Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thoughts on the Elephant Room

A friend recently asked me on Twitter if I was going to the Elephant Room, and why (or I suppose why not, depending on the answer to the first question). Rather than try to cram it into a DM on Twitter, I decided to answer here.

The answer is “No, I didn’t go,” though late last week I re-tweeted a tweet offering free airfare, entry, and lodging to a randomly drawn winner. I was willing to win and actually go because I think it would be interesting on several different fronts, even though I intentionally live in a far different theological and ecclesiastical world than most of those participating.

(I say “most” because I can’t speak for all of them, since I don’t know who all is there. And I am perfectly willing to let them answer to God for wherever they stand.)

But I didn’t win. So I didn’t go because, in addition to not winning, (1) it’s too cold to play golf in Illinois right now (though it would be cheaper than the entry fee to ER), (2) it’s expensive, (3) it takes me away from my family when I would rather be home, and (4) a couple more reasons given below.

To start off, let me say that I like the idea of the Elephant Room (ER). Getting men in the same room to interact face-to-face about their differences is a great idea. Participants could present their positions, discuss them, ask questions, and answer questions, give nuance, correct misrepresentations, etc. No more making stuff up.

We see far too many people addressing caricatures of others’ positions. I have seen blatant lies, half-truths, and subtle (or not so subtle) innuendo offered in the name of “taking a stand.” It needs to stop. It needs to be repented of. By all sides.

Sitting down together to talk about differences is not sinful. It is not partnership or fellowship. In fact, it gives the chance to explain why one is not a partner. It provides an avenue in which biblical obedience can be carried out because we are talking directly to people about where we believe they are wrong rather than talking about them. In such a context, we can challenge the position of others. It may not be wise in every situation (though it may be in some), but it is not sinful in every situation either (though it may be in some).

However, I think ER is too narrow in its scope to be of great value. All of the participants come from a fairly narrow stream of modern, American, Christianity. This one branched out a bit (perhaps even outside of Christianity, a problem in and of itself), but it was still pretty narrow. IMO, getting a bunch of guys to challenge each other who already agree for the most part isn’t all that engaging, helpful, or interesting, at least not for the amount of money it would take to get there.

If you want a good ER3, get Driscoll, Chandler, Hybels, MacArthur, Dever, Trueman, and me.

Okay, leave me out. But get the other six. And then actually ask tough questions and allow discussion.

The challenges I saw in the clips from ER1 were rather weak, IMO. So I didn’t have high hopes for this one.

Those hopes were not surpassed if the reports I read from yesterday’s ER2 (Trevin Wax, Tim Schraeder) are accurate. They seem to show that challenges were virtually non-existent this time.

And it raises the question: What is the point of having differing viewpoints in order to challenge each other if no challenges take place?

The most direct challenge I recall from the notes was in the exchange between Driscoll and Graham over the topic of how many churches were actually planted in Haiti, and how many would be around in five years. It’s a good question, and should have led to more interaction about the nature of church and the gospel, particularly in third world countries. Driscoll could have even pointed out that there were no nationally known pastors in Haiti, and someone could have challenged him on that because he certainly needs to be.

But the number of lasting church plants in Haiti seems a rather small matter compared to the prosperity gospel and Word Faith doctrine of T. D. Jakes which apparently went unmentioned, and even his views on the Trinity were not really hashed out much. Apparently it’s all cool because Jakes says there is “very little difference” between Driscoll and him on the Trinity (as Wax reports). Driscoll’s closed-handed issue of complementarianism didn’t even come up.

The number of churches in Haiti after five years also seems small compared to the Code Orange revival which apparently was mentioned only by Furtick in a reference to baptizing his son. What was going on there? Why did you think that was going to bring revival? What is revival? How would we get it and how would we know it if it actually showed up?

The number of churches in Haiti after five years seems small compared to the resignation of MacDonald from the Gospel Coalition council while fellow ER participant Crawford Loritts remains on the council. Now there’s an elephant in the room. Why didn’t anyone challenge that? What actually happened? Why does MacDonald think TGC is wrong?

Where were the prophetic voices to speak into this?

You have a group of men known for being bold proclaimers of truth, writing books, and calling out all manner of stuff. Yet here they suddenly came down with lockjaw?

Why? Scared of being called haters in Furtick’s next video?

Scared of pulling the main post out of the big tent and causing a gigantic crash of the ER?

MacDonald didn’t have any problem taking a few shots at fundamentalism. Why not take a shot at the prosperity gospel? Why not take a shot at the circus church mentality? Why not take a shot at the crudeness of Driscoll?

This failure is interesting to me. And concerning.

And it’s why I am not enamored with the ER. And it’s why I didn’t go.

So to sum it up, while I thought ER2 would be interesting, I didn’t think it would be worth the time, money, and effort to go. Now, my reading confirms that I made the right choice for me.

Were it free and local, I would probably go. Were it cheap and local, I would be tempted because I find the conversations interesting, and I don’t mind getting out of the office in the winter time.

But as it stands, it is too broad in who it calls Christian leaders, it is too narrow in perspectives represented, it lacks real challenges to issues of significance, and it costs too much money to offset any of those problems.

So I didn’t go.

So what do I make of hosts MacDonald and Driscoll?

Actually, not much. And what I mean by that is not pejorative. I just don’t think about them much. It’s like the pastor who asked his pastor friend, “What are they saying about me over there?” The answer came back, “Nothing. They’re not even talking about you.”

Neither one, in fact no one on this panel, has particular influence in my present sphere of ministry. I doubt one person connected to my church would know them. So I don’t think about them very much.

I do think there are some significant concerns on some issues of real substance, Driscoll in particular, which demonstrate that they do not serve a vital role in public ecclesiology and theology. I wouldn’t recommend them or their ministries as models to be emulated.

We can learn from them, and indeed should. In fact, we should learn both good and bad from them, and there is some of each.

I will rejoice in people that are saved and lives that are changed. But that won’t alleviate my concerns.

I don’t need them to be faithful to the task to which God has called me and therefore I don’t think about them.

And I don’t feel compelled need to drop a half a grand on entry fees, hotel, food, and travel to go hear them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Lasting Impact of Church Preaching

Out of Ur has an interesting article today on “The Religious View of 20-Somethings.” You can read the first two parts to catch up to this one.

The particularly notable part of this article is at the end:

Very few of my students could identify any way religion might impact their daily lives, specifically their future personal and professional goals. Even the students who consider themselves committed Christians failed to recognize what difference their faith made, say, in their marriages or careers. They could point to superficial things—like wanting to be married in their church, which meant they had to marry a fellow Christian—but couldn’t go much deeper than that.

This is troubling. I suspect some will blame preaching and teaching that doesn’t focus on life application. But I’m not so sure. I wonder if the problem is actually too much emphasis on the practical. Evangelicals have had a tendency for the last twenty years or more to distill the Scriptures into five-principles-for-happy-marriages and three-promises-for-raising-great-kids. If we spoke of the Christian life more in terms of the inner life—spoke of the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation, of the pursuit of godly virtue, spiritual gifts and fruit, etc.—if we truly focused on growing Christians, and not just good citizens, maybe our young people would have an easier time identifying how their faith affects the rest of their lives.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Around the Horn

Here’s a good article on evangelism. It reminds me of an old idea called the 3x5 rule, the idea of which is to contact five people a day, or 35 a week (for those who are math-challenged) with the goal of getting three sit down meetings to talk about the gospel. People who talk about evangelism but don’t talk to unbelievers about the gospel are not serious about evangelism.

Here’s a good article on heavy-handed leadership. Unfortunately, this is the default for many, and not just in fundamentalism. Leaders have to be bold, but humble. As I tweeted recently, you can’t lead if you aren’t willing to disappoint and even infuriate people, but do not do it lightly. Too many leaders have an arrogance that they know it all. They are unwilling to let people differ with them.

Here’s a good post by Sean Lucas on the age-old homiletical question about the difference between preaching and teaching. He says,

“Whereas my major goal in lecturing is information, my major goal in preaching is transformation. And because this is the case, I don't feel the burden to give people as much information as possible; rather, I feel the burden to give people the information necessary about the text so that they will see the connections to their own lives and be moved to seek God in Christ as a result. Application is the major focus of the sermon.

I think he is right here. Pastors, don’t fall prey to the tendency to tell everything you know about a text. It makes you long, boring, and confusing. Since there is a rather large chance that your congregation doesn’t need to know there are four interpretive options for something, just tell them what they need to know in order to do what God has said. Save the rest for a teaching time, such as a midweek Bible class. My general rule is that if an interpretive option is obvious in the text or shows up in the translations that I know people carry, then I give a brief word about it. Otherwise, I just say what I think it says.

Lastly, a few posts on David and Goliath have been making the rounds recently. Matt Chandler kicked it off with this explanation. Over a year ago, I posted my take on David and Goliath here. I think Chandler’s view is moralizing—a sanctified moralizing since he put Jesus on the front of it, but moralizing nonetheless. You can read a few other takes here and here. I think Jesus is clearly and obviously in the OT, and I think we should preach that way. But I think Chandler is headed down the wrong path.

And as a bonus, what in the name of anything good and decent was Chandler doing at Furtick’s Code Orange Revival. That was disappointing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Little Story

There was once a poor man who wanted a million dollars.

He had the opportunity to get fifty-thousand dollars.

He refused because he wanted it all.

So the million dollars went to someone else.

And he got nothing.

Friday, January 13, 2012

On Changing the Name of a Church – Part 4

Previous articles: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

In considering our name, we need to consider our philosophy of church growth. In the last article, I talked about how a name attracts people who already know what it means, and repels people who don’t, or at least repels people who have a certain conception of what it means.

I wonder if part of the problem here is an underlying belief that churches are built (at least in part) by trading sheep, so when someone dissatisfied with the Baptist church down the road starts looking, let’s have “Baptist” in our name so they will come to us. If we don’t have “Baptist” in the name, they may go looking somewhere else. (I am not just speaking hypothetically here. This statement has actually been made before.)

It is a view that may have merit, but there are some concerns. First, the lesser concern is this: If they are dissatisfied down there, what will they be two years from now at our church? Maybe fine. And maybe not.

The greater concern, in my mind, is this: What about the people who are unchurched? Why should we be more concerned with dissatisfied believers than with unconverted people?

I know there is some debate about how much the church should be sensitive to unbelievers in our community. 

The truth is that I want unbelievers coming to our church, and not just once, but week after week. I believe in the converting power of the gospel consistently preached. I believe that if we expose people to the clearly taught word of God week after week, it will have an effect. And if some unbeliever will come to our church for six consecutive months, I will take my chances with that because I know that over six months, they are going to hear the gospel preached week after week as the Scripture is preached both to believers and unbelievers. That doesn’t mean I design services for unbelievers. It means that I expect unbelievers are going to be there, and I am going to address them at some point (or usually at several points) during the service.

When we are considering our community, we need ask the question, Are people, unbelievers particularly, more likely to visit our church if it does not have the name “Baptist” in the church name?

If the answer is Yes, then we should strongly consider that in establishing or changing the name of the church.

Some people charge that removing a label such as “Baptist” is a matter of honesty and integrity, like we are hiding who we really are in order to get people to come in. I don’t think this is necessarily true since there are a lot of things about our churches that do not show up on our signs, things that are part of our core identity.

For instance we are committed to the inerrancy and complete authority of the Bible as God’s revelation. That means, among other things, that we are cessationists who use a modern version. This commitment is, in fact, prior to our Baptist commitment simply because being Baptist arises out of being committed to the Scriptures. Yet nowhere in our name is that commitment or its implications held out.

By not having “ICABGRACWUMV” on our sign, are we hiding who we are in an attempt to get people in? Hardly. Yet when someone comes to our church, that is exactly what they will hear. And it is what they will see in our doctrinal statement.

The fact is that when someone comes to our church, they are coming to a Baptist church regardless of what’s on the sign. And they are going to hear and see the gospel regardless of what’s on the sign. And if they come long enough, they are going to be taught Baptist polity and doctrine as the Scriptures are unfolded.

Having a label, or not having a label, won’t change any of that for us.

And having a label, or not having a label, won’t change anything else either. So if you have bad preaching, or bad breath, or unfriendly people, or bad music, or a dirty and smelly facility, it will all be the same.

So before changing your name, try to figure out what the actual problem is at your church.

In conclusions, each church should think carefully before removing (or adding) a denominational label to their church name. There are a host of factors to be considered, such as community, area churches, strength of church tradition, whether or not the label is actually a barrier, etc. And the only way you can assess these things is by careful thought and study.

A pastor and the leadership team of the church must work very carefully through these issues before dropping a denominational label. It may be a good thing to remove a label, but it should not be entered into hastily.

If you have denominational commitments, then don’t be afraid to own them. You don’t have to do it in a sign, and in fact, it may be wise not to. But your guiding documents should clearly state what you are, as should your new members’ orientation or your membership classes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Concerns about Missional

While the idea of missional ministry has some strengths, there are some legitimate concerns. The Tall Skinny Kiwi (Andrew Jones, whom I found to be a very gracious person in some interaction some years ago) highlights one of these for us today, only for him it’s not a concern.

But I think it should be.

He says,

But now it's 2012 and while some young, enthusiastic people are out there planting churches like its 1997, others are focusing on launching more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions.

One of the biggest trends in church planting that I observed in my recent 30+ country trek is the SHIFT AWAY FROM planting churches towards NOT planting a church at all but focusing on a wider range of transforming Kingdom activities. Some church planters are delaying the worship service piece of the pioneer missional ministry for as long as possible and sometimes indefinitely. (Emphasis his.)

Much could be said about this, and I will resist that temptation, at least here and now.

But it raises the question of why didn’t the apostles and disciples in the first century focus on “launching more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions”?

They thought they were supposed to plant churches. And so they did.

Indeed, it is very instructive (or at least it should be) that those who walked with Jesus, heard his preaching about the kingdom, learned from him how to live and preach, witnessed his death and resurrection, and received his commission first hand went out to plant churches.

They didn’t think Jesus was calling on them to focus on “launching more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions.” I am sure Jesus could have called them to do that. But he didn’t.

No, they thought Jesus was telling them to plant churches.

One of the concerns that many have had with the missional movement, and in fact one of the key issues inside the missional movement, is the relationship between church and kingdom, between gospel words and deeds. I won’t rehearse all that history here.

Suffice it to say that the NT model of ministry is not “launching more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions” than the church.

The NT model of ministry is planting and growing churches.

There are a lot of ways to do that, and it can look a lot of different ways. But in the end, it is churches that Jesus has called us to plant and build, to be a part of and to serve.

Any model of Christianity that does not have local churches at its center is a defective model of ministry, even if it looks like people are getting helped by it.

Andrew goes on to say in the comments that “the word "church" is tricksy [sic] so i apologize for any confusion, but i am using it here to refer to the typical worship service attractional strategy that most church planters employ to start and grow their church.” He later clarifies it even more, along the lines of the “Church Inc.” mentality.

But I don’t think that helps. I think there are some problems with the way people plant churches on both the attractional and the missional end. But the answer to that is not to not plant churches in favor of “more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions.” The answer is to plant churches the right way.

And attractional will be a part of that, as will missional. (Which reminds me I should get back to that series I started a long time ago.)

By the way, as an aside (or perhaps an addendum), this is why the doctrine of the kingdom is actually important. If we don’t know what the kingdom is, or mistake it for something it’s not, we end up pursuing things like Andrew talks about here.

It’s pretty much in vogue for views of the kingdom to take a back seat, and I think this is the ultimate end of that. It’s why I think we can’t relegate eschatology to the back pew. I am not saying it needs to be in the front pew. But it matters.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Whosoever Means Whosoever

In December I was treated to another complementary copy of a fundamentalist newspaper. On the front page, just about the fold, is an article by the editor entitled “Whosoever Means Whosoever.”

As you might suspect, the article sets out to show a supposed flaw in Calvinism.

Now, I don’t write to convince you of Calvinism. I don’t really care one way or the other.

I write about it here because I know that some, maybe even many, are convinced by the kind of argument that is put forth by this author.

I write to warn us all of bad arguments, and of the danger that comes from the misuse of Scripture.

Even if the author is right in his belief about salvation, he is wrong in how he uses the Bible to try to prove his point. And that’s the worst problem.

Follow me here.

He says, “In an attempt to show themselves more knowledgeable (smarter) than the rest of us …” (Why did he have to define “more knowledgeable” as “smarter” for his readers? Does he not think they are smart enough to know what “more knowledgeable” means?)

But I digress.

He says, “In an attempt to show themselves more knowledgeable (smarter) than the rest of us some folks, including the Calvinists, garb their ideology in the robes of a misguided scholarship. With something that is so clearly defined by the Bible itself, it is necessary for Calvinists to work the academic angle so that the spurious doctrine they espouse will not be immediately dismissed.”

What follows in the article are twelve examples of the use of “whosever” in the Bible (at least the version he uses).

He concludes by saying “Whosoever in the Bible literally means all of us—red, yellow, black, and white; tall, short, rich, poor, young and old alike! … ‘Whosoever’ just simply means ‘whosoever’!”

However, when we take a quick glance at the twelve examples, not a one of them means “all of us” without exception. All the examples (“all” here really means “all”) contain a qualification.

For instance, Proverbs 20:1 speaks of “whosoever is deceived is not wise.” Solomon is not saying “all of us” are not wise. He is saying that the “not wise” people are all of a certain group—those who are deceived. So it is not referring to “all of us—red, yellow, black, and white; tall, short, rich, poor, young and old alike!” It is only talking to that portion of “all of us” who are deceived by wine and strong drink.

Matthew 7:24 speaks of “whosoever heareth these sayings of mine.” Here again, it is not referring to “all of us—red, yellow, black, and white; tall, short, rich, poor, young and old alike!” It is referring that portion of all of us who hear the words of Jesus, and probably here it is not referring to the aural experience, but those who receive and believe Jesus’ words.

And all the examples he gives contain the exact same problem. The “whosoever” is defined by the text of Scripture as a group with certain characteristics.

Yet the author omits from his argument those parts of Scripture which tell us who the “whosoever” is. He fails to read and explain the words in their contexts.

And, on top of that, he doesn’t even accomplish its goal of showing Calvinism unbiblical.

The Bible says in John 3:16 that “whosoever believes will have everlasting life.”

Here, “whosoever” does not refer to “all of us—red, yellow, black, and white; tall, short, rich, poor, young and old alike!” In the verse, it refers to those who believe.

And every Calvinist that I know believes that “whosoever believes” will have eternal life. Every single one of them. No one who believes will be refused eternal life. That is standard Calvinist theology and has been for two thousand years, long before it got Calvin’s name attached to it.

You see, John 3:16 is a promise of actuality: All who believe will have eternal life. Every single one of them.

The question that this author should be addressing is why some people believe and others do not. That, in my opinion, is the real crux of the issue.

So friends, be cautious of spurious scholarship that fails to actually deal with the words of God in his Bible. Strong speech and dogmatic preaching are no substitute for saying what God says, not even when it’s on the front page of a newspaper.

Refuse to be a Calvinist, if you wish. God will let you do that.

But don’t make bad arguments, even in a good cause.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Good Word About Being Against Things

Here is an article on The Danger of Defining Yourself by What You Are Against that is well worth some consideration.

Unfortunately, it's the kind of thing that I fear a lot of people don't see in themselves. They are too busy saving the world from what they are against that they do not realize what they have become.

It's a good reminder to be cautious.