Monday, January 30, 2006

"Is John Calvin in Heaven?"

That is the title of an article that appeared recently in Northwest Florida Daily News. Its author, Rev. Joel M. McDuffie, Jr., is pastor of First Baptist Church of Valparaiso. He quotes Dan Corner's essay on Michael Servetus entitled, "His Ashes Cry Out Against John Calvin," as follows:
"At best, Calvin was spiritually blinded by his hate and therefore, spiritually hindered from rightly dividing the truth. At worst, which was apparently the case, John Calvin himself was unsaved, according to Scripture."
Leaving aside the question of why the Southern Baptist McDuffie would cite the 5 point Arminian Corner as a trustworthy evaluator of a dead man's salvation "according to the Scripture," the assertions in this article are breathtaking in their arrogance and ignorance. Here is a sampling:
  • "The heart of Calvinism contradicts the heart of everything revealed in scripture."
  • "The one who believes in Calvinism is fighting all of scripture."
  • "If choice and self-determination is [sic] not real, then why does everything God create demonstrate this ability[?]"
  • "How does sovereignty from the Calvinist point of view, explain the meaningless and futile events of history, mankind and more importantly the cross [sic]?"
  • "Calvinism reduces God and this creation to the awful experiment in futility that the atheist, agnostics and the lost world say it is if God is behind it."
  • "Calvinism also sets God up as a liar and fraud."
McDuffie does include some sentences that have the appearance of argument but which are little more than the gratuitous assertions listed above. Here is one of his most ambitious efforts:
"If Calvinism is true, everything in Eden, [sic] is a great big hoax. Man is nothing more than an unfortunate victim in a sick drama he had not choice to play in. In this drama he is subject to illusions, lies and manipulation by his creator [sic]. He is told not to eat of the tree or he will die, he is shown a tree of life by which he can live forever, but then God makes the decision for him and damns him for it. A Calvinist will never express their [sic] view to such extremes, but these are unmistakably the implications of what they are [sic] saying."
Consistent with his assertions, McDuffie does not treat one verse of Scripture in his essay. Although he does not directly answer the question posed in the title of his article, he certainly implies that the answer is a resounding "No."

The misrepresentations so permeate this article that a thorough refutation would require far more words than what McDuffie has written. His erroneous presuppositions would have to be debunked and there are so many of them a complete response would almost get sidetracked dealing with them before getting to his actual assertions.

I will only comment on two of his statements cited above, because I have confidence that even mildly alert readers will recognize the disingenuousness that characterizes his comments.
"If choice and self-determination is [sic] not real, then why does everything God create demonstrate this ability[?]"
Why don't we go ask a rock? But, let's give McDuffie the benefit of the doubt that by "everything" he only means "people." Choice is not the same thing as self-determination. Of course we have the ability to choose. McDuffie exercised his ability to choose in publishing his article and I am exercising mine in responding to it. But the capacity to choose does not mean that one is free to choose any and everything which he might determine for himself. McDuffie cannot, by self-determination, choose to live on Pluto just as I cannot choose to run 100 meters in 6 seconds (I am not even sure I could choose to do it in 15 seconds!). Why is that? Because in both cases, our choices are limited by our natures. He is not a space alien and I am not a cheetah. Let me say it again, our ability to choose is limited to our natures. There is a detailed history of theological debate clarifies this in terms of a man's moral ability and natural ability. Suffice it to say that a fallen man's chooser is limited by his sinful nature.
"How does sovereignty from the Calvinist point of view, explain the meaningless and futile events of history, mankind and more importantly the cross [sic]?"
Here McDuffie reveals how anemic his worldview is and how unbiblical his thinking is. There are no meaningless and futile events in history. Let me limit myself simply to one verse--Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Even apparently "meaningless and futile events in history" are included in this verse. To claim otherwise is to parrot existentialist and atheistic writers.

The kind of screed that McDuffie has published will work against any efforts for Calvinists and Arminians to work together in the SBC. Such extreme, uninformed and inflammatory remarks should be rebuked by all Bible-believing evangelicals.

Friday, January 27, 2006

2006 Southern Baptists Pastors' Conference Line-up

Here is the schedule for the 2006 Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference, as announced by the President of the Pastors' Conference, Bryant Wright. You will note the peculiar way that the breakout session featuring Drs. Mohler and Patterson is titled: "Reaching Today's World Through Differing Views of Election." I think I can figure out the intent, but it sure seems like a convoluted way to promote this session.

Here's what I think it means: How can someone with a view of unconditional election be serious about or involved in reaching people for Jesus Christ, and how can someone who believes conditional election (or maybe universal election--I am not sure what Dr. Patterson's views are) be serious about or involved in reaching people for Jesus Christ? Maybe even more importantly, how can brothers who disagree on the doctrine of election cooperate in reaching people for Jesus Christ?

This latter question is worth discussing publicly. I say that not because I think that "unconditional electionists" and "conditional or universal electionists" (to avoid the "C" word) cannot or should not cooperate in the work of evangelism. I think that they most certainly can and should. I think it will be valuable if two respected leaders can graciously disagree with each other doctrinally about election in a public forum and then go on and explain how their disagreement does not necessarily mean that they cannot cooperate in the work of evangelism.

George Whitefield and John Wesley did it--until Wesley began to attack unconditional election publicly and in print as unbiblical and caricature it. That misrepresentation of God's truth, as Whitefield saw it, caused Whitefield to rise to the defense of Scripture's teaching. His famous letter to Wesley on the this issue is a wonderful example of how we should disagree with brothers over such matters.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and G. Campbell Morgan did it for the first few years of the former's and the last few years of the latter's ministries at Westiminster Chapel. Neither attacked the other's views or misrepresented what his colleague believed. And, despite their differences theologically, they were in perfect agreement on the evangelical essentials and both stood against perversions of the Gospel.

I would love to see this kind of spirit permeate the 21st century SBC. Perhaps this breakout session by Mohler and Patterson will point the way forward.

1. Sunday Evening, June 11- Blended worship service in the Greensboro Coliseum

2. Monday Morning, June 12 - Breakout sessions at the convention hotel (Sheraton Four Seasons). We will have three one-hour blocks of breakout sessions, with several options offered during each block:

Reaching Today's World Through Differing Views of Election: Al Mohler, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Reaching Today's World Through Multi-Campus Churches: Ronnie Floyd, First Baptist Church, Springdale, AR
Reaching Today's World Through Global Outreach: Steve Stroope, Lake Pointe Church, Rockwall, TX; Paul Jimenez, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, GA
Reaching Today's World Through Breakout Churches: Thom Rainer, LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, TN
Reaching Today's World Through Church Discipline - Are You Kidding?: Mark Dever, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC; Art Wilder, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, GA
Reaching Today's World Through Men's Ministries: Robert Lewis, Fellowship Bible Church, Little Rock, AR
Reaching Today's World Through Women's Ministries: Marsha Crowe, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, GA
Reaching Today's World In and Around Small Towns: Darrell Henry, Oakwood Baptist Church, Chickamauga, GA
Reaching Today's World Through Apologetics: Phillip Roberts, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO; William Lane Craig, Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, CA
Reaching Today's World By Confronting the DaVinci Code: Ben Witherington, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, KY
3. Monday Afternoon, June 12 - Completely contemporary worship service in the Guilford Ballroom of the convention hotel (Sheraton Four Seasons)

4. Monday Evening, June 12 - Traditional worship service in the Greensboro Coliseum

Although the list of speakers is not complete nor the schedule finalized, we are happy to announce that the following will be preaching in the worship services on Sunday or Monday:

Tony Evans, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, Dallas, TX
Johnny Hunt, First Baptist Church, Woodstock, GA
Dick Lincoln, Shandon Baptist Church, Columbia, SC
Erwin McManus, Mosaic, Los Angeles, CA
Nelson Searcy, The Journey, New York, New York
Ed Young (Sr.), Second Baptist Church, Houston, TX

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Homosexual activism and the SBC

As I mentioned in an earlier post I received an interesting phone call last week. A "radio show host" from the midwest asked to interview me about "the Southern Baptist view of homosexuality." Well, with that as a lead in, I almost declined to take the call. After struggling with for a minute or two over the best use of my time, I picked up the phone. Rick identified himself as a researcher and talk show host who was collecting information about the SBC's "attack" on homosexuality.

I asked him what he meant since I had not heard of such an attack. He referred to the previous night's Larry King Live show which, I later discovered, featured Al Mohler and others discussing gay "marriage," homosexuality and the movie, "Brokeback Mountain" (we noncablelites always find out about Larry's shows after the fact). What Rick heard upset him and he concluded that Southern Baptists were on the warpath against homosexuals.

After several minutes of trying to explain that no one person can speak for all Southern Baptists I was able to explain that the Bible does condemn homosexual behavior as sin, along with fornication, adultery, lust, theivery, dishonesty, etc. He seemed unsatisfied with my answers and asked if we could "go off the record." It was then that he identified himself as a "Christian homosexual" who was in a long-term civil union.

He took that revelation as a license to unleash a string of accusations and castigations against me that lasted for half an hour. After we moved past that, Rick apologized for losing his cool and said that he simply very frustrated because people like me are trying to deny people like him basic civil rights. Furthermore, when people like me say that homosexual activity is sinful it incites hatred and violence against people like him and people like him are fed up with it and are planning to retaliate. He told me that several homosexual rights groups are planning to picket local Southern Baptist churches with signs that say, "Don't let your children go inside this building. They will be taught hatred and bigotry."

Rick said that he didn't want to see that happen but unless the "war" against homosexuals (specifically, the opposition of civil unions for gay people) stops, he fears such responses will become commonplace. By the time our conversation ended, we had come to a meeting of the minds. He acknowledged that my contention that he is unconverted and in need of salvation from Jesus Christ was not "hate speech," but in fact, very loving. I assured him that, as a Baptist, I would fight for his right to be wrong in his beliefs even while condemning those beliefs.

He said that our conversation had "opened his mind" to things he had never considered before. He also said that he had never had a conversation like that before--certainly not with a Southern Baptist pastor. I assured him that there are many such pastors who would take a similar view to my own and that, unfortunately, he simply had not come across any of them yet in his research. He even asked if he could give my phone number to several leaders of "gay rights organizations." I said, sure. Then he asked if he could quote me. Well, I have been misquoted enough to know how dangerous that is, so I agreed with the provision that he write down very specifically my statement.

Here is what I said: "You may say that Tom Ascol believes that homosexuality is a sin that will send people to hell, just like others sins will, such as adultery, fornication, theft, lying and murder. Tom Ascol also loves homosexuals and wants to see them come to know and love Jesus Christ as Lord through the power of the Gospel."

Those are true statements. All of us are sinners. It is foolish and very much unlike Christ to disdain someone because his sin is less culturally acceptable than your own. Sometimes we conservative evangelicals have sent the wrong message by the way that we have positioned ourselves on moral issues. It is as if we are saying that it is OK to be opposed to the living God (which all unbelievers are) as long as you are not opposed to God while being homosexual. We do not believe that and we must be careful that we do not miscommunicate that we do.

I love these words from the Apostle Paul:
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
Brothers and sisters, all of us are in these verses somewhere! There is great hope for homosexuals to be converted to Jesus Christ. After all, if He saved me, then He can save anyone. On more than one occasion I have said to the church that I serve that I look forward tot he day when our meetings are filled homosexuals, prostitutes, adulterers and fornicators who have come not to protest and not because we have glossed over the reality and seriousness of sin, but because they have seen in us people who know what it is to be saved by sovereign grace. When we live grace-filled lives, we adorn the doctrine of our God and demonstrate to people of all backgrounds and orienations that Jesus Christ is a great and gracious Savior of real sinners. That's the kind of pastor I want to be and the kind of church I want to be a part of. By God's grace and power, it can happen.

Pray for my new friend, Rick. I hope that I can talk to him again, soon.

Monday, January 23, 2006

International Jewish Evangelical Fellowship

With all of the unhelpful Zionism that permeates much of conservative, evangelical (American) Christianity it is encouraging to know about the ministry of the International Jewish Evangelical Fellowship (IJEF). My friend, Baruch Maoz, is one of the key leaders of this organization. Baruch is an Israeli Reformed Baptist pastor. He also serves as the Chairman of the IJEF Executive Committee. There are 9 stated goals and purposes of the IJEF:
  1. To promote a presentation of the Gospel to Jewish people, grounded in biblical (non-rabbinic) authority alone and expressed in terms that Jewish people can understand.
  2. To call upon, encourage and assist Jewish Christians to be an active part of local Christ-centered churches rather than of culturally or ethnically centered congregations .
  3. To inculcate in Jewish Christians an affection and a respect for the work of God in and through the Church throughout the ages and to encourage Jewish Christians to maintain, cultivate, and express their Jewish national identity in cross-cultural contexts rather than within the context of church life and worship.
  4. To encourage Jewish believers in Jesus in their fellowship as members of the church by providing forums for them to come together and be edified and taught a Messiah-centered point of view in dealing with life issues
  5. To assist the church in helping Jewish believers in Jesus to find within its framework a true spiritual home while encouraging Jewish Christians to develop fellowship in which they can express and maintain their identity with fellow Jewish Christians.
  6. To present the Gospel in a fashion where Christ, not Jewishness, is the focus and the message; declaring in the hearing of Jewish people the supremacy of Jesus, Israel's promised Messiah and the Saviour of the world.
  7. To promote the unity of the Body of Messiah, in which there is neither Jew nor gentile, male nor female, bond nor free, while simultaneously encouraging churches to allow and enable Jewish Christians to maintain their cultural identity as Jews.
  8. To encourage evangelical churches to be engaged in the evangelism of the Jewish people.
  9. To create a distinctly Jewish Christian voice that will address the church, the nations, and the Jewish people.
Their 4th annual conference is coming up March 29-31 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. The theme is "To the Jew First." Baruch will be speaking on Zionism and evangelism. Other speakers include Walter Chantry and Jerry Marcellino.

If anyone can persuade Pat Robertson to attend, I will happily pay his registration fee.

Friday, January 20, 2006

What I saw in "End of the Spear"

My wife and I went to see "End of the Spear" tonight. We were disappointed. I tried to ask if my disappointment stemmed from the sad circumstances surrounding the lead actor or from other reasons. By the time the movie ended, I was convinced that it simply is not a good movie. I expected it to be good, thus my disappointment.

The story behind the movie is amazingly inspiring. It has been told in various books through the years (most notably Shadow of the Almighty and Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot). Unfortunately, that story gets lost in the movie.

I appreciate those who can take a good story and, with artistic license, make a good movie. This has often been done with sports stories, as in "Chariots of Fire," "Hoosiers," "Remember the Titans" and most recently, "Glory Road." In order to translate historical narrative to film certain liberties are inevitable. But those liberties should serve to strengthen the telling of the story and not detract from it. Unfortunately, "End of the Spear" fails at this point.

They have taken a great story and, with artistic liberties, have produced a not-very-good movie. I am still wondering just what the point of the movie is. Had I not been familiar with the events surrounding the deaths of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Peter Fleming, I might have enjoyed the movie more, but I still would be left wondering, "what is the point?"

I get the impression that Steve Saint is wanting to tell his story in this movie. Thus, he is portrayed as an older boy than he actually was when his father was murdered. The other missionaries who served with his dad are almost an afterthought in the film. Even as a portrayal of his own story the real reason that he has a story worth telling was completely sublimated. The serious--as it turns out, deadly serious--faith of his father and his father's friends is almost completely skirted. It is as if there was a concerted effort not to portray the character and content of their faith so as to cloud some other, elusive point. But what that point is escapes me.

Greater accuracy would have provided greater poignancy. Yet, the movie goes out of its way to downplay the very real Christianity that motivated these men--and their widows and Nate's sister after them--to take the Gospel to the Waodani people. This was a strategic mistake, in my opinion. I am not criticizing the movie because it was not more evangelistic, but because it was not more accurate. Had it been, the Gospel could not have been omitted.

The acting was too noticeable throughout and the music score was too unrelenting in its intensity. I hate to be so negative in my comments, but I found the movie to be lacking in many of the qualities that makes a film worth seeing. The contrast between the movie and the documentary about it ("Beyond the Gates of Splendor") that was released last year is striking. This was made more evident as the final credits rolled and clips from the latter were shown. I highly recommend the documentary. It is available on DVD.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sad news about "End of the Spear"

Jason Janz has written a very informative critique of the movie, "End of the Spear," the movie being released tomorrow about the 5 missionaries murdered by the Auca Indians in Ecuador in 1956. The story of those men and their families, told brilliantly in Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot, has inspired untold numbers of men and women to give their lives to the work of missions. Steve Saint, the son of Nate, one of the 5 martyrs, is behind the movie project, having released a book by the same name a few months ago.

As Janz writes, however, this incredible story now has a huge blemish that will forever be attached to the movie. Chad Allen, who plays Nate Saint, is an outspoken homosexual advocate for the gay lifestyle. The way that this came about and the response of the production company to expressed concerns is sad.

Obviously, it does not change the fact that 5 young men and their families made the ultimate sacrifice in order to make Christ known to the most murderous people that anthropologists have ever studied. What is tragic, it seems to me, is that the implicit stamp of approval on homosexuality that the casting of Chad Allen inevitably gives, will now be associated with this story.

This is not about "homophobia" (interestingly, I was charged with that yesterday in a very long phone call from a homosexual activist, talk show host that started out as an interview, moved quickly into verbal assault, calmed down into a sane conversation and ended with a friendly recognition of our respective concerns and beliefs; maybe I will blog about it soon). It is not a suggestion that a homosexual cannot be an accomplished artist. It is about Christians promoting a film not only as a faithful retelling of an important story but as a "Christian movie" that Christian churches should support. I find it very sad.

HT: Steve Camp

Monday, January 16, 2006

What the IMB controversy is not

It is helpful to keep clear just exactly what the controversy at the International Mission Board entails and, more specifically, what it does and does not involve. Some people seem to have a penchant for misconstruing these types of matters and wind up terribly confusing matters. I want to spell out several negative assertions that I hope will clarify my own perspective on the issue.

1. It is not controversy between conservatives and liberals. Everyone involved on the board, as far as I know, is an inerrantist. No one is accusing anyone of not believing the Bible or not regarding it as absolutely authoritative. In this regard the controversy is completely unlike those associated with the conservative resurgence in the SBC. The battle then was over the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. The IMB controversy is over board policies and procedures.

2. It is not a controversy between continuationists and cessationists. Speaking in tongues was made an issue by the board while it is not an issue in the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M). The rationale behind selecting this point of theology rather than others has not been explained. This lack of explanation raises great concern in the minds of many Southern Baptists. All IMB missionary appointees have been required to subscribe to the BF&M. Now they are being required to affirm a point of doctrine (or renounce a specific practice) that goes beyond the BF&M. Why? It is reasonable to expect an answer to this question from the trustees. I am one cessationist who wants an explanation.

3. It is not a controversy between those who have a high view of believers' baptism and those who have a low view of believers' baptism. Everyone involved is a credobaptist. The question is whether or not the board should accept a local church's recommendation of a candidate as one who has been properly baptized as a believer. Again, the BF&M spells out what constitutes believers' baptism. But the board has added to that statement the further requirement that such baptism "must take place in a church that practices believer's baptism by immersion alone, does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative, and a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer." Furthermore, "A candidate who has not been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church which meets the standards listed above is expected to request baptism in his/her Southern Baptist church as a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist churches."

Why has the eternal security been singled out as a doctrine that the baptizing church must teach in order for the baptism to be counted as valid? What about the deity of Christ? Or the Trinity of God? Or justification by faith? Or cessationism?

Do you see the problem with the board's approach? They leave unanswered the question of why they have done what they have done. Thinking Southern Baptists will want an answer to that question.

4. It is not a controversy between loyal Southern Baptists and disaffected Southern Baptists. Those in positions of denominational leadership must get over the kind of hyper-defensiveness that judges any kind of criticism or questioning of actions as disloyalty. It is not lack of loyalty that motivates one to raise the questions I have raised above. Nor is it disloyal to argue plainly that a certain course of action is unwise. To question the actions or recommendations of SBC leaders does not mean that one is therefore "in bed with the CBF crowd." Good men can have honest disagreements. Handled rightly, those disagreements can actually strengthen the common cause rather than undermine it. The early indications are that some trustees of the IMB do not understand this.

So, if all these things identify what the controversy is not, then what is it? Here is my take: it is a controversy about the kind of practices and procedures that will characterize Southern Baptist denominational actions in the future. Will dissent be squelched with a heavy hand? Will selected doctrinal concerns that go beyond the BF&M be elevated to points of importance such that those who disagree with denominational powerbrokers are not allowed opportunities of service in the SBC?

These are some of the questions that need to be brought into sharp focus. What the controversy is not about should not be allowed to cloud the issue.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Biblical wisdom for the IMB controversy

Several have questioned why I have only recently expressed my opinions about the issues arising from the IMB policy changes. The main reason is that I had not seen an unedited copy of the actual policy changes. Yesterday, I did finally get a copy. Scripture warns us to resist the temptation to form conclusions without getting adequate information. Proverbs 18:13, "He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him." This biblical wisdom should guide all who are concerned about what is going on with the IMB trustees.

This same warning has led me to be very measured in my statements about the attempt to oust a trustee from the IMB board. Very few facts of the case have been made public. Many of the allegations have been veiled and vague, perhaps, as has been pointed out, to honor the rules of operating in executive session. Regardless of the reason, however, not enough information has been made public to form firm conclusions about the matter.

Let me reiterate one of my main observations from this fiasco. Unless specific charges of fiduciary failure on the part of Wade Burleson are forthcoming, I am convinced that the attempt by the IMB trustees to remove him from the board will fail if it is brought to the floor of the SBC convention in Greensboro. The reasons for my opinion have nothing to do with the facts of the case, but rather with my own assessment of what is going on in the convention. Here are my thoughts:

1. A significant lack of trust has been bred among grass roots Southern Baptists (conservative, inerrantist Southern Baptists) over the last several years.

2. Though this diminishing trust is not limited to younger pastors and church leaders, it certainly is pervasive among them.

3. The prospect of a debate/discussion/dialogue/chat about Calvinism by Paige Patterson and Al Mohler at the Pastor's Conference preceding the Greensboro convention will attract a large number of these younger pastors and church leaders.

4. The vote to remove a trustee will pass only with a 2/3 majority.

5. Last, but not least, the "whoop-de-doo" factor. Many of those being asked to act on this recommendation will be unafraid to go against the "movement conservatives" on this question, if there is insufficient evidence brought forth or if there is any hint of a high-handed approach in presenting the case.

Those are my thoughts. Notice that I have not made any assertion that one side or the other is either right or wrong in this case. The jury is still out on that question. What I am suggesting is that the removal of a conservative trustee will be a hard sell to the messengers of the upcoming convention. If the case is weak, I expect it to be rejected outright.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Recommendations and observations on the attempt to remove a conservative IMB trustee

Both Baptist Press and Associated Baptist Press have released reports about the effort of some International Mission Board trustees to get rid of one of their fellow trustees by asking the convention messengers meeting in Greensboro, NC this summer to vote him out. Wade Burleson has raised concerns from his fellow trustees by questioning the wisdom of recent policy changes for appointing missionaries. The policies involve tighter restrictions on where and by whom a candidate was baptized and on the practice of tongues as a "private prayer language." I have only seen excerpts of the actual new policies, as reported in various press releases and on the blogosphere, so I have been unwilling to comment on them.

People whom I trust and who have read the new policies have expressed concerns about them. These concerns stem from two fears, as far as I can tell. First is the fear of a creeping landmarkism. Landmarkism is a particular view of baptist origins that requires a certain kind of historical succession in order for present baptist expressions of church to be valid. In the case of baptism it would argue that only those are properly baptized who have been baptized by a proper administrator, who himself has been baptized by a proper administrator, who himself...(you get the picture). Some are concerned that this is what the new policy tends toward.

A second fear is that the tongues issue has been raised not primarily for theological reasons but for political reasons, in order to embarass or actually get rid of IMB President, Jerry Rankin, who is on record of using a "private prayer language."

Wade Burleson has written about these things in his blog. He also makes references to having other information that incriminates the actions of certain IMB trustees who have privately planned strategies in violation of board policies.

All of this, as you would imagine, has created quite a fuss. It is hard for those of us on the outside of the trustee meetings to know what to believe. The official statement from IMB trustee chairman, Tom Hatley, about the disciplinary action against Burleson is very vague. Here it is in total:
The trustees of the International Mission Board voted to recommend to the Southern Baptist Convention that Wade Burleson of Oklahoma, be removed by the convention as a trustee of the International Mission Board.

This difficult measure was not taken without due deliberation and exploration of other ways to handle an impasse between Wade Burleson and the Board. In taking this action, trustees addressed issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability, not Burleson's opposition to policies recently enacted by the board.

The trustees consider this a rare and grievous action but one that was absolutely necessary for the board to move forward in its duties as prescribed by the SBC.
Burleson issued a statement that says, in part:
I am greatly saddened by the action taken by the IMB board of trustees. I have yet to be presented with specific allegations but I am willing to respond to the particulars of these allegations should they materialize.

In recent days I have expressed deep concern with a precedent set by certain IMB Board members who voted to establish IMB missionary policies that reach beyond the guidelines of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

Secondly, I have also questioned and brought to the attention of the full board the inappropriateness of certain IMB board members, who in violation of IMB board guidelines, have held private caucuses to develop and craft IMB motions and policy.
Here are my recommendations on this matter:

The IMB should state their specific allegations against Burleson in writing. He should do the same with his allegations against the trustees who allegedly violated board policy. There should be a full hearing of these charges by the whole board, perhaps with selected disinterested parties who are people of known integrity within the SBC. If this effort does not result in some genuine resolution, then let the documents become public so that the SBC churches for whom the trustees work can have full access to the information.

Here are my observations:

1. This further highlights what I have stated before about the crumbling trust at strategic levels of SBC life. No amount of political posturing can cover it up. No amount of wishful thinking can make it disappear.

2. Wade Burleson may well be on his way to becoming the highest profile example to date of what happens to those who refuse to go along with questionable practices of conservative leaders "for the sake of the cause." Time will tell. If he is guilty of conduct unbecoming a trustee, then the board ought to spell it out and not simply make vague accusations against him, with the implied declaration, "trust us; we are good guys!"

3. If this recommendation makes it to the floor of the SBC in Greensboro without further clarification, and if the procedure by which it is dealt with is not rigged, then it will be defeated, maybe resoundingly. Why? Because the truth of the matter is that a growing number of churches and church leaders are becoming increasingly suspicious of certain sectors of denominational leadership. In other words, as I have written before, there is a fractured trust that only grows deeper when things like this happen and are handled the way that this one has been so far.

The IMB trustee chairman should not think that he can simply stand before the SBC and say, "trust us," and receive a sympathetic hearing. Those days are over. Trust will return when honesty, openness and integrity are put on prominent display. We could use some huge doses of these virtues at the present hour.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A good critique of seekerized church life

SBCLife, the monthly journal of the Southern Baptist Convention that is published by the SBC Executive Committee has a very interesting and helpful article in the January 2006 issue. It is written by William Brown and is entitled, "The Seeker." Brown is an associate professor of evangelism and church planting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

He is concerned that with all the emphasis on "seekers" in contemporary church growth thinking that unbiblical notions have inevitably taken root that cloud important theological truths about salvation. After all, "The Bible establishes from its opening verses that God is the iniator of His relationship with mankind. He is the Seeker."

Brown credites Charles Finney with laying "much of the groundwork for modern seeker theology" with his "semi-Pelagian position--that a non-Christian could accept Christ, of his own initiative, whenever he so chooses." All of this leads to the current seeker model of ministry that prevails in so many sectors of evangelicalism.

"After all, if I can stir emotions so that people will 'accept Christ' after they have come to the service, then should I not also do whatever I can to get them to the service in the first place?" This mentality leads to all kinds of questionable methodologies. Brown cites the example of one church's "springtime initiative to encourage members to minister to their friends" which consisted of a raffle. Everyone who brings a friend to church gets one entry in a drawing for a new Harley-Davison motorcylce. Guests get two entries! [Note to self: find the name and location of this church and schedule an official visit as a guest before the Spring is over!]

Brown rightly criticizes this kind of approach. Such practices are induced by "seeker theology" that "has damaged the lost and the church. Many seekers have become 'Christians' without experiencing conversion and becoming followers of Christ." Brown wonders if by such man-centered theology and the erroneous methods that it spawns, we have "innoculated a generation of Americans against Biblical Christianity's call to discipleship." His answer: "I am afraid so."

This is a very good article. Brown makes the distinction between being genuinely and biblically evangelistic and being driven by unbiblical thinking into lots of evangelistic activity that may garner many decisions but few disciples. I am encouraged that this has appeared in SBCLife. And I am encouraged that an evangelism professor at one of our seminaries has written it.

(all the quotes come from page 12 of the January 2006 issue of SBCLife. HT: Eric Benson)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Name the Dead Guys

The dead guys that adorn the top of this blog are men to whom I owe a great debt. Their lives and testimonies have greatly challenged me and their writings have instructed and encouraged me. They served our Lord well in their generations and have left a wonderful legacy for modern Christians--especially modern Baptists. In that regard each of them is a model for modern ministers who are committed to working for the recovery of the Gospel and the reformation of local churches in our day. Following is a brief identification of each man. The descriptions begin with the pictures on the top row and go from left to right.

John Leadley Dagg (1794-1884)

Dagg was the first Southern Baptist theologian to produce a systematic theology. According to Paige Patterson, his Manual of Theology shows "what most Baptists believed during the formative days of the Southern Baptist Convention" and "presents the essence of biblical truth in a thoroughly readable, yet scholarly, presentation." Plagued with physical difficulties (including blindness, which accounts for the expression in his portrait), Dagg persevered in advocating the doctrines of God's sovereign grace throughout his lifetime.

William Carey (1761-1834)

Carey is known as the "Father of Modern Missions." His vision and passion to see the Gospel "preached to the Heathen" was the impetus that led to the formation of the "Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen" in 1792. He also became the society's first missionary, leaving his native England in 1793, never to return. Sustained by confidence in the absolute sovereignty of God, Carey labored to translate the Scripture into dozens of languages. He waited seven years before seeing the first true convert to Christ. At his instruction, the following epithet was carved into his gravestone: "A wretched, poor, helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall."

John A. Broadus (1827-1895)

Broadus was part of the original faculty when The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary opened its doors in 1858. He originally turned down the position because of his commitment to pastoral ministry but after being persuaded to reconsider he served as professor of New Testament interpretation and homiletics for 36 years. During the Civil War he served for a time as chaplain in Lee's army of northern Virginia. His On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (1870) remains a classic in homiletics. While traveling in Europe Broadus wrote a letter that was published in the Kentucky state Baptist newspaper. In it he stated, "The people who sneer at what is called Calvinism might as well sneer at Mont Blanc. We are not bound in the least to defend all of Calvin's opinions or actions, but I do not see how anyone who really understands the Greek of the Apostle Paul, or the Latin of Calvin or Turretin, can fail to see that these latter did but interpret and formulate substantially what the former teachers taught."

Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

"The Prince of Preachers" who served as a pastor in London from the time he was 20 years old. His sermons remain in print to this day. Spurgeon was a strong defender of the authority of Scripture and the doctrines of sovereign grace. The crowds that thronged to hear him preach forced New Park Street Church to seek larger venues than their own building. Spurgeon repeatedly preached to congregations that numbered more than 10,000 in these borrowed buildings. In 1861 the church moved to the newly built Metropolitan Tabernacle. He is, without doubt, the best known of the Baptist leaders pictured on the blog.

James P. Boyce (1827-1888)

Boyce was the principal founder of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He had the privilege of growing up in First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina whose pastor was Basil Manly, Sr. Through the influence of Frances Wayland, President of Brown University, and Richard Fuller, longtime pastor of Baptist churches in Baltimore, Maryland, Boyce came to Christ as a college student. He served as the 5th president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and held that office 7 years (1872-79, 1888). His Abstract of Systematic Theology is his magnum opus and continues in print today as a staunchly Calvinistic theology textbook.

Andrew Fuller (1754-1815)

Fuller could rightly lay claim to the title of "Grandfather of Modern Missions." He gave the theological foundation to William Carey's missionary vision. He, Carey, and a few other Baptist ministers met regularly and prayed for 8 years for the revival of vital Christianity in their day. The Lord answered those prayers beginning in 1792 with the emergence of a fresh wave of missionary compassion. Some today try to paint Fuller as one who stood against Calvinism, but nothing could be further from the truth. He stood against what he called, "false Calvinism" and considered himself an advocate of "true Calvinism."

Patrick H. Mell (1814-1888)

P. H. Mell served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention for 15 years and was known as the "Prince of Parlimentarians." He wrote Predestination and the Saints' Perseverance to "counteract...the tendencies of Arminianism" and to challenge those who "preached doctrines inconsistent with the Doctrines of Grace." It is a thorough refutation of Arminianism and a forceful presentation of Calvinism. He also preached a sermon on "Calvinism" that was so warmly received by the Georgia Baptists that they called for it to be published.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Partial Providence and the West Virginia Mining Tragedy

My friend, Paul Stith, who pastors Grace Heritage Church in Auburn, Alabama, asked me to consider writing about the tragic mining accident that left 12 miners dead and another in critical condition in West Virginia earlier this week. Paul was watching a televised news report when friends and family were mistakenly told that the miners had been found alive, only to learn a few hours later that such was not the case. He writes, "In the wee morning hours I watched a young woman shout 'Thank you, Jesus!' at the news that the 12 miners had been found alive. The cameras found the same woman and witnessed her understandable grief when the truth was found out. Then grief turned to anger in the many who had been, only hours before, thanking God."

Being the wise pastor that he is, Paul turned this into a teaching opportunity with his family. Exactly what is God's providence? Do we believe it only when obviously good things happen to us? Is His providence just as real when tragedies strike?

My heart goes out to those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones in this horrible accident. To be given hope that all is well only to discover hours later that this was false hope rooted in an erroneous report must have felt like emotional abuse to the families and friends. My comments are in no way intended to stand in judgment on their expressions of suffering. But this emotionally charged tragedy that has played out, in part, on the national stage does raise a vitally important question for believers.

Do we believe in complete providence or partial providence? In other words, is God just as sovereign, good and wise--and therefore praiseworthy--in tragedies and losses as He is in blessings and victories?

In 7 content-rich paragraphs chapter 5 of the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 sets out very precise teaching on the biblical revelation of God's providence. The universality of God's providence is asserted in the very first sentence, which says,
God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.
This perspective is both taught and assumed throughout all the Scriptures. Isaiah 46:9-10 says,
Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, 'My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,' ....
Jesus teaches the same truth when He sent His disciples out to preach, teach and heal. They were going to meet opposition--even hatred and persecution. "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves" (Matthew 10:16). What do you say to a sheep that you are about to send into a pack of wolves? You don't have to watch Animal Planet to get the proper visual image that Jesus was intending to communicate to His disciples by using this language. Our Lord encouraged them not by promising to protect them from pain and sorrow. Nor did He offer them any formulas or incantations to which they could resort that would make the wolves bite more gently or anesthetize their pain. Rather, Jesus encouraged His sheep who were about to face wolves by emphasizing the absolute, unrestricted sovereignty of God over all things. He said,
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:28-31).
God is sovereign over wolves--every growl and every bite. Jesus uses an argument from the lesser to the greater to make His point. Things as insignificant as sparrows are under God's sovereign providence. Not even one of them falls to the ground apart from His will. If God so carefully watches over and rules over their lives, how much more will He carefully watch over and rule over the lives of Christ's disciples? Even the hairs on our heads are numbered by God, the implication being that not even one of them can fall to the ground apart from our Father's sovereign will.

This view of God is understandably obnoxious to unbelievers because they do not know God. They do not know His love, mercy, grace, goodness and wisdom that believers have experienced in Jesus Christ. But we know and can say with the hymn writer that God is
Too wise to be mistaken, ...
Too good to be unkind.
As the last paragraph of chapter 5 in the 1689 Confession says, "As the providence of God doth in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it taketh care of his church, and disposeth of all things to the good thereof." This is exactly what Romans 8:28 teaches, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." This does not mean that everything that happens to us can be judged good on its own merits. But everything--even being eaten by wolves--will work together for our good because that is what God promises to do in His providential ordering of our lives. This promise does not extend to unbelievers. It is restricted only to those who "love God and are the called according to His purpose."

This does not exempt believers from tragedies. Nor does it guarantee us painlessness. Christians get cancer, are betrayed, raped, cheated, robbed and even die in mining accidents. Such is life in a fallen world. But in and through all of these kinds of things we are "more than conquerors through Him who loved us" because nothing "can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:37-39).

What proof do we have of this? What is the basis of this guarantee? The death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Paul uses the logic of the cross to make an iron-clad case for God's faithfulness in providing everything that believers need in this life and the life to come. And He does it by asking the most profound rhetorical question in all the Bible. "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). This is the greatest promise in all of Scripture. Every other promise is packed into it. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 1:20, "For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us." If God did not spare us His own Son and did not spare His own Son's horrible death for us, how in the world can we doubt that He will in Christ give us everything that we need!

So the cross becomes the prism through which believers are able to look at the trials and tragedies of life and be assured that "behind a frowning providence God hides a smiling face." The cross is the greatest tragedy in all of human history. It is the greatest miscarriage of justice--the only righteous man who ever lived was executed as a vile criminal. Yet, in and through that greatest of all horrors, God was doing His deepest work of redemption. He was not absent, nor only partially involved. He was sovereignly orchestrating every last detail of the events. And He was doing it for the good of His people and the glory of His Name.

Seeing this and believing it provides real comfort and hope in our real pain and sorrows under the providence of God. Nowhere is the perspective summarized more clearly than in the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism.
What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own, but belong--body and soul, in life and in death--to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to Him, Christ, by His Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
What a great comfort to know that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely sovereign over sickness, loss, tragedies and disasters! This sure knowledge is what enables a believer to say, even if through tears, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the Name of the Lord."

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Have you ever noticed how many times and how many ways the Bible warns of being deceived? By clear admonition as well as by graphic example God repeatedly calls us to be on our guard against believing lies. That's what deception is--believing what is not true. It is one of the great works of the enemy of our souls. So the Lord repeatedly warns us about it in Scripture:
  • Luke 21:8, Jesus warned His disciples: "Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am [He],' and, 'The time has drawn near.' Therefore do not go after them."
  • Romans 7:11, Paul describes the role of deception in his spiritual bondage: "For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed [me]."
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul identifies "cheap grace" with deception: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.'"
  • 2 Corinthians 11:3, "But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."
  • Galatians 6:7, Paul warns those who think that they can get away with sin: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."
  • 2 Timothy 3:13, This is a problem that will constantly threaten us in this life: "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."
  • Titus 3:3, It is the very condition out of which we have been converted: "For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another."
  • James 1:16, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren."
  • Revelation 20:8, 10, It is the devil's design to "deceive the nations."
This is a mere sampling of the Bible's warnings. Deception is spiritually deadly because at every point that you believe lies you cannot believe truth, and it is the truth that sets us free and by which we are sanctified (John 8:32, 17:17).

If deception is dangerous, self-deception is disastrous. When you have been deceived by another, that person shares the blame for your condition, but when your deception is self-imposed, you alone are accountable. Further, self-deception is perniciously destructive. It is hard to detect and harder to eliminate.

Think about it. Have you ever met a person who admitted to being self-deceived? The very nature of self-deception is that there is no conscious awareness of believing lies. Self-deception emerges from living on a self-referential basis. Such people measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves to themselves and, Paul says, "are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12).

This is the problem that Jesus exposed to the church at Laodicea. They were self-deceived. Their evaluation of themselves was radically different from Jesus' evaluation of them. Their self-assessment went like this: "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing." But Jesus' assessment of them was this: "[You] do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). They believed lies. Their press reports on earth were completely opposite of their record in heaven. In this regard their condition was the same as that of the church at Sardis, to whom Jesus said, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Revelation 3:1).

Can you imagine a more spiritually dangerous position to be in? To have a reputation of being alive--written up in denominational newspapers as a model church--and yet, in the eyes of the Lord, to be dead! To think that all is well when in fact, according to Jesus, all is rotten!

The mere possibility of falling into this kind of deadly trap ought to be enough to breed extreme humility in the most experienced believer and most accomplished church. It ought to call us to radical commitment to measuring our lives by what the Scripture calls us to be and do and by nothing else. It ought to make us willing to listen to criticism--even criticism from those who openly oppose us (in this regard some of my strongest opponents have served me best because had no interest in sparing my feelings, as friends sometimes do, and therefore have spoken honestly, if harshly, about my faults).

Our prayer should be that of David's in Psalm 139:23-24,
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.
Finally, the ever-present danger of self-deception should keep us running to Jesus Christ as the great Shepherd of our souls. We desperately need Him to secure our standing and our walk. We need His protection and provision at every step of our journey. Our only hope and our certain supply is His righteousness and His sacrifice which is ours through faith and faith alone.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Recommended reading for the new year

A few years ago Joel Beeke and Reformation Heritage Books republished a slightly edited version of Octavius Winslow's Morning Thoughts. It contains daily readings gleaned from his dozens of books. Winslow himself made the selections and arranged their order. It has become my favorite devotional book of this sort, surpassing The Poor Man's Morning and Evening Portions by Robert Hawker, William Jay's Morning Exercises and Evening Exercises, and even Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. Admitting to the latter may get my Baptist credentials yanked! But Winslow has risen to the top primarily for his warm, simple, Christological focus. He applies the Gospel pastorally in his writings. Consequently, his Morning Thoughts not only help me in my own spiritual walk they also provide an example of the kind of preaching and teaching that I want to provide the church I serve.

Too much preaching today--even Calvinistic preaching--has very little of Christ in it. Yet, in his preaching and teaching Paul resolved "not to know anything...except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). I am afraid that too many of us pastors have not thought deeply enough about Jesus Christ and His Gospel even to understand that statement, much less to own it. If Christ is all, then all of our preaching and teaching should center on Him and extend from Him. His person and work should inform all of our pastoral thoughts and ministries. As I see it the great burden of all pastoral ministry is to help people recognize more and more who Jesus is, what He has done, and why that matters in every circumstance and event of life. When Christ is recognized He is irresistible even to the weakest faith. As faith apprehends Him, life, strength, joy, delight, satisfaction, hope and encouragement are nurtured. This is how the Christian life is to be lived--by ongoing, simple faith in Jesus Christ.

Winslow understands this and fills his writing with this perspective. I highly commend him to you in this new year. Sam Hughey, at The Reformed Reader, has done us a wonderful service by making Winslow's Morning Thoughts (as well as his Evening Thoughts) avaiable online.

Here is the entry from the former on January 1.
"You have not passed this way heretofore." Joshua 3:4.

How solemn is the reflection that with a new cycle of time commences, with each traveler to Zion, a new and untrodden path! New events in his history will transpire- new scenes in the panorama of life will unfold- new phases of character will develop- new temptations will assail- new duties will devolve- new trials will be experienced- new sorrows will be felt- new friendships will be formed- and new mercies will be bestowed. How truly may it be said of the pilgrim journeying through the wilderness to his eternal home, as he stands upon the threshold of this untried period of his existence, pondering the unknown and uncertain future, "You have not passed this way heretofore!"

Reader! if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, you will enter upon a new stage of your journey by a renewed surrender of yourself to the Lord. You will make the cross the starting-point of a fresh setting-out in the heavenly race. Oh, commence this year with a renewed application to the "blood of sprinkling." There is vitality in that blood; and its fresh sprinkling on your conscience will be as a new impartation of spiritual life to your soul. Oh, to begin the year with a broken heart for sin, beneath the cross of Immanuel! looking through that cross to the heart of a loving, forgiving Father. Do not be anxious about the future; all that future God has provided for. "All my times are in Your hands." "Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." "Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain you." Let it be a year of more spiritual advance. "Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward." Forward in the path of duty- forward in the path of suffering- forward in the path of conflict- forward in the path of labor- and forward in the path to eternal rest and glory. Soon will that rest be reached, and that glory appear. This new year may be the jubilant year of your soul- the year of your release. Oh spirit-stirring, ecstatic thought- this year I may be in heaven!