Monday, December 28, 2009

Editing and Inspiration

In a recent Washington Post interview, J.I. Packer describes his conviction that divine inspiration of Scripture is not compromised if we conclude that an inspired editor shaped the final published form of the biblical text. Here's the exchange:
Q: On a radio program, you explained why different Bible translations have different endings to the Gospel of Mark. How does this jibe with the inerrancy of God's word?

A: The inerrancy of Scripture applies to the material as prepared for publication. I'm saying that quite deliberately because I want to allow the editor in. In some Old Testament books, it's very evident that an editor has been at work. That's quite all right. It's part of the process.

Q: But some people believe that every word written and every "i'' dotted came strictly from the hand of God to the author. At the other extreme, atheists and liberal Christians say, "No one knows what's true in the Bible because it's been changed so much." How do you see this?

A: I'm saying that an editorial process that is preparing the material for publication counts as part of the inspiring process whereby God, in his sovereignty, gave every word. Some people ask for trouble by not allowing for the reality of editorial processes. The editorial process is very important for preparing the work for public consumption. It's part of the inspired process.
I know what I believe on this point, but I'm really curious to hear what the sort of folks who read this blog believe and have been taught. So I'll shut up and look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can We Be Together for the Gospel with Fundamentalists? (Part 1): Why Are the Young Guys Leaving?

I’ve heard more than a few explanations for why so many younger men (and let's not forget the women) are distancing themselves from fundamentalism and embracing conservative evangelicals. Here are a few:
  • Lust for status or academic respect
  • Rebellion
  • Itch to participate in worldly activities (rock music, movies, alcohol)
  • Rejection of dispensationalism
  • Frustration with what fundamentalism has tolerated (appalling preaching, bad conduct, hypocritical leaders, anti-intellectualism)
  • Disgust with legalism
  • Impatience waiting for leadership
  • Desire for mentoring
  • Impulse to be part of something bigger
People who move away from fundamentalism aren’t monolithic. They have different theologies. Different priorities. Different opinions. Different idols. (Yes, we all have them.) So I’m guessing that all of these reasons that have been proposed are true, though certainly not all for every single person. I’m guessing there are many more I haven’t listed. I’m guessing that most people in this group have been influenced by more than one of the items on this list. I’m convinced that many of these reasons overlap. And I certainly don't claim to speak for everyone.

But there’s another factor that I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone mention publicly. I’m persuaded that it’s a significant factor, at least for some. And if it’s a legitimate basis for walking away from fundamentalism, even for one person, then it ought to provoke some serious soul-searching, particularly among people who are committed to the fundamentalist idea and who believe that the residue of the fundamentalist movement best preserves that idea.

That factor—that factor to which some people are so committed that they’ve grown disillusioned with the fundamentalist movement . . . the factor that has led them to build bridges to other partnerships, coalitions and affiliations . . . that factor is the gospel.

In other words, some young people are leaving fundamentalism for the sake of the gospel. Some young people think they’ve found a more biblically faithful articulation and practice outside the residue of the fundamentalist movement. Some young people think that people who really care about the gospel will talk more about the gospel than fundamentalism or separation (or anything else).

You might not like it. You might disagree with the facts. You might question their judgment or their priorities. But you’d be wrong to deny the reality of their convictions.

In Part 2: "The Logic of Fundamentalism: Presuppositions," I hope to explain how separatist theology creates a formidable standard for its own advocates.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Bait and Switch Evangelism

Act 2 of the November 6th installment of "This American Life" is worth a listen. Don't be put off by the title; it's af exposé on disingenuous evangelistic strategies. What's most intriguing is the opportunity to hear a self-conscious non-Christian perspective on sham evangelism.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Power of the Gospel and How We Deny It

Chris Anderson's piece, "Is God Still Working?", published in the OBF Visitor, is worth a read. He argues that we functionally doubt the gospel in two ways: 1) supplementing or replacing it, and 2) expecting no conversions. I think he's exactly right, and I want to propose a third way we deny it.

A few years ago a Christian leader told me that he doubted whether teenagers could ever really love God, so we need to control their behavior until they're old enough for God to work in their hearts.

I believe that doctrine emasculates God and guts the gospel.

When we doubt that God will inflame the hearts of his people–whether teenagers, single adults or retirees—with a growing desire to exalt the name of Jesus Christ and to live lives of holiness; when we say God said things that God never said; when we teach as doctrine the commandments of men; when we create an atmosphere in which the doctrine of justification is marginalized—displaced by a culture of hedges around the law; when we do all those things, we've compromised the biblical gospel just as surely as if we flirted with ecumenism.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Speak Prophetically Without Compromising Doctrine: William Wilberforce on the Manhattan Declaration

This afternoon I picked up John Piper's Counted Righteous in Christ in preparation to preach on justification. Piper opens the book by making the case that doctrine matters. In the course of that argument, published in 2002, he decries the public ecumenism that followed the events of September 11, 2001, citing a 200 year-old source, William Wilberforce's A Practical View of Christianity (p. 25). Wilberforce writes:
The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrine insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment.
I think that's precisely what the Manhattan Declaration does—considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrine. And it will prove fruitless.

Some might say that these groups have much Christian doctrine in common, and it's true. But they're miles apart on justification, which is at the heart of the gospel. Piper continues to quote Wilberforce on precisely that point:
They consider not that Christianity is a scheme . . . for making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled.
Piper concludes:
Many public people say that changing society requires changing people, but few show the depth of understanding Wilberforce does concerning how that comes about. For him the right grasp of the central doctrine of justification and its relation to sanctification—an emerging Christlikeness in private and public—were essential for the reformation of the morals of England.

"I do not believe it is possible to embrace the premises of ecumenical strategy and still draw the conclusions of evangelical orthodoxy."

Alistair Begg on the Manhattan Declaration, blogging at the Gospel Coalition.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration and Its Fundamentalist Parallels

Dave Doran argues persuasively and, I believe, quite correctly that Al Mohler and other signatories of the Manhattan Declaration create "confusion about the real meaning of Christian." I believe they've imprudently dodged foundational theological differences in an attempt to speak prophetically with a united voice to the culture. They're concerned about serious moral issues, but they err in elevating those moral issues at the expense of gospel clarity.

Ironically, I'd be more comfortable if they'd expanded their reach to include Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and any other willing group. They could have skirted the problematic mutual affirmation of Christian status and simply called themselves "people of faith." But I'd be most comfortable if they adopted John MacArthur's conviction that "the document falls far short of identifying the one true and ultimate remedy for all of humanity’s moral ills: the gospel." I've written more times than I can remember about evangelicalism's obsession with cultural transformation at the expense of the centrality of the gospel (and this certainly applies to many fundamentalists as well).

But I really want to make another point. In his earlier post, Doran said about the declaration:
At the least, it substitutes a sociological-historical definition of Christian in the place of a biblical-theological one. At the worst, it runs the risk of minimizing the biblical message of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
As I read that comment, it occurred to me that much of fundamentalism has done essentially the same thing. I'm preparing to argue that fundamentalism has displaced and marginalized the gospel. This has happened by disconnecting the transformational power of the gospel in progressive sanctification, and by replacing the gospel with moralistic do-it-yourself reform and uniform standards of behavior and association.

In other words, fundamentalism, by and large, has prioritized a culture—a narrow set of parameters for the practice of personal and ecclesiastical separation—over the gospel. And in so doing it has redefined what it means to be a fundamentalist, every bit as much as the Manhattan Declaration has redefined what it means to be a Christian. Both errors have theological roots. And both errors strike at the gospel.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When Conservative Churches Preach Law, Not Gospel

What drives a Christ-less Christianity? Michael Horton's answer:
In more conservative contexts, you hear it as exhortation: "These are God's commandments. The culture is slipping away from us. We have to recover it, and you play a role.
And later . . .
I don't even know when I walk into a church that says it's Bible-believing that I'm actually going to hear an exposition of Scripture with Christ at the center, or whether I'm going to hear about how I should "dare to be a Daniel."
So what's the problem with "be like Daniel" preaching?
The question is whether this is the Good News. There is nothing wrong with law, but law isn't gospel. The gospel isn't "Follow Jesus' example" or "Transform your life" or "How to raise good children." The gospel is: Jesus Christ came to save sinners—even bad parents, even lousy followers of Jesus, which we all are on our best days. All of the emphasis falls on "What would Jesus do?" rather than "What has Jesus done?"
So what kind of preaching do you hear? Things for you to do, or exultation in what Christ has done? Do you hear first an emphasis on objective accomplishments of the death of Christ (as the NT epistles so consistently prioritize), or a relentless drive to impose imperatives on the congregation? Do you hear a repudiation of the gospel as the foundation of sanctification, or a reaffirmation that the gospel is the believer's only hope for Christ-likeness?

Diagnosing Our Idols

Interesting interview in CT with Tim Keller on his new book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. Here's the question and answer that's going to be rattling around in my own head:
How does someone identify their idols?

Look at your daydreams. When you don't have to think about something, like when you are waiting for the bus, where does your mind love to rest? Or, look at where you spend your money most effortlessly. Also, if you take your most uncontrolled emotions or the guilt that you can't get rid of, you'll find your idols at the bottom. Whenever I hear someone say, "I know God forgives me, but I can't forgive myself," it means that person has something that is more important than God, because God forgives them. If you look at your greatest nightmare—if something were to happen that would make you feel you had no reason to live—that's a god.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Today's Conservative Evangelicals on the Failures of the New Evangelical Strategies

I suppose there are folks who still think that all non-Fundamentalists embrace the atrocious mid-20th century Evangelical strategy—infiltrating apostate denominations to advance evangelism and gain a hearing for orthodox faith. I'm not sure how that's possible. Men like MacArthur, Mohler, Dever, Piper, Sproul, and others have been crystal clear in their criticism of those strategies for years now.

The latest contribution to this stream comes from Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary, who appropriately acknowledges J.I. Packer's positive contributions to evangelicalism, but also addresses his failures quite directly in this video:

The Berlin Wall in Photos

If you're about my age, the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago is not only one of the most significant events of your lifetime; it also hit during that "coming of age" phase, before the years of your life all run together. Here's a beautiful history of the Wall in pictures. Be sure to check out the photos that click to fade to photos of the same scene before the Wall came down.

Simply spellbinding.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rap Music and the "Christian" Background of Western Culture

I enjoyed reading Scott Aniol's "Can Rap Be Christian" series of articles. He's provided a useful assessment of the issues and presuppositions, and he's asked some reasonable questions, which proponents of "Christian rap" (and, by extension, other "Christian" musical forms) need to answer.

Scott also, quite honestly, exposed a potential flaw in the conservative argument. If this flaw can be demonstrated to be genuine, it's a fatal flaw. And if it's a fatal flaw, conservatives will need to radically reexamine their presuppositions and conclusions.

Here's what I'm talking about: Many conservatives argue that Western culture has been more profoundly shaped by Christianity than any other culture. Here's how Scott frames that argument:
I think it is undeniable that Western culture by and large has been influenced by Christian values more than perhaps any other in the world. That is not to say at all that there haven’t been anti-biblical influences as well; there certainly have been. But by God’s common grace we haven’t been influenced by Satanism or Eastern mysticism to the same extent as other societies. That has influenced the development of culture.
Notice how Scott hedges several times in that paragraph: "by and large," "perhaps," the acknowledgment of anti-biblical influences, and the relatively narrow focus on the minimal influence of Satanism and Eastern mysticism. Later in the same article, he admits that the Christian influence behind Western high art was Roman Catholicism. His conclusion to that article qualifies his statements even more:
On the other hand, there are aspects of Western culture that are deplorable, especially with the influences of secularism and commercialism. There might be some aspects of tribal African culture that has [sic] escaped those influences and are therefore superior. At the end of the day, I believe that the inner culture of the Church will never sound exactly like the culture around it. Christians always have to pick and choose (and sometimes invent) the best forms for the expression of Christian sentiment. It’s just the case that in some culture [sic] that have been influenced for centuries by Christian values, there may be more from which to choose.
So at the end of the day, I think Scott is more honest than other conservatives who simply stipulate the superiority of Western culture. I'll say it a bit more forcefully: As much as I love baroque music, I think it's quite possible that the musical forms of the 17th century were detrimentally shaped by medieval Roman Catholicism—a religious system that was not Christian at all. Monotheistic? Yes. Well, maybe. Or maybe not so much.

That doesn't preclude the possibility of critiquing how the medium of rap music shapes the message of Christian rap. But it ought to give the conservative anti-rap crowd something to chew on before they assume the superiority of their preferred forms as a vehicle for the Christian message—whether baroque or SoundForth-esque.

So can rap music be Christian? Hmmm . . . well, in my first 5 minutes of exposure to Christian rap a few years ago (I think it was Curtis Allen "The Voice"), I heard a more detailed explanation of substitutionary atonement and election than in any sermon I can remember before I turned 30 years old. Maybe that doesn't make it Christian. But if it's not Christian, then let's be honest: neither are your kids Patch the Pirate tapes and quite a few of the hymns in your Majesty Hymnal.

At the very least, I think we have to say that music—whether a rap or a hymn—must articulate a Christian message in order to be Christian. Only music that articulates a distinctly Christian message makes it inside the door where the argument about musical form begins. Music with a message of moralism (clean your room, don't grumble) or some yammering about an old guitar doesn't make the first cut.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

When Network News Asks Good Questions

Terry Moran of Nightline asks Mark Driscoll about idolatry. Read the story and watch the video here. Moran and Driscoll play off each other in the concluding line:
So in the end, the commandment that to many people may look like it doesn't have a lot of relevance to us . . . may be the most relevant commandment of all.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

On Cessationists and Their Ironic Mysticism (Bonus)

One more reason to STOP using this language:

"God chose me for that moment" and "I know that God had called me for such a time as this."

And is it just me, or is there a remarkable hollowness in a "values" movement that looks for inspiration to someone who likes to be judged for how she looks in a bikini?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

99 Baroque Masterpieces: $2

From the people who brought you 99 Bach Masterpieces for $3, you can now get the baroque collection for $1.99. The Bach set is $8 now, so the deal won't last forever.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

On Cessationists and Their Ironic Mysticism (Part 3)

Some resources:

First of all, the hands-down best public teaching I ever heard on guidance and God's will prior to my present church was a series of seminars taught by Greg Mazak of Bob Jones University. As best I can tell from his comments in the audio it was a singles retreat at the Wilds, probably in the mid-90s. A colleague gave me audio tapes and I'm pretty sure I wore them out. Mazak argued 3 points: 1) Obey the commands of Scripture. 2) Apply the principles of Scripture. 3) Do what you want to do. (If you're obeying the commands and applying the principles, your desires will be shaped to reflect God's priorities and desires.)

Second, the hands-down best public teaching I ever heard on the "call to ministry" I ever heard prior to landing in my present church was an Entrust conference at Covenant Life Church in February, 2009. I blogged on it and made some new friends in the process. Ironically, this teaching from continuationists was less subjective than any I'd ever heard.

Decision Making and the Will of God was by far the most influential book on the topic in my development. This link is to the second edition, which I'm told is condensed, augmented, and more cautiously worded than the first edition. It's essentially the same stuff Mazak taught.

What I like about Bruce Waltke's Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?is that it, well, exposes how the mysticism I've discussed in this series is more pagan than Christian.

I haven't read Guidance and the Voice of Godbut it's the cornerstone text for the Core Seminar at my church, which I've attended and benefited from. By the way, those lessons are available free here.

I haven't read Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Somethingeither, but here's a link to Mike McKinley's review on the 9Marks blog. Follow the Amazon link on this one to see the best book subtitle since Jonathan Edwards.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Should Premillennialists Accuse Non-Premillennialists of Rejecting Literal Interpretation?

In recent weeks I've heard a few assertions that non-premillennialists reject a literal hermeneutic. Here's just one example from a well-known pastor:
Amil has to discount the literal hermeneutical approach to the entire definition of the [Kingdom of God] in the major and minor prophets.
B.B. Warfield, in The Westminster Assembly and Its Work, expounded and defended the biblical basis for the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). But he also attempted to demonstrate how the Confession merely summarized the theology of the Continental Reformers. Though, as a Baptist, I don't agree with every point of the Confession or Warfield's defense, a paragraph from his discussion of Chapter 1, "Of the Holy Scripture" caught my eye.

In this chapter, Warfield quotes extensively and in broad affirmation of Heinrich Heppe's summary of the theology of the Continental Reformers, Dogmatics of the Evangelical Reformed Church (1861). Heppe argues (see the long quote below) that the literal meaning of Scripture is the one meaning the author intended. Though the author may or may not employ figurative language, the literal meaning is how the author intended that language (whether figurative or normal/non-figurative) to be understood.

In other words, both Premillennialists and non-Premillennialists* may employ a literal hermeneutic. (Individuals in either group may or may not, or at least not consistently.) Though they disagree on the interpretation of numerous texts, their disagreement is not over whether the normal ("literal") sense ought to be our default position. Rather, the disagreement is over certain texts—whether they were intended by the author/Author to be interpreted normally or figuratively.

And that's where the debate ought to take place. Premillennialists ought to argue with non-Premillennialists on how prophetic texts should be interpreted. Premillennialists ought to make the point that when we can point to biblical prophecies that we know have been fulfilled, they've been fulfilled in a "literal"/normal sense. But once and for all we ought to stop suggesting that non-Premillennialists reject a literal hermeneutic. By the standards of Premillennialists, Premillennialists often reject a literal hermeneutic too. By the definition Warfield advances via Heppe, both groups can be literalists. We can and should wrestle exegetically over the debated texts, but we need to avoid the strawmen and the canards.

Here's that long passage in which Warfield quotes Heppe:
The true sense of Scripture, which interpretation has established, can always be only single, and, in general, only the real, literal sense, the sensus literalis, which is either sensus literalis simplex or sensus literalis compositus. The former is to be firmly held as a rule; the latter, on the other hand, is to be recognized wherever Scripture presents anything typically; and only when the sensus literalis would contradict the articuli fidei or the praeceptis caritatis, where therefore Scripture itself demands another interpretation of its words, is the figurative meaning of them, the sensus figuratus, to be sought. Besides this, the allegorical interpretation has its right in the application of the language of Scripture to the manifold relations of life in the accommod. ad usum. (p. 168)

*Warfield was a Postmillennialist, a position now largely out of favor that was different in its interpretations from Amillennialism, but possessing some of the same tendencies to differ with the Premillennial "literal" interpretations.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Cessationists and Their Ironic Mysticism (Part 2)

In Part 1 I argued that when cessationists use the language of "God told/spoke to/led/called me, they accomplish three undesirable ends: 1) They contradict their cessationist theology; 2) they manipulate congregations unjustifiably; and 3) they introduce extra-biblical (and perhaps constraining) expectations to people who might enter vocational ministry.

Here in Part 2 I want to clarify #1 and push it just a bit further on the language of calling. Obviously, God "calls" people in the New Testament. Jesus called disciples and made them apostles, Paul was called to be an apostle, the elect are called to salvation, and the regenerate are called to spiritual growth. Though it's been a while since I've surveyed the NT usage, I don't recall any other application of "calling," least of all some internal "calling" to pastoral ministry. If you can offer a contrary example, I'd be glad to discuss it.

Please know: I'm not arguing that we should never use an extra-biblical term. "Trinity" is one such term. Rather, I'm arguing that loading an extra-biblical usage on a biblical term seems imprudent and very likely dangerous. This redefinition can shape our understanding of both the biblical usage of the term (salvation/sanctification/apostleship) and the concept to which we apply it (the desire for pastoral ministry).

In Part 3 I'll comment briefly on a few resources.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Fundamentalists have preserved and defended something less than the whole counsel of God."

Yup, no kidding, but that's only the beginning.

Find this statement and access to the rest of Kevin Bauder's in-progress series updating the history of fundamentalism here.

How Blogging Kills Fear of Man

Bob Bixby writes:
[W]hen chided just this summer by one leader in the Fundamentalist Baptist Fellowship that my blogging did not make me “likable” to a number of the leaders, I responded sincerely, “I don’t want to be liked by them.” It surprises me that anyone would think that I am so dense that I had yet to realize that my blogging was not making me “likable” with certain people within the establishment of what I call denominational group-think.
When the time comes that I call it quits as Bixby has, and I certainly will, I have every certainty that one of the best fruits in my life—even if it's the only one—will be complete and final liberation from the snares of ambition and groupthink that Bibxy has so aptly described and keenly exposed over these years.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On Cessationists and Their Ironic Mysticism (Part 1)

Perhaps like many of you, I've spent many years in a slice of American Christianity that is utterly convinced that revelatory spiritual gifts have ceased, at least in any sense remotely close to what we see described in the New Testament. Though there are some really good reasons to reach that conclusion, the notion that 1 Corinthians 13:10 is referring to the completion of the canon of Scripture is, in my opinion, utterly indefensible.

The strange irony to me, is that in this slice of Christianity that denies ongoing revelation persists a contradictory mystical view of divining God's will. Phrases like "God told/spoke to/led me" are often paired with presumptuous directives and spiritually abusive manipulation from the pulpit. ("I was going to preach X sermon, but a few minutes ago God told me I needed to preach Y instead." [And oh, by the way, Y has pretty much nothing to do with the pretense of a text that I'm about to read to you."]) This sort of thing makes me think of the comment I've heard Dave Doran and Tim Jordan make: One day some of you preachers are going to stand before God and hear him ask you, "Why did you tell people I said that? What made you think that? I never said any such thing."

But spiritual abusiveness isn't the only problem, because the pattern of mystical revelation that's modeled in the pulpit teaches people how to make decisions in their lives outside the church building. The simple fact is that this sort of terminology, used by people in positions where they're perceived to be exercising responsible leadership, can impede discipleship and sanctification.

The popular language of "calling" to ministry can be among this harmful terminology. As missionary martyr Jim Eliot observed:
Our young men are going into the professional fields because they don't 'feel called' to the mission field. We don't need a call; we need a kick in the pants.
How many young men in America attended Bible college never pursued pastoral ministry because they never had the experience their idols described? How many finished seminary and never seriously considered international church planting because they never got the mystical buzz they were taught to expect?

J.D. Greear, no radical knee-jerk cessationist himself, has a nice little two-part series, "The Confusing Language of 'Calling' " at the Resurgence blog (part 1, part 2). I wholeheartedly commend it to you, and I like the way he echoes Eliot's words:
I say this because we have so many people sitting around waiting on a warm, fuzzy, and goose-bump-inducing vision from God before they embark on some ministry. Maybe we've invented the whole language of calling to mask the fact that most Christians don't want to live missionally.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"We have a particular interest in encouraging and helping couples who choose to marry [and adopt] across ethnic lines."

From last week's sermon by Michael Lawrence on Numbers 11-12 at Capitol Hill Baptist Church:

Though the precise identity of Moses' Cushite wife referred to in Numbers 12 can't be determined with certainty . . .
The point is clear. Miriam and Aaron are dissing Moses because he has married someone of a different ethnicity than they are. And more than likely, who he's married is a black African wife. . . . White Christians, in particular, have a long history of racism and of justifying their racism. White Christians, and in particular, the part of the country that I come from—the deep South—have tried to justify using Scripture prohibitions against people marrying someone of a different race—a different ethnicity—than they are. Such justifications—such teaching—is wicked, and has no justification in Scripture. And this is a great text to go to, because as we're going to see later, it is not Miriam who is vindicated. It is Moses. It is Moses who is vindicated

And one of the things I think that means for us as Christians is that we have an interest—we have a serious interest—in making clear that in Christ we are one new humanity, and that the sorts of things that divide the world, like ethnicity, like color of skin, have no place amongst us. We are one in Christ, and whether you're black or white, whether you're Asian or North American, is really beside the point.

Now, I think we have an interest in making that strikingly clear to the culture around us. So I think we have a particular interest in encouraging and helping couples who choose to marry across ethnic lines. I think we have a particular interest in helping and encouraging couples who want to adopt across ethnic lines, because I can think of few other things that demonstrate more profoundly to our racist culture that it is Christ who is our Lord, and not the world—that it is Christ who sets our identity, and not the world.
This portion starts just after 32:00 into the sermon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why the Gospel Demands a Reform of Christian School Policies

Back in May national news media drew attention to the story of a young man who was suspended from school and barred from participating in his Christian school's graduation ceremony because he knowingly violated school policy and attended prom with his girlfriend at the public high school she attended.

I'm not interested in re-hashing that conversation, though I do want to be crystal clear on one thing: I'm absolutely convinced that the school had every right to inflict the consequences that it did. I never cease to be appalled at how relativism has so pervaded our culture that common sense is nearly abolished.

But what I really want to do here is call into question the common practice of Christian schools that establish policies that restrict student (and even parental) behavior outside school hours or the school campus. It's not at all uncommon for Christian schools to enforce detailed codes for dress, music, entertainment, dating, and other life issues outside the school day and off school property, even inside private homes.

I'm not arguing that these choices are amoral or unrelated to spiritual maturity. Not in the slightest. (And on the other hand, I'm not affirming that all policies during the school day and on school property are wise or appropriate.)

I am arguing that most of those policies that are enforced outside the school day need to be abolished. Immediately. I'm arguing that they do great damage to children, parents, families and churches, and I'm suggesting four ways these policies do the damage:
  1. They undermine parental authority and obligations within the home by taking away parents' rights and even opportunities to disciple their children and teach them discernment on what are sometimes difficult issues.
  2. They increase the distinction within the church between the kids who attend the Christian school and those who attend a public school or are home schooled. This creates a culture that's too easily twisted into a functional elitism within the church.
  3. They shape the culture of the school's sponsor church because school policies for students easily become unwritten law for all young people, and even all adults, regardless of whether they have children of their own.
  4. They shape how both students and adults understand the gospel and what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. It's far too easy for (not irrelevant but) relatively peripheral issues to become the point of emphasis in the lives of individuals and the life of the church. When so much emphasis is placed on enforcing detailed policies, school policies move not only individual believers but even whole churches precariously close to functional legalism—the perception that we merit favor with God by how we live. This isn't a question of whether the policies reflect biblical wisdom, but whether they should be enforced as law.
Think about it this way: How many of you attend a church that makes rules for all its members affecting all these areas? Ok, maybe some of you do or at least you know of a couple, but seriously, not that many. Even the most conservative churches I've had contact with never passed out a rule book to all the members. They never disciplined anyone for listening to rock music (though people did) or going to movies (people did) or going to prom (ok, so I never heard that one before).

So here's my suggestion: Pastors, school administrators, board members, please get rid of the policies external to the school day and campus. Parents, make these suggestions to your school's decision-makers and explain why—for starters, that you WANT to be a more proactive discipler of your children. You want to take more responsibility, not hand it over to a surrogate.

And here's the exception: If the sponsor church would discipline a member of the church for engaging in a given behavior, then it's probably wise to keep that policy in place for all students in your school, whether or not they're a member of the sponsor church. Of course, that opens up the question of whether you discipline for the sin or the refusal to repent of the sin, but in any case, that's a far better place to be having the conversation.

One more thing: This is about the gospel and parental discipleship and authority, not giving kids the freedom to watch movies and listen to rock music. Let's not forget that.

Friday, August 07, 2009

"We may be in a day where fundamentalism seldom defines itself by what it is for and almost always by what it is against."

Grave words (with some characteristically ironic wit) from a man ministering unapologetically within the movement.

"I frankly don't care if neo-evangelicalism dies as a movement. Frankly, I hope it does—the sooner, the better."

From Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs.

This is old news, I know, but since most of you probably still know 8 or 10 people who persist in calling John MacArthur a neo-evangelical, just thought you might like to know.

Or am I talking to you? Kent? Don?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

"[A denominational impasse over homosexuality] is going to happen because there has been a prior divergence over the issue of biblical authority."

Al Mohler on his August 4th radio program discussing "Homosexuality in the Episcopal Church."

Dave Doran makes the same argument here.

Is Contemporary vs. Traditional Worship the Wrong Debate?

Proponents of "contemporary worship" often advocate their style on the grounds that the contemporary style is appealing and helps people worship. Proponents of "traditional worship" also believe their style fosters worship, and many of them likewise find their style appealing.

I think it's possible that both are right, but that the people they're appealing to and the people they're helping worship are simply distinct cultures within Christianity today. I wonder whether these proponents of different styles are simply applying the homogeneous unit principle to different musical styles. In other words, I'm increasingly convinced that we should be talking less about contemporary vs. traditional and more about the value of simplicity or "mereness."

Mike McKinley wrote a piece on the 9Marks blog that makes a similar point. He says:
I'm becoming convinced that the way to become all things to all people is to make our churches less culturally specific, not more. The more we consciously try to accommodate our church gatherings so that they appeal to the surrounding culture, the more we alienate everyone else who doesn't identify with that culture. In our effort to become all things to all people, we sometimes become all things to only a very narrow slice of people.
How exactly do you do this? How do you get rid of unnecessary cultural trappings? Yeah, great question. I'm not totally sure. But here are a few ideas:
  1. Choose music because the text is rich, not because you like the tune or the arrangement or the fact that it's on the top 40 Christian chart or because they sing it at the Wilds.
  2. Include more congregational singing and less performed music (choirs, solos, etc.)
  3. Choose music that reflects the whole range of Christian experience. Sing songs that are meditative, plaintive, and sorrowful, not just the bouncy, happy stuff.
  4. Reduce the volume of your instrumentation. You'll help the congregation hear itself and encourage their own volume, and you'll also limit one of the most culturally conditioned aspects of musical style. And that applies to bass guitars and organs, drums and violas.
  5. If you're fortunate enough to be in the middle of designing an auditorium, build it to amplify congregational singing, not to deaden the congregation and amplify performed music from a stage.
David Nelson of Southeastern Seminary has some related thoughts on technology and congregational singing here. His conclusion:
In the end, if the elements of worship, or our actions in worship, or use of media, or technology, garner more attention in a worship service than Christ, then something is out of order. Christ is the sovereign, not technology or anything (or anyone) else. We need to be more cautious about making a servant (technology) the master in our public assemblies.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Some folks get pretty upset when preachers use over-the-top rhetoric and graphic imagery or language to illustrate theological points. I get that. I respect their concerns.

But remember a few months ago when a bunch of reformed-type blogs (even those that criticize sensationalist preaching) linked to a video of a lamb being sacrificed as an illustration of the price of a bloody substitutionary atonement? (I'm not going to link to it. I'm sure you can find it if you want. I don't recommend that you do.)

For some weeks now I've been wondering whether we need to watch the graphic death of a lamb to grow in our appreciation for Christ's sacrifice. I remember hearing people caution, back when Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was released, against portraying Jesus' ordeal more graphically than it's presented in Scripture.

I didn't get it so well then. I think I'm beginning to now. Let's not use cheap tricks to jerk around our emotions so that we can convince ourselves we're spiritually sensitive and growing in holiness.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Irreverent "Worship"

Jeff Straub makes an accurate observation in his review of Peter Masters' book on worship:
In contemporary worship services I have sometimes attended, it seems that God rests too lightly on the congregation. There is not an attitude of reverence—not in the order of service, not in the music, and sometimes, not in the preaching.
My only observation is that everything he says also applies to too many traditional worship services I have attended. Reverence, sadly, does not invariably accompany a conservative/traditional style.

Loyalty: To Scripture or Institutions?

Kerry Allen in a portion of his talk at the Conference on the Church for God's Glory on lessons from Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy:
It's good to study books of the Bible—to preach them sequentially. But what I'm saying though is this: The nice thing about preaching books is you preach texts that your school wouldn't deal with . . . in some cases [knowing laughter]. When are we going to get beyond where we came from if where we came from is contrary to the Word of God?

You know, this whole issue is about the Word of God, the authority of Scripture, the inspiration of the Bible. That's what the Downgrade was about.
Allen is right. (So was Spurgeon.) The Kingdom of Christ is not coextensive with established institutions. To be sure, constituencies are complex animals, and I'm not suggesting that either fundamentalist or conservative evangelical leaders should discount theirs. Prudence is a great gift.

My point is this: If fundamentalism is at a watershed moment (I think it is), and thoughtful leaders are in a tight spot between diverse constituencies (I think they are), then it's a moment of their own making. They instilled unreserved allegiance to Scripture. They taught careful exegesis and biblical exposition. They created something of a monster. Thank God they did.

But it should come as no surprise that their progeny gravitate to those people (regardless of "camp" or "circle") who share and practice those methods and values, not people who identify with a particular group.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Music, Complexity, and Spiritual Maturity

Scott Aniol recommends a Mars Hill Church video on Isaac Watts . . . and publishes a thoughtful piece arguing that we need to weigh seriously the associations of our music. Hmmm . . . It's a complicated world, but I'm convinced that recognizing that complexity, and leading believers to weigh how they might glorify God amid that complexity, are essential steps in cultivating spiritual discernment and maturity.

How encouraging it is to see Christian thinkers increasingly grapple with difficult issues related to worldliness and godliness without resorting to the papal pronouncements of times past.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Christian and Drinking: Get 'Em While They Last

I just bought mine on Amazon. Looks like you won't get it from the publisher.

P.S. I wonder if this might not be another example of how the rise of faithful, biblical exegesis in fundamentalist circles creates conflict (or perhaps merely perceived conflict) with elements of a culture that is more loyal to its tradition than its professed principles.

Things I Thought I'd Never See (#1920)

I don't know exactly how to describe the Resurgence so I'll let it's website speak for itself:
The Resurgence is a movement that resources multiple generations to live for Jesus so that they can effectively reach their cities with the Gospel by staying culturally accessible and Biblically faithful.
I don't know much about the history either, but I think it's fair to say that Mark Driscoll is the driving force behind it. Recently, the Resurgence blog has been running a series by Colin Hansen on the Reformed Resurgence, with installments so far on John Piper, Al Moher, C.J. Mahaney, Tim Keller and "Reformed Rap." (Hansen is the author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists.)

Well, in predictable Resurgence humor, Hansen follows his installment on Reformed Rap with one on . . . you guessed it, Fundamentalists [ok, no you didn't guess it].

But that's not all.

Read the whole thing
for special hat tips to Danny Sweatt and Kevin Bauder.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Music Crossing Cultures

Scott Aniol's article on whether we should import Western music into non-Western cultures is thought-provoking and worth a read. Scott's done some careful thinking, and even if you don't accept all his conclusions I think you'll profit from his contribution to the discussion.

This isn't merely an issue for missionaries to grapple with. It's also relevant if your church is as ethnically segregated as most, and you'd prefer that your church better reflects the demographics of your community (and Christ's Kingdom).

UPDATE: Looks like a similar discussion is just starting at the Resurgence blog.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Driscoll and the Hour of Power

In light of some comments here a few weeks ago, I wanted to follow up on Mark Driscoll's preaching trip to the Crystal Cathedral. Driscoll reports briefly here:
On Sunday, June 14, I preached two sermons at the Crystal Cathedral in Southern California. The trip went well. I paid my own travel expenses and preached without an honorarium as a way to ensure I was just serving Jesus. Everyone was super kind and allowed me to preach Jesus without edits. The sermons will be broadcast to 12 million people nationwide on the “Hour of Power” TV show, so please pray that people meet Jesus. They don’t have a firm date yet for when the show will be broadcast, but we’ll let you know on the Resurgence and on my Facebook and Twitter , so keep checking back. My first sermon was on Jesus’ claims to be God, and the second was a brutal tour of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in our place for our sins.
Robert Schuller hasn't aired the program yet. (We'll see if he ever does.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Amillennialists and Premillennialists: What Do We Agree On?

I am a better Premillennialist for having interacted with Amillennialists on the same church staff for the past two years. I understand the Amillennial position better, and I'm better equipped to explain and defend the exegetical foundation for Premillennialism. I'm also far more acquainted with the soft spots in the Amillennialist position and far less likely to toss around the common Premillennial caricatures and canards.

Perhaps most importantly, I've grown to comprehend what Premillennialism and Amillennialism have in common. No doubt there are as many permutations of Premillennialism as there are of Amillennialism—probably more. Nevertheless, as a Premillennialist, I'm going to attempt to create a list statements I can affirm—and that I believe every Amillennialist I personally know would agree with. Here goes:
  1. We should interpret the Bible literally where God intended us to understand it literally.
  2. We should interpret the Bible figuratively where God inspired imagery.
  3. Jesus is returning.
  4. Jesus could return at any moment.
  5. Satan's power is presently limited by God.
  6. Satan cannot stop the spread of the gospel to all nations.
  7. The 1000 years may be symbolic for a long period of time.
  8. At the end, God will give Satan widespread freedom to deceive the nations.
  9. Jesus will crush Satan and the rebellion he incites.
  10. Jesus will rule over the nations.
  11. God will judge all sin and pour out his wrath for eternity on all who are not redeemed by his Son.
  12. All the Old Testament prophecies will be fulfilled in the way God originally intended for them to be fulfilled.
  13. All the promises to Abraham will be fulfilled in and through his promised seed.
  14. That seed is Jesus.
That's a start. I'm sure we could come up with more; feel free to try.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Editing Calvinism

So it turns out that Sword of the Lord editor Shelton Smith wasn't the first person to reprint theological works while editing out the Calvinism. Last week I happened upon a brief Christianity Today fact sheet that describes how John Wesley did the same thing to Jonathan Edwards. Here's the relevant portion:
Wesley read Edwards appreciatively and reprinted his Religious Affections, revising where the Puritan theologian's Calvinism was most strongly expressed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"I'm saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular Millennial view."

Revelation 20 didn't convince Mark Dever on Premillennialism as it did Tom Schreiner. Nevertheless, our disagreement on that exegetical question does not preclude our ability to live as members of the same local church. In fact, Dever spoke forcefully on that point. No matter how we disagree on our eschatology, I couldn't agree with him more when he says:
I am suggesting that what you believe about the Millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order for us to have a congregation together. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21 that we Christians might be one. Of course, all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity. But that unity is supposed to be evident as a testimony to the world around us.

Therefore, I conclude that we should end our cooperations together with other Christians, whether nearly (in a congregation) or more at length (in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up in the ministry) only with the greatest of care, lest we rend the body of Christ, for whose unity he's prayed and given himself. Therefore, I conclude that it is sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united.

Therefore, for us to conclude that we must agree on a certain view of alcohol or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the Millennium, in order to have fellowship with one another is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore unwarranted and, therefore, condemned by Scripture.

So if you're a pastor and you're listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I'm saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular Millennial view. I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation. [The context begins about 25:00 into the audio; emphasis mine.

Some will no doubt misunderstand Dever, thinking that he denies that fidelity to Scripture ever demands that believers withhold some level of fellowship from other professing believers who are unfaithful to Scripture. Those folks would merely display their naivety. To the contrary, the clear implication of his words is that people who deny or compromise the gospel have themselves divided the body of Christ. And people who, for example, disobey Christ's command to baptize believers are sinfully dividing the body of Christ, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned their errant beliefs and practices may be.

The point is this: When we are forced by human blindness to truth to grapple with disagreements among believers, we have to make judgment calls whether those disagreements preclude fellowship (at the very least) at the local church level. That's simply unavoidable. Those judgment calls are not always easy, but far too often good judgment gives way to recklessness and pettiness. Like Dever, I do not understand why churches must demand uniformity on the timing of the Millennium. I have not heard anything approaching a compelling argument to that end, and it is utterly incomprehensible to me when I hear of godly, fruitful men who lose their positions in ministry over the timing of the Tribulation. May God grant us repentance when we needlessly divide the body of his Son.

Friday, July 10, 2009

How I'm Celebrating Calvin's 500th Birthday

I think what I'll do most is pray for a one family of dear friends, and another family of my close relatives, who've left the United States in the past month for opposite ends of the continent of Asia. They have a few things in common. One is that both families have taken up the cause of the proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Another is that both have moved to nations whose governments hate the gospel. And the third is that they're all Calvinistic in their soteriology—the adults, that is.

Here's a hymn I've grown to love, which I'll not soon sing without them in mind:

Words: Thomas Kelly (1769-1855)
Music: The Sacred Harp, 1844; harm. James H. Wood, (1921- ) [not quite sure who holds the copyright on the music]

Oh, and I'll also be hoping that the Baptist's who've been placed in prominent positions and who like to slander either them or what they believe might just take the day off.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Web Roundup on Christianity and Patriotism

Russell Moore guest hosted in last Friday on the Albert Mohler Radio Program and offers a balanced view: Patriotism in church can marginalize the gospel, but if you don't acknowledge the holiday in some way, you're probably failing to contextualize prudently.

Moore also said in a forum at Southern Seminary related to Billy Graham and Southern Baptist political influence:
If we want to reshape American culture, we need to give up on reshaping American culture. We need to turn to reshaping Southern Baptist churches. In order to save our influence, we must lose it.
Stephen Davey, pastor of Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, North Carolina, has written an excellent book on the topic—I Pledge Allegiance: Politics for the Citizens of Heaven. Read about it (and related products) here, but buy it here. Seriously, you can't beat the price!

Chris Anderson has written an excellent article for the OBF Visitor, published on his blog in two parts (part 1 and part 2). There are more punchy quotes in this series than I can begin to reproduce here, but I think this is the most powerful:
We have traded in our spiritual birthright for a bowl of political influence. Sometimes the cost has been orthodoxy, as evangelicals have aligned with political and social conservatives from a variety of false religions. The fact that Jews, Roman Catholics, and Mormons can form a united front for political purposes should be sufficient evidence that such causes are not distinctly Christian. Other times, the gospel hasn’t been denied, but merely displaced. We have been distracted from the main thing.
If you want to read his specific words to fundamentalists, you'll need to check it out for yourself.

Chris refers to Irwin Lutzer's excellent Why the Cross Can Do what Politics Can't.

Also worth a read is Blinded by Might, by Cal Thomas, well-known DC commentator and disillusioned former aide to Jerry Falwell, and Ed Dobson, who also worked for Falwell.

Speaking of Cal Thomas, he hit the nail on the head in a Christianity Today interview, explaining why he changed his view on the Church and politics:
I'm not looking for a savior; the one I have is sufficient. I'm certainly not looking for a political deliverer because our major problems in America and the world are not economic and political — they're moral and spiritual. The real problem is that we're sinners, not dysfunctional people. We don't need reformation, we need redemption.
Frankly, Thomas argues more radically than I would, suggesting that believers shouldn't even be involved in politics because it takes time that could be used to share the gospel. Ok, but so does writing newspaper columns . . . I'll actually argue that believers should work in politics. Churches, on the other hand, need to lead people to worship Jesus, not exalt America, as I hear a certain Christian song leads the kiddies to do.

One final observation: Has anyone else ever noticed how many preachers who take 2 Chronicles 7:14 as a promise to Christians in America so often proceed to preach about how bad the culture is and say nothing about that verse's call to repentance for God's people—the ones who are called by his name?

Monday, July 06, 2009

"Then conquer we must when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: 'In God is our trust'

Over the weekend I was reminded of the above lyrics to the final stanza of our national anthem. Then this morning I read Leonard Verduin's assessment in The Reformers and Their Stepchildren of Constantine's conversion, his establishment of Christianity as the state religion, and his appropriation of Christianity in his military exploits. Verduin writes:
Is the Cross of Christ then a thing whereby emperors' ambitions are realized? A device that sees the political aspirations of a power-hungry ruler through to victory? Surely Constantine had grasped little or nothing of the ideas set forth in the Cross of Christ!
The coincidence of the anthem and reading Verduin led me to reflect not only on how American politicians piggy-back on cultural Christianity, but also on how churches confuse patriotism with worshiping Jesus. A friend told me this morning about an extreme example this past weekend in which the point of the sermon was to prove that George Washington was a Christian. That church is committed to biblical inerrancy; the Bible was left unopened.

Now, I doubt whether many readers here experienced anything rising to that level. But I do wonder how many of us who sung "of thee" yesterday sang to Jesus and how many sang to "my country." I wonder whether importing American patriotism into a Christian service is ever prudent. Frankly, I wonder whether it's even Christian.

Perhaps that raises a more fundmental question: What do we really gather on Sundays to do?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Putting Church Music Philosophies in Boxes

Some really thoughtful and helpful work, as well as some fair critique, from Scott Aniol here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What made Tom Schreiner become a Premillennialist?

Listen to his sermon on Revelation 20 from last Sunday (6/14/09) at his church, Clifton Baptist in Louisville. You'll hear Schreiner, widely recognized as a NT scholar of the first order, explain how he taught the Amillennial position just a month or so ago, then hear him offer three compelling arguments for Premillennialism that made him change his mind.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Concerning Chuck Phelps' Concern that John MacArthur Teaches Works Righteousness

In his address at the FBFI Conference this week, Chuck Phelps criticized a portion of John MacArthur's Hard to Believe. Here's the key quote from the book:
Salvation isn’t the result of an intellectual exercise. It comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ as revealed in the Scripture; it’s the fruit of actions, not intentions.
I think Phelps is right in the substance of his concerns on this portion of the quote. If one were to suggest that this statement proves something about MacArthur's true beliefs that's contrary to everything else he's ever taught would be ridiculous. But these words, taken at face value, don't teach a biblical understanding of how we receive salvation.

For what it's worth, I do agree with MacArthur that salvation is not easy and it will cost you your life. If we need to talk about some biblical texts on that point, we can do it another time, but that's not the thrust of this post (and it won't be the subject of debate in the comment thread).

Here's the point. I did a little research and found that Tim Challies raised the same question in his review of the book. Challies actually a little research of his own and discovered an explanation from Phil Johnson, MacArthur's editor. Read all about it here.

And for what it's worth, it seems to me that Grace to You/John MacArthur/Phil Johnson should release a public explanation and clarification. If it already exists, I'd love to know that.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Decisional Regeneration"

From Ardel Caneday's intriguing chapter, "Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement" in Believer's Baptism, edited by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright:
[S]ince the Second Great Awakening, this same zeal [to isolate baptism from conversion] has permitted "new measures" of various kinds, such as the "mourners' bench," the "invitation system," or a recited "sinner's prayer" to displace baptism as the rite of conversion, thus shirking and even marginalizing Christ's command to the church. Zeal to avoid "baptismal regeneration," which many perceived to be the necessary consequence of Alexander Campbell's teaching, actually spawned another error, "decisional regeneration."

This was an error rooted in revivalism that is now a traditional element in American evangelicalism. If the former error is to relegate regenerating efficacy to the rite of baptism itself, the latter error assigns the same efficacy to the human decision to act upon whichever measures preachers may use. [p. 325, emphasis original]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

John MacArthur on Mark Driscoll: What's Dead Right and What's Unconvincing (Part 2/2)

Having affirmed MacArthur's central charge against Driscoll in my previous post, I have to say that he hasn’t convinced me on two points. First, MacArthur argues extensively in his posts 2 and 3 that Driscoll has wildly exceeded the appropriate boundaries of the biblical exegesis of the Song of Solomon. That may be true. That’s likely true. But whether Driscoll’s specificity is excessive is a debate that’s distinct from whether he’s lewd.

Let’s not forget, MacArthur wrote the book on lexical and cultural backgrounds research as a tool for exegesis and exposition. This has led him to exegetical conclusions from time to time over the years that, in my opinion, import cultural data from outside the text that shapes his understanding of the meaning of the text—meaning that the biblical author never intended, or at least never intended to emphasize. Additionally, MacArthur charges Driscoll with insufficient sensitivity to the genre of the Song, but some exegetes would argue that MacArthur falls into a similar trap in his approach to some genres—treating them with a degree of literalness that the genre doesn’t demand and shouldn’t be forced to fit.

MacArthur’s critiques of Driscoll, or the critiques made by others toward MacArthur, may or may not be right. Regardless, they’re a legitimate hermeneutical and homiletical debate. So I don’t believe that this component of the discussion is as significant as MacArthur seems to think it is. If it is significant, MacArthur's criticism might backfire. But having said that, again, I want to emphasize that I think MacArthur is dead right in the substance of his disgust with lewd humor.

Second, MacArthur hasn’t convinced me that his invocation Spurgeon’s response to the Downgrade Controversy is relevant. My understanding of Downgrade is that the foundational issues were about the authority of Scripture and the purity and priority of the gospel. I think it’s fair to say MacArthur makes that point himself in Ashamed of the Gospel (a book you ought to read if you haven’t), excerpted here.

Now to be fair, MacArthur hasn’t attempted to build a case in his posts on Driscoll that a gospel issue is at stake. In invoking the Downgrade Controversy, he may merely be making an analogical point about how it’s appropriate to respond to error. I have no quarrel with that. I’ve made similar analogical points in posts here, even when significantly distinct issues are at stake. I hope that’s all he intended to imply, since he clearly didn’t make any sort of argument for that conclusion.

So I’m glad that MacArthur isn’t claiming this is a gospel issue. That doesn’t mean it’s insignificant or meaningless. The upshot is that MacArthur is right to call on Driscoll to change his approach. He’s right to warn pastors who are tempted to use Driscoll as a model. The argument that he’s “won a lot of people to Christ and done a lot of great things” doesn’t hold any more water in Driscoll’s favor than it does when Danny Sweatt makes the very same case to defend Jack Hyles and Bob Gray.

To take it a step further, I believe MacArthur would be exercising reasonable judgment to ask John Piper and Don Carson publicly to stop putting Driscoll in a position of leadership. It’s undeniable to me that their choices will have an effect on how Driscoll is heard and received. For whatever reason, MacArthur didn’t call on Carson. He did speak to Mahaney, though I’m not sure how Mahaney fits in, except that he has had contact with Driscoll without rebuking him publicly. Whatever is behind it all, my hope is that Mark Driscoll will not squander his influence or become an unwarranted wedge between MacArthur and Piper/Mahaney.

Of course, MacArthur has every right to criticize Piper and Mahaney and every right to break off whatever levels of fellowship or cooperation he has with them, if in his judgment that’s the wise course of action. But at this point, I’m going to argue that it’s not wise (even if it somehow were to earn him an invite to a kindler, gentler conference platform of FBFI 2.0 . . .that would be some sweet irony, I'll admit). I’m also going to argue that it would undermine the good cooperative work they’re doing in restoring the gospel to a central place in (at least a sliver of) evangelicalism. MacArthur is iron, which I pray will sharpen other iron. But I hope that metaphor remains in its biblical context—a sharpening among friends, not enemies.

More on the FBFI and Open Theism

I don't want to claim that Dave Doran agrees with my earlier post on the FBFI and Open Theism, but it seems as though we're making the same point. Here's a bit of what he wrote:
[I]t concerns me when a professing fundamentalist argues that we should not believe that God’s eternal plan encompasses everything that happens. I am sure that he would never embrace Open Theism, but I wonder if he realizes how close to the edge he stands.

Monday, May 25, 2009

John MacArthur on Mark Driscoll: What's Dead Right and What's Unconvincing (Part 1)

In the past I’ve written favorably, critically, and neutrally (regarding things that were simply informative) about Mark Driscoll, depending on how I assessed the particular event or statement in question. Driscoll is one of about seven pastors whose sermons I listen to regularly, so I have a bit of familiarity with his style, emphasis, and theology. And by the way, without a doubt Driscoll’s the answer to the question, “Which one of these is not like the other one?”

I haven’t yet had anything to say about the swelling skirmishes over Driscoll’s more recent inflammatory comments. If I recall correctly, I’ve raised the issue a bit in the past, but that’s neither here nor there. Frankly, I've wrestled personally with how I should think about Driscoll. For all I don't want to replicate, I respect his militant clarity on the gospel and biblical authority in an culture that's more anti-Christian than any I've ever encountered outside a Muslim country. But as time has passed, and his pattern has persisted despite personal admonitions, it's become more difficult to maintain neutrality. And though John MacArthur unloaded four barrels on Driscoll in a series of posts about a month ago (compiled helpfully here), I only read them today. Having done so, I want to do whatever I can to push readers here who share my mixed emotions toward most of MacArthur's conclusions, even while I note some reservations.

I want to be exceedingly clear. I believe what MacArthur has written is, essentially, on target. (I’ll quibble just a bit on the details tomorrow, but I hope the broad point is undeniable.) I also think he is unquestionably right to go public for several reasons. First, he did engage in private correspondence with Driscoll prior to his published criticism. I don’t think he was obligated to do that, but I do think that approach was wise. Second, Driscoll seems not to have significantly altered his course after admonition from other leaders. Third, other conservative evangelicals, such as Don Carson and John Piper, are elevating his status by putting him on prominent platforms. The fact that those invitations are occasionally accompanied by expressed reservations is not irrelevant, but it doesn’t justify making someone an example of Christian leadership who repeatedly, willfully, and brazenly displays conduct that is, at best, foolishly.

In his first post, MacArthur made a comment that sums up everything I think he gets right in his critique of Driscoll: “There is no hint of sophomoric lewdness in the Bible, even when the prophet's clear purpose is to shock.” It’s unimaginable to me that anyone who’s heard Driscoll on any regular basis could acquit him on that charge. Despite all that I find exemplary in his preaching, sophomoric humor is a recurring theme, whether it’s lewdness or simply illustrations that trivialize biblical truth in order to make a point.

If I’m applying correctly Richard Weaver's thoughts in Ideas Have Consequences, he has something to say to Driscoll along these lines. He writes:
[S]entiment is anterior to reason. We do not undertake to reason about anything until we have been drawn to it by an affective interest (p. 19).
Weaver is relevant to this discussion (again, if I’m right about him) because Driscoll’s preaching style shapes both his message and how it is received. His giftedness as a communicator fosters an “affective interest” in the mind of the listener. His strategy to model his style after popular comedians cultivates a gut-level connection to his audience that grabs them before their minds are able to process and evaluate the content. If they like his personality and his style and his humor, they’ll be inclined to sit back and relax, listening largely uncritically to his content and even less discerningly to whether the form of the preaching event is fitting to the gravity of the message.

That’s what I perceive to be the foundational problem with Driscoll’s approach—a problem that Weaver would argue precedes the prurient interest MacArthur emphasizes. But in combination with lewd humor, that approach becomes even more toxic in that it anesthetizes the conscience of the listener not only to the lewd humor, but also to critical evaluation of Driscoll's conclusions, many of which are dubious in his sex-oriented sermons.

Tomorrow I plan to publish part 2, which will articulate my reservations with some of MacArthur's argumentation and its implications.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

9Marks at the SBC

Last June, I typed a rambling blog post while I was sitting on the Convention floor. In it, I made an oblique reference to a nascent idea for 2009 that's now coming to fruition. It's arrived in the form of 9Marks at 9.

This is, I hope, one of several initial steps in a broader strategy 1) to articulate a positive vision for the future of a healthier SBC, 2) to encourage pastors who are frustrated with the status quo that people in a position to effect change are engaged in that labor, and 3) to give a voice to guys who understand the problem and are laboring faithfully in local churches to attack its roots (not the prissy guys who whine about wanting "a seat at the table").

And I simply couldn't be more pleased that this event is sponsored by my alma mater, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In just a few years on the job, Danny Akin has positioned his seminary well to influence and equip multiple generations of pastors and missionaries to gird themselves for their mission.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What I Really Do Appreciate About Fundamentalism. Seriously.

SharperIron linked to a series of Tim Challies liveblogs from a Moody Bible Institute conference. The post is headlined with this assessment of the conference from Challies:
(T)here seems to be a disconnect here and we have speakers coming from radically different theological perspectives; and I’m not sure how to reconcile this.
What I really do appreciate about fundamentalism is that no one in the fundamentalist movement would have this "I'm not sure how to reconcile this" reaction. Every fundamentalist knows from the time he's old enough to read two sentences of "What in the World" (while he's doodling a picture of the preacher's illustration of the boy who didn't go forward at the invitation and then got hit by a truck the next week) that this strain of evangelicalism is riddled with mixed messages, some of which are, to be fair, not entirely inconsistent with orthodox Christianity. A movement that was conceived and birthed in a bed of compromise doesn't often rear its children well.

Now, Challies has reviewed a myriad of books, and actually wrote
a book about spiritual discernment, which I'm told is excellent. In light of that, I really doubt that he's completely surprised. But fundamentalism is marinated in a certain realistic cynicism towards the spirits of the evangelical age that doesn't engender much astonishment at the widespread dearth of discernment that has been so audaciously displayed at a popular conference.

Much is broken in the fundamentalist movement today, none of it more immediately disheartening than what Bob Bixby thoughtfully assesses here. That doesn't change the fact that I've purposed to press on in life and ministry applying the fundamentalist idea. No matter how much the idea has been severely polluted by the movement, the idea is as right in 2009 as it was in 1957 and 1932 and 1887.

Every semester in my church's internship, it's fascinating to see the stunned reactions of the gentle souls who grew up in broader evangelicalism, when they discuss their reading of Iain Murray's Evangelicalism Divided and watch the YouTube video of an evangelical hero articulating heretical pluralism to Robert Schuller. And that all happens a literal stone's throw from the original offices of Christianity Today. Funny how things sometimes come full circle. So regardless of what might be the associational heritage of those who best articulate and apply the fundamentalist idea now or 25 years from now, I'll be forever grateful that I was raised in a context where I learned not to be shaken or dumbfounded by appalling inconsistency and incoherence.

Baptists and Plurality of Elders: Who Started This Nonsense?

A prominent Baptist professor at a seminary in Greenville, South Carolina, wrote, in a book published in 2001, "In most, if not all the apostolic churches, there was a plurality of elders."

Well, surely this young chap has been caught up in the Reformed influence of the trendy conservative evangelicals, right?

Not so much.

William Williams (eat your heart out Bob Roberts) was a member of the 1859 founding faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which was actually established in Greenville. He wrote those words in 1874 in his book, Apostolical Church Polity, which was reprinted in 2001 in Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life. The quote is on page 531. (At the time of this writing you would pay over $75 for this book on Amazon, but friends of this blog can download it for free here.)

So friends, can we please put to rest this (at best) uninformed notion that a plurality of elders is incompatible with historic Baptist congregationalism? Perhaps it might be useful to consider Polity and By Whose Authority (also downloadable for free) before one would publicly assert or believe such claims.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Peace at What Price?: Why the FBFI Tent Isn't Big Enough for Sweatt and Calvinists

Kevin Bauder wrote:
Besides attempting to deflect the criticisms of the younger fundamentalists, Pastor Sweatt engages in an astonishing diatribe against Calvinism. He actually suggests that Calvinism is going to force a reopening of the question of biblical inerrancy. He argues that Calvinists refuse to acknowledge the authority of Scripture because they do not believe the Bible until it is interpreted through their theological system.
Sweatt's implication that Calvinists cannot affirm the inerrancy and authority of Scripture raises momentous obligations for FBFI members, most particularly Sweatt himself. The basis for those obligations is nothing other than the FBFI's own statement of faith, which contains strong statements, quite naturally, on inerrancy, biblical authority, and separation from false doctrine.

So if Sweatt refuses to recant his allegations, then the FBFI is faced with a problem. Here's the logic: 1) The FBFI statement of faith demands that all members affirm inerrancy. 2) One of its members believes that Calvinism is incompatible with inerrancy. 3) According to an FBFI board member, some of its members are Calvinists—5 point Calvinists, in fact. 4) The FBFI statement of faith requires that members "abstain from fellowship with all that is ungodly, worldly, or otherwise contrary to the Word of God."

Those four observations form an argument that the FBFI cannot simply move on with affirmations of a tent of fellowship big enough for Calvinists and anti-Calvinists. Calvinism itself is not the pressing issue. The question is whether the FBFI has a big enough tent for those alleged to undermine inerrancy and their accuser.

Bottom line: It seems to me that if the Calvinists won't recant their Calvinism or resign their FBFI membership, and the FBFI won't expel them, then Sweatt has to recant his accusation or resign himself. If he really believes what he said is right, then he needs to do the honorable thing and back up both his convictions and his obligations as an FBFI member. He needs to separate. He can't continue to affirm the statement on separation if he remains in an organization that won't expel those he deems to be in opposition to the organization's statement of faith.

And if Sweatt won't resign, then the organization itself is faced with a crisis: It has to enforce its statement of faith. That means it has to deal with Sweatt's accusation as if his words meant something. So even if the FBFI finds Sweatt's accusation to be groundless, it still can't permit a man to remain in membership who refuses to separate himself from what he understands to be false doctrine.

Well, there I go, saying what the FBFI has to do. But I speak as a fool. The organization can (and will) do whatever it wants, and right now I suspect it wants peace. It wants the problem to go away quietly, and so does everyone else who's trying to hold together this fundamentalist movement that's hopelessly fracturing along theological lines. Others care more about the great idea of fundamentalism than the disintegrating movement. Perhaps they'll have their say at the June meeting. Anybody want to cover expenses for a liveblogger?

Equipping Parents to Teach Children About God

I enjoyed yesterday's Albert Mohler radio program with guest Bruce Ware, author of Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God. Ware described his book as an attempt to communicate the great things of God in a simple way that young minds can comprehend. He's trying to help parents help their children understand that the stories of the Bible are intended to teach us about him, not to instill a graceless moralism that is so common in homes and Sunday schools and Christian schools. (Ok, everything after the "that" is from me, not Ware.)

Listen to the interview. Check out the book. I haven't read it yet, but if you have it, let me know what you think.

"If I Had It to Do Over Again . . ."

Mark Driscoll, from last Sunday's sermon, "Humble Christians":
I should've waited to plant this church. I had never been a pastor in a church before I started my own church. I should have been. Had I to do it over again, I certainly would have started Mars Hill Church. God called me to that, and I rejoice that, by his grace, in spite of me, things are going pretty well.

But, I had not even been a member of a church when I started my own. That's like, "I flew in a plane once. I'm ready to be a pilot." Not really. And there's other people on board. And that's not safe for them. I went to a church and though, "I could do this," so I did. And so much of the pain and problem in the history of Mars Hill is that my zeal was out ahead of my preparedness, particularly my humility. Arrogance, braggadociosness, pride, self-sufficiency--that hurt the health of Mars Hill early on, and I have been, by God's grace, trying to catch up my character with my responsibility ever since.

I really want the best for you, particularly those of you who are called by God into leadership positions. Had I to do it over again, I would have become a member of a church, I would have worked through the eldership process at a church, I would have subjected myself to the elders. I would have received rebuke and correction and exhortation. They would have talked to me about my pride and my anger and my bitterness, my short temper, my self-sufficiency--a whole list of things that needed work, and I would have humbled myself. And then when they confirmed that it was time, God could have lifted me up to go start Mars Hill. As it was, by the grace of God, we have made it, and by the grace of God, I'm learning as I go.

But, do not use me as the best example. Had I to do it over again, I would do it over again, and I would do it differently. And I think our church would be better served had I waited a few years.
In light of all the recent discussion of his preaching choices and style, this seems like an illuminating perspective.