Friday, February 29, 2008

Open Mike: A Little Weekend Fun

Early next week I intend to post some thoughts on the article in the current 9Marks E-Journal that I find most intriguing. Until then, I'm really curious to hear which of the 19 answers to the question, "What can we learn from the fundamentalists?" you most agree with . . . and which you agree with least.

I'm still making up my mind. But what do YOU think.

Christian Cooperation and Separation: The 9Marks E-Journal Now Online

See it here.

PDF here.

My thoughts coming soon here.

Preliminary discussion already going on here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stepping Out of This World's Parade

Not long ago I had the opportunity to spend several days with some teenagers who've grown up overseas because of the work their parents do. We spent some time discussing parts of A.W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God. One of Tozer's comments jumped off the page at me after hearing them describe their experiences both overseas and in the United States, particularly the American materialism that is so obvious to those who've grown up outside it. Concerning man's restoration of worshipful submission to the Creator, Tozer writes:
The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all, we step out of the world's parade. We shall find ourselves out of adjustment to the ways of the world, and increasingly so as we make progress in the holy way (94).
I think it's a similar sentiment that motivated these words from Paul Pressler, architect of the SBC conservative resurgence, in his book, A Hill on Which to Die:
In any great movement are individuals who sit back and watch to see which way the battle will go. When they see which side will prevail, they attach themselves to that side (297).
And it's not at all unlike Jason Janz' appeal to American believers to do something with their lives that doesn't make sense to pagans (or, if I may add, Christians who are virtually indistinguishable from pagans):
I’m afraid that when the lives of most Christians are examined, they make complete sense to the average pagan. Materially, we have houses, cars, retirement plans, and five kinds of insurance so that we can have “risk-free” living. When it comes to our time, we spend more time having fun than serving the poor. We spend more time playing with our toys than meeting as believers, provoking one another to love and good works. I’m afraid that our diversions have become our delight in America. When it comes to what we live for, I’m afraid we display Babylonian desires for the latest and greatest . . . just like the pagans.
So whether it's central city church planting or sacrificing reputation and status for the sake of the truth or spending your life in overseas missions work or something completely different, how are you stepping out of this world's parade?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"What can we learn from fundamentalists?"

Here's my answer. The body is what will appear in the upcoming 9Marks E-Journal. I cut the introduction and conclusion for length, since even without it I was over the word count limit.
Fundamentalists make easy targets. They’re convenient foils for many an argument, and if you want to set up a straw man, they’ll give you more chaff than you could hope to stuff into any flannel shirt. But if you’re willing to look objectively at the past 50-80 years of evangelical history, you’ll see that they were largely right in their assessment of the direction of the movement, even if you disagree with how or why they said it. Decades ago, fundamentalist leaders prophesied the very same outcomes men like Francis Schaeffer, Carl Henry, and David Wells have decried only much more recently.

So what can we learn from fundamentalists? Which of their principles have been proven true, and how can we apply those principles to our contemporary evangelical context? Fundamentalists are most often criticized for their attitude towards the world and their attitude towards other Christians, and they would certainly acknowledge their differences with broader evangelicalism on these points. That’s exactly why we should examine these particular attitudes for fundamentalists’ unique contribution.

Fundamentalists are right to conclude that Christians shouldn’t expect the world to like Jesus or the Bible—assuming of course, that the gospel is faithfully proclaimed as the offense Scripture describes it to be. They recognize far better than most evangelicals that organizations that call themselves Christian churches but deny the doctrines essential to the gospel are, in fact, no churches at all. They perceive, as Machen did, that these “churches” are simply temples for a different religion—just another segment of a world in rebellion against its God. Over the past century, many in the evangelical movement have glossed over these fundamental differences, believing that sincere engagement and better arguments would win hearts and minds. Despite the prevalence of revivalistic anti-Calvinism among fundamentalists, they better understand the implications of depravity than many of their more Calvinistic evangelical brethren. They know that human effort alone cannot mitigate the effects of the Fall, and they resist any strategy that compromises the gospel in an attempt to make it more palatable to those fallen hearts and minds.

Fundamentalists also withhold fellowship and cooperation from many people whom they understand to be genuine believers. They recognize that when a genuine believer treats as a Christian brother one who professes Christianity, but denies it in doctrine or deed, that genuine believer may do harm to the gospel. Cooperation and fellowship with unbelief is unconscionable to fundamentalists because it blurs or compromises foundational biblical truth. Though this kind of separatism has been widely disdained by evangelicals who pursue broad unity, fundamentalists recognize the pitfalls that accompany an age of ecumenism and mass evangelism. These evangelical efforts have created an interlocking network of alliances between people, churches, and parachurch ministries that do not always share the same set of foundational theological convictions. Fundamentalists discern how participation in this network fosters a perception of affirmation and endorsement of those who deny or marginalize crucial facets of Divine truth. Fundamentalists fear that this form of engagement compromises the non-negotiables of the gospel more than cooperation could ever advance it. Fundamentalists gladly exchange this kind of ecumenical unity for biblical fidelity and a clear conscience. In so doing, they remind evangelicals that Christian unity is only authentic when it is unashamedly and undeniably Christian in its essence.

I have full confidence that every reader of this article will be able to think of a specific example of a fundamentalist who’s swung too far to the right in his application of the principles discussed above. I wonder whether we often reject the true ideas within fundamentalism simply because we’ve seldom met fundamentalists who grasped them. But instead of slouching into the intellectual laziness of dismissing an argument because some apply it foolishly, why not pause and consider the ways in which the underlying idea is true? And having done that, let’s consider how we ought to apply it to our thought and practice.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Are You Cultivating Liberalism and Killing Missions?

Mark Dever’s discussion of guidance and the subjective leading of the Spirit is worth a read. I agree with Dever’s theology, but I’m much more militantly opposed to the common sue of guidance and leading language than he appears to be in this post.

My opinion is that the language of leading—“God told/spoke/showed me” has been used appallingly often in a manner that has been spiritually manipulative and abusive. Even a statement that “God led me to” do something is dangerous since we have no objective way to know when God is leading us to do something that is not an act of obedience to God’s revealed moral will.

In no way do I want to deny that God actually does lead believers in a subjective manner. I do deny that we can know either objectively or infallibly when and how he is leading us (at least apart from some sort of vision or sign comparable to what we do see in Scripture). When we claim God’s leading, we are claiming divine revelation and authority that we have no right to claim. We risk dragging God into our fallible and perhaps even foolish decisions. It’s difficult for me to understand how this kind of language is not a serious risk of taking God’s name in vain at best and risking blasphemy at worst.

Instead, why not simply say, “As I considered the choices before me, it seemed most wise and prudent to” do whatever you did. Or if we just can’t excise the language of leading, shouldn’t we at least acknowledge some measure of uncertainty with the caveat, “I believe/it seems that God is leading me to . . .”?

As a brief aside, during the past week I read Paul Pressler’s A Hill on Which to Die, the account of this influential Southern Baptist’s pivotal role in the conservative resurgence in the SBC. One of the themes that struck me most was how often both the SBC reformers and the hard-core liberals claimed divine leading for the starkly divergent directions they intended to lead the SBC. Clearly it’s impossible for both to have been in the right on these points, and it’s entirely possible that both were wrong on some. I think the conclusion should be inescapable that cultivating the unqualified language of divine leading creates a seedbed for theological liberals (to say nothing of manipulative conservatives) to advance their personal interests.

After I wrote the rest of this post earlier today, I spent an hour in a van with a friend who’s done missions work in East Asia for the past nine years. He reminded me of a point I’d intended to make but forgot. We’re both convinced that the prevailing theology of leading has caused many sincere believers to wait for a subjective experience of leading or “calling” to pastoral ministry or missions, when the reality is that they have the 1 Timothy 3:1 desire already present in their hearts. But without this subjective experience they’re taught to expect , they never step outside the flow of the Christian culture around them, with all its conveniences and comforts. So a very real implication of our terminology and the theology behind it may be strangling the spread of the gospel to those who’ve never heard.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fundamentalists and Cooperation . . . with Other Fundamentalists

I've found Kevin Bauder's series, "Fundamentalists and Scholarship," intriguing and thought-provoking. The seventh installment seems to lead to an inescapable conclusion that fundamentalists need to cooperate in a far more comprehensive and coherent way currently exists in order to produce the kinds of scholars Bauder desires. It would require substantial financial commitment, collaborative strategic thinking, widespread appreciation for theological education, and theological cohesion (or at least the willingness to tolerate diversity on some deep-seated distinctives in secondary issues).

Has fundamentalism ever fruitfully cultivated these values? May Bauder succeed in his vision for progress.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Saturday, February 16, 2008

African Americans and the SBC

The Washington Post profiles Eric Redmond, 2nd Vice President of the SBC and pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church, a predominately African American congregation just outside Washington.

Last year, Redmond was the subject of one of the more thought-provoking 9Marks interviews I can remember, particularly in relationship to what is commonly called "worship style" and multi-ethnic churches.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cooperation and Separation: The March/April 9Marks E-Journal

Chances are, if you read this blog and you haven't yet subscribed to the 9Marks E-Journal, you're going to want to jump on board for this one.

Contributers include Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Wayne Grudem, Matthew Hoskinson (of Heritage Bible Church in Greenville), Mark Minnick, Dave Doran, David Wells, Mark Noll, Paige Patterson, and more.

Subscribe here. Don't waste time. It'll be out soon.

I'm currently traveling, but once I settle into one location for a couple days, I hope to post a small contribution I was able to make, which was a response to the question, "What can we learn from the fundamentalists?" My understanding is that the E-Journal will include roughly two dozen responses to that question from a variety of perspectives.

In the meantime, feel free to post your own answers to that question.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Register for the May Weekender Now

So I'm looking forward to seeing a number of friends and meeting friends of friends at the March Weekender at CHBC. I think some of them registered after I posted this link back in January.

Registration for the May Weekender just opened about 43 minutes ago, and it's already filling up. Hope to see you then.

Here's a link directly to the registration form.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Voice of Southern Baptists in the Nation's Capital

Richard Land on John McCain (about 7:30 in): "We'll take a second-rate fireman over a first-rate arsonist anytime."

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Moratorium on Music

The only reason I wouldn't support Greg Gilbert's suggested moratorium on music in the church is that we are commanded to sing biblical truth to one another. But the current state of affairs of church music is, as Gilbert argues, just about enough to make me disobey those commands.

Now, my sense is that there are some deeper aspects of the discussion about music and culture and meaning that Gilbert glosses—aspects that I simply don't feel qualified to discuss intelligently myself. Nevertheless, I think his assessment of the tastes and proclivities of believers is spot on:
I am really afraid that we’ve managed to create a generation of anemic Christians who are spiritually dependent on excellent music. Their sense of spiritual well-being is based on feeling “close to God,” their feeling close to God is based on their “ability to worship,” and being able to worship depends on big crowds singing great music.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Home Sick . . . and Getting Sicker

I felt as though I was getting over my flu-like symptoms until I started listening to a talk (that's described as a sermon and purports to have a biblical text) on tattoos. This talk reminded me of how fundamentalism has sowed the seeds of its own destruction.

In fundamentalist institutions, godly Bible professors teach their students how to exposit the biblical text faithfully and preach it skillfully. Their students then leave class to attend chapel services. There, they are reminded that if they want to hear the kind of preaching they've been taught, they'll have to look elsewhere.

And they do.