Saturday, January 27, 2007

Live blogging with David Dockery

Timmy Brister is following up his excellent 5-part interview with Dr. David Dockery with a "live" blogging Q&A with the President of Union University from 8-10 PM Eastern time, Monday, January 29, 2007. You can read all the details and learn how to participate in Timmy's announcement. It should be informative.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is ignorance really bliss?

If so, then the guy who preached this sermon ought to be deliriously happy. It is too full of historical, theological and exegetical fallacies to be taken seriously, so if you listen to it, do so for entertainment value. Regrettably, some people may take what he says to heart, but they will be held accountable if they do, because the truth is readily available and easily accessible to debunk most of his claims.

Here are a few of his "insights" that illustrate what I am talking about.
  • Federal Visionism or Auburn Avenue theology is making inroads into Reformed Baptist churches.
  • John Reisinger is a leader of the New Covenant theology movement (true enough), and that movement teaches that the Decalogue remains a standard of righteousness for Christians today. This makes him a legalist.
  • In refuting this "new" Reformed Baptist teaching he traces his own spiritual lineage back to George Whitefield (I guess he assumes that Whitefield, because he was evangelistic, had to be an Independent Fundamental Baptist!).
  • He claims to know some Baptist pastors who have given up reading the Bible so that they can read the Westminster Confession instead.
  • Reformed, sovereign grace Baptists are moving toward the Anglicans and Presbyterians on the way to a "one world church."
  • He equates modern Baptists with 16th century anabaptists (something of which, in the wake of the recovery of the true doctrinal heritage of Sandy Creek I predict we will see more and more from certain sectors of SBC life in the years ahead).
  • "If you say you're a Baptist and you read John Calvin, you're an idiot, you're a fool."
  • "You're a hypocrite if you preach the so-called doctrines of grace."
  • Reformed Baptists are "flaming, stinking hypocrites" if they use any of the "classic" Baptist hymnals, because all of the hymns in those books contradict the doctrines of grace, such as that "old Baptist hymn," "Grace Greater than All Our Sin" (Don't tell him that it was written by Julia H. Johnston, daughter of the 19th century pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Peoria, Illinois. Julia directed the Sunday school of the church for over 40 years in addition to serving as President of the Presbyterian Missionary Society of for 20 years.).
  • If you are a Reformed Baptist and you sing the above hymn (and others he lists, including "Arise My Soul, Arise") you are a "rotten, dirty, lying hypocrite."
I close with one of the very few statements that this preacher made with which I agree--it is near the end of his sermon, "Please don't listen to me, Go to the Words of the Spirit, go to the Word of God." Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Quick takes

After an incredibly busy and productive week (about which I hope to write later this week), I want to alert the readers here to some blogs worth checking out today. The first is the beginning of a series and the second a very fine example of theological thinking about life in hard places. The other two deal with a recently published book on the North American Mission Board.

Timmy Brister announces an interview with David Dockery regarding things evangelical and Southern Baptist over at Provocations and Pantings. He intends to post the interview in 5 segments.

Al Mohler reflects on his recent medical complications and the lessons he learned through it.

Marty Duren reviews, Spending God's Money over at SBC Outpost as does Art Rogers at Twelve Witnesses.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

By His Grace and for His Glory, 20th Anniversary Edition

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Twenty years ago Tom Nettles' book, By His Grace and for His Glory, was first published in paperback by Baker. In it Nettles argues that the doctrines of grace were the demonstrably theological consensus within the Southern Baptist Convention from its beginning in 1845 until the second decade of the 20th century. His thesis has never been seriously challenged. In fact, it has hardly even been engaged by those who disagree--even by those who disagree loudly and with much bravado.

I am delighted to announce that Founders Press is now prepared to release a 20th anniversary edition of this outstanding book. For the next 4 weeks (through Feb. 16), it is available at a
pre-publication price of only $19.50 (plus S/H). I know that is lot of money, but the book is 486 pages, contains 24 sketches and retails for $34. 95. To get the discounted price, you must order the book online from the Founders' bookstore. The first link above will take you to the appropriate page.

This excellently bound hardback edition is completely repaginated and has been expanded at several key points. The historical section has 2 new chapters, bringing the book up-to-date. How up-to-date, you ask? Good question. Let me simply say Nettles interacts with men and movements that have emerged to places of influence and prominence in Baptist life over the last twenty years and, in fact, over the last few months. Of course, as is his custom, he does so carefully and graciously. In these chapters you will read about Steve Lemke, Paige Patterson, Malcom Yarnell, Frank Page, Al Mohler, Adrian Rogers, Hershel Hobbs, Dale Moody, Phil Newton, Fred Malone, Mark Dever, Joe Nesom, Roy Hargrave and others.

In addition, the book contains new sketches drawn by Dr. Nettles' son, Robert, who also painted the portrait that appears on the cover. That portrait demonstrates the author's own understanding of the progress of theological understanding and practice throughout history. The Apostle Paul represents the inspired authors of Scripture. Calvin reresents the systematization of Scripture truth in the Protestant movement and Spurgeon represents the clarification and application of that revealed truth in Baptist life. The portrait reminds me of John Broadus' famous statement that was inspired by his vision of the Alps:
The people who sneer at what is called Calvinism might as well sneer at Mont Blanc. We are not in the least bound 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 and Turretin can fail to see that these latter did but interpret and formulate substantially what the former teaches.
This new edition of Nettles' book is due by the end of January. Through a special arrangement, a few advance copies arrived in time for the annual Founders Ministries' Board meeting in Cape Coral. The printer did a great job.
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While much of our nation bundled up against the bitter cold of winter storms, we were able to meet on the lanai of our hosts, Don and Barb Reisinger. It may be hard to believe but at times the warm temperature almost made us seek refuge in air conditioning! Such is winter in Southwest Florida.
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I presented Dr. Nettles with an advanced copy of this new edition of his book during our meeting. When I first saw a copy, I could not help but thank the Lord for this book's usefulness over the last twenty years and pray for its even greater usefulness over the next twenty. If you genuinely long for reformation among Baptists, I urge you to secure a copy of this book and do all that you can to put a copy into the hands of every pastor, seminary professor and denominational worker who you think will read it. Purchasing and distributing this book will be an investment in reformation.

Finally, join me in praying that the Lord will make this book a blessing to thousands of church leaders in this generation and generations to come.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Membership resolution redux

This is really curious. Last summer in Greensboro, after my failed attempt to have the Southern Baptist Convention consider my resolution on integrity in church membership, I was kindly admonished by a representative of an denominational executive. He said something like this, "When you spoke against the resolution #5 just before you argued your point about the membership resolution, you made a disastrous political mistake, all but guaranteeing the failure of your motion."

He is partially right. I have never been very good at political calculus and I knew that my speaking against resolution #5 would be interpreted by some as advocating the consumption of beverage alcohol (and, boy, did I ever underestimate just how many would do that!). However, a political mistake implies a political agenda, and I have none. I spoke out on that resolution because I was convinced that the sufficiency of God's Holy Word was being undermined. Good men, including some for whom I have the utmost respect, disagree. But I did what I do out of conviction--not about booze, but about God's Word. No doubt the alcohol issue confused the membership issue for some and maybe even many messengers. Nevertheless, consequences belong to God.

In a strange twist of providence, something similar is happening again. I had planned to post on the "state of the resolution" this week. I have had lots of conversations about this recently and planned to post on the issue Wednesday. But then Dr. Sullivan's article came out (see my previous blog post) and I was compelled to address it.

Last year at the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention that met in Greensboro, NC I had hoped to have a resolution on integrity in church membership set before the messengers for a vote. That did not happen due to the Resolutions Committee's decision not to bring my resolution out of their committee. I was able to appeal to the moderator from the floor to have the messengers vote on the resolution's decision. Dr. Welch, the President and presiding officer of that convention, graciously allowed me to read the resolution from the floor. The committee, of course, spoke from the platform against overturning their decision and the vote failed. I have written about this here, here, here, here and here.

I recently was interviewed by American Family Radio about the membership resolution and my intention to resubmit it this year. You can read part of what I said in this Agape Press article. You can hear part of it here (don't be fooled, however, the church I serve is in Cape Coral, not Coral Gables; that's a common confusion :-) ). On Wednesday, January 17, 2007, I am scheduled to be on Mike Corley's show on WQBC radio out of Vicksburg, MS to discuss this issue.

Many people have asked me if I plan to resubmit the resolution at this year's convention in San Antonio. The answer is yes. And, if it does not pass, I plan to submit it again in 2008. If that does not pass, I plan to do so again in 2009. You get the picture. In other words, I have taken a page out our esteemed Southern Baptist Convention Second Vice President's playbook. If this resolution doesn't get approved soon, people may well start calling me "Wiley." :-)

Do I think that this resolution will be passed by the convention? That's a good question. I do think that the SBC will approve some kind of resolution on membership, maybe this year. My fear is this: I am concerned that all of the embarrassment over this issue will cause the powers that be to come up with a watered-down version of the resolution that will be brought out of the resolutions committee to the convention floor--something like, "we ought to do better." If that happens, I will be prepared to offer an amendment to strengthen it.

This issue is important. I have not talked to one person who thinks that it is a good idea to have 8 million or more inactive members on our church rolls. I know that Tommy French indicated from the platform in Greensboro that it was a good thing to keep them on the role because they are good evangelism prospects, but I don't think he really believes that. All of the Southern Baptists to whom I have talked know that this is not a good statistic. What I don't think most see is just how serious this situation is. It is spiritually deadly. It is blasphemous. It shows a fear of man that far exceeds any fear of God. It betrays a fundamental unbelief of the Bible--exposing loud proclamations about inerrancy and infallibility as meaningless. It exposes a lack of love for Jesus Christ, who said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." It is a hindrance to spiritual vitality and even spiritual life in our churches. It sends people to hell with a decision card in their pockets and their names on a church roll. Therefore, this situation--millions of unregenerate church members--is a barrier to any revival or reformation that we desperately need and for which we have been called to pray.

Will a resolution affect any change? No, not in itself. Despite what some denominational executives might suggest, resolutions are not binding. But they can raise important issues and provide reference points for denominational dialogue. When they call attention to long-neglected biblical commands and principles, they might even be used of God to encourage humility and repentance. Pray that this would be the case.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dr. Sullivan seeks to impose Resolution #5 on Florida Baptists

I have waited two months before publicly responding to comments made at the recent Florida Baptist Convention by Executive Director, John Sullivan. I wanted to make sure that he actually said what I heard. My efforts immediately after the convention to secure a recording of his comments were futile. However, within two weeks the Florida Baptist Witness quoted him extensively and accurately in an article by Joni Hannigan.

During the last session of the 2006 convention, after a wonderful message by Voddie Baucham, Dr. Sullivan came to the pulpit and expressed his dismay that at the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro messengers had "wasted thirty minutes of God's precious time debating" resolution #5 on abstaining from alchohol. Citing the amendment to that resolution, that says that "we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages," Sullivan made the following statement:
We are not going to have people on our boards of trustees that do not believe in total abstinence.
I emailed Dr. Sullivan and asked if he actually meant that it would not be enough if a trustee abstained from drinking alcohol, but that he or she would also have to hold to a total abstinence conviction. He confirmed that this was exactly what he meant. He pledged to pursue action within the Florida Baptist Convention to assure this. The current issue of the Witness carries the first of 3 articles by Dr. Sullivan on this topic, with his further pledge to work to impose his view, and that of the infamous Resolution # 5, on the entities of the Florida Baptist Convention. He writes,
Please understand, I am not taking a poll on this matter. It is my candid opinion that as the executive director-treasurer of this convention, I must do everything possible to protect our integrity and witness. This new attitude on "moderate" use of alcohol poses a problem for me and many other Florida Baptists. A proposal will be made to the State Board of Missions through the proper channels that the trustees of the entities of the Florida Baptist State Convention will abstain from the use of alcoholic beverages.
This is a little less than what Dr. Sullivan stated publicly that he would work to impose on Florida Baptists. He will be more likely to gain a hearing for this than if he tries to insist that every trustee personally have a conviction that the Bible teaches abstinence. I suppose the next articles will explain his intent further.

As he states in the article, his mind is made up. It is not up for discussion. I find it ironic that he sees this issue as necessary to "protect our integrity and witness" while admittedly refusing to deal the biblical arguments involved. Perhaps he will engage Scripture in future articles.

As a Florida Baptist pastor, I am grieved by the public statements of our Executive Director and will oppose any effort that he makes to make his extra-biblical convictions the litmus test for service on our the trustees of our convention entities. In fact, in anticipation of this move our church leaders have already discussed a plan of action to recommend to our own church. I do so not because I want to drink (as I have loudly and widely proclaimed, I do not drink), but because I love the Word of God and think it is sufficient to guide us in faith and life. This action, and others like it, undermines the authority of God's Word. Many, many Florida Baptists who read their Bibles readily recognize this. An attempt to impose a total abstinence view on our churches will be disastrous for the welfare of our convention.

Dr. Sullivan begins his article with these words:
I have been surprised by the attention given to my recent statements about the use of alcoholic beverages. Being a "tee-totaler" has been my conviction-not convenience-since August 1955 when I was saved. After salvation, it never entered my mind that "social" or "moderate" drinking was acceptable to the Heavenly Father. I never considered discussing it as a possibility. Now some would say that is closed-mindedness. They would be right-there is no debate for me.
I end my article with this response:

I have been surprised by the quickness with which some have been willing to impose rules on fellow Christians that the Bible does not impose. I have been a "Bible man" since my conversion in 1963 when I was saved. After salvation, it never entered my mind that trying to impose cultural standards on the Bible was acceptable to the God who breathed out the Scripture and said that it was enough for the man of God to be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I never thought I would see leaders trying to do that very thing. Now, some would say that this is close-mindedness. They are wrong. If I can be shown by clear teaching from the Word of God that any activity is prohibited, I will stand against it without hesitation or equivocation. Like one of my heroes said long ago, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God."

If you want to change my mind, come with an open Bible.

Baptism Cannonball

Put a little pizzazz into your baptism service. From the reaction of the crowd, this was definitely a hit. It's hard to believe that some of our forbears were actually put to death for submitting to believers' baptism, given the widespread superficiality that swirls around current practices.

Assuming that this is an SBC church, I guess the little fellow would have no problems passing the new IMB policy on baptism. In fact, he could argue that he was immersed twice. :-)

HT: Barry Peterson

Monday, January 08, 2007

Southern Baptist Texan on AWOL Church Members

This may be old news by now someone just pointed out to me the Southern Baptist Texan's special report on "Born-Again Baptists?" from last month. Managing Editor Jerry Pierce does a fine job of addressing the elephant in the corner that many Southern Baptists simply pretend is not there. I was very encouraged several weeks ago by the kinds of questions that he asked me several weeks ago during an interview on this subject. His article is very well done and worth reading.

Jesus Christ: The Theme of Pastoral Ministry

I am very grateful for the week I spent in Owensboro, Kentucky teaching at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies. Dean Sam Waldron and his assistant, Richard Barcellos, as well as the pastors and members of Heritage Baptist Church (who house the center) were very hospitable. The students were very encouraging and attentive and hung in there very well for the grueling schedule which is inevitably almost a test of endurance.

One of my firm convictions is that pastoral ministry must be centered on the gospel. All preaching, ministering and living must be founded on and flow out of what God has given us and done for us in Jesus Christ. Sometimes I am asked why we don't advertise our church as a "Reformed" Baptist church and why, even though we are affiliated with the SBC, we don't make a bigger deal of that. I always give the same answer. I really have no desire for Grace Baptist Church to be known as as "Southern Baptist" or "Reformed." Rather, I would love for us to be known as "Christ-saturated." My desire for my own life and for the lives of the people who constitute the family of Grace is that we would genuinely be permeated in every dimension of our thinking and living with the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I think I see this the Scriptures and I want to press forward to experience it more and more.

What this means for me is this: the doctrines of grace are not ultimate, Christ is. Calvinism is not the pinnacle, Christ is. The SBC is not most important, Christ is. I realize that I am not saying anything that others would deny, but I feel compelled to say and remind myself of these things regularly. So much of my identity, whether I like it or not, is bound up with my commitment to "that exalted system of Pauline theology" that is known as Calvinism. But I am a Calvinist precisely because I am committed to the supremacy and centrality of Jesus Christ in all of life.

I tried to make this point in the lectures last week on pastoral theology. In doing so I read to the class the following quote from Charles Spurgeon. He precisely expresses the sentiments of my own heart on this matter. The quote comes from his sermon, "Christ Lifted Up." It is found in volume 3 (p. 260) of the New Park Street Pulpit.
Again, the theme of a minister should be Christ Jesus in opposition to mere doctrine. Some of my good brethren are always preaching doctrine. Well, they are right in so doing, but I would not care myself to have as the characteristic of my preaching, doctrine only. I would rather have it said, "He dwelt much upon the person of Christ, and seemed best pleased when he began to tell about the atonement and the sacrifice. He was not ashamed of the doctrines, he was not afraid of threatening, but he seemed as if he preached the threatening with tears in his eyes, and the doctrine solemnly as God's own word; but when he preached of Jesus his tongue was loosed, and his heart was at liberty." Brethren, there are some men who preach the doctrine only, who are an injury, I believe, to God's church rather than a benefit. I know of men who have set themselves up as umpires over all spirits. They are the men. Wisdom will die with them. If they were once taken away the great standard of truth would be removed. We do not wonder that they hate the Pope, two of a trade never agree, for they are far more popish than he, they being themselves infallible. I am afraid that very much of the soundness of this age, is but a mere sound, and is not real; does not enter into the core of the heart, nor affect the being. Brethren, we should rather preach Christ than election. We love election, we love predestination, we love the great doctrines of God's word, but we had rather preach Christ than preach these. We desire to put Christ over the head of the doctrine, we make the doctrine the throne for Christ to sit on, but we dare not put Christ at the bottom, and then press him down, and overload him with the doctrines of his own word.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Out of Pocket for awhile

I plan to start the new year in Owensboro, Kentucky teaching a J-term for the Midwest Center for Theological Studies. You can read what I have previously written about MCTS to get my take on this new school. It is an honor to be associated with the men who are behind its beginning. Beginning Tuesday, I am scheduled to teach an Introduction to Pastoral Theology. If the Lord brings this to mind, please pray that I will be useful to those who participate in the class.

Because of a full schedule, I don't anticipate posting any new blog articles until next week. May your new year begin with fresh reminders of God's great grace in Jesus Christ.