Friday, December 21, 2007

Peace Like a River, Chris Rice


Peace Like a River
Chris Rice

Hymn collections are, in my opinion, a genre in which artists struggle to succeed. The vast majority of the attempts either err on the one side by producing a bland album (why not just listen to my church choir?) or err on the other side by creating bizarre mutilations of beloved standards (does the world really need a reggae version of "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand"?).

Chris Rice's 2007 hymn collection is the rare gem. One might wonder whether this artist of "Cartoons" fame would release a hymn collection subtitled, "Elmer Fudd Brings You 'Amazing Grace'"—nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, you would only expect something so unconventional if "Cartoons" and "Billy Jo McGuffrey" were your only exposure to Chris Rice, an accomplished artist whose thoughts about God run deep. "Peace Like a River" demonstrates Rice's maturity and talent as an artist as well as a Christian.

Song selection is a strength for this collection. Enough of the tracks are favorite hymns ("It Is Well with My Soul," "Rock of Ages," "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," etc.) to give the project the air of familiarity that is important for the success of a selection of hymnody. Rice's other choices are statistically less likely to grace a collection of hymns: "O Freedom" and "Before the Throne of God Above" come to mind. "Before the Throne of God Above" appears 19 times in the iTunes Music Store and "O Freedom" appears 4 times, compared to the well over 150 appearances (iTunes will show only the first 150) for "Amazing Grace" and "Come Thou Fount."

I also appreciate Rice's treatment of the hymns. There's no jarring sense of "I wanted to do 'Sweet Hour of Prayer' MY WAY." These hymns are the same hymns you've heard in church. Yet, they aren't. Rice's fluid vocals and the occasional subtle hint of something different make this hymn interesting, but not brash. Kudos, Mr. Rice.

Just in time for your last-minute Christmas shopping.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hoover Hermeneutic 1: The Gospel to the Dead

Representative Passages

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water…

…For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. (1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:3-6)

Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? (1 Corinthians 15:29)

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25-29)

Discussion

This topic is a great place for us to begin this series, because it illustrates many of the problems associated with passages like these. For one thing, there is a heretical application for these verses that Joseph Smith has thrown into the mix. One might be nervous about raising the topic at all, worried about what the heterodox might do with it, or worried that people will raise their eyebrows, thinking that you don't know what you believe about some cultish doctrine, etc. A related concern is the fact that these verses have possible implications toward central tenets of the gospel.

Actually, I do know for certain what these verses do not say. They do not say that I can don my holy underwear and get saved for Grandma in her stead. They do not say that, no matter what you do with Jesus here on earth, you'll get to play in the postmortem bonus round and wind up in Heaven after all.

Now, here's where I wish to avoid the Hoover Hermeneutic. Having said what these passages do not say, I believe that I am under some obligation (whether I am capable of meeting the obligation satisfactorily or not) to assert something substantive that these verses do say. They all appear to be planks of an argument—to say something that God considered profound enough to include not merely as a parenthetical aside (which would be authoritative enough by itself) but as a fact to buttress some doctrinal or ethical argument.

The problem is, although I've considered several interpretive arguments by a wide spectrum of orthodox interpreters, I have not gained confidence in any particular approach to these passages. I'm inviting you to change that sad state of affairs. Tell me what these passages teach us about the relationship between the gospel and the dead. If I've already heard your approach and have questions about it, I'll shoot them back at you. We'll see what ensues.

The Hoover Hermeneutic

When I took Hermeneutics at SWBTS, I didn't learn about this one. I see it at work, however, throughout Christendom. The Hoover Hermeneutic approaches texts with the sole objective of sucking all of the meaning out of a text in a manner reminiscent of a Hoover vacuum cleaner, leaving God's Word as a vacuum—an empty expanse. This approach to interpretation is far more interested in making sure that everybody knows what the Bible does not say than in making any attempt to demonstrate what the Bible does say. I believe that every part of the Bible is given in order to say something to us. Once upon a time, theologians employed the Hoover Hermeneutic to try to defend their doctrines from so-called "difficult passages." Are you Arminian? Employ the Hoover Hermeneutic on John 6:41-51. Do you believe in Limited Atonement? Pull out the Hoover for 1 John 2:2 and other similar passages. Do you believe in perseverance (as I do)? Vacuum out Hebrews 6:1-8. Those were the predilections of a former generation, from which we have expanded the practice. Today we apply the Hoover Hermeneutic to ethical passages. Are you a homosexual? Hoover out all of the passages in the Bible dealing with homosexuality. Want to sue another believer? First Corinthians is no match for the Hoover Hermeneutic. Divorcing? Well, you get the idea. And we retain the penchant of our fathers for using it to justify our theological novelties as well (those passages don't really mean that women shouldn't be pastors). The Hoover Hermeneutic has become a great little dodge enabling people to affirm the Bible as absolutely true while still holding onto the relativism of the present age. "The Bible is absolutely true and would speak with absolute authority to this issue if it actually said anything substantive about this issue, but since it doesn't (and I have a few great hermeneutical tricks up my sleeve to show you why it really doesn't say what it seems to say), let each person have liberty to believe and practice however he wishes." To employ yet another H-word, the Hoover Hermeneutic is the Heisenberg principle of nouveau theology. I find that there are several passages where I myself am tempted to employ this hermeneutic. I'm inaugurating a series of posts dealing with these passages/topics one-by-one. This is a part of my effort to rid myself of the Hoover Hermeneutic by gaining wisdom from all of you as to the meaning of various troublesome passages. I'll post my first installment in a few hours.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Vignettes from the TBN Appearance: Part 2-b

Here's another variety of the Praisegod Research Poll: Tell us something about the first Southern Baptists you ever encountered who were Charismatics: Were they poor? Uneducated? Rural? I'll start. The first Charismatic Southern Baptists I ever encountered were middle-class and wealthy Baylor students and employees attending Highland Baptist Church in Waco, TX.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dwain Miller's False Dilemma

Ladies and gentlemen, as promised a few months ago, I have inaugurated a podcast. I've played around with podcasting in private for a few months just to get the feel of it. Here's my first installment over at Podbean, a five-minute video rebutting a false dilemma that Dwain Miller asserted on the now-infamous PTL episode.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Muslim Evangelism Summit

Last Summer the Discipleship Committee of First Baptist Church of Farmersville came to me and asked whether I thought our church might benefit from a short-term seminar regarding how to best to pray and work toward the spread of the gospel among Muslims. I contacted Dr. Emir Caner and asked him to lead the seminar. I grew to love Dr. Caner several years ago. For a few years First Baptist Church of Farmersville had seen God at work through our relationships with various exchange students in our area. You've never heard excitement until you've spoken with a Korean teenaged exchange student who has reported her conversion to her Christian mother in South Korea who has been praying for her for years. Anyway, our most recent exchange student relationship had developed with a Muslim student from an Islamic country. I contacted Dr. Caner seeking wisdom about how to proceed. Not long afterwards he was my guest at FBC Farmersville to preach. Within a month, our young student came forward during the altar call (I guess they do work, sometimes) and simply said, "I have come to accept the faith. I believe in Jesus." Dr. Caner wasn't even there that day, but he still corresponds with that convert. So, Dr. Caner was our natural choice for our seminar. We're inviting area churches to participate in our Muslim Evangelism Summit, and now I'm inviting you, too. We're offering the seminar in two formats. Our three-night track takes place Sunday, February 10, through Tuesday, February 12, at 6:00 PM nightly. If that won't work for you, Dr. Caner will present the entire contents of the seminar in an afternoon, Tuesday, February 12, 1:00 – 4:00 PM, at Lake Lavon Baptist Encampment. We plan to record to seminar and make it available online as well. I believe that the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation." The gospel of Jesus Christ is more powerful than any religion devised by man. The gospel will be the focus of our summit, and that alone ought to make it worth your time to attend.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Relevance of the TBN Show

Ever since Tim Guthrie—who, I have from reliable sources, has programmed PTL into his Tivo—broke the story of the TBN interview into the Southern Baptist blogversation, a few people have asked why the program is at all relevant to Southern Baptist life (some in this forum, some in others, some offline). I reply in two parts: First, the people involved in the panel that comprised the last half of the program were all Southern Baptist pastors, capable of sending messengers to our meetings. The thesis of the entire program was that these men were part of a growing segment in the Southern Baptist Convention at the center of a current controversy in Southern Baptist life. So, the program itself asserted that it was discussing matters relevant to the future of the SBC. Second, although I am convinced that many of the current SBC dissidents do not themselves hold the theology of Camp, Miller, Hogue, and Blessitt, they have not convinced me that they would not throw the doors of the SBC wide open to such men. Indeed, some among them have labored hard for years to convince people of just the opposite. Nevertheless, the purpose of blogging is dialogue, not monologue. Therefore, if I have misunderstood our dissident brethren, I invite any of them to compose and post on their blogs an essay with the following thesis: If over the next twenty years the leadership and direction of the Southern Baptist Convention were to change such that Wade Burleson's Statement on (Southern Baptist?) Cooperation were adopted instead of the BF&M as our instrument of doctrinal accountability and the boundaries of our cooperative efforts, I would personally work to oppose the channeling of Cooperative Program dollars to fund missionaries with the beliefs and practices of Dwain Miller and Scott Camp because…

Friday, December 14, 2007

Vignettes from the TBN Appearance: Part 2

McKissic: “I think it’s emotional prejudice, because tongues has been associated with poor people…Pentecostal people…sometimes uneducated people. And so, people who… into academia and sometimes put letters above the Spirit and the Word, have decided that we’re…tongues…we’re too embarrassed to deal with the tongues issue."

I was born on the last day of the 1960s as the third of four children to a small household in Lake City, Arkansas. We attended Bethabara Baptist Church out on Cane Island, a used-to-be community less than 200 yards from the East levee of the Saint Francis River.

Bethabara Baptist Church was a typical rural Southern Baptist congregation. The attendance rarely topped 100. The racks contained both the Baptist Hymnal and the Heavenly Highway Hymns. We had Dinner on the Grounds (which sometimes featured Raccoon and Dressing). People said "Amen!" and sometimes they shouted it. The church loved good gospel singing. The preaching was often emotional, pointed, and loud.

Poor and uneducated…these are great adjectives to describe the entire spiritual foundation of my early life. Pentecostal, it was not. No speaking in tongues. No people falling out. No cartwheels. No "Thus saith the Lord" anywhere but in the Bible.

So, imagine my surprise to learn that I am prejudiced against myself, my family, my heritage, and the people who first introduced me to Jesus—that they were prejudiced against themselves!

Pentecostalism will frequently claim that people who differ with its view of the spiritual gifts are operating out of an elitist motivation. I find the argument ironic: It seems like a pretty elitist claim to me when one alleges that the folks across the aisle have abandoned the Spirit and the Word in favor of academia because of embarrassment. It smacks not of emotional prejudice and intellectual elitism, but of charismatic prejudice and glossolalic elitism.

Vignettes from the TBN Appearance: Part 1

Hogue: “How do you respond to [the idea that not all believers will have the gift of tongues]” Camp: “I think you can experience all of the Spirit of God that you want to experience…God is not going to force anything on anybody, but if you are open, if you have a desire, if you have a hunger to go on with God, then you can experience this particular manifestation of the Holy Spirit of God…” Hogue: Do you think that every believer should pray in the Spirit? Camp: I think every believer should be open to whatever God wants to do in their life, and if they are open to this, they will experience it…” Hogue: “So you’re saying that if I’m open to whatever God is wanting to do in my life, I will at least have a prayer language that will be part of my life.” Camp: “I believe that’s probably true…What I would rather do is to talk about the power of the working of the Holy Spirit in my own life…what Jack Hayford calls Heaven’s language, and to say that this is available to every Christian who wants to experience, but…the focus is…on seeking Jesus and a deeper, fuller experience, but I want to tell you, if you do that, then you’re headed down a road where eventually you’re going to cross that bridge.” Miller: “In my own experience…and the fact is, a person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument…I think there are people out there tonight who are watching who have spoken in tongues and don’t even know it…I wanted all of God and I wanted Him to have all of me. Quite honestly, I believe it and I teach it to our people…if you want to use the term baptisms, that there are four: Positional baptism…Personal baptism, water baptism…Practical baptism, being filled with the Spirit…Baptism of power that comes upon one…I had the baptism of the Holy Spirit come upon me in Pensacola…When you get filled with the spirit in a personal yielding, that’s the best time to release that personal prayer language….Why would God give him an ability to be more intimate with Jesus and not offer it to me?”
The message couldn't be clearer: Speaking in tongues is normative for all believers. If you don't speak in tongues, something is wrong with your relationship with God, and people who do speak in tongues are on a higher level than the rest of us and have a more intimate walk with the Lord than the rest of us do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Must See: TBN Clip Praying for "Pensacola" to Come in the SBC

I'm still grading papers (I sure am slow, am I not?). But during my silence, I call upon you to visit Tim Guthrie's most recent blog article. You absolutely must watch all two hours of last night's "Praise the Lord" show. There you'll see the unvarnished truth of where folks hope to take the SBC.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Baptist Heritage Potential Final Exam Questions

Just to give you something to discuss in my absence…

Tomorrow I will give the following document to my Baptist Heritage class to aid them in their preparation for the Final Exam. Out of these twenty-four questions I will choose twelve to place on the Final Exam. Each student will then have to choose ten of those twelve questions to answer with a short essay. Mine is a pretty erudite readership, so I know that you will enjoy perusing these questions.

  1. While serving as an IMB missionary to Russia, you encounter opposition from the local Russian Orthodox priest, who lumps Baptists together with such groups as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, branding them all as heretical cults. Compose a response in which you explain why those who adhere to traditional Baptist theology are not heretics but are instead orthodox Christians.
  2. Identify three sources of religious authority and indicate which source of authority each of the following movements or systems of theology emphasizes: Roman Catholicism, Baptist theology, Pentecostalism, Modernism, Postmodernism, the Conservative Resurgence.
  3. Describe the relationship between the Baptist view of the ordinances and the Baptist views of the gospel and the church.
  4. Citing James 5:14-15 (“Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” NASB), an infirm member of your congregation asks you to gather several deacons to come to his home and pray for God to heal him. Compose a response in which you gently correct his error by specific reference to relevant passages of Scripture.
  5. Describe the difference between religious toleration and religious liberty. Show the connection between these concepts and the General Assessment Bill proposed in Virginia in the eighteenth century. Identify any two Baptist publications supporting religious liberty and name their authors.
  6. List the acts comprising the Clarendon Code and describe the effect of each.
  7. What two doctrinal malaises plagued English Baptists during the Enlightenment (give one for General Baptists and one for Particular Baptists)? Name the former Methodist circuit-riding preacher who restored an orthodox wing to General Baptist life in eighteenth-century England, and give the name of the group of General Baptist churches he formed. Name the American revival theologian who championed Evangelical Calvinism, as well as the prominent English Particular Baptist who accomplished the widespread “Acceptation” of Evangelical Calvinism among his Particular Baptist brethren.
  8. Name two English General Baptist confessions of faith and two English Particular Baptist confessions of faith, giving the years of composition for each.
  9. Compare and contrast the Sandy Creek and Charleston groups of Baptist churches in eighteenth-century America.
  10. Tell the story of the generally acclaimed father of Baptist missions, including how he came to be a missionary, the story of his early work on the mission field, the secrets of his eventual success, and the names and roles of his key partners in his work.
  11. Tell the story of how Baptists in America first came to have foreign missionaries and first organized to support missions, including the names and relevant actions of key personalities and institutions involved.
  12. Differentiate the society and convention methods of cooperation, identifying purported strengths of each approach.
  13. Name the type of Baptist theology that coined the term “alien immersion.” Briefly describe the distinctive teachings of this theological system.
  14. After developing a friendship with the pastor of a Baptist church in your town whose membership is predominantly black, you encourage him to lead his church to affiliate with your association, the BGCO, and the Southern Baptist Convention. He responds with reluctance, citing a history of racism in the Southern Baptist Convention. Compose an honest response to his concerns in which you explain the role of race in the specific events surrounding the formation of the SBC, the racial character of early labors at the Foreign Mission Board, and the history of racial views among Southern Baptists through today. Then explain why you think that his church still ought take your advice and affiliate with Southern Baptists.
  15. Suppose that this Sunday a five-year-old walks up to you in church and asks, “Who is Lottie Moon and why does she need so much money?” Compose a response (appropriate to a five-year-old, please) that tells the story of Lottie Moon and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
  16. List the four boards of the Southern Baptist Convention (either by their current names or by their names in 1994) and describe the major functions of each.
  17. What is the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, when did it come into existence, why did its founding constitute such a milestone in Southern Baptist life, and what concerns made some Southern Baptists reluctant to form the Executive Committee?
  18. Trace the progress of $1000 of Cooperative Program money from the time it leaves a BGCO church through to its various destinations.
  19. Tell the story of The Baptist Faith & Message, including sources for its original composition; the causes of its adoption; the dates, causes, and contents of its major revisions; and the history of its manner of use in the Southern Baptist Convention. Tell also the story of The Abstract of Principles, relating its first composition and its history of use to the story of The Baptist Faith & Message.
  20. List the five theological concepts outlined in a famous twelve-book series authored by supporters of the Niagara Bible Conference and name the movement that they spawned.
  21. Describe how Southern Baptist Conservatives changed the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention in the late twentieth century, including the year in which the public phase of the effort began, the names of key personalities and movements involved on both sides, the parliamentary strategy that facilitated the success of conservatives, and the actions taken by liberals and moderates in response to the conservative movement.
  22. Trace the development of the Baptist theology and practice of worship since 1609.
  23. Trace the development of the Baptist theology and practice of missions since 1609.
  24. Trace the development of Baptist soteriology since 1609.

Of course, I can't stick around to discuss this at all, but I will be back in a few days. I hope that you all enjoy it. Want the answers? For that you have to pay tuition.

Brief Hiatus

Yes, I see the pending comments awaiting my responses. My students, however, have submitted their last writing assignment, and I am grading (once again). I want to come out and play, but I promised myself at the outset of this semester never to let blogging interfere with my teaching or pastoral responsibilities; thus, self-discipline keeps me away for a moment. I hope that I will secure some opportunity for further blogging after grading this assignment, but before grading the final. In the meantime, for those who find the SBTC (or SBCT...order the letters to suit yourself) to be the most troubling thing in Baptist life in Texas, I offer this story for your consideration, along with my sentiment that the SBTC (imperfect as its members are) represents the bright spot in Baptist life in Texas these days.

Monday, November 26, 2007

To the Driver of the Red Minivan on Hwy 3W West of Ada This Morning…

…Yes, that was me driving the white Honda in the lane next to you—the guy wearing a suit and tie with my mouth wide open, my eyebrows arched, and my hands wildly gesticulating. …No, I was not having any sort of seizure or mental breakdown. Neither was I being stung by a hornet. …Actually, I was singing the bass part to "He Shall Purify the Sons of Levi" along with my CD of Handel's Messiah. …Didn't your mother teach you that it's not polite to stare, much less to point and laugh out loud? You're supposed to be operating a motor vehicle, for Heaven's sake! …As far as I'm concerned, anyone who can remain silent while listening to Sir Colin Davis's London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus sing about the Savior needs to examine herself to see whether she be in the faith. :-)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Baptists and Dissent

The idea of dissent as a virtue—whether a Baptist virtue or otherwise—is among the most nonsensical theories promulgated among mankind. Dissent is neither a virtue nor a vice, so far as its intrinsic properties go. Dissenting to pay your taxes is generally a vice. Dissenting to participate in a plot to assassinate the President is generally a virtue. The act of dissenting, in and of itself, is neither noble nor vile—'tis all in the subject matter of one's dissent. Dissent is a part of the Baptist story, but dissent is not a distinctive of Baptist identity (or if it is, it has often been a part of the darker side of our identity). Where dissent is laudatory in Baptist life, it is because Baptists were willing to take unflinching stands on matters that other people saw differently or deemed tertiary. Although dissent is not a Baptist distinctive, religious liberty is. Baptists are a people committed to religious liberty for all people. What is religious liberty? It is important to know, for false versions of this principle are seemingly omnipresent. Religious liberty is the conviction that the temporal sword ought not to be employed in strictly spiritual matters. So, unless it has to do with policemen, armed troops, vigilante mobs, judicial rulings, or legislative dictates, it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the Baptist principle of religious liberty. Indeed, it was the conviction of our Baptist forebears that churches and associations had the obligation to govern their own affairs according to their doctrinal convictions. It was precisely because they wanted to be more strict WITHIN their own churches that they wanted the government to be less strict—nay, uninvolved altogether—in governing their churches from without. Those who made scruples over baptism and regenerate church membership, believing in a more restrictive purity in church membership, were the Baptist objects of state-sponsored persecution. Religious liberty enabled Baptists to form congregations composed only of those who did not dissent from their pursuit of obedience to Christ's commands. Certainly there is not the slightest scintilla of biblical witness for dissent as virtue. There are, however, volumes of evidence for the idea that the temporal sword ought not to be wielded in spiritual matters. There are two realms, typified by Roger Williams's idea of the "Two Tables of the Law." The Baptist position is not that spiritual matters ought not to be governed, but simply that the state has not the authority to govern them. Rather, that authority belongs solely to the church. The effect of course, is that every individual has liberty—if one differs with the governing decisions of one's church, one can leave it and join with (or even form) another church more to one's liking, and the church cannot invoke the powers of the state to stop it. Our commitment to religious liberty means that we believe it is the obligation of the government not to punish dissent over matters strictly dealing with one's relationship with God. Yet the biblical model is a church strictly and powerfully governed. I almost mentioned this in my earlier post about the death penalty—the early church not only wasn't opposed to the death penalty, but they also executed it themselves. But please note, they did it by exercise of the spiritual sword—the power of God—and not by the power of the government. The church that slays people for discrepancies in their contribution statements bears absolutely no resemblance to these modern-day coffee klatches so careful to tiptoe around matters that God has declared but people have relegated to tertiary status, but it also resembles not at all the church so spiritually weak that it must call upon soldiers or policemen to do its fighting for it. I'm thankful for the Baptist commitment to religious liberty. It reminds the government not to presume to take up authority that belongs to God alone. It reminds the church not to trust in chariots or horses. Let's not mutilate it into yet another postmodern exaltation of "diversity" over substance. We belong neither to pre-modern society, modern society, nor post-modern society. We are citizens of Heaven, and once we arrive there, dissent will be entirely a thing of our past. Thank you, Lord.

Getting Along

If you ever need to know anything about the Cancun, Mexico, airport, I'm your man. Our nation's embargo against the island nation of Cuba ensures that the journey to Cuba will always be interesting, in a boring sort of way (please note that I have never in my life set foot illegally upon the soil of Cuba, but have always followed the laws both of my nation and of theirs). One cannot sit at a computer in Dallas and purchase an airline ticket to Havana with one's Visa card. Travel through a third nation is usually required (although I did go once to Santiago from Miami), and purchase of the Cuba-bound ticket takes place after leaving the United States, and by cash. I like to go through Cancun. Spend the night at a cheap Mexican hotel, arrive at the airport first thing in the morning, wait for the ticket counter to open, wait for your religious work visas to come in by fax, pay for your tickets, check your luggage, clear security, and wait for your plane to come. It's all very simple. It also takes about six hours, most of it spent sitting, studying the people, shops, amenities, and ceiling tiles of the Cancun airport. As for me, I'd rather talk to somebody than look at ceiling tiles. Thus on the day in question I struck up a conversation with the older gentleman sitting just across from me. I'll call him Saul (not really his name). There he sat, Israeli passport in hand, waiting for exactly the same flight that we were taking. He was incredibly intelligent—I soon learned that he is the inventor of a revolutionary piece of technology that you all use every day (even if you don't know it). A famous man, stuck here with me in the Cancun airport with nowhere to go. Sounds to me like a great opportunity to present the gospel. It isn't that difficult to steer the conversation to faith when you're talking to an Israeli citizen. Saul was an atheist, but he had grown up in an observant Jewish household. Curious about this birthplace of my faith, I had several questions that I wanted to ask Saul: Suppose I'm an honest, hardworking, nonviolent, democracy-oriented, Jewish-state-supportive, Christian Palestinian…can I achieve citizenship in the State of Israel? Do you really think a two-state solution offers a viable hope for reconciliation in Israel? (Well, you get the gist of things.) We had a fascinating conversation for more than two hours while sitting out in the public concourse. I told him about my faith in Christ…told him what our team was going to Cuba to do. I told him about the gospel. We talked about the war-torn Middle East, and he gave me an insider's perspective (this guy had also invented several military-oriented devices). Then, the visas came in on the fax machine, security opened up, and my team went back into the gate area. In a few minutes, Saul also cleared security, walked into the gate area, sought me out, and sat next to me. Our conversation resumed. Saul eventually said, "The reason we have so many problems in the world is that Muslims, Christians, and Jews don't realize that they are all praying to the same God." "You mean, the One that you don't believe exists?" I smirked (not that I commend to you the idea of smirking as evangelistic technique). "Well, you've got me there," he replied, "but if these three great religions would acknowledge that they all serve the same God, then they would set aside all of this fighting." "Ah," I said, "you mean loosening our doctrine for the sake of peace?" "Precisely" "But you know, Saul, that doesn't work—never works," I answered. "Different varieties of Christianity realize that they are worshipping the same God, yet the Roman Catholic bunch spent centuries killing off people who believe like I do. Sunnis and Shiites worship the same God, yet they manage to hate and kill one another nonetheless. People kill one another because we are sinners, not because we are uninformed." But, I told Saul, there is another way. I explained to him the Baptist ideal of religious liberty. Within our church, we try to be all that God wants us to be. We believe that all people are sinners. We believe that Jesus has died to purchase our pardon. We believe that God has given us voluminous instruction in the Bible as to how we ought to worship and live—enough to keep a person busy for a lifetime pursuing growth as a Christian. We're zealous; we're passionate; we're strict sometimes; we fail often, but we will not water down what we believe to make it match how we sometimes act. However… …We believe that God has given no person the right to coerce another person's faith. "If I will not permit you to say no," I told Saul, "then your yes is meaningless." We will not convert people at the point of a sword or the tip of a gun. Rather, we put before people the gospel of Jesus Christ and we freely say with Him, "Let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost." "So you see, Saul," I concluded, "I do not concede that all people worship the same God. There is One God. He loves all people. He loves me. He loves you. He invites you to worship and serve Him. You face the choice. If you choose to accept Him and serve Him, you will be my brother. If you choose to reject His offer, that does not make you my enemy. I will have no urge to explode incendiary devices in front of your house. I will not berate you or disparage you. I will still enjoy your company and will still consider you my newest friend. But I will accomplish all of this without taking you into my church, embracing your atheism, or watering down at all what I believe and hold dear. I believe that strife comes from failing to do what the Bible teaches, not from being too strict about it. And I invite all people to join me in worshipping and serving the Prince of Peace." Saul did not receive Jesus that day. We visited for at least another two hours, and then our flight boarded. His concluding comments to me: "I visit with Rabbis and religious leaders in Israel all of the time. Their beliefs are much closer to mine than yours, which are a strange version of Christianity that I've never encountered before. Yet, for all of the distance that separates us, I feel much more comfortable talking about God with you than I ever have with anyone else." Those final words gave me hope that the end of our visit was not the end of God's work in Saul's life. When last I saw him, we were in Passport Control in Havana. Something apparently wasn't quite right with Saul's paperwork, and he was having trouble getting into the country. I continue to pray for Saul, remembering the spark of interest in his eyes, praying that God will visit Saul with His grace, and that when I see him hereafter, Saul's papers will be in order, and he will have no trouble at all getting in.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Camel and the IMB Contextualization Guidelines

At the recent IMB meeting in Springfield, IL, the board adopted five principles for contextualization. Having mulled over the principles for a few days and having read The Camel carefully multiple times (see series of articles summarized here), I proclaim it an obvious fact to any impartial observer that The Camel is in violation of the new IMB principles.

The first principle is a simple affirmation of the unique nature of the Christian Bible. I believe that the Camel's reliance upon the Qur'an to the near exclusion of the Bible could be construed as violation of principle one, but the Camel does not explicitly violate this first principle. The second principle poses greater problems for the Camel method.

We affirm that there is a biblical precedent for using “bridges” to reach out to others with the Gospel (Acts 17:22-23). The fact that Paul mentioned an aspect of the Athenians’ idolatrous worship was not a tacit approval of their entire religious system. He was merely utilizing a religious element of their setting (an altar to an unknown god) to connect with his hearers and bridge to the truth. Similarly, our personnel may use elements of their host culture’s worldview to bridge to the Gospel. This need not be construed as an embracing of that worldview. It should be noted that Paul not only used their system to connect, he also contrasted elements of it with the truth. Our evangelism must go beyond bridges to present the whole unvarnished truth of the Gospel (1 Corinthains 15:1-4). (HT: SBC Today)

The Camel is long on varnish and short on gospel. It fastidiously avoids the kind of contrast that Paul performed at Athens (see my earlier post on just this subject here). The Camel is just the kind of misapplication of Paul's work in Athens that is explicitly singled out in this principle as faulty.

The Camel is also at odds with the third principle.

We affirm an incarnational approach to missions that is bound by biblical parameters. Following the example of Him who became flesh (John 1:14), it is appropriate that our personnel continue to tailor their ministry to their setting. The Apostle Paul likewise embraced this approach, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22b). We advocate the learning and appropriate utilization of language and culture. Constant vigilance is required lest contextualization degenerate into syncretism (1). Where linguistic categories and cultural mores are deficient, these must be challenged and corrected with biblical truth (2).

Note that footnote two deals with the use of the name "Allah."

For example, the theological construct represented by the term “Allah” in the Qur’anic system is deficient and unacceptable. However, the primary issue is not the term. The same name is used by devout Christians and it represents a sound, scriptural view of God. In fact, historically, the Christian use of “Allah” predates the rise of Islam. The missionary task is to teach who “Allah” truly is in accord with biblical revelation.

This footnote calls for the missionary to "teach who 'Allah' truly is in accord with biblical revelation" as an amplification to the idea that "[deficient linguistic categories and cultural mores] must be challenged and corrected with biblical truth. [emphasis mine]" Yet the precise core of the Camel method—that which makes it what it is—is the great care it takes not to challenge or correct Muslim notions about who Allah is. Rather, the Camel craftily suggests that the New Testament simply gives some additional information (sanctioned by Islam, no less!) to broaden the Muslim's understanding of Allah. The IMB offers a footnote about explaining who Allah is as an explanation of a proper situation calling for challenge and correction of false cultural ideas. To be in conformity with principle three, the Camel must incorporate a direct correction indicating that the Christian "Allah" is not the same as the Muslim Allah.

The fourth principle poses an additional hurdle for the Camel in its present adaptation.

We affirm both the sufficiency and unique nature of biblical revelation (2 Timothy 3:14-17). We deny that any other purported sacred writing is on a par with the Bible. While reference to a target group’s religious writings can be made as a part of bridge-building, care should be exercised not to imply a wholesale acceptance of such. [emphasis mine]

Yet the Camel says "I agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed" (see my post here), encourages the prospective convert to search the Qur'an as confirmation of the gospel message, and nowhere offers the slightest critique of the Qur'an in its authority, content, or any other thing. Surely one can presume that "[exercising care] not to imply a wholesale acceptance of [the Qur'an]," whatever that phrase might mean, means something other than doing absolutely nothing. Yet the Camel method does absolutely nothing to prevent the presumption that the "Isahi Muslim" is totally convinced of Quranic authority—indeed, the philosophical underpinning of the whole method is a presumption that everyone involved will affirm (even if dishonestly) the reliability of the Qur'an. The Camel violates principle four.

Finally, the Camel method is patently in violation of the last principle.

We affirm the need to be ethically sound in our evangelistic methodology (2 Corinthians 4:2). Becoming all things to all men in an incarnational approach does not necessitate an ethical breach. Jesus instructed his disciples to be as “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We are to be wise in our bridge building. We are to be harmless in our integrity as we hold forth the truth ( 3).

Be sure not to miss footnote three.

Integrity requires, for example, that we not imply that a false prophet or a body of religious writings other then the Bible are inspired. There is a level of contextualization that crosses the line of integrity. Our Board has dismissed personnel who have refused counsel and deliberately positioned themselves beyond that line.

I have already demonstrated invincibly that the Camel dishonestly handles the question about what Christians believe about Mohammed (see my previous post here). Given the inclusion of the footnote, I do not see how anyone can come to any conclusion other than that the author of principle five had in front of him The Camel open to page 144 as he was penning this proscription. For anyone to suggest that the Camel might be compatible with principle five is to strain the limits of credulity.

Now that our trustees have given us these sound and godly principles, all that remains to be seen is what they and our IMB staff will do to correct an obviously aberrant missiological strategy in our midst—the Camel method.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thank You, Veterans

This Veterans Day I will not dilute the embedded video with any more commentary than a heartfelt thanks to our veterans, whatever toll their service has extracted from them. Explicitly, I honor those who have given their lives for the cause of freedom.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

An Analysis of Fosdick's "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?"

Perhaps the most eloquent oratory championing liberal Christianity is Harry Emerson Fosdick's 1922 sermon "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" Fosdick himself is a fascinating character in history—one of the most engaging papers I ever heard in seminars dealt with Fosdick. Tonight I offer for your consideration my reflections upon a recent re-reading of Fosdick's magnum opus.

To keep up, you should really spend a few moments first to read "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" I know that some of you won't bother, but if you don't read the sermon first, don't blame me if you have trouble keeping up within the body of my post.

It strikes me that Fosdick's opening strategy is to contrast "Fundamentalists" with the "evangelical churches." I had forgotten this from my earlier readings of the sermon. Fosdick was writing at a time when liberals were actually willing to own the name. He does unapologetically refer to liberalism within the body of the sermon. But his opening contrast is between "Fundamentalism" and the "evangelical churches," even before he refers to "liberal opinions." I hadn't realized that the roots of the strategy to mask liberalism as evangelicalism went back so far into history.

Liberalism is emphatically convinced that our moment in time is so consequential as to invalidate all that went before it. Consequently, it desperately postulates that Christianity cannot much longer endure except liberals be allowed to make it relevant. It is "the last generation" that has been enlightened to a "great mass of new knowledge." The tailoring of Christianity to update it with the latest fads of thinking is "indispensable to the Christian Church." Indeed, if Christianity is not immediately steeped in liberalism, then it will surely lose the newest generations, for no "man who is worthwhile" could ever be interested in a conservative church. Dr. Mark Dever has spoken recently regarding the link between liberalism and the quest for relevance. Dr. Dever is 100% right. "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" is dripping with panic over the numeric decline that would surely follow the triumph of Fundamentalism. Of course, we who live eight decades after Fosdick preached this sermon know that precipitous decline actually came to those who heeded Fosdick, not to those who remained true to God's Word. Then again, perhaps in Fosdick's estimation most of those people aren't "worthwhile." In contrast, those who deny the virgin birth are people whom the church "needs."

Fosdick complained that the Fundamentalists were wrongly elevating non-essential (dare I say, "tertiary") ideas beyond the gravity that they deserved. The Fundamentalists were "driving in their stakes" around such trivia as the virgin birth of Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, the atonement, and the second-coming of Christ (not in what sequence Christ is coming back, but whether Christ is coming back). According to Fosdick, these things simply were not primary questions of doctrine.

Fosdick's clarion call, mind you, was simply for magnanimity in cooperation among Christian brethren. He was more than willing to cooperate with people who held to such a quaint notion as Christ's propitiatory death on the cross; they just weren't willing to cooperate with him. The sin of the Fundamentalists is their insistence that they "have the right to deny the Christian name to those who differ…on such points." Essentially, Fundamentalists simply aren't "tolerant." Fosdick worried that the Fundamentalist movement was causing problems on the "foreign field," where Fundamentalists were doing damage to the missionary cause.

Of course, Fosdick included the obligatory insinuation that the Fundamentalists are closet papists.

Fosdick closes the sermon by reiterating his two main points: Christians need a "tolerant, liberty-loving church," and Christians need to put aside the "quarreling over little matters" (the atonement, the Bible, the incarnation) in favor of the "main issues of modern Christianity" (the "great needs" of the world for "justice," which perhaps Fosdick could prompt the church to address through some sort of new covenant?)

Fosdick's sermon is poison. If you don't believe me, examine the corpses of "churches" that made a repast of his brew. It kinda makes you want to be careful what you swallow.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Measured Action by the IMB

I've heard many dissimilar rumors as to what would happen at the Springfield IMB meeting. In fact, I've heard similar rumors surrounding every trustee meeting at the IMB for the past year. Today we learn that the trustees of the IMB have censured Wade Burleson and have further restricted his participation in board functions for violations of trustee guidelines. I analyze these events as follows: First, for the past year I've heard many rumors as to what the trustees were planning to do at this meeting or that meeting to "deal with" the Burleson issue. The action taken by the trustees yesterday was far from the most severe remedy that I have heard. I have even heard people suggest that the trustees could unilaterally remove Burleson from their body. At one point, I even drafted a post decrying Burleson's removal as a violation of our polity, holding the post in waiting should the unthinkable ever occur. Having witnessed the tone of Burleson's recent posts, and suspecting that the climax of this drama might lie within this act and scene, I had that response ready to go today. I am so thankful that I did not have to post it. Only the Southern Baptist Convention can select our entity trustees. Thank you, IMB trustees, for respecting that important distinction and working within it. I appreciate the measured nature of your response. Second, I do not see how the Indianapolis convention can fail to take note of a formal censure adopted against a sitting trustee from one of our boards. This thing is coming to the floor in Indianapolis—they might as well go ahead and draw up a time-slot for it in the convention program. The trustees have taken what is (in my opinion) the strongest step that is within their power to express their dissatisfaction with Burleson's tenure on the board. Third, I have to wonder "Why now?" Criticism of IMB policies has been somewhat less strident on the Internet of late. I predict that phenomenon to reverse itself now. Was Burleson's recent criticism of the idea of life beginning at conception (and consequently, his next potential step away from yet another article of the Baptist Faith & Message) some sort of precipitating problem leading into this meeting of the board? Fourth, I predict that this event will initiate a spike in activity by all involved parties in the blogosphere. Fifth, I'm not nearly as interested in Wade Burleson's status as trustee on the IMB than the current status of the Camel method. I hope that we will have some opportunity in the near future (maybe the next meeting?) to hear that trustees have reviewed the contents of Kevin Greeson's book and are prepared to propose solutions to a problem that strikes to the heart of the gospel.

New Praisegod Research Poll

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Capital Punishment

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord."But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

(Romans 12:14-13:4, NASB)

As the Supreme Court considers the concept of the death penalty, and as Christians find reason to contemplate the issue afresh, I find helpful these words from God's Word. Romans 13:4 asserts the relevance of this passage to the issue—Roman soldiers did not employ their swords to spank people with the flat of the blade; the sword was a tool of death. The government "does not bear the sword for nothing." John Wesley's notes on this verse state the matter plainly: "The sword - The instrument of capital punishment, which God authorizes him to inflict." Here Bro. Wesley is right-on-the-money.

Furthermore, the government wields the sword as a "minister of God." The executioner as someone "called to ministry"?! Not in the sense that we employ the phrase "called to ministry" these days, but literally, according to the Bible, yes, the executioner is a minister of God in a limited sense. Some will assert that the death penalty is contrary to the will of God. One cannot possess this view without contradicting Romans 13, where we read not only that God is not opposed to capital punishment, but that the state performs this action as an agent of God and in His stead.

Perhaps something of the rationale behind government-sanctioned capital punishment is revealed in this passage as well. There is a reason that I have included in the quotation those verses from Romans 12. Immediately prior to Paul's discourse on governmental punishment, he reminded the Roman believers of Christ's calling upon them to renounce vengeance. We are to "never pay back evil for evil to anyone." This statement is understandable, universal, and absolute. Yet, God does not call upon believers to abandon the hope for justice. Indeed, when we cease to care about justice, we have stepped away from the holiness of God. Vengeance is part of justice. We are not told that vengeance isn't right; we are told that vengeance isn't ours. Rather than taking our own vengeance, we are instructed to "leave room for the wrath of God," knowing that God has promised in His Word, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay."

Summarizing up to this point: We are to get out of the vengeance business entirely, confident not that vengeance is unnecessary, but that God will deal out vengeance served in helpings of His own wrath."

Then, in the very next paragraph, Romans 13:4 tells us that this sword-wielding government is "a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath." God, who has promised to avenge evil in our place, has committed some portion of that task to government. This is the sense in which government is God's minister—God, through the agency of human government, metes out reward to those who do what is right and vengeance to those who do what is wrong. Of course, the ultimate reward and the ultimate retribution occur directly from God's hand in eternity, but some partial measure of justice God has chosen to dispense here and now.

Implications?

  • Vigilante justice is not justice at all. Earthly justice ought only to be rendered by duly authorized institutions of God (parents, government, etc.). Part of the function of penal systems in general and capital punishment in particular is to forestall vigilanteism.
  • To the degree that government punishes those who do right or fails to punish those who do wrong, it has deviated from its Divine design. To the degree that it does more than establish justice (within its borders through the policing forces and beyond its borders through the military), it reaches beyond its primary purpose.
  • In a democracy, we find ourselves in a situation unaddressed by the book of Romans and the New Testament—Christian believers who also are the government. The Old Testament does, however, address the idea of God's children in the magistracy. In the Old Testament, God expected governmental leaders to punish wrongdoers through the force of the state, including capital punishment.
  • Capital punishment is a positive biblical ordinance in both testaments.
  • The difference between criminal actions ("The State of Texas v John Doe") and civil actions ("Bart Barber v John Doe") is the difference between Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 6, between Romans 13 and Romans 12, between the state seeking vengeance for the sake of justice and me seeking vengeance for the sake of myself.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What's Important; What's Not

I sit here in the inter-service break, reflecting on the early service and planning toward the late. The early service was, by human analysis, a train wreck:

  1. My immediately-past Chairman of Deacons went unexpectedly into the hospital in McKinney, so I rushed over to check on him early this morning.
  2. I arrived back five minutes late for the early worship service, which was already in progress (thanks, John).
  3. The guy I went to see in the hospital is one of the choir's key tenors. Unforeseen circumstances also took out at the last minute the leader of our orchestra and our key sopranos. The combined toll eliminated two choral elements from the order of service.
  4. We're observing the Lord's Supper today, so the order of service matters more than it usually does—more people trying to figure out when to do what they're supposed to do. We wound up a song ahead of schedule while serving the Lord's Supper.
  5. I must admit, I was distracted the whole time.

Yet, as I initiated our observance of the Supper by reading I Corinthians 15:1-8, it occurred to me that the circumstances of the Last Supper were not pristine themselves. It took place in the midst of turmoil. Jesus' experience in the Garden just afterwards revealed the anguish He was feeling. The disciples were confused, having been confronted first with Jesus' act of service in washing their feet, then all the talk of betrayal, and now a discussion of broken body and shed blood during the Supper. Their circumstances that night…perhaps not that different from ours.

But 1 Corinthians 15 does the job for us of sorting out what is "of first importance" and (by implication) what is not. Together our congregation proclaimed the good news that Jesus has died and is risen, atoning for our past and demonstrating our future.

Life is messy. People get sick and go to hospitals. Tragedy strikes. Worship is, ultimately, not about leaving the mess "outside" while we think about God; it is about proclaiming the victory of God over the mess. In the midst of it all, it was a neat experience for me to come to that point in the service where I told myself, "These earthly concerns are not important. They fall vanquished by the gospel—all of them. That's what is important."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

New Guidestone Discount for SBC Bloggers

DALLAS–Officials of Guidestone Financial Resources and Cigna announced Friday a new discount plan for Southern Baptist bloggers. Under the new program, SBC bloggers who have been blogging for at least a year as of December 31, 2007, will be able purchase insurance under Cigna's Premier Dental Care Plan while only paying the rates for the Choice Dental Care Plan. The move represents the first time that Guidestone has offered special incentives for subgroups within the convention membership. Guidestone President O. S. Hawkins, when asked about the novelty of the program, responded, "This plan came about not at Guidestone's initiative, but emerged during negotiations with the plan providers (dentists) themselves." A Dallas area dentist, appearing in a press conference with Hawkins, explained the rationale behind the plan: "We believe that SBC bloggers will be less expensive to treat. One of the great frustrations and complicating factors when providing dental care for the public at large is the difficulty that normal people have with keeping their mouths open."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Exposé

After a lengthy undercover investigation, Praisegod Investigations has unearthed the following shocking example of high-level corruption at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: President Paige Patterson has a reserved parking spot. The above photograph was taken by our hidden cameras earlier today. Our investigators have reason to believe that this parking space has been constructed and maintained by Cooperative Program dollars—thousands down through the years. What hubris! What waste! To think that, in the few short years of Patterson's tenure, we now have a presidential parking space! I ask you, my friends, did Jesus have a parking space? Furthermore, we have no record of anyone ever having heard the gospel on this parking space. And all of that asphalt is just contributing to global warming, by which the world may become a lifeless rock and the millennium be thwarted in just mere months from now. It just isn't like the old SWBTS any more, when Dr. Dilday parked his bicycle out in the student parking lots and hiked into his office like the rest of us. According to exclusive PGBB sources, no female president of SWBTS has ever had a reserved parking space. I guess this is just one of the perks for the "boys." Really, it just serves to illustrate the ills that plague the Southern Baptist Convention today. COOPERATION, my friends, is all about SHARING. Yet Dr. Patterson is apparently unwilling to share his parking space with anybody else. No wonder the seminary is in such an ungodly mess these days. Fundamentalists are all the same—misogynistic animals. We have been unable to confirm rumors that CP-funded seminary employees are required as a part of their job duties to keep people from parking in the wrong parking spaces, but rumors suggest that the employees in question may even be armed. With guns. Tomorrow I may take down my two SWBTS diplomas from my wall in shame.

Sam Pace Dead at 80

Time ran out on me. I had been planning to make the journey up to Antlers, OK, to meet Sam Pace—former chair of the SBC Executive Committee and stalwart participant in the Conservative Resurgence. Some of the present-day unrest, Sam Pace saw coming long ago. Even from a distance, I know that Pace was a consistent leader, a pious Christian, and a convictional Baptist. May he enjoy God's gracious reward. I'll finally meet him when time stops running out.

With the Mouth?

But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart"—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for "whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:8-13 (NASB)

What do you understand to be the role of the verbal profession of faith in salvation?

The Bible seems to presume verbal identification with Christ to be intrinsic to salvation. The block quote above is quite pointed: "with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation." Along with repentance and faith, articulation of that faith is described as having a causal relationship with salvation. The practice of verbally articulating one's faith is highlighted in 1 Timothy 6:12-13 (NASB), "take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate…" Here Paul uses the shorthand of election and confession to refer to Timothy's salvation experience. The New Testament church had good reason to emphasize public spoken acknowledgement of one's faith in Christ as significant: Jesus Himself had said, "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in Heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in Heaven." Matthew 10:32-33 (NASB)

As we were studying Romans 10 last Sunday evening, a member said, "My kids would ask this one: What if you can't speak? Will sign language suffice?" I do not believe that salvation is tied to any sort of physical ability on the part of humankind, nor, indeed, that salvation is contingent upon human capacity to achieve it at all. However, as one who seeks to be submissive to the Lord's commands given to us in the Scriptures, I find that the Bible marks as suspect and deficient any "faith" that does not bring forth the fruit of public articulation and do so incipiently.

Rather than the case of one who cannot speak, I offer this scenario for your perusal: A man is at home alone watching religious TV. He hears an appeal for the gospel. He "prays the prayer" internally in his own mind at the end of the program. He then turns off the TV, goes to bed, gets up the next morning, and goes on about his life without ever telling anyone about his "decision." Has this person received the New Testament gospel?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blogging Doldrums

Art and Marty are pretty-much out. I was just over at Nathan Finn's blog, and he has a string of no-comment posts. SBC Outpost just held a poll, and both the number of votes and the number of views suggested not that many readers. I surely haven't blogged much lately, and I have the great blessing of having not the slightest idea how many people are reading. SBC Today continues to generate content, and I have no idea how many readers they are generating. Wade Burleson continues to blog with what are, essentially, the same three blog posts reassembled a little bit and reposted repetitively (right down to the same twenty comment personalities regurgitating the same thing over and over again in response). Southern Baptist blogging isn't over, but it seems to be groping along trying to figure out what is next. So what do you think? What's next?

I Like Mike

I'm favoring Mike Huckabee in the 2008 Republican primaries. I'll give you my reasons why as well as any reservations I might hold. I support Huckabee because he is pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family, and pro-faith by conviction and personal example. I haven't the slightest doubt what kind of judges he would nominate. Regarding "culture war" issues, Mike Huckabee not only says it—I actually believe he means it when he says it. Also, Huckabee has performed well in every debate and shows little in the way of campaign warts. He's right on the war and national security. He hasn't really been tested yet by the media, who will despise many of his policy initiatives and attack with full force if he breaks into tier-one politics, but I'm coming to believe that he'll stick to his guns and perform reasonably well if this unlikely scenario attains. As a final, more personal, incentive I offer this: I would love to see Arkansas send one of her many conservative sons to the White House. Now, for my reservations. Simple observation reveals that the GOP in Arkansas has not fared that well while Huckabee occupied the Governor's Mansion. Democrat Mike Beebe has succeeded Huckabee in my native state. One Democrat friend confided in me that Arkansas Democrats won the gubernatorial election without breaking a sweat, largely because of extremely poor GOP organization at every level from the precinct on up. According to him, it was almost like running Beebe without opposition. Missteps by GOP nominee Asa Hutchinson didn't help, but these do not explain the Republicans' 14.3% deficit at the 2006 gubernatoral polls. Friends in Arkansas also suggest that Huckabee is somewhat of a loner…a do-it-yourself-er…ineffective at coalition-building even among people who agree with him ideologically. Although some have criticized him as a tax-and-spender for his record in Arkansas, perhaps that's just the result of peer pressure from being in the Republican Party lately—maybe he's been hanging around with President Bush and our Republican Congressional delegations ;-). In spite of these potential deficiencies, I'm confident that other national GOP leadership will easily supplement whatever weaknesses Huckabee might have in the area of political organization and coalition-building. Furthermore, my political priorities lead me to support a values-conservative who may be squishy fiscally over a fiscal-conservative who may be squishy culturally. As a postscript, allow me to offer my opinion on Mitt Romney. I am a believer in religious liberty; therefore, I will not object to the abstract concept of a Mormon President. Romney loses my vote because of his demonstrated lack of conviction on my core issues. Whenever, in any aspect of your personal philosophy, John Kerry has been more consistent than you have, you know that you have problems. At this moment, while running for the Republican presidential nomination, is just a little bit too convenient of a time to have decided rather suddenly that you are pro-life after all. For all of these reasons, I will be pulling the Huckabee lever (or…rather…touching the Huckabee square on the touchscreen) in the Texas primaries. Furthermore, great anticlimax that the Texas primaries are, I will do so knowing full well that Huckabee will not be the eventual nominee.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

On Baptist Origins

In my last post about the Amish, someone apparently misconstrued my assertion of theological kinship between Baptists and Anabaptists to constitute my advocacy of the Anabaptist Influence theory of Baptist origins. The Anabaptist Influence Theory is a respected academic theory, espoused by a number of respected historians, including the late W. R. Estep of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Historians debate the extent and timing of the influence that Anabaptists had upon the emergence of seventeenth-century Baptist congregations, but no academically published theory of Baptist origins denies the theological kinship and contact that has existed between Baptists and Anabaptists.

The debate centers around historians trying to explain the causes of the "origin" of modern Baptists.

But what does that mean? In some sense, the "origin" of Baptists is simply the willingness of people to be obedient to the scriptures. I don't believe that we can assertively identify any other "source" of Baptists as a movement.

In 1609, John Smythe and a group of likeminded believers in Holland established what became the mother church of English General Baptists. He and his congregation lived in a bakehouse owned by Dutch Anabaptists.

In the 1630s, a Baptist congregation emerged from an Independent congregation in London. This congregation became the mother congregation of the English Particular Baptists.

Also in the 1630s, Roger Williams and a group of likeminded believers in Providence, Rhode Island, formed a Baptist congregation. This congregation is not the mother congregation of all Baptist churches in the Americas, but neither is it (that we can identify) a daughter congregation of any of the English Baptist churches.

In 1753 a (roughly) Methodist congregation in Barton-in-the-Beans, Leicestershire, England, adopted Baptist sentiments, becoming one of the primary mother congregations of the New Connexion General Baptist congregations in England.

As far as the record of history reveals (or at least, as far as I know the record of history…I do not pretend omniscience even in my field), these churches were not planted by other Baptist churches and were not splits from other Baptist churches. What is the origin of Baptist churches? Well…which Baptist churches? Baptist sentiments sprung up almost spontaneously in multiple unrelated places among otherwise unrelated groups of people. The only thing they really have in common is some connection with English Separatism and a devotion to the teachings of the New Testament.

A related question asks whether Baptists existed prior to 1609. I answer that we will never know until we reach Heaven. We know for certain that dissenting groups existed throughout the Medieval period. Small, persecuted sects, worshipping in secret, trying to hide their existence from authorities, and populated by people other than the nobility—such groups deliberately left very little of a footprint. In my opinion, we can neither demonstrate the existence of medieval Baptists nor can we disprove their existence.

Again, if the origin of Baptists is obedience to the New Testament, then the question of Medieval Baptist existence really is not very important. The Roman Catholics do have an unbroken chain of existence through the Medieval period, but they are dead wrong with regard to the teachings of the New Testament. What legitimizes a church? Not its age or lineage, but its obedience to the God's Word. The churches listed above have no demonstrable earthly lineage, but their faithfulness to the teachings of the Bible give them all the lineage that they need.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Our Amish Cousins

Recently (October 7, 2007) the CBS drama Cold Case aired an episode investigating the (fictional) death of an Amish teenaged girl in Philadelphia during her "Rumspringa." The episode, in my opinion, was formulaic in its treatment of the Amish. Popular media portrayal of the Amish generally goes along the lines of "They're really odd at first glance, but when you get to know them, there's a lot in Amish life to respect or even envy" (with some exceptions). Contrast this with the usual media treatment of Southern Baptists or other evangelical groups. The same tension of surface perception vs. fuller understanding prevails, but in the opposite direction. At first glance, the evangelical appears to be respectable (even holier-than-thou), but deeper investigation always reveals a drug-using pedophile whose anger-management issues have led him to murder somebody to keep his secrets buried. So I'm wondering not so much why groups like Southern Baptists get such rough treatment, but why the Amish generally get such a free pass. The Amish are Anabaptists, our close theological cousins. They share with Baptists a belief that only the regenerate will go to Heaven. Their moral codes are stricter than ours. Just for good measure, they stir in an eccentric aversion to all things modern. They are the epitome of the "obscurantism" that the nineteenth- and twentieth-century liberals warned would lead to the demise of Christianity. Certainly Amish belief and practice is no friendlier to modern American life than is evangelicalism—quite the contrary. Maybe the "quite the contrary" is the answer to my question. I think that our culture, when it looks at most of Evangelicalism, sees people desperate to be accepted by the culture as cool. When the culture confronts something like the Amish, it encounters something truly interesting—a group of people (seemingly) entirely satisfied apart from any of the things that Americans think we need to have to find satisfaction. Thus the irony: I think that the desperation among some Evangelicals to "reach" the culture may be precisely the thing that provokes revulsion in some influential segments of the culture. It smacks of Madison Avenue dishonesty. Of course, the Amish are no example for us to follow evangelistically. They are so isolationist as to make very little substantial effort to present the gospel outside their environs. They are not "of" the culture, but neither are they "in" it. What Southern Baptists need is to learn from the Amish a biblical antidote to materialism without succumbing to their technophobia. We need to learn a confidence in the virtues of a Christian subculture (which isn't perfect, but which is better than non-Christian culture) without mimicking the Amish communalism that prevents them from significant interaction with people lost in secular culture. Perhaps Roger Williams is a good example for us to consider. No obscurantist, he nonetheless asserted that there ought to be a strong "hedge of separation" between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world (a phrase often misinterpreted to refer exclusively to church-state relations). Although he was quite strict—even persnickety—in his ecclesiology, Williams was nonetheless a powerful political figure and a thinker prepared to engage every facet of his contemporary culture. I plan to keep my iPhone, my pilot's license, and my t-shirts, but I think that the Amish have some things to teach us.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Most Pressing Issues of Justice: Take Two

The earlier misfire was Blogger's fault. Of course, Wes Kenney would demur at this point, asserting that it is actually my fault for sticking with Blogger. Now, inspired by Rich Mullins, I say, "This is the post as best as I can remember it." In most states there is one and only one legal contract that one party can break unilaterally without fear of consequence. In many states, there is one and only one medical procedure that a doctor can inflict upon a thirteen year old without notifying a parent. In a great many businesses and some states as well, there is one and only one extramarital relationship that can qualify a person to be included in someone else's workplace benefits. Divorce, abortion, homosexuality. Liberals have carved out for the dissolution of homes, the murder of innocents, and the depravation of human sexuality special legal niches to encourage this behavior. They talk about poverty, but the problem of poverty in America is no better today than it was in 1967. The war on poverty has been very successful at preventing poverty among graduates of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, but it sure hasn't done much to improve the lives of people in Desha County, Arkansas (2007 unemployment rate: 11.5%; 2004 poverty rate: 28.7%). They talk about health care, but four decades after the government's first steps toward socialized medicine, we are in a health care crisis (to hear liberals speak of it). On the other hand, liberals can provide a long list of accomplishments regarding divorce, abortion, and homosexuality. So, who's been obsessed with these "culture war" issues? Who has launched them into the public discourse? Until next year's election, you are going to hear incessantly that religious conservatives have been obsessed with these issues while liberals have been doing everything possible to make the world a better place. You're going to hear that religious conservatives are too cozy with the Republican Party (all evidence to the contrary...can anyone say James Dobson?...notwithstanding). Be not deceived—these are talking points designed to weaken the conviction of values voters (as though the 2008 candidate lineup were not a powerful enough elixir for that task). But these issues have become so contentious and so important not because of anything conservatives have done, but because of the way that liberals, in their bizarre, obsessive devotion to these ideas, have shoehorned them into our system of laws. These are the most pressing issues of justice that we face today. For all of its violence and duration, the Iraq war has barely eclipsed the single-day death toll of abortion in the United States alone. Divorce is among the most predictable causes of poverty in our country. Homosexuality has contributed to the spread of one of the worst public health plagues that the world has known. If we love people, we ought to advocate for laws that discourage people from aborting babies, abandoning their marital vows, and engaging in sexual behavior with people of the same sex. Instead, we have a set of laws that encourage them to do all of these things. Those who steadfastly call for an end to these things stand in the lineage of Elijah and Isaiah. Those who prefer nuance and sophistication to conviction will stand in the line of George McClellan—so mesmerized by the feints across the lines as to be caught unprepared in the critical moment and place of engagement.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Most Pressing Issues of Justice

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Agnes Velores Barber, 1920-2007

My father's mother has joined her husband, her siblings, and two of her children in the presence of Christ. Born in the Ozarks, she journeyed seasonally every year into the cotton fields of Northeast Arkansas to pick cotton. While there one year, she met my grandfather, James Clifton Barber. They lived just a few miles from one another in the hills, but had never met one another until they were away from home working. They settled down in the flat lands, raised three children, and built a better life that did not include picking cotton! Yesterday we stood in her hometown of Salado, Arkansas, and placed her body beside Grandpa's. The last of my grandparents is now gone. I wonder how things are going to change now? I shook cousins' hands, receiving and giving updates on our lives, all the while wondering in the back of my mind, "Will I ever see you again in this world?" We started Tuesday morning at 3:30 EDT just across the Grand Central Expressway from LaGuardia in Queens, NYC. We caught a 6:00 flight to Chicago Midway, followed by a 9:00 CDT flight to Houston Hobby, arriving at 11:35 am. After wolfing down lunch, we started our drive from Houston back to Jonesboro, AR. We arrived at 11:08 pm CDT. That, my friends, is a full day! I've got lots of material to post—I'm really behind. I hope to get things up and going next week.

Monday, September 24, 2007

David Dockery Supports "Narrowing of Parameters"

Dr. David Dockery, president of Union University, is a brilliant theologian and an exemplary Christian gentleman. As I will reveal in an upcoming post, Dr. Dockery was significantly responsible through his published works for instilling within me a passion for the biblical doctrines that define us as Baptists. To his credit, Dr. Dockery realizes the specious nature of claims that a commitment to inerrancy is faith-commitment enough to guide any Christian enterprise. In this Baptist Press article, Dr. Dockery has endorsed an effort by Dr. Ray Van Neste and Dr. Denny Burk to narrow the parameters of cooperation in the Evangelical Theological Society. At present, the only ETS doctrinal statement simply reads, "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory." Van Neste, Burk, and Dockery (among many others) support the adoption of a more narrow and robust set of theological parameters to govern membership and practice within the ETS. Will anyone question their commitment to the "sufficiency of the scriptures"? After all, these men have apparently concluded that even those who affirm the inerrancy of the written Word of God might misread it and come into doctrinal error serious enough to make them something other than an Evangelical Christian. I do not question the belief of these men in the sufficiency of the scriptures, but perhaps some will. Will anyone question their willingness to cooperate with other believers? After all, the clear outcome of this action would be to make ineligible for participation in ETS those who are currently able to participate. If all current and potential members of ETS were theologically acceptable to the three, there would be no need and no campaign for the stricter theological statement. I do not question the cooperative nature of these men, but perhaps some will. Will anyone label these men as Fundamentalists or Legalists? Probably so. All it takes to earn those labels from somebody somewhere is a commitment to the smallest kernel of biblical truth. I believe that they are neither Fundamentalists (in the pejorative sense) nor Legalists, but perhaps some will make the allegation. Quite simply, here is what has happened—the ETS tried to employ as minimalist a theological statement as it thought would work to bring together Evangelicals for cooperation in a tightly-defined scope of activities. Because only God knows the future and the scope of human depravity, the founders of ETS did not foresee how some might skew the ETS's Doctrinal Basis. Now, with a few years of history under its belt, the ETS has come to see the weaknesses in their minimalist statement. They are narrowing the parameters of their cooperation not to take the ETS away from its raison d'être, but to try to keep it anchored there. It is a common scenario. It is a common need. It is a common-sense solution. Bravo to these men for championing it.

Friday, September 21, 2007

If You Should Go Looking for Adoniram Judson

Adoniram Judson died at sea in 1850. His body was buried at sea, but a memorial to Judson lies on Burial Hill, Plymouth, MA. Unfortunately, finding a particular grave on Burial Hill is not the simplest thing to do. If you should ever decide to do so, I want you to have an easier time of it than I had. Burial Hill lies immediately behind the Plymouth Unitarian-Universalist meeting house (I'll not employ the 'c' word here). Just to the right of the building is a steep staircase with iron rails on either side by which you may ascend Burial Hill. At some point nearly atop the hill, the railings cease and the path diverges. At that point, Judson's memorial lies just in front of you just a few feet away, enclosed by a white wooden fence. Here's how it looks from that vantage point: Judson, of course, is the great missionary to Burma who serves as such a wonderful example to us all. Judson began his missionary service as a Congregationalist (that is, as a pedobaptist). While sailing around the world to his post, Judson's independent study of the New Testament convinced him that Christ instituted believer's baptism, not infant sprinkling. Upon arrival in India, Judson sought believer's baptism. Judson's change of theology put him in a peculiar position. Here he was, planning to live on Congregationalist support, yet newly possessed of Baptist convictions. The Congregationalists did not wish to fund Judson as a Baptist missionary. Judson neither threw a fit claiming that his rights had been violated nor sued anyone for support. He trusted in God to meet his needs, and God raised up support among American Baptists, vindicating Judson's integrity. The legacy of Adoniram Judson still lives among the Karen people and in the existence of such entities as the Southern Baptist Convention, since Judson's efforts became the nucleus around which Baptists in America first organized for missions. Hats off to Adoniram Judson. Thank you, dear brother, for your faithfulness to the Lord. See you soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Baptist Not-So-Hypothetical

Imagine for a moment that you are a member of a certain church. This church contains many devout believers. Every member has suffered persecution for his faith. In fact, the entire congregation has had to flee its home country due to the dire peril that it has brought upon itself for its bold testimony of the truth. The congregation affirms the trustworthiness and accuracy of the Bible. The congregation is evangelistic. The congregational leadership has a bold vision for the group. But the congregation sprinkles infants. A member of the congregation arises and asserts that it is a sin—that it is Antichristian—to sprinkle infants. He asserts that it is a sin to remain a part of any church that does so. He starts to convince others that his is the biblical position. He promises to leave the church if it does not concur with his views. And then he does leave, taking a group with him. Remember, you are supposed to be imagining that you are a member of this very church. Some agree with this man that infant baptism is a sin and they follow him out. Others do not believe that infant baptism is a sin, or even if it is, they do not believe that it is a serious enough matter to split the church, so they stay behind and sail off to America in the Mayflower. What will you do? Do you agree with this man? Do you think him right enough to follow him out of fellowship with the other congregants and into his new group? Who is the man? He's John Smythe. A few years later, he's Roger Williams. And if you are a member of a Baptist church, you have followed him out into this church split. Did you make the right decision? And what implications does your answer have for your actions?

Is This Where the SBC Is?

Tuesday I had the grave misfortune to get on the wrong train in Grand Central Station, New York City. The conductor, briefly after we left the station, informed me that our train was not stopping at Garrison. He put me, my bride, and our four suitcases out on the platform in Harlem, where we waited for the arrival of the proper train. It is sometimes disconcerting to discover that I am not where I think I am. Les Puryear has written a post entitled "Is This Where the SBC Is Going? In his post, Les takes umbrage at my assertion that it is a sin to sprinkle infants for Christian baptism. According to Les, if denouncing pedobaptism as a sin is where the SBC is going, then he's out. Here's my question: Does denouncing pedobaptism as a sin constitute the SBC "going" anywhere? In other words, would we be moving from where we currently are to reach the conclusion that pedobaptism is a sin? Is that not where we are already? Is that not where Baptists have been for four centuries? If that isn't where we are, then could someone tell me where we are? And where are the Baptists? If I get off here, will they be coming by soon?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Political Speculation, not Prophecy

…so I don't want to hear any business about putting me to death if this doesn't come true. One of the reasons that I named my blog "Praisegod Barebones" was my desire to comment periodically upon the state of secular politics. This is as muddled an election as I can recall. Nevertheless, I'm going to make the following predictions:

  1. Republicans are going to lose the White House. I don't like it. I won't be voting that way. But that's my prediction.
  2. The only way Republicans have a chance not to lose the White House is if Hillary Clinton is the Democrat nominee. But I'm doubtful that she'll secure the nomination. She has too much baggage, and most of it hasn't been unpacked and put onto display yet. Things will get D-I-R-T-Y before the primaries get into full swing.
  3. Mike Huckabee will perform better than expected, but will not be the Republican nominee. His strong showing will put him into a favorable position to run next time with a larger war chest. He may have the chops.
  4. Obama could very possibly be the next POTUS. I've heard people say that our country "isn't ready for a black president." People overestimate the impact of race upon politics among whites and underestimate the impact of stereotypes upon politics among all demographics. Politics is indeed all about stereotypes. People don't want to think; they would rather categorize. The mistake that people make with regard to Obama is to think that there is only one stereotype into which a black man can fit. Not true. Too many people personally like Bill Cosby (or Heathcliff Huckstable…take your pick). If Obama can steer himself into a Cosbyesque stereotype, then I think that he can win.
  5. If the Democrat nominee is elected, he or she will not withdraw from Iraq nearly as quickly as he or she will have to promise during the election.
  6. The Democrat elected this time will be a one-term president.
I stand behind absolutely none of this, nor do I offer it particularly forcefully. Just something to talk about.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Best Post Ever!

It has been a sort of running joke around here for Jeremy Green to show up and label one of my missives "your best post ever." Well, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to tell you, in as authoritative a tone as I can muster, what is truly my best post ever. It is this post about our recent celebration of Gotcha Day. What makes this my best post ever? A dear, wonderful, incredible, now-on-our-Christmas-card-list-forever, Oklahoma lady who reads this blog called us Monday morning. She read my Gotcha Day post and decided to contact us about an expectant mother she knows who is looking for a family to adopt her baby girl. The baby should be here in January, and if all goes well, she'll be moving shortly thereafter to the parsonage in Farmersville, Texas. I don't know about the rest of you bloggers, but this is the first post I've ever written that has prompted even the potential of something so precious. I hereby bestow upon that post the designation: "My best post ever." By the way, I cordially invite you to view our family web site for the stories of how God brought our other two children into our family.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Gotcha Day 2007

In addition to their birthdays, we also celebrate a "Gotcha Day" for both Jim and Sarah. "Gotcha Day" is the day that their respective adoptions became final. Jim's Gotcha Day is September 11 (a date we were glad to swap for a more positive meaning), and Sarah's is September 29. Falling as close together as they do on the calendar, we combine them into one big celebration sometime in September (although we still have mini-observances on the actual day for each child). This year we went to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, TX, for our Gotcha Day treat. On the way back, we stopped at Bass Pro Shop, one of Jim's favorite destinations, where he spent about $2.00 racking up the lowest scores in history shooting the light-emitting rifles at nothing in particular. He had a great time—we all did. God puts together families by whatever means He chooses. We're so thankful for ours.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Ecumenists of the Mouth; Sectarians of the Heart

My last post has generated quite a bit of conversation, most of which can be summarized into a few categories:

  • Those who would dodge my point by pretending that I am calling for separation over any and every unrepentant sin.
  • Those who would dodge my point by pretending that I believe Southern Baptists to be without unrepentant sin.
  • Those who would dodge my point by trotting out the tired old steed of Landmarkism.
  • Those who would dodge my point by priding themselves in their broad, irenic, tolerant way of speaking.
  • Those few, to whom I am genuinely thankful, who actually engaged my point. We did not come to universal agreement, but we had a great conversation.
But so muddled have the waters grown, that I choose to reiterate the main point in a closing post. Those who would pat themselves on the back for talking about the unity of the Body of Christ, all the while maintaining sectarian churches that will not recognize the rites of other churches as valid baptism, will not call ministers of other denominations as pastors of their congregations, would not receive as members those who have not been immersed as believers, etc., ...such folks are a strange hybrid. They are ecumenists of the mouth, wanting to talk the Christian unity talk, but in their actual church practice, they are as sectarian as I am, or at least nearly so. It is my desire that my walk and my talk would coincide with one another. If I am dividing or restricting the Body of Christ over something, my actions are calling it a matter of unrepentant sin, whether I wish to be honest with my mouth or not. Oh, and appending to my own post, I submit as Exhibit A for the preferable opposite, my brother in Christ, Dr. Mark Dever. He, while being perfectly up-front and honest about exactly where he differs with our pedobaptist brethren, acknowledging that he regards it as unrepentant sin, is one of the great champions of appropriate cooperation with those brethren. His mouth and his heart line up perfectly and reveal a commitment to doctrinal honesty coupled with a genuine love for the brethren. I aspire to the same.