Friday, April 30, 2010

In the Diner

Smoking and money.

That’s the topic du jour.

Smoking because tomorrow begins the statewide smoking ban in public places. A lot of people are complaining. I won’t mind it. I tolerate it for a lot of reasons—mostly because I am here to meet people and I actually get more done here than I do at the office. Funny how that works.

Money because churches want money. When you start going, it won’t be long until someone shows up at your house wanting to know how much you make and how much you can pledge to the church.

At least that’s what I am overhearing.

The echoes the number one complaint I have heard from people over the years about church.

It reminds me of two things:

1. Too many churches are all about the money. I overheard someone the other day talking about being at a church service where the plate was passed five times. Needless to say, the conversation was not conveying a positive image of church.

2. Too many people want a Jesus who stays out of their pockets. It reminds me of the rich young ruler who, at the words of Jesus about having eternal life, went away saddened because he owned much property (Mark 10:22).

Pastors who lease private jets (or own them) do not do the church any good when it comes to the money issue. It is hard to imagine a pastor whose schedule is so packed that commercial flights are too inconvenient. Perhaps more time spent at his church loving the people in the community would be a step in the right direction.

But I digress at the same time I show my judgmentalism.

It reminds me that we, as the church, need to be careful about how we present the money issue to unbelievers. I have no problem preaching the lordship of Christ over money. I believe that giving is an important part of corporate worship. It is why we still take a public offering instead of having boxes in the back.

But the church needs to be careful about how it talks about money, particularly to outsiders.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Doctrinal Statements

It is common (and necessary, I think) for a church to have a doctrinal statement. But such doctrinal statements, creeds, or confessions, have not always been well received. And many disagree on what a doctrinal statement is and what it should contain.

As an example, Mark Dever made the comment that it is sin to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view. This statement fired up the blogosphere for a few days a while back. I don’t know if anyone was converted or not. To borrow from an old political quip about friends, I know a lot of people agreed with Dever and a lot of people did not agree with Dever, and I am one of them.

So what is a doctrinal statement? I want to answer this from my view in a bullet-pointed fashion.

What a doctrinal statement is not:

  1. A doctrinal statement is not a statement about who is a true Christian—who is saved. In other words, it is not a list of things that must be believed to go to heaven, though it will certainly contain the gospel which must believed for salvation.
  2. A doctrinal statement is not a statement about who is a good Christian, a good preacher or teacher, somebody worth the time to listen to. Many people whose beliefs diverge from a particular church’s are still great tools of God for spiritual growth and maturity.
  3. A doctrinal statement is not a statement of contemporary orthodox theology.In other words, it is not a statement about the possible options that believers may legitimately embrace as scriptural doctrine.
  4. A doctrinal statement is not a statement of historical theology. In other words, it is not a statement about what someone somewhere in the church has believed in times past.
  5. A doctrinal statement is not a replacement for the Bible, or an addendum to it. Many (particularly in the Baptist tradition) have rejected creeds and confessions in favor of saying, “The Bible is our creed.” But that’s really insufficient and a misunderstanding of the use of creeds and confessions.
  6. A doctrinal statement is not a requirement for church membership or ministry. A person may join a church being untaught, and not knowing enough to agree or disagree. A person may join a church agreeing to disagree. In such cases, the church can rightly expect that the member will not attempt to divide the congregation over the issues.

What a doctrinal statement is:

  1. A doctrinal statement is a statement of what a church’s official position is on doctrinal matters.
  2. A doctrinal statement is a statement of what a church will teach, and therefore, what the congregation may expect to hear.

Some Practical Ramifications:

  1. It is not a sin to have a statement of faith that includes a position on eschatology. In fact, it should be expected, not discouraged. I don’t know what Dever means by “requires” so I do not know if I disagree with him or not. For instance, I would not tell someone not to join because they are amillennial or arminian or continuationist or “local church only,” though I think all four positions listed for sake of discussion are biblically refuted.
  2. A person with beliefs that diverse from the church’s doctrinal statement should seek unity in the body, and therefore should not seek to divide the body over it, and should not seek to “evangelize” for his position, thus creating dissension and division.
  3. A person with beliefs that diverge from the church’s doctrinal statement should expect the regular preaching and teaching of the church to engage his or her beliefs and to attempt to persuade him or her to change.
  4. A person with beliefs that diverge from the church’s doctrinal statement should expect that his ministry will be somewhat limited. For instance, I would not have an arminian-leaning brother teach a class on soteriology, though I might allow him to teach a series on something else, or to lead worship, or something similar. I would not allow an amillennialist to teach a class on eschatology, though I certainly would allow him to participate in discussions about the matter if it were being taught. This would not necessarily prevent him from leading a ministry team of some sort or from being a deacon for instance.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Great Fishing Story

My friend Dave hits the nail on the head with this story of watching a man fish. You gotta read the whole thing to understand his point. It’s a great one.

Then it hit me. The old guy was catching fish! A lot of fish. A lot more than the other dudes combined. When he caught one, he quickly unhooked it and put it in his little paint bucket, now half-full of flopping sardines. His hooks were never out of the water for more than a few seconds. He wasn't too chatty with the other guys. Just catching fish. …

Christians do not need fancy poles. We just need to get our hooks in the waters so teeming with fish. We need to pray, meet people, and tell them about Jesus.

It reminds me of something I heard Ed Stetzer say recently: A lot of conferences are like “ministry p0rn.” You go and see someone else’s church and start lusting after it and fail to love the one God gave you. Stop it.

I don’t know why Dave’s story reminds me of Ed’s comment, except that it reminds me to fish in the pond in front of you.

While you’re at Dave’s check out his recent comments on mission trips. Having been on a number of them, his comments resonates with me.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Drunk War Veterans, Little Nieces, and the Gospel

I have just finished historian and author Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, which the story of the 101st’s Easy company that jumped into Normandy on D-Day and then over the next year moved eastward towards Germany. They fought and held the important city of Bastogne in the winter of 1944, during Germany’s last great effort to win the war. It is a fascinating read, as most of Ambrose’s works are.

At the end, Ambrose concludes by a “where are they now” chapter following some of the survivors in their post-war lives. One story of particular interest is the story of Sgt. Skinny Sisk.

Sgt. Skinny Sisk also had a hard time shaking his war memories. In July 1991, he wrote Winters to explain. “My career after the war was trying to drink away the truckload of Krauts that I stopped in Holland and the die-hard Nazi that I went up into the Bavarian Alp and killed [after the war was over]. Old Moe Alley made a statement that all the killings I did was going to jump into the bed with me one of these days and they surely did. I had a lot of flash backs after the war and I started drinking. Ha! Ha!”

“Then my sister’s little daughter, four-years-old, came into my bedroom (I was too unbearable to the rest of the family, either hung over or drunk) and she told me that Jesus loved me and she loved me and if I would repent God would forgive me for all the men I kept trying to kill all over again.

“That little girl got to me. I put her out of my room, told her to go to her Mommy. There and then I bowed my head on my Mother’s old feather bed and repented and God forgave me for the war and all the other bad things I had done down through the years. I was ordained in the latter part of 1949 into the ministry and believe me, Dick, I haven’t whipped by one man since and he needed it. I have four children, nine-grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

“The Lord willing and Jesus tarrys [sic] I hope to see you all at the next reunion. If not I’ll see you at the last jump. I know you won’t freeze in the door."

A little four-year old, armed with the love of Jesus in the gospel and the willingness to speak up, brought a tough war veteran who had seen unthinkable things to his knees.

I love the story.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Grudem on Boundaries (Separation)

Wayne Grudem has an interesting and well-done article on the topic of boundaries and separation. I won’t interact with all of it, but there are a few interesting things to me.

He says, False teaching changes, so old boundaries do not protect against new problems.

This is an excellent point, and it is, IMO, why appealing to “historic fundamentalism” is rather unhelpful. I think I understand what people mean when they say, “I am a historic fundamentalist.” It means they eschew all the recent additions to fundamentalism, like KJV-Only, certain cultural taboos (or allowances), multiple levels of separation (that are often inconsistently applied), etc.

But “historic fundamentalists” cannot really exist today for the simple reason that that history doesn’t exist today (except as history, of course). We have long since moved past the battles of yesteryear. (It’s also ironic that some of those who appeal to “historic fundamentalism” are also among the ones who insist on modern forms of ministry. No prejudice against either; it’s just kind of ironic to me.)

Some are reemerging to be sure as the doctrine of the Bible endures shots from both sides of the issue. Some attack the Bible outright, denying its nature and its truth. Others in their desire to protect the Bible have constructed a bibliology that does not flow from the Bible’s teaching and actually contradicts the Bible’s use of itself.

Science is another raging battleground today, just as it was then. Revered OT scholar Bruce Waltke just resigned his position at Reformed Theological Seminary over his comments on the relationship between science and faith.

But the landscape has changed. Today brings a whole new set of challenge that makes Grudem right on this issue. Old boundaries do not protect against new problems.

Grudem also reminds us that there are some wrong questions to ask:

"Are the advocates my friends?"
"Are they nice people?"
"Will we lose money or members if we exclude them?"

He says, “Such questions are grounded in a wrongful fear of man, not in a fear of God and trust in God.”

There is a “good ole’ boys club,” both in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. And some are hesitant to call out those who are of “our own.” And some are rather inconsistent about it. They will call out “one of our own” when that one says something that might reflect on another “one of our own.”

So when we speak with the voice of a prophet, we all need a large dose of humility and grace. We need to recognize that our “voice of a prophet” does not include special revelation as with the prophets of old. We might be wrong. We might simply be being a jerk. We might be missing our call of ministry by being a watchdog over those for whom we are not responsible.

Let us think seriously about boundaries and let us think graciously about others.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Fame in a Gospel World

We all love to see our names in the big bright lights. Even Christians. Why? It’s part of the sin nature in all of us that has failed to be restrained.

It’s part of the self that wants to be known, even when it wants to be known as humble. There is a certain seduction to recognition from others. It can create a dangerous desire for more, and the dangers are rarely seen until it is too late.

Recently John Piper announced that was taking the rest of the year off due to “several species of pride” that he saw in his own life. He sees it. It would be hard to imagine how not to have it given his public image and speaking and writing. How can you not like yourself when everyone else does, even when you know the truth?

There are some for whom fame and credit is a stated goal. They do not achieve popularity by their contribution, but by their demand.

One of the most refreshing things to me is when I ask someone about using something they said or wrote, and they say, “Use it however you wish.” There’s no mention of, “Make sure my name is on it.” On the other hand there are those who insist that their name be used, even when they weren’t the original source.

Why does fame and credit matter in battle for the truth of the gospel?

Perhaps because self is as important than dissemination of the truth. We want the truth out, but we insist on making sure our name is attached to it.

I think that’s strange. I think it’s weird. I even think it’s wrong.

I have no problem with attribution. I have written enough academic papers to have been down that road a few times. And I have no problem with copyright for published materials.

It just seems strange to insist on having your name attached to something, and to complain when you don’t get it. It seems equally strange to many to shut your life down for seven months in hopes of avoiding it.

Some people are more concerned about getting their name out and getting credit for something than they are about anything else.

In a world of self-promotion that’s understandable. In the cause of Jesus, it’s inexcusable.

Only people interested in themselves care if their name is mentioned in the cause of truth.

Here’s the key thing to remember about life: Jesus died to make him famous and to gather for himself a redeemed people. He didn’t die to make us known to others.

So forget the fame, forget the credit, just preach Jesus.

Follow John the Baptizer who said, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Here’s My Take On Piper and Warren

Much has been said about John Piper’s invitation of Rick Warren to his pastor’s conference.

Should I add to it? Sure, why not …

First, why the surprise? If you thought Piper was a raving fundamentalist separatist who would never do something like this, you need to get out more. He isn’t. He never was. He’s never going to be. Now, to be sure it is strange that Piper invites a man with Warren’s soteriology and methodology, both of which seem contrary to Piper’s. Warren claims to be a monergist. Fine, I suppose. He claims anyone can be brought to Christ so long as you find the key to their heart, which seems rather unmonergistic to me. But I digress … The point is that Piper’s association with a wide range of people is hardly surprising. I think it is wrong because it is too broad, and I think I can make that argument from Scripture. But this should hardly be a surprise.

Second, it’s not any worse than other things Piper has done. This is not an aberration in his ministry. He is a charismatic who has had a Christian rapper and Doug Wilson, who endorsed the Toronto Blessing, who thinks that a Baptist church should accept into membership unbaptized believers, and a lot of other things. Quite frankly, this invitation is less concerning to me than some other things he has done, partly because his conferences are places where he has invited “contrary” viewpoints on various things, and I think a conference is a good place for that. Invite someone to argue for their position, and then discuss it. I don’t think we should be afraid of that. If you can’t answer Warren biblically, keeping him away from a conference won’t change that. Now, I think this invitation is a bad idea, a wrong association. I think it violates the biblical command.

But truth be told, Piper’s belief that it’s okay for a believer to be in good standing in a Baptist church while being disobedient to the command to be baptized is more concerning to me because that is an ecclesiological issue. I don’t think even Rick Warren believes that. I am a lot more concerned by Piper’s non-cessationism than by listening to Rick Warren say why he thinks the way he does. I am interested in the idea of a “no holds barred” interview. That would be worth the price of admission, if you were inclined to go. I’m not going, and I don’t recommend that you go. But this is not really an aberration.

Third, this doesn’t make Piper’s beneficial things any less beneficial. Anyone who follows Piper wholeheartedly and without discernment needs to repent. Anyone who thinks that Piper is infallible needs to repent. But Piper has some very helpful things. Just yesterday, I was encouraged by listening to Part 1 of his message “Let the Nations Be Glad” from Advance 09. Excellent stuff. If something is beneficial, then it’s beneficial.

Fourth, why do people think this is somehow a great danger to fundamentalism and fundamentalists? Is there really this large group of people trained in our fundamentalist churches and institutions who are in danger here? If so, doesn’t that say a lot about what is going on in our fundamentalists churches and institutions? If, by the time someone has spent several years in fundamentalism, they can’t rightly judge this thing, watch-bloggers with bad attitudes aren’t going to help them. I have long been concerned that fundamentalism is too unconcerned with teaching people how to think about these things, and is too concerned with giving people lists of people that are acceptable.

Why is it that we think Piper can have more influence through a book or a downloaded sermon than we can through weekly teaching and preaching in our churches? Do we really think our preaching and teaching is that bad?

Fifth, where are all these fundamentalists who are endorsing and encouraging fellowship with John Piper? Does anyone actually know one? I see these people mentioned, but no one (to my knowledge) has actually produced an endorsement by these fundamentalist leaders that actually quotes a fundamentalist saying this. As always, feel free to correct me. Perhaps I just don’t get out enough. I just haven’t seen it.

Some are demanding that fundamentalists leaders come out and issue a great big warning. Why? The truth is that they have been doing this for years. Kevin Bauder, by most people’s standards, is radical on his approach to ministry, preaching, and worship. Were he not a man of upstanding character, I would say his thoughts about Rick Warren couldn’t be published on this blog. But they probably could be because he surely doesn’t think things like that. Dave Doran has an excellent booklet on Market-Driven Ministry that pretty soundly deals with the issue. It was written more than ten years ago. He has spoken out on this for years, long before Rick Warren and John Piper showed up in this conference. Why do not these previous teachings and warnings stand for themselves? What more can he say than he already has said?

Lastly, (there’s more I could say, but I will stop here), who cares? If you are tempted to follow the bad parts of the ministries of Rick Warren or John Piper, then repent. But why do you think that John Piper answers to you for who he invites to his conferences? If you don’t like it, then don’t go, and don’t invite him to yours. Rick Warren has some helpful things about church ministry. He has some atrocious things about church ministry. Learn to tell the difference and feel free to teach people about the biblical issues. Don’t judge Warren by what conferences he gets invited to. Judge him by what he says compared to the Scriptures. Warren and Piper both had significant problems long before this became public back in February. This invitation hasn’t changed any of that. If you think it has, then you aren’t thinking clearly.

Perhaps the greatest failure in evangelicalism and fundamentalism is the failure to teach discernment, or perhaps the failure to believe that other people have discernment.

So let’s get on with life and ministry. I admire Rick Warren for his passion for ministry. I disagree with most of how he goes about it. I admire John Piper for a lot of things. I disagree with a lot of things. Why should I feel bad about that? 

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

My Take on Bauder’s Article

An article by Central Seminary’s Kevin Bauder provoked some response, both reasoned and unreasoned. Some thoughtfully interacted with what he actually said, such as Dave Doran (here and here). Others had a seemingly kneejerk reaction that Dr. Bauder used the words “conservative evangelical” in his article. They don’t appear to have interacted with what he actually said.

I have read Bauder’s article. Several times. Here’s my take, after several weeks of letting it simmer.

Dr. Bauder never calls for fellowship with conservative evangelicals anywhere that I can see. Ironically, he actually appears to be calling for the strengthening of fundamentalism so that young men have a real alternative to conservative evangelicalism. His point, in part, seems to be that if we fundamentalists will take doctrine seriously, we will not have such a struggle “keeping” our young fundamentalists. You can’t claim to take doctrine seriously and believe what some people believe about the Bible and the blood of Jesus. Young men know that. Why don’t some of the older men? Bauder is certainly right: When young men are given a choice, they will choose those who teach the Bible more, even when it involves unwise allegiances. So fundamentalism needs to be giving young men a serious alternative by taking doctrine seriously.

Dr. Bauder rightly points out some serious errors within fundamentalism. He clearly says that not all fundamentalists hold to these doctrinal errors. He points out that many fundamentalists reject them. That can hardly be legitimately described as an attack on fundamentalism. It is merely reality: some believe this; other believe that. What he said is the truth. To quote Paul, “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth” (Galatians 4:16). Fundamentalism needs a universal return to a serious consideration of bibliology, Christology, and soteriology, and a host of other doctrines. (And by that, I don’t mean using only modern versions or being a Calvinist. I mean what I said: “Give serious consideration.”)

Several weeks ago I interacted with a number of people outside the fundamentalist world. When people found out I was a fundamentalist, I was asked about the KJVO issue, whether our church still had “Baptist” in the name (it does) and legalism (and ironically, only those three things). Why? Because fundamentalism is known for not believing that God’s Word should be translated into the language that we speak, and for communicating that rules are more important than anything else. Is that fair? Probably not, but that’s the reality.

Dr. Bauder rightly notes that there are still clear differences between fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that. However, some would like to pretend Dr. Bauder did not say that. Why? Because most of their ranting cannot be made if you consider what he actually said.

In fact, I don’t know for sure, but I imagine that Dr. Bauder may be one of the few fundamentalists who has sat down face to face with John Piper and addressed some of these differences with him.

Dr. Bauder rightly notes that some fundamentalists are doctrinally closer to conservative evangelicals than to other fundamentalists because of their allegiance to the Scripture. Again, that’s not really debatable. It is a matter of fact. A person who holds to the biblical doctrine of Scripture is much closer to John MacArthur than to Peter Ruckman or D. A. Waite. A person who holds to the biblical gospel is much closer to John Piper than to Jack Schaap or Bob Gray, even if they are not Calvinistic.

So what’s Dr. Bauder’s big sin? He actually says that these conservative evangelicals, though different than fundamentalists in some substantive ways, are not our enemies.

How in the name of anything is that debatable?

Sure, we can debate whether they are actually “new evangelicals” in the historic sense of the word. That term means something, and it does not merely mean “those who differ from us.” Like all terms, it has morphed over the years. That, in my view, is a relatively minor point of his argument. Are they new evangelicals? I would say yes. But if someone disagrees, I am okay with that.

And it is indisputable that there are major doctrinal and practical errors with some of these men that preclude fellowship and participation.

But our enemies? Hardly.

Dr. Bauder says that conservative evangelicals are fighting doctrinal fights. Does anyone actually disagree with that? Does anyone recall a fundamentalists taking on open theists publicly, to their face, in front of a large group? I don’t.

Does anyone recall fundamentalists firing non-inerrantists from a seminary faculty? I don’t.

Is any fundamentalists speaking out about the new atheism? Not that I know of.

Now we can claim that we don’t have these problems in our group. And that is true, to a large degree (though I think open theism may not be as far off as some think, and bibliology is certainly having some issues in fundamentalism in some ways, I think). But the reality is that these conservative evangelicals are taking on doctrine in the public square and going face to face with those who deny it. Not consistently, to be sure. And there are still many problems. But they fight the battles.

Are there any fundamentalists who are on national TV speaking the gospel of Jesus Christ in debates with Deepak Chopra, Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams, atheists, and p0rnographers? No. In fact, when fundamentalists are on national TV it is to defend why a pastor with decades of s*x abuse charges was still a pastor until the police showed up. Or they go on national TV to change a dating policy. Now, I am glad the dating policy was changed. I am just not sure that national TV is the right venue for that, but perhaps it was. And whatever it is, it really isn’t fighting great doctrinal battles for the faith once for all handed down and the souls of dying men and women. No, we go on TV to talk about who abusive pastors and which believers we can marry. And I love the institution that I refer to and the man that was on national TV. I owe a great debt to that institution (not literally) in more ways that most of you. I love the time I spent (which was a long time). I think it is still the premier fundamentalist school in the country, if not the world. It’s not perfect, but it is good. It’s graduates are usually well-prepared to face life. So don’t paint me as against them, because I am not.

What do fundamentalists do? We (actually they) write letters from dead people to complain that someone told the truth. And we use a dead person because we know our own authority is wanting, and our only hope is that conscripting a dead guy will cause people to listen to something they won’t otherwise listen to. And we don’t bother to show that the dead guy actually agrees. We just drop his name and pretend like it’s okay.

What do fundamentalists do? We (actually they) refute things that were never said to begin with. And we do it with great bombast.

What do fundamentalists do? We (actually they) fight about whether or not the president of a fundamentalist seminary should be allowed to speak at a national conference because he publicly disagreed with someone who said some rather intemperate things about a clearly orthodox view of Scripture’s teaching on salvation. That’s not exactly cross-centered battle there. In fact, it’s rather embarrassing on a number of levels.

And I could go on. 

Think of the irony: Conservative evangelicals fight open theists and non-inerrantists. Fundamentalists fight gospel preachers who think that we should be careful about how we address differences.

And then these fundamentalists wonder why the young men of this generation who love the gospel and the Bible are going after the conservative evangelicals. 

Now, I think by and large that most fundamentalists believe in preaching the gospel to people. Many are active in personal evangelism and believe strongly in personal holiness. All of which is good. But I think the battles we choose to fight are sometimes battles that reveal a pettiness about doctrine and the gospel that we preach.

It may be that fundamentalists have just done a bad job of teaching people to read and think at the same time.

Or maybe fundamentalists have too well taught people to read and think, and when they read the Bible and think about it, they see that fundamentalism is lacking in a number of areas.

Is fundamentalism irredeemable? I don’t know. And to be honest, I am not sure I care. Why? Because I am unconvinced that the people in my city are helped by anything in “movement fundamentalism” (whether it exists or not).

I am a fundamentalist, but not one of those kind (as I have said before). It just doesn’t matter to me. If you guys want to enlist dead guys to join you in opposing those who are preaching the gospel, have at it, I guess.

I will participate with those with whom there is enough doctrinal and practical agreement. I will teach against error and false doctrine, and name names where it is necessary and helpful.

But I won’t be a part of the nonsense.

Here’s My Take on Duke and Butler

It was a good game in some ways. But let’s dispense with the notion that it was a Cinderella, small school, “Hoosiers,” David-n-Goliath kind of event. Butler was a top ten team for most of the year. They were, in fact, a good team (with a coach that looks like he is in high school. I wonder how hard it was to get time off from Algebra class, and if his parents got charged under the truancy statutes).

Of course, I am joking. He looks like a great coach.

And speaking of coaching, why in the world did Zoubek miss the last free throw on purpose? That was a horrible decision because it brought a loss into play (and it was way too close). If Zoubek makes that free throw, the best Butler can do is tie on a desperation heave. When he missed it, he gave them a possibility to win.

With less than two seconds, you might miss in order to get the clock started and leave Butler disorganized. Or if your Butler, down by two, you miss and try to get the put back to tie.

But you don’t miss intentionally when you are up by two with that much time left, when you know the only shot they can get off is a three-pointer.

Coach K is easily one of the top basketball coaches in the world. He has a few national championships and a couple of gold medals from the Olympics.

I am a dumb shmuck sitting in a recliner.

But that was a boneheaded move, Coach K. Take my word for it. You almost lost.

Making Charges

I have commented before on the lack of police for the blogosphere. It is a disconcerting thing. The reality is that anyone can say anything on a blog, which is fine. The problem is that some people feel no responsibility to actually make an argument or give evidence in support of their charge, even when directly asked.

This is a basic argumentative distinction: An assertion (or a conclusion) vs. an argument (or a premise). An assertion is a proposition: X is Y. It is, technically, a conclusion in most cases. An argument is a collection of evidences (e.g., logical induction or deduction, citation of quotations, etc.) that support the assertion and shows its foundation. An assertion needs arguments to demonstrate its validity. Arguments show why an assertion should be accepted as true.

I bring this up because recently, I saw a particular charge made, one that I have seen before. Once again, as with every other time I have seen it, there was no evidence put forth for this charge.

When I asked for some evidence, I was told that if I couldn’t already see it, this person did not know what to say to convince me.

I said, (in essence), “That’s easy an easy one. Give me a quote from someone. Point me to something that was said that supports your charge.”

I was met with a stony refusal.

Why? My gut tells me it is because this person knows that they have no evidence that supports this. They know it’s not true,or at least that they can’t show it is true. They know that they cannot make a believable case for it. That’s just my gut. I may be wrong, but to me, it should be easy to show if the evidence is as abundant as this man says it is.

Now, I don’t know this fellow apart from a few exchanges on the blogosphere. I have read his blog perhaps four or five times in my life. I found this article because it was linked somewhere else. So my point is not to go after this person (who is intentionally unnamed), because my point is not really about him per se, but about a bigger problem.

Here’s my point: This lack of argumentation is not a good thing. If you are going to say “X does Y” then show us where X does Y. Show us how you arrived at your conclusion. Or as our elementary school teachers used to say about our math, “Show your work.”

Your word means nothing when it comes to making charges against other people. And don’t bail out with “It’s plain and everyone can see it.” If it’s that plain, then it should be no problem to show it.

There are, in my opinion, some people who think they have the license to say whatever they want with no accountability. Let me be clear that I am not necessarily referring to this man who I don’t know and don’t read. But there are some who believe that their words alone are enough to prove something, and that nothing else should be required. The guy who asks about it is the bad guy, the dumb guy because he can’t already see it.

I wonder if this, in part, hearkens back to the day of pastoral authority that operated on the basis of “Because I said so, and you don’t question the man of God.” It smacks a bit of the appeal to authority, lacking only the authority.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I am the bad guy for asking for a simple demonstration of how one arrived at a conclusion.

Fundamentalism needs to get past the day where “I said so” was considered an appropriate reason for anything past parenting a toddler. A toddler should be expected to obey because “I said so.” But we, as fellow believers, should not be expected to believe something “because you said so.”

Prove it; it should be easy. Or don’t say it until you can. Asking for evidence is hardly a “bizarre obsession.” It is actually the only reasonable response, isn’t it?

So let me conclude: If you want to say that fundamentalists have a love affair with John Piper, Al Mohler, or whoever else, then make an argument and show us why you think that. And subject yourself to peer criticism. Don’t think that your word is sufficient proof. It’s not. If the evidence is as widespread as you think it is, then it should be a relatively easy task to cut-and-paste a few things (with their links so that we can see them in context) as evidence for your assertion.

NB – If you have evidence for the supposed “love affair” please post it here in the comments, or send it to me privately. I would honestly like to know what in the world is being referenced here.

I am not saying it’s not true. I am saying, I haven’t seen the evidence for it. Now, I admit up front to not reading many fundamentalists blogs. And you may use “love affair” differently than I would. But let’s put the cards on the table—(you better not be playing cards or we will turn you in)—let’s be plain about what we are talking about.

You Already Have a Baby

Justin Taylor has an article today entitled, How Many People Does It Take to Save an Unborn Life? This line caught my attention:

This [the sonogram] enabled Lisa to see that the choice before her was not, “should I have a baby or not?” She could see that she had a baby.  The true choice before her was to nurture or kill the baby she had.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Van Til, Truth, the Smell Test, and Argumentation

In cleaning off my desk, I came across a piece of mail I had previously set aside for further thought. It is a mailer from the Trinity Foundation, reprinting a letter they had received.

As with much of what I see in the Trinity Foundation, this includes some comments on Cornelius Van Til, apparently one of their arch enemies.

This letter from a family looking for a church says,

“We learned that many Reformed churches were troubled by the fruits of the theology of a man named Cornelius Van Til. The elders of churches infected by Vantilianism tell their congregants that man’s logic is different from God’s logic and that man can’t know truth because man cannot know God’s thoughts.”

Now, I am no expert on Van Til, but this doesn’t pass the smell test to me. I think Van Til did affirm that man can know truth. Everything I have read from him indicates that man could know the truth because of revelation in Scripture. There are differences between Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til to be sure. But I don’t think the difference was about whether or not man could know the truth. It was about the type of knowledge that man has and how that relates to God’s knowledge. One of the 7 billion people in the world smarter than me can explain that better than I can.

I am reminded that sometimes people distort what someone actually believes in an attempt to defend their own position or to attack another person. We see this often, particularly of late it seems.

It reminds me of how argumentation in support of an position should be used.

First, it needs to accurately state the opposing position. Otherwise, it becomes a straw man argument, attacking something that no one really believes. This usually means that an argument needs to be stated in a way that the opponent would recognize as his argument, and agree with the statement of it. In other words, the opponent should (in most cases) be able to say, “That’s what I believe.”

I say “in most cases” because there are some instances in which someone states a proposition or holds a position that has implications that they do not recognize. For instance, take the discussion of “watering down the gospel.” Have you ever found any evangelical who says, “We should water down the gospel”? I haven’t.

But many times, I read someone say “We shouldn’t water down the gospel” when in fact they (probably unintentionally) do water down the gospel, or send confusing message, or some such. They simply do not recognize what they are doing. They do not recognize the implications of their position. So we need to carefully show how their position is different than what they affirm.

Secondly, the opposing position needs to actually be addressed. A recent fervor reminds me that sometimes people react vociferously against something that wasn’t actually said. So they commit the first sin of making up an opposing position, and the second sin of not addressing the actual opposing position.

This unfortunately doesn’t keep them silent. It just makes them look silly. And unfortunately, it too often confuses the unsuspecting and undiscerning who often don’t take time to find out for themselves.

So be careful how you oppose an argument. 

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Resurrection

What would life be like if Jesus were a real person, who lived an admirable life, with powerful and effective teaching, who did good things for people wherever he went, who died a noble death of innocence, yet did not rise from the grave?

Some would have us believe that this life of Jesus brings great hope and inspiration for living. Even though his body remains in the grave, long since decomposed, his life and teaching provide the basis for a fulfilling life on earth.

Is this so?

We need only ask his closest followers, those who knew him best, who watched his admirable life, who learned from his powerful and effective teaching, who both observed and received the good things that he did for people wherever he went, who knew first hand of his innocence in death.

What did they do after this death?

They did not spring forward, driven to pass on this wonderful teaching. They did not go out to live it.

They mourned in sadness, in disappointment. They were not motivated to conquer evil by the memory of his life. They regressed to the old ways of life, bemoaning their fate now that their hope was gone.

In contrast to modern liberalism and its descendants, the mere life and death of Jesus was not a powerful motivation to live well and do good. Why? Because they who walked closest with Jesus knew the futility of it all apart from his resurrection.

Such powerful motivation and ministry that pervades the early church comes only from his resurrection.

These close followers of Jesus mourned his death and then quit. Such is the effect of a lifeless Christ, a resurrectionless Christianity.

Only a risen Christ can explain the phenomenon known for 1900 years as Christianity. Only a living Christ can provide the hope to live right, do good to all men, and be free from the power and damnation of sin.

A dead Christ is damning. A risen Christ life-giving.

Liberalism is not liberation. It is bondage—bondage to a doomed life of hopelessness, a life built on a charade.

If Christ be not raised, our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 14:14).

Only a risen Lord can bring freedom from the brokenness that is in this world through sin. Apart from him there is no hope; there is nothing.

Only the blackness of darkness forever.

HT: Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

Adapted slightly from original post of November 19, 2009.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Human History, Evil, and Solutions

Human history is, in one sense, the story of man trying to fix brokenness through what some have called “functional Saviors.” Functional saviors are the things in which we place our hope for atonement, our hope for satisfaction and joy.

Rather than submitting to the righteous plan of God, mankind has continually sewed together fig leaves in an attempt to cover their nakedness before God. They think they can appease God through a variety of religious rituals, philosophical ideas, and moral reformation.

Human history is littered with the remains of man’s religious institutions that try to fix the brokenness in lives. Early on, it was the creation of gods, complete with religious rituals, temples, priests, and holy books. In more recent times, particularly in our culture, it is the elevation of education, medicine, rehabilitation, ignorance or atheism, all attempting to fix the problem of brokenness. They essentially by redefine the problem to a problem of health (fixed by the medical establishment), a problem of ignorance (fixed by the educational establishment), a problem of control (fixed by government legislation), or a problem of superstition (fixed by atheism, a superstition in itself).

The truth is that only the Bible gives us a worldview in which evil even exists. Apart from the Bible’s teaching, there is no legitimate explanation for the existence of evil, much less its problem. There is no moral reasoning by which evil can be asserted apart from the existence of the God described in Scripture. The very existence of evil presupposes that there is a God with a moral standard by which evil can be determined. 

Man, while living in the world perfectly describe by the Bible, rejects the Bible as revelation and therefore rejects the Bible’s solution. They attempt to find a solution on their own.

But God had a different way to fix the problem. And that is the gospel as found in the Bible.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Contextualized Preaching

I was recently listening to parts of a few messages from the same pastor. Both of these messages (now three since I have added one since I started this post) were heavy on an explanation of legalism (very superficial, if not a bit ridiculous in places) and a diatribe against legalism. Aside from the fact that his explanation was not entirely sound, here’s my thought.

I doubt very seriously that the bulk of this man’s congregation struggles with legalism. That is simply not their issue. In fact, it is probably exactly the opposite. These are not people who need to be freed from directives about living, but perhaps need to be reined in a bit.

In other words, this champion of contextualization is failing to do exactly that. What he says is fine, I suppose (though there are some problems with it). It just is not where his congregation is living.

It’s hobby horse preaching, not contextualized preaching. What he was doing was (to quote him), “making fun of religious people.”

Part of (or all of) contextualization is taking the single meaning of the text and applying it to your hearers’ life—the one that they are actually living. It’s not an opportunity to beat on your favorite enemy.

Such preaching is not only bad manners; it’s bad preaching.