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.