Saturday, December 31, 2011

It’s That Time of Year Again

Yes, all over the blog world, it’s that time of year when bloggers all over have been posting their “Best of 2011” posts. They are linking to their most read,  most commented, most favorite, and on-and-on.

It reminds me of my own ”best of” post from just about a year ago. I thought it was a pretty obvious parody of a widespread practice, a practice that I have no problem with. But I thought I would have a bit of fun with it last year.

However, shortly after that post appeared, word got back to me about a certain pastor who labeled my post “childlish [sic] and unpastoral behavior” towards a particular person. It was called an “ungentlemanly approach to discussion [that] is beyond the perview [sic] of Christian practice” and an “abandon[ment] Christian principles of argumentation.” On top of that it was called “vicious and childish.”

Pretty strong words for a parody piece.

Here’s the funny thing: My post wasn’t even directed towards a particular person, but to a common practice of a number of people.

Here’s the bad thing: Not one of these comments was directed to me. It could have been cleared up in sixty-second phone call, or a short one-paragraph email. I could have directed this pastor towards any one of a couple of dozen blogs with a “best of” post of some sort that would have shown what I was talking about.

But I never had that chance.

You see, rather than emailing me or picking up the phone and calling me to find out what it was about, or even just ignoring it, this pastor jumped to conclusions and then made these fairly harsh comments about me to others.

My suspicion (based on some others things that were said) is that he had first listened to gossip by someone else, and rather than shutting it down and telling the other person that he would have no part of it, he listened to it and believed it. In the words of Proverbs, “he answered the matter before he heard it.”

On the one hand, it didn’t bother me all that much because I knew the truth about it, and I think many others did as well. Plus he doesn’t answer to me, nor I to him. So I kind of laughed about it.

On the other hand, I don’t like this kind of misunderstanding and I certainly don’t like the kind of personal comments that were made.

So when I got word about what this pastor had said, I picked up the phone and called the guy to try to straighten it out person-to-person. It was an easy fix. Or at least it should have been.

Would it surprise you to know that this guy refused to talk to me and never returned my call?

I would like to say I was surprised, but I wasn’t. I am not much of an idealist anymore. I have been around long enough to know how these things turn out. I know how often people find it easy to throw around attacks without basis, and then refuse to deal with things straight up, person to person. They are unwilling to even consider that they, or the people they have believed, may have been wrong. It’s the MO of far too many people.

The blogosphere has made this attack culture both easier and harder at the same time. It’s easier because you can spread the word faster and wider. And it’s harder because people can see the truth for themselves, and there are always going to be people who know more than you do, particularly about their own words.

So why do I write about it now?

Because I am reminded of the bad way that people tend to handle things, people who should know better. I started to say “handle problems,” but it wasn’t even a problem. It was a silly parody post that led to personal attacks behind someone’s back for no reason other than ignorance. He just didn’t know the truth and didn’t bother to find it out. He immediately thought the worst.

As we close one calendar in favor of another, let us all resolve to pursue a better way.

Don’t jump to conclusions, particularly bad ones, especially when you don’t even know the person you are talking about.

Remember that there are some things you might have missed.

Remember that hearing one side of the story is always dangerous because it is frequently biased.

Remember that you might be wrong, or might be being mislead by someone else.

And having remembered this, temper your response.

To be honest, I haven’t lost any sleep over it because it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. I think of it now only because of the plethora of “best posts of 2011” that are peppering the blogosphere.

And the memory makes me chuckle a bit.

I know I have made my fair share of blunders and sins in the blogosphere. I write as one who has been grieved over some things I have said, or the way I have said them, and when I have, I have tried to own them and deal with them righteously.  

I have no personal axe to grind with this man. I don’t know this pastor personally, and I rejoice in the apparent fruit of his ministry.

But I wish he would have found out what it was about before trashing me to other people.

Let’s all learn to desire the truth before we speak. And to hold our tongues when we don’t know.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Brooks' Three Rules for Pastoring

"These three rules seem to have in them the practical sum of the whole matter. I beg you to remember them and apply them with all the wisdom that God gives you. First. Have as few congregations as you can. Second. Know your congregation as thoroughly as you can. Third. Know your congregation so largely and deeply that in knowing it you shall know humanity."

Cited in Rummage, Planning Your Preaching, 175.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rummage on Expository Preaching

"Some pastors who preach through books make the mistake of loading their messages with irrelevant details about the background of the passage or the technicalities of the biblical language. This turns the sermon into a dry commentary on the text rather than a living and dynamic explanation and application of the Scripture. Such preaching is monotonous and hard to get used to. In fact, no pastor should force his congregation to become accustomed to such boring preaching."

Stephen Rummage, Planning Your Preaching, p. 78

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Changing the Name of a Church - Part 3

See previous articles: Part 1, Part 2

Another reason why a church might change their name is to try to remove perceived barriers to the gospel. This is most often the idea behind the dropping of denominational labels. There is a belief that denominational labels are a barrier to people who do not self-identify with that denomination. Thus, the label becomes a stumblingblock other than the gospel.

Is this true? Well, it’s undeniably true in some cases. These are anecdotal cases to be sure, but true nonetheless. But is it true in all cases? Who knows.

What makes it difficult to study this issue meaningfully is the fact that there are no two identical churches in identical communities, one with a denominational label and one without. There is no church that both has the label and does not have the label. Even if the churches are substantially similar, they have different pastors, different members, different gifting among the members, different guests, different locations, etc. And even if everything was the same except the name, that won’t tell you anything about your church and location. So any studies are always comparing non-identical things.

The best way to study the big picture is probably to ask questions of a lot of people in a lot of different places, even though responses to denominational labels probably differ from place to place. Ed Stetzer’s has done that and found that the name is at least a factor for SBC churches, particularly for younger people. How big a factor? Again, it is hard to tell. More importantly all of Ed’s questions won’t tell you anything specific about your ministry context. And in order to minister in your community, you need to know your community.

And you need to know yourself and your motivations. Why are you doing this? Of course, people around you will be quick to chime in and tell you why you are doing it, and you need to think carefully about it.

For some critics, dropping a denominational label is an automatic sign of compromise and deception, of hiding who you really are in order to attract more people.

For some proponents, dropping a denominational label is a no-brainer. In fact, someone (who works for a major Baptist organization) in identifying me as a “fundamentalist” said, “Do you still have Baptist in your name?” When I answered affirmatively, he said, “Well there’s that,” with “that” meaning the label Baptist was a sign of being a fundamentalist.

Now, make no mistake. I am a Baptist by conviction. I am a Baptist because Jesus said to be one (and remember, he only blessed babies; he didn’t baptize them).

Okay, so that’s (only) a bit tongue in cheek. But I am a firmly committed Baptist. And I don’t lower my voice when I say that. And our church name is still Grace Baptist Church. And I am Baptist enough to believe that a local congregation has the sole authority to determine what name their church goes by.

But the reality is that there are a lot of people who see a label on a group or building, and they have no idea what the label means, but they know it’s not them because if they were one of those they would know it. This is common in our Baptist churches. People see the name “Lutheran” on a church, and they have no idea what Lutherans believe or do, but they know they aren’t a Lutheran. The chance of getting them into a Lutheran church is slim-to-none, so long as the label is on the building. Is that good or bad?

Others see the label and they do know what it means, at least in their minds. So “Baptist” means Fred Phelps to them. Or “Baptist” means the churches who have pedophiles, or buses blowing horns outside their window on Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. when they are trying to sleep. Or “Baptist” means their grandmother’s church that was whacky to them. And they want nothing to do with any of that.

And who can blame them. I don’t want anything to do with any of that either. (Which is a good reason to be a Baptist; I don’t have to have anything to do with it.)

What is keeping these people, humanly speaking, from hearing the gospel isn’t the cross or the call of Jesus. It’s the name on the sign that they associate with certain things. They are judging a church based on something that has nothing to do with you.

Is that what you want? I don’t.

I don’t want people who God has called us to reach to reject us simply because of a denominational label that they may not understand.

And that is part of the core issue in this consideration: Who are we trying to reach? I imagine that, for most people, denominational labels only mean something to people who are already “in.” They mean little to nothing to the unchurched.

That means if someone is a Baptist already, having “Baptist” in the name may be more attractive to them (though I confess it would not matter to me). Newcomers to the community may be looking for a particular type of church and will look no further than the label.

But we have to ask the question: Has God called us to reach people who already agree with us?

If they answer is no, then we need to ask what, humanly speaking, is keeping us from reaching the people God has called us to reach.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Religious Irony

On the night in which Jesus was arrested and tried, the Jews sent Jesus to Pilate, but refused to enter Pilate’s palace so as not to defile themselves before the Passover.

How strange that such religious ritual was persuasive to them.

They could kill the Son of God on the basis of lies and injustice without defiling themselves, even though their law forbade it. But God forbid they come to close to the Roman government. (John 18:28-38)

Are we scarcely much different?

Are we persuaded that our own religious rituals buy us indulgences against greater blasphemies?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

This and That

Here’s an article on music. He probably says more than he intends to. But it is interesting. And while I am on this topic, I recently  watched a bit of a teaching session Bob Kauflin did on music. During this session Kauflin plays a number of samples to illustrate his teaching. At one point, he plays a song in a particular style to make a point. His point? That the style he was playing at that moment didn’t match the words or message of the song at that point, and it should be played a different way. And I thought to myself, that’s what the “conservatives” say … that certain styles of music or presentation do not match certain messages in the lyrics and are therefore inappropriate vehicles for the song. It seems to cede the point that music is not neutral.

Challies writes on book reviews. The whole article isn’t that interesting (unless you were wondering why he doesn’t do as many books reviews anymore). What is interesting are his comments about “sheer repetition.” I tend to agree. Christian publishing seems like a huge market.

Last week, for the first time in who knows how long, I wrote out a sermon outline by hand. What a joke that was. It was very hard since I couldn’t go back and add something in, and I am not sure I can actually read it because the lack of handwriting means I can’t write legibly. 

And it leads me to this question: Would we have nearly the number of books if we didn’t have computers? If people still had to write out manuscripts by hand, would the Christian publishing industry be where it is today?

I don’t know. But I do know that a lot of book titles I see seem to be very similar. They seem almost too easy to produce.

Here’s an offering from megachurch pastor Steven Furtick. It reminds me of a couple of things, one of which is that not everyone is gifted to rap, and if you don’t have it, you should get someone in your church to frequently remind you that you don’t have it so you don’t do stuff like this. It also reminds me that those who criticize haters are doing the very thing they don’t like. For people like Furtick here (and elsewhere), they don’t want to be criticized, but they don’t mind criticizing others. The good news is that Furtick says, “I feel completely confident as I move forward. And you should too.” Well, that’s good. So if I feel completely confident in criticizing Furtick, is that okay?

Furtick is evidence that we live in an age of narcissism and boundarylessness, and the only sin is actually employing your mind to think about issues of the day, and perhaps even to disagree with someone who is “successful.”

And speaking of criticism, here’s an article criticizing criticizers. Again, it’s ironic to be sure. Apparently criticizing someone who denies inerrancy in some way is a bigger sin than actually denying inerrancy in some way. The fellow in question I don’t know and have never heard of. But it appears the main argument is that this guy wrote a good book and tells people about Jesus so we can’t say anything about his views on inerrancy. I think that’s a dangerous position to take. So I am criticizing the criticizer who criticizes criticizers.

In general, I think we need to be very cautious with criticism. Just this week, I have read some almost absurd criticism, the type that makes you think someone is playing a joke on you. But I doubt it.

We need to remember that each of us stand and fall before the Lord. But we also need to remember that one of the gifts of the body of Christ is the kind of fellowship that should step in with confrontation and correction when we go off the rails. 

I think inerrancy is pretty big. In fact, even ETS who doesn’t even require you to be an evangelical (strangely enough) requires you to believe in inerrancy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A Word about Women

In Galatians 4, Paul uses two women to talk about two covenants, and he qualifies it by saying “This is allegorically speaking” (Galatians 4:24). This passage is sometimes used to show how the NT uses the OT non-literally.* It is therefore used to give license to the modern interpreter to also use the NT non-literally.

Have you ever thought about why Paul said, “This is allegorically speaking”?

Might it be because had he not qualified it, no one would have caught it?

Had Paul’s method been as standard as some would have us believe, there would be no need to say it. But because Paul was doing something out of the ordinary, he said it in order to keep the readers from treating the text literally, just like they were accustomed to doing.

So far from a license to use the OT non-literally, it is actually a reminder not to use it non-literally.


*“Literal” means normal, as opposed to literalistic. Literal recognizes the use of figures of speech, but recognizes them as figures of speech.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Watch Your Head

Two “when pigs fly” news stories today:

BJU Board Approves Pursuit of Application Process for Regional Accreditation

BJU to Participate in Intercollegiate Athletics

IMO, these are good things.

Except for the added air traffic.

It could get messy so watch your head … and your step.

Around the Horn - Football Edition

A list of the fifty worst NFL coaches highlighted Josh McDaniels, a name that Bronco fans will recognize (though no one else will because he was coaching Denver). As an interesting side note, the list revealed that somehow there are four coaches worse than Rod Marinelli, something even Rod Marinelli was probably surprised by.

But most notably, this writer says that “Tebow could easily wind up the biggest bust of the 2010 draft.”


Cuz’ Tebow did it again yesterday. Pretty amazing. The Broncos are now 6-1 under Tebow, having been beaten only by the Detroit Lions.

Speaking being beaten by the Detroit Lions, the Lions managed to even beat themselves last night. What a joke. They were flags flying like it was July 4th, and there were a few fireworks. I kept looking for the barbeque grill. And the flags were (almost) all well deserved. The only thing missing from that game was a “running into the punter” foul.

But fortunately for the University of Michigan, that call got made on Saturday night when MSU got the short end of the stick. Typically, when a player is blocked into the punter that call isn’t made, and that player was clearly blocked into the punter, who might get an Oscar nomination this year for that dive. But other than that, it was a great game.

While I have no love lost (or gained) for anything in Big 10 football, simply because I just don’t care, I think MSU was robbed there. But if Kirk Cousins had made a throw or two on the previous possession, that call is no issue, which is usually the case. If you take care of business for 59 minutes, one minute won’t hurt you.

And since MSU lost, the BCS has done its magic once again. Typically, I think the top of the BCS usually does a pretty good job at getting the two best teams. I don’t know if they did this year. I think Oklahoma State has a good case, especially after the hurtin’ they laid on Oklahoma Saturday.

The egregious part of the BCS was the selection of Michigan for a BCS bowl. What a joke. Michigan did not even win their division. They are at least the third best team in their own conference, and have two losses only because they didn’t play Wisconsin and they didn’t play well enough to get into the conference championship.

In fact, Michigan only beat one ranked team all year (#17 Nebraska). Michigan barely beat ND, scoring 28 in the fourth quarter, and scoring with two seconds left to win 35-31. MIchigan also barely beat a very bad Ohio State team, giving up 34 points. How they ended up in the BCS is almost criminal, except it doesn’t really matter. The Sugar Bowl passed over four higher ranked BCS teams to get to Michigan.

Did MSU deserve that spot? Perhaps not, but hardly anyone thinks Michigan deserved it, probably not even Michigan fans who are not typically known for clear thinking anyway. They are among the biggest homer whiners in the country. I think even the die hard Michigan fans would find it hard to keep a straight face while arguing that Michigan deserved that bowl bid.  Certainly no one around them would keep a straight face listening to them try.

No, Michigan got the bid based on the old bowl rules, namely, “Which team will bring a lot of fans and a lot of money?”

Hey folks, you can’t have it both ways. If you want the BCS to have meaning, then stand against this kind of stuff. The presidents aren’t listening, but hey, talk anyway. If you want this kind of stuff, then go back to the old way.

Michigan fans were all upset when they didn’t get a rematch against OSU in 2006, even though they lost what amounted to a tournament game the week before when they knew what was at stake. They hated the BCS then. I doubt we will hear that kind of whining from them this though.

It’s hard for one football team to get robbed twice in the same weekend, but MSU did. They got punished for for being blocked into the kicker, and then they got punished for making, and barely losing, their conference championship game.

Should we have a tournament in college football? I still say no. Let’s go back to the old way. Let bowls do what they want.

And end college football on January 1.

All for now … And keep those Doritos close by during bowl season, because we all need some exercise while watching football.