Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SOTL Needs An Editor?

From the “You can’t make this up” category, I received in the mail a copy of the Sword of the Lord today. This is the first copy I have received in my life I think, though I used to read others.

Here’s the comical part. The front page has a sermon by Charles Spurgeon entitled “Only Trust Him” as well as a article by Jeff Amsbaugh entitle “What Difference Does It Make Anyway?”

Now, that may not seem strange to you until you read Amsbaugh’s article. It is part 7 of “The Case Against Calvinism.”

So here you have it: The SOTL prints an article by a five point Calvinist (who actually said “Calvinism” was another name for the gospel) alongside an article “refuting” Calvinism.

Spurgeon’s Calvinism is not a secret. It is perhaps the most well known fact of Spurgeon’s theology. Very few could tell you his denomination or his eschatology. But his Calvinism is widely trumpeted in his own preaching. So how did the editor juxtapose these two articles?

I suppose we could call this “equal time.” I think we know better. I think we have an editor who doesn’t edit very well, or who doesn’t see the irony in this.

Amsbaugh’s article is a joke, unintentional to be sure. Perhaps the funniest part is that he repeats the old line about Calvinism not being evangelistic. The reason that is so funny is that this is the same issue of SOTL where a five point Calvinist calls on people to believe and be saved.

I am telling you, folks, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Here’s another funny part. Spurgeon’s message has this line: “the very existence of such a faith as that in the soul [saving faith] is evidence that there is already a saving change.”

Did you pick that up?

Because the editors who apparently routinely slaughter Spurgeon’s sermons to remove evidences of Calvinism didn’t pick it up. What Spurgeon just said is that saving change precedes faith. The word “already” puts the change prior to the faith. Calvinists usually say it this way: Regeneration precedes faith.

Now let’s be clear once again: I don’t care if you aren’t a Calvinist. It really doesn’t bother me, though it means we have some severe differences that will limit our participation in some ways, though not all ways. I am a Calvinist (soteriologically) because Scripture gives my conscience no other options. But feel free to disagree.

But let’s appeal to people to not make stuff up. Yes there are Calvinists who are everything Amsbaugh describes. But there are many who are just the opposite. They are loving, evangelistic, humble, passionate, devoted to the clear teaching of the Word, Baptist, and a lot of others things. Some even have bus ministries.

The SOTL can do better. But after all these years, can we really expect change?

Probably not, but we can at least laugh about it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Some Thoughts on OT Historical Narrative and David and Goliath

I recently had the opportunity (obligation) to interact with some passages in 1 Samuel for a class I was sitting in on Preaching Narratives.

What struck me is that in this class of pastors who had interacted exegetically and homiletically with the same passages in 1 Samuel there was very little seeming awareness of the historical context of the writing of 1 and 2 Samuel. The main themes in preaching were about moralistic and illustrative examples, most with some form of Jesus tacked on the end as the “Greater David” or the one who fights for us, or some such, all of which miss the point. The stories were viewed almost as isolated vignettes of fascinating story rather than a single narrative to make a bigger point.

I think the point of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings is pretty easy. It is a defense of the Davidic monarchy. 1 and 2 Samuel was written probably after the death of Solomon, in the days when people would begin to forget the reign of Saul. So these histories were written to explain how it came to be that Saul, the first king, had no reigning son (as should have been expected), and how David, the second king, was the one who had and would have reigning sons so long as there was a kingdom culminating in Jesus and the restoration of the kingdom.

Here’s an example from the story of David and Goliath which was one of the passages we interacted on.

But what is it about? Let me cut to the chase: David and Goliath is not about David and Goliath but about David and Saul. It really has nothing to do with how to defeat giants in your life, or how Jesus defeats your giants for you. It is about the failure of leadership and conviction by Saul compared to the leadership and conviction demonstrated by David.

Goliath is the antagonist, but he’s not really the point. He is a side issue that brings the real issue to the fore.

The real issue is leadership of God’s people. Saul was weak and vacillating. He was fearful. He was willing to stand back and ask for people to go fight, and give them rewards if they would.

In contrast, David was convinced that God’s name was at stake and was willing to die to defend it. He spoke up, to the discomfort of others. He was amazed no one else had this conviction. He got up and went to the amazement of others, even going without armor. He boldly confronted the enemy face to face rather than ask someone else to go do it.

So the events of David and Goliath are intended to highlight how God switches the loyalties from Saul to David.

This is most clearly seen, not in the events of 1 Samuel 17 but in the events of 1 Samuel 18. The crowds cheer, “Saul has slain his thousands but David has slain his tens of thousands.” It was a bit of hyperbole to be sure. But it was clear that the people were far more impressed by David than by Saul. He was a man they were willing (at that time) to follow into battle. Saul had lost favor.

The key phrase of the whole story pops up in 1 Samuel 18:8 where Saul, in his anger says, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom?”

The answer: He shall have the kingdom too.

The people of Israel did not need to know how to fight giants in the Valley of Elah, or in their personal lives. They needed to know why David was the man, the king, the one that they should follow. They needed to know why David’s sons were the legitimate rulers in Israel.

So I suggested this in class.

It was met with, “I think all that is true, but I don’t know how you preach that.”

But I think how you preach it is secondary; what the text means is primary.

We cannot avoid the purpose and meaning of a text simply because it we think it doesn’t preach well. And we cannot seek the meaning which preaches well. We have to ask many of the same questions of narrative that we ask of the epistles: Why was this written? What problem was it intended to address?

Of course, as a dispensationalist, I can preach this differently because I can preach the future reign of a Davidic king, Jesus, which is the fulfillment of everything God started in 1 Samuel 17 with a boastful giant.

I don’t need to charge out and fight some giants. I need to know that Jesus is the Davidic ruler who will sit on the throne of David, and 1 Samuel 17 is where it started.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vote for Abortion? or Against?

There’s a certain irony in the story of a couple taking an online poll about whether or not they should abort a 17-week old baby in the womb.

She and her husband, Peter Arnold, began the online vote because she was still healing emotionally from the most recent of three miscarriages, she said. They weren't sure whether she was ready for a baby.

So if I get this right, she lost a recent baby due to a miscarriage, and because she is still suffering she is thinking about aborting the next one.

How does losing two babies help the emotional suffering of losing one?

We have been on the end of losing a baby to miscarriage. I admit to looking around the house sometimes and wondering what a six-year old would be like. I wonder what kind of personality he would have had, and wonder what we might have enjoyed doing together.

But I can’t imagine how taking the life of another baby is going to make that easier.

Yes, I know I am the man in the relationship. I know I didn’t carry the baby, and experience the miscarriage. For me, I didn’t grasp it all at first. The farther we got from the miscarriage, the more it bothered me. Weird, I know.

But I still don’t understand how aborting a second baby makes losing the first easier to deal with.

The very next paragraph of the article is also interesting.

"I wanted to wait longer because I was losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle," she said. "I wasn't sure what to do."

I know reasons can be complex, and losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle is a good thing. But is that the real reason for the abortion? To keep from having a mommy body?

It is a disturbing world we live in.

And sometimes, I just don’t know what to say.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cultural Fundamentalism

The term “cultural fundamentalist” recently was used. Some have pled ignorance that they didn’t know what that was. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt that they actually don’t, though I would suggest that they make up a very small group that doesn’t read much or interact with many outside of their tribe.

Why? Because when I interact with non-fundamentalists and they find out I am a Baptist (or as someone pointed out last night over beer and pizza, a “babtist”), they want to know what kind. “Independent” is my answer.

“Fundamentalist?” they say.

“Probably not, if you are asking the question.”

Why? Because usually, when someone asks the question, they have a definition of “fundamentalist” and I am hesitant to let them define me as a fundamentalist until I know what they mean.

So what do they mean, I ask.

Here’s a summary of some recent questions asked of me in personal conversations. There are all real questions  (“I am not preaching here; I am telling the truth”), and they all come from pastors (in other words, people with a reason to have a greater grasp than “Joe on the street”).

  1. Are you KJV-Only or do you use the KJV?
  2. What version do you use?
  3. Do you go to movies?
  4. Do you drink alcohol?
  5. Do you think women should not wear pants?
  6. Do you wear a suit and tie to preach in?
  7. Do you wear shorts?
  8. Do you have any connection with Bob Jones University (when they found out I was from Greenville)?

Notice what is absent: The gospel, the church, doctrine, ministry fellowship/participation.

I promise that these are real questions. And I promise that no one asks me what what I think about Billy Graham, ministry partnerships, cooperative evangelism, the gospel, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, or the charismatics.

In other words, when people think “fundamentalist,” they don’t think “defending the gospel” or “partnering for ministry.” They think cultural issues.

Of course there are exceptions. I had dinner this week with a well-known and highly-respected man, whose name every reader here would know (and would say, “How did you get hooked up with him?”). He actually did reference fundamentalists as separatists. But in my experience, he is the exception.

But what most people ask about is cultural issues, because that is what people think fundamentalism is. Now, one might attempt to make the case that the Bible version is not cultural, but theological. I think that is partially true and partially not true, but I don’t want to deal with that argument here.

You see, they know exactly what a cultural fundamentalist is … It is a fundamentalist who is known first for his stands on cultural issues. He is not known for loving the gospel, sound doctrine, theology, and the church, though he may do all those things. He is known for cultural standards.

Is that fair? Complain away, but that impression did not come from nowhere.

You see, cultural fundamentalism exists, and in it, people care less about what you believe and more about what you do and don’t do. Again, complain away, but that impression does not come from nowhere.

What do we do? Well, if we are really about the the defense and propagation of the gospel, we have a serious PR problem. However, I fear it isn’t only PR. I fear that too many fundamentalists are as much about these cultural issues as they are about the gospel. And that is a problem.

What’s my solution? I don’t claim to be a fundamentalist without lots of explanation. And sometimes, I don’t claim it at all. For some, that makes me a new evangelical. But I think I am living proof that some sort of “silent majority” does exist for all the caterwauling against it (without benefit of evidence ironically).

By the way, what are my answers?

  1. No, No
  2. NASB
  3. Only when there is something I really want to pay money and waste a couple of hours to see, which is a really short list which in the last decade only included Fireproof and We Were Soldiers.
  4. No, but I won’t stumble if you do. Let it make your heart glad if your conscience allows; but don’t get drunk, and don’t expect me to pay for it.
  5. I don’t care; be appropriate and be modest.
  6. Usually only when you are getting married or getting buried, or other rare occasions.
  7. Usually only seven days a week, unless it falls below 25 degrees or it is Sunday morning.
  8. You might say that.

And no, the beer wasn’t mine.

On Leadership

The Detroit Free Press has an article today about a Marine, previously deployed to Iraq, and now facing the prospect of deploying to Afghanistan as a Sargeant, responsible for leading the kind of men that he used to be when he first went to Iraq.

The article quotes Master Sgt. Brian Ivers, a 21-year veteran of the Marine Corps speaking on leadership.

"It's like an apprenticeship -- seeing and doing," [Ivers] said.

But Ivers said that non-commissioned officers aren't there for personal improvement or finding a better business model.

"You can't manage men in combat," Ivers said. "You have to lead them.... These kids that you are leading are on loan -- we don't own them."

Two conclusions:

  1. Leadership isn’t management.
  2. Leaders are created by seeing and doing.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


This is brilliant.

San Francisco, in it’s infinite wisdom, has banned the selling of Happy Meals with toys because the meals contain so much fat.

Yeah … I am pretty sure that not selling toys with Happy Meals will solve the childhood obesity problems.

This way, rather than take time to hop in the mom-mobile and head down to the Golden Arches, children can continue to sit on the floor in front of the TV playing video games.

That will surely be better for them.

Challenges for a New Generation

I had a great time tonight meeting a new friend and enjoying some great conversation that challenged my thinking. Here are some quick hits, largely undeveloped, of some challenges raised in my mind tonight to which I think we need to give careful consideration.

The challenge of church purpose – By this, I don’t mean disciple-making vs. something else. I mean simply, “What are we going to be about?” Or “What are we here for?” We all know the right answer. But what we need to figure out is the actual answer. The church needs to think seriously and carefully about the roles of authority that it gives to certain demographics. I fear that too many church are content to coddle the malcontent rather than reach people with the gospel. I fear that too many are content to coddle the worldly and unbelieving than to feed the sheep. We need to feed the sheep that we have (and shear them at times) as well as be a midwife that assists in the birth of new sheep.

The challenge of multi-ethnic ministry – Cultural lines of race and ethnicity need to go away. “I have friends who are African-American” is not a sufficient response to racial divides. Churches must strive to look like their community. We cannot control who repents and believes. But we can control the culture of our church that either encourages and models multi-ethnicity or discourages or at best tolerates people who look different than us. Hardly anyone gives the wrong answer to these questions. The question is, “Are we willing to face the challenge of intentional multi-ethnicity that reflects our community?'”

The challenge of cultural relevance – While the word “relevance” is a dirty word to some, it should not be. To be culturally relevant simply means that we need to speak into the world that we live in, applying the truth of the Bible to life as we know it. We need to preach to the people in front of us. We must be answering questions that people are asking, not questions that we already know the answers to. We must learn how to reframe their questions in a way that taps into the revelation of God. There is a fine line between timelessness and timeliness in preaching. A lot of people are nowhere near that line. “Preach to the people in front of you” contains two keys thoughts. By “preach,” I refer to the timelessness of God’s revelation. It is the sole source of authoritative material for preaching. By “the people in front of you” I refer to the timeliness of knowing your congregation and applying the word to their lives. Preaching to people that aren’t there is a useless task. Failing to preach to people that are there is likewise useless.

The challenge of genuine musical worship – This is not about “kicking up” the music (or “reining it in”). It is about singing theology that is intelligible, both in words and musical form. It is far too easy for a pastor (or worse yet a music director) to throw together a few songs haphazardly, chopped up by announcements, inane comments, rustling pages, the offering, and “greeting those around you with a smile.” I would rather we just sing—two or three songs in a row, perhaps interspersed with some relevant Scripture. Create and sustain a flow of thought, a message in and of itself. I don’t think genuine musical worship for contemporary Christians is tied to “contemporary music.” I think it is tied to intentional structure and planning, selecting songs with weight, and planning the flow with minimal distractions and diversions.

The challenge of gospel centrality or gospel foundationalism without gospel solitude – This challenge is easily misunderstood, and part of me hesitates to even suggest it because someone will jump on it. But here goes: The gospel must be central, but the gospel must not be isolated. There are other important things in the Scripture that demand certain responses for certain kinds of fellowship. The existence of “essential doctrine” is patently obvious. But we must ask the question, “Essential for what?” The doctrine essential to be a Christian is different than the doctrine essential to be Baptist. And you can be one without being the other. The doctrine essential to share Christian fellowship is different than the doctrine essential to plant a church together. To paraphrase Ed Stetzer, when you are planting a church and the first baptism comes up, you gotta decide whether you need a cup or a tub. (He and I, like Jesus, need a tub.) A new generation must be convinced that there are things besides the gospel that are important, and the lack of agreement on these things is limiting in some ways. The gospel is all that is needed to be reconciled to God. The gospel is not all that is needed to live obediently in this present age awaiting the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thanks friend. It was encouraging and challenging.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What Now?

Well, the  election is over. The Republicans gain a majority in the House and narrow the gap in the Senate.

In a rare foray into politics, I am going to make a few quick predictions.

  1. Not much will change. Republicans have neither the political will nor the numbers to undo health care or to fix spending or to fix taxes. They can do it in the house, but not the Senate. And it is unlikely they could get 60 votes in the Senate to override a veto, and Obama will not veto his own health care bill. They don’t have enough influence in the Senate to change judicial appointments.
  2. Congress will continue to spend without much restraint. We might see some very minimal and largely negligible decreases. We might see more cuts if Obama catches on (something he has not typically been quick to do; see next point). The overall budget will not decrease by the 8-10% that it needs to in order to remain solvent.
  3. Obama will be looking like a moderate by 2012. Remember how everyone is saying this is 1994 all over again? I think it is. And remember 1996? Bill Clinton, having lost his house majority, began to work with Republicans with the result that he began to look like a counter to their “radical right” policies (which weren’t all that radical). With Republican insistence, they brought about some welfare reform and ultimately a budget surplus, all of which Clinton took credit for, and none of which would have likely happened were it not for 1994. If Obama catches on, he can move to the center and establish himself in the center as a counter to the Tea Party mentality. Hopefully, Obama continues to show himself deficient in catching on.
  4. The Republicans will once again show themselves incapable of serious conservative government. We have seen this movie before and Republicans are arguers (just like Democrats are). And here’s the big difference between leaders and arguers. An arguer just likes to fight, and they are good at it so long as they have someone to fight against. But they can’t lead because they have no ideas. All their ideas are rejections of others people’s ideas. The Democratic leaders tend to be more philosophically driven and tend to play hardball more effectively. That’s how they got health care to pass. Republican leaders are more pragmatic (remember the huge deficit increases under Bush in spite of all the “fiscal conservative” rhetoric they spout). Anyone who voted yes on any of the last 20 budgets has no credibility when it comes to fiscal conservatism. The Republicans high point in the last twenty years was the time from 1994-2000 when they effectively reined in Clinton. They simply did not play the political game very well and Clinton used the bully pulpit to take all the credit for it.

So here’s what I would do if I were John Boehner: I would retire and go live on lobbyists money in the Caribbean where I could play golf every day. Because today is the easiest day of the rest of your life. It is all down hill from here.

But since you worked hard to be the leader, here’s the plan:

  1. Immediately reinstate the Bush tax cuts for everyone making less than $500,000 a year. To cut taxes for people making more is unnecessary and politically risky. The $500,000 is higher than Obama’s, and the people from $250,000 to $500,000 are most likely to horde rather than spend, particularly if they are paying more taxes. People who make a million or more a year don’t think all that much about the cost of things. Include in this tax cut the rollbacks on capital gains, since almost every American is affected by that. Remember, the number of American with no capital investment is very small. Why? Because of 401Ks and IRAs. Anyone who has a 401K or an IRA is subject to capital gains. And the money that pays the increased capital gains tax comes out of their retirement ultimately, or out of their children’s education, or vacation, or something else. Capital gains tax is not a rich people tax. It is a working people tax. This should pass very quickly on a voice vote.
  2. Address particular points of the health care bill. Here are three quick steps: (1) Remove the requirement for coverage, (2) allow insurance to be sold across state lines (and let people pick and choose how much and what coverage they want), and (3) allow all money used to pay for health insurance premiums to be pre-tax dollars. These are three simple and should be non-controversial items. They get you easy quick wins and paints objectors as “The Party of No.” A no vote or a veto on anyone of them can be painted as disastrous. How can anyone object to pretax dollars being used for health care premiums? It is a one line bill that should pass unanimously on a voice vote in time for 2010 tax filing (and save people a lot of money, myself included).
  3. Establish an immediate precedent on spending cuts by addressing earmarks, as in banning them.
  4. Begin serious budget talks with all parties involved. Enlist the help of state leaders from states which successfully cut spending in order to benefit from their experience and get outside of Washington. Live by a legitimate form of PAYGO.
  5. Establish the precedent of having bills short enough to be read, so that people know what is in them. If you want to pass 1300 pages of legislation, do it in twenty or thirty separate bills.

Above all, be committed to showing that there is a real difference between the parties. Republicans cannot be just Democrat-lite. Remember that people didn’t elect Republicans because they like Republicans. They elected Republicans because they didn’t like the direction of the country. And while it was a significant gain in the house, it is not an overwhelming victory.

Be humble and be bold. Don’t forget why your party got elected. Because two years from now, it could happen again … the other way.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Mission, Incarnation, and John 20:21

My friend Mark recently commented on the use of John 20:21 in the missional church conversation. John 20:21 is one of the texts that is almost universally appealed to by missional advocates of “incarnational ministry.”

Dave Doran, last week at the MACP, commented on the problems with “incarnation” as a model for ministry.

Here are some helpful thoughts from Eckhard J. Schnabel, in Early Christian Mission, Volume 2: Paul and the Early Church.

“I submit that the use of the term ‘incarnational’ is not very helpful to describe the task of authentic Christian missionary work. The event of the coming of Jesus into the world is unique, unrepeatable and incomparable, making it preferable to use other terminology to express the attitudes and behavior that Paul describes in 1 Cor 9:19-23. The Johannine missionary commission in Jn 20:21 does not demand an ‘incarnation’ of Jesus’ disciples but rather their obedience, unconditional commitment and robust activity in the service of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is precisely John who describes the mission of Jesus as unique: Jesus is the ‘only’ Son (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:14, 18), he is preexistent (Jn 1:1, 14), his relationship to the Father is unparalleled (Jn 1:14, 18). For John, it is not the manner of Jesus’ coming into the world, the Word becoming flesh, the incarnation, that is a ‘model’ for believers; rather, it is the nature of Jesus’ relationship to the Father who sent him into the world, which is one of obedience to and dependence upon the Father. … The terms ‘contextualization’ or ‘inculturation’ certainly are more helpful” (pp. 1574-1575).*

Again, I would emphasize that one of my concerns is not whether or not we (as Christians or the church) should do something. The concern here is the theological basis for why we should do something if we do something.

Schnabel (as Doran) argues that the incarnation is not the basis for it. When Jesus incarnated, it was not a mode of ministry. It was becoming human. Since we are already human, we are already incarnated, and therefore everything we do is “incarnational.” In fact, I would submit that “incarnational” is the only way that ministry can take place, inasmuch as “out of body experiences” are better left to science fiction and the afterlife. 

So whatever we do, it is not because we are following the pattern of the incarnation of Jesus.

A second question is this: Should we harp on this word incarnational? Is there really that much mileage to be gained by objecting to its use?

My answer is, yes, kind of. I think it is actually pretty significant because Jesus’ mission is pretty unique, though I suppose “pretty unique” is like being “a little bit pregnant.” Neither pregnancy nor uniqueness admits to degrees. They are binary states: You either are or you are not.

“Incarnational” is just a bad word for it because it confuses what Jesus actually did with what we are to do. The Bible never uses the idea of incarnation for Christian living that I know of. It assumes that we are incarnate and it teaches us to go live like Christians while we are incarnate.

So what is the benefit of the word “incarnation”? At the risk of sounding harsh, I think it is possibly piety, meaning that it simply sounds betters because it connects us directly with Jesus. We can “love like Jesus did,” while not actually doing doing what Jesus did. It sounds so much better.

But I just don’t see the point of it. It confuses people about what incarnation really is, does not materially advance the cause, it is not something the NT expresses, and we have better ways to say it.

*I have forgotten which blog I got this quote from. My apologies for a lack of attribution to someone who reads more than I do.