Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dishonest Calvinists (?) and the call for integrity

Does anyone else find it troubling to hear what sounds like a growing chorus of criticism directed toward Calvinistic pastors who run into difficulties when trying to shepherd their congregations toward greater spiritual health? Mixed in with the criticism is a charge that such men have been dishonest in the way they have gone into their churches because they did not make an issue of Calvinism from the very outset. Perhaps this can be legitimately said for a few, but they would be the exceptions and not the norm. Why, then, all the criticism?

The now-defunct baptistfire.com carried this 2004 quote from Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:
When you are called to a church, be sure that you are a man of integrity and you disclose your full theological position to the church to which you are called. Many a church has called a pastor only to find, only to discover, a couple of years in, that he is determined to take the church in the direction of a Calvinistic church. He never told them that up front. He may even have deliberately misled them. One of my sorrows in hiring professors across these years is that I've often asked that question and gotten a misleading answer and found out later that this man was in the classroom perpetuating the system of Calvinism.
More recently Dr. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, made the same accusation in a recent article that appeared in SBC Life. One of the 6 suggestions he makes to Southern Baptists for responding to the rising controversies surrounding Calvinism is this:
Act with personal integrity in your ministry when it comes to this issue. Put your theological cards on the table in plain view for all to see, and do not go into a church under a cloak of deception or dishonesty. If you do, you will more than likely split a church, wound the Body of Christ, damage the ministry God has given you, and leave a bad taste in the mouth of everyone. Let me give an example. I am pre-tribulational/premillennial in my eschatology. It would be inappropriate for me to interview with a church and continue the discussion if I discovered that it was committed to an amillennial position.

Now, let me address our topic. If a person is strongly committed to five-point Calvinism, then he should be honest and transparent about that when talking to a church search committee. He should not hide behind statements like "I am a historic Baptist." That statement basically says very little if anything and it is less than forthcoming. Be honest and completely so. If it is determined you are not a good fit for that congregation, rejoice in the sovereign providence of God and trust Him to place you in a ministry assignment that is a good fit. God will honor such integrity.
Even more recently Dr. Frank Page, pastor of First Baptist Church of Talors, South Carolina and an announced candidate for the presidency of the SBC, was quoted by Baptist Press as making these comments:
Noting that Reformed pastor John Piper's books are among the most read books on seminary campuses, Page said the movement is huge and growing -- "bigger than Texas," he stated. "We must have honesty about this issue. There are churches splitting across the convention because pastors are coming in quietly trying to teach Calvinism or Reformed theology without telling the pastor search committees where they stand. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are not Calvinistic in their theology and it's causing some serious controversy."
Years ago liberals made the same kind of charges against Dr. Al Mohler after he became president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was accused of destroying the seminary, wounding the body of Christ and hijacking one of our prized institutions in an attempt to push his Calvinistic agenda. I defended Dr. Mohler then just as I am compelled to defend many unjustly criticized pastors now. Though the source and target of the criticism is different now than then, the substance, curiously, is the same.

Nine years ago, in response to editorial that attacked Dr. Mohler for precisely these reasons, I issued a press release to Baptist Press. Here is part of what I wrote at that time:
Mark Wingfield is very upset by the fact that after many years Southern Seminary once again has a president and some professors who actually believe the doctrines of grace. Though this is true, it should be clear to anyone who looks beyond the surface that Al Mohler has no agenda to promote five-point Calvinism. What he obviously is doing, however, is restoring doctrinal and ethical integrity to the seminary by rescuing the Abstract of Principles (which the seminary's professors have signed since 1859) from the ash heap of liberalism onto which it had been cast for most of this century and restoring it to its rightful place. This document forms the doctrinal covenant between our mother seminary and the denomination it serves.
While granting the fact that there are, no doubt, exceptions, in the great majority of cases that I know about where Calvinistic pastors have encountered turmoil in their efforts to preach and teach God's Word, it was not because of Calvinism. It was because of biblical Christianity. Calvinism tends to be the tail on which the donkey of controversy is pinned, but the real culprit is the erosion of real biblical Christianity that has occurred over the last generation or more in many of our churches.

The situation that Dr. Mohler inherited at Southern Seminary 12 years ago is very similar to situations that many historic Southern Baptist (despite what Dr. Akin says, this is a proper description of modern Southern Baptists whose theological convictions are in harmony with the views of the founders of the SBC) pastors face when going into a typical SBC church. Dr. Patterson made this insightful and telling observation about the state of many Southern Baptist churches:
Regrettably I have to believe that anytime you stand up and face a congregation these days in the average church you're looking at 30-40% that have never been born again and are not genuinely saved.
He is talking about the people who have actually showed enough initiative to be part of the regular Sunday morning congregation, which it typically less than half of the membership!

If a man tries to introduce a biblical ministry into such a situation does it not stand to reason that there might indeed be some controversy along the way? When the Word of God begins to be taught and followed, those who have no appetite for it--and who have been not only allowed but encouraged to live happily in the church without it--will inevitably feel threatened, deceived and even "lied to" by the preacher. The reason is not Calvinism, but because of the strong reaction of godlessness to biblical Christianity, just as we saw happen at Southern Seminary with the changing of the guard a dozen years ago.

Should not that fact, coupled with the wisdom that recognizes that the proper goal of a genuinely Reformed ministry is not to "Calvinize" a church but to "Christianize" it more and more, lead a man who candidates for a church to emphasize his commitment to biblical Christianity more than to a theological system? This is not dishonesty. It is wisdom. It is just like saying, "I prefer to be called a biblical theologian rather than a Calvinist." I wonder if the above quoted critics would critize a minister who makes that statement?

The sad reality is that most Southern Baptist churches do not have much ability to discuss theological issues, even with their pastoral candidates. Dr. Akin uses the analogy of his commitment to pre-tribulational premillennialism, claliming that it would be "inappropriate" to seek a position in a church that was committed to amillennialism. Agreed. But that is a very cut-and-dried situation that, as most pastors know, rarely occurs in SBC churches. Let's make the example more realistic. What if he interviewed with a church that had pre-tribulationalism as a part of its church constitution and statement of faith, but had drifted away from that over the last 50 years? What if everytime he raised the question with the search committee, deacons, and everyone else he met in the process that all he got back were blank stares and a mumbled, "we just believe the Bible; we just want someone to preach the Bible?" Would integrity demand that in this kind of scenario that he withdraw his name?

Or what about a church that had a solid statement of faith regarding the authority of Scripture but had been led by a liberal pastor for the last 20 years. Would he feel compelled, as an inerrantist, to withdraw his name from consideration as a matter of integrity?

I am not at all suggesting that a pastoral candidate refuse to speak plainly with a search committee or church regarding theological commitments. But the reality is that most churches--including their search committees--are not very equipped to have that kind of conversation. Should the details of Calvinism--or pre-tribulational rapturism--be spelled out anyway, even though there is no understanding of the language, categories or constructs? Or would it be wiser to stick with biblical categories, language and constructs? When a man does the latter for the purpose of communicating as clearly as he can I find it disheartening to hear Southern Baptist leaders criticize him as being dishonest.

Furthermore, these kinds of criticisms expose the completely untenable position in which some Southern Baptist leaders place their Calvinistic brethren in the SBC. If we openly describe ourselves as Calvinists, we are accused of "wearing our Calvinism on our sleeves" and are admonished to stop doing this. If we speak in terms of wanting to recover biblical Christianity or the theological vision of the founders of the SBC we are accused of being deceitful and dishonest. When the same men level both criticisms it is a sure indicator that something more is going on than a quest for integrity and it causes their critiques to ring hollow.

Yes, let's insist on integrity, not only from Calvinistic Southern Baptist pastors, but also from non-Calvinistic Southern Baptist pastors. And let's not limit this call only to pastors, but let's expand it to include everyone in SBC life, even denominational leaders.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul on Accommodation

A couple of days ago David Young made this observation about my comments on 1 Corinthians 9:22b:
Now that we have heard what the text is NOT about, I'm curious to know what Dr. Ascol believes the text IS about. He wrote that he believes there needs to be some reconsidering, so how about another post??
Fair enough. Below are comments I made on that text in the course of a larger treatment on biblical accommodation that I prepared several years ago. They still represent my thinking. Paul's attitude and example in this area are a tremendous challenge to me. Love for Christ and love for people should lead us, like it led him, to go as far as we possibly can under Christ for the purpose of seeing people saved.

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul personalizes his teachings on the exercise of Christian liberty. He speaks with full confidence of his freedom to take a wife, even though he does not take one. He is free to receive a salary, but he does not do that, either. He willingly gives up those things that are rightfully his as Christ's free man for the sake of preaching the gospel. In vv. 19-23 he begins to sum up his point by describing his own practice in this area. He formulates a principle that governs all his conduct as a gospel minister. And in so doing he outlines for us what we could call the doctrine of accommodation.

Where he encountered prejudices that resulted from ignorance, misunderstanding, or custom, Paul accommodated himself to them by willingly giving up things which he knew to be indifferent.

Having assured his readers in 1 Corinthians 9 that he is without question Christ's free man, he goes on in 1 Corinthians 9:19b - 22a to express his conviction regarding appropriate Christian conduct.

That conduct can be summarized by the word, "accommodation." That word has taken on rather negative connotations in our day. It tends to be equated with compromise. That is not the way that I am using, however. I would make a sharp distinction between compromising what God has revealed in His Word and accommodating others where we can for the sake of gaining a hearing for the Gospel. In the latter part of 1 Corinthians 9:19 we see the extent of Paul's accommodation. He says, "though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all."

Is Paul saying that he submitted himself once again to the slavery from which Christ had set him free? Hardly. He is not saying that, having been freed by Christ from the whims and notions of man, he now places himself in bondage to them a second time.
Paul refuses to budge one inch in giving up the essence of the liberty that he has in Christ before God. But he is more than willing freely to restrict the exercise of his Christian liberty before men.

It is vitally important to distinguish between the essence of our liberty before God, and the exercise of that liberty before men. There is an important difference between Christian liberty and the use of Christian liberty.

In his commentary on 1 Peter, ,John Brown helps understand this further when he writes, "Christian liberty is an internal thing–it belongs to the mind and conscience, and, has a direct reference to God. The use of Christian liberty is an external thing–it belongs to conduct, and, has reference to man. No consideration should prevail upon us for a moment to give up the essence of our liberty, but, many a consideration should induce us to forego the practical assertion or display of our liberty."

Do you see that distinction? Paul would not give up his liberty before God, but he willingly and freely chose not to exercise his liberty in certain circumstances with certain people if doing so might enable him to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to them. This principle explains the apostle's meaning. Even though he knew himself to be Christ's free man, with regard to the use of his freedom he acted as if he were a slave.

He describes his actions in relation to 3 groups of people: to the Jews who were under the law; to the Gentiles who were without the law; and to the weak or overly scrupulous Christians (cf. 8:9-12).

With regard to the Jews, Paul did not hesitate to participate in certain Jewish customs (treating them as nonobligatory indifferent things) for the sake of gaining a hearing with the Jews. At least three times in the book of Acts we see him doing exactly what he says he is willing to do here. In Acts 21, Paul goes to Jerusalem, and after conferring with the leaders there in that church, discovered there were some who were accusing him of preaching against the law of Moses. Some of the brethren were about to undergo a purification rite. Paul agrees to undergo that Jewish rite with them and even to pay the tax that was due for it. This is an act of accommodation. We see it also in Acts 18 when a vow being taken at Cenchrea to shave his head was fulfilled. He was willing to accommodate this Jewish ceremony. Then in the opening verses of Acts 16, when he was ready to embark on his second missionary journey, he wants to take a young man with him. Yet, this young man had not been circumcised. So Paul circumcised Timothy and took him along. To the Jews, he says, "I became as a Jew, as one under the law."

To the Gentiles, in verse 21, those without the law, he identified with them by showing himself to be truly free from the civil and ceremonial requirements of Judaism. He did not take any advantage at all of his Jewish heritage at their expense. He never lorded his spiritual advantages over them.

Then in verse 22, with regard to those who are weak in conscience, knowledge, or faith, he was willing to act and live as if he himself were weak for their sake. He was willing to eat no meat to gain them for Christ. He was willing to forego his liberties in this area. He was willing to be a vegetarian, if need be, for the sake of preaching the gospel to them.

Paul was willing to go to great lengths to accommodate. But we should not conclude from this that there were no boundaries to his accommodation. In verse 21, in the parenthetical comment, the apostle tells us that indeed there are limitations--important limitations. There is a fence around Paul's field of accommodation. He says that he is not "anomous theou, alla ennomous Christou" (genitive case, as opposed to the TR which has it in dative case).

Paul would go as far as his freedom would permit, but he would not transgress the standards of God ("God" and "Christ" should not be pitted against one another as if Paul is referring to two different standards). Though he would readily accommodate himself to all men, where he might do so lawfully, for the purpose of gaining some, he would violate no laws of Christ to please or humor any man.

His accommodating conduct was limited by the precepts of God's Word. He often denied himself and resigned his own rights for the good of others, but he would not sin against his God nor give up the rights of his King to save the soul of another. Here is where Anselm gets his thesis that the slightest sin can never be justified even if by committing it the whole world would be saved. This is why Paul could not circumcise Titus--it would have meant denying the gospel by giving in to the legalistic demands of the Judaizers.

Accommodation is not possible when the truth of God's Word is at stake. When the battle lines are drawn (either by you or by someone else) over the revealed precepts or principles of God's Word, the Christian only has 2 options, and accommodation is not one of them. He may contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, or he may compromise. In such matters you are not free. For you, like Paul, are subject to the law of Christ. To compromise is to break that law. Accommodation must end where biblical precept and principle begin.

After expressing his comprehension of his freedom in Christ and outlining his convictions on accommodation, Paul concludes this paragraph in 1 Corinthians 9 with a concise statement of the principle of accommodation. In the last part of verse 22, he says, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." Paul is not advocating a convictionless Christianity with these words. Rather, he is saying, "I will accommodate as many as I can as far as is lawfully allowable." In this statement, he is giving to us the purpose of accommodation. He says, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some."

Paul lays down this principle of accommodation with one end in sight: the salvation of sinners. Spurgeon said that in his day, some ministers he knew took this verse to read: "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save a sum." That is not what Paul means by this at all. He is burdened for the salvation of sinners. And this includes not only those who are presently outside of Christ, but also weak believers whose consciences are still bound due to ignorance or misunderstanding. Both classes are, I believe, referred to in 1 Corinthians 14:16, 23, 24 where Paul distinguishes between "unbelievers" and the "uninformed" (idiotes). The gospel minister must conduct himself with the awareness that such people are indeed among us in the church.

Paul gives us not only his burning passion and purpose for accommodation in this statement of the principle, but he also gives us the motive behind his accommodation. In verse 23, he says, "now this I do for the gospel's sake that I may be a partaker of it with you." "For the sake of the gospel," Paul says, "I am motivated to accommodate the weaknesses of the weak, the Jewishness of the Jews, and the unceremonialness of the Gentiles." He wants to be of service to the gospel of Christ."

How does Paul's accommodating activity benefit the gospel" He certainly does not benefit its truthfulness (it does not become more true). Neither does he benefit it in its power to save (it is not more inherently powerful). Rather, Paul's practice of accommodation benefits the gospel in the same way that a holy life adorns the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:10). Such practice demonstrates something of the character of those who have been vitally changed by that gospel. The practice of accommodation manifests the spirit and the savor of the gospel and gives the gospel an opportunity to be heard.

There is a character of life that is commensurate to the gospel. The desire to live such a life, Paul says, is what motivated him to practice accommodation. Do you think it was easy for Paul, having been delivered from the bondage of Judaism and all of those customs and details that kept assailing him and weighing him down, to go back in to his Jewish brothers and live as a Jew? It could not have been easy for him to accommodate their bondage to all of their traditions and customs. He knew and had tasted the liberty that is in Christ Jesus, but he was willing to forego the exercise of that liberty with his Jewish brothers in order to preach the gospel to them. He passionately desired to win some and that is why he was willing to become as a Jew to the Jews.

Paul does not want to conduct his ministry in a way that is inconsistent with gospel he preaches. He is concerned not only for the truth of the gospel, but also for its spirit. We, like Paul, must also be concerned to manifest that spirit of the gospel. He knew the utter inconsistency of trying to proclaim a self-giving Savior while living a self-serving, self-seeking life.

The Puritan John Flavel said this, "A crucified stile [style] best suits the preachers of a crucified Christ." It was this very point that had captured the apostle's heart. Paul wanted his life to be compatible with his message. He did more than just pay lip service to his own exhortation in Philippians 2:3-8:
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
By a crucified, self-sacrificial life Paul consciously sought to exude the spirit of the gospel in the way he conducted himself toward others. Not only did he proclaim the gospel, his life reeked of its savor.

How far should we go in accommodating the people to whom we minister? What about our colleagues--some of whom at times act and talk in ways that assault our theological sensitivities? How far should we go? As far as the law of Christ will allow. As far as we possibly can without violating either God's Word or our own conscience. How should we go to relate to the ignorant, uninstructed, weak believer? Should we not try to accommodate his or her weakness . . . for the gospel's sake?

Listen to the words of John Calvin on this point:
Now, if we consider how great a man Paul was, who stooped this far, ought we not to feel ashamed–we who are next to nothing in comparison with him–if, bound up in self, we look with disdain upon the weak, and do not deign to yield up a single point to them?
How many conflicts have occurred in our churches because of our unwillingness to accommodate the weak sheep of the flock? How many wounds have been inflicted upon Christ's Church because of the failure of God's ministers at this point?

May God help us not only to minister the Gospel, but also to do so in the spirit of the gospel.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

With an endorsement like this, why even hold an election?

With all of the talk surrounding the endorsement of candidates for the SBC presidency this article on Florida politics helps give some perspective.

Landmarkism and the SBC

Gene Bridges has begun to post online the text of his recently printed volume on Landmarkism. The full title is, A Condensed History of Landmarkism in the Southern Baptist Convention with Particular Reference to Baptism and the International Mission Board in the Present Day (Gene is a graduate of the Jonathan Edwards School of book titles!). This booklet has some excellent material in it that would benefit any Southern Baptist who wants to be educated about Landmarkism before the upcoming SBC meeting in Greensboro.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Maybe the best $10 you will ever spend

G. Burch left this comment (completely off subject) on a previous thread:
Tom,
Ten dollars to hear you speak at a breakfast? What's up with that? There's a guy (who will remain anonymous at this time) who is going to be in the room next to you wrestle his deacons in a cage match then give the spirtual application for only 8.99. I'm going to that one Tom!
Well, I have to agree that $10.00 to hear me speak would be a ripoff! But, I am not the speaker at the upcoming Founders Breakfast in Greensboro, NC. Mark Dever is and I assure you, he is worth every penny.

Mark is the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. He is also the author of numerous books and the founder of 9 Marks Ministry. On Tuesday morning, June 13, before the opening session of the Southern Baptist Convention, Mark will be speaking on "Election, the Gospel and Evangelism."

Granted, it's not quite a cage-wrestling match, and it does cost a tad bit more than $8.99, but you do get a breakfast thrown in with the deal. Besides, preachers wrestling with deacons is not all that unusual in the SBC. But how often do you get to hear an honest treatment of the biblical doctrine of election at one of our annual meetings? :-)

This is simply one more reason to make plans to be in Greensboro for the SBC. Tickets are available online, but only for a couple of more weeks.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Godcasting

When technology trumps ecclesiology, it is one more sign that Neil Postman is right: we are living in a Technopoly. Read about the arrival of technochurch.

HT: Slice of Laodicea

Thursday, May 18, 2006

All things to all men

I noted yesterday that 1 Corinthians 9:22 (at least part of it) is often used to justify all kinds of activities done in the name of evangelism. But when Paul expresses his evangelistic passion to us in showing us just how far he is willing to go ("I have become all things to all men that by all means I might save some"), he is not arguing for an "anything goes" approach to evangelism. Specifically, he is not suggesting that it is OK to become a prostitute in order to win prostitutes or a murderer in order to win murderers. Granted, these are absurd examples, but they illustrate the point that this statement cannot be taken as a license to warrant anything and everything done in the name of evangelism.

Look at what the Apostle actually says:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. (1 Cor. 9:19-23, NKJV)
Notice that Paul very carefully guards against an "anything goes" mentality by what he says parenthetically in verse 21. He is under the law of Christ! He is not free to do anything he wants (or as it is sometimes put, "whatever it takes") for the sake of seeing people saved. He is Christ's man and must live according to the law of His Lord. He will not sin in the attempt to get people saved. He will not act in a way that is unworthy of Gospel for that purpose either.

I am convinced that it is at just this point that many Christians--including Christian leaders--go astray in their well-intended but misguided zeal to do outlandish, even unscrupulous things to see people converted or to grow a church. They have lost sight of God's law and, consequently, of the seriousness of sin. They see the noble goal of getting people converted, and assume that "whatever it takes" is OK in pursuing it. When challenged about the biblical appropriateness of their methods, the argument tends to be, "but look at the results."

Paul's testimony in Romans 7:13 needs to be reconsidered. He describes one purpose of the law by saying that it functions so that "sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful." The law is a transcript of God's character. His holiness is displayed in His moral commandments. If we would remember His holiness and regularly remind ourselves of the sinfulness of sin we would shrink from any activity that would violate His standard of righteousness, no matter how noble the goal.

Anselm of Canterbury, the 11th & early 12th century theologian, understood this as well as anyone. He expressed it well in his classic book, Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man), when he puts the following line of questions to Boso:
ANSELM. So as not to make you tarry longer: what if it were necessary either for the whole world and whatever is other than God to perish and be reduced to nothing, or for you to do so small a thing which is contrary to the will of God?

BOSO. When I consider the action itself, I see it to be something trifling. But when I reflect upon the fact that it is contrary to the will of God, I recognize that it is something extremely grave and comparable to no loss. However, we are often irreproachable in acting against someone's will, so that his possessions are safeguarded; afterwards, our having done this pleases the one against whose will we have acted.

ANSELM. This happens to a man who sometimes does not understand what is useful to him, or who cannot replace what he loses; but God has no needs, and even as He has created all things, so He could also replace them if they were to perish.

BOSO. I must admit that even for the sake of preserving the whole of creation, it is not the case that I ought to do something which is contrary to the will of God.

ANSELM. What if there were more than one world, full of creatures, just as this world is?

BOSO. If there were an infinitely multiple number of worlds and they too were exhibited to me, I would still give the same answer.

ANSELM. You can do nothing more rightly.
If given the opportunity to commit the smallest sin in order to save the whole world, would you do it? Anselm--and Paul--says no. The detraction from the glory of God that even a "slight sin" causes is far too wicked to be justified by the salvation of the whole world or a world of worlds.

This is a litmus test by which we can judge our commitment to the glory of God above all things and the reality of our love for Him above all other loves. Yet, I wonder how many evangelicals in our day see it this way.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"A Match Made in Heaven"?

That's the title of the article in the May 8, 2006 issue of ESPN The Magazine. The double-page, full color introduction to the article is a racy picture of 2 women (?) wrestlers in a ring, one standing over the other, about to kick her. The kickee is holding the ropes, grimmacing and in obvious need of more clothing. A pull-out quote next to the women says this:
BORN-AGAIN WRESTLING LEGEND TED DiBIASE IS SAVING SOULS ONE SMACKDOWN AT A TIME
There is so much in the article, written by Allison Glock, that warrants comment that I must necessarily limit myself or else someone will think that Gene Bridges really wrote this entry. :-)

First, the story indicates that a real conversion to Jesus Christ took place in Mr. DiBiase's life. Glock writes that in 1992, while at the top of his profession, DiBiase (aka "The Million Dollar Man" [MDM]) turned from a very sordid and opulent lifestyle to following Christ. One can only rejoice at this testimony of saving grace. The obvious zeal that MDM has to see people converted is also wonderfully encouraging.

Out of his love for the Lord and for wrestling, he founded the Power Wrestling Alliance, an independent league that "doubles as a Christian ministry." The league's stated purpose is "to get souls saved." To that end they host wrestling events in local churches, charging a one time fee and then allowing the church to keep "all the proceeds from tickets and concessions."
Initially, people thought he was crazy, MDM admits. "They couldn't see how wrestling and religion connected. But they've come around the idea of having a ring in their sanctuary."

Their promoter, Bobby Riedel distinguishes the PWA from other Christian wrestling organizations by noting, "We do upscale.... We have lighting. Smoke. High standards. It isn't a boring, hokey show because it's Christian. If WWE can have the best, why can't God's people? The Bible says to be fishers of men. We say you need some good bait. And the bait we use is wrestling." At least he is honest.

The show ends with a reenactment of the crucifixion that is realistic enough to make children cry and turn away. Then MDM takes the microphone to preach, or as he puts it, "to wrestle with you." After he spends half an hour speaking, he gives what Glock rightly identifies as "an altar call" to join him in the ring. On the night that she was researching this article, many come. In fact, she writes, "almost all the remaining audience members file down to join him at the ropes, heads tilted skyward, hearts pounding, arms outstretched. Autograph books in hand."

The article is actually surprisingly sympathetic to DiBiase and his PWA. 1 Corinthians 9:22 is cited in the article ("I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some"). That is a key (partial) verse in thinking about what evangelism. But too often it is used as if it were a theological justification for Joseph Fletcher's situation ethics where the end justifies the means rather than a principled approach to compassionate evangelism.

Overall, this article is one more indicator of how confused we are as modern evangelicals. DiBiase's zeal is so obviously commendable. But it is equally obvious that it is a zeal without vital knowledge.

Tomorrow I plan to pick up on this last point and complete my thoughts.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

When your email absolutely, positively has to be private

Marty Duren sent me an email today using this service. With all of the concern about "private" emails, I suggest you give it a try. And if you ever decide to exchange emails among 4-6 people to work out arrangements on a public debate, by all means use it! It could just save your reputation. Of course, it can't do anything for your character, but it might keep its more unsavory dimensions from being exposed, at least for a little while.

Listen to Today's Dividing Line at 2 PM Eastern Time

Dr. James White has invited me to be his guest on Today's Dividing Line. It is a webcast program that you can listen to live or later by accessing the archived file. The show allows for listeners to call and comment. The phone number is (602) 973-4602 (Metro Phoenix) and 1-877-753-3341 (Toll Free).
I don't know what we will talk about, since everything is so quiet and calm in my theological and ecclesiastical world. Maybe Dr. White wants to ask me about the superiority of Macs over PCs. :-) At any rate, it should be interesting.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Update on the Caner "debate"

I have resisted posting anything about the prospective "debate" between Drs. Ergun and Emir Caner and Dr. James White and me over the last few weeks because I did not want to do anything that would muddy the waters as we were trying to work out details regarding format, thesis, length, protocol, etc. Silly me. I have finally been completely disabused of every delusion I previously entertained that the Caners were interested in a genuine exchange of ideas for the purpose of clarifying points on which we agree and on which we disagree regarding the doctrine of salvation.
While it is certainly true that love hopes all things even love cannot deny reality. And the reality is that Dr. Ergun Caner, and to a lesser degree his brother, have engaged in some of the most bombastic, mean-spirited obfuscation that I have ever experienced in any attempt to communicate about matters of the Christian faith. For the last several weeks, I have refrained from allowing myself to make that judgment because I kept hoping that at some point Dr. Ergun Caner would tire of his game and would deal honestly and respectfully with the repeated requests to finalize details in appropriate and mutually agreeable terms. After last night, I am convinced that such hopes were a mere pipe dream. Dr. White has posted the entirety of the email exchange (the bulk of which is between him and Dr. Ergun Caner as spokesmen for each side) on his website. Warning: it is not for the faint of heart nor for those who would like to believe that the top administrators of Liberty Baptist Seminary and The College at Southwestern Baptist Seminary are gracious, considerate men or that they sincerely want to debate the issues involved in our disagreements (of course, anyone who read their flamethrowing comments on this blog in February should harbor no such delusions). Furthermore, if you intend to read the whole exchange, you will need a large chunk of time.
Dr. White provides the details and he and I will be discussing this tomorrow on his Dividing Line program. Let me simply reveal the convoluted thesis that Drs. Caner are insisting we debate:
Resolved: That God is an Omnibenevolent God to all of humanity through salvation and opportunity.
Now, if you can explain exactly what is being asserted here, please let me know. We have repeatedly asked for such an explanation from the Caners and--as has been the case with numerous other questions--have been completely stonewalled all the while being accused of exercising "delay tactics" and having our willingness to debate questioned. Read the correspondence. It really is amazing.
As it now stands, the "debate" is set for October 16 at the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. They style that they have insisted on (finally, after much prodding that some formal style be adopted) is "Parliamentarian," which is based on the type of debate that characterizes the British House of Commons. Thus far, the Caners have not insisted that we be required to speak with British accents (though maybe we could persuade Dr. White to wear his kilt!).

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Losing the Gospel in the quest for relevance

Often we hear the charge that the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be repackaged to each succeeding generation or else it will become "irrelevant." Usually the argument for this approach includes language or ideas similar to this: "it's the message that is important, not the methods;" or "while the message in non-negotiable, the methods we use to communicate that message are neutral and very much negotiable."
This seems to be the rationale behind "Toon Town" that Dale Hudson helped bring to the children's ministry at FBC of Springdale. He is quoted as saying, "Putting a talking head in front of kids for an hour doesn't work" and going on to argue for the techno-wizardry that characterizes the Toon Town design.
Pragmatism has an element that is very commendable. We ought to desire to do "what works." But when that desire is unhinged from a full-orbed appreciation of what in fact constitutes successful "working," then, in the realm of Christian life and ministry, the Word of God can be sbutely undermined even while we loudly claim to be upholding it.
Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the realm of preaching (or lack of preaching) in evangelical churches today. 1 Corinthians 1:21 and 2 Timothy 4:1-5 leave no doubt about the primacy of preaching in the life and ministry of the church. But when one judges that "putting a talking head in front of kids for an hour doesn't work," the result is that God's Word is ruled irrelevant on pragmatic grounds.
And methods are never neutral. For an entertaining as well as educational treatment of this, read Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. For a simple illustration of how untenable that argument is, the next time some one tries to convince you that the medium doesn't matter, that all we need to be concerned with is the message, ask them to communicate Handel's Messiah to you via smoke signals. It can't be done. Something inevitably gets lost in the translation.
That is true with many of the supposedly "relevant" methods that are being employed by churches today for the sake of communicating the Gospel. Too often what gets lost is the Gospel itself. Consider this story from ESPN The Magazine (May 22, 2006, p. 34). It had the title, "Sweat Redemption."
On Easter Sunday a crow-black 1997 Goodwrench stock car sat in the parking lot at Bayside Community Church in Brandenton, Fla., as nearly 1000 people braved a long line to get their picture taken standing next to it. This was quite a gathering: the three-year old church drew twice as many worshipers as for a typical Sunday service.
Easter is the most popolar day to go to church in America, so perhaps all the extra people were called by a higher power, or a guilty conscience. Or maybe some of them worship NASCAR (this is Florida, after all). Whatever the reasons, Bayside achieved its goal: more people in the pews. The show car, of course, was made famous by Dale Earnhardt Sr., who drove this particular whip at Richmond, Martinsville, Phoenix and Loudon. Bayside rented the ride from RCR Racing for upward of $3,000. Lead pastor Randy Bezet even wrote a sermon inspired by the car. After listening to The Race of Life ("Sometimes in life we need a pit stop, we need to get our wheels changed, to get refueled, and when you're going around the track, you can't do it alone"), each congregant received a ticket for the once-in-a-lifetime photo op. They were also encouraged to return the next Sunday to pick up their pics. "On Sundays, any church competes against going to the beach or football games or watching NASCAR," says Gregg Ellery, a church volunteer who handed out NASCAR memorabilia to the folks in line. "I think churches today ar more aware of this competition. We just want to stay relevant...." [article by Justin Heckert]
Relevant? Perhaps. But at what cost and to what purpose?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Should agency heads endorse SBC presidential candidates?


Dr. Paige Patterson has publicly endorsed Dr. Ronnie Floyd, who will be nominated for the presidency of the SBC when the convention meets next month in Greensboro. Patterson is the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. The propriety of this kind of political advocacy by a president of one of our institutions has been roundly criticized by many in the blogosphere.

Yesterday, Dr. Morris Chapman weighed in on the question. Chapman, who is the president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, questions the prudence of such a move. I am not convinced by all of his arguments or conclusions, but I greatly appreciate his willingness to enter the conversation and the spirit with which he does so. The points he raises certainly merit consideration. Here is a nugget from his insights:


Today political strategies, agendas, and power politics threaten to distract us from empowered possibilities of a people who rely solely upon God's guidance. We are drawn to do things as the world does them. To lose power from above all too often drives us to generate artificial power of our own making. We can intellectualize the Word of God 'til the cows come home and Christ reigns supreme upon the earth, but the more we attempt to do in our own power, the less we shall know the power of God. Our strength pales in comparison to the Christ who arose from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father.


This resonates with my own thinking. One of the dangers of caring about who is elected president of the SBC (and I think it is right for every Southern Baptist to care) is to start (or continue) relying on political prowess rather than on the power of God. This does not mean that I think political involvement is inherently sinful or should be avoided. It simply means that there is an inherent danger in putting our hopes in a political process rather than God. It is a small step from that error to a greater one--to begin to justify unrighteous attitudes and actions in the name of political expediency and what is judged to be a worthy goal.

But it is never right to do wrong in order to do right--no matter what the cause.

The question that Chapman has raised is an important one. It should be considered and discussed--even debated. But that conversation should not be allowed to denigrate into raising questions about motives or personalities. There is enough in the issue itself to warrant serious dialogue.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Floyd should not be elected president because FBC, Springdale gives .27% to CP--so says commentary in Florida Baptist Witness

[Edit: I have corrected the title of this blog by identifying the linked article as a commentary and not an editorial; the editor of the FBW did not write it.]
This commentary claims that Ronnie Floyd should not become president of the SBC because his church only gives .27% (that is slightly more than one quarter of one percent) to the Cooperative Program out of its $12 million dollar budget. That's $32,000 dollars, total. The story was posted early in the Florida Baptist Witness. I consider the printing of this commentary by Michael Petty a very courageous move by the editor, James Smith.

What is also interesting is to note the many denominational positions that Floyd has held over the last several years. While I don't think any artificial standard of CP support should be imposed on those who would serve in SBC leadership positions, the excessively miniscule amount that FBC Springdale gives to the CP is newsworthy.
HT: Art Rogers

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ronnie Floyd accepts, then declines to be interviewed


Tad Thompson announced earlier that Dr. Ronnie Floyd had agreed to an interview to be published at the Total Truth blog. Then Pastor Thompson announced that Dr. Floyd changed his mind. The questions that were submitted were excellent. It's too bad they did not get addressed. In followup posts Thompson offers some insights on this development.

A tribute to my wife of 26 years

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Our wedding reception, (with an Aggie groom's cake!)

Today is my 26th wedding anniversary, which is another way of saying that today marks the 26th year of my wife's incredible patience and longsuffering. Tertullian called marriage the "seminary of the human race" and Luther regarded it as a school for character. Donna would proabably say that is more like being in school with a character. Through the voice of John Plowman, Spurgeon expressed my own sentiments about marriage to Donna:
My experience with my first wife, who will I hope live to be my last, is much as follows: matrimony came from Paradise and leads to it. I never was half so happy before I was a married man as I am now. When you are married your bliss begins. I have no doubt that where there is much love there will be much to love, and where love is scant faults will be plentiful. If there is only one good wife in England, I am the man who put the ring on her finger and long may she wear it.
As every pastor's wife knows, a minister's marriage brings its own peculiar trials and blessings. To serve a church--especially for decades--necessarily requires a tenacious kind of love for that local body. Where that happens it is not so much a reflection on the heart of the pastor as it is the grace of God who alone can cultivate such affection for bride of Christ. While this is a good thing it brings with it inevitable challenges. Sometimes a pastor's wife can feel that she is competing with another lover. And sometimes a pastor can appeal to his love for the church to excuse the neglect of his own bride.

It takes a special woman to help her husband navigate those currents without doing injustice to either loves. To borrow from John Plowman, if there is only one such woman in all of America, I put the ring on her finger May 10, 1980...and long may she wear it.

I have been a pastor longer than I have been a husband. But in terms of priorities, I have tried to keep my relationships in this order. First and foremost, I am a Christian and must be faithfully devoted to the Lord Jesus. If I fail at this then I cannot be the kind of husband that Donna needs. Next I am her husband and must be committed to love her as Christ loves the church. Failure here will inhibit my ability to parent my children as I should. Next, I am a father and must give myself to bringing up my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If I neglect this, then my work as a pastor will suffer and I may well disqualify myself from that office. After this, I am a pastor and must seek to shepherd the flock of God for which He shed His precious blood. Only after this do I engage in various other ministries.

When I get these priorities out of line then I inevitably hinder my ability to fulfill my responsibilities as I ought in any of them. If I am more devoted to my church than I am to my children and wife, then I will fail them all. And if I am more devoted to Donna than I am to Christ, I will unavoidably fail her as a husband. She knows this and believes it. And she has been faithful in calling me back to reorient my thinking on more than one occasion through the years. In this way, before she is my wife, Donna is my sister in Christ, and by taking her calling seriously, she has immensely helped to stay the course.

One of my favorite quotes of Spurgeon comes from a wedding he performed for a young minister and his bride. He speaks with the wisdom of experience about the great challenges and opportunities that face a pastor's wife. After the vows had been exchanged, he made this comment:
If I was a young woman, and was thinking of being married, I would not marry a minister, because the position of minister's wife is a very difficult one for anyone to fill. Churches do not give a married minister two salaries, one for the husband and the other for the wife; but, in many cases, they look for the services of the wife, whether they pay for them or not. The minister's wife is expected also to know everything about the church, and in another sense she is to know nothing of it and she is equally blamed by some people whether she knows everything or nothing. Her duties consist in being always at home to attend to her husband and her family, and being always out, visiting other people, and doing all sorts of things for the whole church. Well, of course, that is impossible; she cannot be at everybody's beck and call, and she cannot expect to please everybody. Her husband cannot do that, and I think he is a great fool if he tried to do it; and I am certain that, as the husband cannot please everybody, neither can the wife. There will be sure to be somebody or other who will be displeased, especially if that somebody had herself half hoped to be the minister's wife. Difficulties arise continually in the best regulated churches; and, as I said before, the position of the minister's wife is always a very trying one. Still, I think that, if I was a Christian young woman, I would marry a Christian minister if I could, because there is an opportunity of doing so much good in helping him in his service for Christ. It is a great help to the cause of God to keep the minister himself in good order for his work. It is his wife's duty to see that he is not uncomfortable at home; for, if everything there is happy, and free from care, he can give all his thoughts to his preparation for the pulpit; and the godly woman who thus helps her husband to preach better, is herself a preacher though she never speaks in public, and she becomes to the highest degree useful to the church of Christ committed to her husband's charge.
For 26 years Donna has overcome the challenges and enhanced the blessings of a being married to a pastor. She is a great gift to me and I praise our gracious God for the privilege of calling her my wife.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ronnie Floyd on his nomination at SBC President


Dr. Ronnie Floyd has recently posted a statement about his nomination to the SBC presidency. It is worth reading. Everyone who loves the SBC can affirm what he says about the distinction between being nominated and being elected, and between being nominated and "running" for an office. Certainly we should pray for Dr. Floyd and for the SBC. May God's will be done.


HT: Timmy Brister

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Of Fire Engine Baptistries and Blasphemy


[Note: I actually had this entry prepared before stumbling across the announcement that Johnny Hunt will nominate Ronnie Floyd to be president of the SBC. Dr. Floyd pastors the FBC, Springdale, Arkansas.]



Several have asked about the existence of a fire engine baptistry that is designed to shoot confetti out of cannons when a child is baptized. Yes, this actually does exist. You can see it at First Baptist Church, Springdale, Arkansas. The Founders Journal reported on this back in 2000. Following are comments taken from the news items in the Fall 2000 issue (#42) of the journal.


Christianity Today (June 8, 2000) and other news sources have reported on what appears to be a new trend in some large evangelical churches. First Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas hired a well-known former Disney World designer of children's amusement rides to design two "high tech sets" for elementary age worship areas: Toon Town for first-through third-graders, and Planet 45 for fourth- and fifth-graders. The fully animated cartoon town has 26-foot-tall buildings. The rationale behind the $270,000 project is summed up by the church's children's minister: "Putting a talking head in front of kids for an hour doesn't work ….This is a visual generation. We need to use technology to the max." That includes a special baptistry which is built around a fire engine. When a child is baptized, the sirens sound and confetti is fired out of cannons.

When kids enter the rooms, a music video is playing on a giant screen in front, and they can amuse themselves at a row of nonviolent video game screens along walls. Once the service starts, "it's 90 minutes of mostly frenetic activity, akin to a live television variety show from the 1950s. In Toon Town, buzzers and bells sound, lights flash from the ceiling and from car headlights on the set, bubbles come out the top of a giant bucket and fill the room, confetti streamers squirt out onto the first few rows, and mist is sprayed onto the crowd." According to the designer, Bruce Barry, "It's just like going on a ride at Disney World."


In that same issue of the journal there appeared an interview between Mark Dever and Paige Patterson. Dr. Dever asked Dr. Patterson, who was then President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary but has since moved to the same position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, about this approach to children's ministry and baptism. Here is the pertinent part of the exchange:


Dever: I heard about one church recently, and I don't know if you know about churches like this or not, in order to encourage baptisms among children the baptistry is shaped like a fire truck and they've got confetti cannons that go off whenever a kid is baptized. Do you know about any of this?

Patterson: This is my first time to hear this. This is blasphemous!

Dever: Anyway, it's a church in America. It's an evangelical church and they mean to preach the gospel so I want to be real quick to say their intentions are good. That's going to get kids of course, because they want to come forward, get in the fire truck and make the confetti cannons go off.

Patterson: I do not view [positively] the huge number of child baptisms that Baptists are now guilty of--Baptists are some of the worst paedo-baptizers there are.


Now, I share Dr. Patterson's concern about this, although I might stop short of calling it "blasphemous." I think that is is unwise and is likely to lead to many false professions of faith among children for the very reason that Dr. Dever cited. Regardless of whether or not we agree that this kind of practice rises to the level of blasphemy, I would guess that many Southern Baptists would agree with Dr. Patterson's assessment that it is a very unwise practice.

Dr. Hunt to nominate Dr. Floyd for SBC President


Dr. Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia issued a press release yesterday that he will nominate Dr. Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church, Springdale, Arkansas and The Church at Pinnacle Hills, Arkansas to be the president of the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, NC on June 13, 2006.

Dr. Hunt explains how this came to be and gives some reasons why he thinks Dr. Floyd is the man to lead the SBC in this hour.

Read the complete press release here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Decrease in ACP statistics


Recently Baptist Press reported the decrease in baptisms in 2005 based on the latest statistics from the Annual Church Profiles that Southern Baptist churches are encouraged to report. The Florida Baptist Witness gave a similar report on churches within our state. Anyone who knows how to read between the lines and who understands "Baptistspeak" could have seen this coming.

When a story was published a couple of weeks ago acknowledging that at the halfway point of the "Everyone Can" challenge our baptism count was considerably less than projections, Baptist Press gave SBC President Bobby Welch's take on the numbers. Welch initiated the challenge to baptize one million people in a 12 month period. The BP article, entitled, "'Everyone Can' gaining momentum as annual meeting draws near," said this:


"At the midpoint of the Everyone Can challenge, Welch said he is seeing results that cannot be measured in numbers."


That's Baptistspeak for "We ain't nowhere near 500,000 baptisms at the halfway point."

I do not want to be misunderstood on this. My comments are not made with glee nor are they designed to ridicule. I want to see people genuinely converted to Jesus Christ. It is obvious that President Welch does, too. I would be ecstatic if we saw a million new disciples baptized into our churches in 12 months. However, I have a very low level of confidence that even half of those that Southern Baptists baptize are genuinely converted.

No doubt this sounds harsh and perhaps even arrogant and judgmental. Why would I make such a sweeping statement about people and churches that I do not know personally. Well, it is actually pretty easy to understand. My lack of confidence is based on simple statistical analysis. Look at the members that we have on our rolls now. Considerably less than half of them show any consistent signs of being born of God's Spirit. This has been repeatedly pointed out and documented.

If the current fruit of our evangelism is this ineffective then what reason do we have to expect that the future fruit will be any different? I once had an orange tree that produced hundreds of blossoms each summer. In June that tree looked like it was going to produce a bumper crop. But in October, we rarely had more than 5-10 oranges. That was its pattern. After a few years, I came to expect it. Since I never tried to treat the problem at its root by addressing the nutrient deficiencies that the tree suffered, the pattern continued year after year. It was predictable.

Sadly, so is modern Southern Baptist evangelism. Which brings me back to the reported drop in baptisms last year. I don't evaluate that as negatively as some--perhaps most--do. Again, don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that winning fewer people to Jesus Christ is a good thing! My evaluation of the report takes into consideration the pernicious pattern of shallow evangelism that characterizes recent Southern Baptist practice. In light of this, I think it may have been a greater tragedy if we actually reached the "million more" goal. Had it happened, I fear that the self-congratulatory triumphalism that characterizes much of SBC life would have been unleashed and the soul-destroying problems that plague much of our evangelism would have even less of an opportunity to be honestly faced. At least, with these disappointing statistics, those who watch such things find it necessary to be alarmed. I pray that their concern will lead to a more rigorous and fundamental evaluation of SBC evangelism than has been typically given over the last generation. If what we are doing produces a 60% failure rate, then simply doing more of the same with greater commitment and fanfare is no solution.

I don't know why Southern Baptists saw a decrease in our reported baptisms last year. I do know that there is a growing number of churches that simply refuse to report all their statistics. I pastor one of them. We did not report the number of people we baptized last year and we will refuse to do so again this year and every year hence until the powers that be lead us to admit that our reported membership statistics are a sham.

Southern Baptist baptism statistics have been used both to boast and belittle. But, as I have demonstrated on this blog in months past (repeatedly), when one looks beyond the surface, often--very often--the grounds of boasting are revealed to be better suited for weeping and fear.

So, count me out of the statistical smoke and mirrors act that is annually performed by the Annual Church Profile. Maybe if enough churches simply refuse to report, then this issue will receive the kind of serious, thoughtful attention that it deserves. Then, by the grace of God, we may well be forced into the honest admission that something is wrong; terribly wrong. And perhaps we will come to see and believe that our only hope is in the divine forgiveness and renewal that comes through genuine repentance.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Purpose Driven Puritan

Reading John Owen at 34,000 feet provokes some interesting thoughts. On my way to Charlotte, NC today I reread Owen's Mortification of Sin. It is such a helpful, theologically insightful and pastoral book. I was struck by how contemporary Owen sounds. Granted, "contemporary" is not a word that you would often find describing John Owen. But I am not talking about his style, but his analysis. He understands human nature and since human nature has not changed since the Fall, what this "Prince of the Puritans" has to say about it is as relevant and beneficial today as it was in the 17th century.

Comparing his understanding of the workings of sin and, consequently, the workings of the Gospel to that which is typically expressed today shows the incredible, doctrinal and spiritual downgrade that we have suffered in our generation. I cannot recommend this book too highly.
Here is simply one gem that shows just how helpful his biblical insights can be for us today. After acknowledging the widespread religious activity that characterized his day, he expresses concern about the depth and reality of much that passes under the name "Christian."
If vain spending of time, idleness, unprofitableness in men's places, envy, strife, variance, emulations, wrath, pride, worldliness, selfishness, be badges of Christians, we have them on us and among us in abundance.
Sounds like an accurate assessment of the contemporary scene to me.

OK; here is the reason for the title I gave to this blog. The married couple that sat next to me on the plane were more interested in sleeping than chatting for most of the flight. As we neared Charlotte, the wife noticed my reading and marking the small paperback in my lap. Finally she asked, "What are you reading?" I showed her the cover and said, "John Owen's book on mortification; it is an explanation of how God calls people who trust in the Lord Jesus to live."

She responded very excitedly, "Oh! Our church just studied one of his books! Oh, what was the name of it....Oh yeah! It was The Purpose Driven Life!" I gently explained the mistaken identity and couldn't help but wonder if there was a rumble at Bunhill Fields in London, as old Owen rolled over in his grave!
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HT: Rebecca Ascol, for the image

Johnny Hunt will not be nominated for President of the SBC?

A commenter named David Rich left the following note on my blog today:
Tom,
Thank you for the information. I am new to the blog thing..but wanted to update the Johnny Hunt for SBC president blog. I am a member at FBCW and at the close of Sunday's sermon Dr. Hunt indicated that he WILL NOT be accepting the nomination for president of the SBC.
I have not had the privilege of meeting Mr. Rich so I cannot tell you anything more about this than what he has written. If Pastor Hunt gave a reason for his decision, it would helpful to know what he said.
I say it would be "helpful," because of all that seems to brewing in SBC life as we move toward the convention in Greensboro. I have already gone on record with my views that if the reason is because of how much or little FBCW gives to the Cooperative Program (as was conjectured by some the last few weeks), then I think it is a mistake for him to pull out. The "movement conservative" leaders of the last 27 years repeatedly indicated by word and example that leadereship should not be determined by the amount of money a church gives through the CP. If their reasoning was sound then, what makes it unsound today?
Regardless, if indeed Pastor Hunt will not allow his name to be submitted to the convention for the office of president, this will only further heighten interest in what already promises to be one of the most anticipated and watched annual meetings in recent years.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Strange Baptist Fire


For years the anonymous publishers of the website, baptistfire.com have hidden in the shadows and spewed forth venom, lies, distortions and half-truths against people, churches and organizations who do not espouse their particular brand of Fundamentalism. They especially hate historic Southern Baptist theology, or the doctrines of grace.

Sadly, some naive souls have been duped into believing their lies and have used their misrepresentations to attack church members and leaders who believe the doctrines of grace. Many churches and individuals have been wounded by the cowardly misinformation campaign of baptistfire.

Today a new blog has launched for the purpose of helping to set straight the distortions and falsehoods of the anonymous author(s) behind that internet National Inquirer. Strange Baptist Fire is now available to tell "the rest of the story." Following the wisdom of Proverbs 26:5 several men (who, unlike the men/women behind baptistfire, have openly identified themselves) have taken up the challenge to address issues of Baptist theology and history with honesty and integrity to set the record straight.

The first post by Dustin Segers is worth reading as it sets the tone for the future of this helpful blog. I recommend that you check it out and make others aware of it.