Thursday, November 29, 2007

Building Bridges Conference--Hot Links

Here are some sources of information and opinions about the Building Bridges conference.

Audio files of the talks

Baptist Press Reports
Calvinism examined in its Baptist context.
For whom did Christ die?
Does God choose who will believe?
Stereotypes hinder SBC's Calvinism dialogue.
Akin envisions 'Great Commission Resurgence.
Selected Blog Comments
Timmy Brister, one and two
Tim Rogers interviews participants, one and two
Sam Waldron, one and two
Les Puryear
John Pipes
Mark Kelly
James Galyon
Scott Brown
Taylor Tsantles, one, two, three
(Taylor has some great pics to go with his comments)
I may have missed some. If so, feel free to add a link in the comment section.

Building Bridges Radio Interview today at 1PM (Eastern time)

Kevin Boling and Paul Dean of the Calling for Truth radio talk show will interview me today at 1PM (Eastern time) about the recently concluded Building Bridges conference. The program airs live on the airwaves in SC (and parts of NC, TN and GA) on Christian Talk 660am. A live audio stream is also available via the web at the link above (select the Listen Online button in the top right-hand corner of the homepage) and at Sermon Audio.

Listeners may call 1.888.660.9535 during the program with comments and questions.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Building Bridges Conference - Initial Thoughts

The conference ended on a high note with Danny Akin's presentation on Working Together to Make Christ Known. His comments were insightful, inspiring, bold, courageous and gracious. He argued for why and how Southern Baptists should make the effort to work together for a "Great Commission Resurgence."

This is on talk you absolutely must hear from the conference. It (along with the other talks) is available at the LifeWay website.

I will recap with further reflections when I have more time. I am currently sitting in the Ashville airport with my beautiful wife waiting for the first leg of our trip home. All in all, the conference met or exceeded my hopes and prayers. I believe that much good will come from it. Much good has already come from it.

Thanks for your prayers. I hope to get my thoughts together and post them in the next day or two.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Building Bridges Conference #3-Music

Mike Harland of LifeWay is leading our singing for the conference and is doing an outstanding job in guiding us in worship. Theology sings and those who recognize the importance of theology tend to love to sing. That is as it should be since all theology should lead to doxology.

Here is one song that we haven't sung, though I understand that someone emailed it to Ed Stetzer suggesting that he ask Mike sing it as a special today. ;-)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Building Bridges #2--Dockery and Nettles

David Dockery identified himself as the "lead off hitter for the Akin-Amyrauldian-quasi-Arminian team" as he began his talk on the historical record of Baptists and Calvinism. Using 1 Thesalonians 5:21 (Test all things; hold fast what is good) as his guide, he led us through a very helpful birds-eye-view of history, from Calvin to Baptist beginnings to Southern Baptist origins to the recent conservative resurgence.

David's presentation was marked by his characteristically irenic spirit and careful treatment of the material. I would take exception to a couple of his historical assessments (such as describing Shubal Stearns as a kind of Arminian) but could not help but be encouraged by his winsome treatment of the subject. His talk would make a very good introduction for anyone intersted in knowing about the Calvinistic influence on Baptist life.

Tom Nettles approached his subject differently by noting the conserving power of Calvinism on the essential doctrines of the faith. Using Baptist leaders from our history he argued that Calvinism inherently encourages and maintains orthodox views of Scripture, Trinity, substitutionary atonement, regenerate church members, Christ-centered preaching, religious liberty, missions and evangelism and one other that I am too tired to recall.

It was a very creative way to demonstrate that where you have a Baptist Calvinist, you have an strong ally for biblical Christianity. The quotes--especially the ones from Basil Manly--are worth having.

These two presentations very helpfully complemented each other.

Voddie Baucham called me tonight from his sickbed in Houston where he is battling the flu. Pray for him and for Don Whitney, who will preach in his place tomorrow night. Be sure to check out Ed Stetzer's blog for more consistent updates. I doubt that I will be able to give another until after the conference.

Building Bridges #1 Stetzer

Ed Stetzer talked about recent research from LifeWay and NAMB under the heading of "Calvinism and SBC Leadership and Evangelistic Implications." My take on Ed's report is that research indicates that the conservative resurgence is becoming a Calvinistic resurgence. As he put it, "It would be difficult to say that Calvinism is not a growing influence in the SBC."

The information he presented was very insightful. He will post his findings at his website later tonight. Check it out.

Here are some nuggets from his presentation:
  1. Five point Calvinists tend to share the gospel weekly slightly more than non-Calvinists.
  2. Non-Calvinists tend to pastor larger churches in terms of worship attendance than Calvinists.
  3. The baptism rate (number of baptisms:number of members) is virtually indistinguishable between Southern Baptist Calvinists and non-Calvinists.
Stetzers conclusion: None of us should be overly encouraged by these states. We are not doing a very good job engaging the lostness in America.

Building Bridges Conference audio files

The Building Bridges Confernce: Southern Baptists and Calvinism conference is scheduled to begin in a few hours. There will be no live webcast of the sessions but it is anticipated that some will be live-blogging the meeting. If this indeed does happen, and I discover who is doing it, I will post a link to their site(s). Bloggers that I know are here include Tim Rogers and Ed Stetzer (who, by the way, will make a brief presentation in the opening session this afternoon that should be of great interest to all Southern Baptists, regardless of your views on the doctrines of grace). Though my schedule is packed the next 3 days, I will try to offer some perspectives during the conference, if at all possible.

The audio files of each session will be made available as soon as possible after each session. Look for this afternoon's and tonight's recordings to appear at tomorrow morning.

Pray for the conference as the Lord brings it to mind. The team at LifeWay have done an outstanding job of making preparations. Ridgecrest is a tremendous venue and everything seems to be in place for the week. Those who have been asked to speak bring a wealth of experience, biblical understanding and passion to their assignments. The topics are relevant. The participants have gone to great expense and trouble to be here. But none of that will finally matter if God's Spirit does not come and own the conference. The most important work that must be done cannot be done by mere mortals. Only the Holy Spirit can help. So, brethren, pray!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Churches inflate their statistics? Who would've thought...

World Magazine reveals that the number of participants that many churches report don't add up in an article entitled, "Numbers Racket" in the December 1, 2007 issue. You can read part of the story here, but you must be a subscriber to read all of it. If you don't already subscribe to this excellent magazine, this is an excellent opportunity to do so.

Here is an interesting quote from the article:
Dan Gilgoff covers the evangelical movement for U.S. News & World Report and is the author of The Jesus Machine. He told WORLD that in his experience, megachurch pastors "notoriously inflate membership" numbers. The reasons? "Media attention, political influence, and money," Gilgoff said (emphasis added).
Somebody should address this situation, maybe by submitting a resolution or something to call attention to inflated church rolls and calling for integrity in the way the numbers are reported. ;-)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Debt Counseling for Holiday Shopping

In honor of Black Friday and the kickoff of that season when retailers work doubly hard to separate you from your money, I offer this video instruction on how to avoid debt. It is painfully accurate.

HT: Andrew Nicewander

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

With the upcoming Building Bridges conference I will not be posting much for the next two weeks. If you are able to make it to Ridgecrest I hope we can have a few minutes at least to say hello (the schedule is really packed!). If you can't attend, please do pray for what takes place there.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and...pull for my Aggies on Friday!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Weltanschauung Rap

I got this from Timmy Brister's blog. It is great! Dr. Orrick teaches at Boyce College in Louisville, KY. Founders Press has published his very helpful Baptist Catechism set to music. Needless to say, Dr. Orrick is a very talented man.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hot links

SBC Today has interviews with Al Mohler and Danny Akin available. Dr. Akin speaks about the upcoming Building Bridges conference November 26-28, as well as gives some thoughts on Mark Driscoll.

Doug Baker of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has made available some interesting interviews, as well, including one with JD Greear, who will be speaking at the Building Bridges conference.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Building Bridges vs. Burning Bridges

Nathan Finn writes about the Building Bridges Conference coming up November 26, 2007 at Ridgecrest, NC. He will be speaking on "Southern Baptist Calvinism: Setting the Record Straight." He is also asking for examples of common myth about Calvinism that people have heard. Click over and offer him your insights as he plans to help build bridges in the SBC.

In stark contrast to the design and efforts of that conference there is the action of the Arbuckle Baptist Association in Oklahoma, that voted last week to "take a public stand against Reformed theology" in the Oklahoma Baptist Convention and to register their opposition with the Executive Committee of the SBC. Click on the image below to read a letter from DOM Terry Mott that reports these actions. It is a great example of bridge burning in the SBC.
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Attitudes and actions like this are exactly what the Building Bridges Conference hopes to address and work to change--not by any kind of coercion or intimidation, but through brotherly fellowship and God-honoring dialogue. If you have not signed up to attend yet, there is still time. Pray for that meeting that honest, humble, biblically-guided, plain speaking will characterize each session as well as the informal times of gathering.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Helicopter parents and the disconnect of "higher" education

The Associated Press and Washington Times report on a study that challenges the stereotype concocted by some university officials about parents who take an active interest in their children's college education. Called "helicopter parents" by college administrators, because they are perceived as hovering over their college-age children, such moms and dads have been dismissed as bothersome and unhelpful to the education of their children.

A recent study by the National Survey of Student Engagement, however, indicates that students whose parents are very involved in their lives actually are more engaged in their studies and "deep learning activities" than their classmates.

The article contains this nugget of condescending arrogance: "Educators insist there's nothing wrong with parents taking an interest in college life." I am sure that my colleagues in SOHP (Society of Helicopter Parents) will be relieved that the high priests of academia have decreed that our involvement in our children's lives is not immoral.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThat's right, I must confess that I am a "helicopter parent." In fact, I am an Apache Longbow helicopter parent! With 4 kids in college I have more than a passing interest in what is being taught and how professors are teaching it in the classrooms that my children occupy. Twice I have had to swoop down to get the attention of administrators to rectify problems that could have and should have been resolved by simple integrity and common sense. Had my daughter not been dismissed by bureaucratic reflex I would have happily stayed hovering at a safe distance, hardly noticeable to anyone but my children.

The most egregious case had to do with a profane and foul-mouthed professor who refused to temper his crude language for the "prudes" in his class. Though I never had to fire a shot, it was impressive to see how quickly action can be taken when a parent sits across from a Dean and reads to him from his own school's sexual harassment policy.

So here's to all my fellow helicopter parents. May your tribe increase.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Restoring health to an unhealthy church: What is the goal?

The goal of reformation in a local church should not be to make all the members Calvinists. Obviously (or at least it ought to be obvious to anyone who knows me!), I would not think that a bad thing if it happened, but I would never recommend that as the goal of restoring health to a church. It is simply not big enough. In fact, if that is all that were to happen in a church then there still would be cause for concern and need to press energetically for even deeper reformation.

Anyone interested in seeing a church become spiritually healthy must aim at seeing that body increasingly become everything that God's Word calls a church to be. Mark Dever has helpfully defined a healthy church as one that "increasingly reflects God's character as his character has been revealed in his Word." The most important thing a local church can do is to fulfill its calling to be the church.

As the bride of Christ, the body of Christ and the house of God the church is to live in such a way that puts the goodness and greatness of the living God on display. Paul makes this point in Ephesians 3 when he describes the purpose of Gospel preaching as enabling the "manifold wisdom of God" to be put on display "by the church" (10). The way that Christ's people live together in covenanted devotion to their Lord and each other makes a statement to the watching world about the character of our God and Savior.

When a church is filled with unconverted or spiritually apathetic members, it lies about Jesus Christ. When it is marked by dissension and open immorality it misrepresents the the God who is three in one and holy, holy, holy. When it is self-consumed and unconcerned about the unconverted it projects a perverted picture of the God who sent His Son into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. When it is happily ignorant of Bible doctrine it sends false messages about the God of truth.

The pursuit of spiritual health will not allow such misrepresentations of the Lord to go unaddressed. The goal is to see Christ honored among His people as they become increasingly motivated and empowered by His gospel to live out His will on earth.

What does all this mean practically? Several things, chief among them being:
  1. To see the Word of God become preiminent and foundational to the life of the church. We should desire that our collective attitude in the church should be, "wherever the Scripture leads, we will go; whatever it teaches, we will believe...whatever the costs or the consequences."
  2. To see the membership reflect reality. It is tragically commonplace today for churches to have far more paper members than real ones. Our statistics lie. Here is a simple formula to use to help gauge the spiritual health of your church: If your membership exceeds your attendance then you have a problem. The more that it exceeds it, the greater the problem is. In Baptist life we have historically stated it like this: We believe in a regenerate church membership. A local church ought to reflect that belief.
  3. To see the worship gatherings of the church marked by God-centered, Gospel-saturated, passionate intensity where Jesus Christ is recognized as supremely glorious.
  4. To see the lives of the members marked by evangelistic compassion that results in intentional efforts to make disciples for Jesus Christ.
  5. To see a humble, servant-hearted commitment to minister after the pattern of Christ characterize the culture of the church.
The list is not exhaustive, but it does contain elements that are essential to a healthy church. A. W. Tozer once said that every pastor ought to have two churches in his mind at all times. The first when he reads the New Testament instructions on what a church ought to be. The other is the church he sees on Sunday mornings when they are gathered for worship. The goal is to so live and work and minister and pray that the church that is becomes increasingly like the church that ought to be.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More momentum for the membership resolution

American Family Radio interviewed me earlier this week about my resolution on integrity in church membership. You can read a report and listen to a snippet of the interview here.

Since the interview I have heard from a fellow pastor that another association, the Olney Baptist Association in Illinois, has adopted a resolution addressing these issues. Maybe if enough Southern Baptist groups do this then the 2008 SBC Resolutions Committee will not be able to kill the resolution when it is offered to them next year.

Restoring Health to an Unhealthy Church: Why Attempt It?

Many pastors and church leaders think that any effort to lead a church back to more radically biblical health is a fool's errand and should only be attempted by...well, by fools. Sometimes this sentiment is fueled by pastoral and ecclesiological naivete. There is no perfect church and even the healthiest must constantly pursue greater spiritual health. It is, as the reformers said, "the church reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God."

For others, antipathy toward working for radical reformation in a local church arises from painful experiences. More than a few good men have seen their efforts lead a church to more spiritually healthy pathways blow up in their faces. The stories from some of those situations seem more fitting for a Stephen King novel than for ecclesiastical history.

Physical attacks, financial threats, lawsuits, newspaper articles, denominational intimidators, emotional and verbal abuse are only some of the methods that have been marshaled against efforts to lead a church to spiritual health. At this point I suppose it is necessary to give the obligatory notice that pastors and other church leaders have also inflicted some serious harm on churches by unwise and un-Christlike attitudes and actions in the name of reformation. That has happened. It does happen and it is shameful and indefensible.

Nevertheless, what I have witnessed leads me to conclude that the great majority of the difficulties that come from efforts to pursue biblical renewal churches arise primarily from the entrenched carnality that permeates the ethos of many congregations today. If, as has been repeatedly argued here, the majority of our churches are filled with unregenerate members, then it only stands to reason that when biblical and spiritual course corrections are proposed in a church that a sizeable number of the members will not like it. If carnal, Christless appetites and inclinations have been made to feel at home in a church by giving them a religious veneer, then when that veneer is removed by the true Gospel the godlessness underneath gets exposed. Often that exposure resembles the reaction of smoldering embers to an influx of oxygen. The results can be pyrotechnic.

Given all of this, why in the world should a pastor attempt to lead his church toward renewed spiritual health? Why not just shake the dust from your feet of established churches and give yourself exclusively to planting new churches? Or why not limit your sense of calling to serve churches that already display encouraging signs of real spiritual life and health? Why attempt the work of biblical re-formation in a local church?

I have addressed this in broader terms a few years ago in an article entitled, "Why Work for Reformation within the Southern Baptist Convention?" Much of what I wrote there pertains to the more narrowly focused question of this post. Beyond a doubt, the greatest reason is found in the attitude, teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ deserves to have the churches that bear His Name to walk worthy of His honor. His agenda for the local church ought to be carried out at any and all costs. Where that agenda has been forsaken, for whatever reason, those who love Christ should seek to have it restored.

In our day of quick fixes and instant gratification it can be a challenge to develop and maintain a long-term perspective on church life. Patience may still be a virtue but it tends to be a bothersome one that we would just as soon not have to cultivate in our efforts to do what we judge to be important. In this regard the late James Boice was correct when he noted that we tend to overestimate what God will do in 1 year and underestimate what He will do in twenty.

But that is not the perspective of our Lord. Jesus demonstrates incredible patience with His people, both individually and corporately. After all, He did not kill me before I completed this post (or you before you read down to this line) though there is enough sin remaining in me to justify such swift judgment. He is similarly patient with His churches.

We tend to give up on churches too quickly and write them off as beyond recovery. Some, undoubtedly, are. But probably not as many as we would like to think. Serious problems in a church are no reason to abandon it. Think about this for a moment.

Would you be willing to pastor a church that nauseates Jesus? Would you even be willing to remain a member of such a church? What about one that is self-deceived? Or what if it is spiritually lukewarm, or has a prominent member who is a known adulterer and promotes fornication and adultery? Would you consider a call to a congregation that is blatantly hypocritical, or is spiritually dead? Most of us would probably cringe at the thought of trying to minister in churches like these.

Yet, these are the very kinds of churches that Jesus addresses in Revelation 2-3. Some of them were simply wicked. Our Lord speaks plainly about the sinfulness of five of them. The charges He brings against them are incredible. Yet, He comes to them to warn them and call them to repent. He has not yet given up on them, though He does indeed threaten to remove the lamp stand from among them (2:5) unless they repent. Nevertheless, before He takes the step of unchurching them He calls them to biblical renewal. By His letters He works for the recovery of their spiritual health.

If our Lord is willing to take this kind of attitude toward spirituall sick churches, then so should His servants. In any church that has not completely died, there remain some of Christ's sheep mixed in with the goats and the wolves. They need a shepherd--one who will lead them back to the paths of the Chief Shepherd.

In order to "strengthen the things that remain" one must be willing to engage the work of biblical reformation in local churches. Is this kind of work hard? Of course it is. Is it for everyone? Not necessarily. But it will be for some, whom the Lord equips and providentially guides to enter into churches that are in severe need of a biblical course correction. Such men should be willing to attempt it.