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."

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday Free Kicks

Yes, I do have World Cup fever.

Here's what I've got for you today . . .

The Grace to You blog points out, once again, how academic respect is fertile soil for producing the fruit of biblical infidelity. Have these BioLogos people not read 1 Corinthians 1-3?

Scott Aniol is surprised that 9Marks has collaborated with Christian hip-hop artists. I'm not sure if he's surprised that rappers beat most fundamentalists to biblical ecclesiology. They'd do well to grasp and apply the biblical truth contained in this song, even if it means they have to read the words on paper:

"If" you think this poem represents a perspective that's compatible with the gospel, you may not really understand the poem . . . or the gospel.

Finally, if this video doesn't make you AT LEAST smile, you're either not an American, or you're working too hard at hating soccer:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Whose Agenda Are You Ambitious For?

Here's a good word on ambition. The best part:
One great measure of our humility is whether we can be ambitious for someone else’s agenda.
It works for all of us, but it's especially important for we pastors who are fortunate enough to serve with a genuine plurality of elders. And its particularly important for those of us who are associate pastors.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Finney: Not an Example. Not Even Evangelical.

I forced my way through a bit of Finney's painfully laborious Systematic Theology as a seminary assignment years ago. Those are hours I'll never get back. It took far longer than it should have for me to cut my losses and swap him for the comparably elementary—even whimsical—Charles Hodge. But I found Finney nearer to intelligibility than orthodoxy.

This broader assessment of Finney's ST confirms my instincts: Folks who think Finney is a paragon of faithful evangelistic fervor 1) never read Finney; 2) didn't understand him (which is reasonable); or 3) are heretics themselves. Here's how the reviewer put it:
[I]f what we had just read could be called "Christian Theology," then the church had sinned grievously in its expulsion of Pelagius. There is nothing noteworthy to distinguish the one from the other. And if Finney believed what he wrote, then he was no Christian.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Ok, 'Fess Up People

It's good for the soul. You know who you are.

Update: Here's the text of the tweet (I've heard a filter blocks Twitter):
Committed to speak at an Independent Fundamental Baptist conf. I can't tell you where b/c they'll get in trouble. ;-)