Monday, December 31, 2007

Paleoevangelical of the Year 2007

It always seems like a cop-out to me when someone bestows a fill-in-the-blank-of-the-year award on an abstract idea or a group of people, rather than gathering the courage to name a particular individual.

But that's not going to stop me from naming the group of people that clearly influenced me more than any one individual alone and far more than any other collective group for the cause of the gospel in 2007.

At the beginning of the year I moved to Washington, DC, to participate in the internship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and I stayed around in DC after it was over to work in a low-level pastoral support role at the church that would help me soak up more preparation for prospective pastoral ministry in the future.

One of the oddest things we do at CHBC is a weekly service review. So for about two hours after the evening service, 50 or so weeks a year, all the staff pastors, all the pastoral assistants, all the interns (when they're in residence), everyone who participated on the platform in either of the Sunday services, and occasionally other special guests gather to talk about everything that took place during those services. That almost always includes music, service leading, assorted prayers, Scripture readings, Sunday evening sharing and prayer items, and the morning and evening sermons.

Participants discuss and debate what worked well and what didn't, and offer encouragement and constructive criticism to all who led the congregation in the various elements of the services, and most especially for the Sunday evening preacher—who may either be a non-staff elder of the church, a potential future elder, or a young man likely heading toward pastoral ministry. This is one of the absolutely foundational ways the gifts of younger men are evaluated, edified, and shaped in preparation for their own pastoral ministry elsewhere.

Although the bulk of the comments tends to focus on biblical content, usefulness of application, and the mechanics of presentation, one essential theme is never far from the surface of the discussion, and it often rises above the surface to absorb the center stage.

That theme is the gospel.

A basic presupposition of the service review is that what is being sung, prayed, read, and preached ought to draw bright red arrows in the minds of the congregation back to the gospel. Whether or not you're convinced that the central message of Scripture is the redemptive work of Christ isn't the issue. The point is that it's irresponsible for a pastor to preach a message from any text of Scripture without clarifying that text's relationship to the broader themes of Scripture and outlining the personal implications of that text and those themes for the congregation—presumably composed of both Christians and non-Christians. And the gospel is clearly one of those themes that has direct implications for the life of a believer. But that's another conversation.

What I'm here to do is to express gratitude to the service review crew—the 2007 Paleoevangelical of the Year—for its contribution to my life in demonstrating and modeling the centrality of the gospel in the public services of a congregation. Like many things that are good for me, it's certainly not always what I'd prefer to be doing on a Sunday night. In fact, sometimes it's downright annoying. But it "lights brushfires in our minds." So thanks to Mark, Michael, Andy, Deepak (not Chopra!), Mike, Mike, Adam, Kevin, sometimes Ken and Kasey and other special guests, and the other 11 interns (who strategically and creatively employed their "one comment" ;-) to my benefit as well as the more senior staff).

And there is one more thing I'm here to do. Pastors and future pastors, why not consider developing your own adapted version of service review in your own church? A little criticism offered and received with humility and love (and a dash of humor) never hurt anyone.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Setting Brushfires in the Minds of Men

I came across this sweet quote recently, attributed to John Adams. (I know I should be crediting someone, but I just can't remember whom.
It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

"The Gospel According to Reed, Robertson and Falwell"

As the obsessions of cultural Christianity shift this week from materialism to politics, I thought I'd continue to try to beat to death with a couple more articles the horse of evangelical hope in political influence.

The first is Nate Busenitz's post from earlier this month at the Pulpit Magazine blog. Nate makes some of the same points I've attempted to advance here, and adds some incisive comments about the fool's errand of seeking political influence:
The truth is that Christianizing (or moralizing) government has never had the long-lasting, God-honoring effects its promoters so deeply desire. Time and time again, Christian political efforts have resulted in, at most, some immediate political gains. But these gains are only external, lacking any power to change the hearts of fallen people. They are equally temporary, eventually resulting in both spiritual confusion and moral decline.
The second piece is from David Sanders of the Arkansas News Bureau. He describes his own journey out of the politics of the religious right. I can't think of a better sentence to summarize my own concerns than his statement about his own experience of obsession with political Christianity:
The downside wasn't that I became any less conservative, but that I became less Christian.
He expands on this notion, saying:
Some Christian conservatives ignore this valuable history lesson. Their activism and political involvement have become primary expressions of their faith, leaving the (wrong) impression that the nation's salvation and abundant life for its citizens can be realized through temporal means - by supporting certain policies or backing particular political candidates. Many times their evangelical zeal is for advancing a political agenda.
I couldn't possibly agree more. If you think the cause of the gospel and the future of America and the world is well-served when pastors or institutional presidents endorse candidates and align themselves with political parties, even purportedly as "private citizens," I would ask you to read and consider these articles. For the sake of the name of Christ and the cause of the gospel.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

And now what you've been waiting all year for—your chance to nominate a Paleoevangelical of the Year

I've settled on my recipient and intend to reveal it later this week. In the meantime, I'd like to hear your nominees and your rationale for why they've influenced you the most for the cause of the gospel over the past year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why aren't Southern Baptist leaders supporting one of their own?

Could it be a sort of politics, but of a different sort than the presidential variety? Read Robert Novak's take. Is it possible that someone who believes there were no liberals Southern Baptists in Arkansas would have similar optimism for and coziness with the State Department and the New York Times, as Novak says Paul Pressler fears?

"Mired in Just What the Fundamentalists Warned"

I don't have the energy, time, or even the intelligence to break down Touchstone's group assessment of the contemporary state of Evangelicalism. (I'd be interested to hear reactions from any of you who thought through it.)

But this comment from Russell Moore, executive director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement, caught my eye:
The Evangelical movement has “matured” out of Fundamentalism in some of the worst ways. Yes, Fundamentalism was often narrow, often legalistic, and often tied to an inordinate fear of contamination by the outside culture.

In our flight from Fundamentalism, however, many of us—individuals and churches—have become mired in just what the Fundamentalists warned us we would: worldliness. The carnality in many Evangelical churches is astounding, not just at the obvious level of sensuality, but also at the less obvious (to us, anyway) level of covetousness, love of money, and celebrity worship.
Later, Moore says:
I’ve found that some of the harshest “inside the tent” critics of Evangelicals share the basic assumptions of the early pioneers of the movement: that a constellation of parachurch ministries and institutions, unaccountable to specific local churches, can have an identity at all. Indeed, I’ve found that some of the harshest critics of Evangelicalism are often also the least ecclesially situated, and thus the most prone to the individualism that, it is asserted, threatens Evangelicalism—whatever that is.
This second point touches on a discussion we had here a couple months ago on the centrality of ecclesiology to the devolution of both fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Thanks to Andy Naselli, I got my hands on a copy of a TEDS PhD dissertation by Larry Oats, chairman of the Bible department at Maranatha Baptist Bible College. It was encouraging to see someone document the ecclesiological deficiencies in both movments that have led us where we are today. It's difficult for me to imagine anyone in either movement stumbling on a solution without first identifying the problem. I intend to work through that dissertation more in days to come. We'll see if time permits.


For those of you thinking through what elder leadership in a congregational context ought to look like, Ligon Duncan has helpfully compiled links to Thabiti Anyabwile's excellent series of posts.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Could someone give me a mainstream, fundamentalist movement, separatistic perspective on something?

Ok, I'm genuinely inquisitive here—not being snarky in the slightest or even trying to make some subtle point.

The Missouri Baptist Convention (more or less the state-level manifestation of the SBC) recently voted to withdraw financial support from churches that affiliate with the Acts 29 Network of church planters (think Mark Driscoll).

Though the MBC offered no official explanation in their action, recent discussion from both sides seems to indicate that moderate use of alcohol is the central issue. Here's the Acts 29 response. More details shouldn't be too hard to find.

So here's my question: How would hard-line, rigidly separatistic, independent fundamental Baptists respond to this? Is this a good thing or a bad thing, and why? Don Johnson, Frank Sansone, anybody in the OBF, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks in all sincerity.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Don't Mess with the Dispensational Evangelists

We already talked about Tim Tebow after a little event last January that I'd rather forget. But now he goes and wins the Heisman, and is getting even more press about his faith and his background in evangelism and missions. Here's a link to his dad's evangelistic ministry's statement of faith.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"I don't think my role is to endorse a candidate."

So said Al Mohler in a recent radio program, on which he discussed Romney's faith speech.

Three former SBC presidents and Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary, seem to find endorsing a presidential candidate to be compatible with their roles.

And in related but more entertaining news, Mike Huckabee petition workers swarmed the sidewalks outside church tonight stalking the elusive creatures known as DC Republicans.

I Think This One's for Us, Greg

Here's the President's proclamation, released today (lightly edited, for space . . . of course)
For Immediate Release December 12, 2007

Wright Brothers Day, 2007

- - - - - - -

by the President of the United States of America

a proclamation . . .

On Wright Brothers Day, we remember the achievement of two young brothers . . . whose persistence, skill, ingenuity, and daring revolutionized the world.
. . .

The Congress, by a joint resolution . . . as amended (77 Stat. 402; 36 U.S.C. 143), has designated December 17 of each year as "Wright Brothers Day" and has authorized and requested the President to issue annually a proclamation inviting the people of the United States to observe that day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim December 17, 2007, as Wright Brothers Day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
eleventh day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-second.

And to top it all off, here's a photo of the swearing-in of the brand new Hizzoner of Columbus Grove, Ohio—the write-in candidate with a mandate. Not a bad day for people named Wright, I'd say.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

An Obligation to Panic: The Price of Cultural "Relevance"

Though I'll concede that the subtle messages communicated in our media culture have a palpable cumulative effect, I fully concur with Bob Bixby's disdain for evangelicalism's infatuation with cinema. It reminds me a bit of the whole End of the Spear kerfuffle way back in the day.

Here's a gem of a line from Bob's piece:
[T]he Evangelical American is obligated to panic. It would be bizarre to put one’s confidence in horses and chariots and then be unmoved when one is attacked by horses and chariots. You should be a afraid of what you trust in if what you trust in is being used against you.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"More Liberal Than Ever Before"

Download Jeff Noblit's talk at the recent Building Bridges Conferences Southern Baptists and Calvinism. Noblit doesn't pull any punches. He describes candidly his fears for the theological condition of today's SBC churches with these words: "In the churches, where it matters, I believe we are more liberal than ever before."

This condition is the product of a strategy that began with the agencies, particularly the seminaries, so that the head is healthy, but the heart—the churches—is dying. The battle for the inerrancy of Scripture was won, but the battle for the sufficiency of Scripture has scarcely been engaged. He calls it the difference between Rick Warren and John MacArthur.

The outcome is that "the outer cloak may look much like Spurgeon or Criswell, but the man on the inside looks more like Robert Schuller or Oprah Winfrey."

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Year-End Giving: Guidelines for Investing Wisely

A couple recent conversations have spurred my interest in considering how Christians should think about giving to Christian causes or ministries. This conversation assumes that we're giving faithfully, which I understand to mean sacrificially, regularly, and willingly, to the work of our own local church.

Here's what I've come up with so far:
  1. Theological health of the organization. Obviously, it's difficult for me to imagine giving a dime to an organization with which I don't have a pretty high level of theological affinity, and a similarly high level of agreement with the application of that theology.
  2. Proven record of wise stewardship of resources and productive use of them. Here I'm thinking of one particular organization, to which I've never yet donated myself, that consistently launches worthwhile initiatives and works to make resources available for free or at a very affordable cost.
  3. Stability of leadership. Is there constant turnover? Does the leadership model and implement within the organization the theology and philosophy of ministry the organization is seeking to advance?
  4. Strategic nature of the ministry. Is this organization doing something no one else is doing? Is its work hitting at core issues or symptoms of deeper problems? Is the ministry gospel-centered?
  5. Personal relationships. All other things being equal, I think there's value in giving to people you know to encourage their work and develop deeper opportunities for partnership.
This is just the product of maybe a half hour of thinking. I'm sure there are things I've missed. I'm really curious to hear how the rest of you have thought through these questions, and I suspect I'll benefit from your wisdom.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Seen on an SBC Church Bookstall

I love irony.

Why Pastors Promote Tithing: "Pragmatism, Tradition and Ignorance, Quite Frankly"

That's the argument made by one of the most widely respected NT scholars in the United States, Andreas Kostenberger. He's cited in this piece in the Wall Street Journal.

My presumption is that tithing is another issue on which we're going to see something of a generation gap among fundamentalists and evangelicals. To some degree, it's no doubt a reflection of the increasing across-the-board rejection of religious authority. But to another degree, I suspect the differences arise from a theological realignment that reexamines both what Scripture actually requires and what really motivates and accomplishes spiritual transformation in the human heart.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I have no opinion. Help me form one.

I was intrigued by last Thurday's opinion piece from Peggy Noonan in the Journal on whether we make too much of politicians' religious faith. I'm not sure what I think off it yet, and I'd like to hear some feedback from anyone willing to take the time to read it and share some thoughts.

As a teaser, here's her conclusion:
We should lighten up on demanding access to their hearts. It is impossible for us to know their hearts. It's barely possible to know your own. Faith is important but it's also personal. When we force political figures to tell us their deepest thoughts on it, they'll be tempted to act, to pretend. Do politicians tend to give in to temptation? Most people do. Are politicians better than most people? Quick, a show of hands. I don't think so either.
Any takers? I'd especially like to hear from you quiet lurkers. C'mon, there's nothing to lose on a benign piece like this one!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Best Little Book You've Probably Never Heard Of

Thanksgiving provided a little extra time for reading, and I finished A Vision for Missions, a Banner of Truth paperback by Tom Wells.

What's so great about it? Well, a friend of mine, who's spent some time doing missions work in Central Asia, described it as a combination of Packer's Knowing God and Piper's Let the Nations Be Glad, both of which are just stellar books.

So here's Wells' thesis: "God is worthy to be known and proclaimed for who He is, and that fact is an important part of the missionary motive and message" (9). And here's why that thesis needs to be advanced: "Our danger, it seems to me, lies in . . . forgetting God in our zeal for men" (110).

But the kicker about Wells' book is that you can get it here for under $5, and it's only 157 pages long. If I recall correctly, that's about 25% of the price and 30% of the size of Packer and Piper's books. By all means, buy a few extra and give them away if you can afford it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Sure, it's a rivalry, kinda like the rivalry between the hammer and the nail.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Would you vote for a candidate who agrees with you on every issue, except that he's a white supremacist?"

Guest host Russell Moore asks this question and others related to Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani on Monday's Albert Mohler radio program. Moore argues that denying the humanity of and basic human rights to a whole category of human beings ought to be enough to make such an endorsement unthinkable for a Christian.

Moore also said, "I don't even have a candidate yet. And if I did I wouldn't tell you. It just wouldn't be appropriate." Doesn't it seem ironic that the author of The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective and director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement would take a stronger stand against political endorsements than some fundamentalists?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Reformation Continues

Several years ago, when I started to pay attention to the specifics of independent fundamentalist assessments of the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the major points of critique was that the SBC still funded the liberal, ecumenical, Baptist World Alliance. At that point, the SBC had already begun to reduce its annual contribution to the BWA, and not long after it fully de-funded the BWA.

Since then, I've sensed the discussion shifting to other points of weakness, such as the funding by the various state Baptist conventions of numerous "Baptist" colleges ranging from theologically marginal to downright apostate. Another is the toleration of non-evangelical congregations within local associations, state conventions, and the national convention.

Now, I can't imagine much of anyone with a serious, theological understanding of the gospel and the local church attempting to argue that the SBC's long road to reform is complete. But neither can I understand why today's action by the North Carolina Baptist State Convention to expel a liberal congregation and to begin the process of severing ties with the state's remaining Baptist colleges should not be interpreted as evidence to the continuation of the process of reform.

The SBC didn't lose its theology overnight, or even in a century. Neither will it be regained fully in less than three decades since the watershed year of 1979. But the long march continues. I pray this march will not have to continue much longer before more independent Baptists begin to develop relationships with the leaders of reform for the purpose of mutual edification and encouragement.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


As I mentioned earlier, I’m spending a few days in Jackson, the capital city of Mississippi. We arrived on Monday, just in time to see some campaign ads for the second most interesting electoral race in the nation this past Tuesday. (Of course, the most interesting was my dad’s mayoral race in the burgeoning metropolis of Columbus Grove, Ohio.) The odd thing about Mississippi’s gubernatorial race was that the incumbent Republican, Haley Barbour, was challenged by a divorced, ambulance-chasing lawyer Democrat who was running to the right of Barbour. The Democrat even held his Bible and trumpeted his faith in his TV commercials. (And then he got trounced.)

I couldn’t help but think of some parallels to some of my own experiences over the past five years or so. My sense is that independent Baptists who think of themselves as fundamentalists assume that they are more conservative, more discerning, and certainly more biblically faithful than their Southern Baptist brethren. I think this is true on some points. I think the two groups are strikingly indistinguishable on many others. But on several points, it seems clear to me that some (many?) SBC folk are staking out ground that is clearly to the right of some (many?) IFBs.

Several examples come to mind. At Southeastern Seminary I was taught a much more restrictive position on remarriage after “exception clause” related divorce than the IFB church of which I was a member at the time. Seminary professors raised serious questions about the abortifacient nature of prescription contraceptives, which was quite the opposite of my experience in IFB circles. Most significantly, church discipline at Southeastern was not merely a biblical truth, but a biblical priority. Professors were not only teaching, but emphasizing—even indoctrinating—the application of biblical imperatives that I did not experience first-hand in the IFB world until two or three years later. My presumption is that men who had experienced the battles for the Bible in the SBC in the 80s and 90s knew experientially how essential is regenerate church membership to the health and faithfulness of local churches and broader partnerships between churches. I could go on. (And of course we all know that means the other illustrations I had in mind have slipped out of my brain at this moment.)

Let me be quite clear. I don’t mean to suggest in any way that because one position is perceived to be more conservative that it must be the correct position. Surely that is often false. Of the above examples, my personal convictions are neither monolithically with the more or the less conservative positions.

Now, I left out one other example, because it’s the one I really want to talk about. Anybody heard who SBC President Frank Page is endorsing for the 2008 presidential race? How about Al Mohler, the guy with the daily radio program that discusses the political scene all the time? Or surely there’s something definitive out there from SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land, right? After all, he's the SBC voice in Washington.

Are those crickets that I hear chirping?

Of course, that could all change in a moment. I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if Land in particular wound up offering some sort of thinly-veiled endorsement. And of course, I wouldn't suggest that IFBs and SBCs are monolithic. I'd be as stunned to hear Dave Doran or Mark Minnick endorse a candidate as I was disgusted to watch an SBC pastors employ all his rhetorical tricks on behalf of Ron Paul at a straw poll. But isn’t the silence of key SBC leaders even to this point downright striking given the fact that a former SBC pastor has an outside (but not unrealistic) shot at winning the Republican nomination? Huckabee may be no classical conservative, but he’s a fair bit more interested in traditional values than Al Gore and Bill Clinton, the past two nominees of a major party with SBC ties.

Now, I don’t know how to get around what I’m about to say any more than I know how to explain it. I suspect we all know by now that Bob Jones University has once again been thrust into the news, not because of a theological conviction or some offense caused by the gospel, but because of politics. And this time, certainly much more so than in 2000, the thrust has been deliberate. I don't think it would be at all unfair to call it strategic and calculated. So while the most prominent SBC leaders have been withdrawn even when the interests of one of their own are at stake, BJU officials have not only supported but encouraged others to support a rich Mormon with a mixed record on social issues.

The latest news is that BJU officials organized and* hosted an invitation-only event in which Romney spoke to a crowd largely comprised of BJU personnel and alumni, one of whom recorded the event and passed that on to CNN. Read the story and hear the audio. This seems to have been the same event Rick Phillips recently blogged about at Reformation 21. And just for clarity's sake, I'm neither endorsing Romney nor in any way personally opposed to his nomination.

Just color me puzzled.

I recognize that there is a rich history of relationships between religious leaders and government. But when I think of people who represent that marriage, I’m thinking about Constantine, various popes and Holy Roman Emperors, Henry VIII, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Kuyper. Now, a couple of those guys are surely spoken of positively on the campus of BJU (at least on occasion in some classrooms and no doubt frequently in some dorm rooms), but when I think of the Methodist-turned-mostly-baptistic background of the BJU presidents, I’m not associating them too much with the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, or Reformed traditions. Certainly not with their view of the relationship between church and state. (Granted, BJU probably doesn’t think of itself as a “church.” The thing students, faculty, and staff are required to attend on Sunday mornings goes by a different name.)

That doesn’t mean I think that a Christian leader endorsing a presidential candidate—even a Mormon candidate—is clearly incompatible with biblical Christianity. I am unaware of a biblical mandate or even an irrefutable principle that would prohibit such actions. I wouldn’t suggest that Bob Jones III or Bob Taylor (or Wayne Grudem or Justin Taylor) are in sin.

I would suggest that using credibility gained through one's preaching ministry to advance a political candidate is an unwise choice—a choice that’s particularly unhelpful to the gospel message.

A friend e-mailed me recently to ask about the "interesting ideas” about Christians and politics I was rumored to hold. Here’s how I responded:
I like Christians working in government. I don't much like churches working in government. I think there are two problems with churches getting involved in politics: First, it makes the world think that Christian churches are more interested in political power than the gospel. Second, it makes Christians think that we can transform culture through politics rather than the message of the gospel.

So politics is a good and noble profession for a Christian to pursue, and we need Christians in government and politics to be salt and light in those places. Their presence reflects God's character and common grace to all society when they make good laws and advance the cause of justice, and it gives them opportunities to speak and live the gospel in front of non-Christians, just like in any other professions. But many Christians have concluded that we can transform society and culture by making good laws. I believe the Bible teaches that the only way to transform culture is by changing people's hearts through the power of the gospel. Any efforts by churches to accomplish that transformation through an ineffective means can only distract us from our central mission of the gospel.

That doesn't mean I think churches and pastors should have no voice on particular social and moral issues. I do think churches should speak out on abortion and marriage and other issues. But I'm not sure the way to do that is to lobby government officials, organize political rallies, or support candidates.
At the end of the day, the question I'm left asking myself is, "What is it that is so compelling about a political campaign that would lead Christian leaders to attract attention to their presumably gospel-oriented institution over matters of politics?" An uncharitable response would be to imply that such decisions are driven by a lust for power. I simply don't think that's true at all.

Perhaps I'm not thinking of possible explanations, but what I fear is most likely is a foundational misunderstanding of the relationship between cultural transformation, the power of the gospel, and the divine initiation of the regeneration of the human heart. I think we're seeing the application of a presupposition that using spiritual influence in political endeavors will bear desirable fruit in our culture. I fear that this presupposition betrays a distorted understanding of the gospel, in which moral laws and national leaders create an atmosphere that is conducive to the advance of the gospel message and the kingdom of God.

Put simply, the clear implication of this presupposition is that moral, unregenerate people can increase the likelihood that individuals in our culture will receive the message of the gospel.

The trouble is, this belief is antithetical to the biblical gospel. The biblical message of the gospel is that God makes the deaf hear, the blind see, and the dead breathe life. No President, whether Mormon or Fundamental Baptist, can advance God's kingdom in the hearts of men through political means. No President, whether nominal Christian or atheist, can hinder the advance of God's kingdom.

I'll close with a revealing anecdote from this article on SBC President Frank Page's conversations with the 2008 candidates:
"When I spent two solid hours in a private meeting with Rudy Giuliani, I shared Christ with him so much that at the end of that two hours I said, 'Rudy, I'm not going to leave this place unless I give you an opportunity to pray with me to receive Jesus as your savior. Would you do that with me Rudy?'" Page recounted.

"He said, 'No, Frank, I'm not ready to do that. My daddy knows Jesus like that, but I'm not ready for that.'"
That is precisely the kind of clarity preachers of the gospel ought to introduce to men's hearts. Is there a compelling reason why Christian leaders can't stick to that simple message of new life in Christ through faith in Him, and stop creating gospel-killing confusion about whether our interests are grounded in this world or the next?

*[edit: This particular point has been contested in the comments and backed up with enough detail that I am not able to say confidently that my original interpretation of the published news reports is correct.]

Friday, November 09, 2007


A friend pointed out to me today that this sounds like repentance.

This, not so much.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

My Road Trip to Presbyterianism

I’ve been in Jackson, Mississippi all week tagging along with the CHBC intern trip. Mark Dever has been delivering lectures on preaching at RTS Jackson. Tomorrow, First Pres Church of Jackson, where Ligon Duncan is the senior minister, will host a 9Marks Workshop. I may have a short post on a couple parts of the trip later, but I’ll leave the blow-by-blow accounts to interns Noah (who’ll be far more thorough) and Graham (who’ll be far funnier).

For right now, I just want to share a really cool piece of info for anyone who desires more biblical/theological training but doesn’t see a seminary program as a viable option.

Last night after the service at First Pres, the CHBC crew had the opportunity to spend some time with the chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary. Ric Cannada oversees and coordinates the presidents of all five RTS campuses. RTS has pioneered the multiple campus approach to seminary that others are now wading into. But now they’ve found a new way to serve even more people by uploading hundreds of classroom lectures to iTunes, where’re they’re available for free.

Now, I’m a Baptist, and I’m certainly far from being a classical Covenant Theologian, and the content of RTS teaching is intended to be in line with the Westminster Confession of Faith. Nevertheless, I suspect there are very few seminaries in the world where you’ll find more consistently biblical teaching than at RTS. And I could be wrong, but I’m not aware of any comparable institutions that have put hundreds of lectures online for free. (I think Covenant Seminary in St. Louis may have done a good deal of this, but I’m simply not as familiar with Covenant.)

One more thing quickly. Seldom have I been a party to more fascinating conversations than those that take place between Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, and the groups of younger guys preparing for ministry that often surround both of them. Whether they’re discussing the level of their agreement with a book like this one, the grounds for their staunch disagreement over matters of polity, or their common theology and application of the message of the gospel, I hope it’s impossible not to give thanks for the providence that brought them together.

For my part, it’s simply obvious to me that serious, theological, thoughtful Baptists who recognize the essential nature of contemporary threats to the biblical gospel ought to find far more in common with Presbyterians like Duncan and other friends at First Pres of Jackson than with the vast majority of Baptists, whether they be of the SBC or the IFB variety.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Fundamentals for the 21st Century

I'm not one of the true scholars who manage to keep up with actually reading all the new book releases on contemporary theological issues. But lately they've either been proliferating in unusual quantities, or for some reason I've simply been more tuned in.

John Piper's new book (here's a summary) is the latest installment in the responses to contemporary theological issues that strike me in some ways as being similar to The Fundamentals series from the early 20th century. Just as those authors saw the immediate threats to orthodox faith in the form of modernism, so many contemporary authors—few if any more attuned, astute, and prolific than Piper—perceive and piercingly refute today's departures from historic biblical orthodoxy with the force of the full weight of Scripture. As I remember, attacks on the doctrine of justification were nowhere on the radar screen 100 years ago, so the need for this volume surely tells us a bit about the direction of broad evangelicalism.

And again not unlike The Fundamentals which were distributed to thousands of pastors for free, you can get Piper's book for free here as a PDF.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

So Apparently John Piper Read that Christianity Today Article

Recently I posted a link to a CT article that discusses fundamentalism and refers to a 2005 Fundamental Baptist Fellowship resolution that both praises and criticizes John Piper. Piper quotes from this resolution and responds. Here's part of it:
What I want to say about Fundamentalism is that its great gift to the church is precisely the backbone to resist compromise and to make standing for truth and principle a means of love rather than an alternative to it. I am helped by the call for biblical separation, because almost no evangelicals even think about the doctrine.
Here are links (1 2) to my original posts on the resolution.

And here's a HT: Andy Naselli

Monday, October 29, 2007

Here's an Endorsement I Like

Cal Thomas endorses (audio mp3) the novel idea of conservative religious leaders staying out of presidential elections, asserting that attempting to change culture through the means of political power and influence is an anti-biblical trust in princes and kings. It'll take you about a minute to listen.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Here's a Surprising Little Tidbit from Today's Christianity Today E-mail

Collin Hansen examines the increasing dissatisfaction among younger fundamentalists and asks this question:
Fundamentalists have a strategy problem: Do they clamp down on these youngsters, risking a deeper generation gap? Or do they reconsider strict separation and cultural isolation? By choosing the latter, they may save their youth and lose their cause.
The article is too short to provide much insight, but then he really does ask the right question about strategy, doesn't he? Are fundamentalists principled or pragmatic? Will they move the ancient landmarks or lose their youth? Or will they find more effective ways to transfer their values? Or perhaps conclude that the evangelical landscape is radically different from what it was in the 1950s, and it's time for a different approach?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Billy Graham-Robert Schuller Video

A friend from seminary sent me today a heads up on the video of Billy Graham denying the biblical gospel that's quoted in Iain Murray's Evangelicalism Divided. The Graham-Schuller conversation actually starts 1:17 into the video.

And for those who still persist in the belief that John MacArthur signed ECT and supports the BGEA, here are some of MacArthur's own words:

Friday, October 19, 2007

This Topsy-Turvy Ecclesio-Political World

Some have raised questions as to the timing of the BJU community endorsements of Mitt Romney. I felt stupid this morning when it occurred to me that it was perfectly timed to influence this weekend's Values Voters' Summit in DC.

Meanwhile, as fundamentalists endorse Romney, Southern Baptists excoriate him. The newly installed pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas is either persuading his congregation that they don't want Romney or they don't want a Christian in the Oval Office. SBC President Frank Page is skirting anything approaching an endorsement, and apparently prefers to witness to the candidates. And of course, Joel Osteen loves everybody:
I don't think [Romney's Mormon faith] would affect me," Mr. Osteen said. "I've heard him say that he believes Jesus is his savior, just like I do. I've studied it deeply, and maybe people don't agree with me, but I like to look at a person's value and what they stand for.
Finally, a Wall Street Journal opinion piece takes the measure of the new "cosmopolitan evangelicalism," the odd cocktail created by the entrée of the faith community to the halls of power.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Al Mohler on the BJ III Endorsement of Romney

From another Hugh Hewitt post, again courtesy Josh Scheiderer. Here's Mohler:
[T]his is a huge signal. This is like a lighthouse going on, the light shining its beam on Mitt Romney. Not only that, but the argument made by Bob Jones III basically means that not only is he supporting Mitt Romney, he’s basically saying he is the only option so far as he sees it on the Republican side.
No endorsement from Mohler, though. Could this mean mainline fundamentalists are more politically engaged than conservative evangelicals?

Willow Creek Repents?

Read this absolutely fascinating piece on Willow Creek's change of heart after 30 years of market-driven ministry. But what's next? Has Hybels been reading Nine Marks of a Healthy Church? Or is this the first step in a transition to Emerging? Your guess is as good as mine, but before you guess, read the closing kicker from the blog post, from the voice of the Willow Creek executive pastor:
Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet.
My hope is that they throw away the clean sheet of paper, forget about research and new insights, and pull out a 2,000 year-old book with lots of paper on which ancient words have already been printed.

HT: Justin Taylor

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

BJU Statement on Political Endorsements

Distributed in an e-mail this evening, and currently available on the web here:
Over the past two election cycles, Bob Jones University has become much more of a media focus than we would have chosen to be. Given that media fascination, BJU is in the news again—this time with yesterday’s endorsement of Gov. Mitt Romney for president by Dr. Bob Jones III and Dr. Bob Taylor.

Bob Jones University has never officially endorsed political candidates, and that policy remains unchanged. Each of us as U.S. citizens has the privilege and responsibility before God to examine the candidates and come to a decision of conscience about how we will cast our vote. It is in that role as private citizens that Dr. Jones III and Dr. Bob Taylor have chosen to cast their vote for Mitt Romney. Other faculty, staff and administrators will choose otherwise. In each case, however, their decision reflects only their personal choice and does not represent BJU as an organization.

When They Discuss Fundamentalism at Trinity

Andy Naselli has posted his review of Rolland McCune's Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism, which he delivered yesterday in a class at Trinity.

I read the book over the summer, posted on it once, and intend to post more on it, but I've been intending to for a while. For now, let me merely associate myself with Naselli's thorough and insightful analysis and make two comments:

1. I thought the documentation in Iain Murray's Evangelicalism Divided and George Marden's Reforming Fundamentalism offered all the possible documentation of why the new evangelical strategies of ecumenical evangelism and recovery of apostate denominations were bad ideas. I was wrong. McCune goes far beyond them. I simply cannot comprehend how anyone who believes and loves the gospel could conclude that this strategy has been wise, fruitful, or faithful. Yet some seemingly do.

2. As fundamentalists frequently do, McCune criticizes Al Mohler for taking "a lead role in the Billy Graham Louisville ecumenical evangelistic crusade a few years back." Now, I've disagreed with Mohler often, and I certainly don't intend to try to justify this choice, but I think it's worthwhile to point out that Mohler only did so on the condition that no Roman Catholics or liberal Protestants participate in the crusade leadership. This was a significant concession for the Graham camp, even if one is not convinced that it vindicates Mohler. Personally, I'll be far more inclined to accept this fundamentalist criticism as valid when a 32 year-old separatist fundamentalist successfully recovers a theological seminary from the absolute pits of liberalism and transforms it into a conservative bastion and the largest seminary in the world without forming any alliances that could be reasonably questioned.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hey, Forget that Last Post.

Bob Jones III just endorsed Romney.

Here's perhaps the key comment:
Asked whether Romney’s religion was a stumbling block for him, Jones replied, "What is the alternative, Hillary’s lack of religion or an erroneous religion?"
I think I get Jones' point here, and I think it's true politically, in the sense that he intended it. Theologically? Not so much.

BJU Dean to Endorse Romney

I suspect Bob Taylor will catch some heat from the traditional BJU constituency over this report in the Wall Street Journal. Of course, read the story and you'll see that this will be no surprise to Taylor. BJU has allowed Roman Catholics (such as Pat Buchanan) to speak in non-religious convocations in the past, and even some on campus were pretty upset when that happened during my student days.

I like Taylor's statement that we're electing a president, not a pastor. And while I'm fairly convinced that Mike Huckabee is closer ideologically and certainly far closer theologically to the stance of BJU, this seems like a matter in which a little pragmatism is appropriate. Not to concede, of course, that I'm at all comfortable with Taylor's stated intention to use his prominence in the Religious Right to pull others along with him. But that's another discussion.

[Update: Read an alternative view from Mike Huckabee here.]

Saturday, October 13, 2007

As Long As I'm at It . . .

Hugh Hewitt usually drives me nuts. He offers a bit too much of a marriage of politics and some mutation of faith for my taste. To each his own , I suppose. And all those pictures of Ann Coulter plastered all over the place . . . It's just enough to make my stomach turn.

Nevertheless, I thought this post on the upcoming Republican primaries, mostly a quotation from a PR executive's "memo to evangelicals," was thought-provoking.

I need and want to HT someone here. (After all, I wouldn't want anyone to think I actually RSS this stuff.) But sadly, I can't remember whom to credit.

Let Me Just Put All My Cards on the Table

I don't think you can call yourself an evangelical, let alone a fundamentalist, if you preach a different gospel from the one Dave Doran expounds here from Matthew 6:24.
At some point, if the only reason you ever turned to God was so that you would get heaven, then you may not have gotten the point. It's about God, not about you ending up in heaven. It's not about you finding a way to get something for yourself through God. It is that you came to see that there is such a fundamental distinction between the one who made everything and what was made, that in no way can we give to what was made what only belongs to the one who made it. He alone deserves to be worshiped and served and loved and devoted to and feared.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Yeah, Yeah, You've Heard This Before

This offer from DGM is a terrific way to spread the gospel as the holidays draw near. Or if you want to help me get free books, you can click here (and pay full price).

Monday, October 01, 2007

Lions, Water Buffalo, and a Surprise

This video has everything. Why link to it? I'm sure someone could do some great work talking about God's creativity or the effects of the Fall. I just think it's an astounding video, and the 4:31 mark is laugh-out-loud funny.

Spoiler below . . .

Best wishes to the little guy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Before You Give Up on the Old Testament . . .

. . . try a volume from John Sailhamer or perhaps this new one from Bruce Waltke. A 1,000+ page hardcover, it's an absolute steal at its current sale price.

I had the opportunity to take several classes from Sailhamer at Southeastern Seminary, and they revolutionized my understanding of the Old Testament. Sailhamer has this to say about Waltke's new OT Theology:
Bruce Waltke’s An Old Testament Theology is truly a great work form the hand and heart of a great evangelical biblical theologian. Bearing the marks not only of hard work and responsible exegesis, but also a lifetime of creative thought and reflection on central biblical texts, Waltke’s Theology will immediately join the ranks as the standard by which evangelical will measure all future publications in this field.

As Much As I Hate to Say It, David Cloud Has a Point

I've spent just enough time on David Cloud's website over the years to know that perhaps the only thing he and I could find common ground on is his repudiation of Hyles-style easy-believism. To be fair, I do appreciate that about him.

Nevertheless, his attack on Mark Minnick does resonate with me a bit, not in the least because I think Minnick is out of line, but because Cloud is picking up on a shift in how fundamentalists think about a few evangelical leaders who exist outside the traditional parameters of the fundamentalist movement.

My sense is that many fundamentalists would like to deny that this shift is taking place, but I expect these denials will be wholly implausible—as are similar denials that certain now-abandoned policies within institutional fundamentalism were ever believed to have had biblical foundations. Forthrightness has seldom been our first instinct.

Here's my opinion. (Feel free to disagree.) I just don't think there's any possibility that someone so well-received within the fundamentalist movement as Minnick could have permitted the sorts of things to be said twenty years ago (back when, I'm told, Jack Hyles was still preaching at BJU) that were said at the Whetstone Conference this summer.

I've used posts here to point toward some of that evidence for this shift numerous times, and perhaps more will follow. Suffice it to say that a positive reference in a conference to a website that contains resources from Jack Hayford is a relatively mild example of fundamentalist affinity for charismatics. Ultimately, I think Bob Bixby's recent post, "The Emerging Middle," describes the future pretty well.

One comment from Cloud stood out to me. He writes:
A chief reason that so many “young fundamentalists” are becoming New Evangelicals is that they read so deeply and uncritically from the writings of New Evangelicals.
Although I suspect an equally chief cause is that so many "young fundamentalists" have been taught to listen deeply and uncritically to mainstream fundamentalist preaching, I'll play along with Cloud for a minute or two.

I wonder where these young-fundamentalists-becoming-New-Evangelicals learned to read uncritically. Where did they develop their lack of discernment and their theological fuzziness? Where did they encounter New Evangelical books? What fundamentalist commentary sets and language study tools and, of course, books on an authentic heart orientation towards God that produces a transformed life would Cloud have them read? Calvin. Yeah, maybe not. The Puritans? Um, even if he could swallow their Calvinism, wouldn't he have to deal with other distasteful aspects of their theology that are incompatible with True Baptist Fundamentalism?

Maybe Spurgeon would work—a redacted Spurgeon, of course.

Here's the bottom line. I think Cloud's final analysis is correct (even though I disagree with how he gets there and his opinion that the analysis points to something harmful). Fundamentalists recommending non-fundamentalist resources, even with a caveat to read critically, will inevitably lead to the dilution of the fundamentalist movement. But that dilution is every bit as much a testimony to the widespread theological bankruptcy of the fundamentalist movement as it is to the bankruptcy of discernment among "young fundamentalists." Exhibit A is David Cloud himself, who extends a warm embrace to the bibliological heresy of KJVOnlyism. Fundamentalism as a separatist movement only maintains credibility when it practices its separatism consistently. And it hasn't.

I've argued before and will continue to contend that we all need to read everything critically and with discernment. I have no more love for the evangelical icon fanboys than I have for the True Fundamentalists who argue that we ought to trust the fundamentalist leaders just because we know them and they're good guys. You can find both approaches in the comment threads of the SharperIron that Cloud so despises.

A fundamentalist friend who recently attended a "Neo-Evangelical" seminar commented to me that he was struck by "all the instances where [the main speaker] and the other pastors are more conservative than YFs." I think he's right. And if conservatism has anything to do with a fundamental allegiance to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, then I think they're more conservative than the True Fundamentalists too.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mark Driscoll: Like a Fundamentalist, Only Angrier and Funnier

I really think this Christianity Today profile of Driscoll by Collin Hansen is an absolute must-read if you want to begin to understand one of the most influential forces in conservative evangelicalism.

As providence would have it, I read this article as I was finishing listening to Driscoll's sermon from last Sunday, "Anger and Action," from Nehemiah 13.

Driscoll strikes me as possessing the kind of militant spirit that would have been useful to have around oh, say, throughout the first 60 years of the 20th century when evangelicalism went all fuzzy. In the sermon linked above he absolutely blisters ecumenical and inclusivistic evangelicalism, including a stunningly scathing critique of Christianity Today for hosting on its website an advertisement for seminars on message of the Old Testament led by a non-Christian Jewish rabbi.

Driscoll's retort: "Here's what the ad said: 'Everyone needs a rabbi' . . . I'm like, 'We have one. His name is Jesus.' . . . The result then when tolerance overtakes truthfulness and the feelings of people overtake the feelings of God, passion diminishes into passivity, and people just don't care."

Speaking of being invited to participate in an interfaith prayer meeting, Driscoll says: "I pray to Jesus. They pray to Satan. This is not a conference call. We're all dialing different numbers . . . Do you offend them, or God? The question is not, 'Will you offend?' The question is always, 'Who are you going to offend?'"

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Who Said It?

This quote appeared in an American newspaper today:
"I'm a Bible man," he said. "And it says that, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,' so I keep that verse in my mind at all times."
No googling, and if you read the article, maybe let everyone just wonder for a bit.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Two Ways to Go After God"

John Piper, from the Desiring God podcast on September 3:
There are two ways to go after God. If you want to be with God—if you want standing with God, acceptance with God, pleasing God—you can go about it two ways. You can become a slave and work for God, or you can become a child and live enjoyably in his house. A slave tries his best to perform in such a way that he might win a standing with a master. A child rests in the incomparably wonderful truth that his name is in the will that his father wrote before he had a chance to win anything from the father. Slaves are always uncertain. They're never quite sure that they've done enough to please the master. Children don't even think of it that way. They're already in the house.
When I first listened to this message, I thought, "Wow, that's great stuff." Then I weighed his words against all the NT language that clearly describes believers as both sons and slaves to God. I wondered whether Piper has set up a false dichotomy.

But within the context of Galatians 4-5, I think this is not only a theologically accurate statement, but also a soteriologically essential one. I think most of us would agree that Paul is not here contradicting other statements about our slave relationship to Christ. Piper seems to be getting to the narrower parameters of Paul's point—not that we are free from responsibility to serve God, but that we are incapable of serving him in such a way that we can earn anything from him. Rather, what we possess in Christ, we possess by grace—by his free, unmerited declaration that we are his sons and his heirs.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"The Seed of Liberalism"

From Mark Dever, two minutes ago, in the midst of a CHBC Weekender:
The assumption that the gospel, unadorned, is irrelevant is the seed of liberalism.
By the way, if you'd like to attend something similar to this, but you can't stray far from home, check out the upcoming 9Marks Workshops around the country and even overseas.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Seriously, Where Else Are You Going to Hear Noel Piper?

Specific details on next month's conference and registration are available here. And if you are my sister, yes, I will watch your children.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Evangelicalism Divided: Everything You Could Ever Hope to Know

Andy Naselli has developed a useful summary of Iain Murray's book, but by far the most valuable part is his compilation of more than thirty reviews and discussions of its thesis. Particularly significant is the breadth of these reviews, including perspectives from both the Graham/Stott/Packer side and the fundamentalist side. I'll let you guess with whom I tend to agree more.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

No Place for Church: Or Whatever Happened to Fundamentalist Ecclesiology?

As I was reading a few weeks ago from Rolland McCune's Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism, I about fell out of my chair when I encountered the following footnote:
Both the new evangelicals and the fundamentalists believed in and appealed to the purity of the visible church in their diverse formulations of separatism. After extensive research, Larry R. Oats concluded that neither side gave theological precision to their doctrine of ecclesiology, and this failure only furthered the division between the two groups. The Relationship of Ecclesiology to the Doctrine of Ecclesiastical Separation evidenced in the New Evangelical and Fundamentalist Movements of the Middle Twentieth Century (Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1999), p. iv.
I haven't had the opportunity to read all of Oats' disseration*, so I can't say to what degree beyond McCune's summary it actually details the deficiency of the ecclesiology of both fundamentalists and broader evangelicals. And although I've taken a class with McCune and several from Oats, I really don't know whether their views of fundamentalist ecclesiology would be quite as dim as mine.

Of course, my surprise upon reading this footnote had nothing to do with the fact that someone was raising doubts about evangelical ecclesiology. Evangelicals themselves do that sort of thing all the time. What was really astounding to me was that fundamentalists are raising questions about fundamentalist ecclesiology. Self-criticism isn't the kind of thing we typically do often or well.

I actually do do it often, even if I don't do it particularly well. But then I'm the kind of guy whose perspective on fundamentalist ecclesiology has been shaped by a popular university that wouldn't permit its faculty and staff to attend a local church on Sunday morning unless they were on paid staff.

I'm the guy who learned more than he wanted to know about fundamentalist ecclesiology when, while working for a fundamentalist Bible college, heard about a professor who candidated for a pastoral role in a local church that used the NIV, but was forbidden by the college president to use anything other than the KJV when he preached in that church. When the president later explained the school's position on translations in chapel, I asked the president of this institution, which proclaimed wholehearted commitment to the primacy of the local church, why local church pastors weren't permitted to make the decisions about what translations of Scripture students and faculty would use in their local church ministries. His response? "No pastor has ever asked me for permission to let students or faculty use any other translation."

I'm the guy who heard quite recently a professor in a fundamentalist college share the story of a man who abandoned pastoral ministry for a teaching position in a college because he wasn't "reproducing himself at all" as a pastor, and I wondered, "Does this professor think this was a good choice or a bad one? Or is he merely indifferent?"

Of course, this is nothing more than anecdotal evidence. Maybe my perception of a fundamentalist culture that is dominated by prominent, influential personalities who lead parachurch ministries or engage in itinerant evangelism is simply skewed. Maybe it's completely inconsistent with reality. Maybe all the people who share this assessment are simply misguided.

In any case, my hope is that fundamentalist pastors and congregations will hear the concerns of Drs. McCune and Oats, two widely-respected teachers, pastors, and thinkers who are far more knowledgeable and credible than I. My hope is that people in positions that provide the means and carry the responsibility to effect change will consider whether and how our ecclesiology truly is deficient and take steps to reverse the trend, whether that is on a macro or micro level. My hope is that the church can regain its rightfully prominent standing as a display of God's glory and as the bride of Christ. My hope is that the revitalization of churches will restore other potentially useful organizations and functions to their rightful role of service, not leadership.

Finally, my hope is that we'll avoid placing the blame for this departure from biblical ecclesiology primarily on the parachurch leaders who've accepted the leadership role that ought to have resided in local churches and their pastors. After all, the men I've referred to above are, themselves, products of the fundamentalist culture that created the problem. It seems a bit unfair to make them the scoundrels. Rather, we should assign responsibility to the ecclesiastical culture in fundamentalism that has led so many congregations and pastors to abdicate their rightful, biblical role.

And we ought to change that culture.


*As best I can tell, I've never asked for anything from the readers here (except, of course, unswerving loyalty in the fine print at the bottom). But I would dearly love to have a copy of Oats dissertation, and I just can't quite justify at the present time the $41 to order it from the fine folks here. So if any of you have a couple $20s and a single burning a hole in your pocket, don't be afraid to surprise me with a copy. You can have it shipped to my attention at this address. Oh, and for your searching convenience the order number for this dissertation is 9925184.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

"What it is [that] we do to grow such men"?

Peggy Noonan asks a great question in her tribute to America's servicemen and women. Would that more people considered this question and grasped a bit of the answer, as well as why her question may well not always be asked.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Two Good Thoughts (From People Who Probably Don't Care Much for One Another)

From dissidens:
The future of the Gospel is not in the hands of the people running these religious institutions which can not and will not change; it rests in the soul of the person you ask to pass the butter.
From Bob Bixby (in a post titled "Dissidens is Shimei"):
Of course, Shimeis will say they love the Body. Of course. But what Dissidens loves is an abstract, non-existent ideal. (Whether his ideal is even biblical is another topic to debate). Loving an abstract ideal is not love. Saying you love your wife while imagining a fantasy is not love. The reality is that the Church of Jesus Christ is comprised of fallen people.
As I see it, both of these men say many true things. Both of these men have made enemies for saying some of the true things that they've said. (Some might also say it has to do with the way those things have been said.) That doesn't make them moral equivalents. Far from it.

What's most interesting to me is that both of these men, for all their differences, seem to recognize that the foundation so many problems in the Church today is, well, our understanding of the Church itself. Dissidens reminds us here that discipleship takes place first in the home and then in the church. The educational institution isn't equipped for the front lines of that battle.

Bixby actually believes that there is hope, but its reality will be realized on a micro level—one church at a time. He expresses a love for the Church in its current, deformed, malnourished, filthy, adulterous condition—the condition in which Christ himself betrothes and loves her. But that's not altogether surprising. Bob's a pastor. Dissidens is a philosopher (and I don't mean that as a cheap shot).

I think we can draw one lesson from both of them, despite the contempt they may have for one another. Amid all our frustration with the contemporary state of affairs in Christianity; amid all our cries for reform and consistency; amid all our intentions to pursue both unity and purity around the gospel; let's not make the same mistakes that have been made before. Let's not hope in educational institutions or T4G or influential theological personalities or, heaven forbid, the blogger community. Genuine, meaningful, persistent, pervasive reform, renewal, and revival begins at home. It arises within the Church. And that means your church.

More to follow on that point. Hopefully soon.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"The church is rushing nowhere at an incredible rate of speed."

Dave Black, professor at Southeastern Seminary, offers a thought-provoking discussion of the condition of contemporary churches within the context of his gratitude for the Anabaptists.

Although I'm not enough of a historian to make declarations about exactly how much rehabilitation of the Anabaptists needs to take place, I appreciated in particular this final post in the series. Its main thrust reminds us of the radical commitment to Scripture that authentic obedience demands, even when this obedience is incompatible with deeply entrenched church structures and traditions. In other words, the Anabaptists seem to have suffered comparatively little from fear of man or lust for credibility and security.

As Black writes:
I suspect that church institutions as they are now known are incapable of thoroughgoing renewal. It is my view that new church plants are the most likely bodies to reflect early Christianity rather than the proud establishments of Christendom . . . In the Anabaptist perspective, the leaders of the Reformation were no less tyrants than Constantine because they also enforced religious conformity by civil power. The pomp and display, the ambition and the pride of Christendom, seen in both their Roman Catholic and Protestant forms, were the precise opposite of the submissive humility that characterized Anabaptism. One does not have to be a biblical scholar to recognize the parallels that exist with today’s American form of God-and-Country evangelicalism.
It seems that the contemporary relevance of Black's point about the Anabaptists is this: We need to exercise ourselves to examine self-consciously the religious or ecclesiastical culture of which we are a part. Our purpose is to identify how our accumulation of tradition has skewed our understanding of God's Word. We then need to extricate ourselves from that culture and tradition, regardless of the personal cost.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Total Depravity

Or perhaps complete obliviousness. I walked this route several times, never noticing the sign until someone pointed it out to me.

Friday, August 17, 2007

How Do You Know Your Organization Really Needs Reform?

When a Christianity Today editorial is questioning your "gospel integrity" and musing that you may have chosen to "implement programs that will boost the bottom line, regardless of their biblical warrant."

Seriously, it's great to see CT make this case. (And as a pastor friend of mine points out, it's no joking matter.) It's just confusing when it's found in the same issue of CT that extols the development of religious imagery in Bruce Springsteen's music and says he "resembles an evangelist on stage."

Oy vey.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ladies, you didn't hear this from me, but . . .

. . . Noel Piper is the speaker for a women's conference at Capitol Hill Baptist Church October 12-13. Clicking on that link won't give you any more information, but it'll at least prove I'm not making this up.

No more details are public yet, and registration hasn't opened. I just thought that any women who happen to visit here might like to start saving the date.

Good Books on Pastoral Ministry: An Oxymoron?

Most of my seminary reading in this genre was pretty frustrating, but I've read a few of these books, and they're a different breed. Excellent deals, too.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Casablanca, Washington, Providence, and Bringing Life to Dying Churches

Fourteen years ago, almost to the day, I discovered my favorite movie. It was the summer before my junior year of college, and I was interning for a family values lobbying organization in DC with Shawn, a college friend.

April, another college friend, had arrived in DC a few weeks before us to intern with a Senator, and she had found a run-down, small, aging, traditional, Bible-preaching church on Capitol Hill. So a couple days after I arrived, Shawn, April, and I visited Capitol Hill Metropolitan Baptist Church. As best I can remember, I went there every Sunday during my stay, and as I've been able to reconstruct the timeline, that would mean that my second Sunday at the church was the first visit by the future pastor, who had recently finished his PhD at Cambridge and was then serving as an associate pastor in England. This man was entertaining several teaching offers in both the U.S. and Britain, and was also visiting CHMBC as a favor to Carl Henry, an acquaintance and prominent CHMBC member.

After church on Sunday evenings we hung out with the small group of 20-something interns and Hill staffers. With the exception of one evening, when we watched Casablanca on a tiny TV in some church-owned housing, that meant going to the putt-putt course on Hains Point.

A bit over nine years later I had just started a terrific job and my first semester of seminary. A work trip took me to DC on a Sunday evening in November, and out of nowhere the week before the trip the thought struck me that perhaps I ought to check out CHMBC, if for nothing more than to see if it still existed. With the help of Google I quickly learned that it did, and in fact had a pretty professional website.

My immediate conclusion was that the data pointed to some sort of seeker strategy that had managed to attract a crowd and managed to keep the church afloat. Nevertheless, my curiosity led me to drive up to DC that afternoon. To my shock, a crowd filled the hall on a Sunday evening that was twice as large and half as old as the congregation I had seen on Sunday mornings years before. My expectations of the atmosphere were shattered when the music was sung in a shockingly simple style with hymns reaching back several centuries. As the service progressed, people were talking about Puritan writers and Reformed soteriology. I think I knew deep down that at some point this would be my home. I needed to know what had transformed this church.

Now I think I know.

This is already too long, and Matt Schmucker tells the story better than I possibly could. Now I hear him tell the story 2 or 3 times a year. Every time I hear him say the words, "We're here for the people who will come," my heart is full. Sometimes my eyes are too. He spoke those words no more than a few months before my visits in the summer of 1993. You may not have the emotional attachment that I do, but perhaps the story Matt tells, and perhaps the brief history here, might encourage you in some way nevertheless.

To tie this up, last night a big group of us walked down from the Hill to the Mall to watch this week's "Screen on the Green." A record crowd turned out for Casablanca. And in some silly way, it felt particularly satisfying to me—as though everything had come full circle.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Pastoral Counseling and the New Technologies

I had no idea the world described in this WSJ article existed. Thankfully, though human lusts find new ways to express themselves in every generation, Scripture speaks to the root sins--things like idolatry, self-centeredness, and pride--in a way that is eternally relevant and transformational.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dear Mormons and Roman Catholics: Please Proselytize Baptists

I wonder whether the greater threat to the Christian faith is not that people believe the wrong things, but that they believe nothing . . . or everything.

Of course, that thought is not original or profound. It's just on my mind after reading this story from today's Washington Post. Now, apparently, we need a code of ethics for "evangelism" that ensures we're not stealing sheep from one another.

I think what's most appalling about this notion to me is the thinly-veiled cynical partitioning of humanity into kingdoms for the world's religious elite. It strikes me as the kind of political pragmatism that would've happened in 1940s Berlin.

Oh well, I know I'm preaching to the choir here. I'm just not much for mixing politics with faith, which I suppose is why my reaction to the Pope's recent pronouncements that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church was a bit more like Al Mohler than Ian Paisley. Though I think I'd agree with both of them theologically, there's a sense in which I'd prefer the Pope's dogmatic error to the fuzzy ecumenical drift of both Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism over the past several decades.

[Edit: Listen to an NPR conversation with a WCC official here. The closing discussion of Christianity and Islam is horrendous.]

Monday, August 06, 2007

"Four Is the New Two": The New Fashion Trend of Competitive Birthing

I certainly don't think larger families are a bad thing. They seem to teach some really important skills and attitudes. But this just seems a bit ridiculous. Listen to the audio to get the full effect.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Pastors and Pride

Good words and warnings from Rick Phillips Carl Trueman on the ambition to teach that can subtly undermine a biblically appropriate desire to teach the Word:
[W]hat concerns me most is that students may simply desire to be teachers. If that is their motivation, then they have already abandoned a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, and their theology, no matter how orthodox, is just a means to an end and no sound thing. It is why I am very sceptical [sic] of the internal call to the ministry as a decisive or motivating factor in seeking ordination. Nine times out of ten, I believe that the church should first discern who should be considering the Christian ministry, not simply act as a rubber-stamp for a putative internal call which an individual may think he has.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Political Victories and Cultural Failures"

I don't claim to know whether all that's in this editorial true, and it certainly doesn't strike me as very objective. It does offer an interesting perspective on the theological underpinnings of the rise of evangelical/fundamentalist ecclesiastical engagement* in politics. The conclusion—that such efforts fail to transform culture—seems virtually irrefutable. Whether or not they are actually counterproductive to cultural transformation and, more importantly, to the spread of the gospel, is a worthwhile question.

*By engagement, I don't mean the personal involvement of individual believers in politics, but rather involvement by churches and religious leaders that blurs the churches mission.

No Comment

I guess we all filter facts through our own personal theological grids.

Oops, was that a comment?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Love God or Obey God: What's our Primary Responsibility to Teach Children?

One of my favorite podcasts is from Brookside Baptist Church in the Milwaukee suburbs, where Sam Horn is the primary teaching pastor. A few weeks ago he preached from one of my favorite passages in Deuteronomy 6, which shows parents the importance of making God big in the eyes of their children.

About 38 minutes into the sermon (6/17) he makes what I think is a pretty important comment:
It's not just that God wants you to teach your children to obey God. That's not the task. What is the task? God wants you to teach your children to love God. . . Now here's the question: If your objective is to teach somebody to obey somebody, you're going to go about it differently than you would go about the task of teaching somebody to love somebody. And my contention is, that somehow in our thinking, particularly for those of us who have come out of more conservative circles, we have been primarily consumed with the idea of teaching our children how to obey God. [Not that we shouldn't obey God—that's not what's being said.] But that's not the task that God is giving us here. The obedience is going to flow out of something.

What the task is, is to teach our children to love God totally—with all of their heart, and with all of their soul, and with all of their strength. So let me ask you a question. If that is the task, and you were to sit down and give some careful attention about how to do this, how would you do it? . . . How do you teach somebody to love God, because that is what the task is. We haven't accomplished the goal if all we have done is taught our children to obey a set of external things. We have to teach them in such a way—we have to engrave it in their heart so that it's permanent—a deep, complete, passionate love for God.
Verses 7-9 provide a pattern for how to do just that.

Obviously, teaching love and obedience are not mutually exclusive. But I think Horn is dead right to say that one flows from the other, and there shouldn't be any question which is the source for the other.

This is the kind of message I didn't hear 5 or 10 years ago, but it's seeping into more are more of the kinds of places it didn't seem to be before. Though my experience may be different from others, it's surely encouraging to hear these concepts that are so foundational to true Christianity expounded faithfully.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Redefining Traditional Music

Maybe I'm just not educated enough on what constitutes "traditional" church music, but it seems to me that somewhere along the way "traditional" became predominately either 1) songs written since 1850 or 2)songs from hymnals published not less than 20 nor more than 50 years ago (unless the hymnal is published by fundamentalists). I wonder whether we're not missing out on a vast and rich hymnody when we fail to mine the depths of the hymns written a bit further back. Sure, some of the tunes aren't catchy, and some of them aren't quite as bouncy or dramatic as those professing traditionalists prefer these days. But some are just downright beautiful and wholly appropriate to the theological message. Of course, if you like experiential stuff, well, you might night find so much of that.

Here are a couple scans of the hymns we sang in church Sunday night. I suppose this is a bit of an anomaly, but not much. If you can read the fine print, check out the dates when the authors and composers were alive.

Interested in Biblical Theology?

Seems like some great deals here.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Something to Think About Before You Blog or Post Personal Info on the Web

From a Financial Times article:
The technology tools of what has become known as "web 2.0" magnify the impact of all this "user-generated content". Consider, a search engine currently in development. It builds a profile by trawling for information about you on social networks as well as the web at large, then lets other people add "tags", or labels, to your profile that can characterise you to anyone who is interested.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mohler on Music

Whether or not one thinks the term "morality" necessarily applies to all music (I don't), I would hope that we could all agree that music is a communication medium for meaningful messages. As such, our choices in this realm demand biblically guided thinking and application. The difficulty is often discerning precisely what those messages are.

I've been encouraged in recent years by some who are working to rebuild the discussion of music and meaning out of the ruins of many horrendously bad arguments. In this interview conducted at the recent New Attitude conference, Mohler discusses how we need to be thinking about how not only the words, but also the tune, rhythm, and underlying worldview carry a great deal of meaning. He certainly doesn't provide all the answers, but it seems to me like a pretty useful place to start. In particular, it's accessible to younger people who aren't equipped to handle deep, technical cultural arguments.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Re-Theologizing" the SBC

Interesting thoughts from Tom Ascol at the recent Founders Conference, reported by Baptist Press. Here's a sample:
"I believe we are living in an early era of 're-theologizing' of the SBC," Ascol said. "Just listen to some of the things that are being said; theology is becoming a point of controversy, a point of dialogue. Even theological statements that are being made that are not helpful are being spoken with passion, they are being made with a real sense of concern. That is a good thing; the fact that 'they' are talking about theology is good."

Friday, July 13, 2007

"God's Business"

One of my co-workers said today that if he ever pastors a church and finds a good reason to print some kind of church t-shirt, he'll refuse to buy the t-shirts from a "Christian" shirt printer, even if they cost him twice as much. The commercialization of faith simply drives him nuts.

Now, I know that not all Christian shirt printers are created equal, but I kind of like the sentiment.

Later today I read this article from the Washington Post on the Christian bookstore market. Maybe I'm just cynical, but I think this statement just about sums up the sentiment, not only of the Christian publishing market, but of the whole world of mindset American Christianity:
To many, this is not just any business; it's God's business. To others, it is an opportunity to capitalize on the growing awareness of faith and the powerful political and social force of evangelicals.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Evangelical Politics and the New Liberalism

Phil Johnson has a stellar post today on the left-leaning politics of the Emerging Church. As he moves toward his point, he makes this spot-on observation about evangelicalism (and I don't think his point is irrelevant to many fundamentalists either):
[I]t's no accident that the elevation of worldly entertainments in evangelical megachurches has gained popularity right alongside evangelicalism's obsessive craving for clout in the political arena. I'm convinced these trends are closely related.
But at the same time, the affinity of the Emerging Church for liberal politics betrays a parallel trend toward old school liberal theology:
There are countless parallels between the Emerging Church movement and classic religious modernism. Both movements were sparked by massive paradigm shifts in secular thought and culture. Both are undergirded by a conviction that the church must change in a fundamental way or be rendered irrelevant: she must adapt her perspective of truth and certainty in order to fit better with the way the world is "progressing."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bauder:Barrett = Dever:Duncan?

I'm continually amazed at how similar are Kevin Bauder's and Mark Dever's discussions of the priority of the gospel in the extent and limitations of our cooperative relationships between believers.

Here's one illustrative quote among many from this sermon Bauder preached from Jude: "The disagreement over who we should baptize doesn't cut to the very heart of Christianity."

Just for fun, compare it with an address Dever delivered at a recent conference for young adults. You can download it free here.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Selling Christianity: Apparently We're Not Even Shy About It Anymore

Accompanying Christianity Today's tribute to Evan Almighty is this rather blunt discussion of Christian publishing's search for "the next big thing" that will line its coffers as the Rick Warren and Joel Osteen waves subside. The materialistic motivations are so obvious that I'm actually surprised at the level of transparency the article reveals.

About the same time I read about this blatant marketing of the Christian faith, I read these words from David Wells' Above All Earthly Powers:
[Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker's excursions into profit-driven Christian broadcasting and theme parks] were but the front end of a growing Christian penetration of the commercial market. Earlier rock bands such as Stryper, dressed and made up like other heavy metal bands of the 1980s, were now followed by many others like Audio Adrenaline and solo artists like Amy Grant and others who were among those in 2000 who helped the Christian music industry expand into a three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar business when the rest of the music market retreated, though it was praise music in particular which was responsible for this. Religious trinkets, videos, movies, and Bibles in every conceivable size and covering, Bibles for singles, for the depressed, for the young, for the old, for the divorced, for the recovering, for African Americans, Bibles fitted for every niche in the market, were all for sale. Today there are Christian amusement parks and dance clubs, and sermons for sale for pastors who are too harried or too indolent to do the work themselves.

It has not gone unnoticed in the secular world that there is gold in these religious hills. The result is that today there are evangelical publishing houses which are the religious arms of secular corporations, and Songs 4 Worship, a successful collection of Christian music, lavishly advertised on the TV networks, was launched by Time-Life. In 2002, General Motors unleashed sixteen Christian rock bands in a number of southern cities under the banner "Chevrolet Presents: Come Together and Worship." All of this, however, was only one end of a growing alliance between commerce and spirituality or, at least, the growing use of spirituality by commerce. (284-285)
Finally, if anyone is still reading, you'll find a great discussion of these trends on Albert Mohler's radio program with Russell Moore sitting in as guest host. Particularly interesting is Moore's interview with Jim Smith, editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on why he refused to accept advertising for Evan Almighty in his paper.