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.