Thursday, December 24, 2009

Quinn Hooks, Legalism, and Alcohol

South Carolina pastor and blogger Quinn Hooks has written an informative post spelling out the tragedy inflicted upon so many lives by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS afflicts thousands of babies born in the United States each year. A survey by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services found that over half of all American women aged 15-44 admitted to having drunk alcohol during a pregnancy.

Regarding FAS, the Centers for Disease Control reports: “[FAS is] 100% preventable if a woman does not drink alcohol during pregnancy. There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink and no safe kind of alcohol.” (see here) In spite of this fact, in one survey 41% of (uninformed?) physicians noted that they advised pregnant women merely to reduce alcohol consumption to no more than three drinks per day.

Nevertheless, no matter what deleterious effects the consumption of alcohol may have on their bodies and their babies, it is important for Christian women to understand and to celebrate their freedom in Christ to drink alcohol, even during pregnancies. The Bible says nothing about abstention from alcohol during pregnancy. Indeed, we know from the Bible that people drank wine at weddings (John 2:1-11), we know that such a wedding was a tradition in which Mary participated (since she appears prominently in the John 2 passage), and we know that Mary herself was pregnant with Jesus at the time of her own wedding feast (Matthew 1:18-25).

Q.E.D. the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is a biblical and righteous practice, and is even a subtle portion of the Christmas narrative. Mothers who have abstained from alcohol during pregnancy probably need to repent of that abstention. I plan to confront my mother with this sin while home for Christmas. To all of you pregnant Christians out there, bottoms up!

Anybody who says otherwise is just a Fundamentalist legalist, and probably a Landmarker, too!

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Happy MatchMaker

I delight in reading Malcolm Yarnell's latest blog post. In it, Malcolm describes his incipient friendship and partnership with Barry King, a church planter in the London, England, area. I introduced the two of them, and I take special joy in their colaboring for Christ.

The whole thing began while I myself was in London, whence I published my post "London: Post-Christian or Pre-Revival?" Barry entered the comment thread on that post, and we wound up arranging to meet while I was there. Barry and his family are engaged in aggressive church planting of good, sound, evangelistic, conservative, Baptist churches in London. I had a thrilling morning visiting with Barry and his son Reagan, as we eventually unearthed the personal connections that bound us even before we met for the first time.

I then connected Malcolm and Barry, and having planted that bit of seed, the blossom is all the sweeter to me. I've decided to re-post Malcolm's article in its entirety.

Rejoicing in the Ministry of a Church-Planting Church

A few months ago, I was introduced to a pastor in London, England, Barry King, through the kind words of another pastor in Farmersville, Texas, Bart Barber. Dr. Barber knew of my long experience with the British churches and of my own desire to see a revival occur in Great Britain. Christianity has fallen on hard times all over Western Europe; for instance, in England, church attendance is limited to less than 5% of the population, and the fastest growing religion is not even Christianity but Islam. I have been sharing the faith with unbelievers in Great Britain for some 15 years during my frequent visits there including a three-year residency at Oxford University. It has always been difficult for me to recommend that a new Christian attend a church there, knowing that many of the most vibrant evangelical churches are unfortunately disorderly in their doctrine of the church. And, as for those churches who possess a more New Testament polity, they are typically consumed with unbiblical oddities such as theological liberalism, the modern charismatic movement, or hyper-Calvinism.

However, now I am elated to report that there is a church—indeed, a growing family of churches—that possesses three important characteristics of a proper church: a missionary mindset, a healthy view of scriptural proclamation, and a Christ-exalting New Testament ecclesiology. It is in these three areas, among many others, that Grace Baptist Church, whose home congregation is located in north London, excels. Six years ago, Brother King resigned another church in London because he could not affirm certain aspects of their philosophy of ministry. Having sought to maintain peace with that church even as he departed her service, he was subsequently approached by two men whom he had recently begun to disciple. They encouraged him to consider establishing a new work, one that would emphasize biblical teaching and missionary outreach.

Barry prayed about the matter with them and his family and they began meeting together weekly for worship and fellowship. A year and a half later Barry was approached by the remnants of a small evangelical Baptist church who possessed a building but were soon to be without a pastor. After further prayer, the group meeting with Barry and this small group of believers entered into a new covenant as a new congregation with an old building. The result was Grace Baptist Church, Wood Green, Haringey. Because of their missionary mindset, they chose to start new congregations in other parts of London whenever possible. Indeed, every time the church has grown to a certain size, they have sent several families off to start a new congregation elsewhere in London. To date, they have begun five new congregations with work set to begin in two additional areas early in the New Year, who remain in affiliation with Grace Baptist Church and whose ministers Brother King is mentoring in the Word of God. (They currently have opportunity to begin some 20 other congregations and desire to see a church-planting church in each of the 41 boroughs of London with work in each of the 635 neighborhoods in London.)

Recently, sitting in a coffee shop early one Sunday morning in Wood Green, I had the pleasure of questioning Barry as to how he began and was continuing the work. We noted that his congregations were primarily composed of new believers. Then, I queried him, “And how were these new believers won to Christ?” At first, Barry looked at me quizzically, but recognizing that I was being intentional in my questions, he responded, “Well, I meet somebody, say, in a coffee shop, and then I talk to them about what the Bible says about their need for reconciliation with God and how Jesus Christ is the only answer.” He then explained that he believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection as the means of the salvation of all sinners, who must be born again with faith and repentance. He also explained that he believes biblical proclamation is the divinely ordained method of delivering that good news to lost people. I learned that he relied neither upon some humanly contrived church planting principle nor upon some emerging social ministry as his method for reaching the lost. Rather, he relied upon the Bible’s own method, which is to speak the Word directly in the hearing of as many lost people as will listen, encouraging them to believe (cf. Romans 10).

After this refreshing conversation about missional truth, we then proceeded to his church building, which like many in the British dissenting tradition was located off the main thoroughfare in a residential area. There, I was privileged to preach on the doctrine of believers-only baptism by immersion out of Romans 6 to his congregation. And during the service, I witnessed a wonderful man leading an expectant people to worship God with all their hearts and to hear God’s Word as the sole authority for their lives. We also heard reports from the ministers who are leading the church plants. These reports were, to say the least, personally inspiring and highly informative. Door-to-door evangelism, personal evangelism, street witnessing—Grace Baptist Church and its associated congregations were reaching the people of secularized multi-ethnic London, a society too many have deemed impenetrable, through a means that has been written off as old and unworkable, direct biblical proclamation.

Moreover, to my great delight, I was informed beyond a shadow of doubt that these churches followed the New Testament model in structuring and conducting their own lives as congregations. They begin with a covenant; they teach the entire counsel of God from the Bible regularly; they engage regenerate church membership by accepting only believers who have witnessed to their conversion through biblical baptism; they maintain authentic church membership through the regular meaningful observance of the Lord’s Supper; and, when necessary, practice redemptive church discipline. I was shocked. Here, in modern London, is a group of churches who recognize and honor the same truth as the first Baptist churches of seventeenth century England, who in turn emulated the New Testament church as established by Jesus Christ.

Well, there is so much more to report—the unremarked yet wonderful composition of the churches across ethnic, racial, and national boundaries; the intentional outreach to those who evangelical ecumenists may unwittingly and hastily mistake for true Christians (because, unlike Grace Baptist Church, they neglect to exercise spiritual discernment); the placement of the need for new congregations as primary and their own church building as important yet secondary; the centrality of the Bible in worship and the prominence of the gospel in every verbal action. Let me summarize what God is doing in north London through the ministry of Barry King and Grace Baptist Church by saying that I find great joy in this man’s ministry. He is leading people to follow Jesus exactly as the Lord has revealed His will in Scripture, not from legalistic motives but with thanksgiving in response to God’s saving grace. Moreover, as a non-Calvinist, I am overjoyed to report that Barry and his congregation were more concerned about what Scripture had to say than about whether or not I was personally holding to their own quite orthodox and evangelistic Calvinist convictions. May God glorify Himself far into the future through the joyful ministry of this church-planting church extraordinaire.


OK. Malcolm's words end above the line. Bart typing here again.

In addition to celebrating this friendship, I'm also happy to celebrate with Malcolm the work of Barry's church in this little blog post. I realize that you're unlikely ever to hear about men like Barry King, for even though he is successfully planting churches and spreading the gospel in a very difficult place, because he doesn't cuss from the pulpit, get a little tipsy while consuming his fish and chips, peddle soft-porn from his church web-site and billboards, or dub an Internet chat room a "church," he's not very newsworthy these days. That's one of the things that keep me blogging—this blog can be a place to celebrate people like Barry who, although very effective for the Master, aren't "cool" enough to be celebrated elsewhere.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Gray Morning

Who's bound for rest from labor and evil?
Who's bound for the plain of Lethe?

-"Frogs," Aristophanes, lines 185-86a

Cold, gray clouds blanket North Texas this morning. I sit here remembering that awful day one year ago (see here). The ancient Greeks believed in a river of forgetfulness (Lethe) that flowed through a plain in Hades. There, according to their mythology, the dead drank and forgot all that had transpired in their lives. Different Greeks regarded Lethe's waters differently. A few inscriptions present Lethe as a hazard to be avoided, urging instead that the deceased should drink from rival stream Mnemosyne (remembrance) to achieve omniscience.

But here Aristophanes reveals to us the train of thought by which some Greeks WELCOMED a draught of utter forgetfulness. Certainly in the face of trauma and its aftermath, forgetfulness is a tempting offer. To draw from a cultural expression of more recent vintage:

I've just been down the gullet of an interstellar cockroach. That's one of a hundred memories I don't want

-K, in "Men in Black," requesting to have his memory erased

Part of me would love to forget. Part of me feels an obligation to remember—to honor Nick Scroggs's life by remembering. We Americans have an entire holiday devoted to remembering, and Memorial Day is particularly directed toward what must be the survivors' traumatic recollections of the often gruesome deaths of young people at war. You live through a moment like that, and you think, "This cannot be forgotten. Someone must remember this. I must remember this."

Charon's (the character speaking in Aristophanes's quote above) sentiment is fatalistic and negative. It arises from a thoroughly negative appraisal of human life on earth and an utterly hopeless appraisal of the afterlife's ability to make life to have been worthwhile. Lethe is the ultimate surrender to pain and evil, relinquishing life to them forever.

The Christian concept is a thoroughgoing contrast: "Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17). God's promise is not just to bring "extra innings" to extend life beyond here (perhaps to try to turn things around in the end in an Ebenezer Scrooge sort of way), nor is it a suggestion that you might be able to forget the "labor and evil" of this life and wind up with a clean slate. Rather, the Christian hope is that God ultimately makes all of this makes sense somehow and amount to an overarching good. How does that work? Well, if I knew that, then God would have already made sense of it here! But I cling to the promise of God that affliction is indeed productive, and that eternal good wins so decisively as to put an end to "all comparison" even between the two.

It's not that hard to believe, for I've seen good come out of difficult circumstances with my own eyes. It is almost a universal truth that the best person you know is not the person who has enjoyed the easiest life. If it happens partially and disproportionately here, what might be done with it in eternity?

And therefore, I have placed my hope not in some promise that time will enable me to forget—I do not have much confidence in that ever happening. Instead, I trust in the Lord Jesus Christ that this whole ordeal, although not ever possibly a good thing in and of itself, will result in good things in this world: In teenagers a little more careful with their lives because of it, in a deeper compassion and empathy in my own life, in a pointing of people to the finitude of life and the inevitability of eternity. May the God of Redemption redeem it.

Gray clouds and rainy skies, after all, water the earth and bring forth all of its verdant fecundity. Winter gives us the glories of Spring. Death gave way to resurrection. There is hope, and in hope there is comfort.

But on a gray morning, even though we have hope for the sunlight at last, would you join me and take a moment to pray for a family in Texas somehow marking on this day the end of a first year without their son?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thoughts About Marriage Law

Trivia Question: What do Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Werner von Braun, H. G. Wells, Martin Van Buren, Abraham Maslow, and Edvard Grieg all have in common? In addition to being famed luminaries who forever changed their respective fields of labor in the sciences, the arts, and politics, they also each of them married a first cousin. John F. Kennedy, one of the more influential American presidents of the 20th century, was the grandson of married first cousins.

Cousin marriage is illegal in the majority of U. S. States (including, thank you very much, Arkansas). Texas's ban on cousin marriage was only recently passed (2005). No state has adopted a more lenient law on cousin marriage in the past century. Marriage between close kin—even closer than cousins—takes place prominently in the Bible. The United States is the only nation in the Western world in which cousin marriage is not universally illegal.

Why? Why do we make it against the law for cousins to marry?

The Genetic Argument: The most common argument against cousin marriage is the suggestion that cousin marriage is not well suited to reproduction. Yet this argument may not be as strong as you may think. Reproduction between people with significant consanguinity does indeed increase the change of recessive genetic traits being passed through to their offspring. However, not all recessive traits can be considered undesirable or classified as a disorder, and not all genetic disorders or undesirable outcomes can be linked to the transmission of recessive genes. Down's Syndrome, for example, is an example of a genetic disorder that is not an expression of a recessive gene, but is instead a transcription error.

The upshot of all of this? Procreation of people over the age of 40 is just as genetically risky as is the procreation of first cousins. The genetic argument really provides little rationale for making cousin marriages illegal.

The Moral Argument: People argue that cousin marriage is incestuous and immoral. Indeed, in many U. S. states, sexual intercourse among cousins legally constitutes incest. The patchwork status of U. S. law on this front means that some marriages, although perfectly legal in Mississippi, are felonious in Texas.

Nevertheless, although sexual relationships among siblings or lineal descendants is forbidden in the Bible, one would utterly fail to demonstrate any biblical prohibition against cousin marriage. Rather, the marriage of Isaac to his first-cousin-once-removed Rebekkah is presented as a good and holy thing and even a part of the lineage of Christ. Abraham himself was married to his half-sister, and levirate marriage laws meant that a man might plausibly be commanded to marry his cousin.

It is difficult to find a good moral argument against cousin marriage.

And yet, while a tidal wave has swept this nation against cousin marriage in the last century and continuing through today, an incipient wave of the legalization of same sex marriage is beginning to move in the United States. Let's consider a comparison of the two:

 Homosexual MarriageCousin Marriage
BiologicalA biological nightmare. Homosexual intercourse has given to the world a fertile locus for the breeding and transmission of disease and is responsible for the gruesome deaths of many of the people who have participated in it. Homosexual intercourse is also entirely incapable of the primary biological purpose for sexual activity—the reproduction of the species.Leads to a 2–3% increase in the occurrence of those genetic maladies associated with the transmission of those recessive genes that may be injurious to a child. This increased risk is similar to the risk of childbearing at ages over 40. Otherwise, entirely biologically healthy and functional.
HistoricalHomosexuality itself is historically ancient, yet with a longstanding status of taboo across diverse cultures and epochs of history.Accepted by most of the world's population today. Historically widespread. Homosexual marriage is entirely unattested in history.
MoralCondemned by the scriptures or traditions of every major faith group (noteworthy exception: the one branch of Hinduism that includes the Kama Sutra has the sole positive mention of homosexuality in major faith texts). Religious leaders from the Dalai Lama to the great Christian leaders of history have been unanimous in their condemnation of homosexuality as sexual misconduct.Tolerated by every major faith tradition, and even commanded in some.

So, what's my point? Am I arguing in favor of cousin marriage, suggesting that the denial of cousin marriage is a terrible human rights problem in our nation? No. I believe that laws against cousin marriage serve a generally benign and largely beneficial function in our society. They enshrine an American cultural expectation that people will look outside their own families for a spouse. In so doing, they increase genetic diversity in our nation, leading to marginally increased public health. Banning the marriage of people over 40 would have terrible cultural effects in our country, since many of those married-over-40 folks are the parents of children conceived earlier. So, although cousin reproduction and over-40 reproduction are genetically comparable, the banning of marriage beyond 40 would have far greater ill effects in society than does the banning of cousin marriage. Banning cousin marriage, I believe, results in a positive impact upon our society. I am not opposed to laws against cousin marriage. If they did not exist, I wouldn't be on a campaign to enact them, but their existence does not bother me.

My point is simply to highlight the absurdity of homosexual marriage. Every argument against cousin marriage applies in spades to homosexual marriage. Yet our nation outlaws the more benign of the two while activists for the worse one can almost taste eventual victory in the courts and then in the polls. In Iowa right at this moment, it is a felony for two consenting adults to engage in a marital relationship (cousin marriage) that is historically, biologically, and morally acceptable by every reasonable standard (if a bit odd), but it is (according to an activist court) a fundamental and constitutional human right for two consenting adults to engage in a marital relationship that is historically, biologically, and morally bankrupt (homosexual marriage).

Friday, December 4, 2009

No Longer Seeing Red

I have written a computer application (using C#, Silverlight, and the .NET platform, for those interested in such things) to aid me in planning my sermon calendar. The application indicates to me an "unassigned" appointment (a "preaching event" for which I have not yet planned what the content will be) by displaying a "red light" on the event label.

After a week of hard work, I am thrilled to report that no more red lights appear anywhere in 2010 on my calendar. As always, my thanks go out to the wonderful staff and people of FBC Farmersville who (in self-defense!) are always faithful to pray diligently for me when I seek the Lord's plan for my preaching.

Indeed, the plan goes well into 2011, although I haven't bothered to work out the specific details and key in the data. Wednesday Night Bible Study will launch in January 2010 a weekly study in Genesis that (if we are able to keep up with the plan) will make it partially into the story of Abraham when the next new year falls. A Sunday morning series through 1 Thessalonians starts late enough in 2010 that it will carry over into 2011 (although we will set 1 Thessalonians aside temporarily between Thanksgiving and the New Year to turn our attention to passages related to the season).

The one drawback of doing this kind of planning: I'm excited RIGHT NOW about preaching all of it, but I'll have to wait MORE THAN A YEAR before I can preach the latter portions of it. Patience is a virtue, or so I hear.

Some Things Never Change, Whether the Climate Does or Not

In my time I've seen a lot of Baptists throw stones at Baptist journalists, often alleging either implicitly or explicitly that journalists within our denomination aren't real journalists like the folks without who work for major wires or other news organizations.

I think that these allegations are largely unfounded. Over the past few years I've interacted with people from Baptist Press, Associated Baptist Press, and a number of state Baptist news organizations. That list represents a wide spectrum of viewpoints, to be sure, but I've encountered among our Baptist journalists a determination to get the facts of the stories straight. Some people may wish that they would report different stories than the ones that they report, but the accuracy rating on the facts for our denominational news entities seems to me to be much higher than either mine or Dan Rather's (you really have to watch out for the story that you badly want to be true).

Anyway, one difference that I've noted in dealing with secular journalists is that, when one of them approaches you for an interview, it seems to me that they often already have their story basically in mind. They're going to take all of your interview, sift through it, pick out what fits their thesis, and go with that. If nothing that you give them matches their pre-existing thesis, then you probably won't be appearing in the article.

Journalists aren't alone in this phenomenon. I think you see it in a lot of academic research also, as well as in a great deal of what passes for statistical analysis. I don't think it represents any sort of a deliberate skewing of the news in an attempt to mislead the public. I think that human beings just tend to behave in this manner sometimes, and that some of the pressures inherent to the journalistic profession (e.g., if an editor has already shown interest in the concept of a story that goes a certain way) perhaps make this natural human tendency appear a bit more frequently when one is writing newscopy.

Of course, this is not a dispassionate treatise on the concept of journalism in general. Earlier this week I was interviewed by a very congenial Ed Stoddard of Reuters. Ed called me because he was curious to speak with an evangelical from the "American heartland" (i.e., a non-urban, middle America sort of place). Farmersville fits that bill, and someone thought I might turn out to be quotable, and so Ed picked up the phone. He's a really nice guy. I enjoyed speaking with him.

Thanks to a Google Update, I learned this morning that the article has now hit the ether, if not the newsstands, complete with a quote from me. In a section trying to explain why mainstream Americans might be skeptical about global warming, this paragraph appears:

One in four U.S. adults is also an evangelical Christian and, while secular Europeans may find this odd, many really do believe that biblical prophecy foretells the planet's end.

"If you are an evangelical Christian in the American vein then you believe it is our responsibility to look after the planet but it will be ultimately destroyed no matter what we do," said Bart Barber, a Southern Baptist Convention preacher in the small north Texas town of Farmersville.

No, I was not misquoted. I really did say that, word-for-word. However, I also stated explicitly that I did not regard that as a reason why Americans were skeptical about global warming. My conversation with Ed went pretty much along these lines.

Ed asked why I thought people in a place like Farmersville might be skeptical about global warming. Omitting the back and forth with Ed, here are the basic elements of what I told him:

  1. Knowing it was Reuters, I opened up by saying that I was skeptical about global warming because I read the BBC and have come to see that, over the course of my lifetime, scientific predictions about the climate have been consistently inconsistent. Self-contradiction tends to bring out the skeptic in me.

  2. I mentioned that earlier on the very day of the interview I had heard on the radio the report on the ending of the 2009 hurricane season. Expert scientists had predicted a season of above-average hurricane intensity in 2009. Instead, we had one of the weakest hurricane seasons in memory, with zero hurricanes making landfall in the U.S. and only three tropical storms making their way on shore. In fact, only four named storms made landfall anywhere on the planet in this hurricane season. And let's not forget that, just four years ago, we were all told that, because of global warming, the average hurricane season would be growing worse and worse (see also this story in which scientists posit different theories in addition to global warming, but all concur that we were in for a decade of bad hurricanes). The data over the past four years simply have not turned out at all the way that the experts predicted.

  3. I told him that middle-America has an historic skepticism toward ivory-tower academia. People in the "American heartland" tend to see "common sense" as a thing not always opposed to, yet not always aligned with, "book learning." Everyone in middle-America wants their children to go to a university, but not everyone in middle-American wants their children to swallow everything they hear at a university.

  4. I told him that I would not use the word "hoax" to describe the global warming discussion, so much as I would use another word beginning with 'H': hubris. Earning a Ph.D., I said, comes with a terrible temptation to forget how to utter the words, "I don't know." Our hard weather data goes back really not very far at all into history. The science of climatology is in its relative infancy.

  5. When he asked whether I saw anything particular to evangelical theology that would lead someone to doubt global warming, I specifically and emphatically answered in the negative. "There's human-induced climatological cataclysm right there in the first few chapters of the Bible," I said. "Nothing in the Bible nor in evangelical theology contributes to skepticism about global warming," I said.

    I also told him that biblical theology compels us to good stewardship of the earth. I told him that I, because I am an evangelical believer, would consider it immoral for me to throw a wrapper out the window of my car and leave it for someone else to pick up. Evangelical theology, I told him, supports good stewardship and conservation of the earth (although I told him that I am a conservationist and not an environmentalist).

    But I want to reiterate, I specifically told him that there was nothing in evangelical theology that would make any evangelical believer any more likely to be skeptical as to whether the earth is warming due to human activity.

  6. But, I told him, evangelical eschatology could cause evangelical believers perhaps to be much less ALARMED about climate change, even if they believed it to be true. Evangelical Christians, after all, tend to believe that the timing and manner of the end of the world is a matter fixed by God and not susceptible to human modification. It was in this part of the discussion that I uttered the one quote that appeared in the article.

Many Americans come down differently than most Europeans on the question of global warming. Many Americans come down differently than most Europeans on the question of the gospel of Jesus Christ. People want to connect the dots, whether they ought to be connected or not. I refused to connect the dots, and this story connected them for me nonetheless (not explicitly, but by implication). What remains constant is that those who view American Evangelicalism from the outside fare poorly in understanding us, and I don't think that's substantially the fault of Evangelicals.

Monday, November 30, 2009

In Praise of Guidestone

Blog Owner's Note: Keith Sanders is the pastor of First Baptist Church, Keller, Texas, and is a close friend from childhood onward. Keeping up with his journey has brought me to pray regularly not only for him but also for the over 1 million Americans presently suffering from Autism and the many more to come. Autism is the fastest-growing disability in the United States, with a growth rate of around 1,148% (source: Autism Society of America).

This very fact—the rapid growth of autism—may be evidence of an increasing occurrence of autism, or may be evidence of an increasing understanding of autism, and therefore an increasing ability to diagnose what were once undiagnosed cases. In either case, insurance providers like Guidestone find themselves, with regard to autism and other ongoing developments in the realm of health care, attempting an in-flight modification of our insurance plans to adapt to circumstances that never remain static. I am thankful for their hard work.

Following is Keith's personal account of their saga. I invite you to join me in praying for the Sanders family as the grace of God carries them through this difficult time.

-Bart

Last January, my wife and I sat holding hands in an examination room of a well-respected developmental pediatrician’s office. We were there to receive the results of an extensive round of testing for our three year old daughter. For several months we had noticed a regression in her speech development and social interaction. She walked on her tiptoes and seemed to be unusually sensitive to sounds and textures. Having done research on the internet, we were not surprised by the results of this formal evaluation. However, the matter of fact way in which the doctor spoke left no doubt in our minds about the severity of the diagnosis.

“Your daughter is autistic,” she said. “As far as we can tell, she falls somewhere in the moderate to severe range.” Our silence must have led her to believe that we failed to appreciate the enormity of the moment. After a long pause she continued, ‘This is devastating.” With that, she exited to give us time to absorb what we had been told. As we embraced and cried, I knew that the diagnosis of our daughter’s condition was correct, but determined that autism would not devastate our family. After all, our faith was strong, we had the support of our extended family, and our church was eager to help bear our burden.

The latest scientific research reveals that one percent of children will be diagnosed with autism before age eight. Autism has no known cause or cure. However, some treatments have proven to be beneficial over time. Some children have even lost the diagnosis of autism after years of treatment and gone on to live normal lives. While praying for God to heal our daughter, we began to explore every possible avenue of treatment. Though the types of treatments for autism are diverse, one thing is consistent with almost all of them, they are incredibly expensive. At the time we received the diagnosis the best estimates for the costs of treatment were between $50,000 and $70,000 per year. With that knowledge, I was certainly thankful for the generosity of the church that I pastor that enabled us to purchase the highest level of coverage offered through Guidestone. However, that thankfulness turned to frustration, and frustration gave way to anger when we began to file claims related to our daughter’s condition. We soon learned that Highmark Bluecross Blueshield , the company who issued our policy, only covered a minimal level of autism treatment. Facing the prospect of being unable to afford the healthcare that could potentially help my little girl was one of the most difficult moments of my life. As I began to pray for God’s provision, I determined to do everything in my power (within the law) to make sure our daughter had the best opportunity to improve.

Several weeks before our daughter’s diagnosis was finalized, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dr. O. S. Hawkins the Chief Executive Officer of Guidestone. I was impressed by the genuine concern he had for pastors and their families. Desperate for help, I called Dr. Hawkins office and he graciously took my call. At the conclusion of our conversation, he assured me that he would be on top of the situation and his team would get to work immediately to help us. Before we ended our conversation, he prayed for my family by name. Though I am sure I made myself a nuisance to Dr. Hawkins and his staff with my many calls and letters in the ensuing days, everyone at Guidestone always treated me with patience, grace and dignity.

Dr. Hawkins was true to his word and after negotiations between Guidestone representatives and Highmark, our insurance now covers our autism treatments including speech and occupational therapies. It is too soon to know how effective the treatments will be, but giving our daughter every opportunity to improve is worth more to my wife and me than almost anything we can imagine. It is also gratifying to know that because of the trial that our family has gone through, other Guidestone participants will have the same opportunity for their children. Our family thanks God for Dr. Hawkins and the staff at Guidestone. We also thank God that we serve a church who values its ministers and provides for their needs.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dollars or Percentages? Which Matters to the Great Commission?

First of all, the Southern Baptist Convention (i.e., the national denominational apparatus of employees) has no business whatsoever lecturing any church about what it gives or doesn't give to missions. We believe in and practice the association of autonomous local churches. It is not only the privilege, it is the responsibility of each local church to determine and submit to God's priorities for the spending of God's money. I am therefore opposed to efforts to set litmus tests for denominational service based upon arbitrary percentages given through the Cooperative Program. If an autonomous church gives $10 through the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist Convention's only suitable response to that is to say "Thank you."

All that just to say that there's no political football here. I've voted for and supported a lot of pastors as SBC officers and leaders whose leadership was exhibited in areas other than their CP giving.

However, as a thinking exercise and not a political exercise, I want to consider this idea that missionaries spend dollars and not percentages, and therefore that it doesn't much matter what percentage a church gives through the Cooperative Program so long as it gives a large number of dollars. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea, but I think that the present demographics of our convention's life suggest otherwise.

People cite a plateauing or even decline of Southern Baptists statistics. These figures seem to suggest a stasis in Southern Baptist life, but that is misleading. I suggest that Southern Baptists are on the move, and in a radical way. Americans are moving rapidly out of rural areas and into the cities. Commensurately, Southern Baptists are migrating out of small rural churches and into urban (generally larger) churches. Thus, although the average SBC church is small, the average SBC person goes to a much larger church than the "average church" figures would lead one to believe.

So, you've got people who grew up in a small SBC church that gave 15% through the Cooperative Program. They move off from that small country church and wind up at a metropolitan church that gives 2% through the Cooperative Program. Let's say, for a hypothetical point of comparison, that 20 such churches are entirely emptied out into a single metropolitan church.

That metropolitan church, although it only gives 2% through the Cooperative Program, is actually giving a much higher dollar amount (by an order of magnitude!) than were any of those smaller churches. But that's not a fair point of comparison. The dollars given to missions by the metropolitan church must be compared to the dollars given by the association of churches that has been eviscerated by the American move from the country into the city. At that point, it becomes clear that percentages ultimately add up to dollars (or else we'd all set them really high).

This blog post does not provide an answer to the question, but it does show how the answer can be calculated. The dollar amount most important to the calculation is the per capita dollar amount given through the Cooperative Program for any given church. I'm willing to suggest that some of our larger churches do pretty well in this regard. At the heart of the question, as it deals with changing circumstances in the SBC, is the simple matter of how many members of the large, urban church that gives a small percentage through the Cooperative Program are people who (hypothetically) could not have been reached by a church giving a higher percentage to missions. Certainly, if we are dealing with transfers rather than new converts, every person who moved from a smaller, higher-CP-percentage church to a larger, lower-CP-percentage church has contributed to a larger number of dollars going to missions from that particular church, but to an overall missions-giving decline.

It would be a mistake to throw stones in any direction over these statistics. Megachurch pastors aren't fueling these developments, nor are the pastors of smaller churches. This is a matter of societal demographic trends, and we're all carried along in some ways on the current of them. We would, however, do well to consider that our convention is in the midst of transition from a convention of many small churches to a convention of fewer larger churches (and historically, the church of 200 counts as a "larger church" in the SBC). If the model for larger churches is one of lower percentage giving through the CP, then the Southern Baptist Convention's cooperative enterprises will be forced to learn to get by on much less money.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prayer, Big Decisions, and Business Meetings

A story in today's Baptist Press quotes reorganization task force chairman Ronnie Floyd as saying that the recommendations of the task force will not be presented in full until the SBC's Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL, on June 15–16. Previous statements had suggested that the task force would unveil its recommendations no later than the time of the February meeting of the SBC Executive Committee.

The task force has obviously been hard at work, and for that they deserve the appreciation and admiration of Southern Baptists. They should take their time and come to good, careful conclusions. We do not need them to rush.

Then again, neither do they need us, the Southern Baptist messengers, to rush. I am hopeful that the task force will extend to Southern Baptists throughout the nation the same time for prayerful consideration that they have needed. They need to report in Orlando, and I pray that they will, but I hope that someone from the task force will move that any proposed measures unveiled in Orlando be postponed until 2011 for a vote, in order for the Southern Baptist people to have adequate time to pray about the proposals before voting.

In our own congregation, our recently adopted Constitution & Bylaws requires that our church staff publish an agenda for every church business meeting a week in advance. The membership of the congregation is encouraged to read the agenda and to devote time to pray over the items mentioned therein. Congregationalism presumes not an ultimate democracy, but "democratic processes" as a means to the lordship of Christ over the church, facilitated by the influence of the Holy Spirit upon praying believers.

Items not listed on the agenda may be proposed at the business meeting, but such motions are automatically referred to appropriate committees or are automatically postponed for consideration at a later meeting. The rationale is that we ought not to be voting about anything unless we have prayed about it first. I believe that "Pray first; then obey" is the only right way to make decisions.

Surely this concept is no less important for our national convention than it is for our local congregation. Surely if we will see a renewed pursuit of the Great Commission among Southern Baptists, it will not come as a result of prayerless and unconsidered action by our messengers! Some may say that the issues on the table are too important to move slowly. I say that they are likely to be too important to move hastily. We ought to be more careful in our Southern Baptist voting than is our United States Congress. We ought to have read these proposals and deliberated over them at length before we take any action.

This is not about factions or victories or losses or human power. This is ultimately about the ultimate mission. Our structure will not accomplish the Great Commission. Our money will not accomplish the Great Commission. Our size, large or small, will not accomplish the Great Commission.

Our obedience cannot help but accomplish the Great Commission.

And thus, if our sole emphasis is upon obedience to the commandments of Christ, then we will find few attributes of the process more important than the careful and unhurried building of Southern Baptist consensus by which we all reach a prayed-through confidence that the task force's recommendations are indeed God's will for the SBC, and together by our Holy Spirit forged unity we are able to redeem from its ignominy the sentiment and the phrase, "Deus Vult!"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Eve of a New Decade

Rarely do I place the contents of my monthly newsletter article for the church into this blog. For some reason, I feel so inclined this month. God bless!

The eve of a new decade is an exciting time. I have thought so ever since I was born on December 31, 1969! After all, we only get to roll over the tens digit so many times in our lives (a web site that claimed to be able to gauge my life expectancy indicated that I will see a new decade come 10 times in my life). Milestones like this turn our minds toward the future as we imagine what the adolescence of this century will hold for ourselves, our families, our community, and our world.

Obviously, we don’t really know the answer to that question, and folks who tell you otherwise aren’t being honest. For example, Daniel Fagre, a U. S. Geological Survey ecologist working at Montana’s Glacier National Park eerily warns that Global Warming will entirely do away with the park’s glaciers by 2020. The BBC, on the other hand, reports that global temperatures have actually decreased over the past 11 years and that we are in for a decade of global cooling. Which will it be? Seeing how well the world’s scientists are able to predict the weather two weeks from Thursday, I’m prepared to believe that neither group has a clue. What’s more, I don’t believe that we really have much control over what the weather will be like in 2020.

Will I be alive in 2020? Will the economy be strong and provide ample resources for my family in the next decade? Will the Swine Flu or some other disease cause a pandemic? Will the Cowboys win any of the next 10 Super Bowls? All of these things are mostly beyond your control (unless somebody is forwarding our little newsletter to Jerry Jones).

But here’s something that does lie within your influence: You can grow spiritually in the 2010s. You can have an entire decade of your life in which you read your Bible (several times through!) and pray every day. You can mentor a younger Christian for this decade. God can help you to find victory over that pesky temptation that has been a chronic weakness for you.

You can start to tithe in this decade. If you are in debt on the way into this decade, you can be out of debt before it ends. Our nation can embrace the fiscal responsibility of earlier generations and exit the 2010s no longer terrified of what the Chinese might do with all of our nation’s debt that they hold.

You can participate in an international mission trip in the coming decade. You can present the gospel to every person in your neighborhood, or to every person in your family. You can adopt an orphan, volunteer in the CASA program, or assist a troubled child.

Together, we Southern Baptists can plant enough new churches to change the spiritual climate of our nation in the upcoming decade. We can start to take back our cities. We can put a missionary in every people group on the planet. Yes, there is so much that we cannot control, but in every important way, the decade of 2010 will be what we make of it. On your mark. Get set!

Bro. Bart

Monday, November 16, 2009

Secondhand Smut

Washington Post Staff Writer Monica Hesse draws our attention to the increasing problem of winding up trapped in an airplane or subway seat next to someone watching porn on his mobile electronics. Thanks to her article, I've found a new blessing for which to give thanks—it has never happened to me before. Apparently, according to the article, such incidents are on the rise and it is only a matter of time before I'm on a Southwest Airlines flight trying to avert the view of my kiddies from the iPhone in 13B.

Hesse creatively nicknames the phenomenon "Secondhand Smut."

Her article comes at a time when I'm seriously thinking about abandoning Twitter to return to an exclusive relationship with Facebook. Being a Twitter member, for me, has meant the constant fending off of attempts by porn mistresses (or are they 27-year-old male geeks living in their parents' basements? Who knows?) to get me to "follow" them.

As a historian, I long ago learned to be skeptical of the tiresome refrains of "The world has never been this evil before!" We forget so quickly—being the most evil is a stiff competition in human history. We're pretty good at evil, and have had several distinguished competitors in the Hall of Infamy.

But I'm tempted to make such a proclamation these days. Technology is making a difference for the worse. Will people ever develop the widespread willpower to overcome their addictions to porn?

"Secondhand Smut." I like the phrase. I just think it deserves wider application. The secondhand effects of smut are so much more than an uncomfortable airplane ride. It manifests itself in husbands who lose interest in their wives, in women objectified and used, in diseases spread and people dead, in "actresses" and "actors" whose lives are thrown away, and in a modern plague of human slavery and sex trafficking.

I'm praying that we reach a tipping point where people can see that pornography is so much more corrosive than tobacco, and that societal ills are just as worthy of legal disincentive as are physical ills.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Veterans Day

I recall a time, not too long ago, when the word "veterans" in my mind conjured up images of people much older than I. No longer. Today's veterans include people from a generation younger than me, including my own nephew.

So I find myself on this Veterans Day doing something that all of us ought to get used to doing as we age a bit (I'm 39). I'm looking DOWN (age-wise) with respect as well as up. As of Veterans Day 2009, in addition to a laudable generation who saved us from the Kaiser, a generation that saved us from Hitler, and a generation that held back Stalin and Ho Chi Minh, we have a generation who all volunteered, and most of them during an ongoing war. For each of those generations I am thankful.

In the 19th century, armies tended to hemorrhage soldiers as conflicts lingered and languished. Desertions were numerous in both armies during the later years of the Civil War. I think it says something admirable about the younger generation of soldiers that so many of them have volunteered to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has been my job on some past occasions to teach about Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, Obadiah Holmes, John Clarke, Isaac Backus, John Leland, and all of the other theological heroes of religious liberty. This is a worthy and important calling, and if you find yourself unable to identify any of those names, I recommend that you engage in some edifying study. Nevertheless, I confess that my teaching about religious liberty has not in the past accorded enough credit to the non-theological heroes of religious liberty—the many common men and women who have sacrificed so much in wars that, whatever else they were about, safeguarded my freedom to worship without governmental interference.

Today, this Veterans Day, I correct that oversight and offer my thanks to those legions who are equally the heroes of the struggle for religious liberty—even those who fight today in the region most notorious for withholding from people the basic faith freedom that is the foundation of all other freedoms.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Acts 29 Discussion Question

Is the Acts 29 Network a denomination? Why or why not? What makes a denomination a denomination?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Advertisements

I've enabled Google Adsense on this blog. I think that I might earn as much as 10¢ per month off the ads, so it isn't for the income of the thing. Rather, it is simply a matter of principle. With the increasing hostility toward earners in our nation these days, I wanted to do something to affirm Capitalism.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ignored Honor Killings

I have very little to add to this excellent bit of analysis other than to extend my deepest sympathies to those family members who give a rip about Noor Amaleki. This, of course, will not be classified as a "hate crime," since it is an accepted dogma in the United States of America that only conservative Christians are capable of hate. This, on the other hand, is mere multiculturalism.

And I'm sure that somehow, someway, Israel and George W. Bush are at fault.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Seminaries and the Cooperative Program

I just wanted to direct you to Dr. Thomas White's latest post. Since I've been blogging a good bit about the Cooperative Program lately, it seemed appropriate to direct you to it.

And one other thing: I've decided to re-open my CP series. Most of the previous material, plus a few extras, went into my article for the Southern Baptist Texan. I had thought that I would exhaust all that I had to say there, but then I remembered why I love blogging—none of the word-count limitations inherent to print media. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to what I consider the greatest state paper in Southern Baptist life, but I think that there is enough material left on my cutting-room floor to stitch together another thing or two.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Husband's Praise to His Deceased Wife

My readers might find this interesting. It is a grieving husband's eulogy for his wife. The entire item is lengthy, so I give you selected excerpts:

Marriages as long as ours are rare, marriages that are ended by death and not broken by divorce. For we were fortunate enough to see our marriage last without disharmony for fully 40 years. I wish that our long union had come to its final end through something that had befallen me instead of you; it would have been more just if I as the older partner had had to yield to fate through such an event.

Why should I mention your domestic virtues: your loyalty, obedience, affability, reasonableness, industry in working wool, religion without superstition, sobriety of attire, modesty of appearance? Why dwell on your love for your relatives, your devotion to your family? You have shown the same attention to my mother as you did to your own parents, and have taken care to secure an equally peaceful life for her as you did for your own people, and you have innumerable other merits in common with all married women who care for their good name. It is your very own virtues that I am asserting, and very few women have encountered comparable circumstances to make them endure such sufferings and perform such deeds. Providentially Fate has made such hard tests rare for women.

We have preserved all the property you inherited from your parents under common custody, for you were not concerned to make you own what you had given to me without any restriction. We divided our duties in such a way that I had the guardianship of your property and you had the care of mine. Concerning this side of our relationship I pass over much, in case I should take a share myself in what is properly yours. May it be enough for me to have said this much to indicate how you felt and thought.

Your generosity you have manifested to many friends and particularly to your beloved relatives. On this point someone might mention with praise other women, but the only equal you have had has been your sister. For you brought up your female relations who deserved such kindness in your own houses with us. You also prepared marriage-portions for them so that they could obtain marriages worthy of your family.

You begged for my life when I was abroad - it was your courage that urged you to this step - and because of your entreaties I was shielded by the clemency of those against whom you marshaled your words. But whatever you said was always said with undaunted courage.

When peace had been restored throughout the world and the lawful political order reestablished, we began to enjoy quiet and happy times. It is true that we did wish to have children, who had for a long time been denied to us by an envious fate. If it had pleased Fortune to continue to be favorable to us as she was wont to be, what would have been lacking for either of us? But Fortune took a different course, and our hopes were sinking. The courses you considered and the steps you attempted to take because of this would perhaps be remarkable and praiseworthy in some other women, but in you they are nothing to wonder at when compared to your other great qualities and I will not go into them.

When you despaired of your ability to bear children and grieved over my childlessness, you became anxious lest by retaining you in marriage I might lose all hope of having children and be distressed for that reason. So you proposed a divorce outright and offered to yield our house free to another woman's fertility. Your intention was in fact that you yourself, relying on our well-known conformity of sentiment, would search out and provide for me a wife who was worthy and suitable for me, and you declared that you would regard future children as joint and as though your own, and that you would not effect a separation of our property which had hitherto been held in common, but that it would still be under my control and, if I wished so, under your administration: nothing would be kept apart by you, nothing separate, and you would thereafter take upon yourself the duties and the loyalty of a sister and a mother-in-law.

I must admit that I flared up so that I almost lost control of myself; so horrified was I by what you tried to do that I found it difficult to retrieve my composure. To think that separation should be considered between us before fate had so ordained, to think that you had been able to conceive in your mind the idea that you might cease to be my wife while I was still alive, although you had been utterly faithful to me when I was exiled and practically dead!

What desire, what need to have children could I have had that was so great that I should have broken faith for that reason and changed certainty for uncertainty? But no more about this! You remained with me as my wife, for I could not have given in to you without disgrace for me and unhappiness for both of us.

But on your part, what could have been more worthy of commemoration and praise than your efforts in devotion to my interests: when I could not have children from yourself, you wanted me to have them through your good offices, and since you despaired of bearing children, to provide me with offspring by my marriage to another woman.

Would that the life-span of each of us had allowed our marriage to continue until I, as the older partner, had been borne to the grave - that would have been more just - and you had performed for me the last rites, and that I had died leaving you still alive and that I had had you as a daughter to myself in place of my childlessness.

Fate decreed that you should precede me. You bequeathed me sorrow though my longing for you and left me a miserable man without children to comfort me. I on my part will, however, bend my way of thinking and feeling to your judgements and be guided by your admonitions.

But all your opinions and instructions should give precedence to the praise you have won so that this praise will be a consolation for me and I will not feel too much the loss of what I have consecrated to immortality to be remembered for ever.

Natural sorrow wrests away my power of self-control and I am overwhelmed by sorrow. I am tormented by two emotions: grief and fear - and I do not stand firm against either. When I go back in time through to my previous misfortunes and when I envisage what the future may have in store for me, fixing my eyes on your glory does not give me strength to bear my sorrow with patience. Rather I seem to be destined to long mourning.

The conclusions of my speech will be that you deserved everything but that it did not fall to my lot to give you everything as I ought; Your last wishes I have regarded as law; whatever it will be in my power to do in addition, I shall do.

These are words from the Laudatio Turiae, one of the lengthiest Roman inscriptions surviving from the ancient world. I think that the palpable grief and reverential love of this husband for his wife are beautiful. This inscription was produced in Rome during the approximate time of the authorship of the New Testament. I was pleased to discover that this famous Latin funerary speech is well-attested on the Internet. You can peruse the entire document here.

Someday you might find yourself preaching from one of the several passages in the New Testament that deal with family relationships. People are often tempted in the course of such preaching to deliver pronouncements about what family life was like back in those days (e.g., "Women were mere property" and the like). Before you are led astray by such exegetical skulduggery, you would do well to dedicate some time to reading actual primary sources from the period. Those people weren't exactly like us, but neither were they all that different from us in the ways that matter. There were good marriages and bad marriages in that day. People obviously faced terrible struggles in life, some overcoming together and some failing. Rather than being foreign and ancient literature, the New Testament was written to and for people just like us, and it means simply what it says.

Hey; if nothing else, you'll have read something romantic today.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Heart of Biblical Restoration Displayed in Song

Having now passed our church covenant and then our constitution & bylaws, in January we embark upon a massive enterprise to reach out to every member family of FBC Farmersville. Like most SBC churches, we have a number of members on the roll of the church who are either not very active in the life of the church or not active at all.

The easiest thing to do, of course, would be nothing at all—to ignore those folks and focus our energies upon the people who are active in the congregation as well as new prospects. The second easiest thing to do would be to conduct a massive purging of the congregational rolls, giving a few seconds of attention to each of these wayward members before returning our attention once again to our active members and prospects.

However, a few words from 1 Corinthians haunt me enough to drive us to a different course. In chapter 5, discussing the man having an illicit affair with his step-mother, Paul castigated not the sinner but the church, saying, "you have become arrogant and have not mourned instead."

Clean rolls can be accomplished without any correction of congregational arrogance. God calls us to congregational mourning over the sinful lifestyles of wayward members. Mournfully we hope to go out after those who have fallen by the wayside.

The lyrical nuances of this song will likely drive some of you crazy, but I hope that you'll permit me a musical flashback to my college days. The general emotional feel of this song represents a sentiment under-articulated in Christian music produced during my lifetime—biblical mourning over the backslidden and an accompanying longing for restoration. Enjoy…or rather…don't enjoy. Mourn.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Good Thoughts All Around on the GCR

I'll summarize my thoughts under two heads:

Johnny Hunt Was Right On the Money

Pun intended.

In an interview published in Baptist Press yesterday, SBC President Johnny Hunt said something to the effect (as the headline characterized it) that the Cooperative Program is not the only door into the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe that he is correct and that his observations are worthy of our consideration.

Let me state first of all that I am not at all supportive of any changes to the Cooperative Program. Only undesignated gifts should count as a part of CP calculations. I'd prefer that everyone have good opportunity to give through a state convention rather than giving in any sort of a designated manner. That's the ideal.

Support of the Cooperative Program in an undesignated manner is valuable to the Southern Baptist Convention, and it ought to be recognized and encouraged in ways that designated gifts are not recognized and encouraged. Designated gifts can be recognized and encouraged in other ways (and already are), but we ought to put a premium as Southern Baptists upon encouraging Cooperative Program giving.

However…

CP giving is not the sine qua non of Southern Baptist identity. The messenger body of the SBTC wisely fended off a proposed resolution amendment that would have made the Cooperative Program THE distinctive feature of being a Southern Baptist. You sure can't make that declaration historically, since the SBC existed 80 years with no Cooperative Program at all! Ours is an ecclesiological identity and not a programmatic one.

Let me be clear: Southern Baptists who give entirely differently than the Cooperative Program ought to be welcomed, respected, and appreciated for their giving. They shouldn't be described as people who support the Cooperative Program, but they should be described as people who support whatever it is that they support. And if they are supporting the whole SBC package, just in a different way or by a different formula, then they should be described as people who support the SBC.

What's more, Southern Baptist elections and nominations should not be tied slavishly to any analysis of CP giving percentages. Is it a fiction to say that we pray about these matters and follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit? Would we tell the Holy Spirit that we will not follow His leadership unless He leads exclusively to people who have given through the Cooperative Program?

Cooperative Program giving should be A factor duly considered in these matters, but it should not be THE factor controlling the process. A few years ago the CP veered dangerously close to being emphasized too much in the process, IMHO.

I do not take the election of Johnny Hunt as the convention saying that the CP needs to be scrapped or that the SBC needs to be torn apart and put back together from top to bottom. But his election most certainly does represent the people of the SBC saying that they'll elect whomever they wish as the officers of this convention, and they will neither tie their own hands nor surrender their own ballots to anyone else's determination of who gives enough by this method or that method so as to be qualified to serve.

The sole qualification to serve as president of the SBC is that you have won the confidence of the people of the SBC for service in that role. The same principle ought to be applied to nominations all the way down the line. During the Conservative Resurgence, we rightly concluded that doctrinal integrity is more important than financial conformity to a single favored giving plan. We make a terrible mistake if we determine that faithfulness to support the Cooperative Program is unimportant, but neither is it all-important.

David Hankins Was Also Spot-On With His Remarks

In a separate article in Baptist Press yesterday, David Hankins presented four affirmations from state convention executives to the Task Force. I will present and interact with each of them:

First, Hankins opined that "the structure that has served Southern Baptists in the past is well suited for the future." I believe that Hankins is speaking with regard to our macro-structure. In other words, we have local churches, local associations of churches, state conventions, and then the Southern Baptist Convention. Hankins is stating that we ought to move into the future with all four of those tiers still intact. With that sentiment I agree.

Now, within those tiers, I do not know that we must stay with precisely the same structure. For example, I believe that some helpful refinements could bring us a brighter day for NAMB. I don't take Hankins to be saying that no minor changes in structure can be considered. If he were saying that, I would disagree. But with him I affirm that our basic structure is precisely the structure for our future as Southern Baptists.

Second, Hankins reminded the task force that "state conventions are necessary, crucial partners for a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists." Do I agree? Sort of.

I would re-word the whole matter thusly: "State conventions are as necessary and crucial as partners for a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists as is the Southern Baptist Convention." It goes too far to include the word "necessary" in an unqualified sense in either case, IMHO. The local churches are the only necessary component to a Great Commission Resurgence. I believe that both the state conventions and the SBC are helpful, maybe even crucial, partners in this endeavor, but they are not necessary.

Nevertheless, I believe that Hankins means by his statement exactly what I said when I reworded it. He's comparing the necessity and cruciality of the state conventions to the task force and the SBC that inaugurated it. In that context, the state conventions are just as important.

Third, Hankins stated that "the NAMB serves a vital role in a coordinated, comprehensive evangelism and church planting movement for Southern Baptists." I agree entirely, and have said as much on several occasions. Southern Baptists must not emerge from this reorganization without a board separately tasked for evangelism and church planting in North America.

Fourth, Hankins suggested that "the Cooperative Program should be the vehicle of choice for funding Southern Baptist initiatives related to a Great Commission Resurgence." Again, I agree entirely, and have been busily writing along those same lines myself.

Conclusion

It just goes to show that there are good ideas on all sides. If we humbly listen to one another and fervently pray, we just might be able to accomplish some worthwhile things in all of this.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Errant Bible: The Gateway Heresy

One of the things I most appreciated about Dr. Danny Akin's sermon about the Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence was his bold statement that there is no room in the Southern Baptist Convention for people who do not agree regarding the inerrancy of the Bible. It is an utterly unenforceable concept, but nonetheless a welcome clarification of what it means to be a Southern Baptist.

Inerrancy-fatigue has meant that there has not been much discussion in the blog world about the nature of the Bible. Indeed, inerrancy-fatigue may mean very little response to this blog post. Nevertheless, I have decided to reproduce a paper that I wrote some time ago on the topic of inerrancy. The paper amounts to an attempt to interact with the thoughts of James Denison, the official theologian of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and his attack upon inerrancy in a self-published paper entitled, "The Errancy of Inerrancy." It is longer than my standard post, so if such things bore you, I won't be offended if you just don't bother. Otherwise, enjoy.

An Errant Bible: The Gateway Heresy

Dr. Jim Denison has served as the official professional theologian of the Baptist General Convention of Texas since being installed as Theologian-in-Residence at BGCT by the administration of Dr. Randel Everett in January 2009. Dr. Denison’s ministry as theologian-in-residence, according to Everett, will “[reflect] an innovative approach to serving the needs of our churches in Texas while also being involved in ministry beyond the state.”

Mentioned in the press release, and doubtless a factor in his selection, are Denison’s past labors in communicating theology to lay people. Among his better known efforts in this regard are his published books, such as Wrestling with God: How Can I Love a God I’m Not Sure I Trust? Far less known, but perhaps more important, is a paper Denison published in 2005 entitled “The Errancy of Inerrancy: Historical and Logical Examinations.”

The nature of the Bible is a foundational point of Christian theology. Denison serves in a rare and prestigious position as the official resident theologian of a large state convention of Southern Baptist believers. The inerrancy of the Bible has become a topic of significant historical importance. Denison’s writings are factually flawed and tend toward sophistry. For all of these reasons, this paper will offer a critique of Denison’s denial of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

Two possible approaches exist for refuting Denison. One approach would involve the authorship of a footnoted pedantic rebuttal fit for the academic community. I believe that this type of rebuttal is the less important of the two options. Denison authored his paper in order to take the denial of inerrancy down from the ivory towers of liberal academia (its indigenous habitat) and plead his case “in common-sense terms” for the benefit of “anyone confused by this issue” for whom “too little of [the denial of inerrancy] has been explained or made relevant to the church member.” Because Denison has made this argument for the lay community, the rebuttal also needs to be addressed toward the lay community. Besides, Denison’s paper is merely a regurgitation of points long since addressed within academic circles, making an academic rebuttal superfluous. It is appropriate for this rebuttal to take a non-academic, common-sense tone in setting forth the simple logical flaws of Denison’s main arguments.

Those main arguments are six in number:

  1. Denison argues that the word “inerrancy” has been defined and qualified in too many different and highly technical ways to be of any theological use; therefore, we ought to prefer to speak of the “trustworthiness” or “authority” of the Bible.

  2. Denison argues that the concept of inerrancy, since it is applied exclusively to the original Bible manuscripts, actually undermines the faith of believers in their own copies of the Bible.

  3. Denison argues that inerrancy is a recent doctrinal innovation not shared by those in Christian history whom we ought to emulate—that it is not among our theological “roots.”

  4. Denison argues that rather than the denial of inerrancy's leading to other heresies, the affirmation of inerrancy leads to unwarranted divisiveness.

  5. Denison argues that inerrancy is a philosophical position not supported by the statements of the Bible itself.

  6. Denison argues that the Bible actually is not inerrant; therefore, to apply the test of inerrancy to the Bible is to set the Bible up to fail at a test that it does not and would not apply to itself, and thereby to undermine one’s belief in the “trustworthiness” of the Bible.

FIRST, we consider Denison’s claim that the word “inerrancy” has been defined and qualified in too many different and highly technical ways to be of any theological use. In Denison’s own words: “it seems clear to me that any word with at least eight definitions and twelve qualifications has lost its value as a simple, common test of anything.”

Actually, Denison’s argument works against him, not for him. Yes, many different people have defined “inerrancy” in different ways. And yes, several inerrantists have offered a number of qualifications of the term “inerrancy” in order to forestall misunderstanding regarding the meaning of the term. Denison has suitably demonstrated that people with an impressive array of varied beliefs about the precise nature of the Bible can all claim to be an “inerrantist” in some fashion or another. Denison’s suggestion is that this complex state of affairs makes it not very meaningful for one to affirm that he is an inerrantist.

Yet even if this fact makes it mean less when someone affirms that he is an inerrantist, then it necessarily makes it mean more when someone cannot affirm that he is an inerrantist. The denial of inerrancy then means that, out of all the various definitions of inerrancy and with all of the various reasonable qualifications of inerrancy applied, a person still cannot find a way with all of that flexibility to affirm the word in any sense.

By the way, although Denison protests in this first section of his paper that the word “inerrancy” is so variously defined and over-qualified as to be meaningless, he seems to have no problem defining inerrancy while he is arguing against it in the remainder of the paper. Thus, shortly after declaring the word meaningless and excessively complex and qualified beyond repair, Denison simply states that “’Inerrancy’ may be defined as the view that ‘1. When all the facts are known, 2. they will demonstrate that the Bible in its autographs 3. and correctly interpreted 4. is entirely true 5. in all that it affirms.’” There you go. That’s precisely what I and so many other Southern Baptists mean when we speak of inerrancy, and Denison has defined it in a simple sentence. What’s so difficult about that?

Finally, we should observe that any word used to describe the nature of the Bible is going to wind up being subjected to a number of definitions and qualifications. The complexity is not a feature of the word; it is an aspect of the subject matter.

Denison doesn’t want to use “inerrant” but he does want to use “trustworthy” as an adjective to describe the Bible. Yet, is he suggesting that every last person who describes the Bible as “trustworthy” always means precisely the same thing by that affirmation? If so, he is wrong. I affirm the trustworthiness of the Bible, but I mean by the word something different than the belief that Denison articulates in his paper. By my meaning of the trustworthiness of the Bible (i.e., that you can trust anything you read in the Bible to be true), Denison does not believe in the trustworthiness of the Bible. Denison’s favorite word obviously has multiple definitions and is just as complex as “inerrant” ever could be.

Furthermore, just as clarifications and qualifications exist for the definition of inerrancy, Denison likewise qualifies his understanding of biblical trustworthiness. His trustworthy Bible actually is not trustworthy, according to Denison, for “an involved scientific explanation of the origin of the universe” or “a detailed system for the future” or as a chronicle of the reigns of the kings of Judah or as a narrative of what Judas did after he betrayed Jesus. In all of these respects, according to Denison, the Bible (whether the original manuscripts or the Bible you have on your shelf) is definitely not trustworthy. Denison’s concept of a “trustworthy” Bible is a highly qualified theory.

If these flaws so deeply damage the utility of the word “inerrancy,” they why do they not bother Denison in his use of the term “trustworthy”? Even after rigorous definition and careful qualification of both terms, to call the Bible inerrant is still to say something higher about its nature than to call it “trustworthy”—something higher about the nature of the Bible that not every proponent of a highly qualified and watered-down concept of the “trustworthiness” of the Bible is willing to say.

SECOND, we move to a consideration of Denison’s imaginative notion that the affirmation of inerrancy actually works to undermine Christian faith in the text of the Bible that the present-day believer actually holds in his hands. Again, to use Denison’s own words:

To summarize the threat which inerrancy poses to your Bible:

  1. By this doctrine, the Bible must be inerrant to be trustworthy;

  2. Only the original documents were inerrant;

  3. The copies on which we base our Bibles today are therefore “not entirely error-free”;

  4. Our Bibles therefore cannot be inerrant, and by definition are thus untrustworthy.

Denison’s assertion is entirely theoretical. He cannot produce teeming masses of people whose faith in the text of a modern Bible has been spoiled by the deleterious effects of having affirmed biblical inerrancy. On the other hand, the repeated experience of Southern Baptists in the real world has been that those who lack a trust in the truthfulness and accuracy of the Bibles in their hands are universally people who deny the inerrancy of the Bible rather than inerrantists. The person who is an inerrantist with regard to the original manuscripts but more skeptical with regard to the Bible he holds in his hand than are those who deny the inerrancy of the Bible? He’s a phantom existing only in Denison’s mind.

If Denison has never encountered anyone afflicted by this malady, then how did Denison come to identify and diagnose it? This portion of Denison’s argument is pure sophistry. Denison weaves an abstract philosophical argument by which he and those who deny biblical inerrancy are the true guardians of the trustworthiness of the Bible, while those who outwardly affirm the inerrancy of the Bible are the covert opponents of its trustworthiness and reliability. For someone who spends so much time arguing against Christians being confined by Aristotelian logic, Denison certainly seems insistent that his readers follow his purported logical framework to beware some danger of inerrancy that has proven to be entirely unrealized in actual existence!

How do inerrantists deal with the manuscript question? Both inerrantists and people who deny biblical inerrancy know that typographical and copying errors have been made in the production of Bibles down through the ages. We have thousands of manuscripts of the Bible, and the occasional differences are there for all to see. So, the fact of textual variants (another term for these typographical and copying errors) is not something that separates inerrantists from those like Denison who deny biblical inerrancy; rather it is a fact that we acknowledge together in the same way.

For some verses in the Bible, therefore, some manuscripts read one way and other manuscripts read another way. Only three possibilities exist for understanding this reality. First, perhaps in this postmodern relativistic age I could somehow choose to believe that each and every different reading is equally the entirely trustworthy word of God (to use Denison’s preferred term). Second, I might believe that the original wording is the trustworthy word of God, and that the later mistakes are not the trustworthy word of God. Third, I might believe that neither the original wording nor any of the later mistakes are the trustworthy word of God—that no reading is inerrant or trustworthy.

Which of those three positions do inerrantists advocate? We affirm the second option, believing that the original wording is the inerrant and trustworthy word of God, while the later mistakes are just that—human mistakes. It is at this point that Denison is attacking inerrantists for embracing the second option.

Which option does Denison affirm? From what Denison has written in the paper, we can rule out the first option: Denison does not believe that the later mistakes constitute the trustworthy word of God. He explicitly points out that he does not consider the “longer ending” of the Gospel of Mark to be trustworthy. He also indicates that he does not consider the typographical error that resulted in the “Wicked Bible” to be trustworthy. Denison does not believe that textual or typographical errors in the Bible are trustworthy.

Which of the other two options has Denison chosen? Either he believes that the Bible from which he preaches each Sunday is trustworthy where the translators have chosen the right readings and not trustworthy where they have not (the second option), or he believes that his Bible is not trustworthy anywhere (the third option). Denison seems not to choose the third option, so we can presume his affirmation of the second option.

If Denison agrees with this second option, then one wonders why he is criticizing inerrantists who hold the same viewpoint as his own. Wherever your Bible might contain one of the later mistakes, both Denison and I believe the same thing—that those words are neither inerrant nor trustworthy. Wherever your Bible contains the original wording, I affirm that those words are the inerrant word of God, while Denison somehow apparently believes that the original wording of the Bible may at places be erroneous yet somehow at the same time is trustworthy. These facts define our two positions.

THIRD, Denison argues that inerrancy is a novel doctrine of recent development and that we cannot legitimately claim it to be a part of our “roots” as Southern Baptists. This is among the weakest sections of the paper.

One of those weaknesses involves the criteria that Denison employs for evaluating figures in church history regarding their views of the nature of the Bible. For a person who lived in the past to be considered an inerrantist, Denison requires that he either employ the exact word “inerrant” or articulate something similar to the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy.

Denison’s ploy only succeeds if the inerrantist is willing to accept the entire burden of proof during the examination of the history of Christianity. Let Denison bring forth the history of those using precisely the word “trustworthiness” to refer to the nature of the Bible, and those who employ precisely the words that he favors to define trustworthiness and qualify it. Furthermore, let him produce those who speak of errors in the biblical text and discredit its treatments of the origins of the universe and human life. His standard for judging Christian History would cause any view of the nature of the Bible to fail, including his own.

When one is not straining at gnats and swallowing camels, the historical search is much less complex. For example, consider this comparison. Denison quotes Augustine as saying:

…none of [the biblical] authors has committed an error in writing. If in that literature I meet with anything which seems contrary to truth, I will have no doubt that it is only the manuscript which is faulty, or the translator who has not hit the sense, or my own failure to understand.

The simple definition of “inerrancy” that Denison himself quoted earlier says:

“Inerrancy” may be defined as the view that “1. When all the facts are known, 2. they will demonstrate that the Bible in its autographs 3. and correctly interpreted 4. is entirely true 5. in all that it affirms.”

The definition allows for the possibility that the Bible might not be interpreted properly or that all of the facts might not be known. Those possibilities correspond with Augustine’s statement about “my own failure to understand” or “the translator who has not hit the sense.” The definition speaks of the Bible in its autographs, corresponding with Augustine’s statement about “the manuscript” possibly being “faulty.” The definition states that, these conditions being met, the Bible is “entirely true…in all that it affirms.” Augustine says that “none of [the biblical] authors has committed an error in writing.” These two statements are different? I submit that it requires years of advanced study and careful indoctrination not to be able to see that these two quotations are essentially saying precisely same thing. Thankfully, most Southern Baptists are bereft of the necessary training to deprive them of their common sense.

A second weakness is present in this section as well. Denison takes great pains to place before us people in Christian History who have held a high view of the nature of the Bible, but who have also been guilty of holding erroneous positions in other areas of their theology. Denison summarizes, “In short, many of the so-called ‘inerrantists’ of church history interpreted the Bible in ways which would bother most Baptists and ‘conservative’ Christians today.” In making this important and often overlooked point, Denison is doing us a great service. A right view of the nature of the Bible does not guarantee a right practice of the interpretation of the Bible. Furthermore, the right interpretation of the Bible is as important as the right view of the nature and authority of the Bible. Some inerrantists have forgotten this truth, claiming that so long as a person is committed to inerrancy, inerrantists ought not to quibble over differences in interpretation. Denison’s arguments assist us greatly in correcting this na├»ve view.

However, it escapes me how Denison sees this point as undermining inerrancy. Yes, believing in inerrancy will not automatically make you a good interpreter of the Bible. Believing in inerrancy also will not cure warts, make your hair grow back, or enable you to make millions of dollars buying and selling real estate. These truths do not mean that affirming inerrancy is not valuable at all; they merely mean that these things are not the particular benefits of inerrancy that give value to the affirmation of inerrancy.

Denison has the formula backwards. It is not that affirming inerrancy is important because it makes me a good interpreter of the Bible; interpreting the Bible is important because I affirm inerrancy. God authored the Bible. He meant to communicate something through the words that He Himself chose when He caused men to write the Bible. Those words constitute the inerrant word of God, who finds me worthy of His message. The quest of seeking to find the one-and-only rightful interpretation of the Bible is an exercise in hearing the voice of God. Hearing the voice of God is an inordinately more important endeavor than is hearing the voice of “the Yahwist.” Therefore the inerrantist has far greater motivation to interpret the Bible rightly than does the modernist.

FOURTH, we look at Denison’s claim that the denial of inerrancy does not lead to a slippery slope of the compromise of other doctrines. Denison offers a fourfold rebuttal of the slippery slope theory. First, people can affirm inerrancy and still espouse doctrinal error. Second, there are instances of people who deny inerrancy and yet still manage not to apostatize completely. Third, because Baptist churches are autonomous, the teaching of an errant Bible in seminaries will not necessarily affect Baptist churches at all. Fourth, in real life one can question the accuracy of a statement or work partially without being compelled to reject it entirely.

Denison either misunderstands or misconstrues the concept of the “slippery slope.” Personally, rather than using the phrase “slippery slope,” I prefer to speak of the denial of biblical inerrancy as a “gateway heresy,” deliberately drawing from the characterization of marijuana as a “gateway drug.” Those who argue that marijuana is a “gateway drug” are not claiming that every person who smokes marijuana must necessarily move on to heroin. Neither are they claiming that every heroin addict also is a marijuana user. Rather, they are attempting to demonstrate that marijuana use leads to the use of other drugs often enough to be statistically significant.

Likewise, history demonstrates a clear statistical pattern of people who first reject biblical inerrancy and then reject other important Christian doctrines. One could cite individual anecdotes such as Southern Seminary Professor Crawford Howell Toy, who abandoned biblical inerrancy and eventually left orthodox Christianity. Another approach would be to analyze such groups as the homosexuality-affirming Alliance of Baptists and compare the percentage of their membership affirming inerrancy with the percentage of Southern Baptists affirming inerrancy. In doing this, the objective would not be to demonstrate that no exceptions exist, but simply to show that most who become heretics deny inerrancy first, and that the denial of inerrancy strongly predisposes one to deny other important Christian doctrines as well. One can agree with Denison that it is possible for a person to deny biblical inerrancy and yet cling to some of the Bible’s important teachings, yet we can also say that however possible this state may be, it often does not endure over the span of generations in the majority of those who deny the inerrancy of the Bible. The well-beaten path, trodden by Mainline denominations and institutions all around us, is from the denial of inerrancy to the denial of other vital Christian doctrines.

With regard to Denison’s argument from Baptist polity, he has the matter backwards. I agree with him that Baptist churches are normally quite resilient against the influences of liberal effete academicians. Nevertheless, even if we can guarantee that churches could remain impervious to the influences of liberal seminaries, our polity also requires us to guarantee that liberal seminaries should not be able to remain impervious to the influences of the conservative churches from which they once wrongly derived their income.

Denison’s statements about the tenability of rejecting the trustworthiness of the Bible in part, but not in whole, merits our attention. Consider his wording:

Fourth, the “slippery slope” theory rests on faulty reasoning. We’re told that if we admit there are questions with the biblical text regarding geography or science, we’ll soon slide into questioning vital areas of faith. If we cannot be sure how many angels were at the resurrection, soon we’ll be questioning the resurrection itself.

However, this reasoning doesn’t work in life. When you find typographical errors in a newspaper, do you question everything the paper contains? If you disagree with your pastor regarding his interpretation of a particular text, do you reject every part of his theology? By the “slippery slope” argument, once you’ve started down the precipice there’s nothing to break your fall. But the fact is, the slip doesn’t necessarily lead to a slope at all.

Denison’s argument fails at several points. First, his case only survives if one makes a stark and artificial separation between “geography or science” and “vital areas of the faith,” but such a neat division is unwarranted. Did God literally create Adam and Eve? Does the entire lineage of humanity trace back to one primeval couple? Were they created sinless? Did they fall into sin? Did their sin somehow affect the nature of their progeny? Is the nature of the universe itself affected by their sin? These are questions of cosmology, biology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and even astronomy. These are scientific questions. Yet they are also spiritual questions, the answers to which affect the very gospel itself.

Denison’s case is further flawed because the nature of my newspaper or the nature of my pastor’s hermeneutics are not intertwined with the nature of God. The way I treat a publication or message is always intertwined with what I know about the character of the one who produces it.

Sometimes I encounter publications produced by those whom I know to be fallen, imprecise, errant people who are genuinely trying to produce a good and accurate publication. My local newspaper fits into this category. When I find a typographical error in my newspaper, I know that it is an error, but I do not conclude that the error was intentional, and its isolated presence does not make me any more skeptical as to whether the newspaper correctly reports the President’s activities yesterday. I conclude that the newspaper is generally accurate but occasionally flawed because I presume that the people who publish it are trying to be accurate but will make inadvertent mistakes.

Other people are deliberately dishonest. If I receive an email from a person I don’t know telling me about a vast fortune that he needs to transfer out of Nigeria, then I receive that message differently. I presume that the person involved is deliberately trying to deceive me. If I should enter into a subsequent conversation with the sender, I would presume every word to be a lie, simply because I know the sender to be a liar trying to deceive me.

Other people I consider honest but generally irresponsible. If they forward to me emails about FCC Petition 2493 and Madalyn Murray O’Hair and other similar matters, strongly chiding me that WE MUST ACT NOW, then I will soon conclude that they are well-meaning people but a bit reckless in their research. As a consequence, when they forward me an email about a missing child for whom we really need to be on the lookout, I am immediately skeptical.

On the other hand, if a friend calls me on the phone stating that her own daughter is missing, then I’m not skeptical at all. My friend is in a position to know the truth and it is too important a subject for her not to have given the matter careful thought. My estimation of the messenger’s credibility, competence, and character determine entirely my expectations of the message.

If tomorrow I have the experience that Isaiah had, and I see the LORD high and lifted up and hear Him speaking to me, then I’m going to presume that every word is entirely inerrant. I will make this assumption apart from Francis Turretin, apart from any intent to divide the Southern Baptist Convention, and apart from any acquaintance with The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. The cause of my presumption is solely and entirely what I know about the nature of God. I heard God say something, and I will die before anyone convinces me that it was not true. Denison understands this connection between God’s nature and His message well enough to articulate it himself:

It all seems so simple. God inspired the Bible and he doesn’t make mistakes, so there can be no errors in the Bible. The Bible is therefore “inerrant.”

Denison rejects this argument, but he never bothers to refute it. The question is simply whether the Bible is like the newspaper or the Nigerian fraud email or the FCC Petition email or the phone call from the friend or Isaiah’s vision. The answer to that question hinges entirely upon who God is and what role He had in the production of the Bible. It not only seems that simple; it is that simple.

FIFTH, we consider Denison’s argument that the Bible does not claim inerrancy for itself. Denison opines:

…inerrancy is neither a word nor an argument found in the biblical text itself. Does it seem right or wrong to create a question the Scriptures nowhere ask, and then make one answer to this question the only “biblical” position?

Once again, it becomes important at this juncture to bring forward the simple definition of inerrancy quoted by Denison:

“Inerrancy” may be defined as the view that “1. When all the facts are known, 2. they will demonstrate that the Bible in its autographs 3. and correctly interpreted 4. is entirely true 5. in all that it affirms.”

Does the Bible make this argument, or does it not? Denison claims that the only way to arrive at this argument is to “extend the argument beyond the text.” In one sense, Denison is correct. Inerrancy is a matter of systematic theology. In other words, to understand the entirety of the biblical claim of inerrancy, it is necessary to consider not just what the Bible says in one place, but to consider the aggregate of what the Bible says in several places.

Perhaps the most intriguing way to address Denison’s argument would be to take his own admissions about what the Bible teaches of its own nature, and see that Denison’s interpretation itself essentially adds up to inerrancy! To do so we take Denison’s argument in our own sequence, looking at how his own chapter builds an argument in favor of inerrancy.

Denison acknowledged in his chapter than the Bible has come to us by the inspiration of God. Every word of the biblical autographs is God speaking. Inspiration tells us about “the origin of the text,” Denison says. “This text and others like it guarantee that the Bible came from God.” Denison favorably quotes a passage that goes even further: “the Spirit of God rested on and in the prophets and spoke through them so that their words did not come from themselves, but from the mouth of God.”(emphasis mine)

The paper also analyzes the text of Numbers 23:19, which says, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.” So far, Denison has told us that every word of the Bible comes from God, and that God does not lie. This seems to be a solid case for biblical inerrancy! How does Denison not agree?

The flaw in this logic is that “lie” and “error” are not the same thing. Webster defines “lie” as “to make a statement that one knows is false, especially with intent to deceive.” It defines an “error” as “something incorrectly done through ignorance or carelessness; mistake.” Thus Number 23:19 does not speak to the question of error/inerrancy, but rather to the trustworthy character of God.

If a person does not subscribe to inerrancy, this does not mean that he or she accuses God of “intent to deceive.” Even the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy claims that the Bible we have is “not entirely error-free” (Exposition E), but this does not mean that it deliberately deceives us. The author of Numbers 23:19 in no sense intended to address the issue of inerrancy.

So according to Denison’s very careful argument here, the words of the Bible may not be a “lie” because every word comes from God, and God cannot be accused of “intent to deceive.” However, “‘lie’ and ‘error’ are not the same thing,” and although the words of the Bible may not be a “lie” they may indeed be an “error.” God, according to Denison, is not someone able “to make a statement that [He] knows is false, especially with intent to deceive,” but He apparently is someone capable of “something incorrectly done through ignorance or carelessness.” God is not bad; He is merely incompetent!

The inerrantist, agreeing with Denison that God is the author bearing the responsibility for every word in the biblical autographs, maintains that our God neither lies nor makes mistakes. For this reason we believe the Bible to be inerrant. Denison has catalogued several (but not all) of the biblical passages that bespeak the high view we hold of the nature of the Bible. He employs several arguments to attempt to show that words like flawless, true, perfect, and faithful can be construed to allow room for errors in the Bible. What he cannot do—what no person has ever been able to do—is direct us to any portion of the Bible alleging flaws, weaknesses, or errors in any portion of the Bible in any sense. Once again, Denison’s only hope for success is to shirk the burden of proof and place it entirely upon his opponents.

Looking back to our simple definition of inerrancy, we concede that the Bible does not make statements about its own “autographs” or manuscripts. This is hardly surprising, since no book of the Bible had a manuscript problem while that book was being written. It also is no impediment to affirming inerrancy. Rather, it is because the Bible, speaking of itself in its original state, affirms its own inerrancy that we speak of the inerrancy of the autographs. Otherwise, just from the texts cited by Denison, without bringing in 2 Peter 1:15-21 and a dozen other passages, we find an excellent case for inerrancy right within the Bible itself.

SIXTH, and finally, we consider Denison’s chapter naming some of the specific assertions in the Bible that he considers erroneous.

Denison believes that “any clear reading of [the accounts in Matthew 27:1-10 and Acts 1:18-19 of Judas’s post-betrayal actions] shows that the two accounts do contradict each other in several places” and that one, or both, is in error, disproving biblical inerrancy. I have attempted in this paper to maintain a conversational tone and to avoid the inclusion of footnotes and the invocations of experts. To refute Denison’s characterization of the accounts of Judas’s actions in Matthew and Acts, however, I must call upon an expert. The expert whom I summon to refute Jim Denison is…Jim Denison. In his online article entitled “Isn’t the Bible Filled with Contradictions?” Denison defends the Judas narrative against the charge that it is contradictory:

"Matthew says that Judas hanged himself; the book of Acts says he fell down and died. Which is it?" Matthew's gospel does indeed record Judas's suicide by hanging (Mt 27:5). In Acts 1 Peter says, "Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out" (v. 18). It may be that Judas's body decomposed, so that when the rope broke or was cut, it fell as Peter describes. Or it may be that the Greek word translated "hanged" is actually the word "impaled" (both meanings are possible), so that Peter describes more vividly the way Judas killed himself. Either option is a possible way to explain the apparent contradiction.

The body of written work struggling with the problem of being self-contradictory is not the Bible; it is Denison’s own writings. When writing for the lost, he defends the Bible against the charge that it is self-contradictory. When writing for Christians and against inerrantists, he himself charges the Bible with inconsistencies and errors. I say this neither to be uncharitable nor to make unduly personal what is a discussion of ideas. Rather, I think that Denison’s online article is a stellar example of the fact that apparent contradictions in the Bible are reconcilable. I think it further reveals Denison’s instinctual understanding (as a good pastor) that the inerrancy of the Bible is indeed important, and that successful evangelism often requires showing that the Bible is God’s perfect word and is not in error.

Just as Denison has been able to reconcile the Judas accounts to his apparent satisfaction, his other supposed contradictions that disprove inerrancy are not so problematic as he would suggest. I carried off to college with me a copy of Gleason L. Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Other similar works probably sit on the shelf of a bookstore near you or are available online. Each believer who is troubled by some alleged contradiction in the Bible owes it to himself to examine the strong evidence in favor of inerrancy before succumbing to the soothsaying of a document like Denison’s “The Errancy of Inerrancy.”

IN CONCLUSION, none of Denison’s six arguments disproves biblical inerrancy. As a Baptist, I’m thankful to live in a nation in which every individual is free to embrace the inerrancy of the Bible, to regard it as riddled with contradictions, or even to refuse to read it altogether. I affirm Dr. Denison’s right to come to his own conclusions regarding the nature of the Bible. I affirm his right to teach those conclusions and to publish them for the perusal of others. I affirm the right of the Baptist General Covention of Texas to hire him as their Theologian-in-Residence and to consider his attempts to undermine belief in biblical inerrancy as a service to the churches of the BGCT.

Thankfully, religious liberty in our nation also involves the right to consider Denison’s arguments, interact with them, and offer a vigorous critique. BGCT Theologian-in-Residence Jim Denison disagrees with what both the 1963 and the 2000 versions of The Baptist Faith & Message say about the Bible—that it has “God for its author…and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” His authorship, dissemination, and use of this paper represents his attempt to get Texas Baptist churches to join him in his error. In a land of religious liberty he thereby opens a conversation in which I may humbly disagree with him, point out his errors, and hopefully pray that the Holy Spirit will, as promised, lead him to all truth.