Friday, December 31, 2010

Six Statements You Didn't Often Hear Six Years Ago

A couple weeks ago a friend reminded me of Herr Zeller's line from "The Sound of Music," referring to life in Austria after its 1938 annexation by Hitler's Germany: "Nothing in Austria has changed. Singing and music will show this to the world. Austria is the same." (In an odd twist of fate, "Herr Zeller" was played by the actor, Ben Wright. And this author currently lives on "Zeller Lane." Weird.)

I don't want to get too philosophical about change, but I want to make one point: Change often isn't best assessed by the people who are taking it mainstream in the moment they're effecting it. That's not a critique or a deliberate, vague reference to any one person.

As we wrap up another year of a particular sort of change within fundamentalism that, in my opinion, is for the better, I thought I might leave us with a few things that have been said more than once over the past year, in most cases by more than one person. I wonder if that might offer a bit of historical perspective on the present developments, or even whether there are new developments.

That's not to say they weren't being said six years ago. I think all of them were actually said six years ago. But I'll contend that they weren't being said as publicly or as forcefully by as many people in positions of perceived leadership with as broad a receptive audience. I'm curious to see what sorts of statements you might have observed. Here's what leapt to my mind:

  1. I have more in common with some conservative evangelicals than much of the fundamentalist mainstream.
  2. Let's invite a particular sort of conservative evangelical to be our guest speaker.
  3. We need to apply separation just as aggressively towards people to the right of us as to the left of us.
  4. We need to recognize that some of these issues are complex judgment calls, not all of us are going to see all the issues the same way, and we need to grant one another the freedom to apply biblical principles in the ways their consciences dictate.
  5. Platform fellowship doesn't imply full mutual endorsement.
  6. All of us are "disobedient brothers" in one way or another.

400 Years After a Very Sad Day

As a committed 1560 Geneva Bible Only (GBO) advocate, I mourn this last day of the last year before the New Age Bible (Per)Versions gained ascendancy in the English language. In 1611 dawned a day when a "bible" produced by Anglican, gospel-compromising, Erastian, Puritan-hating, monarchists changed God's Word and displaced a TR-dependent, nonconformist-influenced, divinely designated Word of God in English produced in the REPUBLIC of Geneva.

But as a wise man once said, "I speak as a fool." We merely kid. But we kid because we love. Because we love the truth. And sanity.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Are the "New Calvinists" the New "New Evangelicals"?

I'm not sure there's a consensus definition of the Neo-Evangelicals of the latter half of the 20th century. Clearly, they consciously rejected the separatism of the fundamentalists of the first half of the century, as well as its perceived cultural isolation. Clearly, they possessed a robust optimism in their capability to recover biblical fidelity in mainline denominations and gain a voice in culture.

But as I read more of their story, often in their own words, I'm struck most of all by their indefatigable pursuit of credibility—whether credibility in the academic sphere or in the public square. They believed that they needed better scholarship to win a hearing from apostate academics, and better cultural engagement to win a hearing from unbelieving society. I can't get past an irony I sense—that many of them understood themselves to be textbook Calvinists. I don't mean mischaracterize them, but their strategies seem to imply that unconditional election and irresistible grace needed a little turbo boost.

Today's Neo-Calvinists seem to be cut from much the same cloth. Granted, they don't have the same optimism for the mainline denominations. In large part, they're non-denominational—often detached from and pessimistic towards denominations, whether liberal or conservative. And they're not particularly interested in academic credibility.

What they do share in common with the old Neo-Evangelicals is a commitment to cultural engagement. They call it a missional mindset, or a missional life. To many, "missional" means not just a life committed to proclaiming the gospel, but meeting the needs of society in a way that demands a hearing for the gospel and enhances its credibility. Ultimately, this all cultivates a transformed or "redeemed" culture.

I'm sure I'm oversimplifying, and I'm not suggesting that acts of mercy are the pathway to gospel compromise. I'm simply arguing here that we should see a crucial point of continuity between two prominent movements in two different generations. Darryl Hart's concerns expressed in this essay aren't exactly identical to my point, but I think they're relevant:
I have said many times that the prefix “neo” is more important for understanding neo-Calvinism than the noun. But the more I read neo-Calvinists, I wonder if they actually read Calvin or simply make up what they contend to be the Reformed faith. [and later] Charles Finney and John Calvin have joined sides.

The Dynamics of Religious Controversy

Sean Lucas offers some thought-provoking analysis at the Ref21 blog. Here's his most penetrating point:
We often want to say that we are arguing over "principle"; and sometimes we are. But more often, what drives our commitments to those principles are the underlying loyalties to people and even institutions. For some, where one went to seminary will tell you a great deal about his loyalties; not so much for specific theological commitments as for the general loyalty to a place that was formational for their Christian life and practice.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ring Around the Rosy

Hypothetical question: If you run a website that recommends churches, and one of those churches hosts an evangelist who speaks in a Free Will Baptist Church that's part of a fellowship of churches, some of which teach that a genuine believer can lose his salvation, have you compromised the gospel? After all, you're holding hands with someone who's holding hands with someone who's holding hands with someone who's holding hands with someone who's holding hands with someone who teaches false doctrine about the gospel.

Not that I have anyone in particular in mind. I'm just curious.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Amusing Christianity

As far as I can remember, I first started thinking about how our culture of amusement has shaped our culture of Christianity several years ago when I had a free Saturday night while I was traveling, and decided to drop in on a particularly influential megachurch. Though the time devoted to the pastor's speaking (it would be a mistake to call a social justice/economics lecture "preaching") was close to an hour, it was interrupted three times—twice with music and once with something about chicken coops. Though the segments were longer than you'd find in prime time, the commercial breaks were unmistakeable.

It wasn't until later that it struck me how much our culture of amusement has also shaped more traditional preaching, particularly the sort that travels around the country and pauses for the summer in a few special locations. Thanks, Finney.

All that to say this: The recent panel discussion at Southern Seminary on Neil Postman's book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, is well worth a listen. Particularly if you don't want to, you know, take the time to read the book. Surely Postman would be particularly pleased if you watched the video:

And yes, I do catch the irony that I'm writing about Postman on a blog.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

I Repent

Thanks to Jim Peet and Phil Johnson, I've learned that I've affirmed, possibly formally and unquestionably by my silence, a Roman Catholic theology of the Mass. Now, I certainly didn't mean to, but all the same I feel compelled to express, formally and publicly, my repentance. As we all know, ignorance and good intentions are no excuse. And I'm particularly embarrassed and dismayed that I acted as an unwitting pawn in an ongoing campaign against John MacArthur.

It all started when I traveled with J--- C------ in his Toyota pickup with a sweet fiberglass cap from Wisconsin to the 1999 World Congress of Fundamentalists in Greenville, South Carolina. (Actually, he picked me up in Ohio, as I now remember.) Anyway, I offer as evidence of this trip a photo of a Congress mug, taken this morning in our kitchen. (The kitchen I share with my wife, not J---.)

Johnson quotes a resolution passed at the 1986 Congress, which affirmed the (at best) extra-biblical notion that:
The precious Blood is indestructible. It cannot be anything else because of its permanence. The Blood is eternally preserved in Heaven.
But worse, it:
Rejects every attempt either to deny the literalness of the Blood or to minimize its efficacy and the necessity of its shedding in Christ's death on the cross. Such denial is a dangerous and devilish deception.
As Johnson points out, that assertion demands a Roman Catholic interpretation of John 6:54-56—one which I'm now informed enough to repudiate.

Looking back, I'm not exactly sure what happened. I do remember that Congress being a bit of an eye-opener for both J--- and me in various ways, but I assume that we both affirmed all the resolutions, including the one that reaffirmed all the resolutions adopted at previous Congresses. Including the 1986 Congress. And therein lies my guilt. I'm not sure what I should have done. I could have done several things: Vote no. Speak up. Walk out. At the very least, separate from all the people who identified with this false doctrine, as any good fundamentalist would have done.

But. I. Didn't. And I'll always have to live with that.

Yet, I now repent.

We Always Hurt the Ones We (Almost) Love

In a lecture on available through iTunesU (paste this link into iTunes and I think you'll get it), Carl Trueman makes a provocative observation about a common tendency to distinguish ourselves most stridently from those who are most like us, just a little bit different. Speaking about the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western branches of the medieval Church over a relatively obscure point of theology inserted into a historical creed, Trueman comments:
[M]ore often than not, certainly in religious and political circles, [you] fall out with the people you are closest to rather than the people you are furthest away from. And you do that by emphasizing the boundaries—by emphasizing the small things that distinguish you from the group that might be mistaken for you if you don't emphasize them.
Context begins around 27:00 into the lecture.

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Some times churches go liberal because the men of principle and backbone bail out too early."

This is a characteristically thoughtful post from Carl Trueman on churches, denominations, and how left-ward trends gain momentum. Sometimes conservatives are too conciliatory, and sometimes they bail too soon.

I'm Thankful for Phil Johnson

He always seems to find just the right words.
I'm a fundamentalist by conviction but too independent to join the kind of "fundamentalist" fraternity where brashness is mistaken for leadership and trivial matters and trite ideas are treated as if they were fundamental doctrines.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hitchens and the "Lion Cubs"

I've just watched a very small portion of this debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Dembski at Prestonwood Christian Academy, and I'm not entirely sure when I'll be able to finish it.

In the meantime, I'm simply encouraged that a Christian school operated by a Southern Baptist megachurch grasps the reality that 7th graders are able to comprehend the material and significance of this debate.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Stetzer's Criteria for Speaking to Groups He Disagrees With

This is old, by blog standards. Not exactly sure how I missed it back in 2009, except maybe that I got married three days later, my computer died four days later, and I moved halfway across the country two weeks later. Maybe that was it.

In any case, I think it's useful to see how someone with an unusually broad appeal thinks through the issues, even if you don't weigh all the issues the same way he does.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Church, Its Mission, and Doing Other Stuff

Last month, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary hosted a conference that delved into the relationship between the Church, the Kingdom, and the Church's mission. Having listened now to all the general sessions and panel discussion, I thought it might be interesting (and perhaps helpful) to consider some questions it left me weighing.

Let me say first that I agree with Dave Doran's argument that the mission of the Church is not identical to the mission of God or the mission of Christ. Though I think we would disagree a bit over the present nature of the Kingdom, I don't see that as the watershed issue in the debate. For example, Doran seems to share a high level of agreement on this particular issue with Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung. Both of those two pastor-authors would have radically different Kingdom views from Doran, but are much closer to him on the Church's mission than some who seem much closer to Doran on the Kingdom.

So here's my summary of some preliminary issues, which I think is consistent with Doran's conclusions:

1. Some aspects of Jesus' mission are not part of the church's mission (making atonement, destroying the wicked).

2. The church's mission is to display God's wisdom by making disciples.

3. Part of making disciples is shepherding individuals to obey the 2nd great commandment, "Love your neighbor . . ."

4. Loving one's neighbor necessarily involves proclaiming the gospel, but it also involves caring for their this-world needs, even if a "gospel opportunity" is not immediately present or created. It's unthinkable that loving my neighbor requires nothing more of me than sharing the gospel with him, even if sharing the gospel is the most important way for me to show love to him.

But those convictions lead me to some questions: How must the church pursue that obligation to disciple members to love their neighbors? And perhaps the more difficult question, how may the church do so? Here are some more specific ways to consider these issues:

1. Would a church be acting outside its mission if it encouraged/discipled members to love their neighbors by caring for the non-Christian poor, adopting schools, volunteering at homeless shelters, and engaging in other forms of "social action?

2. Would a church be acting outside its mission if it designated a particular individual in the church to coordinate members to do the things listed above?

3. If it designated a deacon to coordinate members?

4. If it paid a staff member to coordinate members?

5. Finally (if the answers of any of those questions are "yes"), does a church have freedom to act outside its mission?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Doran on the Missional Movement

Free audio now available from this month's MACP: “Church, Kingdom, Mission: Understanding and Assessing the Missional Church Movement.”

Haven't listened to this yet, but I'm very much looking forward to it in light of the emerging tension within the reformed(ish) stream. And that tension seems to be increasing not only within conservative evangelicalism, but also within fundamentalism. As I wrote recently, I suspect this may be the fault line that fractures reformed evangelicals if biblical consensus is not reached.

Now, you should know that when I imported these talks into iTunes, they were automatically categorized into the genre, "Blues." Not sure what to make of that, but consider this fair warning. (Some might say that the fact that these lectures are being used as a reference at Paleoevangelical does not mean that Paleoevangelical endorses its contents from the standpoint of morals, philosophy, theology, or scientific hypothesis.)

Just sayin'. ;-)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What We Don't Need

Mohler, at the very end:
We do not need another New Evangelicalism. We do not need another minimalism. We need people to go for the full wealth of conviction. . . . We need to be the people who are ready, with the courage and the conviction, to take it all on.

Friday, October 08, 2010

"Practice Has Been Driving Principle": Dever's Argument You Didn't Get to Hear

A sermon (planned prior to the Dever-Driscoll-MacDonald video release) that addresses the trajectory of disinterest in biblical proscription on matters of congregational church polity—including multi-site churches, multiple services, elder rule, and a whole host of other matters.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Guilty Pleasure

Only in the intro so far, but I can already tell I'm going to like this book. A lot.

Well-timed release, and super-cheap for a limited time.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

If God the Father or the Holy Spirit Preached Here in Chapel, They'd Talk About Jesus

Useful reminders about the necessity and centrality of a mediator, even in the OT, from yesterday's chapel sermon at Northland International University.

Two Starkly Different Views of the Church's Mission

What Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung articulate in the embedded video is strikingly different from what Russell Moore tweets:
The mission of Jesus was to whole people, body and soul. If your mission is more limited, don't blame it on Jesus.

It's difficult for me to grasp precisely what Moore means by this in a 140-characters-or-less tweet. I assume he does NOT mean that we should attempt to replicate the full mission of Jesus. IOW, I doubt that Moore will be attempting to offer a substitutionary atonement anytime soon or, as Gilbert notes, to kill all the wicked.

The problem is that unqualified identification of our mission with the mission of Jesus invariably introduces ambiguity and confusion. Unless this ambiguity is clarified biblically, I suspect we're looking at the fault line that will form a crevasse, dividing evangelicals—even conservative, reformed evangelicals.

I look forward to thinking about this via Gilbert and DeYoung's in-progress book, and the audio from MACP later this month.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

FYI for Anyone Out There in Southern Wisconsin/Northern Illinois

Preaching training coming up soon in Madison, Wisconsin. I have no direct familiarity with Simeon Trust, but I've heard good things about their emphasis on and approach to biblical exposition.

Monday, October 04, 2010

When Adjectives Attack: What Separates Theological Baptists from Cultural/Separatist Baptists

What follows is a guest post from Jason Wredberg. More about Jason at the conclusion.
I was raised an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB). My Grandfather was an IFB pastor for 55 years and I have now had nearly 20 of my relatives either attend or graduate from an IFB Bible College (including every single member of my immediate family). During the years I spent in my parent’s home, we never attended a church that did not have the word Baptist in its name. What I find interesting now is that my concept of Baptist history then only extended back about 100 years and was almost entirely limited to evangelists and handful of larger than life pastors. Men like Billy Sunday, John R. Rice and Jack Hyles were the major historic figures I heard talked about.

It was not until college that I gained a more robust understanding of Baptist history and discovered men like Bunyan, Keach, Gill, Fuller, Carey, Judson and of course, Mr. Spurgeon. A simple look at the names listed above illustrates that the Baptist tradition is pretty broad and encompasses a wide range of theological positions. There have been times when, as a convinced Baptist, I have struggled with my historic identity. I want to cling to men like Spurgeon, but am quickly reminded of the men like Hyles (and those who still stand more in his tradition than in Spurgeon’s) and I’m momentarily tempted to ditch the title altogether.

This hodge-podge of Baptist history started to come into focus for me the other day as I was meeting with a couple of men who are firmly entrenched in the Independent, Fundamental Baptist world. As we talked about church planting, Baptist history and the New Hampshire Baptist Confession, something occurred to me. Even though we both claim the title Baptist, we are almost entirely different.

I think there are generally two kinds of Baptists—theological Baptists and cultural/separatist Baptists. Theological Baptist are those that opened up their Bibles, searched the Scriptures diligently, came to Spirit-led conclusions and then figured out that their conclusions made them Baptist—their theological study led them to historic Baptist positions. Cultural/Separatist Baptists are primarily driven to embrace the title as a result of being raised in an IFB culture (or an SBC culture—I think these two classifications are generally true in the SBC world as well) or because they have figured out what they are against and who they are against. As convinced separatists, they find the Baptist tag the most fitting. I believe this group’s separatism is primarily a cultural separatism and not a theological/doctrinal separatism. For example, they tend to get much angrier about music than they do about easy-believism or inattentiveness to church discipline and regenerate church membership.

These groups differ in a number of other ways. Let me note a few:
  1. Look at their doctrinal statements. Theological Baptists will typically offer their longest and clearest articles in the areas of soteriology and ecclesiology, whereas the cultural/separatist Baptists will spill the most ink on their articles dealing with separation and eschatology.
  2. Listen to them talk about history. Theological Baptists talk about Baptist history and cling to names like Carey, Judson, Gill, Spurgeon and Broadus. These men represent a clear unity in their soteriology but not in every point of their eschatology. Cultural/Separatist Baptists talk, sometimes exclusively, about fundamental Baptist history and speak about men from the last 100 years who were passionate separatists—men who may or may not have shared a vital elements of soteriology, but certainly shared the same eschatology. I also find it interesting that when this group digs deeper into history, they tend to be drawn to men who were more known for their (political) separatism than their theological passion and clarity (Williams, Backus, Leland).
  3. Evaluate whether they are local church-driven or institutionally-driven. Theological Baptists believe that the local church is God’s primary means of carrying out His redemptive plan to reconcile to Himself peoples from every tribe, tongue and nation. Insomuch as institutions serve that purpose (while never infringing on the churches autonomy), they can be a tremendous blessing. Cultural/Separatist Baptist allow institutions to lead the way. Local churches can be a blessing to the institutions when the churches do not infringe on the institutional autonomy. In this line of thinking, institutional authorities tend to function with the spiritual authority of pastors in the lives of their students. Institutional employees and local churches may or may not help, but they are by no means central to the spiritual life and vitality of those under the authority of the institution.
  4. Observe whether associations or theology are the basis for separation and/or cooperation. Theological Baptists prioritize theology (and in most cases soteriology) as the basis for cooperation with other groups or individuals (i.e. Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition). What stands at the center of everything and towers over everything is clarity concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ. Theologically and functionally, it is of first importance. For the Cultural/Separatist Baptist the gospel is important, but functionally it is, at best, placed on the same shelf as their doctrine of separation (sometimes with musical style next to separation on that shelf). At the very worst, the gospel—functionally—takes a back seat to one’s associations. Therefore, the cultural/separatist Baptist will functionally make the gospel an issue of secondary importance when he separates from someone like John MacArthur because of his associations but continues to invite Joe Evangelist who butchers the gospel but associates with all the right people.
While I truly believe that Cultural/Separatist Baptists are a dying breed, they do control a handful of colleges and seminaries that, at least for the time being, will continue to perpetuate their movement. However, while I have no scientific way of proving this, my sense is that many (if not most) of the graduates of these colleges and seminaries are quickly becoming theological Baptists.

My objectives in writing this piece are twofold. The first is to encourage cultural/separatists Baptists to start evaluating honestly why they are “losing” their young men in droves. If they’re honest, I believe they will see some of the observations explained above. Secondly, I want to encourage young (or older) men who have come out of (or been heavily exposed to) the cultural/separatist Baptist world to be careful not to quickly abandon either the historic, theological convictions and ideals of Baptists—or even the title “Baptist.” A careful study of historic Baptists will uncover gospel-saturated, Word-centered, pastor-theologians who radically loved Christ and His church.
Jason Wredberg is a church planter in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. He previously served on the church planting pastoral team of a young, thriving church in central North Carolina. Jason and I have been friends since about the time God saved both of us in the mid-90s. We've also served as co-workers in several capacities and ministries.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Two Starkly Different Views of Christianity and Government

This sermon and this sermon don't precisely overlap. The speakers are not pursuing the same objectives; nevertheless, I believe they demonstrate two starkly different views, preached just two days apart, of 1) Christian citizenship in this world's nation-states, and 2) the authorities that lead to those distinct convictions. I don't expect that the speakers themselves would disagree with that assessment. (Of course, that's not to imply they disagree on everything. Obviously, they both affirm that Christianity influenced our nation's founders, for example.)

Here's a crucial portion of the first sermon:
Listen to me carefully, O Southern Baptist church. On Capitol Hill. This is one of the problems with referring to any country as a Christian nation. Just because the principles of Christianity clearly influenced our nations founders (and they did) and some of they themselves were evangelical Christians (I think Sam Adams was) and even if the Supreme Court has recognized the long history of significant Christian influence in our nation (and they have in decisions), that does not mean that most Americans are Christians, or that a Christian worldview dominates our public culture or our government today, or that one needs to be a Christian to be an American citizen.

Friends, Augustine understood these complexities far better when he wrote in his book, The City of God, about how we as Christians find ourselves simultaneously being citizens of two cities—the City of Man and the City of God—at the same time, citizens of both. The legal establishment of Christianity in many nations—centuries after the Apostles—reflected an already-distorted understanding of the gospel, and led to terrible confusions as the Church wielded the sword in religious wars and inquisitions. [repeated in original for emphasis] . . .

And friends, I've got to tell you, I think we're tempted to similar confusions today. [A portion of a riff on the misuse of Chronicles 7:14 is omitted here.] I think Christians' identification of their land, whatever it is, with "Israel" in 2 Chronicles 7:14 is very well intended, but it is confusing. There are no specific promises in the Bible like that for any nation-state in the world today. Though, it is true, we should always repent, and God may, in his mercy, bless our land.

The second sermon lacks a similar, lengthy expression of a pivotal thesis. (I'd highly encourage you to listen to the whole thing to get a clear sense of the overall message.) But this statement illustrates a bit of the contrast, and serves as a useful expression of some basic assumptions:
[T]here's a common blessing out there for people that will follow—nations that will follow—God's laws, God's principles. God's moral law, when it's exalted, certainly brings the blessing of God on a nation and on an individual. And so do not discount the fact that God has raised up America and blessed America because we have been a—yes—a nation founded upon his principles, upon Christian principles.
Another direct contrast is the first speaker's clear emphasis on the fundamentally international nature of Christianity, versus the second speaker's incredulity that young people would question saluting the American flag in church. You may also note the juxtaposition of a dispensationalist who expresses affirmation for the application to the United States of OT promises made to Israel, with the non-dispensationalist who finds that application confusing.

The above quotes are merely brief samples. Maybe 2-3 minutes out of a combined 100+ minutes of preaching. I'm not at all interested in the comments becoming an argument over whether those two sound bites fully display a fundamental contrast. I am arguing that the two sermons do precisely that. So in the comments, please refrain from debating whether my thesis is correct until you've listened to both sermons in full. Feel free to engage in other forms of discussion as you wish.

"Never Curry Their Favor"

Some words [MP3] from one pastor to another, upon the commencement of the latter's new pastoral ministry:
You many find yourself tempted to curry [your church's] favor. You won't be doing them any favors. Trust the Lord. This is his Word. He has revealed himself, and this revelation is not just for us in our personal quiet times. It's for every person here.

You have been specially called to bring God's Word to God's people here. Never curry their favor. That's not what they need. In their better moments it's not what they want. You are called by God to teach his Word. Bring them God's Word as faithfully as you can, and leave the results to him.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Competing Values?

Sometimes, what conclusion a person reaches on a particular issue is less important than how the conclusion is reached. Here's an example of what I mean:

I'm curious to hear which values on display in this video strike you as most prominent in the arguments of the three participants.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Sword of the Lord: "Theological Pornography" (And Much More)

That's just one tidbit from a few minutes Al Mohler spends on Fundamentalism, Neo-Evangelicalism, and Southern Baptists in the first third of his fall 2010 convocation address, "Which Way to the Future? Southern Baptists, Southern Seminary, and the Future of the Evangelical Movement in America."

An oft-forgotten fact: "The Southern Baptist Convention was largely out of the picture of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the early decades of the 20th century" and was "largely marginal to the development of the evangelical movement in America."

And some little-known facts: Many of the most significant "fighting fundamentalists" of the North were graduates of Southern Seminary. J. Frank Norris claimed to be a SBTS grad, and even the valedictorian, though the honor has never existed at SBTS.

The rest of the address is partially an explanation of how SBTS students will be obligated to defend the faith in years to come. In the midst of the ongoing devolution of evangelicalism, the candid liberalism of the early 20th century now masquerades as evangelical. And it's partially a historical survey of how the fundamentalist-modernist controversy washed up on SBC shores, jsut a half century late. Of course the difference is, the fundamentalist side won, but it won with the help of evangelical scholarship drawn into the conflict from outside the previously insulated SBC world. Ironically, Mohler argues, it now falls largely to Southern Baptists "to put forth a stalwart witness to what remains of American evangelicalism."

Fascinating stuff, well worth a listen at the very least for the historical perspective.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

If I Were a Dispensationalist Professor . . .

Far too often, students of Scripture are more dogmatic about their own beliefs than they are capable of articulating the positions they reject. That's an unfortunate and unproductive combination. Of course that's true of Dispensationalists, Covenant Theologians, and everything in between, as well as the whole range of convictions in other matters of doctrine.

If I were a Dispensationalist prof, I think I'd insist that my students read, interact with, and know how to counter the arguments in this book. If I were a CT prof, I'd be looking for a similar book from the other side. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sanctification Is Inseparable from the Gospel

I don't know if anyone's still arguing that the gospel is not the epicenter of sanctification. Until I know that notion is dead, I'm going to keep making the case that it ought to be. Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane's How People Change develops a thoroughly biblical argument for the centrality of the whole message of the gospel—from conversion to glorification–to the believer's growing holiness. Tripp and Lane haven't unearthed some new truth. In addition to a plethora of biblical texts, they cite a variety of past saints, including these comments from J.C. Ryle's classic, Holiness:
It is a strong but true saying of Traill's, "Wisdom out of Christ is damning folly—righteousness out of Christ is guilt and condemnation—sanctification our of Christ is filth and sin—redemption out of Christ is bondage and slavery." [Traill was a 17th century English Puritan.]

Do you want to attain holiness? Do you feel this day a real hearty desire to be holy? Would you be a partaker of the Divine nature? Then go to Christ. Wait for nothing. Wait for nobody. Linger not. Think not to make yourself ready. Go and say to Him, in the words of that beautiful hymn—"Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, flee to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace." There is not a brick nor a stone laid in the work of our sanctification till we go to Christ [p. 49 in the Redwood Burn Ltd. edition]
. . .
Would you continue holy? Then abide in Christ. He says Himself, "Abide in Me and I in you,—he that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit" (John 15:4-5). It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell—a full supply for all a believer's wants. He is the Physician to whom you must daily go, if you would keep well. He is the Manna which you must daily eat, and the Rock of which you must daily drink. His arm is the arm on which you must daily lean, as you come up out of the wilderness of this world. You must not only be rooted, you must also be built up in Him. [50]
Much more can and should be said to flesh out what it means to "go to Christ" for our sanctification. Tripp and Lane do precisely that. I find myself recommending CCEF publications all the time, primarily because they are saturated with both the truth and the application of the gospel.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"If the message is really from God . . ."

Those of you who've had ironic encounters with cessationists who attempt to magnify the credibility of their assertions with phrases like "God told/led/showed/spoke to me" may find wisdom in Wayne Grudem's caution:
If someone really does think God is bringing something to mind which should be reported in the congregation, there is nothing wrong with saying, "I think the Lord is putting on my mind that . . ." or "It seems to me that the Lord is showing us . . ." or some similar expression. Of course that does not sound as "forceful" as "Thus says the Lord," but if the message is really from God, the Holy Spirit will cause it to speak with great power to the hearts of those who need to hear. [emphasis original, Systematic Theology, p. 1056]
Of course, Grudem is actually arguing for the ongoing manifestation of NT prophecy as a form of non-biblical revelation, but what he actually says is closer to cessationism than what many cessationists practice.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Religious Convictions Do Not Always Harmonize with Democracy"

Damon Linker's piece in the Washington Post on the need for political candidates to face a certain sort of "religious test" is provocative. Linker is right that "religious convictions do not always harmonize with the practice of democratic government." In an increasingly pluralistic society, I'm not sure Linker's proposal can be avoided, even though I don't expect the story will end well. What he says here is true:
It matters quite a lot if, in the end, a politician's faith is merely an ecumenical expression of American civil religion -- or if, when taking the religious test, he forthrightly declares (as Kennedy did) that in the event of a clash between his spiritual and political allegiances, the Constitution would always come first. Those are the easy cases. In others -- when a politician denies the need to choose or explain, insisting simply that it's possible to marry his or her religious beliefs with democratic rule in a pluralistic society -- we need to dig deeper, to determine as best we can how the candidate is likely to think and act when the divergent demands of those two realms collide, as they inevitably will.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Beck Plucked from the Fire: The Gospel According to Evangelical Journalism

Andrée Seu's assertion that Glenn Beck's Mormonism is amounts to biblical saving faith has been the hot topic in today's blogosphere. Justin Taylor countered it well. As I read Seu's essay, this observation stood out:
I can say without hesitation that I have not heard the essentials of the gospel more clearly and boldly in any church than on his program.
Two observations of my own:

First, and sadly, given the condition of so many American churches this may well be true.

Second, and ironically, Seu alludes to Zechariah 3 in her defense of Beck. Of course, that's the OT passage that so clearly and beautifully articulates—perhaps more than any other—the very imputed righteousness that Mormonism denies.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dispensationalism, and the Two Meanings of "Literal"

A "literal interpretation" of biblical texts is widely recognized as one of the essential marks of dispensational theology. But what does it mean to "take a text literally"? In the conversations between dispensationalists and various other groups, two definitions tend to emerge. When both definitions are in play simultaneously, confusion is inevitable. Let's take a quick look at the two:

1. "Literal" = the opposite of "figurative." I think everyone agrees that genres like poetry and apocalyptic literature often use imagery. Many people understand that imagery to be figurative, or "non-literal."

2. "Literal" = what the author intended to communicate. In other words, to take a text "literally" is to interpret it in the way that the author intended for it to be understood. As an example, no one (ok well let's hope no one . . .) thinks that when Jesus said "I am the door," he meant he was a piece of wood that swings on hinges to control access to an entry to an enclosure. But there is a point of analogical correspondence between a physical door and who Jesus is/what he does.

Both of these uses of the term "literal" are valid. It's a natural property of human language for words to carry different usages in different contexts. That's called a "semantic range [of meaning]." The problem is that some people use one meaning of "literal" as a stick to beat people who use the other meaning. Worse yet, some people who wield that stick also use the meaning that they beat others for using.

Let me put it a different way. Everybody agrees that the Bible contains figurative language—imagery. Some people think that "figurative" language should be interpreted "literally"—in the way the author intended that language to be understood. They're using the second definition appropriately. Other people argue that "figurative" language is inherently "non-literal." They're using the first definition appropriately.

But both groups recognize that the Bible contains imagery—words and combinations of words that describe things that are only metaphorically related to the normal usage of those words. Those words and combinations of words paint pictures or show points of comparison that make the author's point in the way that he (under inspiration) concluded was most effective.

A particular group of people (many dispensationalists) maintain that they are the only true "literal interpreters." They decide what portions of the Bible are figurative, and then stipulate that the definition of a "literalist" is someone who agrees with their conclusions. Someone who sees more biblical imagery than they do "isn't taking the Bible literally." They often interchange definitions of "literal" on the fly in an argument to support their conclusions.

The argument over who takes the Bible literally and who doesn't is NOT a question of whether the Bible contains figurative language. Everyone agrees that it does. The argument is also NOT over whether we should interpret the text in the way that the *author intended. Most everyone, at least among biblical inerrantists, would agree on this point as well. Rather, the argument is essentially a debate over which parts of the Bible consist of imagery and which parts do not. This is a valid and reasonable argument, but too often it has been distorted into deceitful propaganda designed to portray certain positions as compromising with theological liberalism.

*There is a relevant and worthwhile discussion over whether the meaning intended by the human author is always precisely equivalent to the meaning intended by the Divine Author, but for purposes of this discussion I'm assuming that the Divine Author is the primary and ultimate author.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Without a Hint of Irony

J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future, Timothy George's compilation of the talks at a 2006 conference, isn't particularly absorbing. A few chapters are intriguing, Carl Trueman's in particular. It's actually unclear to me why Dever's criticisms provoke more defensiveness in Packer's concluding chapter (Dever = "Sheriff of Nottingham"), when Trueman probes more bluntly. Maybe you had to be there. But that's another matter.

What made me chuckle was Chuck Colson's assessment of the rising threat of postmodernism. Colson, many will recall, was one of the driving forces behind Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). ECT created quite a stir back in the 90s, and that stir still reverberates from time to time. Summary: Groups of evangelicals and Roman Catholics signed a document that both could affirm, and a portion of that document was a statement on justification. Numerous critiques, supported by corroborating evidence, argued that the two groups didn't really reach agreement on justification. Rather, they forged careful wording that both groups could infuse with their own divergent definitions.

With that story as a backdrop, it's extraordinary to read Colson's warnings against postmodern epistemology, written without a hint of irony. Though he describes in the passage below those who deny the possibility of knowing truth, his words apply equally to those who craft ambiguity:
[W]e are living in this great age of relativism where my truth is my truth and your truth is your truth, and we can have it any way we fashion it. (132-133)
And later:
If we do not take truth seriously, we will not take God seriously. The crisis we face in this country, unless we find a way to winsomely engage the postmodern culture, is that people will not take our God seriously. They may like having our God as an experience. They may want something from it. But they are not going to take it seriously. The problem, however, is not just in our culture today. The problem is also in our church, where we have stopped taking truth seriously. (134)
That's breathtakingly ironic, but incontrovertibly true.

Monday, September 06, 2010

A Really Dull Post on Statements of Faith for the Other Polity Nerds

I think Baptists are losing sight of the purpose of a statement of faith (SoF).

You can do lots of things with a SoF. You can not have one. Some no-creed-but-the-Bible Baptists think this is the way to go. You can also have one and ignore it—or at least ignore any semblance of historic continuity in the meaning of words. That'd make you a theological liberal, or maybe a contemporary, a-theological quasi-evangelical, cultural Baptist. And I suspect there may be lots of highly conservative Baptist churches in those two categories that are careless or simply don't think much about ecclesiology.

Those categories don't particularly interest me. Not today, anyway. Two other categories do:

1. Some Baptists use SoFs as a standard for leadership and public teaching but not membership. This approach is also common among elder-rule Bible churches and MacArthur-circle churches.

2. Some Baptists use SoFs as a summary of the minimum all members must affirm in order for them to function together as a church. I say "some." I'm tempted to say "most" SoF-users, if we were to count Baptists throughout church history, but I'll leave that to the bona fide historians.

My argument is that the latter option best represents biblical congregationalism. Why? Because the NT teaches that the congregation is responsible for the discipline and doctrine of the church. Not everyone agrees:
A doctrinal statement is not a requirement for church membership or ministry. A person may join a church being untaught, and not knowing enough to agree or disagree. A person may join a church agreeing to disagree. In such cases, the church can rightly expect that the member will not attempt to divide the congregation over the issues.
Just one problem with that. Well, at least one problem. Who can join a church? Any professing believer? But a believer in what? The gospel? What's the gospel? Doesn't the gospel consist of things we believe—matters of faith? Can a convictional Presbyterian join a Baptist church? An open theist? An anti-inerrantist? Someone who believes Jesus was an ordinary man adopted by God and infused with the divine nature? Frankly, I suspect that all of these churches really do have a functional minimum common affirmation for membership, though they may not realize it. They just haven't faced a sticky situation yet.

Now, this approach might work in a baptistic, but minimally congregational elder-rule church, in which the congregation exercises no meaningful oversight in matters of doctrine. At least it might work for a while. But it's not at all difficult to see why an authentically Baptist, congregational church would be ill-suited to sustain its doctrine, regardless of what the present leadership is committed to teach. Church history is littered with examples of confessional churches and institutions that tragically abandoned their confessions. Are we to assume that a non-confessional church will be more stable?

A SoF in a Baptist church ought to be a minimum summary of what its members must commonly believe in order to function as a church. There's a worthwhile discussion over what needs to appear in that minimum summary. We should neither demand too much nor too little. But to diminish the significance of that SoF, whatever it does or does not include, is to undermine the very principles the SoF affirms.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Black Robed Lemmings

CT reports on the Washington, DC Beck-scapades and his evangelical courtesans. Beck says:
"We can disagree on politics," Beck said. "These men and women here don't agree on fundamentals. They don't agree on everything that every church teaches. What they do agree on is God is the answer."
Um, yeah, but what if false gods offer the wrong answers? It's just astonishingly ironic to me that people who claim to be horrified at our cultural moral relativism so naïvely embrace religious pluralism under the guise of changing culture.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Most Influential Books in My Life: #s 1-5

Here's the second installment on the books (other than Scripture) that have influenced me most—not necessarily my top recommendations, but in God's kind providence, the ones that shaped my understanding of the gospel, Scripture, and following Christ more than any others . . .

5. Gary Friesen, Decision Making and the Will of God. This is actually a minor oops on my part. Piper's The Pleasures of God should be slotted in at #5 ahead of Friesen, but no biggie. The original edition, which I read, had some flaws—mostly debatable overstatements, as I remember—but it exploded the functional mysticism I'd absorbed from various strains of teaching. Rather, not everything is black or white, right or wrong. Sometimes the process we use in making a decision is more important than the conclusion. The more my affections are fixed on Christ, the more my motivations and preferences will be conformed to his.

4. John MacArthur, Study Bible. Though my first read was the NKJV, I'm linking to the brand spanking new ESV—available today, in fact, according to Amazon. Though "I don't agree with everything John MacArthur says," reading through every word of the notes along with the text was invaluable. It exposed me to a plausible interpretation of all sorts of difficult texts and a pretty comprehensive, coherent system of theology and biblical interpretation.

3. Doug Moo, The Epistle to the Romans. Could easily be #2 OR #1. The first time through, it taught me sanctification by grace through faith, not works or human effort. For me and, I think, others in the class, this was a radical shift that's difficult to overestimate. The second time through, it started me on a trajectory that rebuilt my hermeneutics, as I began to grasp how Paul read the OT.

2. D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies. I hope Carson forever changed how I preach. I'm quite certain he forever changed how I listen to preaching. Would it be reasonable to suggest that no one should set foot into a pulpit without reading this? It's just far too easy and immeasurably too costly to mishandle the Word of God, not to dig into this simple gem. Thanks to Ed Williams' classroom presentation requirement and Nashotah House's extensive library of old periodicals, Samuel Sandmel's article on "Parallelomania" is forever burned into my brain.

1. A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God. It's interesting to me how both of my top 2 are such small books. And I still don't quite understand how Tozer made it so clear to me for the first time that the Christian life is about cultivating an internal affection for God, not working towards external reformation in order to earn his favor. I'm not sure I'll ever know whether he said something I'd never heard before, or whether the Spirit simply brought it to bear so that it seemed brand new. Other books changed the way I think and what I believe. This one changed my heart.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Christian" Doesn't Always Mean the Same Thing

One of the complaints with the Manhattan Declaration was that the use of the term "Christian" to refer indiscriminately to evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox groups compromised the gospel. Some argued that since these groups do not share the same gospel, using the term to apply to each group implies an indifference to gospel clarity.

It may be argued (as I have) that signing the MD was naïve, imprudent, unhelpful, and at best meaningless. It may also be argued that this usage of "Christian" creates a troublesome ambiguity. But this assertion, on the basis of its use of "Christian," that it actually compromises the gospel is simply unsustainable. "Christian" doesn't always mean the same thing. And it's not just me saying that. It's Kevin Bauder writing here:
[T]he term Christian is used in more than one sense. In the strict and proper sense, it applies only to those who affirm all the fundamentals of the Faith, including the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and justification through faith alone. In this sense, the Roman church of today is not a Christian church and most medieval Catholics were probably not Christian either. In a less technical sense, however, the word Christian can be used to distinguish those who affirm Trinitarian orthodoxy from infidels, pagans, and cultists. In that sense Catholicism can be called Christian, and that is the sense in which the Middle Ages were influenced by Christian categories.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Northland Way of Discipleship

This is quite helpful, both in what it denies . . .
Discipling the heart is so much more demanding than disciplining actions. A rule book chock full of hundreds of prescriptive restrictions and patterns of conformity doesn’t get to an effective discipling of the heart very often. We can achieve outward conformity while never achieving inward transformation. Conversely, it’s even possible to do many good and wonderful things and still miss the mark. If good deeds are not done in love, they are worthless. Chapter 13 of First Corinthians warns us of this.
. . . and in what it affirms . . .
[W]e cannot rely on an artificial system that’s built simply on the accounting of "external wrongs" to discern the level of spiritual vitality. We have seen how easily these systems can be gamed and never get to the business of discipling the heart. Because of this, we ask our faculty, staff, administration, and student body to covenant together in immersive, life-touching-life discipleship. We intentionally get involved in the lives of our students so that real, Christ-modeled discipleship can occur. We humbly pray with full reliance on the Holy Spirit to accomplish the transformative work of Christlikeness within the heart of each and every student. And from this work, we pray that our students will become true followers of Christ who will deny themselves, take up their crosses, go to the far reaches of this world, and make disciples of others also.
Few institutions could have produced this document, and fewer still could actually implement it.


Most Influential Books in My Life: #s 6-10

This one's just for fun. For a while I've intended to post briefly on the books (other than Scripture) that have influenced me most, more for my personal reflection than anything. I'm not suggesting these are my top recommendations today, merely that they shaped my understanding of the gospel, Scripture, and following Christ more than any others, as best I can tell. With those criteria, what I read longer ago tends to be more influential than what I read after my theology was more developed. Here goes . . .

10. Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church. Heavily influential, but not in the way Warren intended. I can still remember the moment, while I was on a step machine in the little gym at MBBC, when I read, "We should never criticize a method that God is blessing." This book made pragmatism come to life, and laid bare its vacuity.

9. Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Everything PDC wasn't. As in, grounded in Scripture, rather than culture, psychology and yuppie consumerism. This was the most recent read to crack the top 10—circa 2003.

8. Norm Geisler, Chosen But Free. Also not influential in the way the author intended. Some of the respected influences in my life were strong anti-Calvinists, and I had no desire to discard their convictions lightly. Geisler came highly recommended, and I thought he might present a coherent case for the non-Calvinist understanding of the issues. The book's embarrassingly shoddy exegesis and logic convinced me that Geisler's "moderate Calvinist" (actually neither moderate nor Calvinist) position was utterly untenable.

7. John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel. Years ago a professor I respected, and still do, asked me how I could speak approvingly of John MacArthur when he was one of the architects of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement. He wasn't being dishonest, simply regurgitating the misinformation others had fed him. Of course, MacArthur was one of it's most vocal critics, certainly not an architect. Though I can't remember whether I learned that from Ashamed of the Gospel, I do know that book clarified in my mind once and for all that MacArthur wasn't the squishy neo-evangelical that fundamentalist rhetoric often made him out to be. In some ways, reading it may have been the beginning of a trajectory in my life—not so much because MacArthur convinced me for the first time that the seeker-sensitive movement was bad, but because it defined to me a bit of who was credible and who wasn't.

6. John Piper, The Pleasures of God. This wasn't the first book by Piper that I owned, but it was the first that I read. I think I bought it at the Bethlehem Baptist bookstall. Everyone who recommended Piper to me said to read this book first. They were right. Piper masterfully unpacks the biblical theology of the supremacy of God's glory, not only to us, but to God himself. God is right to demand all honor, praise and worship, not because he is a narcissistic egomaniac, but because he is worthy. Were God to share this worship, he would himself be an idolator. Just beautiful, essential stuff. This book took my theological framework and gave it the theocentric foundation it needed.

Top 5 to come soon, I hope. In the meantime, feel free to share yours . . .

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fleshing Out the "Gospel-Centered" Buzzword

Lots of preachers talk about how the gospel is inextricably linked to every aspect of the life of a Christian. But not everyone who talks about it actually explains how this is true and how it fleshes out.

Certainly, not everything that needs to be said can be said in an hour, but Tim Keller gives us a healthy push in that direction in this talk.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

For Your Calendar

This looks interesting. Catherwood is a grandson of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and son of Fred Catherwood, a former Vice-President of the European Parliament.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Maranatha Philosophy

I think this is a useful summary of what many friends would affirm is the core of what we appreciate from our time at Maranatha:
One reasonable expectation is that a Maranatha product will be a student of the Scriptures—one who will approach an issue with an open mind, explore what the Bible says about it, then come to a valid determination based on that study.

"Our students are not spoon-fed a mandated, prescriptive position in every doctrinal and practical issue," Trainer said. "We don’t hand them a box of beliefs. We give them the tools to determine what the text says."

"My students make fun of me for saying ‘good men differ,’ " Saxon said. "We’ve never burned anyone as a heretic in my class. Even if they are totally wrong, I say, ‘Thank you for thinking.’ At the same time, we do have a coherent, consistent philosophy we want to expose our students to."

Oats said hiring faculty members who agree on core issues but have diverse beliefs on "peripherals" is a Maranatha distinctive that dates back to former presidents Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm and Dr. Arno Q. Weniger. Both led the College for 15 years, and both employed faculty members with whom they did not agree on every theological issue, Oats said.

Students are, of course, guided and directed by faculty to a consistent fundamental Baptist position. A student once approached Oats and said, "I need you guys to tell me what I am supposed to believe."

"That isn’t what we want to do," Oats said. "We have always taught students to be 100 percent true to Scripture. But, on issues where Scripture isn’t clear, we want you to work through those issues and come to a conclusion, not just parrot a particular faculty member."
Full story.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Open Questions for the Anti-Lordship Folks

Some say the disagreement over "Lordship salvation" is simply a matter of semantics. Others (including folks from both sides) insist that it's a foundational gospel issue. I've argued that, far too often, it's the latter.

In a previous comment thread, I asked a couple questions that would seem to move us toward clarity—whether the issue is a matter of semantics or different understandings of the gospel. I thought it might be useful, since the answer proposed resembled a smokescreen more than a biblical explanation, to present them to a broader audience:

1) Is repentance essential to conversion?

2) How is repentance different from submission to Christ's lordship?

As Ross Perot used to say, "I'm all ears."

And for all the kids out there, this is who I'm talking about . . .

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dever and Lawrence vs. Contemporary Worship

Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Viewshas its strengths and weaknesses. One of the strengths is the candor with which contemporary worship advocate Dan Wilt unpacks his argument. Another strength is the clarity with which Dever and Lawrence then demolish it. Here's a portion:
In the end, however, we believe that [Wilt's defense of culturally-conditioned worship] is ultimately flawed, even dangerously so. This is not because we are opposed to the use of some popular idiom in public worship. After all, we wrote the chapter on "Blended Worship." Rather, our concerns are more substantive. To begin with, culture is simply not the neutral tool or context that Wilt assumes it to be. As theologian David F. Wells and others have shown over the past decade, culture carries with it its own plausibility structure, its own values, its own priorities. This is true of both high and low culture, and the structures as well as the idioms of culture.

Whether we recognize it or not, the idiom of popular music is value-laden, not just the words that are attached to it. Again and again, Wilt draws our attention to the immediacy, the immanence, and the particular emotional range that this music fosters. And he is precisely right! The pop music idiom is well suited to the love song, the praise song, and the limited range of emotional experience we hear on the radio. Without any sense of irony, Wilt admits that "some contemporary worship songs could as easily be sung to one's spouse as to God." In our circles, this is known as the "Jesus is my boyfriend" song, and it is not exactly a compliment.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Psychoanalyzing Separation

Carl Trueman suggests a possible explanation for why Lloyd-Jones' criticism of and separation from J.I. Packer was more severe than than his disposition toward John Stott, after both of them refused in 1966 to follow Lloyd-Jones out of the decreasingly evangelical Anglican Church:
Lloyd-Jones' very distance from Stott meant that [Stott] was never a threat to him and his leadership in the way that Packer was. . . . Packer was the only man within Lloyd-Jones' orbit who could pose a serious challenge to his leadership because of both his intellect and, crucially, his grasp of the history and theology of the Reformed tradition. One might also add that it is a typical phenomenon, noted by sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists alike, that the outsiders closest to a particular tight-knit group are often the ones singled out for particularly brutal treatment by the group because of the crucial need to be very clear and precise about establishing boundaries.

From Trueman's essay, "J.I. Packer: An English Nonconformist Perspective" in J.I. Packer and the Evangelical Future, ed. by Timothy George, pp. 123-124. [emphasis added]

Monday, August 09, 2010

Things That Are Different Can't Be the Same

It is not at all difficult to see how this is incompatible with this.

Praying Towards the Ends of the Earth

I have to confess: I used two slides in an introduction to a sermon on "The Mission and Risk" in Acts. (True regulative principal purists fire away. Obviously, I'm a poser.) You can download the whole "State of the Gospel" presentation here (HT: PLJIII FKA PJ). Many more resources—maps and slides—are available through the Southern Baptist International Missions Board for purchase or as a free download.

Another resource that was much on my mind: Operation World, which is an extraordinarily useful guide to the state of missions across the globe. I haven't seen this new edition, but I've been looking forward to it coming out so I can peruse the latest data.

Use it, and you'll be introduced to people groups you've never heard of, and which themselves have never heard the name of Jesus. It's a great way to lead your family in prayer for the nations. Christianity Today has a nice story on the new edition here.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

On the Centrality of the Gospel and (Briefly) Those Who Resist It

I continue to sense resistance among dispensational fundamentalists to the idea that Christ and the gospel are central to the message of Scripture. A particular point of confusion seems to be the relationship of the gospel to a believer's sanctification. Some seem to suggest that the return of Christ and our hope of resurrection are the motivation for our sanctification, as if these things aren't part and parcel to the gospel. That's a longer conversation, which we may well have eventually. In the meantime, I thought I might share some food for thought from a wide range of voices.

First, D.A. Carson (from an excellent talk on the gospel and social action) on how the whole Bible hangs together and how preachers need to demonstrate that:
Every sermon based on any biblical text needs to be integrated into the theme of the book in question, which needs to be integrated into the canon, which inevitably brings you in one fashion or another to the centrality of Christ. It just does. . . . Expository preaching is not only explaining what a text says in its bitty [garbled audio], but faithful expository preaching is also showing from that "bitty" text, its inter-canonical connections to the great tendons that run right through Scripture to bring you the centrality of Jesus. That makes for powerful worldview-ish preaching.
Second, Spurgeon: Preach Christ or go home. (A raft of great quotes here.)

And finally, a useful webinar video from two of my SEBTS profs on what people mean by a gospel-centered life.

Gospel Centered Ministry from Serious Disciple on Vimeo.

This summary statement from Steve McKinion scratches the surface:
To accept the sufficiency of the gospel doesn't just mean that the gospel is enough to get you to heaven. What it means is that for our churches, the gospel is the only thing we need. I mean, it really is enough. We have fallen victim to this idea that the gospel is not enough to reach people, and to see people grow. And as a consequence we've come up with all sorts of schemes and gimmicks and plans that actually are contrary to the gospel because they all become a way for us to trick people to become church members. If our goal is to make church member, then we are not on board with God. The goal is to make disciples. That's the Great Commission. What happens though, sadly, is that we're like the Pharisees. We'll travel 100 miles and beat on a thousand doors . . . in order to make a church member. And in the end we make them twice the son of hell that we are. The goal is to make disciples.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Assorted Gospel Issues

Item #1: Greg Gilbert warns of the pitfalls of talking about the kingdom without talking about how individuals gain access to the kingdom. Listen to his 9Marks interview or his T4G talk (clip below) with the same title as his new book, What Is the Gospel?:
[B]y all means, preach about the kingdom, talk about Jesus’ conquest of evil, write about his coming reign. But don’t pretend that all those things are glorious good news all by themselves. They’re not. The bare fact that Jesus is going to rule the world with perfect righteousness is not good news to me; it’s terrifying news, because I am not righteous! I’m one of the enemies he’s coming to crush! The coming kingdom becomes good news only when I’m told that the coming King is also a Savior who forgives sin and makes people righteous—and he does that through his death on the cross. [transcript via Justin Taylor]
Item #2: I'm not sure Bobby Jamieson's historical survey of the redefinition of evangelism in the 20th century got a lot of play, but it's a provocative and insightful read. His conclusion:
Through John Stott's leadership, Lausanne certainly reasserted several foundational evangelical doctrines, but insofar as it adopted the ecumenical redefinition of mission, it inserted an alien, inconsistent element into evangelical theology. On the crucial question of the church's mission, the trajectories converged, and the echoes of that convergence continue to reverberate through evangelicalism:

"Incarnational ministry." "Holistic evangelism." "Proclaiming the whole gospel to the whole person." "Doing justice and preaching grace." "Bringing God's shalom to the earth."
Item #3: "Imperatives – Indicatives = Impossibilities." This post is a bit old, but it's dead on:
The problem with the typical evangelical motivation toward radical or sacrificial living is that “imperatives divorced from indicatives become impossibilities” (to quote Tullian Tchividjian). Or another way that Tullian puts it: “gospel obligations must be based on gospel declarations.”

This “become what you are” way of speaking is strange for many us us. It seems precisely backward. But we must adjust our mental compass in order to walk this biblical path and recalibrate in order to speak this biblical language.
Item #4: Meanwhile, this is really helpful [mp3]. Really, seriously. Listen to it. (More audio selections here.) And I hadn't intended to make this comment, but as I started posting these links I've been compiling, a thought struck me . . .

A certain slice of evangelicalism seems absorbed by addressing real threats to the gospel. (See above.) Fundamentalists, on the other hand, are absorbed with talking, not about the gospel, but about that slice of evangelicalism—why it's "ecumenical" and why it's seducing the young people with its music. And they seem very serious about it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Don't Usually Push the Book Sales, But . . .

. . . this one's just really, really good.

Just bought some Starr Meade stuff for family use. The Trellis and the Vine is the most practical book I've read in the past year. (Probably the one book I'd encourage pastors to move to the top of their reading list.) We're using Growth Groups right now to strengthen and encourage our small group leadership. Our staff has been greatly edified in understanding the relationship between prayer and the gospel as we've been working through A Praying Life.

And I don't know who this Don Carson guy is, but, shoooweeeee, he seems kinda smart.

In other words, these are some great deals on some good stuff.

Friday, July 16, 2010

On the "Older Forms of Christian Expression" That Don't Work Anymore

BJU's working on a new feature film:
[Unusual Films'] primary mission is to produce high-quality films that clearly present the Christian message.

"In many cases, older forms of Christian expression aren't as effective any more," Lawson says. "[Unusual Films'] primary mission is to produce high-quality films that clearly present the Christian message. [With film,] we're able to get a message out to a much wider audience than we would be able to in Greenville, South Carolina."
Newspapers misquote and quote out of context. We all know that. Or maybe Lawson was talking about "older forms" like John W. Peterson cantatas. But I'm just going to go out on a limb and suggest ever so timidly that God has pretty well laid out in the text of Scripture all the forms of Christian expression we really need.

Read the Bible. Sing the Bible. Pray the Bible. Preach the Bible. Observe the Lord's Supper and believer's baptism.

Or have we concocted better ways to vanquish idolatry and depravity from human hearts?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does the Old Testament Teach the Gospel?

I'd argue that Peter thought so, based on his sermon in Acts 10:34-43. Here's the final verse:
To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

Friday, July 09, 2010

Evangelical Best-Seller Now a Drug Cartel Favorite

The Washington Post is quite effectively exposing Evangelicalism's dirty laundry and soft underbelly. Fresh off it's coverage of the Ergun Caner debacle, we now learn that evangelical best-seller Wild at Heart (advocating for "muscular Christianity") has become a recruitment and training tool for a drug cartel.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Eldredge is delighted. He hopes his book brings change to the cult. Clearly, the power of the gospel is capable of such change. Perhaps a reader can speak to the presence and clarity of the gospel in the book. I'm wholly unaware.

And here's Phil Johnson's critique of the muscular Christianity mindset, with particular attention to WaH.


Bob Bixby discusses functional charismaticism masquerading as fundamentalist cessationism. As critiques of moderated forms of contemporary continuationism continue to multiply among preservationist fundamentalists, I have to wonder why fundamentalists have for so long tolerated the sort of stories Bob alludes to and the sort of claims that fit the same mold (God spoke to/told me . . .).

Are these critiques really about preserving a theology, or are they about circling the wagons and perpetuating a culture? As long as the guns are pointed at enemies on the outside and not the inside, the evidence for the former seems minimal.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A Follow-Up on Repentance, Guilt, and Justification

If you're interested in thinking more about the implications of the post on "getting right with God" and the gospel, here are some recent posts that develop the conversation a bit more.

Kevin DeYoung on guilt:
Christians tend to motivate each other by guilt rather than grace. Instead of urging our fellow believers to be who they are in Christ, we command them to do more for Christ.
More DeYoung, this time on confession and repentance:
The cleansing, mind you, is not like the expunging of a guilty record before the judge. That’s already been accomplished. This cleansing is more like the scraping of barnacles off the hull of a ship so it can move freely again. We need confession of sin before God like a child needs to own up to her mistakes before Mom and Dad, not to earn God’s love, but to rest in it and know it more fully.
And Darryl Hart on Calvin, guilt, and conscience:
[T]he significance of conscience in the life of every person means that justification can in no way be merely a book keeping matter, as if our account is credited with Christ’s righteousness way over there but then we need to have a moral transformation way deep down over here inside us for salvation to play out. Justification solves the guilty conscience problem. It’s a remedy for what is basic and deep down in each human being.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Preaching "Get Right with God" Is a Gospel-Killing Heresy [or] How Some Fundamentalists Are Functionally Medieval Roman Catholics

Mark Farnham makes that point quite effectively here, though perhaps less abrasively. Some quotes:
[T]o those within legalistic systems, legalism is a refuge from the insecurities of life and the uncertainties of our world.

This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to talk someone out of a legalistic church. There is so much “certainty” and comfort in knowing exactly what one must do to remain in “right with God.” Legalism requires so little faith, because every aspect of life is defined and mandated. In contrast, the concept of grace and Christian liberty is a scary wilderness of uncertainty. Better to stay in the fortress (or prison). . . .

For anyone who has ever lived in a legalistic system, this sounds all too familiar. The Fundamentalist variety of today would never deny that salvation is all by grace, but the not so subtle message is that to be “right with God” requires the keeping of the rules.
This sort of preaching "get right with God" misunderstands justification, sanctification, substitutionary atonement, and the finished work of Christ. It often creates a false system of worship—a set of standards that depraved humans are capable of reaching. Even more scandalously, this system necessitates a new god—a god small enough to be satisfied by it.

Seems to me that a heresy doesn't get much more fundamental than that.

Pagans, Charismatics, and the Transformation of Worship

I've found J. Matthew Pinson's introduction to his edited volume, Perspectives on Christian Worship, to be quite helpful. He supplies a concise, provocative analysis of the transformation of Christian worship over the past 20 centuries and a single-paragraph summary of the five views represented in the book.

When I say provocative, I'm talking about two passages in particular. First, a description of how and why formal liturgy took hold:
Most of the liturgical change in the fourth century [coinciding with the rule of Constantine and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion] resulted from pagan influences on the church, both secular and religious. Pagan society had less impact on Christian worship and practice prior to the fourth century, owing to the resolve of the early Christians to mark themselves off as distinct from the pagan world around them.

Calvin R. Stapert shows, for example, how the church fathers uniformly opposed most pagan music in both form and content. Clement of Alexandria, for instance, eschewed pagan music, the "old song," which he described as "licentious, voluptuous, frenzied, frantic, inebriating, titillating, scurrilous, turbulent, immodest, and meretricious" (A New Song for an Old World, 54). Instead, he argued, the church should set itself apart from the world's music, singing the "new song," which Clement believed reflects the "melodious order" and "harmonious arrangement" of the universe and is "sober, pure, decorous, modest, temperate, grave, and soothing. Clement wished to "banish [pagan music] far away, and let our songs be hymns to God. . . . For temperate harmonies are to be admitted" (3-4).
And second, from the back end of the story of the Church:
Contemporary evangelical worship emerged from the Pentecostal-charismatic end of the post-Reformation worship spectrum. For example, the vast majority of publishers of the contemporary praise-and-worship genre from the last two decades of the twentieth century had charismatic roots. . . . Thus, the radical end of the spectrum, embodied in the Pentecostal-charismatic strain of evangelicalism, became mainstream in the contemporary worship movement, influencing large segments of evangelicalism beyond Pentecostals and charismatics (12).
These two nuggets from history strike at the heart of the questions Christian leaders are wrestling with (or aren't but should be) today:
  1. How do we communicate the gospel to people in contemporary culture in terms they can understand without polluting the gospel by importing the pagan affections that are intrinsic to contemporary culture?
  2. To what degree (even assuming sound lyrics) can we employ musical forms that emerge from a theological tradition that identifies the presence of the Spirit with a subjective experience, and attempts to create forms which conjure that experience. (For that matter, how do we know when a particular form makes that attempt?)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Does the Cultural Redemption/Social Justice Movement Have Fundamentalist Roots?

I don't have the necessary grasp of 20th century american Presbyterian history to judge the validity of the analysis, but that's the argument Darryl Hart makes. In the course of questioning Tim Keller's plea for a theologically "big tent" Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), he writes:
"Granted, Keller hails from the RPCES wing of the PCA, those descendants of the Bible Presbyterian Synod who grew tired of Carl McIntire’s antics but who retained much of his Christian America outlook. The southerners in the PCA were likely unaware that receiving the RPCES into communion would bring a form of religious social justice since they thought they had left such Protestantism behind in 1972 in the mainline church."
Here's the short version of the chronology: As the liberalism of the northern Presbyterian denomination crystallized in the 1920s, J. Gresham Machen left Princeton to establish Westminster Seminary. By 1936, he left the denomination to found the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). The next year, Machen died, and tension between two camps of the OPC rose.

That year, 1937, premillennial fundamentalist culture-warrior Carl McIntyre led one of those camps out of the OPC to the Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC). He also presided over the fundamentalist American Council of Christian Churches. In 1956, the BPC divided, and the splinter group, most notably identified with Francis Schaeffer, eventually (after morphing a bit) folded into the PCA in 1982. It's that splinter group—a descendant of Carl McIntire's premillennial culture warrior fundamentalism—that Hart argues was the soil for Keller's views on culture.

If Hart is right, how ironic that the driving force for social justice issues (and postmillennialism?) in the 2010 PCA ultimately emerged from the premillennial fundamentalist refugees from the OPC of 70 years ago. Perhaps this lesson might be appropriate with the approach of July 4th—the day Baptists everywhere gather to worship . . . something.

P.S. And you thought Baptists liked church splits. So much for the unifying nature of Presbyterian polity.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Questions for Diagnosing Idolatry

During most of my life, the contemporary illustration of idolatry that I heard was a TV set—an object in the corner of the room to which we bow down and devote hours of our day. Though I see nothing false about that illustration, it falls extraordinarily short of describing the ongoing reality that our hearts can be thoroughly dominated by idols, even if we've never seen a stone Buddha . . . and even if we don't own a TV.

Calvin's description of our hearts as perpetual idol factories may have started to shape my thinking about idolatry, but no person or ministry has helped me grasp this concept of heart idols more than CCEF. David Powlison, Paul Tripp, and Ed Welch consistently demonstrate an understanding of how the depravity of the human heart falls prey to idolatry.

With all that in mind, here are a few questions I shared in a recent sermon—questions that have been useful for my own heart, and I pray will be for our congregation and perhaps even you. Though I haven't copied them consciously from anyone else, I can't imagine they're at all original with me.
  • Who is the person you want to please more than God?
  • What distracts you from reading God’s Word, prayer, time with family or listening to a sermon?
  • What other priorities keep you from those pursuits?
  • If someone objective assessed how you spend your time and money, what would he or she say is most valuable to you?
  • What’s the pleasure that you’re willing to sin to experience?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Is Liberty University Post-Evangelical?

Yesterday will not go down in history as one of Liberty University's better days.

First, the school announced the outcome of its investigation into contradictory statements made by seminary dean Ergun Caner. The board acknowledged Caner's contradictory statements and declined to renew his contract as dean, while retaining him on seminary faculty.

Elmer Towns, co-founder of the University, said previously, "It's not an ethical issue, it's not a moral issue. We give faculty a certain amount of theological leverage." Do you hear what he's saying? Repeatedly making factually contradictory statements (what my parents might have called habitually lying) is "theological leverage." They article doesn't clarify why Caner apologized for his inaccuracies if he was merely employing the "theological leverage" afforded to him as the Liberty Seminary dean.

How Liberty is able to justify extending him a faculty contract is simply beyond me. Though, the CT article points out that under Caner's leadership, Seminary enrollment tripled. Is enrollment more valuable than honesty and credibility? The school's public witness? (The story has been repeatedly told in the Washington Post, with the latest installment published today.)

But as reprehensible are both Caner's habitual misrepresentations and Liberty's retention of him on its seminary faculty, far more disturbing are the comments chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. made on Mormon Glenn Beck's radio program:
GLENN: Jerry, I have to speak about something we've spoken about privately and I hope you don't mind, but when we first met and I went down, you asked me to give the commencement speech and I -- when I first met you, I thanked you for that and I said I know you must be getting heat because you're an evangelical in a Christian college and I am a Mormon, and those don't seem to go hand in hand with a lot of people in their minds. And I know you took heat for that, and I thank you for that. And you told me if you don't mind me sharing this, that you know what -- you know what time of day it is, and that we all have to kind of stand together hare [sic] and put our differences aside. That doesn't you endorse my faith or whatever, and that's fine. But we have to unite on things that are big, because we are in trouble, here.

JERRY: If we don't hang together we'll hang separately, I mean, that's what my father believed when he formed Moral Majority, was an organization of Mormon's, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, people of no faith. And there are bigger issues now, we can argue about theology later after we save the country. [emphasis added] And I really think that we really do need to stand together, it's a critical time in our nation's history, and it's -- I met with a banker this morning, and he was telling me how all the new regulations, how much they're going to cost his bank, and how he's going to have to pass those costs onto the consumers, and he's going to explain how the Congress is hiding how they're paying for this new banking reform bill by taking money out of the federal reserve, and just some scary things that public doesn't even know about.
What Falwell says is appalling simply on the face of it. But the context clarifies that this isn't merely an intramural doctrinal debate among Christians. Falwell is responding to Beck, who has framed the conversation in terms of his Mormonism. And then, Falwell proceeds to talk about the significance of . . . banking regulations.

Some might suggest, as Falwell does, that this is no different from his father's cobelligerence (or perhaps something like the Manhattan Declaration). As much as I think the MD was a colossal mistake, this is far worse. Follow the logic of the conversation:

1. Beck = Mormon.
2. Beck: Don't endorse my faith, but we have to unite on things that are big.
3. Falwell: My father advocated cobelligerence on moral issues.
4. Falwell: Issues today are bigger than when my father was around.
5. Falwell: Theology (including the differences between Mormonism and Falwell's Christianity) is less significant than these issues today.
6. Falwell: Banking regulation is one of these issues that's more significant than theology.

In short: Jerry Falwell, Jr. just made the case that banking regulation is a higher priority to him than the gospel.

Now, in offering that synthesis, I'm assuming Falwell recognizes that the differences between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity aren't merely peripheral, but strike at fundamental doctrines of Christ and salvation. And that's what makes me ask whether Liberty is post-Evangelical.

Or maybe Falwell merely thinks he's wielding his "theological leverage."