Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday is for Photos, June 30, 2006

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Margerie Glacier, Alaska

I took this photo last September while on the Alpha and Omega Alaskan Cruise. A friend graciously provided this trip for Donna and me and while I was colder than I have been in several years, I spent nearly the whole day on the deck as we cruised through Galcier Bay, drinking in the glory of God revealed in creation. This glacier extends 250 feet above sea level and 100 feet below it.

fsdf

Monday, June 26, 2006

Update #2 on the Caner "Debate"

I hate to do it but I do not see any way to avoid this post without being accused of being unfair to Dr. Ergun Caner. I have not posted any emails regarding the Caner "debate." Dr. White has done so after agreeing to post them in their entirety. Even then, he waited until the obfuscation became so bad that meaningful communication almost totally broke down. You can read the whole exchange here.

Recently, after the latest salvos from Lynchburg and a troubling conversation with Dr. Caner in Greensboro, NC, I weighed in with one of my few contributions to this written exchange. I post that letter, and Dr. Caner's response, below only because he has asked me to do so. Actually, to say he "asked" is putting it charitably. I have been restrained in making many public comments about the "debate" or about the incredibly frustrating process of trying to get it set up.

When I announced that there would indeed be a debate and that I had agreed to participate in it, I made these statement:
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 (emphasis added).
Let me simply say in the three months since I wrote that I have been completely disabused of such naivete. Make no mistake, Dr. Ergun Caner does not want to participate in a scholarly debate on the doctrines of grace. That is obvious to me and, if my email is any indication, to countless others who have read his comments.

With that being said, here is the recent email exchange, posted at Dr. Ergun Caner's request.

From: tomascol
Subject: Re: June 23, 2006
Date: June 24, 2006 2:42:15 PM EDT

Brothers:

I find Ergun's characterization of this whole issue to be far different from my own. I have read every single email that has been exchanged and would do so again except that I don't think I have sinned sufficiently to warrant such a sentence. It is enough to know that the record contained in those emails is clear enough to show anyone who wants to know about this pseudo-debate exactly what has transpired and how it has transpired.

Ergun, I do not know how or why you think that we have all agreed on the thesis or format. You have tried to dictate what they will be but there has been no negotiated agreement. Furthermore, Dr. O'Donnell's only email leads me to doubt the sincerity of his assurances to be an impartial moderator who will operate from the the rulebook of "fairness." His offer to entertain "specific questions about the format" as long as they are asked "professionally" rings hollow in light of my May 16 email to him. I did not copy it to anyone else because I was simply seeking to learn from him the best way to get information about the format.

Here is that email in its totality:

Dear Dr. O'Donnell:

I have been told that you have agreed to moderate a debate on October 16, 2006 at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA. I am supposed to participate in that debate and have some questions about it that I would like to ask you. Would it be possible for me to address them to you via email, or would a phone conversation be better?

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Tom Ascol
I sent it to directly to him. Yet, I still have not received even the courtesy of an acknowledgment, much less an offer to entertain my questions. As the written record demonstrates conclusively, this kind of treatment is typical of the lack of respect that has been afforded James and me in this whole process.

No amount of posturing or posing can change the fact that you have attempted to throw numerous roadblocks in the way of this debate. Virtually any prospect of having a fair exchange of ideas in a setting where our differences can be clearly expressed has been undermined by your unwillingness to discuss questions that must be settled before such an exchange can take place. I suppose that this sounds like whining to you. To me, it is an honest attempt to dialogue.

Ergun, when you told me and others in Greensboro about Dr. Falwell's plans to "pimp" this debate all over the world I was caught off guard. At first I thought I had misunderstood you but your repeated declarations that he was going to "pimp" it on TV and "pimp" it to "little old ladies" quickly disabused me of that notion. Your emails of the last two days have only confirmed my worst fears that your chosen vocabulary to describe this "debate" is all-too-accurate.

Well, I am no one's prostitute. And I refuse to be "pimped." If you are comfortable letting Dr. Falwell "pimp" you then that is surely your prerogative. I would love to pursue a genuine, theological debate. If that is what the Drs. Caner want, then let's work it out and get it done. If, however, all you want to do is put on a Fundamentalist burlesque show, then go ahead with the plans that you are making but find yourself someone more suited than I to join you on stage.

Sincerely,

Tom

Here is Dr. Caner's response:

From: erguncaner
Subject: Please Post This, Dr. Ascol
Date: June 26, 2006 8:48:57 AM EDT

26 June 2006

Dear Dr Ascol:

Well, for the first time in this discussion, I have come to the conclusion that posting private correspondence, which usually takes place between Christian gentlemen behind the scenes, might be helpful if posted. This is one e-mail that I believe should be posted, but I doubt if you will do it. This will stay private, or scrubbed, much like Brad Reynolds exchanges:

  1. For the record, your quote of my words at the SBC was correct. I did use the word "pimped."
  2. I do love the fact that Dr. Falwell is willing to give this debate as big a stage as possible.
  3. He believes, as we do, that this is a vital issue in the SBC, and MUST be confronted to as large a crowd as possible.
  4. Of course, since no one is making any money on this debate (as Emir and I stipulated- no tickets and no "entry fees") your concern over being "prostituted" is not really valid.
  5. HOWEVER, before you storm off...please do not feel too superior. Would it change the equation if we were offering to pay you for doing a CRUISE to teach?
  6. Yes, Dr. Ascol, we understand your desire not to be pimped. Does that extend to traveling on a cruise with Dr. White...along with others...for free...as the advertised speaker? Apparently I am not as accomplished at this "pimping" thing...

I am sorry you feel the way you do, Dr. Ascol.

emc



Friday, June 23, 2006

Founders Breakfast message now available

Mark Dever's message out of Romans 9-10 on "Election, the Gospel and Evangelism" is now available from Founders Ministries. Click on the link to order a CD or download and mp3 file.

Friday is for Photos

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We have some spectacular sunsets in southwest Florida. This was not one of them. The photo was taken last year at the end of a day that threatened rain but never delivered. You can see some real photographic art by visiting the blogs of Joe Thorn and Timmy Brister (who links to several others).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Regeneration

Maybe one of the reasons that modern Southern Baptists are so willing to jettison (at least practically) our historical conviction of a regenerate church membership is because we have grown soft on the whole idea of regeneration. One of the realities that we must face is that we can no longer assume that people in our churches understand what we mean by "salvation." That is even more of a concern when we start talking about the constituent elements of biblical salvation (like justification, sanctification or regeneration).

For that reason, I call your attention to an article I wrote some time ago on this subject.

Regeneration

When Jimmy Carter became President of the United States in 1976 I remember my Political Science professor at Texas A&M University talking about the confusion which his colleagues from the North were experiencing. Several of them called him on the phone to get help in understanding what the phrase, "born again," meant.

From the outset of his campaign Carter made it very clear that he was not ashamed to be known as a "born-again Christian." At that time this was a new thought to a lot of people in our land because they had not weighed or considered Christianity in terms of the idea of a new birth. Reporters and political analysts wanted to know what the language meant and what Mr. Carter was actually saying. (read more)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Robert Murray M'Cheyne on Church Discipline

Robert Murray M'Cheyne was a 19th century Scottish minister who died at age 29, but not before seeing a great revival in his church located in Dundee. Of his Memoir and Remains, Charles Spurgeon wrote, "This is one of the best and most profitable volumes ever published. Every minister should read it often."

With all of the new and healthy discussion about church discipline we must take care that we do not regard it as a mere academic subject or mechanical procedure. It involves the eternal welfare of souls, the strength and health of the church, and the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. I do not think that you will find any who have witnessed the proper exercise of correction discipline to its final step willing to joke about it or dismiss it with a cavalier attitude as some have done in their comments elsewhere on this blog. May the Lord deliver us from treating lightly His intructions in this area.

M'Cheyne's words express my own emotions and experience and are worth pondering.
"When I first entered upon the work of the ministry among you, I was exceedingly ignorant of the vast importance of church discipline. I thought that my great and almost only work was to pray and preach. I saw your souls to be so precious, and the time so short, that I devoted all my time, and care, and strength, to labour in word and doctrine. When cases of discipline were brought before me and the elders, I regarded them with something like abhorrence. It was a duty I shrank from; and I may truly say it nearly drove me from the work of the ministry among you altogether. But it pleased God, who teaches his servants in another way than man teaches, to bless some of the cases of discipline to the manifest and undeniable conversion of the souls of those under our care; and from that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I saw that if preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline. I now feel very deeply persuaded that both are of God--that two keys are committed to us by Christ, the one the key of doctrine, by means of which we unlock the treasures of the Bible, the other the key of discipline, by which we open or shut the way to the sealing ordinances of the faith. Both are Christ's gift, and neither is to be resigned without sin."

From Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M'Cheyne by Andrew Bonar, pp. 104-5.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Radio Interview

Dr. Paul Dean, host of the daily talk radio show, Calling for Truth, has asked to interview me today at 1 PM Eastern time on his program. The topic will be issues related to the Southern Baptist Convention You can listen to it live or find an archived version of it after today at the Calling for Truth website. Click on the "Listen Online" button on the top right.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Reflections worth reading on the recent SBC

Many Southern Baptist executives, editors, leaders, pastors and bloggers have published their thoughts on the recent meeting in Greensboro. Among the ones that I have read are the following.

Danny Akin writes about Calvinism, the presidential race, the Cooperative Program, the resolutions on alchohol (he strongly supports it), integrity in church membership (he hopes it will be submitted again in the future though he trusts the resolutions committee's "rationale" for not bringing it before the convention this year), and one that perhaps should be proposed in the future regarding gluttony.

Timmy Brister brings the wisdom of Carl Henry to bear on current Southern Baptist life, and he does so with provocative wisdom. He also notes that conservatism does not equal legalism and gives some helpful quotes from various sources on the alcohol resolution.

Jim Smith offers three cheers for the alcohol resolution while commenting in passing about the "often overstated role of the so-called 'bloggers'" and castigating Ben Cole for his opposition to that resolution.

Speaking of Ben Cole, his Greensboro wrap-up has some brilliant analysis of Southern Baptist mentality as it was displayed in the cheering of the abortion-advocating, alcohol drinking Condaleeza Rice and jeering of Calvinism. Plus, he reveals that he authored the nomination speech for Wiley Drake's 2 VP candidacy.

Joe Thorn gives insightful thoughts about why he is encouraged from his time in Greensboro.

Marty Duren identifies the convergence of several factors that went into making this year's convention the perfect storm.

Wade Burleson reflects on several aspects of the convention ranging from the new president to the unusual depth displayed at the Pastors' Conference. Included are his briefly expressed hopes that the IMB fiasco can be resolved internally by the trustees.

No doubt there are other very helpful reflections that are available online. These are simply among the ones that I have had time to read and have found worthy of noting.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More thoughts on the SBC in Greensboro

On the resolution calling for integrity in church membership

I mentioned previously that I would try to get the exact quote of Dr. French's argument against bringing my resolution out of committee and before the convention. Here it is, as sent to me by my brother, Bill. After I read my resolution from the floor, Tommy French, the chairman of the resolutions committee gave this response:
Brother Tom, we understand and we are concerned about these things. However, we are also concerned about the accuracy of the claims because what we receive through the statistics are just those things that are reported by the local churches. And so we would have to challenge what they send us.

And we certainly do not want to throw away from our membership rolls the names of the non-attenders because we would be throwing away a very valuable prospect list for reclamation in evangelism. Now in Sunday School we don’t cull the rolls as long as those people live in our area so that we can continue to pray for them and visit them and secure them in Bible study.
Also, Tom Nettles thinks that as many as 40% (not 25% as I had suggested) of the messengers voted to consider the motion.

I was told by a friend that when I stood up to speak against Resolution 5 (calling for abstinence from consuming alcoholic beverages) that I fairly well sealed the fate of my effort to bring the resolution on membership to the floor. It was politically foolhardy. I was actually very conscious of the fact that some would probably misconstrue my comments and think that I am an advocate of alcoholic beverages. But the resolution struck me as ill-conceived and unbiblical. We have enough problems dealing with real sins. We certainly don't need to manufacture more sins out of cultural preferences. When an amendment was offered urging that no Southern Baptist be allowed to serve on any SBC board if he consumes acohol as a beverage, I simply could not sit idly by. So I rose to speak against this amendment and the motion. The reslution, as amended, passed overwhelmingly.

By the way--I am a tee totaler.

On Frank Page's election to the presidency

I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Frank Page, once before he was elected and once, afterward. Before the election he said that he had very little hope that he would be elected. Yet, he won a 3-way race on the first ballot. After the race, he said that he really did not have an "agenda" because he really had not planned on winning. Donna and I assured him of our payers. We plan to keep our word.

A reporter whom I did not know emailed me for a comment about how Dr. Page's election would impact the "resurgence of reformed theology among Southern Baptists." Evidently he emailed the same question to Dr. Nettles. As it turns out he is the managing editor of the Baptist Standard and his story was published online today. Without conferring with one another about this, Dr. Nettles and I gave very similar answers. The kind of reformation that we need cannot be affected by denominational politics.

The prominence of Calvinism

Several speakers felt the need to mention Calvinism or some aspect of the doctrines of grace. Sometimes the tone was rather conciliatory but more often with at least a hint of fear or hostility. In addition there was a motion to study the influence that Calvinism is having on the SBC. It was referred to the Executive Committee. Regardless of the negative attitude that was displayed toward reformed theology, the fact that so many brought it up and felt compelled to speak to it is a good indication that more and more people are considering it. This can only be healthy for the denomination as it will inevitably move us toward more and more theological dialogue. Regardless of what your views are on the doctrines of grace, this should be seen as a healthy development.

The spirit of the convention

With all of the pre-convention anticipation as well as the obvious dissatisfaction with the status quo, the spirit of the debates and disagreements remained for the most part, healthy. Bobby Welch moderated with fairness and good humor. This helped set the tone for the whole meeting. If this kind of spirit can prevail in our ongoing efforts to recover historic Southern Baptist principles, then we have many reasons to be encouraged about the future.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Why Mark Dever did not get elected to 1st VP

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There it is. Not exactly a hanging chad, but the round punch-out signifying a vote for Mark Dever for 1st Vice President of the SBC. I am sorry that Mark did not get elected. He is exactly the kind of guy that we need as SBC convention officers. By that, I do not mean his Calvinism (though that doesn't hurt!). Rather, I am talking about his perspective in realizing that serving as SBC president or vice president is not nearly as important as one's ministry in a local church. Some guys seem to approach the prospect of having an elected position in the SBC as the final, if not penultimate, chapter of their biographies. If you listen to most of the nomination speeches for these offices, you will hear evidence of my point (the speech to nominate Mark Dever and Wiley Richards notably excepted; you should find the audio or video file to the latter and listen--it was classic!). Mark has a healthy, "minimalist" view of such things. It would be refreshing to see this kind of perspective spread.

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(a true hanging chad, for all you folks who don't live in Florida; HT: Ken Puls)

I think Mark would have easily won had logistics not interfered. He received more votes than the other 3 candidates on the first ballot and then less than that on the final ballot (the runoff). Why did this happen? Here is my take on it.

The second ballot was not scheduled but was conducted as soon as the results of the first ballot came back. Most messengers went out to get somthing to eat during the break after the afternoon session. The next scheduled business session at 7:20 PM. However, immediately after the "convention baptism" (that's a whole other story!) at 6:40 PM, the chair called for a second ballot vote on the top two vote getters: Mark and Jimmy Jackson. Mark lost by fewer than 80 votes. I have counted at least 20 people that I know personally who did not get back until 7:15 or so.

The hotels are located several miles from the convention center and though there are several buses that shuttle messengers back and forth, it is hard to arrive at a precisely desired time. In addition, it was raining last night, which further slowed the ebb and flow and traffic.

Of course, all of this is speculation and, ultimately, none of it matters. God in His providence had Jimmy Jackson elected to that office. I don't know him, but have heard from friends who do that he is a humble, faithful pastor. The fact that Mark received so many votes is, I think, a great indication of the widespread appreciation for his ministry. That is an encouraging sign.

The resolution failed

It amazes me how quickly information flows in the blogosphere. It has only been two hours since the resolutions committee made their report to the convention and already many readers of this blog know almost as much about it as I do...and I was there (a special thanks to all those live bloggers and commenters who kept folks informed!). So, in blogotime, this is like yesterday's news, but here is what happened this morning with my resolution on Integrity in Church Membership.

I learned as I was waiting to board a bus at my hotel to take me to the convention center that the published report of the resolutions committee showed that they declined to recommend my resolution to the convention. Bylaw 20 states a properly submitted resolution that the committee rejects can nevertheless be considered by the convention if 2/3 of those voting agree. So, I went to microphone #1 and asked for a point of order. President Bobby Welch recognized me and very kindly asked me if I would wait until the committee had finished the first part of their report. Once that was done, he returned to my concern and asked about my point of order.

I asked how and when I could follow Bylaw 20 in an attempt to get my resolution before the convention. Dr. Welch explained the procedure and allowed me to read my resolution from the floor. After the resolution was read, he asked Tommy French, the chairman of the committee to explain why they did not recommend my resolution to the convention. I do not want to misquote him, but others who have commented here have it right, as far as I can remember. I will check the video record and correct any mistakes or misrepresentations that I may inadvertently make in this account.

Basically, Dr. French (who is a very nice man and treated me and my concerns with real respect) said while the committee shares my concerns they concluded that the figures that I cited could not be verified and that besides that we don't want to throw out all those members who don't attend because they are some of our best prospects for evangelism.

I must admit, I was incredulous at what he said, but in all fairness to him, I doubt that Dr. French would try to defend that position if we could sit down and talk about it. I hope he simply mispoke. Perhaps he was caught off guard by attempt to get the resolution before the SBC, although I have publicly blogged that I would do that and informed two members of the resolutions committee that this was my intent. Nevertheless, he did make these statements and on the basis of his statements considerably less than 2/3 of those gathered voted to consider the resolution. I turned and looked at the raised hand vote and would guess that 75% voted not to consider the resolution. For accuracy's sake it is important to note that the convention did not vote down the resolution, they voted not to consider it.

What is my take on all this? Well, I am disappointed that the committee did not bring it out for debate. I think the discussion could have been very healthy. I am disappointed that our inactive members were identified as legitimate because of they are such good prospects for evangelism. That certainly gives a whole new definition to "prospective church member!"

On the positive side, I am very grateful to God that I was allowed to read the resolution before the whole convention. I appreciate Dr. Welch and the parliamentarians for allowing me to do so. I am grateful that 25% of the people wanted to have the resolution debated. And I am very grateful for all of the encouraging conversations--mostly with younger pastors--after the failed attempt. This is a conversation that Southern Baptists need to have. I believe that it is inevitable that we will have it.

Two young pastors who approached me shortly after the vote expressed their deep concern and disillusionment with the SBC in light of what they had just witnessed. Here is what I said to try to encourage them. In a war, if you want to do the most good you must ride toward the sounds of the gunfire. The revelation of how bad things are, while sad, must not deter us from our commitment to reformation. Rather, it should call us to feel the burden all the greater.

I have long contended that many of the doctrinal and spiritual problems that we have in the SBC are deep and systemic. It does not do us any good to pretend that things are better than they are. It is painful and at times disheartening to be confronted with the depth of our problems, but honesty is necessary for an accurate diagnosis. And an accurate diagnosis is absolutely critical for any prospect of getting real help.

So, overall, I am very encouraged. Thanks very much for your prayers and encouraging words. I think the Lord was glorified in the effort. At the end of the day, that is all that really matters.

Quick (preliminary) takes on Greensboro

This has been the most unusual SBC I have ever attended. That is not meant as a criticism, but an honest observation. I attended some humdingers during the conservative resurgence, but this is one for the history books. I have very little opportunity even to check my email, much less blog, so while I have a few minutes, I want to give some initial observations.

1. The Pastors Conference had some of the best talks/messages that I have ever heard in that forum (see my earlier post on that).

2. The Pastors' Conference had some typically not-very-good talks/messages (others have commented on some of this--its nothing new: cheap shots, silliness, failure to deal with the text, etc.)

3. I have enjoyed meeting face-to-face some fellow bloggers (Joe Thorn (shorter than I had imagined), Steve McCoy (taller than I had imagined), Tad Thompson, Alan Cross, JBuchanan, PastorLeap and others whose names simply escape me at the moment) and renewing renewing fellowship with others (Marty Duren, Art Rogers, Wade Burleson, Ben Cole, and others). I actually got to sit down with Joe and Steve and chat a bit. That coversation was very encouraging to me. Anyone who dismisses these guys as "emergent" does not understand them.

4. Exactly 1 hour and 30 minutes into the convention blogging was mentioned.

5. Calvinism has been a topic of discussion in formal presentations (Morris Chapman addressed it, not in a mean-spirited way, but in an attempt to be humerous. I was not offended but appreciated what I think he was trying to do. BTW--he also made a negative comment about elders, but again, it wasn't mean. When I saw him later I shook his hand, told him I appreciated much of what he said and looked forward to getting home to discuss it with my elders! We both enjoyed a good laugh. His spirit was great.).

6. Frank Page got elected in a 3-way race on the first ballot. That was incredible. I will try to post more thoughts on that next week when I have had time for reflection, but this is very significant as an indicator of what is going on in this season of SBC life. Remind me to blog about the nomination speeches.

7. Mark Dever was only 70 something votes away from becoming 1st VP. I think logistics and schedule had more to do with the outcome of this vote than anything else. More later.

8. Wiley Drake got elected 2nd VP on the first ballot of a 3 way race. His nomination speech will go down as one of the all-time greatest in the history of the SBC.

Well, I am out of time. The Resolutions Committee is scheduled to make their report in an hour. I have reason to believe that some version of my resolution will make it to the floor of the convention for debate.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mark Dever at the Founders Breakfast

Quick notes on the breakfast(over 260 crowded into the limited space we had reserved):

I have never heard Mark Dever better. The Lord enabled him to speak with his characteristic clarity and passion and the text (Romans 9-10) was wonderfully explained and applied. He asked the question that many of us ask at various times in our evangelistic efforts: "Why isn't this person (or these people) saved?" We pray for them, we preach to them or talk to them about their need of Christ. We weep over them. Why aren't they saved?

3 answers from the text:

1. God has not saved them. Salvation is all of grace and the only way anyone gets saved is by God's sovereign power working graciously to save them.

2. They have not believed. Salvation is received by faith. And until a person believes, he will not be saved.

3. They have not heard. The gospel must be proclaimed for anyone to be saved. No one is saved apart from the gospel.

A CD will be available soon from Founders Ministries.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Observations from the Pastors' Conference in Greensboro

Back in February I predicted that this year's SBC would draw more younger messengers than in recent history. If today's pastors's conference participation is any indication, that is certainly true. In the two break-out sessions that I attended this morning the average age of those attending seemed considerably younger than the average age of those who typically attend the annual SBC meeting.

Drs. Mohler and Patterson did a very fine job in their seminar on differing views of election. Dr. Mohler had to show up in dark sun glasses due to his eye surgery yesterday. His presence at this important and historic event was heroic. Both men were extremely gracious (to no one's surprise) and both spoke persuasively for their views while being respectful of each other's differing views.

Dr. Patterson gave several things that he appreciates about most Calvinists, then several concerns he has about some Calvinists. Then he gave several reasons that he is not a Dortian Calvinist.

Dr. Mohler identified himself as a 5-point Calvinist while making it clear that identifying with Calvinism as a system is not a great concern of his. He also issued some cautions that Calvinists should take to heart.

The specifics of their comments will have to wait, since I did not take many notes and I do not have access to the audio files. Once I get them, if no one else has given the substance of their comments, I will. I will offer some perspectives at that time, as well.

I can say that I was very encouraged by how the session went. Dr. Patterson warned his non-Calvinist friends not to make the charge that Calvinism is inherently anti-evangelism and anti-missions. That was a helpful comment based on an accurate theological assessment. Dr. Mohler warned Calvinists not to be more concerned with debating Calvinism than evangelizing. That also was a helpful comment and should be taken to heart by every lover of God's Word.

You will want to purchase a copy of this CD. I said that this was a historic event. It was wonderful to see Southern Baptists discussing substantive theological issues--and doing it with a packed crowd...twice! Over 2600 people attended each of the 2 presentations of this session.

It should also be noted--as Dr. Mohler pointed out--that this kind of discussion could not have happened without the conservative resurgence of the last 27 years. As those who have endured much and fought some long, hard battles over the authority of Scripture, Southern Baptists are in a position to discuss the specific teachings of the Scripture.

The same can be said for the session on church discipline, led by Mark Dever and Art Wilder. Mark did most of the talking in the presentation time, while Art made some helpful observations of how discipline is practiced at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. Over 600 people packed the room both times this seminar was given. Mark addressed 5 questions about discipline, quoting the first writing Southern Baptist theologian, John Dagg who wrote, "When discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it."

It was tremendously encouraging to see the response to this presentation. Men were genuinely interested in the idea of a recovery of church discipline. I dare say that when Mark read Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Corinthians 5 that it probably was the first time those inerrant texts have been read publicly at a SBC pastors' conference.

Not everything that was said today at the conference was as encouraging as what I have described above, but truth loving Southern Baptists have reasons to be very encouraged by what did transpire in these two sessions. Bryant Wright, the President of the Pastors' Conference and Pastor of Johnson's Ferry Baptist Church, is to be commended for putting these kinds of presentations into the schedule.

Tomorrow morning is the Founders Breakfast. Mark Dever, DV, will speak to a sold out crowd on Election, the Gospel and Evangelism. Pray that the Lord will be honored as we meet.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pray for Dr. Mohler

I just heard that Dr. Al Mohler had emergency eye surgery today at the Duke Medical complex. He has had eye difficulties for years and I do not know the nature of this procedure. He is still scheduled to speak at the pastors' conference on Monday. Read the entry at Thoughts and Adventures for the notice. Pray for our brother as he recuperates and seeks to fulfill his responsibilities this week at the SBC.

HT: MarieP

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Friday is for Photos

Phriday is for fotos. Or something like that. At any rate, you can find some excellent and interesting photographs from various younger bloggers on Fridays. Check out the work of Joe Thorn, Steve McCoy and Timmy Brister.

In another life I used to be something of a shutterbug, myself. It was back in the days when cameras used this strange celluloid substance that came in little canisters that we actually inserted into our cameras. It was called film. You younger guys have probably read about it in history books.

On another thread, Timmy made this kind overture:
Oh, and Tom, you are officially the photog emeritus of the Friday photo community (at least in my book). Now let's see some Friday photos!
Well, I guess since I am emeritus that means that I can get away with using the photography of others. So, I will start with a shot taken out the back window of my house by my daughter, Rebecca, last year. The quality is affected by the glass and screen, but I still think the shot is great. In the summer months we receive some of the highest volume of lightning strikes per square mile to be found anywhere in the world. This particular storm was very dramatic. You can see our roof line as well as the pine trees that stand about 20 feet behind the house.

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Odds and ends on the SBC in Greensboro

With the announcement of Jerry Sutton as a third candidate for the presidency of the SBC the interest, dialogue and speculation about how that election will go has greatly increased. Here are some good sources of information about it. Marty Duren has an interview with Sutton that helps compare his views on several specific issues with those of Frank Page (Ronnie Floyd declined such an interview with Tad Thompson, though his thoughts on some of the same matters can be found in BP reports). Marty also announces that he will live-blog the convention. Don Hinkle clarifies some misunderstandings that emerged from an AP story on Sutton.

In addition, Steve McCoy announces an informal gathering for missional folks and those who should be (which leaves me wondering who should not attend).

I look forward to meeting many of you at the Founders Breakfast and perhaps during the Pastors' Conference and convention itself. I should be easy to spot. I will be the one with the beautiful bride, or, as she is sometimes affectionately called, my "lovely wife." :-)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Live-blogging the Founders Breakfast and SBC

No, not me! I can barely blog in slow-motion, pre-recorded mode. But Don Hinkle and Scott Lamb are professionals! They will be live-blogging the Pastors' Conference (including the breakout session on reaching today's world through differing views of election), Founders Breakfast and Southern Baptist Convention meeting next week from Greensboro. Their blog site, "Thoughts and Adventures," will carrying their posts.

I will go ahead and give you a sneak preview on the Founders Breakfast: I plan to eat bacon and eggs, and drink orange juice and coffee. That ought to save Don and Scott a little keyboard time!

"Leaders, activists offer hopes for Greensboro"

The Florida Baptist Witness recently asked 15 Southern Baptist "leaders and activists" to answer this question: "What do you hope will be the single, greatest outcome of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Greensboro?" All but two gave responses for publication. Some of the answers were predictable. Some were very encouraging. One takes the prize for honesty and for saying what many who were not asked are undoubtedly thinking. Among the respondents are Bobby Welch, Frank Page, Ronnie Floyd, Paige Patterson, Al Mohler, Marty Duren, Wade Burleson, Ben Cole and Steve McCoy.

Steve gets the prize for this gem: "My greatest hope for Greensboro is that I will continue to build a personal network of missional pastors and thinkers, and encourage others to do the same. My second greatest hope is that the shofar won’t work."

Here is my answer (I am not sure if I was asked as a "leader" or an "activist;" there's gotta be a third category in there somewhere!): "I hope that all of us attending will be struck with an overwhelming conviction that we need to repent for our denominational pride and will seek the Lord for mercy and spiritual power. There are many important issues that need to be addressed on the formal agenda for the convention and we certainly need wisdom as we consider them. But unless and until we come to terms with the systemic pride that not only allows but encourages us to boast about inflated statistics and ignore the disastrous results that come from so much of our modern, superficial evangelism, I fear that we will continue to make the disastrous mistake of believing that the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will be advanced through winning elections and passing motions. Our desperate need is for a heaven-sent, Spirit-empowered reformation and revival. An outbreak of humility and repentance could become the first stirrings of that divine work."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ergun Caner on "Predestined Not to Be a Hyper-Calvinist"

Dr. Ergun Caner has published an article by this title in the latest National Liberty Journal. I hesitate even calling attention to it because I know that what he says will provoke many who regularly read this blog. Provocation is so easy to come by these days that I hate to be another carrier. But, obviously, my hesitations were not enough to hold me back. They were overcome by other motivations.

First, the tone of this article is so much better than the comments that Dr. Caner left on my blog a few months ago, I am tempted to be encouraged that the prospect of a reasonable debate on the issues over which we disagree is actually possible. I realize that last sentence is a study in caution, but I am somewhat encouraged. Dr. Caner quotes a Director of Missions who fears that "the Reformed movement will not go away" but is "slowly taking over some major churches" (I guess this is in contrast to the "minor churches" that this DOM thinks we *should* be pastoring). Dr. Caner responds:
Is his concern justified? Is Calvinism slowly overtaking Baptist churches?
To be fair, I must admit I have been vocal on this issue.
Very vocal.
I could hardly be viewed as an "unbiased" source on the issue. I have preached it in the Thomas Road Baptist Church pulpit, and have stated emphatically in my classes.
Though those who have kept up with this blog or Caner's ministry might think this disclaimer to be unnecessary, it is encouraging to see him concerned with fairness. In fact, he goes on to make this appropriate admission:
Also for the sake of fairness, I must add that one cannot solely blame our Reformed brothers, either. Baptists are notorious for "fighting and fussing" over such issues as the color of the carpet and the location of the water fountains. This is not the first scuffle into which we have walked and it certainly will not be the last.
And this:
Thirty years ago, however, we could not blame all Pentecostals for the discord in our churches, and neither can we blame every Calvinist for the growing discord today. Those who instigated the fights that ultimately led to splits did not represent every Pentecostal. Neither do the most strident of the Reformed-leaning Baptists represent all Calvinists today.
I welcome the tone that these admissions can set in discussing the issues of Reformed theology. And I would likewise admit that not every Fundamentalist is guilty of misrepresenting the doctrines of grace or spewing forth the kind of venom and deception that characterized the now defunct baptistfire website. Many of our Fundamentalist brethren are just as interested in accurately representing those with whom they disagree as most Reformed Baptists are.

A second reason that I have chosen to address this article despite my hesitations has to do with my genuine desire to understand what Dr. Caner and those who follow his line of reasoning actually hear when they listen to the doctrines of grace articulated. Often, after reading the descriptions of Calvinism by its critics I find myself recoiling in horror with the thought that such beliefs ought to be cast back into hell from which they originated. I hate what they describe as much as they do. But what they describe is not historic, evangelical Calvinism. It is not the Calvinism of the 293 delegates who met in Augusta, Georgia in 1845 to form the Southern Baptist Convention. It is not the Calvinism of Spurgeon, Edwards, Carey, Judson, Boyce, Mell or Dagg. And it is certainly not the Calvinism of Founders Ministries.

So a question lingers on in my mind, "Where do such descriptions come from?" Is there something that those of us who are unapologetically reformed in our understanding of the Bible's teachings on salvation are doing to misrepresent our views? In our advocacy of the truth are we actually detracting from it in the way that we communicate it? I know that the truth is offensive and Jesus spoke plainly about it dividing even close relations. Paul said that the preaching of the cross is a scandal and an offense to many. Those are simple facts that all who are loyal to Christ must acknowledge and prepare to live with. But are we in the Reformed camp unwittingly giving unnecessary offense by our attitudes and actions when we uphold our convictions? No doubt that is true of some on many occasions and perhaps of many on some occasions. That still does not justify the misrepresentations because the 9th commandment doesn't have an exception clause attached to it.

Here is an initial attempt at understanding all of this. I think Dr. Caner is alarmed by the worst that he has seen in Calvinism and Calvinists. Further, I believe that he is fully convinced by his reading of Scripture that those who are reformed are simply wrong about moral inability, unconditional election, definite atonement and effectual calling. What I am not certain about is this: does he think that the strident, repulsive image of Calvinism that some Fundamentalists construct is inherent to the actual doctrinal convictions of reformed theology or is it an aberration of it? At this point I genuinely don't know the answer to that question, though the caricatures are so clear to me that the answer is obvious.

A third reason I call attention to this article is because confuses categories and definitions in ways that I find terribly unhelpful to honest diaologue. For example, Caner says this:
The real problem we face is a new form of Hyper Calvinism, that I call "Neo-Calvinism." Neo-Calvinists are not just "hyper;" they are obsessed.
He goes on to make this point of "clarification:"
So I will not be misunderstood, let me define the term. A Neo-Calvinist is a Hyper Calvinist with a twist. He cannot discuss anything without referencing Calvinism. For the "Neo-Calvinist," you are either Reformed, or you are teaching heresy. It is the prism through which every doctrine is filtered.
First, it is if Calvinism is being judged along a continuum with "hyper" to the right and "neo" to the far right--like someone who is "really, really, serious about his Calvinism." Of course, his use of "neo" notwithstanding, this is historically inaccurate. Hyper-Calvinism has a history. It can be defined. It is not Calvinism on steroids. As Spurgeon said, speaking of Calvinists, it is not that we believe any less than those who are hyper, we believe more. We believe in duty-faith and repentance. We believe in the absolute responsibility of unbelievers to trust Christ and be saved. When "hyper-Calvinism" is thrown around without distinguishing it from evangelical Calvinism, understanding is not advanced, confusion is.

Additionally, Dr. Caner's 5-fold definition of what he calls "neo-Calvinism" (hyper-Calvinism) is unhelpful.

1. "Double Predesitination." Calvin believed this. Are we to label him a hyper-Calvinist? John Bunyan believed this. Is he a "neo-Calvinist?"

2. "Not all babies who die go to heaven. They do not say outright that 'non-elect babies who die go to hell.' They simply say that they leave such issues to the sovereignty of God. This raises the issue of the very nature of God, doesn’t it?" Yes it does raise that issue, which is exactly the point, from my perspective. God is "too wise to be mistaken, too good to be unkind." The cross proves this beyond all doubt. For the record, I have never heard anyone argue that any baby that died in infancy went to hell. What I and others have said is that God has not told us clearly in His Word how all that works. We bow in humility and leave what He has not chosen to reveal in His all-wise, all-loving hands. This, it seems to me, is far better than trying to equate theologically the nature of a child with the nature of a dog (check the 6th bullet point)--neither of which are accountable to God for sin.

3. "God’s "love for mankind" must be redefined." Not "redefined," but simply defined. There is a reason D.A. Carson named his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Passages that speak of God hating sinners were not surreptitiously edited into the Bible by "neo-Calvinists." We must deal with those texts along side the ones that speak of God's universal love and grace.

4. "Invitations are an insult to the sovereignty of God. Disturbing as this may sound, some ministers of this stripe have stopped giving invitations in their services." Here Dr. Caner equates "altar call" with "invitation." The Gospel cannot be preached without an invitation because the call to come to Christ is inherent in the message. The fact that some Calvinists do not want to use the altar call system, what we might call "neo-invitationalism," should not be misconstrued to suggest that they are against inviting people to Christ. In addition, Rick Warren does not use an "invitation" and teaches against it. Should he also be labeled a hyper-Calvinist?

5. "Calvinism is the only Gospel." Granted, Spurgeon did say that Calvinism is the Gospel. But anyone who has read his sermons or books knows that by that he did not mean that simply articulating the 5 points is proclaiming the Gospel. I think Dr. Caner has a point here. When Calvinists quote Spurgeon on this it tends to confuse as much as clarify. As my own concerns over the loss of the Gospel in our churches has grown in recent years I have become more careful not to speak like this, and here is the reason why. I know of Calvinists who preach careful doctrine but who do not preach Christ so well. And the Gospel is all about Jesus Christ, who He is, what He has done and why that matters.

Dr. Caner appeals uncritically to the Anabaptists as his spiritual forbears in distinction to the magisterial reformers. I will let that historical debate slide for the moment. But I found much with which to agree in this paragraph:

In our history, Free Church believers have never been adherents to one particular system or philosophy. We certainly have not been locked to a scholastic movement that was formed by men. We are Biblicists. We believe the Bible is inerrant, not because a particular creed forces us to do so, but because we see Scripture as plain on that issue. We are adamant that Jesus Christ — virgin-born, living a sinless life, crucified, buried, physically resurrected and soon returning — is the only Savior because the Bible states it, regardless of the whims and wishes of men.
Of course, the existence of both the Particular Baptists (Calvinists) and General Baptists (Arminian) betrays his first sentence, but his main point is well-taken. It is precisely because we are a people of the book that we should be willing to look honestly and rigorously at what that book says. And wherever and however we disagree on other points, we must all agree on the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the Savior of sinners.

Near the beginning of the article Dr. Caner makes these statements:
I am not a Hyper Calvinist. I am not an Arminian.
I am a Baptist, ....
Though I am under no delusions that we mean the same things by these terms, I can also affirm those statements. I am not a hyper-Calvinist. I am not an Arminian. I am a Baptist, a historic Southern Baptist, which means I am committed to the reformed, Calvinistic understanding of salvation.

Final note: My treatment of this article is not an invitation to take shots at Dr. Caner in the comments. Engage his arguments, raise questions, objections or agreements, offer clarifications or support, but do not attack his person.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership revisited

I suggested last year that a resolution on integrity in church membership would be appropriate to bring before the annual meeting of the SBC. A couple of months ago I drafted one and submitted it to the resolutions committee. As I understand it, that committee has the authority to decide which resolutions to bring before the whole convention for vote. I have no idea whether or not my resolution will make it out of their committee.

However, the SBC Bylaw 20 says, "No person may submit more than three resolutions per year. The Committee on Resolutions shall prepare and submit to each annual meeting of the Convention only such resolutions the Committee recommends for adoption. Such resolutions may be based upon proposals received by the Committee or may originate with the Committee. Only resolutions recommended by the Committee may be considered by the Convention, except the Convention may, by a 2/3 vote, consider any other resolution properly submitted to the Committee" (emphasis added).

Since my resolution has been "properly submitted to the Committee," if the Committee does not see fit to recommend it for adoption, it may still be considered by the convention with a 2/3 vote. This would require, I assume, someone to make a motion that it be considered during a scheduled business time.

Bylaw 20 does not say that the author of the resolution must be the one to make such a motion. I am reprinting below the resolution as it was submitted so that anyone who wants to move that it be considered by the whole convention may do so, if the committee chooses not to recommend it. I plan to attempt to get this before the whole convention if the committee does not. However, from past experience, I know that it is sometimes difficult to make it to an open microphone and be recognized. If enough people are interested in seeing this resolution recommmended to the convention and are willing to make the attempt then the odds are greatly increased that one of us might be recognized by the chair.

So, here is a copy of the actual resolution that was sent to the resolutions committee.

Resolution on Integrity in Church Membership
Submitted by Thomas Ascol

Whereas this 148th annual session of the Southern Baptist Convention marks the 26th anniversary of the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention; and

Whereas at the heart of this resurgence has been a determination to return to an unashamed commitment to the inerrancy and infallibilty of the Bible as the written Word of God; and

Whereas the Baptist Faith and Message states that the Scriptures are "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried" (Article 1); and

Whereas the inerrant, infallible Word of God instructs us not to bear false witness (Exodus 20:16), but to put away lying and to speak truthfully to his neighbor (Ephesians 4:25); and

Whereas in 2004 the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profiles indicated that there are 16,267,494 members in Southern Baptist churches; and

Whereas well over one half of those members never attend or participate meaningfully in the life of any local Southern Baptist church and are thus no different than non-members; and
Whereas the ideal of a regenerate church membership has long been and remains a cherished Baptist principle; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2006, urge Southern Baptists to repent of our failure to maintain responsible church membership, and be it further

RESOLVED that we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the widespread failure among us to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18), and be it further

RESOLVED that we plead with pastors and church leaders to lead their churches to study and implement our Lord’s teachings on this essential church practice, and be it further

RESOLVED that we encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, especially when such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED that we commit to pray for our churches as they seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ through reestablishing integrity to church membership and to the reporting of statistics in the Annual Church Profile.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Trouble with Frank Page's The Trouble with the Tulip

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Since hearing several weeks ago that Frank Page might be nominated for the office of president of the SBC I have been trying to secure a copy of his book, The Trouble with the TULIP: A Closer Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism. I had read excerpts and a careful summary of the book by a trusted scholar, but I wanted to read the book for myself before commenting on his purported views. The book, which came out in 2000, is out of print and copies are hard to locate. Through the kindness of a friend I received a copy in the mail a few days ago.

It is only 80 pages long and is written in a popular style. The tone of the book is, for the most part, very gracious toward those who are convinced Calvinists. After reading it, I have no reason to alter my original assessment that Dr. Page is a very kind man, faithful pastor and would be wonderful to know as a friend. He is convinced, however, that people who believe the doctrines of grace are wrong and are guilty of following "manmade" teachings. While there are a few novel things in the book (such as his interpretation that Romans 9:10-13 proves that election is to service not salvation since it says that the older shall serve the younger! [63-64]), for the most part his views are little more that restatements of positions that have taken long before now, including the confusing of "Five Point" Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism (75-76).

It is unfortunate to see him decidedly agreeing with the late William Estep's gratuitous claim that "This newfound fascination with Calvin and the system of theology that bears his name is both intriguing and puzzling, since most of the ardent advocates of this movement have only a slight knowledge of Calvin or his system as set forth in the Institutes of the Christian Religion." He further agrees with Estep in saying that Calvinism is "a system of religion without biblical support" (74).

These quotes come from an article Dr. Estep wrote in 1997 entitled, "Doctrines lead to 'Dunghill' Prof Warns." The Founders Journal dedicated nearly a complete issue to refuting Dr. Estep with responses by Dr. Al Mohler, Dr. Roger Nicole and me. If you only have time to read one of these articles, read Dr. Nicole's. It is devastating. I wish Dr. Page had read these responses before he wrote his book. Perhaps he would not have been so enamored of Dr. Estep's assertions.

Page also rehashes the old canard that Calvinism always kills evangelism. He writes,
If one does follow the logic of Calvinism, then a missionary or evangelistic spirit is unnecessary. If irresistible grace is the truth, then there is no need to share Christ with anyone, since those persons whom God has elected are irristibly going to be drawn into his kingdom anyway. If one studies the pages of history, one will see that Calvinistic theology (Five Point) has encouraged a slackening of the aggressive evangelistic and missionary heartbeat of the church (74-75).
One cannot help but wonder what pages of what history he has in mind. One can easily point to readily accessable pages of history that overwhelmingly refute this myth (see the section entitled, "Gratuitous Historical Assertions" in the link). These kinds of claims raise huge question marks over his response to Tad Thompson about the resurgence of reformed theology in the SBC. Page said:
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a Calvinist. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not Arminian. I do believe that this issue needs to be discussed openly and honestly.

I have also stated publicly that I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention is big enough for all conservative Christians who have a kind spirit and an evangelistic heart, as well as a deep belief in the integrity of God’s Word.

I have attempted to be kind to all groups. As I have said in another interview, I have Calvinists within my church with whom I work well. One of my dearest friends in this state is a five-point Calvinist. I can work with almost anyone if they have a sweet spirit, an evangelistic heart, and a commitment to the integrity of God’s Word.
Furthermore, his pledge "to involve Calvinists and non-Calvinists who meet the criteria he has proposed for appointment" to leadership positions in the SBC, should he be elected president leaves on wondering exactly what he means. Is Page saying that he is willing to work with people who follow "manmade doctrines," whose religion is "without biblical support," whose theological convictions mean that "there is no need to share Christ with anyone" and encourage "a slackening of the aggressive evangelistic and missionary heartbeat of the church?" I would not work with such people and I would not want a president of the SBC who would, either.

I appreciate the spirit that comes through in Dr. Page's book. I believe him when he says that he has attempted to be kind to all groups. That is the type of spirit that we need more of as we discuss our differences in the SBC. But kindness is not a "get out of jail free" card that allows theological judgments and arguments to be ignored. If Dr. Page genuinely believes what he has written about Calvinism, then no amount of kindness can justify his willingness to work with the kinds of people he has described in his book! It is as if he is saying that truth does not matter, and that is a position that no one who loves God's Word should be willing to tolerate.

Here is my point. You cannot have it both ways. If you believe that a man's theological conviction kills evangelism and missions and is built on manmade doctrines, then out of loyalty to Jesus Christ you cannot go on and say, "but I am willing to work with that man in Gospel enterprises." Furthermore, do not expect those whose theological views are accused of opposing evangelism and missions to overlook such charges because they are made with gentleness and kindness.

I believe that Calvinists and non-Calvinists can and should work together in the SBC. I believe that Dr. Page does as well. His book, however, by confusing Calvinism with hyper-Calvinism and charging five-point Calvinism with being inherently anti-evangelism and anti-missions, does not contribute to that goal.

Submit a question for the discussion on election

"Reaching Today's World through Differing Views of Election" is the theme of the breakout session to be led by Drs. Paige Patterson and Al Mohler at the upcoming Pastors' Conference in Greensboro. Questions are being solicited for possible use in a a Q&A forum at the conference. Fill out the online form to submit your question.

HT: MarieP and Dave Roberts

Friday, June 02, 2006

Twenty years at GBC

This week marks my 20th anniversary as pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. It is a milestone worth noting because of its testimony to the grace of God working within a local church. Early in my ministry when I heard of a pastor who stayed a long time serving one church I could not help but admire him. Now I admire much more the churches where that kind of longevity is encouraged. Anytime you hear of a long pastorate you can be sure that it is a testimony to a gracious congregation. That is certainly true in my case.

They have given me room to grow, encouraged the development and exercise of my gifts, overlooked my eccentricities and been generous and conscientious in their support. They have loved me and my family (which doubled in size from when I first arrived) and have followed my leadership through some uncertain and difficult times. The name fits the church.

Yesterday I communicated with 5 brothers who have recently been or are in the process of being forced out of their pastoral ministries by the churches they serve. In addition, there are several more men who alluded to their own, similar experiences in the comments on the blog entry about "Dishonest Calvinists (?)." All of this has caused me to think more deeply about what is going on in the advance of reformation within the SBC and beyond. I hope to collect my thoughts and write about it before long, but here is the direction of my thinking. Calvinism is being made the whipping boy for many of the serious problems that are coming to light in denominational entities as well as local churches. If you listen carefully you can hear that case being made not only in the halls of academia but also in every level of the denominational organization. The misrepresentation of the doctrines of grace and the refusal to admit the nature and real source of these problems provide an easy target for godless people as well as misguided godly people to get in their sites as the explanation of all our problems. This is disingenuous, dishonest and will prove to be spiritually disastrous. But, as I said, that is not the point of this article.

It does provide a backdrop, however, for my recent musings about my 20 year tenure at Grace. Many good things have happened in those 2 decades. I have been granted amazing privileges by God over the course of my ministry here. I have had the privilege of baptizing children of those who came to Christ and were baptized here as young adults many years ago. I have witnessed the church's recovery of biblical foundations in the areas of the Gospel, discipline and polity. I have watched us send out 3 of our finest families to serve as missionaries in hard places. I have seen God's grace at work as husbands and wives have buried their life's mate, as brothers and sisters have grieved over broken marriages and wayward children and as good friends and faithful servants have crossed that river that has no bridge at life's end. I have been stunned by watching the workings of God's grace in saving people in all kinds of ways and at various stages of life. I have seen the church struggle financially and respond to financial blessings. I have wept with the church as we watched friends walk away from the Gospel and from us, and have rejoiced with the church as we have seen estranged members restored. I have been challenged and encouraged to study, understand and teach God's Word week-by-week by a people whose appetite for Christ is so voracious that they will not allow me to get away with superficial exposition. Their faithfulness has provoked in me desires to be faithful.

As with life ministry is filled with a mixture of blessings and sorrows. That is true both for pastor and congregation. John Newton captures the experience of every pastor in this poem.
A Minister's Burden

What contradictions meet
In ministers' employ!
It is a bitter sweet,
A sorrow full of joy:
No other post affords a place
For equal honor or disgrace.

Who can describe the pain
Which faithful preachers feel,
Constrained to speak in vain,
To hearts as hard as steel?
Or who can tell the pleasures felt,
When stubborn hearts begin to melt?

The Savior's dying love,
The soul's amazing worth,
Their utmost efforts move,
And draw their bowels forth;
They pray and strive, the rest departs,
Till Christ be formed in sinners' hearts.

If some small hope appears,
They still are not content,
But with a jealous fear,
They watch for the event:
Too oft they find their hopes deceived.
Then how their inmost souls are grieved!

But when their pains succeed,
And from the tender blade
The ripening ears proceed,
Their toils are overpaid:
No harvest-joy can equal theirs,
To find the fruit of all their cares.

On what has now been sown,
Thy blessing, Lord, bestow;
The power is Thine alone,
To make it spring and grow:
Do Thou the gracious harvest raise,
And Thou alone shalt have the praise.
The church surprised me with a most unusual gift on Wednesday night. For many years I have had back trouble, resulting in a couple of surgeries and some ongoing discomfort. The gracious people whom I serve got together and purchased a "therapeutic spa" for my family and me in honor of our anniversary. "Therapeutic spa" sounds so much more noble than "hot tub" and I admit that I am not very well-versed in this field, but it sure looks like a hot tub! One seat is specially designed with water jets that work on the spinal column. I briefly initiated it yesterday and stayed in long enough to predict that it will be greatly used in the years ahead.

I do need to study up on how to get the most out of it, however. As you can see, I am already hard at work on that.
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I am deeply grateful to the Lord for the privilege of serving the wonderful people of Grace Baptist Church for the last 20 years. I could wish that every pastor would have the joy of living with such a people.