30 September 2010

Does it matter to you?

by Frank Turk

Briefly today, I am certain many of you have read about the new Pew Forum Survey of U.S. Religious Knowledge. That link takes you to the actual home page for Pew and the survey, so you can go as deep into the subject as you have time and talent and temperament.

I think the knee-jerk reaction to this survey is to bemoan the state of American religion, especially among evangelicals and Protestants. But I think there are some significant pieces of good news in this survey.

For example, a lot of us are worried about whether or not Catholics are Christians -- whether or not we can trust them as brothers and sisters in Christ. This survey says -- as I have said repeatedly for years -- that most American Catholics aren't actually "Roman Catholic", if by that we mean "accepts and receives the teaching of the Magisterium." They're more like potentially-religious people -- which reads to me like the perfect opportunity to evangelize them. No sense worrying about if they are followers of the Pope -- they can't name the things the Pope stands for, and I think that makes them people who can and will listen to the Gospel if you go ahead and offer it to them.

Of course, that assumes there's anyone to tell them about the Gospel, which may be the bad news. Note to every person who runs a local church, whether you;re a liberal or a hyperfundamentalist: getting 7 out of 12 right on a quiz about the Christian faith is appalling, especially when the questions include these:

1. What is the first book of the Bible?
2. Name the first 4 books of the New Testament, that is the four Gospels.
3. Where was Jesus born, according to the Bible?
4. Which group teaches that salvation comes through faith alone?
5. Please tell me which of the following is NOT one of the Ten Commandments: Do not commit adultery; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; Do not steal; Keep the Sabbath holy
6. Which Bible figure is most closely associated with "Remaining obedient to God despite suffering"? (Job, Elijah, Moses or Abraham)
7. Which Bible figure is most closely associated with "Leading the exodus from Egypt"? (Job, Elijah, Moses or Abraham)
8. Which Bible figure is most closely associated with "Willingness to sacrifice his son for God"? (Job, Elijah, Moses or Abraham)
9. What was the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation? (Luther; Aquinas; Wesley)
10. Which one of these preachers participated in the period of religious activity known as
the First Great Awakening? (Edwards, Finney, Billy Graham)

So take a look at Pew's analysis, and think about whether you personally would have fared better than the average -- and then decide that it matters to you. Decide that you're going to believe that the Gospel is the power to save today, and then act like it really will by delivering it to someone.

29 September 2010

From 2008: that troublemaker Jesus

by Frank Turk

Back in 2008, Dr. Piper said this:
Catch on to the affectional nature of Christianity, conversion. It is not merely a decision to believe a fact. It is a heart treasuring Christ and His glory more than football, sex, money, power, play, toys. You gotta make this an issue Sunday after Sunday so that they feel scared that they're not saved.

You know, I think some pastors are so afraid that somebody might walk up at the end of the service and say, "you really jostled my assurance this morning." If we don't -jostle- people's assurance when they're not saved, we send them to hell.

We must preach in such a way so that people can test -- Test Yourself! 2 Cor 13:5 says, "test yourself to see if you are in the faith". Well, one of the tests is do you love Football more than you love Jesus? Do you love Golf more than you love Christ? What does your heart say about Christ? Late at night, all alone, in front of an internet screen, mouse ready to click, what does your heart say about Christ over pornography?
And as I read the path of destruction at my blog, some parts of the internet sort of lost it over that very transparent statement.

What Dr. Piper did not say is that people should walk around the world wondering if they are saved or not – which is the impression one gets when one views that one sentence out of context, and is the impression guys like Sled Dog are giving in the meta.

Dr. Piper's point is the wholly-scriptural point that the believer is called to test himself, and see if the faith which he claims he has is a faith which is changing him. As someone pointed out in the meta, it's a matter of knowing by one's fruits what kind of branch one is.

But apparently that's out of line. Some will call it legalism, and others will call it "works-based faith", and some will simply turn their noses up at the idea that people ought to have a little bit of concern over whether what they say is actually what they mean. You know: when I say that I am a child of the living God, adopted into His Household rather than left for punishment where I belong – and that, bought at the price of the blood of God's one and only son – maybe I should act like that really happened and not like it's a political slogan, a talking point, or a t-shirt.

Maybe I should act like there's a real God who really did this stuff and I'm, at least, grateful.

Moses said it this way:
    And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God— lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.[Deu 6, ESV]
And this is interesting because when Jesus gets questioned about the greatest commandment, this is the one he cites, right? "Love the Lord your God"? Go open your Bible and check it out, in case you don't repeat the Sh'ma to yourself every morning.

It's Moses who starts that crazy idea that men owe their affections to God, and Jesus signs off on it.

So when Dr. Piper said that people who love football more than they love God might not have faith in the savior of men, maybe what he means is that Moses knew something about faith in God which the rest of us would do well to reconsider.

Listen: Hosea knew a little bit about love, and God told him to say this --
    For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Look at the comparison there: the burnt offerings are the requirements of the Law, and they are contrasted with what the KJV calls "mercy" and the ESV here calls "steadfast love".

God doesn’t want your penance, or your religious work, or your bulls and sheep and rams: God wants your love, dude. And love, it turns out, is not a fruity emotional cocktale – even in that little snippet from John Piper which is getting so many angry eyebrows this week. Setting our affections on God is not the same thing as sending Him a Valentines Card every day.

But here's the thing: that troublemaker Jesus was also on about how our affections relate to our standing before God. There are a couple of places I think this is demonstrated pretty clearly, but here's one that is simply to obvious to ignore.
    Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [ESV, Mat 6]
Right? And this version of this statement is even less invasive than the parallel passage in Luke 12, amen?

Where your -treasure- is, there your -heart- will be. Jesus' words here say explicitly that your treasure -shows- where your heart is.

Think about this: if Donald Trump, who is a billionaire egoist, drove through your town and stopped at your house because he saw your posts on my blog, and he rang the doorbell, invited himself in, and handed you the closing papers on your house, the title for your car, and receipts for 10 years worth of utilities to your house paid in advance, what kind of person would you be?

That is, what would you feel? You'd feel something – maybe stunned at first, or embarrassed. But my guess is that you'd feel grateful. You'd feel grateful – and then the question is what to do about that.

And what Piper is asking here, exhorting here, is that Christ has done more for you than the billionaire egoist can do for you, and if you don't feel grateful, maybe you haven't really received the gift. It could be other things – maybe you haven’t considered the gift; maybe you haven’t examined the gift. But to do those things, you have to be somehow awakened to the fact that you ought to make sure you received the gift.

You know, I drove my first car for 14 years, and the morning it wouldn’t start anymore I was a little put out, but a couple of weeks later my wife bought me my new car. And you know something? Every time I get in it, I wonder if it's really mine, and if I deserve it, and if I will take care to show that I am grateful. Not to the car: to my wife – even though I'm the breadwinner in the house. And for the record, I thank God for his generosity that I have it.

For a car. How much more should we think that way about our salvation? And why on Earth would anyone think that challenging people to examine whether or not they are still grateful, and whether that gratitude has any spiritual bearing on them, is wrong? It's not hardly wrong.

Think about who you are this weekend. Be in the Lord's house with the Lord's people on the Lord's day and let your assurance be challenged – because unless your assurance is changing you, unless it is putting your treasure in things which cannot rust and thieves cannot steal, you have a false assurance.

28 September 2010

Tuesday’s Child

by Frank Turk

Apparently the other guys are off at the spa or something, and I found out last night that I’m in charge of content this week.

All the DJP-fans are appalled, and all the rest of you (the 2- or 3-dozen who appreciate my personal flavor) are now ready for the fireworks. Because I’m making this post during coffee break this morning, I’ll be brief.

Yesterday during the day my wife got a call from friends of ours who have been in the queue for adoption for years now, and they found out that sometime today they were going to bring home a new member of the family. They needed a place to stay last night, and of course we, being in the town where this new bundle of life and spirit has been given to us by our Provident and Sovereign God, we had a place for them.

It made me think about the kinds of blessing God pours out for us in this life. Think about it with me – because this is not a health and prosperity message.

I’m thinking of the kind of blessing God pours out when we give up something we have to someone else. My friends have a nice, stable middle-class life – which is to say, they have it better than about 99.8% of all people who have ever lived. They have stable finances. They don’t miss any meals. They have some great kids already. They have video games and comic books and cable TV. They have a dog.

And what they did last night was to decide that having all that doesn’t really mean anything except in a self-referential way. It doesn’t mean anything except when we look at our own personal ledger books. In one sense, they were just fine, and well-endowed, and they had most of the stuff the needed and a lot of the stuff they wanted.

They decided instead to give up comfort, and give up some of their retirement, and give up stability and give up the balanced check book for someone they never met before – someone who had nothing at all. This little person had no one, and nothing, and didn’t even have a word to say “help me,” with. This little person in fact doesn’t even know what help would look like. So my friends decided to gather up the blessing of coming and giving away what they have so the sake of someone else. They chose grace rather than comfort; they chose love rather than judgment; they chose life rather than mere existence.

I’m at work today, and I wonder if I am doing the same thing, with the same gusto, for the same reasons, when God gives me so much more.

See you tomorrow.

26 September 2010

The [Post]modern Missional Strategy

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from the sermon ttitled "No Compromise," preached 7 October 1888 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

his is the suggestion of the present hour: if the world will not come to Jesus, shall Jesus tone down his teachings to the world? In other words, if the world will not rise to the church, shall not the church go down to the world? Instead of bidding men to be converted, and come out from among sinners, and be separate from them, let us join with the ungodly world, enter into union with it, and so pervade it with our influence by allowing it to influence us. Let us have a Christian world.

To this end let us revise our doctrines. Some are old-fashioned, grim, severe, unpopular; let us drop them out. Use the old phrases so as to please the obstinately orthodox, but give them new meanings so as to win philosophical infidels, who are prowling around. Pare off the edges of unpleasant truths, and moderate the dogmatic tone of infallible revelation: say that Abraham and Moses made mistakes, and that the books which have been so long had in reverence are full of errors. Undermine the old faith, and bring in the new doubt; for the times are altered, and the spirit of the age suggests the abandonment of everything that is too severely righteous, and too surely of God.

The deceitful adulteration of doctrine is attended by a falsification of experience. Men are now told that they were born good, or were made so by their infant baptism, and so that great sentence, "Ye must be born again," is deprived of its force. Repentance is ignored, faith is a drug in the market as compared with "honest doubt," and mourning for sin and communion with God are dispensed with, to make way for entertainments, and Socialism, and politics of varying shades. A new creature in Christ Jesus is looked upon as a sour invention of bigoted Puritans.

It is true, with the same breath they extol Oliver Cromwell; but then 1888 is not 1648. What was good and great three hundred years ago is mere cant to-day.

That is what "modern thought" is telling us; and under its guidance all religion is being toned down. Spiritual religion is despised, and a fashionable morality is set up in its place. Do yourself up tidily on Sunday; behave yourself; and above all, believe everything except what you read in the Bible, and you will be all right.

Be fashionable, and think with those who profess to be scientific—this is the first and great commandment of the modern school; and the second is like unto it—do not be singular, but be as worldly as your neighbours. Thus is Isaac going down into Padan-aram: thus is the church going down to the world.

Men seem to say—It is of no use going on in the old way, fetching out one here and another there from the great mass. We want a quicker way. To wait till people are born again, and become followers of Christ, is a long process: let us abolish the separation between the regenerate and unregenerate. Come into the church, all of you, converted or unconverted. You have good wishes and good resolutions; that will do: don't trouble about more. It is true you do not believe the gospel, but neither do we. You believe something or other. Come along; if you do not believe anything, no matter; your "honest doubt" is better by far than faith.

"But," say you, "nobody talks so." Possibly they do not use the same words, but this is the real meaning of the present-day religion; this is the drift of the times. I can justify the broadest statement I have made by the action or by the speech of certain ministers, who are treacherously betraying our holy religion under pretence of adapting it to this progressive age.

The new plan is to assimilate the church to the world, and so include a larger area within its bounds. By semi-dramatic performances they make houses of prayer to approximate to the theatre; they turn their services into musical displays, and their sermons into political harangues or philosophical essays—in fact, they exchange the temple for the theatre, and turn the ministers of God into actors, whose business it is to amuse men.

Is it not so, that the Lord's-day is becoming more and more a day of recreation or of idleness, and the Lord's house either a joss-house full of idols, or a political club, where there is more enthusiasm for a party than zeal for God? Ah me! the hedges are broken down, the walls are levelled, and to many there is henceforth, no church except as a portion of the world, no God except as an unknowable force by which the laws of nature work.

This, then, is the proposal. In order to win the world, the Lord Jesus must conform himself, his people, and his Word to the world. I will not dwell any longer on so loathsome a proposal.

C. H. Spurgeon

25 September 2010

Weekend Extra: Something Else

by Frank Turk

Dear Southern Baptist Convention,

Back in 1994, I was baptized as a new believer in a small church in Upstate New York after coming to Christ three years earlier, and since that time I have been a willing, faithful and eager SBC congregant even in the wilds of northern WI, Western PA, and the back woods of Northwest AR. I count these years as precious to me spiritually and I count these congregations as my spiritual family and friends. When I left my last SBC church, it was with deep regret, but after searching for work for almost 2 years to replace my previous job, I had to move my family to fill my role as provider. I am sure many adult men can relate to this directly, and I list it here not for pity but to simply spell out the background of this note.

In the SBC, there are over 42,000 churches – and we were relocating inside Arkansas, so I believed that the odds of us finding an SBC church into which we could transfer our membership was at least very good. However, after two years of looking, two weeks ago my wife and I took the plunge and joined the Bible Church of Little Rock, a church which is doctrinally baptistic but technically independent and non-denominational. Because this is a fairly-significant change for us, I wanted to tell you about it and see if it can’t offer you some insight into what happened here and whether or not you should care.

To that latter point, you should not care that some random blogger who rides the coat-tails of his brilliant and famous friends left a small SBC church in a small town for a larger non-denom church in a larger town because he changed jobs. I am sure the local church will miss my giving, but the SBC will survive without my paltry mite. The reason you should care, I think, is that my wife and I are predisposed to want to join an SBC church, and have joined several in the past that were in need of hands and feet because we believe that the local church is God’s plan for the world, and that the SBC has, historically, been a place where that work happens best. God’s word is preached. Discipleship is made. Community is built. God’s glory is displayed – even if sometimes it is a glory from a run-down building or a worn-out hymn book. It has always seemed to me that when we are decreased, He is increased in right-minded John-the-Baptist fashion. That we could not find a church in Little Rock which we felt free to join is bothersome to us, and perhaps it should be bothersome to you as well.

That said, in our move we began our search geographically, and with the SBC churches which seemed at least to have the lights on. We visited churches of a variety of sizes, building types, and congregation demographics. For the sake of this letter, I’m not going to name names, but I am going to list some issues which I think are broadly useful in understanding our decision in membership.


My wife would probably not list this as a category at all as it may turn out that this is really about something other than actual leadership, but the truth is that the local churches in the SBC have a gigantic vacuum in leadership. I am sure that you will read this and perhaps brush it off as a hollow criticism because almost all the churches we visited had a sitting senior pastor. However, of the 20-ish churches we did visit over 2 years, most of them had pastors who were there 5 years or less, and two had pastors actually leave for another church (not to plant another church, mind you: to go to a bigger church) during our search period.

Mobility is not necessarily the best measure of whether a church is being lead spiritually though, right? Paul was mobile and we aren’t casting stones at his spiritual leadership. What I saw in these churches is simply put: the goal was to run a tidy community center where there was lots of middle-class activity. Some of them had bookstores. Some of them had nicer sports facilities than the local municipality or high school. Some of them sponsored private schools. Some of them were much simpler than that, but their objective was not to be that simple in the future.

These places are run by nice men – extremely nice and polite and socially-graceful men who in many cases are also very bright and forward-looking. If you were measuring them by any business process gage of organizational strategy, I’d call most of them intermediate practitioners of the art of management. They are for the most part competent handlers of the small-sized businesses which they are all running.

But that’s the actual problem, isn’t it? The local church is not a business. It is not an alternative to the boys club/girls club. It’s not a competitor with the local Chamber of Commerce in the sense that the CoC is promoting business opportunities for social networking. The concerns of most (not all – I admit that a minority are not caught in this trap, but we’ll get to that in a second) of these fellows circle around making sure the church stays as big as possible and as centrally-managed as possible, and that there is a measurable financial outcome for the effort which is engaged.

It seems to me that most of these men do not know most of their congregants, and this is OK with them. As long as most people show up on Sunday, and their kids go home unharmed (note: not necessarily better, but unscathed), and no one leaves wondering if their time has been wasted or if they need to do something different next week, all is well.

I wonder if that’s what the SBC really stands for, given that this is what the churches in the SBC are doing right smack in the heart of SBC home territory.


Maybe my concern about “Leadership” is really a concern about what constitutes “ministry”. For example, when I coached soccer for my son’s teams, I coached in the town leagues which are not run by any church rather than the local “UPWARD” league – because that’s where the lost kids are. The lost kids have parents who are concerned that they are not “good people”, and that in the church league their kids are going to have to worry about having hand-me-down cleats and shin-guards because the “better” families can pay to play in those league. So when I wind up with a team full of kids from broken or mixed homes, my opportunity for ministry is greater than the opportunity for ministry in a league where there’s a devotional every week. See: one of these options is a good system, and the other is looking for the people that good systems wash out.

So my concern here is that the paradigm for “ministry” that’s going on in SBC churches is that we are looking for good, MBA-approved systems which are easy to administrate once you have the volunteers, and that this version of “ministry” misses the fact that the church is not for the nice people who work well in good systems, but it is in fact for people who need Christ and his church, rather than a good system which will send them to the bottom of the list because they are needy, weak, tired, underfunded, and generally not socially-mobile.

And in that, it’s also a little alarming that what this leads to is what I witnessed in several churches as day-care masquerading as child ministry. It’s something to witness that once a church gets a system it can use to administrate a program, it generally dumbs down that program to the place where what is being “taught” there (and I use that word generously) is that Jesus is a kind of cartoon character or Muppet – or worse, he’s just a logo on the brand of entertainment we have selected.

Y’all: we’re the ones who fought the battle of inerrancy, and we won. If we have an inerrant Bible which contains the very word of God, and the very person of God died in accordance with that Scripture, maybe we should have “ministry” which is somehow delivering that real-world real-person message rather than a canned message. Somehow our ministries have to be more serious about real people – and maybe they aren’t suitable for mass production, scalability, and reproducibility.


That leads into my next concern, which I have labeled “Gravitas”, but by that I mean that somehow the local SBC churches cannot muster enough credibility and seriousness on any subject to be taken seriously – let alone prophetically (in the sense not that we have new revelation, but that we have the once for all time faith which God has given which we can declare with confidence). At best, we’re quibblers with an intellectual hobby we’re sort of private about – unless, of course, we are denouncing Calvinism and Homosexuals. We are on-record about that, thank God. But there aren’t any SBC pastors locally who are men of serious intention and thoughtfulness who can say something publicly without being broadly ignored – as if they were merely extremist bloggers or twitterers.

And that’s not merely a statement about influence in the community at large – that’s a statement about how what gets preached in the pulpit and what gets taught in the classrooms is received by people who have frankly turned out to hear it. Think about this: I visited churches in the last two years who had adult Sunday school lessons on what we can learn from Gilligan’s Island. I visited churches in which it was more important to talk about how we feel about our marriages than about why marriage is a specifically-Christian institution founded on the work of Christ. I visited churches in which the Bible was not opened from the pulpit on some (not all) Sundays.

Those are simply and obviously pleas for attention – pleas made in order to get a place on the stage of people’s attention rather than assuming, as Paul and Peter did, that their message was more important than whether or not they were popular or well-respected.

This is no small matter. My opinion is that we have an army of men who have adopted a professional ethic in order to present a pleasing product to a world which has fleeting appetites, and that has made us, like those who are famous only for being famous, eager to change our message and literally say anything in order to keep other people’s attention.

We have traded credibility, seriousness, and the ability to actually speak the truth (let alone the truth in love) for the ability to maintain a slot in people’s DVR.


Which also brings up another important issue: because our view of leadership is a business-based model, and our view of ministry is both pragmatic and simplistic, and we have traded seriousness and sincere forthrightness for anything else that will hold people’s attention, we have no communities. Isn’t it ironic that we have medium- and large-sized social institutions which we can run with competent ability, but all that competence and professionalism really has put us in a place where the people involved don’t even really know each other?

Here’s what I mean by that: we visited more than a dozen local SBC adult Sunday school classes over the last two years. And while I think the content had a lot of variation and inconsistency, only one of those groups ever visited us or called us back to make sure we came at least a second time. One? Really? And here’s the thing: it was the one guy running a Sunday school class in an SBC church who was a Calvinist, surprised to find another Calvinist coming to an SBC church! How does that happen?

In a community, new people are recognized, and if the community is growing or seeking to grow, they are welcomed. Someone takes time to invest in those new people and make sure they know they can belong. And they don’t do it because that’s what the handbook from Lifeway says they should do it: they do it because it’s an urgent part of the culture to welcome the stranger and plug them into the community.

Back when I was a Sunday school teacher in an SBC church, a new person in class was usually a little overwhelmed by the real open hand we offered to them to join us – come to lunch, come to supper tonight, come to our prayer group, come visit. We did this because we loved people – not our church institution or our business process. We acted like we were friends to other people because we knew that God was our friend, our provider, and our savior.


Which of course leads to my next point: the lack of theology in SBC churches is alarming. And by “theology” I do not mean the number of copies of the BFM which are available to take away. There are plenty of those. I mean the reality of what happens when people actually are taught the Gospel, take it away as true, and then live as if it’s true the same way the performance of the Razorbacks in the SEC is true and an actionable item in life.

You know: I get it that “Calvinists” are sort of skinny little fellas with gigantic heads who often lecture the unsuspecting about points of minute doctrine. I realize that there are plenty on that team who earn that reputation honestly. But here’s the thing: if the SBC response against this is what we have today in the churches I visited, we could use some Calvinism for one reason only: to find out whether or not we have ever heard of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and whether or not we really believe it or if we just use it as a slogan to collect $11 billion in funds for various local civic organizations which we call “churches” for tax and political convenience-sake.

The reason we have lame communities is that we have personal convictions which do not include Jesus except as an ornament. The reason we have no gravitas is that Jesus is not the reason we preach: getting market share is the reason we preach. The reason we have the kind of ministry we have is that Jesus is not the reason for ministry: social order and repeatability is the reason. The reason we have the kind of leadership we have is not that Jesus was this kind of leader, or any kind of leader: it is because leadership has been lopped off from Jesus who is both Lord and Christ.

And let’s make it as clear as possible: these are all expressions of theology – the problem for these churches is that they are expressions of wrong theology. By “wrong” I do not mean “not Calvinist”: it would have been informative and edifying to find a non-Calvinist theology in a church which was being lived out and preached – and to be honest, I found it in at least one Arminian-oriented Missionary Baptist church in our search. I mean “not about Jesus.”

Jesus Christ

That’s the final rub, dear SBC: after I put all the issues on the table, and worked hard to be faithful to the discipleship and love given to me by the faithful and godly SBC churches and pastors I have been in fellowship with since 1994, there was a very sad lack of Jesus in the SBC churches I attended.

That’s an outrageous statement, I am sure, but let me flesh that out for you.

Jesus is God, but he didn't try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us. Jesus was humble the way only God can be humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross. And when we say this, we should say this, when we tell people this, they should get it. Jesus is not just some icon of spiritual truth; his story is not just a story about truth: he's the one guy who understands our weaknesses because he has suffered through them, and then he died for them.

There’s nothing specifically-“Calvinist” about that, is there? That’s Colossians and Hebrews. Yet this message is almost unfound among the SBC churches I visited, and it’s certainly not applied in any meaningful way. Instead what we find are youth buildings that are more like 1980’s arcades or gaudy public gymnasiums than places in which call people to repentance and new life; we find Sunday school classes that talk about local politics and last week’s TV schedule more robustly than they do about the cost of discipleship; we find pastors who want to be separated from the complexity of living with real people like a shepherd and would rather live above them or apart from them like a CEO.

So I have chosen something else for my family, and for myself. That is: I have chosen a church which, in spite of its weaknesses and its limits, is seeking to preach Christ and live as if His death and resurrection are true. It has some people in it which may never be my friends, and the elders there do some things I will never agree with. It has disgruntled ex-members. It has its own challenges. But Christ is there, and in Him I can be reconciled to all manner of people because sin-sick, sad, weak and washed-out Me has been reconciled to God – as have all the other sinners.

It’s possible I’m wrong about you and our kin here in Little Rock, but I leave it to you to think about. I think it’s really the issue with Baptist identity we face – and I say “we” because I think you are still my brothers and sisters in Christ. I send you this letter in love and hope for your future.

24 September 2010

Engaging the Culture

by Phil Johnson

n one of my messages last week at the Ocean City Bible Conference, I remarked that evangelicals should spend less energy desperately seeking new ways to be hip and trendy, and invest far more of our time and resources in the work of proclaiming and defending the gospel.

After all, when we call ourselves EVANGELicals, we are purporting to hold the gospel message in high esteem. It is therefore ironic (and utterly inappropriate) that the mainstream of the contemporary evangelical movement is so blithely willing to adjust or tone down the gospel message in order to try to get in step with the values, trends, and dominant worldviews of our culture.

Whereas our spiritual ancestors studied Scripture with a deep concern for clarity, accuracy, and doctrinal soundness, today's evangelicals like to study popular culture with a similar intensity of zeal, but their obsession is mainly with the fads of the moment. They are hungry for the world's approval and esteem—yet they invariably manage to show up late to every party, usually dressed in last year's fashions.

Moreover, the quest to fit into secular culture has made the core of the evangelical movement more like the classic modernists of Harry Emerson Fosdick's ilk than truly evangelical in the sense the Reformers and their spiritual heirs have historically employed that term.

I think Thabiti Anyabwile or one of the other speakers at Ocean City must have said something in a similar vein (though undoubtedly with more class and diplomacy than I), because during the Q&A near the conference's end, someone submitted a question that was worded something like this:

"Two of your speakers objected to the idea of engaging the culture. But isn't that just what Christ did in the incarnation? He became one of us in order to reach us. He embraced the human culture."

Thabiti answered the question well and succinctly in the Q&A, and you ought to see if an mp3 of that session is available. (UPDATE: It's there. Download the Coffeehouse Q&A. The relevant portion begins at 7:47.) But I want to give an expanded answer in writing here, because people frequently misunderstand the point I'm trying to make when I criticize evangelicals for fad-chasing and worldview-tinkering. Since it's a criticism I make a lot (it has been the main theme of this blog for the past 5+ years) it's worth repeating and clarifying until every last reader gets it:

  1. No one but the strictest Amish sects opposes "engaging the culture."
  2. But "engaging the culture" means vastly different things to different people. To Chuck Colson, it seems to involve political activism. To some in the Young, Restless, and Reformed community, it evidently entails body modification and blue language. To someone who thinks of himself as "cultured," it might mean something considerably more highbrow. It's an expression that is almost as ill-defined as it is overused.
  3. And culture is a big idea, encompassing much, much more than superficial badges like tattoos, slang, high-end coffee, and contemporary music styles.
  4. For the record, no one is more in favor of earnestly "engaging the culture" in a true and biblical way than I am, assuming we let the Word of God define the kind of "engagement" that is appropriate.
And what does the Bible teach about cultural engagement? Lots of things:
  • Sometimes we need to engage the world's culture by foregoing our own freedom and becoming servants who observe whatever cultural taboos are deemed sacrosanct (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
  • Sometimes we need to engage the world's culture by refusing its tastes and values, as Daniel did in Daniel 1:8-21.
  • Sometimes we need to engage the world's culture by mocking it, as Elijah did in 1 Kings 18:27.
  • Sometimes we need to engage the world's culture by attacking it, in a manner analogous to the zeal with which David attacked Goliath and the Philistines in 1 Kings 17:26-54.

. . . and so on. The point is that there's not any one-size-fits-all approach to "cultural engagement" that is appropriate for every earthly culture or every situation. However, it is best to remember that all earthly cultures are fallen and at their core are hostile to God. Certainly adopting the language and fashions of a culture's most uncultured subcultures is no sound biblical strategy for church ministry and spiritual growth.

Above all, we need to remember that we're not supposed to make ourselves at home in this world. The world hates Christ and most likely will also detest those who love Him (John 15:18-20; 1 John 3:13). Winning the world's esteem has never been a valid goal for faithful Christians. In fact, when "cultural engagement" becomes a quest for street cred, academic respectability, or any other form of worldly approval, it is no longer the kind of cultural engagement Scripture calls us to.

Phil's signature

23 September 2010

From 2006: When compassion is Satanic

by Dan Phillips

[On this occasion, it seemeth good unto mine eyes to repost the first post I ever posted on this-here blog. The date was January 26, 2006.]

I take great encouragement from the apostles. What a bunch of goofs. What stunningly thickheaded slow-learners, yet all (metaphorically) wearing "I'm With Stupid" t-shirts.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asks them who people say He is, then after their response He points the finger and asks "But you -- who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15, emphatic humeis). Peter, in one of his brief, shining moments, gives the right answer, and Jesus says he could only know this by divine revelation. As we see Peter in the Gospels, this is almost a truism.

Then Jesus tells them exactly what is going to happen to Him. Does He leave out any essential? Not really. And yet, when it all eventually happens just as predicted, they're still utterly thunderstruck. Had they the chance, I can almost hear them choking out, "But... but why didn't You tell us?" What knotheads. Ahh, my kind of guys. I'd have fit right in without a ripple. (Well, except for speaking Greek with a California accent.)

But as I recently re-read this passage, what struck me is Peter's response to Jesus' dark announcement. Peter had confessed the wonderful truth about Jesus, and had received Jesus' affirmation. It was stacking up as a great day for the Rockinator.

But what does Peter do with this new information about Him whom he'd just crowned the Christ, the Son of the living God? He rebukes Him! He takes Jesus to task, chews Him out, tries to set Jesus straight. (Yes, that was as weird to write as it is to read.)

NOTE: I was just reading that section today (9/23/2010) in Mark 8, and I noticed for the first (remembered) time a striking feature in the Greek text: three occurrences of epitiman, the verb usually translated "to rebuke." You can't see it in any English version I saw, because the first occurrence, in verse 30, is usually translated along the lines of "strictly charged" or "warned."  Second, Peter "rebukes" Jesus in verse 32, then Jesus rebukes Peter in verse 33.

But note how Peter rebukes Jesus. The Greek hileos soi, kurie is hard to capture. Probably the best way to render it is to paraphrase along the lines of the ESV's footnote: "May God be merciful to you, Lord!"

Clearly, Peter is appalled to his very soul at the idea. It horrifies him. I wouldn't charge him with great self-interest or any other such base motivation. Peter clearly loved Jesus, by his best lights, and the idea of Him being treated in this way simply sickens Peter to his very soul. Can we blame Him? In his sandals, would we really have sighed, shrugged, nodded piously and said, "Yes, well, that is what some prophecies seem to suggest..."?

Yet Jesus does blame him. In fact, He scorchingly blames him. "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Matthew 16:23 ESV). So much for Peter's good day.

But why does Jesus call Peter "Satan"? Wasn't Peter motivated by tender, compassionate concern for Jesus? I would not assume otherwise. Jesus does not say otherwise. He does not fault Peter's feelings, so much as Peter's thoughts. The HCSB version has it, "you're not thinking about God's concerns." "Not thinking" renders ou phroneis, pointing to a mindset, a mental framework or attitude. The concern does not come from God's perspective.

How is that like Satan? My mind goes back to Satan's first appearance, where we see him as Man's Best Friend. Isn't that how he presents himself? First, he can't believe that God really roped off all the trees of the garden. "Did God actually say?" he begins. He hates to see the woman so deprived, so repressed.

Then when Eve misquotes God to Satan, he immediately moves to quiet her fears. She should not deny herself such a boon! The fruit she wants is the fruit she needs, and God has no good reason for keeping it from her! God have mercy on you Eve, take the fruit and realize your full selfhood, your full potential!

And so he had worked in Peter's thoughts, imperceptibly, maneuvering this good impulse and that good impulse (unshored from God's perspective) until what came out of Peter's mouth was exactly what Satan wanted him to say. Peter doubtless felt a sort of compassion; but that compassion was Satanic. It did not start from God's starting point in rigorously, Biblically-analytical and self-critical thinking, and it did not stay there.

Compassion is a wonderful, godly human emotion -- or can be, as it is informed and directed in line with the Word. But if Peter shows us nothing else, he shows us that compassion can go wrong. What are some specific ways?

Given the baleful, bloody anniversary we've just passed in America, I think of abortion. Pro-aborts present their position as a compassionate position, in fact as the compassionate position. Those who oppose abortion rights (as they put it) have no compassion for women in crisis. Of course, we have a ready response, and can point out that we have compassion on both the mother and the child.

But what of the "hard cases"? What of rape and incest? Here is where I've heard many Christians' "compassion" overrule their Biblical thinking.

Now look, let me be plain. I think the utmost of compassion is completely appropriate for victims of these awful crimes. I think such women should be given every kind of help, encouragement, and support that can be afforded them.

I just don't think it is compassionate to turn a victim into a victimizer.

In such cases, there are two victims: the mother, and her child. Neither one should be punished for being a victim. Both deserve compassion and support. I just can see no Biblical warrant for encouraging a woman to victimize her child, to contract his or her killing, and calling that "compassion."

"Ah," many will say. "That's a very emotional issue." Yes, it really is. As was Jesus' prediction of His impending violent death. That was a very emotional issue for Peter. Peter let his emotions rule his thinking, and that took his thinking in a Satanic direction.

Will we learn nothing from Peter?

Perhaps you can think of other contemporary issues where Satanic values masquerade under a guise of compassion. Homosexuality leaps to mind. It sounds like the very distillation of compassion to tell such tortured souls that they should give up the struggle, accept their passions, and embrace them, assured of God's approval. But this is the compassion of Hell. This is the compassion that ignores the Cross, with its equally vast threats of judgment, and promises of redemption, deliverance, and freedom. To tell souls struggling with any vile passions, whether they draw one towards homosexuality, adultery, theft, or murder, that they have no hope for deliverance, that their only hope is to redefine and then embrace sin, is no compassion at all.

But my last thoughts here turn to another Satanic form of compassion: the "compassion" we turn to our own sins.

We can read glibly of all the particulars above, if we've never waged those specific battles. It's easy for one who's never had the slightest homosexual urge to sermonize airily on the topic; and so identically with all the others mentioned.

But what of your bad tongue? What of my tendency for faithless despair? What of her arrogant disrespect for her husband? What of his callous, selfish disregard for his wife, or distant unconcern for his children?

Oh, those are different, aren't they? Those are our darling sins. We have compassion on ourselves, compassion on our pet-sins. We create a force-field of rationalizations around them. They're different, because we're different, and our situation is different. Surely they can't be meant for the Cross! Mortify those sins? Put them to a screaming, howling death? Fight and fight, bloodily and incessantly and unsparingly, until they cease struggling and breathing, and have been replaced by God-honoring attitudes and behaviors? God have mercy on us, this can never be!

Sound familiar?

Satanic compassion. God grant we all learn from Peter.

Dan Phillips's signature

22 September 2010

From 2007 - the Ways to Read Scripture

by Frank Turk

Let's be honest: there are probably quite a few approaches to reading any text that you could apply to reading the Bible. Seriously -- why not? We live in a relatively-enlightened age, right? We don't have to read the Bible in any way differently than people read Margaret Atwood or Maya Angelou or John Milton -- which is to say, the reader ought to choose the way he sees fit to read any text, and booyah -- that reader gets what he brings, right?

Right? Anyone with me?


Yeah, I thought so. The Catholic apologists are sharpening up their version of "see: I told you so;" the liberals won't touch that with your hand and blame it on LaToya Jackson when you put it that way; every teacher of critical reading is ready to hit "next blog" for the rank ignorance of such a thing; and the conservatives reading are split between the fundies who never imagined that there were more than two ways to read any text (literal and figurative, which is to say, as if is was true and as if it was false) and my friends who are again worried that I have split the difference with non-conservatives and am about to say something they will have to chastise me for.

So if everyone repudiates the idea that the reader sets the terms of engagement with the text, why worry about whether anyone thinks the Bible is "inerrant"?

Here's why: the way you read the Bible dictates the kind of truth you can get from it.

You know: Hemingway never wrote anything but fiction, more or less. Even his autobiographical stuff was fictionalized -- so if you want to take truth away from Papa, you can't take factual truth away from him, because there's no way to read what he wrote and distinguish the "rote historical data" from the "whimsical authorial license". None. If you take truth away from Hemingway, you have to take allegorical truth away from him -- what he writes has to come across in some way other than as example or anecdote. If it means anything, it means something by talking around the things it means.

And some people will read the Bible that way -- and they come to the conclusion that things like the resurrection or the virgin birth are themselves analogical truth and not something which happened on calendar days to people with (so to speak) birth certificates and dirty sandals. And their conclusion is honest insofar as their approach is honest.

Which is to say, what exactly do you expect to get from the Bible if your major premise is that it is not a story by witnesses about something that happened on the streets of Jerusalem and in the Roman courts and on a filthy wooden cross?

See: the problem with the idea that there are "quite a few" ways to read the Bible is that it makes the intention of the writers of the Bible a non-determining factor. It actually inverts the bogus Fundie dichotomy that the text is either "true" (and therefore woodenly literal) or "false" (and therefore some kind of subjective buffet). It says that because the text is "true", we can use all kinds of techniques to extract that truth. We can read John like fantasy literature or a poem and extract the truth; we can read Psalms like they are newspaper reports and lament the "barbarity" of Ps 3 with its call for God to break teeth, having extracted truth; we can look at Adam interpret him as a cool-ective metaphor rather than a person that both Jesus and Paul said was a real guy.

While the Fundie may ignore the fact of genre types in the text and read everything as if it was just blank statements of fact, the buffet reader is doing exactly the same thing with just as bad results: he is ignoring the demands a genre makes on the reader as expressed by the writer. You know: the word "authority" has, as its root, the word "author" for a reason: something has "authority" based on its source, based on who the author is and whether he has can give to the text what he intends to give to the text.

So sure: go ahead and brush up on the many, many ways people have, in the past, read the Bible, and the ways some people today are trying to "read" the Bible. But then ask yourself this straight-up question: isn't the first person we should ask about what this text means the author of the text? If yes, how does he tell us this?

21 September 2010

Good news from a far country

by Dan Phillips

Perhaps you heard a rumor that I'm fond of the book of Proverbs.

True fact!

In that book we read:
Like cold water to a thirsty soul,
so is good news from a far country
(Proverbs 25:25)
There's an obvious sense to that proverb, with many resultant applications. I've long thought that the Gospel was the best news from the farthest country, though whether Solomon had that in mind is a knotty question. Regardless, it's the nature of Proverbs that legitimate application can be made to various situations, such as a word from a general to his king via runner (1 Samuel 18:25), a letter from loved ones to a soldier, God's message to a lost world of salvation in Christ, or God's assurance of eternal, covenanted love to His own chosen ones.

I was thinking anew of what terrific news from a far country the Gospel is as I drove in to work Monday morning. Let me 'splain.

Friday morning I was in a terrible mood. Poor evening preceding, poor sleep, not a great start to the day, and over it all a simply sepulchrally hideous mood.

On the way to work, I prayed, in that I addressed myself to God and said things to Him — but it wasn't pretty. It will not be reprinted in Beyond the Valley of Vision, I can assure you. It was a pouring out of what was within, pretty much as Jesus said happens (Luke 6:45). There was no happy ending. Less Psalm 5 and more Psalm 44, if you catch my drift.

Started my workday in a foul mood, and within an hour, I learned of a brain-shreddingly, shinbone-whackingly stupid miscalculation I'd made, and... and, well, Dear Reader, we'll let the camera mercifully fade to black at this point.

Look! Puppies!

Fast-forward to Monday morning. Even though things didn't start out that great, even though something over the weekend had nicked my heart pretty good, and even though I didn't have that great of a sleep again, I'm really in a pretty terrific mood. Even another stupid thing I did didn't dampen it. I'm pretty happy. My prayer is a bit prettier.

What's the point?

First, the lesser point. This is the thing Charismatics don't understand, when the rubber meets the road. It comes up again and again and again. "But what about my expeeeeeerience?"

Well, what about my experience — indeed, experiences? Which was reality? Which should affect my doctrine, my view of the Christian life, my approach to Christianity? Upon which should I repose, rest my weight? The way I felt Friday, or the way I felt Monday? Which one was God talking to me?

The Biblical Christian's answer, of course, is: neither.

In fact, I'll go as far as to say, thank GOD, neither!  (I mean to develop this further in another post, someday.)

Now, the greater point. Monday just had me praising and thanking God that my basis for having a hope in God, for believing I have a relationship with God, for trusting that I have a joyous and hopeful future with God, was exactly the same Friday in the midst of my Marianis Trench moments, and remained exactly the same Monday, when there's a bit more of a song in my heart.

What's the basis? Of course, it is Jesus Christ, and the wonder of His salvation. It is expressed in that hymn about which I have reservations, apart from this refrain:
It is enough that Jesus died
and that He died for me.
My hope rests entirely, utterly, solely and completely on Jesus Christ. If He isn't a very good Savior then, friends and neighbors, your correspondent is doomed and damned, and utterly without hope. But praise God, He's called "Savior" (Titus 1:4) precisely because He's very good at saving. In fact, in our idiom we'd say that "Savior" is His middle name — except it's actually His only name (Matthew 1:21).

So Friday, when I was miserable and unhappy and angry and frustrated, God loved me for Christ's sake. He looked on Christ, and pardoned me.

And Monday, when I was happier and more grateful and more rejoicing... God loved me for Christ's sake. He looked on Christ, and pardoned me.

Now isn't that amazingly good news from a far country?

How sad that, if you read this and you haven't made peace with God on His terms, in Jesus Christ alone, you know nothing of that good news as a personal possession. Everything you think you have, everything that is making you happy today, is illusory and passing.

Ah, but if you have, if you've fled to the one refuge which is the Lord Jesus, then that good news from the Far Country is your good news. Regardless of your mood, regardless of your experience.

Grab a hold of it come what may, then, and don't ever let go.

Dan Phillips's signature

19 September 2010

On the Offense of the Cross

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Our Manifesto," a message given to an assembly of ministers of the gospel, on Friday Morning,
25 April 1890.

y dear Brethren, do not try to make the gospel tasteful to carnal minds. Hide not the offense of the cross, lest you make it of none effect.

The angles and corners of the gospel are its strength: to pare them off is to deprive it of power. Toning down is not the increase of strength, but the death of it. Why, even among the sects, you must have noticed that their distinguishing points are the horns of their power; and when these are practically omitted, the sect is effete. Learn, then, that if you take Christ out of Christianity, Christianity is dead. If you remove grace out of the gospel, the gospel is gone.

If the people do not like the doctrine of grace, give them all the more of it. Whenever its enemies rail at a certain kind of gun, a wise military power will provide more of such artillery.

A great general, going in before his king, stumbled over his own sword. "I see," said the king, "your sword in is the way."

The warrior answered, "Your majesty's enemies have often felt the same."

That our gospel offends the King's enemies is no regret to us.

C. H. Spurgeon

18 September 2010

Good News/Bad News

by Frank Turk

I was doing some housekeeping for the blog this morning, and I noticed that there is a great new feature on Blogger: spam filtering.

YAY! Everyone say "YAY!" with me so that we can rejoice that the oriental porn spam will no lobber show up in comment threads and need to be edited out. It also blocks a lot of other annoying stuff, though (Take note Blogger/Google/Axis of Evil) we still cannot block an IP address or a Goggle ID. That and the ability to CLOWN commenters (edit their e-mail address, thereby giving them a Gravatar of our own editorial choice) would finally make Blogger a fully-functional battle station.

That said, many of you had scads of comments stopped up in the Google spam filter. Many many many many many many many many of you. Many.

Here are some tips to avoid this happening:

1. Take a deep breath. If you comment less frequently but more saliently (that is: in a way that sticks out or leaps off the page), you will be a better internet citizen, and the spam filter will not think you;re trying to flood the meta.

2. If your comment gets swallowed, recognize the problem. The best way to fix it is not to repost 7 times in a row the same text hoping it's a bug in MSIE: the best way to fix it is to come back in 10 minutes and post again after you have proven that, by stepping away, you're not a spam-bot.

3. Be grateful that we have a spam filter. Rejoice. It's a James 1 moment for you to count trials as perfecting your faith.

That said, spam filer: on. This is a good thing, and sorry about all your swallowed comments 皇紫勳紫勳豪.

16 September 2010

Samson and Jesus: studies in contrast

by Dan Phillips

Judges and kings all foreshadow Christ, one might say — yet, in some, the foreshadowing is by way of contrast. Was there a greater than Samson, in this way?

One might say that Samson  was dedicated to God from the womb (Judges 13:7), as was Christ (Luke 1:35), but there the similarity ends. Samson's dedication was external and formal, Christ's was internal and real.

Samson's outer strength belied a great and fatal weakness within; Christ's outer meakness belied literally infinite power within. Samson exerted his strength to suit his passions, which were made to serve Yahweh's purpose (Judges 14:1-4). Christ veiled his strength, that He might consciously fulfill Yahweh's purpose (Philippians 2:5-11). And so Samson started strong and finished his life in weakness, but for one vengeful burst, while Christ started weak and will continue an eternal career of power, because of one concentrated burst of self-humbling (Philippians 2:8b-9).

But the real contrast occurred to me in my reading today. I'm reading through Judges in Hebrew and Matthew in Greek, and my hap was to light on Judges 16 and Matthew 27, reading of the respective ends of Samson's and Christ's lives.

For one thing, Samson was arrested against his will due to weakness, complete loss of power, through his own idiocy (Judges 16:18-21). By contrast, Christ exerted a brief glimpse into His own undiminished reserves of infinite power (John 18:4-6), after which He willingly allowed Himself to be arrested and, ultimately, put to death (John 10:18).

Samson died as a result of his own personal foolishness, while Christ died in the wisdom of God. Samson's lifelong eye-problems (Judges 14:3) led to his eyes being bored out. Worse, in a damning indictment we read that Yahweh had departed from Samson and he did not even know it (Judges 16:20b). By contrast, the righteous Christ died, innocent from any personal sins (as even Pilate admitted; Matthew 27:23), bearing the sins of others; and because of that imputed sin, God the Father turned from Him — and, in agony of soul, He knew it (Matthew 27:46).

Samson died in an act of personal self-revenge, killing many others in his death (Judges 16:28-30). In Christ's death, He saved others.

Let us focus a bit more on that. In words thick with unintended irony, the leaders of Israel taunted Christ, urging Him to save Himself, come down off the cross, promising that they would then believe in Him (Matthew 27:42). But had He done so, had He exerted His own strength in self-vindication, surely He would have judged and damned them, temporally and eternally. But what is more, even if He had not done so, and even if they had believed in Him — it would then have been to no avail. They would have been eternally wed to their sin, with no atonement for their souls. Their faith would have been in vain. They would have been lost.

So, to sum this very brief meditation: does Samson point to Christ?


But mostly by way of contrast.

Dan Phillips's signature

15 September 2010

My last post on BioLogos

by Frank Turk

I was going to go on this back-half of the year taking a look at the BioLogos positions on the Bible and especially origins, but they're going to take all the fun out of it.

On 2 Sept 2010, they tipped their hand the rest of the way -- and let me say it plainly: we told you so. Phil and I told you that they could not start down the path they were on hermeneutically and not end up here:
In the final chapter of Evolution Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (2008), Denis O. Lamoureux opens, “My central conclusion in this book is clear: Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.” This is the first entry in a three-part series, in which Lamoureux answers the question: Was Adam a Real Person?
So all the folks defending BioLogos have to face up to it: it was never about whether or not there were days or ages in Genesis 1; it was never about reconciling Gen 1 and Gen 2 to "science". It was always explicitly about what it means to say, "In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth," and then "the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature" without it meaning that God actually, really, historically did something.

Instead, Biologos says explicitly, "Genesis 1 does not reveal how God actually created life." and then again it says explicitly, "And just like His use of ancient astronomy, when He separates the waters above from the waters below with the firmament in Genesis 1, His forming of Adam from the dust of ground never happened either."

That's really all that needs to be said: they reject the historical Adam. After that, it's only a matter of a few faculty meetings before they have called Jesus a manifestation of first century Jewish imagination and a deconstructing of Greek ethos to suit the likes of Philo and Paul.

Don't think so? You didn't think they'd reject Adam as a historical person, either. There's no sense fighting about it when any milestone that can be set up and then passed by these guys is not seen by their advocates as the bridge too far.

14 September 2010

Charismatics and Qu'ran-burning/not-burning Terry Jones

by Dan Phillips

Terry Jones, you will recall, is the pastor who had planned to burn Qu'rans/Korans/Qurans/Allah-Driven-Lifes on 9/11.

Why was he going to do it? The reason is under-reported, but reader Jason Woelm brought it to my attention. According to associate pastor Wayne Sapp — yes, evidently a church with around 50 people has an associate pastor; go figure — said that God told them to do it.
"God is leading us right up to the moment. It's no different than Abraham and his son. God didn't tell him, 'Go right up to the point where you might sacrifice him.' He wanted him to be fully committed. We're prepared to do what we're called to do."
Oh boy, here we go. As long as I've been preaching, teaching, writing I have been trying to school anyone who will listen to take such talk seriously, and analyze it right down to the floor. I urged folks to do it with Francis Chan's irresponsible language. Now let's do it with this gent.

So Sapp — I did not make that name up, before you ask — says "God is leading us...no different than Abraham and his son." Does he mean what he said? "No different than Abraham and his son"? Because we read in Genesis 22:1 and following that God spoke to Abraham, in inerrant, morally-binding, direct, verbal revelation. Had Abraham refused, it would have been sin.

Is that what Sapp is claiming? That he and his church are receiving inerrant, morally-binding, direct, verbal revelation from God today? If they didn't obey, it would be sin? Too bad no reporter seems to have asked this question.

But Sapp leaves wiggle room, adding that the church was still in prayer, and could cancel — thus the point of citing Abraham. You see, God told Abraham to kill Isaac, and then told him not to kill Isaac. It could be like that with them, Sapp was saying. God tells them A, then He tells them anti-A.

Wellsir, it turns out those words, at least, were prophetic, because Pastor Jones himself later said "We feel that God is telling us to stop.... Not today, not ever. We're not going to go back and do it. It is totally canceled."

So, that's interesting, isn't it? God told them to do it, then God told them not to do it. But when God told them to do it, they built in the wiggle that God might change His mind. Yet then when God tells them not to do it, there is no wiggle-room: "Not today, not ever. We're not going to go back and do it." Sounds final. Nice that "God" seems to have settled His mind on the issue, finally (I speak as a leaky-Canoneer).

By this time, our single-issue readers are beside themselves. "What does any of that have to do with Charismatics? These guys are nuts!" Not so fast. We've seen it many times. All Charismatics come in right at this point: they come in by giving this man "cover." A Charismatic has to say,
"Well, how do I know whether God told him to do this? He could have. It could have been like Abraham, with God just doing this to expose the Muslims, like Jones says. God never meant Jones to do it, He just meant him to say he was going to do it, so the Muslims who riot and foam  and make threats and throw chairs would be seen by all to be the violent loons that they are. We mustn't quench the Spirit. We can't put God in a box."

SIDE NOTE: just too rich to skip. Get this: Pat Robertson criticized Jones — for Jones' arrogance! I am not making this up. This is Pat Robertson, the Charismatic (Southern Baptist!) leader whose massive, tireless mouth and constant claims of semi-revelation have made Christians wince and squirm the world over. "This is so stupid!", foams this particular unpaid bill of Charismaticism (see also here).

But I digress.

So, all Charismatics "own" Terry Jones.

Let's be more specific: the Wayne Grudem type of Charismatics — and everyone who gives Grudem cover —  "own" Pastor Jones.

How so? They give Jones cover by their desperate re-defining and Clintoning-down of the Biblical gift of prophecy. What is prophecy, to Grudem? He explains it as the errant reporting of inerrant revelation. It is precisely like the old liberal redefinition of Biblical inspiration: the writers of Scripture received inerrant inspiration from God, but they wrote it down errantly. Grudem simply transfers this to NT prophets, instead of the writers of Scripture: they give errant reporting of spontaneous inerrant revelation. The message they receive is right, but it may be garbled in transmission.

So, on the broad ground laid by Grudem and all his fanboys, who can say whether or not Jones and Sapp were just errantly reporting an inerrant guiding? Not you. Not I. Not them.

Ditto the miserable spiritual trainwreck that is Blackaby-ism: on their premises, who can say whether or not this was God's leading, hinting and nudging Jones to make a fool of himself for Christ?

Am I being unfair? I don't think so. The constant refrain of such folks is that God is whispering and mumbling and nudging, and the only "control" we have is whether or not it is contrary to Scripture. Well, friends and neighbors, that leaves a lot of open ground for fools to graze. So: is it contrary to Scripture in so many words to burn some cult's "holy" book? Nope. So there you go: it might have been God's static-riddled leading — on Charismatic/Grudemic/Blackabbean premises.

I know, we're not supposed to say this, or ask these questions. We all love Charismatics, with all their great music and laughing and big name sane leaders and enthusiasm and joy and warmth and all. True; I love them too.

But I still think we have to ask the hard questions, lay down rulers and draw out where all these lines lead.

So where do we stand — we who confirm Scriptures' sufficiency and the Canon's close without crossing our fingers?

We're left with Scripture, and our responsible application of it.

In response to Jones, we come up with something like this, or this, in short. What we do is we study to find what the inerrantly revealed and inscripturated call of the church, and we pursue that call. Faced with choices to do this or do that, one prayerfully and responsibly and rationally weighs them by Scripture, and then one makes a decision. One then takes responsibility for that decision if it does not grow from a direct statement of Scripture, rather than blaming it on God.

So: should Christians be ashamed by association with Terry Jones... or John Crowder?

Don't look at me.

Take it up with a Charismatic.

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