Saturday, September 22, 2007

This and That

1. I am not making this up. Photoshop had nothing to do with this.

2. Someone recently said: "The church has no greater task than world evangelism." I wonder what the response will be. When I said that, I got some fairly negative response. I wonder what the response to this will be.

3. Mark Driscoll has a profile article in Christianity Today. It is interesting. I am no expert on Driscoll, but I think this article gives a pretty accurate picture, from what I know from reading, listening, and talking to those who know him. And while some will blast me, I don't think he's all bad. I think he hits it where it hurts some people, and they yelp. And he gets them on both sides, the left and the right. (I don't think he's all good either.) I just think the article is interesting.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I Like (Most of) These

Doug Groothuis has a blog called The Constructive Curdmudgeon. He is a philosophy professor at Denver Seminary. He posts fairly regularly, and has some interesting things to say. He will occasionally make some of his outlines available if you will email him. He has an apologetics class online that you can download and listen to. He is not a presuppositionalist, but still has some good stuff. He is an egalitarian and a supporter of intelligent design.

Having said all that, here is one post that I found particularly intriguing and thought-provoking. It is a list of forty-nine propositions or imperatives. Most deal with matters of spiritual life and leadership.

You will also learn that John Coltrane is the greatest saxophonist of all time and that Kenny G is a crock whose success is evidence of a fallen world (nos. 38 and 39).

Apart from that, you will also see some things that are actually challenging and thought-provoking. Take the time to read and consider all forty-nine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Has Poker Lost Its Appeal?

I was downstairs eating lunch, leaving my comfortable spot stretched out on the couch here, and turned on ESPN to see what was up. I usually eat lunch while surfing between ESPN, CSpan, and reruns of Jeopardy. (I have won millions on jeopardy; they just won't send me the money even though I tell them I had the answer first. Between the Mrs. and I, we may having winnings into the tens of millions.)

However, today, at 1:00 p.m. was one of the most gripping ESPN programs ever: 2007 National School Scrabble Championship. (I am not making this up. You can check me out here.)

And they actually have commentators for it. How do you get that gig? Is there a dictionary test? A random-letters-into-words exam? Do you have to do research on historical scrabble matches? Do you have to read up on the participants and the dictionaries they studied? And how much do you get paid to do color commentary on a scrabble match.

Here's the worst part: I actually watched it for a while. Now that's embarrassing. (If you are interested, Taylor Community was beating Ridgefield if I remember correctly).

I Love You ... Oops, No I Don't

This article reports that a couple began an online relationship, found so much in common with each other, "fell in love," and decided to meet, only to find out that they were already married ... to each other.
"I was suddenly in love. It was amazing. We seemed to be stuck in the same kind of miserable marriage. How right that turned out to be," Sana, 27, said.

Adnan, 32, said: "I still find it hard to believe that Sweetie, who wrote such wonderful things, is actually the same woman I married and who has not said a nice word to me for years".
So they decided to divorce for untruthfulness. Wierd eh??

Here are some lessons:

1. A large part of marriage is communication. If you communicate about your issues, your chance of solving them increases by a huge percentage. If all you are is a whiner, then put a sock in it (your mouth). Talk about problems with solutions in mind ... solutions that seek the best for both parties, not just yourself.

2. If you can communicate online, you can do it in person. It just takes more work ... usually. So bite the bullet, open your mouth, and get started. Write down your thoughts ahead of time if you need to (probably a good idea), and keep your voice tone and your spirit under control. Do not yell, make accusations, or cast blame. Seek to build the relationship, not win fights. Someone once told me that they knew that if they had talked and communicated with their spouse like they did with their online partner, it would have helped the marriage tremendously. Unfortunately, they chose not to.

Corollary to #2: If you find yourself getting along with your spouse online, there is no reason you cannot do it offline ... unless you are selfish and ungodly (isn't that redundant). In fact, you and your spouse can get along in any situation if you are both willing. If one of you is not willing, there is little if any hope. Do not let the unwilling one be you.

3. If you start getting involved online, you are entering a very dangerous world. If you chat, be careful. Chat only with people you know, like relatives, or occasionally for specific help (like computer problems). Stay out of social chat rooms, no matter how innocent your intention. Do not chat with members of the opposite sex under any condition (unless they are family members ... immediate ... not your brother's wife or sister's husband).

4. It is better to put down your computer and read a book and talk to your spouse ... or read a book with your spouse and talk to about with them.

5. Learn what it means to be "in love." It is inseparable from obedience to Christ. It is not about feelings, and does not depend on your spouse's kindness, good humor, or sexuality. It depends on your willingness to obey our Savior.

As for me, I will follow #4 right now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More on Baptism

On the Desiring God Blog today, Abraham argues that "Rejection Actually Hurts" (which we all knew anyway didn't we?), and offers a bit of anecdotal evidence in support of the theory that baptism is optional so long as our personal feelings and beliefs are validated by our personal feelings and beliefs.

As proof, he offers Jeremy Archer's experience of being rejected from BBC's membership because he was poured in the Winter instead of waiting until summer. Apparently, in this particular Minnesota town, there were no indoor swimming pools that could be rented for a half hour or so for a baptismal, and no way to spring for the funds to buy one of the portable baptistries that are now readily available. So rather than wait till summer to be scripturally baptized, he decided to be poured. As a result, he could not join BBC. (You can read the whole story at his blog).

First, to me it seems strange that a member and employee of BBC (Abraham) is going public with his dissent over the church's position. However, since his father has done it in trying to lead change, perhaps it is not troubling there. It would be to me, since once an issue has been settled by the church leadership, it should be over. There should be no more behind the scenes lobbying, or public blogging by employees expressing dissatisfaction. if you don't like it, leave. This, to me, it almost tantamount to trying to undermine church leadership (and biblical doctrine) by appealing to an emotional story.

Second, there is a pretty easy solution for Jeremy. Get baptized scripturally. Then you can join BBC and graduate from Moody.

The discussion over baptism that has recently taken place is troubling to me, not least because it seems to be a discussion about what Scripture is clear about. Scripture is clear that baptism is immersion for believers as a public confession of Christ. In Jeremy's case it is particularly interesting because he was a believer who was poured. You can't argue the "whole house" argument for pouring as a "mode" of baptism. In fact, there is no scriptural argument for pouring.

So Jeremy, I don't know you, but I see a simple solution here. Your personal feelings that your pouring was valid is irrelevant. And should you read this, I do not say that harshly. I say that with love and grace. Biblical obedience cannot be judged by personal feelings in areas where God has spoken. There are a great many people who feel validated in sinfulness for various reasons ... they enjoy it and rationalize it; they are angry and bitter and feel a right to their sin; etc. These do not equal biblical obedience.

Jeremy says,
I finally came to the conclusion that my initial pouring baptism was indeed defective and yet valid. As in all of our obedience, I see a degree of sin and error in it. And at the same time I am counting on God’s grace to “sanctify” my defective baptism that was done in faith and with a desire to obey his word.
Defective yet valid? If it was defective, then fix it. Doing something in faith with a desire to obey his word is not the measure of obedience. Conformity to God's revealed commands is the measure. Pouring is not valid baptism. It does not conform to what Scripture reveals.

Missing the Point?

Somehow, I got on The Trinity Foundation's mailing list so every month or so I their newsletter. This most recent one dedicated eight pages to a White Horse Inn (WHI) program (led by Michael Horton) in which Anne Rice was interviewed.

First, let me say that my only time listening to the WHI was when Horton interviewed Mark Driscoll. There may have been one other program I listened to but it was apparently not very memorable. So do not read this as a defense of Horton (who I have met and had lunch with) or the WHI which I do not listen to.

John W. Robbins, who appears to be God's called man to polemicize against whatever it is that does not fit into his particular framework of apologetics (in the mold of Clark). [N.B. - I don't know enough about the differences of Clark and Van Til to know how that might fit into the conversation here, if at all. If you do understand the differences, and think those differences are relevant here, please comment. I would love to see them.]

The program in question was apparently an interview with Anne Rice, a Roman Catholic author. Robbins believed that WHI did not make enough of the differences between Catholicism and the Bible. He may well be right on that; I have no idea having not listened to it. I personally see no need to interview Anne Rice, but it's not my program and for some reason they failed to call me that day to check with me about their choices.

Anyway out of this eight page compilation of email exchanges (apparently), one particular part caught my attention, which is all I will focus on here.
Robbins: Finally Rosenthal [of WHI] makes his denial of the axiom of Christianity explicit. The Word of God, he says, is not a a first principle.

WHI: It [the Bible] has to be read with the eyes/listened to with the ears. Thus, it seems that belief in the bible [sic] rests on a prior first principle, namely that of the general reliability of sense perception, etc.

Robbins: Here he finally makes his empiricism explicit. He trusts the Bible only because he trusts his eyes first. Sensation is his first principle, not revelation. In fact, Rosenthal's theory of knowledge has no room for revelation at all - special or general. All alleged revelation must not only be judged by the "craft of history," but also mediated by the senses. There is no place in his theory of knowledge for a Word from God - no place for Christ's statement to Peter, "Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, buy my Father who is in Heaven. According to the White Horse Inn, it is only the sense that give us knowledge, either by looking at the heavens, or by reading a book. Nature has eaten up grace completely, and God cannot reveal his truth directly to men's minds. According to the White Horse Inn, flesh and blood has revealed everything to us.
Now, it is my perception (pun intended) that Robbins' perception (pun doubly intended) has completely missed the point. I have not read everything Horton has written, nor anyone else who hosts the WHI. But I think I have read enough to know that Robbins has missed the point.

As I read the statement about the general reliability of sense perception, Rosenthal is talking about the fact that God communicates to us through his word, which must be read with the eyes or heard with the ears, and we must trust what we read or hear. If you don't read the Word with your eyes, or hear it with your ears, you will not know what God has revealed.

Think of Robbins' own statement that for WHI there is no room for Christ's statement to Peter. How did Robbins know that Christ made that statement to Peter? Because he trusts the general reliability of his own sense perception of seeing the words on the page and interpreting them to mean something. God did not directly reveal that to Robbins. Robbins found it the same place everyone else does ... in Matthew 16.

So I think Robbins has undermined his own position by citing that.

It seems that Robbins' also reveals something about his own bibliology when he complains against WHI's belief that "God cannot reveal his truth directly to men's minds." Unless I miss my guess, Robbins believes in a closed canon and that revelation has ceased. Therefore, even for Robbins, God does not "reveal his truth directly to men's minds." He does it through Scripture. The Holy Spirit's regenerating and illuminating work (if you think those are different) are both required to understand the spiritual significance. But you still have to read with your eyes and hear with your ears.

Even Christ, during his earthly ministry and particularly in his letters to the churches in Revelation appealed to the general reliability of sense perception when he said, "Him who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Now, the truth is that there may be some real issues with how the Anne Rice interview was carried out, or that it is was carried out at all. But to me, it seems that Robbins has missed the point. He is simply jumping on the wrong thing.

Those at the WHI may indeed by empiricists (I doubt it), but it is certainly not because they believe you have to trust your eyes when read the Bible or trust your ears when you hear the Bible. I don't think that is really what empiricism is all about.

Or perhaps I have missed the point ... But this just strikes me as Robbins trying to find fault with something that may have been worded better perhaps but was not fundamentally misguided to begin with.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Scholarship, Faith, and the BAR

A man in my church recently gave me some back issues of the Biblical Archaeology Review, which can be found online here. The March/April 2007 issue contains an article entitled "Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars" (pp. 50-57).

This interview was participated in by the well-known Bart Erhman, James F. Strange ("a leading archaeologist and Baptist minister"), Lawrence H. Schiffman ("a prominent Dead Sea Scroll scholar and Orthodox Jew"),, and William G. Dever ("one of America's best-known and most widely quoted archaeologists, who had been an evangelical preacher, then lost his faith, then became a Reform Jew, and now says he's a non-believer").

The interview was interesting at parts, and boring at others. But there were some notable exchanges (and an unsurprising unanimous rejection of inerrancy (p. 52)).

Ehrman blames his turning on the problem of theodicy, where he concluded "Finally, because I became dissatisfied with all the conventional answers [though there is no hint of what these answers were nor why he rejected them], I decided that I couldn't believe in a God who was in any way intervening in this world, given the state of things. So that's why I ended up losing my faith."

Ehrman later comments that the implausibility of the resurrection had a "damaging impact on my faith."

Strange says "My faith is based on my own experience--a good old Protestant principle [one with which I am not familiar] ... I love the existentialist philosophers. I love to read them, not because they're giving me any testable facts. It's because it's like reading a really good poet. It does something to you that propositional truth never does."

Strange comments on the suffering of people saying that "Suffering tends to disconfirm the hypothesis [of a loving God that intervenes upon the earth]." (To him I would recommend the recent four message series presented by John Piper at Wheaton College.)

Dever, whose father was a "fire-breathing fundamentalist" was himself an ordained minister at age 17 who went to divinity school at Harvard. There he read George Ernest Wright's God Who Acts, who says "In Biblical faith, everything depends upon whether the original events actually happened." [Editorial note: There is something admirable in an unbeliever who at least recognizes that very fact, as opposed to these professing believers who think they can be a Christian with a "Christ" who didn't actually do what the biblical record says he did.] Dever freely admits that his scholarship destroyed his faith while working as an archaeologist in Israel (p. 54). He says, "That's when I converted to Judaism. [Laughs] I did it precisely because you don't have to be religious to be a Jew. And I'm perfectly comfortable where I am."

Now, I say all this, not to comment individually and refute their statements, which could be ably addressed. I say this rather to make a few short comments.

First, all these men allowed their experience to dictate their approach to God. They all, in essence, assert that "Because God did not act like I thought or think he should, I chose not to believe what God said about himself." However, we must realize that experience follows our exegesis and understanding of Scripture. It must not determine it. We must never allow our experience to dictate our understanding of God through his word. We must instead allow our understanding of God through his word to dictate our experience in God's created world.

Second, these men believe that true scholarship lead them away from the God who is the fountain of knowledge. Such an assertion is absurd on its face. It would be as if understanding that 2+2=4 convinces us that mathematics is a faulty and untrustworthy discipline.

The truth is that true scholarship always leads us to God, not away from him. And true scholarship recognizes the weaknesses of the fallen mind. These men seem not to recognize the truth of Ephesians 4:17-19 which asserts that the unbelievers mind is darkened, ignorant, and hardened against the truth. That is a darkness that only the Holy Spirit can overcome. God reminds us that he "who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Faith is the the supernatural gift of God that comes from the light that reveals the true glory of Christ. These men have simply never seen it. Perhaps having tasted of the power of God and of the age to come, they have fallen away, as a dog returning to his vomit.

Third, these men, perhaps because of their rejection of inerrancy, fail to recognize the reason because the current state of affairs. The ultimate issue in evil in the world is the sinfulness of humanity. If you reject human sinfulness, then you do wonder why the world is broken, seemingly beyond repair. If you accept human sinfulness, but reject the crucified and risen Messiah, then you find the hopelessness of despair which comes when you realize there is no true remedy. The best you can hope for is to "try harder to do better." Atonement is found in things that bring no true hope.

Fourth, the hope of these men, as with all men whether the most educated and studied, or the least educated and knowledgeable is that the hope of life lies with God alone. One reason I am a Calvinist in my soteriology is because of situations like this. We cannot argue these men "into the kingdom." We are but vessels of weakness, used by God to proclaim forth his glory in the gospel. But ultimately God must open the eyes and bring regeneration and saving faith. And when that happens, true scholarship can take place.

I say again as I have often said, if I believed that I had to convince people to come to Christ for salvation I would put down my Bible, and never preach again. I have not the power of mind or eloquence of speech to convince even the most gullible to come to faith in Christ. Were not the sovereign power of God at work in preaching, my voice would be but a clanging cacophony of noise. Only the Spirit of God, working unilaterally and sovereignly in the hearts of sinful man, can take the preached word and bring spiritual life to the hearer.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Go Away

Recently, the disgraced Ted Haggard made an appeal for money, presumably to help him on his quest for an education so that he could counsel people.

Here's my first question: How in the world was Ted Haggard a pastor without knowing how to counsel people?

Counseling people is not primarily psychological; it is primarily theological. The best counselor is a well-trained theologian. For Ted Haggard to have been a pastor for so long without the knowledge and ability to counsel is shameful. It probably reveals how much the modern pastoral role is viewed as a manager/CEO model rather than a shepherd model.

Here's my second question: Where were Haggard's "advisors/accountability team/whatever they were called" when he declared his intention to go to counseling school and get back in the ministry? The face that he thought it was okay to get back in ministry seems to indicate that he did not fully grasp the seriousness of his sin and the high bar of ministry. A couple of years in counseling school was not going to regain his blamelessness. In fact, at this stage in his life, and given the nature of the sin and his public standing, his blamelessness was likely never to be regained.

But why weren't these men, from day one, telling him that? They should have told him, "Get a job, support your family, and get under the discipline and instruction of a local church. Forget ever being in public ministry again."

This all reminds me of an interesting article I read (and still have in my files) from years ago about the situation with Truman Dollar at Temple Baptist Church in Detroit. Ed Dobson, and Dollar wrote articles for Leadership Magazine about how the situation was handled. I thought they were good articles. Worth reading if you are interested in this topic.

Here's my advice to Haggard: Go away. Disappear from public life. Get a job, support your family, rebuild your marriage, and be faithful in a Bible-preaching church who practices accountability and church discipline. Never issue another press release. Do not ask for public help. Do not dream of the day when you can preach again. Focus on your heart first, and seek true repentance and grow in the solitude of private life away from the spotlight.


The qualifications for pastor are simple: Above reproach.

Though 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 use different words, the meaning is the same. as evidenced both by the lexical data and the context. This qualification is followed by a list of representative characteristics of what it means to be above reproach. I take these lists to be representative because first, they are different, and second, there are many aspects of being above reproach that are not found in these lists but are found elsewhere in the NT and in the application of the NT teaching.

The question is often asked, What does it mean to be above reproach? I answer that question simply by saying, It means to be a model of what it means to follow Christ with no evident areas of legitimate criticism that are unaddressed. He has no public marks of shame or life dominating sins, and his private life is under control growing in Christlikeness. (Feel free to help clarify or add to that addition in the comments).

The pastor is to be a model of what it means to be a growing Christian. He is not perfect, nor will he be this side of the coffin, at which point he will be disqualified from pastoring anyway. He is to be maturing in every aspect of Christian growth. He should be a man that parents can point their sons to and say, "Grow up to be like him," and point their daughters to and say, "Grow and marry a man like him."

This qualification of "above reproach" refers to the current state of a man's life. It does not require necessarily that he never have committed any of the sins in the list, or even that he never committed them habitually. It means that his current state of life is blameless to the point that his past sinful habits have been swallowed up in and virtually forgotten in light of his present inner and outer godliness.

Sometimes people ask "What if ..." questions about the qualifications. What is interesting is that no one seems to ask, "If a man has ever lost his temper, can he still pastor?" Or "What if he was constantly angry before he got saved but changed after he got saved; can he be a pastor?" (Do you see where I am going with this yet?)

But you often see people ask those very questions about divorce. "If a man has ever been divorced or committed adultery, can he ever pastor again?" Or "If a man was divorced or committed adultery before he got saved, can he still be qualified to pastor?" It is as if many elevate one characteristic of "above reproach," namely "one woman man" in its various interpretations, above all others. Yet it seems to read something into the text that Paul does not have in mind. There is not exegetical reason why "one woman man" is on a different level than temperate, respectable, hospitable, or any other qualification.

Furthermore, I think such questions are missing the point. It implies (unintentionally I am sure) that grace for unbelievers in marital failure is somehow different than grace for believers who have committed marital failure. I do not believe that someone who believes that a post-salvation divorce disqualifies while a pre-salvation divorce does not intends to distinguish these kinds of grace. But I do not see how they avoid it.

The argument would be essentially that a saved person would know better and would be sinning directly against what they know and believe to be true. But the truth is that an unsaved person, because of common grace (the law written on their hearts; the image of God in man) knows better. There is virtually no segment of society that thinks adultery is okay. If they thought it was okay, they would not be hiding it. So the fact is that both saved and unsaved through instinct and revelation know that adultery is wrong. So that seems a hard argument for me to buy.

There are some who believe that divorce or marital failure permanently disqualify a man from ministry. I can understand that view. I do not necessarily agree, though I think it would be very hard for a divorced man to regain a state of blamelessness. It might take thirty, or thirty-five, or fifty years to regain blamelessness. And in fact, he may never do it. But his disqualification is, in my view, not the marital failure but the lack of being above reproach.

When Paul wrote "above reproach," I do not think he had in mind "Before he was saved" or "after he was saved." I think he meant, "What is his life and testimony?"

Here's the point: "Above reproach" is about the current state of a man's life. Do people look at him and say, "There's a guy who knows God and can preach the word. There is nothing in his life that screams out against his God and his God's word."

I think we should take all the qualifications for pastor seriously. Not just the one about being a one-woman man.

What God demands of a pastor is what God expects of everyone. The reason he demands it of a pastor is because the pastor is a model of the Word that he preaches. If he is to handle the Word rightly, and he must, he must back it up with his life showing people how to live it.

Therefore, he must be above reproach.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


We are a culture on an increasing downward spiral of abomination. We use profanity as colorful additions to our speech. We have a generation of young women who dress in a way that calls attention to their feminine characteristics that only their husbands should enjoy, and yet these young women are encouraged to by their very own parents and superiors. We have fathers teachings sons to cheat, to get away with the least possible or the most possible (depending on your perspective). And those are just a sampling of surface things. Far deeper we are a generation who thinks first, last, and always, about us. Everything we think, and thus, everything we do, ultimately is the answer to the question, "What will make me feel good?"

We have lost a sense of social consciousness, which is bad. What's worse is that we have lost a sense of spiritual consciousness.

And to top it all off, we lack a prophetic voice in church. The pulpit has gone silent from fear—perhaps the fear of falling attendancee, the fear of falling offerings, the fear of losing speaking opportunities, the fear of a sermon where no one laughs. We knows. We speak for thirty minutes, but then we have not actually said anything.

We have ceased to be voices of warning. The words of Jeremiah speak of a superficial healing crying out, "Peace, peace: Things aren't that bad. The complainers just have a sex problem, or a legalistic problem, or a control problem. They are just old-fashioned, or stuck in the 60s (or 50s)."

In short, we are in the words of Jeremiah 8, people who have no shame, who do not know how to blush, and I am convinced that at the root it's because we have no spiritual discernment.

On this Sunday, I will not be preaching for the second time in two weeks (and what is probably the second time in five years or more) but I pray that God's people will be confronted with sin in a way that will cause us to be be a people of shame who learn to blush at the sins that are an abomination to God.

Men, as you hold forth for your congregation tomorrow, and people, as you listen, remember these words of Jeremiah:

"They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially,
Saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace.
"Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done?
They certainly were not ashamed,
And they did not know how to blush.
(Jeremiah 8:11-12)