Sunday, November 26, 2006

Humpty Dumpty Theology [edited]

This seems to be an appropriate designation for those doctrinal speculations that have more in common with nursery rhymes and fairy tales than with Scripture. Humpty Dumpty, you may recall, is an anthropomorphized egg given to the world by Mother Goose. It was Lewis Carroll, however, that showed Humpty to be a preacher after the order of many modern ministers.

We learn this in Carroll's Through the Looking Glass during a conversation on sematics between the egg and Alice.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."
You must admit, isn't that eggsactly what some preachers do with biblical words? For a recent example read Nelson Price's article in the November 23, 2006 Christian Index. The title gives away the content: "Evangelical Calvinism is an oxymoron." Even if one overlooks his blatant misrepresentations of Calvinism as a theological construct, it is hard to ignore the Humpty Dumptical redefinition of words taken straight from the text of Scripture.

Consider Price's explanation of election:
Election is clearly taught in Scripture. It is the definition given it that confuses persons.

Most Baptists believe in election when defined as God, having the sovereign right to do so, gave man a free will to choose his or her eternal destiny depending of his or her faith in Christ.
Yes, and most Baptists can run 100 yards in 6 seconds when a yard is defined as 3 centimeters. Price engages in similar Humpty Dumpty theology when he defines predestination and explains foreknowledge. For those who want to be further instructed in this vein Price gives his personal website, where he similarly treats elders, church discipline and "Calvinism and Non-Calvinism."

In his treatment of Calvinism and Non-Calvinism, Price demonstrates that he really does not know what he is talking about. I mean no disrespect, but this is demonstrably true. He opposes the TULIP acrostic with what he calls a "response" in the form of the ROSES acrostic, which, he says, "REPRESENT[S] THE POSITION HELD BY NON-CALVINISTS." Perhaps he never read the Lifeway publication entitled, Amazing Grace, written by Timothy George. That is unfortunate because it is in that book that George offers the ROSES acrostic, not as a non-Calvinist response to the TULIP, but as a restatement and less offensive way to declare eseentially the same thing! George has long referred to himself as a "Reformed Baptist" and has served on the editorial board of the Founders Journal. [EDIT: Nelson Price has changed this article on his website after having the erroneous use depiction of the ROSES acrostic pointed out to him. As a result, he has stuck with the acrostic but radically reinterpreted Timothy George's original meaning that was assigned to each point--once again illustrating the whole point of the title of this post.]

I genuinely want to see Southern Baptists engaging in theological dialogues. But if Humpty Dumpty's laws of language continue to dominate certain sectors of the denominational landscape, that will be hard to do.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What We Wish the Liberty Students Had Heard

James White has provided a free audio file of a presentation that he and I gave at his recent Pulpit Crimes Conference. We each gave a brief overview of material that we had planned to present at the debate on Calvinism that was sabotaged at the last minute by the other side. After this, we interacted with clips of sermons preached by Ergun and Emir Caner. As James said on his blog, "This isn't the same as a debate, but it is about as close as you can get."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Camel's Secret...Should Christian's Be Telling It?

Today I received a notice that Kevin Greeson, author of the Camel Training Manual, will be in an area church next week speaking on the International Mission Board's strategy of converting Muslim's as set forth by this manual.

Here is published information about the strategy that Greeson advocates:
For centuries, Christians have feared, hated, or simply avoided Muslims. In his new book, Greeson shows us how we can love them as God loves them and bring them to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Greeson's Camel Training treats Muslims with respect and invites them to confront their own sacred writings as a bridge to the good news found in the Bible.

The book's title comes from an old Arab proverb, "Allah has one hundred names. Man knows 99 of these names, but only the camel knows the one-hundredth name." Today, Muslims are learning the secret of the camel, the one-hundredth name of Allah is 'Isa al-Masih (Jesus Christ).

In his gripping new book, Kevin Greeson gives a first-hand account of how hundreds of thousands of Muslims have come to Christ in a single Church Planting Movement. Greeson reveals how more than 10,000 new churches have been started and 400,000 Muslim men and women have shift their allegiance from Mohammed to Jesus in what has become the largest turning of Muslims to Christ in history
Greeson's Camel Training Manual tells us the true inside story of this contemporary movement that continues to build momentum to this day. Greeson then proceeds to show us how we, too, can learn to ride the camel and reveal his life-giving secret to our own Muslim neighbors.

What emerges is a truly indigenous pattern of Christianity among Muslims. These passionate new followers of Jesus submit themselves to the authority of the Injil (New Testament), worshiping in Isa Jamaats (Jesus Groups), while calling themselves Isahiin (those belonging to Jesus).

In a day when threats of terror and war are pitting Christians and Muslims against one another at a level unprecedented since the Crusades, Greeson shows us another way. We learn that God is already at work in restless Muslim seekers filling their hearts with spiritual hunger and thirst for His Word. Camel Training teaches us how to find these hidden friends of the gospel and how to draw them into saving faith with Jesus Christ.
I have not read this manual. But I have read Greeson's Camel Tracks...Discover the Camel's Secrets, which is a tract based on the "camel method." I am perplexed, conflicted and alarmed by what I have read. Perplexed because so many reputable Christian leaders and missiologists have evaluated this material and commend it without apparent qualification. Conflicted because while I deeply appreciate the missional determination of this approach (as I understand it) I have serious concerns about apparent compromises with foundational truths of biblical Christianity (please note the word, "apparent"). I am alarmed because, if my concerns are well-based then this approach may well be sewing seeds that will sprout into full blown enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hear me out. I am trying to be cautious, because I have not yet read the manual and out of deference for those who have that are touting it highly. If my concerns are unfounded, I will be delighted to have that demonstrated. Malcolm Yarnell, of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, issued a brief warning about some who have employed the camel method in biblically illegitimate ways (see his white paper entitled, "The Heart of A Baptist," p. 13). Beyond this, every other treatment of this approach that I have seen is overwhelming positive, even exuberant.

Here are my concerns. In the effort to be appropriately contextual I a fearful that the camel method (as employed in "Camel Tracks") gives away biblical ground that is essential to the saving message of Jesus Christ. For example, Greeson begins the tract with these words,
I am grateful to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, Islamic Foundation, and others who are translating the Arabic Koran into all languages of the world. I feel blessed as I read the Koran in my mother tongue (1).
He further writes,
As I was reading the Koran in my mother tongue, I came upon a passage that flooded my heart with hope. You too can experience this same hope after you seize the truth of Surah Al- Imran 3:42-55. It hurts my heart to know that not everyone has eyes to see this truth. I pray that Allah will open your eyes to recognize truth.
I recognize that there are some people groups that have no other name for God than "Allah." But I find it disconcerting that a Christian should express a prayer to "Allah" in the context of quoting the Koran. Maybe I am simply being too restrictive in my thinking at this point. But I am harder pressed to sanction a Christian speaking of feeling "blessed" to read the Koran in general and to have one's heart "flooded with hope" by one particular text of the Koran. Yet, this kind of disposition is evidently central to the Camel method.

Is this the same as Paul quoting a Cretan prophet (Titus 1:12) or Greek poet (Acts 17:28) to buttress his point? It feels different to me. Paul does not attach any blessing to nor anchor the hope that floods his heart on sayings that come from sources other than Scripture. If the Koran is treated as authoritative at the threshhold of the Christian life, on what basis do we then later convince MBBs (Muslim background believers) to reject it out of submission to the sole authority of the Bible?

In the exegesis of the crucial Koranic passage, Greeson argues that it refers to Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Messiah of sinners. I have not read the Koran and could not begin to discuss it's text with any degree of authority, but it seems highly doubtful that this reading of its text is legitimate. Furthermore, if it is legitimate, then is our evangelism of Muslims to go like this: "You have misunderstood your holy book. Here is the correct understanding of it. Allah [and Mohammed?] have always wanted you to know Jesus Christ as Savior"?

One more sample from the tract of why I have some serious questions about this approach: Greeson argues that Muslims who come rightly to understand Surah Al- Imran 3:42-55 from the Koran become "Pakka" (or "Complete") Muslims (3). The impression is given that this is what true Islam has always been aiming to accomplish, but what most Muslims have simply failed to attain. But is that accurate?

I applaud Greeson's cultural sensitivity and thoughtful determination to contextualize the Gospel message for Muslims. Certainly the Arabic name for Jesus ('Isa) and even God (Allah) can and should be used. But nowhere in the tract do I remember seeing the claim that 'Isa is Allah.

Well, there you have it. I am perplexed, conflicted and alarmed. Am I missing something? Am I simply too long enslaved to my own cultural captivity that I can't see the legitimacy of this approach? Should I be concerned? Or should I join the chorus of those who are applauding this method of evangelizing Muslims? These are far more than academic questions to me. The church that I pastor has focused on Muslims in unreached people groups for the last 11 years and we have sent two families to take Gospel to them. I am open to any insights you can give.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Million dollar sermon market

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal published a page one article entitled, "That Sermon You Heard Sunday May Be from the Web." It quotes a pastor from my own state who unashamedly admits to preaching Ed Young Jr.'s sermons.

Reverend Brian Moon "says he delivered about 75% of Mr. Young's sermon, 'just because it was really good.' That included a white-water rafting anecdote similar to Mr. Young's in the original. Mr. Moon, who has now been a pastor for seven months, didn't give credit to Mr. Young, and he makes no apologies for using a recycled sermon."

Young sells his sermon manuscripts for $10.00 each off of his creative pastors website. That site generated $1.7 million dollars last year. I guess there can be no dispute about those sermons being "productive."

Ray Van Neste offers some insightful perspective in the article (as well as in a recent blog post). As he says, "Credit isn't really the issue. Integrity is the issue." That is true not only for those who purchase sermons to preach to their congregations, it is also true for those who would never think of doing such a thing but who regularly read the sermons of our own heros like Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Piper and MacArthur. As one wag put it, "Calvinists will start preaching better sermons when John Piper starts publishing better sermons."

It is a danger that every preacher faces when he reads widely the sermons (or commentaries) of others. Originality does not mean that one should cease doing such reading and study, but that he should do so with a conscious determination not to become simply a parrot of the thoughts of others. Spurgeon said it well:
Do not be a mere copyist, a borrower and spoiler of other men's notes. Say what God has said to you, and say it in your own way; and when it is so said, plead personally for the Lord's blessing upon it (An All-round Ministry, p. 74).
God uniquely gifts, specifically calls and individually places His undershepherds according to His own wisdom. Learning to become comfortable in your own pastoral skin is a necessary and liberating discipline. As a man grows in that, he will be less inclined to preach the sermons of others as if they are his own.

HT: CT and Challies

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ray Clendenen new Broadman and Holman Director of Academic Publishing

This is a great move. Dr. Clendenen is a class act. We can expect good things from this division of B&H in the future. Read the press release for details.

Thank you, Danny Akin (could this be a trend?)

Check out Chad Ivester's report of Danny Akin's message on "The Pastor as Theologian" (now that's an interesting concept!) at the South Carolina Pastors' Conference. Maybe there is a fresh wind blowing....

Monday, November 13, 2006

Thank you, Bill Curtis

Bill Curtis is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Florence, SC and serves as chairman of the trustees for the North American Mission Board. The current Baptist Courier has "An open letter to Southern Baptists" from Curtis, reacting to the article that appeared recently in the Georgia Baptist Christian Index. In his letter, he calls for Southern Baptists to "respect the worship styles of churches that affirm the 2000 [Baptist Faith and Message]" and to "respect the theology of those who affirm the 2000 [Baptist Faith and Message]."

Regarding the latter, Curtis says that "some within our convention cannot be content unless they are waging a theological battle on some front." Then he makes this astute observation:
Today, one of the most popular targets is evangelistic Calvinism. Despite the fact that the 2000 BF&M accommodates evangelistic Calvinism, there are some who are trying to identify it as heresy. Regardless of these claims, made by Bill Harrell and others, evangelistic Calvinism does not fall into this category.
Finally. Thank you, Pastor Curtis, for clarifying this point in such an open and unequivocal way. Your words are a breath of fresh air to many in our convention.

Two other calls that Curtis makes in his letter are to "reject the divisive rhetoric in our convention" and to "refocus on the biggest problem facing Southern Baptists" which is the need to get the Gospel to the growing number of unconverted people all around us.

This is the kind of spirit and thoughtfulness that will promote genuine fellowship and cooperation among churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. May Bill Curtis' words pave the way forward.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Miami Pastors' Conference

I am spending a couple of days in Miami with my son, Joel, at the 2nd Annual Miami Pastors' Conference. The conference is hosted by Pastor Rickey Armstrong and the Glendale Baptist Church. Its genesis goes back to 2001 when a few pastors met in Atlanta to discuss the prospects of hosting a conference geared toward encouraging African-American ministers to think of ministry based on the doctrines of grace. A conference did meet that year in conjunction with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals but was not organized again until last year when Pastor Armstrong and GBC decided to host it.

The theme is "The Christ-Centered Aim of Preaching." Three speakers addressed us today. Ken Jones of the Greater Union Baptist Church in Los Angeles and Michael Leach of All Saints Redeemer Church in Decatur, Georgia led a workshop on the state of preaching in African-American churches today. It was fascinating, insightful and offered several helpful correctives that transcend cultural and ethnic distinctives. One observation that Pastor Jones made was the tendency of many preachers within the African-American community to relegate preaching to an "art form" with little regard for content. Of course, preaching is primarily defined by subtance ("Preach the Word") not style. Pastor Leach cited Jeremiah 5:30-31 as an apt description of modern evangelicalism. Listening to his arguments, I had to concur.

Tonight, Pastor Jones gave a very helpful message out of Luke 24 on the Necessity of Christ-Centered Preaching and Thabiti Anaybwile, pastor of First Baptist Church in Grand Cayman, Cayman Island, gave a wonderful example of doing what Christ did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. He offered 5 examples of how to preach Christ from all the Law. We are still to hear from Pastors Armstrong, Anthony Carter and Sinclair Ferguson. I don't know if recordings of the sessions will be available. You can check with the church. If they are, they will certainly be worth having.

Actually, Boyce never left

I should have pointed out in my previous post that Founders Ministries has made Boyce's Abstract of Systematic Theology available online for years, absolutely free. You can access it in three different formats (along with other helpful resources from various early Southern Baptist leaders) here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Boyce is back

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The Boyce is back in town. James P. Boyce, that is, the principal founder of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and for 8 years, President of the Southern Baptist Convention. A new edition of his Abstract of Systematic Theology will is being released this month. This book, along with Tom Nettles' By His Grace and For His Glory, has been greatly used by God over the last 25 years to promote the rediscovery of our Southern Baptist theological heritage.

Founders Press is pleased to announce this new edition that has a new dust jacket (with a new portrait of Boyce by Robert Nettles), a new publisher's introduction (see below) as well as a Scripture index in 534 pages. For a limited time, Founders Press is offering an incredible "pre-publication" discount on this book. It retails for $29.95. Until November 30, 2006 it is available for only $12.50 (prepaid) plus $3.50 for postage and handling. You may order it by sending your payment (check or money orders only) to:
Founders Press
PO Box 150931
Cape Coral, FL 33915
You may also order it online at the Founders Press site.

Publisher's Introduction

In 1980 I was completing my first year of theological studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. That Spring, a man set up table outside the Student Center and was giving away copies of a theology book. About the only thing that most students (and some professors) knew about the author was that the street behind the seminary was named after him.

The book was the one you are holding in your hands, Abstract of Systematic Theology by James P. Boyce. The man giving it away to graduating students to was Ernest C. Reisinger. Ernie, as he was known to his friends, had been serving as pastor of a Southern Baptist church in south Florida for several years. His Associate Pastor was Fred Malone. Together they led their church to fund the reprinting and distribution of Boyce's long-forgotten book.

Behind this effort was a vision for the reformation of churches across the Southern Baptist Convention. The theology that Boyce believed and taught, was precisely what Ernie and Fred believed and taught. In fact, it represents the theological consensus that existed among the churches that founded the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. By the late twentieth century not only were Boyce and most of the founders of the convention forgotten but, more importantly, so were their theological convictions.

In 1977 Ernie began to take copies of Boyce's book to each of the six Southern Baptist seminary campuses and give them away to graduating students (and any other student who showed an interest). He included a one-page questionnaire about some of Boyce's views on the doctrines of grace as they are spelled out in the book, and he asked that those receiving the book mail their answers to him.

As more and more students and young pastors began to read Boyce's book and find his biblical arguments convincing, the seminaries became less and less welcoming of Ernie's presence and gift. By the early 1980s, he was no longer allowed to give the books away on any of the seminary campuses. They continued to be distributed, however, by pastors, churches and students who, because of the generous donations of a few people, were able to give them away freely.

In a significant sense this "Boyce Project" (as Ernie called it) was the forerunner of Founders Ministries. Founders began officially with the first conference in 1983. Most of those who attended had been encouraged in their theological growth by Boyce's Abstract of Systematic Theology. It is very fitting, then, that Founders Ministries is able to publish this edition of the Abstract for a new generation of pastors, students and serious Christians. One feature that has been added to Boyce's original text is a Scripture index at the back.

The doctrinal stream in which Boyce's views are found can rightly be called Calvinistic or Reformed. He, like most early Southern Baptist leaders, was clearly convinced of the doctrines of sovereign grace. John Broadus, Boyce's friend and colleague, made this observation about what he called "that exalted system of Pauline truth" expounded in Boyce's Abstract:
The people who sneer at what is called Calvinism, might as well sneer at Mont Blanc. We are not bound in the least to defend all of Calvin's opinions or actions, but I do not see how any one who really understands the Greek of the Apostle Paul or the Latin of Calvin or Turretin can fail to see that these latter did but interpret and formulate substantially what the former teaches.
May the Lord use this book from the pen of one of the greatest Southern Baptists ever to live to promote reformation and revival throughout churches everywhere.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Preaching the "Big Books," like Jeremiah

Last Sunday witnessed my 73rd and final sermon on Jeremiah. As the series began coming to a close the last few weeks, I experienced that familiar "preacher's sorrow" of saying goodbye to a close companion. Jeremiah has never been far from my heart and mind the last two years. I wanted to preach through his book over five years ago, but like a moth dancing with a flame, I found myself simultaenously drawn and repelled by its 52 chapters. The closer I came to making a final decision to put it into the preaching schedule the more intensely I felt the heat of entering into a world of a prophet whose deep suffering over a wayward people continued with little respite for the forty years of his ministry. His basic message of coming judgment on unrepentant sinners never changed. Neither did those who heard it.

By modern measurements of success in the ministry Jeremiah was a miserable failure. He was out of step with most of his contemporaries. Among the prophets and priests in Jerusalem he was a pariah. They preached "peace, peace" while he warned of looming judgment and pled for repentance. Even his friends and family opposed him and plotted to take his life. When grief overwhelmed him and he would have escaped to the quietness of the countryside, the Lord commanded him to keep preaching in the city (chapter 9). He experienced deep, dark depression, wishing he had never been born (chapter 20). He lived with unanswered prayers and unfulfilled desires and even accused God of deceiving him (chapter 15). By the end of his ministry he had very few converts to whom he could point as visible fruit from his long, faithful labors. In fact, some who had given lip service to the message that he preached later revealed that inwardly, their hearts had never turned from the idols he had condemned (chapter 44).

Yet, in the midst of all the failure, brokenness, rebellion and obstinacy of that fateful generation of Judah, God gave to Jeremiah the clearest message of the new covenant to be found anywhere in the old covenant Scriptures (chapter 31). The hope of this new day when God would undertake everything necessary to guarantee covenant blessings for His people sustained Jeremiah and enabled him to finish his course without failing. His message lives on today as an integral part of God's revelation of redemption in history.

This morning I came across an essay by Derek Thomas, Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Editorial Director of Reformation21, the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is entitled, "Preaching from Lengthy Books in the Old Testament." I wish I had read it three years ago. It is full of pastoral and theological wisdom for preachers. The "big books" of the Bible must not be avoided in our preaching agendas. But neither should they be taken up unwisely, without due consideration what the Larger Catechism calls the "necessities and capacities" of our hearers (Question 158). Failure to think carefully and plan intentionally about this can result in either congregational abuse or neglect. "All Scripture is profitable," but all Scripture should not always be preached in the same way or at the same pace.

As I reflect on this extended series of messages I can't help but wonder if it would have been more useful had I shortened it significantly. One thing is certain. As Thomas points out, it is only after preaching through a book of the Bible that a preacher feels really prepared to do so! But I doubt that I will ever have the opportunity to do so again. Jeremiah is incredibly relevant for our day. Francis Shaeffer realized this nearly 40 years ago when he relied heavily on the prophet in his book, Death in the City. Contemporary Christianity in America bears a striking resemblance to late 7th and early 6th century BC Judaism. Rituals remain, but substance is scarce. God's Name is still invoked, but His Law is largely neglected. As in Jeremiah's day, God through His Word is calling us to return to Him.
Thus says the LORD:
"Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls."
But too often today we--like those ancient Jews--respond to the Lord's calls with a steadfast refusal and say,
"'We will not walk in it.'" (Jer 6:16)
May the Lord be merciful to us and by His grace grant that we might live in repentance and faith.
Here are some books (in addition to Schaeffer) that I found particularly helpful during this study.
Calvin's lectures on Jeremiah and Lamentations in 5 volumes (Banner)
Palmer Robertson's The Christ of the Prophets (P and R)
J.A. Thompson's The Book of Jeremiah, (NICOT, Eerdmans)
Theo Laetsch's Jeremiah (Concordia)
Philip Ryken's Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope (Crossway)
R.K. Harrison's Jeremiah and Lamentations (TOTC, InterVarsity)
Derek Kidner's The Message of Jeremiah, (Intervarsity)
John Bright's Jeremiah (Anchor Bible, Doubleday)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Debating Calvinism--Is it important?

Today I received an email from a pastor asking for my thoughts on why the ongoing debate over Calvinism and Arminianism is practically important. Is it "much ado about nothing," that will inevitably lead to a split among Baptists the way that it split the General and Particular Baptists in the past? Besides the fact that these two systems of thought are actually different worldviews I offered the following observations.

The debate/dialogue over Calvinism and Arminianism is important for several reasons. These two views represent the two most cogent (I would argue, the only two) perspectives on the Bible's teaching about the nature of salvation and how the Gospel works. Baptists have cared very passionately about these things throughout our history. They should care about them today.

It is not quite accurate to say that Calvinism and Arminianism split early Baptists. The Arminian Baptists emerged first in the early 17th century. A few years later the Calvinistic Baptists emerged. Though they both came out of English Separatism they did not actually split into these two different groups. The Arminian (General) Baptists drifted into Socinianism and universalism in the 18th century. Many of the Calvinistic (Particular) Baptists tended toward hyper-Calvinism in the 18th century.

The development of the modern mission movement occurred among the Particular Baptists in the late 18th century. [EDIT:] Andrew [not Richard!] Fuller helped establish the theological foundations for such work and William Carey put that theology into practice by leaving England for India where he gave his life preaching Christ so that God might be glorified in the salvation of "the heathen."

Southern Baptists were rocked in the cradle of this kind of evangelical Calvinism--the very same theology that was held by Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Adnoiram Judson, the first Baptist missionary from America.

Understanding the issues involved in these two theological perspectives will help Baptists study their Bibles more carefully and appreciate their heritage more deeply. Though Baptists worship the sepulchers of no man we do recognize that if what our forefathers believed was true then, it is true now, because God has not changed, the Bible has not changed and truth has not changed.

Far better to be discussing the doctrine of salvation--even debating it--than arguing over whether or not we should be ordaining homosexuals to the Gospel ministry. Such discussions will spur the sincere believer to look again at what the Bible teaches concerning the salvation that we have in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that is a great thing.

Two resources that I recommend for a quick take on these things are From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention and also the Mission 150 Founders Journal.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

White vs. Spong Debate

Watching the debate last week between James White and John Shelby Spong left me with several impressions.

God built James White to debate. He is obviously gifted in his ability both to prepare and to present the fruit of those preparations in a formal format that allows for the give and take of cross examination.

Bishop John Shelby Spong, though very bright, seems inexplicably uninformed about the evanglical stream of his own confessional history. When he was asked about J. C. Ryle's views on some point that was in question, he responded by asking, "Who is he and when did he live?" I literally fell out of my chair.

James repeatedly explained and defended biblical Christianity and Bishop Spong repeatedly dismissed without engaging his arguments. Nevertheless, Spong insisted on maintaining the label of "Christian" even while rejecting theism and identifying himself as a "mystic."

I was reminded of J. Gresham Machen, the great Presbyterian theologian of the last century. In his 1923 book, Christianity and Liberalism, he shows liberalism is not simply another kind of Christianity, it is an altogether different religion from Christianity. He argues that liberalism and orthodoxy are not two varieties of the same religion, but in reality, two essentially different types of thought and life. In an autobiographical essay he wrote this:
There is much interlocking of the branches, but the two tendencies, Modernism and supernaturalism, or (otherwise designated) non-doctrinal religion and historic Christianity, spring from different roots. In particular, … Christianity is not a "life," as distinguished from a doctrine, and not a life that has doctrine as its changing symbolic expression, but that--exactly the other way around—[Christianity] is a life founded on a doctrine (from "Christianity in Conflict").
The debate made this abundantly clear.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Another take on "problem of Calvinism" in the SBC

I have been the fortunate recipient of several emails from brothers who are concerned about the subject of my last blog article. It is obvious from the public comments and most of those emails that many are upset about the comments that are attributed to Brother Bill Harrell in the Georgia Christian Index. I share those concerns, but must also admit that there is a more generous way to take them. In explaining his "one ground rule," Harrell reportedly said,
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.
I gave my take on this comment in what I previously wrote. Now let me give you another take, this one by Dr. Greg Welty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a friend who shares my doctrinal commitments and has given the benefit of the doubt to Pastor Harrell (he has also given me permission to quote him).
As I read it, he is not saying that you can't seek to reform a non-Calvinistic church. Rather, he's saying that you shouldn't do so with deception, by hiding your views from them when you're hired.
This is a gracious reading and one that I think is legitimate. It is certainly true that no one should advocate deception when candidating for a church. Granted, a church or search committee, may not have the biblical literacy to discuss many doctrinal issues with much understanding, but they should not be intentionally deceived, nor should a man try to hide what he genuinely believes from them. On this, I fully agree with brother Harrell.

On another note, I have been corrected about my claim that the Reed Creek Baptist Church was started by Abraham Marshall (this is what the Abilene Baptist Church's website claims). It was actually started by his father, Daniel, who also started the Kiokee church, whose covenant I quoted in the previous post. This historical mistake is regrettable, but does not change the force of my main point. To the contrary, since the same man started both Kiokee and Reed Creek it is reasonable to expect that the covenant of the former would be very similar to if not exactly the same as that of the latter.