Sunday, December 31, 2006

Paleoevangelical of the Year 2006

It's a cliché to talk about what a difficult decision this was, so I'm not going to dwell on how much I'm grateful to God for the influence of the two "runners up" in my life this year. If things continue as I expect, both will be named here in years to come.

This year it came down to a professor, a pastor-professor, and a pastor-blogger. And in spite of all the articles I've read over the course of the year that demean blogging, in this venue the pastor-blogger wins.

This year's recipient is probably best-known (or despised, or hated, or condemned) for his Calvinism, but his soteriological system isn't what makes Tom Ascol the 2006 Paleoevangelical of the Year. Ascol serves as the director of Founders Ministries, whose purpose is "the recovery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the reformation of local churches." Founders believes that "the promotion of the Doctrines of Grace" is intrinsic to that purpose, but no doubt many Baptists would disagree.

Frankly, it matters little to me whether or not they agree and even less whether or not they consider themselves 5-point Calvinists. What matters a great deal to me is that American churches—whether they consider themselves evangelical or fundamentalist—recover the gospel. That will mean abandoning and repudiating Finneyistic theology and methodology, valuing spiritual depth over shallow breadth, and cultivating a discipleship culture in which membership and discipline actually mean something.

But many people believe all this stuff. What sets Ascol apart? Simple. I'm sick of "incrementalism." Both Southern Baptists and independent fundamentalists talk about gradual progress toward these goals. One hears from time to time about back-room conversations between influential individuals in which these concerns are acknowledged to be both widespread and serious concerns.

Yet it seems to me that for many, the status quo of incremental progress is good enough. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists are so married to the mixed multitude of their constituencies and their associational relationships that they dare not expose the elephant in the room, much less try to kick it out.

For many of these men, this course of action is no doubt wise and prudent. I thank God that Tom Ascol has charted a different course. In both his blog and his efforts at the SBC Annual Meeting, particularly that of 2006, Ascol has smacked that elephant on the rump and made it snort.

To top it all off, Ascol has done all this in a gracious, even-keeled tone—always optimistic, and always exhorting the less patient among his allies. Not surprisingly, in the midst of the leadup to and fallout from the Caner-White-Ascol debate controversy, Ascol was the only party who, to the best of my knowledge, publicly acknowledged and sought forgiveness for his own words. The irony is that it's difficult for me to imagine that any impartial observer could have identified a more Christlike voice in that controversy. (Search his blog if you really want the whole story.)

My interaction with Ascol has been quite limited. I met him in person for the first time early this year, and that was for a brief moment. I hope that will change so that one day I will be able to count him not only as as an example of faithfulness, courage, grace, and wisdom, but also as a friend.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cal(vinist) Thomas

Here's his response to the question posed at the Newsweek OnFaith blog, "Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God? If so, what exactly does that mean? If not, who was he?"

Revivalists and apologists will not be amused.

This Is the Kind of Drama That Has a Place in the Church

As I remember, everyone recognized Ryan's giftedness in college. I can't imagine a better use for it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Update: Historic D.C. Area Episcopal Churches Vote To Withdraw from ECUSA

Here's the follow-up to a post from a few weeks ago. This is the short version from the Washington Post:
At least seven Virginia Episcopal parishes, opposed to the consecration of a gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions, have voted overwhelmingly to break from the U.S. church in a dramatic demonstration of widening rifts within the denomination.

Two of the congregations are among the state's largest and most historic: Truro Church in Fairfax City and The Falls Church in Falls Church, which have roots in the 1700s. Their leaders have been in the vanguard of a national effort to establish a conservative alternative to the Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion.

The result of the week-long vote, announced yesterday, sets up the possibility of a lengthy ecclesiastical and legal battle for property worth tens of millions of dollars. Buildings and land at Truro and The Falls Church are valued at about $25 million, according to Fairfax County records.
You can see the actual vote tallies here. At least two of the churches will place themselves under the oversight of a Nigerian bishop, with plans to form a Fairfax, Virginia, mission base of the Nigerian Church.

Regardless of the degree to which Episcopalian ordination of homosexual bishops factored into this ultimate decision, I'm grateful that the official Falls Church resolution and news release included the following rationale for the separation:
The Episcopal Church has departed from the authority of the Holy Scriptures and from historic Christian teaching on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior of humankind.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Please Forgive a Little Reminiscing (and Thanksgiving)

Not quite nine years ago I went skiing at Cascade Mountain in Portage, Wisconsin, with three guys--Paul, Steve, and Titus. Paul and I were in our first year of grad school at Maranatha, and Steve and Titus (whom I barely knew at the time) were juniors or so in the undergrad biblical studies program. The details of that evening are still a little fuzzy since I whacked my head pretty good on a mogul (it was in the shadows), but I'm pretty sure back then that Steve and Titus were set on heading to seminary eventually, and Paul and I were desiring vocational ministry but not yet too sure how it was all going to come together.

Two or three years later, Paul had started his MDiv at Central in Minneapolis, Steve and his wife were in China, and we had all completely lost track of Titus. About that time, I made plans to head to Central myself, and I thought Steve would be there in a year or so.

Things changed for me when the opportunity arose to join the staff of a North Carolina Bible curriculum publisher, about an hour from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had virtually no knowledge of the institution, but three or four older and wiser people in my life knew enough to say it seemed like a good option for my situation.

I entered the Southern Baptist world one Tuesday evening in August for a class in church history, and I have to admit that I felt a little anxiety, having no idea what I was getting into. To make matters worse, I showed up later than I intended and really had to hoof it to class. As I used my best trans-BJU-campus walk-run gait to head toward the Binkley Chapel basement, I passed another guy casually strolling along, furtively made eye contact with him, and gave him the standard "how ya' doin' " nod. Then I did a double-take, because the very first fellow-student I had spoken to on campus was that very same long-lost Titus we'd gone skiing with years before. He was heading to the same class, so we grabbed seats in the back of the large hall and probably spent more time that evening catching up than listening to the syllabus lecture. (I think Dr. Hogg forgave us.)

I can't give Titus enough credit for helping me adjust to a world I knew nothing about and for giving me the inside scoop by telling me which classes and teachers I had to take and, well, you can guess the rest. Since I commuted from an hour away, I never really infiltrated the campus culture, so he was my eyes and ears.

Titus graduated three semesters later, but I think it was the next semester that Steve (also from the ski trip) and his wife transferred into SEBTS from another program. By that time I was getting to the point in my program when I could pick off some choice elective classes, and he and I shared several of them. Some of them were tremendously formative, and Steve's presence was another great gift to me since we could compare notes from our similar educational background and talk about how what we were learning fit with what we had learned at Maranatha.

Today, as providence would have it, Steve and I walked across the platform during the commencement ceremony at SEBTS with just one other MDiv grad between us.

Tonight, my heart is full. I don't know exactly what to make of the strange "coincidence" that two of the three guys I went skiing with in 1998 were used by God to sharpen me and make my seminary education immeasurably more valuable than it otherwise would have been. Perhaps the skiing thing is completely irrelevant to the rest of the story, but it's a little spooky that those two guys formed the bookends of my seminary career, and I've talked to Paul a couple times today.

Regardless of all that, it's simply inescapable to me that God has poured out his grace on me once again. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. If I were a poet, I might call it something like "the lead of love."

And if that's not enough, I'm also grateful for Dr. Akin's charge to the grads from Psalm 23. One of the marks of a great preacher is the ability to get to the heart of a familiar text in a way that's entirely fresh. You can listen to it for yourself here.

P.S. For the two of you who (pretend to) care, I'll post a photo or two here in a couple days.

UPDATE: Just posted a photo with my sister, niece, and nephew. I think he was still afraid of the man in the black dress and the weird cap at this point. Hopefully I'll get one with Steve and Jason soon too.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Just for Fun: How Far Would You Travel . . .

. . . to witness a day-long panel discussion with Bauder, Dever, Doran, Jordan, MacArthur, Minnick, Mohler, and Piper? Assume there's no recording and no one can take note-taking devices into the room.

"We Preach Culture When We Should Be Preaching Christ."

Today I started listening for the umpteenth time (but the first time in a long time) to a message preached by Tim Jordan at the 2003 Heart Conference at Northland Baptist Bible College. Jordan is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church and chancellor of Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. His message wrestles with the appropriate methods for speaking and applying biblical truth to contemporary culture (contextualization).

While addressing the prevailing mindset in fundamentalism, he made the statement quoted in the title of this post. Jordan explicitly opposes the seeker mindset, which hands over control of the church's worship to unregenerate people, but he speaks boldly to the culture of fundamentalism with statements like these:
We need to begin a process of exegeting our beliefs, because some of what we believe, God didn't say. . . . A lot of the stuff isn't against what God said. It's just not what God said. So is that valueless? It might have great value. That's not the point. The point is, it's not what God said. . . . We are afraid of the truth.

We think if we can get people to live like the Cleavers, then they will be holy.

We [pastors] are really not mad that our people are different from Christ. We're mad that they're different from us.

We somehow glorify error to the right like it's better than error to the left.
If you can order this message from Northland, it will be well worth the investment.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Who's Your Paleoevangelical of the Year?

I've been thinking about this year's recipient, and I'm finding myself torn between two really deserving individuals. Then the thought struck me, "Wouldn't it be great to hear what Paleoreaders think? Who would they come up with?"

So here's your opportunity. Just tell me your rationale in 2 or 3 sentences (more if you want). The criteria? Established not quite a year ago, the Paleoevangelical of the year is . . .
. . . the person or people that God has used most to incline my thoughts, affections, and life most towards the gospel during the past year.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Guess This Quote of the Weekend

No googling. My last TNIV goes to the winner. Here it is:
"Humility comes before honor."
The correct answer is not Solomon.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Here's How You Know You've Been in a Great Class

After the final exam is done, all the students want the professor to lecture through the end of the allotted time.

What's Right with the Emerging Church?

Phil Johnson offers some insight in the final installment of his series at the Pulpit Magazine blog. My perspective is less informed than his, but I agree with all his observations. I think this one is the most salient:
They are right to point out that millions of American evangelicals live lives of gross hypocrisy and narcissism, ignoring the needs of the poor while indulging themselves with entertainments and luxuries while the church struggles, and many pastors live barely above the poverty level (if that), and our Christian brothers and sisters struggle in many parts of the world because they don’t even have clean water or basic medical care. We have the resources, and yet we are too prone to spend them on ourselves. I often think American evangelicals will have a lot to answer for when we are called to give account for our stewardship.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Youth Ministry as the Incubator for the Emerging Church

Here's a provocative portion of Phil Johnson's post at the Pulpit Magazine blog yesterday:
I have friends who have suggested that the emerging church idea is the predictable fruit of churches that tailor their youth ministries to whatever style is currently fashionable, hold alternative church services for the youth in a separate building (”the youth building”) and never incorporate them into the actual life of the church itself. They’ve grown into adulthood while their styles and preferences were catered to in a special “church” service all their own. The actual church service was something they weren’t expected to like. Many of them were never really exposed to worship in the context of the actual church, with real adults. They were deliberately entertained instead, and thus they were conditioned to think that way. They grew old, but they never grew up, and now even as adults, they want to continue to play at church, but outside the mainstream of the historic church. (My friend characterized the emerging church worship style as “Church services for the ADHD generation.” Read the Christianity Today account of Emergent’s national convention and you will understand why he said that.)
So keep on building your youth ministry on the sand of entertainment and excitement if you must. Warm the kids up to worship with skits and games. Dream up grosser and more outlandish spectacles. Keep on denying that what you reach them with is what you reach them to. And maybe one day you'll have your own little heretical kingdom that rises from the ruins of the Emerging Church.

Just don't forget to use your sermons to scorn all the small-minded people who said this was a bad idea. (Ha! Silly me. Sermons are so first century.)

"As If They Had Not Done Their Job Hard Enough"

Here's a gut-wrenching story on the last reunion of the survivors of Pearl Harbor.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Which Came First: The Chicken or the Social Gospel?

I'm wondering whether allowing universalist exegesis in your pulpit leads to the social gospel, or whether adopting the social gospel leads to allowing universalist exegesis in your pulpit. Any help for me here?

Speaking at Saddleback Church's Global Summit on AIDS and the Church, Senator Barack Obama delivered these remarks:
Or we can embrace another tradition of politics - a tradition that has stretched from the days of our founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another - and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done for the people with whom we share this Earth.

. . .

Corinthians says that we are all of one spirit, and that "if one part suffers, every part suffers with it." But it also says, "if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."
I think this video will give you everything you need to know about Warren. Just because you say you're about more than the social gospel doesn't make it true. Judge for yourself. (HT)

"Fundamentalists Have Altered Radically"

It shouldn't come as news to anyone that much of the fundamentalist movement has for decades been rather inconsistent (at best) regarding its ban on movie theater attendance. What is news to me is the historical background to the rise of this inconsistency, which Kevin Bauder has most helpfully sketched. Apparently, many "historic fundamentalists" aren't quite as historic as they would like to think.

But amid all the SI comment chatter (some of which is comical . . . at best) about things he hasn't even begun to address, I fear that the point will be lost—at least the point that jumped off screen to me. Here it is: It's less significant that fundamentalism now accepts theater than how it arrived at that conclusion. Sure fundamentalism kept some (not all) of the external moral standards for appropriate content, but it's a hollow M&M—a bit of air covered by a thin candy shell (at best). For in the sweeping consignment of Tertullian, Augustine, Pascal, and Tozer to the trash heap, fundamentalism eviscerated itself of thoughtfulness in this matter.

I really don't know what these men said, and I surely don't know whether they were right or wrong. I'm looking forward to finding out what I believe. And at the risk of losing my Young Fundamentalist membership card, I'm open to hearing and embracing objections to the medium as a whole. But in spite of what I don't know, what seems patently obvious to me is this: Once again, Bauder has demonstrated that fundamentalism as it exists today is not serious.

By the way, has anybody out there come up with an authoritative decision yet on whether it's ok to see a "film" in an IMAX theater while it's showing in ordinary theaters?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Piper on the Kind of Faith That Saves

I hate to rip quotes from context when they could be misconstrued apart context, but this comment from John Piper's recent sermon on Romans 7:1-6 is worthy of some reflection:
It is possible to receive things you do not like. It is possible to believe in things you do not admire and esteem and treasure. And I want to make sure you understand, saving faith is not a believing in something you don't like. Saving faith is not believing in a person you don't cherish and treasure and love. Saving faith is a believing in and a receiving of a treasure, or it does not save.

Oh, that's so important to make plain in our easy-believism age where people are just called to make this or that decision or the other, and nothing ever changes--Christ just tacked on to their American Way.
For some reason, this quote does't appear to be in the transcript, but I'm listening on the podcast, and the date matches. If someone figures out the apparent discrepancy, please let me know.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Most Influential Person You've Never Heard Of?

This is heavy stuff for a weekend, I know. But I hate to let the death of Milton Friedman without comment. Even though the American economy is still largely socialistic, it would be far more so were it not for Friedman's influence. Thomas Sowell wrote a respectful tribute that included this high praise:
Milton Friedman may well have been the most important economist of the 20th century, even if John Maynard Keynes was the most famous. No small part of Friedman’s achievement was rescuing economics from the pervasive and virtually unquestioned Keynesian orthodoxy that reigned in many places.

Ironically, Friedman began his career as a believer in both Keynesian economics and in the liberals’ vision of the world with which it was so compatible. Yet, in the end, no one did more to dethrone both. It is doubtful whether Ronald Reagan could have been elected president in 1980 without the changes in public opinion produced by Friedman’s work in the previous decades.
Just after Friedman's death I caught part of a rerun of his interview from a couple years ago on PBS' Charlie Rose show. At that point he was already into his 90's but was more sharp and articulate than I could ever hope to be.

Friedman made a point I've wondered about for a few years: The best arrangement of power for a balanced federal budget is a Democratic president and a Republican-controlled Congress. (He didn't say anything about how it works out for judicial appointments.) I wonder if that makes what we're about to have the worst. Take it for what it's worth.