Friday, October 30, 2009

What is a Fundamental?

Any discussion of fundamentalism should include a discussion of fundamentals.

What is a fundamentalist? Someone who holds to the fundamentals.

What is a fundamental? Well, you know, of course. What they have always been. What we always believed.

But we never get around to actually defining what a fundamental is.

For many fundamentalists, fundamentals are more about names and ministries than about actual doctrine. If we can throw a label on it, we can keep the boxes pretty neat, and then the faith will be firmly defended. Or so we think.

For some fundamentalists, the fundamentals are the five things that were identified a century ago. They claim that everyone who affirms those five things is a fundamentalist. But honestly, that’s pretty reductionistic, historically revisionistic, and philosophically simplistic. I don’t think fundamentalism was every only about those five things.

So what is a fundamental for me? Here’s my take:

A fundamental is a doctrine without which the Christian faith is denied or severely weakened.

I describe it as a “load-bearing doctrine,” similar to a load-bearing wall in a house. A house can survive without a door or a window. It might be pretty uncomfortable and a little bit weird, but the house won’t fall in. And you will likely not want to live very long in a house without windows and doors. On the other hand, if you take out that wall that runs the width of your house in order to create an “open floor plan,” you have created serious damage which may not be immediately apparent but will certainly manifest itself in time.

In Christianity, if you remove a “load bearing doctrine” you will create severe problems in the house of Christianity. The absence of certain windows or doors may make your Christianity look a bit strange compared to the norm of the Bible, and it may cause it to be pretty ineffective as a means of proclaiming God’s glory to the nations, but it will still be Christianity.

For example, inerrancy is a fundamental because while a denial of inerrancy does not necessarily destroy the Christian faith, it does severely weaken it. Ecclesiastical separation (of at least some sort) is a fundamental because without it the Christian faith is possibly denied, and at least severely weakened.

However, the use of particular Bible versions is not a fundamental because the use of particular versions does not deny or severely weaken the Christian faith. Arminianism or Calvinism is not a fundamental because the affirmation of one and denial of the other does not deny or severely weaken the Christian faith, provided that one affirms salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

As a fundamentalist, we need to recognize that not everything is a fundamental. That doesn’t mean that non-fundamentals are unimportant, or that we should be indifferent about them. But denial or doubt of certain perspectives on some doctrinal matters is not going to deny or severely weaken the  Christian faith.

Never has, never will.

So let’s be a bit more judicious about what a fundamental is (from both sides), and let’s not pretend that being a fundamentalist is all there is to being an obedient Christian. While faithful Christianity is certainly not less than the fundamentals, it does include more.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

In the Diner

All is well since I am here.

At least that’s what one guy said when I came in. He apparently doesn’t know me well enough. But I promised to guard the door from my normal seat right next to it. But I warned them I don’t pay much attention.

I inquired about the Phillies-Yankees score since I hadn’t seen it this morning.

Kenny shouted out, “You got your laptop there. Look it up.”

I replied, “Too bad this isn’t an internet cafe, or I could.”

[By the way, all these “In the Diner” posts are actually written here, but not posted from here. Hopefully, that didn’t ruin your day. Since I don’t have internet access here, I post them when I get somewhere that I do have access.]

But it really isn’t too bad that there is no access here. In fact, technology silence is actually a good thing. Many have written on this before, and offered some good thoughts.

For my dollar, I am concerned about the level of connectivity in our world. I see people in church checking their cell phones for text messages and emails (and even sending them … and I am pretty sure they are not tweeting my message). I see teens who can’t bear to be separated from their phones. I routinely see people TWD (texting while driving). I recently drove behind a guy weaving all over the road. I pulled up beside him at a stop light (since I didn’t dare try to pass him). He was texting away. I hear of people sending several thousand text messages a month. I have never sent one. I don’t even know how. I don’t know what I would say if I did.

I think all this connectivity is not a good thing.

I don’t even have a regular cell phone plan. I have a pre-paid plan. If you have my number, you are one of the few, and if I answer your calls, you are one of the fewer.

Why? Because I have two phones and two answering machines. If you need me, leave a message and I will call you back. I don’t feel compelled to let you interrupt my dinner, my drive, my golf game, or my peace and quiet (what little I have).

Don’t fret … I talk on my cell phone all I want. And it still costs me less than $10 a month on most months.

I like Mark Driscoll’s line (I said his “line” … so back off). When someone says, “I don’t have your cell phone number,” he says something like, “You’re right.”

I have spent less time on the internet lately. I still read my blog list in the morning (BTW, my Google Reader is messed up and I can’t fix it … anyone have any help for me???). I still check the news, read a few sites here and there, check my existing plane reservations to make sure that I haven’t lost my seat assignments and that no better seats have opened up. But I estimate I have cut my connectivity by probably half. And truth be told, I could probably go half again and not miss anything of substance.

Let’s face it: Most of us could stand to spend more time in Face-to-Face relationships and less in Facebook relationships. If we don’t know what Matt Drudge posted in the last ten minutes, we will survive.

And whatever is going on at your favorite discussion site isn’t going to change your life.

You gotta change it. So shut the browser. Turn off the phone. And live for a change.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Calvinists and Evangelism

Bill Hybels’ recent message at Willow Creek on Calvinism and Arminianism, referenced here, contains the charge that Calvinists* don’t evangelize. I saw a recent statement by a man who apparently thinks God left him in charge of finding everything wrong that said that Calvinists evangelize in spite of Calvinism and not because of it. Both of these statements contain some major errors.

First, as Hybels says (and virtually everyone recognizes), there is a good biblical case to be made for what is known as Calvinism. This being the case, the biblical commands to evangelize must fit with Calvinism. Which is to say, that the Bible commands Calvinists to evangelize. Therefore, Calvinists must evangelize because of their commitment to Scripture.

A case can be made that Calvinism is the only reason evangelism even works. According to 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, if God is not opening the eyes of the blind, no one will see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Were the doctrines known as Calvinism untrue, evangelism would be utterly fruitless since no matter how bright the light is (or how clear the gospel presentation is), a blind man will not be able to see. Only God can open the eyes of the blind.

Second, this charge about non-evangelistic Calvinism shows an ignorance of history—whether intentional or not. Calvinists were staunchly behind the modern missions movement. Men such as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Andrew Fuller were avowed Calvinists. Calvinists were behind much of the early church planting movement in America. Today, there is a resurgence of church planting by Calvinists and Calvinistic groups (Acts 29, Redeemer Presbyterian Church).

Why? Because nothing in Calvinism demands a lack of evangelism. It rather encourages evangelism by assuring the Calvinist that he is not laboring alone, but that God is working for us and in us to bring about his glory by the salvation of people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9).

Calvinism encourages the evangelist by reminding him that while he should be as clear as he could be, it’s not the “next sentence” that he utters that will make the difference between heaven and hell. It allows us to be faithful to the gospel, and all its hardness, and know that God is at work. So we can evangelize and walk away from the unbeliever, knowing that he is not continuing in unbelief because we didn’t use a better illustration, or because we forgot to use this verse or that verse, or because we didn’t continue for five more minutes.

So what’s the point? Simply this: Disagree with Calvinism if you are convinced by Scripture that you must, but recognize that Calvinists are evangelistic, and that is true both in terms of obedience and in terms of history.

And if you are a Calvinist who does not evangelize, repent immediately and start.

I have said before, and it bears repeating here, that lack of evangelism is not a matter of Calvinism vs. Arminianism (or “biblicism”). It is matter of obedience. People of all persuasions on this matter fail to evangelize.

When people do not evangelize, they are disobedient.


So repent, and evangelize, whether you are Arminian or Calvinist (or “biblicist”).


*When I speak of Calvinists or Calvinism, I am referring to a set of beliefs about soteriology. I am not referring to any thing else that is sometimes connected with Calvinism, such as John Calvin, infant baptism, reformed ecclesiology, or reformed eschatology. Nor am I not referring to people who follow John Calvin. While some may use “Calvinism” referring to all or any of these, I do not.

Calvinism and Arminianism for Seekers

Who says Willow Creek is all fluff and cotton candy?

Bill Hybels, in the weekend services at Willow Creek on October 17-18, took on Ephesians 1 and the issues of Calvinism and Arminianism. This is an interesting topic for a seeker-driven church, but hard to avoid if you are going to preach from Ephesians 1. In fact, Willow is doing a series on Ephesians, and I imagine they concluded it would look pretty funny to skip chapter 1.

So what does he say? Here’s a quick summary, without direct transcriptions, though some are pretty close.

Hybels’ explanations are pretty simplistic (which is okay, particularly for his audience), though I don’t think they are as clear as they could be on either side. It is likely that many on both sides would disagree with the characterization he gives. For this reason (among others), I would not recommend this talk to those who do not know much about the issues. I think it is not clear enough to be helpful.

At one point, he sounds very much like he is arguing for corporate election (that we are chosen by being part of a group that is chosen), but he seems to stop short of actually affirming this.

He ultimately concludes that there is some “both/and” using the example of a business recruiting employers. A startup might put out a general call for applicants, and accept those, but when they see that particular positions of need that aren’t being met through the process, they do some direct recruiting to recruit individuals to fill those positions. He uses the example of Paul on the Damascus road for this.

He says that he has never seen anyone kept out of the kingdom because they weren’t elect. “Honest seekers who want to join the family of God end up in the family of God.” Of course, virtually every Calvinist would agree with this, as well as Arminians (or the “biblicists”). In other words, no one except the most radical hardcore Calvinists would disagree. What he does not interact with is why “honest seekers” are “honest seekers.”

He ends with his personal testimony of being chosen mid-step while walking across a camp in Wisconsin. This is key part of his conclusion that God does choose people. Here, he explicitly speaks of cooperating with the work of God in our lives, which is often called “synergism” (as opposed to monergism).

He ultimately concludes that when we look back we can see the work of God around us. However, he stops short of being clear that the work of God is also going on within us.

My conclusion on this message: Hybels has an intentional ambiguity on the details. He says, “I worship as a Calvinist. I spread my faith out in the world as an Arminian. … It’s my job to do what Jesus did. … Leave the results up to God” (quotes are very close, drawn from a paragraph near the end).

I am not sure what it means to evangelize like an Arminian, unless it means assuring people that their eternal destiny is entirely up to them. I have never quite understood how an Arminian evangelizes different than a Calvinist. Regardless of your position on this matter, the gospel is the same and all must repent and believe for salvation.

I think Hybels’ spent too little time in the text itself though he clearly referenced many biblical passages and ideas.

I personally am not troubled by his position, though it’s not mine. While I affirm one of the options, I do not get bent out of shape when people disagree with me.

I challenged again by Hybels’ heartbeat to reach people. I appreciate his passion to see people come to know God through Jesus.

(I remind you that while I don’t have a full disclaimer here, I am troubled by many things that Hybels’ does in order to try to see people come to know God through Jesus.)

As an added bonus, you can view Willow Creek’s Membership Study Guide.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

FYI – Malachi’s Messages

The book of Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament. It is not only last in order. It is also perhaps the last book written in time though sections of Nehemiah may have been written after Malachi. There is a lot of discussion about the exact timing of Malachi, but most place it between 450-433 B.C.

Malachi’s outline is fairly easy to see. It is made up of six messages, or “disputations”—confrontational speeches that attempt to convince another party of the speaker’s position. In this, Malachi is attempting to convince the descendants of the people who returned from Babylonian captivity that they are engaging in the same type of rebellion that led to the captivity to begin with. Therefore, they must repent and turn back to God and await the coming of the Day of the Lord.

Each disputation, or message, has an assertion made by God, a objection posed by a question, and a response demonstrating the truth of the assertion. Two of the disputations have two assertions and questions (#2 and 5). The following chart shows the outline of the book.












1:6a, 7a

1:6b, 7b














3:6–7b, 8a

3:7c, 8b







Next time you read Malachi, look for the messages (and realize that they cross chapter boundaries). It will help to make sense of the message.

A later post will talk about the messages themselves.


(The chart is taken from Dr. Robert V. McCabe.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Struggling is Good

My daughter has been crying a lot lately. She has been sick for a week, with a temperature approaching 104. She is finally getting better.

It reminds me of the early days of my son’s life. I found out that I am a worrier. I used to go in and check on him several times a night to make sure he was okay … still breathing … not on his stomach … you know, all those things. With Elyse, I haven’t been nearly so worried. Which itself worries me. I am either much more trusting or calloused perhaps.

But I am reminded of what I used to say about my son: “When he's crying, he's not dead.” (Seriously, I actually thought that.)

Strange? Perhaps, but comforting to me.

So what’s the point?

I don’t mind people who struggle spiritually. Their "crying" doesn't bother me. It tells me their not dead spiritually.

Yes, it’s a little obnoxious sometimes, because they take a lot of my time, time that I would like to spend on me.

And yes, sometimes, it gets a bit old.

And inconvenient.

But when they’re struggling, they’re not dead.

As I often say, It’s not the people who struggle that I worry about. It is the people who don’t struggle.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Ask for Prayer?

Paul asked people to pray for him.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak (Colossians 4:2-4).


Two reasons:

  1. Paul believed that prayer works.
  2. Paul believed that more prayer works.

What can we learn?

  1. We should pray.
  2. We should pray for others.
  3. We should ask others to pray for us.


  1. Because prayer works.
  2. Because more prayer works.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

What J.H. Jowett and I Have In Common

The difficulty of delivering a message is in inverse proportion to the size of the audience. To face the individual soul with the Word of God … is one of the heaviest commissions given to our charge. Where there are ten men who can face a crowd, there is only one who can face the individual. Gentlemen, it seemed as though I could preach a sermon and never meet a devil. But as soon as I began to take my sermon to the individual, the streets were thick with devils” (J.H. Jowett, The Preacher, His Life and Work, cited in Mastering Pastoral Care, p. 20).

I find it much easier to preach to a large group of people than to speak to people one on one about their souls.

I can easily be direct, confrontational, bold, and energetic in front of a crowd, but I am a chicken across the table from a person.

I am glad to know I am not the only one with this experience.



Biggest Game of the Year

Life and baseball are two good things. And they have a lot in common.

The Tigers and Twins played a one game playoff last night for the American League Central Division pennant, and the right to lose to the Yankees in the American League Division Series.

Some called it the biggest game of the season. One and done. Move on or go home.

But the truth is that there were 76 other “big games” this year for the Tigers (and the Twins). If Detroit had won April 6th or 7th or 9th or any one of those 76 games, they are preparing for the Yankees today rather than cleaning out the lockers.

The Twins finished the regular season with sixteen wins and four losses in their last twenty. That is an incredible winning percentage. But truth be told, they had to pour it on at the end because of the first five months of the season. If they had gone 12-10 in April instead of 11-11, Tuesday never happens.

All they needed was one more win in 162 tries.

Which reminds me of just how much baseball is like life.

People roll through life with moderate effort, here and there excelling and here and there loafing. They are spiritually anemic, often going through the motions outwardly, but not inwardly fighting. They coast.

Then some big crisis happens and they want to “get serious.” The wife leaves and the husband suddenly wants to deal with his aloofness or his jealousy or his anger. A drunken violent rage occurs and suddenly they are serious about their alcohol problem. A daughter becomes pregnant or a son fathers a child with the girl next door, and suddenly its time to get serious about raising kids.

It’s the “biggest game.”

So they come to the pastor, and they want to know how to fix it.

But the reality is that this “game” is necessary only because of their previous actions. They have spent ten or twenty years developing a pattern of life, and suddenly they want overnight change. They have been batting .185 at home and suddenly they want to bat .340.

Here’s new: Ain’t happening.

You didn’t get here overnight, and you won’t get out of it overnight.

And you can’t fix it by doing what you have always done.

It takes time. It will be hard. And it might not work. Your wife might not come back home. Your daughter will not suddenly be “unpregnant.” Your DUI will not magically disappear. Your children will not suddenly snuggle up to you at night.

So don’t wait for game 163 to decide it’s a “big game.”

By all means, if you have to play Tuesday, play hard. Win.

But better to start in April and realize every game is the big one.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Things You Can Read Quickly and Still Benefit From

Jeremy Berg on application in preaching:

I am concerned about those who approach the text with their own issues and preoccupations already in mind and ask the Word to magically speak to those issues. I am irritated with an attitude (usually well-meaning and unintentional, by the way) that sounds like: "That's a nice story Jesus, but can you please address my problem with __________?"  Or, after reading Paul's monumental Letter to the Romans saying, "Wow, Paul, that was some deep stuff!  Can we talk about me now?"  And a thousand other variations.

The hidden dark side of this posture toward God's Word is that it reveals a deep-seated self-absorption that keeps us at the center of our universe and insists that God and His Word orbit our needs and serve our interests. Do you see a problem with this posture toward God and the text?

Rick Thomas on the love cup:

Another term, which is more biblical, for these perceived “needs” is called worship. Worship is the biblical term for our longings and it is what is happening at the causal core or heart level of all people. We are motivated by what we worship. Truly, we are born worshippers. The question we never ask in counseling is, “Are you worshipping?” We were made by our Creator to worship, that is a given. The question we should always ask is, “What are you worshipping?”

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Bible Teaches …

Discussions about origins of the universe and life are fairly frequent, and often filled with some very … well, interesting statements.

Consider this one from a professor of Old Testament:

…the Bible teaches us that there was a time when the beast became human and that time was when God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

So what does Genesis 2:7 say?

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

I’ll admit to not being a Hebrew expert, though I read Hebrew almost every day (I am in 1 Kings right now). However, I am pretty familiar with the opening chapters of Genesis, and I am pretty sure that Genesis 2:7 says nothing about a beast becoming human, unless the “dust of the ground” is some Hebrew idiom for “beast” (an argument that I have never seen anyone try to make, though perhaps I am looking for it in the wrong place).

Which leads me to wonder, “Why does an Old Testament professor who can read Hebrew far better than I can, and whose Hebrew vocabulary is no doubt far larger than mine, say something like this?”

It cannot be because of rigorous exegesis of the text. The text simply does not say that in any way, shape, or form.

It has to be because of a desire for concordism—that current “science” says something and that must be the controlling factor in exegesis. You see, “concordism” is the idea that the Bible accounts and the prevailing scientific opinion must agree. That idea is severely handicapped on a number of fronts which I will not address here though a new book Coming to Grips with Genesis is a solid contribution to this field.

Dr. Mariottini’s first comment is by a “professional postgraduate biologist” and “a follower of Jesus.” He believes that the conflict is not between the Bible and science but between the Bible and creationism.

Yet this too is a deeply flawed statement, loaded down by the weight of presuppositions that would causes even the stoutest ship to sink. It simply reveals what seems a bit of naiveté about the nature of the “facts” and the issues that are really at stake. It simply cannot bear the weight being attached to it.

I realize that he is making only a brief statement in a comment section. But there is no reason to set the Bible and science at odds with each other, not even in a brief blog comment, and there is no reason to pretend as if creationism is not also science. That is a naked attempt to gain ground by defining creationism out of legitimacy. If one presents evidence from science that supports creationism, it is immediately ruled out as “non-scientific.”

However, it fails to note at the most basic level that creationism is as scientifically valid as evolutionism, which is to say that both involve a boatload of presuppositions that have no observable basis.

The question, at one level, is simply one of rationality—Will we engage in irrational suppositions and arguments in order to defend a view of origins that  likely no one would believe were there an option other than believing the Bible as it stands?

Are they truly irrational? Well, I do not use that word here perjoratively. But the word “rational” deals with reason, clarity, and coherence. And simply put, arguments for evolution are certainly not arguments driven by sound reason; they are not clear; they do not cohere. They keep changing (a supposed mark of honesty—which has the disturbing implication of previous inaccuracy which is stunninlgy untroubling to its proponents. In other words they must say, “Yeah, we were wrong last time, but trust us this time. No really, trust us … This time we are for real.”).

These arguments do not correspond to anything reasonable or logical. They do not correspond to anything we see in the current world.

In other words, in an argument that essentially depends on uniformitarianism—that things have always been the same (in opposition to catastrophism—that major cataclysmic events have had major impacts on the universe)—in an argument that depends on uniformitarianism, they must depend on the fact that the universe is not uniformitarian—that things do not happen now like they used to.

This is a point that is given far too little weight by those who subscribe to some form of evolution—whether atheistic or theistic (that God guided the process).

So what must we do?

Well, the big question is this: Why make the Bible say something it doesn’t?

Genesis 2:7 does not say that “beast became human.” It instead communicates a direct act of God by which dust was turned into man. If the evolutionary argument is that a sandbox became a human, we could see some exegetical legitimacy to that based on Genesis 2:7. But “science” doesn’t say that, and therefore, it doesn’t gain any ground in the discussion.

Far better for us to simply believe that man is the direct, special creation of God and is endowed with His image that sets man apart from the rest of creation. Man was not the next step in the evolutionary process, but the crowning pinnacle of God’s glorious creation, made specially to resemble, reflect, and represent God through His image.

So when we say that the Bible teaches something, we need to look at the text to see what it actually says. This is not an argument for naive literalism, but rather to assume that our readers are not naive.