Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Do Yourself a Favor This Christmas Season

I like sappy Christmas music as much as anybody else (check that . . . no I don't), but please find a way to hear Handel's Messiah this Christmas, on CD if you must. And if you listen on CD, resist the urge to skip over the long solos (recitatives, if memory of high school music apprec serves correctly) to the "good part." It's far too easy to forget the richness of Handel's text (or should I say libretto? [I'm on a roll now.]) in those solos. If the Messiah doesn't stir your religious affections, please let me know what does.

I was listening yesterday with Chris Anderson's discussion of congregational vs. special music in mind. Along those lines, I don't particularly appreciate the performance aspects of the recording I have (trilling the r's, heavy vibrato, etc.), so I'd be grateful for someone to suggest a more straightforward recording. Thanks in advance.

Enjoying It While It Lasts

Pop quiz: Name the three NCAA DI institutions that have simultaneously been ranked #1 in football and men's basketball.
Time's up. Try Notre Dame, UCLA, and, for at least this week, THE Ohio State University. Read the details here.

I'm not kidding myself. Heading into Chapel Hill tonight without Greg Oden doesn't leave much room for long-term optimism, but I'm going to kick back and enjoy the history . . . at least until 9:00 tonight.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Historic D.C. Area Episcopal Churches To Vote on Withdrawal from ECUSA

This Washington Times article reports on decisions by the governing bodies of Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church in Falls Church to recommend withdrawal from the ECUSA to the congregation. Statements from the two churches say that the pending split is motivated by fidelity to the authority of Scripture and the doctrine of salvation through Christ alone. Although the church statements that I've read do not refer to it directly, the 2003 consecration of homosexual bishop Eugene Robinson in New Hampshire clearly helped to spark this action.

A blog post supplies some additional information and a wealth of links to comments from both sides of the controversy, including links to the church websites. Wrangling seems poised to begin over the church property. Ecclesiastical disputes have a long history of creating sticky legal issues over whether the local church body or the denominational hierarchy holds valid title to church assets. Although the churches contend that a protocol agreement for dealing with the property had been reached prior to this action, the denominational diocese denies such an agreement.

Two additional facts are worth noting: 1) Former SharperIron and fundamentalist blogosphere regular poster David Gustafson serves on the governing body that recommended the change at The Falls Church. 2) I'm not too familiar with Episcopal polity, but I was surprised to read that the final decision on the withdrawal will be made by a congregational vote.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rick Warren Repudiates Syrian News Reports

Last week I linked to reports from Rick Warren's trip to Syria. Ken Fields has now posted an e-mail distributed by Warren. Here's the meat of it:
As we left, the official state-controlled Syrian news agency issued some press releases that sounded like I was a politician negotiating the Iraq war by praising the Syrian President and everything else in Syria! Of course, that’s ridiculous, but it created a stir among bloggers who tend to editorialize before verifying the truth. Does it seem ironic to you that people who distrust Syria are now believing Syrian press releases?
I'm grateful for four things:
  1. That the original reports of Warren's statements were distortions of the Syrian news agency, as I suspected.
  2. That Warren has realized his need to respond, as I suggested.
  3. That the dissipation of eternal truth in evangelicalism has been accompanied by a dissemination of technology that empowers pajama-clad (not that I am right now) bloggers to combat this downgrade and expose its perpetrators.
  4. That Warren (or someone close to him) reads blogs. Obviously, Rick doesn't like them much since many of them have exposed the shallow gospel in his sermons and writings, but perhaps reading a valid critique on a blog will strike a chord of truth in his mind.
In any case, I find the fact that this situation was so quickly repudiated by both bloggers and by Warren to be a healthy development. However, my doubt still stands that engaging in a conversation with Muslim political and religious leaders with Muslim media present is ever likely to advance the gospel. But then, who ever said the gospel is at the heart of Warren's international mission? Seems to me it has more to do with *P.E.A.C.E.

*"Saddleback Church’s “P.E.A.C.E. Plan” to train local churches to attack poverty, disease, corruption, illiteracy, and spiritual emptiness in cooperation with businesses and governments."

Saturday, November 18, 2006


First of all, let me open the comments section as a forum for Michigan fans to whine about the turf. Since three of them were already whining to me within 10 minutes of the end of the game, surely this must be a sore spot. I know I shouldn't be letting the secret out, but the Ohio State players were given maps of the field telling them where the good spots on the turf were. Antonio Pittman took clay court tennis lessons from Rafael Nadal to learn how to slide, stay upright, and change direction, a skill he put to good use late in the game to pick up a few extra yards and a first down.

Second, props to Troy Smith for saving us all hours of debate as to who should win the Heisman. If he's not the unanimous choice, then someone who runs political elections in Chicago or New Orleans must be handling the Heisman balloting.

Third, thank goodness Notre Dame now has to be out of the conversation. If everybody else loses and ND wins out, I can't see any way you can take ND over UM when UM lost by three on the road to the clear #1 and ND got shellacked at home by the Wolverines. I want UM to lose one game every year (maybe two this year), but I want ND to lose them all every year. I hate and respect Michigan. I disdain ND.

And finally, I haven't wanted a rematch all week. I thought this one should be for all the marbles, but after seeing it I'm more convinced than ever that somebody else needs to prove they deserve a shot--Rutgers, Arkansas, Florida, or USC. Unless one of these teams does something spectacular in their remaining games (not just wins, but big blowout wins), then UM and THE Ohio State University need to line it up again in 50 days. I don't like it, but the best two teams need to play.

And besides, I'd love to start spelling LLWLLLoyd Carr's name with one more L and make it LLWLLLLoyd Carr.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Do You Think You Worshiped Because You Enjoyed the Service?

From Dave Doran's recent sermon on one of my favorite passages, John 4:23-24:
When you leave a service where God has been worshiped, is your barometer of worship whether or not you liked it? Whether or not you enjoyed the songs? Or is it, "We did what God called us to do this morning. God explained how He is to be worshiped, and we did that, and we trust that God was pleased with it."

But you know, too much of our world has become so consumerist and it's filtered into the very fabric of our lives that we filter everything from the standard of our ideas and preferences, not from what God said. "Did we do what God said to do today, and was God pleased with it?" is really what matters. It must be driven by the Scriptures.
It seems likely to me that the traditional worship advocates will be quick to apply this admonition to the form used by the contemporary crowd, and the contemporary advocates will use it to critique the staleness of the traditional crowd. But as Doran points out immediately after this quotation, what we really need to be attentive to is the condition of our own hearts.

Doran on Mechanical Christianity

From this sermon:
Anytime we start to exchange external formalities for internal realities, then we are at the edge of the apostasy that Israel committed. When we begin to think that the sum of our Christian life can be measured by a bunch of routines that we follow—a bunch of places that we happen to end up at the right times. We do a certain number of things.

The minute that we start to think that knowing God is actually a mechanical relationship, we begin to find our feet parked on slippery slope because we are halfway toward abandoning God because we no longer delight in the Lord. We no longer desire Him. So we really don't know him. Because you can't know the true and living God and not delight in him. You cannot know the true and living God and not have some kind of internal response which draws you to him. The fact is that it is already the mark of a heart grown cold that we don't rejoice in Him like that.
I was just typing some editorial comments for this post about how it can be easy for those of us who hear statements like this to pay lip service of agreement because after all, my heart is right even if no one else's is. I'm God-centered. And I'm a biblicist. Well, just as I was typing, Doran said some very similar things in the last 5 or 10 minutes of the sermon.

Everybody agrees with this. Some people actually understand is. Fewer still really live it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

At the Risk of Sounding Like a Complete Idiot . . .

I'm used to it, I know. Save the jokes.

So I've been following this story (other perspective and some video here) about the North Carolina Baptist State Convention (BSC) enacting a provision that will empower the BSC to expel churches that "knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior." I'm no expert in SBC politics of any kind, let alone those of a specific state, even if I do attend an SBC seminary in the state.

But even if I don't understand all the history and politics, I'm at least bright enough to find the BSC's articles of incorporation, which includes this provision on membership in the Convention:
A cooperating church shall be one that financially supports any program, institution, or agency of the Convention, and which is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work.
That is it. No more requirements for membership. Zip. Nadda. Nil. Nothing. Think I'm crazy? Download the file and read it for yourself.

Now, there's a sense in which this policy isn't altogether new, even if it wasn't ever incorporated into the organizational documents. Baptist Press, the daily news service of the SBC, has an archived story of the expulsion of a North Carolina church from the state convention after baptizing and admitting into membership two homosexual men. The final paragraph briefly chronicles three previous church expulsions because of toleration of homosexuality. A pro-homosexual site corroborates and adds additional details to this account.

Call me crazy, but I think I would have voted against this new provision. In fact, I probably would have attempted to speak against it on the convention floor. Not because I think the BSC's requirements for membership are adequate. Not because I wouldn't like to see a lot of the current member churches expelled. And certainly not because I think churches should tolerate homosexuality.

I simply can't understand why this one issue is the hill worth dying on.

The BSC has tolerated for years—decades even—churches that have wholly abandoned the inspiration and authority of Scripture. It has overlooked putrid abominations at convention-funded colleges. It has never made other biblical commands tests of fellowship—commands like, say, church discipline. And last but not least, it has winked at rampant racism in BSC churches. Within the past five years, former Southeastern Seminary president Paige Patterson claimed that an average of one seminary student per month was fired from the pastorate of area churches for evangelizing African Americans.

And yet we don't see anything in the BSC articles of incorporation about any of those issues. I wonder why.

Could it be that the conservative resurgence has only now re-established a strong enough majority to enact more restrictive provisions? Perhaps, but I really doubt it.

Could it be that the advance of the homosexual agenda on the national level has revealed an immediate need to address this matter within the BSC? Surely this is a factor, but it still doesn't explain fully why homosexuality is a higher priority than racism and church discipline and oh yeah, say, the authority of the Bible.

Listen, I'm sure the vast majority of people who proposed and voted for this amendment are well-intentioned, godly folks. I'm glad they were willing to stand for something. But I just can't help but wonder why we (because this isn't just a BSC problem) pick and choose certain sins to elevate for judgment above others that are equally clear and far more prevalent. Is it just because homosexuality disgusts us—the socially conservative evangelicals? Are we less offended by churches that dilute or ignore God's Word or by churches that wallow in racism? Are we simply lazy—content to lop off decisively the visible manifestation of a disease rather than do the dirty work of digging out its cancerous roots?

May God grant us the grace, the courage, and the wisdom to take the hard road—the only road that leads to real church reform and the re-establishment of an authentic gospel.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Rick al-Warren?

The Syrian Arab News Agency reports on Rick Warren's trip to Syria, including the appreciation he expressed for the Syrian government and American disagreement with the Bush Iraq policy and his hope for tolerance between Christians and Muslims.

ChristianNewsWire is taking the SANA reports at face value, which seems more than a tad naïve. Still, one wonders what gospel purpose is served by rubbing shoulders and posing for photo-ops with the leadership of a regime that is the sworn enemy of Jesus Christ. Perhaps Warren will offer some explanation.

In any case, it's rather difficult not to think of similar excursions into communist countries in decades past by prominent Western Christians to commiserate with the apostate, state-endorsed churches—excursions that godless governments used to polish their image when Western Christians proclaimed that communists believed in religious liberty and would never persecute Christians behind the Iron Curtain.

Yeah, right.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Manless Churches: A New Problem?

My close friend, Ken Barbic, reviews Cortland Myers' Why Men Do Not Go to Church in the latest issue of the 9Marks newsletter (PDF).

When you read quotes like these below that Ken cites, you might expect that the book was written in 1999.
Society, business, politics, home, and everything have undergone a marked change within the last quarter of a century. The church has lost her grip upon these times if she does not move with them (15).

The old truth is sacred; old methods may not be. Truth cannot be changed; methods must always be changing. Aggressive inventiveness is the greatest factor in success from the human side (15).

The church for the times must meet the needs of the time. It must be of the Columbus spirit, and, with consecrated determination, discover the new world. It will find the discord in the music of modern life, and bring it back to key-note and harmony. It will brave any storm, and sail any sea to reach the great continent of man’s needs, and to satisfy the longings in his heart (19-20).
The reality is that Myers wrote in 1899. And just as the problem is not new, neither is the methodology that says, "Find out what men want and then give it to them." This is the soil of religious culture in which much of evangelicalism and fundamentalism has been rooted for more than a century. May God grant us the grace to prioritize getting the gospel right over getting the method right as we seek appropriate and effective means to make disciples.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

On Dead Skunks and Republicans

Here's a great editorial by Dick Armey, former House Republican majority leader. This is the real crux of it:
Eventually, the policy innovators and the "Spirit of '94" were largely replaced by political bureaucrats driven by a narrow vision. Their question became: How do we hold onto political power? The aberrant behavior and scandals that ended up defining the Republican majority in 2006 were a direct consequence of this shift in choice criteria from policy to political power.

The Laziness that Masquerades as Biblical Discernment and Standards

Holly Stratton hits another home run. Please ponder the implications.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

On Ecclesiastical Separation and BJU Obtaining TRACS Accreditation

Here's a link to some old-school Paleo--an article from 2005 on TRACS accreditation and "The Changing Face of Ecclesiastical Separation."

NOTE: I've left the original article unedited. Some links may not work. I know that the link to the Google cache is not available, but I'm sure the book that contains the quotes is still floating around in the BJU Campus Store if not on Amazon. And if not, I've got one for sale to the highest bidder.

Read the whole story on BJU receiving TRACS accreditation here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 5: DMLJ Resources)

Iain Murray's Life of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is not what you'd think of as a bargain, but it's highly recommended.

More economical (free) resources include:
  • Downloadable DMLJ sermons
  • Audio interviews with his daughter and son-in-law (1 2)--really fascinating stuff to hear first-hand perspective
  • A lecture by Iain Murray comparing Lloyd-Jones with Spurgeon (As I remember, Lloyd-Jones comes up a good bit in this discussion of Murray's Evangelicalism Divided, as well. Murray tells stories that I could listen to all day long.)
  • A wide variety of DMLJ links

Piper: Divide for the Sake of Unity

Piper's recent sermon from Romans 16 sounds rather like what fundamentalists advocate:
[F]or the sake of unity—that is, truth-based unity—Paul calls for truth-based division.
Read, watch, or hear the whole thing here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Finding the Gospel in the Midst of Scandal: Challies on Ted Haggard

Great words from Tim Challies. Read the whole post, but here's the heart of it:
And then realize that, as we explored earlier this week in a discussion about total depravity, there is really no difference between you and Haggard or between myself and Haggard. We are all totally depraved with our sin extending to every aspect of our being. There but for the grace of God go I. There but for the grace of God go you. While I would not expect a reporter to approach me if I were to fall into similar sin, I can only imagine the pain of having to sit in front of my children, my wife, and answer questions about whether or not I have had sex with a man or admitting that I purchased illegal drugs. It's horrible. It's terrifying. That could be my wife, wondering how I could do this to her, wondering if she can ever trust me again, wondering if she can ever love me again. Those could be my kids, hearing the lurid details of dad's depravity. Those could be my kids, trying bravely not to cry as they walk into school on Monday morning, knowing that everyone knows, knowing that life will never be the same.

I went from wanting to know details, to feeling pity to feeling terror to pleading with God to continue to extend His grace to me that I would not fall. Jonathan Edwards, in his most famous sermon, spoke about God's sovereignty and how, at any given moment, it is only the sovereign grace of God that keeps Him from ending a person's life. Marsden writes, "The subject of the sermon is that at this very moment God is holding sinners in his hands, delaying the awful destruction that their rebellion deserves." Edwards said, "You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his price: and yet 'tis nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment: 'tis to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night...but that God's hand has held you up: there is no other reason to be given why you han't gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship: yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you don't this very moment drop down into hell. Oh sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in." What is true of eternity, is equally true of the temporal. Just as nothing but God's hand keeps both Christian and non-Christian from death at any given moment, the same hand is all that restrains any of us from falling into sin as dreadful as Haggard's, or sin that is far worse.

Paul's exhortation of 1 Corinthians 10:12 has been much on my mind this weekend. "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall." Oh, that God would keep me from relying more on my effort and less on His grace. I pray and beg and plead that His grace would continue to extended to me that I would take heed, that I would continue to fill my heart with His Words of life.
Al Mohler makes a similar point about the gospel on today's Focus on the Family program (HT).

Think (Biblically) Before You Vote (or Don't)

Stephen Davey's radio broadcast began today what I expect to be an outstanding 4-part series, "I Pledge Allegiance: Politics for Citizens of Heaven."

Justin Taylor provides links to some thought-provoking perspectives from John Piper.

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 4: On Christian Culture and Politicians)

This is where Carl Henry really gets warmed up:
Q: Let's grant that the regenerate church is the New Society and the only enduring society, that the world as such can never be Christianized and turned into the New Society, and that apart from regeneration there is no participation in the kingdom of God. Having said that, does not the church nonetheless have a mission of light and salt in the world? Even if the institutional church is not to be politically engaged, does not Christ wish to expand his victory over evil and sin and all the forces that would destroy him, by penetrating the social order with Christians to exemplify godliness and justice? Are they not to work for good laws and a just society, even though they cannot hope to Christianize society?

A: Certainly. Such effort prevents the world from putrefying. But I regard it as entirely negative. I do not regard it as anything positive.

Q: Is it not possible that here or there at some points Christian effort might bring about what in quotation marks might be called "Christian culture"?

A: No. It will never come. All Scripture is against that. It's impossible. In the present world situation—surely it has never been more critical—all civilization is rocking, and we are facing collapse, morally, politically, and in every other way. I would have thought that surely at this time our urgent message should be, "Flee from the wrath to come!"

Q: Would you therefore encourage young people to consider the pulpit ministry or a missionary call above every other vocational call?

A: No. That's something I have never done and never would do. Such a decision must be a personal call from God. But seeing the critical danger of the world we must surely urge people to escape. It's amazing that any Christian could be concerned about anything else at this present time.

Q: Would you be happier if Sir Fred Catherwood, your son-in-law, were in the Christian ministry rather than in his present political work in the European Parliament?

A: No, I wouldn't. In fact, I was glad he resisted when pressure was brought upon him to go into the ministry. I've always tried to keep men out of the ministry. In my opinion a man should enter the ministry only if he cannot stay out of it.

Q: Did you indicate to him the remarkable contribution that he could make in the political arena?

A: Yes. But I also said that he should never—speaking as a Christian—claim that "this is the Christian political view." That approach was the mistake of Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper placed himself in a compromise position: a Christian minister becoming prime minister and then needing to form a coalition with Roman Catholics and claiming Christian sanction for specific political positions.

"This Generation Is Really Aching for Truth"

Al Mohler discusses the growing trend towards a serious approach to youth ministry that elevates substance over sugar-coating his radio program Friday. His conversation with Grant Layman of Covenant Life Church of Gaithersburg, MD and Jimmy Scroggins of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville exposes how more and more churches are emphasizing teaching parents to disciple their own children and de-emphasizing fun and games.

Here's the Time Magazine article that spurred the conversation.

By the way, the first segment is devoted to the Ted Haggard scandal.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 3: On Christians and the Social-Cultural Mandate)

This is my favorite part. I think the reason will be obvious to any regular readers.
Q: What do you think Christianity ought to say to the economic situation today?

A: I think the great message we must preach is God's judgment on men and on the world. Because man is a sinner, any human contrivance is doomed to fail; the only hope for the world is the return of Christ—nothing else. It amazes me that evangelicals have suddenly taken such an interest in politics; to do so would have made sense 50 or 100 years ago, but such efforts now seem to me sheer folly, for we are in a dissolving world. All my life I've opposed setting "times and seasons," but I feel increasingly that we may be in the last times.

[Discussion of the Jewish return to Jerusalem and the imminence of the end time omitted.]

Q: Would you agree that even if we might have only 24 or 48 hours, to withhold a witness in the political or any other arena is to withdraw prematurely from the social responsibility of the Christian and to distrust the providence of God? Might he not do something even in the last few hours that he had not done before? The closer we get to the end time, isn't it that much more important to address public conscience? Must we not press the claims of Christ in all the arenas of society and remind people, whether they receive Christ or not, of the criteria by which the returning King will judge men and nations?

A: No; I'm afraid I don't agree. It seems to me that our Lord's own emphasis is quite different, even opposed to this. Take Luke 17 where we read, "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. The did eat, they drank, they married wives . . . until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came . . ." You can't reform the world. That's why I disagree entirely with the "social and cultural mandate" teaching and its appeal to Genesis 1:28. It seems to me to forget completely the Fall. You can't Christianize the world. The end time is going to be like the time of the Flood. The condition of the modern world proves that what we must preach more than ever is "Escape from the wrath to come!" The situation is critical. I believe the Christian people—but not the church—should get involved in politics and in social affairs. The kingdom task of the church is to save men from the wrath to come by bringing them to Christ. This is what I believe and emphasize. The main function of politics, culture, and all these things is to restrain evil. They can never do an ultimately positive work. Surely the history of the world demonstrates that. You can never Christianize the world.

Hold Your Nose If You Must . . .

. . . but please vote next Tuesday.

Here's a good reason why you should. And here's another: "Love thy neighbor." I am yours, and I don't want to live under the regime described in that link.

And here's a voters' guide for some key races.

Strategies for Spiritual-Mindedness

These thoughts from Piper are worth more time than they're likely to receive in the electronic media, but I offer them for your edification. They've certainly been such to me.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lloyd-Jones: The Christianity Today Interview (Part 2: On the State of Evangelicalism)

Q: What great emphases do evangelicals too much neglect?

A: To me, the missing note in modern evangelicalism is the matter of godliness, or what was once called spirituality. We evangelicals are too smug, too self-satisfied, too healthy. The notion of being humbled under the mighty hand of God has gone. We live too much in the realm of a pseudo-intellectualism and an emphasis upon the will. The heart is being ignored. I see no hope until we return to the great emphasis of Jonathan Edwards who, though a brilliant intellect and outstanding philosopher, put ultimate emphasis upon the heart. By the heart I mean the whole man, with special emphasis on the emotional element. Today a vague sentimentality has replaced deep emotion. People are no longer humble; there is little fear of the Lord. Modern evangelicalism is very unlike the evangelicalism of the eighteenth century and of the Puritans. I'm unhappy about this. The genuine evangelicalism is that older evangelicalism.

Q: Was it not also intellectually and theologically powerful?

A: Tremendously so. But today we have a pseudo-intellectualism that is theologically shallow. We need both brilliant theological comprehension and the warm heart. When I first came to England evangelicalism was nontheological, pietistic, and sentimental, and I stressed engaging the intellect to its maximum. But now many evangelicals are far too conscious of their intellects; some are preoccupied with secondary things like the Christian view of art or of drama or of politics.

Q: You would surely want the Christian intellectual dimension to be strong enough to expose the shallowness of all speculative alternatives to the great truths of revelation?

A: Of course. But that alone is not enough. The most important chapter in the Bible today from the standpoint of modern preaching is I Corinthians 2. Without the demonstration of the Spirit's power, all theology leads to nothing. My key verse, in a sense, is Romans 6:17, "Ye have obeyed from the heart the form of sound words delivered unto you." While truth comes primarily to the intellect it must move the heart, which then, in turn, moves the will. Today many people go no farther than having the form of sound words; others place their emphasis upon decision. Both approaches ignore the heart.
This interview gets better every time I read it. Here's part 1 if you missed it.