Tuesday, October 31, 2006

SBC Exec Com Chairman on the "problem of Calvinism" in the SBC

Bill Harrell is pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia. He is also the new chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. This is Harrell's second tour of duty on the Exec Com, having been one of the first "movement conservatives" appointed to that powerful body in the early days of the conservative resurgence.

In a recent interview with the Georgia Christian Index, Harrell expressed his views on two problems in the SBC that need to be addressed and solved. Timmy Brister and Marty Duren have already commented on this. I am sure others will (or maybe have) as well. Here are some excerpts from the article.
The SBC Executive Committee chairman expressed, "We have two important issues to solve in our Convention. First, concerning the matter of worship style, we must decide what identifies us as Southern Baptists. This will be difficult, because we are autonomous, but I believe our Convention leaders need to make a more definitive statement about how we identify ourselves in worship and who we are as Southern Baptists."

"We are never going to be homogeneous, never have been, but there are some lines we should never cross as Southern Baptists," Harrell added. "There must be something distinctive about us or we will lose our identity."
While I appreciate Harrell's concern for maintaining a true Baptist identity, one must first know what such an identity actually is. In other words, what actually constitutes a Baptist? Or a Baptist church? Instead of getting bogged down in debating worship "styles" (which is is about as productive as herding cats) I suggest that Harrell and all others who share his concern about Baptist identity read Tom Nettles' trilogy called, The Baptists. Volumes 1 and 2 are already published and volume 3 is due out early next year. This set is simply brilliant. Nettles has thought more deeply about this question and addressed it more rigorously than anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention, and maybe any Baptist in the world. The question of Baptist identity is crucial, but it will not be addressed by trying to set some uniform "style" of worship.

Here is the second problem that Harrell sees:
"Second," Harrell continued, "we must deal with Calvinism. I have solid Christian friends, some of them pastors who are Calvinists, but I think they are wrong about the tenets of five point Calvinism. In my opinion too much of the New Testament must be ignored or radically interpreted to embrace the five points of Calvinism."
Of course Harrell is entitled to his opinion. But that does not change history. The necessary implications of his assertion is that the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were wrong about their understanding of salvation and ignored or radically interpreted much of the New Testament. Isn't it ironic that he so castigates the very founders of the denomination whose executive committee he now chairs? It sort of makes one wonder if the full significance of the complaint was appreciated when it was repeatedly and loudly chanted in the 1970's and 1980's that "the SBC has been stolen."

The article continues:
Harrell further explained, "I think the problem of Calvinism in the SBC could be solved if we establish one ground rule. If a man wants to start a Calvinistic church, let him have at it. If a man wants to answer a call to a Calvinistic church he should have the freedom to do that, but that man should not answer a call to a church that is not Calvinistic, neglect to tell them his leanings, and then surreptitiously lead them to become a Calvinistic church. That is not to suggest that all of our Calvinistic friends do that, but when it is done it is divisive and hurtful.

"The same thing should be true of a contemporary church," Harrell added. "Don't try to transform a traditional church into a contemporary mindset just because it is the popular thing to do."
Interesting ground rule. I wonder what Harrel would say about a church that was established by Calvinists as a confessionally reformed church but was led away from that confession by pastors who came in and preached contrary to it? In other words, does his "one ground rule" go both ways? Should a man who is not Calvinistic go to a church that was established on Calvinistic theology? Should a man who thinks that Calvinism is wrong serve as pastor of a church that was founded by Calvinists with a clearly Calvinistic commitment?

Here is the kicker: As the article indicates, Abilene Baptist Church was founded in 1774 as the Reed Creek Baptist Church, the 3rd Baptist church in Georgia. It's founding pastor was Abraham Marshall, the son of the famous Daniel Marshall, the famous founder of the Sandy Creek Baptist Church in North Carolina (who, contrary to popular revisionist historiography was indeed Calvinistic). Daniel also founded the oldest continuing church in Georgia at Kiokee in 1772. Although I do not have the founding documents of the Reed Creek Baptist Church at my fingertips, I do have this piece of information about the Kiokee church, which was later pastored by Abraham from 1784-1819.

The first article of the Kiokee church's covenant says this:
"According to God's appointment in His Word, we do hereby in His name and strength covenant and promise to keep up and defend all the articles of faith, according to God's Word, such as the great doctrine of election, effectual calling, particular redemption, justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, sanctification by the spirit of God, believers' baptism by immersion, the saints' absolute final perseverance in grace, the resurrection of the dead, future rewards and punishments, etc., all according to Scripture which we take as the rule of our faith and practice, with some other doctrines herein not mentioned, as are commanded and supported by that blessed Book: denying the Arian, Socinian, and Arminian errors, and every other principle contrary to the Word of God. Now yet since we are exhorted to prove all things, orderly ministers of any denomination may when invited, preach in our meeting house" (emphasis added).
Don't miss the irony here: the man who founded Reed Creek Baptist Church in 1774 (Pastor Harrell's church) is the same man who upheld this covenant and its doctrines. How does Harrell's ground rule apply here?

P.S. Providentially, Particular Baptist Press has just announced their newest publication, entitled, Daniel and Abraham Marshall: Pioneer Baptist Evangelists to the South, by Dr. Thomas Ray. The book may be purchased by contacting Gary Long at Particular Baptist Press, 2766 W. FR 178 Springfield, MO 65810, (417) 883-0342.

HT: Kurt

Monday, October 30, 2006

Reformation Celebration photos

Our Reformation Celebration was a great success. Several young adults and older youth put on a Reformation Fair for our children, providing lots of fun and some significant teaching about Zwingli and the reformation in Zurich. Many of the children dressed up like characters from the 16th century. I am sure you will recognize these guys!
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Philip Melanchthon, of course!

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Martin Luther! (in the arms of his mother)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ratbert gets it

Dilbert is my favorite cartoon. Scott Adams not only understands corporate America, he understands the internet culture.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Now that's an interesting idea!

Scholars say Baptists must recover church discipline. Who would have ever thought such a thing!

Isn't it hopeful that long forgotten Baptist distinctives (to say nothing of biblical teachings!) are increasingly becoming part of our denominational discourse? Pray that such discussions won't die out without genuine repetance serious, practical commitment to a recovery of healthy church life within the SBC and beyond.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

No applause for Condi

What a difference four months makes. At the June Southern Baptist Convention, Condoleezza Rice was the Belle of the Ball as she received rousing ovations before, during and after her speech. Now, as Baptist Press reports, she is receiving stinging criticism from her former fans over her comments at the installation of the new global AIDS coordinator.

Here's the story:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Conservative Christians are upset over comments made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a State Department ceremony to install Mark Dybul, an open homosexual, as the nation's new global AIDS coordinator.

With first lady Laura Bush standing with her Oct. 10, Rice welcomed Dybul’s family -- which she introduced as his "partner," Jason Claire, and his "mother-in-law," Claire's mother. As Dybul was sworn in, Claire held the Bible.

Several conservatives spoke against the appointment of a homosexual man to an ambassador-level role of stopping the spread of AIDS, and many objected to the "mother-in-law" reference. read the rest of the article

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Calling for Truth Radio Interview today at 1PM Eastern Time

Paul Dean and Kevin Boling, hosts of the daily talk radio show, Calling for Truth, have asked me to join them again today (Wednesday, October 25, 2006) at 1 PM Eastern time for their program. We are to discuss events of the last few weeks as well as broader concerns related to reformation within the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond. 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. Or, if you are in the Greensville, SC area, you may listen at Christiantalk 660. The phone number to use in order to participate in the conversation is 1-888-660-WLFJ(9535).

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pulpit Crimes

I am scheduled to speak at the Alpha and Omega Pulpit Crimes conference in Orlando on November 2-3 along with Burk Parsons, David King, Don Kistler, Steve Camp and, of course, James White. The conference will culiminate in a formal debate between James and John Shelby Spong on homosexuality and biblical Christianity. James and I were supposed to spend one session of the conference discussing the debate on Baptists and Calvinism. Since that debate was cancelled, we will now spend that time discussing the arguments we would have presented had we been given the opportunity to do so. The link above will take you to the Alpha and Omega site where more information is available.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cash Feenz and the prevalence of evil

Our town was shocked again two weeks ago when the charred bodies of two young men were discovered in a smoldering late model vehicle near an industrial park not too far from my home. Police investigations have recently uncovered some of the gruesome facts about the crime. The two teenagers were tortured and then murdered by a gang known as "Cash Feenz." Gang members had their own MySpace sites, touting their personas.

Cape Coral is not accustomed to this type of criminal activity within our city borders. But, as the Amish community in Pennsylvania tragically discovered a few weeks ago, there is no place in this fallen world that is beyond the reach of evil.

Eight years ago our community was confronted with a similar outbreak of brutal gang violence. I wrote an article entitled, "Lords of Chaos, Where Do They Come From?" in response to it. This world is not the way it was designed to be. Sin and Satan have ruined it. Failure to take sin seriously is to live in a fantasy world and not the real one. But sin will not have the last say. God's grace will ultimately prevail and Jesus Christ will be acknowledged by all to be Lord of lords and King of kings. Until that day, those of us who are citizens of His kingdom must continue to declare His throne rights and offers of grace and mercy to everyone we can reach. And we must do so without blinders to the evil that permeates our world, without despair that such evil will dominate forever, and without doubt that the kingdom of Christ will finally conquer all of His enemies.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another Baptist Press article

Tammi Ledbetter has another article published by Baptist Press today. As with the previous one, I find it to be balanced and fair. There is still no mention of the exact reason that the debate was cancelled--sabotaged is a better word. I have tried to explain to people that the debate was to be about Calvinism. The cancellation was about integrity--or lack thereof. Here it is in a nutshell: We had a signed agreement. All four debaters agreed to specific terms. Those terms were set aside completely by the moderator 12 days before the debate. We refused to submit to this kind of subterfuge.

The article, nevertheless, is worth reading.

Baptist Press on the Debate Cancellation

Tammi Ledbetter has written a very balanced article for Baptist Press (10/17/06) on the cancellation of the Baptists and Calvinism debate. As I read it, I was impressed with how difficult it must have been to sort through the thousands of words that have been written on this whole issue, beginning back in February. The article indicates that Mrs. Ledbetter did exactly that. She quotes from blog articles, comments, and published correspondence and does so while keeping the timeline straight! Inevitably, there are details that I wish had been included or highlighted that were not (such as the fact that the debaters had a written, signed agreement--not merely "Tom Ascol's proposal"--that was completely set aside by the moderator, Brett O'Donnell, 12 days before the debate), but no doubt the Caners feel the same way.

I commend this article not only for its helpful clarification of what happened and how it happened, but also as a great example of Christian journalism that seeks to deal honestly and accurately with even the most controversial of issues.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Vines on Calvinism

Dr. Jerry Vines, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, preached last Sunday night in First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia on "Calvinism: A Baptist and His Election." This is the second in a series of messages his is preaching there on Baptist Battles.

Keep your eye on on the Strange Baptist Fire blog because I understand that a series of careful evaluations of the sermon will be appearing there in the near future. I am not going to offer an extensive evaluation but rather simply give some passing thoughts on some selected quotes and points made by Dr. Vines.

I encourage everyone to listen to the message for several reasons.
  1. It is, I think, representative of what many Southern Baptists think Calvinism actually teaches.
  2. Dr. Vines speaks from a manuscript because he has done a great deal of research and wants to be very precise, so what he says cannot be easily dismissed as a slip of the tongue.
  3. The spirit of Dr. Vines comes across, for the most part, as very helpful in promoting honest discussion among brothers who disagree on the doctrines of grace.
  4. Some of the points he makes are very good and are worth seriously considering.
  5. The caricatures and misrepresentations that he employs are typical and are not likely to die very easily in our day despite the fact that most of them are very easily exposed as fallacious.
In what follows I will give Dr. Vine's points in italics. Where I am confident that I have quoted him accurately, I will use quotation marks around his words. Where I am not confident that I have his words stated with precision, I will leave the quote marks off. If at any point I have misquoted him or misrepresented his meaning, I am willing to be corrected and would appreciate anyone helping me to make such corrections.

I do not know Dr. Vines. From what I know of him he is a wonderful man of God who has served faithfully as a pastor for many years. That is enough for a man to be shown great respect in my book. When I point out his mistakes and correct his errors, I do so not as a critic of the man, but of his message. As he indicated at one point in his message, there is no need to get personal in vigorously discussing these biblical issues. I want to appeal to all who add comments to this post to keep them on a high level and engage only the message, not the messenger.

*****
Speaking of Baptist Confessions: "...the London confessions, Philadelphia confession, New Hampshire Confession...these confessions bear a close resemblance to some of the five points although there is no clear cut evidence that Baptists in their confesssions of faith ever truly subscribed to everything that the five points of Calvinism would teach" (emphasis added).

This is seriously and demonstrably false. Simply read the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689). Or, if you just want the highlights, read only these chapters from that confession:
Ch. 3-God's Decree
Ch. 5-Divine Providence
Ch. 6-The Fall of Man, Sin and the Punishment Thereof
Ch. 8-Christ the Mediator
Ch. 9-Free Will
Ch. 10-Effectual Calling
Ch. 17-The Perseverance of the Saints
It is hard to understand how anyone who is doing a studied presentation on Baptists and Calvinism can make this kind of mistake. Were Dr. Vines not reading from a manuscript, this is one statement that I would have lovingly chalked up to a slip of tongue.

On Southern Baptist life: Southern Baptists through the years have had a series of confessions that have been known as the Baptist Faith and Message. There are elements of Calvinistic doctrine there (BFM 2000) of course, because there are elements of New Testament truth in Calvinistic doctrine.

But it is very very difficult to prove that there has ever been a time in history or today when the majority of Southern Baptists were what we would call five point Calvinists. Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that there have been two tributaries from which the Southern Baptist river flows: the First Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina; the Charleston SC Association stream, and Sandy Creek, North Carolina stream. Charleston was more Calvinistic in its emphasis. Sandy Creek was more evangelistic.

The Sandy Creek tradition, as Dr. Patterson admitted in his dialogue on election with Dr. Mohler last summer at the Pastors' Conference before the Southern Baptist Convention, is more Calvinistic than is often claimed. This has been documented in various articles in the Founders Journal (read here and here) as well as in a little booklet I wrote years ago. Also, the upcoming issue of the journal will shed more light on this whole question with articles by Gene Bridges and Tom Nettles.

On the reasons for the resurgence of the doctrines of grace in Southern Baptist life: 1. reaction to weak theology; 2. reaction to dead churches; 3. many have attended conferences and listened to popular and articulate spokesmen for Calvnism; 4. others have been influenced by the schools they attended.

I think all of these are valid reasons but to them I would add these more important reasons:
1. The inerrancy controversy has driven many to reexamine the message of the Bible with a reverence and desire to understand its message, not assuming that we already know what that message is.
2. The controversy has also sparked a real interest in our Baptist heritage and especially in our Southern Baptist heritage, which, despite Dr. Vines' claim to the contrary, had a theological consensus of commitment to the doctrines of grace at its beginning in 1845 (see Tom Nettles' forthcoming 20th anniversary edition--revised and expanded--of By His Grace and For His Glory, from Founders Press).
3. A rising generation has a fresh passion for integrity and authenticity in life and ministry and they have longed for a more substantive faith than that which they inherited. Many are finding such substance in the Bible's teaching on God's sovereignty in salvation.

In the section of his message that he identified as "theological exposition," Dr. Vines speaks of the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility before addressing each of the so-called five points of Calvinism. He states that both are seemingly taught in Scripture.

On divine sovereignty: God is in control of all things. That is very clear in the Bible! But now, it is possible to push this matter of the sovereingty of God, that God is in control of all things to extremes. Philosphers call it determinism; hard determinism and soft determinism.

I could not help but think of this question while listening to Dr. Vines make this point: If all means all and that's all that all means, how can one push God's control of all things to extremes? The danger is not that we will take God's sovereignty too seriously. Rather, the danger is that we will hold it without holding with equal conviction the responsibility of man. To sacrifice any degree of God's sovereignty on the altar of protecting human freedom is to fail to understand what the Bible says about the reality, nature and extent of that freedom. God is absolutely sovereign. People are absolutely responsible.

On total depravity: Man is born with a sinful nature; every facet of our being stained by sin.
Calvinists go a step further than that and say that your will is dead and you are totally unable to respond. Ephesians 2:1, man is spiritually dead, therefore, Calvinists say, how can a dead man repent and have faith, so he has to be regenerated before he can have faith; in the calvinist system regeneration precedes faith.

"That brings up some interesting questions: if you're born again before faith, what does faith accomplish? Which means then that if you are born again before faith that means that, by grace are you saved through faith, that means then, if you're born again then you're born again before you're saved. Did I miss something there? I know I'm just from the country but, did that make sense to you?"

I think what Dr. Vines missed is the fact that regeneration is not equivalent to salvation, but rather, is a subset of salvation, a part of the whole. The better way to think of this is the relationship between the constituent elements of salvation: regeneration, justification, sanctification, conversion, glorification, election, etc. The real question is what causes what? Does faith cause regeneration or does regeneration cause faith? John 3:3, 5, where entering and seeing are used metaphorically for faith answer the question. Unless one is born of God's Spirit, he can neither see nor enter the kingdom.

The calvinistic view pushes the biblical analogy too far. Dead men can't believe. But it is equally true that dead men can't sin.

It is not pushing the analogy too far to assert what the Bible teaches, namely, that spiritually dead people cannot please God, nor obey God, nor come to God (Romans 8:7,8; John 6:44). Simply let the Bible speak and remember that "can" (Greek: dunatai) is a word of ability. Read those verses above by simply substituting "is able" for can and hear what the Bible says about the spiritual ability of lost people.

"It also raises questions about the character of God. Because, listen, in Acts 17 verse 30 it says that God commands all men, all men everywhere to repent. But now wait a minute. If they can't repent until they're born again and yet God is commanding them to do something which they are not able to do, what does that say about the character of God?"

Dr. Vines leaves the implication unstated that it would be unjust of God to require what a person is not able to do. Yet, Jesus clearly commands us to do what we are presently unable to do when He says, "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Interestingly, and no doubt unwittingly, Vines' objection is based on the the philosophical foundation that drives both Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism. Both of these errors claim, just as Dr. Vines indicates, that a man's responsibility extends only as far as his ability does. The Arminian sees this and says, "Yes, and we know that sinners are held responsible to repent and believe, therefore they must have the ability to do so." The hyper-Calvinist sees this and says, "Yes, and we know that sinners do not have the ability to repent and believe, therefore they are not responsible to do so."

It is the Calvinist who refuses to accept the rationalistic presupposition. Rather, Calvinism recognizes that the Bible teaches that sinners are both morally unable and yet spiritually responsible to repent and believe.

"Now man has total inability to do anything to save himself but he does have the God-given ability to receive salvation by faith."

Dr. Vines did not explain if that ability is given in nature or through some kind of universal grace. I wish he had.

On unconditional election: Is election unconditional? From the standpoint of God the giver, yes; but from the standpoint of the receiver it is conditioned by faith. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says you believe the truth of the gospel and you are one of the elect.

If Vines means by this that one's faith determines one's election then he is clearly in the Arminian camp at this point.

On limited atonement: After citing many verses that use universal language in relation to the atonement (including 1 John 2:2) Vines addresses this question, If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world and the whole world is not saved, then did his death fail? He answers by giving an analogy. If a man offers to pay for the meals of 20 people and only 15 take him up on the offer, then his provision has not failed, it simply has not been accepted.

So the meal is analogous to full atonement, forgiveness of sins and eternal life--that which Jesus accomplished or paid for by His death. If Jesus fully atoned for the sins of 20 people and only 15 of them accept it, then on what basis are those other 5 condemned and kept out of heaven? Isn't refusing to accept Christ and His salvation a sin? And yet, in Vines' analogy, didn't Jesus pay for that sin along with all the rest? The problem with this understanding is that it inevitably undermines the nature of the atonement--something which the history of theology substantiates. Did Christ propitiate the Father for every person who has ever lived, is now living or ever will live? If the answer is yes, then universalism is the necessary consequence.

I find it very interesting that Dr. Vines goes on to employ the language of Dort by affirming that Jesus' death is sufficient for all but efficient only for those who believe. This struck me as very confusing and completely unnecessary in light of his previous statements.

He also deals with irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints, taking exception to the former completely and to what he perceives to be Calvinistic extreme expressions of the latter. I will simply pass over his comments on these points.

In his conclusion Dr. Vines employs a very interesting analogy to explain how God's sovereignty and foreknowledge operate so as to leave man's freedom intact. He says,
"It's like a chess match between a master chessman and a beginner. The beginner is free to make any move he wants to, but the master chessman is going to win every time."

Though my guess is that he has no idea of the origin of this analogy, I find it very disconcerting that a man of his lifelong devotion to the authority of the Word of God would employ the precise argument popularized by the open theist, Greg Boyd. Here is what Boyd writes,
"We might imagine God as something like an infinitely intelligent chess player....Now consider that God's perfect knowledge would allow him to anticipate every possible move and every possible combination of moves, together with every possible response he might make to each of them, for every possible agent throughout history. And he would be able to do this from eternity past.
Isn't a God who is able to know perfectly these possibilities wiser than a God who simply foreknows or predestines one story line that the future will follow?" (God of the Possible, p. 127).
When the "resident theologian" at one of the SBC's most conservative churches starts favorably employing the arguments of an open theist against predestination and the absolute sovereignty of God, we have serious problems.

Here are a few more of his final comments as he concluded his message:

On systematic theology--"That is a man's attempt to systematize that which cannot be systematized. We ought to try to do it but we ought to recognize the fact that man's theology is a system which he himself has devised."

In churches where Calvinist doctrine is taught, there is a tendency to neglect witnessing and evangelism and not win souls.

The fact that Spurgeon, Carey, James Kennedy were/are zealous evangelists while being Calvinists [simply serve to show that] the exception proves the rule. "If a Calvinist is a soul winner it is in spite of Calvinism, not because of it."

Some Calvinists are doing away with a public invitation. "Something had to happen on the day of Pentecost... You can't tell me that three thousand people just stumbled along and fall into the water and got baptized. Somewhere along the way there was an invitation."

"What's the use of preaching fervently, weeping earnestly over souls if God knows they won't repent?"... "Why give the free offer of the Gospel? The nonelect can't receive it. The elect are already sovereingly regenerated without it."

"Calvinism eats the life out of our churches."

There seems to be a tendency when people get into these areas (of doctrine) to have an intellectual pride.

This last comment is worth heeding as an important warning. The doctrines of grace are indeed intellectually satisfying. There is a danger that that is all they are to some. To hold to the doctrines of grace without exhibiting the grace of the doctrines is spiritually deadly. God deliver us from intellectual and spiritual pride.

One final observation: Dr. Vines' message screams for a response from denominational leaders who never hesitate to issue warnings to Southern Baptist Calvinists whom they label "Calvinazis" and charge with being more willing to fly across the country to debate Calvinism than to cross the street to witness to a lost person. Wouldn't it make sense that those who issue such warnings should feel some compulsion to issue them in both directions? Will this kind of complete misrepresentation of the theological heritage of the Southern Baptist Convention and the theological convictions of thousands of Southern Baptist pastors be given a pass by denominational leadership? If recent history is any indicator, that is exactly what we can expect.

This could get interesting

Marty Duren, over at SBC Outpost, has written about a proposal before the trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary regarding the transfer of 90 million dollars in endowment funds from the Baptist Foundation in Texas to the Southwestern Seminary Foundation, to be managed by an organization that invests in, among many other things, breweries, tobacco companies and gambling companies. Marty raises the inevitable question of how this can be proposed in light of Resolution #5 at last summer's Southern Baptist Convention meeting.

I wonder if the voices that castigated those who opposed Resolution #5 will sound the alarm over this proposed action by SWBTS?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Reformation Celebrations

For twenty years our church has had a Reformation Celebration around October 31. Early in this practice, I was adamantly opposed to any kind of "Harvest Festival" or participation in Halloween. While we still do not allow our children to go out "trick-or-treating," I have come to see the issue differently over the years. Tim Challies's ambivalence and ruminations on the subject last year pretty reflect my own.

Nevertheless, we are continuing our tradition at Grace Baptist Church this year and on October 27 will host a chili supper (a tipping of the hat to my Texas roots!) and movie for the adults and a Reformation Fair for the children (put on by our youth and young adults). The kids will be introduced to key leaders of the Protest Reformation with medeival games, skits, etc while the adults will watch "The Radicals," a film on evangelical anabaptists (highlighting the life of Michael Sattler). We have watched a variety of movies over the years that have highlighted some aspect of our Christian heritage. It has been a lighthearted way to promote appreciation for the work of God's grace in previous generations.

Other churches host reformation conferences, like the one at Audobon Drive Bible Church with Joel Beeke and Geoff Thomas. First Baptist Church of St. Francis, Kansas will also host a Reformation weekend, October 27-29 with Roy Hargrave preaching on "God's Sovereignty and Man's Responsibility."

I am sure there are other conferences related to Reformation Day coming up in the next two weeks. Feel free to let us know about them in the comments section.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Valiant-for-Truth's Enemies

One of the most noble characters in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is that great defender of the faith, Valiant-for-truth. We don't meet him until the second part of the story, but the lessons that he teaches every Christian who is serious about God's Word and the recovery of biblical truth are priceless.

One of my favorite scenes in Bunyan's allegory (which, if you have not read, you simply must before the month is out!) is the occasion when Great-Heart first meets Valiant-for-truth. Great-Heart is leading his company of pilgrims (including Christiana and her children) to the Celestial City when they happen upon a man that is standing in the path, covered in blood, with a sword in his hand. Here is Bunyan's description of that encounter.
Then said Mr. Great-Heart, Who art thou? The man made answer, saying, I am one whose name is Valiant-for-truth. I am a pilgrim, and am going to the Celestial City. Now, as I was in my way, there were three men that did beset me, and propounded unto me these three things: 1. Whether I would become one of them. 2. Or go back from whence I came. 3. Or die upon the place. Prov. 1:11-14. To the first I answered, I had been a true man for a long season, and therefore it could not be expected that I should now cast in my lot with thieves. Then they demanded what I would say to the second. So I told them that the place from whence I came, had I not found incommodity there, I had not forsaken it at all; but finding it altogether unsuitable to me, and very unprofitable for me, I forsook it for this way. Then they asked me what I said to the third. And I told them my life cost far more dear than that I should lightly give it away. Besides, you have nothing to do thus to put things to my choice; wherefore at your peril be it if you meddle. Then these three, to wit, Wild-head, Inconsiderate, and Pragmatic [which in Bunyan's day meant officious, meddlesome; dogmatic in a dictatorial way], drew upon me, and I also drew upon them. So we fell to it, one against three, for the space of above three hours. They have left upon me, as you see, some of the marks of their valor, and have also carried away with them some of mine. They are but just now gone; I suppose they might, as the saying is, hear your horse dash, and so they betook themselves to flight [emphasis added].
Many people miss the lesson that Bunyan is trying to teach here. These three enemies are well-named because they are the constant enemies of everyone whose heart burns with an undying devotion to truth. In order to understand and apply the lesson, you must recognize the fact that these enemies did not assail Valiant-for-truth from the outside, but from within his own heart. Don't you find this to be true, that as the flames of passion for God's truth burn brightest in your heart that the tempations to be wild, inconsiderate and officious grow strong? The successful, useful Valiant-for-truth is the man who effectively wields the sword he so much loves against the enemies of his own heart.

May the Lord raise up a generation of Valiant-for-truths after the example of Bunyan's noble character!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Birthdays, baptisms and firetrucks

In this Associated Baptist Press article, Beth Newman, Professor of Theology and Ethics at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, VA advocates the use of confetti-spewing firetruck baptistries for children.

Curiouser and curiouser....

HT: Bill Ascol

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What really happened to the debate, pt. 3

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HT for the cartoon: James White and Angelz

Ergun Caner has written that the debate was cancelled because, "They quit." As I have tried to show in the previous blog entries, it's not quite that simple. We refused to allow the moderator, with the approval of Drs. Caner, to completely renege on the agreement that the debaters had negotiated. I am very disappointed that neither Ergun nor Emir stepped up to stop the sabotage of our agreement. Either could have done so very easily immediately after Dr. O'Donnell's October 4th email asserting completely new terms. For reasons unknown to me, they chose not to do so.

Though I am disappointed that the debate will not happen, I am not sorry that a sincere effort was made to cause it to happen. I am sorry that so many had made plans and are now left holding reservations that they no longer need. Some have emailed and called and indicated that they will be traveling to Lynchburg anyway, since they have non-refundable tickets and hotel reservations. Perhaps such people can somehow connect with each other for fellowship while in town.

The effort that was put into attempting this debate, as frustrating as it was at times, has already served many useful purposes. It has provided a context and forum for some serious discussion about the doctrines of grace. It has called attention to Baptist theology. In this respect, I agree with Emir Caner when he writes, "It is never a waste of time to study theology - never." I believe that many have been provoked to look more deeply into our Baptist heritage over the last few months leading up to the debate. Its sabotage has not diminished the value of such studies.

With that being said, I am grieved and concerned by the way that the demise of the debate has been construed by the other side. Dr. O'Donnell wrote this in an October 8th email:
Gentlemen,
I have spoken with Dr. Falwell regarding the debate. Given that the two
sides cannot agree on the terms of the debate in a spirit of compromise
he concurs that the debate should not occur and therefore there will not
be a debate on October 16 agreeing with the decision that was announced
on Friday by Dr. White. I would hope that perhaps in the future all
parties could come to terms for a civil discussion on these important
issues.
Since I was back in the USA by that time, I immediately responded with the following email:
Dr. O'Donnell:
Thanks for letting us know. I sincerely hope that someone will explain to Dr. Falwell that the two sides did in fact agree on the terms of the debate in a spirit of compromise and that we even have written confirmation of that agreement. The reason this debate has been cancelled is because one side was willing to honor that agreement and the other side was not. Those are the facts--sad, but nevertheless, true.
Any suggestion that this debate was cancelled due to an unwillngness to compromise or negotiate terms is inaccurate at best and most likely dishonest. Both James and I have provided overwhelming documentation of this fact. Further, the agreement to which all four debaters agreed did not, in Emir Caner's words, "overlook time needed for introductions, intermissions, etc." The terms to which we agreed included 3 hours of actual debate.

I have two great concerns in the wake of this whole fiasco. The first is that sinful passions have been and will continue to be incited by not only what has happened but by the mischaracterization of the facts. I sent an email to Ergun yesterday appealing to him to speak the truth in love and to refrain from calling James White or me hyper-Calvinists. He has obviously disregarded my appeal. The result has been as I feared. He has discredited himself in the eyes of those who actually know what hyper-Calvinism is and has incited strong and sometime sinful reactions on the part of some.

My greater concern, however, goes to the very heart of a growing conviction that I have held over the last several years. It is a matter that I have repeatedly addressed on this blog, in sermons, articles and casual conversations. Often I am accused of being only or at least primarily concerned with seeing Calvinism recovered and spread. I know that is how I am perceived but it is certainly not a self-conscious priority. Rather, I am convinced that we have far bigger issues than Calvinism confronting us today. I am convinced that, in many respects and in many places across evangelicalism we have lost the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Far more important than recovering Calvinism is recovering biblical Christianity itself. So much that takes place in our churches and institutions today simply is not Christian. It may be religious. It may be ritualistic. It may be traditional. But too often it simply is not Christian.

This loss of Christianity among the "Christian" community is what makes the line separating the world and the church so blurred. The church looks, thinks and acts increasingly like the world in many ways, often intentionally so. Consequently, we are seeing the demise of "Christian ethics" all around us. This explains why on so many moral issues the conduct of Christians and non-Christians is indistinguishable. When biblical Christianity has been trampled underfoot or lost altogether, those within the Christian community feel no qualms of conscious acting like mere worldlings.

Much of what I have seen surrounding the demise of this debate sadly fits this profile. Please note: I am not speaking of anyone's personal relationship with Christ. I am not questioning anyone's salvation. But I am deeply concerned that the distortions, misrepresentations and false accusations are simply that--not Christian. An untruth is an untruth no matter the credentials of the man who speaks it. Bearing false witness is simply that, regardless of who does it.

The events of the last week should not be measured in terms of Calvinism and Arminianism. Rather, they should be evaluated in terms of biblical Christianity and unbelief. Christians are commanded to speak the truth and not falsehoods (Ephesians 4:25). The righteous man, we are told, swears to his own hurt (Psalm 15:4). That is, he keeps his word even when inconvenient or painfully difficult. Christians are to let our yes be yes and our no, no (Matthew 5:37; James 5;12).

These are a few of the principles of biblical Christianity that have been violated in the sabotage of the debate.

Balthasar Hubmaier's famous dictum has been often quoted: "The truth is immortal." He was right, of course, and therefore all lovers of truth can take heart. Even though truth sometimes suffers at the hands of its friends and takes some severe blows, it cannot be killed.

What really happened to the debate, pt. 2

My September 13th email took the original format suggested by Ergun Caner in his May 11th email in which he first introduced the Parliamentary format and set out the actual speaking schedule for what was then a proposed 2 hour debate (it was later agreed to extend it to 2 1/2 hours). Since our agreement in late July increased the length of the debate to 3 hours the time allotments for each speech and cross examination needed to be increased. Here is part of Ergun's original proposal:
FORMAT:

Speeches start with the affirmative and alternate between the affirmative and negative throughout the debate.
The first and last speech on each side of the question are uninterruptible.
Any member of the opposing team may interrupt the speeches in the middle of the debate in order to ask the speaker to yield to a question.
Speakers are not required to answer these questions
  • 1st Affirmative Speech: (10 minutes) uninterrupted
  • Cross-Examination: 4 minutes
  • 1st Negative Speech: (10 minutes) uninterrupted
  • Cross Examination: 4 minutes
  • 2nd Affirmative Speech: (10 minutes):
The first and last minute of the speech are uninterruptible.
In the 2nd-9th minutes of the speech any opposition debater may ask the speaker to yield to a question.
The speaker may accept, or decline the question.
  • Cross Examination: 4 minutes
  • Negative Speech: (10 minutes):
The first and last minute of the speech are uninterruptible.
In the 2nd-9th minutes of the speech any opposition debater may ask the speaker to yield to a question.
The speaker may accept, or decline the question
  • Cross Examination: 4 minutes
  • 1st Affirmative Rebuttal: (6 minutes)
The first and last minute of the speech are uninterruptible.
In the 2nd-5th minutes of the speech any opposition debater may ask the speaker to yield to a question.
The speaker may accept, or decline the question
  • Optional audience participation
  • Negative Rebuttal: (8 minutes): Uninterrupted
  • Affirmative Rebuttal: (6 minutes) Uninterrupted
Here is my email from September 13th:

Brothers:

I trust each of you is well and enjoying the labors of the ministry. Ergun and Emir, I hope that your mother's health has improved and James, I trust that you are recovering from the break-in and theft of your computer equipment. I have been praying for all of you.

As October 16 creeps up on us I want to nail down some of the specifics about our debate. I will be traveling a great deal between now and then and it would be very helpful to me if I could have the schedule of the debate clearly in mind as soon as possible to help me prepare.

At the end of July, here is what we agreed to regarding the length, format and thesis:

Length: 3 hours; this is to be divided into 2 sections; separated by a 15 minute intermission with equal time allotted for each speaker.

Format: Modified Parliamentary; following the basic schedule that Ergun laid out in his May 11, 2006 email. The times for each speech and cross ex will be adjusted to include the extra 30 minutes in this revision. Also, the speeches that are designated "interruptible" may only be interrupted once and with a question that takes no more than 15 seconds. The cross examination times are for questions, not speeches, and are to be related to the previous statement.

Thesis: Baptists and Calvinism: An Open Debate. No one should feel restricted from using any Baptist or Biblical material in his presentation.

I have taken the liberty to go back over Ergun's email from May 11 and have tried to adjust times to fit into a 3-hour allotment. Following are the results. Please let me know if this is acceptable or if we need to make further adjustments. If this is acceptable then we can all begin making preparations accordingly. If it is not, please make adjustments as soon as possible. Thanks!

In Christ,
tom

***************************************************************************

Baptists and Calvinism: An Open Debate

Speeches start with the affirmative and alternate between the affirmative and negative throughout the debate.

The first and last speech on each side of the question are uninterruptible.

Any member of the opposing team may interrupt the speeches so designated in order to ask the speaker to yield to one question which must be asked within a 15 second time frame.
Speakers are not required to answer these questions.
  • 1st Affirmative Speech: (20 minutes) uninterrupted
  • Cross-Examination: 5 minutes
  • 1st Negative Speech: (20 minutes) uninterrupted
  • Cross Examination: 5 minutes
  • 2nd Affirmative Speech: (20 minutes):
The first and last minute of the speech are uninterruptible.
In the 2nd-9th minutes of the speech any opposition debater may ask the speaker to yield to a question.
The speaker may accept, or decline the question.
  • Cross Examination: 5 minutes
  • 2nd Negative Speech: (20 minutes):
The first and last minute of the speech are uninterruptible.
In the 2nd-9th minutes of the speech any opposition debater may ask the speaker to yield to a question.
The speaker may accept, or decline the question
  • Cross Examination: 5 minutes
BREAK
  • 1st Affirmative Rebuttal: (12 minutes)
  • Cross Examination: 5 minutes
  • 1st Negative Rebuttal: (12 minutes)
  • Cross Examination: 5 minutes
  • 2nd Affirmative Rebuttal: (12 minutes)
  • Cross Examination: 5 minutes
  • 2nd Negative Rebuttal: (12 minutes)
  • Cross Examination: 5 minutes
  • Affirmative Closing Statement: 6 minutes
  • Negative Closing Statement: 6 minutes
You can easily see that all I did was take Ergun's proposal, eliminate the audience participation (which had been discussed) increase speaking times and add a break and closing statements in order to fill out the 3 hours of actual debate to which Ergun, Emir, James and I had agreed.

James White immediately responded to my email with his approval of these details. By September 25, 12 days after sending it out, I still had not heard from Emir or Ergun Caner. So, I called Emir and caught him at the Joshua Convergence being held outside Orlando, Florida. In that call I appealed to him to let me know if the details that I had sent in the email were acceptable to him and Ergun and reiterated the time constraints under which I was working. He promised to check with his brother and get back with me within 48 hours. He did so via email on September 27th. His response consisted of four words: "Your assessment is correct."

Two days later I boarded an airplane for Brazil, with notes and resources to make final preparations for my 42-45 minutes of the 3 hour debate on which all four men had agreed. In the middle of my speaking engagement in Brazil, On October 4th (12 days before the debate) I received a copy of an email that Brett O'Donnell sent which opened with this line:
"Below are the final details for the debate and are non-negotiable as they are based on what had been settled through earlier discussions."
Then followed this "final format:"
The format:
The affirmative (though I use that term loosely since there really is no resolution) will be the Caners. The negative will be Drs. Ascol and White. I have amended the format forwarded by Dr. Ascol since it will make the debate last much longer than 3 hours. Below is the format that will be used in the debate.
Structure:
  • 7:00 pm-Introductions, instructions to the audience and opening prayer-Moderator
  • 7:10 Debate begins:
Speeches begin with the affirmative and alternate between the affirmative and negative throughout the debate.
The first and last speech on each side of the question are uninterruptible.
Any member of the opposing team may interrupt the speeches designated below in order to ask the speaker to yield to one question that must be asked in a 15 second time-frame (a question and not a speech). The speaker is not required to answer the question. Each speech may only be interrupted once.
Cross-Examination is for asking questions and not for making speeches.
  • 1st Affirmative Speech: uninterrupted 15 minutes
  • Cross-Examination: 5 minutes
  • 1st Negative Speech: uninterrupted 15 minutes
  • Cross Examination: 5 minutes
  • 2nd Affirmative Speech: 15 minutes
The first and last minute of any speech are uninterruptible.
In the 2nd-14th minutes of the speech any opposition debater may ask the speaker to yield to a question.
The speaker may accept, or decline the question.
  • Cross Examination: 5 minutes
  • 2nd Negative Speech: 15 minutes
The first and last minute of the speech are uninterruptible.
In the 2nd-9th minutes of the speech any opposition debater may ask the speaker to yield to a question.
The speaker may accept, or decline the question.
  • Cross Examination: 5 minutes
  • Intermission: 15 minutes
  • 1st Negative Rebuttal: 12 minutes
  • 1st Affirmative Rebuttal: 12 minutes
The first and last minute of the speech are uninterruptible.
In the 2nd-5th minutes of the speech any opposition debater may ask the speaker to yield to a question.
The speaker may accept, or decline the question.
  • 2nd Negative Rebuttal: Uninterrupted 12 minutes
  • 2nd Affirmative Rebuttal: Uninterrupted 12 minutes
One need not be a mathematician to recognize that over 1/2 an hour of time was excised from the debate by moderatorial fiat. This removed one of the key points of negotiation between Emir and me that caused me to decide to reenter the debate in July. Those negotiations, as the email documentation proves, agreed upon 3 hours of debating.

Additionally, Dr. O'Donnell included in his email a "no use agreement" granting exclusive rights to the recording and distribution of the debate to Liberty Broadcasting Network which we are instructed to sign and return by fax within two days.

Upon receiving notice of O'Donnell's email, I immediately called Ergun from Brazil and left voice mail on his phone. I was able to actually speak to Emir by phone and asked him how our agreement could be set aside by the moderator, without any discussion and at such late date? He said that he knew nothing more about it than I did, but would look into it and get back to me within 48 hours.

Over the next two days, James White and Brett O'Donnell exchanged a series of pointed emails in which James attempted to inform and remind Dr. O'Donnell that we had a written agreemetn that he had unilaterally set aside. Among the more egregious statements that O'Donnell made in that exchange was this:
"The times that Tom forwarded to Ergun were not accepted, but proposed by Tom for a three hour debate."
Due to my limited access to a reliable internet server, I was unable to send email very often from Brazil. When I was able to get email out, I attempted simply to buttress James' recitation of the facts that Dr. O'Donnell was completely disregarding. Those facts could have just as easily been confirmed by either Emir or Ergun Caner, but were not.

These are the facts. I submit that they are indisputable. Most of them are documented. All of them are verifiable. Compare them with the declarations by Ergun and Emir Caner.

Tomorrow I will conclude my thoughts on this sad saga with final reflections and my own effort to make some sense of these events.

Monday, October 09, 2006

What really happened to the debate, pt. 1

This is a post I had hoped never to have to write. Instead of looking up dates and rereading emails and phone logs, I had hoped to be spending this week finishing up preparation for the debate in which Emir Caner, Ergun Caner, James White and I had months ago agreed to engage. Instead, I now find myself compelled to set forth the facts of what actually happened to sabotage our agreement and thus the debate.

Before giving my perspective on all this I want to direct you to several places where others have helpfully or humorously (which, these days is also very helpful!) commented on the debate. For a very accurate rendition of the facts of the case, read James White's explanations found here. Timmy Brister also has a helpful review of the events, including many helpful links including one to this hilarious "pre-debate video" put together by Josh Chavers . Timmy also put together some comments by some Liberty students.

Those who have been reading this blog for the last 8 months, or who have been industrious enough to do a little research, will know that the genesis of the debate is found in various comments that Ergun and Emir Caner left on a post I wrote about Johnny Hunt's announced candidacy for the SBC presidency. They were offended by remarks made by some commenters who disparaged Hunt and others, and took it upon themselves to respond with inflammatory and bombastic accusations. In the mix of all of the responses, a challenge to debate was issued by James White to Ergun Caner to debate issues surrounding the doctrines of grace. That exchange that this challenge provoked ultimately was taken off the blog and into email exchanges. After a few weeks, Ergun agreed to a debate with the stipulation that he be joined by Emir and James be joined by someone, preferably a Southern Baptist. James asked me to participate and I accepted.

After several more weeks of attempting to get details of the debate (thesis, length, date, etc.) arranged, things once again grew so heated that at the end of June I bowed out, unwilling to participate in the kind of mudfest that seemed to be shaping up. James agreed to plan on debating both brothers by himself. Ergun agreed, and that is how things remained for several more weeks. On July 13, in what was surely a remarkable providence, I was in the middle of composing a private email to Ergun when I received one from him. His was about a writing project and was very gracious in tone. My email was an effort to promote understanding and to express real sorrow over the way things had degenerated regarding the debate. I had absolutely no interest in being involved in the debate at that time. My interest was primarily to repent over my sin in some statements made and to ask for forgiveness.

This led to a phone conversations between Ergun and me on July 18. We profitably discussed many issues, including the debate. He indicated that he and Emir genuinely wanted me to participate and that they sincerely were looking forward to it. A few days later he emailed James and asked if Emir could contact me to discuss my participation in the debate. James agreed, Emir contacted me and we spoke by phone on July 26. He asked what would be necessary for me to get back into the debate. I said we would need to negotiate 3 things: length, format, and thesis. After much discussion we agreed to the following:
  • Length: 3 hours of actual debate
  • Format: modified parliamentary (only one interrupting question per speech, and that limited to 15 seconds; and ample cross examination)
  • Topic: Baptists and Calvinism: an Open Debate
This agreement represented compromise on both parts. I wanted a more focused thesis. I wanted a different format. Emir wanted less time, the parliamentary format and an unrestricted thesis/topic. We compromised and agreed on the compromise. Both James and Ergun signed off on this agreement. I also proposed a public statement that the four of us could issue. I wrote such a statement, incorporated suggested changes, and published it August 3 on this blog with the announcement of the newly negotiated agreement regarding length, format and topic.

This agreement was left undiscussed until September 13, when I sent another email to all four participants.

to be continued tomorrow

Radio interviews

Two radio interviews are coming up in the next two days. First, tomorrow, Tuesday, October 10, at 2 PM Eastern time, I will have the privilege of joining James White and Mike O'Brien, a graduate of LU and currently a Dean at the University, on the Dividing Line (you can listen to this live by following the instructions at the link, or hear it from the archives later). We will be discussing the beautiful color of the changing, fall leaves on the eastern seaboard. :-)

On Wednesday, October 11, at 1:15 PM Eastern time, I will be a guest of Mike Corley of the Mike Corley Program on WQBC Radio out of Vicksburg, Mississippi. I understand that you can listen live via audio stream at the above link. The topic is supposed to be reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention, but with all of the excitement in the blogosphere the last few days, I wouldn't be surprised if we don't also start talking about the fall leaves.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

It's Official: No Debate October 16

An email from Brett O'Donnell has confirmed the cancellation of the debate October 16. He has conferred with Dr. Falwell and has written,
"Given that the two sides cannot agree on the terms of the debate in a spirit of compromise he [Dr. Falwell] concurs that the debate should not occur and therefore there will not be a debate on October 16 agreeing with the decision that was announced on Friday by Dr. White."
Of course, that is not the reason that this debate will not happen. The two sides had an agreement that had been worked out in the spirit of compromise. We have written documentation of that fact. Until last Wednesday, each side was preparing for the debate based on the negotiated terms of that agreement. The reason this debate is not happening is because one side was unwilling to have the negotiated, agreed-upon terms arbitrarily set aside at the last minute. Those are the facts. I find them very sad, but they are undeniably true.

I will try to fill in some of the details on all of this in the days ahead.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Debate? What Debate?

Well, that seems to be the question regarding the debate on "Baptists and Calvinism" scheduled for October 16 in Lynchburg, VA. The events of the last two days have made the prospect of actually having the debate very slim. The moderator, Brett O'Donnell has unilaterally changed the terms and format that all four debaters had previously agreed upon. I find this whole thing very sad.

I am sitting in the Sau Paulo airport in Brazil and only have sketchy wif-i. In fact, it is more like w_-f_. So, this must be brief. For the specifics, click on the Alpha and Omega link at the right and read James White's last few entries.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

22nd Fiel Conference for Pastors and Leaders

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This week it is my privilege to participate in the 22nd national Brazilian Editora Fiel Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders held in Aguas de Lindoia in the state of Sau Paulo, Brazil. This conference is the fruit of Rich Denham who, together with his wife, Pearl, has served as a missionary here for over 54 years. Theirs is a fascinating story of God's faithfulness over 6 decades. This is my 3rd time to preach at this conference. Over 1000 people have gathered from across Brazil and even other countries (including Angola).

I highly commend this ministry to churches in America and elsewhere. The "Adopt a Brazilian Pastor" ministry (in which our own church has participated for years) provides books and free registration to the annual conference for a national pastor. The testimonies of men who have been helped by this ministry is most encouraging.

If the Lord brings this conference to mind, please pray for Jim Elliff and me, as we complete our preaching responsibilities over the next 3 days.