Monday, April 17, 2006

Doxoblogy: TULIP For Dummies

I liked this. It was simple: Doxoblogy: TULIP For Dummies Hey, who is he calling a dummy?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Students Flock to Seminaries, but Fewer See Pulpit in Future - New York Times

This New York Times article: Students Flock to Seminaries, but Fewer See Pulpit in Future - New York Times (HT: R. Albert Mohler) looks at the phenomenon of seminary graduates either deciding not to enter pastoral ministry, or entering seminary with other goals in the first place. The reporter spoke to administrators and graduates of Candler School of Theology at Emory University (United Methodist), Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, and an official from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. My question is, how representative is this sampling? Not in a pure statistical sense, but how can you get a feel for what is happening in seminaries without inquiring what is happening in the Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and three other large evangelical seminaries, Dallas Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The last time I checked, the four largest SBC seminaries and the three seminaries just mentioned make up seven of the ten largest seminaries in the U.S. The only mention of evanglical Christians was this: "Students who are evangelical Protestants, meanwhile, often end up at advocacy groups, sometimes called parachurches, which have defined the priorities and solidified the influence of conservative Christians." That is not an accurate definition of "parachurches," which includes far more than advocacy groups. Reading this article just confirmed my belief that the mainstream media still doesn't get evangelical Christianity in America, and doesn't even want to try.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Things I wish I had known before becoming a Calvinist

There are things you should know before becoming a Calvinist (hat tip: Rick Ritchie): The Mechanical Contrivium: Trivia about Calvinism

Friday, March 03, 2006

Divine Sovereignty and Human Repsonsibility

Michael Haykin has a wonderful post "Puritan Balance About Coming to Christ" in which he shares an insight from John Flavel on how God accomplishes his salvific will without obliterating man's personality:
“Coming to Christ shows the voluntariness of the soul in its motion to Christ. True, there is no coming without the Father’s drawing; but that drawing has nothing of compulsion in it; it does not destroy, but powerfully and with an overcoming sweetness persuades the will. It is not forced or driven, but it comes; being made willing in the day of God’s power. Psalm 110:3.” [The Method of Grace (New York: American Tract Society, n.d.), 201].
This makes me want to read Flavel for myself. Which, I am sure, is exactly what Haykin intends.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Is There Room to Differ?

My friend Lamar Duke, who is the Associational Missionary for the Baptist Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania, visited Beaver Baptist Church this past Sunday. I took the opportunity to speak with Lamar about some of the ongoing controversies within the SBC, particularly the IMB brouhaha. Lamar and I (and many others, to be sure) are concerned that the conservative resurgence in the SBC has left a culture (at least in some circles) where every difference among Southern Baptists is being fought over until it is resolved in favor of one party or the other. We agreed that there has to be room for differing points of view, especially on issues not addressed in the Baptist Faith and Message. Recently, Lamar circulated this article written by John Avants, a VP at NAMB:

MAKING EVANGELISM GOOD NEWS AGAIN I write about good news. I talk about good news. I share good news. I seek with all my heart to be good news to all those around me. That's why this will be the most difficult article I have written in this wonderful year since I became Vice-President of the North American Mission Board, leading Evangelization. Today I will write about bad news. I will speak up loud and clear about bad news that threatens to destroy or at least render irrelevant, the largest and most wonderful tool of good news in the world today - the people called Southern Baptists. And then I will make an unapologetic appeal and challenge to every Southern Baptist to turn away from the destructive course we seem to be on. For years I have been deeply concerned about the critical spirit among Southern Baptists. It seems that we must have something to fight about and someone to oppose. Now those of you who know me are aware that I was an open part of the Conservative Resurgence. There are some things that are so vital that they are worth a fight. The Bible is one of those things. Without its full truth, there is no assurance that I have any good news to tell. But I believed that when the issue was settled, we would move forward together like a mighty army against the real enemy - the one who keeps this world in darkness. I believed that we would see a sweeping movement of evangelism that would result in the greatest spiritual awakening we have ever imagined. So far, we have chosen a different course. We have turned on each other like a pack of dogs fighting over a bone. We divide over reformed theology. We split our churches over music style. We insist on uniformity on issues that go far beyond the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. We push away our best and brightest young leaders because they don't preach or worship or function the way we have in the past. Never mind if they baptize thousands. We are so busy gossiping incessantly about each other, we don't have much time to talk about Jesus anyway. If you listen to talk in Southern Baptist circles, I'm sure you will notice something that I have picked up on - every one of our leaders is an incompetent idiot! At least, that's the appearance from the way we talk about each other. I am struggling to think of one key Southern Baptist leader that has not been the victim of these constant barrages of criticism. I know most of these men. They are good men. They are God's men. They are gifted leaders, gracious servants who long to see God move among Southern Baptists in power. But they are not perfect men. And if we continue this course of action, this prideful, disgraceful slandering of each other, we should not be surprised at all by the lack of God's favor on us. God is doing just fine, by the way! His kingdom will advance with or without us. In my last article I wrote about the fresh movement of God on college campuses. Just after I submitted the article, a renewal reminiscent of the Jesus Movement days began on the campus of Asbury College. It started as a normal chapel and transitioned into a powerful multi-day season of prayer, testimony, repentance, and best of all, evangelism! Now the students are determined, as the campus chaplain told me, "to take Jesus to the world!" Why is it, do you think that God is choosing to move among college students like this? Could it be because they are utterly unconcerned about our foolish rantings against each other and are simply determined to follow Jesus? What a thought! I have been sending reports of campus outbreaks and fresh movements of evangelism to everyone I can, all across the continent. What a time it is for us to focus on what God is doing in the world. But I find most Southern Baptist talk these days does not center on what God is doing but on what we are doing to each other. And that is both tragic and wrong. But it is not surprising. It is who, for the moment, we have chosen to be. But I have a growing hope in me. Even in this bad news, I see good news! I have been speaking all across the country for a year. I have been calling Southern Baptists to stop this cycle of self-destructive gossip and attack. And the response I am getting has been overwhelming. I think the vast majority of Southern Baptists are tired of this. Sick of it in fact. I think we are ready for change. So allow me to humbly suggest a course of action: 1. Personally place a moratorium in your own life on criticism and gossip. Let's just stop it. Try this. Determine that before you criticize anyone, you will take a break to go and witness. After you have shared Christ, you will probably have neither the time nor the desire to criticize. Since we are a people who believe the Bible, wouldn't it be helpful if we actually practiced Matthew 18? 2. Let every pastor, every Southern Baptist leader, and every member commit for the rest of this year to focus our energies on loving and sharing with those who don't know Christ, rather than seeking to solve all the internal problems of your church and your convention. I really wonder how many internal problems we would have left if every Southern Baptist just shared the good news once a day. Why don't we actually try it? 3. I hesitate to say this, but it might be time for a new Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. The vast majority of Southern Baptists may have to rise up and begin to speak up clearly, even with your votes. Perhaps the message should be, "Make the main thing the main thing. Quit bashing each other. Quit attacking others in your sermons who do things differently. We won't applaud anymore. Stop being distracted by lesser things. Lead us to bring the good news to the world." 4. Let each of us repent, both to God, and to each other, for our behavior. If we don't stop this, it will be no wonder why lost people will stay away from our churches. Let's cry out to God to help us love Him and each other again. Then we can love the world He sent His Son to die for. It looks to me like we have two clear directions we can choose as Southern Baptists. We can advance together against the real enemy and become the kind of contagious, bold good news Christ-followers we read about in the book of Acts. Or we can keep gnawing on each other while the world goes to hell. Either way, our problem in the SBC will be solved. We will either be so overwhelmed with the passion and love of the power of God that the petty voices of personal attack will fade away like a distant whine. Or, we will keep up the present course until the few Southern Baptists left can find a small room somewhere, where no one will pay any attention, and fight it out together until the end. As for me, I am full of hope! God is on the move. And I really believe that God has assigned you and me today to be a missionary of the King of the universe! Someone is waiting for me to love them, to share Christ with them, to see their whole world changed. That's what Southern Baptists are about. And I have spent enough time sitting at this computer criticizing the criticizers! I'm getting out of this office and out into the world to make evangelism good news again. I bet you are ready to join me.

I still believe there is the need for Southern Baptists (and all Christians) to discuss differing understanding of doctrine and practice. Some differences are non-trivial, and we need to talk about them in a spirit of love. And it won't do simply to say, "let's forget about all of that and just go witnessing door-to-door." But Avants is certainly right to point out that we are going to destroy ourselves if we insist on imposing conformity on all but the most trivial matters.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Is Landmarkism rearing its head at IMB?

Fide-O Interviews Wade Burleson. It may be that the the proposed guidelines regarding baptism for IMB candidates is driven by a Landmarkist agenda. One feature of Landmarkism is that only Baptist churches are true gospel churches, and that only baptisms performed in Baptist churches are legitimate baptisms. According to Burleson at least two of the IMB trustees behind the proposed guidelines are explicitly Landmarkists. If this is true, then I have to object to the proposed changes, even though I had expressed partial agreement with them in an earlier post.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Fabulous Resource at Covenant Worldwide

Hat tip to John Divito at Reformed Baptist Thinker for Covenant Seminary's New Free Online Resource. Covenant Seminary is opening up a treasure trove of materials giving free access to course lectures on mp3 and study guides! I am looking forward to digging into some of the offerings.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

PBWiki

I have just set up my own wiki at PBWiki. I am an absolute novice at using a wiki, but it seems to be ideal for collaborative work. I am thinking about doing an online project on New Covenant Theology.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Thoughts on End of the Spear, Part 2

It seems that the number of theaters running End of the Spear is beginning to decline. It appears that ETS opened fairly well, probably on the strength of Christians who had planned to see it. It also seems that it didn't have the "legs" to stand on its own. That's too bad. My wife and I enjoyed ETS, and the folks from our church who saw the movie also liked it. It really is a story that deserves to be heard. One failing of the movie, however, is related to just that point. The story of the five missionaries and their families who continued their mission deserves to be heard. But if a person who was unfamiliar with the story would see ETS they would mainly learn of Nate Saint and his family's interactions with the Waodani, and particularly with Mincayani. The other missionaries are mentioned almost only in passing. I am glad our church had the opportunity to see the documentary Beyond Gates of Splendor. The documentary provides much needed background and breadth to the story. I don't think the makers of ETS wanted to downplay the roles of the other missionaries. I suspect that they wanted a simpler, more unified, storyline. Another shortcoming was that the movie showed so little of the evangelizing of the tribe. We hear Dayumae telling her people that God has a Son who was speared, but didn't spear in return so that we could live well. Now Christians can see the rudiments of the gospel in that message. But I don't think that it can be assumed that non-Christians will make the connection. In fact, I can see how many non-Christians could see this simply as a message of the power of non-violence, the power of love. We see natives who have become believers, but we don't see how they respond to gospel message. I'm not saying that ETS needed to be a movie where the plot is geared entirely to a moment where the gospel is presented and a someone makes a profession of faith in response. But I think more could have been done without turning ETS into a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association style film. In fact, I think one way is suggested by the film itself. When we hear Dayumae share the gospel, we are struck by the challenge of communicating the gospel in the language of culture that lacks vocabulary and even concepts that we take for granted. How, for example, do you communicate the notion of crucifixion? In Dayumae's presentation, she describes Christ's death as a "spearing." Now that is a difficult decision to make; which details can be changed into a more culturally meaningful concept? I don't think it a trivial detail that Christ was crucified on a cross. But would it take away too much from the message to stop and educate the natives on Roman capital punishment? Can that be filled in later? The reason I bring this up is that making this kind of decision is very much a part of what missionaries to unevangelized peoples have to do. It would have been interesting to show the missionaries doing just that. It would have been consistent with the story the movie makers were telling, and it would have allowed a fuller communication of the gospel to movie viewers. Finally, one feature of ETS that struck me was the emphasis on the angelic visitation at the death of the five missionaries. Most of what I knew about the story came from the Beyond Gates of Splendor documentary which omitted that part. I am glad that the makers of ETS did not shy away from supernatural elements of the story. Indeed, I was moved to think of these men being ushered into glory by angels.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Thoughts on End of the Spear, Part 1

Well, as usual, I'm a little behind the eight-ball. Everybody has commented on the End of the Spear and moved on to other hot topics. But being late to the conversation has never stopped me from putting in my two mites worth. In this post I want to address the Chad Allen brouhaha. It seems to me that Christian filmmakers can take two approaches to making films with spiritual subject matter. I think both approaches are valid. The first approach is that of using Christians in nearly all aspects of the work. The work is viewed as a ministry in which all participants, ideally, are Christians. I think in practice it might be difficult to achieve purity, due to the complexity of making films. But the idea is that of Christian producers, directors, actors, etc. I suppose it would extend to cameramen, "grips," "best boys," etc. (I have no idea of what the last two are, I've just seen them in film credits). I suppose the films made by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association would be an example. The idea is that Christian ministry must be done by Christians in order to be ministry. The second approach would be one of greater participation in the secular film industry. Although the producers would have the goal of making a film with a Christian message, they would be committed to using the best artists and craftsmen available, without regard to whether they are Christian or non-believers. The goal is to make the best film possible in the belief that it is the best way to communicate the message. Another reason for taking that approach could be a strategic one. Christian filmmakers might want to work within the system to gain credibility for the film. Finally it is also a way of saying to non-Christians in the industry that Christians want to work with them, and that there is a market for good movies with a spiritual message. It seems that Every Tribe Entertainment (ETE) has taken something like the second approach. In an e-mail communication from BearingFruitCommunications they stated: "Right this second, people in the entertainment industry are making decisions regarding the stories that will shape our culture. With the motion picture industry down, they are asking, 'What do people want?' There has never been a greater opportunity for Christians to influence what kind of movies will be made. " Thus they claim that Chad Allen was chosen for the role of Nate/Steve Saint because he clearly had the best audition. Does it matter that Allen is homosexual? I don't think you have to be a Christian in order to portray one in a movie. And I don't think we can single out only homosexual sin. But what about the fact that Allen is an activist for the homosexual movement, and holds unorthodox spiritual beliefs? I think that once ETE made the choice of working within the secular system, they are committed to the "rules of the game." Allen's beliefs have nothing to do with whether he can play the role. And I think this was born out in the film, Allen did a good job, in my opinion. One last thought, however. ETE also adopted a marketing strategy of seeking out the help of churches and other Christian ministries in order to get the word out about the film, primarily in distributing the Beyond Gates of Splendor documentary. Unlike a filmmaker, churches do not have the luxury of using non-believers in ministry (I won't quibble over whether you could, say, hire a non-Christian secretary or custodian). Clearly the staff of a church must be committed to the message and mission of the church.* ETE approached churches and encouraged them to be "Ministry partners." And for many churches, "ministry" means "ministry by Christians." I think ETE would have done well to spell out their approach to making films. They could have explained, for example, that they would not limit themselves to using only Christian actors. Those who objected could have opted not to participate. Others who participated would not have been surprised (or as surprised) at the casting of Chad Allen. In Part 2, I will share my thoughts about the movie itself. *I think that includes the use of professional musicians in worship services. Some would argue that hiring a non-Christian musician is no different than hiring a non-Christian janitor but I would strongly disagree. The music of a church service is part of the church's proclamation. In a church service, it is a proclamation on the part of the musician. It would be hypocrisy for a non-Christian to participate that way in a church service.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Thoughts on the new IMB guidelines

This issue has recently been brought up by one of my church members, and I decided to look into it and give it some thought. I hope that my analysis will contribute to the conversation. After reading the new guidelines, I would say I say I partly agree as well as partly disagree. Concerning the position on a "private prayer language" and the new baptism requirements, here is what is now required (copied from IMB trustee Wade Burleson's Blog The Old IMB Policies Compared to the New IMB Policies . . . ) with my comments in italics: THE NEW POLICY REGARDING GLOSSOLALIA OR "TONGUES." GLOSSOLALIA 1. The New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia that generally is considered to be a legitimate language of some people group.2.The New Testament expression of glossolalia as a gift had specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.3.In term of worship practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice glossolalia. Therefore, if glossolalia is a public part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC. PRAYER LANGUAGE 1. Prayer language as commonly expressed by those practitioners is not the same as the biblical use of glossolalia. 2. Paul’s clear teaching is that prayer is to be made with understanding. 3. Any spiritual experience must be tested by the Scriptures. 4. In terms of general practice, the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept what is referred to as “private prayer language.” Therefore, if “private prayer language” is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, the candidate has eliminated himself or herself from being a representative of the IMB of the SBC. I think the restriction based upon private "prayer-language" adherents is unfortunate and unnecessary. The practice does not conflict with the Baptist Faith and Message, therefore they do not conflict with any official beliefs. If Southern Baptists are that concerned with the issue, they should take an official position on it. I think, however, that would be unwise. I would not be surprised if we took a survey of Southern Baptists that we would find that more people speak privately in tongues than we assume. My own experience (limited, so it may not carry much weight) is that non-tongues-speaking Southern Baptists can live with those who speak in tongues as long as they do not bring it into church services. APPLICATION 1. This policy is not retroactive. 2. Any exceptions to the above policy must be reviewed by the staff and the Process Review Committee. The "NEW" Policy Regarding Baptism for Missionary Consultants POINTS TO BE COVERED DURING THE APPOINTMENT PROCESS: 1. The Individual a. Believer’s baptism by immersion Baptism by immersion follows salvation b. Baptism is symbolic, picturing the experience of the believer’s death to sin and resurrection to a new life in Christ. Baptism does not regenerate. This is correct and Southern Baptists rightly expect that missionaries hold to these beliefs. 2. The Church a. Baptism is a church ordinance. When it states that baptism is a “church ordinance” I would take that to mean, at a minimum, that baptism must be administered by a person ordained and authorized to do so. Since baptism is to administered to believers, we would want the baptism to administered by someone who is entrusted with the spiritual oversight of the church. We would expect that a person who is ordained is qualified to make a judgment that a candidate for baptism has made a credible profession of faith. Not all laypersons could be expected to be competent to do so. Thus, a baptism administered by a layperson would be suspect, since we don’t know whether the layperson was competent to make a sound judgment. I think this is sound. We ordain ministers for a reason. Baptism must take place in a church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative, and a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer. As to the second part of clause (a) the question is, how did the candidate understand their baptism? Point 1 covers what they now believe, point 2 (a) covers what they were taught at the time of their baptism. After all, when a person is baptized, they are making a certain kind of profession. So we want to know, at the time, was the person professing that they were being regenerated by baptism, or that it in some way infused grace (that would be the concern about “sacramental”). Baptism should be a visual, symbolic profession that I am united by faith with Christ in his death and resurrection. As Baptists, our missionaries will be expected to teach accordingly, and administer baptisms accordingly. Can they say that they themselves were baptized with that understanding, that is, is that what they were professing when they were baptized? But this could be a problem even if they were baptized in a SBC church. I think the best test is not the beliefs of the administering church, but what the candidate understood at baptism and especially what they now believe. The word “church” as used in this context does not appear to refer to a church building. So baptisms outdoors would be valid. I have heard that the some believe this clause means that baptisms would have to be physically performed in a church building.

But there is another question that has to be answered: what is the purpose of baptism? Some argue that baptism is a "gatekeeper" to church membership as well as the opportunity to publically profess faith in Jesus Christ. And while I agree that a minister should examine a candidate for baptism to see if they understand the gospel and have made a credible professon of faith, I have to wonder if baptism is being loaded with more functions than is intended in Scripture. Thus, as to being baptized in a church that teaches the security of the believer, I don’t see what that has to do with baptism. I think Tad Thompson’s blog Total Truth: The IMB, Baptism, Prayer Languages, and Reformed Theology II makes a good point that there are differences over what that means—I hold the same view of perseverance that Thompson does. Many Southern Baptists understand it somewhat differently. b. A candidate who has not been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or in a church which meets the standards listed above is expected to request baptism in his/her Southern Baptist church as a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist hurches. If we grant the previous points this simply follows. Except, just how do we know what a person understood about baptism when they were baptized in a SBC church? 3. The Candidate The candidate is responsible for meeting this doctrinal commitment to the above points 4. The Consultant While the candidate consultant should have a working knowledge of many denominational groups, he is not expected to investigate every church. APPLICATION 1. This guideline is not retroactive. 2. Any exception to the above guideline must be reviewed by the staff and the Process Review Committee. According to the application section, these guidelines are not retroactive, nobody currently appointed as an IMB missionary should be affected. Point 2 of the application section seems to indicate that they would consider individual exceptions. There may be room for candidates to explain what they believed at the time of their baptisms. Also, I wonder just how many candidates this really affects? I know, there is a “principle” involved. Some candidates may be willing to be re-baptized. So I do have some concerns with new policy, but I also share some of the concerns that led to the new policy. Clear as mud?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

An alternative to the modern church growth paradigm

What does God want for this church? In which direction should we go? How does this church have to change? Where do we start? How cautious or bold should I be? Will it work? What will I do if it fails? I’ve asked these questions and I expect that many other pastors, especially new pastors like me, have also asked them. The prevailing answer today is the “seeker-sensitive” or “purpose-driven” approach. But I am repulsed by its dependence on marketing, demographic niche-filling, entertainment, and consumerism. I cannot take the riches of God's Word and craft sermons consisting of "life principles." You've heard them, sermons series like: "The Decalogue: Ten Principles for a Better Sex Life." I am also persuaded that there is another, better, more Scriptural way to go. And there are churches that are showing us the way. Churches like Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, M.D. I’ve seen it first-hand at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY where it was the privilege of my wife and me to be members for five years. What is distinctive about these churches? What is it they have in common? I would list the following characteristics: (1) All of these churches emphasize content-rich, doctrinal, evangelistic, expository preaching. (2) Although they vary in style, their worship uses God-centered music that reaches both the mind and the emotions. (3) These churches are led by a plurality of elders, with a mixture of full-time, paid pastors and non-paid lay elders. (4) All of these churches have a passion for missions and evangelism. (5) All of them are Calvinistic in their soteriology. (6) All four churches have rich opportunities for adult education, in some cases even training for church leadership. My heart's desire for Beaver Baptist Church, where it is my privilege to be pastor, is a minstry that relies upon God in the faithful proclamation of the Gospel, both to win souls for Christ as well as progressively to conform these saints to the image of Christ. I know that there are other pastors and church leaders who desire the same thing. I believe we must encourage one another to remain faithful, and to help one another. We must do it for the sake of our churches. We must do it for sake of the church at large, demonstrating that there is an alternative to the modern church growth movement.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

You need to go see this - and take somebody with you

We showed the documentary "Beyond Gates of Splendor" at Beaver Baptist Church and it was very well received. The documentary was well done, and the story was quite moving. The quality of the trailer for the movie was excellent and I anticipate that the movie itself will be outstanding. We are praying that it will have a wide viewing beyond the church-goers who will see it. We hope to buy a block of seats at the theater when "End of the Spear" comes out. IMHO your church should do the same.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why would I do this?

There are so many good blogs out there, I can't keep up with them. What can I add that anyone should keep up with mine? All I can say is that there is a grand conversation going on, and I feel a compulsion to be part of it. Time will tell whether I am welcomed, or looked at askance like a daft relative talking out loud to himself at the end of the table at the family reunion.