Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Amazing Skidboot

If you are a dog lover, you will appreciate this video. Even if you aren't, it's worth watching. May life's simpler pleasures be more apparent than ever to you in the year ahead, and may unexpected blessings cause you to be mindful of God's goodness to us all the time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Spurgeon on Christmas

Charles Spurgeon closes his sermon entitled, "The Birth of Christ" (#2392, MTP) with the following words that express my own desire for friends and family at this time of year.
Now a happy Christmas to you all; and it will be a happy Christmas if you have God with you. I shall say nothing to day against festivities on this great birthday of Christ. We will to-morrow think of Christ's birthday; we shall be obliged to do it, I am sure, however sturdily we may hold to our rough Puritanism. And so, 'let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavend bread of sincerity and truth.' Do not feast as if you wished to keep the festival of Bacchus; do not live to-morrow as if you adored some heathen divinity. Feast, Christians, feast; you have a right to feast. Go to the house of feasting to-morrow, celebrate your Saviour's birth; do not be ashamed to be glad; you have a right to be happy. Solomon says, "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment."
"Religion never was designed
To make your pleasures less."

Recollect that your Master ate butter and honey. Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem; let him have a place in your hearts, give him the glory, think of the virgin who conceived him, but think most of all of the Man born, the Child given. I finish by again saying, ---


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Repenting Scrooge, Larry Norman and Christmas Time

I used to be something of a Scrooge at Christmas time. Through the years I have lightened up and come to realize that I don't have to protest all of the cultural extravagance and decadence that take place in the name of this holiday in order to be faithful to Christ. Our Lord was born and, though the Bible nowhere instructs us to commemorate His birth, it is worth celebrating. We acknowledge the births of mere mortals who have influenced the world, what is wrong with publicly acknowledging the birth of our King? Absolutely nothing.

I have no controversy with my fellow believers who do not wish to celebrate the holiday while fully rejoicing in the miracle of the incarnation. "He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it" (Romans 14:6). I hope that they will extend the same consideration to me and others who will celebrate with friends and family in a couple of days.

Christmas has become an increasingly joyful time of year to me as my children have grown older. This year that is especially so as we prepare to say good-bye to our eldest for a couple of years. We are trying to squeeze every moment out of the days we have left together before her departure. Fortunately, we decided a while back to forgo the normal gift giving amongst ourselves this year and to use the money saved to bless others. Not only has that given us the joy of freely giving, it has also spared us from the typical stresses of Christmas shopping. For us, this has proven to be a great gift from the Lord.

Though I no longer fit the "Scrooge" category, I still find a twinge of counter-culture rising in me when December rolls around. In acknowledgment of that, I offer this song by the late Larry Norman. It is no longer my favorite "Christmas Carol" (for which my wife and children are grateful!) but I still listen to it a time or two each year. Enjoy! ;-)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It's time for Southern Baptists to get serious on the allocation of Cooperative Program dollars

LifeWay Research recently studied attitudes toward the Cooperative Program (CP)--the ingenious giving plan that allows Southern Baptist churches to fund international missions, church planting and theological education, among other things. I actually was one of the 3500 pastors who participated in the study (in addition to 285 other ministers and 5245 lay persons). Mark Kelly summarizes one of the more interesting dimensions of the study:
A larger majority of pastors (62 percent) strongly agree that it is important for the Cooperative Program to allocate contributions appropriately among state, national and global ministries, missions and entities. Only 38 percent strongly agree the current allocation is appropriate among state, national and global ministries, missions and entities.
As the chart indicates, only 34% of the pastors surveyed believe that the entities that the CP supports "use the contributions efficiently" and only 32% think that "the state convention entities" that the CP supports "use the contributions efficiently" (more charts are available here).

Three years ago I wrote about the way CP monies are allocated and suggested that if the truth becomes widely known (of how much money stays in state conventions and how little actually makes it to support international missions--especially compared to the way the CP is promoted) then we could expect churches to start giving around the CP. This current LifeWay study suggests that I am not alone in my concerns.

It is time for Southern Baptists to change the way that Cooperative Program dollars are allocated. The simple truth is that far too many of those dollars stay in state conventions (for example, in Florida 60% stays in the state and that is "one of the best" percentage splits of any state convention).

Recently, International Mission Board trustees "approve[d] a budget for 2009 that includes no room to exceed the total number of missionaries currently under appointment" due to a lack of funds to do more. If every state convention would merely allocate 50% of the CP funds given by churches the IMB would not have to plan for no increase in the missionary force for 2009.

The Executive Committee of the SBC requested this LifeWay Research study on the CP. Now that the results are in, the Executive Committee should lead the way in calling for a serious, detailed study that leads to significant proposals for revamping the way that CP monies are allocated. In addition, pastors should become more involved in learning how the excessive amounts of CP dollars that stay in state conventions are spent and begin making proposals to get higher percentages of CP gifts to support international missions. After all, it is international missions that is used to promote the Cooperative Program and I am confident that most Southern Baptists would appreciate a higher percentage of their CP gifts actually making it to support the spread of the Gospel to the nations.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pray for Bart Barber

Bart Barber is a fellow pastor in Farmersville, Texas and will be familiar to many readers of this blog. His family family and the Scroggs family have been brought together through a very difficult providence. Pray for him and for both families.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday is for creative children with too much time on their hands

Our Christmas staff party got a little out of hand this week. Here is the result, featuring my fellow pastors, Asael Gonzalez, Ken Puls and Tim Brister along with our chairman of deacons, John Swaska. The credit goes to two of my children whose time for leisure is exceeded only by their creativity. ;-)

HT: Becca and Rachel

Saturday, December 06, 2008

New Book

Terrell D. Suggs has served as pastor of churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma. He is currently Director of Missions of the Bryan Baptist Association in Bryan County, Oklahoma. In his new book, My Journey in Grace, he describes his theological journey as the Lord taught him to see more clearly and delight more fully in the riches of divine grace displayed in salvation.

This 163 page book is available from Founders Press. Retail price is $11.95. It is available at a special pre-publication price of $8.25 by ordering online before December 31, 2008.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Ed Stetzer responds to David Allen

In my earlier critique of David Allen's review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, I did not mention his criticism of the research presented by Ed Stetzer on the growth of evangelical Calvinism within the SBC. Dr. Allen cites many problems with the research and the interpretations that were given to it.

Yesterday, Dr. Stetzer responded to Dr. Allen with a lengthy explanation about the research methodology and why the results should not be dismissed out of hand. Dr. Stetzer writes,
Over the years, we have learned a few things about research in SBC life. Research tends to get people in our denomination excited. Many people quote it, most like it, and some despise it. People will quote and misquote statistics regularly to prove or disprove whatever matters to them. Simply put, we are an enthusiastic, passionate, and often imprecise people when it comes to church research.

As such, when we do research, it gets a lot of debate and discussion. We do not mind at all--and sometimes we read a comment and think, "Good point!" or "We should have thought of that." As such, we very infrequently respond to inappropriate uses or criticisms of our research.

However, I do see a pattern developing. It appears that when one of the faculty members at one of our seminaries disagrees with the results of our research, they write a rebuttal or a criticism. We actually don't mind a (good) rebuttal and questioning the wording of questions is normal and expected. However, it does seem that the faculty at Southwestern is making a habit of taking time away from their important tasks to critique our research. I thought it would be wise for me to take this opportunity to respond in what I hope is a gracious way.
Dr. Stetzer's response is indeed gracious...and convincing. Read it here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Brief Response to David Allen's Explanations and Rejoinder

Drs. Malcolm Yarnell, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and David Allen, Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, George W. Truett Chair of Ministry, and Dean of the School of Theology, both serving at my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, have each recently deemed words written by me on this blog worthy of public "responses." Dr. Yarnell's is basically an amped up version of his final comment in the meta of this post. It so is rife with innuendo and misrepresentation that I will not take time to respond to it.

Dr. Allen's comments, however, are worthy of a response. It is refreshing to read comments from a denominational employee who has not forgotten that the seminary where he works is "owned and operate[d], through the trustee system, by the churches of the SBC." It is also encouraging to read these words from him:
Dr. Ascol and I not only differ and disagree on the subject of Calvinism, but in fact, our disagreement in certain areas is quite strong. However, for the record, let it be known that I do not view Dr. Ascol’s critique of my words as an attack on me personally.
My critique of Dr. Allen's review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, was never intended to be personal and, for the record, I do not take his criticisms of me and my views personally, either. I acknowledge him as a brother who is seeking to honor our common Lord and who deserves both my love and respect, which he has. My further interaction with some of his public comments is for the purpose of promoting understanding, accurate representation of the views we hold and mutual accountability--things that I sense Dr. Allen values as much as I.

I am grateful that Dr. Allen has willingly altered his manuscript to remove some of the condescending language he employed when describing Tom Nettles and Nathan Finn.

I am sorry to see Dr. Allen continue to defend his accusation of James White being a hyper-Calvinist. What I originally wrote has been largely vindicated. Thinking people are not impressed. The juxtaposition of the two following sentences by Dr. Allen does not help his case:
Incidentally, the attempts of Phil Johnson and James White at parsing words, nuancing or otherwise skirting the main issue at hand, have failed to show my initial statement concerning White to be false, in my opinion. I am willing to concede Johnson’s point that his Primer does not state what I interpreted it to state.
Dr. Allen concedes that he has misinterpreted Johnson's primer on hyper-Calvinism, which misinterpretation is the basis on which he leveled the charge against Dr. White. To acknowledge that one's premise is false while refusing to admit that the conclusion built upon it is in any way affected does not make sense. Here is the way that it comes across to me.

Original argument:
  1. According to Phil, anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist
  2. James is bald
  3. Therefore, James is a hyper-Calvinist
After Phil debunks the assertion that he has stated that anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist:
  1. I admit that Phil has proven that he never said that anyone who is bald is a hyper-Calvinist and that when I said that he said that, I was wrong
  2. Nevertheless, this does not prove that my conclusion about James White is false
What is it that makes one want to maintain the conclusion that is admittedly built on a faulty premise? The rationale escapes me.

On November 24, under a heading that says, "Why I said James White is a Hyper-Calvinist," Dr. Allen wrote,
My main point, which seems to have been lost on so many people, was not to focus on James White and his hyper-Calvinism. My point was to show the unwisdom on the part of Tom Ascol in his willingness to team up with James White to debate within the Southern Baptist Convention. Many non-Calvinists within our convention are concerned not only about Calvinism, but about some hyper-Calvinistic tendencies in the convention.
Anyone who knows me well can vouch for my "unwisdom" in various areas. Dr. Allen could have chosen any number of ways to highlight it, had he wished. I am glad that he pointed out that this was his "main point" because I also was among the "many people" that missed it. Of course, if, as has been sufficiently demonstrated by Phil Johnson and James White and asserted by me, James White is NOT a hyper-Calvinist, then Dr. Allen's main point is not only hard to recognize it is without merit.

This sheds light on why Dr. Allen thinks that I continue to miss the point. He writes,
Apparently Ascol is either 1) unaware of this difference between White and himself, or 2) does not believe there is a difference between his own views and White on this subject, or 3) is unwilling to conclude that such a difference makes White a hyper-Calvinist, or some combination of the three.
I am fairly aware of what James White believes. He speaks and writes very clearly. He and I do not significantly disagree on this subject. We might state things a little differently, but we both agree that God's will must be seen in terms of decree and precept and we both agree that God will not be frustrated at the end of history. Dr. Allen simply does not understand James White's views nor, it appears, the theology of hyper-Calvinism.

Furthermore, Dr. Allen writes, "Can anyone say that Steve Camp does not meet Phil Johnson's criteria on hyper-Calvinism?" Yes. I can. Dr. Allen has conceded that he misunderstood and therefore misrepresented Phil Johnson's criteria. Thus, once again, the conclusion which derives from the faulty premise also falls.

The brotherly thing for Dr. Allen to do is to retract his statements, apologize to these men for bearing false witness against them and continue studying hyper-Calvinism.

Dr. Allen transcribes his comments from the John 3:16 conference with the following:
Now whatever we do in Baptist life, we don't need to be teaming up with hyper-Calvinists. It's fine for Calvinists to get together and have debates with non-Calvinists. Fine, dandy and wonderful; let that happen all day long. But it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism.
I find this admonition incredible. Founders Ministries has been decrying hyper-Calvinism longer and louder than ANYONE in the Southern Baptist Convention. Anyone who has ten minutes and knows how to use the search engine on our website could learn that. Let me just set the record straight on this.
  1. In 1996, the Founders Journal published a letter I wrote to a father whose son was caught up in real hyper-Calvinism, trying to counsel him on how to help and evangelize his son. In that same issue, an excerpt from a small book I wrote was included under the title, "Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism: Issues Shaping Our Identity as Southern Baptists."
  2. In 1996, Founders Ministries gave away 2000 copies of Iain Murray's book, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. We were ridiculed, chastised and questioned by friend and foe alike for "stirring up trouble when there is none." We pressed on with this effort because, as students of history, we know that hyper-Calvinism is a parasite and it only emerges where true Calvinism lives. Because we saw the danger of what might attend the resurgence of true Calvinism, we sought to educate as many people as we could about the issues.
  3. We have, on this blog and elsewhere, repeatedly addressed the error of hyper-Calvinism, calling it pernicious, damnable, and unbiblical.
When I read Dr. Allen's words that "it is time for Calvinists within the convention to come out and say some strong words about hyper-Calvinism" I want to laugh and say, "Welcome to the party, I am sorry it took you so long to get here."

In his review of Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, Dr. Allen raises concerns about my involvement, and Founders Ministries' involvement, in the Building Bridges Conference and raises a question about "two Southern Baptist entities (LifeWay and Southeastern Seminary) partnering with a non-Southern Baptist entity (Founders Ministries) for this kind of conference." He writes,
My concern is with the involvement of the Founders Ministries. For them to be a co-sponsor legitimizes their agenda within the convention, an agenda which is counter productive in my judgment. For SBC entities to partner with any non-SBC group that is polarizing and that represents a small fragment of the convention is problematic.
In response to this, I made the following points: 1) Why then would he tolerate his own seminary's partnership with a non-lordship salvation group like Grace Evangelical Fellowship by hosting them on campus? 2) Why would he support and participate in the John 3:16 conference, sponsored by 3 "Southern Baptist entities" in partnership with Jerry Vines Ministires, a "non-Southern Baptist entity?"

Here is Dr. Allen's rejoinder to this:
First, Dr. Jerry Vines is a Southern Baptist with every right to express his theological disagreement with Calvinism through his own ministry.
Amen. No one is questioning this point. The same is true of me and Founders Ministries.
Second, there is a significant difference in Founders Ministries partnering with SBC entities for a bi-partisan conference, and SBC entities co-sponsoring a partisan conference.
Let me get this straight. If SEBTS and LifeWay had partnered with Founders to sponsor a partisan conference (let's call it, the "Acts 13:48 conference" :-) ), then Dr. Allen would have us believe that he would have had no problem with that? That strikes me as unlikely.

It gets even more confusing. He continues:
Furthermore, since non-partisan SBC entities partnered with partisan Founders Ministries for the Building Bridges Conference, it would seem to me Dr. Ascol would have no grounds to question non-partisan SBC entities partnering with partisan Jerry Vines ministries on this or any subject.
I didn't question him on this. I used his actions (participating in the J316 conference) as an example of doing the very thing that he protested about the Building Bridges Conference. For him to suggest that I was the one who raised this question is convoluted.

I am grateful to read of Dr. Allen describe himself as "one of those who genuinely want to bridge our doctrinal divides and live together with my Calvinist brothers and sisters in true unity and love." I believe him. My critique of what he has written and said do not address the question of his motives. Motives belong to God. I have simply tried to point out that much of what he has written and said has been detrimental to his own stated desire.

I have been informed that an open forum on Calvinism is being hosted tomorrow by Dr. Allen for students and interested parties in the Truett Conference Room on Southwestern's campus. This seems to me to be a good step and I will pray that it will go a long way to clearing up confusion and building more bridges. I recommend that you read Quincy Jones' admonitions at the link above if you plan to attend.

Everything you wanted to know about the End Times but were always afraid to ask

The Midwest Center for Theological Studies has a J-term class coming up that is both timely and beneficial to students of Scripture. The video gives more information.