Friday, March 31, 2006

Wrongly Dividing the Body of Christ?

Is there a right way to do this? Evidently Simon, over at "Thinking Deeply" (I am not making this up) believes that there is and that I and others are doing it the wrong way because that is the title of his recent rant article against several Calvinist bloggers and readers of such blogs. I don't know Simon nor do I know what has provoked this kind of attack. My friend, Gene Bridges, alerted me to it. But having read it, I find it very sad.

For example, Simon writes,

Just like those at, the people at Founders Ministries display, consciously or not, their desire to be the Reformers. Their perspective is skewed in such a way, that they act as if they are living in the time of the Reformers. They react to Arminianism and Molinism today as if it were the Catholic Church of Luther's and Calvin's day. This spills over into their exegesis, especially of Paul's letters - as N.T. Wright has pointed out.

I have been whipped with many a lash but never with one manufactured by NT Wright! Given his (new) perspective, I think I will just bear it gladly.

Simon goes on to express his disgust over the announced debate between the Caners, James White and me. He misrepresents how it came to be and quotes some comments left on this blog about the debate. Then he concludes with this body-of-Christ-unifying crescendo:

The Caner brothers are converts from Islam. They debate Muslims, generally. I don't know for sure, but they seem to be on fire for God. But you know what .. none of that matters as much as this: They're human beings created in the image of God. Furthermore, they're brothers in an even more important family than the one they belong to by human blood. They're brothers with us in the family that is united by Christ's blood.

And we slay them.

And we slay all Arminians, and all people who disagree with us theologically.

We slay them with our words on the "Founders" blog. We slay them on Dr. White's radio show. We slay them on the "Alpha & Omega" web site. We slay them on the Calvinist Gadfly web site.

And we do it all in the name of God, and for His glory.

Good job guys.

You make me sick.

Much more could be said, but I refrain. Evan May over at Triablogue has sufficiently addressed the more egregious problems with Simon's statements by pointing out the obvious irony of his words and tone.

No one is above criticism. Certainly not me or any of those who comment on this blog. Sometimes we may need to be corrected for what we say or how we say it. The discovery of error is never a a license to quit loving. To the degree that Simon is trying to say that, I agree with him. But that message--if it is indeed what he is trying to communicate--has been lost in the histrionics. I find that sad. Very sad.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Semper Reformanda: more than a phrase

In case you missed it, BP ran an article by this title two weeks ago by Doug Baker that is very much worth reading. While applauding the gains made by the conservative resurgence Baker rightly warns that they will be temporary if there is not an ongoing effort to regain more solid doctrinal grounding of our church life and ministry in the SBC. Here is the thrust of his concern:

Without doctrinal anchors, the SBC could all too quickly drift away. Why? A denomination of churches reared solely on a warrior motif of "liberal versus conservative" rather than "theology versus program" is destined to slide theologically. In the words of Southern Baptist theologian Timothy George, "A new bureaucracy doth not an improvement make!"

Baker's critique is pointed and on target. I am grateful he wrote it and that Baptist Press released it. It will be interesting to see how many, if any, state Baptist papers publish it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Debate

Yes, there is indeed going to be a debate about Calvinism and yes, yours truly has agreed to participate in it. After Ergun and Emir Caner showed up on this blog and began launching scud missiles against the doctrines of grace, James White reissued his challenge to Ergun to join him in a debate. There was quite a bit of dancing and dodging that took place before the comments on that blog finally flamed out, but then the challenge was continued via emails. After a week or so, the "powers that be" signed off on the idea, and Ergun and Emir agreed to debate, provided that they could do it as a team and that James select a partner--preferably "an SBC man." James asked me to join him and, after prayer and counsel, I agreed. We had hoped to set a date that was "sooner rather than later," but due to immense scheduling difficulties, have settled for the first open date in the fall.

I am not a debater. I am a preacher. Quite honestly, James does not need me by his side in this debate. He is quite capable from both his gifts and experience to handle this on his own. I have seen him in action. He is good. Very good. The debate format suits him well. The Caners may have insisted that he have a partner simply to cut his time in half!

I have never been a big fan of theological debates. I am glad that James engages in them and I appreciate those whose sense of calling involves giving themselves to this kind of work. But rarely does a debate seem to change people's views. Their greater value seems to be in providing a forum for measured give-and-take which can provide answers to questions posed by various theological perspectives. The audio recordings may serve this purpose in ways that are greater than even the live exchange.

With all of that said, I am glad to be invited to participate in this debate. It is past time for an honest exchange of views on the issue of historic Southern Baptist soteriology. The doctrines of grace have been easily caricatured and dismissed by folks who have been unwilling to represent them honestly. I am grateful to the Caners for agreeing to engage the issues in a setting where there will at least be the opportunity to provide an honest hearing. And I am grateful to James for inviting me as a "non-debater" to participate.

I am praying that this debate will bring honor to our Lord by showing how brothers can disagree strongly and decisively without resorting to the kind of name calling, misrepresentations, distortions that too often characterizes disagreements on this issue. I am also praying that the Gospel of God's grace will be set forth clearly and simply; that God's Word will be accurately handled; that truth will be honored and error exposed. I have no doubt that not only James, but also Ergun and Emir would join me in saying "Amen" to these petitions offered to our Lord. As God brings this to mind, please pray to this end.

Here are the details:

Monday, October 16th, 2006 at 7 PM

Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia

Cost: Free (all proceeds go the Tom Ascol vacation fund)

"The Dying American Church"--Is Calvinism the culprit?

Thom Rainer, newly elected President of Lifeway finds his typically optimistic heart deeply challenged by the evangelistic anemia that characterizes most evangelical churches in America. According to his research, it takes 86 American church members one year to reach one person for Christ. His research further suggests some reasons for this:

  1. Doctrinal ineffectiveness, by which he means that major doctrines of the Bible are often avoided by churches. Repentance, hell, regenerate church membership and church discipline are disappearing from the life and ministry of many churches.

  2. Church leaders are becoming less evangelistic. A recent survey of pastors discovered that 53% of them had not made an attempt in the past 6 months to engage one lost person evangelistically.

  3. Minor issues often distract Christians from focusing on evangelism.

Rainer concludes: "The numerical evidence seems clear. The American church is dying." Coming from an optimist, these are sobering words. Rainer's opinion is not that different from the assessment that many have been making for decades, however, in the midst of of much evangelical self-congratulatory celebration. Maybe if his and other voices continue to join the chorus, more evangelicals will stop boasting long enough to engage in some much needed self-evaluation.

One final note--Rainer wisely does not try to blame the spread of Calvinism for the decay of American Christianity. It is obvious that 53% of American evangelical pastors are not Calvinistic. Calvinism is not the culprit. But it may indeed be the antidote. As the doctrines of God's sovereign grace continue to spread throughout churches in our country the prospect of revival and reformation increases. Apart from such spiritual renewal sent by God, Rainer's prophecy will sadly come true.

We need to heed the wisdom of the great Southern Baptist leader from the early 20th century, J. B. Gambrell. He recognized that the great need of his day was a renewal of the preaching of the doctrines of grace. This is what he said:

We may invigorate our faith and renew our courage by reflecting that divine power has always attended the preaching of doctrine, when done in the true spirit of preaching. Great revivals have accompanied the heroic preaching of the doctrines of grace, predestination, election, and that whole lofty mountain range of doctrines upon which Jehovah sits enthroned, sovereign in grace a in all things else. God honors the preaching that honors him. There is entirely too much milk-sop preaching nowadays trying to cajole sinners to enter upon a truce with their Maker quit sinning and join the church. The situation does not call for a truce, but for a surrender. Let us bring out the heavy artillery of heaven, and thunder away at this stuck-up age as Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Paul did and there will be many slain in the Lord raised up to walk in newness of life (quoted in Tom Nettles' By His Grace, For His Glory, 216).

Pray for ongoing reformation in our day!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Greetings from Cluj, Romania

I have spent the last week in Romania and enjoyed the fellowship and hospitality of Bethel Baptist Church in Cluj. The fellowship with brothers and sisters, most of whom lived under the repressive regime of Communism that only ended in 1989, has been most encouraging. It has been refreshing and convicting to experience their devotion to Christ. They have their own peculiar challenges and problems just as we do, but I have been reminded of controlling the adjective is in American Christianity.

Pray for the advance of the Gospel in America, Romania and around the world. The Lord willing, I will be back home Monday night.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Guest Blog: Finding Our Voice in Worship (Part 4) Ken Puls

This is the fourth and final post in this series of guest blogs on "Finding Our Voice in Worship." The question I want to consider is this: How can we help a church find an authentic voice in worship? Let me offer 5 observations.

1. To be authentic we must be thoughtful and deliberate.

It takes time and energy to find and prepare music -- to plan for worship.
Arranging a meeting between God and His people can never be something we take lightly or engage in half-heartedly.

In the Psalms we have precedence for being thoughtful in our planning of music and worship, intentional in our choices of tunes and instruments to accompany our singing. We see inscriptions giving directions for specific instruments, specific tunes and specific occasions. This is an example we should follow as we find and compile the music that will carry our church's voice. If we are to see improvement and growth, we must be thoughtful and deliberate in our planning and preparation.

2. To be authentic we must be committed to truth.

We must be more concerned that God is rightly proclaimed and His Word is clearly set forth, than we are about hearing our favorite songs in worship. We must be more concerned that our music rightly reflects the truth of who God is, than sounding like the world we are trying to evangelize.

We should not look to the world to set our standards and shape our voice. This is a great dilemma in our day. In a failed quest to be relevant in the eyes of the world, the church is largely looking to the world to set and establish musical style. Unlike many eras of the past in music history where the church determined the direction and bent of musical composition and the world was following the lead of the church -- today the roles are largely reversed. Marketing and sales seem to have more influence over the anthems and songbooks being churned out than the glory of God and a desire to make Him known.

Compare this to what God teaches us in the first psalm. Consider how he choose to begin the Psalter. What would you expect at the beginning of a book of worship? An exhortation to praise? An opening prayer? No, God instead begins with a blessing and warning:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1–2)

The opening words of the psalms are a warning to God's people not to imitate the world, not to go after the world. Rather, we are to be a people who delight in the Word of God. In a day when the church is looking to the world to set the pace and birth the styles, this is a warning we must heed in church music.

As God's people we must be committed to truth--committed to accurately reflecting the glory and splendor and holiness of God. Willing to set aside anything that diminishes that glory.

3. To be authentic we must embrace the new as well as the old.

We must keep a healthy balance of old and new in our music.

We must continue to sing and cherish the old, established, proven hymns. God has been at work in every age. His Kingdom is greater than just what is happening right now. We are but a vapor and He is infinitely great. We acknowledge His greatness and our own smallness when we look beyond the present and include the great hymns of the faith from ages past in our worship today.

But we also must not disregard the new songs of our day. The voice of the church is not stagnant. As God is at work adding to His church, sanctifying new gifts, growing us in the knowledge of truth, there is always a new song and fresh praise.

I find it helpful in sorting through music to think in terms of four categories:

1) "Discarded Music"

This is music of the past--some of it of poor quality and questionable usefulness, even in its day--but it also includes music that may have had a brief usefulness, but for whatever reason, did not endure or become a lasting contribution of its age or generation. We know the past largely by what has endured, but every age has had its share of discarded music. History has proven most music does not last beyond its own generation. We should generally avoid what has faded away. However, once in a while, rummaging through the forgotten music of the past, you just might find a discarded jewel.

2) "Treasured Music"

This is also music of the past, but this music has endured and has become a lasting contribution of its age or generation. It has value and quality and depth beyond its age. Here is where you find the great hymns of the faith--music we should continue to value and sing, remembering that we are part of God's Kingdom through the ages. (This category would include hymns such as the Doxology, "A Mighty Fortress," and "Holy, Holy, Holy.")

3) "Temporary Music"

This is music of our day that seems below standard and destined to pass away. Some of it may have a brief usefulness, but much of it lacks those qualities of worth I mentioned in my second post: insight, perfection and inexhaustibility. In general we should avoid this music as well.

4) "Potential Treasured Music"

This is music of our day that seems destined for endurance. Search for it and embrace it. While contemporary music is the hardest for us to judge and discern, and no one can tell exactly which songs God will choose to preserve in His providence for ages to come, we should be musical treasure hunters. (A few of my choices for this category include "In Christ Alone," "How Deep the Father's Love" and "I Will Glory in My Redeemer.")

We must guard against two false views of church music.

First: The music of past generations is superior to the music of today, so we should be content to sing only the old proven songs.

Second: Music of past generations is no longer relevant to today, so we should be content to sing only the new songs of our day and time.

Neither view is accurate or acceptable. We appreciate and benefit from great preachers and great messages from the past--but at the same time we continue to preach and write new sermons, instructing the people of our day in the truth of God's Word. We are enriched by the insightful, deep prayers of saints of past, such as the Puritans--but at the same time, we keep praying, voicing to God the concerns of our day, the cries of our hearts in our words. We must strive for this balance in our music as well--enjoying the fruits of our heritage in church music, and adding our own new song to God's praise through the ages.

4. To be authentic we must nurture and pray for our gifts.

Every church has its own voice, its own gifts, its own strengths and weaknesses. We must avoid trying to make the church fit a determined mold or be just like the church down the street. We must help the church develop its own gifts to God's glory.

We should pray for gifts:
Pastors and elders who understand the value of music and are committed to helping the church find its voice
Worship or song leaders (who understand both music and theology)
Service musicians, instrumentalists and vocalists, who are committed to serving together in a humble and gracious spirit (not lone-rangers who ride in to save to day, or prima-donnas who must be pampered and coax and delicately tip-toed around)
People who are committed to honoring God with their music and who are willing to esteem others better than themselves

Pray that God would add such gifts to our churches and that He would grow and sanctify and mature those who are already serving.

5. To be authentic we must be have patience and humility.

We need patience--
Great music does not happen overnight. It takes time to develop and nurture musical gifts. It takes time and many hours of rehearsal for individual musicians to become a well-blended ensemble. It takes time for choirs and congregations to learn and embrace good music. We must be committed to reformation over the long term and pray that God would continue to grow us spiritually and musically.

And we need humility--
Worship is about God--it is not about us. We need to cast off and put down this idea that Church Music should conform to what I want to hear. Whether it be "I only want to sing my music--not all that old stuff." Or "I only want to sing what I already know--don't teach me anything new."
The voice of the church is not the voices of individuals all wanting to do their own thing. It is the voice of patience, humility and charity as we come together in unity in a common purpose to glorify God. When Paul exhorts us to sing "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" he does not say "singing what you want most to hear" or "singing what you find most comfortable." He says "speaking to one another." In verse 21 he says: "submitting to one another in the fear of God." This is esteeming others better than ourselves. This is saying that the glory of God and the voice of His church are more important than me.

Paul also says "making melody in your hearts to the Lord." We sing from the heart (not just the lips) and we sing to the Lord (to His glory and His praise, not our own).

We must ask: "What will most honor God?' What will best declare His glory and carry His Word and rightly make Him known? What will best "speak to one another" and communicate clearly His truth?

Paul instructs us in Philippians 2:4 "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." We need this in church music. It is not about us-- It is all about Christ and the glory of God. Paul says of Christ in verse 9 of Philippians 2: "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and of those on earth and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father."

This is the goal of God-centered church music:
To see every knee humbly bowed down at the name of Jesus
To hear every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Ken Puls

Friday, March 24, 2006

Guest Blog: Finding Our Voice in Worship (Part 3) Ken Puls

This is the third in a series of guest blogs on "Finding Our Voice in Worship." Once you have found music that is doctrinally sound and structurally sound, there is still one more test to consider:

III. Music must be Congregationally Sound -- authenticity

We must sing music that is sound in doctrine and well-composed, but our music must also be an authentic expression of the church body.

When we select music for worship, we are choosing music that will be sung by the people. And so we must ask of what we sing--

Will this be understood by the congregation? Can they comprehend this?
Can they sing this? Can they say this? Can they express this well?

Does the level of difficulty, instrumentation and musical style fit the congregation? Can the song be embraced by the people? Not just can they learn the notes and sing the right words--Can they sing it from their hearts?

The music we sing should be an authentic voice of our people!

So how do we determine our voice? Maybe we should first ask:

What shapes the voice of a church?

1. The voice of the church is shaped largely by its gifts. . .

Its leaders
Its musicians
Its people

Everyone whom God brings together in a local church contributes to the voice of that church.

We have One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of us all--
We share a common faith and should hold to the same truth, the same Word.

But churches are also each unique, each with unique experiences and gifts.
Though we must speak as one, no two voices will sound exactly alike.

A song that works well in one church may fall flat in another. A small church that has only one member who can play the piano will have a different voice than a large church where God in His providence has assembled several accomplished musicians. A church where the music is primarily led by a pipe organ will have a different sound than a church led by piano, keyboard, guitar, bass, flute and trumpet. The musical gifts in the congregation, the leadership gifts of those who plan and teach and oversee the ministry of the church--all help determine a church's voice.

2. The voice of the church is also shaped by its purpose.

As the leadership and the congregation work through priorities and ask the important question: What are we doing here? -- Their answer will in part shape their voice.

What do we see as our highest calling as the body of Christ gathered together as a covenanted body of believers? What is our primary purpose?

Teaching people the Word of God
Evangelizing the lost and reaching them with the gospel
Bringing people into close intimate communion with God
Motivating people to love and obedience to God
Helping people grow through meaningful relationships
Glorifying God as the majestic Almighty One in worship
Bearing witness that the Christian faith is relevant to our age

The congregation must have a clear understanding of its purpose--why the people of God gather together each Lord's Day and why God has united them together as one body. The order, emphasis and balance (or lack thereof) that each church brings to these good and necessary purposes will largely determine its form of worship, the choice of its songs and the shape of its voice.

3. The voice of the church is shaped by its heritage.

Our time and place in history will have a part in God's providence in determining our voice. What musical instruments are available to us? In what language will we sing? What songs from past generations have we inherited and learned? What songs are being written in our own day?

As a church we should desire to sanctify the best of our musical traditions available to us in the time and place in which we live. We should also remember the best contributions to church music of past generations. We should continue to embrace great hymns of the faith such as "Holy, Holy, Holy" and the Doxology.

We must remember that we are only a part of God's great redemptive work through the ages. The Kingdom of God is much larger than our own fellowship, our own associations and our own comfort zones.

4. The voice of the church is shaped by its joys and trials.

As God is providentially at work in the life of the church, He will shape its voice. Sometimes He will do extraordinary things in His providence that will embed a song into the voice of the church.

In the summer of 2004 we sent our young people from Grace Baptist Church to youth camp in Panama City Beach, Florida. There they learned the song "Made Me Glad." Part of the words to that song declare to God:

"You are my Shield, my Strength, my Portion, Deliverer,
My Shelter, Strong Tower, My very present help in time of need."

When our young people returned from camp we introduced the song to our congregation. A few weeks later, Hurricane Charley hit Southwest Florida. Because the song was fresh in our memory, many sang that song while riding out the storm. When we met for the first time after the hurricane, we sang that song together--in a dark, hot building, no light, no air-conditioning, but sweet and precious fellowship as we rejoiced together at God's mercy and kindness in keeping us safe.

Now when we sing those words together in worship as a one body, they are not only theological truths, but we can remember place and time and event where God showed Himself strong for us as a church. He was our "Shield, our Strength, our Portion, Deliverer, our Shelter, Strong Tower, our very present help in time of need." And He continues to be so. The providence of God can be powerful in shaping the voice of His people.

5. The voice of the church is shaped by its expectations.

If we do not expect God to continue to shape and mold us--
If we are not growing and maturing together in love and unity, our voice will grow stagnant and dim.

We must help the church find its voice in our day and add its voice to the praise of God through the ages.

In my next and final guest post in this series, I will suggest some ways to help a church find its voice.

Ken Puls

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Guest Blog: Finding Our Voice in Worship (Part 2) Ken Puls

This is the second in a series of guest blogs on "Finding Our Voice in Worship." In the first post we considered the first filter or test in selecting music for worship, the test of veracity. If it passes this test, then next consider the structure:

II. Music Must be Structurally Sound -- suitability

Is the music well written and composed? Is the poetry clear, concise and well-crafted?
Are the words and the tune singable? Does the tune represent the best our musical style can offer?

Do the tune and text together communicate a congruent message? There are many good tunes and good texts that are simply mismatched. One that I can remember while growing up was "Love Lifted Me."

It begins:
"I was sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more . . ."

A joyful tune--a good tune--but very mismatched, at least at the beginning of the verse, where the words are trying to communicate desperation and our hopeless state when we are outside of Christ. The tune works much better in the refrain where the message is "Love lifted me!" We want to wed music and words that strengthen the message, not confuse it.

One example of what I would consider a well-matched text and tune is 175 in the Baptist Hymnal (1991):

"Man of Sorrows," What a Name, for the Son of God who came.
Ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah, What a Savior!

Both the text and the tune communicate a wonder and profoundness of what God has accomplished for us in the gospel.

Again, we must ask questions: Why was the music composed? What does the music communicate? Is what the music communicates conducive to worship? Can the music be used effectively to accompany acts and words of worship?

Are the associations of the music with other texts, other messages or other purposes too strong to allow the tune to transfer into sacred use? For example, if I were writing the words to a call to worship, I would not want to set the words to the tune of "Here Comes Santa Claus!" That is not to say that the tune is bad, evil, or even secular. It does however, at least here in America, have secular associations that make it entirely unfit for use in worship. The church must take great care in taking music from the world for its own use, especially when uniting music to Scripture. The associations of the songs with secular or even wicked contexts may be too strong to allow the music to be useful in the church.

Although we have freedom to create and enjoy music in a wide array of activities and venues, not all music is conducive to worship. A church service, a football game and a parade all include music that we can enjoy to the glory of God. But a worship service is not a football game or a parade. Each activity requires music suitable to its purpose. Music that we enjoy hearing at venues outside of the church may not be appropriate or fitting for the purpose of worship. In worship we are pursuing a well-defined purpose and seeking to communicate a clear message. As we choose music for worship, we must be wise in finding tunes that will serve as a suitable accompaniment to those thoughts, actions and elements that Scripture affirms as appropriate for worship. In worship we are communing with the Sovereign God and proclaiming His Word. Our music should reflect the significance and importance of our endeavor.

In the end we must judge the worth or merits of the song to serve as an offering of worship. As we measure the worth of a song we can weigh its value according to three standards: insight, perfection and inexhaustibility.

Does it add something of value to the service?
Does it communicate clearly? Or does it confuse?
Does it help us effectively express what we want to say to God, what we want to be before God, what we want to do in obedience to His Word.

Not is it perfect in the sense of "without error,"
But is it complete? -- Does it say all it needs to say?
Or is something left out? Is something out of place?

Does it represent the best of what we can bring to God in worship? Is it a sacrifice of praise in which we have invested ourselves? Or is it just something to sing? Something to fill an empty space in our order of worship?

Is it memorable?
Is it worth remembering?
Is it worth singing again?
Has it stood the test of time?

Can you sing over and over again without it wearing out over time? Does it become richer and more meaningful with time? Or does it prove to be shallow and spent after a few hearings? Can it be appreciated across generations or even across cultures or languages?

These are some of the filters we can use as we think through our music.

Ken Puls

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Guest Blog: Finding Our Voice in Worship (Part 1) Ken Puls

This is the first in a series of guest blogs on "Finding Our Voice in Worship." Dr. Tom Ascol has asked me to step in while he is away in Romania this week and share some of my thoughts on music and worship. I am new to blogging, but I appreciate this opportunity and look forward to reading your comments and feedback.

How do we choose music for worship that is God-centered and God-honoring? This is the question we face, week after week, as we plan and prepare for the corporate worship of God's people. What is it that makes a song conducive to worship? What makes one song a better choice than another when we plan our services and craft our orders of worship?

What are the filters we should have in place as we screen and select music specifically for the purpose of congregational worship?

In this series I want to give you three filters or tests that I have found useful in selecting music for worship: veracity, suitability and authenticity. In this first post we will consider the first test:

I. Music must be Doctrinally Sound -- veracity

We must begin with the text. Are the words of the song focused on God and on His Word? Are they substantial, saturated with truth, in submission to truth and informed by truth? If the song lacks truth or fails to conform to truth, we need go no further.

We must grill the text with questions:

Question the origin of the text:
Who wrote the words?
Why were the words written?

Question the message of the text:
What do the words communicate?
Is what the words communicate conducive to worship?

Question the purpose of the text:
Do the words have a worthwhile and noble purpose?
Does the purpose of the text serve us in our worship?

For example:

Does it invite us into the presence of God?
Does it focus our attention on God--His character, attributes, and works?
Does it call upon God to meet with us in worship?
Does it declare and proclaim His Word to us?
Does it help us confess our sin?
Does it help us to rejoice in Christ and the forgiveness of sin?
Does it teach us by expounding the truth of God's Word?
Does it commission us to go out and live in obedience?
Does it voice our prayers and petitions to God?
Does it remind us of the promises of His Word?
Does it express our praise and adoration to God?
Does it express our thanksgiving to God?
Does it voice our submission to God in obedience to His Word?

Question the biblical moorings of the text:
What Scripture passages are quoted or alluded to in text?
Do the words clearly and accurately teach and proclaim the Word of God?

Question the theology of the text:
What do the words teach us about Person and work of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, about humanity, about sin, about the gospel of Christ, about the church . . . ?
Does the music consistently set before the congregation the great doctrines of Scripture.

There are truths that we need reminded of frequently. We need to remember that our God is sovereign and in control of all things. We need to dwell often on justification by faith alone in Christ alone. We need to meditate on the imputed righteousness of Christ. Music can be a great blessing as it serves us in embedding these essential doctrines into our thinking. What we sing feeds our soul. We must be careful that our songs are spiritually healthy, theologically balanced, and doctrinally rich.

Question the placement of the text within the service:
Does the music before the sermon help us focus on God and enter into worship.
Does the music we sing after the sermon hold us accountable to the truths we proclaimed in the message?
Does the music as a whole support and undergird the preaching and teaching ministry of the church?

This is the first test--is the music doctrinally sound?

We want to sing words with substance and depth that reflect the truths of Scripture. We want music that is composed and designed to impart truth, not just create an experience that makes us feel good. We want to sing words that appropriately respond to and hold us accountable to Scripture. And we want to sing the words of Scripture itself (psalms and other passages).

Test the music first by its veracity. It is true to the Word of God?

Ken Puls

Guest Blogger: Ken Puls

I am scheduled to leave today for Romania where I will be visiting with a young pastor friend and preaching in the church he serves in Cluj. While I am away, Dr. Ken Puls will be posting some of his insights on worship. Ken is the Director of the Founders Study Center and Publications for Founders Ministries. He also serves with me at Grace Baptist Church as a fellow elder and directs our music ministries. He earned a PhD in church music from Southwestern Seminary and has taught at Dallas Baptist University, Baylor University and Southwestern. He is one of the most theologically astute musicians I know and has been a valuable conversation partner on the glorious subject of worship. He is preparing for a teaching opportunity in Israel later this year where he has the assignment of helping Jewish believers address issues of new covenant worship and music. Your feedback will help him work through material that he is preparing for those studies.

If the Lord wills, I will return next week and will post a report on my trip. Thanks for your prayers.

Ode to "Scripture Searcher:" the Son of Encouragement

Gene Bridges has written this ode. We are posting it both at Triablog and here as a tribute to a man who has been an encouragement to lots of Christians--especially pastors--over the years.

Acts 4:36-37: "Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement) and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet."

Luke introduces us to Barnabas very early in the Acts narrative. The Jerusalem church is new and, it seems, has not left the immediate confines of Jerusalem. The church is, nevertheless, growing. God has poured out the Holy Spirit upon them. Peter and John have been confronted by the Sanhedrin. They have proclaimed the gospel boldly and defied them, saying they are bound to obey God and not men. The church at this time is of one mind; they "held all things common," and the Apostles testified with great power. At the end of chapter 4, foreshadowing the time to come, Luke introduces us to Joseph, also called Barnabas, who brought what he owned and laid it at the Apostles feet.

The first picture we have of Barnabas is his submission to the authority of the Apostles, his participation in the life of the Jerusalem church, and the moniker "the Son of Encouragement.” He sells a tract of land, and gives the money to the church. The impression Luke gives us is that this man, from the beginning of this walk with the Lord, was a man who had the gift of giving. Barnabas would give his possessions, his time, his energy, even risk his reputation for the sake of his brethren and the churches he served.

One would expect him to be in the group chosen to serve in Acts 6. His name is conspicuously absent. Those selected for this service are all Hellenistic Jews. Either Barnabas was not yet ready for more public service, or he was from the Hebraic Jews in the church at that time. The latter is likely the case, as he was a Levite. This is highly significant. As a Levite, Barnabas understood the sacrificial system and Judaism intimately. He may have written the Book of Hebrews, as it bears the marks of a writer who was likely a Levite himself. His gift speaks volumes. Here, we have a Levite who is converted who sells his land and gives it to the church, effectively as a kind of free will offering acknowledging the role of the Apostles and the importance of the church, whom Peter would later call "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession." (1 Peter 2:9).

As a Levite, he understood what God had said about the selling of land in Leviticus. Land was not to be sold in a manner that took advantage of the seller. The price was set based on the number of years since the Jubilee. When years were many, they were to increase the price. When they were few, the price was lower, because what was being sold was the number of crops. If a countryman became poor and sold some of his property, his nearest relative could redeem the land. The property of Levites consisting of houses was always redeemable and was to be returned in the year of Jubilee. Pastureland was a permanent possession.

In bringing the proceeds of the sale of his property to the Apostles, Barnabas was effectively signing away his right of redemption. He was giving all he owned to the Lord. This lends a whole new meaning to the term "sacrificial giving." If what he was selling was pastureland, an otherwise permanent possession, he was effectively renouncing his status in the Levitical priesthood. If he sold a house, he was submitting his legal rights as a priest to the Lord and His church. Either way, we see here his understanding that the work of Christ was once for all and that his rights as a priest were superceded by Jesus' High Priestly office. As a Levite, his submission to the priesthood of Christ and joining a royal priesthood of believers speaks volumes about the grace of God at work in this man. He encouraged the church by sacrifice. This pattern would continue throughout his ministry.

Stephen takes the narrative's center stage for a time, and it is through his stoning that a great persecution breaks out. God uses this to move the church from its original confines and spread the gospel into Samaria, thus beginning to fulfill Jesus' words in the Great Commission. However, Luke gives us a foretaste of the time to come...for Saul was there "giving his approval to Stephen's death." (8:1)

Saul is later converted, when the Lord confronts him on the Damascus Road. The Lord tells him to get up and go to Damascus and there be told what to do. The Lord calls to Ananias in a vision and tells him of Saul's commission and the instructions to give him. Saul then spends time in Damascus and later in Jerusalem, where he is received less than enthusiastically.

27 "But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus."

If the murderous public official who had openly gone after people you loved and with whom you had worshipped was found in the synagogues preaching the gospel, you'd be suspicious too, wouldn't you? If he tried to join your church, you'd be very afraid and you'd doubt the truth of his story too. I doubt any of us would dare say we are so spiritual not to empathize with the reaction of the Jerusalem church. Barnabas is, here, not only the Son of Encouragement but the Son of Courage itself. He, and nobody else, has the courage to go to Saul, and, believing his testimony, be his advocate to the disciples in Jerusalem. Barnabas risked his reputation in the church; in fact, he may have felt he was risking his own life, but somebody had to step up for Saul. Barnabas was convinced that Saul was a genuine convert and saw the need for him to be integrated into the life of the church, both for Saul's growth in the faith and for the sake of the church. If the church could not learn to forgive, even welcome, it's former enemies after their conversion, what would this have said about Christ Himself? Such behavior contracts the gospel and the love of God, which does not keep account of wrongs done. Barnabas recognized the grace of God at stake in the church's actions and the grace of God at work in Saul's life. He would not hold Saul's sins against him and he would forgive him as Christ had forgiven him. He would view Saul as a new creature, as Christ has recreated him. He would rejoice in the truth, protect, trust, hope, and persevere and did this to encourage his peers to do the same. We are still reaping the benefits of this action today.

The next time we see Saul, he is connected to Stephen. Because of the wave of persecution set off by Stephen's execution and continued by Saul, though Saul had been converted, the gospel reached Antioch.

22-24 "The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. When he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.

The Son of Encouragement, the Son of Courage, the Son of Joy...Barnabas saw what God was doing and the first thing he did was rejoice! The gospel came to Antioch out of the persecutions begun with the stoning of Stephen. Barnabas understood the providence of God. He knew that men had intended the persecutions for evil, but God had intended them for great good. Luke, under the inspiration of the Spirit, calls Barnabas a "good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and faith." Stephen was also full of the Holy Spirit. In his own epistles, Paul parallels being filled with the Spirit with being filled and grounded in the Word of God. Barnabas draws upon that grounding here and instructs them to remain resolute and stay true to the Lord. However, as more persons were converted, Barnabas realized he couldn't handle this work alone. Realizing he needed help...

11:25 "And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch."

Barnabas remembered Saul and gave him an opportunity to serve the Lord in Antioch. Then, in a twist of dramatic irony, "11:27 – 30 Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders."

Barnabas was still the servant of the Jerusalem church. He began his service there, laying a gift at the feet of the Apostles from the sale of his land. Now, he found himself representing the church at Antioch bringing a gift from the church to help provide relief for the church at Jerusalem. How very Levitical.

Serving the churches became a lifelong vocation. He and Saul, later Paul, went on to their first missionary journey shortly thereafter. We speak frequently of Paul's status as a Pharisee before his conversion. How ironic that the first missionary journey was conducted by a Pharisee and a Levitical priest, the very kinds of men who had opposed Jesus Himself just a few years before.

For a time, Paul seems to have served in the background, but he becomes increasingly prominent in the narrative, and Barnabas begins to step back. The pair testify of the work of God among the Gentiles at the Jerusalem Council and are called upon, yet again, this time to take the ruling of the Council to the churches. This leads to their second journey, but they come to a sharp disagreement.

15: 36 – 39.After some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are."  37Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus."

Even in disagreeing, Barnabas still found a man to disciple and encourage. This time, he chose John Mark, and probably sacrificed some of his pride in doing so. This disagreement allowed Barnabas and John Mark to do their work, while Paul and Silas planted churches elsewhere. Thus, the effectiveness of Barnabas and Paul was multiplied. Moreover, John Mark was paired with the man who had encouraged the church from very early on, who had discipled Paul and believed in Paul when others doubted him, who had remembered Paul when he needed help in Antioch, and who God used to mold Paul into the missionary he became, and no doubt taught him much which we read in the New Testament today. Later, Paul speaks favorably of Mark. He asks Luke to pick up Mark and bring him with him for a final visit as he languishes in prison. Peter speaks of his son, Mark, whom we believe to have been the stenographer of Peter who penned the gospel that bears his name. Some believe Barnabas may have penned the Book of Hebrews.

We have a Barnabas among us. It seems we spend time citing anti-Calvinists or pointing at the flaws in the SBC or asking hard questions or offering often sad commentaries about various theological and practical issues on our respective blogs. The work of ministry is hard work. None of us, however, would be able to do what we do if somebody had not discipled us, encouraged us, or taken the time to believe in us when it seemed like nobody else did. There is a certain value to visible sacrifice. Sometimes, what most of us do goes unrewarded in this life. At other times, we have opportunity to recognize the service and sacrifice of others. It is altogether fitting, then, to take notice of those among us who we believe have done that for us today.

This person has not ceased to be an encouragement to me or Tom. Tom's relationship extends into the real world and, I understand, goes back to his days in Texas. My own relationship with him comes by way of the Founders blog and Triablogue. 

Whenever this individual posts in the comment threads, he has something encouraging to say. I often get the impression he's beginning to feel his years and reads our blogs to find some encouragement for himself.

Scripture Searcher,, sir, are our Barnabas. We and the readers of Triablogue and the Founders Blog wish to commend you for your years of tireless service of the churches and our Lord Jesus Christ. You have not ceased to be source of wisdom, of challenge, of admonition, of truth, of love, of encouragement to us all. To be honest, we're not sure you visit other Baptist blogs. We believe you do, and we've looked high and low for comments you may have made there. However, we are certain that we count it a great blessing and encouragement when we are "Scripture searched!"

For our own readers, we are producing some of the comments you have made to us in the past. We want you and them to know exactly why we wish to accord you this esteem. For our readers, please, feel free to cite other likeminded comments by Charles if you've been "Scripture searched" yourself at your own blogs. Even if you have none to add, please join us in signing your name to this commendation of our dear brother, Scripture Searcher, in the comments sections at Founders and Triablogue.

Who is Scripture Searcher? Our sources tell us, "Scripture Searcher is 71 years old, educated at Baylor and Southwestern, who has spent nearly 53 years in the Christian ministry ~ reading his Bible, theology, history and all the related disciplines for his work as a Southern Baptist pastor, evangelist, hospital chaplain, missionary and teacher."

Our sources tell us that Scripture Searcher has said many kind and sometimes challenging things. May this account of your actions find you well, this day, sir, and may it be an example for us all to follow in our posting and in real life. If called to witness for you on Judgment Day, we will gladly step forward and testify to the kind service you have rendered among us.

In the words of Scripture Searcher:

It thrills me to read all these comments from these YOUNG scripture searchers. May their tribe increase and I am confident that it will happen! While traveling the nation and world with the good news of God's sovereign, saving, sustaining grace I find MANY Bible believing Calvinists in and out of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was not that way when I was studying at the world's largest Baptist university and seminary many years ago. This scripture searcher came to embrace the TRUTH of Calvinism (not hyper-Calvinism!!!!!) by reading the New Testament 52 years ago. (Acts 20:24)

Beloved GMB: The thoroughness with which you present your case is most refreshing! Thanks! If you were a surgeon and I needed your knowledge and skills (fortunately I do not need surgery) ~ I would joyfully jump on your table, believing that you would do all my sick body needed! I love the way you leave no stone unturned! Nothing would be missed or overlooked if you performed any operation I needed!

PERSEVERE! Physician of the soul, PERSEVERE! If you are a pastor, I dare say none of the sheep leave your services hungry. As they have say of another THOROUGH teacher of the Bible: He doesn't simply feed us, He gorges the food down us! We leave his services stuffed! PERSEVERE! Continue to give your readers/listeners their moneys worth! PERSEVERE

YES, may his tribe increase! Editor Tony appears to be understandably confused but teachable. How refreshing! And judging from the notes he has received regarding his comments on a basic, fundamental scriptural subject, his enlightenment is about to begin. I call it CONTINUING EDUCATION. It bears repeating from this older participant in the discussions on this informative (and at times inspirational) Founders blog directed by the honorable Dr. Tom Ascol: I am thrilled at the growing number of Bible believing members of the Southern Baptist Convention who, in these exciting times, are courageously speaking the truth in love! Persevere, Tom! Persevere, all young Bereans!

I have been reading (over and over) to be certain I understood all the sincere contributions so many of the brethren have offered regarding the current, over- heated discussion about the qualifications of those who serve as missionaries (both national and international) with the SBC.
I seriously (very seriously) doubt that our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would have participated in such hair-splitting words of fury signifying almost nothing! (Read again and again I Corinthians 13) Get real, dear brothers, and cease wasting your time and effort with this topic,and begin sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ ~ with the daily fervent prayers that Satan will cry as the truth of JOHN 6:37 is fulfilled ~ and it will be fulfilled with or without the efforts of Southern Baptists! While Satan and the world laughs at most professing Christians and the paganS (religionists and secularists) smile and snicker, millions are dying without having heard about Jesus Christ!!! I have been through some of the old Landmark Baptist battles and can testify, in hindsight, nothing worthwhile was accomplished for the glory, honor and praise of God!
 Next, someone whose priorities are wrong, will revive the ancient controversy regarding the number of angels that can stand on the head of a needle - without falling off and losing their ecclesiastical reputation in the convention - which God may bypass for another group to take His Truth to the world! God forbid ~ and I write this in love! (Ephesians 4)

All I desire to post today is my gratitude to God for the growing number of Berean-like SCRIPTURE SEARCHERS that (in my seventh decade) I am discovering across the Southern Baptist Convention. Many I think have been around a long time but have been given by God new courage and fresh boldness in recent years to speak and write the truth in love. Some have discovered and make excellent contributions on this stimulating blog originated by a beardless, balding "brave heart" from Beaumont, Texas named Thomas. Great gratitude to our sovereign Lord and many thanks to all - I pray the contributors will continue and that many others will join their ranks! Persevere, brethen!!

Please leave this exchange or dialogue up until others have had time to contribute. ALL are excellent statements! As stated previously, this is VERY stimulating, far beynd the usual. 
Now let's get that beard on your face and a few additional pounds on your skinny frame, Thomas Spurgeon of 2006. Cheers! (oops) AMEN!!!

Completely scriptural. Lovingly pastoral. Your church is blessed to have you as pastor/teacher.
A Christ centered season to you, your family and congregation!

Thomas, you have rendered all SBC churches (pastors and members) a great service by your condensed explanation. From all the state (and the national) denominational headquarters you deserve a hearty and sincere note of thanks. See how many bother to express their appreciation. Please do not hold your breath until they write or call.

Thomas, at times you are so funny you make me cry for joy. Your ability to differentiate the "greens" indicates that the Beaumont (South Park) Texas boy has skills far beyond the classroom and pulpit. Persevere!

Please continue to provoke, stir up and stimulate us unto love and good works. (Hebrews 10:22-24) I am confident you will. How refreshing it is to read your sane statements in an insane world.

Thomas, I appreciate all you have penned regarding our beloved brother, mutual friend and fellow soldier in God's spiritual army. There are no PERFECT people on earth and Adrian Rogers was no exception - a truth he often openly admitted. He had his failures and blind spots and his serious misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners was one of the most glaring! He understands the full truth of this (and other) subjects now. I, too, thank God for the life of Adrian Rogers. I loved him - warts and all. He was one of the finest men I ever met and debated.

Every Southern Baptist pastor, evangelist, deacon, teacher and denominational leader/servant - plus all the members of all the local SBC congregations - would be wiser if they read all of Dr. Nettles books. Tom, you grow wiser and more courageous as you grow older! Persevere! Persevere! Persevere!

A LOVING Arminian CHRISTIAN is of FAR greater spiritual value than a LOVELESS Calvinist CHRISTIAN!!!! The conciseness of this much needed TRUTH makes it a TREASURE!

From a much older and frequently accused "pestilent fellow," "gadfly," "trouble maker" and "disturber of the peace" both in and out of the Southern Baptist Convention, I salute your courage in pointing out the superficiality (and sometimes falsity) of so much that goes by the name of Biblical theology and Christian spirituality in these (to quote Vance Havner) "wild, weird, and wacky" days before the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords Jesus Christ. PERSEVERE! PRESS ON!

WOW! I am joyfully weary after reading all the insightful statements from the YOUNG Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). Some of their comments (above) are classics! Tom, your growth in divine grace, knowledge, and courage blesses and greatly encourages many of us OLDER scripture searchers. Press on, dear brother. PERSEVERE! You are correct: If the UNTRUTHS ("straw men") were removed from the arguments (and caustic comments) of Graham, Rogers, Patterson, Lemke, Vines and others against the TRUTHS of God's sovereign, saving and sustaining grace ~ the dividing issues would soon be settled. But it requires genuine humility to acknowledge our ignorance (errors) and so many lack this spiritual virtue. It would require a public confession of their misunderstandings and few (leaders especially) are interested in performing such a Christian action. (James 4:17) Ignorance and arrogance are keeping the people of God apart and, apart from His supernatural intervention, it will continue! How sad! How tragic!

May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord cause his face to shine on you, and give you peace forever, Charles.

Tom Ascol: Founders Blog

Gene M. Bridges: Triablogue

Monday, March 20, 2006

Guidelines for Commenting

I have been engaged in several exchanges lately with friends about the comments that are occasionally left on this blog. Some of the most insightful observations to be found here have come from those who have offered comments. I think it is very healthy and informative to allow for wide-ranging ideas to be exchanged in this forum. Because of that, I allow a great deal of latitude to those who wish to post comments here. I don't allow profanity or comments that are too personal. I am the determiner of what constitutes "too personal." It is subjective, I know, but in order to allow as much leeway as I can, this is the course I am following.

This approach allows for rambunctious debate. It even allows for heated and offensive comments to be posted. I choose to leave such comments up because I think that by doing so a more accurate picture is portrayed about current thoughts on an issue than would otherwise be the case. One thing a blog does is provide opportunity for almost immediate feedback. Within the parameters stated above, I want that feedback to be an honest assessment of what readers of this blog are thinking--even when I may disagree strongly with the content, perspective or tone of those thoughts. What this necessitates, then, is allowing certain things to be said or to be said in ways that I personally do not condone.

Therefore, though I do not recommend it, unkindness and stupidity are not automatically censored. Neither are harshness or mean-spiritedness. Neither is ignorance. You can read back in the archives and find numerous examples from each category. There they stand, for good or ill, as a testimony to what some people think and feel.

I do not try to address every comment that I find offensive. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is that the folks who read this blog do an excellent job of calling each other to account on matters of biblical understanding, historical accuracy and Christian demeanor. There tends to be a healthy dose of self-policing that takes place when things start getting out of hand.

Though most seem to have no difficulty distinguishing between what I write and what others write in the comments section, let me reiterate that the mere fact that a comment is allowed to be posted on this blog does not mean that I personally endorse it. I must, of course, take full responsibility for whatever I write. But I do not take responsibility for what others write.

So, if you want to join the conversation at any time, jump right in. If you stay on task and avoid getting personal or profane, your comment will be allowed no matter how much I may disagree with it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

We lost...and won

Well, we lost the final game, 45-38. Trinity Christian School from Hialeah, Florida has won the 2006 FCAA state championship. They deserve it should be congratulated. It was a hard-fought game with several lead changes until the final few minutes. Our girls did not play nearly as well as they did the first 2 games, but they played much better than I coached.

If you have followed sports much you probably have seen some occasions where a good team was "overcoached" in a crucial game or situation. That is what happened to us. We have an experienced team--4 seniors, all of whom are starters--and they know how to play together very well. In retrospect (which is always clearer than prospect) I should have simply encouraged them to play our game on defense rather than trying to alter what we normally do in order to stop Trinity's very talented guard. We might have done better against her had we not adjusted so much to contain her. That, combined with one of the poorest shooting games we have ever had, was simply too much to overcome. We hit only 1 three-point shot and no other shots more than 5 feet from the basket.

This game, and the whole tournament experience, highlights some of the great lessons that can be gleaned from sports. The whole range of human emotions can be experienced in athletics--you know, the "thrill of victory and agony of defeat" as well as everything in between. Life in a fallen world is filled with disappointment. Athletic competition gives you lots of opportunity to deal with disappointment on a relatively small scale. It also forces you to deal with issues of pride and humility, jealousy, frustration, anger, joy and sorrow. In this sense a state championship basketball game is really something like a labratory for life. The kinds of temptations, opportunities and pains that inevitably attend us in this life can be pressed on you in a microcosmic way in the span of 4 eight-minute quarters. Valuable lessons can be learned and those lessons can serve a person very well throughout life.

We learned--and will learn--some of those valuable lessons. Here are a few that occurred to me during a night filled with intermittent sleep.

  • The ball does not always bounce your way and your shots do not always fall, no matter how hard you practice or how badly you want it.
  • You do not always get the calls that you think you should get.
  • Despite your strongest resolve and determination, you are prone to doing things that you know are unwise.
  • It is possible not only to win to the glory of God but also to lose to His glory.
  • It is possible to play your best and yet not play well.
  • Disappointment is painful, but serves as a regular reminder that we were designed for something far better than life in a fallen world.
  • Basketball is really not that important. It is just a game; a great game! But a game, nevertheless.

This last lesson was driven home in a most poignant way to me just a few hours before the championship game. We received a phone call that one of the most gracious, gentle, godly men I have ever known had just "entered the land of the living" after a long bout with cancer. I had the great privilege of serving with Allen Harrison at Grace Baptist Church 2004-2005. He was our Associate Pastor. In the middle of that year he was diagnosed with cancer. His and his sweet wife, Roberta's, testimony during his suffering has been a gracious gift to me and to countless others. They came to our games and always had encouraging words for our girls. Several girls on the team were very close to him. We didn't tell them of his death until after the game. Life and death are real and forever. Basketball is just a game.

One final note, and forgive me for any improper pride that may be mixed in with the reporting of it. Every year the referees who call all the games in the tournament get together and decide which team should be given the "Christian Character" trophy. Their decision is based on attitude and demeanor that a team displays over the course of all the games. Our girls were awarded that trophy. The lead referee for the championship game pulled me aside after the game and said these words to me: "Coach, you have the classiest team in the tournament, boys or girls. They play with real class and are a great witness for Jesus Christ." That, along with whatever other success or accomplishment we have enjoyed this year, is all because of God's grace and all glory belongs to Him.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Lady Ambassadors in the finals!

With a tenacious defense and a fast break that would not quit, the Lady A's took another step toward the FCAA state championship in basketball.
The championship game is scheduled for 3:30 pm today. Since we will traveling home after the game, I may not be able to post the results till tomorow.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

FCAA update--Lady Ambassadors in theFinal Four

The Lady Ambassadors won their first round tournament game to advance to the Final Four. In the best game that we have played this year, every girl scored and played exceptionally well. Though I am undoutedly biased, I must say that the ladies put on an awesome display of teamwork and discipline in what turned out to be a decisive win. Our next game is this afternoon. Check ESPN for highlights. On second thought, if you want highlights, you better contact me for the home video we are making. :-) More later....

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Dr. Yarnell's gracious response

After Dr. Malcolm Yarnell preached the Founders Day address at Southwestern Seminary March 9, I received several emails alerting me to his comments and pointing me to the written form of it that was posted on the web. Once I read it, I emailed him and let him know I planned to write a review of it on my blog. I count Dr. Yarnell a friend. We have not had the opportunity to get to know one another very well, but all of my dealings with him have left me with the impression that he is a gracious servant of our Lord who desires to see Christ honored in His church and world. I agreed to let him know when the posts appeared so that he could read my comments for himself.

He has done that, and sent me the following email in response. As you can read, he granted permission to post it in its entirety. Dr. Yarnell's email is a fine example of how brothers ought to handle disagreements. What I have written has not changed his mind, or convinced him to restate his views differently. He thinks I am wrong at points. I think he is wrong at points. On many other points, we agree. You can tell by his gracious tone that he is not inclined to write me out of the kingdom, nor am I inclined to do so to him.

One of the great dangers of engaging in vigorous discussion on controversial, yet important, subjects is the ease of shifting away from analyzing issues and into judging motives. But, motives belong to God. He alone knows a person's heart. We may wonder at times what makes a man say or do what he does, but love hopes all things and demands that we give the benefit of the doubt where we can as long as we can. That does not mean that we give a man a pass on his words or actions simply because he meant well. But it does mean that we limit our critique to that which can be known and observed and leave that which cannot be known or observed to the only Omniscient Knower and Observer that there is.

Thanks, Dr. Yarnell, for your kind email. I have prayed for you and will continue to do so. And I encourage others to join me in taking your name and labors before the Lord. Oh...on catching the misspelled word, you can thank the homeschooling mom to whom I am married for that. I hope you are not unduly beseiged by your students! ;-) [EDIT: Dr. Yarnell did not misspell "besieged" in his paper. I misspelled it in my quoting of his paper; perhaps my wife will give me a remedial spelling course.]

Dr. Yarnell's email:

Dear Tom,

I haven't figured out how to blog successfully and regularly, so please forgive my using email yet once again. Perhaps I also have a hidden preference for dusty books and ancient manuscripts as I do for ancient pulpits and baptistries. Sadly, I just am not technologically savvy enough yet to remember all of the rules one must follow in this new and obviously exciting practice.

Your searching critique of my sermon on the Heart of a Baptist is especially appreciated. I am especially honored that you would devote three separate critiques to do it! (Did I really misspell "besiege"? Alas, my students will have no end of fun with that one. You have made my job more difficult, my friend!)

It is perceptible that there is much on which you and I agree: the importance of biblical and doctrinal proclamation, the necessity of regenerate church membership, etc. And there are some things which we would cast differently. One of our points of disagreement seems to be historical in nature: the roots of the SBC in both separate and regular Baptists, the lack of a widespread use of multiple and differentiated elders in our history, etc. This point of disagreement will be clarified and hopefully overcome with time.

Another point of disagreement may concern the use of invitations and altar calls. I have shared my response on this last issue with a colleague and mutual friend of ours whom I have given permission to disseminate my response. I hope we will overcome this disagreement, too. Indeed, I hope you will one day invite me to proclaim the Gospel in your pulpit and then allow me the grand privilege of extending an altar call.

After your critique, would I have changed anything in the sermon? No.

Do I covet your friendship and believe we should link hands together as faithful Southern Baptists for the furtherance of the Gospel? Yes.

Are some of the blogs I have read funny? Absolutely hilarious.

You are welcome to post this email in its entirety. Please pray for me as I have some major writing assignments and administrative duties on my desk to attend to now.

Your Brother In Christ,


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

FCCA State Tournament for Girls' Basketball

For the next three days I plan to be in Haines City, Florida for the 2006 Florida Christian Activities Association state basketball tournament. For the last 9 years I have had the privilege of coaching the Lee County Home School's girls varsity team. We are allowed to compete in a league of small Christian high schools that is divided into 4 regions throughout the state of Florida. We are the Southwest Regional champs this year.
Image hosting by Photobucket
The Lady Ambassadors are a great bunch of girls who would most likely not get to play on a high school team were it not for the LCHS athletic association. Every year I have had at least one daughter on the team. Most years--including this one--I have had two (guess which ones are mine). With my son playing on the boys' team, my two oldest girls serving as assistants, my youngest playing on the practice team (affectionately known as the "Haflings") and Donna handling many of the behind-scenes-logistics, this has become for us a real family affair.
Each Winter and Spring LCHS basketball has provided a great source of recreation and connecting with young people.

Of course, since all of life is theological, basketball cannot be fully appreciated until it is viewed theologically. 1 Corinthians 10:31 is our team verse: "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." This verse is the key to helping us to go all out in playing basketball without allowing it to become an idol. Eating and drinking are not very dramatic activities. In fact, they are very mundane. Yet, Paul specifically mentions them as examples of "whatever" we might do, admonishing us that even in eating and drinking, God's glory is to be our aim. The same holds true for basketball.

What I try to teach my girls is this: basketball is not very important. It's just a game. But if you are going to play it, you better play it to the glory of God. That includes doing your best, being respectful of your opponents, the referees, fans, coaches and teammates. It means learning to win and to lose graciously. And it means remembering that Jesus Christ lived and died to reconcile us to God, so that we can pursue our greatest joy by seeking His greatest glory.
All of this to say that I will probably not be blogging much the rest of the week. Our first game is scheduled for Thursday morning at 10 AM. If we win, we must play again Thursday afternoon at 4 PM. If we win that game, we are in the finals on Friday at 3 PM.

LifeWay responds about Centrifuge

I received the following letter, dated March 14, from Mark Marshall, who has responsibilities that include overseeing the work of Centrifuge for LifeWay. I am very grateful for his gracious letter. His gentle spirit and open acknowledgment of areas that need to be strengthened combine for an example of how Christian brothers should discuss matters of importance like this, even when we may not see exactly eye-to-eye. His words should have a calming effect on those who are extremely exercised over the material and on those who are extremely exercised that concerns have been raised about the material. As a pastor I find his letter refreshing and encouraging. Upon receiving it, I prayed for Mr. Marshall regarding the work that is before him. Let me encourage you to pray for him, as well.

March 14, 2006

Dear Dr. Ascol and the readers of Founder's Ministry blog:

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the comments that have been posted about the Centrifuge camps, specifically the
2006 Bible Study Leader Guide. As many of us at LifeWay reread "Thrill Ride," we agree with our critics that it not as theologically strong as it could be. As a result, we will intensify the upcoming 12-day training program for summer staffers to ensure that the doctrines of sin, God’s holiness, and the necessity of Christ's death, burial and resurrection are central to our teaching. In addition, we'll take a harder look at curriculum development for Centrifuge for the years ahead.

At the same time, it may prove helpful to provide a little context for the
Leader Guide and how it is used at Centrifuge, a summer camp for youth in grades 7-12. The Bible study is designed to present the foundational truths about Jesus Christ to young people from a broad spectrum of religious backgrounds – including the unchurched. Additional study tracks, worship, and individual consultation help us go deeper into the Biblical truths about the Person and work of Christ. The Leader Guide is part of a much larger whole.

We share with each of you a deep desire for Christ to be glorified in the changed lives of young people. And at Centrifuge, many lives are changed forever. Over the last three years, Centrifuge has recorded 18,862 decisions for Christ, including 2,869 professions of faith; 1,399 calls to Christian vocation; and nearly 14,600 rededications and other decisions. We thank God for the work He has done in the hearts of young people at Centrifuge.

Humbly in His service,

Mark Marshall

Director, Training and Events, LifeWay Church Resources

Malcolm Yarnell's "The Heart of a Baptist," pt. 3; an Appreciation, a Critique and a Concern

An Appreciation

Malcolm Yarnell is good guy. Though I don't know him well, what I do know of him I like. He has impressed me as a man who loves God and wants to use His gifts to help prepare men for vital ministry in local churches. Much that he has written in his paper is helpful and should be applauded by all truth loving Baptists. The tone with which he writes is a refreshing change from that which too often characterizes theological analysis and debate in our day. He obviously is not afraid to tackle sensitive doctrinal issues that confront modern Baptists. For all of these reasons I am grateful for his paper.

A Critique

I have woven some critique into the first two parts of my review and therefore will only highlight some of the issues that I believe need to be reconsidered. I share his burden to see Baptists--especially Southern Baptists--return to healthier spiritual pathways in our day. I also share some of his concerns about the barriers to such spiritual health. But I think that we may have some fundamental differences about the nature of the true, underlying problems that are confronting Baptists today. While I see hyper-Calvinism as a danger, I do not see it as real problem in the SBC today. Were I to categorize the doctrinal problems as I see them, semi-pelagianism, antinomianism, moralism, and a virtually doctrine-less pragmatism would be at the top of my list.

As important as these doctrinal issues are what alarms me even more about current SBC life might best be described as denominational pride. The triumphalistic spirit that seems to permeate many of our promotions and declarations is tremendously unhealthy because it stifles the kind of necessary self-criticism that is required for reformation to keep progressing and not stagnate. Such a spirit creeps in subtly and becomes almost imperceptible. I think there might even be hints of it in Yarnell's conclusion when he writes, "Oh! This Baptist heart is breaking for the loss of Baptist fidelity! Baptists, of whom Southern Baptists comprise the healthiest part, are beseiged (sic)" (my emphasis, 12). [EDIT: "besieged" is spelled properly in Yarnell's paper. The mistake is mine. -ta]

I simply do not believe that Southern Baptists have any room to lay claim to being the healthiest part of the Baptist family. Even if I did believe it, I don't think I would declare it so boldly without qualification. But, I question how any thoughtful observer of SBC life can really believe that. I will not recite the statistical analyses that are readily available and have been repeatedly addressed on this blog and elsewhere. Are we really ready to hold ourselves up as a healthy specimen to our fellow Baptists, much less to a watching evangelical world?

The lack of church discipline and shallow evangelism that results in a majority of "converts" showing no signs of life within a very short time--these are far greater problems in SBC churches than the Calvinism-Arminianism debate or any of the other perceived dangers mentioned by Yarnell.

A Concern

This is the second "white paper" that has been written by a Southern Baptist seminary administrator and posted on the internet in the last twelve months. The other one that I am aware of was authored by Steve Lemke, Provost of New Orleans Seminary (see part of my response to it here). Both of these papers misrepresented issues related to Calvinism and seem to go out of their way to warn against a perceived growing "hyper-Calvinism" in the SBC.

I genuinely appreciate both efforts. It is evident that both Lemke and Yarnell genuinely care about the spiritual health of the people called Southern Baptists. It is good that men in their positions think about such things and sense a responsibility to offer analysis, warning and instruction to Southern Baptists. I think that both are correct to recognize that the revival of the doctrines of grace in SBC life is growing and that this revival is the occasion of serious conflicts in certain sectors of the denomination. It is appropriate for this to be addressed and it is certainly appropriate for the foolishness and sinfulness of those who espouse the doctrines of grace to be rebuked and corrected. The pride of a Calvinist is worse than the pride of an Arminian because in the first case it completely betrays the very theological convictions that are being espoused. May the Lord never allow me to defend arrogant Calvinism--whether it is found in my own life or in the lives of my friends!

Granting that, there is a two-fold concern that haunts me when I read these white papers from respected academicians in the SBC. The first part, as I have already hinted at above, is that I think these efforts may ultimately have the opposite effect from that which their authors desire. Let me explain. Both have stated that they are concerned about the spiritual health of the SBC. Both have identified and addressed threats to that health. Yet, neither, in my estimation, avoids the mistake of ignoring the obvious and more dangerous threats in their efforts to identify other dangers. It is like the medical doctor who diagnoses dermatitis in his patient and proposes rigorous treatment while completely ignoring a rapidly growing tumor in the brain. While we may appreciate his concern, has he really served his patient well by not addressing that which will ultimately kill him?

The system that continuously produces and celebrates unregenerate church members is a cancer in the SBC. This is not a small problem. It is huge--so large, in fact, that I fear many pastors, professors and denominational leaders simply ignore it. Or if they acknowledge it they do so without the kind of alarm that it warrants. "Yes, there does seem to be a tumor in your brain, and it does seem to have grown over the last 25 years, but in my opinion your real problem is this rash on your arm."

Where are the theologians and denominational officials who are willing to stand up and state the obvious: if we are going to evaluate ourselves honestly by biblical standards, then we must conclude that what we are doing is not working! We say we believe in the Great Commission. But that is not really true. We believe in the Truncated Commission. We have rewritten it to sound something like this:

"Go, therefore, into all the world and make decisions."

Southern Baptists are not really all that interested in making disciples--not the kind of disciples that Malcolm Yarnell describes in his paper. For all of our talk to the contrary, we are not really concerned to teach disciples to observe everything that our Lord commands. We give that lip service, but the proof is in the pudding and the pudding is rotten. What we are doing is producing "converts" who are far more likely to become inactive church members than not. If General Motors produced cars in such a way that 60% of them quit operating within 12 months, they would be scorned by watchdogs and shut down by our government. Yet, when it comes to eternal souls and the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ, Southern Baptists seem content to give a passing nod to our abysmal evangelism and as a solution, create new campaigns to do more of the same! Instead of 400,000 such converts, let's baptize a million of them this year!

I am grieved. My heart breaks when I think about this. I lose sleep over it. Because Jesus warned that when the Pharisees traveled over land and sea to make one convert the actual result was that they made that person twice the son of hell as they themselves were (Matthew 23:15). That is my fear and the source of my broken heart as I survey the SBC. Too much of our evangelism is more like an inoculation against the Gospel than a presentation of it. And more people are being led to make a decision that ultimately leads them away from Christ, though baptized and on our church rolls, than lead them to Christ in faith.

Why don't those who express genuine concern for the spiritual health of the SBC see this?

The second aspect of my concern is that these two papers seem to look at the doctrines of grace as part of the problem--even a serious problem--rather than part of the solution. Southern Baptists were rocked in the theological cradle of Calvinism. That is a historical fact that may give some leaders indigestion, but it is irrefutable. The healthiest days of the SBC existed when our theological consensus regarding these doctrines was the strongest. The attacks--both subtle and frontal--against those who are returning to the faith of the Southern Baptist Convention's founders is grievous. I am not suggesting that everyone in official places is guilty of such attacks. Some are. But far more are guilty of silence in the face of such attacks. They know that the charges that are often leveled are not true. Yet, they remain silent because...well, only God truly knows their reasons. But it is grievous to witness.

Reformed theology, the doctrines of grace or historic Southern Baptist views of salvation did not get us into the spiritual mess we are presently in as a denomination. But large doses of this theological perspective can help lead us out. If, however, Calvinism continues to be assailed as a disease, then I fear that the brain tumor will ultimately kill the patient. He may die having a really good complexion, but he will be nonetheless dead.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Malcolm Yarnell's "The Heart of a Baptist," pt. 2; Is hyper-Calvinism really a problem in the SBC?

A surgeon must be a precisionist. When he takes the scalpel to the precious tissues of the human heart, it behooves him to make no mistakes: to move neither too fast nor too slow, too deep nor too shallow, too far to the right nor too far to the left. A surgeon must be extremely careful. Likewise, the Baptist theologian must be careful when excising those dangerous tissues which threaten to traumatize the Baptist heart.

However, surgery nevertheless is sometimes required. There comes a time when the danger of inaction is greater than the possible dangers of action. Now is a time for surgery. Please allow me to identify five critical issues or calcified tissues which threaten the Baptist heart (8).

With these words, Yarnell opens the third section of his paper in which he comments on current dangers to Baptist health. "Loss of biblical fidelity" is the first concern he raises and he wisely includes neglecting the Bible along with the commonly addressed malady of higher criticism. Failure to teach and learn the Bible is a much greater threat to Baptists than the frontal assault of liberal theology.

"The Second Critical Issue is the Calvinist-Arminian Debate" (9). Yarnell seems to applaud a "low-key" debate on these issues "which can be and is quite healthy" (9). Inexplicably, he immediately follows that acknowledgment with this statement: "However, the debate can become quite unhealthy when some Baptists demand that others advocate their particular position" (9). I don't know to whom he is referring but I feel certain that he is not criticizing the insistence on confessional fidelity required by our institutions and agencies. It would be helpful to know if this is merely theoretical or if there is some reference in mind. After distancing himself from both five-point Calvinism and Arminianism, he makes another inexplicable assertion, this time, as a fact: "Hyper-Calvinism is becoming a real problem in the Southern Baptist Convention" (9).

This is news to me. I don't profess to know all that is going on in the SBC, but I try to keep up with the various theological currents that exist and are emerging. I have several very astute conversation partners who share my concern about such matters. I would like to know exactly what Yarnell sees that causes him to make this assertion. Hyper-Calvinism is a very serious error. It is a doctrinal parasite that sucks the life out of vital Christianity where it takes hold. It should be resisted with courage and strength by all who love Christ and His church. Therefore, it should be exposed where it exists. So, I for one, would like to know where such miscreant theology is lurking and how it is manifesting itself in the SBC to the degree that it is becoming "a real problem."

Those of us who are evangelical Calvinists--or historic Southern Baptists--are used to being accused of hyper-Calvinism out of both ignorance and malice. Such accusations, though unhelpful and even painful, are easy to dismiss because, as Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, "The ignorant Arminian does not know the difference between a Calvinist and a hyper-Calvinist." But Dr. Yarnell is neither ignorant nor an Arminian. When he makes this accusation, it is worth hearing what he has to say. The problem is, he does not identify who these hyper-Calvinists are. Hopefully, he will do so soon.

Yarnell uses Timothy George's chapter on John Gill in Theologians of the Baptist Tradition to identify hyper-Calvinism. I think that he has misunderstood George and seriously misrepresented him at a key point. Yarnell writes:

According to Timothy George, hyper-Calvinism is defined doctrinally as the advocacy of eternal justification, ethically as the surrender to antinomianism, and evangelistically as the refusal to give an invitation.

This is not an accurate representation of what George has written. While interacting with the common and unjustified charge that Gill is the "paradigm of hyper-Calvinism," George offers an analysis of why this accusation is leveled. He writes, "On three distinct issues Gill's writings were taken to lend support to extreme views which appeared to undermine the necessity of conversion, the moral requirements of the Christian life, and the evangelistic mission of the church" (26). George is not offering a definition of hyper-Calvinism, but rather is offering insights into 3 areas of Gill's writings that have led some to charge him with hyper-Calvinism. George uses the terms "eternal justification" and "antinomianism" in his analysis. But you will search in vain to find the phrase, "refusal to give an invitation." That is Yarnell's terminology and it is not an accurate representation of what George actually has written: "The third issue on which Gill's hyper-Calvinist reputation is based was his presumed refusal to preach the gospel promiscuously to the lost" (27).

Whether wittingly or unwittingly, Yarnell has transposed George's carefully worded analysis into the idea that hyper-Calvinists refuse to "give an invitation." Now, imagine how this sounds to the congregations where this message has been preached (Criswell College, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention leadership and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Founders Day chapel). I dare say that most of his hearers associate Yarnell's "giving an invitation" with the modern practice of giving an altar call. Indeed, one gets the impression that this association may even be in Yarnell's mind as well by the way he continues to use the phrase.

It is the anti-invitation expression of hyper-Calvinism that currently challenges Southern Baptists. Now, it matters not exactly how you conduct the invitation, but we must treasure the divine command to be instruments in the calling of sinners to repentance and faith. The invitation is not to replace baptism, but an invitation to Christ is nonetheless necessary.

The Gospel is not properly preached unless it includes an invitation! But that invitation is to come to Christ, not to come to the front of a building to find Christ, or to raise a hand or sign a card or any other physical activity. There is no doubt that Yarnell knows and understands this distinction, but when he equates hyper-Calvinism with not "giving an invitation" and feels compelled to warn that "The invitation is not to replace baptism," then one is left to wonder just what is in his mind.

If not giving an altar call is tantamount to hyper-Calvinism, then Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, William Carey and John Calvin himself (to name only a few), are all guilty of this error. You could also add Rick Warren to this list.

In contrast to the declaration that "hyper-Calvinism is becoming a real problem" Yarnell also allows that "hyper-Arminianism can be a real problem in the Southern Baptist Convention" (9). Presumably, this is a mere hypothetical threat at this point.

In his conclusion to this section Yarnell states that the SBC has room for one-, two-, three-, four-, and five-point Calvinists although "a modest Calvinism [which he evidently equates with the Baptist Faith and Message's position] is preferable" (10).

A third threat that Yarnell identifies concerns "The Presbyterian and Quaker Threats to Baptist Ecclesiology" (10). The latter he equates with individualism and the former with "arguing for multiple elders, or a forced distinction between teaching and ruling elders" (10). Baptists have had elders in their history. The historical evidence is overwhelming at this point. Simply read the earlier editions of the Baptist Faith and Message. Even WB Johnson, the first president of the SBC, advocated elders in his The Gospel Developed (1846). He reiterates the point in a numbered summary: "1. That over each church of Christ in the apostolic age, a plurality of rulers was ordained, who were designated by the terms, elder, bishop, overseer, pastor, with authority in the government of the flock." A return to this kind of congregationally sensitive eldership is far from a threat. It is biblical and consistent with our heritage.

The fourth threat is lack of "Intentionally Orthodox Preaching." No argument from me here. Amen. I particularly appreciate his call for Trinitarian preaching that is appreciative of orthodox creeds and confessions.

The last threat he calls the "Loss of Missiological Clarity" (11). After rejecting the "Camel method" of witnessing, Yarnell rightly calls for bold, open discipleship on the mission fields. Included in that is believer's baptism.

Christians who do not practice baptism are simply not Great Commission Christians. Southern Baptist missionaries should firmly rebuke other missionaries who do not completely fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus said to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Without baptism the Great Commission remains unfulfilled (11)!

I am willing to grant that argument but, again, am left wondering why it is only selectively employed? Should it not be used with equal vigor about "making *disciples*" and "teaching them to *observe all things*" that Christ has commanded us? Why then doesn't Yarnell call upon his fellow Southern Baptists to "firmly rebuke" those pastors and denominational leaders who do not completely fulfill the Great Commission at these points?

I plan to offer one final analysis tomorrow on what Dr. Yarnell has written. This will include my final observations and reflections. Let me state very clearly, however, that I think he has provided Southern Baptists with another helpful opportunity to discuss doctrine in light of our identity as Baptists and a "people of the Book." For that we owe him a debt of gratitude.