Friday, May 18, 2012

On the Unbiblical Meta-Narrative and Christology of Both Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology

I've been eagerly anticipating publication of this book since before I started dating my wife, made first contact with the church where I now pastor, got married, moved halfway around the country, and had three children. Which in my universe is, well, just over three years, actually. (We had twins.) But it felt like much longer.

On several occasions in the past couple years I've referred to a chapter written by Steve Wellum, one Kingdom Through Covenant's co-authors, which formed the backbone—literally and figuratively—of Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright's book on baptism. That chapter is available for free here. I've also just listened to a dense, provocative lecture by Wellum on the relationship between limited atonement and Baptist ecclesiology. (The best part of that lecture was Wellum pointing out how Reformed (non-Baptist) ecclesiology is actually incompatible with limited atonement, much to the consternation of his forthcoming book's Presbyterian publishers.) I wouldn't be surprised to see some of that material in Kingdom Through Covenant as well. I'm less familiar with Gentry, but somewhere out there is an insightful lecture from him on what holiness is, as the language is used in Scripture, not pop theology.

All that to say, I suspect that Kingdom Through Covenant is a volume that'll be quite helpful to those of us who perceive significant unresolved problems with both the dispensational and covenantal systems. How well it answers those questions remains to be seen, but I'm confident that it'll delve into some of the issues and texts that apologists for those systems too often avoid. Because of that, I hope even theologians who disagree will engage rigorously with its arguments.

I haven't found it on the WTS site yet, but Amazon lists it at a remarkable price for an 850-page hardcover, though there's some speculation this may be an introductory, limited-time offer.

And finally, as he always does, Justin Taylor has quite a bit more info and some links here, including lengthy quotes from both Wellum and Gentry outlining problems with the Christology and meta-narrative of the two traditional systems.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Disagree with Doug Wilson on Music & Culture . . . and So Does Doug Wilson.

I have a vague recollection of someone saying, more or less, that "the words Doug Wilson mumbles in his sleep are more perceptive and coherent than my most articulate moments." I totally feel that. If I debated Wilson on the utility of the yellow pages in the 21st century, and he took the affirmative, I haven't a shred of doubt he'd mop the floor with me. So while I find myself disagreeing with him fairly frequently, and on some significant issues, I'm not sure I've ever found his arguments easily dismissed, or his analysis naïvely simplistic.

That's why I was a bit surprised by his case for the three (and only three) appropriate grounds for condemning a musical form. I'm only interested in the second for the purposes of this post, and I'll get to it in a second. But first, here's the thrust of his conclusion:
Outside these [three] basic areas, if we reject a form of music out of hand because it is not the form of music we prefer, then we are trying to kick against the variegated world that the triune God created.
Now, I share Wilson's distaste for the snobbery that rejects "a form of music out of hand because it is not the form of music we prefer." And his second allowable critique does leave the door open for rejecting a particular form or genre "when that music declares openly its rebellion against God." But what if it merely declares its rebellion subtly? Is Wilson denying that's possible, or is he doubting our ability to discern it? I'm not the least bit certain the necessary conclusion is that I'm kicking "against the variegated world that the triune God created" because I think we need a more sophisticated approach than simply affirming every genre that's not explicitly rebellious.

And one reason I'm not so certain is that Wilson himself told me not to be.

Not so long ago, in his friendly but pointed critique of the most controversial portions of the Driscolls' marriage book, Wilson wrote:
I must read the Word to read the world, and I must read the world to read the Word. This extends beyond natural phenomena like planets, spiders, oceans, and lawn crickets. It also includes fallen human culture, and all its tawdry sins. I cannot understand the culture apart from the Word, but I do not approach the Word from "nowhere." . . . 
Legalists give application a bad name. Libertines give lack of application a bad name. They both lean against one another, and the only way out is to learn how to read culture like a grown-up. The only way out is to learn how to make the applications that the Holy Spirit is leading us to make. 
This is why we should not want to ban, discourage, or prohibit anything except what God has expressly prohibited, along with anything which the Spirit of God is leading us to discourage as we make necessary applications from the Scriptures. A whole host of scriptural requirements requires us to be able to read the culture in which we are making those applications.
And then he also wrote here, in a related post:
We need a hermeneutic that enables us to read our surrounding, unbelieving culture. Paul requires it here. Paul is saying that we have to look at what the pagans are doing and that we are to do something distinct from that. We have to learn how to "read" their lust, and write something different.
Put briefly, Wilson believes grown-ups are the sort of people who are equipped to deal with culture when its messages are subtle, not just when it tells you what it's doing in flashing neon. I agree with that Doug Wilson—the one who wrote back in January. He should talk to the Doug Wilson who was listening to John Mayer a couple weeks ago. And if I might, I'd like to listen to that conversation.

And now, on the off-chance Pastor Wilson catches a whiff and finds some response to be worthy of his time, I await my turn as his mop head.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


I used to joke with a previous pastor that my long-term financial plan was to hit the separatist conference circuit with a talk entitled, "There and Back Again: My Time with [X pastor] at [X church] in the [X compromising association of churches] . . . and Why I Came Home." Some thought it was funny, possibly because it struck them as a sustainable career.

But eventually I realized thad I'd been beaten to the punch. It had occurred to me that there's a sort of person who attends an academic institution foreign to his circle of fellowship, all the while:

  1. Knowing what he himself believes.
  2. Knowing what the academic institutions he attends stands for.
  3. Knowing that he believes that institution and its professors exist in a persistent state of compromise and disobedience to Scripture.
  4. Intending to learn something from these disobedient compromisers.
  5. Intending to use the education and academic imprimatur acquired from the compromised institution to advance his own institution and career.
  6. Fully intending to excoriate the institution he attended throughout the rest of his career, once his credentials are signed and delivered.

Now, I wonder, what adjectives might we apply to that sort of scheme?

Respectable? Shrewd? Savvy? Ironic? Disingenuous? Reprehensible? Doomed?

You pick.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Special Thanks to B.B. Warfield

I'd like to thank B.B. Warfield for supplying an answer to my question in yesterday's post, regarding the reason evangelical leaders may take a stand on an issue like homosexuality as it emerges among megachurches. Warfield had this to say in his volume, Perfectionism, regarding opposition to Charles Finney's revivals that focused on methodology rather than theology:
That it was "the new measures" rather than the Pelagianism of "the Western revivals" which in the first instance at least offended the Eastern brethren is no doubt due in part to the general fact that it is always external things which first meet the eye [emphasis mine]. The external things in this instance were shocking in themselves; and their rooting in a doctrinal cause was often felt but vaguely or not at all. 
Pelagianizing modes of thought, derived from the same general source from which Finney had himself drunk—the "New Divinity" taught at New Haven—were moreover widely diffused among the New England clergy themselves. Men of this type of thinking might be offended by Finney's practices on general grounds, but could scarcely be expected, for that very reason, to assign them as to their cause to a doctrine common to his and their own thinking. And that the more that there were as yet no adequate means of ascertaining what the doctrinal basis of Finney's preaching was. Only his actual hearers were in any real sense informed of his teaching. 
When a little later he began to publish lectures and sermons the scales fell from men's eyes. The discerning had no difficulty then in seeing the correlation between his practices and his doctrines, or in clearly understanding that the phenomena of his revivals which gave most offence were merely the natural consequences of the fundamental fact that they were Pelagian revivals. (p. 33)
Thanks also to the Piedmont Baptist College library for helping me pick this up cheap in a Wake Forest used bookstore, and also to the fine folks out there who've helped the leaven of Warfield infiltrate our ranks. I think you know who you are.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Waves Obliterate Lines in the Sand: On Megachurches and "New Liberalism"

This morning I read Al Mohler's article, "Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?" and I have to confess, I didn't see it going where it did. Fundamentalist that I am, I was strongly inclined from the outset to answer Mohler's title question, "Yes." (Or maybe, "Duh.") But I was still caught off guard by what was at best a colossal brain cramp by a megachurch pastor, and at worst a landmark compromise.

As Mohler notes, Guinness and Wells—not to mention MacArthur—have been sounding this alarm bell for decades. But his piece made me reflect on the curious role homosexuality has played in American Protestantism. We've seen denomination after denomination slouch towards Gomorrah (to borrow Judge Bork's phrase), long before these recent skirmishes over sodomy. And now the lines of that battle have infiltrated the megachurch movement.

Attentive readers will know that the odor of the "new liberalism" has long wafted within the megachurch movement. Like the mainline denominations, many megachurches have accommodated the culture, distorted the mission, and marginalized the offense of the gospel—all while selling truckloads of books explaining how they did it. Acceptance of homosexuality is an effect, not a cause. 

What's most curious to me is how homosexuality is a sort of Maginot Line among congregations and leaders that still do have some residual conservative instinct. Do they now take a stand because homosexual behavior is more easily explained to the Joe Public in the pew than complex matters of biblical interpretation and authority? Because of the remaining cultural "yuck factor"? Or perhaps because it's simply the last line of defense before, well, there's nothing left to defend?

Perhaps we need to remember that the Maginot Line didn't work out so well for the French, and the fortifications of contemporary evangelicalism are nowhere near as stout. We cannot afford to be the sort of people who pick and choose when to contend for the faith based on which turf we think might be easiest to defend. Our Enemy will deftly circumvent such cowardly strategies. Waves obliterate lines in the sand.

What's more, the ground on which we take a stand reflects a great deal about what's most precious to us.