Sunday, September 21, 2008

Upcoming conferences

One of the evidences of the doctrinal reformation that we are in is the proliferation of doctrinally sound conferences over the last two decades. Dozens of such conferences are held each year across the USA. Two years ago a friend counted over 5o that were scheduled within a 12 month span. While conferences are far from the the essence of reformation, they do provide something of a barometer to measure the growing interest in the doctrines of grace in our day.

Following is information on two of meetings that will be held this week.

The Southwest Founders Conference will meet Sept. 25-27 at Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas. The theme is "Growing the Local Church." I am scheduled to speak 4 times. If you are in the area, come by and say hello. Andrew Nicewander plans to live-blog the conference, so check his blog if you are interested in the notes and info on the audio. I may try to "live-twitter" it. ;-)

The Evangelical Forum will host a leadership conference for Pastors and Laymen Sept. 26-27 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The theme is "Of God and Of the Holy Trinity." Joseph Pipa and Bruce Ware will be the speakers.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

If you must engage in controversy...

I recall reading somewhere in one of the Puritans that the temptations that that a minister faces when engaging in controversy are greater than those he faces from "wine and women." Controversy is dangerous for Christians because the cause engaged too easily becomes a justification for sins committed in promoting or defending it.

When convinced that you are engaged in the high and holy calling of defending the cause of God and His truth it is very easy to overlook the basics of the Christian life, such as:
  • God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5)
  • A greater, deeper, more mature theological understanding is worthless without love (1 Cor. 13:2)
  • Zeal for the honor of Christ never justifies vengeful dispositions (Luke 9:54-56)
No one has helped me more with this than John Newton. His sermons, treatises and letters exude the kind of humble conviction that adorns the doctrines that he espouses. That is what provoked John Piper to make the subtitle of his biography of Newton "The Tough Roots of His Habitual Tenderness."

Newton believed that perhaps his greatest usefulness in ministry came from the letters that he wrote. One of them, reprinted below, is to a fellow pastor who was about to publish an article refuting the opinions of another minister. It is filled with the kind of wisdom that we moderns desperately need to hear.

Today it is far easier for someone to get his or her words spread abroad than it was 200 years ago--or even 20 years ago. We can do it in seconds by clicking "send" or "publish post." That ease and immediacy often work against wisdom and humility. With Google cache retaining our published words long after any attempt to remove them due to regret, Pilate's words are equally true of us and should serve as a sober precaution, "What I have written, I have written" (John 19:22).

As a convinced "5 point Calvinist" (though I would be happy to let that nomenclature fade away), let me issue a more direct appeal to my fellow Reformed brethren. John Newton writes as one who shares our theological understanding. He held unashamedly and tenaciously to the doctrines of sovereign grace. As he warns,
Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.
As I wrote the in a previous post, the issue of "Calvinism" is not going away. Southern Baptists--and evangelicals of various stripes--will be forced do discuss it. How we do so will bring either honor or dishonor to our Lord. Let's hold one another accountable for representing Jesus Christ well to those with whom we disagree as well as to a watching world of believers and unbelievers. Our ongoing responsibility is to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and to have our "speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt," so that we may know how we ought to answer each one (Col. 4:6). We must speak to people better than they deserve to be spoken to (grace) and strive to do so in a way that they will find our words appetizing (seasoned with salt). I love the way that the Puritan, John Flavel put it, "A crucified stile [style] best suits the preachers of a crucified Christ."

Heed the wise counsel of John Newton.
Dear Sir,

As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul's, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method's sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.

CONSIDER YOUR OPPONENT

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord's teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: "Deal gently with him for my sake." The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! "He knows not what he does." But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose. "If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth." If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.

CONSIDER THE PUBLIC

By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.

There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion, to have any settled system of their own, and yet are preengaged in favor of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves. These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer's spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments. The scriptural maxim, that "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God," is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth's sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.

You will have a third class of readers, who, being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

CONSIDER YOURSELF

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented.

And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who "when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not." This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, "not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called." The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors.

If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of his Holy Spirit.
Reprinted from The Works of John Newton, Letter XIX "On Controversy." Reprinted from New Horizons, October 2002. Available online at the OPC website.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Concerns about the challenge of Calvinism

Clear Creek College
Two stories arrived in my inbox within 24 hours that indicate that Southern Baptists are past the point of avoiding a dialogue about theology. The first came from the September 9, 2008 edition of the Kentucky Baptist Western Recorder. Dennis Fox is the President of Clear Creek Baptist Bible College and contributes a weekly column to the paper. He announces an upcoming conference on "Meeting the Calvinist Challenge." The conference is decidedly "not a debate about Calvinism" but rather a "response to the challenge of Calvinism," which he defines as "the challenge of trying to be 'converted' to Calvinsm."

Dr. Fox is plain-spoken when he writes,
The trustees and administration of Clear Creek made it very clear a few years ago when we publicly stated that we do not teach, promote or endorse Calvinism. We maintain this same position today.
This kind of candor is commendable. While I could wish that Clear Creek would be more open to the theology on which the Southern Baptist Convention was founded, it is certainly the prerogative of the trustees and administration and Kentucky Baptists not to be.

The other story is announces the results of a LifeWay study. Noting the documented growth among younger SBC pastors who identify themselves theologically as "5-point Calvinists," LifeWay Research asked 778 Southern Baptist pastors to agree or disagree with the statement, "The rise of Calvinism among recent seminary graduates concerns me."

The results: "27 percent strongly agreed and another 36 percent somewhat agreed with the statement indicating that they were 'concerned.' Sixteen percent strongly disagreed with the statement and another 17 percent somewhat disagreed. The remaining 5 percent indicated they 'don't know.'"

Call it the return of theology to the SBC. Whatever your attitude about the actual theological points involved there is no escaping the fact that Calvinism is a conversation that the Southern Baptist Convention is going to have. And it will be best addressed in formats initiated by last year's Building Bridges Conference, where the issues are clearly stated and positions are heartily yet respectfully argued.

Does Calvinism present a challenge? Without a doubt it does. If it is true, then we must acknowledge that much that is being taught in our churches today is false. If it is false, then we must acknowledge that those who believe and teach the biblical doctrines historically delineated by that nickname are misled and misleading others. We cannot have it both ways.

I believe that this coming conversation has great potential good as well as for evil. By that I do not mean that it will be good if "our side wins" and "there side looses." What I mean is this: if the kind of thinking that views this dialogue as a "win-lose" proposition and that wants to choose up sides prevails then much evil can erupt from it. If the 63% that are "concerned" decide that they need to declare war on the growing numbers that embrace the doctrines of grace, or if those in the growing minority decide to lock and load on the ones who are concerned, then we can expect an ugly and largely fruitless bloodbath.

If, on the other hand, cooler heads prevail and this issue can be viewed as an intramural debate amongst brothers who are willing to show love and respect to those with whom they disagree, then much good can come from it. This is my prayer. And it is how I want to conduct myself.

Don't misunderstand me. I am NOT suggesting that anyone back off his or her convictions. What I am suggesting is that Southern Baptists grow up and learn how to be ruthlessly biblical in arguing for positions that we believe are derived from the written Word o God and to do so in love and gentleness. Ours is a day that seems to think that solid convictions and genuine humility are mutually exclusive. But truth and love are not opposite choices. Truth requires love and love always rejoices in the truth.

So, let the conversation begin...or in some cases, let it continue. Join it. Don't be shy about it. Nail your theological colors to the mast and speak plainly about your beliefs. And do it without rancor or animosity, but in joy and hope that as we press each other to examine God's Word more carefully, the Lord may well be pleased to give us all greater insight into the truth He has entrusted to us.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Founders Podcast, Tom Nettles, pt. 3

The the third and final installment of my interview with Dr. Tom Nettles of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In it he addresses the issue of what constitutes genuine baptism. He also discusses the examples of Benjamin Keach and Abraham Booth as well-known Baptists from earlier generations who were baptized in Arminian churches and later moved to Particular Baptist convictions.

Dr. Nettles also provides an outline for defining true Baptist identity and gives his assessment of the last 30 years of Southern Baptist life, including the conservative resurgence and the more recent debates over Calvinism.

The first two parts of this interview have been posted previously (part 1) (part 2).

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Danny Akin on Wise Decision-Making and Alcohol Consumption

A new blog began a few months ago called Between the Times. Contributors are professors and administrators from Southeastern Seminary (Danny Akin, Bruce Ashford, Nathan Finn, Ken Keathley and David Nelson. They have put up some excellent posts, including a series by Dr. Akin on principles for discerning God's will in the gray areas of life. His last 2 of this 8-part series applies the biblical principles he articulated in the earlier posts to the troublesome issue of consuming beverage alcohol (part 1, part 2). All 8 articles are very good and are helpful in learning how to reason from God's Word to personal decisions. But I want particularly to call attention to Dr. Akin's application of principles to the quesiton of drinking alcohol.

It is a balanced, well-reasoned argument. My own view is very close to his. I do not drink and would be delighted if no one ever drank acohol. But I have yet to be convinced that the Bible forbids it and, therefore, refuse to judge those who imbibe as sinning in doing so.

One quality that I greatly admire in Dr. Akin is his unwillingness to use different standards for different groups. He speaks just as plainly to "us" as he does to "them." In other words, he does not think that he or those who are on his side in theological or denominational issues are above critique. One of the grave concerns that I have for self-styled Southern Baptist conservatives is an apparent unwillingness or inability to be self-critical. Too often, legitimate criticisms or even questions raised from fellow-conservatives have been dismissed as lack of loyalty at best or liberalism at worst. Danny Akin does not suffer from that malady, as demonstrated by the following remarks that are found in his defense of abstinance.
I should note that some who advocate moderation draw an analogy to eating and sex. They correctly point out that gluttony and sexual immorality are sin, but not the act of eating or sexual intercourse. I would want to make several observations in this context. First, gluttony and overeating is sinful and dishonors the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is something I was guilty of, God convicted me, and I lost 30 pounds. I stay in constant battle in this area. Second, many who would line up with me on alcohol run (but not very fast due to their weight!) from addressing gluttony. Third, some have alleged that Southern Baptist are hypocritical in passing resolutions on alcohol but not gluttony. I agree. So next year in Louisville someone needs to submit such a resolution. It will have my full support (emphasis added).
Whether you agree with Dr. Akin or not, you have to appreciate his plain speaking on the issue of gluttony. (Note to Joe: dust off your resolution and get it before the convention in L'ville!). If such a resolution makes it to the floor of the convention, I wonder if it will be amended to limit participation in denominational life to those who are not gluttons?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Isaiah 50:1-3, Rethinking God (in Wordle)


Yesterday was my first Sunday back in the pulpit at Grace. Six weeks ago, I was highly doubtful that I would ever be granted such a privilege again. God, in His rich grace, enabled me to preach from Isaiah 50 under the theme of "Rethinking God." The graphic above is my sermon in Wordle. If you are unfamiliar with Wordle you can check it out at their website. The original is found here.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Founders Podcast, Tom Nettles, pt. 2

The new Founders podcast has been posted online. It's about 20 minutes long.

The second part of my interview with Tom Nettles delves further into the question of Baptist identity. I ask him about Landmarkism, and learned one very good thing that J.R. Graves and the Landmarkers did for the annual meetings of the SBC. Dr. Nettles also gives a very interesting--some might even call it ironic--geographical delineation of early Landmarkism within Southern Baptist life.

The identity crisis that provoked the Landmark movement and the outcome of it are incredibly relevant to modern SBC life. Anyone who is interested in the contemporary discussions about Baptist identity should listen to Dr. Nettles' insights. He, more than any other living Baptist scholar, has explored and written about Baptist identity in helpful, historical and theological ways. His 3 volume work, The Baptists, is unparalled in our day.

Toward this end of this part of the interview, Dr. Nettles gives a wonderful argument for Baptists to stay in Baptist churches rather than joining Presbyterian churches, even when the latter may have a much healthier ministry than the former.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Roy Hargrave's preaching to be televised

Riverbend Community Church of Ormond Beach, Florida has announced that the Sunday sermons of their Senior Pastor, Roy Hargrave, will begin to air on DirectTV's Channel 378 this Sunday, September 7, 2008, at 2PM, Eastern Time. Roy is a faithful expositor of God's Word who understands and proclaims the sovereignty of God's grace. Pray for him and this new opportunity of spreading the Word of God. For more information visit GraceWorx.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Peter the Chanter and the execution of heretics

Kairos Journal is a great source for helpful articles on a variety of subjects ranging from ethics to religion to government. It comes weekly to my email inbox. One of the featured articles this week calls attention to Ad Abolendam, the medieval papal bull that became the "founding charter of the inquisition."

One Roman Catholic churchman who stood against the practice of executing heretics was Peter the Chanter. He was the supervisor of the liturgy at the Cathedral in Paris. Though his views remained a minority--and largely unheeded--report, they stand as a historical testimony to the power of Scripture to "correct" erroneous doctrine and practice. He also is a reminder of our need not merely to give lip service to biblical authority, but to take it seriously with all diligence and humility.

Read the article. And sign up for Kairos.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Help Lakeshore rebuild after Gustav

Pastor Don Elbourne has been faithfully shepherding his congregation and serving his community in "rebuilding Lakeshore" since Hurricane Katrina three years ago. The Lakeshore, Waveland Mississippi area took a direct hit from that storm. This week, Hurricane Gustav took its toll on many of the facilities that have been instrumental in the rebuilding efforts coordinated by the church.

For more information and photos of some of the damage go here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Special Opportunity for Mac Heads

Note: For the following is Macintosh users only (which now includes Joe Thorn, James White, Tim Brister and soon--before December 31, I'm guessing--will include Ed Stetzer).

For the last year I have taken advantage of special offers from Macupdate. I have received some very useful programs for very little money. Another of their special offers is going on right now. It is a different kind of marketing approach. The more people who purchase the discounted bundle, the more applications will be added to it at no extra charge. If you use a Mac, take a peek by clicking the banner in the sidebar.