Thursday, April 29, 2010

I guess I still smell like sawdust.

My wife and I walked into a used bookstore in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Some of you have been there too. Not in Fredericksburg, perhaps, but in the Christian books section of a familiar-looking shop. You scan the shelves, hoping against hope. Eyes momentarily alight on the gloss of Philip Yancey, Rapture novels, and Billy Graham biographies. You peer more intently on the worn, cloth-shrouded hardbacks. No, you're not going to find a well-known treasure—a steal on a top-shelf commentary or some Spurgeon, but you might find something rich but obscure.

And then you realized that you've just blown 20 minutes.

But this time, on the way out I figured it was worth five more minutes to sift through the two or three tables of $1 books. And there they were: Ken Myers' All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes and Richard Mouw's The Smell of Sawdust. Both were on my Amazon wishlist, though for very different reasons.

Myers will have to wait a bit longer, but last week I settled into Mouw's book, a collection of 15 short essays on "what evangelicals can learn from their fundamentalist heritage." (The sawdust analogy is an allusion to the common practice of spreading sawdust on the aisles of fundamentalist/revivalist evangelistic tent meetings in the 19th and 20th centuries.)

Used bookstores really do offer many opportunities to feel cheated when paying $1 for a book. I didn't expect the sensation from a book I'd been deliberately looking for. I supposed I expected a more robust critique, analysis, and positive assessment of the strengths of revivalist fundamentalism. I suppose that was naïve. Instead, I read the literary equivalent of a patronizing pat on the head from an aloof uncle as a child displays the popsicle-stick-and-cotton-ball Bible-sheep created in Sunday school.

But you're wondering why I'm surprised. Point taken.

I hope Myers is worth $2.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Not Sure What to Call This. Basically Rambling on Al Mohler-ish Stuff.

When somebody chatting away on Twitter or Facebook or one of those inane blog thingys said a week or two ago that T4G is a gathering of 7,000 nerds, well, I plead guilty. So when I say that Albert Mohler's retrospective on the very non-moderate life of Cecil Sherman is fascinating, I have to be a bit self-aware that few of you are as nerdy as I am. But hey, you're reading . . .

Mohler's argument is that Sherman was no moderate. He was a theological liberal, and an honest one. His honesty actually helped crystallize the need for a house-cleaning by conservatives in the SBC, which kicked off in the late-70s. (At least something good happened during the Carter administration.)

I can't remember hearing his name prior to the news of his death, but my understanding of history is enriched by a bit of familiarity of a man in the center of a struggle—a struggle involving both theology and politics. Sherman seems to have been one of those unusual people who appear in the midst of that sort of struggle, but who possess little taste for the political maneuvering that so often obscures theological clarity.

About an hour before Mohler tweeted news that he posted the Sherman article, he tweeted this:
It is not the critic who counts...The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust & sweat & blood.
That made me think back to the talks Mohler delivered at a Sovereign Grace pastors' conference in which he told the story of the recovery of Southern Seminary. My fundamentalist friend, don't listen if you want to keep thinking of Mohler as a pinko-commie neo-evangelical sliding down the slope to the apostates section of "What in the World."

But since I did you that favor, maybe you can do me one: Next time you hear a fundamentalist speaker tell you about Billy Graham's crusades, AND how they involved Roman Catholics and mainline Protestant liberals, AND how Al Mohler chaired one of them, maybe ask that speaker how many Roman Catholics and liberals were in the Mohler-chaired crusade. And then ask him how many other Graham crusades were like that one in the past 50 years. And if his answer is more than zero, or he doesn't know, maybe you could ask him to check the facts with Dr. Mohler. Just a little favor. Thanks.

Supernatural Gifts

Just chewing on some things in light of the frequent cessationist vs. continuationist debates, and the more close-to-home impact of our senior pastor launching into several weeks preaching through 1 Corinthians 12-14.

So here's my question: Can somebody tell me which of the gifts in the NT aren't supernatural?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cleaning Out the Browser Tabs

Tim Challies discusses whether doctrinal error is always sin. His argument that it isn't always sin is attractive but seems to me to crumble under scrutiny. What constitutes matters of lesser importance? What if doctrinal error leads us to fail to obey biblical commands? Can't our consciences be so twisted that they tell us lies. There may be another argument that reaches his conclusion, but I don't think he gets us all the way there.

Some really worthwhile admonitions to pastors to guard against the sort of pride to which we are particularly susceptible. Thanks to David Murray at the Gospel Coalition blog.

Someday maybe somebody will ask who was the first man to speak at both Capitol Hill Baptist Church and Inter-City Baptist Church. Two links provide the answer.

If I weren't crazy I'd say this and this sound like the sort of difficult but ncessary decisions fundamentalists made in the first half of the 20th century. Go ahead. Call me crazy.

Speaking of Mack Stiles, I haven't read his newest book on the gospel yet, but this makes me want to.

And finally, an IFB professor argues that Machen would have called today's SBC leaders fundamentalists, not indifferentists.

Younger Pastors and Their Increasing Conservatism

This snippet from Al Mohler's interview last week with Ligon Duncan is intriguing. It starts around the 12:40 mark.

Mohler: "Are you a bit surprised that, in one sense, the younger pastors these days are actually more conservative, by and large?"

I'm not, because they grew up in a culture that they know is not a friend to them, whereas so many of the guys our age and older thought that the culture was a friend to them, or that they could fit into the culture, or that they could make détente with the culture. And these young guys know that this culture is not their friend. And so they're on fire for truth. They're ready to be countercultural. They're ready to speak truth to power. They're ready to be a minority. And it's encouraging, very frankly, to me, to look at them. They're heroes to me. [longer comments from Mohler] . . . They didn't become conservative evangelicals by accident. They had to make that choice. It wasn't something that they just sort of inherited through tradition. It's something that they had to do against the tide.
Is the underlying assumption true? I suppose it depends where you draw the circle and how you define conservatism.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Has your church embraced Schleiermacher?

Surely not, right? Schleiermacher emphasized subjective spiritual experience over objective theological truth and ultimately paved the way for 20th century mainline Protestant liberal abandonment of historic orthodoxy. Not my church!

Well, John Sailhamer, in The Meaning of the Pentateuch, argues that your church probably swallowed many of Schleiermacher's assumptions a long time ago and never even knew it:
Under the influence of Schleiermacher, evangelicals, in practice if not in theory, edged increasingly closer to the notion that the OT did not belong to the church but was more nearly associated with the religion of ancient Judaism. Such a view was considerably at odds with the classical orthodox view of the OT. (p. 133)
Sailhamer says far more on this topic than I could begin to distill here. I do think it's important for dispensationalists in particular to weigh Sailhamer's exhortation, not dismiss it on the grounds that "we're not really evangelicals."

Piper was right. This book will rock your world.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Calvin's Radical Soteriology!

While preparing to preach on Acts 2 recently, I stumbled across John Calvin's explanation of Acts 2:21 ("And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."). He writes:
God admitteth all men unto himself without exception, and by this means doth he invite them to salvation, as Paul gathereth in the tenth chapter to the Romans, and as the prophet had set it down before, "Thou, Lord, which hearest the prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come," (Psalm lxv. 2.)

Therefore, forasmuch as no man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men; neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief. I speak of all unto whom God doth make himself manifest by the gospel. (Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. XVIII, p. 92)
I don't expect this will silence the don't-confuse-me-with-facts-I-know-what-I-believe anti-Calvinist loonies* running around out there, but perhaps it will equip one or two of you with a useful response.

*This refers to a subset of anti-Calvinists, not all of them. You know who you are. ;-)

Ok people, who was sitting 10 rows behind me at T4G?

Here's my shot of Shai Linne "chanting":

And here's somebody else's.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

How a Series of Mistakes Created Dispensationalist-Covenantalist Animosity

"Covenant Theology is a stepping stone to liberalism." "Dispensationalism is antithetical to the gospel." "Amillennialists don't take the Bible literally." "Dispensationalists are Arminians who deny progressive sanctification."

Ever heard any of those accusations? I've heard them all.

When you hear a critique of the opposing position, has it ever seemed as if you're not hearing a summary that its proponents would recognize? Does it ever seem as if the two sides are talking past each other?

Of course there's a difference between the two views, but is the gulf really as wide as partisans on both sides would have us believe? Is the root of this debate really fidelity to the gospel? Or the authority of Scripture?

If you've asked any of these questions, and you don't mind reading a bunch of footnotes, you'll be fascinated by R. Todd Mangum's The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift.

I really cannot speak highly enough of this book. Mangum clearly read—and heard—both sides, but you won't find him arguing the case for either. What you will find is a well-written, thoroughly-researched narrative of where the controversy came from and how it polarized so bitterly.

And, he argues, unnecessarily.

Mangum argues that both Dispensationalists and Covenantalists in the OPC and the PCUS (Southern Presbyterian denomination prior to reunion with the PCUSA) committed massive errors that broadened and deepened the differences. (Yes, the dispensational controversy began among American Presbyterians.)

To make a long story quite short, Lewis Sperry Chafer and some notes in the Scofield Reference Bible affirmed a view of OT law that was incompatible with the Presbyterian denominations' statement of faith, the "Westminster Confession." Many premillennialists, even many dispensationalists at the time (possibly even most) rejected their errors. Confessionalist wings in both denominations reacted against those teachings, but imprudently targeted their attacks against not only Chafer's and the late Scofield's aberrant teachings, but also against dispensationalists in general. Sometimes their attacks even appeared to be directed at covenantal premillennialists. Non-amillennialists, increasingly marginalized or downright unwelcome in the Presbyterian denomination—whether dispensational or premillennial, whether they agreed with Scofield and Chafer or not—moved towards independence.

This barely skims the surface of the story, so I may pick out a few points for particular attention in coming days.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friday, April 09, 2010

"The seeker-friendly churches are not of God."

So says . . .

. . . Benny Hinn.

Wow. Just Wow.

And in marginally related news:
Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, and the so-called Young, Restless, Reformed resurgence of Calvinism all gained their strength chiefly because they effectively answered the trends that had been spawned by evangelicalism's attempts to broaden its base by becoming more and more inclusive. A return to that practice will in very short order utterly nullify any gains those movements have made.
I think Phil's last sentence is true. I hope it's true. I'd rather the gains be nullified than that they gain momentum by the force of a hollow shell of celebrity-obsession.

Ok seriously, what is the Gospel?

Because if it's this (and I'll argue to my death that it is), then it has to be a whole lot more specific than this. And the fact that so many haven't come to grips with that fact is one reason this is so true.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Can Truth Distort the Gospel?

Earlier today, a friend emailed me asking, "In a sentence, what's the thing about Rick Warren that you dislike most? What's the thing that gets closest to being insufferably bad?"

My reply:
Warren dilutes the gospel (Purpose Driven Life) and marginalizes the gospel (PEACE plan).

To put it a different way, a man can affirm nothing but true things but still confuse the gospel by ordering those truths improperly. Denying the gospel isn't the only way to deny it.

As Carson writes, "I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that take on far too much weight. Whenever, the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far removed from idolatry." (Cross and Christian Ministry, 26)

Or J.C. Ryle: "Let us never forget that truth, distorted and exaggerated, can become the mother of the most dangerous heresies." (Holiness, 24)

Or Paul Alexander in his 9Marks PDL review: "The difficulty is that even though the gospel is not presented clearly to the unbelieving reader Warren presumes to reach, anyone who “prays the prayer” is nevertheless immediately affirmed in their conversion and encouraged in their assurance. Yet even if the Gospel had been presented clearly, the effect of Warren’'s evangelistic method is to produce questionable converts, and the effect of the Purpose Driven model is to replace the primacy of the gospel with the primacy of purpose. The result is a confusion of conversion with living on purpose, giving the whole book a moralistic flavor that matches the hermeneutic which gave it birth."

Just a Little FYI

Mark Driscoll quotes from a BJU student handbook from 1994-1995. (I promise I had nothing to do with this.) Starts at 52:35.