Friday, October 31, 2008

Praisegod Promotions: Contest # 1

The winner of this contest will receive his choice of (a) The right to post an article on this blog of his or her own composition and choice, edited only to exclude obscene words or thoughts, or (b) The right to require the host of this blog to author and publish a post on any question of his or her own choosing.

Here's the contest: Name the precise date and time that the loser will concede the national presidential election, and who will be conceding. Of those who identify the correct loser, the closest time prediction will win. All dates will be Eastern Standard Time (unless you explicitly state otherwise).

Submit your entries into the comment stream. Fair Warning: Grosey tends to win my contests at the last minute.

Russell Moore on "Judgement House" Evangelism

Click here for an excellent column by Russell Moore. Here in the DFW area a group of liberal United Methodists have started to picket one of the local manifestations of the "Judgement House" (see the story that I watched here). Their on-camera objection was that the concept of divine judgment is incompatible with the concept of divine love (typical shallow inane liberalism).

Moore's article is something entirely different. He shows from a God-honoring, biblically-faithful perspective why these productions are such a misdirection from weightier things. Read and enjoy.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Program Your DVRs Now

Mike Huckabee's talk show will feature as a guest (among others) Bill Maher!


Your predictions please:

  1. It will be a loser-leave-town cage match: All heat and no light.
  2. Huckabee will wuss out and dodge any conflict with Maher over religion because Huckabee's truly a liberal softy at heart.
  3. Maher will wuss out and pretend that he's really not trying to insult people like Huckabee…just the "religious wackos."
  4. Maher will trounce Huckabee, who's really more politician than preacher and doesn't know enough religion and philosophy to hold his own against Maher.
  5. Huckabee will mop the floor with Maher, who is, after all, nothing more than the modern equivalent of a court jester.
  6. When Huckabee and Maher shake hands—actually touch—then…well…Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. :-)

Coming your way Saturday at 7:00 PM CDT on Fox News Channel.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Current Void in Background Checking Technology

I'm so thankful that we live in an age in which churches are able to investigate the background of candidates for pastoral office so thoroughly. Churches can and regularly do perform criminal background investigations, credit investigations, driving investigations, and the thorough questioning of provided references. Here at First Baptist Church of Farmersville, when they called me nearly ten years ago, they asked my references to provide the names of people who knew me, and then asked those people to provide the names of people familiar with my ministry, going three levels deep to investigate my background.

What a great idea, since all pastors are not alike, and since there are some predators and bad apples out there who can do major damage to a church!

Some have suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention set up a database of sexual offenders in the pulpit, reacting, I'm sure, to the fact that the vast and rapid improvement in resources to investigate pastors still has not eradicated the problem of clergy abuse. What remains to be demonstrated is not that a problem still exists, but that any of the proposed solutions would actually accomplish more good than harm.

So, not all pastors are alike. But neither are all churches alike. I'm keenly aware of that fact, being blessed as I am. First Baptist Church of Farmersville, having been founded here in 1865, has never terminated a pastor and has never split. The congregation has faced good times and hard times, seasons of growth and seasons of challenge. We have weathered all of the storms of over 140 years and have done so, so far, without acting abusively toward those whom she has called to serve. Not every pastor, I have come to realize, enjoys the blessing of serving at a church like this one.

But the government does not maintain a database of abusive churches. No national bureaus report whether churches pay what they have promised to pay or deal fairly in their conduct of business or follow the rules of their own governing documents. Where do you turn when a Pastor Search Committee lies to you? Are you certain that the local Director of Missions will tell you the truth? Will he risk alienating a contributing church to give the honest truth to a rank stranger? Some will and do, and we all thank God for them. But sometimes pastors walk into abusive situations with no fair opportunity to learn all of the facts.

Here's hoping that the onward march of technology will result in some system that holds rogue congregations accountable for their actions. I would much rather that it be an informal system than a formal system. The staggering decline in the number of people interested in pastoring existing congregations is, to some degree, influenced by the abuses of these bad-apple congregations. There are fewer of them than we suspect, I am convinced, but the difficulty in identifying them poses a frightening prospect for pastors. The stories of pastors and their families brutalized by congregations may not outnumber the stories of good things done for pastors, but they certainly stick in the memory and move the heart. A great many pastors have had their zeal for ministry and their love of the church beaten out of them by cowardly bullies masquerading as Christians.

Ideally, churches and pastors should find one another in a free and open exchange of critical information. But it needs to be a two-way street. And it needs to be centered around the conviction that God brings pastors and churches together, and that He rewards the actions of anyone who deals honestly and justly in submission to His will and with respect for His children.

Friday, October 24, 2008

No, That's Not a Roar in the Background Audio

File this one under "Blind hogs and acorns."

My artistic skills are…well…questionable. That's why I'm so tickled that today's pumpkin carving turned out so well. Last year I carved my first-ever pumpkin. I haven't touched the tools since that day. What I wanted to do this year was create an Aslan pumpkin. But I couldn't find a suitable pattern anywhere online. I decided to do my own.

The project turned out to be much more involved than anything that I attempted last year. For one thing, I wouldn't have a simple pattern to follow. Indeed, I had to make my own pattern. I downloaded a JPG photo of Aslan from the recent movie. Using Photoshop, I added adjustment layers for Hue/Saturation and Brightness/Contrast to create a highly contrasted Grayscale image of Aslan's face. I then upscaled the image to fit my Letter sized page and printed it out.

Now, for the next complication. It became clear to me that a simple cutting out of holes (like I did last year) just wouldn't do. I was going to have to accomplish shading and highlights—partial shading of the gourd. And there's really no way to tell what it is going to look like (for a novice like me) until darkness falls and you light the thing up, although deeper cuts ought to mean brighter light, right?

So, I transferred some rough reference points (eyes, nose, mouth, outline of the mane, etc.) and worked the thing over with scraper and knives, and the movie below depicts the results. Honest…this is the first and only attempt that I made. I'm pretty tickled with it. If you aren't impressed, it's just because you don't realize how poor my artistic skills really are.

Enjoy. BTW, You'll need QuickTime to view it.

Thomas White in His Own Words

I've only got a couple of seconds to cobble together a quick post here. Not to post for myself, but to direct you all to Dr. Thomas White's own words on the matter of birth control and Christian ethics.

I'm curious as to everyone's thoughts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Do Americans Regard Children as a Blessing?

Frankly, no. Thomas White is right on the money. Our culture regards money as a blessing—the more you have, the more blessed you are. Our culture regards sex as a blessing—the more you have, the more blessed you are. Not so with children. And those who criticize Thomas are, to put it bluntly, people defending the American worldview against the biblical worldview.

I could write more. Oh…I could write much more. But rather than explain, I'll merely illustrate. Is the following the product of a culture that regards children as a blessing? Would it even be funny if it were not lampooning an anti-parenting bias in our culture?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Hand That Swings the Paddle Rules the World

An article in today's New York Times will, perhaps, bring you equal parts of insight and fear. The title "When Is Spanking Child Abuse?" seems reasonable enough at first glance. There certainly is such a thing as child abuse. Whoever practices physical abuse of children is someone who spanks. What such a person would term "spanking" quite obviously could be child abuse. A reasonable discussion along the lines of "When Is Spanking Child Abuse?" could be profitable to everyone who should participate.

This, my friends, is not that discussion. For Lisa Belkin's unmistakeable underlying presumption in writing the article is that most of her readers will meet the question "When Is Spanking Child Abuse?" with the answer "Always!" (although the comment stream didn't bear that out).

Here's the insight that we all might gain from her article: How far discourse on this topic has moved in such a brief time:

  1. A century ago, corporal punishment was a presumptive part of parenting.
  2. During the twentieth century, American culture became surprisingly aware of a subculture of non-spanking people.
  3. Through the influence of people like Benjamin Spock (not a Vulcan, BTW!), serious debate took place over the propriety of spanking children.
  4. Spanking came to official and vehement disfavor among leadership in the medical, psychiatric, and social work fields.
  5. Now, as this article makes clear, in places like New York, this article takes a tone of surprising awareness that people somewhere still spank.

Consider these quotations:

Spanking…has never really gone away in many parts… [This quotation presumes a readership that would have assumed spanking to have been a thing of the past!]


Corporal punishment in school is still legal in 21 states. [Yikes! Surely you jest!]


Despite the rise of the timeout and other nonphysical forms of punishment, most American parents hit, pinch, shake, or otherwise lay violent hands [Gasp!] on their youngsters: 63 percent of parents physically discipline their 1-to 2-year-olds, and 85 percent of adolescents have been physically punished by their parents.


While the United Nations has set a target date of 2009 to end corporal punishment by parents, and while 23 countries have already banned hitting kids, the United States is not one of them.


Isn’t all hitting child abuse?

The article features some creative use of statistics. The last time I checked, one third amounts to a whole lot less than half, but Belkin analyzes a statistic that "over a third" of spankers escalate to child abuse. Now, that's a horrible statistic, if it is true. But it does not amount to the claim that spanking "usually escalates" to child abuse. Usually? Hmmm.

It's alarming enough that a regular columnist for a paper as influential as the Old Gray Lady holds these views. More disturbing is the fact that an action by a father that left no one injured and no one aggrieved has resulted in a godly father standing before the bar of judgment. It could be me just as easily as it could be him. That scares me a bit.

It also scares me a bit to think that discipline of children is so absent New York City that a parenting columnist for the Times would find the concept so Neanderthal. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, and if things keep going as they are foolishness will increasingly be the hallmark of our society. And then, sooner than we expect, the United States of America will fall to some better, stronger race of people who love their children enough not to let them turn into the worst version of themselves.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Huck 2012

For the record, I blame what's going to happen on Election Day on everyone who supported McCain in the primaries (yes, my dear West Point grad nephew, that includes you! :-o ). Rather than waiting until November 5 and penning some melancholy screed—indeed, rather than writing much of anything myself at all—allow me to point you to some articles that I believe will prove to be prescient.

Andrew Romano has authored an article for Newsweek speculating that Republicans could be in much better shape right now if Huckabee had been the nominee. Romano's best point is that nobody in the GOP foresaw the "perfect storm" coming this Fall. I've always been suspicious of the whole process of dumping the candidate of my convictions in favor of a candidate that I adjudge "more electable." My convictions, I know; what it will take to be elected six months into the future, quite obviously, nobody knows.

Marc Ambinder has written an article for The Atlantic positing Huckabee as an early frontrunner for 2012. Who knows? But I do have some hope that the GOP will do what it cyclically does: Lick its wounds from having fatally supported a pseudo-conservative and choose someone convictional.

Whoever runs for the GOP in 2012 will have much better odds of winning because Matthew Continetti is right on the money when he writes for The Weekly Standard Here They Come: Democrats Gone Wild. We are about to experience (and hopefully survive) the least restrained self-indulgence of liberalism that our nation has ever witnessed. George McGovern will spend four years looking wistfully at the Obama White House. Americans will feel differently before it is all over, leading to Pat Buchanan's predicted "Coming Backlash."

I know…I know…the election hasn't taken place yet and McCain technically might win. But you people ought to listen to me about these things: Having followed Baylor football since 1988, I know a losing team when I see one.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Creative Way to Attack Internet Porn?

First, why would we bother? After all, some might argue, the publication of lewd material goes back to the dawn of time. Why fight what seems to be unstoppable?

Well, just because pornography has been around for a very long time, that doesn't mean that its perverseness and pervasiveness have not changed down through the years. For example, if a resident of my home town, Lake City, Arkansas, had wanted to view live pornographic action a century ago, such a person would have been forced to travel to some seedy part of Memphis (a then-imposing journey of some sixty miles), locate a suitable establishment, and then hope not to be seen while entering or exiting. Today, the same man must invest money and effort into spam-abatement software and procedures in order to AVOID being solicited by purveyors of porn.

Pornography is a negative influence upon our society. It is a blight upon the face of our culture. It is a growing menace to the sexual fulfillment and happiness of the American people.

But how do you stop it? Efforts to create a special TLD (top-level domain) for pornography as well as efforts to combat wanton internet porn have collapsed when confronted with the fact that the Internet does not behave like other commerce in the world. A web site might be hosted from anywhere on the planet, so enacting tough legislation in a particular jurisdiction is entirely ineffective.

I say that an Internet problem deserves an Internet solution. Something creative and distinctively Internetish that stands a chance of prevailing in the war on porn.

What am I proposing? The inspiration for my plan is SETI@home. Participants in the SETI@home program download software onto their computers that, while they are not using their computers, works diligently in the background to download and process radio signals from outer space searching for evidence of intelligence in the universe beyond Earth (think Contact).

Why not have such sleeper programs installed on computers to chew up the bandwidth of porn providers, hitting them in the pocketbook where it hurts? A sufficient number of computers toiling at this task would degrade the user experience of porn customers and force providers to outlay cash for expensive extra bandwidth just to stay afloat. Such programs would continuously browse the free portions of known pornographic sites to place high demand upon their computer resources. It might not be a knockout blow, but at least it would score as a punch.

Of course, one would have to probe the legal niceties delineating SETI@home on the one hand from something like a Distributed Denial of Service attack on the other hand. At some point tending toward the latter, I think such activities could become illegal. And we wouldn't want that.

Also, I suppose that those who have good enough web filtration to keep people from browsing porn for real would also find that their filtration software would block the porn-hacker program, as well.

It may not be workable, but it seems to me that this is a problem crying out for a good solution. It scares me to think of a generation of children (including my own) coming-of-age with the Internet as it now exists.. I'm willing to take responsibility for helping to keep them from pursuing porn, but we ought to find some way to limit the ability of porn to pursue them. For people who take such responsibilities seriously, the viability of the Internet itself may be the thing at stake.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What Does America Stand For?

I find it somewhat bizarre to live in a time when America is preparing to elect its first Socialist president, the Republican Party is discussing the nationalization of banks and government intervention to prevent the failure of private enterprises, the only nation willing to pursue a capitalist approach to space travel is Russia, and the hotbed of world capitalist investment is China.

Friday, October 3, 2008

How You Begin and How You End Up: Two Different Things

It is possible to arrive in this world as a result of sin and accidentally, and yet for the ensuing years of your life to be marked by godliness and the certainty that God intended all along for you to be here.

Consider, by way of illustration, the life of Gianna Jessen (see also personal site). Her conception was by means of an act of fornication, her birth by means of a botched saline abortion, which left her inflicted with Cerebral Palsy. Jessen's earliest childhood experiences took place within the foster care system, while doctors were predicting that she would never walk nor be able even to lift her own head. Her entire story of coming to be is stamped with the imprint of sin and accident.

But today, Jessen runs marathons. She loves the Lord and sings Christian music. The Supreme Court of the United States has heard her story in official testimony, and she has appeared on major national news programs. It would be incorrect to assert that the evil in attendance at her birth has been swept away—the circumstances of each of those sins still affect everything that Gianna does—but in the great mysterious ways of our God, even these circumstances of evil God has made into His own triumph and used to accomplish His own good will.

We must draw similar conclusions about the Southern Baptist Convention. Our convention came to be as a result of sin—it does us no good to sidestep or whitewash it. At least two sinful aspects of our inception are worthy of note.

The Sin of Racism

Most prominent is our congenital support of the Southern system of racial slavery. However, there is much clarification that needs to be made on this topic. This moment in our history is a favorite citation employed by those who say that they are inerrantists, but they are not. They will remind us that our Southern Baptist forefathers supported slavery. They will remind us that they justified their support of slavery based upon the acceptance of slavery in the Bible. They will generally NOT state what they have forcefully and deliberately implied: that the Bible is not inerrant where it speaks about human slavery. Nevertheless, they will then depend upon that conclusion to insist (carefully avoiding the employ of these particular words) that other portions of the Bible are likewise in error—scriptural injunctions against homosexuality or radical feminism or whatever other sort of "liberty" they wish to advocate for the moment—and that any who would seek to be obedient to the Bible are no different than the patriarchs of the SBC who surely lusted after the blood, sweat, and tears of the oppressed African slaves on the cotton plantations of the South.

All of this comes about when we make no effort to show how, specifically, Southern Baptists were in error on the question of slavery in 1845.

The proprietor of a local financial planning business conducts a weekend radio show (read, "hour-long commercial for his business camouflaged in the garb of actual radio programming"). Last weekend he engaged in a lengthy diatribe asserting that most American citizens working a 9-to-5 job are actually no different from slaves. They are forced to perform labor that they find unpleasant, he said. They are tied down by debt, and do not actually "own" any property. If they do not succeed in paying their taxes, they can wind up in jail. How free are they, really?

I think that this particular radio host gets too caught up in his own rhetoric. Certainly there are differences between a modern American working shift work and an ancient slave, but mustn't we admit that these are differences of degree rather than differences of essential nature. Was the life of Joseph so much worse than theirs when he was the servant of Potiphar? How about of Gehazi, the servant of Elisha? Eliezer, the servant of Abraham? More to the point, what about each of us as Christian believers, aptly described as slaves of the Lord? Does God sin against us by putting us into such a relationship with Him?

Slavery as an economic arrangement is worse than many economic arrangements (e.g., free enterprise) and better than some others (e.g., being left destitute without any work to do nor any food, shelter, water, or charity). With the explicit command of the New Testament we must concur, "if you are able also to become free, rather do that" (1 Corinthians 7;21, NASB). Freedom is to be preferred to slavery, but the Bible does not condemn slavery ipso facto.

Where the founders of the SBC erred is in equating what was transpiring in the American South in 1845 with the lives of Joseph, Gehazi, and Eliezer. They were debating slavery; they should have been debating racism. The system of slavery in the American South meant, apart from a very few exceptions, that every black person was condemned to slavery by simple virtue of being black. Africans were kidnapped into slavery: They did not enter slavery because of debt, criminal activity, or the fortunes of war. Far too often and embarrassingly, Africans were kidnapped and sold into slavery by other black Africans. Once in the USA, black babies were born slaves. Black families were separated under this system of enslavement. Manumission was simply not the realistic hope of people caught up in the nineteenth-century African slave trade.

So deeply pervasive was the racism of this system that I, born some 125 years later, have heard with my own ears in the community of my childhood otherwise good and normal people speculating as to whether black people have souls. Unlike the situations of Joseph, Gehazi, and Eliezer, Antebellum American slavery was not just an economic matter of what certain people did; it was a theological error concerning what people are. It was a refusal to recognize that every person, regardless of race or continent of birth, is the special and beloved creation of God.

This is the system that the earliest patriarchs of the SBC defended. We do ourselves no favors to shy away from the plain fact that they were, at this point, wrong.

The Sin of Uncooperative Belligerence

In the early-nineteenth-century jostling that took place between abolitionists and the defenders of racism among Baptists in America, Southern Baptists took a provocative and uncooperative tone in the 1840s. In particular, they adopted a sentiment that always marks the death-knell of Baptist cooperation: The notion that my convention has to endorse whatever my local church endorses.

The only way for cooperation to succeed among Baptists is for local congregations to agree to pursue corporately those things that we have affirmed corporately by fair and due process. We will, at the conclusion of these processes, have remaining differences from congregation to congregation over what we do or do not approve. Where my local congregation is in agreement with the corporate actions of our fellowship, we pursue our objectives through that fellowship. Where we are out of step, in those matters we are free to act either independently or through other affiliations.

It is tyranny to demand that, if my congregation accepts somebody's baptism as valid, all Southern Baptist churches must accept it as valid. It is tyranny to demand that, if my congregation affirms a person's qualifications to serve as a missionary, all Southern Baptist churches must affirm and support that missionary candidate. This sort of tyranny, allowed to propagate, is always a deadly poison to inter-congregational cooperation. It certainly proved to be so in the 1840s.

Aggrieved pro-slavery Baptists in the South forwarded James Reeve's application to serve as a missionary with the Triennial Convention. Georgia Baptists did so making it plain that Reeve was a slaveholder. They further indicated that they had raised all of Reeve's support. They demanded that the Board approve Reeve as a missionary. We have come to refer to Reeve's application as "The Georgia Test Case."

It seems to me that Georgia Baptists and James Reeve had several options open to them:

  1. Nobody was holding a gun to James Reeve's head to require him to remain a slaveholder. Knowing full well that this was a matter of contention among Baptists, if Reeve's true desire was to serve as a missionary, he might easily have sold his slaves and gone on to the mission field undeterred. Doubtless, he (wrongly) regarded slaveholding as his right and regarded his financial means to own a slave (as well as his "liberty" to do so) as the blessing and gift of God. He was, in view of the repugnant system of Southern slavery, wrong on at least some of these points, but even if he had been right, would he not have been even more right to set aside these rights and gifts in order to pursue his calling in harmony? After all, nobody believes that it is disobedient to God not to own slaves.
  2. If Georgia Baptists had the necessary funds to support James Reeve as a missionary, they could have sent him themselves. Supporting Reeve independently would not have prevented them from sending through the Triennial Convention those candidates who enjoyed the corporate blessing of the Triennial Convention. Just as FBC Farmersville pursues some mission projects independently, but pursues its main missions strategy through support of the Cooperative Program, the Baptists of Georgia could have sent Reeve on their own.
  3. They could try to bully Baptist abolitionists into supporting their view, and if they failed in that attempt, they could withdraw, protest that their rights had been violated, and start their own separate group.

Of course, you already know that they chose the last option, somehow asserting with a straight face that their decision to approve of a slaveholding missionary somehow bound the Triennial Convention to an obligation to support slaveholding missionaries as well. Their tyranny failed, and they had to start their own separate convention.

How We Ended Up

As it turned out, Southern Baptists did not institute any grand and long-lived tradition of sending out slaveholding missionaries. They did, however, establish a convention with a structure superior to that of Baptists in the North. Southern Baptists have maintained a greater fidelity to the truth of the Bible, generally speaking, than has the ABC (the present Northern Baptist group).

We were birthed in racism and xenophobia, but today a variegated array of colors, ethnicities, language, and socio-economic statuses convene each week in the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. We were birthed a contentious and uncooperative lot, but we have maintained a healthy cooperative organization for more than a century and a half. We still struggle, yes we do, with the sins of our ancestors, but by the grace of God we generally overcome them (although we may not fare quite so well with the peculiar weaknesses of our own generation).

Every human endeavor is in some manner tainted by sin. It is not only a "trustworthy statement"; it is the good news of God. Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, and He remains at work in this world to redeem the tainted enterprises of sinners saved by grace, using us in spite of ourselves to accomplish His purposes and to give glory to Himself.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bill Maher Is a Playground Bully

Expect to hear a good bit about Bill Maher's new film "Religulous" in the coming days. Awakened by a soggy, hungry, sleepy two-year-old in the wee hours of this morning, I caught a 4:00 am discussion of the film, including an interview with Maher. Clips showed Maher ambushing Arkansas (Democrat) Senator Mark Pryor, ridiculing an Islamic clothier, and the like.

Maher's view is that religion is (quoting him from last night's interview) "silly and…dangerous." Regarding the affirmations of religious faith of Maher's favored presidential candidate, Barack Obama, Maher stated his opinion that Obama was lying in order to hope to be elected (OK, so I'm not inclined to reject that charge out-of-hand!). Confronted with the idea that so many great thinkers of the past were not exactly confirmed atheists (e.g., Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, etc.), Maher opined that they were, all of them, victims of some sort of neurological disorder.

So let's get this straight, Billy Boy—some of what are demonstrably the greatest minds in all of human history were neurologically deficient, while you, a professional court jester, have it all figured out? Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

Please note: I AM NOT suggesting that all of those listed above were exactly confirmed Christians, either. Merely that none of them seemed to share Maher's view that belief in God is, ipso facto, delirium.

But note this about Bill Maher: His film will not include a Paige Patterson or an Albert Mohler or a Francis Collins or a Russell Moore or an Emir or Ergun Caner. His work and that of any other Michael-Moore-wannabe will, in the classic modus operandi of a playground bully, prey solely upon the unsuspecting or the ill-equipped. He possesses neither the courage nor the honesty to do otherwise.