Sunday, July 29, 2007

Keeping Watch over the Establishment

The Official Establishment Blog (what else could one call the only prominent Southern Baptist blog endorsed by SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman, IMB President Jerry Rankin, and Lifeway President Thom Rainer?) has published a personal attack against Dr. Paige Patterson. See endorsements here. The personal attack is in this post, snidely hidden in the "unrelated news" links at the end. So now, just to keep count, we're up to two members of the Great Commission Council—Richard Land and Paige Patterson—who have been maligned by this blog that has been publicly endorsed by three other members of the Great Commission Council. And for what it is worth, although the author of the piece is a student at Baylor University, we've seen no exposé regarding the size, appointments, or expense of the mansion provided for the president of that institution. As a final bonus, I note the following. I first met Paige Patterson when he came to preach at my church. It was several years ago. His financial requirements for coming? None.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Of Muslims and Mars Hill

"Mars Hill" refers to Paul's encounter with the Epicureans and Stoics in the Areopagus at Athens. You can read the biblical narrative of the account here. It is the textus classicus for detailing true biblical contextualization. After you've read the biblical text, see whether this is not a good timeline of what Paul did:

  1. Paul arrived in Athens and was provoked by the way that the city was full of temples and idols.
  2. Paul immediately began to preach explicitly the exclusive gospel of Jesus Christ both in the synagogues and out in the public marketplace to whomever would listen. This was Paul's continuous practice and went on for an undisclosed number of days.
  3. Epicureans and Stoics heard Paul preaching and took him to the Areopagus to find out more details about what Paul was preaching. Paul arrived there and began to preach.
  4. Paul mentioned his observation that the people of Athens were "very religious."
  5. Paul noted the existence of the temple "TO AN UNKNOWN GOD."
  6. Paul used the existence of this temple to highlight the ignorance of Greek religion.
  7. Paul promised to supplant their ignorance by proclaiming revealed truth.
  8. Paul publicly rejected the entire Greek system of temple worship, including by extension the temple to an unknown god, by stating flatly that God does not dwell in man-made temples.
  9. Paul stated that the purpose of mankind is not to care for (tend to the needs of) God, but to seek God.
  10. Paul cited Greek poets to illustrate that even Greeks acknowledged that people are "His children."
  11. Paul used the doctrine of God's fatherhood to highlight the foolishness of Greek idolatry—how can people be the children of a statue of gold or silver or stone?
  12. Paul demonstrated that the statues come from men; men don't come from the statues.
  13. Paul highlighted again that Greek religion was ignorant, but Paul proclaimed the good news that God was ready to overlook their past ignorance.
  14. Paul articulated God's demand that those in ignorance repent from their idolatry.
  15. Paul proclaimed the coming day of judgment through Jesus.
  16. Paul offered the resurrection of Jesus as proof of Christ's role as Savior and Judge.
  17. The people who were listening understood clearly what Paul was preaching. As a result, some sneered. Others were interested in further discussion. Yet others gladly received the gospel.

The major difference between The Camel and Paul's work in Athens is indeed a C-word, but not contextualization. The key difference regards confrontation.

Consider again the pattern of bold confrontation that Paul brought against false religion in Acts 17. He declared their religion to be ignorant of God. He used their own religion (the temple acknowledging that the existence of the "unknown" in their religion...the poems declaring that we are God's children, not the gods' sculptors) to disprove their religion. He did not leave them to draw their own conclusions—he spelled it out for them. He confronted their city full of temples. He confronted their city full of idols. He confronted the core principles of their religion—the nature of the Divine. Paul said that God was no longer willing to overlook their ignorance. On the authority of God, Paul called upon them to repent. Paul asserted Jesus as the exclusive Judge of all mankind.

I think that Acts 17 gives an excellent paradigm for repairing The Camel. Greeson's book very delicately avoids confrontation with Islam. Indeed, the fundamental distinctive of The Camel seems to be its way of trying to present Christianity without confronting Islam. As a result, the most troubling aspect of the book is what is not in it, not what is in it. A person carefully following this method is never instructed to confront the Muslim god as false. He is never instructed to confront Mohammed as a false prophet—he is rather carefully and explicitly instructed in saying just the opposite (see here). He is never instructed to confront the Qur'an as ignorant of the true God, the true Jesus, and the true faith. Indeed, the method depends upon the Muslim's reliance upon the accuracy of the Qur'an.

Speaking of camels, G. K. Chesterton wrote: "Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel." Greeson's book clearly regards the confrontation of false religion as a burden—an obstacle to be overcome in evangelization. Paul regarded it as an essential part of evangelization. I think it would remedy many of these ills if Greeson were to restore the biblical hump of confrontation to his camel of Muslim evangelization.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Intermission: Twenty-Four Hours of Endorsements

My next post, "Of Muslims and Mars Hill," will come out tomorrow. In the meantime, it has been quite a day of activity in the blog world. David Dockery, Morris Chapman, Jerry Rankin, and Thom Rainer have all endorsed a site that has endorsed the departure of Richard Land from the helm of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It all happened within a little more than twenty-four hours. Here you can find the article linking to the four endorsements. Dockery commends the site for "positive and constuctive interaction." Morris Chapman articulates a confidence in the site's "stated intention to tone down personal criticisms of those who have differing views." Jerry Rankin speaks of the site's "respectful exchange of diverse opinions." Thom Rainer voices a "hope and prayer" that the site will "be used by God to open doors of conversation." Now, on the very next evening, this post by Art Rogers makes its own endorsement of sorts, saying not at all subtly that Richard Land ought not to be at the head of the ERLC. Rogers writes:
Dr. Land is President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. If he has deliberately lied, he certainly should not be in leadership anywhere in the SBC, much less his current post. On the other hand, if he legitimately believes what he said and is just horribly wrong, then his abilities to lead are thus called into question.
The implication is plain: Land either believes what he said or has deliberately lied, and either way, somebody else ought to be leading ERLC. If this is the kind of thing that these four are endorsing, then future meetings of the Great Commission Council are going to be very interesting. On the other hand, if they did not intend to endorse such speech, it will be interesting to see how they react to Rogers's statements.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Of Muslims and Mohammed: Redux

The esteemed and omnipresent blog comment personality, Anonymous, has charged that I have deliberately misquoted The Camel in my previous post. He is way off base. But, to dispel any doubt among those who have not read the book, I offer the relevant passage in its entirety. Also, I offer the relevant passages from the Qur'an in their entirety—not just in the snippets that Greeson has quoted.
Barrier #4: What Do You Say about Mohammed? This is the big question. Muslims take great offense at those who would profane their prophet. The best bridge to overcome the barrier of Mohammed is to simply say: "I agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed." The Qur'an does not say that Mohammed was the greatest prophet. It does say that he was the "seal of the prophets" in surah al-Ahzab 33:40; seal only means the last, not the greatest. (Please note: We are not saying that Mohammed was a true prophet or the seal of the prophets, we are only making you aware of what you might face from the Qur'an.) Then ask your friend to read surah al-Ahqaf (the Sandhills surah) 46:9 in which Allah instructs Mohammed to say:
I am no new thing among the messengers, nor know I what will be done with me or with you … I am but a plain warner.
Likewise in surah al-Imran 3:144, Allah says of Mohammed:
Mohammed is but a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) have passed away before him.
We see in these passages that neither Mohammed nor his followers claimed that he was the greatest prophet. Then you can ask your friend, "What is life's greatest question?" The greatest question of life is "What will happen to me when I die?" We see from surah al-Ahqaf 46:9 that Mohammed did not claim to have a certain answer to that question, for himself or for his followers. Then you can take your Muslim friend to the Injil. Show him passages such as John 6:4 and especially John 14:1-6. <quotation of John 14:1-4, 6, NIV> Clearly Jesus does have the answer to life's greatest question.
Here is a full quotation of the Qur'anic passages cited: Surah al-Ahzab 33:40. Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things. Surah al-Ahqaf 46:7-9. When Our Clear Signs are rehearsed to them, the Unbelievers say, of the Truth when it comes to them: "This is evident sorcery!" Or do they say, "He has forged it"? Say: "Had I forged it, then can ye obtain no single (blessing) for me from Allah. He knows best of that whereof ye talk (so glibly)! Enough is He for a witness between me and you! And he is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." Say: "I am no bringer of new-fangled doctrine among the apostles, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I follow but that which is revealed to me by inspiration; I am but a Warner open and clear." Surah al-Imran 3:144. Muhammad is no more than an apostle: many Were the apostle that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will ye then Turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah. but Allah (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude. Every one of these ayat refers to Mohammed as a prophet…every one of them…explicitly. I compliment Greeson when I assert that he does not believe what any of these ayat say about Mohammed, fairly read. The problem is that Greeson is encouraging us to answer a Muslim prospect's honest question with the dishonest answer "I agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed." Even in the passages that Greeson cites, he does not agree with what those verses (ayat) say about Mohammed. Of course he doesn't—he's a Christian. For those of you who do not own the book yet, I have posted this so that you will not have any reason to wonder whether I am misconstruing the text of Greeson's book. We need to have an honest and open discussion of what this book says. I want to facilitate, not hinder, that endeavor.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Of Muslims and Mohammed

Barrier #4: What Do You Say about Mohammed? This is the big question. Muslims take great offense at those who would profane their prophet. The best bridge to overcome the barrier of Mohammed is to simply say: "I agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed." (emphasis mine) -The Camel (2007), 144
In my previous post I observed that Muslims must reject Mohammed as a false prophet just as Mormons must reject Joseph Smith as a false prophet. Kevin Greeson correctly observes that the status of Mohammed is a delicate subject in dealing with Muslims. Consider the worldwide reaction to the publication in 2005 of a group of editorial cartoons depicting Mohammed (see Wikipedia's summary of the event here). In addition to the book's implications upon Islam and the Qur'an, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was perceived to have disrespected Mohammed, resulting in a fatwa calling for his assasination. Dr. Jerry Vines received voluminous criticism for his June 10, 2002, observation that Mohammed was a "demon-possessed pedophile" (Mohammed had sex with a nine-year-old girl). Yes, to regard Mohammed as anything less than the "seal of the prophets" is to offend a Muslim. The methodology of The Camel is not a new one—it is simply the practice of stripping away the skandalon ("offense") of the gospel to make it palatable to those whom it offends. The Camel is tested at this point when it deals with the question of Mohammed. Here is the moment when an evangelist to Muslims must face what Greeson calls "the big question." That question, by the way, is not strictly about Mohammed but also has implications for whether one can receive the Christian gospel while remaining an adherent of Islam. How does The Camel respond to this question? Greeson writes: "I agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed." Well, what does the Qur'an say about Mohammed?
  1. It says that Mohammed is a true prophet of God, and the last of such (i.e., "the seal of the prophets") 33:40.
  2. It says that Mohammed was inspired by god in the writing of the Qur'an (10:2; 18:110).
  3. It says that in the Qur'an Mohammed included nothing besides what was revealed to him by god (10:15-16).
  4. It says that Jesus predicted the coming of Mohammed (61:6).
  5. It says that Mohammed is the "beautiful pattern" for human living.
So, there is what the Qur'an says about Mohammed. Greeson's plan is for evangelists to tell Muslims that they "agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed." Does Greeson really agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed? No. In the beginning of the book he clarifies that he does not intend to "endorse...Mohammed." Indeed, in the very next paragraph after encouraging missionaries to say, "I agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed," Greeson makes it plain that, although the Qur'an refers to Mohammed as a prophet, Greeson does not regard Mohammed as a prophet. Greeson's bewiildering progression in a scant two paragraphs is:
  1. I agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed.
  2. The Qur'an says that Mohammed was a true prophet.
  3. I do not agree that Mohammed was a true prophet.
Huh???? Greeson's intent is to direct the Muslim prospect to a particular passage in the Qur'an in which Mohammed asserts his mere humanity and his connection with other prophets who have gone before him. The long-term goal is to attempt to demonstrate from the Qur'an that Jesus is a greater prophet than Mohammed was. But in doing so, they dodge a direct question about the Christian view of Mohammed by falsely stating affirmation of what the Qur'an says about Mohammed, when what they really intend to do is show that one phrase of what the Qur'an says about Mohammed is not entirely incompatible with Christianity. The rationale is simple—avoid putting the prospect into the position of having to choose between Jesus and Mohammed. Indeed, following The Camel one would prefer to sidestep this question entirely. This section only appears in the "advanced Camel" section training one to deal with objections raised by the Muslim prospect. The choice between Jesus and Mohammed is a skandalon for Muslims. But I ask you, can you really present the gospel without bringing a Muslim to the point of having to make this choice? Can one genuinely be a Christian and "agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed"? I don't think so. I understand, sympathize with, and applaud the motivation—a powerful desire to see Muslims come to faith in Christ. It is the methodology that bothers me. When people who do not agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed say that they do agree with what the Qur'an says about Mohammed, all to keep from injecting any tension between the false prophet Mohammed and a decision for Christ, they are simply being dishonest with a prospect in order to try to win them to a decision. And with that, I refer you back to my previous post.

Of Muslims and Mormons

I have received my copy of Kevin Greeson, The Camel: How Muslims Are Coming to Faith in Christ!. The text is compelling and easy to read—I had finished the book within a couple of hours of receiving it. I have now read it more than once and am prepared to offer my thoughts. In fact, I have already typed out enough of my thoughts to see that my remarks are far too lengthy and involved to be contained in a single post. Please consider this the first installment in a series. The problem of Muslim evangelization is thorny indeed. We are rightly desperate to accomplish it, recognizing how many millions of people are deceived by this false religion. We see the absence of religious liberty in so many of the Muslim strongholds around the world and we wonder how to carry the gospel into places where doing so is illegal and dangerous. Any genuine breakthrough in Muslim evangelization will justly be the "killer app" of modern missiology. Many have offered The Camel as just that—the "killer app" of Muslim evangelization. Consider the words of one missionary in the foreword to the revised edition: "Is it fair to say that [The Camel] has impacted my ministry? No. It has completely transformed it." But in light of our desperation for success in this field, the substance of the theological tenets involved, and the everlasting consequences of the outcomes, calm and reflective consideration is in order regarding this method. In particular, I think we must be careful not to confuse progress with arrival as it regards the evangelization of anyone—in this context, Muslims.

What if?

You meet a Muslim. He believes that there is only one god, the Muslim Allah. He believes that Mohammed is the seal of Allah's prophets. He believes that the Qur'an is holy scripture. He prays the Muslim ritual prayers. He rejects Christianity. He has never read the Bible. He knows little of Jesus. You pray for this person and interact with him. After a while, his beliefs change. He learns that his holy book (the Qur'an) also commends to him the Christian Holy Scriptures (the Bible), so he adopts these as additional holy books in his personal canon. He affirms salvation through Jesus Christ as revealed in all three of his holy testaments, but especially the latter (the Qur'an). He begins to refer to himself as an Isahi Muslim (a "Jesus Muslim"). He is not in fellowship with those who identify themselves as Christians, but he has gathered a group of Muslims who share his views about Jesus. Is that movement? Absolutely. Is that progress? Perhaps. Is it evangelization? If it is, then we owe an apology to the Mormons. Mormons accept the Old and New Testaments. They affirm salvation through Jesus Christ. They even go so far as to call themselves Christians. They have gathered "churches" that, although out of fellowship with orthodox Christian groups, conspicuously proclaim a message regarding Jesus Christ. So, why don't we regard Mormons as Christians? Because they claim special revelation subsequent and in addition to the Bible, redefine Jesus and God, adulterate the gospel, confuse truth with error. Dr. Phil Parshall (not the "Dr. Phil", but a missiologist) provided a snapshot of just such Muslims in his article for Evangelical Missions Quarterly entitled "Danger! New Directions in Contextualization." In this article, Parshall provided the following statistical survey of a group of "Christian Muslims":
  • 50% go to the traditional mosque on Friday.
  • 31% go to the mosque more than once a day. They do standard Arabic prayers which affirm Mohammed as a prophet of God.
  • 96% say there are four heavenly books, i.e., Torah [i.e., Old Testament Pentateuch], Zabur [i.e., the Book of Psalms], Injil [these people were probably referring to the New Testament gospels, although traditional Muslim interpretation of this word is somewhat different], and Qur'an (This is standard Muslim belief…).
  • 66% say the Qur'an is the greatest of the four books.
  • 45% do not affirm God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • 45% feel peace or close to Allah when listening to the reading of the Qur'an
Parshall goes on to ask:
What do we have here? Contextualization or syncretism? A few points to emphasize. [The subjects of the survey] are leaders; the work has been ongoing for 15 years; the believers have had access to the New Testament; there have been short-term Bible schools for leadership; and, lastly, mosque attendance has been encouraged by the "outside" Bible teachers. Is this a model to follow or avoid?
Southern Baptists face this exact question regarding The Camel and the Korbani presentation of the gospel endorsed and taught therein. If we will be consistent in the way we treat Muslims and Mormons, the following must characterize conversion of a Muslim to Christianity:
  1. He must reject the Qur'an as not being holy scripture.
  2. He must reject Mohammed as not being a valid prophet.
  3. He must reject the Muslim concept of God (I'm avoiding "Allah" here to prevent people from embarking upon red herrings as though the question here were merely one of terminology) as not being the true God.
  4. He must reject the Muslim concept of Jesus as not being the true Jesus.
  5. He must reject the Muslim concept of works salvation and embrace the Christian gospel.
In this regard, I have come to conclude that The Camel, even in its revised form, is insufficient and in error. Over the next few posts, I hope to show from the text of the book the reasons why I have come to this conclusion, rejecting this as a model to avoid. P.S.: In light of today's date and the subject matter of this post, I direct you to another interesting article by Phil Parshall.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sad News

The Charlotte Observer is reporting that Coy Privette of Kannapolis, North Carolina, has been arrested and charged with six counts of aiding and abetting prostitution (see story here). Privette was the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Oustanding Alumnus of 2006 (see here). Privette is a former member of the SEBTS Board of Trustees. I do not know Coy Privette, but I will make the following observations: The allegations come from a prostitute who had been accused of stealing checks from Privette. Folks in North Carolina certainly know something about false accusations of sexual impropriety in the wake of the Duke Lacrosse situation. Let us all remember that he is innocent until proven guilty, let us pray for North Carolina Baptists and for SEBTS, and let us act with Christian decorum in the light of these tragic (no matter how it turns out) accusations.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Something Nice about Pentecostalism

As current events would have it, the last year has found me posting a great deal about my profound differences with the movement that originated with Charles Fox Parham and continues in various daughter movements to this day. I've written plenty about the weaknesses of Pentecostalism, but my appraisal of the movement is not entirely negative. Thus, I give you my list of good things about Pentecostalism:
  1. Twila Paris. She alone makes the whole movement worthwhile.
  2. Discussions of Pneumatology. The rise of Pentecostalism has provoked significant formal discussion about the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.
  3. The Use of Media. Frankly, the Pentecostal ministries do a much better job in the successful use of broadcast media than anyone else in American religion (except, perhaps, for the Mormons). Watching the average Sunday worship service on TV is like standing outside the church and looking in through the window. You see and hear what is going on, but you aren't a part of it. All of their obvious blemishes notwithstanding, the Robert Tiltons of this world have correctly understood that good Christian TV programming must be designed for TV, must engage the viewer directly, and must have more content than just the pastor's talking head. Among Baptists, I think that Jack Graham's PowerPoint does a nice job of mixing other elements with the sermonic exposition of the Bible. Sure, there are some Pentecostal types who just broadcast their unadorned worship service, but in general the Pentecostals outdo us on this point.
  4. The Furthering of Several Baptist Distinctives. As far as I know, not many Pentecostal types sprinkle infants. Many Pentecostalish congregations enjoy a good measure of congregational autonomy from supercongregational structures.
  5. The Humbling of Intellecutal Elites. Like Baptists, Pentecostal types usually have erected no artificial barriers to professional ministerial service. Pentecostalism has not been cowed by constant derogation with regard to the educational and social attainments of its adherents, but instead has marched on to statistical success. They often remind me of what we used to be.
  6. Culture Warfare. Even if some of their highest-profile leaders have demonstrated grave personal moral problems, Pentecostals have generally concurred with Southern Baptists regarding the tremendous moral decay that confronts the USA at this hour. Indeed, even if they have taken ridicule for it, some varieties of Pentecostalism retain an emphasis upon modesty in dress and comportment that is conspicuously absent from much of Southern Baptist life (as well as from some other varieties of Pentecostalism).
  7. Occasions for Levity. In their excesses, followers of the Pentecostal movement have been fun to poke fun at. The only funny thing about Presbyterians is how far from funny they are—Nobody ever made a flatulence video of D. James Kennedy. But I have had the occasional chuckle at seeing Rod Parsley on TV.
  8. Missionary Zeal. Certainly the various Pentecostal type para-church missionary organizations are too numerous for me to count. I don't think that they have called all the right plays, but the adherents of the various Pentecostal movements (including daughter movements) have not sat on the sidelines regarding the Great Commission.
  9. Fraternal Collegiality. Even those Pentecostals who probably suspect that I am going to Hell have generally been cordial to me. Of course, I can also say the same thing about those Baptists who might hold the same opinion of me.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reading The Camel: Before

Winging its way to me through the United States Postal Service is the revised version of The Camel: How Muslims Are Coming to Faith in Christ. I've decided to publish a "Before" post detailing my convictions before reading the book and an "After" post detailing my response to having read the book.

My Beliefs Before Reading The Camel

  1. Any legitimate way to use Jesus sayings in the Qur'an as a bridge to the presentation of the gospel I will support. In fact, it would be a real mistake not to give strong consideration to the best way to employ those saying in the presentation of the gospel. Necessarily, there are the best ways to use them and the worst ways to use them. Let us be diligent to find the best ways.
  2. The Qur'an, fairly read, is incompatible with Christianity. Years ago in the class "Introduction to Philosophy of Religion" I first received instruction regarding the differences between the Muslim portrayal of Jesus and the Christian portrayal of Jesus. This incompatibility is true not only of the Qur'an as a whole, but also of every individual portion of the Qur'an. For example, consider Surah 19 (Maryam). This Surah (chapter) couldn't be more clearly anti-Christian:
    83. Seest thou not that We have set the Evil Ones on against the unbelievers, to incite them with fury? 84. So make no haste against them, for We but count out to them a (limited) number (of days). 85. The day We shall gather the righteous to ((Allah)) Most Gracious, like a band presented before a king for honours, 86. And We shall drive the sinners to Hell, like thirsty cattle driven down to water,- 87. None shall have the power of intercession, but such a one as has received permission (or promise) from ((Allah)) Most Gracious. 88. They say: "((Allah)) Most Gracious has begotten a son!" 89. Indeed ye have put forth a thing most monstrous! 90. At it the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in utter ruin, 91. That they should invoke a son for ((Allah)) Most Gracious. 92. For it is not consonant with the majesty of ((Allah)) Most Gracious that He should beget a son.
    Thus, to use this Surah in leading a person to biblical Christianity must ultimately involve refuting this Surah, not relying upon it. I hope to learn that The Camel does precisely that.
  3. The Muslim Allah is not the Christian God and is incompatible with the One True God whom we serve as Christians. Yes, the word Allah in Arabic apparently has the simple generic lexical meaning of "God." However (and I'll give credit to Dr. Russell Moore for reminding me of this), keep in mind that the Old Testament Hebrew word בָּעַל (Baal) has the simple generic lexical meaning of "Lord." One might legitimately (as lexical meanings go) have referred to God as Baal. Yet Elijah did not go up to Mount Carmel to confuse the identities of Yahweh and Baal; he went there to make a pointed distinction between the two (see here). The differentiation that Elijah made is at the heart of evangelism. Thus, to lead a person to biblical Christianity is to make certain that he knows that the biblical God is not the Muslim Allah, that the real God did not author the Qur'an, and that Muslims are worshipping a non-existent false god.
  4. Identifying oneself as a Muslim is incompatible with being a Christian. Yes, Paul identified himself as a Jew. But the Jewish Old Testament is genuine special revelation from God. Prior to the life and work of Christ, one was supposed to be a Jew. The Qur'an is not revelation from God. There has never been a moment in human history when it was not an act of rebellion against God to be a Muslim. Being a Muslim is something of which one must repent in order to become a Christian.
  5. What's It Gonna Take to Reach Muslims with the Gospel? It's gonna take the gospel.
    I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16) So will be My word which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)
    In general, I want us to be confident in the spiritual power of the unadorned-by-human-tomfoolery gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, let us remember what the Bible says:
    Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1-4)
    The presentation of the gospel of Christ ought to differ greatly from a Ronco® commercial. The more we depend upon anything other than the gospel, the more we weaken any evangelistic initiative. It is not a question of pragmatism vs. orthodoxy—losing our confidence in the gospel and choosing instead to rely upon a bait-and-switch scheme is both theologically indefensible and pragmatically ineffective. It is like removing the engines from your 747 and then planning to fly to Japan. I hope to read that the Camel Method very briefly uses the Qur'an and then directs people quickly and exclusively to the powerful gospel of Jesus Christ presented in the Bible, thereby refuting the Qur'an.
  6. Trickery will come back to bite us. Do you know what Muslim orthodoxy says about Christianity and the gospel? It says that the New Testament gospel was originally pure, but then we Christians came along and corrupted it, twisting it to say something different than what God actually revealed. If we were to build an evangelistic strategy upon twisting the Qur'an to make it say something different than what it plainly says, what's going to happen when we're found out? You don't think that the imams are just going to lie down and take it, do you? And when we are confronted, wouldn't the end result of such a method be to confirm in the minds of Muslims everywhere that Christians are everything that they have heard us to be in the mosques—that we won't let a little thing like honesty get in the way of our agenda? I hope to read that The Camel method deals honestly with the Qur'an, not opening Christianity up to charges like these.
Now you know how I will be reading The Camel—I'm going to be comparing this method to these principles that I have articulated. Certainly I believe this: Something must be done to make serious progress in carrying the gospel to Muslims. I am hopeful that The Camel will indeed turn out to be a method for carrying the gospel to Muslims. Someday this week the postman will show up at my house and help me to find out for myself. And then I'll publish my "After" post.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Storykeepers

Heard recently around the Barber household.
Bart:Now I've got you, Tacticus, and I'm going to take you back to Nero!
Jim:O no you won't, you mean old Nihilus. I'm going to knock you down with my sword. We will go to Shamadar and you will not catch us!
A battle generally ensues.
Welcome to the wonderful world of The StoryKeepers. In my opinion, the production of substantive, biblically faithful, high-quality, age-appropriate Christian edutainment is a compelling need. This series meets that need and does so in a manner that delights both the pastor and the historian within me.

The Frame Story

Ben, a rotund Roman baker, is the "storykeeper"; that is, he is the pastor of a Christian congregation in Rome around 64 A.D. Ben and his wife Helena have learned the stories of the life of Christ, and it is their duty to transmit them to the remainder of the congregation. Nero is hot on their trail, primarily through the agency of Praetorian thug Nihilus. The Christian community includes a number of displaced children who live with Ben and Helena, as well as converted Praetorian Guard Tacticus. Together, they are all fleeing Nero's wrath and seeking peace outside the Roman Empire in the Iranian city of Shamadar. Fierce battles (no Christian ever kills anyone), catacomb cave-ins, prison breaks on the eve of becoming Purina Lion Chow, and desperate escapes from the infamous Roman conflagration make the frame story one of gripping drama. I think you can tell, my four-year-old is not the only one in the household who enjoys it. The drama is not the only draw for me. I'm thrilled that my children are learning part of the story of Apostolic Christianity (after all, if you've learned about the Apostolic Church, you've learned something about being Baptist). I don't know about Ben and Helena, but I do know that our spiritual forefathers suffered persecution under Nero for their unswerving faith. I can't imagine anything but good coming from my children knowing about that. By the way, Ben is the official "imperial baker" in the story. The authors have apparently read the apocryphal suggestion (I can trace it as far back as Theodore Metochites, but I do not offer myself as an expert regarding this story) that Paul had been imprisoned by Nero for playing a role in the conversion of Nero's baker and one of Nero's consorts.

The Main Plots

Along the way, at contextually-appropriate moments, these early Christians (primarily Ben) tell stories from the gospels. Sometimes they retell Jesus' parables. Often they recount events from the life of Christ. The stories are theologically robust and gospel-centered (from what I've seen so far). The great thing about this structure is that the frame story strengthens the telling of the gospel. The story of the gospel becomes not just another tale—these are stories that have changed the lives of Roman Christians. They are valuable stories for which people risk their lives. People come to faith in Christ in these stories. I highly recommend that you check out The Storykeepers. The link at the top of this article is one place to start.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Battling Historical Ignorance at SBC Witness

The best decision that SEBTS has made in years—hiring Nathan Finn. This article is one good piece of evidence to support my claim. Great article, Nathan. By the way, I know you read here occasionally, so I pose this question to you, Nathan: After having consumed a great deal of The Baptist, can you give us your impression of why it was so tremendously successful as a Baptist periodical? I have some ideas, myself, on that topic. Perhaps we could co-author a blog article on this topic, extrapolating implications for successful blogging?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Baptist Standard Bearer

Nestled in Paris, AR, is a publishing house laboring primarily at the republication of classic Baptist printed works. Trust me, if you have any interest whatsoever in Baptist History, you need to initiate a relationship with the folks over at Baptist Standard Bearer. Looking for a copy of William Kiffin's 1681 tract, A Sober Discourse Of Right To Church Communion, Wherein is proved by Scripture, the Example of Primitive Times, & the Practice of All that have Professed the Christian Religion that "No Unbaptized Person may be Regularly admitted to the Lord's Supper."? Well, you're not going to find it at Barnes & Noble. You probably are not going to find it in the library of your nearest Baptist university. But you can have it for $7.00 from Baptist Standard Bearer (see here). That and a cornucopia of other Baptist otherwise-out-of-print titles. The best deals in Baptist publishing are the BSB's new CD-ROM products. Wade Burleson, Debbie Kaufman, and George Ella will be glad to know that a complete set of John Gill's works are available (the proprietors at BSB are staunchly Calvinistic, and not SBCers). My personal favorite is the Baptist History Collection CD-ROM. Your attention span is not long enough to read a list of everything contained on this $50.00 CD-ROM. Suffice it to say that you couldn't collect the contained works for 20 times that price. My brethren over in Paris ought to be paying me for this free advertising, but they aren't. I'm just enthusiastic about what they are doing. Go take a look at their site (that's here, again), and see whether it doesn't pique your interest as well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Where We Need Reform

Today I journeyed to hear Dr. Russ Moore speak about contemporary issues in the SBC. He spoke passionately for nearly three hours. Other than in direct responses to direct questions, he said almost nothing about national issues in the SBC. And yet everything he said was directly connected to every national issue in the SBC. It was a masterful presentation. Dr. Moore realizes, as I myself believe, that the most pressing issues facing us today have to do with the local church. The institutional local congregation was founded by Jesus Christ, and it must adhere to the New Testament pattern to realize the divine genius in its nature. In the process of restoring my older posts, I actually paused to read most of my older posts. In doing so, I realized how much I have allowed other people's agendas to shape my blogging in more recent days. I hope to be more intentional and less reactionary in the coming year. Dr. Moore's lecture reminded me of my sentiments expressed in this post from the early dawning of my blogging enterprise. My agenda is expressed in the Fifth Century Initiative, which I will be posting at the beginning of August. As a postscript, please allow me the personal privilege of expressing how much I dislike Dr. Moore:
  1. I don't mind when people are a little bit smarter than I am, but it really bothers me to encounter people who are a whole order of magnitude smarter than I am.
  2. On top of all that, Dr. Moore is younger than I am. For a man who is only thirty-five years old to have read so much, written so much, spoken so much, and learned so much is obscene. To think that, at his age, he holds such high position at the second-greatest seminary in the SBC is astounding.
  3. Finally, and worst of all, for an Arkansan to be forced to concede such things about a Mississippian is quite nearly a violation of my Eighth-Amendment rights.
At least I can take some consolation in being so much better looking than he is.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

What The Statement Says…What It Doesn't Say

It Says: "[…The Baptist Faith & Message] is the only consensus statement of doctrinal beliefs approved by the Southern Baptist Convention."

Of course. This is simple historical fact. The Southern Baptist Convention has never adopted any other statement of faith.

It Doesn't Say: "The Southern Baptist Convention has never reached consensus on any other doctrinal beliefs beyond those contained in the BF&M"

Of course not. This would contradict simple historical fact. Consider, for example, the resolutions that we adopt every year. These often touch upon points of doctrine. Their adoption adds up to the Southern Baptist Convention expressing a consensus of approval of these resolutions, including the doctrinal beliefs specified therein. These doctrines are not contained within a "statement of doctrinal beliefs", but they are nonetheless items upon which the SBC has expressed doctrinal consensus. Consider, for example, how this resolution goes beyond what the BF&M says about both the doctrine of man (that man has dominion over the earth) and the doctrine of stewardship (that it extends beyond "time, talent, and material possessions" to now include "earth and environment"). Yet the SBC has now expressed a consensus upon these points of doctrine (which is good, because they are clearly biblical). It would be unworkable to have employees required to research and affirm every resolution ever adopted by the SBC. The resolutions are not a part of our "instrument of doctrinal accountability." But they are items of doctrinal consensus for the SBC, and as such, they deserve the notice of our boards of trustees and should guide them in their establishment of policies and practices (as should the BF&M).

It Says: "… is sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention."

Yes, and Amen! Trustees ought never to make any policy or practice apart from the guidance of the BF&M. Furthermore, I would make a stronger statement even than this—Trustees had better not make any policies or practices that contradict the BF&M. Wherever it speaks, I believe that the BF&M's role is even stronger than that of a guide.

It Doesn't Say: "… is sufficient in its current form to regulate trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the Convention, with the result that trustees ought not to adopt any policies or practices regarding doctrinal matters not explicitly contained within the BF&M unless and until they obtain prior approval from the SBC."

See how easy that was? I just made a motion and statement that says precisely what the folks on the other side wanted us to vote on. Simple. Plainspoken. Specific. So, because of what it says and what it doesn't say, even I endorsed this motion and voted in favor of it. If someone who authored this can endorse and vote for the statement (and I did so before the first word of debate and long before anyone cast a vote), then it doesn't mean what folks are spinning it to mean. By the way, just because I posted this, don't fail to comment on my previous post. I really want to hear your opinions.

De Natura Boni

If you estimated that telling someone a lie would substantially increase the chances of them becoming a Christian, would you do it?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Why We Homeschool

It hasn't really become that much of an issue yet, because Jim is just four years old. Nevertheless, we've not hidden it from anyone in church or family that we do not intend to send Jim packing off to any Kindergarten (public or private) when the time comes. We get all the usual questions. We do not necessarily give all of the usual answers. Here's a quick rundown of my position (which is not necessarily always the same as Tracy's view) on these questions:
  1. Everybody home schools and everybody schools out of the home—the question is, when do you switch from one to the other. People do not think it unusual for kids to learn to walk and talk at home from Mom and Dad. At the other end of the spectrum, people don't usually homeschool college. The educational pattern for raising children is to begin their education at home and then to transition them to studies outside the home at some point. The whole debate is over the time of transition.
  2. Our experience suggests to us that five or six is too young to make the transition. Tracy has an M.S.E. (Master of Science in Education). She has taught in public schools. At one job, she participated in a teaching method called "looping." To state it simply, she kept the same classroom of kids for two years. Year one, she taught them first grade. Year two, she taught them second grade. For first grade, the class only did somewhat above average (attributable to the fact that Tracy is an exceptional teacher, IMHO). For second grade, the kids really took off and the whole class performed far above expectations. We believe that early elementary learning is as much (or more) about relationship as it is about skill. We believe that the kids blossomed so well in the second year because they started the year with a relationship already in place with the teacher. As we age, I think that the dependence upon relationship for learning diminishes (but never goes away) while the dependence upon skill and diligence (of both teacher and student) increases. What does Tracy's looping experience have to do with homeschooling? Quite simply, we already have a strong relationship with our children. We believe that, at the beginning of their education, they will never have any relationship more conducive to learning than the relationship with their parents.
  3. I'm committed to the education of my kids, not to homeschooling. At the very first moment that I conclude that they will get a better education in a public school, we'll be there to sign up the very next day. If we had one of several specific special-needs situations, I would do precisely that, probably. Different public schools have different strengths and weaknesses (as do private schools and homeschool environments). We're going to evaluate it all with one and only one criterion in mind—what is the best thing for our children? I will not sacrifice my children upon the altar of possible ramifications within the church. I am neither a part of any movement to keep everyone in government schools nor a part of any movement to drive everyone out. For me, it is not a career decision or a political decision; it is a parenting decision. We will discharge the responsibility given us by God to raise these children, and we will seek to do it with excellence. At this point, we can see no more excellent way than for us to educate our children ourselves. We have not worked out with precision the age (stage) at which we will make the transition to out-of-the-home schooling. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. We're very open to hybrid models like University-Model Schooling as a bridge from one model to the other. If I am ever a part of starting a school, it will probably follow the university model. But the point is that we plan to be open and flexible, responding to the educational needs of our child.
  4. I do not believe that attending a government school would make a drug-using, boozing, sleeping-around, baby-aborting, reprobate, parent-sassing, nose-piercing, Democrat-voting fiend out of my child. If you believe the gospel and if you'll consider the facts of history, I don't think you'll believe that, either. According to the gospel, people become this sort of thing because they are sinful human beings. Remember...Eve...a serpent...a big, red, shiny apple? My kids have a sinful nature, and I'm going to have to face up to that, no matter how much it scares the living daylights out of me (and believe me, it does). As for the case from history, compulsory universal public education is only around a century old. Guess how long we've had drug-using, boozing, sleeping-around, baby-aborting, reprobate, parent-sassing, nose-piercing, Democrat-voting fiends? A whole lot longer. Public education is not the cause here. I don't think public education is helping much—I acknowledge that many of the problems highlighted by my brethren who are pursuing other alternatives for education are indeed serious and real problems. But let us all be honest and concede that we are sinful parents, too. We are quite capable of making something horrible of our children all by ourselves.
  5. For precisely the same reasons, neither can I believe for one moment that my children, unless they get themselves into a public school from the moment of their third birthday, will become drooling, zit-faced, tongue-tied, crosseyed, Caspar-Milquetoast, misanthropic wallflowers. If public schooling is necessary for successful socialization, then tell me, just how did humanity survive for our several millennia before public schooling? Hmmm??? At least for some kids (school-shooting perpetrators, anyone?), public schools seem quite adept at anti-socializing them. On the other hand, some kids attend public schools and wind up with great social skills. Here's a thought—maybe there are at least one or two other factors that affect a matter as complex as socialization?
The ultimate baseline assumption for all of my opinions on this matter is as follows: Raising my children is my responsibility. That responsibility includes, among other things, providing for their education. Although I will gladly seek help and employ resources, I will not (even if and when they go outside the home for schooling) ever give away my authority and responsibility in that area to anyone else.

Friday, July 6, 2007

New Spiritual Gifts

In the aftermath of our de novo discovery of "private prayer language," Praisegod Research is proud to announce the discovery of an entire new suite of spiritual gifts at work among Southern Baptists:
  1. Private Evangelist. An overwhelming number of Southern Baptists report that they possess the gift of being a "private evangelist." They share the gospel, just not with anybody publicly. "Sometimes the Holy Spirit just comes upon me while I'm watching TV and I repeat the Roman Road out loud to nobody in particular," reported one practitioner.
  2. Private Giving. An equally impressive number claimed to practice the charisma of private giving. In this practice, rather than giving to the church or to another person in need, the Christian simply gives to himself. The practice of this gift is actually rather robust, with more than half of the practitioners reporting that they privately give to themselves more than 90% of their income.
  3. Private Helps. A great many Christians are proficient at helping themselves privately to all manner of things.
  4. Private Ministry. "The gift of private ministry is so liberating," one participant elucidated, "because the other people involved were always the real challenge for me in ministry to begin with. Once I was free to minister by myself to myself, I really saw my spiritual gift come into full bloom."
  5. Private Prophecy. This gift was popular among many pastors, who reported that prophetic private preaching was much less likely to make listeners uncomfortable than was the actual public utterance of a word on God's behalf.
More research is called for in this area, but this much is certain—it is an exciting day for private spiritual gifts in the SBC.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Forever Fear

Among the more despicable groups in modern existence is the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Here's their view about what happens with dirty old men prey upon minors:
Despite the popular images of boogeymen we see in the media every day, usually the intergenerational experiences of younger people are consensual. These consensual experiences can be quite positive and beneficial for the participants, regardless of their ages.
Oh, for vocabulary stronger than "offensive poppycock" to describe this propaganda from NAMBLA! In February, we discovered a sexual predator victimizing minors in our congregation. My day changed this morning when I received word that he is being released on bond to house arrest pending trial. He's been in jail nearly five months. After that elapsed duration, I know a teenager who still awakens screaming in the night out of fear that his tormentor will return. I know an entire family terrified that they are going to round a street corner, step into a checkout line at Wal-Mart, or pull into a station to get gas and find themselves confronted by the pervert who stole their innocence from them. No matter how many electronic ankle bracelets, bail restrictions, or restraining orders are involved, five months of healing have vanished in a telephone call for everyone involved in this tragic situation. Every minor seduced by an adult is a victim. The effects of these crimes last for a lifetime. It is a pity that our justice system does not provide for suitable punishment. Thankfully, I believe that there is justice beyond our justice system—forever justice to put an end to forever fears.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Guest Post: Dr. Greg Welty, Will the Real Gnostic Please Step Forward

I had not intended to have guest posting on my blog during my vacation, but a special circumstance arose. Dr. Greg Welty attempted to post the content of this entry as a comment over at SBC Outpost in response to Alan Cross, "Is There a Gnostic Creedalism Creeping into the SBC?". Dr. Welty offered his comment at 11:47 am on July 4. For whatever reason, eight hours and eight comments later, his comment is still sitting in comment moderation over there at our new bastion of frank and open dialogue. [NOTE: Micah Fries has clarified that author Alan Cross did not have sufficient privileges to approve the comment.] So, I gladly volunteered to yield the unused floor to him over here at Praisegod Barebones. He writes better stuff than I do, anyway: =================== Begin Dr. Welty's Post =================== Alan, Here's why it's extremely difficult for many of us to take your cries of "Gnosticism" seriously. First, if your argument proves anything, then it proves too much. In particular, it proves that quite a few people in your camp are "Gnostics" as well. You *talk* about the BFM as a basis for cooperation, but in reality you don't really believe that. For you and others believe that trustees and entity employees can pick and choose *which* doctrines of the BFM they shall affirm. Wade speaks of dividing up the BFM into "essentials" and "non-essentials". But the BFM says in its own preamble that the doctrines contained within it "are doctrines we hold precious and as *essential* to the Baptist tradition of faith and practice" (emphasis mine). The preamble also states that these doctrines are "those articles of the Christian faith which are *most surely* held among us" (emphasis mine). But you reject all this. Instead of a "Clear Baptist Identity," your camp believes in a "Clear Set of Essentials" that is a *subset* of the doctrines in the BFM. But where has this set of essentials been stated and agreed upon by the convention as a whole? It hasn't. But apparently, you with your Gnostic insight can discern it where others can't. You say: "there are voices of substantial weight in SBC life who are telling us that there is a 'Clear Baptist Identity' beyond what is articulated in the BF&M." But there are voices in *your* camp of SBC life who are telling us that there is a "Clear Set of Essentials" which the BFM does not articulate for us. You accuse others of going Gnostic if they draw a line beyond the BFM. But you are equally Gnostic if you draw a line *within* the BFM. If one line is invisible, so is the other. If one line lacks consensus, so does the other. You say: "many do not want to give up the power to articulate and enforce a Clear Baptist Identity as they see fit." But apparently, many in your camp do not want to give up the power to articulate and enforce a Clear Set of Essentials as they see fit. Indeed, the irony of your side's looking for a canon-within-the-canon in the BFM is that you clearly reject the wisdom of the EC statement, on *your* interpretation of that statement. That statement says that the BFM is sufficient to provide guidance on doctrinal matters. Unfortunately, the BFM itself doesn't tell us which of its doctrines are negotiable for the purposes of cooperation. So in order to ascertain those non-essentials, it looks like you, as a Gnostic, are going to have to look elsewhere for guidance (contrary to what the EC statement says about sufficiency for doctrinal guidance). If you and others don't come clean about these palpable inconsistencies in your position, it's going to be hard to take your criticisms seriously. You want the BFM to be a maximal standard, beyond which no one can go, but you can't even manage to affirm it as a *minimal* standard! Which position shows less respect for the BFM? I'll let you make that call. These are difficult matters, to be sure. But to pretend that they don't even exist precludes meaningful dialogue. Second, historical precedent doesn't bode too well for your side. You or others might say: "But trustees and employees have always been able to opt out of these piddly little claims in the BFM. As long as they're honest about what they're doing, what's the harm?" But if you go down that road, then it defeats your larger argument. As you are no doubt well aware, for the past twenty years NAMB has had a policy of not hiring missionaries who speak in tongues. This is an issue that goes beyond the BFM doctrinally, and yet there was no hue and cry when the Convention met the year after the policy was enacted. (Cf. the first two sections of Emir Caner's paper for details.) That policy certainly excluded candidates who actually subscribe to the BFM, and yet it's been in place for twenty years. So why can't someone say, "Trustees have always been able to enforce doctrinal standards additional to but not contradictory to the BFM. As long as they're honest about what they're doing, what's the harm?" And, in fact, some have made this exact point. In short, neither in principle nor historically does your argument make any sense. Dr. Greg Welty

Monday, July 2, 2007


Any RSS entries you get from this blog in the month of July will be the old posts from last year that I accidentally deleted this Spring. I hope to get them all back up during my July vacation. God bless you all in July. All you Greek scholars have fun with the sign. UPDATE: I accidentally failed to put the correct timestamp on one of the old posts that I was restoring ("If I Were King of the SBC"). A couple of you commented on it. I have put it back into its old spot, June 2006. So, Ben Macklin, I'm 37 now. Also, I'm disappointed that nobody has made any attempt to translate my sign on this picture! And no, it is not an outhouse!