Friday, December 29, 2006

Sandy Creek Revisited

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Issue 66 of the Founders Journal is off the press and will soon be in the mail. It is one that you don't want to miss. It analyzes aspects of the Sandy Creek tradition in fresh ways. Tom Nettles has an excellent article on Shubal Stearns that is taken from volume 2 of his work on The Baptists. Gene Bridges also has a ground-breaking article on the sociological differences between the "Charlestonians" and "Sandy Creekers." This is one issue that you will want to have on hand the next time you have a discussion about Southern Baptist origins.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A 600 year old Christmas Letter

John Huss (Jan Hus) was a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation. He was a Czech university professor whose extensive writings earned him the ire of the Roman Catholic Church. He was excommunicated, condemned and executed for his teachings against the papacy and Roman Catholic errors. On July 6, 1415 he was burned at the stake while singing, "Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me." His ashes were scattered in the Rhine river.

Two years before his death, Hus wrote the following Christmas letter to his church in Prague while he was under the ban from the Roman Church. Many of its expressions reflect the desires of my own heart for my family, church and friends.

Have a blessed Christmas!

***

To the Praguers
25 December 1413
Dearly Beloved!

Albeit I am now separated from you so far that it perhaps is not fitting that I preach much to you, nevertheless, the love that I have for you urges me that I say at least a few brief words to your love.

Lo! dearly beloved; as it were an angel today said to the shepherds: "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." And suddenly a multitude of angels cried aloud, saying: "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men."

Rejoice that today the infinitely Great is born a child, that there may be glory to God in the highest.

Rejoice, because today is born the Reconciler, in order to reconcile man with God and angel, that there may be glory to God in the highest.

Rejoice, because today One was born to cleanse sinners from their sin, to deliver them from the power of the Devil, and to save them from eternal perdition, and bring them into eternal joy, that there may be glory to God in the highest.

Rejoice with a great joy that today a King is born to us, to dispense the fullness of the heavenly kingdom; a Bishop, to grant eternal benediction; the Father of the future age, in order to keep us a His children with Himself forever.

A loving Brother is born to us, a wise Master, a safe Leader, a just Judge, in order that there may be glory to God in the highest.

Rejoice, you wicked, because the God-priest was born, who grants to every penitent absolution from all sins, that there may be glory to God in the highest.

Rejoice, because today the bread of angels, namely, God, became food for men, to refresh the hungry with His glorious body, that they may have peace on earth.

Rejoice, that the immortal God is born, so that mortal men may live in eternity.

Rejoice, because the rich Lord of the Universe lies in a manger as poor, that He may enrich us needy ones.

Rejoice dearly beloved, that what the prophets prophesied is fulfilled, that there may be glory to God in the highest.

O, dearly beloved, should there be but little rejoicing over these things? Nay, a mighty joy! Because a Redeemer is born to us, to free us from all misery, a Saviour of sinners, a Ruler of all His faithful; there is born a Comforter of the sorrowful, and given us the Son of God, that there be to us great joy, to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.

May the God born to us this day deign to grant us that good will, peace, along with joy! Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tragedy on Mt. Hood

Our nation's attention has been unavoidably fixed on the tragic scenario that has unfolded on Mt. Hood in Oregon. The three friends who were lost in blizzards on the mountain have been the subject of many prayers from people around the world. Kelly James, whose body was discovered Sunday, was the brother to Dr. Frank James, President of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. Frank is faithful Christian brother whose life and ministry have impacted countless numbers for Christ.

A few years ago Frank told me that Founders Ministries had been used of God to impact his life in a profound way. Specifically, early in his seminary studies he was challenged by one of our conferences to see devotional warmth wedded to doctrinal strength in the Bible's teachings. Through the sad ordeal of the last week he has been a bold witness for Christ as he has served as a spokesman for the grieving families. The following notice was distributed by the RTS E-newsletter today. You can use the address below to email the family a word of encouragement. Most importantly, pray for them.
DR. JAMES' BROTHER SUCCOMBS TO INJURIES ON MT. HOOD

After a week of searching, the body of Kelly James was discovered in a snow cave just below the summit of Mt. Hood in Oregon. Kelly James is the younger brother of Dr. Frank James, president of RTS-Orlando. Dr. James has served as the spokesman for the families of the three missing climbers through the last week as they waited for severe winter storms to pass through the area so rescuers could ascend the mountain.

In a statement issued Monday, Chancellor Ric Cannada said: "We are all saddened to hear of the loss of Kelly James. We had been hopeful he would be found alive. We are grieving with the James family today, and are still holding out hope that the others will be found quickly and in good health. Our prayers continue to be with these families."

The RTS family joins Dr. Cannada in sending its heartfelt condolences to the James family. We pray for God's comfort and peace to rest on them. If you would like to express your sympathies to the James family, you may do so by email at jamesfamily@rts.edu. For the most up-to-date information regarding services and memorials, continue to check www.mthoodclimbers.blogspot.com.

Spurgeon on preachers who should be thrown out of the pulpit

From the Prince of Preachers:
Natural humor may possibly be consecrated and made to wear the yoke of Christ, but he who apes it is no true man. If you find us a man who has any object in this world in what he says but the glory of God, and the winning of souls, he is the man who is out of center, and into his secret may we never come. And furthermore, if you discover a preacher who is indelicate, and causes the cheek of modesty to tingle, let him be cast out of the pulpit, and the door locked against him. We have known men of the Slop-dash order who would have been nothing if they had not been outrageous, and of these it may be said that they were worse than nothing when they followed their own style. There was nothing in their absurdities to excuse them, for they were not carried away by zeal, nor did the excellence of their matter make up for the ridiculousness of their manner. Of such men we will neither be defender nor judge.
-From Eccentric Preachers

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas is the revelation of the Great Reverser

Yesterday I preached from Mary's song in Luke 1:46-56 and tried to show how the events surrounding her miraculous conception shaped her perception of God. Specifically, my concern was to call attention to those descriptions in the "Magnificat" that portray Him as the "Great Reverser."

That language is borrowed from David Wells in his book, Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision. This is the third title in his 4 book project on Christianity in a postmodern world. When I first read it 8 years ago, I was struck by his insights into evangelism in an age captivated by postmodernity. His comments on Mary have my underlines and asterisks all around them. Yesterday I read this paragraph in the sermon. It comes from the fifth chapter, which is entitled, "Contradictions."
God, Mary saw, is the great reverser of what we think is normal. From a human perspective, there is a contrarian twist to God's actions. They do not follow the paths of convention. In this case, does it make sense that Mary, a poor, inconsequential teenager (in all likelihood), is remembered today, for she said, "Henceforth all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48)? And they have--while the rich and powerful of the day have more or less vanished from memory. Who today knows of the great celebrities of Mary's time, women like Livia (who married Augustus Caesar), Octavia (whom Mark Anthony divorced in order to marry Cleopatra), or Antonia (who was poised by her emperor-grandson, Caligula)? They had their season at the pinnacle of power and at the center of attention. They lived in great honor; Mary, in great obscurity and social shame. The wind, however, has blown them away, but Mary will be remembered forever (174).
It was amazing--almost overwhelming--to think of the many divine "contrarian twists" in that auditorium yesterday as I preached. Many if not most of us would have very little reason to associate with one another were it not for the power of the Gospel operating in our lives. By sending His Son in human flesh, God reversed our prospects and and transformed our lives. It really is overwhelming.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ray Clendenen Podcast

Last month I called attention to the LifeWay announcement about Dr. Ray Clendenen being named the Director of Academic Publishing for B&H. Just this week, a new podcast interview with Dr. Clendenen has been made available by Inside LifeWay in which he discusses some of his plans and goals for this publishing venture. Among the plans is the anticipation of making titles available via electronic publishing. He also announces two new books due out this spring. One is a major work on baptism and the other is a 900 page systematic theology written by various authors (including a significant contribution on ecclesiology by Mark Dever--that's not on the podcast, but will no doubt be of interest to the readers of this blog).

The podcast is worth hearing. As I listened to it I was encouraged by the thought that Southern Baptists have the prospects of being involved in publishing some excellent theological textbooks in the future. Good books on relevant subjects can only help promote spiritual health within evangelical churches.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Nathan Finn on what ails the SBC

Nathan Finn is an adjunct professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. More importantly, he is a devoted to Christ and His church and is a clear thinker who has been thinking lately on important issues within the denomination he serves. He has posted 16 articles about what he sees wrong in the SBC and offers some very insightful solutions. I highly commend this series and especially the last ones on "possible solutions."

Timmy Brister has compiled all of Nathan's articles and adds his own insights as well in a recent post. It is very helpful.

Nathan concludes that what is ultimately wrong in the SBC is that in many ways and many places we have lost the Gospel. If he is right, then all of the other things that we get exercised about really don't matter. If he is right, then our problem is far more grave than most of our leaders are willing to acknowledge. If he is right, then shouldn't every denominational plan and program be subjugated to a life-and-death recovery effort on the part of everyone who sees the problem? I think so. And I think Nathan is right.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

So much for being a truth-broker

In his book, No Place for Truth, David Wells argues that pastors ought to be brokers of truth. That is, truth is our stock in trade. We deal in revealed truth. We try to persuade people to believe it and live on the basis of it. Because of that, truth should be honored in all of our dealings with people. If we want them to believe us when we preach, we must speak honestly at all other times, as well.

Of course, this is true for every Christian. "Therefore, putting away lying, each one speak truth to his neighbor, for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25; cf. the 9th commandment, etc.). But it is particularly true for ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A man who gives his word and then unashamedly and unrepentently breaks it discredits himself in the eyes of thinking people. Likewise a man who presents himself and his credentials less than honestly.

If I told you that years ago I was with the NASA space shuttle program you would have every reason to accuse me of dishonesty when you learned that all I meant was that I once took my family on a trip to the Kennedy Space Center. Similarly, if I present myself as "Dr." So-in-so when in fact I have not done the formal academic study that is associated with that title, you are entitled to call me a deceiver.

All this is put into stark relief by the case of a North Carolina pastor who was recently relieved of his pastoral duties after being arrested last month for "possession of a firearm by a felon." This story would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. After admitting that his doctorate was basically a title that he simply purchased from a diploma mill, Jerry Wayne "Dusty" Whitaker asked this astounding, rhetorical question, "Does me having a 'Dr.' in front of my name mean any less because I bought it?"

One can better understand how he could think like this by considering the way that he represented himself and his past affiliation with Federal Marshals. Whitaker was very careful never to claim that he had actually served as a U. S. Marshall. Instead, in his own words, this is what he said, "I worked with the federal agencies.... That was because they transferred me between prisons, hospitals and trials. It was when I was in prison."

I am grateful that this is an extreme and unusual example of ministerial dishonesty But it does serve as a warning and reminder that those whose responsibility it is to proclaim God's Word as pastors must seek to be honest in all of our dealings both in and out of the pulpit.

Pray for Mr. Whitaker and his family and former church. They need huge doses of real Christianity. You can read the whole story in the Biblical Recorder.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Sage, Courageous Counsel from Dr. Danny Akin

Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, sent the following email today to the students of that school. It is full of wisdom and is an example of the kind of clear thinking and careful speaking that we desperately need in our day. I appreciate his concern for the next generation of ministers, specifically, that they would be free from some of the more egregious theological irresponsibility that characterizes so much of our contemporary scene. I applaud his conviction and willingness to speak plainly in warning and instructing his students.


A Plea For Theological Responsibility And Integrity

In recent days it has become painfully evident that many Southern Baptists do not "do theology" very well. Some are apparently ill informed and sloppy. Others trying to be cute, are bombastic and irresponsible. Despite our rhetoric to be "people of the Book, we do not know the Book very well. We do not grasp its rich theology. We are failing, and failing miserably, to obey 2 Timothy 2:15-16: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn't need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. But avoid irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness."

I want our students to do better. I want you to do theology well. I want you to be clear and careful thinkers, gracious and competent teachers. I want you to be able to articulate a biblically balanced theology with conviction as well as charity. I want our Lord to give you the wisdom of knowing which theological hills are worth dying on, and which ones brothers and sisters in Christ can agreeably disagree, and yet love each other and work with each other in building the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ and reaching the nations with the gospel.

If you are wondering what are some of the careless theological statements I have in mind that has moved me to put this challenge before you, let me note just a few that I have heard coming from a number of different directions.
1) You cannot attract a crowd and build a church on expository preaching. It is true you can build a crowd without biblical exposition, but you will never build a Christ-honoring New Testament Church without faithful exposition of the whole counsel of God's inerrant Word. Further, a number of churches in our Convention have built both a growing church in terms of breadth and depth. It does not have to be an either/or scenario.

2) Evangelical Calvinism is an oxymoron. Anyone who knows church and Baptist history knows how irresponsible this statement is. William Carey, Luther Rice, Adoniram Judson, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon, James Boyce, Basil Manly Jr., and John Broadus are just a few of the great missionaries, pastors, and theologians who embraced a Reformed Theology. You may be convinced that Calvinism is wrong. However, do not make yourself look foolish by saying there are no passionate, evangelical Calvinists.

3) Five-point Calvinism is the same as Hyper-Calvinism. This statement again demonstrates historical ignorance. Hyper-Calvinism is a particular movement that appeared in the mid 1700's that rejects the mandate to share the gospel, denies man's responsibility to repent and believe the gospel, and in some instances runs perilously close to making God the author of sin. The overwhelming majority of five-point Calvinists would reject each of these positions. Spurgeon, himself a five-point Calvinist denounced in the strongest measure these errors in Spurgeon and "hyper-Calvinism."
Now, those of you who know my theology know I am not a five-point Calvinist. I believe Unconditional Election is not incompatible with "the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures" (Abstract of Principles, art. IV), I affirm a Universal Provision with a Limited Application as it pertains to the Atonement, and I believe Effectual Calling to be a much better way to describe a significant aspect of the salvation process than Irresistible Grace. Further, anything that weakens the missionary passion of the church and the evangelistic favor of an individual is both dangerous and useless to the Church. Perhaps what some mean by "hyper-Calvinism" is extreme Calvinism or Calvinists with an attitude. I have met more than a few in my lifetime and to be sure, they were not of much value when it comes to the health of the church and reaching the lost. Still, we need to be honest with history and accurate with the facts. Mischaracterizations are of no value on any level.
4) Calvinists are worse than Muslims. The irresponsibility of this statement is tragic. It is one thing to disagree with your brothers and sisters in Christ on a point of theology. It is incredible that you would place them in the category of unbelieving militants who murder innocent victims in the name of Allah.

5) Jesus was a Calvinist. Theological foolishness is not limited to one theological perspective. In a Pastor's Conference a few years ago one of my pulpit heroes made this statement. Recently a friend of mine wrote a book with one of the chapters entitled, "Christ, The Calvinist." Such statements are wrongheaded, and yes, again irresponsible, at several points. First, the statement is historically anachronistic. Second, it is Christologically disrespectful. Jesus is the Lord. He is the King. He is God. Our Savior is the grand subject of Christian theology. So whether it is Whitefield, Boice (men I greatly love and admire), or whomever, to call Jesus a Calvinist is theologically misguided and pastorally dangerous. Yes, Jesus believes God is sovereign but He also taught man is responsible. Yes, Jesus taught, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44), but He also gave us the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20).

6) You cannot teach your young people theology. I have a simple and direct challenge: try it. Try it and see what happens. I suspect you will be wonderfully surprised. I suspect some of you will be significantly put to the test!
Though I could say much more let me conclude with a simple but helpful beatitude: "Blessed are the balanced, for they will avoid unhealthy extremes." This is true in doing theology. This is true in our speech. This is true for all aspects of the Christian life.

I love you and thank God for you. May you and your family have a wonderful and blessed Christmas.

Daniel L. Akin