Thursday, March 29, 2007

Forget My Funny Post. Read Bob's Piece.

Someone was going to say this sooner or later. I'm glad he did. I think I agree with every word. I just think this part might be the most important:
I think those leaders who have dared to enter the sphere have been the most savvy, and therefore more trustworthy. In the realm of the fundamentalism that I still listen to, Dave Doran and Kevin Bauder have distinguished themselves as being willing to get in the ring and occasionally get bloodied. Hewitt was right when he said in Blog that ultimately influence is about trust. Sooner or later those who dare to be transparent, who doggedly and consistently speak their minds (even when their minds change), will become the trusted ones. They may not always win the argument, but they will always win a hearing. And in the hearing alone they will have influence that will continue to bear fruit and ultimately change minds.
But this part sure is pretty stellar too:
Today’s leadership, I am convinced, has got to have the guts to be transparent. It really has no other option unless it wants to become a has-been that is irrelevant in the contemporary world. That is, of course, if the goal of our leadership is to be genuine disciple-makers. This is because disciple-making is best done among friends.

Our Lord modeled the best way to make disciples: make them friends. “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). Friendship requires authenticity. Authenticity demands transparency. The man who dares to be real, even to the point of offending his listeners, is the man who will ultimately get very good friendships. It is an amazing irony that the man who is willing to lose his friends at any moment for his principles is a man who has the most loyal of friends.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sword of the Lord Editor Retracts His Rebuke of the Blogosphere!!!

Shelton Smith is the editor of The Sword of the Lord, a publication which for years has reprinted Charles Spurgeon's sermons, all the while editing out portions that demonstrated Spurgeon's Calvinism. Whether the intent was to mislead the readers or not, I suppose I can't say. Let's just say it's a pretty amazing coincidence if it wasn't intentional.

A few days ago Smith published an editorial rebuking the Christian blogosphere. You can read that editorial here.

However, I will now publish below an edited edition of that editorial that clearly reveals that Smith didn't believe what he actually said, but really is quite the blog junkie:
Christians . . . ought to . . . blog . . . since . . . the Internet . . . is . . . good. . . . There’s a problem! Some . . . Christian leaders . . . spew . . . venom . . . and . . . there . . . is . . . no accountability, no checks or balances at all. . . . They . . . should be exposed! The scoundrels should expect to get some bad press. . . .

The blogosphere . . . has . . . journalistic credibility. . . . My thoughts . . . are . . . shameful . . . and . . . bitter. . . . Christians, . . . go on a crusade against . . . the sword of the lord [sic]. . . . You . . . have a scriptural obligation to . . . disgrace . . . us. The current state of things in the Christian blogosphere could . . . aptly be described as . . . constructive.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Should We Use Medicine To Eradicate Sin?

Three weeks ago Al Mohler touched off a small firestorm among both the secular media and some Christians with his blog post and radio program titled, "Is Your Baby Gay?"

In some of the discussion in the media and the blogosphere, Mohler was misrepresented as having affirmed that science has discovered a link between genetics and a proclivity to homosexuality. Others decried Mohler's suggestion that parents should use prenatal treatment (if and when it becomes available) to eliminate this proclivity through medical treatment.

Clearly, much of the criticism was unfair and distorted what Mohler actually said. He never argued that science has proved the genetic link, and he never specifically suggested that genetic therapy would be appropriate, although his initial blog post did not preclude it. The radio program linked above and his second post clarified how the medical treatment he would support is limited to prenatal hormone therapy, which is not equivalent to hormone therapy. (Personally, I'm unclear on the biblical or ethical rationale for permitting prenatal hormone therapy while condemning genetic therapy, but that's a tangential issue.)

Nevertheless, my mind started spinning in a direction that made me wonder whether any sort of medical treatment for a proclivity toward sin would be appropriate. Before I explain, I should probably quote Mohler's ten summary points from his first post. I think all ten are worth reading. My sense is that the most disagreement has surrounded #9. I'll be focusing on #8. Here they are:
1. There is, as of now, no incontrovertible or widely accepted proof that any biological basis for sexual orientation exists.

2. Nevertheless, the direction of the research points in this direction. Research into the sexual orientation of sheep and other animals, as well as human studies, points to some level of biological causation for sexual orientation in at least some individuals.

3. Given the consequences of the Fall and the effects of human sin, we should not be surprised that such a causation or link is found. After all, the human genetic structure, along with every other aspect of creation, shows the pernicious effects of the Fall and of God's judgment.

4. The biblical condemnation of all homosexual behaviors would not be compromised or mitigated in the least by such a discovery. The discovery of a biological factor would not change the Bible's moral verdict on homosexual behavior.

5. The discovery of a biological basis for homosexuality would be of great pastoral significance, allowing for a greater understanding of why certain persons struggle with these particular sexual temptations.

6. The biblical basis for establishing the dignity of all persons -- the fact that all humans are made in God's image -- reminds us that this means all persons, including those who may be marked by a predisposition toward homosexuality. For the sake of clarity, we must insist at all times that all persons -- whether identified as heterosexual, homosexual, lesbian, transsexual, transgendered, bisexual, or whatever -- are equally made in the image of God.

7. Thus, we will gladly contend for the right to life of all persons, born and unborn, whatever their sexual orientation. We must fight against the idea of aborting fetuses or human embryos identified as homosexual in orientation.

8. If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.

9. We must stop confusing the issues of moral responsibility and moral choice. We are all responsible for our sexual orientation, but that does not mean that we freely and consciously choose that orientation. We sin against homosexuals by insisting that sexual temptation and attraction are predominately chosen. We do not always (or even generally) choose our temptations. Nevertheless, we are absolutely responsible for what we do with sinful temptations, whatever our so-called sexual orientation.

10. Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation. We can and must insist that no scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior. The general trend of the research points to at least some biological factors behind sexual attraction, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This does not alter God's moral verdict on homosexual sin (or heterosexual sin, for that matter), but it does hold some promise that a deeper knowledge of homosexuality and its cause will allow for more effective ministries to those who struggle with this particular pattern of temptation. If such knowledge should ever be discovered, we should embrace it and use it for the greater good of humanity and for the greater glory of God.
For the record, I wholeheartedly agree with every point but #8. Frankly, I'd be far more stunned if science could prove that there is no link between genetics and a proclivity to homosexuality (or many other sins, for that matter), than if it does eventually prove that there is a link. But as Mohler says, discovering a proclivity does not in any way excuse subsequent behavior choices.

I know it's taken me a long time to get to it, but here's my point. I'm completely unconvinced that we should use medical treatment to eliminate any genetic predisposition to sin, as Mohler's point #8 suggests we should. What if we could eradicate proclivities to homosexuality and even all sexual sin? What if we could take away physical susceptibility to drunkenness or drug addiction—or even pride and selfishness?

Theologically, I believe that it's impossible that medical treatment will ever be able to eradicate sin. All men are sinners, and that inspired statement will continue to be true. But even if we could eliminate much of it or most of it, would the world be a better place? Would the cause of the gospel be advanced or hindered if more and more people sinned less and less? Would people recognize their need of a Savior if they didn't feel so much like they needed to be saved?

I'm all for less sin in the world. I would be grateful if governments and cultures would foster circumstances that would make the proclamation of the gospel more open and available to all people from all nations, languages, geographic regions, and people groups.

Al Mohler has read more, thought more, knows more, and could articulate far better than I the central issues in this debate. I could be dead wrong. I just wonder if we are really serving the advance of the gospel by advocating treatments that will artificially mask human depravity and need for deliverance.

One more thing. While the media coverage was in high gear, a friend who was having similar thoughts sent me an e-mail. Here's his perspective on evangelicalism's elevation of homosexuality to a particularly distasteful level in relationship to some of our more "acceptable" sins:
Once again, we have a Christian leader singling out homosexuality as a worse sin than others, not admitting, of course, that homosexual sin is only one form of sex outside of marriage . . . in fact, there's a heckuva lot more pre- and extra-marital sex going on than homoesexual sex - perhaps we should fix that gene while we're at it.

When will we as Christians get off our high horses and actually take objective stances on the issues of the day, make well-thought out stances that reflect Christ-likeness, and show grace/charity/love to the world?
Well, there's some food for thought. I'm surely not settled on this one, and I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

Looking at the World Through White's Eyes

Here's a thoughtful post from Mark Dever on the harmful tendency of American evangelicals to think of ourselves as a white-only movement.

For consistently thought-provoking, theological, gospel-centered perspectives on African-American Christians and issues of race and church (among many other profitable discussions), be sure to plug in to Thabiti Anyabwile's blog.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Homocidically Hypocritical Feminism

The Weekly Standard published this provocative article exposing how feminist ideology defends absolute rights to gender-selective abortion--to the point that 100 million girls worldwide are now "missing." Here's the article's conclusion:
As strange as it may sound, under President George W. Bush the United States has perhaps the finest feminist record of any nation at the United Nations--if feminism exists to address grave and profound injustices against women. It has been the United States, for instance, which has raised such issues as trafficking in women, sexual exploitation, and sex tourism. It was the United States that attempted to draw the world's attention to mass rapes being conducted in Burma (only to be told that the United Nations would not publicize the U.S. effort because America did not use the current dictator's name for his county, Myanmar). And now the United States is attempting to address sex-selective abortion.

The U.S. Explanation of Position concluded by stating that the outcome of the two weeks of negotiations "lends itself to the impression that the [United Nations Commission on the Status of Women] is in danger of becoming a highly politicized body more concerned with preserving its ideological orthodoxy than in solving real problems facing real women and girls today." Seven years into the Bush administration, perhaps the biggest surprise is that the administration itself, remains surprised when its good intentions are once again undermined by such ideological orthodoxy.

Propagating Piper Subversively

How many of you have ever read John Piper and thought, "Why have I never heard this preached before?"

Yes, I see your hand. And I see that hand near the back. And now another on my left . . .

My first exposure to Piper was Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which he co-edited with Wayne Grudem. Though excellent, this book may be the least traditionally Piperesque of anything he's written. My first exposure to the central idea he advocates, which I would characterize as the absolute necessity of a heart that possesses a deep affection for God, wasn't actually from anything Piper wrote at all. My eyes started to open when I was reading A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God about nine years ago.

My point is that the most effective way to propagate this idea that ought to be foundational to our faith may not be to cram Piper down the throat of everyone around you. Whether it's because of his overt Calvinism, his provocative language and style, his affiliation with the BGC, his charismatic tendencies, or his appreciation for Daniel Fuller, many people just aren't going to be willing to consider seriously and carefully the heart of his message. In my opinion, they resist to their own hurt, but perhaps we might be wise to look for ways to make an end run around that resistance.

Yesterday I found what might be one great example of that approach in Charles Bridges' The Christian Ministry (in addition, of course, to Tozer). Of a great many excellent reasons to read Bridges, I think the very best might be his chapter, "The Scriptural Preaching of the Gospel" (239-283). Of all his poignant statements in this chapter, this one might be the best:
Thus the doctrines of the Gospel not only explain the nature and obligation, but are themselves the principles--nay the only principles--of holiness. We must live every moment by faith; and as we live, we shall love--overcome the world--crucify sin--delight in the service of God. No mere precepts will extirpate the natural love of sin, or infuse this new bias in the heart. The doctrine of faith alone effects this mighty change, by exhibiting Christ as the source of life, and detailing all the exercises of holy practice, flowing from that life.
. . .
We must show Christian privilege to be a principle not of inactive indulgence--but of habitual devotion to God. It is, when the man of God is realizing his interest in an heavenly portion; when a sense of pardon is applied to his soul; when the seal of the Spirit is impressed upon his heart; when his soul is invigorated by "fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ"--then it is, that the grateful enquiry springs forth, --"What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?"(265-266)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Does the Church Revolve Around the Kids?

Here's a stellar article by Matthew Hoskinson of Heritage Bible Church in Greenville, SC, in case you haven't caught it already. Here's a statement of the problem, but read the whole article to see his idea for a solution:
For the first 18 years of their lives, we tailor an unending succession of programs and events to cater to them. We entice them to come to church activities by telling them what they will get out of it. We create competitions based on spiritual things—Bible memory, sword drills, even personal devotional time—hoping that somehow God’s Word might lodge in their hearts. None of these things is inherently sinful, but taken together they give young people the impression that the church revolves around them. Even the phrase youth ministry implicitly teaches them to view themselves fundamentally as the objects of service.

Once teenagers graduate from high school, however, they are suddenly confronted with a church that no longer revolves around them. We explain to these young adults that God expects them to serve others and not themselves. But for years, our example has taught them that the church exists for them. So when the church stops meeting their perceived needs—when the church stops existing for them—they have no reason to stick around.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The VodPastor: Multiple Services, Multiple Sites, Multiple Congregations?

While I was already in the midst of compiling a post on the rising trend of multiple congregations, I heard about Mark Driscoll's recent blog post in which he writes,
One thing I am certain of following my recent travels is that the multiple-site church phenomenon and video services are here to stay. Dead churches will be revitalized more and more by larger churches establishing services in them through the use of video. An entirely new form of church planting seems to be emerging that, along with traditional church planting, will help to add healthy new churches.
Driscoll described how his own church will reflect part of this trend when he said in a recent sermon that Mars Hill Church plans to expand over the next six months from seven services in three locations to thirteen services in four locations. Because of a technological limitation, one of those services will take place earlier in the week so that the sermon can be recorded for rebroadcast at one or more locations on Sunday. "You're going to need to accept video as our inevitable future," Driscoll said.

Mars Hill Church is certainly not the only example of this trend. The Leadership Network recently sponsored a conference to educate churches on the concept. USA Today reports on the "godcast" developed by North Point Church, which is pastored by Andy Stanley. North Point has developed a network of eleven church "strategic partners," which agree to use recorded sermons from Stanley for at least 50% of their Sunday services.

To some readers, this whole concept of pre-recorded messages piped to daughter churches from the mother ship probably sounds like the stuff of squishy evangelicalism. Even Joel Osteen hasn't gone this far yet! Some might even argue that the multiple-site approach John Piper's Bethlehem Baptist Church has developed is similarly unhealthy.

But before we start throwing stones, maybe we should ask what is qualitatively different between multiple sites and multiple services. I suspect that some of the same fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals who would decry multiple locations and video sermons might very willingly employ multiple services when their buildings reach capacity. But if it's unhealthy for multiple churches to share a pastor, and similarly unhealthy for one church to meet on several campuses, how is it more healthy for distinct groups of people to meet at different times on the same location?

In other words, the New Testament is full of admonitions for our churches to admonish, build up, encourage, and serve one another. Churches and individuals are gifted for the building up of the body. The body is about the congregation, not the building. So to what degree can we say that one body exists when it persistently and willingly never meets in the same place at the same time? It seems like a stretch to suggest one body exists simply because two groups of people meet at different times in the same building to hear similar preaching and contribute to the same bank accounts. How can our celebration of the ordinances display unity and the mutual affirmation of spiritual realities when the ordinances are observed by only part of a congregation?

I certainly don't have all these things figured out, and I'm not dogmatically condemning anyone who employs any of these methods—from multiple services all the way to multiple campuses and recorded video. I simply think we would be wise to consider the implications of the strategies we use to get everyone into our buildings. Sometimes the unintended consequences might be more severe than we would expect. What do our strategies for accommodating growth imply about our ecclesiology? And more fundamentally, what do they imply about our understanding of the gospel? Have we even thought deeply enough to ask these questions?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Is Eschatological Dogmatism Necessary? Is It Even Helpful?

John MacArthur's opening salvo yesterday morning to the 2007 Shepherds' Conference was certainly one of the most intriguing and perhaps even entertaining of all the conference addresses I've ever heard. When he said that his topic would be sovereign election, Israel, and eschatology, I'm pretty sure he already had everyone's attention. When he stated his title as “Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Is a Premillennialist,” well, that raised the game to a completely different level.

As a convinced premillennialist, I agree with the basic structure of MacArthur's eschatology, although I'm certainly not going to make a fool of myself and display my own ignorance by trying to defend his conclusions here.

MacArthur did argue that those who do not articulate a premillennial understanding of Scripture content themselves to be in a "happy and playful" pattern of thinking about the end times, "as if the end didn't matter much." I simply disagree vehemently that this is necessarily or universally the case.

For a good example of a sermon on an apocalyptic text that spends virtually no time whatsoever on the details of apocalyptic visions, but still manages quite well to articulate the primary theological points (and eschatological message) that are clear in the text, listen to Mark Dever's sermon on Daniel 7-12. In fact, I think that this sermon is more helpful than many that focus on explaining the details of the vision, and in the process minimize the God-centered, theological comments in the seams between the apocalyptic passages. Is it not possible that dogmatic assertions about and unbalanced emphasis on apocalyptic elements of a text can be profoundly confusing and distracting from the main point of the text?

Incidentally, this sermon is the sequel to Dever's sermon on Daniel 1-6, which I understand will be the text for his message tomorrow morning at Shepherd's Conference.

Shepherd's Conference: Perspective from a Subject of Her Majesty

One of my friends and traveling companions for the week is a right-wing British evangelical. He's doing a little blogging, so I thought I'd pass on a link for my fellow Yankee bumpkins who need to dip a pinky toe into the waters of global Christianity.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Al Mohler on Ann Coulter

Kudos to Al Mohler for publicly repudiating the antics of a cobelligerent. Enough leaders of the religious right have made themselves and their loose conglomeration of supporters look quite silly over the years that this public rebuke is rather refreshing. As Molher suggests, short-term alliances aren't worth the long-term credibility that is undermined by toleration of such crass abrasiveness.
Conservative institutions cannot afford any association with this kind of language or attack. The issues are far too serious to be treated in this manner, and the very convictions Ann Coulter often defends are now sullied by association with her.
Of course, we might also think about the effects that alliance with folks like Coulter have on our ability to witness to the gospel and reflect an accurate picture of Christ.

An Obituary

DGM republishes William Piper's Greenville News obituary, written by his son, John Piper.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sun Valley

Lord willing, I'll be touching down in L.A. in a bit under a day en route to the Shepherds' Conference at Grace Community Church. In the event that anyone who helped make this possible is reading, I'm tremendously grateful.

I plan to spend most of my time and energy learning, spending time with old friends, and maybe making a few new ones (not blogging—I'll leave that to the professional). But maybe something will get me all fired up and I'll lose all sense of personal discipline.

In case any readers will be in the Valley, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at the address in the sidebar.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Outsourcing Evangelism

In The Deliberate Church, Mark Dever discusses how biblical evangelism must include the corporate witness of a congregation of believers, not merely individuals witnessing personally. That doesn't diminish the need for personal evangelism, whether in written or spoken form. Rather it reminds us how the church is a visible display and confirmation of the truth of the gospel.

Dever argues based on John 13:34-35 that
our Christlike love for one another is intended by God to be the church's most powerful tool for evangelism. This is the reason that depending on a program for evangelistic effectiveness is a little like outsourcing the main responsibility of the church. Evangelism programs are not necessarily or categorically bad. Some are quite good. But I fear we sometimes depend on them so much that we forget that the church itself is God's evangelism program. The mutually loving relationships in the church are designed by God to be attractive to an unbelieving culture. The covenantal, careful, corporate, cross-cultural, and cross-generational love that is to characterize the church and glorify God is at the same time intended to evangelize the world (112).

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Tool for Easter Outreach

Desiring God Ministries does a great job making simple, straightforward, inexpensive resources available that help churches and individuals communicate the biblical gospel to non-Christians. In the past, we've used For Your Joy and Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. Right now, DGM has a great offer available on The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die. If you agree to give the books away for free, they only cost a little over a dollar apiece.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Preaching That Fails to Revere the Word of God

If you're a pastor or an aspiring pastor, and you've never read Charles Bridges' The Christian Ministry, you've missed a real treat and some wise advice. If you've suffered under preaching that conforms the text to the preacher's message, Bridges' comments below may be surprising. Though I'm glad to say I've never had a pastor who practiced this abuse of the text (my experience comes from other sources), I sense that many from my generation think this is a contemporary problem. The fact that Bridges was published in 1830 suggests that it is not.
The meaning and object of a text is a definite passage from the word of God, as the ground-work of some statement of truth, drawn from the word. This is natural and obvious. But we question the propriety of selecting texts merely as mottos for pulpit dissertations. Instead of the sermon being made from the text, the text is made from the sermon. It is read as a customary introduction. It furnishes the occasion of the discursive inquiry, but its component parts, or its connexion with the context, are left untouched. This method—besides that it loses the office of the expositor—seems scarcely to acknowledge due reverence to the word of God. And though it may sometimes afford opportunities for useful discussion, yet it tends to 'divert the mind from the inspection, meditation, and weighing of sacred scripture, which is the true food of the soul, and the treasury of Divine wisdom: and to which alone the converting grace of the Holy Spirit is annexed.' (197-198)
I can't help but give thanks for how this approach is being repudiated, with a sound text-driven approach advocated in its place, in so many college and seminary classrooms today.