Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Beauty of Evangelicalism

As all around us the Great Baptist Re-Think takes place, and another generation determines, one-by-one, whether we were right or wrong to maintain separation from other denominations on the definitive issues of our doctrine, I have taken the role of someone defending the Baptist ideas. I believe that they are both biblical and important enough to warrant our division from other believers who disagree.

One regrettable side effect of taking that position is the likelihood of leaving the false impression of being curmudgeonly toward all who are not Baptist.

It is a bit like the way I am made to feel sometimes with regard to the King James Version of the Bible. I love the KJV. Ask me to quote a scripture that I memorized in childhood, and I'm going to quote KJV back to you, probably. To this day, I cannot find within me the will to read Psalm 23 "straight" from another translation. I always wind up with some sort of a hybrid, eliminating some of the more awkward archaisms but always coming out with "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," and things like that.

But I've encountered those people along the way in ministry who are KJV-only people. They may like my preaching and like the church, but they don't like my reading the NASB. And so some sort of dialogue always ensues. And the thing that I hate about it is that those discussions inevitably make me out as the enemy of the KJV.

I'm not the enemy of the KJV. I'm also not one who possesses a sour attitude toward other non-Baptist believers. I love the brothers and sisters whom we have in Christ. I love them enough to try as best I can to get them to come into obedience to Christ in those areas in which they are in sin. I hope that they will love me enough to do likewise, for I am not without my own flaws.

Just as Baptists are not entirely right, non-Baptists are not entirely wrong. On the distinctive doctrines of our faith, Baptists are biblical and right, but we've ranged beyond these things and have been in error many times in our history. There's ugliness in Baptist history, and there's beauty in evangelicalism. Ecclesiology is an important part of the faith, but the faith is so much more than ecclesiology. And there are real treasures for us all in the broader world of evangelicalism.

One good example of that beauty is, in my estimation, the life and work of Rich Mullins. Although I disagreed with some of his commentary, I've found in his songwriting a glorious exaltation of the Lord coupled with an authentic connection to the human condition. Perhaps what I appreciate the most are the incredible one-liners that Mullins crafted into so many of his songs. So, for today's post, I share with you some of my favorite witticisms from the ministry of the late Rich Mullins:

  • Everybody I know says they need just one thing, but what they really mean is they need just one thing more.

  • What I'd have settled for, You've blown so far away; what You've brought me to, I thought I could not reach.

  • They worked to give faith hands and feet, and somehow gave it wings.

  • They said, "Boy, just follow your heart," but my heart only led me into my chest.

  • When my body lies in the ruins of the lies that nearly ruined me.

  • Now Jacob got two women and a whole house full of kids, and he schemed his way back to the Promised Land. And he finds it's one thing to win them, and another to keep them content…

  • If these, our hells and our heavens, are so few inches apart, we must be awfully small, and not as strong as we think we are.

  • If there's a better world and a brighter day, even brighter than the one we live in, we'd all be fools to think that it could be made by the wills and the hands of foolish men.

There are many more, but these are enough to get things started. Feel free to post your own favorites in the comment stream.


peter lumpkins said...


Thank you for a much repeated albeit often ignored admission: namely, those of us who admire, adhere to and defend what we deem our Biblical, Baptist heritage nonetheless appreciate--and yes, admire as well--much from the broader evangelical faith community.

That the Sunday night worship time, along with obsessions of a rigid, non-negotiable Tues night door-2-door visitation requirement to qualify as "fully Baptist" have been mysteriously draped over "Baptist Identity's" shoulders is too fantastic for words.

I say this often and shall continue just so long as our good brothers keep peeling those smelly, teary onions: I never have nor do I predict I ever will have a cantankerous relationship with other evangelicals. The record in the communities where the Lord has allowed me to serve as Pastor demonstrate the truth of what I'm saying.

Indeed I suspect, if percentages could be possible, so far as human men are concerned, the man with the most influence in forging my thinking about theology, culture, and life, at least in my formative years, was not a Baptist, I confess. Irony of ironies!!

Rather he was a--dare a known "BI" criminal concerning which I am accused publicly utter the shocking word?--a Presbyterian!

To ponder if I am either anti-Calvinist, anti-evangelical, or absolutely forbidding of legitimate ministry liaisons with other evangelicals--where possible without pillaging my own biblical convictions or those of my church--such, I say, is so alien to my inner spirit, and, I trust, so visible to those who know me well, that only the most ignorant on the one hand or the most slanderous on the other could deduce such a skewed, messed up estimation of my own perspective. And, frankly, in light of such, I find myself obligated to neither in proving them false. They may judge as they have judged.

In light of such open admission, does appreciating the broader contributions of evangelicalism commit us to abandoning our rightful spiritual heritage as we define such heritage from Scripture? No.

Does setting one's ecclesial boundary marker just so far and no further--not hidden, mind you, but out in the open where all family members in the broader evangelical community fully grasp its position--justly merit the ridiculous branding of narrow, bigoted believers concerned more with "Baptist" connection than "Gospel" connection? No.

Does the fact that while one definitively does not count believer's baptism by immersion only a so-called "first-tier" tenet of our biblical soteriology-forever settled among us it is 'by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone'--nevertheless, require one to deny believer's baptism by immersion only a "first-tier" tenet of biblical ecclesiology? Again, I answer, No.

May our Lord be pleased in all as He continues to guide us through the maze of life. With that, I am...

Anonymous said...


Good thoughts. Our church is in the heart of a part of our city that has been influenced heavily, for the good, by the PCA over the last 30 years. I love those churches, those pastors, and the people in them. And I recognize that in our city they have been the leading churches in biblical exposition for some period of time. Fortunately, that is beginning to change.

But I do not agree with my PCA friends on infant baptism, Presbyteries etc. Baptist distinctives in these areas represent what the Bible teaches. I even sense that in mixed groups of PCA and Baptist people. Usually the PCA people talk about what infant baptism "does not" mean (i.e. salvation), but not what it means. They tend to gloss over these things because the arguments spring from systematic theologies and not from the Bible.

So, I believe that we should proclaim Baptist distinctives (recognizing that are shared with other denominations).

But that does not at all mean that I have a lack of appreciation or love for my PCA brethren or other denominations that may disagree with us on some of these issues. In fact, I am probably closer to many PCA folks than I am to Baptist liberals who practice Baptism and the Lord's Supper as I do, but do not affirm the Bible as God's Word.