that the movie attempts to tell in pictures.

CT Publishes a Review That Shreds Pop-Chick-Christian Lit

Folks don't like it sometimes when angry bloggers critique the cotton candy lit spun by evangelical publishing houses. Well, add Christianity Today to the list of the pontificators (ironic as that may be). Agnieszka Tennant's review of Captivated by John (of Wild at Heart fame) and Stasi Eldredge calls Captivating "prettification" and simplistic.

I worry, though, that the readers of Captivating have been sold a finicky idea of femininity—one that disregards the wondrous complexity God breathed into them. . . . The gist of Captivating is this: "Every woman longs for three things: to be swept up into a romance, to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure, and to be the Beauty of the story." I used to want such things—when I was a girl who didn't understand how her womanizing father messed up her heart and when I fed my imagination with soft heart-porn like Pretty Woman. But doesn't there come a time when we must grow out of the kind of self-regard that was cute when we were girls?
P.S. I apologize to cotton candy for comparing it to evangelical writing.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Machen on Christianity and Culture

I think the following quote is the best summary of Machen's argument in this challenging but thought-provoking article. If you really want to wrestle with these issues, spend 30 minutes to read the whole thing. Don't just settle for the quote.
The real difficulty amounts to this—that the thought of the day, as it makes itself most strongly felt in the universities, but from them spreads inevitably to the masses of the people, is profoundly opposed to Christianity, or at least—what is nearly as bad—it is out of all connection with Christianity. The Church is unable either to combat it or to assimilate it, because the Church simply does not understand it. Under such circumstances, what more pressing duty than for those who have received the mighty experience of regeneration, who, therefore, do not, like the world, neglect that whole series of vitally relevant facts which is embraced in Christian experience—what more pressing duty than for these men to make themselves masters of the thought of the world in order to make it an instrument of truth instead of error? The Church has no right to be so absorbed in helping the individual that she forgets the world.
I disagree with Machen, although I do so with great hesitancy. My reasoning is that I believe the way believers fulfill their Great Commission responsibilities is by proclaiming the gospel in word and giving evidence to its power by a changed life. I don't see biblical warrant for conquering the "thought of the world." Even if this were possible (and admittedly it is, by God's power, though the text of Scripture suggests it will not be so), it seems to me to be outside the Church's mission. On the other hand, I've said this before, but I do think these words describe a real problem and a disturbing trend among fundamentalists:
Shut yourself up in an intellectual monastery, do not disturb yourself with the thoughts of unregenerate men, and of course you will find it easier to be a Christian, just as it is easier to be a good soldier in comfortable winter quarters than it is on the field of battle. You save your own soul—but the Lord's enemies remain in possession of the field.
To be honest, Machen confuses me. (Obviously, we all know who the dense one is here.) But at one moment, he's talking about becoming "masters of the thought of the world" so that it becomes an instrument for truth, and the next it seems as though he merely wants to bring the gospel "into some sort of connection with the thought of the world."

Surely there is value in understanding how unbelievers (or believers) think when presenting them with the message of the gospel. We demonstrate that interest whenever we use illustrations in sermons that are drawn from elements of the world that are familiar to our hearers. But I'm going to leave that line of thought there for now and pursue one that is more pressing.

Here's the key question, as I see it: Is Machen right when he says that the cause of Christianity's weakness in this age lies in the intellectual sphere--"Men do not accept Christianity because they can no longer be convinced that Christianity is true." Or is the problem rather of a spiritual nature--men do not accept Christianity because Christians live as though the gospel has had no impact in their lives? Do professing Christians seek satisfaction in God alone or in the things this world offers. And you can't say "a little of both."

Granted, Machen wrote these words nearly a century ago. Perhaps Christians were different then. As for today, I'm convinced that the heart of the problem lies in the latter. I'm convinced the problem isn't that the world is deceived by intellectualism and distracted by materialism, but rather that the Church is.

One Game Ends. Another Begins.

Here's a fun one for the quote game. No Googling!
Several years ago a college in Colorado made a study of the effects of music on plants. Plants exposed to beautiful, soothing music thrived and turned toward the speaker. In an otherwise identical environment, another group of the same type of plant was exposed to acid rock. Those plants turned away from the speaker and within three days had shriveled and died. Further experimentation proved that the sound waves of the rock music had actually destroyed the plants’ cells.
You can check out the results of Round 1 of "Book, Hyles, or CCM" here.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A (Rare) Comment Thread Worth Reading to the Bottom

I wish I'd been able to track this discussion of social concerns and evangelism while it was in progress, but several things kept me from it. Not that I'd have had any unique or valuable insight to contribute, but it would've been fun to try.

Just for clarity in light of recent posts here (and I reserve the right to change my mind after further learning):
  1. I do not believe that Scripture contains any mandate for social action by the Church.
  2. The emphasis of the texts that do refer to social action are at least consistent with if not directly related to meeting the physical needs of believers within the church.
  3. Christ's miracles of healing and providing food were distinct in their nature and purpose from modern social action.
  4. Social action is not the equivalent of "living the gospel."
  5. I do believe the gospel is ultimately (though indirectly) the solution to the social problems that exist in the world. That certainly doesn't mean I believe that the gospel will eradicate the world's social problems prior to the return of Christ. I also don't believe that solving social problems is in any way connected to the essence of the gospel message. The gospel is a spiritual message of reconciliation and deliverance. Although it does and must have implications for this world, that's not ultimately what it's about.
Here are some comments from "Dave" to which I'll be giving further thought:
3. I think we do have a fundamental disagreement on the relationship of doing good to lost people and the gospel. As I said somewhere above, I believe we have an obligation as individuals to do both. We don’t merely do the one in order to do the other. We are obligated to love our neighbor as ourselves, which means we will do him or her good. Of course, the highest good we could do for him is to give him the gospel, but doing him lesser goods should not be viewed as a pragmatic project so we can witness to him. If I have helped my neighbor with his flat tire, I have obeyed God.

4. I will address this more fully in the next point, but I believe what we do to open a door is a matter to be thought through very carefully. Not all “door openers” are created equal. I doubt that any of us deny that. They way the door is opened has an effect on the message we proclaim. To use one extreme, when a church gives out Janet Jackson concert tickets in order to draw a crowd, they are setting up a conflict with the gospel message itself (the “bait” is the kind of thing that the gospel calls us away from). Doesn’t any “offer” along side of the gospel that appeals to man’s temporal needs run this risk? (I apologize for the indelicate description, but can’t think of any other way to say it.) I suppose, like Paul in Philippians 1, we can rejoice when the gospel is proclaimed, but I don’t believe that excuses unwise or pragmatic choices. The Lord and the apostles, as I understand Scripture, did not perform miracles which benefited people in order to open a door for the gospel. The Lord did them to authenticate His messiahship, and the apostles did them to authenticate their message. A seemingly inevitable result of these authentications was a spurious interest in the Lord and the apostles among some—people were attracted for selfish reasons (John 6; Acts 8). We face a double problem: (a) we can’t do miracles, so we aren’t really doing what they did nor do we have warrant to do it; (b) when we try to approximate miracles (food banks; medical clinics), we get the same problem they did of people wanting what we provide, not what we proclaim. (Dipping back into point 3 above…if we are doing these good deeds sincerely, then their response should not be factored into the equation, i.e., if it is right to do good deeds then there will be no strings attached to the good deed. People who come to eat the food or get treatment shouldn’t be forced to listen to a sermon in order to be “ministered” to, should they?)
What got this all started in my mind was the perceived state of fundamentalist isolation that leads to many Christians living in a Christian bubble with little or no interaction with unbelievers, particularly regarding spiritual things. If we conclude that the Church not only has no mandate but also has no right to employ "random acts of kindness" or other similar strategies as means of initiating redemptive relationships with unbelievers, then the Church simply needs to find a better way to do so. Unless, that is, we believe that buses and door-knocking alone will get the job done.

Grains of salt have little effect while they're hanging out with other grains in the salt shaker. Lamps do little good when their light reflects inward because the shades on the glass are closed. One might think that would be obvious.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Book, Hyles, or CCM?

It's time for a new feature here at Paleoevangelical. I owe this concept to an old friend and former Greek teacher, DP. He likes to call this game, "Book, Hyles, or CCM." Here's the deal: I'll give you several titles. Each of them is a real title of a Christian book, a Jack Hyles sermon, or a CCM song title. I'll set a deadline for all guesses, and whoever gets the most right wins a great prize--usually an encouraging word from the staff here at Paleo.

The rules are no Googling or any other use of the internet, but you may consult your personal sermon tape collection, browse Christian bookstore shelves (but not on Sunday, even though Family Bookstores are open), and your private CD wallet stuffed under the driver's seat in your car (for any students returning to fundamentalist colleges).

So here goes round one. The deadline for guesses is noon on Thursday. I'll plan to announce the winner sometime later that day.
  1. So Long Self
  2. Fresh Oil
  3. Captivating
  4. Go Wash Your Girdle
  5. The Bush Still Burns
  6. Rumors of Another World
  7. Come & Drink
  8. Let It Rise
If we need a tiebreaker, I'll post a request for all tied parties to post the author(s) of the book(s) and the artist(s) of the song(s). Oh yeah, and the text(s) of Scripture for the Hyles sermon(s) (obviously, "no text cited" is a possible option).

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have More Fundamentalists!

"GOP Candidates Claim Degrees Of Separation From President"

HT: buckeyejosh (his chosen pseudonym)

This Isn't a New Problem We're Talking About

I wonder if the rapid deterioration of American culture doesn't create in our minds the perception that the need is greater now than before for our lives to live a gospel message that matches the gospel message we proclaim. That seems to be the point David Wells is making in the quote I cited here on Friday.

His point is certainly not wrong. Hypocrisy in the Church does mitigate the authenticity of the gospel. I'm simply not sure whether Wells' point is unique.

Perhaps the problem is less that postmodern culture uniquely demands authenticity and more that the postmodern Church fails to demonstrate it.

In any case John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress contains a striking paragraph that speaks to the same point Wells makes. Christian, speaking to Faithful about Faithful's harsh confrontation of the recently departed Talkative, says:
You did well to talk so plainly to him as you did; there is but little of this faithful dealing with men now a days, and that makes Religion so stink in the nostrils of many as it doth; for they are these talkative fools, whose Religion is only in word, and are debauched and vain in their conversation, that (being so much admitted into the fellowship of the godly) do puzzle the world, blemish Christianity, and grieve the sincere. I wish that all men would deal with such, as you have done; then should they either be made more conformable to Religion, or the company of Saints would be too hot for them.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Cautiously Pessimistic: Phil Johnson on the "Emerging" Conservatives

I think there are some ideas advocated by the radical conservatives in the Missional or Emerging movements that radically conservative evangelicals ought to consider. If you've been reading here over the past couple weeks, you've seen me sift through some of them.

I also benefited from Phil Johnson's recent post on the "Emergent Conversation". Phil has obviously done his homework on all this stuff and reflected to the point that he sees some philosophical design flaws that are eventually going to reveal foundational cracks in the movements.

It's a long post, but make sure you read the "Coda."

Friday, August 04, 2006

I Was Dead Wrong

When Marty Herron was the director of Northland Camp, I often heard him say, "A message prepared in a mind reaches a mind. A message prepared in a heart reaches a heart. A message prepared in a life reaches a life."

This comment returned to mind when I read Mark Dever's quote from David Wells' Above All Earthly Powers in his T4G blog post yesterday:
The postmodern reaction against Enlightenment dogma will not be met successfully simply by Christian proclamation. Of that we can be sure.

That proclamation must arise within a context of authenticity. It is only as the evangelical Church begins to put its own house in order, its members begin to disentangle themselves from all of those cultural habits which militate against a belief in truth, and begin to embody that truth in the way that the Church actually lives, that postmodern skepticism might begin to be overcome. Postmoderns want to see as well as hear, to find authenticity in relationship as the precursor to hearing what is said.

This is a valid and biblical demand.
Faith, after all, is dead without works, and few sins are dealt with as harshly by Jesus as hypocrisy.
Dever ties this into the mission of 9Marks, and I heartily agree. But what struck me as I read Wells' perspective was his emphasis on the need for life-proclamation in concert with word-proclamation.

I recently wrote in a post here, "[T]he gospel cannot be irrelevant. It only needs to be proclaimed." After some reflection, I now realize that I disagree with myself. Although it's true that the gospel cannot be irrelevant, I do believe that our responsibility involves more than (audible) proclamation. Believers are also responsible for visible proclamation. "Walk as children of light." "Walk worthy of your holy calling." "Pure and undefiled" religion is to care for orphans and widows and to keep oneself unstained by the world. All men will know that we are Christ's the disciples if we "have love for one another."

In other words, our lives are to be visible demonstrations of the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Don't get me wrong. That doesn't mean life-proclamation replaces word-proclamation. I simply mean that Scripture seems to indicate that God intends to draw people to Himself through preaching of the Word that is authenticated by the gospel-centered lives of His people.

Could it be that the miraculous signs Christ and his disciples performed were intended all along to be replaced in their message-verifying purpose by the equally miraculous transformation of rotten sinners into children of light? Might this have taken place as the work of the gospel expanded and took root in the first growth spurts of the Church?

Ok, I don't see cessationists lining up to add this argument to their arsenal. No matter. Let me think out loud for a second.

Have we convinced ourselves that because we do certain things and don't do certain things that we are living out a counter-cultural message that will impress unbelievers? Is that the message of the Cross? Or didn't it have something to do with radically sacrificial love?

Is it possible that we would better communicate the central message of the Cross if we focused less on looking different and more on living different—less on doing what pleases ourselves (within morally acceptable parameters) and more on giving of ourselves to care for others. Whether we're caring for the needs of believers or unbelievers is a question worth asking, but I'm not sure it's the first question today's evangelical-fundamentalist churches need to address.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Salt and Light: The Church in the World

From discussions here to those on Faith and Practice (see comments) and The World from My Window (3-part series) to a couple of Mark Driscoll's sermons, I've been giving more thought recently to the nature of the Church's interaction with and relationship to the world as a gospel-proclaiming voice. I hope to flesh out some of my conclusions in the coming days in contrast with Carl Henry's approach in The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.

For the meantime, Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan discusses Christians as "Salt and Light in Culture" in another of the Desiring God Conference video interviews. At the end of the day, I don't know whether his vision of Christianity as salt and light would look like mine, but I really like the way he describes his vision:
I think that the "cultural transformationalists" have underemphasized the importance of thick, strong Christian communities who serve as counter-cultures. The Anabaptists and the Hauerwasians and all that—they've put all the emphasis on really, really strong Christian counter-cultures that show the world how people ought to live, rather than trying to get out there into the culture and bring your Christian worldview into it.

I don't know why you can't do both. I have never been able to understand why you can't do both. I think that the traditions tend to . . . each tradition tends to be weak because it doesn't do the other.
It seems to me that the worst of all worlds is when 1) cultural redeemers live in culture and think they're redeeming it when they're really just wallowing in the world, while 2) separatists create a counter-culture and think they're confronting mainstream culture with true spirituality when they're really just wallowing in religious pride.

Praying for Irresistible Grace

From John Piper's recent sermon on Desiring God Radio, "That Which Is Born of the Spirit Is Spirit":
I cannot pray for the lost without [the doctrine of irresistible grace]. I have tried time and again to imagine what I would ask God to do for a hardened, resistant neighbor if I did not believe in irresistible grace. Every prayer I come up with sounds like a joke. "God, provide my neighbor with some allurements to faith, but don't make those allurements irresistible." "God, work--work in my neighbor's heart, but don't work so much that he feels an overwhelming urge to believe."

No! I will not pray like that!

On the authority of God's Word, here's what I'm going to say to my neighbor: "God, give him a new heart! Reach in there and take that heart of stone and yank it out! Put a new one back in so that he loves to believe. Ravish him with your glory Put irresistible inducements in front of him. Save him! Don't let him go to hell."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Overcoming Wednesday Night Organ Recitals

David Powlison has written an article, "Praying Beyond Health Concerns," that addresses biblically one of my pet peeves--the prayer meeting/organ recital. When was the last time your church's prayer meeting contained as many requests that concern the spiritual health of the body of Christ as those that concern the physical health of physical bodies? (Yes, Bob Bixby, I know your answer is "last Wednesday night," and I'm grateful for your example in this area.)

I particularly appreciate Powlison's categorization of the kinds of biblical prayer:
With a circumstantial prayer, we ask God to change our circumstances: heal the sick; give us daily bread; protect me from suffering and evildoers; make our political leaders just; convert my friends and family; make our work and ministries prosper; provide me with a spouse; quiet this dangerous storm; send us rain; give us a child.

With a wisdom prayer, we ask God to change us: deepen my faith; teach us to love each other; forgive our sins; make me wise where I tend to be foolish; make us know you better; enable me to sanctify you in my heart; don’t let me dishonor you; give us understanding of Scripture; teach me how to encourage others.

With a kingdom prayer, we ask God to change everything by revealing himself more fully, magnifying the degree to which his glory and rule are obvious: your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven; be exalted above the heavens; let your glory be over all of the earth; let your glory fill the earth as the waters cover the sea; come, Lord Jesus.
I find that in my experience and just about everyone else's with whom I've had this conversation, the preponderance of our prayer requests fall in the first category. Here's Powlison's succinct conclusion:
Why don’t church members pray beyond the sick list? Because their pastors have not taught or modeled otherwise.

We all tend to pray for circumstances to improve so that we might feel better. Such requests are honest and good—unless these requests go no further. Detached from God’s purposes for sanctification and hearts that groan for his kingdom to come, such prayers become self-centered.

Teach church members to pray with the three-stranded braid of our real need. They will begin to pray far beyond the sick list. And they will pray in a noticeably different way for the sick as well.

Is John's Gospel Particularly Relevant for This Age? (an addendum)

Note: My post yesterday (part 1) was intended to include a brief note on Robert Gundry, but a poorly-timed power outage while I was working on the post last week caused me to lose that note. Long story short: Gundry was expelled from ETS in 1983 for his published views that Matthew embellished his gospel with non-historic accounts of Christ's birth. You can read the story here. There are indications in Jesus the Word . . . that Gundry is not a strict inerrantist, but I don't see any necessary implications on the validity of his hypothesis. A more interesting question might be to what degree one Gospel writer might have written with an agenda distinct from the other Gospel writers, resulting in divergent portrayals of Jesus Christ. However, distinct agendas are not necessarily contradictory agendas. Gundry occasionally implies that they are contradictory*, but again, I don't think that detracts from his central point. In any case, I appreciated the irony that's obvious whe a man expelled from ETS extols the virtues of paleofundamentalist separatism.

*As an example, "The Bible offers more than one theology of church and world--Luke-Acts represents almost the polar opposite of John's, for example" (92).

Is John's Gospel Particularly Relevant for This Age? (part 2)

Does the current atmosphere in North American evangelicalism "call for a reinstatement of John's sectarianism with its masterly, totalizing, but divisive Christology of the Word"?

To Gundry, such a response would be "extreme? Yes, but there are times for extremes" (71).

Gundry offers a number of arguments for extreme measures:
  1. The dangers of accomodation (rising from nonevangelicals' recognition of evangelical scholarship) have contributed to a philosophy "of only whispering the Word instead of shouting him, speaking him boldly, as the Word himself did" (74).
  2. Seeker-sensitivity caters to felt needs so that "the gospel message of saving, sanctifying grace reduces to a gospel massage of physical, psychological, and social well-being that allows worldliness to flourish" (78).
  3. "[M]uch of the popular literature that stocks the shelves of evangelical Christian bookstores deals with present human existence . . . The present-oriented Jesus of this literature--and of most evangelical preaching, too--begins to look and sound not a little like the non-eschatological, present-oriented Jesus of the Jesus Seminar, and also not a little like the self-actualization in ancient "Gnosticism" such as formed a background for Johannine literature" (81). (In other words, the softpedaled evangelicalism of Warren and Osteen is nothing less than a neo-liberalism.) "The cost of discipleship goes on sale for a discount" (83).
  4. Evangelicals heeded the call to political involvement and humanitarian activity that had been set forth in Carl Henry's The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. This led to "the proportional decrease in expenditures on saving souls for eternity, and the proportional increase of experditure on fleshing out what used to be called "The Social Gospel" (85). (This is a scathing indictment of Henry that is rare in non-fundamentalist evangelical writing. For an even more scathing indictment, see Gundry's criticism of Mark Noll in a footnote on page 89.)
  5. "Sermons and Bible studies began to concentrate more and more on the practicalities of Christian life in the here and now, so that today one rarely hears about heaven and hell, eternal life and eternal damnation" (87).
Gundry's conclusion is the essence of his vision of paleofundamentalism:
Like that early fundamentalism and unlike the fundamentalism which evolved in the 20s-40s, this new old fundamentalism, comparable in its neopaleoism to the new old commandment in 1 John 2:7-11; 3:11, would be culturally engaged with the world enough to be critical rather than so culturally secluded as to be mute, morally separate from the world but not spatially cloistered from it, and unashamedly expressive of historic Christian essentials but not quarrelsome over nonessentials. Such a renewed fundamentalism would take direction not only from fundamentalism at the very start of the twentieth century but also, and more importantly, from the paleofundamentalism of John the sectarian, whose Christology of the Word has Jesus come into the world (there is the engagement with it), sanctify himself (there is the separation from it), and exegete God (there is the message to it) (93-94).
That, to me at least, sounds like a fundamentalism worth saving.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Is John's Gospel Particularly Relevant for This Age?

A couple weeks ago I sat down to read the book with the most verbose title not written by a Puritan or a doctoral student: Jesus the Word According to John the Sectarian: A Paleofundamentalist Manifesto for Contemporary Evangelicalism, Especially Its Elites, in North America by Robert Gundry.

This book was referred to me a year or so ago; I wish I could remember why and by whom. Regardless, it's an interesting perspective on John's gospel and its particular relevance for 21st century American evangelicalism. Gundry traces two particular themes through John's gospel and concludes by building a case for the Gospel's message to our time.

First, Gundry documents how "a Christology of the Word dominates the whole of John's Gospel more than has been recognized before" (3). He builds a persuasive case for this unique emphasis in John's Gospel, particularly in comparison with the Synoptics. The implication is that John's emphasis on Jesus' words and his identification of Jesus as the Word.
[T]he words that the Father has given [Jesus] to speak deal almost entirely with Jesus himself, nearly to th exclusion of the theme of God's kingdom which dominates the Synoptics, so that not only has the synoptic proclaimer become the Johannine proclaimed. The proclaimer and the proclaimed have also become one and the same (emphasis original, 49).
Gundry's second major section examined John as a divisive figure—a sectarian. Again, Gundry compares John's Gospel with the Synoptics and uncovers a substantial divergence in tone. John, in contrast with the Synoptics, draws stark lines between believers and unbelievers, light and darkness. John portrays Jesus as implicitly aware of these lines. As in John 3:16,
[O]nly God loves the world. Not even his Son Jesus is said to love the world of unbelievers, though John often portrays Jesus as loving believers. . . . Far from eating with worldlings and loving the world, the Johannine Jesus reveals himself to his disciples but "not to the world" (14:22) and even makes a point of not praying for the world . . . (17:9 with 17:6) (58-59).
Gundry's final section, which applies his exegesis to our contemporary ecclesiastical culture, is the most provocative:
[W]e might well ask ourselves whether we North American evangelicals are fast falling, or have already fallen, into circumstances that call for a reinstatement of John's sectarianism with its masterly, totalizing, but divisive Christology of the Word that speaks truth so incisively that as the Word, Jesus is the truth over against the father of lies, Satan, who has deceived all unbelievers. Extreme? Yes, but there are times for extremes (71).
He refers to "evangelical elites," who "reacted against the separatism of their fundamentalist forbears, who precisely in their separation from the world knew they had from God a sure word for the world" (73). He excoriates the atmosphere of tolerance in today's mainstream evangelicalism, which has deteriorated into a Neo-Social Gospel.

The rest of Gundry's analysis of modern evangelicalism would stand alone as a second post, and I hope to do that. In the meantime, I'll share his succinct comparison of the strengths of evangelicalism and fundamentalism and close with a quotation Gundry cites that sums up the entire message. First, the comparison:
So I do not condemn penetration by evangelicals any more than I condemn separation by fundamentalists. Separation was necessary to save the gospel against the inroads of modernism, I think; and penetration has been necessary to save the gospel from irrelevance and a seclusion that threatened to keep it from being heard in the world at large (74).
I understand this sentiment, since I believe that fundamentalists have unnecessarily withdrawn from the world to the degree that they are isolated and not confronting the unbelieving world with the gospel. On the other hand, I disagree in that the gospel cannot be irrelevant. It only needs to be proclaimed. With the quote, I'll close:
[S]trong eruptions of religious faith have always been marked by the appearance of people with firm, unapologetic, often uncompromising convictions—that is, by types that are the very opposite of those presently engaged in the various "relevance" operations. Put simply: Ages of faith are not marked by "dialogue," but by proclamation. [italics original]

Peter Berger, "A Call for Authority in the Christian Community," The Christian Century [of all places!] 88/43 (Oct. 27, 1971): 1262.
Amen to that.

Ok, one more note: Kent Hughes describes how this book impacted him in his SharperIron interview posted today.