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.