Thursday, September 28, 2006

More on the Joshua Convergence

The Florida Baptist Witness again shows why it is perhaps the leading state Baptist newspaper in the SBC by releasing a more indepth article on the Joshua Convergence meeting near Orlando earlier this week. The article reports on each of the addresses on the seven principles of the statement issued earlier this week. There are some very interesting quotes included, such as this one from Jeff Crook, pastor, Blacksheaer Place Baptist Church, Atlanta, Ga, who spoke on gratitude:
"To fail to express gratitude and deny these men honor is glaring arrogance and profound ignorance," added Crook. "There’s some young preachers tonight that need to put their hand over their mouth. We need to repent of our arrogance and fleshly spirit of ingratitude. That's what’s keeping Holy Ghost revival from coming to our convention.
Brad Reynolds was also one of the speakers. You may remember him from some of his more than 75 comments offered on this blog in previous months. In one of his most infamous comments, Reynolds, who as a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has signed the Abstract of Principles, asserted that he could "affirm 3 of the classic points of Calvinism provided I can define them." He spoke on holiness and, predictably, brought up the SBC resolution on total abstinance. He went on to talk about the discussion on some blogs of this resolution after the convention meeting. According to the Witness, Reynold said this about of those bloggers:
One of them went on to say that he went to share Jesus with someone, had a meal with her and asked her for wine at the meal [and] she was so moved that a Baptist preacher would ask her for wine, that her heart just opened up to receive the gospel of Christ and she got saved.
"The very idea that the Holy Spirit of God is moved by the spirits of alcohol is contrary to God's word and sacrilegious," Reynolds said.
Wade has addressed this on his blog, with a link to his original post that Reynolds completely misrepresents. The irony here would be hilarious if it weren't so tragic.

Emir Caner spoke on identity. He made some great points, such as the following:
"… We must not waver in our commitment to the true church in order to accommodate the compromising methods of the modern-day, so-called reform groups who cry for a generous orthodoxy or twenty-first century relevancy and eclipse their view for church polity and purity," Caner said. "A Baptist church, from its inception, whether it be planted here or around the world, deserves to be defined explicitly and not to be depicted ambiguously. And if we faithfully follow scriptural methods for the church, I promise you, it will be relevant. It always has been. But if we do not do so, I'm afraid we will be up willow creek without a paddle."
The article is worth reading. If you have the time, the video of these talks is also educational.

I have one final comment to make about this issue. I hope those who met in Florida this week and preached these messages will never forget that there is a more important JC than "Joshua Convergence!" :-)

Joshua Convergence and the priesthood of believers

I received an email from Dr. Emir Caner, one of the participants in the recent Joshua Convergence meeting in Orlando this week, concerning my critique of imprecise and misleading theological language in the statement that they produced.

Here is what the published statement said, under the principle of "identity:"
We are wholehearted in our dedication to Baptist ecclesiology as expressed in Scripture for our understanding of what constitutes a local church. We are Baptists by conviction not by tradition alone, believing the fundamental principles which constitute a Baptist church are the very ones which made up a New Testament church. Such essential tenets of a believer's church, founded upon the sole authority and sufficiency of Scripture, include regenerate church membership, believer's baptism by immersion, believer's Lord's Supper as a memorial, church discipline, local church autonomy, congregational polity, confessional fidelity, priesthood of the believer, separation of church and state, religious liberty, and an unwavering passion to carry out the Great Commission. We should never be prideful in being Baptist, but we should always be thankful in being Baptist [emphasis added].
Here is the critique I made of that:
Regarding the theological imprecision, I find it ironic that the self-styled heirs of the conservative resurgence have actually taken up the language of the moderate resistance by affirming the "priesthood of the believer." No individual believer consitutes a whole priesthood. The individualistic and subjectivistic spin that the moderates put on the reformation principle of the priesthood of all believers resulted in the perversion of this precious doctrine into little more than the adage that "every tub sits on its own bottom." It is a little like advocating the "communion of the saint."
In his email, Dr. Caner says that he agrees "wholeheartedly" with this point and requested that the language be changed. The change was in the works last week though it was only made yesterday. This revision can be seen at the Joshua Convergence website. [EDIT: the link is now fixed]

I appreciate the effort Dr. Caner made to alert me to this change.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Calvinism as I see it" and the problems that it causes

I cannot help but wonder where Lonnie Wilkey has been the last several years. What has he been reading? To whom has he been listening? Where does he get the information on which he bases his opinions? The reason I wonder is due to the fact that Mr. Wilkey is the editor of the Tennessee Baptist Convention's state paper, the Baptist and Reflector. He resides in a high place of influence among Tennessee Baptists. His opinions are widely published and probably carry a lot of weight with many of his readers. So the source of his opinions and how he formulates them are important.

His latest published editorial will leave many Southern Baptists seriously concerned about his ability to understand important theological discussions that are taking place among us. It is another hit job on Calvinism. What makes it stand out so much is that it seems about 5-7 years out of date. Even the title betrays the depth of editorial misunderstanding behind the article: "Calvinists have no sense of urgency--Jesus did."

As I said, at best, Mr. Wilkey's article is way past its "best if used by" date. Such scurrilous misrepresentations were common-place twenty years ago. Then, a man of reputed authority could stand up and declare that "Southern Baptists have never been Calvinists," or "Calvinism kills evangelism" or "No great evangelist has ever been a Calvinist," or "Spurgeon was not a Calvinist" or any number of other demonstrably inaccurate statements, and basically go unchallenged. Today, that is virtually impossible. With the ready availability of information through the internet, any inquisitive high school student with a modem can debunk such claims in a matter of minutes. That is why such broad accusations have lessened over the years--at least within academia and publishing houses (granted, some pastors and others are still a little slow on the uptake, but they also are learning to be more careful in their comments if they do not want to lose all credibility with the wifi generation).

It has been a few years since I have read these kind of broad-brush untruths about the doctrines of grace in a reputable Southern Baptist publication. Mr. Wilkey is way out of step. The article does not need a serious rebuttal, largely because the silly claims that it makes have been so frequently and thoroughly refuted in various places that anyone who can find google and spell "Calvinism" and "evangelism" will instantly have more than enough information to expose the superficiality of what Wilkey has written.

In his defense, Mr. Wilkey does offer this timid caveat: "Now, keep in mind I am writing from a layman's perspective with no seminary training." He is writing from one layman's very skewed perspective. You do not need a seminary degree to avoid the kinds of mischaracterizations that Wilkey has perpetrated. You do need a willingness to look beyond your own feelings and do at least an hour's worth of research.

Again, I am not going to review the article. Others can, and I am confident will do that. But I will resist the temptation even to address some of the more egregious statements he makes. Instead, I will highlight only one of his remarks, one which may well reveal the source of all his deep misunderstanding.

He writes, "The danger with Calvinism as I see it is that it could cause Southern Baptists in the pew to think they do not need to witness, give through the Cooperative Program to missions, or pray for lost souls. That would be a tragedy." Mr. Wilkey's problem is that he is reacting to "Calvinism as I see it" rather than the real thing. He does not understand historic Calvinism, historic Southern Baptist theology--which was thoroughly Calvinistic--or the relationship of the doctrines of grace to evangelism. The Calvinism that he sees is not true Calvinism. It is a straw man. Straw men are easy to construct, easy to destroy and other than leaving the one responsible for them feeling good about his work, they serve no useful purpose.

I am sorry to see this editorial get distributed. Not because it will hinder the cause of God or His truth. But because it will discredit Mr. Wilkey and probably confuse some of his readers who do not have access to all the information that is available on the subject. I regret both of these consequences.

I wish Mr. Wilkey no ill. I do not know him. If I did, I assume I would like him. Neither do I take any delight in exposing his serious errors. But he is in a position of sacred trust as an editor of a state Baptist paper. He should know better. He has published his errors publicly. It is appropriate that they should be held up to the light of public scrutiny.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Joshua Convergence

The Florida Baptist Witness reports on a two-day gathering of "younger" SBC leaders near Orlando for the stated purpose of expressing their "support of the SBC's conservative resurgence and its emphasis on biblical inerrancy." Over 4o such pastors and seminary professors are attending the meeting held at Aloma Baptist Church in Winterpark. Seven "Principles of Affirmation" have been offered by the group. They are:
"1. Truth--'This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night .…' Joshua 1:8

"We affirm the inerrancy of Scripture and the need for Southern Baptists to continue 'to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). We maintain that any departure from the sufficiency of Scripture in preaching, evangelism, counseling, missions, ministry, or ecclesiology strikes against the very truth and authority of God's Word. Pride and human sinfulness will draw believers away from biblical truth if they are not eternally watchful. The battle for the Bible must be renewed in every generation. We take our stand to continue in that battle.

"2. Gratitude--'As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.' Joshua 1:5

"We affirm our deep thankfulness for those who have taken our Convention back to its theological and spiritual moorings. Because of the prayers and personal sacrifice of these godly men and women, we are the beneficiaries of seminaries that champion God's Word, evangelistic mission agencies, and a Convention committed to the Great Commission. We are deeply disheartened by anyone who would malign the motives of these godly leaders. Instead, we seek to continue in the direction they have established, joining them in service to the Lord Jesus Christ with the prayer that God's hand of guidance would be with us.

"3. Service--'Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth ... as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.' Joshua 24:14-15

"We affirm a God-given stewardship of service in our Convention in order to bring about His kingdom purposes. Our Lord has said, 'Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant' (Matthew 20:26). We are aware that - as with any human organization - the mechanisms of the Southern Baptist Convention can be manipulated. We commit to refrain from such practices. Instead, we will serve through any avenue God provides, not with the expectation of being elevated or honored, but only to please Jesus Christ. We seek a spirit of humility wherever we might serve.

"4. Holiness--'And Joshua said to the people, 'Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.' Joshua 3:5

"We affirm personal purity and separation from worldliness. Convinced that a redeemed life produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24), we abhor compromise of biblical holiness, modesty, and temperance in the name of Christian liberty (Romans 6:15). Though we do not endorse pharisaical legalism, we resist attempts to accommodate standards of holiness to vacillating cultural norms. To this end, we oppose the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Throughout its history, our Convention has stood against the evils of alcohol. The present generation can in good conscience do no other. Further, we are unequivocally opposed to the antinomian attitude in some Christian circles concerning unwholesome and immoral language, cynicism, and profanity. We feel strongly that the Bible condemns such actions.

"5. Unity--'Now the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of meeting there. And the land was subdued before them.' Joshua 18:1

"We are fully committed to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a summary of our common beliefs, and we desire full cooperation with all who share this commitment. Within our number are those with diverse positions on the doctrines of grace, aspects of eschatology, approaches to worship, and missions and evangelism strategy. While we cherish opportunities to discuss these differences, we reject all attitudes of mean-spiritedness, personal attacks, or intellectual and spiritual arrogance in these debates. Instead, we pledge to maintain a peaceable spirit and to work together in our common goal of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

"6. Identity--'That this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?'" Joshua 4:6

"We are wholehearted in our dedication to Baptist ecclesiology as expressed in Scripture for our understanding of what constitutes a local church. We are Baptists by conviction not by tradition alone, believing the fundamental principles which constitute a Baptist church are the very ones which made up a New Testament church. Such essential tenets of a believer's church, founded upon the sole authority and sufficiency of Scripture, include regenerate church membership, believer's baptism by immersion, believer's Lord's Supper as a memorial, church discipline, local church autonomy, congregational polity, confessional fidelity, priesthood of the believer, separation of church and state, religious liberty, and an unwavering passion to carry out the Great Commission. We should never be prideful in being Baptist, but we should always be thankful in being Baptist.

"7. Mission--'That all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.' Joshua 4:24

"We affirm our desire for the nations to hear the gospel of Christ. Based on this conviction, we are committed to be personal soul-winners, to lead our churches and Convention in evangelism, and to support worldwide church planting. We commit to give sacrificially to missions and to encourage our churches continually to increase their missions giving. We are convinced that the Cooperative Program has been unusually blessed of God as a tool for training and sending God-called servants to proclaim Christ. Without hesitation, we desire for all Southern Baptist churches to grow in their giving to the Cooperative Program and encourage our state conventions to send higher percentages of Cooperative Program receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention."
I find within these principles some wonderful statements which deserve a hearty "Amen" (for example, the statements on truth and service). Other affirmations, though offered in a commendable and exemplary spirit, are marred by imprecisions both historical and theological. Some of that may simply be due to the vagueness of the language used. I would elaborate on the historical point but refrain from doing so because I have no desire to be further positioned as one who encourages alcohol consumption. I will simply say that, indeed, I oppose the "evils of alcohol."

Regarding the theological imprecision, I find it ironic that the self-styled heirs of the conservative resurgence have actually taken up the language of the moderate resistance by affirming the "priesthood of the believer." No individual believer consitutes a whole priesthood. The individualistic and subjectivistic spin that the moderates put on the reformation principle of the priesthood of all believers resulted in the perversion of this precious doctrine into little more than the adage that "every tub sits on its own bottom." It is a little like advocating the "communion of the saint."

I make no pretense of offering a thorough evaluation, just a few reflections. These principles will no doubt provoke lots of dialogue among Southern Baptists of all ages. Well they should. If that dialogue can be carried out in the spirit which the principles themselves affirm, that can only be beneficial for the SBC.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

An unmotivating letter encouraging more baptisms

A recent letter from the Evangelism Division of our state convention reminds pastors that it is time again to prepare to turn in the Annual Church Profile (ACP). The ACP is a statistical record that covers the 12 months beginning in October of each year. One of the most carefully watched statistics in the number of baptisms recorded. That number, more than anything else, is used by denominational leaders to judge a church's effectiveness or vibrancy. The letter reminds me why I have so much antipathy about the way the whole ACP process works.

Here are two paragraphs:

As you know, our baptism counts are very important.
Numbers are important because they represent souls lost and headed for Hell that are now headed for Heaven. It is time that we get serious about baptizing as many as we can these next two weeks to close out the 2005-2006 year.
There are just a few weeks left in the year.
These last two weeks prior to that Sunday are critical in seeking out those who need to follow the Lord in scriptural baptism. Search the names of those who have come to know Christ in homes or by making public decisions at the church. Follow up on them immediately and encourage them to be baptized as soon as possible. ...
I wish I could believe that every baptism represents a genuine conversion. But I am much to much of a realist to allow myself to be swept away by such a fantasy. In fact, any honest assessment of baptism statistics indicates that a significant percentage of those baptized in SBC churches do not last long. That is, there is little evidence that they persevere in the faith. Because this is so, my exuberance is unavoidably muted when baptism numbers are reported.

It really puts me in an awkward position. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God when one sinner repents and every believer ought to share in that joy. But, based on the evidence, 100 reported baptisms does not mean 100 sinners who repent. Maybe it means only 30%. It could mean less than 10%. At least, that is what the the observations of one the North American Mission Board's "soul-winning evangelism associates" suggest.

According to a Baptist Press report, Jack Smith told people at the "On Mission ’99" conference held at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in 1999 that his informal studies showed that "only about 30 percent of baptized believers typically are active in Sunday school a year later. When actual retention rates of new Christians are considered from the time of their decision, the percentage often drops to the single digits."

When this is the typical fruit of typical evangelism--the kind that focuses more on getting decisions than making disciples--it is impossible to think of every reported baptism as a person rescued from hell.

Until this problem is addressed, then the ACP reporting of baptisms only serves to perpetuate sham numbers that tell us very little about how many disicples have been added to our churches in the previous 12 months.

So, pardon me if I am not motivated by these kinds of letters.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Upcoming Debate at Lynchburg

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This is the official poster that Liberty University has produced to publicize the upcoming debate involving James White, Ergun and Emir Caner and me. Dr. White has recently reported that Dr. Jerry Falwell announced the debate a week or so ago by referring to James (by name) and me (as the guy whose name he could not remember :-) ) as "hyper-Calvinists." That is the very kind of mischaracterization that needs to be avoided in the interest of honesty and advancing the cause of God and truth. Hopefully, it will be the last such mistatement leading up to the debate.

Some details of the debate have yet to be finalized, but it will be 3 hours, with a break in the middle; it will be "open" in the sense that under the heading of "Baptists and Calvinism," any issue is fair game; and it will be structured according to a modified parliamentary format.

Please pray that the Lord will be honored not only in the efforts of 4 men to present and defend truth but also in the manner and spirit in which the debate is conducted. Many people are expecting--and some are even hoping--to see an unprincipled, rancorous exchange. I do not expect that to happen and am praying that the Lord will grant each of us grace to speak the truth plainly, unapologetically and lovingly.




Monday, September 18, 2006

Lifeway: 10% of SBC pastors are 5 Point Calvinists

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[9/19/06 EDIT: A friend from LifeWay contacted me today to let me know about the availability of a brief podcast with Dr. Waggoner regarding this research project as well as other research projects in the works. He even gives a "60 second overview" of Calvinism that is actually very good. It is certainly better than what is often presented. Dr. Waggoner makes the point that LifeWay wants to be on the cutting edge the things that are being discussed in our denomination as well as in evangelicalism in general. After discussing some of the plans with my friend and listening to the podcast, I am very encourged with potential good that LifeWay Research can do in helping pastors and churches understand various trends and tendencies that affect us all. You can access the podcast from the LifeWay news page. Click the podcast button.]

According to Baptist Press, a recent study by Lifeway Research, one out of every 10 Southern Baptist pastors considers himself a 5-Point Calvinist.The research also found that 85% do not consider themselves Calvinists while 4% do not know if they are or not. I think it's a pretty safe assumption that that latter group aren't either.

Brad Waggoner, director of Lifeway Research said that the study found that, contrary to popular opinion that the resurgence of the doctrines of grace is a young man's movement, "there is no significant statistical difference in those who are over 40 years of age responding in the affirmative and those under 40. Therefore, age is not a determining factor in those who embrace Reformed theology." I find this interesting, as well. The recent Christianity Today cover story suggests otherwise. Also, most of the anecdotal evidence indicates that the rising generation of evangelicals is more inclined toward reformed theology than those in the recent past.

I would be quite pleased to discover that one's age is not a factor in the theology he espouses. There are certain measurable realities, however, that would lead one to expect that more ministers being trained today in our seminaries would be Calvinistic than would have been the case 30 years ago. One of those realities is the fact that we now have more professors in our seminaries who understand and appreciate the reformation heritage of our Baptist faith. Only a few decades ago it was not uncommon to find seminary and college professors who were largely unware of the Calvinistic foundation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Consequently, those reformed roots were often overlooked when teaching Baptist history and theology. I well remember when it was common to hear the charge, "Southern Baptists have never been Calvinistic." With every new republication old books and articles, however, those claims became exposed as unfounded.

Another factor that leads me to believe that today's students would more likely be Calvinistic than previous generations is the breakdown of Southern Baptist sectarianism that we have witnessed over the last 30 years. For example, in the 1970s very few Southern Baptists were members of the Evangelical Theological Society. Today Southern Baptists are well represented in that organization. Interaction with the broader evangelical world has made Southern Baptists more aware of helpful writers and teachers who are not part of our own denomination. Men like John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, John Piper and Iain Murray have been favorably introduced to Southern Baptists and their ministries have challenged many to look more favorably on reformed theology. In fact, one seminary dean told me 5 years ago that more and more students are showing up with reformed commitments already firmly in place.

The BP story also reports this interesting tidbit:
LifeWay Research also found that a slight majority (51 percent) of Southern Baptist pastors address Calvinism from the pulpit once a year or less, while 45 percent of SBC pastors address Calvinism several times a year or more from the pulpit. Four percent refused to answer the question regarding the frequency with which they address Calvinism from the pulpit.
I would guess that there are more Calvinist pastors in the first group than in the second. One common misconception is that a pastor who is committed to the doctrines of grace is regularly ringing five bells from his pulpit. A pastoral intern in our church disappointed a former classmate of his when he was asked what it was like to be in a church "where Calvinism is preached all the time." The intern honestly replied, "I don't know. In the four months that I have been here, all I have heard have expositions, mostly from the book of Ephesians."

As has been demonstrated on this blog and many others, what seems to be far more common is for Calvinism to be attacked from the pulpits of those who fear it, do not understand it, or vociferously oppose it. Too often when that has been done, the doctrines of grace have been caricatured and then dismissed as heretical. In this new information age, a pastor does that at his own peril. Thirty years ago, men could get away with making outlandish statements about what Calvinism is and what specific Calvinists have believed and taught. Today, with a reliable internet connection and google, those claims can be checked out very easily. Sometimes, when a check is made and claims are discovered to be inaccurate, the making known of that fact draws the accusation of "impertinence." Though a haughty spirit can rightly deserve that label, there is nothing impertinent in exposing error with truth.

I am grateful to Lifeway for conducting this research. I hope they will do it again in 5 years, because the return to the historic faith of our Southern Baptist founders is growing. John Broadus referred to "that exalted system of Pauline truth which is technically called Calvinism, which compels an earnest student to profound thinking, and when pursued with a combination of systematic thought and fervent experience, makes him at home among the most inspiring and ennobling views of God and the universe He has made." This biblical system of truth is being seen by more and Southern Baptists who take the Word of God seriously. By God's grace, that trend will continue and increase.

Friday, September 15, 2006

"Jesus Camp" and Lessons from the 13th Century

A friend from church alerted me of this movie being released today. It's entitled, Jesus Camp. It is a documentary that won awards and created quite a buzz at the Tribeca Film Festival last Spring in New York City. Though I have not seen the movie, I have watched several trailers and read interviews with the producers and the woman who is the primary subject of the film, "Pastor" Becky Fischer.

She strikes me as a very sincere woman who is seriously misguided in her understanding of the Gospel and Christianity. Through her Kids in Ministry organization she is encouraging children to come to faith in Christ--as she understands it--and to become fully involved in every aspect of Christian ministry, including preaching, teaching and prophesying. Thus she highlights "Peewee Prophets" on her website.

Obviously, I disagree with Fischer's Pentecostalism, but that is not what I find so disconcerting about her efforts to train the rising generation of children. Rather, what I find alarming is the muddled understanding of the Gospel, the church and the kingdom of God that comes through in the reports and information from her website. Forget the claims of raising a baby from the dead at the "2006 Extreme Prophetic Conference for Kids." What I find to be of greater concern is the spiritual harm being done to children in the name of Christian teaching.

They are being taught that experience trumps truth and that the proper goal of their generation is to take America back for Christ. Charges that Fischer's camps for children are little different than the terrorist training centers sponsored by militant Muslims are unfair and reveal the ignorance or left-wing ideological agenda of those making such claims.

However, I do find some frightening parallels between the attitudes of children featured in the Jesus Camp promos and those who were instrumental in the 13th century children's crusades. Stephen, the French pre-teen shepherd and Nicholas, the boy from the Rhineland village of Cologne, each led thousands of children in quests to convert the infidels and recapture the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslims. Spurred on by ignorant adults, untold thousands lost their lives to treacherous travel and traitorous merchants. Full of zeal and bereft of knowledge, they gave themselves to a fool's errand and it cost them dearly.

Becky Fischer is certainly right in her concern. Christians must take seriously our responsibility to train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Merely exposing them for an hour or two a week to religious instruction will not adequately prepare them for a life of true discipleship. We must teach them, love them, show them and blaze a trail in front of them that enables us to say, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ " (1 Corinthians 11:1). Parents and pastors must learn to labor as a woman in birth pangs until Christ is formed in the children under our care (Galatians 4:19). This means that we will guard against encouraging superficial decisions to give mental assent to certain facts and call such decisions conversion.

All of this will require a mentality significantly different from that which too often prevails in evangelical children's ministries where fun is featured more than faith. Catechetical instruction as well as doctrinal and ethical training should be reclaimed as useful tools in the effort to ground our children in the Word of God. We must not hesitate teaching them the whole counsel of God and speaking plainly to them about the cost of discipleship.

Richard Wurmbrand, who suffered for the faith in Romania during the last half of the 20th century, describes his farewell to children in the church before he left his troubled homeland.
I remember my last Sunday School class before I left Romania. I took a group of ten to fifteen boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to a church, but to the zoo. Before the cage of lions I told them, "Your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith. Know that you also will have to suffer. You will not be thrown before lions, but you will have to suffer at the hands of men who would be much worse than lions. Decide here and now if you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ." They had tears in their eyes when they said, "Yes."
This is a far cry from whipping children into an emotional frenzy and then asking them, "How many of you want to be those who will give up their lives for Jesus?" Maybe we should hold more Sunday School classes in front of caged lions.

Psalm 78:1-8 provides a challenge that we need to take to heart as we think about helping the next generation launch into our troubled world:
1 Listen, O my people, to my instruction; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, 3 Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. 4 We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. 5 For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should teach them to their children, 6 That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, 7 That they should put their confidence in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, 8 And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart, And whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rosie O'Donnell and Radical Christianity

Scott Whitlock over at Newsbusters.org has exposed the latest looniness from that insightful social commentator, Rosie O'Donnell. As a new host on the ABC sitcom, I mean, talk show, called
"The View," she explained her concerns about Christianity very clearly in the September 12 episode.

When co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck's stated that radical Islam is behind the 9/11 attacks on our nation, O'Donnell responded that "radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America." You can watch the clip of it for yourself here.

This kind of thinking is characteristic of the political and theological left, whose ideology inhibits them from recognizing obvious and vital distinctions the way of Jesus Christ and the way of Mohammed. The prophet taught his followers to kill in order to advance his cause. The Lord Jesus teaches His followers to die to advance His.

One reason that such mischaracterizations as O'Donnell's are loudly applauded in our day (as her comments were by the studio audience) is because we have so few examples of radical Christianity in the West and particularly in America. American Christianity is far more American than Christian (read the latest TIME cover story, "Does God Want You to Be Rich?" if you want a clear example of this; note: the story has a great quote from the IMonk, Michael Spencer).

If more of us who name the Name of Christ were radically committed to Him and His way, our lives and churches would provide such a radical contrast to radical Islam that any attempt to equate the two would be immeidately recognized as absurd. Yes, there are some examples of such Christianity among us--but they are few and far between.

My wife and I once witnessed to an agnostic whose parents raised him to be a "free thinker." When I asked him what he understood about Christianity his response showed that he viewed Christians in exclusively political terms. He associated us with hard right Republicans. I am not suggesting that he was right to do so, but I do think that too often we make it too easy for such judgments to be made. Conservative Christian organizations (and even some churches) often look more like political action committees than the joyful cross-bearing, daily-dying, enemy-loving disciples that our Master calls us to be.

If Rosie O'Donnell really cared about America and really understood biblical Christianity, she would long for a revival of the radical version of the latter for the welfare of the former. If God in His grace does grant a "revival of true religion"--meaning a revival of radical, biblical Christianity--the difference between the way of Jesus Christ and Islam, as well as the way of Christ and all forms of civic and cultural Christianity, would become astoundingly apparent.

May our Lord quickly raise up a generation of radical Christians.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Theology of Tragedy

All of the memorials to 9/11 remind us that, for those of us who live in America, a new era dawned on our nation's history five years ago. Our children are growing up in a world where terror alerts are as normal as storm warnings. It is incumbent on those who shepherd God's flock to think carefully and biblically about tragedy and to teach others to do so, as well.

Following is an article I wrote 3 years ago to encourage this kind of pastoral thinking.

A Pastoral Theology of Tragedy
September 11, 2001 has in many ways defined our modern era. So much of our thinking is now in reference to the acts of terror perpetrated against the United States on that day. In the immediate aftermath, multitudes gathered to pray in churches across the land. People who had neglected spiritual concerns suddenly became spiritually sensitized. Everyone began to have opinions about God and concerns about God and wanting to hear from Him. There was no shortage of those who began to speak for God.

Tragedy presents unusual opportunities--for both good and ill. The potential for good arises from the fact that people are awakened to realities that they would otherwise ignore. C. S. Lewis famously made this point in his observation that "God whispers to us in pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." [1] This is profoundly true. Once the world is awakened by tragedy and attention is drawn away from those trivialities that blind people to God a pivotal opportunity emerges. But there is no guarantee that it will automatically be redeemed. Someone must rise to speak God's truth into the pain and suffering.

Those of us who are called to the work of pastoral ministry in the church bear the greatest responsibility for doing so. Shepherds of God's flock must be willing to seize such opportunities and do our very best to point people in paths of truth and righteousness in the wake of tragedy. We must help people understand what God is saying in the midst of sorrow and suffering. There is great opportunity for tremendous good to be done for the kingdom of God when tragedy strikes.

But there is also tremendous opportunity for spiritual damage to be done--damage that arises out of misunderstanding or misrepresentation of God. This can happen even when intentions are good and motivations are proper. Unhelpful commentaries were abundant in the wake of September 11.

One well-known Baptist pastor wrote an editorial that was picked up by several media outlets. In it he stated, "You may hear misguided minds say 'this must have been God's will.' Nonsense. In a world of free choices, God's will is rarely done! Doing our own will is much more common. Don't blame God for this tragedy. Blame people who ignored what God has told us to do: love your neighbor as yourself."
Read the rest of the article. [link repaired]

Friday, September 01, 2006

Friday is for Photos, September 1, 2006

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Mount Ranier, southeast of Seattle, Washington, rises 14,411 feet above sea level, which is only 14,407 feet more than the street on which I live. Yesterday, Donna and I enjoyed a drive up to the national park at the foot of the mountain with friends Bill Webster and Mike O'Fallon. The scenes were beautiful. This picture was taken around 6 PM looking at its eastern face.