Friday, January 29, 2010

The Central-Faith Merger: Two Thumbs Up, and a Question

Tuesday's Baptist Bulletin article sheds some real light on the news. It raises some interesting issues that seem worth talking about, and I'm curious to hear what people think.

First, Bauder thinks fundamentalism has too many seminaries:
Bauder says the initial conversations were motivated by a “push and a pull."

"The push comes from a multiplication of institutions in fundamentalism, a shrinking movement that cannot sustain all of its colleges and seminaries. By multiplying institutions, we have diluted our educational excellence,” Bauder says.
My interpretation (and I speak as a Maranatha alumnus): There is no compelling justification to start another conservative fundamentalist seminary, particularly when the movement is already bleeding out more and more guys to places like Southern.

By my count, there are at least ten seminaries serving conservative, non-KJVonly fundamentalism. Depending on how strictly you define "seminary" and "conservative fundamentalism," you might get even higher. I can't document their their combined full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment, but I'd be utterly flabbergasted if it's more than 2,000. I'm guessing closer to 1,000, and that may be high.

By contrast, the SBC operates six seminaries with a combined FTE enrollment of 7,750. At least two, and perhaps as many as four of them by themselves are larger than all the conservative fundamentalist seminaries combined. That doesn't mean the SBC's getting it right, but it does display a stark contrast. The data reinforces Bauder's arguments that multiplication has unnecessarily diluted resources and faculty. Whether that long-standing trend reflects the Fundamentalist impulse to splinter, or merely the natural outgrowth of a movement that skews more to independence than cooperation, I'll leave to the historians to settle.

That leads to the second reason this merger looks like a good thing on the surface: It's reversing the Fundamentalist splinter impulse:
“We come out of slightly different milieus. Faith comes historically from the Regular Baptist movement, and Central comes from the very conservative wing of the Conservative Baptist movement. Over time, these two branches have grown much closer together,” Bauder says. “One of our goals in the merger is to bring closer together two constituencies that never should have been separated in the first place.”

James Maxwell agrees, saying, “We want to do all we can to preserve the heritage and constituencies of both groups.”
Other groups and constituencies never should have been separated in the first place either, but this is a start.

Now the question:
According to Bauder, “all of the big philosophical questions are out of the way,” but the two boards were continuing to discuss “the thorny questions that are the standard factors in any academic merger.” Bauder lists the matter of combining the two boards, selecting administrators, merging administrative functions, and hiring faculty.
This makes me wonder what the philosophical issues were. My sense is that Faith has historically held a quite rigid position on dispensationalism. Central has not, at least not to the same degree. Faith specifically affirms (PDF) traditional dispensationalism. At least from time to time, some faculty at Central have advocated some form of, well, non-traditional dispensationalism.

For all my arguments that churches have no justifiable grounds to exclude members over many millennial or tribulational views, I believe a seminary bears no such obligation to tolerate differences. But that doesn't make rigid unanimity prudent. I have no inside information whatsoever, but I wonder if diversity on dispensational views was one of the philosophical questions. Is it possible that even some variations under the already narrow umbrella of "premill, pretrib" might be excluded? I hope this merger doesn't dilute the educational experience of the students by imposing an artificial, unnecessary unanimity.

True, institutions must grapple with the parameters of their own identity and their target constituency. But students who don't hear thorough presentations of opposing views aren't equipped to refute them. And frankly, traditional dispensationalists haven't offered convincing explanations for all the biblical data. To be fair, maybe no one has, and that's all the more reason to draw the lines at least as broadly as Central has, historically.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Department of Redundancy Department

From SI today:
Editor’s note: D. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. and author of many articles and books. A few important recent volumes are Christ and Culture Revisited, Evangelicalism: What Is It and Is It Worth Keeping?, and Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (RE: Lit). He does not claim to be a Fundamentalist.

For what it's worth, I agree wholeheartedly with said editor's endorsement in the comments of Carson's Exegetical Fallacies. Without question, it's one of the five books that have influenced me more than all others. If you disagreed with Chris Anderson, you probably haven't read it.

Church History, with Wit

Introductions to the Reformation are seldom styled as page-turners. Michael Reeves' The Unquenchable Flame is precisely that. Written with an unambiguous appreciation for Reformation principles and the people who propelled them, Reeves also exposes their flaws alongside explanation, not excuse. But what sets this book apart to me is Reeves' masterful narrative style and a characteristically British dry wit.

How do you inject wit in Reformation history (apart from telling juicy Luther anecdotes)? A couple examples:
If ever you should be so unfortunate as to find yourself in a roomful of Reformation historians, the thing to do to generate some excitement is to ask loudly: 'Was Christianity on the eve of the Reformation vigorous or corrupt?' It is the question guaranteed to start a bun-fight.
And my favorite, concerning King Charles I of England's re-establishment of high churchmanship and his Catholic sympathies:
[Charles] even managed to appoint his dream Archbishop of Canterbury, the diminutive William Laud [reading this, MLJr?], and Oxford academic who would never be trusted by the Cambridge Puritans. Laud was never a man much able to win people over; he seemed to reserve all displays of warmth for his pet cats and giant tortoise.
No doubt the most practical portion of the book is its concluding chapter, "Is the Reformation Over?" Here, Reeves defends the centrality of justification to the question, and thoroughly repudiates Mark Noll with a combination of logic and centuries-old parallels. The implication that Noll is a contemporary Erasmus is thinly-veiled.

Less practical, but more foundational, is Reeves' conclusion: The Reformation was not a negative movement—away from Rome, but a positive one—towards the gospel. May such movements, keep moving.

Ok, so the bad news . . . the American B&H edition isn't available yet through the above link, but you can obviously pre-order. PLUS, if you can't wait (and I'm glad I didn't) you can buy the original British IVP edition (the one I read) right now, here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Piper on The Meaning of the Pentateuch

Should've linked this in the last post. Piper:
It will rock your world.
I feel like a greedy miser over a chest of gold.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Meaning of the Pentateuch Is Christ. Period.

That's the theme of John Sailhamer's new book, The Meaning of the Pentateuch. It's a theme that, in my view, many Covenant Theologians need to grapple with more responsibly, and many Dispensationalists need to, well, grapple with.

Here's a bit more of his argument in a recent Christianity Today interview:
The old theologians used to speak of "the love for Scripture" as a sign of true faith in Christ. They would say, "We should read the Old Testament as if it were written with the blood of Christ." For them, the Old Testament and the Pentateuch in particular was a Christian book, a book about Christ. For most evangelical Christians today it is a book about archaeology and ancient history.

Here we have to be careful because, to be sure, the Old Testament is about ancient history. But that is not its meaning. Its meaning is Christ. Saying that also calls for a great deal of caution. In my book, I take the view that the whole of the Pentateuch is about Christ, but that doesn't mean that Christ is in the whole Pentateuch. Finding Christ in the Pentateuch means learning to see him when he is there rather than trying to see when he is not there. I like to tell my students that we don't need to spiritualize the Old Testament to find Christ, but we do need to read it with spiritual eyes.
What all this means is that the Pentateuch isn't primarily a record of Israel's religion. It's not primarily about how we should live. It's not a history of important things that happened before Jesus (though the things it says happened, did). It's about Jesus. And I especially appreciate his caution against finding Jesus in every nook and cranny of the OT. Just as George Washington won't appear as a character on every page of a book about him, so Christ doesn't appear on every page, even though every page contributes in some way to the message about Christ that the whole book communicates.

Now having said all that, I'm not recommending that you go out and buy Sailhamer's new book unless you're pretty serious about digging into the issues. It's really long and fairly technical, though quite readable in the early-going. Instead, I'd encourage you to start with his NIV Compact Bible Commentary. It's an excellent, efficient tool to help you pick up on the major themes of Scripture, particularly the narrative passages and the prophets. And the "NIV" in the title is simply a publisher's marketing strategy; it's irrelevant to the content.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

More Speculative Dispensationalist Dogmatism or Mark Dever, the Bully?

I'm close to wrapping up my trip through the audio of the 2009 Mid-American Conference on Preaching, hosted by Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. The discussion sessions, in particular, are worth a listen. (The gist of the general sessions are more accessible on Dave Doran's blog.) The conference raised numerous issues that are worth further conversation; one of them is a bit of a rabbit trail, so I'll get it out of the way first.

Mark Snoeberger, DBTS professor and library director, argues in his workshop session, "Who Needs Fundamentalism When We Have T4G and TGC? A Continuing Fundamentalist Raison d’être," that Mark Dever is a bully. Seriously. Concerning Dever's statement last July that a pastor is in sin if he leads his congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view, Snoeberger asserts:
[Dever's] statement is emblematic of the impulse to bully fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism into reunification, and, I think, one that ignores the roots of the original breach.
I don't know if Snoeberger would likewise consider John MacArthur's talk at the 2007 Shepherds' Conference, "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Ought to Be a Premillennialist," to be bullying. I do feel pretty confident about two things:

1. No one who was present when Dever spoke those words thought he was speaking hyperbolically, as Snoeberger implies he might have been.

2. Snoeberger offers no evidence whatsoever for his dogmatic assessment of Dever's motive.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Precious Little Evangel": The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

Carl Trueman has a way of skewering the self-important in a way that magnifies their asininity. Perhaps it's that British thing.

In any case, his article on the idolatry of man-fearing in the latest 9Marks E-journal is worth a read, not only for its characteristic Trueman wit, but also for the force of its arguments. I like where he's going when he writes:
[I]f a movement does not understand what it is, then it cannot make any really satisfactory determination on who belongs and who does not. The boundaries of a movement are ultimately revealed by the person who comes closest to belonging but who nonetheless does not. Arius is a good early church example. As high and exalted as was his view of Christ, he could still only regard Christ as a creature and not fully God. The boundary was drawn and he was outside of it. Combine the problems of defining evangelical identity with the current cultural penchant for not excluding anybody and you have a heady recipe for total disaster.

Monday, January 11, 2010

On Cessationists and Their Ironic Mysticism (Bonus #2)

Several months ago I posted a brief series on ways many professing cessationists frequently speak and act in ways that contradict their convictions . I also tried to argue that these ways of speaking and acting can be quite destructive. Here are the links: part 1, part 2, part 3, bonus 1 (posted before the whole Carrie Prejean thing really blew up).

This morning while reading in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, a passage in a footnote in his chapter on "The Sufficiency of Scripture" caught my eye.
Because people from all kinds of Christian traditions have made serious mistakes when they felt confident that God was 'leading them' to make a particular decision, it is important to remember that, except where an explicit text of Scripture applies directly to a situation, we can never have 100 percent certainty in this life that we know what God's will is in a situation. (footnote 1, p. 128)
Grudem actually articulates precisely what I hoped to argue. And, of course, the irony here is that Grudem is one of the leading defenders of continuationism, a decidedly non-cessationist position.