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.