Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Houston and the Subpoena of Sermons

Word is going around that the city of Houston is issuing subpoenas for sermons to see if they criticize homosexuality.

Is it true? Who knows. It could be. It might not be. Like a lot of stuff on the internet, it might be overblown. Like a lot of the stuff on the internet, it may be entirely true.

But here’s the question: Why is Houston using court resources and tax payer resources issuing subpoenas for things that are publicly available?

If they want the content of these sermons, can’t they just show up at church? Or download them from the internet?

But it seems like Christians like a persecution complex and tend to go into crisis mode at the drop of a hat. So it’s a great time to note that the end of the world is almost here.

I think if I were a pastor in Houston, I would invite the people charged with this task to come to church and hear it first hand. I speak publicly several times a week, and to be frank, a lot of what I say is not in my notes, and a lot of what is in my notes never gets said. So getting my notes is no guarantee that you will get what was actually said. Not to mention that my notes often contain the opinions of people that I don’t actually agree with. In a nutshell, my notes are quite often useless for anyone other than me.

However, you are welcome to come, record (or just use our recording), take notes, just sit and listen, or whatever, so long as you do it peacefully and quietly. We will even give you some coffee.

Here’s another thought: If this is actually true, then the government of Houston must be run by a bunch of second-graders. Or the Detroit City Council. Seriously. This is like (insert whiny second grade voice here) “Johnny said something mean about me.”

You know what, kid. Get over it. Move on. Go swing on the swings, or slide down the slides.

Can the mayor of Houston really not endure a few pastors saying things about her lifestyle? She’s a politician. Surely this can’t be the worst thing ever said about her, can it? Why is she so insecure in her lifestyle?

When you embrace a lifestyle (whether homosexual, Christian, vegan, video-game lover, etc.), expect that people will think you are strange, weird, wrong, stupid, silly, etc. If you like your lifestyle, then go on with your life. If avoiding criticism is that important to you, then change your lifestyle. But don’t whine because someone disagrees with you. You are not smart enough and don’t know enough to demand complete agreement.

And why are pastors in Houston, or anywhere else, naming names of political officials when they are supposed to be preaching the Bible? What verse does that come from? Seriously, if we are supposed to preach the Bible, that should limit us to things God actually said. And there is more than enough of that.

Here’s what I think I would do: First, I would invite any interested person to come to our services. Come for six or eight months to every public meeting. Listen, engage your mind, engage with the people around you. Let’s have some conversations together over coffee or lunch. You might be surprised at what will happen.

Second, I would also complain that the city of Houston is using taxpayer resources to issue subpoenas for things that are publicly available. Don’t waste my money on this nonsense. If you want it, come and get it firsthand, every week.

Third, I would let the legal process play out. I don’t know if I would turn anything over. On what biblical grounds could I? I don’t know. I think this will be challenged in court and overthrown. So I think, in the end, it will be much ado about nothing.

But Christians, let’s embrace the fact that people don’t like Christianity. We shouldn’t have a conniption over it every time we see it.

Sure, let’s use the courts and resources available to fight it, but let’s not be scared of it. Let’s go on about our business, Let’s do what we have been called to do.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Future of Baptist Fundamentalism

Recently a panel discussion on the The Future of Baptist Fundamentalism was organized by my friend Greg Linscott and hosted at the Fourth Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN. You can read a summary of it here, or listen to it at … well, nowhere. Apparently, technology hasn’t reached all the way to Minnesota yet.

Just kidding.

I heard they actually had the technology but the hamsters got tired of running fast enough to power the generator. But that may be just a rumor as well. Perhaps the participants all decided it would be better to have no audio in order to maintain some plausible deniability. You can always claim you were misquoted, unless the pesky audio exists somewhere.

Of course I digress. Some of these people are my friends. At least they were. But I find the topic interesting and, if the write-up is indicative, the panel discussion seemed interesting as well.

So what do I think of the future of Baptist fundamentalism? Thanks for asking.

I have a few thoughts, which you may have suspected if you have made it this far.

First, I wonder how the lack of agreed upon history affects this. As of now, there is no wide agreement (or perhaps even narrow agreement) on what fundamentalism has been. There are a variety of people making their own case for a history. Virtually all seem to agree that over the last fifty or so years, Baptist fundamentalism has become more and more fragmented. I am among those who don’t think there is a fundamentalist movement, per se. There are a bunch of fundamentalists and a bunch of fundamentalisms. More and more, people are hesitating to use the term fundamentalist anywhere outside of a very narrow and controlled context. Perhaps all of that is indicative of the future that I see in my crystal ball. If no one knows what fundamentalism is, how will we recognize it in its future iterations?

Now, looking into my crystal ball, my suspicion is that Baptist fundamentalism is in the process of becoming (1) more confessional, (2) more regional, and (3) more age-segregated, and (4) less denominational.

More confessional? Yes, I think there are a lot of fundamentalists who are tired of being lumped together with people who don’t agree with them on basic fundamentals of the faith, such as Scripture, salvation, or Jesus. Put aside for the moment who is right or wrong and fundamentalism has a mixed history on that. Twenty years ago many were lamenting the fact that we tolerate all kinds of aberrant doctrine and practice because the holders of said doctrine and practice separate from the right people. It was a serious problem then, and still is. I think the future of fundamentalism will see groups or participation centered more on people who agree on these matters. It may not be a formal confessionalism, but I think many fundamentalists will return to a doctrinal basis for fundamentalism. Some will include practice in that. I predict that doctrine will become more important than how separation is parsed in future Baptist fundamentalism. Separating from some other person will be less important than what one teaches about the gospel itself.

More regional? Yes, I think the days of “national” gatherings are probably over for fundamentalists. I think the only national gatherings will be either denominational (SBC, PCA, etc.) or involve big names (such as T4G, TGC, or the Shepherd’s Conference). In the interest of full disclosure, I have never been to any of those. I think fundamentalism does not have the kind of big names to draw national conferences of much size any more. Some are trying, such as West Coast or Hammond, but I think they will fall victim of a more confessional fundamentalism. Their constituency will show up, but that’s about it.

There are some who are suggesting a “Baptist Congress.” I am sure some will attend, but I suspect it will support my assertions that the future of fundamentalism will be more (confessional) and third (age divided). I think Baptist fundamentalists will likely spend their associational capital with people they can gather frequently with because they are close, and people with whom “ministry cooperation” or “partnership” has some real meaning such as church planting rather than gathering to listen to a few messages and pass a few resolutions.

More age-segregated? Yes, I think that the future of fundamentalism will be increasingly characterized by a younger group and an older group. Of course, there will be some crossover, and eventually perhaps this becomes less pronounced as the younger of today become the older of tomorrow. Younger fundamentalists are much less enthralled by the fundamentalists personalities of the past (though ironically enough, they might be very enthralled with present personalities).

I predict that the younger guys will charge the older with being out-of-touch traditionalists who just don’t understand reality and the gospel and the older guys will charge the younger guys with being compromised and not being fundamentalists at all. Some will even cite 1 John 2:19. Of course, that didn’t take a crystal ball to predict. It’s already happening. It’s probably misguided to some extent on both sides, and it’s doubtful that such charges or division will produce any substantive exchange of ideas. Look for the traditional fundamentalist hangouts to be more and more hoary-headed and suit-and-tied, and the younger ones to be more and more goatee’ed and jeans-with-untucked-shirts.

Lastly, less denominational? Yes, I think that the future of Baptist fundamentalism will have a higher regard for the work of God in other denominations, and even willing to enter into limited partnerships with them. This will, ironically perhaps, mean that the future will look more like the past where fundamentalism was not interdenominational. In the future, people will gather for fellowship and even partnership to some degree with people with whom they could not share church membership.

So what of it? I have no idea if I am right, or even close. I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. And I work for a non-profit organization (to borrow an old line that Dr. Kaiser has worn out for decades). In fact, being a cessationist, I work for a non-prophet organization (as we all do).

Each individual will have to work these issues out for themselves. Each person or church will have to determine the amount of latitude they are willing to offer in various contexts of ministry partnership. And they will have to determine how they will interact with those who allow more or less latitude.

Some, no doubt, will have a scorched-earth policy, lambasting all who differ with them. Some will take the approach suggested by Mark Dever of keeping low fences and shaking hands often across them. Others will just go on about their business, almost oblivious to things around them.

In all of it, the most important thing will still be the local church. Partnerships and conferences will never surpass that.

So wherever you fall in the above categories, be a faithful serving part of your local church. Be less worried about others and more worried about your own heart. Be firm on the Scriptures and live them out with character and integrity, even with, or especially with those with whom you might disagree. Take care of your own house first.

Let us call sin sin, but do it with caution and brokenness. Let us realize that all differences are not gospel differences. That doesn’t make them unimportant, though some are certainly less important.

In all, let us remember Christ his the head of his church and we serve Him at his pleasure and for his glory. Let us build more local churches and fewer personal kingdoms. And let us realize that we will probably be in heaven with some people we didn’t like on this earth.

So live humbly and serve well for the sake of the Jesus and his church.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Around the Horn – 9/6/14

At first, here’s an interesting interview about work and productivity from Stephen Dubner, the co-author of the very interesting Freakonomics. Habits and patterns of work are increasingly important to me. They probably should be for all of us.

At second, here’s a much needed article on Preaching and Piety. Too often, it seems like the beauty of the gospel is being used as a cover for sinfulness. The pastoral qualifications still mean something other than being able to exegete, assemble a message, and deliver it. We should take them seriously.

At third, Andy Naselli links to an article about unmarried couples making out. Andy, in his usual helpful way, highlights a few key points. Read the article anyway. It’s worth it. It needs to be taught and lived by. Along with this topic, Andy also posts eight ways that pastors can prevent sexual sin from John Armstrong’s book The Stain That Stays.

And last, Dan Phillips uses his normal style of blog writing to point out that when a ministry goes off track, the only wrong thing it to have been on the front end of calling it out.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Is There a Difference Between Preaching and Teaching?

Short answer: Biblically, no; practically, perhaps.

Long answer: The public ministry of the Word is sometimes divided into preaching and teaching, with various ways to distinguish between them. Adams (Adams 1982, 5‑6), Zuck (Zuck 1998, 39‑40), and Dodd (Dodd 1980, 7‑35) distinguish between preaching (κηρύσσω and eὐαγγελίζω) and teaching (διδάσκω) in terms of the audience. In this view, preaching is evangelistic activity among unbelievers while teaching is the work of moral or ethical instruction among believers. For Dodd, in particular, the distinction is related to the content, rather than the act of preaching itself (Dodd 1980, 7‑8). Singley (Singley, III 2008, 45‑46) and Prime and Begg (Prime and Begg 2004, 125; cf. Anderson 2006, 93‑94) distinguish between preaching and teaching in terms of intent or goal. In this conception, teaching has as its goal the communication of knowledge whereas preaching has as its goal the movement of the will and emotions to respond to the truth communicated.

While these distinctions may have practical value, it seems doubtful that they can be rigidly sustained from Scripture since the various words used do not fit neatly into the categories of preaching or teaching. Frequently, the words preaching and teaching themselves are not used precisely. For instance, the public ministry of the word is described by using preaching (κηρύσσω or εὐαγγλίζω) and teaching (διδάσκω) alongside each other (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 11:1; Acts 5:42, 13:35, 28:31). The context of these passages do not lend themselves easily to a distinction between preaching and teaching, whether by audience or content, or by goal or intent. They seem to describe the public ministry of the word as a whole rather than as distinct parts. Teaching (διδάσκω) is used for gospel preaching to unbelievers in Acts 4:2, 5:21, and 20:20, and it is used for teaching believers in passages such as Acts 11:26, 18:11, and 1 Tim 4:11. Preaching (κηρύσσω or εὐαγγλίζω) is used for evangelistic work among unbelievers in passages such as Acts 8:4 and 25, and 1 Cor 1:23 and 2:4, and it is used for teaching believers in 2 Tim 4:2. In addition, there are passages in which the spiritual state of the audience for either preaching or teaching is not clearly distinguished.

To use a specific example, in Acts 20:17-35, Paul recounts his entire ministry among the Ephesians “from the day he set foot in Asia” (v. 18) with various terms. He uses proclaiming (ἀναγγέλλω), teaching (διδάσκω), and solemnly testifying (διαμαρτύρομαι) to describe the gospel proclamation of “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 20-21). He further describes his ministry among them as “preaching (κηρύσσω) the kingdom” (v. 25), “declaring (ἀναγγέλλω) the whole purpose of God” (v. 27), and “admonishing (νουθετέω) each one with tears” (v. 31). Here, there seems to be no consistent division between gospel preaching and ethical teaching. The various terms describe the entire ministry of Paul.

In Thessalonica and Athens, Paul reasons (διαλέγομαι) with unbelievers in the synagogue (Acts 17:2, 17), which is the same word used to describe his ministry with believers at Troas (Acts 20:7, 9). This same word (διαλέγομαι) is used for ministry both with believers and unbelievers in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-9). In Athens at Mars’ Hill, Paul “was preaching (εὐαγγλίζω) Jesus and the resurrection” which led the hearers there to inquire more about “this new teaching (διδαχή) … which [he was] proclaiming (λαλέω)” (Acts 17:18-19). Here, the teaching was being preached. In 2 Tim 4:2, κηρύσσω, a key word for preaching to unbelievers, is used for preaching to believers.

In light of these instances in which the same words are used to describe ministry both to believers and unbelievers, and seeing that no clear distinction is consistently apparent between goal or intent of preaching, the distinction between preaching and teaching seems to fade into the background. The full picture of the ministry of the Word is better seen in the totality of the words used to describe it. Greidanus helpfully says, “Preaching can be seen as an activity with many facets—facets which are highlighted by such New Testament words as proclaiming, announcing good news, witnessing, teaching, prophesying, and exhorting” (Greidanus 1988, 7).

The distinction in content or emphasis between the ministry of the Word to unbelievers and believers is a valid one since the two groups often need to hear different messages. Likewise, the distinction between teaching as informing the hearer of truth and preaching as appealing to the will and emotions to respond to the truth is helpful. Yet these distinctions seem borne more out of practicality than out of the words Scripture uses for the preaching task. Again, Greidanus is helpful: “Although one facet or another may certainly be accentuated to match the text and the contemporary audience, preaching cannot be reduced to only one of its many facets” (Greidanus 1988, 7).

A distinction between preaching and teaching may be useful when considering the various speaking opportunities in the church. There are occasions where the particular forum will involve more teaching (communicating truth) than preaching (persuading). There are also occasions where the audience will include unbelievers in needed of gospel proclamation, and other times where it will be mostly believers in need of ethical and moral instruction. The wise pastor will be sensitive to these occasions and adjust both his content and his intent accordingly.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Around the Horn – 8/29/14

At first, NASCAR recently instituted a new rule that prohibits drivers or crew members from going on the track or approaching another moving vehicle. I am going to go ahead and go out on a limb here and suggest that if your employees need to be instructed not to stand in the middle of a road where cars are traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour, you should consider something besides a rule, something like, oh I don’t know … sending them back to first grade. I don’t say that to make light of the death of a racer, but seriously, why do you need a rule to tell people to stay out of the way of speeding cars? Isn’t that the first thing parents teach kids when they let them out of the back yard as a toddler? Yes, parents have to supervise that for a few years, but usually that becomes unnecessary. Apparently not if you are a NASCAR driver.

At second, here’s a nice article about teacher and author Jamie Langston Turner. In my thirty years of formal education, I have had a lot of teachers. She is at the top of the list. She is an excellent writer as well.

At third, here’s a good article on life and class reunions:

It was obvious that none of us had gotten through life without challenges and sorrow. No matter how successful, how financially secure, everyone I talked to had dealt with something – from disabled children to mental health issues; from surviving breast cancer to broken marriages and addiction. Life can be a marathon through a minefield.

And the homerun today, something that I would swear has to be a parody. Except it’s believable.