Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stellar Deals and a Free Book by Piper from Crossway

So this deal was only for ETS members, Crossway now tells me, even though the web page nowhere specifies this fact. I've removed the link at their request.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The U.K. Church of the Jedi

Like or hate NPR, give them credit for finding the words to describe this thing that I can only assume is a tongue-in-cheek mutation of humanism.

You will want to listen to this story. If I hadn't, I'd never have known that in the 2001 U.K. census 390,000 claimed "Jedi" as their national religion in England and Wales.

Graham and Mike, I sincerely look forward to your perspectives on this. And if you could get Paul M. to shed some light, I'd be forever grateful.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Assuming the Gospel

Not long ago I attended part of a weekend seminar on mercy ministries organized by some nearby evangelical churches. I have good reason to believe that those churches understand the message of the gospel and its centrality to the mission of the church.

I’m not sure what the invited, outside plenary speakers at this seminar believe about the gospel. It’s not that they explicitly denied it. But they certainly assumed it. Regardless of whether one is convinced that mercy ministries are mandated by Scripture or even related to the mission of local churches, I hope we can all agree that mercy ministries wholly unrelated to the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone are a gross dilution of the Great Commission.

By this I mean that believers, acting individually or corporately, may show unconditional love to the needy and disadvantaged in material ways, but they have not loved the needy in the way they most need love until they have shared the message of God’s loving, sacrificial actions and his offer of forgiveness of sins. Additionally, teaching that intends to motivate believers to show unconditional love to the needy must explicitly articulate how their acts of mercy are connected to the gospel—both in the message proclaimed to the needy and in how the motivation of believers springs from the work of the gospel in their own lives. Teaching that omits one or both is at best flawed and at worst counterproductive and undermining to the gospel.

This morning I read a review by my friend, J.A. Ingold, of a book from a completely different spectrum of evangelicalism. I am unassailably convinced that the author is a godly man who is motivated by a sincere desire to minister to the hearts of young people, just as I am convinced that people at the center of the mercy ministries seminar are godly and sincerely motivated.

Nevertheless, I know Ingold’s theological insight well enough to suspect that his assessment is spot on that this book “is not as clear as it could or should be” on the gospel. To assume that the gospel does not need to be “pervasive” (Ingold’s word) is to make two dangerous assumptions. First, it assumes that young people reading Christian books are genuine believers. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it assumes that genuine believers do not need to be reminded of the gospel. Quite to the contrary, the pattern of Scripture consistently reminds believers not only of what they have in Christ by justification, but also how the gospel motivates and empowers their ongoing sanctification. When “Christ’s absence is so conspicuous, that it misses the forest for the trees” in a book about specific areas of spiritual growth, such teaching is likewise flawed and, possibly, counterproductive and undermining to the gospel.

I'll freely admit that this is a concept that I haven’t fully grasped yet. If you knew where to look, you could probably track down sermons I’ve preached or studies I've edited not all that long ago that would demonstrate similar flaws. What I hope is clear is that we’ve failed to help anyone in our ministry efforts—whether words or actions—if we do not help them tie the truth in the message or the motivation for the works back to the foundational truths of the foundational truths and themes of God’s Word. And we can't pretend that because we know that we understand the gospel, that therefore we can be lax in consistently, clearly, deliberately reaffirming it and applying it.

Not Just in America

Afghans are infected with the madness too, according to the New York Times [free registration required]. Here's the gist:
Extravagant weddings, a mainstay of modern Afghan life and an important measure of social status, were banned by the Taliban, which also outlawed beauty parlors and the instrumental music that is traditional at wedding parties.

But since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, the Afghan wedding industry has rebounded and is now bigger than ever. The growth is reflected in the proliferation of wedding halls, garish palaces of mirrored blue glass and blinking neon lights that glow incongruously among the country’s dusty streets and mud-and-cinder-block homes. The number in Kabul alone has risen to more than 80 today from four in 2001.

This freedom has been a mixed blessing. While bridegrooms and their families are free to have the huge weddings that tradition demands, they are once again left with bills that plunge them into crushing debt.

Moderate guest lists can top 600 people; the biggest exceed 2,000.

The bridegroom is also responsible for jewelry, flowers, two gowns for the bride, two suits for himself, a visit to the beauty salon for the bride and her closest female relatives, as well as a sound system for the wedding, a photographer and a videography team with a pair of cameramen.

All that, plus the dowry, known as the bride price, can run a middle-class Afghan man on average $20,000, dozens of Afghans said in interviews .

Even the poor do not scrimp. A laborer, for instance, making about the average per capita income of $350 per year, may well spend more than $2,000 for his wedding, Afghans say.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reagan and Abortion

Here's some background I'd never before encountered on the Reagan who on various occasions landed on both sides of the issue.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Last week I read news that the overall abortion rate is dropping. Today, as thousands gather here in DC for the March for Life, the Washington Post reports that abortions caused by RU-486, the "abortion pill", are increasing by 22% every year.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Banned from Church: The Wall Street Journal on Church Discipline

Today's Journal includes a story on the revival of church discipline and, unfortunately, latched on to a really bad example of it. Though the example is mitigated by a few comments from people who seem to have a substantially better understanding of what Scripture teaches, the narrative clearly carries the weight of the story.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ron Paul to Speak on BJU Campus

The Ron Paul 2008 website claims Paul will be speaking on campus today. Check out the "Upcoming Events" column on the left for today, January 17th. This post at Statesman.com includes more details. See the comments for clarifications by someone who describes himself as a current student.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Commentary on the NT Use of the OT: Outstanding Resource or Overrated Retread?

As soon as I heard that Don Carson and Greg Beale were releasing a commentary on the use of the OT in the NT, I knew this was an absolute must-add to my library. If there's anything else like it in existence, I've never heard of it, and neither have a lot of other people.

That fact seems really surprising since the use of the OT in the NT presents such thorny questions to theologians. Why do OT texts often seem on the surface to make a completely different from the point that Jesus or the Apostles use them to make in the NT? Why do NT authors quote from the Septuagint—or even textual variants in the Septuagint—to make arguments that are indisputably different from the authorial intent of the traditional Hebrew text?

These questions have profound implications for our understanding of the relationship between the testaments, especially the relationship of the church to the covenants of the OT, the presence and nature of the Messianic Kingdom, and eschatology.

Carson and Beale have assembled a widely respected team of scholars to contribute to this volume, and I can think of a number of ways I hope to use it in future ministry, even though I'm sure (and have already experienced) that some entries will be more helpful than others. So in the event you haven't heard of this tool, check out the description and poke around for some reviews on the web.

Now, I'd be naïve if I implied this book would answer all your questions, so I'll just pass along one review you won't read on the web. Darrell Post, a friend from my days at Maranatha and the person with a more encyclopedic knowledge of biblical commentaries than anyone else I know, shared this critique in an e-mail I'm posting with permission:
[This book pulls together] the scholars who already published major commentaries on each book. So the comments here in this new book already existed (often more expansively) in these commentaries. So then I thought, well at least maybe it will be a good "entry point" book that will expose the reader to excellent bibliographies for further research. Nope. So if, for instance, you really wanted to dig into Matthew's use of Isaiah 7:14, you will not get any help at all from this new book. All you will get is what Craig Blomberg thinks about it, which he has already articulated in his NAC commentary on Matthew. . . . It is also inappropriate to call it a "Commentary" on the OT use of the NT, The term "Dictionary" would be better, but even that would be generous. Save your money, give this one a pass.
Even if Post is right, I still think this commentary is useful in that it compiles an array the works of selected scholars into one volume that can be used to augment other resources in your library. But at the very least, perhaps this critique should help you think through the the pros and cons of the commentary before you make the investment.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Baptists and The Generation Gap Issue

There are many things that the data doesn't say, but I found fascinating LifeWay's evidence for the graying of the SBC annual meeting, posted and analyzed by Ed Stetzer.

As far as independent Baptists go, I've attended one FBF meeting in my life. I was about 30 at the time. It seemed to me that out of 150 or so attendees in the room there were two other people in attendance under the age of 45—the host church youth pastor and the speaker.

Does this mean younger Baptist pastors don't need fellowship or a sense of cooperating in something bigger than themselves? Are they finding it in other types of meetings or public venues? Or are they simply making it happen through new technology and media? I can imagine all sorts of explanations. I'm curious to hear your perspectives.

Friday, January 04, 2008

More Evidence for the Quiet Metamorphosis of Fundamentalism

Yesterday Andy Naselli made the case rather poignantly for a trend I've been trying to highlight for some time: Fundamentalism, particularly that of the BJU circle, is slowly, subtly, reinventing and redefining itself. Whether what is going to emerge from this redefinition is something we should like or hope for remains to be seen.

Naselli's post quotes a letter written by Bob Jones, Jr. in 1994 when he served as chancellor of the school. In this letter, Jones suggests that a young man preparing for pastoral ministry "refrain from reading the books written by New Evangelicals."

By that time Jones was in his 80s, and some might suggest that his judgment was less well-honed than it had been in his younger days. I was a student at the school in 1994. I heard Jones preach regularly in chapel and the required Sunday morning campus services. I've listened to a number of his sermons from that era since then. Though he occasionally made statements that bordered on the outlandish, even at that age he was an outstanding crafter of words and ideas. And I have every confidence that it wouldn't be at all difficult to track down similarly outlandish statements from his younger days. So senility is no explanation.

The interesting question is how Jones could make this statement at a time when many courses required textbooks written by authors who unquestionably fell in to the category Jones derided. Perhaps there was a time when the BJU curriculum consisted entirely of Reformers, Anabaptists, Puritans, and 19th century historic evangelicals. But I'm guessing it didn't.

No, my guess is that Jones tolerated the use of these texts in the classrooms on campus, where they could be faithfully interpreted and augmented by BJU professors. I could be wrong, and I'd be interested to hear other plausible interpretations. I don't think blatant hypocrisy is at all likely.

In any case, the attitude he articulated is seldom echoed today—not never, though even the statement in this PDF download is more nuanced than Jones's. As a fundamentalist pastor friend told me last year, the internet changed everything. Fundamentalists can't continue to hammer on MacArthur and Dever and Mohler indiscriminately because their congregations are reading their books [I took this as great news!] and seeing that they're saying true, helpful, laudable things. He didn't say this explicitly, but I took him clearly to mean that maintaining the traditional line undermines one's credibility.

This is all just one more piece of evidence in a pretty panoramic puzzle of fundamental (pun intended) attitudinal shifts. It's another marker of the generation gap that people who interact with fundamentalist pastors often describe. The future will not be like the present. Will it be better? I think that depends on who the diverging generations ultimately decide to hear, and how honest they are willing to be about it.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Who do you think is "The Voice of Fundamentalism"?

Andrew Sullivan—the libertarian, gay, self-professed conservative, practicing Roman Catholic, political über-blogger—thinks it's this guy. Sullivan quotes Dever's exclusivistic definition of evangelism, which was recently excerpted by Christianity Today from Dever's recent book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism.


Weekender Registration Just Opened

Over the past year here in DC it's been great to spend some time with all the fundamentalist pastors, seminarians, and bloggers who've been in town for 9Marks Weekenders. Word on the streets is that more plan to be in town this March.

Registration for March just opened about 45 minutes ago, and it's already about 20% full. So if you're thinking about it, think fast.

Here's the registration link.