Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Quest for the Timeless

Why is it that some are interested in transcending the age in which they live in quest for the "transcendant"? I have always been curious about those with such a concern. It may be a legitimate concern at times. It may also be a concern of one with their head stuck in the sand.

But whenever I hear this complaint/concern/wish/observation, I never fail to remember a stanza from one of the few transcendant hymns ever written:

To serve this present age,
My calling to fulfill,
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master's will.

Would we not all do well to quit thinking about what might survive in the church in 2105 and worry about serving the age that God as called us to live in? Worse things could be said then that we ministered to the people that live around us.

Would to God that this generation would focus all our powers on serving the age in which God has called us to live.

Monday, December 19, 2005

God In A Box

"Human hunches do not give us right answers about God. Neither can we learn how God would behave by looking at the way nice people do things" (Dowsett in God, That's Not Fair! cited in Ajith Fernando, Sharing the Truth in Love).
Far too much of modern theology is made up of people deciding God's attributes and actions based on their ability to conceive of such a God in their own mind. The age old problem of theology has been man's attempt to make God fit in his box. We compare God to how people do things.

Perhaps in no discussion is this more evident than in discussion about God's sovereignty in salvation. I heard one lady say that it was impossible that she could love her children more than God loves her children. For her, this was one of the bases on which she discounted unconditional election. The kind of love she inferred from such a teaching was incompatible with "the way nice people do things." I have heard others complain that unconditional election is "not fair." This is nothing but an appeal to human fairness, and the conceptions of the human mind. Interestingly enough, I never hear these same people complain about the unfairness of sending an innocent man to die for the sins of guilty people. I never hear them complain that God's love for people is far greater than a mother's love for her children because God's love is effectual—it accomplishes its ends.

I have had people tell me that I deny that God loves the world. I correct them by quoting John 3:16 where God says he loves the world. They reply that unconditional election is incompatible with that. "Says who?" I respond. The fact that something my not fit in my theological box means my box is wrongly shaped. I didn't come up with either teaching. God did, and I am fully convinced that he means both with no contradiction. The fact that my mind is too small to get my arms around something is my problem, not God's.

The task of Christianity is to find out what God says about himself and then sell our souls out to believe it with great passion and confidence. Don't try to make God fit in your box.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Disney in Church Planting

A recent article in World Magazine touts the work of Al Weiss, a top-ranking Disney executive, in raising $300 million for church planting. They have formed a group called VisionUSA, led by a former staff member of Bethlehem Baptist Church where John Piper is the pastor. On board is the theologically conservative emerging pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. (He calls himself a Bible thumper.) Driscoll founded the Acts 29 Network with a goal to plant one thousand churches in ten years.

It appears to be relatively conservative theologically. The article states, "Though affiliated with the Baptist General Conference (BGC), Vision USA has partnered with a range of denominations willing to affirm the Lausanne Covenant, male eldership, and Reformed theology—most recently aligning with Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City."

Each church planted out of VisionUSA must give 5% of its offerings back to the cause of church planting. Acts 29 churches require 10% last I heard. It is designed to ensure a missions emphasis from the beginning of the church.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. It certainly won't be fundamentalist group, but if the gospel is preached, we should rejoice in that.

I would love to see fundamentalists think bigger about church planting or church revitalization, particularly in urban, big city areas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Two For One

Wintertime brings out the worst in mice. For some reason, each year when the weather turns cold we have a run on mice in the house. It is rather unsettling, but so far, I have not found a solution to the problem that doesn’t involve D-Con and mouse traps or big fires to burn the house down. So, I dutifully put out mousetraps and check them several times a day. Yesterday was a banner day. I managed to get six.

But it was actually only five occasions. One was a two for one special. When I saw them, I wondered which one got there first and which one tripped the spring.

And it reminded me yet again, be careful who your friends are. The people you let “eat at your table” may be the ones that cause the most damage in your life.

He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Proverbs 13:20

Monday, December 12, 2005

Can You Spell Irony?

Perhaps you saw the headline, Pope says materialism pollutes Christmas spirit. It was unquestionably a well-intentioned statement, rooted in an obvious truth about Christmas in contemporary society.

But I think my brother found a line that captured the image well with a slightly satirical bent :
Pope denounces materialism from balcony of marble, gold-domed building in midst of jewel-encrusted religious icons while wearing giant gold cross.
Addition: After talking to my brother, he told me the line wasn't original with him. He had seen it on a discussion board from some "Joe in cyberspace."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Christianity Today has long been on a shining example of weak theology, weaker discernment, and "strange bedfellows." Now they are singing the praises of the "return" of novelist Anne Rice to "renewed faith in Christ." I wish I could say I was surprised, but I am not.

Rice is the author of some best selling novels about vampires, as well as erotica and pornography. Her "spiritual journey" began in 1993 and culminated in 2002 in a return to the faith in which she grew up.

I rejoice in the testimony of one leaving the sinfulness of the world and coming to Christ. It reminds us that the gospel still works, and makes me long to see more of it.

But to what "faith" did she return? To the Catholic faith. You, dear reader, should remember a little historical issue called The Reformation. The Reformation took place precisely over the issue of "faith." including the biblical call of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The reformers could see this doctrine taught very plainly in Scripture. The Catholic Church, steeped in years of tradition and extra-biblical authority could not. The "faith" (doctrine) that the reformers saw in Scripture is not the faith of the Catholic church.

Now, more than five hundred years later, the main issues of the reformation have not changed. The Catholic church still believes what it believed then, even though their communication of it has clouded under pressures of ecumenism. The Bible still teaches what it taught then, and what the reformers took their stand on, namely, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

What isn't surprising to me is that Christianity Today does not see the issue. They have no qualms promoting the Christianity of one who has embraced the doctrines of the Catholic church. How can this magazine, ostensibly purporting themselves to represent "Christianity today" be so simple minded as to not recognize the differences? Is simple biblical discernment about the nature of the gospel so foreign? After all, we aren't talking about some deep issues of theology. We are talking about the very essence of Christianity—the gospel. And Christianity Today seems to be oblivious to the fact that one who has returned to Catholicism has not returned to faith in the Christ of the Bible.

As an aside, Rice has proclaimed herself to be
"an advocate for Christian and Jewish gays and their right to worship and to take the sacraments." You probably think I am going to comment on homosexuals and worship. But I won't. I am actually curious as to why a Jewish person would take the sacraments? They reject the Christ of the sacraments (issues with sacramentalism aside).

Christianity today is doing a great disservice to the Christian community with articles like this. It is sad to see a magazine with so much potential for influence waste it in such a grand manner. Of course, the impetus behind the magazine in the beginning was not to be a spokesmen for biblical Christianity, but rather for a softer, gentler kind of truth—a truth that knows few boundaries.

In this age of theological confusion, it is imperative for the church to teach biblical discernment. It was the church's job all along. Let's not abandon that job to magazines.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Fundamentalism and the Environment??

I have previously blogged about what fundamentalism is. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me, and that is unfortunate for a number of reasons, but perhaps most of all because I (and those like me) end up as the defendants to some extremely absurd accusations.

The BBC is reporting that fundamentalists are responsible for the global climate problems. This assertion is troubling on several counts. First, the "global climate problems" are not universally recognized. There are many who doubt the validity of the claims of global warming and the like. I am no scientist, but it seems to me that on a planet assumed (by them) to be billions of years old, a hundred years of data about temperatures and climates is way too small of a sample to determine anything meaningful. It would be like judging the quality of your day by examining the last 1/10000th of a second. Except that 1/10000th of a second of your twenty-four hour day is a much greater sample of your day than one hundred years is of the four billion years that the earth is suggested to have been in existence. If the global warming advocates believed in a young earth, their reasoning would be much more convincing because the statistical sample would be greater. As it now stands, we have no way of knowing what a two hundred year cycle of weather is like, or a three hundred year cycle. But that is really a side issue to my main concern.

The bigger point is this: Why am I being blamed for it? The fact that this
Lord May of Oxford is not aware of what a fundamentalist actually is does not mean that I am guilty of his charges. It would be better for him not to make wild-eyed accusations in hopes of reflecting negatively on people he doesn't agree with. It would further help for him not to label fundamentalists as a "denial lobby," whatever that means.

Fundamentalism was, is, and will continue to be a Christian theological movement. What is the fundamentalists position on the environment? All fundamentalists agree that Christ will destroy this world when he returns. One well-known pastor said if you think it is messed up now, just wait until you see what Jesus does to it when he comes. We should not abuse it, nor should it be our god. God has created man to live in it, to use it, and to care for it.
Beyond that, there is no fundamentalist position on the environment.

But as fundamentalists, we are first and foremost Christian (not Jewish, Muslim, Republican, Green, etc.) and theological (not political, enviromental, economic, etc.) in nature. Don't be confused with people who try to accuse fundamentalists of being something else.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I was thinking about blood pressure. Who in the world figured that out? How did someone stumble across the procedure that involves an air-filled cuff around the upper arm with a stethoscope listening for beats? What were they looking for? Perhaps my friend Dr. Jones can ask his wife, Dr. Jones, about it.

It is amazing to think about all the discoveries that have been made and all there is to know.  I would imagine that many medical discoveries were accidents. But along the road of experimentation, the wonder of God’s creation of the human body becomes even more impressive to the thinking mind. What a great God we serve, who never had to figure out anything about the human body. He knows it precisely and exhaustively. We humans just have to figure it out along the way.

Of course, sphygmomanometer had to be an accident. No one could come up with a word like that on purpose. But I am glad it works.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Fuzzy Borders

Reading Psalm 27 this morning reminded me of an age old problem with life. This problem very likely may make the distinction between the successful and the mediocre. It is the problem of fuzzy borders.

Life in the twenty-first century seems unlike life at any other time. Technology has exploded with the result that choices abound. In fact, choices overwhelm us because opportunities overwhelm us. In a quieter time in history, “lights out” happened at sundown, and choices for evening activity did not involve recording one show while you watched another. In a quieter time in history, daily work began early and wasn’t interrupted by email, blogs, news, and phone calls.

Today, many have fuzzy borders in their lives. They don’t know what to give and what to keep. They don’t know how to say “No” to things less pressing. They don’t have the will to prioritize their affections and desires. The most desirable gets done, regardless of how much of a waste of time it is, or how unproductive it may be.

Mark McCormack, head of International Marketing Group (IMG, a large sports management agency) spends a lot of time in his book Staying Street Smart In An Internet Age developing the idea of managing time. If the children of this world have recognized this need for sharp borders, how much more should children of the light, who have a much greater calling.

We need to sharpen the borders of our lives, to clearly define the things that are “in” and “out.” We must refuse to get distracted by things that do not further the mission for which God has placed us on the earth. We must seek to know God, and to do what God has called us to do. Put everything else outside the border.

With the psalmist may we say,

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple.
Psalm 27:4

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Emergents, Islam, and God

In Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren is trying to make a case for a less stringent doctrinal center. In so doing, he engages in a number of inanities, which can be seen from simply reading the full title. Since I don’t want to take up too much bandwidth, I won’t repeat the title here.

In one chapter, he cites a story from author Diana Butler Ross about her daughter Emma and an encounter with a veiled Muslim woman. Emma asked why the woman was wearing a veil and Ross explained to her that “she dresses like that—and covers her head with a veil—because she loves God. That is how her people show they love God.” Ross continued her explanation by saying, “Christian ladies show love for God by going to church, eating the bread and wine, serving the poor, and giving to those in need.” She relates that after that, Emma would point to Muslim ladies and shout, “Look, mommy, she loves God!” Ross’s Muslim neighbor, upon hearing what she had taught Emma, hugged Ross and said, “I wish that all Americans would teach their children so. The world would be better. The world would be better” (pp. 265-66).

I relate that story here to point out one of the fundamental flaws in the emergent conversation. There seems a distinct unwillingness to actually think about the issues from a biblical, critical point of view. Scripture has taken a back seat to philosophy and sociology. The “conversation” allows all opinions to be given equal weight. It asks many questions (which is good) but gives few answers (which is bad). In this case, the answer given is even the wrong answer.

Does a Muslim woman wear a veil because she loves God? No, of course not. She wears a veil because she follows a religion that has rejected God. That doesn’t mean she ought to be spit on, or killed. That doesn’t mean she should be run out of town with tar and feathers. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk to her. It simply means that she doesn’t love God.

Christ made it clear in John 8 that people who reject Christ reject God. Since the Muslims have rejected Christ, we must conclude that they have rejected God. Orthodoxy, no matter how generous, can conclude nothing else. Once we accept that Muslims love God, we have left the bounds of orthodoxy and entered into heterodoxy.

What our children need to know is that Muslims are people created in the image of God, who deserve our love and respect. They have every right to practice their religion without interference. But our children also need to know that they don’t love God. If they loved God, they would be Christians for they would accept Christ who is God in human flesh, who died to give life to sinners who would come to him.

When McLaren cites this story approvingly, he demonstrates an unwillingness to be biblical. For him, people have become more important than God and his truth. And that is dangerous.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Scripture, BF&M, and the Emergents

The role of Scripture in modern theology and the Christian life has fallen on hard times. Of course, this is nothing new. The Word of God has always been under attack, on the left by neo-orthodoxy, liberalism, and higher criticism, and on the right by the King James Version only proponents. Both sides have distorted the biblical doctrine of inspiration in unconscionable ways.
Two points lay the foundation for my thinking this morning.

First, in the SBC, there has been some recent controversy over the rewriting of the Baptist Faith and Message. The 2000 revision of the 1963 BF&M removed a statement that had been added to the 1925 edition ironically enough. The statement read “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” While it might sound noble enough, it was an exercise in circular reasoning, as well as the establishment of a “canon within a canon.” It laid the groundwork for the “moderates” of the SBC to deny certain teachings of Scripture (such as teaching on homosexuality, women, etc) since those statements by Paul were incompatible with what Christ said. For them, the words of Christ become the ultimate canon by which everything else in Scripture was interpreted. The SBC moderates were not the first to try such a thing, nor will they be the last. They eventually separated from the SBC over some issues like these.

This statement about “Christ as the criterion” was circular in that it failed to give due credence to the fact that we know nothing about Jesus except for Scripture. They were asserting an impossible hermeneutic since the standard for interpretation first relied the document itself. In reality, there had to be another criterion for interpreting Scripture. Incidentally, it started with the same criterion everyone else uses, namely, “What do the words mean?” From this, they took the words of Jesus as “the really important stuff” and all other words as subject to the words of Jesus. It resulted what amounts to a dual level of inspiration: the words of Paul, James, and others are inspired to a lesser degree than those of Christ since Christ’s words are more important. (It has also resulted in book long treatises about why the words of Paul don’t really mean what they say, but that’s another issue).

Secondly, I came across an emergent blog this morning with a series of articles on Jesus as an emerging pastor. Without interacting in great depth with the whole series (though much could be said, both good and bad), this article’s argument was that “In the era of the Protestant Reformation three realities converged to elevate the Book (the Bible) above the Person (the Christ).” Though this argument stems from a misreading of the reformation, the idea itself stems from a problematic view of Scripture in that it also (like the SBC controversy) fails to recognize that we know nothing about God propositionally except from Scripture. The Bible is the sole source of propositional revelation about the Person.

This author cites John 5 where Christ says, “You diligently search the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” In so doing, he fails to give proper credence to the fact that the Scriptures testified about Jesus. In other words, Jesus was not lowering the value of Scripture relative to himself. He was exalting it, and pointing out that the Scriptures did indeed do the very thing they should—give a proper revelation of Christ. The problem was not that the Pharisees had too high a view of Scripture; it was that their view was too low. They would not accept it.

This author asks, “Would God---Father, Son, and Spirit---cease to exist if every Bible and every form of the Bible (tape, CD, chiselled stone, ancient manuscript, etc.) on the earth vanished? Think about it. Your thoughts and feelings will indicate whether or not you have a relationship with a Book or a Person. Could you maintain a vibrant and growing faith without written words?” The obvious answer is No, God doesn’t cease to exist without Scripture. But even more obvious (one would think) is that we would not know what to believe about God without Scripture. So the answer to “Could you maintain a vibrant and growing faith without written words” is Yes, but not a legitimate faith in God. Those who reject the validity and absolute truthfulness of the written words have substituted faith in God for faith in their own minds and experience. It may indeed be a vibrant and growing faith, but it won’t be a faith that brings salvation because it not a faith grounded in the “word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

In theology, we need a return to a high view of Scripture, one that recognizes its inspiration and inerrancy, one that recognizes that its source is God. The emergents want to argue that Scripture is a story, not propositional truth about God. That is simply a false dichotomy that lowers Scripture from the exalted place that God has given it. The emergents too often outthink themselves, and the results are often not pretty. They have assembled a very “spiritual” group of people, but I fear that there is often no genuine pursuit of God in it. There are certainly some well-meaning people in the emergent movement, and no doubt some genuine followers of Christ. But there is a lot of nonsense in it as well. Oh, that they would recognize the difference.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bush, Church, and China

I don't normally post twice in one day, much less on a Saturday night before preaching tomorrow, but I was checking the news this evening and came across this article on Fox News about Bush's trip to China.

I suppose that in the world of politics, one must do certain things as a part of protocol, particularly in international politics. But it distresses me to see Bush go to China and attend the state sponsored church. As if that weren't enough, he even praised it. I would rather he not go to church at all, then to go and send the message that everything is A-OK in China. I suppose that there are Christians in the state church, but China is well known for its persecution of an underground evangelical church. Her pastors have been jailed and the churches have been underground for many years. And they don't get much press. I know that Bush is no theologian, and he certainly isn't a national pastor, and we can be thankful for that. However, I hope that he will turn up the heat on the religious persecution that still continues in China.

But what actually caused me to blog this was a theological point, since politics holds less interest for me these days.

Bush is reported to have said, "The spirit of the Lord is very strong inside your church." I have to wonder by standard he judged this. The Spirit of the Lord is known by his fidelity to biblical doctrine, to the gospel with all its implications. Can one really tell in one service in a state sponsored church in a foreign language how strong the Spirit of the Lord is? It seems unlikely to me.

I don't judge Bush's salvation. He gives as clear a testimony as any politician I have heard, I suppose. But I am not sure he has the theological acumen to determine the strength of the Spirit's moving in such a circumstance.

The Spirit's work must first be judged by theological fidelity—Is the message from the Word and in line with the Word? If the message preached is not from the Word and true to the Word, then it is not the work of the Spirit, no matter how eloquent, humorous, practical, motivational, or moving it might be. To try to catch the "wave" of the Spirit's work (as one popular author puts it) is a bit more complicated than simply looking around to see what works. It begins with a prior point: Is this message even true?

The Spirit's work must also be judged by transformation of the heart—Are people's lives being changed by the gospel preached and the Word taught? This is admittedly a more difficult criterion since it can easily be faked, and its genuineness is sometimes hidden. If the Spirit is at work, then lives are being changed on some level. Gathering a crowd isn't necessarily a sign of the Spirit's work and neither is having emotional services, though both of these might be the fruit of the Spirit at work.

What is more important is that we discern the times by careful attention to Scripture. We need not praise the Spirit for something he is not doing.

I recently heard one person comment about a particular concert that he "could really feel the Spirit there." I wondered what exactly that felt like. Perhaps Bush could explain it to us when he returns. Or perhaps not ...

Youth Activities

I sit here in my study room tonight at the church having just watched some teens leave on a youth activity. It has become fashionable among some to beat up on youth activities as being carnal and sinful attractions to the church, while other simply don't see the need. Some say that youth groups are hinderances to the family structure. The criticism is certainly just in some areas, I am sure.

But I am encouraged tonight to see these teens going out, hanging out with mature young Christian adults who will have the next several hours to build relationships with them, have fun with them, model godliness for them, and influence them. I am glad to know that these teens won't spend Saturday night filling their minds with the normal television fare, playing mindless video games, or running through the neighborhood getting in trouble. They won't be telling off color jokes, or listening to them. They will learn that people who are passionate about serving God can enjoy life.

I am glad to see one first time visitor here tonight whose first introduction to church will be a good one. I am glad to see some teens here who have been saved under the ministry of the church recently, and who are demonstrating growth in their spiritual lives. I am glad to see some teens who have started coming to church in the last month or two.

And I am glad we didn't leave it up to the parents because we have not yet been able to reach the parents consistently yet. We will keep working on that.

So while youth ministry needs to be carefully guarded and built on a solid biblical and theological foundation, it needs not be thrown out at the altar of family ... or whatever other altar some might be tempted to sacrifice it to.

There's nothing unbiblical about a group of people getting together to enjoy one another's company in a godly way, and it certainly doesn't become unbiblical when it happens to be a youth activity.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Christ, Culture, and the Church - Part 1

I just finished Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. I have read several books by McLaren and enjoy his writing style. However, his books and the theology and philosophy from which they spring are not as strong as they might be (to be generous in my criticism). There was some thought-provoking material in Generous Orthodoxy and some stuff that just makes you yell out in frustration. More on that later, but on to the point …

One thing that the emergents have tapped into better than the traditionalists, in my opinion, is the interaction with culture. While we might take a different view of culture to some degree, it seems to me that emergents have struck a chord with culture that is worthy of thought for the traditionals. For instance, in a chapter entitled “Why I Am Incarnational,” McLaren laments the fact that missions has often been cultural in nature—an attempt to convert people to a Euro-American lifestyle. I am no expert missiologist, but I find that critique to have some merit, particularly in American Fundamentalism.

I am troubled that fundamentalists, at times, seem to have an unspoken set of cultural values that must be accepted to be truly Christian. As I say, I think it is unspoken and unadmitted and some of you right now are protesting that you have no such set of values. But I can’t help but think it is there and having grown up in fundamentalism with no intention of leaving it, I don’t say that lightly. I say it to provoke our thinking.

Take for instance, our Sunday attire. It is likely that any visit to a fundamentalist church on Sunday morning will find most of the congregation dressed in suits and ties and dresses (hopefully on different people). In fact, I get mailings from one large church in the western US, built (as I understand it) almost entirely on “old fashioned soulwinning” where pictures of the auditorium during services show a high use of technology and a congregation filled with people in suits and ties. Should we really believe that people in southern California just automatically wear suits and ties on the weekend? I would hardly think so. At some point, that became the church culture for them. One Sunday at my church, I was standing welcoming people with a long time member beside me. A couple came in the door who had visited a couple of times from the community. They had no church background of which to speak. On this particular occasion, she had on an outfit of dressy shorts (mid thigh) with a matching jacket. Now, shorts in church on Sunday morning are not my preference to be sure. But the man standing beside me said, “Pretty soon she will realize we don’t dress like that around here.” I was stunned, though I tried to hide it. I said, “Hey, I am just glad she’s here. They need to hear the gospel.” I thought to myself, why would we even think of suggesting a “dress code” for someone to come and hear the gospel. That couple came for a while, and eventually dropped out. I can’t help but think that part of it was because they didn’t “fit in” with a majority of the church.

Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with wearing suits and ties and dresses to church (unless you wear them all at once), but think about the message it sends. Look at the people on the platform and those serving in roles such as teachers, ushers, and offering takers. They are the pacesetters of the miniculture of the church. When you are new, and you look around and realize that most if not all of the people do a certain thing, you will feel the pressure to conform to their “culture,” be very bold and buck the “culture,” or just go somewhere else (or stay home). We could multiply this example in a number of areas, about which we might have debate about their legitimacy (body art and piercings; hair styles and lengths; etc.). But the culture is there, and it is an applied culture, often without clear biblical mandate (or unclear biblical mandate for that matter).

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I am concerned about it. I think it differs depending on the particular mini-culture in which one ministers. My thoughts are in development on this, but I throw it out for consideration. I can’t help but wonder if the mandates of Acts 15 and the Jerusalem council don’t fit in here. Perhaps one day I will blog my perspective on this passage, but whatever else it might teach, it certainly teaches that we should place no more on people than certain things. What “things” fit that in 21st century Christianity? Well, perhaps we should give it some more thought.

Whatever the conclusion, we cannot withdraw from culture. They are the people to whom Jesus came, and they are the people to whom Jesus has sent us. God forbid that we withdraw from them because they are not like us. And God forbid that our goal in mission is to make them like us. Let us be satisfied to lead them to be like Jesus.

Back From Silence

I am back from a blogging hiatus. Since the inception of my blog back in the summer, I have been intentional about not blogging every day. Quite frankly, I don’t have enough that is significant to say and my musings on life are simply not that interesting.

But the past few weeks have been particularly busy and exciting for me personally. First, the high school soccer team for which I am an assistant coach with some good friends won the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division IV State Championship. It was an up and down season but an exciting tournament run. The championship game was last Saturday and concluded in a heart stopping fashion with a goal 3:07 into sudden death overtime. The regulation period was scoreless on a bright but cool and windy day. A goal by the other side was called back by offsides. Coaching in the statement tournament is very nerve-racking for me. But it was an exciting run, though it took a lot of time.

Second, this past weekend, I was ordained to the ministry by my church. Friday afternoon at 1:00pm (after a 10:30 am wedding I performed), a council of some pastors and professors from the local area assembled for a two hour doctrinal examination. I was well acquainted with all of them so there was nothing really new about what I believed. For me it was an enjoyable time of interaction and thinking and a great encouragement to have these men on the council. The service was Sunday afternoon and I had the privilege of having Dr. Rolland McCune preach the ordination message. Dr. McCune is an old-timer in fundamentalism whose historical perspective is greatly needed in the discussion about the future of fundamentalism. I have profited greatly from his ministry and writing over the last nine years since I first sat in his apologetics class at 7:30 am on my first morning in seminary. What a way to start ... I have a great respect and affection for Dr. McCune having sat under him in Seminary and was humbled that he would consent to preach for me.

So all in all, the last few weeks have been pretty busy but rewarding. Now, I will return to some more frequent blog entries.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Things That Didn't Work the First Time

In 2 Chronicles 25, we find Amaziah, king of Judah, going to battle against Edom. He originally hired a hundred thousand Israelites (from the Northern Kingdom) to fight with him, but was warned by a prophet that God was not with Israel and their soldiers would cause defeat for Judah. Amaziah heeded this word and sent them home. Then he went out and soundly defeated the Edomites, the sons of Seir, with the help of God.

Inexplicably, after the victory Amaziah took the gods of the defeated Edomites and began to bow down in worship to them. This brought a visit from what was surely a grizzled old prophet who said, “Why have you sought the gods of the people who have not delivered their own people from your hand?” Or to put it more simply, “Why are you worshipping gods who didn’t help the last people who worshipped them?”

It reminds me of much of modern day evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Many are reverting to efforts and methods that didn’t work the first time. These “gods” didn’t help the last people who used them. Why would we think they would help us?

History has shown that the great “new evangelical” promise didn’t work. The church of Jesus Christ is not stronger today than it was sixty years ago. Billy Graham didn’t usher in the kingdom. ECT and the forty year run-up to it did not restore brothers.

Today there is greater confusion than ever about the gospel. There is more theological illiteracy and less discernment. Of course, the confusion about the gospel, theological illiteracy, and lack of discernment has always existed. But today, it exists in the church and not with the newly saved people from whom we should expect it. It exists in people who have been in the church long enough to know better.

Until we quit trying things that didn’t work the first time, there is little hope that anything will improve. We need a return to solid doctrinal preaching, combined with intense personal application that hits people in the face with the implications of the text of Scripture. We need to quit beating around the bush and avoiding people’s toes.

Amaziah’s response to what must have been a crusty old prophet sounds like a page right out of the modern church: “Have we appointed you a royal counselor? Stop.” Today, when someone dares to pipe up about the foolishness of trying to revive past failed methods, they are often greeted with disdain. They are accused of being old fashioned, judgmental, and the like. They are asked, “Who appointed you the judge over us?” The new generation surely knows so much better, don’t they? Surely the problem with the old ways was the attitudes and critical spirits of those who didn’t value unity in the body of Christ. There is no way the failure could rest with anyone else.

Such small-mindedness and historical ignorance will only perpetuate the problems faced by the modern church. God spare us from the failed tactics of the recent past.

$75 Worth of Free

Every now and then I read something that catches my eye and makes me laugh … and wonder if anyone else sees it as I do. Communicating is hard enough without nitpickers like myself. But since I communicate for a living, and since I have a rather twisted sense of humor coupled with a cynicism that perhaps only my brother understands (and shares), I find some things funny that were not intended to be.

Yesterday, I saw and advertisement in a major national magazine (Smithsonian) for a digital camera. One of the selling points was “$75-worth of FREE software & cables.”

It got me to thinking: How much free software do you have to have before you have $75 worth of it???

I know, I know … There is a perfectly valid explanation connected with intent and “worth” and all that … and normal people would read right past it without a second thought. But since I am not normal, it just made me laugh.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Wisdom of Years

The younger generation too often seems to be eager to learn the hard way. Too many of us act like we are the first to ever wrestle with the issues of life, theology, and ministry. How easy we forget ... or how ignorant of history we really are.

There is a generation who has been there and done that long before it was popular to have "been there, done that," and long before there was a T-shirt for it. But the voice of that generation has fallen on deaf ears. I was reminded of this phenomenon this morning while reading 2 Chronicles 10. Rehoboam sought advice from two generations. He took the advice of the younger because it indulged his personal preferences. In so doing, he split the kingdom. It was in God's providence to be sure, but it was a dumb thing to do.

Someone once said, "The problem with experience is that it is wasted on those who don't need it anymore." Such a conundrum need not exist. The wisdom of elders can and should be passed down to the younger generation. And the younger generation should learn in humility. The quest to reinvent the wheel is a useless quest that wastes time and energy only to learn that the wheel worked just fine to begin with.

In the current evangelical/fundamental landscape, there are many who want to ignore the lessons of history from the past fifty years. My theology professor, Dr. McCune, in his recent book title summed it up succinctly: Promise Unfulfilled. In other words, it didn't work the first time; why try it again? Other men inside the evangelical movement have begun to recognize the failures. We need not fight those battles again. Fundamentalism has its share of problems which should not be minimized. But evangelicalism has the same problems. While some complain about the breadth of fundamentalism (and I am troubled by the breadth of it), we must remember that Joel Osteen and John MacArthur are both "evangelicals." Our breadth is certainly not that wide.

My plea is that we not refight those battles. Let's be dumb enough to learn from those who have gone before.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Jesus! Engrave It On My Heart!

Jesus! Engrave It On My Heart
Samuel Medley (1738-1799)

Jesus! Engrave it on my heart,
That thou the One thing needful art:
I could from all things parted be,
But never, never, Lord, from Thee!

Needful is Thy most precious blood,
To reconcile my soul to God;
Needful is Thy indulgent care;
Needful Thy all prevailing prayer.

Needful Thy presence, dearest Lord!
True peace and comfort to afford;
Needful Thy promise, to impart
Fresh life and vigor to my heart.

Needful art Thou, My Guide! My Stay!
Thro’ all life’s dark and weary way:
Nor less in death Thou’lt needful be,
To bring my spirit home to Thee.

Then needful still, my God! My King!
Thy Name eternally I’ll sing.
Glory and praise be ever Hi,
The One Thing needful, Jesus is!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Poetry Worthy of Thought

I have never been a huge fan of poetry for various reasons. One is that I have always viewed poetry as somewhat forced, with the structure of sentences often adjusted away from their normal usage to fit the rhyme and meter of the poem. Of course there is "free verse," which seems to me to be prose with spastic return key. Of course, I do generally like the poetry of Ogden Nash, particularly his "Very Like a Whale." I suppose I like it because it gets to the heart of communication. But be that as it may ...

Last night, someone gave to my wife two boxed volumes of poetry, one of John Keats, and the other of John Donne. Flipping through it last night, I came across one of my favorite sonnets from Donne's collection. It is, to my mind, poetry worthy of thought.

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee;
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou'art slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie,' or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then they stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.

As a side note, it is interesting that three of English literature's greatest poets all lived at the same time: Donne, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Church

Recently, I have been preaching a topical series (extremely rare for me since I prefer preaching through books of the Bible). This series was entitled "Back to the Basics" and was intended to be a introductory series or a refresher course on the basics of Christianity. We have covered the Bible, God, Jesus, and Baptism. Yesterday we talked about the Church, and next week we will close with self, focusing on the necessary response of the human heart that has been confronted with these truths about the basics.

This past week I devoted my thoughts once again to the Church. The longer I am a pastor, the more I am convinced that the Church is the hope for the future. Families are a vital and fundamental part of God's plan for life. It was the first human relationship He created, and it is the means by which we physically "fill the earth" (Genesis 1:28). Schools have their place in the formal education of young people (and older people as well). Jobs and careers "bring home the bacon." But the Church alone brings the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is only through the gospel that families, education, jobs, and whatever else we find in our lives can be brought to a place of genuine coherency. Lives without the foundation of Christ and His Church are a mishmash of little boxes, hastily tied together, bursting at the seams as they try to make sense out of our existence. Only when we understand that the Church and her gospel is the supreme earthly organism through which all of life is to be filtered do the many boxes become part of a coherent philosophy of life.

Rabbit trail — I have taken some heat from some for my "radical view" of the church and the high place that I give it. I genuinely believe it is the most important thing in life. I have been accused of asking people to put church over family. I however contend that the most important thing a family can do is Church. What better thing can a dad do for his children than to expose them constantly to the faithful preaching and teaching of Scripture? I have yet to come up with something. I am so radical, I tend to think vacations ought to be arranged around church. But I guess I am wierd that way.

In my almost seven years at Grace, I have rarely preached the same passage more than once. I preached through Hebrews 11 twice, once on Sunday nights and about five years later on Sunday morning. I preached through James and then later taught through James in my Adult Bible Study group. In both of these cases, we have gained enough new people who had not been at the original series, and in the case of Hebrews 11, we were in the midst of a 52 week journey through Hebrews and I felt it strange to skip Hebrews 11. I figured if God took the time to inspire it, I might as well take the time to preach it ... and twice wouldn't hurt. But I digress. In my seven years, the only passage I have returned to multiple times has been Acts 2:41-47. I have done it because it is so central to what the Church is. I find it helpful for me to review periodically exactly what it is we are supposed to be and to be doing. And I figure that if I need to be reminded, the church does as well. So yesterday, I highlighted nine characteristics of the NT church and decided to blog them with little comment. (You can listen to the sermon if you are interested in more.) Here they are.
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. 42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)
I. The Church is people who have received the Word (v. 41).
The church is first and foremost people, not a building, and it is people who have embraced the person and work of Jesus Christ. We call them "saved." You are not part of "the church" because you are here. You are part of "the church" because you are saved.
II. The Church is people who have been baptized (v. 41).
Baptism is a public profession of the fact that have "received the Word." Baptism always follows salvation.
III. The Church is people who always study the Bible (v. 42).
The apostolic teaching has been passed down to us in the Bible. It is what we are to devote our lives to, and it is the center of our existence at Grace.
IV. The Church is people who share their lives constantly (v. 42).
Fellowship is not merely socializing over donuts and coffee. It is a word that meaning sharing, or participation. The fellowship of the church means that we share our lives with each other—our struggles and victories, our hurts and joys, our prayers, our shoulders to cry on, our arms to pick one another up.
V. The Church is people who observe communion regularly (v. 42).
The worship of God through communion is one of the two ordinances of the Church. It is a time of corporate worship and remembrance of the reason we are here—Christ's broken body and shed blood for our forgiveness so that we might be His body.
VI. The Church is people who prayer together often (v. 42).
Prayer is the uniting of the church in desperate dependence on God for his work and power in their lives.
VII. The Church is people who are amazed by what God is doing (v. 43).
When God is at work, the results are amazing. The apostles aren't doing signs and wonders today, but the miracle of God in changing lives is no less awe-inspiring.
VIII. The Church is people who care for and serve each other (vv. 44-46).
Those who have resources are to use them to help those who have needs. If we say we love God, how can we not use what He has given us to help others (1 John 3:17-18).
IX. The Church is people who are being added (v. 47).
God is at work, calling out a people for himself and adding them to the church (Acts 2:39). He is doing it through the clear preaching of the gospel in the Church, and through the witness of the Church as they disband to their homes, jobs, and communities.
Those who give the Church less than the supreme place God has given it do so at great harm to themselves. Don Whitney, in his book Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church, points out that the greatest command is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. He asks, How can we do that outside the church?
“A quick, unreluctant willingness to turn your back on the worship of God in order to work, attend ballgames (including children's ballgames), entertain guests, participate in recreational sports, and so forth may indicate to family, friends, and others that God really is not your first love. Or it may indicate that you are willing to let those who do not love God or care about His Kingdom’s activities determine your priorities, set your schedule, and keep you from the worship and work of God” (Don Whitney, Spiritual Discplines With in the Church, p. 20).

Monday, October 03, 2005

Choices that Last ...

The Detroit Free Press today had an article about a rabid Detroit Pistons fan. Last year, on the night before game 7 of the NBA finals,, this fan got a tattoo on his arm proclaiming the Detroit Pistons to be the 2005 World Champions. There was only one slight problem ... They fell short, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in game 7. But that tattoo will last forever.

It gave me pause yet once again to remind myself that choices have consequences. You can't unring the bell. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube. And so the cliches go.

How many time in our lives do we fail to fail to think of long-term consquences of present decisions? We do something because "it feels right," or "we just know it will work out." How many times do we fail to think beyond the intensity of the present moment of temptation? Words fly out of our mouths that can never be recaptured. Actions flow from our bodies that can never be undone. And then the moment's over, and now you have to live with it? Stil happy with that choice?

Before you speak, think about others. Think about the hurt your words can cause. Think about how long it will take you to explain what you really meant. Before you act, ask yourself, "Do I really want to live with this the rest of my life?" The pleasures of the moment are not worth the pain of a lifetime. It would be nice if the only consequences of choices were a tattoo. Too often, we have to measure the consequences in terms of hurt spouses, bitter children, ruined testimonies, and reproach on the name of Christ. Let us, as the Proverb says, be wise enough to foresee the evil and hide ourselves. The alternative is too permanent.

The prudent sees the evil and hides himself, But the naive go on, and are punished (Proverbs 22:3)

Friday, September 23, 2005

What is Fundamentalism?

(Sit back and get comfortable … This is longer than normal.)

This will be the first blog entry of what I am sure will be many to come on the topic of fundamentalism. Let me say this at the start: I am an unapologetic fundamentalist (as I understand it). I repudiate with great concern the actions and attitudes of some who claim the name fundamentalism. But I think it necessary to at least try to defend what I (and I think many others) would believe fundamentalism to be. Obviously, I can’t say everything in one post, and no doubt there are some holes in this attempt, so I post with some fear and would like unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks.

A Brief History of This Entry

The idea for this post has been rumbling around in my head for some time. I recently interacted on an Emergent Church blog that I read from time to time. The topic was Fundamentalists in the Emerging Church? The blog entry referenced writer and lecturer Karen Armstrong who lectured on fundamentalism and the Battle for God. I would like to take time to read carefully and interact with Armstrong’s lecture notes, but I don’t have time.

My interaction in this blog was sparked by a comment made by a poster using the handle of Iggy, who said,
The biggest difference [between fundamentalists and the postmodern/emergents] is the inability for a fund'y to see beyond his own view... In that regard I pray we never are referred to as Fundamentalists. In my run ins with most fundy's I have not felt anything but judgementalism [sic]. To me the one thing we have in common is that they are against modernism... but do not be fooled, they are very premodern (in denial) and are not usually open to postmodern at all. In fact they have a big tendency to grossly misrepresent PM [postmodern] views.

I have never had a true conversation... on [sic] received rebuke and monologue
I responded that Iggy’s post was worthy of his own condemnation. I said,
You say that they (fundamentalists) have a big tendency to grossly misrepresent PM views. As a fundamentalist, I have seen nothing here that properly represents my views. Don't you think you are saddled with the same problem you complain about? (HINT: You should think so, or else you are guilty of your first complaint, about not being able to see past your own view.) Not all fundamentalists are the same. Christian fundamentalism has absolutely nothing in common with Judaic, Islamic, or any other kind of fundamentalism. To include them in the same idea is a misrepresentation of church history (and secular history for that matter). The only commonality is that someone gave them the same name.

My plea is for you to recognize that you just did the very thing you complained about, misrepresented someone because you can't see past your own view.
That led Andrew to say,
a lot of people do not know the history of Christian fundamentalism, or the social gospel issues in the 20's in USA that gave birth to the postive [sic] side of this movement.

Karen Armstrong is considered a world authority on the subject, and no one would rubbish her critique, but she may not have your angle.

Could you write up something and come back and give us a link to it?
(Still with me??? I think we could make a movie or something out of this..)

So here it is … My “something” about fundamentalism as I have seen it, and do see it. I don’t speak for all, and perhaps not for anyone but myself. But here is my brief attempt to lay out some basics. It is necessary in writing something of this link to be simplistic and to gloss over some needed details. I hope those interested will continue their research.

"Something" about Fundamentalism

First, let me say that a lot of people claim the name “fundamentalist” who have no right to it. The blog summarizes Armstrong this way (quoted from the blog):
Fundamentalism, she argued, is found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even secular humanism. It is not orthodox, she said, but rather it is a "new doctrine", characterized by the two ingredients of independence and innovation. Behind fundamentalism is the fear of annihilation and fundamentalism becomes more extreme when attacked.
I think she is dead wrong. To associate historic Christian fundamentalism with that of Judaism, Islam, etc. simply doesn’t understand what Christian fundamentalism is. The unique connotation of Christian fundamentalism (hereafter simply “fundamentalism”) makes it markedly distinct from all other forms of fundamentalism, whatever similarities they might share. Even within Christian fundamentalism broadly defined, there are many who have no legitimate claim to the title of fundamentalist for a variety of reasons, including their departure from the historic doctrinal positions. Second, to say that fundamentalism is new is also to misunderstand what fundamentalism is, and it is here that I shall park my horse for a moment.

Fundamentalism as a movement arose in the early part of the 20th century in response to the theological liberalism and weakening of the gospel that came from the continental theologians in the 19th century. There was a rising “scholasticism” bent on denying or recharacterizing the doctrines held since the beginning of the church that had been systematized throughout church history. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw the rise of the social gospel through men like Bushnell, Rauschenbusch, Strong, Gladden and others, and this social gospel began to squeeze out the biblical gospel. What began as a “both/and” for many soon become a “one only.” And they chose the wrong one. In response to this shift in theology and practice, a series of booklets entitled “The Fundamentals” were written by a number of men. The name “fundamentalist” was coined by Curtis Lee Laws in 1920 when he said, “We suggest that those who still cling to the great fundamentals and who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals shall be called fundamentalists” (see The Watchman Examiner, July 1, 1920). All that to say this: When Armstrong says that fundamentalism was a “new doctrine,” she is not correct. Fundamentalism was a plea to hold on to the “old doctrine" that was being compromised by theological liberalism.

For fundamentalists, the most important standard of truth is the truth of God’s word. An old saying goes, “God said; I believe it; that settles it.” For the fundamentalist, the saying would have read, “God said it; that settles it.” Personal belief could not be made a criteria for truth, nor could acceptance by others. Of course, this addresses post-modernism head on in many ways, but that is a different topic and I must hurry on. The "great fundamentals" revealed by God in Scripture were worthy of our full commitment of belief.

Fundamentalism had a second criterion, as outlined by Laws. Not only did they “cling to the great fundamentals,” but they also “mean[t] to do battle royal for the fundamentals.” For the fundamentalist, it is not enough to simply hold to doctrine. It is necessary to battle for them. This “earnest contention” (cf. Jude 3) includes going as far as separation from those who reject the core doctrines of the faith, a separation such as is outlined in passages like Romans 16:17-18, 3 John 8-11, Jude, and others. It is not separation on personal preference or personality. It is separation based on doctrine and obedience. According to Romans 16:17-18, the fundamentalist is not the one charged with division. It is the one who contradicts the Bible who is the divisive person. Too many times that is turned around and the fundamentalist is labeled the schismatic.

For the fundamentalist, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, meant that God’s enemies were your enemies. You were commanded to love them and reach them with the gospel, not to work alongside them in ministry or ecclesiastical union. Those who refused to obey God must be separated from in the interest of purity and holiness of the Church and the doctrines that God revealed.

Let me try to sum this up, though perhaps I have raised more questions than I have answered. A fundamentalist is first and foremost committed to the core doctrines of Christianity. I have called them the “load bearing doctrines,” the doctrines without which the house of Christianity falls. Obviously, not all doctrine fits in this category, but there are certainly some that do such as the virgin birth, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, the personal coming of Christ at the end of the age, as well as some others. A fundamentalist is committed to whole-hearted acceptance of and commitment to these things that God has clearly revealed in Scripture.

A fundamentalist is secondly committed to the honor of and defense of those doctrines, through confrontation, exposure, and separation if need be. The Bible commands that we separate from those who teach falsely—contrary to what we have learned in Scripture. One cannot be obedient and one cannot love God truly without practicing this separation. Such separation is based on core doctrines clearly revealed, not on doctrines of dispute, or doctrines that are so called “minor” doctrines. (One of the great lacks in fundamentalism, in my opinion, is the lack of agreement about which doctrines fit this category. But again, that is another topic, and I must hurry on.) Fundamentalists should be strongly committed to biblical unity, unity based on the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” Where that faith is not held in high esteem, unity is a farce. To fail to separate in such cases is not an act of love for the body of Christ, but rather an act of disdain for God and the body of Christ which He has saved. Such separation should not be taken lightly, nor undertaken hastily. In some cases, separation has taken place over a number of years. But it must be undertaken for the sake of God and his truth, and for the sake of the body.

Have some fundamentalists taken separation too far? Absolutely. Have some fundamentalists behaved in unseemly ways? Without question. Have fundamentalists been guilty of judgmentalism? No doubt. Are some fundamentalists unable to see past their own views? Certainly. But the sine qua non of fundamentalism is different than that. Fundamentalism is about people who love God more than men, about people who love God’s word more than they love the approval of others. It is about people who love God and his truth enough to honor it with a hearty defense and separation when need be. I will not defend people who claim the name of fundamentalist and do stupid things. Quite frankly, I am often embarrassed by what some “fundamentalists” do. I have told some fundamentalists that they are out of line. I have told some people they have no right to the name fundamentalist. But I also refuse to be defined by their lunacy.

Many fundamentalists believe what they believe because it well defended by Scripture, not because they are judgmental or angry. On the other hand, many fundamentalists are simply repeating what they have heard. Fundamentalists that I know are not afraid of “annihilation” as Armstrong says. In fact, I think the brightest days of fundamentalism are still ahead, in heaven if not on this earth. The theological and ecclesiastical landscape has greatly changed in the last century. The battles of Curtis Lee Laws, W. B. Riley, Bob Jones Sr., Robert Ketcham, T.T. Shields, and other great men have changed. But at stake is the truth of God’s Word and the souls of men. And those are high stakes.

Fundamentalism is broad, and there may be some intramural squabbles about where exactly the line is drawn on some issues. But these squabbles should be characterized by grace and humility in earnest contention for the faith. I am not for a "softer, gentler" fundamentalism. In fact, I think fundamentalism has grown too weak. The academic and theological substance of an earlier generation gave way to bombastic nonsense being spewed forth from behind pulpits that must have been reinforced to withstand the pounding. The personal piety and holiness gave way in many cases to a rigid legalism, in which some standards were right, but were taught without the foundation of loving God with everything that you are.


So fundamentalism is no new thing; it is age old Christianity applied to a modern context. Fundamentalists are not without faults and that is to our shame. But in the haste to condemn the “judgmental fundamentalists,” let us not forget that it is judgmental to make such a condemnation. In other words, those who attack fundamentalists are forced to do the very same thing they accuse fundamentalists of, namely, make judgments about someone else’s theology and obedience. And that judgment results in a de facto separation from their end.

But don't confuse Christian fundamentalists with Islamic fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, or people who parade around with "God hates fags" signs. We are different, and with good reason. Our roots are found in historic Christianity. Or as liberal theologian Kirsopp Lake put it:

It is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind; it is the ... survival of a theology which was once universally held by Christians ... The Fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with the Fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church is on the Fundamentalist side (in The Religion of Yesterday and To-morrow [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925], pp. 61-62 quoted in David Beale, The Pursuit of Purity:American Fundamentalism since 18509 [Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 1986], p. 4).
I hope and pray that the church of Jesus Christ will become more unified as we draw near to the end, but that unity must begin with doctrine, and proceed from obedience.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Heart as Big as His Head?

Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was quoted as saying of Chief Justice nominee John Roberts, "I'm not too sure if his heart is as big as his head."

Perhaps my knowledge of the constitution and the history of judicial nominations is lacking in some regard, but I can't recall that "Heart as big as head" is given as a qualification for judicial appointment. The somewhat troubling visual image notwithstanding, judges at all levels are not given the charge of ruling on heart, but rather ruling on the facts of the case that stands before them.

I have watched with fascination the hearings. It is hard to imagine that more pomposity and arrogance exists in any triumvurate than exists in Ted Kennedy, Dick Durbin, and Charles Schumer, all Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. I was told that Joe Biden was actually worse, but since I am not a liberal Democrat, I will refrain from taking a dogmatic accusatory position on something I did not see. Ted Kennedy wanted Roberts to answer a question, but continually cut him off. Chairman Specter rightfully broke in to admonish Kennedy to shut up and let the man speak. Well ... not exactly in those words, but the point was clear. Unfortunately it was not clear to Kennedy, since a few minutes later Specter had to jump in yet again to admonish Kennedy to let Roberts answer.

One particular exchange of note to me, and a major opportunity Roberts missed (in my opinion), was during Durbin's questioning. Durbin asked about the variety of cases that Roberts had advised on, including a gay rights case involving the state of Colorado. Roberts said he gave advice to the side arguing for gay rights because they came to him first. He admitted that had the state come first, he would have given them legal advice. Innocent enough, I suppose ... Roberts' reasoning was that he was an attorney to serve a client. It was not up to him to sit in judgement on his clients; that was the job of the judge and jury.

But this questioning from Durbin was in the context of Roberts being an "idealogue" (which I think means "takes a position that a liberal Democrat would not take"). Durbin appeared dumbfounded that Roberts said he would have given legal advice to the State of Colorado had they asked him first. Durbin was disturbed that Roberts would give legal advice against so-called civil rights of homosexuals. (I say "so-called" because I don't remember the legal specifics of the case and it is extraneous to my point here.) Durbin wanted to know if there was any case that Roberts would turn down on principle.

All of that background to say this: Isn't turning a case down on principle the prime evidence of an idealogue? Does Durbin not know that he was asking Roberts to confess to being the very thing that Durbin was accusing him of? My suspicion was that if Roberts had answered "Yes, there are cases I would turn down," that Durbin would have accused him of being an idealogue. Of course, Durbin was accusing him of that anyway.

I thought the whole issue about the EEOC memo was fascinating. Kennedy originally brought it up (at least in the part that I saw, and later Durbin returned to it). The question was about a comment that the EEOC was "unAmerican" followed by the line "the truth of the matter notwithstanding." When the entire statement was read, it was clear that Kennedy was taking the statement out of context. Roberts tried to make that clear, but Kennedy just couldn't grasp it. Durbin later followed up demonstrating the same inability to grasp to not so subtle points of English grammar, and the explicit explanation by Roberts. Of course, why should you seek the truth when there is a political point to be made. Did anyone really think Kennedy, Schumer, and Durbin were seriously considering voting for Roberts?

I find myself wondering how these guys get elected. There seems little evidence of actual critical thinking skills. There is a lot of demogoguery. Questions involve long speeches that "lead the witness" in many cases, often followed by a token question mark. They are veritable rhetorical questions, meant to make a political point rather than elicit information.

What would be the effect of a judicial hearing that was limited to questions only? They would get a lot shorter for one. It would probably help the process as a whole as well. I think the Judiciary Committee should move immediately to stop speeches during questioning. A senator should be allowed to speak in one sentence, less than 25 words, that contains a clear question. There is no need for pontification. Senators' personal opinions about legal cases are irrelevant in judicial confirmation. I know this is a radical step, and I am not holding my breath that it would happen. But hey ... what's wrong with dreaming, right?

To be honest, I am not sure what to think of John Roberts as a justice. He has succeeded in dodging many questions. He could turn out to be the next David Souter, or Sandra Day O'Conner. It seems unlikely that he will be a Scalia or Thomas, and unlikely that he would be a Stevens or Ginsberg. But he will be the next Chief Justice, barring some unseen revelation of dirt.

Whatever the case, it is good to know that the gospel of Jesus Christ does not hang in the balance of Senate blowhards and dancing judicial nominees. When Christ said "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," he full well knew the future of American jurisprudence and to be quite frank, the American judicial system is nothing compared to the dangers that other generations of the church faced. It is high time for the American church to quit depending on government, and let the gospel of Christ be foremost in our hearts and ministries.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Give the Church to Non-Christians?

Richard, over at Sunday Papers, posted a A Manifesto Calling for a New Way of Being and Defining Church. This is list of ideas about redefining church. The question of why we need to redefine church seems a bit strange to me. I am not sure why Christ's definition is not enough for us. To be sure, many churches have departed from the biblical definition. But the solution is surely not a "redefinition." We need repentance. But on to the point.

Richard's first suggestion reads:
The first reformation gave the bible back to the people and we need to give church back to the people (not just christian people).
I have to wonder, Why would the church give the church back to people? Who else has it? Did someone other than "the people" come and make off with it while we were sleeping?

Secondly, why would we give the church "back" to "not just Christian people"? Did they ever have the church? I can't recall anything in Scripture that the church was anything other than Christian people.

And why would we suggest giving it to non-Christians? What would they do with it? The church is a unique organism, built by Jesus Christ. It is not ours to give away to anyone, much less to people who are not a part of it through faith in Jesus Christ. One of the major problems with the modern church is that unbelievers have had too much say in what goes on. It has distorted the church from its biblical mission and has come close (and even succeeded) in distorting the gospel. To "give it" to non Christians would certainly be a redefinition of church. It would also be a radical departure from the Scriptures.

This is an idea that appears to have absolutely no legitimate, critical, biblical thinking behind it at all. While I can't testify to what brought this thought on, there is no cogent reason for it that I can come up with. Dialogue is certainly good, and I would be interested to know what drove Richard to this conclusion. But all ideas are not equal and not everything is worthy of dialogue. It calls to mind a point from my original post on this blog where I said, "I have long lamented the fact that the World Wide Web has given every idiot with a computer and a phone line the idea that he has something people need to hear."

Richard, if you happen by here for some strange reason, please understand I am not calling you an idiot. I wrote those words two months ago with no one in mind. My point in bringing it up here is simply to wonder out loud whether or not your idea is really worthy of serious thought. It seems misguided from the very beginning, built on a flawed foundation. So Richard, feel free to comment if you wish. I would be interested in seeing your defense of this.

It seems to me that this list begins with a flawed supposition. The Christians, those who follow Christ wholeheartedly by faith, need to take the church back from the grasp of the world. It is only then that the church can have a true impact in the lives of people.

This list reminds me of much of what goes on in modern ecclesiology with the emerging church, seeker churches, purpose-driven churches, and whatever else is out there now. There is some good that we can learn from all of these. But they start from flawed presuppositions in many cases, and worse yet, they are "ingenious" for the sake of being "ingenious." There are buzzwords that go around, like number six in this list that talks of "a series of chaotic but intentional encounters with God, one another, and the world, founded on the holistic teaching of Christ, and encompassing the whole of life."

What????? Chaotic but intentional encounters with God? It sounds great. What does it mean? Who has a clue?

Why is not the simplicity of the gospel and the simplicity of life in Christ enough for us? Why redefine the church? Why not just go with what God said. Too many people today are putting way too much thought into these issues, thought that isn't being driven by Scripture.

So let us do something radical. Let's return to what the Bible teaches us about the church. Then, we won't need to give it to anyone. We will be tools in the vineyard of God (1 Corinthians 3:5-9) that he uses to call out a people for himself from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation (Revelation 5:9-10). Our greatest impact on the world will stem from our greatest obedience to God driven by loving God with everything that we have and loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:36-39).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Strength of Character

I have been reading Winston Churchill's four volume History of the English Speaking People. I am not in a big rush to get through it, and usually read it at night sitting at on the back porch by a fire in the fire pit. Of course, the hot summer has drastically cut back on that. Churchill's writing is somewhat confusing at times because there are so many names it is hard to keep straight who he is talking about. It also seems that assumes some knowledge about English history that I don't have, and so some of the plot has passed me by. It is hard to remember who is on whose side. However, it is an enjoyable read and I am sure it gets better towards the modern era, which is the period of history I enjoy more anyway.

In volume I, he writes of the beginning of the Stuart dynasty in Scotland. He says,
The first two Stuarts, Robert II and Robert III, were both elderly men of no marked strength of character”(Churchill, History of the English Speaking People, Vol 1, p. 271).
It struck as a insightful comment about weak leadership. Men with no "marked strength of character" will never be good leaders. They might turn out to be men of great influence through force of personality, family connections (What's wrong with nepotism so long as you keep it in the family?? ... sorry for that little rabbit trail), being one of the "good ole boys" to someone in power. But lacking strength of character will always prove on to be a bad leader.

Particularly sad about this, to me, is that these were "elderly men" who had no strength of character. One can understand a lack of character in a younger man. After all, maturity does not come overnight. But to be elderly with no character would seem to me to be evidence of a wasted life on all fronts.

If you want to lead, start with yourself. Develop your character. As many have said, Leading flows from being. Pursue excellence in personal growth and development. Do not accept from yourself that which you would not accept from others. Do not let yourself off the hook. Develop strength of character so that it will not be said of you that you were elderly with no marked strength of character.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What Kind of Impact?

A recent survey was conducted and published that listed the Top 50 Most Influential Churches. The list is not surprising for the most part, at least in terms of the names. Most of the “famous” names are there, perhaps with the exception of John MacArthur and Charles Swindoll. There are two father/son pairs (Stanley and Young), a wide theological and denominational divergence, and wide geographic spread. But they were all chosen by two thousand church leaders as churches of influence. (We should note that the survey is apparently not about theology and doctrine, but about influence.)

More recently, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we have seen a great outpouring of support and aid to displaced citizens, many of whose homes are still underwater and will be condemned as unlivable. Many of these support efforts are originating in churches, particularly (it seems to me), Southern Baptist churches, though I do know of some independent Baptist churches, as well as other churches that are also involved. While some may view hurricane relief as a "social gospel" type of effort (which has some problems), I am not sure that such an effort is useless. After all, wouldn't 1 John 3:17-18 and James 2:14-17 plug in here, as well as Galatians 6:10? These are churches who believe that they should have some sort of material impact in the current devastation.

In both of these cases, we see churches making some kind of impact through their ministries.

Which brings me to this question: How do we measure impact? Is impact measured by size? Well, I would like to rebel against that idea, but something tells me that a church who is not reaching the people in their community is not having much impact. The church may be right doctrinally and theologically (which is more important), but it is hard to call them an impact church. A church that stays the same size year after year seems likely to not be having an impact, unless multitudes are dying every year.

Is impact measured by visibility? Certainly churches that are known are known for a reason ... They are having some kind of impact. A church that is not known, even in its community, will find it hard to be a church of impact.

In short, I am not sure how to answer this question. Here is what I think may happen too often: Churches that are willing to have no cultural and community impact so long as they get the bills paid. It seems at times that churches of a fundamentalist bent are satisfied to be a "good ole boys" club. I don't mean that they set out to be that. But I think somewhere along the way, we got too scared of culture, and too scared of people who don’t already agree with us. I think we never learned to talk to people who don’t share our worldview. To be sure, we started down that path with good intentions—purity, holiness, obedience. But has the path led us too often through hedges that are too high to see over, and too high to climb? Has our distaste for secularism, sexualism, humanism, politicism, and relativism led us to isolationism? Are we just hanging on for the end?

I think that fundamentalist churches need to rethink what it means to have impact and influence in the community. While my church may never make the Top 50 list in the magazine, I am not sure we would make the Top 50 list in our community, and that bothers me. It bothers me when I hear fundamentalists say we shouldn’t even try to make that list. Personally, I wonder why we should be satisfied when all 50 churches on that list are not fundamentalist churches, much less that none are. I am not saying we need to set up our ministries to make a list. I don't think any of those people on the list had that mindset. I don't think we need to raise millions for hurricane relief to have an impact. I think we need to engage in culture, the world in which people live in our communities, and learn to communicate with them.

The world needs the gospel, and the fundamentalist churches are typically the ones holding strongest to the biblical gospel. But I fear we spend too much time “preaching to the choir.” We cannot stop short of full impact under the guise of separation and theology. Both are vitally important to an obedient church, but a church that has no impact is not obedient, no matter how separated and theological they might be.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Creation, Evolution, Science, and College

Recently, there have been a couple of new things on a old topic: Origins.

Al Mohler, the president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY posted yesterday on the University of California's decision to refuse to certify science courses that teach creationism using certain textbooks from BJU Press and A Beka Books. You can read the original LA Times article here.

Last week, My friend Pat Berryman over at The Edge in Auburn Hills wrote recently about The New Scarlet Letter—intolerance. In his comments, he referenced a recent Larry King Live episode that featured a discussion on Intelligent Design (or ID) and whether or not it should be taught in science classrooms in public schools. For those unfamiliar with it, Intelligent Design is a theory championed by men like Philip Johnson, Michael Behe, Michael Dembski, and others that argue that an irreducible complexity in nature presupposes an intelligent design. Irreducible complexity is basically the idea that a given organism has a certain structure that cannot be reduced to a prior form. In other words, this structure could not have evolved through natural selection or mutation because the elements were not there, and there is no explanation for how they got there, apart from an outside intelligence.

ID is a form of creationism to some degree. Secular science views it as a "foot in the door," or the proverbial "camel's nose under the tent flap." Barbara Forrest, a philosphy professor at Southeastern Louisana Universy and a member of National Advisory Council of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State wrote a book entitled Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. (You can read the transcript of the program here. It is the last half of LKL that night.)

Some in the Christian community are in favor of ID as that very thing ... a foot in the door. They believe it at least opens the door to a different discussion than is typically held in public education about theories of the origin of the universe. And to be sure, it is a form of creationism. On the other hand , others, such as Ken Ham and the folks at Answers in Genesis believe that ID is dangerous. They say,
While design arguments used in the Intelligent Design Movement may seem very appealing at first, the central problem with the ID movement, as stated numerous times by AiG’s newest speaker Dr. Georgia Purdom, is that it divorces the Creator from creation. The Creator cannot be separated from creation; they reflect on each other. (To hear Dr. Purdom's presentation on this topic, download the podcast/MP3 of her talk at the 2005 Creation Mega Conference.)
What is being passed off as science about origins in most public school classrooms is frighteningly ignorant. I am no scientist, and if I can see through it, it gives pause to one to wonder why the teachers themselves can't see through it. As I understand it, that is why Johnson, Behe, Dembski and the others started down the road of intelligent design. They could see the problems. Evolutionary theory is so laughably absurd that were it not for its lone alternative it is doubtful that anyone would believe it. However, since the alternative to evolution is God, evolution continues to be believed.

We need a return to actual science. We need to call theories what they are ... theories. Evolution is simply that ... a theory about how things came to be. It is a theory chock-full of holes. I firmly believe that the longer science continues to progress, the less evolution will be accepted. It is, in a sense, like Copernicus who shocked the world with the idea that the sun is the center of the universe. Now, it is widely accepted. As time and progress marches on, the theory of evolution will go the way of geo-centrism.

Yet man will not turn to the Creator because his sin has blinded his mind. The apostle Paul, writing the Ephesians reminds us what God says about man's intelligence.
Ephesians 4:17-19 17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
Futile, darkened, ignorant, hard of heart, and callous—not exactly a recipe for stellar thinking. God, through his common grace, has granted to these kind of people the ability to make astounding discoveries. Only through His special grace will God grant them the repentance that leads to life, that will open their eyes to the Creator and bring them to faith in Him.

Romans 1 tells us that these people have no excuse.
Romans 1:19-23 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
The saddest thing is this: For all their scientific skills, they cannot see clearly enough to see what is clearly shown. God exists and has made it obvious to all who will look. But they, professing to be wise, have shown themselves to be fools. They worship the intellect of man, such as it may be, and fall at the altar of man's passions and desires rather than falling at the feet of Christ the Creator and submitting their minds and hearts to him.

How do we minister to a generation like this? Preach Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2). Remember that the god of this world has blinded their minds until God who caused the light to shine out of darkness causes the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ to shine in their hearts. (2 Cor 4:1-6).

On a practical note, do not allow the secular side to frame this as a debate between "science" and "religion." It isn't. Both sides use actual science, and both sides engage in faith choices. All scientists have their bias. As Ken Ham asks, Which is the best bias to be biased with? It is best to be biased with the existence of the Creator God who told us what he did.

Friday, August 26, 2005


I was reviewing Numbers 13-14 for our men's Bible study tomorrow morning and jotting down a few notes on leadership. I was struck again by the danger of influence. Numbers 13-14 is the story of the spies going into Canaan to spy out the land and report to the people. With all the power of the promises of God, and the power that had already been experienced in the Exodus, the power of influence waffled, and a generation died in the wilderness.

Ten spies doubted the promise of God, focused on the problems of the world, and undermined the God-ordained leadership of Moses and Aaron by causing the people to look for a different leader that would take them back to Egypt (14:1-4). Was that their intent? Did they really want to undermine Moses and Aaron? We will never know, but it is irrelevant what they wanted. It happened anyway.

Leadership often has unintended consequences, both for the good and the bad. To be sure, it is a fine line between good and bad leadership. The strongly authoritative leader with great passion for God and holiness can become a tyrant who creates fear in his children if he does not love them with God's love. The visionary leader can create a culture of dissension and discontent by pushing faster than people are ready to go. A recognized "power figure" (every church or organization has them) can be a tremendous force of undermining the God-ordained leadership by comments, body language, failure to participate, gossip, backbiting, and malcontentendess (am I making up my own words here???).

Good leadership is often ignored, as Caleb and Joshua were. Good leadership is committed to godly obedience even if they are the only ones. (You usually aren't, as Elijah learned in his self-pity.) Good leadership takes the time and effort to talk to God for people, as Moses and Aaron did. At the heart of it is Numbers 14:24: But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it (NASB). Good leaders have a different spirit, a different attitude about life. They are willing to do things God's way, to think about God's Word first, to love what God loves before they think about what the possible outcomes might be. Those who want to be good leaders must develop a "different spirit" that follow God fully.

God has invested all of us with leadership roles. You have a leadership circle, or what some have a called a "circle of influence." Your role might be the pastor of a church, the president of a company or organization. It might be a role as head of a ministry or a workgroup. It might be as head of a family. You might look at your life and wonder where your leadership circle is? It might be the power of example as a worker that sets the pace by working hard, the power of a teenager who sets a radical example of godliness around friends "on the bubble" of following God. Even children are being watched by younger brothers and sisters.