Friday, December 21, 2007

Peace Like a River, Chris Rice

Peace Like a River
Chris Rice

Hymn collections are, in my opinion, a genre in which artists struggle to succeed. The vast majority of the attempts either err on the one side by producing a bland album (why not just listen to my church choir?) or err on the other side by creating bizarre mutilations of beloved standards (does the world really need a reggae version of "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand"?).

Chris Rice's 2007 hymn collection is the rare gem. One might wonder whether this artist of "Cartoons" fame would release a hymn collection subtitled, "Elmer Fudd Brings You 'Amazing Grace'"—nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, you would only expect something so unconventional if "Cartoons" and "Billy Jo McGuffrey" were your only exposure to Chris Rice, an accomplished artist whose thoughts about God run deep. "Peace Like a River" demonstrates Rice's maturity and talent as an artist as well as a Christian.

Song selection is a strength for this collection. Enough of the tracks are favorite hymns ("It Is Well with My Soul," "Rock of Ages," "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," etc.) to give the project the air of familiarity that is important for the success of a selection of hymnody. Rice's other choices are statistically less likely to grace a collection of hymns: "O Freedom" and "Before the Throne of God Above" come to mind. "Before the Throne of God Above" appears 19 times in the iTunes Music Store and "O Freedom" appears 4 times, compared to the well over 150 appearances (iTunes will show only the first 150) for "Amazing Grace" and "Come Thou Fount."

I also appreciate Rice's treatment of the hymns. There's no jarring sense of "I wanted to do 'Sweet Hour of Prayer' MY WAY." These hymns are the same hymns you've heard in church. Yet, they aren't. Rice's fluid vocals and the occasional subtle hint of something different make this hymn interesting, but not brash. Kudos, Mr. Rice.

Just in time for your last-minute Christmas shopping.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hoover Hermeneutic 1: The Gospel to the Dead

Representative Passages

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water…

…For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. (1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:3-6)

Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? (1 Corinthians 15:29)

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25-29)


This topic is a great place for us to begin this series, because it illustrates many of the problems associated with passages like these. For one thing, there is a heretical application for these verses that Joseph Smith has thrown into the mix. One might be nervous about raising the topic at all, worried about what the heterodox might do with it, or worried that people will raise their eyebrows, thinking that you don't know what you believe about some cultish doctrine, etc. A related concern is the fact that these verses have possible implications toward central tenets of the gospel.

Actually, I do know for certain what these verses do not say. They do not say that I can don my holy underwear and get saved for Grandma in her stead. They do not say that, no matter what you do with Jesus here on earth, you'll get to play in the postmortem bonus round and wind up in Heaven after all.

Now, here's where I wish to avoid the Hoover Hermeneutic. Having said what these passages do not say, I believe that I am under some obligation (whether I am capable of meeting the obligation satisfactorily or not) to assert something substantive that these verses do say. They all appear to be planks of an argument—to say something that God considered profound enough to include not merely as a parenthetical aside (which would be authoritative enough by itself) but as a fact to buttress some doctrinal or ethical argument.

The problem is, although I've considered several interpretive arguments by a wide spectrum of orthodox interpreters, I have not gained confidence in any particular approach to these passages. I'm inviting you to change that sad state of affairs. Tell me what these passages teach us about the relationship between the gospel and the dead. If I've already heard your approach and have questions about it, I'll shoot them back at you. We'll see what ensues.

The Hoover Hermeneutic

When I took Hermeneutics at SWBTS, I didn't learn about this one. I see it at work, however, throughout Christendom. The Hoover Hermeneutic approaches texts with the sole objective of sucking all of the meaning out of a text in a manner reminiscent of a Hoover vacuum cleaner, leaving God's Word as a vacuum—an empty expanse. This approach to interpretation is far more interested in making sure that everybody knows what the Bible does not say than in making any attempt to demonstrate what the Bible does say. I believe that every part of the Bible is given in order to say something to us. Once upon a time, theologians employed the Hoover Hermeneutic to try to defend their doctrines from so-called "difficult passages." Are you Arminian? Employ the Hoover Hermeneutic on John 6:41-51. Do you believe in Limited Atonement? Pull out the Hoover for 1 John 2:2 and other similar passages. Do you believe in perseverance (as I do)? Vacuum out Hebrews 6:1-8. Those were the predilections of a former generation, from which we have expanded the practice. Today we apply the Hoover Hermeneutic to ethical passages. Are you a homosexual? Hoover out all of the passages in the Bible dealing with homosexuality. Want to sue another believer? First Corinthians is no match for the Hoover Hermeneutic. Divorcing? Well, you get the idea. And we retain the penchant of our fathers for using it to justify our theological novelties as well (those passages don't really mean that women shouldn't be pastors). The Hoover Hermeneutic has become a great little dodge enabling people to affirm the Bible as absolutely true while still holding onto the relativism of the present age. "The Bible is absolutely true and would speak with absolute authority to this issue if it actually said anything substantive about this issue, but since it doesn't (and I have a few great hermeneutical tricks up my sleeve to show you why it really doesn't say what it seems to say), let each person have liberty to believe and practice however he wishes." To employ yet another H-word, the Hoover Hermeneutic is the Heisenberg principle of nouveau theology. I find that there are several passages where I myself am tempted to employ this hermeneutic. I'm inaugurating a series of posts dealing with these passages/topics one-by-one. This is a part of my effort to rid myself of the Hoover Hermeneutic by gaining wisdom from all of you as to the meaning of various troublesome passages. I'll post my first installment in a few hours.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Vignettes from the TBN Appearance: Part 2-b

Here's another variety of the Praisegod Research Poll: Tell us something about the first Southern Baptists you ever encountered who were Charismatics: Were they poor? Uneducated? Rural? I'll start. The first Charismatic Southern Baptists I ever encountered were middle-class and wealthy Baylor students and employees attending Highland Baptist Church in Waco, TX.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dwain Miller's False Dilemma

Ladies and gentlemen, as promised a few months ago, I have inaugurated a podcast. I've played around with podcasting in private for a few months just to get the feel of it. Here's my first installment over at Podbean, a five-minute video rebutting a false dilemma that Dwain Miller asserted on the now-infamous PTL episode.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Muslim Evangelism Summit

Last Summer the Discipleship Committee of First Baptist Church of Farmersville came to me and asked whether I thought our church might benefit from a short-term seminar regarding how to best to pray and work toward the spread of the gospel among Muslims. I contacted Dr. Emir Caner and asked him to lead the seminar. I grew to love Dr. Caner several years ago. For a few years First Baptist Church of Farmersville had seen God at work through our relationships with various exchange students in our area. You've never heard excitement until you've spoken with a Korean teenaged exchange student who has reported her conversion to her Christian mother in South Korea who has been praying for her for years. Anyway, our most recent exchange student relationship had developed with a Muslim student from an Islamic country. I contacted Dr. Caner seeking wisdom about how to proceed. Not long afterwards he was my guest at FBC Farmersville to preach. Within a month, our young student came forward during the altar call (I guess they do work, sometimes) and simply said, "I have come to accept the faith. I believe in Jesus." Dr. Caner wasn't even there that day, but he still corresponds with that convert. So, Dr. Caner was our natural choice for our seminar. We're inviting area churches to participate in our Muslim Evangelism Summit, and now I'm inviting you, too. We're offering the seminar in two formats. Our three-night track takes place Sunday, February 10, through Tuesday, February 12, at 6:00 PM nightly. If that won't work for you, Dr. Caner will present the entire contents of the seminar in an afternoon, Tuesday, February 12, 1:00 – 4:00 PM, at Lake Lavon Baptist Encampment. We plan to record to seminar and make it available online as well. I believe that the gospel is "the power of God unto salvation." The gospel of Jesus Christ is more powerful than any religion devised by man. The gospel will be the focus of our summit, and that alone ought to make it worth your time to attend.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Relevance of the TBN Show

Ever since Tim Guthrie—who, I have from reliable sources, has programmed PTL into his Tivo—broke the story of the TBN interview into the Southern Baptist blogversation, a few people have asked why the program is at all relevant to Southern Baptist life (some in this forum, some in others, some offline). I reply in two parts: First, the people involved in the panel that comprised the last half of the program were all Southern Baptist pastors, capable of sending messengers to our meetings. The thesis of the entire program was that these men were part of a growing segment in the Southern Baptist Convention at the center of a current controversy in Southern Baptist life. So, the program itself asserted that it was discussing matters relevant to the future of the SBC. Second, although I am convinced that many of the current SBC dissidents do not themselves hold the theology of Camp, Miller, Hogue, and Blessitt, they have not convinced me that they would not throw the doors of the SBC wide open to such men. Indeed, some among them have labored hard for years to convince people of just the opposite. Nevertheless, the purpose of blogging is dialogue, not monologue. Therefore, if I have misunderstood our dissident brethren, I invite any of them to compose and post on their blogs an essay with the following thesis: If over the next twenty years the leadership and direction of the Southern Baptist Convention were to change such that Wade Burleson's Statement on (Southern Baptist?) Cooperation were adopted instead of the BF&M as our instrument of doctrinal accountability and the boundaries of our cooperative efforts, I would personally work to oppose the channeling of Cooperative Program dollars to fund missionaries with the beliefs and practices of Dwain Miller and Scott Camp because…

Friday, December 14, 2007

Vignettes from the TBN Appearance: Part 2

McKissic: “I think it’s emotional prejudice, because tongues has been associated with poor people…Pentecostal people…sometimes uneducated people. And so, people who… into academia and sometimes put letters above the Spirit and the Word, have decided that we’re…tongues…we’re too embarrassed to deal with the tongues issue."

I was born on the last day of the 1960s as the third of four children to a small household in Lake City, Arkansas. We attended Bethabara Baptist Church out on Cane Island, a used-to-be community less than 200 yards from the East levee of the Saint Francis River.

Bethabara Baptist Church was a typical rural Southern Baptist congregation. The attendance rarely topped 100. The racks contained both the Baptist Hymnal and the Heavenly Highway Hymns. We had Dinner on the Grounds (which sometimes featured Raccoon and Dressing). People said "Amen!" and sometimes they shouted it. The church loved good gospel singing. The preaching was often emotional, pointed, and loud.

Poor and uneducated…these are great adjectives to describe the entire spiritual foundation of my early life. Pentecostal, it was not. No speaking in tongues. No people falling out. No cartwheels. No "Thus saith the Lord" anywhere but in the Bible.

So, imagine my surprise to learn that I am prejudiced against myself, my family, my heritage, and the people who first introduced me to Jesus—that they were prejudiced against themselves!

Pentecostalism will frequently claim that people who differ with its view of the spiritual gifts are operating out of an elitist motivation. I find the argument ironic: It seems like a pretty elitist claim to me when one alleges that the folks across the aisle have abandoned the Spirit and the Word in favor of academia because of embarrassment. It smacks not of emotional prejudice and intellectual elitism, but of charismatic prejudice and glossolalic elitism.

Vignettes from the TBN Appearance: Part 1

Hogue: “How do you respond to [the idea that not all believers will have the gift of tongues]” Camp: “I think you can experience all of the Spirit of God that you want to experience…God is not going to force anything on anybody, but if you are open, if you have a desire, if you have a hunger to go on with God, then you can experience this particular manifestation of the Holy Spirit of God…” Hogue: Do you think that every believer should pray in the Spirit? Camp: I think every believer should be open to whatever God wants to do in their life, and if they are open to this, they will experience it…” Hogue: “So you’re saying that if I’m open to whatever God is wanting to do in my life, I will at least have a prayer language that will be part of my life.” Camp: “I believe that’s probably true…What I would rather do is to talk about the power of the working of the Holy Spirit in my own life…what Jack Hayford calls Heaven’s language, and to say that this is available to every Christian who wants to experience, but…the focus is…on seeking Jesus and a deeper, fuller experience, but I want to tell you, if you do that, then you’re headed down a road where eventually you’re going to cross that bridge.” Miller: “In my own experience…and the fact is, a person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument…I think there are people out there tonight who are watching who have spoken in tongues and don’t even know it…I wanted all of God and I wanted Him to have all of me. Quite honestly, I believe it and I teach it to our people…if you want to use the term baptisms, that there are four: Positional baptism…Personal baptism, water baptism…Practical baptism, being filled with the Spirit…Baptism of power that comes upon one…I had the baptism of the Holy Spirit come upon me in Pensacola…When you get filled with the spirit in a personal yielding, that’s the best time to release that personal prayer language….Why would God give him an ability to be more intimate with Jesus and not offer it to me?”
The message couldn't be clearer: Speaking in tongues is normative for all believers. If you don't speak in tongues, something is wrong with your relationship with God, and people who do speak in tongues are on a higher level than the rest of us and have a more intimate walk with the Lord than the rest of us do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Must See: TBN Clip Praying for "Pensacola" to Come in the SBC

I'm still grading papers (I sure am slow, am I not?). But during my silence, I call upon you to visit Tim Guthrie's most recent blog article. You absolutely must watch all two hours of last night's "Praise the Lord" show. There you'll see the unvarnished truth of where folks hope to take the SBC.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Baptist Heritage Potential Final Exam Questions

Just to give you something to discuss in my absence…

Tomorrow I will give the following document to my Baptist Heritage class to aid them in their preparation for the Final Exam. Out of these twenty-four questions I will choose twelve to place on the Final Exam. Each student will then have to choose ten of those twelve questions to answer with a short essay. Mine is a pretty erudite readership, so I know that you will enjoy perusing these questions.

  1. While serving as an IMB missionary to Russia, you encounter opposition from the local Russian Orthodox priest, who lumps Baptists together with such groups as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, branding them all as heretical cults. Compose a response in which you explain why those who adhere to traditional Baptist theology are not heretics but are instead orthodox Christians.
  2. Identify three sources of religious authority and indicate which source of authority each of the following movements or systems of theology emphasizes: Roman Catholicism, Baptist theology, Pentecostalism, Modernism, Postmodernism, the Conservative Resurgence.
  3. Describe the relationship between the Baptist view of the ordinances and the Baptist views of the gospel and the church.
  4. Citing James 5:14-15 (“Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” NASB), an infirm member of your congregation asks you to gather several deacons to come to his home and pray for God to heal him. Compose a response in which you gently correct his error by specific reference to relevant passages of Scripture.
  5. Describe the difference between religious toleration and religious liberty. Show the connection between these concepts and the General Assessment Bill proposed in Virginia in the eighteenth century. Identify any two Baptist publications supporting religious liberty and name their authors.
  6. List the acts comprising the Clarendon Code and describe the effect of each.
  7. What two doctrinal malaises plagued English Baptists during the Enlightenment (give one for General Baptists and one for Particular Baptists)? Name the former Methodist circuit-riding preacher who restored an orthodox wing to General Baptist life in eighteenth-century England, and give the name of the group of General Baptist churches he formed. Name the American revival theologian who championed Evangelical Calvinism, as well as the prominent English Particular Baptist who accomplished the widespread “Acceptation” of Evangelical Calvinism among his Particular Baptist brethren.
  8. Name two English General Baptist confessions of faith and two English Particular Baptist confessions of faith, giving the years of composition for each.
  9. Compare and contrast the Sandy Creek and Charleston groups of Baptist churches in eighteenth-century America.
  10. Tell the story of the generally acclaimed father of Baptist missions, including how he came to be a missionary, the story of his early work on the mission field, the secrets of his eventual success, and the names and roles of his key partners in his work.
  11. Tell the story of how Baptists in America first came to have foreign missionaries and first organized to support missions, including the names and relevant actions of key personalities and institutions involved.
  12. Differentiate the society and convention methods of cooperation, identifying purported strengths of each approach.
  13. Name the type of Baptist theology that coined the term “alien immersion.” Briefly describe the distinctive teachings of this theological system.
  14. After developing a friendship with the pastor of a Baptist church in your town whose membership is predominantly black, you encourage him to lead his church to affiliate with your association, the BGCO, and the Southern Baptist Convention. He responds with reluctance, citing a history of racism in the Southern Baptist Convention. Compose an honest response to his concerns in which you explain the role of race in the specific events surrounding the formation of the SBC, the racial character of early labors at the Foreign Mission Board, and the history of racial views among Southern Baptists through today. Then explain why you think that his church still ought take your advice and affiliate with Southern Baptists.
  15. Suppose that this Sunday a five-year-old walks up to you in church and asks, “Who is Lottie Moon and why does she need so much money?” Compose a response (appropriate to a five-year-old, please) that tells the story of Lottie Moon and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
  16. List the four boards of the Southern Baptist Convention (either by their current names or by their names in 1994) and describe the major functions of each.
  17. What is the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, when did it come into existence, why did its founding constitute such a milestone in Southern Baptist life, and what concerns made some Southern Baptists reluctant to form the Executive Committee?
  18. Trace the progress of $1000 of Cooperative Program money from the time it leaves a BGCO church through to its various destinations.
  19. Tell the story of The Baptist Faith & Message, including sources for its original composition; the causes of its adoption; the dates, causes, and contents of its major revisions; and the history of its manner of use in the Southern Baptist Convention. Tell also the story of The Abstract of Principles, relating its first composition and its history of use to the story of The Baptist Faith & Message.
  20. List the five theological concepts outlined in a famous twelve-book series authored by supporters of the Niagara Bible Conference and name the movement that they spawned.
  21. Describe how Southern Baptist Conservatives changed the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention in the late twentieth century, including the year in which the public phase of the effort began, the names of key personalities and movements involved on both sides, the parliamentary strategy that facilitated the success of conservatives, and the actions taken by liberals and moderates in response to the conservative movement.
  22. Trace the development of the Baptist theology and practice of worship since 1609.
  23. Trace the development of the Baptist theology and practice of missions since 1609.
  24. Trace the development of Baptist soteriology since 1609.

Of course, I can't stick around to discuss this at all, but I will be back in a few days. I hope that you all enjoy it. Want the answers? For that you have to pay tuition.

Brief Hiatus

Yes, I see the pending comments awaiting my responses. My students, however, have submitted their last writing assignment, and I am grading (once again). I want to come out and play, but I promised myself at the outset of this semester never to let blogging interfere with my teaching or pastoral responsibilities; thus, self-discipline keeps me away for a moment. I hope that I will secure some opportunity for further blogging after grading this assignment, but before grading the final. In the meantime, for those who find the SBTC (or SBCT...order the letters to suit yourself) to be the most troubling thing in Baptist life in Texas, I offer this story for your consideration, along with my sentiment that the SBTC (imperfect as its members are) represents the bright spot in Baptist life in Texas these days.