Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson Apocalypse

Thick, black smoke billows from a burning car in Ferguson, Missouri. A grand jury has investigated the shooting of Michael Brown and has determined that the evidence does not offer sufficient cause to indict officer Darren Wilson for any crime in the shooting.

We often use the word "apocalypse" to describe events that are chaotic and destructive. Both adjectives certainly describe 2014 in Ferguson. First came the shooting. Then came the riots. Two other young black men have died in the Greater St. Louis are in the meanwhile. The Missouri National Guard had to intervene. The Department of Justice has begun its own investigation. Never has the Ferguson pot settled below a simmer since the day Brown died.

The root meaning of the word "apocalypse" is something along the lines of "unveiling." For my part, the events in Ferguson have served as something of an unveiling. I had hoped that we were further along in racial reconciliation. I had hoped that our nation was prepared to resolve differences more productively. I had thought that police forces were generally more representative of their communities and that tensions were not quite so high as they obviously are at least in some quarters of our country. I disagree with so much of President Obama's politics; I had hoped that the one silver lining of his term of office would be a greater harmony among the races during his sojourn at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A different set of facts have been revealed, as has my erstwhile naïveté.

The Apocalypse is the actual Greek title of the final book of the New Testament. John's Apocalypse tells us the prophecy of the end and forms a major portion of the foundation for Christian eschatology. The events in Ferguson tell us more about our anemic eschatology than they do about our poor ethics.

A healthy eschatology will help us to see one another based upon our shared spiritual future rather than our diverse genetic heritages. Our eschatological citizenship makes us a part of a united nation that is far more polyglot than the United Nations. It reaches to every tribe and tongue and people. The barrier is torn down. We are now one. When we speak and act as though we are not one, we out ourselves as believers who do not actually believe, at least as far as our eschatological destiny is concerned.

A healthy eschatology will give us a hunger for justice, both in the sense of micro-justice (in this particular case of Officer Darren Wilson versus Michael Brown, was this shooting justified?) and in the sense of macro-justice (does Ferguson generally offer a just society of day-in-and-day-out equal treatment under the law for all of its citizens without regard to race?) Both, after all, appear in The Apocalypse: both the settling of scores with vast people-groups on a national scale and the appearance of each individual human before God's final tribunal. Being an eschatologically minded Christian will cause you to care about both.

A healthy eschatology will denude us of our incredulity when human beings act destructively toward creation, toward others, or toward even their own selves. This surprises you? Have you not read The Apocalypse? Why, again, did you think people were above such things? Good eschatology should never rob us of our compassion over the anguish human destructiveness brings, but it is difficult to read and believe the apocalypse while retaining a Pollyannish notion of the essential goodness and tranquility of humankind.

A healthy eschatology will remind us that spiritual forces are at work in the world, both of the evil and the good varieties. Pundits on news channels are not giving us the whole story, and they will never be able perfectly to analyze or predict what human beings will do. There are variables in the equation that are invisible to the analysis of the world. The people and the police of Ferguson, Missouri, are pawns in a cosmic battle.

A healthy eschatology will evidence itself in such seasons as a deep yearning for something beyond. I've written about Rich Mullins before. He penned these lyrics that are undeniably Christian and deeply applicable to this situation. The song is deeply, passionately eschatological. I think it exemplifies the way we believers ought to feel at moments like this.

I believe there is a place
Where people live in perfect peace
Where there is food on every plate
Where work is rewarded and rest is sweet

Where the color of your skin
Won't get you in or keep you out
Where justice reigns and truth finally wins
Its hard fought war against fear and doubt

And everyone I know wants to go there, too
But when I ask them how to do it they seem so confused
Do I turn to the left?
Do I turn to the right?
When I turn to the world they gave me this advice

They said boy you just follow your heart
But my heart just led me into my chest
They said follow your nose
But the direction changed every time I went and turned my head

And they said boy you just follow your dreams
But my dreams were only misty notions
But the Father of hearts and the Maker of noses
And the Giver of dreams He's the one I have chosen
And I will follow Him

I believe there'll come a time
Lord, I pray it's not too far off
There'll be no poverty or crime
There'll be no greed and we will learn how to love

And children will be safe in their homes
And there'll be no violence out on the streets
The old will not be left alone
And the strong will learn how to care for the weak

And everyone I know hopes it comes real soon
But when I ask 'em where I'd find it they seem so confused
Do I find it in the day?
Do I find it in the night?
When I finally ask the world they give me this advice

They said boy you just follow your heart
But my heart just led me into my chest
They said follow your nose
But the direction changed every time I went and turned my head

And they said boy you just follow your dreams
But my dreams were only misty notions
But the Father of hearts and the Maker of noses
And the Giver of dreams He's the one I have chosen
And I will follow Him

And oh, I hear the voice of a million dreams
Then I wake in the world that I'm partly made of
And the world that is partly of my own making
And oh, I hear the song of a heart set free
That will not be kept down
By the fury and sound
Of a world that is wasting away but keeps saying

They said boy you just follow your heart
But my heart just led me into my chest
They said follow your nose
But the direction changed every time I went and turned my head

And they said boy you just follow your dreams
But my dreams were only misty notions
But the Father of hearts and the Maker of noses
And the Giver of dreams He's the one I have chosen
And I will follow Him

Friday, November 7, 2014

Simple Observations about the ERLC National Conference.

I did not attend the ERLC National Conference on the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage. In money, in time away from work, and in time away from family, the cost exceeded my budget for October. Although I did not occupy a seat in Nashville, I did participate in the conference as an Internet event, both by consuming the live feed and by engaging in online conversation with other participants. I offer a few observations about the event itself, the Internet event surrounding the event, and the national landscape it addressed.

  1. The conference threaded the needle. The requirements of scripture tightly constrain Christians. Just as He did, Jesus expects us to treat people with love and respect. Just as He did, Jesus expects us to call sin sin, not with the intent to drive sinners away, but with the intent to call them away from their sin to something better.

    From what I saw, the only major substantive objection toward the conference voiced by those who opposed it was that, whatever other niceties it offered, it continued to treat sex between two men or between two women as a sin. Although it included gay men and lesbian women on the conference platform, they were all people who consider sex between two men or between to women to be a sin (therefore, they're not "really" gay or lesbian, some alleged). Although the conference decried parental behavior that contributes to gay teen homelessness, it didn't budge on the sin question. Although the conference called for civility and love toward all people, the conference's detractors questioned whether there can be such a thing as civility and love without abandoning the idea that sex between men or between women is a sin.

    Christianity cannot embrace same-sex marriage without contradicting the words of Jesus. The ERLC National Conference represents Christians moving as far as we can on these questions without moving beyond the Savior into something else. That the conference managed to go that far without going any further is a strong evaluation in its favor, I think.

  2. The distance between us and the culture is gargantuan. Gender-related questions are only the tip of the iceberg. In a Twitter discussion I had with a number of the conference's detractors, we started out with the question of whether gay or lesbian sex is a sin. We moved pretty quickly to other questions and discovered that A LOT of ethical questions separated us when it came to sex. I think pornography is bad; my interlocutors did not. I think monogamy is good; they were only willing to concede that there might be some forms of non-monogamy that are bad. Of course, this is not that surprising, since there are undeniable connections between homosexuality and non-monogamy.

    In the immediate future, Christians are going to face increasing pressure from society (and from some people who call themselves Christians) to cave in on "the sin question" with regard to gay and lesbian sex, ostensibly with the promise that you'll fit in with society better if you compromise in just this one way. Don't fall for it. Even if you sell out on that question, you'll still be miles and miles apart from where that movement really wants to take you. You'll be no closer to the culture; you'll just be further away from Christ.

  3. We see church differently. That's nowhere more evident than in the article "Why HRC Attended [the] Southern Baptist Convention's National Conference." Consider the following quote, which constitutes a significant portion of this brief article. After acknowledging that often "coming out" leads people out of one church and into another, the article considers the other reality:

    But often the experience is so demoralizing that they leave religion altogether and lose the community that comes with it. It's this community that they once relied on in times of need - the first to respond to a natural disaster, to the loss of a loved one, to a factory shutdown. LGBT people of faith deserve to be part of these communities - helping tend to an ailing neighbor or, when the time comes, having that fellow churchgoer deliver a hot casserole in a time of loss.

    While not everyone holds a particular faith tradition or practices a religion, for those of us who seek it out for moral guidance, for comfort and for community, we have a responsibility to help that community be the best it can. That responsibility doesn't stop if you're LGBT.

    The HRC's rationale makes perfect sense if the church exists to connect people in a "community." Indeed, in every aspect of my life that DOES actually exist for that purpose (civic clubs, workplace, neighborhood, etc.), I'm in favor of acceptance and inclusion. I've attended school trips and swimming parties with my gay and lesbian friends. I've spent long hours working with gay colleagues on projects in the secular jobs I've held down through the years, including a respected gay friend whom our family business employed, promoted, and highly valued. I want to be in community with my gay and lesbian friends.

    We don't see "community" differently; we see "church" differently.

    Church may create community, but the purpose of the church is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. The "community" created at church is a community of disciples who covenant together to bring their lives into submission under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

    Jesus taught that marriage is between a man and a woman and that sex is for marriage alone. The New Testament ideal for sexuality and marriage is consistent and clear. A real church has no "moral guidance" to offer that contradicts the teachings of Jesus Christ. The only "comfort" to be found in a real church is the comfort offered by Jesus. Real churches offer community first with Jesus Christ—and on His terms, not ours—which then leads to community with others who have made the same commitment.

    If this kind of "moral guidance, comfort, and community" is not "the best" a church can be, then churches ought to pass out of existence and give way to something else. But if the teachings of Jesus Christ represent the best plan for humanity, then churches ought to offer the moral guidance, comfort, and community of the gospel without apology and without compromise to the whims of decadent culture.

I wish I could've attended the conference. I look forward to future ERLC offerings. If this conference is a bellwether of things to come, I'm very optimistic. But no resolution of the differences between Christian sexual ethics and pagan sexual ethics presented itself in the early Roman culture that gave birth to the church, and we're not going to find one in this epoch, either.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why Southern Baptists, Above All Others, Must Stand Ready to Aid Liberia

A massive humanitarian tragedy is developing in Liberia and Sierra Leone. I'm not talking about the epidemiological tragedy, which will continue to unfold over the next several months. I'm talking about the inevitable state of these two nations after the virus has run its course and the epidemic comes to an end.

Between now and then, the United Nations projects that 10,000 new cases of Ebola will emerge weekly, mostly in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and that, at this phase of the epidemic, those numbers will increase exponentially. At present the fatality rate in this epidemic has been around 70%, so this nation of around four million people (far fewer than the population of the DFW Metroplex) will witness its disproportionate share of 7,000 Ebola deaths each week in coming weeks, with the possibility that those numbers will grow like a Texas brushfire. If, as some have estimated, 1.5 million people die from this disease, as many as one out of eight people in Liberia may be dead before this crisis ends.

How many of those dead will be parents of newly orphaned children? How many will be breadwinners for a dependent wife? Since epidemics spread as they do—not by randomly selecting people from the populace as a war might do, but through close contact—how many villages will lose their chiefs and virtually all of their leadership? Will the Liberian government fall? Will another bloody civil war ensue as the vacuum of population and power invites competitive claimants?

I'll say it again: A massive humanitarian tragedy is developing in Liberia and Sierra Leone. And as it develops, a lot of people will ask another question:

How is any of this my problem?

It's at least partially our problem because of the special relationship that Southern Baptists have with Liberia. I use the phrase "special relationship" deliberately, mimicking the way that those words have come to describe the relationship between the United States of America and Great Britain.

Has it struck you as odd that "Liberia" is not an African name? The names of so many other countries in Africa—Burkina Faso, Namibia, Lesotho, Guinea—arise etymologically out of native languages. "Liberia" is a Latin-derived name, roughly meaning "The land of the free" (sound familiar?). The capital city of Liberia is "Monroevia." Hmmm…looks a lot like the last name of an American President, doesn't it? The capital city of Sierra Leone (which is a Portuguese phrase meaning "Lion Mountain") is "Freetown." Now that right there, ladies and gentlemen, is a language we call "English."

The nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia were founded by people who were trying to solve the conflict over slavery by repopulating slaves to Africa. Liberia was founded by the United States of America. A great many Southern Baptists in the years leading up to the founding of the SBC and down through the U.S. Civil War favored this solution. They were too Christian to support slavery but too racist to support living together with African slaves as peers. So, "send them back home" was their plan (the facts notwithstanding that South Carolina, not West Africa, had been the lifelong "home" for these men, women, and children).

Southern Baptists were in on this up to our necks. One of the most prominent founders of Liberia was also one of the missionaries that Baptists North and South supported together before our schism: Lott Carey. Carey was a Virginia slave who purchased his and his family's freedom in order to move to Liberia as a politician-missionary. John Day, who served the SBC's Foreign Mission Board after the split, was a signatory on the Liberian Declaration of Independence and a Justice of the Liberian Supreme Court.

Ongoing conflict and segregation emerged between African-American-Africans and native-born Liberians. For nearly two hundred years, our experiment has unfolded on the Liberian coast, mostly with tragic results. Ebola is so successful there because little else—government, medical infrastructure—has been successful at all. To the degree that such things can be true two centuries later, the Liberian mess is one of America's making, with particular responsibility falling upon Southern Baptists.

So, when the epidemiological tides turn (we're not at all qualified to combat viruses), I believe that Southern Baptists will be doing the honorable thing if we step up to the plate in a sacrificial and jaw-dropping, head-turning way to address the plight of Liberia's survivors.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Stop Calling It "Reformed" If It Wouldn't Have Permitted the Reformation

Google informed me today that Wade Burleson had linked to a post of mine. I don't know what's wrong with Google—Wade hasn't linked to a post of mine in years. Google was picking up an archive page on Wade's site somehow. But I followed the link and, curious, I looked to see what Wade had been blogging about lately.

The years have not afforded me too many opportunities to blog in agreement with Wade Burleson, and by golly, when a chance like that rolls around, I'm going to take it!

Wade posted back on September 17 about James MacDonald's (and it is MacDonald, not McDonald—apparently he's comfortable with everyone's thinking he's a lowland Scot) view of the authority of elders. Here's perhaps the most relevant snippet of Wade's prose:

[MacDonald's] views [on the authority of elders] can be clearly seen in the prefacing words Pastor James McDonald used when the majority of elders publicly disciplined the three minority elders in September 2013 (you may watch the actual video if you desire):

  • "I just want to remind you that God has entrusted spiritual authority to the local church."
  • "We believe that (this) authority of the church is invested in the elders."
  • "When the elders speak collectively in agreement, they speak for God to our church."
  • "That's about as serious as serious gets."
  • "These elders are now going to speak on behalf of God to our entire church."

The elders then proceeded to explain why the minority caucus of elders in their midst were 'Satanic to the core,' were 'false messengers,' and everyone was to avoid them lest "you incur great detriment to your own soul."

I have not researched the situation with James MacDonald at all. I do not have the time to perform this research. I'm weighing in not at all on whether MacDonald said this, whether this is what his church believes and teaches, or whether his views have been represented accurately by Wade.

I do, however, know that there are people out there whose theology of the authority of elders is precisely this. Wade's post offers me an occasion to air my thoughts on the matter.

First, I want to affirm that I, too, believe that God has entrusted spiritual authority to the local church. I also believe that some authority is entrusted to the elders of a local church. The mistake MacDonald (as he is represented in Wade's blog) makes is to conflate the two. All of the authority of the local church is not vested in the elders of the church. Jesus grants sweeping authority to the gathered church in Matthew 18. Elders are mentioned nowhere in that passage. Rather, quite expressly, the authorization of Christ is given to gathered believers—to ANY assembled believers who are operating in the name of Christ. The authority of elders must be balanced against the authority of the gathered congregation if we would be Christian and biblical.

Second, I'd like to point out an important historical aspect of this point of doctrine: If the elders of the churches speak with all of the authority of God that He has entrusted to the church, then virtually every phase of the Protestant Reformation was a rebellion against the authority of God. I know that there are people who believe precisely that, and I want to be charitable in acknowledging that schism is never pretty and is never God's best plan. Nevertheless, I do question whether a theory of spiritual authority that would have prevented the Reformation can rightly be associated with the label "Reformed ecclesiology."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

David Platt is My IMB President, Too

The International Mission Board is reporting that Dr. David Platt is the new president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. I had opposed his election. He now has my support. Here's why:

  1. According to our system, I had my say. The trustees had the opportunity to give full consideration to the questions that I raised. I trust that they did so. I do not regret having raised these concerns, but I respect our system of polity. I freely acknowledge that the trustees had access to more information than I had. More of them favored his election than opposed it.

  2. The very critique that I made of Platt requires that I support him now. This is the way that our system is supposed to work. You engage yourself in the process. You advocate vigorously for your point of view. Together we Southern Baptists come to a decision. Unless the decision is so bad that we cannot follow Christ and abide by it, we coalesce around the decision that we've made and we move forward for the sake of our Great Commission task.

    From the bottom of my heart I urge any of you who have talked about cutting your CP support if Platt were elected not to do anything so reactionary and foolish as that. If you were to reduce your support of the CP in reaction to this decision, in my mind you'd be putting yourself into the exact same category as the critique that I made of Platt. Please don't do that.

    Instead, do what I said that Platt hadn't done. Get involved in our polity. In good faith, help us to make decisions and appoint people even better than we have done so in the past. Don't disengage; do the hard work of consensus building and peacemaking for the cause of the Kingdom.

  3. I'm committed to making my initial post about David Platt a self-unfulfilling prophecy. If I still worry that the man most responsible for rallying us all to support the Cooperative Program is not someone all that committed to or passionate about the Cooperative Program, then guess what that means: I just have to do more myself to promote the Cooperative Program in order to make up for it.

    Southern Seminary exists today because four men agreed among themselves that "the seminary may die, but we will die first." If just four hundred Southern Baptist pastors were to make the same commitment regarding the Cooperative Program, I don't think any power on earth could stop us.

    I neither storm off from this election in protest nor throw up my hands in hopelessness. Rather, I simply acknowledge that a task lies before us and I put my hand to the plow. I hope you all will join me.

    If Cooperative Program support was not considered important in this season of Southern Baptist decision-making, together let us make certain that it will be in the seasons to come.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Cooperative Program Is More than a Money Trail

The Cooperative Program is a way of polity. In other words, it is a ethos of cooperative work among Southern Baptists that just happens to work best with a certain financial pathway.

It is Cooperative Planning. The Cooperative Program ideal means that none of us get precisely the budget we might plan all by ourselves. Rather, we join forces with sister churches who are around us and plan a consensus strategy and a consensus budget for the work we are going to do with one another.

This kind of vision is difficult for some of our Southern Baptist churches to embrace. I think one reason is because it demands a high level of respect for sister churches, and sometimes we tend to get so wrapped up in our own little silos that we lose sight of intercongregational fellowship and partnership in the gospel. This is made more difficult when Southern Baptist bodies grow very diverse doctrinally, methodologically, doxologically, and otherwise. We can work together through a great deal of diversity, but there has to be some unifying basis around which we gather and work. Our confession of faith is probably the best provision for that need.

Working in this way requires that our mutual respect for sister churches should facilitate a quest for a common plan. We have to be ready to submit our personal visions, plans, and objectives to the communal negotiations of the family of churches and work toward some consensus plan that lies within the realm of the possible outcomes.

To disagree with the budget of one's state convention and then summarily pull out of the Cooperative Program without having at least attempted to step up to the mike and influence the common plan toward some superior alternative is to betray this communal, cooperative planning mindset. It is a go-it-alone approach that views missions not as our common business but as our individual pursuits.

It is Cooperative Fundraising. The entities that benefit from the Cooperative Program have historically agreed to forego direct solicitation of the churches for anything other than the Cooperative Program. There have been, of course, exceptions (like the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering), but the general agreement is that Southern Baptist entities cooperate with one another in raising money toward the common good through the Cooperative Program.

Five years ago I tried to describe the lay of the land before we had the Cooperative Program in a post entitled "The Year 25 BCP." When our entities were counting on direct funding from individual churches rather than upon the common stream of the Cooperative Program, increasing amounts of money were lost to the professional fundraisers.

Cooperative fundraising benefits us all because the moneychangers all take their cuts and we therefore benefit from the relative lack of them in our system. Right now those churches who just give large sums of money directly to the IMB are getting illegitimate benefits. They know about the IMB because of CP-funded promotional work, but they give around that stream. When the Cooperative Program dies, the funding for the fundraising will have to come out of those funds being raised. As the competitive environment becomes more threatening, entities will lose higher and higher percentages of their received gifts to cover fundraising overhead.

It is Cooperative Giving. We had one transitional year when our church delved into a little bit of direct giving to entities. We were, at that time, still in the Baptist General Convention of Texas. When the BGCT capped the amount of CP dollars that could go to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, making sure that our church's CP dollars could not flow through to SWBTS, we started to give some amount of money directly to SWBTS in order to offset that spiteful act.

I quickly discovered that a lot of perks and benefits come from direct giving. We had never been recognized before, but suddenly the same level of contribution, given directly to the institution, qualified us for the President's Club. I got invited to soirees. Our church's name was printed on fancy programs.

But as soon we were able to do so, we returned to a thoroughly Cooperative-Program-focused giving strategy. Our church didn't get the same level of recognition, but we weren't in it for the recognition to begin with. We just wanted to be found faithful to do our part in giving to support our common Great Commission work. We give not only as an obligation to our Lord in fulfilling the Great Commission, but also as an obligation to our sister churches, that we should not leave others on the hook for more than their fair share of the burden of what we have planned together.

It is Cooperative Work. The Cooperative Program is built around the idea that it takes a multi-homed approach to accomplish the work of the Great Commission. It's wonderful that we have an International Mission Board. Now, who's going to train the missionaries? We're going to need seminaries for that, and they're going to have to produce students who aren't up to their eyeballs in educational debt. By the way, where will the seminaries find those students? They're going to be the students who surrendered to missions at Falls Creek and at other Baptist encampments maintained mostly by state conventions and operated either by them or by folks like our friends at Lifeway. How did they get there? They fell under the influence of pastors or youth pastors or other people at a local Southern Baptist church, which was probably planted once upon a time by a state convention and whose leadership probably attended a seminary. That local church, by the way, will provide the funding for every link in the chain.

The Cooperative Program is simply what you get when you fully realize that none of these parts will thrive without the others. We work cooperatively because we cannot succeed otherwise.


Do you see why I think it is so important that the leaders casting the vision for our convention should be proven supporters of the Cooperative Program? It is more than just a question of accounting. It is more than just dumpster-diving through ACP records to ferret out who gave what when.

Promoting leaders who have a passion for a Cooperative-Program-centered vision for our future means promoting leaders who buy into a whole philosophy of cooperation. It will affect the way that they raise funds. It will affect the way that they view their relationships with one another and with the state conventions and local associations and churches. It will affect the way that they envision the interface between the cogs of their work and all else that happens in Southern Baptist life.

Having this CP-vision is therefore among the most important qualifications for a person who would serve in a role like the IMB Presidency. At least I think so. Whatever bold vision a man might have for the future of the IMB, the power to achieve it will be found only—mark my words—only in his ability to bring Southern Baptist mules (a deliberately chosen metaphor!) together and yoke them into the same harnesses and get them coordinated in the traces. The only approach that has ever accomplished this objective well has been the approach that we call the Cooperative Program.

The best bet for a leader who will successfully accomplish that approach is the man who has already demonstrated an appreciation for it. May the Lord give us that man.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Why David Platt Should Not Be the Next IMB President

I hope you'll recall that I have, in general, tried to be a voice of reasoned, calm moderation in the midst of previous administrative transitions in the SBC. When so many of my friends were vocally opposed to the election of Dr. Jason Allen at MWBTS, for example, I wrote this to ask them to take a deep breath and calm down (and I've got to say, I'm pretty pleased with his performance so far). Those of you who know me well have come to conclude, I hope, that I am not unreasonably reactionary.

Nevertheless, having received confirmation from multiple independent sources across the country that David Platt is the IMB Search Committee's choice to receive the presidency of the International Mission Board, I cannot help but express my opinion that the trustees must not elect him to serve in this position. I offer the following reasons, pretty much in descending order of their importance to me.

First, his election is a disastrous blow to the Cooperative Program. His church makes no Annual Church Profile report, and the strongest endorsement of the Cooperative Program he was able to make when asked was, "I'm still wrestling through how [the Cooperative Program] looks in the context of [the church I pastor]." Wrestling. In other words, he affirmed the Cooperative Program with his words even though he didn't lead his church to support the Cooperative Program financially. It isn't because they are so embarrassed about how high their CP support is that Brook Hills is refusing to complete Annual Church Profiles. The Southern Baptist Convention is full of pastors, missionaries, and laypeople who don't have to wrestle with it at all. We know how the CP looks in our churches. We give money through it and change the world for the gospel.

I've got to say, generally I'm the guy who is uncomfortable with all of us picking on each other about our varying levels of CP support. Churches are autonomous. They make their own decisions. Especially I find it distasteful for denominational employees to dare to criticize churches for what they give or don't give. We ought to be thankful for every dollar.

But the calculus of all of that changes a little, I think, when you're asking to be considered for the position of heading up the agency that receives over half of the national CP allocation. At that point, I think it becomes relevant whether you've been a CP visionary who has given actual leadership to strengthen the CP or whether you're somebody who didn't consider strengthening the CP to be worthy of your time and effort. The latter category reflects a group of people who are too lacking in vision and leadership to be promoted to such a position as the helm of the IMB.

David Platt simply has not given leadership with regard to the CP—neither to contribute to it effectively nor to fix whatever he thinks is broken that might prevent him from having confidence in the CP. I'm not saying that he could not; I'm simply observing that he has not. If he wants to go about doing so between now and whenever the next guy at the IMB retires, I'd be happy to consider him among the other qualified candidates at that time.

Look, friends, the Cooperative Program is not dead yet, and it will only die if you and I sit by and watch it die. If those setting the vision for the future of the SBC are a collection of people who really don't care very much about the Cooperative Program, then it certainly will die. I think that would be a shame. I'd be ashamed of myself if I stood by and watched it happen without having said anything. That's what brings me to my keyboard tonight.

Second, His election will be a needlessly polarizing event. And our trustees ought to ask themselves whether that's good for the IMB, good for the SBC, or good for the cause of the gospel. Think of all of the constituencies in the SBC who are going to be offended and polarized by his election:

  1. Pro-Cooperative-Program Southern Baptists are not going to like it.
  2. Anti-Calvinists are not going to like it (and this time there are not going to be non-Calvinist voices like mine speaking to mitigate them)
  3. Anyone who uses "The Sinner's Prayer" is likely to have some concerns.

Perhaps you don't sympathize with ANY of those points of view. But that's not really the question, is it? The question is whether it makes a brighter future for the IMB to put a stick into the eye of every Southern Baptist who does fall into one or more of those categories.

Some of you will be offended by what I am writing tonight. I beg of you to ask yourself this question: If you and I have sometimes agreed… If you've ever in the past respected anything else that I have written or felt that I was at all a reasonable interlocutor when we disagreed… If ever you've felt that you and I were partners in the work of the Great Commission or could be partners in the work of the Great Commission… If any or all of that has ever been true for you, then do you think it is a wise choice for the IMB to elect a president who would bring you and me to an impasse like this?

Why, at this moment, in this way, should we polarize the Southern Baptist Convention over this?

The clear answer to me is that we shouldn't. There are other good choices. I pray that the IMB will make one of them.

Third, I fear that, even after his election were over, if it were to occur, he would prove to be a polarizing personality. His statements about "The Sinner's Prayer" are a good example. Ask yourself, how much worse would that controversy have been if the sitting president of the IMB were to make statements like that? And if the president of the IMB made statements like that, wouldn't more than his book sales suffer from it? Should the International Mission Board be jeopardized in that way?

But I think that being "Radical" necessarily involves being someone willing to charge off into controversy from time to time. The question is not whether the world needs people like that. The question is not even whether the Southern Baptist Convention needs people like that. The question is whether Southern Baptists need people like that…at the helm of the International Mission Board.

For my part, I think that personality type and aptitude fit very well the role of a seminary professor. I think it fits very well the role of a pastor and author. I'll even say that I'm entirely comfortable with the idea of David Platt as a successor to Al Mohler or Danny Akin (especially if he shows a little more leadership with regard to the Cooperative Program in the future). I just think it is a mistake we cannot afford right now for us to make him the IMB President. The right guy for the wrong job.

And I cannot make this point strongly enough (I mean that: I won't be able to make it strongly enough for most of you to hear it and believe it). I like David Platt. He's a good preacher. He's a good author. He has said a few things that we need to hear. I support him. I want him to succeed. I support David Platt, and I support the IMB. I just don't support David Platt at the IMB.

Those facts won't keep me from losing friends over this post. And with a heavy heart I realize that if David Platt were to author a post like this about me, I would certainly take it personally and would be offended. It would cast a pall over any friendship or partnership we might try to have afterwards. I realize that the personal stakes involved in a post like this one are high.

But I value the tens of thousands of dollars that my church annually gives through the Cooperative Program. I value the UUPG work that my church is doing through the International Mission Board, to which tens of thousands more dollars are going and to which I personally have given a lot of time, prayer, effort, and discomfort. I value the lives of young people and not-so-young people who are close to me who are serving through the IMB or are planning to serve there. I value the Great Commission. I value the cause of the gospel. I value these things too much to be able to remain silent at this point when I believe so much of this is on the line. We are to be servants of one another. To borrow a phrase from Thomas More, I desire to be David Platt's good servant, but God's first.

I believe in our trustee system. Our trustees have not voted yet. I beg of you not to do so until you have given these questions full and careful consideration. That's your job. You owe that to the rest of us. There are better choices out there. Please be careful to get this one right.

The IMB President's salary comes from the Cooperative Program. Whoever draws that salary ought to have been supportive of the Cooperative Program. For me, it's no more complicated than that. We need not an IMB President who wrestles with the Cooperative Program, but one who has embraced it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Eugene Dewitt Brady (1916 - 2014)

Eugene Dewitt Brady (1916 &endash; 2014)

Below is the obituary that they family asked me to compose for my wife's grandfather, who died early this morning.

Eugene Dewitt (Gene) Brady of Nebo died Tuesday, June 3, 2014, at the age of 98. He actively worked on his farm until just a short time before his death. That he died peacefully in the hospital from pneumonia is one of the great anticlimaxes of history, since throughout his life he was never hospitalized by illness but was a frequent and infamous visitor to local emergency rooms due to his many adventurous and death-defying mishaps and injuries.

Gene was born to James Thomas Brady and May Preissinger on February 16, 1916, on the same farm at which he has resided to this day. His father died in 1933, leaving behind nine children with his wife, who herself died in 1941. In 1935 Gene joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. He served the CCC in Missouri, Nevada, and Oregon. After he left the CCC, he resided briefly in Anaheim, California. While working there in a cannery he met Lillie Ada Matthews of Heber Springs, Arkansas, whom he married on January 14, 1942.

The world was at war, and Gene joined the United States Army on September 1, 1942. He served in the Pacific theater of the war as a Radar Tech Sergeant with the Deadly 166th AAA Gun Battalion until his discharge on December 17, 1945. His battalion served in Australia, New Guinea, Leyte, Palawan, Mindoro, Mindanao, and other locations throughout the Southwest Pacific.

After the war, Gene returned to the farm in Laclede County with Lillie to raise their two children, Dale Eugene Brady (1943) and Marsha Ann Brady Prock (1948). In addition to his farming activities, he founded and operated the Brady Wood Treating Company for several years. Gregarious and generous, he became an integral part of his rural community. He voluntarily maintained private roads and county roads in the area, annually gave dictionaries to children in the Plato Elementary School, and served as a good neighbor.

Gene was among the longest-tenured members of the Cedar Bluff Baptist Church, serving there as a deacon. The church sanctuary sits on land that adjoins and once belonged to the Brady farm. He was ever faithful to the church in attendance, service, giving, and leadership. He and Lillie were earnest students of the Bible and devout practitioners of their faith.

Gene’s family and friends remember him as a playful and mischievous character with many idiosyncrasies—most of them delightful. He believed that cattle ought to remain in a pasture out of some moral obligation to “honor [his] fence,” whether the fence needed maintenance or not. He preferred over the use working dogs or agricultural implements to herd cattle by threatening them with his Buick. He never met a broken John Deere part for which he didn’t think that he could manufacture for himself a superior replacement. Our hearts are emptier today, but our highways are safer.

Gene is preceded in death by his wife and all of his siblings. He is survived by two children, Dale Brady and wife Phyllis of Nebo; and Marsha Prock and husband Stanley of Competition; six grandchildren, Tracy Barber and husband Bart of Farmersville, TX; Shannon Prock of Hartville; Matthew Brady and wife Beth of Southaven, MS; Sharon Fletcher and husband Kevin of Houston, TX; Shana Amos and husband Scott of Casper, WY; Shandy Williams and husband Brad of Columbia; and nine great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be Thursday, June 5, at the Cedar Bluff Baptist Church, with interment to follow at the Cedar Bluff Cemetery. Rev. Bill Jetton, Rev. Matthew Brady, and Dr. Bart Barber will preside. Viewing will be Wednesday evening, June 4, at Shadel’s Colonial Chapel.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Tale of Two Windows

Not long ago I had two windows open on my computer screen. On the one, I was being invited by a Facebook friend—a friend who is very liberal—to enter a comment thread and explain how it is that Christians could be so meanspirited and hard-hearted and judgmental and un-Jesus-like against people who live contrary to Christian sexuality. Although I often participate in the discussions that he hosts, I had to decline that night. The reason why I had to decline was because of the other window open on my computer desktop. In that window I was filling out the necessary paperwork to visit a prison in order to minister to a person who is a convicted sex offender. Of course, convicted sex offenders are the true pariah of our day and time.

Not long after that, I was invited (by someone else) to participate in an online discussion to defend Christians from charges that we are willing to let little children starve halfway across the world because of "sexual politics," at which time I was, no lie, on the computer making arrangement to actually GO to Africa, halfway around the world, to minister to the people there.

Today, I see another such discussion (no invitation from anyone yet) about how TEN THOUSAND CHILDREN are just going to starve to death because of how heartless conservative Christians really are, but I didn't see it until just now because I've been out all morning with SBC Disaster Relief crews helping people who were victims of a local tornado just fifteen hours ago.

To all of you who are launching a campaign in one window on my computer to try to make me feel guilty for being true to the faith (not MY faith, THE faith), I must tell you, the reason why you aren't succeeding with me is because of the other window on my computer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Of Pastors and Presbyters

When historians turn to consider the early twenty-first century in Southern Baptist life, a number of momentous events from our annual meeting will figure prominently. The revision of the Baptist Faith & Message in the year 2000 marked a turning-point in the history of our confession of faith and will be remembered as a milestone in the story of the Conservative Resurgence. The 2006 election of Frank Page later propelled him into his current role at the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the meeting (its prelude and its aftermath) launched Southern Baptist blogging. The 2012 election of Fred Luter as the first African-American President of the Southern Baptist Convention stands head and shoulders above all of these other historical events as a key element of a story that reaches all the way back to the convention's formation in 1845.

But something else has been happening in the Southern Baptist Convention—something that has not appeared on the agenda of any of our annual meetings—that will also figure prominently in our recollection of this moment in our history. This is the era when Southern Baptist churches in large numbers began to change the governance of our churches. This is the day of the "elder-led" movement in the Southern Baptist Convention.


The previous form of church government—congregationalism with varying levels of pastoral leadership and responsibility—held sway over Southern Baptist life for a century and a half. What factors have led to its precipitous decline?

The rise of the New Calvinism is one important factor. Groups like Mark Dever's IX Marks have championed the transition to elder governance as an important means to increasing church health. Other groups among the New Calvinists, even if they have not been as focused on ecclesiology as Dever's group has been, have lifted up a number of Presbyterian or presbyterial voices as heroes to younger Southern Baptists. The correlation between the elder-led movement and the New Calvinism is tight (although Southern Baptists from more than one soteriological viewpoint are embracing the elder-led option), and when the soteriological pendulum swings the other way, the most lasting impact remaining upon Southern Baptist churches by this movement may very well be the structural changes that it made to local churches by means of the spread of elder-led polity.

The sorry state of congregationalism in many of our Southern Baptist churches is another key factor. For decades nobody in the Southern Baptist convention SAID anything nice about congregational business meetings, and in too many dysfunctional churches it had been at least that long since anyone had DONE anything nice in a congregational business meeting. Furthermore, congregationalism had, in too many places, ceased to enjoin entire congregations in the search for God's will and had become the vehicle by which mean-spirited tyrants—too many of them unconverted—lurked in the shadows and dominated the church as covert power brokers. I previously wrote about this phenomenon in my blog post Pseudo-Congregationalism Is from Satan. Most of those who experienced these abuses first-hand, plus a number of those who heard the stories, were ready for an alternative.

A related matter is the weak and sorry state of the office of pastor/elder/overseer in so many of these dysfunctional churches. Bad congregationalism had eviscerated and emasculated many a minister of the gospel. A sizable number both in pulpit and in pew knew that something was amiss in an arrangement in which the pastor is little more than a hired speaker forced to cower in his corner in the meeting house.

A final factor to consider is the incongruity between what we as Southern Baptists said about the office of deacon versus what our deacons actually did. Much of the Southern Baptist preaching about deacons in the last half of the twentieth century would meet the formal definition of a riv (a literary device from the Old Testament prophetic books in which God formally airs his grievances against His people). The comparison and contrast between deacons and elders has been a mainstay in this conversation as Southern Baptist churches have considered the change to elder-led polity.


What have the advocates for elder-led polity hoped to accomplish for Southern Baptist churches? Some, before enumerating perceived pragmatic benefits, have simply advanced the case that elder-led governance is the most biblical form of church polity. Southern Baptist congregationalism was made much more vulnerable to these attacks by the abandonment of the word "elder" in Southern Baptist parlance near the beginning of the twentieth century. Since the word "elder" is spread throughout the pages of the New Testament, and since Southern Baptists, having chosen the word "pastor" to the exclusion of "elder," appeared to the casual observer not to have any such thing as an elder, the moment was ripe to make the case that the "People of the Book" had abandoned something biblical.

Proponents of this change in church polity also reminded Southern Baptists that the elder-led pattern can be entirely compatible with Baptist belief, and indeed, can be identified in Baptist history. Particularly among Particular Baptists, plural-elder congregationalism appears in church minutes and confessions of faith as the practice of many early Baptists.

Among the pragmatic appeals was the suggestion that a transition to the elder-led pattern would liberate pastors from the tyranny of loneliness in an overwhelming task. "God never intended for one man to try to do this job alone" is a winsome slogan to the ears of a group of people who, in survey after survey, are highly isolated and overburdened. To impanel a board of elders is to call for backup, so they say.

Another winsome feature spanned both pragmatism and biblical fidelity: the prospect of elevating the station and power of pastors/elders/overseers in the church. Pastors in beleaguered situations knew that they should have more power to lead and they wanted that power, confident that the church would operate more smoothly and accomplish more ministry once their congregational roadblocks were out of the way.

Causes for Concern

As someone who despises so much of what has passed for congregationalism in Southern Baptist churches, I welcome and embrace the new openness in our churches to revisit our polity and make it better and more biblical. Also, I acknowledge that some of the more careful and faithful implementations of polities more dependent upon the leadership of pastors/elder/overseers in the local church have been both a success and a blessing. Nevertheless, in the broader movement, I see some causes for concern.

  1. The Lapse into Presbyterianism: I've been blogging for a long time now, and I hope that my readers recognize me as a cordial interlocutor with my more Calvinistic brethren. Specifically, I am not among those who reflexively cry "Presbyterian!" at every juncture when someone discusses his soteriological convictions. Permit me to air my view that the elder-led approach, if done carefully and well, can be done in a way that is more Baptist than Presbyterian. I am no opponent of these implementations.

    And yet, although everything I read from the hand of Mark Dever is unmistakably Baptist, when local churches put down their copies of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and go about implementing what they think they've read, the results sometimes look a lot more like John Knox than Mark Dever. Some of the individual points listed below will serve as the specific indicators of this diagnosis, but I'm going to leave it unsubstantiated for the moment in order to free this space in the essay to speak about the general phenomenon.

    A lot of interaction is taking place at this moment between Southern Baptists and Presbyterians or quasi-Presbyterians. Some of this is due to the facts of American Evangelicalism; some of it is due to the unique influence of men like Al Mohler. At least some movement of pastors between Southern Baptist life and Presbyterian life is taking place—Southern Baptist pastors becoming Presbyterian and Presbyterian pastors becoming Southern Baptist. In saying this I am not alleging a wrong (Southern Baptists ought to talk to more people than just Southern Baptists) so much as I am observing a trend.

    Because of this interaction and familiarity with Presbyterian life, when local Southern Baptist pastors start out to implement elder leadership in their local churches, the Presbyterian model may be more familiar to them, being as widespread as it is, than is the subtle nuance of the more Baptistic varieties of elder-led polity. Indeed, whether unwittingly or deliberately, "elder led" often becomes something more like "elder ruled."

    Since the move to elder-led polity is indisputably a movement TOWARD Presbyterianism, it is perhaps not surprising that the move sometimes fails to stop short of full-fledged Presbyterian polity.

  2. The Cleavage of the Presbytery: Although a less-noble author might have used that subtitle for a condemnation of immodest female preachers, I'm talking about the unsettling tendency among elder-led Southern Baptists to set aside our unified presbytery for a divided presbytery. A divided presbytery has a bifurcation between preaching elders and lay elders. A unified presbytery holds all pastors/elders/overseers to be occupants of the same biblical office without distinction. After all, the New Testament does not give qualifications for two kinds of elders, does not enshrine terminology for two kinds of elders, and does not assign tasks to two kinds of elders. A misreading of I Timothy 5:17 lies at the root of the error of a divided presbytery.

    I've spoken with Mark Dever about this topic (although he may not remember and probably doesn't have any idea who I am). He affirms a unified presbytery and does not agree with the bifurcation of preaching elders and lay elders that is a prominent feature of the Presbyterian system. And yet, is the bifurcation of staff elders and non-staff elders not a bifurcation just the same? Doesn't it appear important to the IX Marks system that some of the elders be people who are not paid at all? And yet, doesn't I Timothy 5:17 seem to suggest that all of the elders are paid something, just not all the same thing?

    If a careful, conscientiously Baptist, elder-led Southern Baptist church of the new type were suddenly to receive a windfall and were able to provide full-time income to all of its elders, would it feel compelled to go out and elect more elders, just to make sure that at least some of the elders were non-staff? I think a good many of them would. Although there is a strong, biblical case to use the term "elder" to refer to pastors/elders/overseers, and although there is a strong, biblical case to permit multiple elders to serve in a single congregation, where is the biblical case for insisting that some of these elders be unremunerated by the church, or for making any cleavage between different subcategories of elders?

    As a final word of clarification, if straitened financial circumstances cause one or more (or ALL) of a church's pastors/elders/overseers to go unpaid, I have no problem with that. I become concerned when the choice to have unpaid elders is strategic rather than circumstantial.

  3. The Demotion of Pastors: Another remarkable feature of this movement is related to the insistence upon non-staff elders. In many of the congregations that are adopting elder leadership, pastors other than the top pastor in the organization chart—men we might refer to as "Associate Pastor" or "Assistant Pastor" in the traditional parlance—are being excluded entirely from the elder board. And so, in selecting elders, these congregations are passing right over men who have already been ordained into the pastor/elder/overseer ministry, have trained and have been credentialed, and are serving in the role of pastor/elder/overseer in that local congregation. The congregation is passing over these men and are elevating onto elder boards laypeople from the congregation.

    I had a recent conversation with a young man being called to one of these churches. After talking with me, he approached the lead pastor of the congregation and asked, "Hey, if I'm the Youth Pastor, and if pastors, elders, and overseers are all the same thing biblically, then why don't I get to come to the elders' meetings?" The lead pastor replied, "Wow! I hadn't thought of that. I just read IX Marks of a Healthy Church, thought it sounded good, and started implementing it here as best I could, but I never considered that other staff pastors might need to be elders. We probably ought to change your job title to take the word 'Pastor' out of it."

    As an editorial note, it is remarkable to me that a movement holding out the promise to elevate lead pastors out of situations of bad congregationalism—situations that did not accord to them the rightful and biblical respect and leadership role that pertained to them—would then be used by lead pastors to deny the rightful and biblical respect and leadership role that pertains to other pastors in the congregation. Every pastor ought to be considered a full-fledged elder in our congregations. Indeed, ONLY pastors ought to be considered elders in our congregations.

  4. The Dismissal of Pastors: I know of two pastor-friends in recent months who have been fired by elders whom they themselves installed into the office of elder while the pastors were trying to transition the churches to elder leadership. In case you missed what happened there, these pastors (a) decided to adopt the elder-led model, (b) hand-picked leading laypersons in the congregation to serve as elders, (c) saw to their election as elders in the congregation, and (d) were promptly sent packing by the elders they had selected. In both cases there was no congregational vote involved (unless I've somehow misunderstood).

    I asked one of them, "If you hadn't made those guys elders at your church do you think they would have done this or even COULD have done this to you?" The answer? No.

    History guys should stick to talking about the past and should avoid prognostication about the future, but I'm going to go there: I predict that the stories of bad Presbyterianism that will come out of this new polity in Southern Baptist churches will make the old stories of bad congregationalism look like a church picnic. Why? Because the selfsame people who did so much damage through the congregational system will be the very ones who worm their way into the local presbytery. You think they were formidable when they held no official position at all? You think they were formidable when they were deacons? Wait until you encounter them as constitutionally empowered ruling elders of the congregation!

    Of course, a great many of the churches making this transition are more fortunate for now. After all, a great many pastors will pick people to serve as elders who will not, in fact, turn around and fire them. But this is the rosiest season for the elder-led movement—the season in which first-generation elder-led pastors get to serve with the elders that they have picked for themselves. The test of the movement will come after a few pastoral transitions, once pastors are coming into service alongside a PREDECESSOR's hand-picked elder board.

Proposed Solution

Those who are exploring the biblical role of the elder in Southern Baptist life should take the following biblical steps if they choose to implement elder leadership in their churches:

  1. Extend the office of elder to all pastors, since biblically the pastor, the elder, and the overseer are the same person.
  2. Restrict the office of elder to only pastors, for the same reason.
  3. Protect the authority of the voting congregation to select its own pastors/elders/overseers.
  4. Make it the goal of the congregation to pay all of its pastors/elders/overseers at least something.
  5. Require all pastors/elders/overseers to do at least some work at preaching and teaching.
  6. Make it the goal of the congregation to pay more to those pastors/elders/overseers who work harder at preaching and teaching.
  7. Charge pastors/elders/overseers to keep the congregation informed and to build congregational consensus behind key decisions.

If the elevation of pastors/elders/overseers in Southern Baptist churches will take place along these lines, it can be an opportunity for us to revisit our polity and strengthen it, making our churches healthier and more effective in the accomplishment of our mission.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Beliefs about the Extent of Communion

I believe that you should encourage to participate in the Lord's Supper any and everyone who, if he or she were a member of your church, you would not discipline out. That states my understanding of the extent of the Lord's Supper in its entirety.

A few corollary thoughts:

  1. This presumes that your church has the framework in place to exercise church discipline and the guts to do it.

  2. Our church is a Baptist church. That means that if one of our Sunday School classes started sprinkling infants and refused to stop, they would be subject to church discipline simply because they were sprinkling infants. Believer's baptism is not just our preference, it is the clear and indisputable teaching of God's word. Thus, any pedobaptist member of our church is necessarily someone against whom we would start discipline proceedings.

  3. The reason why I never make statements about the extent of communion using language like "Like Faith and Order" is because too much of a focus on baptism erroneously and dangerously conveys the impression that so long as you are saved and have been dunked subsequently, you need not consider the matter further. But truly every Christian ought to examine his or her own heart and ask the question, "If my fellow brothers and sisters knew about all of the attitudes in my heart and all of the things that I've done this week, and if I persisted in them unrepentantly, would I be a legitimate candidate for church discipline?" If the answer to that question is "Yes," then I need to spend some time getting my heart straight with the Lord before participating in the Lord's Supper. I tell people that only those who are believers and who have repented of their known sin should participate in the Supper. I further clarify that having refused scriptural baptism is a sin.

  4. It surprises me not at all that a sizable number of SBC churches are probably basically Stoddardian in their approach to the Lord's Supper since church discipline is all but lost among us.

    In my opinion, it is far more important (and is prerequisite) to recover a meaningful idea of church membership before trying to repair what has happened to our theology of the ordinances. It is difficult to make lasting and meaningful repair to the crack over the doorway before addressing the problems in the foundation.

  5. I am actually optimistic in the long term. More is being written and preached about ecclesiology today than has been the case for at least a couple of generations preceding us. Biblical preaching always bears fruit. I think that this problem will solve itself with time and with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why I'm Glad Ronnie Floyd Will Be Nominated for SBC President

Today Baptist Press announced that Albert Mohler will nominate Pastor Ronnie Floyd for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention this year in Baltimore. In my judgment, it would be inappropriate for me as a sitting officer of the SBC to make any sort of an endorsement in the upcoming elections. I suppose it is possible that I might even be moderating the meeting during the election itself, in which case my impartiality would be of some small measure of importance. So, let me make it clear that I am not endorsing Ronnie Floyd by this post. We don't even know whether anyone else will run, and if someone does, we don't even know who that would be, so even before considering my scruples regarding the impartiality of officers, it's a bit early to make a choice anyway.

After all, if Chuck Norris should run, I'm backing him.

And yet, having said all of that, I don't mind saying that I'm glad that Ronnie Floyd will be nominated. The following reasons make me happy about this nomination:

  1. Ronnie Floyd has shown leadership in the SBC apart from holding any office in the convention. He gave leadership to the GCR program. He has given leadership this year to a series of prayer meetings for SBC pastors. You don't have to have attended all of the prayer meeting and you don't have to have agreed with every plank of the eventual GCR platform to recognize that Ronnie Floyd cares deeply about the SBC and wants to give leadership to our convention. Even if other people run and even if someone else is elected, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention ought to be someone who has already demonstrated some love for the SBC and some willingness to be active in convention work.

  2. Ronnie Floyd understands the perspective from both sides of the convention experience. Ronnie Floyd has been on the platform. In Orlando during the GCR presentation, he was working hard to achieve the passage of that set of proposals. The events in Orlando involved the unconventional disposition of an amendment to the main GCR motion.

    But in 2013 in Houston, Ronnie Floyd found himself on the other side of the great gulf fixed between the platform and the messenger microphones at the SBC Annual Meeting as he argued from the floor for Southern Baptists to reach out in some compassionate and helpful way toward those struggling with mental illness. He got a taste of the difficulty a messenger faces when trying to speak coherently into a microphone while a 5-second delay disconcertingly confounds you with your own greatly amplified words. He experienced firsthand the way that the labyrinth of SBC procedures and rules of order can make it difficult for anyone—even a well-respected and seasoned SBC pastor—to propose something new from the floor and see it through to a successful end.

    I think every SBC President ought to be someone who has tried at least once to make a motion at the Annual Meeting. I think the memory of his 2013 experience will strengthen Ronnie Floyd's determination to be respectful, compassionate, and evenhanded in his wielding of the Broadus Gavel, should he be elected.

  3. Ronnie Floyd has given careful thought to the actual constitutional duties of the SBC Presidency. Namely, I am confident that he will make good appointments and I know that he will pay careful attention to the content of the Annual Meeting. After the 2013 Annual Meeting in Houston, Floyd offered a series of tweets considering how to make the Annual Meeting a more effective, more popular event. Some of the ideas that I offered in my own post "Belonging and Giving" over at SBC Voices—the ideas about how to cultivate a sense of belonging in the convention—are ideas that I had already discussed with Floyd in private conversation. That conversation took place because Ronnie Floyd reached out to me and asked me about my thoughts for improving the Annual Meeting.

    Now, let me make this clear: I don't know that Ronnie Floyd agrees with all of what I wrote. I don't know that he agrees with ANY of what I wrote. Certainly my post is nothing that should be considered "campaign material" for Ronnie Floyd and I don't have any reason to think that any of my ideas would have any influence upon the way that he would conduct himself if he were to be elected. I'm just saying that it is encouraging to me that Ronnie Floyd would want to have the conversation in the first place. This is someone who has been thinking about our Annual Meeting for a long time and has been asking other people to think about it and to give him input.

    It would be a plus for any SBC president to be someone who has done just that.

  4. Just the circumstances of his nomination are encouraging. Albert Mohler, the putative Calvinistic Don Corleone of the SBC, is nominating a pastor who is ostensibly a Traditionalist with regard to his soteriology. Floyd isn't a Southern grad, either. The whole affair just oozes the kind of cooperative spirit that last year's Calvinism report commended to us all and that our convention greatly needs. No matter who else runs, no matter what outcome the election brings forth, the mere fact of the nomination makes me happy.

So, hopeful that I have stayed within the bounds of decorum and optimistic about the future of our convention, I give you the official announcement and wait with you to see what will unfold in the ensuing months.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Useful Church History

Here are ten stories from Church History that I tend to use in my ministry as the pastor of a local church. They are not listed in any particular order:

  1. Monica of Hippo and Her Son Augustine: Augustine was a little hellion. He grew up to be a big hellion. His mother, the pious Monica, despaired of seeing his redemption from a life of squalor and dissipation. She was tempted to throw in the towel until her pastor told her, "Woman, the child of so many tears shall never perish." I don't know that this is always true, but it proved to be true in the life of Augustine, who was converted and became…well…Augustine!

    I use this story with mothers who are worried about their children. By telling it I try to encourage them to continue to pray for their children and never to abandon the hope that God might turn them around.

  2. William Carey's Call to Ministry and Early Work: William Carey wasn't exactly the hottest commodity among Baptist churches in the midland counties. It took a lot of convincing to get a small church to call him as their pastor. But his sheer indefatigability carried him a long way. Of course, the calling of God eventually sent him to India, where he labored seven years without a single convert in spite of severe emotional and physical loss. Unbeknownst to him or to those who supported his ministry, those seven years laid the foundation for one of the most successful missionary stories in the modern age.

    I use this story to encourage church members to stay the course in ministry situations that are difficult. I used it extensively as we were preparing to adopt a UUPG in Senegal, wanting our church to understand that we might not see immediate results, but that it is important to persevere even if we do not.

  3. Thomas Helwys's Decision to Return to England: The early English Baptists weren't in England at all. They had fled to the environs of Amsterdam to escape persecution in England. Thomas Helwys fell under the conviction that he had abandoned his preaching post—that he owed it to his homeland to declare the true gospel to his countrymen. He did not do so unobtrusively; he penned a missive to King James on the subject of religious liberty entitled "A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity." As thanks for his effort, James I cast Helwys into Newgate Prison, where he died after a few years of imprisonment.

    I use this story to inspire people regarding the debt we owe our neighbors to proclaim the gospel to them. Also, it works in any circumstance in which we need to instill courage in believers.

  4. Hugh & Anne Bromhead's Letter: In the earliest days of the English Baptist movement, a member of a local Baptist church wrote a letter to a concerned family member trying to explain this strange new sect to which they belonged. The letter contains a full description of a typical Lord's Day in the life of this congregation, including hours upon hours of preaching and Bible study.

    I find this letter to be useful whenever anyone says that my preaching is too long. :-)

    Also, whenever I have church members who have come to regard our Sunday schedule as an ancient sacrament, it is helpful to be able to show not only an older form of worship, but an older BAPTIST form of worship (arguments from the Gallican Mass aren't often persuasive in SBC circles, nor should they be).

  5. John Chrysostom's Conflict with Empress Eudoxia: The great golden-tongued preacher did not have a good relationship with the Byzantine Empress Eudoxia (perhaps because he had compared her to Herodias?). Although her rage against him was harsh and eventually forced him into exile, he never backed down.

    Again, like Thomas Helwys, John Chrysostom is an example of Christian courage. But his is courage of a different kind. Helwys's is the story of an outsider who courageously proclaimed the truth although it cost him his life. Chrysostom's is the story of an insider who refused to be seduced by wealth and power. That's a different kind of courage, but it is courage all the same. I use this story to encourage people to be courageous and to resist corruption when tempted by wealth, fame, or power.

  6. Lottie Moon: Lottie Moon didn't start out looking like a missionary in the making. Even when she first went to China, she appeared simply to be following her sister there. The sister didn't make it, but Lottie did. Opportunities for romance, for furlough, or for greater personal comfort did not finally succeed in diverting her attention from her efforts. She is the martyred saint of Southern Baptist missionary work.

    I use her story to promote an offering we collect every Christmas for our missionaries.

  7. Francis Asbury during the American Revolution: Early Methodism was, after all, a movement within Anglicanism, and Anglicanism, in turn, was the Church of where? England! When the Americans declared their independence against the British Crown, most Anglican clergy and nearly every Methodist preacher booked passage back to Mother England. Francis Asbury did not. He stayed on and consequently became the most influential man in American Methodist history.

    I use this story to illustrate how much ministry credibility can be won by a pastor's endurance through difficult times. Perseverance and shared suffering forge strong bonds that are useful in later ministry endeavors.

  8. Roger Williams and Obadiah Holmes: Williams and his "Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience" made an important case in both the Americas and Great Britain for religious liberty. The story of Obadiah Holmes's savage treatment for conducting Baptist ministry in the Massachusetts Bay Colony became Exhibit A in the evidentiary argument against religious persecution.

    I use this story to help my church members to remember that religious liberty was not won for us by politicians in a constitutional convention. Also, I point them to Roger Williams's brilliant rationale for determining which laws are permissible to the state and which ones are violations of religious conscience.

  9. Manz, Grebel, and Blaurock, together with Various Anabaptist Martyrdom Stories: The treatment of Anabaptist reformers was horrific. That so much of it came at the hands not of Catholics but of other so-called "Reformers" made it only that much more perverse. Particularly the role of Zwingli is disturbing. He chased to their deaths his own students, and that for their doing what he had taught them to do—to study the Bible and obey it. The drownings and burnings were not, in the end, able to bring an utter end to the onward march of truth.

    I use these stories to help people to understand their relationships with me sometimes. They have the obligation to let me point them to God's Word. They have the obligation to leave me behind if God's Word leads them further than I am willing to go.

  10. The Early Beginnings of the Great Western Revival at the Gasper River Church: I love the way that revival came in the midst of a Lord's Supper service. And this wasn't just some touchy-feely wide-open Koolaid and Oatmeal Pies communion service like might be popular today. This was a communion service preceded by pastoral visitation and church discipline and good, sound ecclesiology. I love that attentiveness to the doctrine of the church was the precursor to spiritual awakening.

    I use this story sometimes to open someone's eyes to an understanding of the role of the pastor, the role of the ordinances, and the obligations of church membership that may be far different from any understanding of those things that they have ever considered before. To see how those basics—fulfilling the role of spiritual overseer over a flock, calling people to repentance and spiritual preparation for worship—might lead to revival is, I think, an important contribution that this story makes.

I do not allege that these are the best stories in Church History. I do not allege that they are the ten stories that I OUGHT to have used the most in ministry. But for the circumstances that have come my way in local church ministry and for the stories that have stuck sufficiently with me for me to be able to use them on a moment's notice, these are the top ten in terms of usefulness in ministry for me.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Helping Heretics Come Home

This year's SBTC Empower Evangelism Conference features at least three former heretics as a part of the official program. These are men whose previous spiritual affiliation was theologically deficient and—according to the teachings of scripture and the consensus of orthodox Christianity for two millennia—accomplished their damnation to eternal hell.

The three men in question are Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore, and Fred Luter.

In fact, after looking a bit closer, every name on the program represents someone who was formerly a heretic, a blasphemer, a rebel against the rightful rule of God, and a soul damned for all eternity without hope of reprieve. Without hope, that is, until Jesus Christ came to save them. And it is fitting that the program should consist of such people, since it is the design of an evangelism conference to feature the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world to save heretics, which all lost people are, including the very worst among them.

Oh, there have also been questions asked about three other participants in the conference: Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean, who together comprise the CCM group "Phillips, Craig, & Dean." Like every other participant in the program, these three have a history that includes a period of error and rebellion against God. Unlike the other participants (as far as I know the histories of the other participants), their pasts include affiliation with (so-called) churches that do not affirm the Trinity but are instead adherents of the ancient heresy called modalism. Indeed, members of this group have family members who remain among the proponents of modalism to this day.

I have looked through the data about Phillips, Craig, & Dean, at least as far as it is presented online, and the material that I have seen to date I would characterize in this manner: (a) the members of the group have never publicly claimed to be modalists or publicly espoused modalist teachings, (b) the churches of which they are members have not been found to claim to be modalistic or to teach a modalist interpretation of the godhead, but they have been found to have statements of faith that are not clearly written to exclude modalism. Mark Lamprecht, author of "Here I Blog" and one of the most careful and helpful contributors to the conversation about Phillips, Craig, & Dean, has written here that the status of these churches is "unclear and questionable." Because Mark is a careful and conscientious blogger, he has called not for Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean to repent of modalism but to obtain from them a "clear, explicit statement…of their position on the Trinity."

This is a reasonable request.

And so, before the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention ever booked PC&D to sing at this year's Empower Evangelism Conference, the convention required from them precisely that: a clear, explicit statement of their position on the Trinity. They provided it gladly. I have it in hand with all three of their signatures in place at the bottom. In the text of the statement they say, "Phillips, Craig, & Dean fully acknowledge their past denominational affiliations and are grateful for their heritage; however, they reject the teaching of modalism, a.k.a. Sabellianism." But they go further than that. They additionally say, "Although none of the members of PC&D are affiliated with any denomination, collectively, the ministry of Phillips, Craig, & Dean affirms the statement of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention—http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp."

Now, in light of this, I pose these questions to you:

  1. Does the statement by PC&D amount to a "clear, explicit statement…of their position on the Trinity"? The first quote that I gave above admittedly is not. That is, although it certainly is a clear, explicit statement of what the group's position on the Trinity IS NOT, it does not provide any clear, explicit statement of what the group's position on the Trinity IS. When you add the second statement, however, things change. At that point the answer to the question depends upon whether one considers the Baptist Faith & Message to amount to a "clear, explicit statement" regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. Having read our statement of faith many times and having affirmed it myself, I do consider the Baptist Faith & Message to meet this standard of clarity and explicitness.

  2. How ought those of us who have been concerned in the past about whether PC&D are modalists to respond to this statement? Does this statement change things? I think we can choose one response among several possibilities:

    1. We can determine that they are lying. In which case, I submit that they are not modalists. They may not be Trinitarians if they are lying, but they certainly are not modalists.

      Look at it this way: you show me a politician who tells people in Massachusetts that he is pro-choice on the question of abortion and tells people in Texas that he is pro-life on the question of abortion. If he is doing both of those things at the same time, then perhaps you might ask me, "Bart, which do you think he is, pro-life or pro-choice?" My answer would be, "I don't think he's either one; I think he's pro-I-want-to-be-elected-and-will-say-whatever-it-takes-for-that-to-happen." In other words, it is clear that he holds no convictions on either side of the issue.

      Likewise, if you have someone who tells one group of people that he is a modalist and another group of people that he is a Trinitarian, what you have is neither a modalist nor a Trinitarian but a liar who doesn't think that theology is all that important and doesn't hold any real convictions on the question of God's nature. Such liars are sinners and such lying is wrong. We'd all have good reason to doubt the salvation of anyone who could not bring himself to make an honest confession about who God is.

      But I find it difficult to put these three men into this category by way of anything resembling evidence. I've never seen any evidence that any of the three of these men have ever taught, affirmed, encouraged, or supported modalism in what they have personally said or done. They admit that they grew up in the midst of modalism. I do not doubt that at some point along the way they subscribed to modalism. But any such subscription or affirmation happened before these men were in the public eye and no public record of it remains. So, on the side of evidence to suggest that they are presently teaching, affirming, encouraging, or supporting modalism, either publicly or privately, the basket it empty.

      On the other hand, we have before us their signed statements claiming that they are Trinitarians. Perhaps I would like to have seen it sooner (like, years ago). Perhaps I would like to see it stronger (like, video of the three of them burning some sort of modalist flag or something). But the fact remains that everything Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean have ever said publicly about the nature of the godhead has been Trinitarian in its nature.

      The only way I know to conclude that they are lying is to do so by intuition, unless there exists somewhere more evidence than I have seen.

    2. We can state that we do not have enough evidence to conclude one way or the other and can continue to hold these men at arm's length as potential heretics until they provide something more to our liking. And yet, would we be just in doing so? This ministry has affirmed the BF&M 2000. Have all of the speakers and singers at YOUR state evangelism conference done so? Dare I ask whether all of the full-time ministry employees of your state convention have done so?

      There's a fine line between discernment and skepticism. I have to watch out for that line myself. But when I step back and take a look at the situation with these three men, I've heard more Trinitarianism from them than I have from most of the bloggers whom I admire and read. I've heard more Trinitarianism from them than I heard from a number of my college and seminary professors. I've heard more Trinitarianism from them than I find in the content of a year's worth of sermons from a lot of our Southern Baptist churches. Unless I'm prepared to sally forth to war against all of those folks, I have to ask myself whether I'm right in asking these three men to affirm Trinitarianism yet again in a yet another way.

    3. We can celebrate their conversion to Trinitarian Christianity, which is the Christianity of Christ, the Christianity of the New Testament, and the only true Christianity that there is. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention takes doctrine seriously. The churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, if they did not find doctrine to be important, could have found plenty of a-theological Baptist associationalism…elsewhere. That's why weeks and weeks ago this question was settled before Phillips, Craig, & Dean ever earned a spot on the program. We are a biblically-based, confessional fellowship of Southern Baptist churches. That's who we are, and that's how we conduct our ministries.

      But we are also a fellowship of churches who believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to lead people to all truth. We believe in the gospel. We believe in redemption. We believe in affirming people who confess the true faith and in receiving them as brothers. After all, apart from that kind of a reception, we know we would all still be on the outside.

      We're not afraid to ask anybody any question about the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. We're also not unwilling to accept their good answers at face value apart from evidence to suggest that we should not do so. After all, if we would not do that, how on earth could we ever help heretics to come home? And wouldn't we rather win them to the truth than to defeat them?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Potency of Proclamations

According to this story, Mayor Tom Hayden of Flower Mound, TX, has proclaimed 2014 to be the Year of the Bible in Flower Mound (complete with website that is performing about as well as healthcare.gov under the increased load that accompanies media attention). Hayden collaborated with area churches in making the proclamation, and he hopes that his community will "connect through the Bible" (those are the reporter's words, not necessarily Hayden's).

If you are a Bible-believing Christian, this kind of thing FEELS good. In an environment of heavy-handed government oppression of the consciences of people like the Green family, the world seems a little less worrisome when local government does something in affirmation of our beliefs. But these uncertain days are no time for us to be navigating church-state questions by the seat-of-our-pants navigation that our feelings provide for us. We need map-based navigation drawn from time-honored and thoughtful ideas about the proper respective roles of churches and government officials in a well-ordered society.

According to those principles, as I understand them, Mayor Hayden has made a mistake. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. He has overstepped his authority as mayor. In the Fox4 story Curt Orton complained, "He was elected mayor, not as the spiritual leader of Flower Mound." You might presume (as I'll admit I did at first) that Orton is a flaming liberal secularist. Actually, it appears that he is an active member of Lantana Community Fellowship Church of the Nazarene in Flower Mound and is, in fact, the president of the church's missions auxiliary (see this document that led me to conclude this). I've neither met nor spoken with Orton, but he looks and smells like an evangelical Christian.

    He's also 100% correct in his assessment of the situation and stands in line with the best of historical Christian thinking about church-state issues.

    Although I can see some questions that it does not fully anticipate or resolve, I've never seen a better theory of church-state relationships than Roger Williams's metaphor of the Two Tables of the Law. Williams's rationale safeguards religious liberty for all people without plunging society into erosive amorality. It provides a hermeneutical distinctive that makes sense of the entirety of the New Testament's treatment of the role of the state in the Christian worldview. It's a shame that so few of our fellow believers are acquainted with Williams's approach: We would more deftly handle situations like this one if we were well-versed in the writings of Roger Williams.

    Hayden is free to stand in the pulpit of his home congregation as a church member to proclaim 2014 to be the Year of the Bible as a church member. He is free to stand in a local meeting place as a Christian in Flower Mound and to proclaim with the local ministerial alliance that they consider 2014 to be the Year of the Bible. He is free to stand on his front porch as a citizen of Flower Mound and proclaim that 2014 is the Year of the Bible. But to issue an official proclamation in the council chambers in his role as mayor oversteps his authority.

    One last thing about this before I move on: I am well aware that this is not an official law. I am well aware that the city council did not vote on this question. I am well aware that the ceremonial and non-binding nature of this proclamation may well cause our court system not to regard this as any violation of the First Amendment. But when I say that the mayor has overstepped his authority, I'm not talking about the First Amendment. There wasn't a First Amendment when Roger Williams lived and wrote. I'm not talking about the authority that the Constitution gives to the Mayor Hayden; I'm talking about the authority that God has given to government as His agent. God has given someone the job of encouraging people to read the Bible, and He did not give that job to the government. I'm also completely cognizant of the fact that Ronald Reagan issued a similar proclamation in 1983. I, decrepit old man that I am, remember 1983. Reagan was wrong, too.

  2. He has denigrated and misrepresented the Bible. Please read carefully, because this is the way that evangelicals so frequently betray what they claim to believe without realizing that they are doing so.

    Hayden's proclamation, like Reagan's proclamation before it, explained the rationale behind the proclamation, grounding it in the unique role that the Bible has played in American history as a formative influence underlying our legal system and the design of our government. That the Bible has played this role is historical fact. That any evangelical Christian should expend any energy to communicate this as an important message about the Bible is a crying shame. These accidents of history are not on the Bible's résumé. The credibility and authority of the Bible rests upon these items of trivia not at all.

    Here's what's important about the Bible: You're going to Hell forever unless you heed the words God has spoken to us in the Bible and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. Reagan's proclamation said nothing about that. Although the story did not give the full text of Hayden's proclamation, and although I have not read it, I'm willing to proceed upon the assumption that Hayden's proclamation also said nothing remotely resembling these gospel truths. To do so would be to commit political suicide, to be sure, but to fail to do so is to dilute the Bible's message, transmogrifying its radical gospel message into a bland civil Christianity that encourages people to behave like good citizens while they await perdition.

    Yes, Hayden probably says more about the Bible in private, but the officially proclaimed position of the office of the Mayor of Flower Mound is now this gospel-less view of the Bible, since the proclamation says no more than it does. Yes, there's the possibility that someone will read the Bible because of this proclamation and will thereby encounter the gospel, but who here really believes that God cooked this up as a strategy for sharing the gospel?

    Look at it this way: Twentieth-century Christianity can claim that the Bible has had more influence upon worldwide jurisprudence and political thinking than any other one book (second place probably goes to the Qur'an). First-century Christianity could not claim that the Bible was any more than a collection of obscure writings produced by obscure followers of an obscure religious sect in an obscure backwater region forgotten by civilization. In which of these two epochs did Christians enjoy greater effectiveness in pointing people to the Bible's true message?

    The Bible ought to be revered as the words of eternal life. To be regarded as the cornerstone of American civilization would be a high honor for any other book, to be sure, but it is an insult to the Bible to treat it as merely that.

  3. It distracts government officials from their true God-given jobs as government officials. I think God would be more pleased if government officials would put an end to no-fault divorce and the epidemic of child poverty and child dysfunction the proliferation of divorce has created. Perhaps a mayor could drive payday lenders out of the city or end the way that city governments wink at illegal gambling operations like the "eight-liner" game rooms that are proliferating in North Texas.

    Don't misunderstand: I do not offer this critique out of any jaded cynicism that suspects that Mayor Hayden does not really care about these things. In fact, quite the opposite is true: I offer this suggestion precisely because I suspect that he does care about being the kind of mayor God approves. Because his energies, when directed towards his actual God-authorized job, are likely to be discharged in a good and godly way, I want him spending his time THERE, doing his job well rather than doing mine poorly.

    And although I'm in pretty much 100% in line with the planks of the old Moral Majority platform, at least this much critique of the old "culture war" campaign is healthy and necessary: It was always a lot more effective at producing good proclamations than good laws.

  4. It distracts Christians from their true God-given jobs as Christians. On this we do agree: Proclamations are indispensable to New Testament Christianity. It's just that Mayor Hayden and the good folks in Flower Mound have chosen the most impotent kind of proclamation over those that are actually effective. Proclaim the gospel from the pulpit. Proclaim the gospel in the marketplace over the water cooler. Proclaim the gospel in the neighborhood by witnessing to your neighbors. Proclaim the gospel at the family dinner table. Undergird your proclamation of the gospel by being careful in the way that you spend your money, your time, and your energy. Treat other people in your relationships in ways that are strategically supportive of gospel proclamation. Too many of those Christians who will celebrate "The Year of the Bible" will not share their faith with anyone in 2014 (or, dare I say, do the hard work required to deepen their own).

    The real-life proclamations about the Bible, in contrast to political resolutions, are potent. Two thousand years of Christian History vindicates that claim. State-sponsored Christianity is utterly impotent. Visit Germany and see what became of Martin Luther's Landeskirche. I think sometimes we forget that effective spiritual warfare consists of more game, less pep rally, and strategically speaking, mayoral proclamations about the Bible accomplish little more than the rustling of pom-pons. I like a good pep rally as much as the next guy; it's just that history teaches us that this pep rally takes place during the game, in an offsite venue, and with free food and drinks. I can't help but suspect that it is funded by the other team.