Thursday, March 29, 2007

Andrew Fuller on Baptist Antiquity

The great preponderance of Baptists living between 1609 and 1950 believed that Baptist history began in the first century and was uninterrupted from then to now. The mechanism of that succession was a matter of debate—whether it was something akin to J. R. Graves's theory of church succession or a looser theory of the succession of Baptist thought. But the prevalent modern idea that Baptists sprang from the Reformation either as a brand-new concept in Christian history or as a resumption after a 1500-year hiatus...a miniscule number in the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s believed such a thing. What I find interesting is the way that Baptist status as a small sect fostered their approach to history. In the following quote you'll read how Andrew Fuller easily imagined Baptists enduring the Middle Ages without leaving behind any historical record. Perhaps our denominational size enables our present view of history?

Yours I received & therewith Mosheim’s 2nd vol. For wh. I thank you. I have found strange feelings in reading the 1st. I have been used to read in the Old Testament numerous Promises & Prophecies of the Glory of the New Testament state. When I took Mosheim in hand I expected to find the history answer the Prophesy—But alas, I found after the first century little else but cartloads of vain traditions, Persecuting Heretics to death, Broils & Contests about Ch. Preferments, in short comprising every evil work! I sat down quite dismayed till one thought relieved me. It was this. Suppose an historian was to write a History of the state of the Church here in England in the 18th Cent. What would he write? Why, if he was popular and in high place (without wh. his history would not reach many centuries forward) he would tell us who filled the Archbishoprics of York & Canterbury, & who the Bishoprics of . . . . . . . The various veerings about for Ch. Power, the sects of the age &c &c. However we could say Blessed be God pure & undefiled, Religion has been upheld tho’ by an obscure people independent of these Church crawlers. So thought I, doubtless Pure Religion in every period has been carried tho’ perhaps by a people so obscure as seemed unworthy the notice of Ancient Historians, from whom we know the Moderns must derive all their materials. -To John Sutcliffe, Olney, England, from Andrew Fuller, Soham, England, 28 January 1781.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

Fort Worth
According to an article in the Dallas Morning News (here), Pastor Dwight McKissic and the other trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have reached a working agreement that will forestall McKissic's removal in June. I believe that Dwight McKissic is a godly man. I am delighted to see what appears to be reconciliation. Apparently the détente reached is one that respects the trustee process and the need to move forward past controversial decisions. Peace-loving Southern Baptists can rejoice. Southern Baptist Texan Editor Gary Ledbetter (see here) apparently has received his miracle. Although I do not doubt that many have worked toward reconciliation, I particularly want to highlight what I believe to be the peace-loving, gentle spirit of Pastor McKissic and place credit for this reconciliation there. I criticized what I believed to be intemperate remarks by Pastor McKissic, but these remarks made in moments of tremendous stress do not reflect the nature of the man. I doubt that he has compromised any of his firmly held beliefs, but he has demonstrated a cooperative willingness to move forward. Kudos to him.
Richmond
Dare we hope to see something similar develop in the board of trustees that govern the agency headquartered here? Perhaps Pastor McKissic can give counsel that would help in that other venue.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

John Gill and Duty-Faith: Clarifying a Prominent Quote

Baptist historians have been hard at work over the past several years trying to ferret out the precise relationship between John Gill and hyper-Calvinism in eighteenth-century Baptist life. This article addresses that question. Thus, it is incumbent upon me to offer the following disclaimers:

  1. This is not an attack upon Calvinism; it is a discussion about hyper-Calvinism.
  2. In the spirit of full disclosure, I disclose that am not a Calvinist (do not adhere to the five points of Dort), although neither am I an Arminian.
  3. I think that the number of actual hyper-Calvinists breathing today is pretty miniscule. I hope that the number of hyper-Sensitive is also small.
The Big Question
Is John Gill the Father of Baptist hyper-Calvinism, or is he merely the Precursor of Baptist hyper-Calvinism? In other words, was John Gill himself a hyper-Calvinist in the same sense that his followers were? I will be the first to admit that I am years away from having plumbed the full depths of John Gill's writings and thought. So far, I believe that Gill was a hyper-Calvinist in his theology, but that his pastoral practice did not reflect the the most lethal effects of hyper-Calvinist thought (i.e. a lack of evangelistic passion and effort). He was, from all I can tell, a good pastor with an evangelistic zeal. The theological question involves such catchprases as eternal justification, duty-faith, the well-meant offer, the modern question, etc. I think that hyper-Calvinism boils down to the question of duty-faith: Is it the duty of all people to believe savingly upon Christ? I believe that it is the duty of all to do so. Those who believe upon Christ are saved. Those who do not believe upon Christ are condemned for that very failure to believe.
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
Those who reject duty-faith are theologically hyper-Calvinists. I believe that John Gill rejected duty-faith; therefore, I believe that he was a hyper-Calvinist.
The Big Quote
Those who do not believe that John Gill was a hyper-Calvinist have frequently offered as proof the following quote:
Souls sensible to sin and danger, and who are crying out, What shall we do to be saved? you are to observe, and point out Christ the tree to live to them; and say, as some of the cherubs did to one in such circumstances, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, Acts 16:31. Your work is to lead men, under a sense of sin and guilt, to the blood of Christ, shed for many for the remission of sin, and this name you are to preach the forgiveness to them.
Many who employ this quote misunderstand Gill, taking this as an espousal of duty faith ("Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved") and an endorsement of general appeals on behalf of the gospel ("Your work is to lead men...to the blood of Christ")
The Big Clarification
Most biographical treatments of Gill mention Robert Hall's comment. A Dutch pastor and admirer of Gill apparently approached Hall and mentioned how much he wished that Gill's writings had been written in Dutch. "So do I," replied Hall according to the story, "for then I should not have read them. They are a continent of mud." The problem is that Gill's commentaries and theologies are written neither in English nor in Dutch. They are written in Gill. Gill is a quaint dialect of Theologian. Theologian is not a dead language, but some of its more nefarious dialects can be lethal. In other words, the discipline of theology includes some "inside language." Likewise, each particular theologian develops his own key phrases that may reflect a specific aspect of his thought and acquire an idiosyncratic meaning for him. Thus, one might clarify, "Beauty for von Balthazar means...," or "By apokatastasis panton Origen usually signifies..." Likewise, Gill has a special use for the idea of "sensible sinners." People become sensible of sin, spiritual danger, Hell, etc., through the action of special grace imparted by the Holy Spirit solely to the elect. Look again at the Gill quote:
Souls sensible to sin and danger, and who are crying out, What shall we do to be saved? you are to observe, and point out Christ the tree to live to them; and say, as some of the cherubs did to one in such circumstances, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, Acts 16:31. Your work is to lead men, under a sense of sin and guilt, to the blood of Christ, shed for many for the remission of sin, and this name you are to preach the forgiveness to them.
Gill inserts the idea of sensibility toward sin and guilt and spiritual danger as restrictive adjectival and prepositional phrases telling which souls and which men in particular merit this kind of treatment. In this quote Gill does not endorse duty-faith; he only asserts that it is the duty of the elect to have faith. He does not endorse universal appeals; he only asserts the obligation to appeal to the elect. Gill's position on duty-faith appears clearly in Body of Practical Divinity, 1:535. He did not believe that saving faith was a duty.

Ben Cole National Anthem

You'll need to look at Bro. Ben's latest (and know something about what he's been up to this year) to get the joke.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Season of Opportunity for Conservative Democrats?

From what little I know about politics, now seems to me an ideal time for moral conservatives remaining within the Democrat Party to press their social conservative agenda.

  1. The recent Democrat legislative victories included the election of putative pro-life Democrats. Social conservatives can argue with a straight face that they have given their party the keys to the kingdom.
  2. The Republican Party could possibly be on the self-destructive path toward nominating a pro-abortion candidate. Even though Democrats have no hope of putting forward a legitimate pro-life nominee, if conservatives could nudge the Democrat Party rightward on social issues, they might conceivably woo back into the fold a sizable number of Southern ex-Democrats who have grown frustrated with the GOP.
  3. The black and hispanic demographics are palpably pro-life and anti-gay-activism. Without them, Democrats cannot win—even this election cycle. Blacks and hispanics have an opportunity in this election cycle to flex their political muscle and demand concessions from the white, liberal, academic coalition that has dominated Democrat platform determinations since the 1970s. NARAL simply lacks the public support to put anyone into the White House.
What concessions might social conservatives demand from the Democrat Party? A pro-life plank in the party platform is probably an overreach, especially since none of the presidential candidates would support such a move. But they might be able to secure a neutral plank on the platform, similar to that endorsed by Democrats for Life of America. And I think there is a realistic hope that the Democrat platform might be altered to affirm marriage as consisting exclusively of the union of a man and a woman. After all, Howard Dean already misstated the platform in just such language to a group of evangelicals (see here), and even John Kerry has questioned the wisdom of supporting gay marriage in Democrat platforms (see here). I'm a Republican, and I don't see that changing any time soon. But social conservative issues are too important for social conservatives to put all of their eggs into the GOP basket. The nation only benefits if godly people are willing to push for the advancement of social conservative issues in every political party. The question is: Do enough social conservative leaders remain within the Democrat Party to make this kind of change, or did the party succeed in purging nearly all of them in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s to prevent any future renaissance of socially conservative Democrats?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Employment Ethics Redux

The only post that did not survive my blogotastrophy earlier this month was the most recent post (apparently Google had not had enough time to cache that one). So, I ask you all, can you build for me a biblical ethic of employment? Obviously, the topic is relevant to the current Baptist blog discussion. But beyond that, it is a topic that is relevant to virtually every member of your church. It is highly likely to be relevant to yourself. What does the Bible say? Here are some biblical topics that I think could be relevant:

  1. Stewardship
  2. An obligation to pay promised wages (James 5:1-6, esp. 4)
  3. Obligations of masters toward slaves and slaves toward masters (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1-2)
  4. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard? (Matthew 20:1-16)
  5. Work-related passages in the Proverbs and elsewhere (like 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15)
Using this list, plus whatever other material you could contribute, can you devise a biblical ethic of employment? It would need to be one that could cover both the situation of the rich employing the poor and the poor employing the rich (e.g., Ted Kennedy working for the rest of us in the United States Senate). I'll offer a few observations that hint toward my position:
  1. Although I see no proscription in the Bible against the idea of collective bargaining, certainly there is no prescription for it, either. The moral standard offered in Jesus' parable in Matthew 20 (and I think that the morality of the employer is precisely the point of the parable) is that the employer lived up to the terms of his individual negotiations with each laborer. There is nothing inherently unfair about letting each employee negotiate for himself, even if the comparative result appears inequitable.
  2. The most prominent employment-related rule in the scripture requires that employers pay agreed-upon wages for work performed.
  3. Rights to vacation time, sick days, 401-K retirement matching, universal health care, seniority, tenure, early retirement, overtime pay, etc., are not biblical concepts. They are fine to the degree that they are the fruit of negotiation between employer and employee, but an employer's above-board refusal to provide such things is in no way immoral.
  4. An employer's first obligation is as a steward of the institution. It is better to fire one employee for the betterment of the institution than by laxity in firing to run the institution into the ground and endanger the jobs of all the institution's employees.
  5. It follows from the preceding principle that some sense of non-discriminatory hiring is incumbent upon employers. The employer who foregoes the hiring of a superior employee simply because of race, religion, etc., places the institution at a comparative disadvantage to the institution that does hire the superior employee. This is poor stewardship of the institution. Of course, this assumes that the attribute by which one discriminates does not affect aptitude for the job. An audio post-production facility might very well want to hire a blind person; American Airlines's pilot recruiters probably should not. Religious conviction ought to be a factor in most of our denominational hires. The Bible makes gender a relevant factor in at least some ministry-related considerations. But for a church to discriminate against a potential pastor because he is, for example, older than 50 is a foolish decision.
  6. To summarize for those of us in the employee pool: Nobody has a Christian obligation to provide a job for you. Nobody has a Christian obligation to allow you to continue in your present job. Nobody has a Christian obligation to make certain that your remuneration in your job is at equity with that of other people with the same or similar jobs. To the degree that you can demonstrate that you add superior overall value to an institution, the employer has the obligation to the owners of the institution to hire you if he can.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mission Trip

A year and a half after Hurricane Rita roared through, the people of Port Arthur, TX, are still recovering. I'll be trying to help in my pitiful little way this week. It turns out that blogging and Baptist History instruction are not high upon their list of needs, so I'll probably be working with hammer and crowbar. Me with tools...guess how that usually turns out!

A Lesson from History

I've mentioned this historical analogy twice in comment streams, but since (a) one of those comment streams I have now inadvertently vaporized, and (b) the other is over 100 comments long and not easy to sort through, I decided to give this thought an entry of its own. Guess how the Jews came to be dominated by the Romans? You'll find the story in this Wikipedia article, and it is all about one of God's people coming to the conclusion that he had been "wronged" and then appealing to an unbeliever for resolution of the conflict. The aftermath benefitted nobody.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Questions About Lawsuits

  1. Can we say, "As long as SWBTS hasn't done anything wrong, there's nothing to fear from a lawsuit"? Sure, if you are of the conviction that juries and judges always decide lawsuits correctly. Of course, the only way to hold that view is not to have read a newspaper for the past thirty years.
  2. Are 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 and Romans 13:1-7 in tension with one another? Not at all. 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 is precisely, spot-on, exactly about the question of one Christian suing another Christian in a secular court. Romans 13:1-7, on the other hand, is about believers being in submission to legitimate governmental authority. Romans 13 says nothing about and has nothing to do with the question of a believer instigating a lawsuit against another believer. Here's what Romans 13 means with regard to lawsuits: If someone wins a lawsuit against you, the Bible mandates that you should submit to the verdict as unto the authority of God.
  3. Is it an odd inconsistency that conservative bloggers have cried foul about the Klouda lawsuit without having criticized the Missouri lawsuits? I can't speak for everyone, but it is not at all strange in my case. I wasn't blogging when the Missouri lawsuits were filed. I don't live in Missouri and have not blogged extensively about Missouri events. I find it not strange at all that I have not mentioned these past events from a foreign land :-) in this blog. Once asked (in the last post), I immediately offered my opinion, and I think it falls right in line with what I've said about the Klouda lawsuit.
  4. Are there any circumstances in which a Christian can file a lawsuit? The passage in question addresses the specific issue of Christians suing Christians in secular courts. If one were attempting to redress a grievance with someone who was not a Christian, I could not argue that this passage would prohibit a lawsuit. But I would think very carefully about it nonetheless.
  5. But what about when someone acts dishonestly and it looks like they are going to get away with it. A man who pretended to be a friend of my family came and spent long hours visiting with my father. Dad took him throughout the factory, talked about proprietary practices—my Dad was a storyteller and loved to visit. A month later, this "friend" had opened a competing factory in the next town down the road and had launched a campaign to steal our customers. Not long afterwards, we hired a Purchasing Manager. She was a Christian—a Baptist—and very vocal about her faith. She signed an employment agreement promising that she would not leave our firm to go to work for any competing firm. After a couple of years, she left our company and went to work for the competing company that this purported "friend" had started. Her rationale, "[The employment agreement that she had signed] isn't worth the paper it is printed on." My thoughts: It was worth no more than her word was worth. Did we sue her? No. Even lost people refrain from suing someone for a debt of $200. Why? Because the costs of the lawsuit would be more than anyone could hope to gain. I submit to you that, for a Christian, the costs of a lawsuit must be calculated using more than a financial ledger. There is the cost to our witness. There is the cost that any of us bear when we directly contradict God's word and disobey it. Even assuming that the other person is 100% in the wrong...Vengeance is God's, not Judge Wapner's.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The New MD Translation

Today came the announcement that the Memphis Declaration folks are producing a new translation of the Bible. To provide the highest quality translation possible, the group has outsourced much of the translation work to experts. Meet the translation committee for 1 Corinthians 6:1-7.

Not Quite Gone Forever

Very big kudos to Colin, he's the guy who made this possible. I was able to get all of my old posts back from Google's page caches. Whew! I haven't actually posted them all, yet. I will eventually. I posted a few, but I need to get some sleep now.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Oops!

I had set up a blog, "Farmers for Christ", to try to do local blogging in the Farmersville area. It never took off. Tonight I deleted it...well, I meant to delete it. Instead, I deleted Praisegod Barebones. It is all lost. I apologize. I really do. The word of God endures forever, but not the word of Bart. And that's the way it ought to be. But I'm still brokenhearted over all of that work gone forever.

Way Over the Top

Allow me a brief narrative. I promise it is going somewhere. My father had a dear friend who was a native of Mississippi. This man's father had served for many years as a county sheriff in Mississippi. Dad went home with his friend to go hunting with the former sheriff. After a long, successful day of hunting, the threesome started their trek out of the woods. They reached the truck and were placing their game and weapons into the vehicle when the host looked at my Dad and said, as casually as if he were pointing out a favorite childhood playground, "Jimmy, that tree over there is where I hanged my first N-----." Shocked and scandalized, my Dad did not know how to reply, so he didn't. And the three got into the truck and drove home. Lynchings were a very real phenomenon. People died. From his use of the word "first," I infer that this particular man perpetrated several. Teeming scores of black people were trapped in a vigilante society with no realistic hope of escape. Whatever your opinion of speaking in tongues, whatever your opinion of Paige Patterson, whatever your opinion of SWBTS, whatever your opinion of Dwight McKissic, whatever your opinion of me—surely we can all agree that the events transpiring within the trustee board of SWBTS are in absolutely no way whatsoever akin to the actions of that Mississippi Sheriff of yesteryear. To suggest any equivalence between them is, in my opinion, utterly reprehensible. Earlier this week I spoke with a denominational journalist and proffered my opinion that the SWBTS board of trustees was overreacting against Dwight McKissic. After all, at two venues with SBTC since his chapel address (the annual meeting and the evangelism conference), Bro. McKissic made not the slightest effort to use these occasions to fan the flames of controversy. I (yes, even I, known partisan that I am) felt compassion for Dwight McKissic and was saddened to see the possibility that he might be removed from service as a trustee. In a single sentence from him, that compassion evaporated. His comment that the trustees are essentially lynching an independent-thinking black man is plainly sinful. It is a racist statement (would he have said the same about a group of black men with whom he disagreed?). Bro. McKissic, please retract this prejudicial and racist statement. We all say things in the heat of controversy that we come to regret later. Cling tenaciously to your other opinions if you wish, but retract this statement. I will be more than happy to forget that you ever said it, if only you will take it back.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

An Ode to "Honorable Men"

As the calendar advances and we all approach the Ides of March, I thought it might be worthwhile to offer an ode to the erstwhile colleagues of Dr. Paige Patterson in iambic pentameter.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones; So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus Hath told you Caesar was ambitious: If it were so, it was a grievous fault, And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it. Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest-- For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, all honourable men-- Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral. He was my friend, faithful and just to me: But Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honourable man. He hath brought many captives home to Rome Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill: Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: Ambition should be made of sterner stuff: Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; And Brutus is an honourable man. You all did see that on the Lupercal I thrice presented him a kingly crown, Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition? Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; And, sure, he is an honourable man. I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke, But here I am to speak what I do know. You all did love him once, not without cause: What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him? O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their reason. Bear with me; My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, And I must pause till it come back to me.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot...some guy named William Shakespeare wrote those words, not me. They're from Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2. Let nobody accuse me of plagiarism.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Recurring Historical Threat to the SBC

David O. Moore's 1949 SBTS Th.D. thesis, "The Landmark Baptists and Their Attack upon the Southern Baptist Convention Historically Analyzed," deduced a similarity between the 1859 peril to which James Robinson Graves subjected the fledgling Southern Baptist Convention, the 1897 imbroglio of Samuel Augustus Hayden, and the 1901 schism inflicted upon the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (and eventually the Southern Baptist Convention) by Benjamin M. Bogard. What, according to Moore, did all of these turbulent occasions in SBC have in common? Criticisms of excessive "cost and control" among elected and employed leadership in Southern Baptist Convention agencies. Moore was not so honest and introspective as to admit that the 1845 missions schism that birthed the Southern Baptist Convention featured a good helping of the same criticisms. The SBC with some difficulty parried the thrusts that the nineteenth-century anti-missions movement made among the same rhetorical lines. Would-be Southern Baptist demagogues have ever resorted to this same tactic: Allege that the leaders of the SBC spend too much money and wield tyrannical power. Indeed, I can only think of two serious controversies in all of Southern Baptist history that do not amount to muckrakers reviving these same tired arguments. The Carnes scandal involved the criminal malfeasance of two key executives at SBC mission boards, and the Conservative Resurgence involved profound theological differences. Otherwise, virtually every crisis moment in our convention can be laid at the feet of populist demagogues. Fortunately, although these controversies have exacted a toll each time, the people of the Southern Baptist Convention have time and again had the good sense to see through the dirty politics and rally behind the convention and its proven leaders. Let us pray that the past will be a good predictor of our future.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Pecan Manor Pickiness

Re: Ben Cole's articles here and here.

So, the point is that somebody else (Dr. Patterson) convinced somebody else (Carliss Phillips) to donate a huge chunk of cash to renovate and expand a house that belongs to neither of them, but to me (and Ben Cole, and everyone else in the SBC). And this deal where the house we own together gets improved and expanded without us having to spend a nickel is a bad deal for us all exactly why?

When I went to the graduation reception at Pecan Manor, I recall the house seeming quite full, and that was with only the doctoral graduates there. I'm sure that the MDiv reception time was even crowded. I certainly didn't walk out thinking, "Man, I wish they would take away some of this square footage."

I live in a parsonage (1977 square feet, Ben. I'll save you the trip to the Collin County Tax Assessor's web site). Honestly, before Bro. Cole made this an issue, my feelings about Pecan Manor have amounted to conviction by comparison that I don't use the church's house nearly enough to show hospitality to the church. We (Tracy and I) need to do that more often.

With regard to the lists of houses over at Baptist Blogger, how many of those are private residences owned by the people listed? In each of those cases, the figures given represent the personal wealth of the owner. Good for them. Pecan Manor is in a different category. The figure given there represents a portion of the assets of SWBTS, which the Pattersons will leave to the next presidential family when they leave office. Good for us.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Role of the BF&M

Thank you, everyone, for your prayers and support. Consider this little post the firstfruits of a larger harvest later.

There's a line-of-argumentation suggesting that the BF&M should be the be-all-end-all of theological qualifications in the Southern Baptist Convention and her agencies.

Might I suggest that humanity is not capable of drafting a single document to represent our theological expectations of everyone from a copy editor for the Scroll (the internal press organ of SWBTS) to the president of NAMB. The president of NAMB ought to be pretty theologically astute, IMHO. To draft a document detailing every theological stricture for such a person would be quite an undertaking. And then, if SWBTS had to apply the same standard to the blueshirt putting out zinnias in front of Barnard Hall—I ask you, does that make sense?

That's why each board of trustees has the governing authority over their respective entities. The BF&M did not become the governing document of any of these entities until each board adopted it. The trustees decide how to apply it. The trustees can set other theological guidelines. If the SBC doesn't like it, the SBC can choose to replace those trustees with other trustees who hold a different view.